Tag Archives: monsters

“I do cater to unusual affairs.”

24. Relics – Tim Lebbon

A perfect couple – one American criminology student and an English male human named Vince who is very affectionate. In London. Tragically torn apart by the black market trade in artifacts. It’s an age old story. Not really. Trying to find a missing person and ending up in a completely bizarre version of the world you thought you knew and realizing they weren’t who you thought they were is actually an age old story, but this version of it was quite fun and clicked along at a fast pace.

Relics is like what would happen if China Mieville’s bizarro-London was trimmed down and forced to make sense all the time. Lebbon does a great job of including different elements of the supernatural and not overdoing it so he can show you he’s heard of some more types of creatures. The only area where it’s heavy on the random creature information is well contained within a collection and a later a “nice” dinner, so it’s much easier to process.

This is the start of a series and I very much hope that Lebbon doesn’t go kitchen sink in the other books. I mean, it’s not like the scope isn’t widened at the end, but, I hope not to the point of “I did research on mythological creatures and I want you to know it” madness that happens with some authors.

Mortemer did a lot of research on mythological creatures, but he never bragged about it.

 

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Area teenagers repeatedly make bad choices, this time in abandoned subway tunnels.

66. Survive the Night – Danielle Vega

There were a lot of dirty feet in this book. The main character gets paint on her feet after she almost loses a “leather ballet flat” (being that specific happened a few too many times) climbing down; later she loses her shoes entirely in some seriously disgusting water. One of the group takes off her shoes and walks barefoot through the streets of NYC before also occasionally not wearing shoes at the underground rave. If she wasn’t being targeted by a monster she’d have tetanus. A homeless kid with plastic bags on his feet seemed to be the most prepared for the underground rave in disused subway tunnels. Good work, Lawrence.

Casey just got out of rehab for Oxy (familiar) and as soon as she goes to the clean girls’ sleepover and tries to get on with the sober life her past comes rumbling up in an old Buick to whisk her away to the sewers. Her “best friend” Shana takes her to trigger-central- her ex-boyfriend’s band’s show, and when she makes it through that unscathed, they hunt down the underground rave…where she drugs her drink. What a best friend!! What a homecoming!

In the two books of Vega’s I’ve read the narrators could be swapped. They’re good girls for the most part, trying to be- at least, and they get in over their heads with shitty female friends and supernatural elements. They feel hollow and rush into make outs- although, point to Survive the Night, it’s her ex-boyfriend so it’s earned. But – It’s basically a blessing when the tentacle monster shows up.

Salem is waiting by his personalized plastic pumpkin for the tentacle monster to give it a high-four and return its shoes.

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“Hey, there’s some strange stuff going on around here.”

67. Children of the Dark – Jonathan Janz

An escaped serial killer, a different kind of wendigo than I’m used to, teenagers of both the complete asshole and not variety, little kids, and a shitty town that doesn’t care about the “undesirables.” That’s what we’re dealing with in Children of the Dark.

At the start, all I could think about was Richard Laymon and how annoyed I got reading the endless clothing changes and teen erections of The Traveling Vampire Show. Thankfully, that didn’t stay. Janz did not make the characters continuously change clothing and I didn’t have to sit through too much of teen boys being teen boys slowing down the overall plot. Although, he did basically replace the teen boy erections with monster erections and that was both funny and irrelevant. They’re monsters, do they have to be discussed as rape threats as well? Is that really necessary? Most women have to deal with the possibility of rape as a consistent threat anyway, especially when they make the mistake of walking somewhere, standing somewhere, just existing, alone, so it’s pretty unnecessary to make a monster that easily kills also a rape threat. For example, I was once threatened with rape while walking through the reference area of the library I worked in, so, it happens all the damn time. Let the monsters just be threatening because they’re monsters.

Children of the Dark ended in a completely different place than I expected it to and that was nice. It’s a bit Richard Laymon and a bit Stephen King with the ensemble of town folk and the kids taking on the lion’s share of dealing with the threats, and a little bit H.P. Lovecraft. The world of monster-threats was expanded widely at the very end and that was great. That said, I am not sure if this has a sequel. I stumbled across Janz and then sorted out that this one was at the library. I have to research whether or not this has a sequel or an adjoining story or anything, but I do hope it does.

Sometimes just big pointy teeth can be intimidating enough. Or I guess not at all if you’re my little Salem.

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There are an awful lot of stakes raised here for a book that didn’t involve many vampires.

65. Wolfman Confidential – Justin Robinson

Things are getting a lot darker in the City of Devils. It would stand to reason that any story involving more of the mobster and cop elements of the adventures of Nick Moss would be on the more serious side – even if those mobsters are a sidhe, the girl version of Krang from Ninja Turtles, and a germaphobe.

At first I was a little nervous about the amount of new characters that continued to pop up and have things resolved throughout the novel. That nerviness turned out to be unfounded by the end, thankfully, as the characters circled back around or their involvement in the main plot became clear. It’s so important in a series with a world as unusual and detailed as this one to not just mention some new person or location or thing solely for its own sake and Robinson manages to keep the newness and revealed relevance fun throughout. There are a lot of weird and wonderful set pieces with a ghost gang’s lair, goblins, a phantom and his young protégé, and – unexpectedly – people.

I have to say, though, my favorite scene involved the familiar monsters who hang out at Nick’s house every night trying to get him to let them turn him. Nick basically giving story-time to Sam, Mira, and Lurkimer made for a good moment of grounding in a very action packed story.

Ozma is waiting for Pere to tell her stories about her own version of the Night War.

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I still get twitchy about the question: “Who’s got my golden arm?” It’s probably why I don’t really care for precious metals.

48. Long Lankin – Lindsey Barraclough

Every once in a while, less so nowadays, someone creates (or illustrates, damnit, Stephen Gammell) a story for young people that will scare them half to death. It will stick in the back of their minds, jumping to the surface when they hear a noise, see a creepy tree, or are walking all alone, late at night, past a graveyard. Long Lankin is a scary fucking book. Reading it made me jumpy and paranoid during the daylight and frankly, a story about post-World War II era British children and folklore should not have managed to accomplish that task. The last thing that made me that jumpy was The Blair Witch Project (saw it in the theater, pre-most of the hype or at least I had no access to hype, didn’t think it was real though, still scary. No corners).

There’s a level of scarcity and secrecy in Long Lankin that just puts a damper on the mood and pushes it into a murky, stifling place. Children aren’t allowed to know what they need to know and there’s an exciting amount of dramatic tension at play as a result. Another contributor to the effectiveness are Barraclough’s lush descriptions. She does an excellent job describing how rooms feel when the windows have been nailed shut for years and I can even feel my breath hitch thinking about the stale air (of course, as an allergic-asthmatic, that’s always going to be a sticking point of terror for me). And that classic British damp is ever-present, rotting away the shingles and leaving room for creepy beasties to get through.

The one thing that didn’t work for me was the ending, but it’s quite the journey to get there, so overall it’s a worthwhile read.

Pickles dramatically reenacts my experience reading Long Lankin. Did you hear that?

Pickles dramatically reenacts my experience reading Long Lankin. Did you hear that?

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Class of 1984 might be our best case scenario soon.

26. Schoolhouse – Lee Duigon

1988, a time when horror paperbacks were plentiful and there were more than enough skeletons on covers to scare all the children in line at the grocery store. Schoolhouse has a skeleton teacher (with bun and pointer, but no shoes, I feel like she could’ve been wearing shoes) with both an apple and another skull on her desk. Another skull on her desk! And the background isn’t just black, there’s a chalkboard and a spider web and everything. Pinnacle getting their money’s worth out of the cover artist. It’s a full painting. There are many parts of me that wish publishing still allowed for this style of cover and for a proliferation of bizarre horror novels.
Schoolhouse’s staying power is in its weirdness. If one went to public school, one generally could be led to believe that something weird is going on…especially in the 1980s, when the something weird didn’t have to be related to state budget cuts and elected officials painting teachers as the enemy for wanting proper resources because public schools’ mission is give EVERY student an education, and they don’t actually leave any children out.  Perhaps a digression, but things were different then and if your teacher was an enemy, it was probably because they were possessed by an alien beast creature sliming its way to the surface (now those are just lots of repugnant elected officials, possessed by somebody else’s money). Schoolhouse very much treads the line between horror and science fiction and who knew that would be a preview of our educational system today – vouchers and creationist textbooks, anyone? Scary stuff.

Danger Crumples and Ozymandias have very different investigative styles. Danger leaves no pillow un-turned, Ozy knows H.P. Lovecraft-style slimy beasts don't hide under pillows.

Danger Crumples and Ozymandias have very different investigative styles. Danger leaves no pillow un-turned, Ozy knows H.P. Lovecraft-style slimy beasts don’t hide under pillows.

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My favorite chunk of dialogue: “Harmonicas give voice to the transient murderer inside us.”

25. Fifty Feet of Trouble – Justin Robinson

The continuing adventures of Nick Moss, private detective in the City of Devils , Fifty Feet of Trouble delivered on a number of levels; although I must report that I didn’t actually realize the significance of the title until the end and am somewhat embarrassed about it because it’s really perfect.

It was pretty easy to get distracted away from cataloging familiar situations and tropes in this one and I’m glad so much ground work was laid in City of Devils. It may be a surprise, but, I’m not as familiar as many readers might be with noir and classic hard-boiled detective stories. My mystery choices tend to be more Lansdale and Leonard than Hammett and I still found it really easy to see where the weirdo stuff, snappy dialogue, and I have to say- a lot more horrific elements this time (Damn those clowns right to hell!) of the mysteries I’m used to and the salty (pretty literally in this case) detective traditions stomp around with each other. Really though, damn those clowns. And they had their own church! That was effing terrifying. Robinson managed to broaden the world and give several City of Devils characters much more depth, including main meatstick Nick Moss, (and Serendipity got much more of a chance to glisten and shine with slime, which I didn’t know I was waiting for as a reader until after I finished) while also presenting a thoroughly sign-posted and well heeled pulpy as hell mystery. There’s some seriously deft handling of a large cast in a smoothly readable, surprisingly short amount of space. I never got confused. And now I know what happened to Escuerzo. Sheesh.

Meanwhile, my last pumpkin photo shoot was a less than deft example of how to handle a lot of characters. As always, Horace was being a good pig. Ozma, Peregrine, and Danger Crumples were not having it. Guinea pigs. Familiars of the thwarting kind.

Meanwhile, my last pumpkin photo shoot was a less than deft example of how to handle a lot of characters. As always, Horace was being a good pig. Ozma, Peregrine, and Danger Crumples were not having it. Guinea pigs. Familiars of the thwarting kind.

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“Gortran caca.”

56. City of Devils – Justin Robinson

Long time, no see, eh? Let’s just say that moving, starting a new job, renewing my ongoing battle with eczema (Now on my neck! Very visibly! You can’t see me!), most of my allergies, and trying not to engage with the fatalist part of my brain every second has been distressing. However, October is my favorite month and this book was FUN and I’m trying very hard.

When reading a book that engages heavily with pop culture, as this one does, I cannot help but think back to every writing workshop I’ve brought part of Night of the Squirrels to with the “But will everyone get it? Why are you referencing anything at all if everyone won’t get it?” questions. I get why people ask that. I get why workshops are concerned with that- they typically seem designed to make everyone’s work as accessible and therefore generic as possible. Some people don’t like pop culture, won’t appreciate references, have no sense of humor, etc. That’s fine. They’re fine. I believe the generic story with broad emotions and no pop cultural references humans are already being catered to very handily by several writers. Not me. Not Justin Robinson in City of Devils.

I do have to say I was initially skeptical when a vast variety of monsters were mentioned and I was especially skeptical when one of the characters was a gremlin named “Brows.” Full disclosure, probably not a surprise, I adore Gremlins (and Gremlins II) and I don’t want to see anybody mangle anything about either of those films, including the gremlins that scared me to death when I was little. Hi ho.  Thankfully, Robinson has enough respect for this subject matter and the necessity of red herrings in mystery stories and not leaving loose ends (or maybe I should say stringy, pulpy ends as I was pretty happy with how the pumpkin-head, not the Henriksen movie one with too big scapulas -more like Jack from Return to Oz, ended up being more than just a lawn visitor). Maybe he also has a Gremlins lunchbox. Even if he doesn’t, I really appreciate having a solid example of how smoothly references can work to truly deepen the possibilities of appreciation in a funny, original story.

The meshing of horror movie monsters (the werewolves vs. wolfmen distinctions were particularly amusing to me) with noir tropes and humor in sweaty post-war L.A.’s secretive studio system and underworld really worked for me. I was expecting it to be like what the movie Dylan Dog wanted to be and it easily met and exceeded that expectation, which makes it seem like I’m lowballing but I had high hopes for the Dylan Dog movie. City of Devils was more fun. I am also now concerned about the whereabouts of a toad.

Donde esta Escuerzo?

If Thaddeus ever eats after midnight and becomes a Gremlin of the scariest kind, his name will be “Bolt.” I will not allow him to move to L.A. though, not even Louisiana, where I have spent many extremely sweaty days and nights.

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