Summer Reading Roundup

I tend to read a lot in the summer and slow down in the fall. The extra sunlight fuels my desire to escape, and books provide the easiest way to slip off to another place for a little while. There’s also no football in the summer. Without further ado, here is a roundup of some of the books I enjoyed this past season.

 

The Invention of Ghosts by Gwendolyn Kiste

Gwendolyn Kiste is one of my favorite writers, and I was delighted to have gotten the 100th copy of The Invention of Ghosts. The proceeds for this chapbook went to the National Aviary, and the book has fantastic illustrations throughout. Like the previous work I’ve read by Kiste (And Her Smile Will Untether the Universe and The Rust Maidens), the prose is imbued with poetic beauty, and the story contains a moving emotional core. Anyone who has ever had a friend they’ve lost touch with will be wanting to call that person after reading this. It will also get Donovan’s Season of the Witch stuck in your head.

 

The Only Good Indians by Stephen Graham Jones

By pure chance I happened to watch Deer Woman, an episode of Showtime’s Masters of Horror, not long ago. I was writing a werewolf short story, and I had revisited An American Werewolf in London and happened across Deer Woman as a result. Both works share John Landis as a director, and I should note that Deer Woman is set in the same universe as An American Werewolf in London because the protagonist of Deer Woman references the events of An American Werewolf in London. Anyway, Deer Woman was at least part of the reason why I decided to check out The Only Good Indians, which focuses on similar mythological elements. This novel by Stephen Graham Jones is a lovely, weird romp. Basketball, Native American Reservations, and youth’s sins all factor into why this book is so good. The point of view changes a lot in here, and you even get some chapters from the monster’s perspective. This keeps you feeling uncomfortable and stops you from being able to blindly root for the monster’s demise. These choices by Jones make this book unique.

 

Reanimators by Pete Rawlik

For a while, I’d been thinking, why hasn’t anyone done a story that pulls together a bunch of Lovecraft’s connected mythos into a singular tale? Well, I had somehow foolishly missed out on Reanimators existence until recently. The novel weaves the tale of Dr. Stuart Hartwell, a contemporary of Herbert West, as he moves through the years in and around Arkham. In the narrative, Hartwell encounters several of Lovecraft’s most famous characters and even intersects with several of Lovecraft’s best tales. This was a ton of fun to read, and I can’t wait to dive into the sequel. Maybe one day I’ll do a post trying to diagram out all the references and Easter eggs. Indiana Jones even pops up in the text.

 

Sefira and Other Betrayals by John Langan

I’ve already written pieces on two of John Langan’s previous works, The Fisherman, and The Wide Carnivorous Sky. I loved both of those, and I also enjoyed Sefira. In this collection, some of my favorites were In Paris, in the Mouth of Kronos, The Third Always Beside You, and At Home in the House of the Devil. At Home in the House of Devil was particularly fun because I happened to be writing a paper about Young Goodman Brown while I read it, and there are connections to be made between the two tales. I should also say I’m currently reading John’s latest collection, Children of the Fang and Other Genealogies, which was recently released from Word Horde.

 

The Croning

Laird Barron weaves an interesting tale of dark fantasy and horror here. I especially loved the opening, which is a retelling of the Rumpelstiltskin story in cosmic horror fashion. The protagonist in this novel has memory problems, to say the least, and that makes the narrative intentionally disjointed, but when the ending comes, it makes all the reader’s disorientation serve a ghoulishly good finale where the secrets are revealed, and the debts must be paid.

 

Cycle of the Werewolf by Stephen King

Silver Bullet is one of my favorite horror films of all time. A big part of why I love this movie so much is tied to the fact that I saw it at a young age, but I also think it’s a brilliant gem. The way the movie builds dread as it slowly progresses toward the climax, the excellent performances, and the way the werewolf’s killings impact the small town of Tarker’s Mill combine to make Silver Bullet special. So, it was only a matter of time until I read Cycle of the Werewolf. While I enjoyed the novella, I felt the story worked better as a screenplay. The close bonds between Marty and his sister, and Marty and his uncle, weren’t present in Cycle of the Werewolf, and they’re a major reason why I love Silver Bullet. The story felt hollow without them. Although, the movie didn’t have the stellar art by Bernie Wrightson.

 

Three other books I read this summer were The Color Out of Time, The Ancestor, and A Cosmology of Monsters, but you can find my thoughts on those tales by checking out the links above. It was an excellent summer for horror. Now here’s to the spooky season.

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A Cosmology of Monsters

A Cosmology of MonstersWhile I love the film version of The World According to Garp, I’ve never read a John Irving novel. I should rectify that at some point, but I mention it here to illustrate that I’m missing what Stephen King cites as a significant influence on Shaun Hamill’s A Cosmology of Monsters. That being the case, I still loved Hamill’s book. A Cosmology of Monsters strikes a perfect balance between a literary and genre horror novel. Fans of works at either end of the spooky spectrum should appreciate this tale.

Before I talk about the story, I need to laud this book’s gorgeous exterior (pictured to the left). The cover stopped me dead in the store the first time I saw it. I loved the evocative illustration combined with the bright orange and blue hues. A special shoutout is owed to Na Kim and Kelly Blair, who are listed as being responsible for the jacket illustration and design, respectively. They, and Pantheon Books, did a terrific job on the eye candy. That said, I will now jump into the actual narrative.

Spoilers Below (although I try to keep things vague)

The idea of a horror novel based around a haunted house attraction is brilliant, and that alone might’ve been enough for me to enjoy this work. Yet, by the end of the story, that aspect feels like a minuscule part of the book. The opening pages follow the protagonist’s mother and father, a huge Lovecraft fan, as they start their relationship and marriage. Unfortunately, things take a tragic turn for the father, who dies of cancer. From there, the story focuses on Noah, the youngest son of the couple, as he grows up. His childhood is complicated by the appearance of a monster, who he befriends, and the disappearance of his sister. Eventually, after many twists and turns, Noah discovers a hidden world in which monsters are made, and he must make some horrible choices to save the people he loves. There are a lot of details I’m leaving out, but that was just a quick summary. You’ll need to pick up a copy of the book for the full yarn.

I enjoyed this entire novel, and I read it in only three sittings. There were two standout moments for me. The first was a sexual scene between the monster and Noah. This scene surprised and confused me, and I’m impressed anytime a writer does that to me. Eventually, the scene makes sense as it’s foreshadowing a later revelation, but in the moment, I was befuddled and couldn’t make heads or tails of it, and I just loved that feeling. The second standout moment of the book was the ending. It’s a gut-wrenching ordeal where the protagonist makes a Faustian bargain. I’ll let you discover the choice Noah makes for yourself, but I was impressed by how dark the story got in the end. Conclusions are where many tales fall flat, and I was happy to discover that A Cosmology of Monsters did not. I was left wanting more stories set in the universe of this book. Hopefully, one day Shaun Hamill will continue Noah’s dark journey or give us a new protagonist’s insight on the dark city at the heart of this narrative. That said, based on reading this novel, I’ll be happy to check out whatever Hamill does next. If I still haven’t sold you on A Cosmology of Monsters, you should give a listen to Shaun Hamill’s interview with the Lovecraft ezine for further enticement.

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Surviving

Jeremiah and his wife, Mariah.

Early in Shaun of the Dead, Shaun bumps into his friend Yvonne, who asks him how he’s doing. He replies with, “surviving.” Later in the movie, when the zombie apocalypse is underway, Shaun and Yvonne cross paths again, only for Yvonne to ask the same question and get the same reply. Except this time, “surviving” takes on a darkly humorous connotation. Recently, I asked a friend how he was doing in the current crisis. I got the same comic response that Shaun got, and I mention all that to underline the fact that we’re living through a genuinely trippy time where Shaun of the Dead feels prophetic.

Mariah Cook's painting

First, let me say, I hope everyone reading this is doing well. I hope you’re avoiding the plague, and I hope you’re keeping yourself busy with creative endeavors. My wife has been painting and embroidering since her job closed, and she’s making some wild art. That’s her work pictured to the right. I managed to write three flash fictions and submit them to the NoSleep Podcast last week, but I’ve had a tough time writing because I’m working from home. Doing my day job at my writing desk, I’m finding it physically challenging to sit in the same space after my mandatory eight hours. I feel like my corporate gig has infected and morphed my place of passion like John Carpenter’s The Thing changed the unfortunate souls at Outpost 31. That said, I am incredibly grateful for my continuing paychecks.

Aside from the desk issues, I’m enjoying all the extra time with my good lady wife and cat. I keep reminding her that in any other circumstance, we’d be overjoyed to be staying home, guilt-free. We are still getting out for exercise by going for walks around the neighborhood and to our local park (yes, we’re staying a safe distance away from everyone else). When we’re not doing that, we’re playing one of our many games. We recently completed The Path to Carcosa campaign of Arkham Horror: The Card Game, and we played a bunch of Mansions of Madness yesterday. I love Fantasy Flight’s Arkham Horror Files games because they allow me to imbibe the sweet narratives of Weird Fiction while including my wife.

Of course, games aren’t the only narratives we’re enjoying. We finished the third season of FX’s Legion, which was quite strange. The primary antagonists were pulled straight from The Beatles Yellow Submarine cartoon, they’re the Blue Meanies. I think the series is worth your time if you like a good dose of psychedelia with your superhero tales. We’ve also been re-watching a ton of Community. How has that show been off the air for five years now? It’s a classic, and I especially love the fascinatingly strange season six, which initially aired on Yahoo. On top of those, we’ve been enamored with Devs, Lego Masters, and Better Call Saul, which are all currently ongoing. And last night, I found a gem on Netflix called The Autopsy of Jane Doe, which I loved.

I’m not just watching television, though. I recently finished Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes. I loved seeing how much influence the novel had on Stephen King’s It and season two of Sabrina. Bradbury’s command of language is superb, but I would’ve liked a little more information on the villains of the story, their origins, and how their powers worked. After finishing Something Wicked This Way Comes, I started Creatures of Will and Temper by Molly Tanzer, and I am loving it. I briefly met Tanzer at Necronomi-Con in August, during the Tor Nightfire event. She was super friendly and kind, so it was only a matter of time before I checked out her work. There’s a lesson for all my fellow writers, if you’re kind to people, they’ll probably buy your stuff. Well, at least I will.

Okay, it’s about time I wrapped up this overindulgent self-reflection. Keep washing those hands and staying inside. Don’t forget to reach out to your friends and loved ones to check in on them, play lots of games, and enjoy some art.

Stay Froggy,

Jeremiah

Doctor Sleep by Stephen King

Doctor Sleep (The Shining, #2)Doctor Sleep by Stephen King

I rarely get emotional while reading a novel, but Doctor Sleep managed to make me burst into tears in its final pages. It’s a moment in the novel that feels inevitable long before it occurs, but when it arrives, it still manages to pack a punch. Of course, as my mother won’t let me forget, Stephen King was also responsible for another famed tear burst from me when I was eight. That was due to the ending of the film adaptation of The Green Mile. While King is famed for his twisted imagination, I’ve always found his ability to conjure catharsis just as powerful as his macabre touches.

But maybe I just connected more with Danny Torrance on a personal level then I’d ever realized before. I picked up Doctor Sleep immediately after finishing The Shining. I’d bought it years ago knowing I’d get to it one day. I’d put off reading The Shining for years because I didn’t want to ruin the movie on myself (I figured I’d be unable to enjoy Kubrick’s work after seeing the true vision). Thankfully, I was happy to discover that my heart had room for both versions of The Shining.

While I loved The Shining, I came into Doctor Sleep with low expectations. I’d heard a lot of negative buzz surrounding the book a few years back. After reading the novel, I must say I don’t agree with what I’d heard in the past. I thoroughly enjoyed this work. Not only was I rushing through the pages for the majority of the novel (a King tradition), but I was catching tons of great connections to The Shining. For instance, Edgar Allan Poe’s The Masque of the Red Death is referenced throughout The Shining, and Stephen King finds fun ways to work in new references to it, without actually mentioning it, in Doctor Sleep. A small plot point is that the villains of the story get the measles, a disease that manifests as red bumps ala the red death. There’s also a climactic moment where Dan Torrance manifests a literal red death, but I don’t want to get too spoiler-y in my review.

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed this novel. I felt the opening pages flew by a little quicker than some of the middle sections, but I think that’s typical of most novels. The transition to the secondary protagonist, Abra, felt a little clunky at first, but King eventually found her voice and made her a joy to read. There’s even a twist in the back half of the novel that managed to surprise me, I’d noticed the heavy foreshadowing to it, but I failed to puzzle out the meaning before the revelation. If you’re a King fan or just a fan of The Shining, you should love this book. Now, I can’t wait to see the film adaptation.

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