Review: “The Song of Sighs” by Angela Slatter

2 of 5 stars.

This short story stands solidly as Cthulhu-lore fan-fiction without significantly adding to the canon. In this case, the urban legend of Innsmouth hides behind a veneer of amnesia in the psychologically-compromised narrator.

Professor Vivienne Croftmarsh maintains few memories of life before her most recent year of teaching at the Orphans Academy, where gifted forgotten kids are given a second chance. However, her relationship with the other staff is strained. Her pastime is spent translating ancient verses of unknown religious origin.

A very short-lived mystery emerges around the absentee principal and the charming Professor Thackeray’s inappropriate advances to both Dr. Croftmarsh and star-student, Tilly . . .

“The Song of Sighs” appears in New Cthulhu 2: More Recent Weird edited by Paula Guran after originally appearing in Weirder Shadows Over Innsmouth, ed. Stephen Jones (Fedogan & Bremer, 2013). I’ve previously reviewed Slatter’s wonderful short stories: “The Female Factory” and “A Good Husband”.
[Check out my other reviews here.]

Original Poetry: from “Magritte’s Panels”

On the threshold of war,
      Magritte promised liberty
with a painting compartmentalizing
      an octave of ambiguities held in check
by an appliqué-flat
      black cannon

in the space created
      by angled panels.
Walls of verdancy and altocumulus clouds.
      Tessellated mechanisms.
An anonymous nude tilts
      toward a suggestion of flame.
[This is an excerpt from “Magritte’s Panels”. Check out other original poems here.]

Review: Equoid by Charles Stross

Equoid (Laundry Files, #2.9)Equoid by Charles Stross
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This Hugo Award-winning novella adeptly applies the detective noir voice to the Lovecraft horror genre. The result is not unlike Men in Black meets Harry Dresden in rural Britain.

Protagonist Bob Howard narrates this particularly unsettling infestation of unicorns–yes, unicorns–that has upended his normally tedious deskjob:

After a couple years of death by bureaucratic snu-snu (too many committee meetings, too many tedious IT admin jobs) I volunteered for active duty, without any clear understanding that it would mean more years of death by boredom (too many committee meetings, too many tedious IT jobs) along with a side-order of mortal terror courtesy of tentacle monsters from beyond spacetime.

He also shares his dossier with the reader including British government briefings on their history of trying to utilize spacetime monsters and a death-bed confessional from H. P. Lovecraft himself on his dealings with the scheming, carnivorous unicorns. These latter sections are wonderfully written in the antiquated voice that is Lovecraft’s. However, they also contain one of the most horrific sexualized murder scenes set to print–and of a minor at that. Consider yourself forewarned.

Bob also kindly sets the record straight on Lovecraft:

There are bits of the True Knowledge scattered throughout HPL’s oeuvre like corn kernels in a turd. But he left stuff out, and he added stuff in, and he embellished and added baroque twiddles and stylistic curlicues as only H. P. Lovecraft could, until it’s pretty much the safest course to discount everything he talks about–

This story is highly recommended–for the right audience with the warning heeded. Equoid appears in New Cthulhu 2: More Recent Weird edited by Paula Guran after originally appearing at, September 24, 2014.
[Check out my other reviews here.]

Title Fight: Goodreads vs Amazon

Authors love Amazon, more than not. That’s where the money is. But Goodreads also has links for acquiring books with Kindle and Amazon buttons on each book’s page. I prefer Goodreads, for both writing reviews and reading reviews.

Obviously, I post more reviews to my blog than to Goodreads, since I also cover short stories and novellas that don’t always have separate listings. But when I can, I’ll also post to Goodreads and include Goodreads’ link to the book in my blog post. I like that Goodreads and my blog allow for formatting that the Amazon site does not. Maybe they like the no-frills review without special attention to block quotes, but it drives me crazy.

Maybe I’m the only one . . .

When an author submits a book for review to me, and specifically asks that I post to Amazon, I comply–begrudgingly. For all the money they make, Amazon should allow for better user formatting. In my humble opinion.

Do you use Amazon or Goodreads or both? And how? I’m most curious.

Review: “The Boy Who Followed Lovecraft” by Marc Laidlaw

4 of 5 stars.

Capping an anthology of eerie tales of the supernatural and horrific, some inspired by Lovecraft and others blatant fan-fiction, this tale was a pleasant if not startling surprise. It’s historical fiction, and moving at that.

Unhappy is he to whom the memories of childhood bring only fear and sadness.

[“The Outsider” by H. P. Lovecraft]

In 1929, Douglas is a foster child, misunderstood by his “aunts” who raise him. At school, he’s a loner avoiding the other children at recess where they can be cruel. His escape is into reading–fantasy tales of madness and the bizarre. Namely, those by H. P. Lovecraft. Douglas’ teacher wonders if the author might be Howard Phillips Lovecraft of the local Providence area . . .

Douglas finds that it is. And where HPL lives. And where he works. Finally, someone to understand him. Someone that speaks to his heart. But hero-worship rarely survives close inspection . . .

“The Boy Who Followed Lovecraft” appears in New Cthulhu 2: More Recent Weird edited by Paula Guran after originally appearing in Subterranean Press Magazine, Winter 2011.
[Check out my other reviews here.]

Review: “In the House of the Hummingbirds” by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

2 of 5 stars.

This tale is framed as a one-sided tape-recorded interview of a night watchman’s brush with the unexplained, a haunting, in a house of note in Mexico City. The House of the Hummingbirds is so named for its hummingbird relief that references the Aztec god of war and his historic depiction as a hummingbird. An ancient well in the courtyard of the house shares the hummingbird motif. The stone-capped well also creeps out the intellectually dull narrator.

When the narrator has to train a university student to cover weekend shifts, the trainee’s architectural interest in the well sends the unnamed narrator into a chest-thumping tizzy. Needless to say, the student won’t obey orders to leave the well alone . . .

Little is described in this tale which seemingly aims for Horror, but achieves Urban Legend of Implied Maybe-Something-Happened status before the interview is unceremoniously finished.

“In the House of the Hummingbirds” appears in New Cthulhu 2: More Recent Weird edited by Paula Guran after originally appearing in Lovecraft eZine, Issue #19, November 2012.
[Check out my other reviews here.]

Review: Hawser by J. Hardy Carroll

HawserHawser by J. Hardy Carroll
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This historical fiction novel is highly recommended. War novels are not my usual go-to, though I do enjoy an Erik Larson historical fiction now and then. Hawser brought WWII and the Air Force’s role in the American European campaign to life, as the protagonist arrives in Britain with the 1st wave of Americans and B-17s. Hawser, an Iowa-born, Arizona-raised bombardier, gives an inside perspective into the mindset of the war-wracked soldier and into the workings of the evolving planes of the war.

The story opens on the starving shell of Lt. Hawes amid the grinding routine of an Air Force officer’s POW camp hoping to make it another day, another hour. Then, the story flashes back to his arrival into the new world of war and the various men and women he’d met along the way.

Stress is high, camaraderie is true and romance is a warped thing doomed before it begins.

It was an odd unhinged emptiness. I felt like a kite with a cut string, the wind still blowing hard but in no particular direction, no thread of resistance to guide me. I wouldn’t have been surprised to float off my cot and into the tent ceiling, continue higher still with canvas shroud until I was as far above the camp as I had been over Hamburg or Schweinfurt.

Nobody’s approach to the war and their role in it is the same. Hawser and the richly developed secondary characters feel very real, with superb use of regional accents and military jargon enjoyably appropriate.

I received my copy of the book when the author contacted me directly through The Book Review Directory, a blog.
[Check out my other reviews here.]

Review: “They Smell of Thunder” by W. H. Pugmire

2 of 5 stars.

This horror tale melds artistic creation with supernatural inspiration as outre-intrigued visual artist, Enoch Coffin, travels to horror-tainted Dunwich, MA to meet divinely-inspired prose poet, Xavier Aboth in order to illustrate Aboth’s latest collection.

This deeply uneven tale starts beautifully, casting an eerie light on Aboth’s interactions with his surroundings. Likewise, the relationship between the 2 men shifts toward an easy homo-eroticism, artistic-spiritual in nature. Aboth, however, cannot reconcile his education and idiolect with his poetry created in possessed states.

Soon, the landscape problematically assumes a bigger role in Coffin’s assessment of Aboth. The word Horror gets thrown around like a tangible thing, without showing what this horror might be as if pointing to a Lovecraft reference is enough. A fill-in-the-blank horror story does not work without anything implied to spark the reader’s imagination.

The crafted story falls to the side, as numerous elements of Lovecraft mythos are dropped without description or context, leading the reader precisely nowhere.

“They Smell of Thunder” appears in New Cthulhu 2: More Recent Weird edited by Paula Guran after originally appearing in Encounters with Enoch Coffin (Dark Regions Press, 2013).
[Check out my other reviews here.]

Original Poetry: from “Magritte’s Panels”

Venice of the Middle East – Basra City.

Canals radiate from the Shatt al Άrab
      until it unfolds into the sea.
Stillness envelops mid-day
      along pockmarked streets.

A sun illuminates
      empty window ledges.
Sheets are drawn
      where there are no curtains.

Armored vehicles define
      areas of influence.
There is a dusty
      matte-sheen to them.

And a torpid response
      to necessary errands.
A dull peace
      derives from their presence.
[This is an excerpt from “Magritte’s Panels”. Check out other original poems here.]

Review: “Who Looks Back?” by Kyla Ward

3 stars.

Drawing from a Lovecraftian place, this short tale takes a natural disaster and offers a potential supernatural horror interpretation of the events upon the two protagonists.

Waimangu, New Zealand is a young dynamic landscape shaped by seismic and volcanic forces that churn the earth and turn lakes into super-heated, gas-leaking acid baths. Here, extreme eco-touring friends, Kelsie and Lewis, descend to race across a valley using parkour the urban, gymnastic, cross country sport. Amid toxic, hallucinogenic gases and caustic thick steam, the two lose their senses and their bead on each other as thermal vents go active.

Throughout the story, the POV changes from focusing on one main character to the other with every other paragraph. Appropriately, as each is experiencing a unique, disorienting read on the landscape, the collective disorientation levels up.

“Who Looks Back?” appears in New Cthulhu 2: More Recent Weird edited by Paula Guran after originally appearing in Shotguns v. Cthulhu, ed. Robin D. Laws (Stone Skin Press, 2013).
[Check out my other reviews here.]