The Delicate Dependency: A Novel of the Vampire Life

January 31, 2018 at 5:00 pm (Reads) (, , )

dependencyThe Delicate Dependency: A Novel of the Vampire Life by Michael Talbot

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I tend to think of how I will rate a book while I read it. In some cases, it’s clear that I’ll rate something a particular number (either I love or hate it and know exactly why), but some novels elude me until I finish them. The Delicate Dependency is one of those novels.

The Delicate Dependency has a strong pedigree, as it’s considered to be one of the best vampire novels ever written. That may be true, but I think it depends a lot on what readers expect from a vampire novel. Do you want charismatic, misunderstood vampires a la Anne Rice, or do you prefer the vampires of menace and mayhem as featured in The Lost Boys? Reading one kind of story while expecting the other can lead to disappointment.

I’m not sure what I expected from The Delicate Dependency, but I certainly got something unexpected. The story centers around Dr. John Gladstone, a man who, as a child, had a vision of an angel in his backyard. When he encounters that same angel twenty years later, it begins a series of cascading events that puts him onto a journey into the life of the vampire.

Set in the late 19th- and early 20th-century, the novel takes on the style of a novel written during that time, which means that it tends to meander. Talbot puts a lot of detail into his story, with a large chunk of the beginning of the story devoted to Gladstone marrying a woman beneath his social status, and how it affects his own standing in society. It then meanders into a lengthy section about his research as a doctor, including a rivalry with another physician and researcher, and it’s a little befuddling. The subtitle of the book tells us we’re reading a vampire novel, but it takes a long time — maybe a third of the book — to get there.

The thing is, all of these details at the beginning of the story are important. It’s not that Talbot started the book with a bunch of random thoughts in his head, and started writing until they gelled into a coherent plot; instead, he’s crafting a story that relies on the long game, and, to cut right to it, pays off. The thing is, the story meanders a lot, taking lengthy asides into seemingly unimportant areas that threaten to derail the reader. It was hard to stay focused on the book, since these asides take up the bulk of the story. The rest of the story is an intriguing examination of a simple question: If you lived forever, to what would you devote your life?

The Delicate Dependency is a book that requires dedication. I can see readers giving up on this book (if I didn’t trust Valancourt Books as much as I do, I might have done it myself), but for those who persevere, there’s a satisfying conclusion to be found. I’d be hard pressed to recommend it without hesitation, but for folks who are looking for an unexpected vampire story, The Delicate Dependency is a hidden gem.

Started: November 2, 2017
Finished: November 12, 2017

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Mr. Lemoncello’s Great Library Race

January 30, 2018 at 5:00 pm (Reads) (, )

raceMr. Lemoncello’s Great Library Race by Chris Grabenstein

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Some books are just straight-up fun to read. They’re not deep or thoughtful, but the tone, characters, and plots of those books keep your attention and keep you smiling as you read. The Mr. Lemoncello books are some of those fun reads.

Grabenstein has done a good job of making the focus of each book slightly different. Each book has involved a library competition, but while the first one stuck to that formula alone, the other two have deviated from that formula to be about something else, too. Here, the central conflict is Mr. Lemoncello against a rival game company who is out to steal his ideas and tarnish his name. In a world where “Fake news!” is bandied about like it’s the new soundbite, it’s helpful to see a book written for kids that addresses how harmful it can be.

This is a juvenile book, so I’m willing to cut it some slack, but there were aspects of the story that didn’t sit well with me. The antagonists were too broadly drawn, and too stereotypical to take that seriously. They were also incredibly stupid, not just as characters, but as characteristics of the plot, too. The final confrontation didn’t take much time, and even if it made sense for them to be hoisted on their own petard, it was awfully convenient for them to confess to their crimes so suddenly and easily.

Regardless, Mr. Lemoncello’s Great Library Race is a fun read, and anyone who enjoyed the first two books would enjoy this one, too. The characters (who are diverse!) are easy to relate to, the puzzles are entertaining, and the whole book just feels fun. I imagine the Lemoncello train will keep on rolling, and I suppose I’ll keep hitching rides whenever it checks into the station.

Started: November 8, 2017
Finished: November 10, 2017

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At the Mountains of Madness

January 29, 2018 at 5:00 pm (Reads) (, , , )

madnessAt the Mountains of Madness by H.P. Lovecraft

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It’s OK to appreciate Lovecraft’s influence on horror and not actually like his stories, right? I mean, I like his ideas, and he has a way with atmosphere, but reading his stories is more like reading a scientific paper than it is reading a work of fiction. I’ve tried reading his original works when I read the more recent, revisionist versions of this stories (The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe and The Ballad of Black Tom, for example), but I just can’t do it. I get bored and distracted, and before I know it, I’m waking up from a nap.

At the Mountains of Madness was an audiobook deal, and I thought, Maybe this is how I can appreciate Lovecraft more, and it helped. I find I can pay better attention to nonfiction audiobooks than fiction audiobooks, so Lovecraft’s style seemed to be a good fit. The thing is, it still doesn’t elevate the story above anything than what it is, which is a long, rather rambling telling of the history of his entire mythos from a different perspective.

Don’t get me wrong: As a look into Lovecraft’s imagination and how he created his Great Old Ones, it’s a fascinating piece of work. It just doesn’t do much for me as a story. Ostensibly, the story is about an expedition in Antarctica that goes awry, with half of the team going missing after discovering something unspeakable beneath the ice. You’d think that would be the focus of the story — the search for an ultimate finding of the missing team — but no, that’s just window dressing to what Lovecraft really wants to tell us, which is anything and everything about his creatures.

In addition, the story is told from the perspective of one of the survivors of the expedition, who descends into the mysterious, subterranean city beneath Antarctica in search of the other party. They only spend one day in the city, but while they’re down there, they find drawings on the wall that tell a history of the city, and boy howdy are those drawings specific. The narrator tells us minute details of this old society, even speaking to motivations and conclusions, despite the fact that they’ve dated the society to at least 500 million years old (at least). So in one day, they’re able to learn all about this ancient society, while also avoiding some kind of gelatinous subway and blind albino subterranean penguins.

(Now, I read a lot of science fiction, fantasy, and horror, so there’s a lot I can accept without too much disbelief. Cosmic horrors? Sure. Mountain ranges in Antarctica taller than Everest? Yeah, okay. Blind albino subterranean penguins? Eh, not so much. Authors can play around with real things to make them unusual or spooky, but there’s an uncanny valley that gets crossed when you try to make something out of something too mundane. Penguins was it for me.)

So, yeah, I can appreciate Lovecraft, but that doesn’t mean I have to like him (even when overlooking the fact that he was a racist and overall horrible person). I’m content to read the stories other people wrote using his ideas, and reading works about his mythos, but I’m going to stop bothering with his actual fiction. It’s just not my thing at all.

Started: November 6, 2017
Finished: November 9, 2017

 

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Harrow County: Hedge Magic

January 26, 2018 at 5:00 pm (Reads) (, , )

hedgeHarrow County: Hedge Magic by Cullen Bunn and Tyler Crook

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I’ve been digging Harrow County quite a bit. The characters, the atmosphere, and the creepiness of the series has hit all of my interest levels, and I’ve enjoyed seeing how Bunn and Crook develop the series over each arc. Some of the arcs have been less interesting than the others, but the growth of the series overall has been fun to watch.

Hedge Magic returns to a thread the creators started a couple of arcs back, where Beatrice begins to learn her own magic, and feels a divide growing between her and Emmy. Here, they finally face each other with their magic, despite the fact that they’ve been friends for most of their lives. It creates a good character dynamic, and the conflict keeps the reader engaged.

The problem is how they choose to resolve that conflict. It’s a deus ex machina moment, which was disappointing. The arc had developed to the point where neither character could trust the other, and instead of having the characters work out their issues by themselves, the creators bring in a haint to talk them down. Much of the writing in Harrow County has been strong, but it falters here in Hedge Magic. Much of that, I think, is due to how short these arcs are. Four issues doesn’t seem like enough space to develop the conflict well enough to wrap them up convincingly.

The good news is that the creators still know how to create the creepy (Bunn knows how to write it, and Crook knows how to draw it), and that comes to the forefront with the keyhole ghost. Plus, that’s the encounter that begins the conflict between Emmy and Beatrice, so it’s not just a throwaway moment in the series.

Harrow County continues to impress, and like the blurb on the cover declares, this is a series that is “Highly recommended for people who like their horror more cerebral and creepy.” I couldn’t agree more.

Started: November 7, 2017
Finished: November 7, 2017

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The Walking Dead: Here’s Negan!

January 25, 2018 at 6:00 pm (Reads) (, , )

neganThe Walking Dead: Here’s Negan! by Robert Kirkman, et al.

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Going into this volume, I expected to be a little disappointed. Villains rarely get better with a backstory, and a villain with the kind of charisma as Negan needed it even less. With A Certain Doom, Kirkman and crew hinted at there being more to Negan, enough to elicit some sympathy, even though we still don’t like him. It was a nice touch to flesh out his character, and that was about all he needed.

Here’s Negan! takes that conceit and fleshes it out to the point that Negan is just a cliche. The story moves so quickly that it’s difficult to feel anything for Negan or the other characters in the story, even as terrible things happen to them. Plus, the events that Kirkman supplies to develop Negan’s backstory aren’t new or groundbreaking; in fact, we’ve seen them several times before.

Negan hasn’t changed too much since before the apocalypse, either. The crude, fast-talking, boastful person Negan is is the same person Negan has always been. Now, he just has the psychopathy to back it all up. For me, Negan has become tiresome, not because of his character, but because of his constant chattering, and it’s disappointing to learn that he’s always been like that.

If you want to know why Negan has the jacket and the bat, then this might be the story for you. If you want to keep what little mystery there is behind Negan’s character a mystery, then you might want to skip it. Even expecting to be a little disappointed, I felt let down by the story. Had it taken more time to develop the story and the characters, I might have felt differently.

Started: November 6, 2017
Finished: November 6, 2017

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Tales from the Mos Eisley Cantina

January 24, 2018 at 6:00 pm (Reads) (, , , )

mosTales from the Mos Eisley Cantina, edited by Kevin J. Anderson

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I don’t read a lot of short stories, and I don’t read many collected anthologies, but I do read a lot of Star Wars, and since I’ve come this far into the project thus far, I powered on through this book. Like most anthologies, it’s a mixed bag, with some stories being more impactful than others, but this one elevates itself a bit by being more than just a collection of stories.

Most of the stories in Tales are interconnected. Some are connected more than others (there’s a pair smack in the middle of the book that couldn’t exist without each other), and on the one hand, it’s a little annoying, since I want my stories to stand well independently. Still, it’s impressive to look at the stories as more than individual stories and view the effort that went into making all of them relate to each other.

Because this is a collection of stories featuring the characters in the Mos Eisley Cantina, it means we get to see that familiar scene over, and over, and over again, since that’s the one moment that brings all these stories together. It’s interesting to see the different perspectives on the scene (and I’m talking about the whole thing, from when Obi-Wan and Luke enter, to when Han leaves), but it does try one’s patience.

We get some big-name characters here — Greedo, Dr. Evazan, and Ponda Baba the largest of them — but for the most part we learn about the tertiary characters who flash by only momentarily. The authors take the opportunity to add their own flair and detail to the Expanded Universe, not content just to tell us about what happened in the cantina. Instead, we get authors who create worlds and cultures and characters that last longer than just a momentary glance in a cool scene. They also delve into giving Tatooine further context, with a few of the stories talking about life on the planet and what it means.

My favorites of the bunch were the moisture farmer’s tale by M. Shayne Bell, Greedo’s tale by Tom and Martha Veitch, and “Nightlily” by Barbara Hambly. I also liked the story that concluded the anthology, which told about the Wolfman and the Lamproid, and was written by Judith and Garfield Reeves-Stevens. The rest were passable, with only one or two that didn’t do a thing for me. For an anthology, that’s a pretty good ratio. I like the conceit of the anthology best, and I’m hoping that the other books in the Tales series will follow this example.

Started: October 28, 2017
Finished: November 4, 2017

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Hail to the Chin: Further Confessions of a B Movie Actor

January 23, 2018 at 6:00 pm (Reads) ()

chinHail to the Chin: Further Confessions of a B Movie Actor by Bruce Campbell with Craig Sanborn

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Have you read If Chins Could Kill? If not, then this book isn’t for you. It picks up where that book concludes, telling the second half of Bruce Campbell’s career as a B-Movie actor. Starting here would be unwise, since the bulk of what made Bruce Campbell a B-Movie star is covered in that book.

Also, if you haven’t read If Chins Could Kill, then you’re missing out on an entertaining yarn. It’s not the most well-written memoir on the market, but it’s honest, self-effacing, and a little bit egotistical (in other words, it’s Pure Bruce). Hail to the Chin is written in that same style, complemented with the snarky pictures that made his previous book even more entertaining. It focuses on his life as an Oregonian home-owner, his time making Burn Notice and The Man with the Screaming Brain (among other, lesser-known shows and movies), and takes us up to the revival of Evil Dead with the Starz show Ash vs. Evil Dead. It is, true to its subtitle, further confessions of what it takes to be a B-Movie actor.

Do yourself a favor and read this book, but only if you’ve already read If Chins Could Kill. If you haven’t do yourself an additional favor and read that book first.

Started: October 29, 2017
Finished: November 2, 2017

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The Girl in the Basement

January 22, 2018 at 6:00 pm (Reads) (, , )

basementThe Girl in the Basement by Ray Garton

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I remember liking Ray Garton’s books. A lot. This would be back in the 1990s, when I was still branching out into the larger world of horror, reading writers other than Stephen King, long after the horror boom had gone bust. I also remember liking Marilyn Manson’s music a lot back then, too, but I’ve outgrown it.

To be fair, Garton does a good job with his characterization and his pacing. Once you get started on one of his stories, it’s easy to get caught up in it and not put it down until you’re finished. That was the case with Meds, read last year, and that’s also the case with The Girl in the Basement. Unfortunately, both of these books also have characters who don’t do sensible things; instead, they do what’s necessary to keep the plot moving along.

The plot of The Girl in the Basement involves (spoiler!) a girl who lives in the basement. She’s part of a foster home, and our main character is a new resident at said foster home. The girl in the basement isn’t seen, and what the other kids in the home know about her is through hearsay. What makes her special — and how that involves the other kids — is the core of the story.

Garton doesn’t approach this story with much subtlety. He makes things too clear and explains too much. It’s like he doesn’t trust his readers to make the connections on their own, since he doesn’t allow them to draw their own conclusions. He also puts a thinly-veiled version of himself into the story, as a horror author who lives next door. In Meds, Garton pierced the veil to share his opinions about prescription medications, and in The Girl in the Basement, he pierces it again to reveal himself as a bitter horror author, jealous of Stephen King’s success and disappointed with how the general public perceives him. The style feels immature, which is odd, since Garton has been writing professionally since the early 1980s.

The story here is entertaining, but it doesn’t hold up well under scrutiny. It’s not so bad that I wouldn’t read more of his work (it doesn’t have the rampant sexism of Richard Laymon, nor the pointless cruelty of Bentley Little), but it does give me pause. At the very least, Garton is a good storyteller, and for him to have been working for over 30 years, that counts for something.

Started: October 31, 2017
Finished: October 31, 2017

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Cloudbound

January 19, 2018 at 6:00 pm (Reads) (, , )

cloudboundCloudbound by Fran Wilde

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There are a lot of things Wilde does right with Cloudbound. For one, the first couple of chapters serve as a nice summary of what happened in Updraft, the first book in this trilogy, which is useful, since I last read that book over a year ago. Like that book, Cloudbound also wraps the story around some fascinating ideas and themes, which help to elevate what is, to me, a mediocre story, to something a little more interesting.

The book picks up a few months after the events of Updraft, and this time Wilde shifts the narration from Kirit to Nat, one of her oldest friends who wound up fighting her to help save the towers. To say their relationship is strained is being generous; there’s a tremendous loss of trust between the two, and it drives their characters for the bulk of the book. Unfortunately, the characters didn’t spring to life for me. Kirit is mostly a background character, with the focus shifting back to the troubles between the Spire and the towers, neither to which she belongs. She’s an outcast, despite her role in bringing the corruption to the towers’ attention, so she gets very little page-time in the book.

I don’t find fault with Wilde shifting attention from one character to another. There are a lot of people in her Bone Universe, and it helps broaden the universe to show that it takes more than one hero to keep that world going. It’s just that none of the other characters are as interesting as Kirit. She does a good job of creating a diverse cast of characters, and gives them proper motivations, but I couldn’t get interested in them.

The other weird thing about the story is that it ought to have engaged me. Plot-wise, it was interesting, and expanded on what the Bone Universe is, but somehow I felt disconnected with it all. It reminded me a lot of the Craft Sequence, in that the narrative itself couldn’t engage me, despite the wealth of great ideas within.  I also noticed how Wilde uses sentence fragments a lot, I’m guessing for effect. Or because she felt it provided a narrative punch. (Yes, that’s my attempt to show how she was using them.) For me, they were more distracting than anything else.

I’m not sure if reading Updraft would have made me more aware of these issues, since I listened to the audio production for that book. I get the feeling the sentence fragments would have been less obvious, but I’m not sure about the rest. I do know that I remember pieces of Updraft fairly vividly; time will tell if Cloudbound will stay with me as well.

As I was reading this book, I figured I might have been done with the series, but then she went and ended the story the way she did, and I get the feeling I’ll be back around for book three. I know it’s already out, but the stories didn’t strike me as good enough to buy the books in hardcover, so I’ll likely wait until the paperback is released to get caught up. If my library carried a copy, I’d get it from there, but as it is, I don’t mind waiting. I have a lot of other books I’m more interested in reading right now, anyway.

Started: October 19, 2017
Finished: October 27, 2017

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The Godsend

January 18, 2018 at 6:00 pm (Reads) (, , )

godsendThe Godsend by Bernard Taylor

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I hate reading an author’s works out of order. Aside from the fact that I lose seeing the author develop a style through his works, it also means I take a step backward, as few writers write their best books first. In the case of The Godsend, I found a fine book, full of claustrophobic horror, slowly-mounting tension, and a narrator who may or may not be reliable, but I also found a book that isn’t quite as good as Taylor’s follow-up, Sweetheart, Sweetheart.

The Godsend is about a couple with four young children who meet and befriend a pregnant woman they meet at a lake. During a visit to their home, she goes into labor and has her baby before stealing off in the middle of the night, leaving her daughter behind. Efforts to find her go nowhere, and after a length of time, the couple adopts the baby. Shortly thereafter, things begin to go downhill.

Published in 1976, The Godsend came out during the craze that followed The Exorcist, where every author was trying his or her hand at the possessed-child horror genre. This isn’t a genre with which I have a lot of familiarity, but The Godsend stands out by not being a typical possessed-child horror novel. It plays with the tropes of the genre, using the expectations of the reader to build tension. The story winds up being quieter than one would expect, based on its cover and summary, but it’s clear that it’s intentional.

Taylor suggests there’s something not right with their adopted daughter. She’s preternaturally smart, strong, and clever, which doesn’t just raise his alarms, but also raises the reader’s. The thing is, the story is told in the first person from the father’s perspective, so it’s hard to tell if we’re seeing what actually happened, or if we’re only seeing things through his own interpretation of events. The story begins with him telling us about their adopted daughter from some point in the future, so how he recalls the events could be skewed. The question is, if he isn’t a reliable narrator, then how do we interpret the terrible things that happen in this story?

The Godsend is unsettling, in that it forces you to ask uncomfortable questions. It uses ideas and themes that aren’t new to the genre, but Taylor combines them in a unique way, and tells a wildly readable, engaging story to boot. I can see why Sweetheart, Sweetheart is considered his best work, but it would be a disservice to The Godsend to overlook it by comparison.

Started: 10-27-2017
Finished: 10-31-2017

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