The Bone Mother by David Demchuk

On the Ukrainian/Romanian border lie three tiny neighboring villages. They are the final refuge for the mythical creatures that walk among us. With war on the horizon and the Night Police coming, these individuals have gathered for possibly the last time. They have come to tell their stories and to face their destinies.

The Bone Mother is a collection of short stories that puts me in to mind of the kinds of tales that one might hear told around the campfire. They are stories that set ones hair on end and make one look a little closer at the shadows. These are stories that are wonderfully creepy and speak to the scared child in all of us.

Demchuk has done an excellent job in creating a series of stories that are both creepy and captivating. Readers will recognize fairy tale characters such as the selkie and Baba Yaga, but will also meet new characters such as the Bone Mother.

The only quibble I had was the lack of an overall plot line. While the blurb on the back of the book makes mention of one, I could not recognize one while reading the book. Yes, a handful of the stories make mention of the Night Police but it only in passing and without great detail. Who are the Night Police and what do they want with these people? Where are they from? Who do they answer to? Answering, or at least expounding on the ideas surrounding the Night Police would have greatly helped, in my opinion.

Overall, I enjoyed The Bone Mother. While it is not for the faint of heart, readers who like a good campfire tale will likely enjoy this book. I cannot recommend to every reader, but I can recommend it to most. I hope to see more from Demchuk in the future as he shows a great deal of promise.

Shakespeare Undead (Shakespeare Undead #1) by Lori Handeland

William Shakespeare is widely regarded as one of history’s greatest writers. For years his work has been studied by scholars, yet for as much that is known about him there is just as much that is unknown. Just who was the mysterious Dark Lady mentioned in his sonnets? Where did inspiration for the myriad of characters he created come from?

Perhaps, as many have speculated, Shakespeare had help with his writings. Or perhaps, the answer is a bit more… unusual.

Shakespeare Undead is a tale loosely (and I mean loosely) based on a point in William Shakespeare’s life. The story is centered around the time he writes “Two Gentlemen of Verona” as that particular play is referenced during the narrative. Plague is constantly a worry of the denizens of London, but William himself isn’t particularly worried. This is because William is a vampire and has been for a very, very long time.

Shakespeare Undead is rife with tips of the hat and tongue in cheek nods to many of Shakespeare’s works. There are also brief mentions of other’s works such as ‘The Wizard of Oz’ and ‘Star Wars’, which might seem strange but oddly enough fit with the narrative.

Historical purists are going to want to stay far, FAR away from this one. Like I said before, while it is based on a real person and a real point in time, it is more fantasy than anything else. Vampires, zombies, and ghosts abound.

If, however, you are looking for an amusing, horror based romp, you might enjoy Shakespeare Undead. It left me chuckling numerous times and caused more than one eye roll at the humor. I recommend it.

City by Clifford D. Simak

Countless millennia have passed since humankind abandoned the city – leaving first for the countryside and then for the stars. Left behind are their most loyal companions, dogs who have been granted the power of speech. Given this special gift centuries earlier, the dogs have become the keepers of human history; raising their pups on stories of what once was and waiting patiently for the day of the humans’ return.

Assisted by an ageless service robot by the name of Jenkins, the dogs live a life of peace and harmony with all of the animals around them. Yet while everything seems calm on the surface, danger is never far behind.

City by Clifford D. Simak is a series of stories that tell about man’s final years on Earth. Interspersed between each story is a kind of interlude or prelude, that gives small details about the next story and what current ‘scholars’ believe of it. The ‘scholars’ are of course the dogs that man had left behind and as so many years have passed, the knowledge of man has passed in to myth.

The stories themselves have a delightedly 50’s feel with mention of toggles, switches, and atomic power. This makes sense as the stories were originally written in the late 40’s to mid 50’s; the era of the space race and the beginning of the atomic age. There is also a nostalgic feel to several of the stories as both man and dog reminisce of an earlier age.

Readers who are fans of older sci-fi are bound to enjoy City. Written and published at a time when man had yet to even make it to the moon, the tales are a reminder that man has always been looking towards the stars.

The Ghost Bride by Yangsze Choo

Li Lan is the only daughter of a genteel yet bankrupt family. With few marriage prospects available, she is surprised when her father comes to her with a strange proposal. The only son of the powerful and wealthy Lim family has recently died under questionable circumstances. The Lim family wants Li Lan to become a ghost bride; a rarely practiced but very real ceremony used to placate a restless spirit. Were Li Lan to agree to the union, she would have a secure place in the Lim household for the rest of her days.

After a single visit to the Lim mansion, Li Lan finds haunted by her ghostly suitor in her dreams and by thoughts of the new heir to the Lim family during her waking hours. After an unfortunate accident, she is drawn in to the strange parallel world of the Chinese afterlife. With its ghost cities, vengeful spirits, and ghostly bureaucracy, Li Lan struggles to find her way home before it is too late and she is trapped forever.

The Ghost Bride is a stunningly beautiful book. With its descriptions of this world and the next, Choo evokes so many emotions with her words. In one chapter we are riding beside Li Lan across the Plains of the Dead, the fear churning in our guts as well as in hers. In another chapter we watch and feel the same fear as Li Lan sees the man she believes she loves wooed by another.

In many ways The Ghost Bride reminds me of the animated movie Spirited Away. In both the supernatural and the mundane walk side by side, sometimes overlapping but almost always separated by a thin barrier. In both a young woman crosses from one to the other and must find her way back to the place she knows. And in both, the main heroine is helped by another character wearing a human face.

The Ghost Bride is a tale that can be enjoyed by many. As Li Lan is only 17 in the beginning of the book, it can hold an appeal to younger and older readers alike. Readers who enjoy fantasy and excitement on every page will likely enjoy this one as well. I highly recommend it to all.

Crimson Peak: The Official Movie Novelization by Nancy Holder

When Edith Cushing’s heart is stolen by a seductive stranger, she is soon swept away from her home and across the sea. She is brought to a crumbling mansion atop a mountain of blood red clay. A place filled with secrets that will leave her haunted forever.

Crimson Peak is the official novelization of the 2015 movie by Guillermo del Toro. Touted as a gothic romance, the book echoes the dark sentiments set forth by the movie. It is quite obvious this book was written with the final version of the movie in mind as it follows the movie closely. Too often a novelization of a movie is written with an early version of the script or even as the movie is being filmed and can diverge from the final product. Such is not the case here.

The book follows the movie near exactly, with the addition of the house itself as a character. This adds a bit of tension to the story and also makes sense in a way in that the years of horror that have occurred have left a psychic impression. We are also given glimpses in to the character’s thoughts and even their childhoods; two things that cannot be adequately expressed through film.

 

As much as I enjoyed the movie, I enjoyed the book just as much. Perhaps more. Fans of del Toro and his work will want to check this book (and movie) out.

Kingston Raine and the Grim Reaper (Kingston Raine #1) by Jackson Lear

Kingston Raine is an industrial thief and spy and is now up against his most challenging foe yet; The Grim Reaper. Not one to take death lying down (pardon the pun), Kingston has discovered a way to get himself home. Death himself, however, has other plans.

The blurb on the back of Kingston Raine is woefully inadequate in describing this particular book. While it is enough to draw the reader’s interest and get them reading, it unfortunately does a poor job of actually describing the real plot.

Kingston Raine is a fictional character of a series of fictional books. Through a series of convoluted events he is brought to “life” and subsequently “killed”, putting him in Limbo and Death’s domain. Desperate to get back to his on-again-off-again girlfriend, Kingston uses Death’s scythe to travel in to the land of Fiction and jump from book to book trying to get back home.

Confused? Yes, so was I at times.

Kingston Raine and the Grim Reaper is, unfortunately, at times a convoluted and confusing book. The two separate major plot lines have little to do with one another and really would have been better off as two separate books. Jumping back and forth from one story line to the other left me as disoriented as I’m sure Kingston felt every time he jumped from one story to the next.

Confusing story lines aside, Lear has a very crisp writing style and dry humor. His characters are witty and smart, each having their own particular voice to add to the narrative. Special kudos must be given to Lear’s ability to create such interesting characters, both male AND female. Too often female characters are written as little more than window dressing, something Lear does not do. His female characters have just as much to add to the story as the male characters and they do it incredibly well.

While Kingston Raine and the Grim Reaper could be a bit confusing at times, I found it enjoyable. It is supposedly the first in a series and it shows a good deal of promise. I will likely be keeping an eye out for the next books at my library.

The Vegetarian by Han Kang (translated by Deborah Smith)

Yeong-hye and her husband lived an ordinary life and then her dreams started. Blood soaked images began to fill her every thought, causing her to forego sleep in an effort to keep the visions at bay. In an effort to purge her mind of such disturbing thoughts, Yeong-hye denounces the idea of eating meat; going so far as to throw every morsel in the family home away.

In South Korea, societal mores are to be strictly obeyed and Yeong-hye’s decision to not eat meat is seen as shocking. Her one small act of rebellion grows and snowballs in on itself creating larger and larger waves in her extended family and causing Yeong-hye to disappear further and further in to the fantasy world she has created.

Head on over to sites like Good Reads or even Amazon and you will see numerous reviews as well as discussions over The Vegetarian. It seems that every one who reads this book takes something different away from it. While I certainly think that is a good thing, it can also make writing a review difficult. What I saw and took away from reading it might not be what another person sees.

With that, I will tell you what I saw when I read The Vegetarian.

For me, The Vegetarian is about taking control and the repercussions that can often happen. In a society such as the one that Yeong-hye lives in, there seem to be roles set out for nearly every individual. To deviate from them might be considered but the action is never carried out.

While the dreams that set Yeong-hye on her path are never fully explained, it is their effect that is felt through the rest of the pages. Her decision to restrict her diet further and further is her way of bucking the system and lashing out at the world.

The Vegetarian is a very difficult read. At times I found myself having to put the book down and walk away just from the emotions is brought up in me. Readers who have or have had an eating disorder will likely not want to read this one. All others, be mindful that this is a hard read and you might find yourself unhappy with the ending.

A Plunder of Souls (Thieftaker Chronicles #3) by D.B. Jackson

When the graves in some of Boston’s cemeteries are found disturbed, at first the church believes it to be grave robbers of some sort. However when it is learned that each body has been desecrated in the same manner and each bears a strange symbol carved in to their chest, they realize that something much stranger is going on.

Enter Ethan Kaille, a thieftaker and conjurer who has used his abilities in the past to catch various thieves and villains. His initial investigation turns little up, yet the more he digs the more he comes to understand that what he is dealing with is incredibly powerful. Add to this the fact that Ethan’s abilities to conjure are beginning to wane and each spell becomes more and more difficult to cast. Soon he realizes even if he were to combine his abilities with the few other conjurers in the city they might not be enough to defeat the one behind the grave robbing and the disturbed souls could possibly be lost forever.

D.B. Jackson has a PhD in American History and once again has put it to good use in A Plunder of Souls. He takes us back to Boston in 1769, where a smallpox outbreak has the city on edge. Growing dissent against the British crown only adds fuel to a fire that will eventually erupt.

Jackson does an admirable job of bringing 18th century Boston to life on the page even if the overall story has become a bit formulaic. This being the third book in the series, readers will recognize common plot threads and might even be able to predict character movements as the story progresses. I am not saying this is a bad thing; there are those who enjoy reading a book where they know what is going to happen next. Not all readers enjoy this kind of thing and those who don’t might take issue.

More squeamish readers also might have problems as some scenes are a bit more gruesome. Nature isn’t terribly kind when it comes to decay.

I enjoyed reading A Plunder of Souls even with the few flaws it has. While not the strongest book out of the series, it is a good addition.

Sleeping Giants (Themis Files #1) – by Sylvain Neuvel

A young girl named Rose falls down a hidden shaft while riding her bike near her home in South Dakota. When she wakes, she finds herself surrounded by walls covered in strange glowing symbols; yet her rescuers see something even stranger, a little girl seated in the palm of a giant metal hand.

Seventeen years have passed and the mystery of the metal hand continues. The little girl, Rose, is now the adult Dr. Rose Franklin. As a highly trained physicist she now leads a top secret group of military and science personnel with the goal of deciphering the metal hand’s mysteries. What do the strange symbols that lined the shaft surrounding the hand mean? And is the hand part of a larger construct?

As the pieces come together, both literally and figuratively, Dr. Franklin and her colleagues find the result could either be an instrument of peace or a weapon of lasting destruction.

Told through a variety of interviews and personal journal entries, Sleeping Giants is part mystery and part sci-fi thriller. It begs the question of what would happen if an alien construct was discovered. How would the world react if it were learned that we are not alone?

In Sleeping Giants the world does not react – at least not at first – because the world initially doesn’t know. An unnamed individual is pulling strings and making deals to make sure that doesn’t happen, and when it inevitably does, to make sure the “right” people are in control. But who are the “right” people? And this unnamed person, who are they and who are they really working for? One is left to ponder these things especially as more of what they have done comes to life over the course of the story.

Personally, I found Sleeping Giants to be an intriguing read.  The idea of aliens leaving artifacts to be found is not a new one yet here it is handled in a new way. Government conspiracies abound as strange unnamed persons pull at invisible strings to make sure events go as they want them.

Sci-fi fans as well as conspiracy theorist fans will greatly enjoy this book. Personally, I am looking forward to reading the second book to see just how far down the rabbit hole goes.