#BestReads2019: The shortest short-list

Best Reads 2012

Best Reads 2013

Best Reads 2014

Best Reads 2015

Best Reads 2016

Best Reads 2017

Best Reads 2018 

I’ve been at this since 2012 I think. That’s 8 years of reading choices. For the most part each book was carefully chosen, because it had inspired and thought-provoked me in one way or another. Or had just made me laugh, or fear, or cry. If I were to go back now through each list I’d be able to tell you a story connected to this or that book and it would make it a tiny bit more personal from me to you. I tried doing that in the small reviews which accompany each book.

This year the list is shorter, but short is sweet, no? I still hope you might find something new or remember something old through this list. And if you’re feeling particularly lonely or nostalgic towards some year of this passing decade, click on the link, browse some. You might catch a memory, might remember a story or discover a new one. Who knows. As always: feel free to leave comments with your favorite books. I’m open to suggestions to kick off the new year with.

 

CRIME

The Trespasser by Tana French

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Was not in the market for procedural crime novels, but holy fuck I’m glad I picked this one up.

A lover’s quarrel ends up bloody. A pretty girl is dead and they call it a domestic. One of the predictable ones. The how and why seem pretty obvious. Until they aren’t and things get shifty. Nothing really fits, the bits and pieces discovered don’t make up the puzzle whole. The story leans at odd angles which is what I loved about it. At the beginning there’s almost this unsettling, unnatural feeling about the world, the case and it mainly comes from the perspective of the main character – it gets you rubbing your hands to keep warm, makes you eye the trees from the corner of your eye lest they bend too low and block out the weak sun in that gunmetal sky.

The lead character, one Detective Antoinette Conway is super though and merciless – she doesn’t take shit from anyone and in her case, a lead detective in the Murder Squad in good ol’ Dublin, there’s a lot of shit to take from her colleagues. She’s on edge, tip-toeing with razor sharp precision around other detectives attached to this case, which keeps getting more convoluted by the minute. Her theories and those of her partner spiral them both down a hole they’d rather not slide into.

I absolutely loved Detective Conway – her brutal approach towards the harassment she receives on a daily basis is honest and her way of navigating through this world is very forward, very fast-paced. She’s learned how to deal with assholes, but that doesn’t make it any easier. Her voice, god bless Tana French, is what I’d been wanting to hear in my head. She’s the type of character I love to spend time with – although she’s very heavy-minded, there’s an aura of death and darkness around her, she’s a delight to listen to, to hear her honest opinion on the world, the people, life. She’s the loner, the late-night drinker and thinker. She’s calculative. And no, you won’t read big action scenes in this book, you won’t get to experience the peril the main character faces. You’ll sit in interview rooms and listen to murder suspects get manipulated into the truth by experienced detectives. You’ll see the roles they play and how they use them to get out the truth. And you’ll want more. Thankfully there’s a whole series based around the Dublin Murder Squad with different characters taking the lead. Go check it out if you’re in the market for some crime!

SCI-FI

Borne by Jeff VanderMeer

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I’ll be honest – I don’t even know where to begin with this one. Is it sci-fi? Sure. Is it fantasy? Absolutely. Is it very unusual – a post-apocalyptic world, so dystopian, right? But the world we get to experience in the novel has been destroyed by a gigantic, flying, yes flying bear named Mord. Yep, you heard that right. The Company, the big Evil, a biotech company now lies in ruins mostly – and serves it right for creating monsters and torturing them until they go insane, learn to fly and burst out through the roof. Yes, we’re talking about Mord again. I mean as scary as it is, can you imagine an enormous flying bear? Would it be a black bear or a brown bear? Sorry, I got carried away…Anyways…

So we’re far into the future and society as we know it is no longer. To get by, Rachel, our main character lives as a scavenger and her loot is often entangled in the fur of Mord. Her partner, no wait, lover, Wick often uses what she’s found and what he’s found as genetic material for the freaky drugs he makes and sells (they create happy memories out of our own minds or depends on how they’ve been manufactured, you get to experience someone else’s happier days from the past. Also they look like tiny creatures, so…there’s that). One day though Rachel discovers an odd creature stuck there in Mord’s fur and she takes it to her sanctuary. She names the creature Borne.

Borne is not something easily describable. It alters for us readers as it does for Rachel and it creates a bond with her that we’re eager to de-mystify, because it makes no sense, it has no source, no back story. At first.

VanderMeer throws biotech, magic, monsters, drugs, visions, ruins, weapons, everything at you in the form of a very neatly written story, easily dived into. It’s fun to explore, it’s very refreshing in the genre, and the narrative feels like it knows where its going, knows what to offer you at each stage. So you’re not in over your head with that many names, or entities at first. You understand the basics of the world, but the story slowly unwraps more and more of it. 10/10.

HORROR

Coraline by Neil Gaiman

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Yes, I’ve put Coraline into the Horror section of this list, because as much as it is a children’s story, it’s strange and far darker than you’d imagine. (Well done Neil Gaiman, you’ve managed to make buttons scary.) I love the screen adaptation and wanted for a long time to read the story raw, page by page. Oh boy.

It’s a story to finish in one sitting with it being something like 150 pages long, but don’t get fooled. Short is sweet, but also scary. Preoccupied with work parents and a desire for exploration and adventure lead Coraline through a door into a world matching her own like a mirror – only difference is, her (other) mother and (other) father grace her with their attention and affection. They offer unconditional love, delicious food, games and songs and not a trouble in the world – all things Coraline terribly desires – for only a small price – that Coraline stay with them forever. And that she replace her eyes with buttons. To match mammy and daddy of course.

Coraline is a clever novel as I’ve found all Neil Gaiman stories are – it’s funny, charming, haunting, scary, hopeful, sad. I particularly like my edition of it, because it has illustrations done by Dave McKean, who I respect and love for his Sandman cover art. His depiction of the other-mother will haunt my dreams for years to come!

If you want a short novel to read wrapped in a blanket on a wintery night, but also want some spooks and you have a door in your house you’ve never opened, but are curious about, this is definitely for you.

 

PHILOSOPHICAL

The Sailor Who Fell from Grace With the Sea by Yukio Mishima

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There’s a long, more extensive review of the book I did some months ago which you can check out HERE, so I might be repeating myself  now.

This story is fascinating.

It’s about cosmic superiority, existence in a reality bordering on social chaos but also constructed of perfection. It’s about the sea and how it looks from the window; it’s about ships and how they sound in the night; it’s about a stranger who seems larger than life and comes with stories which sound heroic and he, the hero of them; it’s about a stranger who comes to visit and decides to stay; it’s about love or the lack of it, about disappointment, and about understanding how one sits in the world between those two feelings. It’s magnificent, thick with poetry, rich in language and bound to either enchant you or leave you somewhat hollow. Me, it left with wonder and awe, of the parallels it drew, the colors it shifted.

If you haven’t had the chance to introduce yourself to Mishima, do it through “The Sailor Who Fell from Grace With the Sea”. I highly recommend it.

BIOGRAPHY

Elon Musk Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future by Ashlee Vance

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If you’re even a bit interested in the life and person of Elon Musk, this is the book you need on your shelf for those moments when you’re feeling especially entrepreneur-ish or Musk has tweeted something nerdy and you want to know who does that personality trait of his have anything to do with sending rockets into space or running a multi-billion dollar company for electrical vehicles. It’s a journalistic investigation into his life created via interviews, facts, memories, stories. It doesn’t paint him neither black, nor white. So it keeps honest to who Musk is and why he’s that person.

If you feel like getting to know the real-life Tony Stark, this is your guide book to his quirkiness, to his insane workaholic lifestyle, to his business, his inspiration, his desire.

HISTORY

Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman

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Why do I feel the title and the author should be reason enough to buy and read this? No review, just straight up get that on your kindle or better yet, get the hardcover (it’s gorgeous) and have a mead while you’re reading some of the best norse myths re-told by Neil Gaiman in his masterful way of telling stories and bringing characters to life.

What seeps through this book is Neil’s own love for mythology. You can see a lot of it in his own work, so this is also an homage to the source material. He’s managed to rekindle my love for reading myths by taking these much known characters – Odin, Thor, Loki to name a few – and making them very vivid, very alive. They emerge from the pages with all their glory and all their faults, wise and not so wise, cunning and then again played for a fool, angry and happy and immortal.

It’s a fresh breath of air for mythology.

I’ll inject an honorable mention right here, because it’s related. Zeus Grants Stupid Wishes: A No-Bullshit Guide to World Mythology by Cory O’Brien is also I think a very neat way of getting people into reading mythology. This compilation of myths from all corners of the world is hilarious and full of profanity. In a good way. Compared to Gaiman’s Norse Mythology, there is nothing to compare  – the epic tales told with Gaiman’s masterful prose are one, and this here explores the crazy side of myths, which is also fun in my opinion.

 

GRAPHIC NOVELS & MANGA

Ascender by Jeff Lemire, Dustin Nguyen

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Do ya’ll remember Descender? The beautifully drawn, pastel sci-fi comics about a boy bot, his robot dog and the fate of the universe? If yes, good for you, well done, you’ve had fun reading it!

If not, go check it out – it’s a beautiful blend between that old sci-fi feel with a fresh plot and great characters.

Now “Ascender” itself takes places some 10+ years after the events in the first series and whilst the original storyline dealt with dehumanization, the uprising of robots and the civil dispute and war between the two factions (this being the spoiler free, short version of all the events that transpire. Spoiler warning: there are giant, cosmic robots), this time around the story focuses on the re-discovery of magic, pure and latent, now stirred free from the nether of the universe. Of course the story keeps with its fast paced sci-fi narrative, only this time it follows the daughter of one of the main characters from “Descender”.

I highly recommend this graphic novel, because the story is very refreshing and again it has breathtaking art.

Fragments of Horror by Junji Itto

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Okay, this one I’ve been meaning to dig into for quite a while. At the Aniventure ComicCon this year there was an entire section dedicated to Junji Itto and I spent a good chunk of time staring at titles that meant nothing to me, trying to pick up a good manga to start off with. So I did a little research, a little sneak peak into the comment section in GoodReads and decided to dive straight into Itto with the help of “Fragments of Horror”.

You can see just by the cover art that it’s a worthy purchase – I love “Skrik” by Edvard Munch, so maybe that helped with the choice, but other than that and a nice rating online, I knew nothing about the stories compiled inside these 230 pages.

The anthology does not disappoint. I’m not a big fan of manga mainly because there weren’t any available for buying back when I was really into anime too. But I’m a fan of horror so introducing myself more in depth with Junji Itto felt like a nice starting point for my manga reading experience.

The collection consists of 8 macabre tales which range from strange to stranger still, because whilst being dipped into the horror genre, they have a nice range of subgenres woven into them – some are funny, some carry a heavy dose of eroticism, some are downright freaky and eew! inspiring. Visualizing each story for the page must have been so much fun- Itto has a very specific style of drawing, I’m sure you’ve come across some of his pieces online one way or another. Here’s a memory jogger:

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Yeah, you’ve seen something similar to that.

I had a lot of fun reading this anthology and can now proudly call myself a fan of Junji Itto. So I’ll be looking forward to more of his stories, more of his art, because they do give a good unsettling spook. Too good…

 

And that’s it! I doubt that all the best reads of the decade have gone into these lists uploaded here, but some of the good stuff are definitely here – for me at least. So join in, share a book or two or three, heck there’s no limiter on sharing good books. Here’s to another 10, hopefully!

 

 

 

The Sailor Who Fell from Grace with the Sea – Review

The Sailor Who Fell from Grace with the Sea

By

Yukio Mishima

“All six of us are geniuses. And the world, as you know, is empty.”
― Yukio Mishima, The Sailor Who Fell from Grace with the Sea

This novel is difficult to review. Because of what it says and how it says it, it is an object of long analyses and symbolical interpretations. Mishima has an incredibly luxurious vocabulary. I found the novel astonishingly poetic  – to me it became very vibrant in its use of the colors that constructed the world of each individual character, including the sea itself on a canvas below the night sky of Yokohama. To me it was very viral and alive in its auditory aspect, of the way the characters spoke through their inner monologues. I’m not going to try to analyze it but rather try to review what captured my interest. So be warned!

To paraphrase an introduction to this novel, Gogo no Eik or as it is widely known “The Sailor Who Fell From Grace with the Sea” is a beautifully written, but darkly told story about Noburo, his mother Fusako and a ship officer she meets named Ryuji.

Noburo belongs to a band of 13-year old boys eerily reminiscent of the group you remember from the “Lord of the Flies”.  The boys are led by a Chief and address themselves through numbers and ranks instead of names. The Chief trains them in something he calls objectivity –  being physically and mentally numb to emotions but also pornography, murder, sex, humanity… Noburo in the duration of the novel ranks at number 3 and he is constantly tested and teased especially after his mother begins a more lasting affair with the sailor Ryuji.

The thing about the notorious secret group Noburo is a member of is that their Chief prophesies the pure hatred of the father figure.

“There is no such thing as a good father because the role itself is bad. Strict fathers, soft fathers, nice moderate fathers — one’s as bad as another. They stand in the way of our progress while they try to burden us with their inferiority complexes, and their unrealized aspirations, and their resentments, and their ideals, and the weaknesses they’ve never told anyone about, and their sins, and their sweeter-than-honey dreams, and the maxims they’ve never had the courage to live by — they’d like to unload all that silly crap on us, all of it!” 
― Yukio Mishima, The Sailor Who Fell from Grace with the Sea

The six boys believe in their cosmic superiority and aspire to exist in a reality made by them that is bordering on social chaos but which is also perfection again in a cosmic, greater than life way in which they are not limited, they are not controlled. Since Noburo’s father has passed he is considered the lucky one of the group.  The Chief believes he can understand the futility of human life and society, so he destroys both in his new world, the one he creates by speaking to the other boys. The boys share daily mishaps from their personal lives that are the doing of their fathers – from violent outbursts to pure negligence.

Noburo has a great passion and understanding of ships and the sea. For him the sea is the only truth. When on a visit to the commercial steamer Rakuyo he and his mother meet Ryuji. Later on the adults engage in a night of passion while Noburo stares through a peephole drilled in a dresser in his room – there he experiences the “natural order of the universe”, because while having sex a ships horn sounds in the night and Ryuji turns towards it thus turning away from passion and continuing to be drawn by the sea and towards it. So this vision of perfection that Noburo cherishes makes Ryuji a hero destined to do great things and that is so for both parties concerned, because Ryuji himself believes his destiny to be one of great honor and glory, of immortality in sea.  His dream and his destiny ultimately lead to death at sea. His pure disconnection and even resentment for the land is put to a test when he falls in love with Fusako thus deciding to stay. To Noburo’s disappointment Ryuji falls from grace in his eyes as he is deemed too romantic and soft and not the hero the boy believed him to be. The transgressions pile up until Noburo shares them with his fellow misfits. The punishment they enlist on Ryuji for failing them and failing Noburo and for becoming his father is a vile and cruel one.

Summing up this novel is a strange task, I found. There’s so much packed in 180 pages that the brief summary above addresses just the periphery of each storyline, just the basic influence, emotional charge the novel gives you. Even though my understanding of Mishima as a person or a writer is far, far too shallow and his beliefs are, like I mentioned, something you’d put into a multiple-paged analyses, I still cannot deny that I enjoyed “The Sailor Who Fell From Grace with the Sea” a great deal.  It was fairly easy to get lost in his version of Yokohama even when the words put on the pages were uncomfortable or bordering on mad. The way his characters think, I assume is how Mishima used to.  They have a very clear understanding of what they want and who they are for themselves, but life becomes a vantage point from which their facts change drastically and yet again take on a solid form, a new storyline that has an end to it, that has a purpose which could be different from the original, but it is still grounding for the character or characters.  You might not like these changes, I might not like them. The novel deals heavily with dehumanization, alienation, glory through death. Usually those would be subjects I’d dismiss because they are very extreme and final. So the novel pushes social norms to the brink of insanity, to the breaking point in which we sit and read and watch as chaos unfolds.

There are these obvious parallels that you can clearly see once the story begins. My advice is to get to know Mishima first before you start reading just to get a better grasp of why certain things are written the way they are. I said some things here and there in the above text but I mostly draw from my conclusions and what I’ve been introduced to while looking Mishima up.

These parallels come from Mishima himself as the characters carry his own philosophy and ideology into the narrative and thus shape it on a more personal scale which is interesting. You’d read the novel, you’ll know what I’m talking about.

Fusako for example is a direct representation of westernization by way of her style of living, her choice in imported clothes, her line of business. It’s a lifestyle she is keen on implementing in her household so Noburo also carries some traits though they are mostly visual rather than imbued into his being. If you read into Mishima himself as a person you won’t be surprised to know he despised the Western invasion in Japan. Noboru on the other hand, is more leaning into traditional Japan, so he’s a thread through to Mishima, a character in more direct connection. Ryuji is a dreamer but his dreams involve blunt heroism and a glorious death, so he’s quite selfish in that regard, there is a scent of narcissism around him that blows away in the wind as his character is felled from grace. From what I’ve gathered and read, Ryuji and this drive of his towards heroism represent Mishima’s own political thoughts as he was a known fighter for his country, a known rebel.

It’s no surprise that Mishima took his own life in a ritualistic way (seppuku) after a failed coup attempt. He was an avid keeper of the code of the samurai and a firm believer in protecting the Emperor of Japan, but also according to history and his biography, his death was something he more or less organized and prepared for and more so longed for. So his ideologies and pride of masculinity leek into his works, particularly here because of Ryuji who is the embodiment of masculinity – a lone strong male, with a destiny set out to sea, longing a glorious death. You can see the points of comparison.

This was supposed to be a short review. I feel once I’ve posted this I might come back and add something because that’s how things usually spin with “The Sailor Who Fell From Grace with the Sea”. There is no doubt the novel is a masterpiece. I was honestly surprised that it captured me so immensely, that it drove its thoughts on life or lack of one that deep that I was musing on it even when I wasn’t reading. It’s without a doubt a novel that shows how Mishima saw the world and society. It’s cruel in its own way. And I highly recommended it.

“And it seemed increasingly obvious that the world would have to topple if he was to attain the glory that was rightfully his. They were consubstantial: glory and the capsized world.” 
― Yukio Mishima, The Sailor Who Fell from Grace with the Sea

Five strangers at the Stonebark Hotel

Only for one person at a time.* This was the one simple rule of the Stonebark Hotel. But there were five people inside it at the moment, all at the same time. They were gathered in the lobby clutching their bags and suitcases, some tagged in cursive distant names, some untagged akin to runaways, some containing the hidden glare of an old canine bark.

“Пълен абсурд!“ exclaimed a dark-browed man with a twisted ferocious mustache sparkled with ginger.

“Pardon, what was that you were saying?” the remaining four quizzed but their eyes only, though it was audible enough.

The man, who was a historian, cleared his gloomy aura with an energetic wave. It dispersed in the still air above their heads and as it did he smiled.

“Let me deliver that in a more readable fashion – Pulen absurd!” he repeated and the other four guests semi-nodded, set more at ease by the appearance and usage of the English alphabet this time round.

“It is brutally absurd, yes, but we are all desperate and be damned Stonebark’s rules! I am not leaving….and, well neither is anyone else…of you.” No one had demanded they leave the hotel, but the golden-haired huntsman who had just spoken had cashed in his insurance.  Just in case.

“But if there’s only one bed, then what?” he continued.

“Абсурд бе! Триетажен хотел с две крила…What I mean to stress is that what you are implying is impossible and highly improbable.”

The huntsman frowned and beckoned the other three to include themselves into the conversation.

“Well viewed from both exterior and interior, If say there is only one bed, therefore only one room, located within one floor, containing one door that logically should lead to the mentioned room and bed, then shouldn’t we at least entertain the possibility of us having to share that one bedroom?” It was a small woman counting the many variables on the long and knobby fingers of her left hand while the ones on her right twisted an unruly lock of curly grey hair.

Some quick calculations were made.

“I’m not sharing any beds, or rooms, or doors, or floors. I demand my own privacy as I’m sure you do yours as well.” The man was thin and lanky and in a possession of a great number of wrinkles set around thunderstorm eyes glaring from a bony face, shaped by an elongated skull. His matter of fact tone was somewhat frowned upon.

“I will just have to second that opinion, though not as harshly. I would like privacy and the full size of a bed just for myself and Mulberry here.” The small woman who spoke next shook gently her handbag which was now loudly snoring.

The five exchanged a cacophony of arguments each out bidding the next with the value of a self-owned, or bought for the night room. Each fought for the importance of having the utmost privacy and ownership of an individual bed. Fast enough they were out of breath and the bidding had reached astronomical proportions of the impossible.

“Arguments aside, friends, what if we arrive to a discovery that the room is indeed only one? If each of us takes up the exact same size portion of the bed, we’d equal in space and use the room to its full permitted potential and therefore the bed in its full capacity, no?” The grey-haired woman urged them with hopeful wide eyes.

“But is the bed big or small? Because if it is on the tiny side we’d have to slice and dice to fit each individual body shape and that’s just not good enough for me personally.” The huntsman propped himself on his rifle. (Yes, he has a rifle, he’s a huntsman after all.)

The old woman set down her Mulberry containing bag and began sketching a quick asymmetrical illustration of a bed with five stick figures on it, but because she used her fountain pen on one of the disposable hotel handkerchiefs it ended up resembling a melting pond with hybrid frog characters.

“Well, it gives a sort of an idea…”

“I’d vote big – много голямо, просторно и udobno leglo!” The dark-browed man stretched in anticipation, completely dismissing the puzzled but still-semi accepting in half-understanding stares of his lobby buddies.

“Me as well – big! Huge even,” erupted into laughter the huntsman. (the rifle, remember?)

“Well I don’t want to offset the vote so, I say big!” the woman’s grey curls bobbled.

“I’ll gamble on a large one as well,” the thunderstorm eyes of the tall man showed some yellow lightning.

“Mulberry and I will much appreciate a good night’s rest – a spectacular, large bedroom bed it is!” the woman’s handbag barked excitedly, fully awake.

There was a sizzling noise, a whispering noise, noise that made dog’s ears prickle, that slipped in through the space between window and wall and time.  It was a noise coming between the grey haired woman’s teeth.

“If the bed is big would that automatically mean the room is also big? Or would it compensate and trade bed size for room size? And what about the door – will it follow a pattern of big, small, big? Also, also the corridor and then the floor itself…or does it start out to in – floor, corridor, door, room, bed, therefore big, small, big, small, big?”

“Valid questions and observation,” the tall man tapped his inverted chin with an elongated nail.

“I have no problem with either sequence as long as the bed is big,” the huntsman said, the three other visitors nodding.

“Why not have an individual bed each? A floor and a door and a room for everyone present.”

The words belonged to a newcomer, come from somewhere deep inside the layout of the Stonebark Hotel. His mannerisms were foreign and his face was four parts of happy, angry, sad and indifferent. He watched the visitors through deep grey eyes, a hand tucked inside his gold lined robes. A chain of equally rich gold hung loose like a thin mandala from his greyish wrist. It emanated a low hum as he moved inside the center of the lobby where the five stood.

“Who are you? Кой е този мъж?” asked the mustached man.

“The proprietor of the hotel obviously, come to settle our predicament,” stated the huntsman cheerfully while clutching his rifle close.

“Looks more like a lobby boy to me, a piccolo. Isn’t that correct, bell boy?” said the tall man.

“I say he’s a guest here just like us. Which unfortunately would make six and therefore splitting the bed might become more mathematically correct and yet more difficult in practice.” Mulberry barked in agreement from deep within the brown leather bag.

“Didn’t any of you hear what he asked?” the grey curls bobbled up and down with their own gravity. “Sir, whoever you are, what did you mean by what you said?”

The new man showed them his happy-sad face.

“I am a guest here, but I also own this hotel. I am the lobby boy, the receptionist, the cook, the cleaner. I am the Stonebark itself. The rule always applies – only for one person at a time. However you five are here, came through those doors one by one as Destiny perhaps allowed it, but there was and is only one bed on one floor, behind one door, in one room as the hotel’s last guest experienced it too.”

His face was angry and his hair a wild thing on his head, black and white and grey and red.

“Now I cannot abide by my one simple rule even though it is sacred and ancient and a part of me. Despite that you are guests and I generously offer you a bed each.”

“And if we were to refuse?” asked the huntsman.

“We should leave,” stated the thunderstorms in the lanky man’s eyes.

“You cannot,” simply answered the robed stranger. “If you have spent an eon arguing about who gets what piece of bedding be it large or small placed in an ever expanding or constantly shrinking space on a floor which both exists and doesn’t behind a door which may or may not unlock, why do tell are you excited to probe the idea of leaving my hotel?”

“I shan’t want to stay in a place where I am not invited and thought off. Any hotel should have at least three rooms or four beds.” The old woman and the old dog cemented their opinion with a pout and a growl.

“She speaks it fair, my good sir. We came in, but if the situation is as such, we wouldn’t want to be a bother and break the rules.” The tall man closed his eyes in agreement.

“Тъй и тъй сте казали, ако решите и аз тръгвам. That is, I agree as well,” the mustache on the man’s face twitched.

“I’m not exactly a stickler for rules, but your hotel has a most ridiculous one that begs to be broken,” the golden huntsman smiled with a golden tooth.

“There is a sense in what you all say, but if we were to leave, where would we go?” the grey-hared woman pointed at the front door with a long and bony finger decorated in rings with various colored stones. The stranger became sad.

“Out there you will find Nothing. You will see Nothing, hear Nothing, feel Nothing. It will consume you then abandon you to sleep on its doorstep which will remain forever locked and chained. Nothing would be glad to obtain you before you become empty and have nothing more to fill it with. You will never be able to find your way back to the Stonebark.”

“We are prisoners then?!” roared the huntsman visibly startled.

“Trapped with each of both decisions we can make,” grimly announced the tall man, his wrinkles deepening to moon craters.

“Тотален absurd!” exclaimed yet again the dark-browed foreign historian as he sat heavily in one of the arm chairs.

“I have rights, we all do! I demand freedom from both situations, for neither I, nor Mulberry will sleep here or out there!”

“But, there isn’t anything out there…and in here we must abide by a rule, but also break it, thus both offending and agreeing with our host. I believe you lied to us, sir. You will never break your precious rule and you just came to us after we’ve been here for a long time arguing. What is the catch?” The grey woman seemed older and wiser. They all waited in the in-between.

“Well caught my dear lady, my first guest. You are all in a sense trapped.” His robes were absent of sound as barefoot he moved to be amongst them standing taller and thinner. The golden chain chimed, the deep hum it created in its back and forth sway filling in the lobby like some Doomsday music. The happy face was back.

“Out there you too are Nothing, but in here you are guests of the infamous Stonebark hotel. Its rule is what keeps it whole, grounded, tame, everlasting. It keeps the universe in order. You have all been invited in your own time and pace but alas you came together in one day so it posed a problem and I waited to see a solution. You argued within your minds and between each other but agreed to share a bed, a room, a door, a floor. Then you agreed to leave when you felt offended and looked down upon. Only my first guest had doubts which grew when I appeared. Only for one person at a time. And you are five. We must always keep the rule, never break it. That is why there shall be five Stonebark hotels, five corridors, five floors, five doors, five room and five beds for each of you. Can you imagine those?”

The robed stranger’s face was not happy. It was triumphant, a tiny smirk, a sparkle in the pools of dark grey that were his ancient eyes.

“I sure can,” the huntsman who was called D. said first.

“Да, it looks easy enough,” the historian who was named R. said second.

“I suppose so,” spoke the tall man who was named E.

“Mulberry shouldn’t have a problem, nor should I,” excitedly said the old woman whose name was A.

“Identical yet somehow different. I can, yes,” admitted the grey-haired lady who answered to M.

The stranger’s gold chain ceased its humming. He put it back in a pocket in his robe.

“Child’s play, imagination, isn’t it? Now you should say your goodbyes for your rooms await you with the softest beds, hidden behind gold doors, on gold carpeted corridors.”

“We are to be alone?” the curly woman exclaimed suddenly.

“Hang on we haven’t agreed to that,” the huntsman protested.

“Сам сами? С кого…with whom will I drink my tea? I don’t want to be alone!” the dark bushy eyebrowed man cried.

“I have Mulberry as my company but he gets lonely with only little old me all day long.” Mulberry barked, yes he would be sad.

“I prefer solitude. However, in this case in such a large hotel to be alone would be a crime,” the thunderstorm eyes had some rain in them, a light drizzle visible.

The lobby was shifting with circular motions, splaying from itself. A kaleidoscopic view began a slow rotation taking apart furnishing and wall and all creating a new chandelier and chairs and lamps and desks and piano splitting them, becoming them five. It constructed new identical staircases that shot up to a single second floor, spanning a single corridor, down which was only one gold-framed door. It would open with ease to invite each of the five guests into a large, spacious room with golden embroidered curtains, a black starry sky window and in its center they would find a huge soft bed that could fit five people easily. It however would fit only one at a time this night and the nights of eternity which were to follow.

The grey haired woman experienced her lobby slide to the right and her sliding with it to an empty hotel.

“I refuse to be alone!” she yelled to the Stonebark watching her through the eyes of the stranger.

“I am afraid there is a rule, dear guests of mine. The hotel after all can fit only one person at a time.”

The five lobbies clicked into place simultaneously. After a while bags were carried upstairs into empty beautiful rooms and a somewhat familiar receptionist winked at each five guests at the same time. The Stonebark Hotel was full but it anticipated new guests shortly.

 

*The line used as a prompt for this story was taken from the pages of Neil Gaiman’s “Art Matters“.

We Sold Our Souls – Review 🤘

We Sold Our Souls

by

Grady Hendrix

 

“Strums a guitar on flames”

Let me take you down on a metal memory lane trip back to the 90’s when MTV had actual music with actual musicians and heavy metal was no mainstream…no, forget it. That’s kind cliché, isn’t it?

But still let’s toss some hair around and aggressively stroll back to the 90’s to meet the rising heavy metal band called, wait for it

Dürt Würk

Dürt Würk is born and formed out of boredom, anxiety, bloodied fingertips, and childhood trauma I suppose. Kris Pulaski, the only female part in the band learns her notes and Black Sabbath intros in the basement of her home and soon enough other outcasts flock to form what is essentially every band’s biopic journey – it’s epic in a blood spitting way, ends each night with shouts and sucker punches; plays at the utmost dumps and run-down bars etcetera; creates massive mosh pits that end up consuming stage, band and instruments; rolls on by high and mighty, young and hella metal. It is an epic journey, no question. It leaves marks both physical and mental. When you read about it while Kris reminisces you kind of want to be there a part of the sweaty extreme, bombarding a wild crowd with everything you’ve got, pouring soul and heart out. It’s sad and poetic in strange ways.

So get this, the band writes their own music which is pretty neat for a heavy metal band in the 90’s and early 2000’s with deeply rooted influence in various heavy metal bands –  along the way and as the primary characters are introduced Hendrix gives us a tiny showcase of the various subgenres of metal most not-into-metal people might not be super familiar with like Slayer, Tool, Motley Crüe; we meet a drummer who’s heavily into Viking metal! (think Amon Amarth), and then we have what the books refers to as mainstream, basically nu-metal bands such as Korn and Slipknot.

But Dürt Würk aims for something more than that; they sit down, more like Kris sits down and writes and after time she creates this massive album called “Troglodyte” which is not only probably the best heavy metal album that never was (will get to that in a minute), but it’s a mythology on its own that tells the story of a main hero – Troglodyte, breaking out of his chains down below Black Iron Mountain and escaping the Blind King. Each track on the record develops the story – it has a beginning, a middle and an end. It’s a full cycle.

Now, I 100% fell in love with that first part of We Sold Our Souls, because I grew up in the 90’s and was exposed to this type of fantasy, dragon-slaying nuanced heavy metal  – think Manowar for one. So thinking the novel would explore that mythology and that it somehow might be real was an exciting notion that naturally I wanted to pursue. So, I read onwards.

Jump to present time and 20 years later, Kris Pulaski, the girl who once wore a leather jacket with bones painted on it and had a firm grip on her guitar, is now a miserable 40-something working a poor job, at a downgraded neighborhood and making poor life choices. She is reminiscing the good ol’ Dürt Würk days when she meant something as a being, when she was a rising star, make no questions about that – she was THE guitarist of the band everyone was talking about; back then she was fearless and could take on the whole world. We come to learn, however that her former band-mate and best friend, vocalist Terry Hunt is essentially an evil bastard on two legs. Years back, Terry quits, scratch that,  essentially sells the band and everything it stood for and instead creates his own mega successful mega popular and pretty mainstream brand called Koffin, where he is The Blind King. Get it? The myth lives on.

We also learn something terrible has happened on the so called contract night when Dürt Würk were supposed to sign the deal of their lives and become the band that they’d always dreamed off. Instead Terry did something…but what? Here the notion that we sell-out constantly as people to the corporate, thus selling our souls, becomes apparent and remains a running theme making the title of the book dual checking both horror and the horror of reality. That is a clever part on Hendrix, because even when the novel is fiction and has all these supernatural elements going on, it still feels grounded enough and close to real life, not only for musicians and not only for the rock stage, but for artists in general and then a second time for people in general, for consumers. But I don’t want to get all political here, I dig the way Hendrix spins the narrative that way but honestly I’m here for the fiction aspect of it, for the horror stuff.

40 something year old Kris is somewhat content with what she has until Koffin announce one last farewell tour and Kris decides its time to face her past, face Terry and learn the truth that ruined her life.

So she goes on a little journey to reunite with her bandmates and ask for their help only to discover there is a major, and I mean major conspiracy going on – Black Iron Mountain is watching and it’s not happy with Kris trying to expose the darkness. So begins We Sold Our Soul’s second spiraling into a bloody frenzy journey from the suburbs of Pennsylvania out on the road, out to Las Vegas and the worst, biggest and craziest music festival in the history of both fiction and reality.

The novel has a tune to it, I’ll give it that. It plays a constant rhythmic solo that allows crazy riffs here and there when the tension amps up to a claustrophobic scale. But as a whole We Sold Our Souls isn’t a typical horror story, I don’t think it aims to be that – it sure has a lot of “wtf” moments that are on the creepy, uncomfortable to read/experience scale. Some scenes can easily be nightmare worthy, so maybe don’t read it late at night, while in bed, just before sleepy time. A note of advice.

It has satanic undertones but their actuality is more hinted at than anything else, at least in my view. Cult vibes, oh yeah it has those going for it, not only via Koffin’s mega fan base, but with the general population. No spoilers here.

The main character, Kris Pulaski is really up against everyone all the time and the narrative escalates to a paranoid, conspiracy-crazy second part that accents on this brain-washing mythology her former band has created and which ultimately is a key to fighting evil. How it comes to be or why is not explained but in the general aspect of things it doesn’t need to be. It just exists and that’s the horror of it in a way.

The novel powers through tossing Kris in various uncomfortable, messed up scenarios that seem to be very final for her, but she manages to somehow escape, find alternatives that semi-work in her favor. That doesn’t mean she leaves unscathed. Oh dear, no.

She’s out of luck for 99% of this story but it’s the end that counts, right?

There were some issues at the second part of the novel, some typo’s, some narrative and plot misses that earned a re-read of the section, so that’s a bit of a bump in the flow.

However, it’s a story you can enjoy and follow through. It has many cool metal references, pseudo interviews and radio interruptions that add up to the conspiracy, brain-washing part.

What I most enjoyed was the mythology of the album “Troglodyte” and how it’s existence was worked into the solution to the reign of the Blind King. I kind of wish there were recordings even one or two from actual musicians to represent what Dürt Würk sounds like, because their lyrics are imbued into the storyline heavily and they mean a lot. But then again having the lyrics there on the page and having the notion of what the band was and was meant to be allows for a certain rhythm to play in your head as you read. You can make it as heavy as you like.

All in all, We Sold Our Souls is a gory, crazed, fast-paced novel that takes you free of charge to a festival you kind of want to go to but are too afraid to visit, because of obvious reasons such as death; it features a good-hearted but troubled musician who only wanted to contribute, to not waste her life and for her songs to be heard and for her to be remembered in the heavy metal hall of fame as the guitarist of Dürt Würk; a bunch of quirky musicians who worship music and live and breathe thanks to it; a satanic, weirdly supernatural myth that comes to be of existence and some heavy ass metal.

“A girl with a guitar never has to apologize for anything.”

Damn straight, Kris!

My recommendation – check it out. It whiffs of early 90’s, it’s scary enough to keep you on edge and it’s a very interestingly written and presented by Grady Hendrix biography of a band that went straight up and came crushing down because of real life events aside from the messed-up supernatural ones.

7/10

The Yule Log

I

Have

A message

From planet Earth

Inside Fundomeland 24

There are ghosts roaming

They came from the Yule log aboard

Send

Help

 

Merry

    Christmas

                Eve                                                                                                            To be continued…

#BestReads2018: Mindhunting!

Lists from previous years:

Best Reads 2012

Best Reads 2013

Best Reads 2014

Best Reads 2015

Best Reads 2016

Best Reads 2017

2018 rolled by bizarrely fast but if you managed to squeeze in some good reads (or even bad ones) and they made you shriek or cry or laugh or had any impressive impact on you – then it was a good year! If you also have a list of your #BestReads2018, please feel free to share it in the comments! Book suggestions are always welcomed.

CRIME

Mindhunter: Inside the FBI’s Elite Serial Crime Unit by John Edward Douglas

Image result for Mindhunter: Inside the FBI's Elite Serial Crime Unit

When Mindhunter came out on TV at the end of last year my Twitter feed was full of constant feedback on how amazing the show is, how chillingly creepy and precise it is, and true enough the show was phenomenal! But in all the back and forth talk hardly anyone mentioned the source of it, but nevertheless a quick Google search gave the desired results – a spectacular true crime novel that delves deep into the brutal realism of some of the most sadistic criminals of our time.

Obviously the book isn’t up to anyone’s taste – it does get graphic and even without photographic leads it is descriptive enough to allow a very detailed reconstruction to appear in one’s head if one’s imagination is… vivid enough I should say. John Douglas being the special agent who was central in implementing behavioral science and criminal profiling in the FBI’s work process propelling it to a new age of crime fighting has a surprisingly solid storytelling skills – no wonder he was I believe the model for Jack Crawford in Thomas Harris works.

In this nearly 400-page novel the reader gets to not only follow through on more notorious serial crime cases in the US, but more importantly it allows a frightening gaze into a vast reasearch spanning multiple interviews and “confrontations” with serial killers of various capacities. In that sense “Mindhunter” is a remarkable study that aims to understand their motives, to showcase them to the general public – us the readers.  If you are in any way interested into these behavioral patterns in subjects such as Ed Kemper, Richard Speck and even Manson, I highly recommend this book as a starting point. It gets real.

 

FANTASY/SCI-FI/HORROR/HUMOR

Welcome to Night Vale by Joseph Fink & Jeffrey Cranor

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*swirls wine in glass, takes a sip, smacks lips loudly.* “The strange lights in the sky over the desert are mysterious in their bluish glow. What strange lights? I see no lights and therefore I am undisturbed.”

And what a strange introduction. But this is charm in the “Welcome to Night Vale” fashion. It’s without question a novel worth reviewing and a podcast worth listening to, or vice versa. However you feel like. But it’s worth your time, your mental state and your erm…dreams and questioning of life and reality and all.

It’s a novel rich in characters, healthy on the weird and scary and chockfull of delicious mindbending scenarios all of which are wrapped in a bubble about to burst, written in a delightful easy-going language that tickles you in places you like but feel weird about. It’s damned good!

Be not mistaken – the novel has a plot that concerns two very special, very different and yet somehow similar women – Jackie Fierro and Diane Crayton. Between the two of them is…well its a very unending desert which has no name but in which Night Vale, a small town of weird proportions and happenings is situated. Between its streets and walls are angels called Erika, some aliens with their strange night lights, a pinch of ghosts, some overly creepy librarians and a shit ton of government conspiracies. Those are everyday normal things that occur and exist. What is not normal is another place called King City and a piece of paper that you just can’t seem to get rid of no matter what you do. Oh and time-bending, reality-reshaping plastic flamingoes. Oh boy.

“Welcome to Night Vale” is unlike any novel I’ve ever read which is both disappointing and not, because otherwise I believe I wouldn’t have been so amazed by it instantly. I easily took it to heart, embraced all the ‘what the heck’ moments and plot twists and radio intrusions into the narrative by Cecil, the voice of Night Vale.  For me it was insanely refreshing being well-humored but also weird and dark where it needed to be. The added fantasy and sci-fi elements mainly concerning time-travel and reality reshaping were an absolute joy. There are even many great quotes that stand out and can be taken out of context and applied to life and such:

“Remember that misuse of language can lead to miscommunication, and that miscommunication leads to everything that has ever happened in the whole of the world.” 

“Comfort was the answer to all life’s problems. It didn’t solve them, but it made them more distant for a bit as they quietly worsened.” 

“It was a fair question, although the problem with fair questions is that they are asked about an unfair world.” 

And just so you could get a snipped of how wording goes in Night Vale:

“Librarians are hideous creatures of unimaginable power. And even if you could imagine their power, it would be illegal. It is absolutely illegal to even try to picture what such a being would be like.” 

My recommendation: go check out the podcasts and read the novel. You’ll get a weird sensation. But it spreads warmth, I promise.

*All quotes belong to Joseph Fink

 

COMICS/GRAPHIC NOVELS

The Arrival (2007) By Shaun Tan

Back in May I did a more detailed review of “The Arrival” and without a doubt it scores a place in this year’s Best Reads list without actually having any written words inside its pages.

“The Arrival” explores the struggles of immigration through the heartbreaking story of a man parting from his wife and daughter as he boards a steamship across the ocean to find a better future for the three of them.

Very intimately through Shaun Tan’s brilliant imagination and gorgeous pencil art we are invited to observe the man’s exploration, his experience and struggles as he arrives in an unknown land of impossible proportions and architecture without the knowledge of the language and understanding of the local customs.

And the protagonist cannot communicate with the symbol language of the megalopolis, so can’t  we as the reader. We are forbidden that luxury and so understand the isolation that builds for the man so far away from home. We begin learning with him, growing in this world and slowly becoming part of it. We are left with wordless art that speaks volumes.

You can read the full review of “The Arrival” and get quick access to some useful links and to Shaun Tan’s website here.

 

Descender (2015 – 2018) By Jeff Lemire Dustin Nguyen

Descender invites you to enter a universe where androids are a common element in people’s daily lives, from companions to worker bots and so on. Of nine core planets that are under the rule of the United Galactic Council or UGC for short our attention is placed on Niyarata, the technological and cultural hub of the UGC, populated with over 5 billion people. Then, right from the get go an attack of colossal proportions takes place – a space invasion from gigantic robots called Harvesters, an unknown and unpredictable force.

Naturally people blame the androids for the death, destruction and anihilation that follows the massive attack. There’s an open hunting invitation for all humans against the remaining numbers of robots. A young boy bot companion called TIM-21 is far away from the troubles of the planets. He has been asleep for the past 10 years on a small mining colony. And once he wakes up only to find everyone dead and the mines abandoned, the journey begins.

The art style is fucking amazing – the watercolor layer makes everything pop out and is really gorgeous to look at; the character models and world building, these huge, desolate landscapes and vast patches of space are simply beautiful – Dustin Nguyen has done and is doing an outstanding job of bringing to life visually pleasing faces and places  in a kind of old school way, it often just reminds me of older SF comics.

I highly recommend Descender. It is as I said a refreshing and of the times SF story inhabited by wonderful characters via a strong storytelling and a mystery still unfolding plus the cherry on top – its gorgeous to look at.

For my full review click here

 

The Books of Magic 1-4 (1990-1991)  By Neil Gaiman 

The Books of Magic give the starting point to Timothy Hunter’s adventure in becoming, if he choses so, one of the greatest if not the greatest magician of his generation. As he is quite young and unaware of that possibility, four practitioners of magic take it upon themselves to introduce Tim to the capabilities, promises, dangers, opportunities and costs of magic.

If you are keen on magic but in its philosophical, transcendental, esoteric, ancient, powerful and dark visage and admire smart and elegant and through and through brilliant writing that’s syphoning life-lessons on the backdrop of angels cascading flaming to earth, or Atlantis crumbling in the distance, or the universe and the stars being birthed, led by hierophant’s and jackasses and occult figures without true names, then this is absolutely the mini-series for you. You even get Death telling you about that appointment in Samara. Well not with so many words. You know the one, right? There was a merchant in Bagdad…

Read the full review here!

 

Sandman Overture by Neil Gaiman & J.H. Williams III

18310944For some people it has been twenty-five years since The Sandman first altered in ground breaking proportions the bone structure, the cosmic essence, the reality of modern comics. For others time has been more forgiving and the wait a lot shorter, but nevertheless, the mystery behind Dream’s capture in Prelude & Nocturness is finally revealed between the pages of six gorgeous chapters.

Now a quick note: if you go back through the lists linked above you’ll notice hardly a year goes by without some Gaiman in it, and it’s painfully obvious I’m a huge fan. So, the reason behind me putting “The Sandman Overture” in this year’s list is because I had some catching up to do with the original series and all the extra volumes, special editions, spinoff’s before I could allow myself to read this wonderful beginning, original story, called it whatever you will.

My wait has been totally worth it! Not only is the art spectacular – the mix in artstyles, the cosmic explosion of colors and clever implementation of the chapter titles within the environment are just some of the aspects worth mentioning simply because they define the storytelling, the character’s individual experiences, moods, thoughts so much it’s incredible! The new illustrator J.H.Williams III together with Dave Stewart did an outstanding job in bringing to life a complex world by adding so much more life into it than it already had.  Gaiman goes back to his Sandman roots with the easy step of a ballet dancer but with the same heavy decision-making and fate-bearing flawed Dream we know and love since 89′. Although we have a glance at him before the events that lead to his *SPOILER* incarceration, we are allowed the special peek behind the curtain that semi-explains why Dream is who he is or what he is as we get to meet the Mother and Father of the Endless in their stripped of mortal affection relationship to each other and their children.

Photo credit belongs to Neil Gaiman and J.H.Williams III

If you haven’t read the original Sandman series I believe you should before even coming close to Overture – sure, it does kickstart Dream’s journey, but it might tangle you in characters, behavioral patterns and world-view that would make your head spin. So take the long way round, read the original first, come to love or hate or both Dream and the Endless and then when your heart is possibly broken and you’ve attended a funeral or two and have invested yourself into the story so deeply it hurts, then gently crack open the hard covers of “Sandman Overture and bask in its beauty!

 

Honorable mentionesNaomi’s Room by Jonathan Aycliffe;  Plutona By Jeff Lemire & Emi Lenox ; Signal to Noise by Neil Gaiman & Dave McKean

This does it for this years BestReads2018 list! I hope you got something new from it or remembered something old. Let me know what you read this year! Stay safe xx

 

 

The Society of Misfit Stories Presents: The Year of the Heddagh

Some of you may remember ‘The Year of the Heddagh’ as Friday blog posts some time ago and even if you don’t or do, I’m happy to announce Bards and Sages Publishing decided it was good enough to put into their anthology of Misfits. So now you can get ‘The Year of the Heddagh’ for only 0.99$ , available at a bunch of places – Apple, Barnes & Noble Nook, Kobo, Scribd, Smashwords, Angus & Robertson!

The very helpful link to “The Year of the Heddagh”  in all its splendor!

The cover is also very in tune with the themes of myths, legends, old gods and old folklore…

The Mask Omnibus Vol. 1 [Review]

The Mask

Omnibus Volume 1 

by

John Arcudi, Doug Mahnke

(Dark Horse Comics)

Ever since I saw “The Mask”, unbeknownst that there was a much grander source material I’ve been thinking, why isn’t it R rated? Why aren’t there splashes of blood and over the top murder? And with a somewhat long delay I found my answer, but it wasn’t in the televised Cuban Pete version or the cartoon legend everyone remembers and loves. It was in the Dark Horse comic book series where The Mask, created by Mike Richardson, itself starts off in the hands of dear ol’ familiar Stanley and in the process finds its way in the possession of many other people each following their own agenda that is contorted through the Mask’s inner desires to seed chaos and destruction.

Brilliantly showcased with vibrant art that bounces back and forth along the pages in explosions and car crashes and chainsaw extravaganza at its most mundane, the comic series paints the pros and cons of using the Mask and its ricocheted effect on all involved bystander-wise or direct participant. The item, ancient and mysterious and highly dangerous, feeds on the need for revenge, protection, security. It allows the execution of actions unimaginable prior and seemingly asks no price so it ultimately feels like the best and most insane option in succeeding, in prevailing. In that way it transforms mostly noble causes, or noble and explanatory to the self, into dark and grandiose happenings that result in people’s deaths, a result which remains somewhat dampened by the Mask like it’s a periphery occurrence that the user being ecstatic doesn’t register until it becomes too often, too vivid and violent. And while that “blood sacrifice” and hyped state of being probably pleases the Mask itself, the person wearing it however weak in control over its actions does understand at some point that this auto-pilot is too violent and evil to be trusted in a prolonged way.

So they muster enough control to remove it and bury it somewhere before it destroys them and others completely. It however always manages to find its way to a new user, a new person with some desire that he or she cannot complete because of personal weakness and inability to fight. The Mask then shows a fraction of its potential and the person is hooked. It grants immortality, immense power, bends reality and with a pun, a laugh, a jest empowers its user to do the killing while having fun.

Even in the first issue that starts off with Stanley buying the Mask as a gift for his girlfriend Kath, we get where this is going. He’s the little man, the one who gets punched around and he desperately wants to punch back but he is unable. He is weak. The mask sensing that is an enabler, granting that imperviousness to its user to do whatever he or she pleases. The first time he puts it on, Stanley gets that it’s powerful, that he is now powerful as a result. He quickly forgets that the Mask is on him, that it truthfully is in control but he’s fine with that, because to him his actions are his own even being stripped of consciousness or guilt or fear of God even. He is able to take it off but the obsession has already started and he is making plans, writing down lists with names of all the people who’ve hurt him or wronged him in any way. And he even says sarcastically or not about saving the world, about becoming a superhero, but first he goes on down that list of names and he murders those people in a number of fascinating ways. When the Mask gets taken away from him, he panics. Without it he is no one.

What’s cool about this series is that regardless of all the brutal and often graphic violence it depicts, it maintains the cartoony look, vibrant and caricature-like, and the dark humor most people loved from the movie and the cartoon is there, the comedy gut-punching is there and it even has it up a notch or two so it translates as even louder and more maniacal which ultimately is what should be expected and wanted from The Mask. Each representation of the Mask showcases a little bit of its user, so it feels tailored to the person. We get a Mask that is equal parts high-heeled and leather-clad sporting mini-skirts and spikes and suave suits as the boss of the mafia. It’s never righteous, it’s psychopathic but with a pie hiding a bomb so it entertains. The art is on par with the actions and the narrative itself transforming itself to fit the shape-shifting skills of the Mask and for me it is by far the best way to enjoy the story not via one character but through many which allows a grander understanding and viewing of its capabilities.

The omnibus version which I read for vol. 1 is a hefty 370 pages but that gives a better flow to the story in my opinion. It’s easier to read it all at once without missing a beat but if you prefer it separated it appears as a trilogy.

If you’re a fan of The Mask and have somehow missed this comic book series, I highly recommended it. The original is pretty much always the best.

 

*Images used here belong to their sole creators.

The Books of Magic 1-4 by Neil Gaiman [Review]

The Books of Magic 1-4 (1990-1991) DC Comics, Vertigo

By Neil Gaiman 

As an avid fan of Neil Gaiman’s work I was super surprised to find out I totally missed out on The Books of Magic. I think I knew of the four issues in the back of my head but completely forgot they were a huge thing as time went by. And the weird thing is I was reminded of them due to a semi-recent tweet that addressed more or less people complaining Gaiman stole the idea of a boy “wizard” in his starting steps from J.K. Rowling. What sparked that conversation on Twitter I have no idea (was it the owl? Because Tim has an owl called Yo-Yo? People did read the comics before going on a Twitter rant, right? They know an actual yo-yo was turned into an owl just for Tim to know magic is real?), but it resulted in people and even Neil Gaiman himself having to explain to other users how fiction writing works and how inspiration works and also that 1990 comes before 1997. Yep, the Philosopher’s Stone came out in 1997 and The Books of Magic were written between 1990 and 1991. I think that’s pretty much a discussion ender there. Anyways…

Aside from that, as always I was really happy to explore another piece of Gaiman fiction in a universe I am familiar and comfortable with.

The Books of Magic give the starting point to Timothy Hunter’s adventure in becoming, if he choses so, one of the greatest if not the greatest magician of his generation. As he is quite young and unaware of that possibility, four practitioners of magic take it upon themselves to introduce Tim to the capabilities, promises, dangers, opportunities and costs of magic. Dubbed the “TrenchCoat Brigade”, its four members are John Constantine, the Phantom Stranger, Dr. Occult, and Mister E. Each of them take Tim on a specifically tailored tour of the magical realms that showcases certain aspects set in the distant past, the chaotic present, the dangerous multi-realms and Faerie and the far, far set future.

 

Between these points in time and magic, Tim is introduced to what are essentially Vertigo’s and DC’s greatest magical persons – Zatanna, Madame Xanadu, Dr. Fate, The Spectre, Merlin and many more. A fantastic treat are the appearances of Dream of the Endless and Death of the Endless, Sandman’s perhaps most beloved characters (I know they are mine).

So, in all that Tim has to decide whether he wants to pursue magic or science, science being a life of normality and rationality and safety without a hint of magic. He is given the opportunity to learn about magic and thus decide whether he wants it and also unbeknownst to him passes a sort of test which might help determine whether his affiliation, if he chooses magic, will lie with the forces of good or evil. Though that’s somewhat of a blurry line in that universe as things are neither black nor white. They’re kind of mood indigo, as Mister E knows all too well.

I wouldn’t want to spoil too much for anyone who hasn’t had the chance to read these four issues though it’s been years since they came out and the respected characters appear not only in their own arch’s but in many collaborative issues such as Justice League Dark and even the Sandman series just to name two out of the top of my head.

If you are keen on magic but in its philosophical, transcendental, esoteric, ancient, powerful and dark visage and admire smart and elegant and through and through brilliant writing that’s syphoning life-lessons on the backdrop of angels cascading flaming to earth, or Atlantis crumbling in the distance, or the universe and the stars being birthed, led by hierophant’s and jackasses and occult figures without true names, then this is absolutely the mini-series for you. You even get Death telling you about that appointment in Samara. Well not with so many words. You know the one, right? There was a merchant in Bagdad…

The mini-series is very strong even as a standalone series. Tim Hunter’s adventures do continue after this and the Books of Magic themselves make an appearance in Hellblazer and in Justice League Dark where John Constantine and Zatanna are important if not main characters. So there is a nice tie-in between very familiar characters and places that have been around in print form for a long time like Hellblazer, Sandman, Faerie to name some of the bigger ones. They don’t require an extensive introduction not only because of their pop-culture popularity but also since passing through them we do so as Tim does, our and his interval of introduction is based on the need to acquire knowledge, not to linger. It’s not an exploration mission, it’s one of understanding basics.

The Sphinx claimed that we are not really here at all. That we are an illusion, an oscillation in the final Event Horizon. But we feel like wer are real. We bicker and fight and make love for warmth and for comfort; We huddle together, and distrust one another.

                                                                                                                                             – Issue 4

My point being, even if you are a reader unfamiliar with that universe, you can still enjoy it just as much as avid fans do, because you get to experience these worlds and characters in their possibly most condensed form without losing from their allure and world mechanism. As brief as they come and go you understand what they are meant to be or represent.

Boston Brand aka Deadman even makes an appearance in The Books of Magic jumping from person to person to occupy their bodies and speak to Tim to inform him on who wants to kill him. The Spectre, though very briefly appears in the second issue and he is a huge DC character in its multiverse. Lady Titania, the Queen of Faerie represents a vital part in the third issue but she shares that introduction into Faerie with a famous fairy tale figure Baba Yaga, with a multitude of realms each bearing their own stories told masterfully in one page.

 “Here do many demons make their homes, the twisted geometries conforming with their own dark internal vistas…”

                                                                                                                                                       -Issue 3

John Bolton, Scott Hampton, Charles Vess and Paul Johnson deserve more than praise for their work. They did fantastic work on the art of each of the four issues. Building these transitions in magic through realms in colors that stand out, that speak of ethereal and mystical is by far not an easy task as isn’t refreshing known characters and stylizing them according to the topic, the realms, this “TrenchCoat Brigade” but also keeping them consistent throughout the adventure even though each artists gives them different nuances. Each panel is detailed and the pages made such that they don’t feel clustered and obtrusive with colors or text. As always there are a few snapshots here for the viewing pleasure but their main purpose is to show just how amazing the art is and how important to this type of story. It is here to hook you up.

Any of you who know Neil Gaiman or his work know the universes he creates and know how carefully crafted they are, how vast and expanding they are and yet in their heart stands one person and their journey and them meeting all these bizarre and terrifying and amusing characters who offer riddles, or advice, or tales or danger. Trust me, The Books of Magic are a pleasure.

*Images and quotes used here belong to their sole creators. 

Visiting “Naomi’s Room” [Review]

Naomi’s Room

by  Jonathan Aycliffe

*Spoilers, maybe, I don’t know…

 

I can say with ease that I love horror novels. I love spooks, creaking floors and unnatural shadows and all that. I love horror in general, sub-genres and all. I’m a fan. One thing I don’t particularly like is little creepy ghost children. There’s something impossibly horrible about them versus any other ghost. So naturally “Naomi’s Room” was the perfect choice for a late night read.

To keep it short, the novel first introduces us to Dr. Charles Hillenbrand, the narrator of the novel. He’s a Cambridge academic enjoying a fantastic life with his wife Laura and four-year old daughter Naomi. The year is 1970 and as all is idyllic and the season is that of celebration, Charles takes Naomi out to shopping in London for Christmas Eve where the eager little girl wonders and cheers at the splendor of a toy store. Until Charles takes his eyes of her and Naomi disappears. Days later she is found dead in a nearby alley.

Now right off the start I really enjoyed what direction the novel took. It’s eerily atmospheric with a sort of archaic feel and phrasing to it but it settles the reader nicely in and doesn’t fool around with the paranormal aspect. But it can be quickly put aside for a certain amount of the first part of the novel, because it centers more on the grief of two parents who are completely helpless and equal doses of hopeful and devastated and desperate as the hours roll by and their little girl is missing. Ultimately she is found but she has been killed. The novel prepares you for that early on; it’s the story that leads to the reason of that early reveal that’s important.

We’ve all experienced the haunted house trope either through movies or games or novels and there’s a general idea as to how they work and what we can expect, so it’s crucial how the author controls and uses that environment. In “Naomi’s Room”, Aycliffe has the house more as a background character, a stage on which the story develops; it’s not highly interactive, it’s not responsible for the spooks themselves but it does serve a sufficient and important role as it is dimensional. In the true sense of the word, it shifts between time periods within the characters presence, so it not only provides a stage for the ghosts to manifest, but it also helps propel the story and gives it a refreshing touch with these very creepy time shifts happening in real time that feel not only like a gaze foreshadowing the outcome of the novel, but as a trap created by this evil presence and not by the house itself.

Aycliffe dodges the clichés haunted houses tend to run along with; the information he provides to the reader via Charles is compressed and given at a tension infused pace that helps keep you on edge. It’s very present as the memoir Charles is writing is the now of the story but we’re also experiencing the past very gradually at a nice pace that offers chunks of the truth, of the final reveal, filling the puzzle piece by piece. So the novel itself has a sense of time shifting in which the horror is both in the present and in the past; it’s very close and imminent in the present where Charles is 20 years after Naomi’s kidnapping and death, it’s with him in the rooms of the house, behind his back, so he’s very stationary as he tells that but the reader is prompted to understand and feel a lurking evil.

 “She is here now, here with me in the study. I do not have to look round to know, I can feel her presence, I have acquired a sensitivity. She has never come down here before, into this room, I had thought I was safe from her here.”

“Daddy.” Her voice, behind me, at the door. “Daddy.”

“I will not turn, I will not look at her.”

Like that. It spooks you because it comes as interruptions in his storytelling and it sometimes does that unexpectedly, reminding you the horror is not forgotten and this isn’t a novel telling of something that is over. Whereas in the past the horror happens slowly, it comes in waves that suffer proper explanation due to grief and is more inconsistent, the evil is still more of a theory and a sensation than a true happening. Until the novel kicks into full gear. Then it’s straight to hell.

What weirdly enough had me chuckle a bit were the steps of revelation into Naomi’s death. That’s probably my only bicker with the novel. It was like those jokes that keep adding up for the shock factor, black humour-esq. I suppose the author detained the details so the reader could gradually find out the murder wasn’t a regular one, that it meant something or it was the exact opposite, that it served to derail both the characters and the readers as to the nature of the killing. I’m not sure, that’s pretty much open to interpretation.

For me the “shock factor” for a lack of a better word was not in these gory descriptions of mutilations of a child, though I know that would upset most people and it would sit with them for some time. It was the notion the novel first installed, the one in the quotes above, that the child is still present in the house but that she is an apparition between the moments before death and the moments after it, so she appears normal and interactive in that way but at the same time she is a walking demonstration of the aftermath of her killer’s actions.  I suppose that’s how the necessary added details connect with the narrative. Charles also sees both versions and instead of handing them to the reader at once, the author slips in the details here and there to prepare us for how and why the characters act a certain way later on. Also again for the desired shock factor in the end that just keeps on adding and adding mercilessly. It’s a foreshadowing in a way for the finale. Not for the faint-hearted readers I guess.

I did enjoy the way the reveals were done in terms of discovering there are multiple ghosts in the house. It was through photographs taken by a journalist or paparazzi come to film the grieving couple. As all that may seem familiar what’s nice here is that the journalist took it upon himself to understand the logic behind the existence of spirits in the house and their intent, to try to save Charles and Laura by providing them with evidence of multiple shots from different angles and places in and of the house. He is the key figure in the narrative prompting an investigation.

The fact that the novel stays away from doors slamming and nightly whispers most of the time and instead works in a more psychological manner with overwhelming feelings and abnormal behavior infesting their clarity, was very nice. The force of evil that the characters faced was more often present inside them, manifesting through impure thoughts and desires to harm and control and abuse, quite directly sexually abuse even. And that was the uneasy part of the novel, the one you know will escalate tremendously by the end. Again there is a shock factor there to show how merciless and impossible to bypass the situation is – there is no hero of the hour, no escape, no last survivors in that sense of the word. We are weak and corruptible and the thoughts of harm are there in our being just waiting to be unlocked, to be guided perhaps. All it takes is a whisper in your ear, an idea.

Overall “Naomi’s Room” is a great read; it’s proper scary, it’s gory, it’s psychological and intense and for such a short read (somewhere around 200 pages, depends on the copy) it serves a complete story with heart-thumping escalation and reveals that keep you on edge while at the same time takes the readers on an emotional ride through loss and grief and insanity. And if like me you don’t really fancy creepy little ghost children, I recommend reading this late at night, under your bed covers if you’re a Kindle user, or under a fragile light in a quiet room. All alone. 10/10