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Book reviews Books Fiction

The Only Good Indians by Stephen Graham Jones review – an immersive examination of Native American experience and beliefs

The Only Good Indians deals – with a dream-like sense of inevitability – with the fall-out from a hunting trip gone wrong. Ricky, Lewis, Cass and Gabe are four very different Blackfeet men, born and raised on the reservation, taking their last opportunity to hunt together that season. But the elk are all in the section of forest reserved for the elders, and they transgress, crossing the boundary and shooting wild-eyed with “buck fever” at an enormous herd. In the frenzy, Lewis kills a yellow-eyed and pregnant female elk who seems to refuse to die; he forms a connection to her. The trip costs them dearly – losing their rights to hunt on reservation land – and, ten years on, Lewis struggles with a profound sense of guilt.

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Book reviews Books Fiction

Junji Ito’s No Longer Human review – a horror graphic novel adaptation of Osamu Dazai’s vast & uncompromising novel

Junji Ito is not new to adapting novels into his characteristic horror manga style. In 2018, the English translation of his Frankenstein was released. As disappointing as that was, his No Longer Human (2019) is of a much higher calibre, in terms of the detail in the illustrations but also in the depth of the story. Frankenstein seemed stripped in many respects (of its verbose Romantic style and its homoeroticism, in particular). No Longer Human, on the other hand, actually expands upon the original text. This is at times more successful than at others, but it makes for a startling and unsettling repackaging of the novel.

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Book reviews Books Fiction

Hope Island by Tim Major review – claustrophobic, paranoid and exhilarating

We all know one shouldn’t judge a book by its cover. But the artwork for Tim Major’s Hope Island is arrestingly gorgeous and, I’m delighted to report, the story it contains is equally so.

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Book reviews Books Fiction

Distinguishing Features by Kealan Patrick Burke review – short is horrifically sweet

The saying “short and sweet” couldn’t be more appropriate for novelist Kealan Patrick Burke’s new story. Distinguishing Features packs not one but several delightfully gruesome shocks into its 32 pages, at the same time delivering a fully-formed and well-thought-out narrative to get our teeth into.

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Book reviews Books Fiction

A Cosmology of Monsters by Shaun Hamill review – exploring the “escape” of the haunted house and the comfort of monsters

A Cosmology of Monsters takes pains to warn its readers up-front that “happy endings” and other narrative conventions don’t apply to real life. The novel swerves and ducks reader expectations throughout – sometimes in ways that dazzle, sometimes in ways that are profoundly frustrating. While the book’s headers are taken from Lovecraft, and his influence hovers over the work (including a beautifully-realised eldritch location, the City), Hamill wants to explore the way horror fiction, haunted houses and monsters intersect with family life. It’s a bold mission and creates a book which I suspect readers will either love or hate.

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Book reviews Books Fiction

Survivor Song by Paul Tremblay review – a startlingly prescient & cinematic pandemic novel

Survivor Song was written before the coronavirus pandemic: this feels inconceivable. Within the first few pages, we’re plunged into an all-too-familiar scene from the confusion of lockdown. What does the government’s guidance even mean? Should we listen to everything we hear on Facebook about the virus? There’ll be several hours’ worth of queues at the grocery store, and our protagonist – Natalie – has already stress-eaten all the candy in the house. Tremblay’s novel places us in a nightmare vision of 2020, in which New England is caught up in a 28 Days Later-like “rage virus”, and we’re in the twitchy-curtained first few days of the outbreak.

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Book reviews Books Fiction

Isidora’s Pawn by Erik Hofstatter review – high-stakes horror and steamy encounters

I’m a huge fan of the short story. There’s something immensely satisfying about being able to settle with a book, knowing the story will be wrapped up within an hour or so. Of course, there is an art to it – the introduction, development and conclusion of a plot and ideas in a minuscule space – and I tip my hat to those who try, including Erik Hofstaffer in Isidora’s Pawn, a novelette spilling over with grand themes such as unrequited love and deceit.

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Book reviews Books Non-fiction

A Century of Weird Fiction, 1832-1937 by Jonathan Newell review – is disgust at the core of weird fiction?

So-called “genre” fiction has had, since its inception, an issue with defining itself. Even the word itself is vague, coming from the same root as the less-flattering description “generic”. It implies a mass of different types, clustered together haphazardly and cowering beneath the monolithic purity of the much more proper literary fiction.

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Book reviews Books Fiction

Harrow Lake by Kat Ellis review – A love letter to cult horror films with a truly irresistible setting

Harrow Lake by Kat Ellis comes beautifully packaged in a VHS-style slipcover with a faux rating/advisory (“nerve-shredding tension, nail-biting thrills”); the book itself is styled as a VHS cassette. Something of an odd choice for contemporary YA, where – notwithstanding the recent boom in 80s nostalgia – a large part of the target audience may never have played a VHS tape. But with its darkly satisfying tale of a controlling and obsessive horror auteur, a town stuck in its past as a 1920s film set, and the secrets of generational abuse, Harrow Lake is a compulsively readable treat for horror fans of all ages.

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Book reviews Books Fiction

Night Train by David Quantick review – a wild postmodern ride by a comic master

There are all kinds of phrases I want to use to review this book: relentless, unstoppable, outrageous. And I want to see them all under five stars on a billboard-sized movie poster because that is the kind of book this is. Incredibly enjoyable, the only caveat I can provide is that, perhaps like an action movie, while you are in the midst of it you are unable to step back and work out whether it is purely playing with your adrenaline and your heartstrings, or if it is reaching your mind too.