The Shape of Water by Guillermo del Toro and Daniel Kraus

It is 1962, and Elisa Esposito—mute her whole life, orphaned as a child—is struggling with her humdrum existence as a janitor working the graveyard shift at Baltimore’s Occam Aerospace Research Center. Were it not for Zelda, a protective coworker, and Giles, her loving neighbor, she doesn’t know how she’d make it through the day.

Then, one fateful night, she sees something she was never meant to see, the Center’s most sensitive asset ever: an amphibious man, captured in the Amazon, to be studied for Cold War advancements. The creature is terrifying but also magnificent, capable of language and of understanding emotions…and Elisa can’t keep away. Using sign language, the two learn to communicate. Soon, affection turns into love, and the creature becomes Elisa’s sole reason to live.

But outside forces are pressing in. Richard Strickland, the obsessed soldier who tracked the asset through the Amazon, wants nothing more than to dissect it before the Russians get a chance to steal it. Elisa has no choice but to risk everything to save her beloved. With the help of Zelda and Giles, Elisa hatches a plan to break out the creature. But Strickland is on to them. And the Russians are, indeed, coming

Trigger Warning: Racism, Homophobia, Violence

Also please note, I have NOT seen the movie.

The Shape of Water is undoubtedly a strange book albeit with a well known premise. American government hears rumors of a strange creature in some far off land and sends someone off to capture it. The creature is brought back alive where it is poked and prodded by government scientists. Through a series of events the creature escapes and is often times killed by the time the credits roll.

The majority of this happens in del Toro’s book, but instead of making the creature some kind of monster and making us sympathize with the scientists and soldiers, he flips the script so to speak. Richard Strickland, the soldier who brought back the creature from the Amazon, is a hateful man. It is incredibly likely he has PTSD because as the story progresses he descends further and further in to a delusional madness.

Instead, we sympathize with the creature. Taken from his home and placed in a sterile tank. Kept prisoner and subjected to torture in the name of science. The only kindness he receives is from one of the overnight janitors, Eliza, who eventually risks everything for him.

The first hundred or so pages of The Shape of Water is a bit difficult to get through. The writing is dry and bland and the story doesn’t move very much. It is only once Eliza and the creature meet does the story start to pick up pace. A pace that gains speed culminating in the climax of the last twenty pages of the book.

I am curious more than ever to see the movie now having read the book so I can compare and contrast the two.

Even if you’ve seen the movie, I recommend reading the book. If nothing else, it will give more insight in to the characters and more background on them than can be given in a 2 hour movie.

The Girl With All the Gifts by M.R. Carey

Melanie is a very special girl. Dr. Caldwell calls her “our little genius.”

Every morning, Melanie waits in her cell to be collected for class. When they come for her, Sergeant Parks keeps his gun pointing at her while two of his people strap her into the wheelchair. She thinks they don’t like her. She jokes that she won’t bite, but they don’t laugh.

Melanie loves school. She loves learning about spelling and sums and the world outside the classroom and the children’s cells. She tells her favorite teacher all the things she’ll do when she grows up. Melanie doesn’t know why this makes Miss Justineau look sad.

Trigger Warning: Violence. Of many kinds. This is a zombie novel so it should go without saying. Some of the violence is directed towards children.

The Girl With All the Gifts is a great and unique take on your typical zombie story. The zombies – or hungries as they’re referred to in the book – are not the main character. They do make a few appearances in the book but most of the time they are referred to by the human characters. Something else that makes this story unique is the origin of the zombie virus.

Also on the unique front is how the book doesn’t focus solely on the zombies, but instead focuses on the human characters and how they interact. The world has changed drastically and not every one is taking to it well.

For me, I believe what truly makes The Girl With All the Gifts an enjoyable read is the mysteries behind the scenes. Melanie is such a lovable individual and she has so much love to give if she could only find someone to accept it. But for whatever reason, no one will get close to her. She doesn’t understand but she is determined to find out.

I really enjoyed The Girl With All the Gifts. At times it can be heartbreaking and at other times it can be breathtaking. There is some gore but I still recommend it to my readers.

Recursion by Blake Crouch

Memory makes reality.

That’s what New York City cop Barry Sutton is learning as he investigates the devastating phenomenon the media has dubbed False Memory Syndrome—a mysterious affliction that drives its victims mad with memories of a life they never lived.

That’s what neuroscientist Helena Smith believes. It’s why she’s dedicated her life to creating a technology that will let us preserve our most precious memories. If she succeeds, anyone will be able to re-experience a first kiss, the birth of a child, the final moment with a dying parent. 

As Barry searches for the truth, he comes face-to-face with an opponent more terrifying than any disease—a force that attacks not just our minds but the very fabric of the past. And as its effects begin to unmake the world as we know it, only he and Helena, working together, will stand a chance at defeating it.

But how can they make a stand when reality itself is shifting and crumbling all around them?

Trigger Warning: Mentions of suicide.

Have you ever had a dream that felt so real that when you woke up you could have sworn that it actually happened? That you lived a whole other life? And now that you’ve woken up, you come to the realization that this is your real life and that other life was only a fantasy?

What if you’re told that the life you dreamt of was a result of FMS – False Memory Syndrome? That despite how real it felt that it was all just an illusion? How would that make you feel? How do you think that would make any one feel?

Continuing in the thread of ‘What if…?’, what if you were told there was a special chair. A chair that allows you to revisit past events? And in revisiting the past, the potential to change the future? Would you sit in the chair? What would you change?

All of these questions – and many more – are posed in Blake Crouch’s most recent book Recursion.

In it, neuroscientist Helena Smith is searching for a way to preserve memories. To allow important moments to be recorded so that they might be experienced again. To save what little is left of her own mother’s mind before Alzheimer’s claims her completely. And while Helena succeeds in being able to record memories, it is when they are played back that trouble starts. Trouble that could potentially change the world as we know it.

I will be blunt dear reader, Recursion is not an easy read. At times it is science heavy and at other times it is emotion heavy. It is however a very good book and one that will leave you thinking long after you have turned the last page.

I absolutely recommend this one to my readers.

The Trouble With Being God: 10th Anniversary Special Edition by William F. Aicher

A naked priest hangs crucified on the wall of an abandoned brewery – the first in a series of grisly murders plaguing the city of Courtsdale. A recurring nightmare of blood, intimacy and death haunts the dreams of journalist, Steven Carvelle.

Someone stalks the city, and with the inside help of homicide detective, Kevin Miles, Steven investigates – searching for the connection tying the terrifying events together. But as the search unfolds and the murders strike closer and closer to home, Steven soon realizes these killings bear an uncanny resemblance to his dreams. Is it connection? Or coincidence? 

Do we really ever know who we are? 

And what is the trouble with being God?

Trigger Warning: Blood and gore as well as graphic descriptions of murder victims.

I admit, dear reader, that I read all of The Trouble With Being God in one evening. I started reading it, expecting to finish it in a few days like I do with most books but found myself so absorbed by the story that I couldn’t put it down.

Yet as much as I enjoyed the story, I simply could not stand the main character, Steven. I found him incredibly annoying. He is verbally and emotionally abusive to his girlfriend. He is rude and sometimes even mean to those he supposedly calls his friends. Though honestly, the same can be said of almost every other character in the book. Aside from Detective Miles, nearly every other character that plays a part in the story is bitter, selfish, and mean.

What saves the book from being a total dumpster fire is Aicher’s writing. The pacing and prose keep the story tight and suspenseful. It is enough to keep the reader engaged and guessing right up to and past the final page.

The way Aicher ends the story will certainly not appeal to everyone. I personally liked it since not everything in real life ends all neatly wrapped up like in books or movies.

The 10th Anniversary edition comes with additional extras like the original epilogue that was not published with the first edition of the book as well as a new afterword by the author. The afterword was interesting and gave insight in to the author and how his feelings towards the book have changed over the 10 years. The epilogue was worthless and didn’t add anything to the story. Personally, I’m glad it was scrapped.

Fans of Aicher’s books will likely enjoy The Trouble With Being God if they haven’t already read it. For any one else, I encourage them to at least give it a try.

The Last Wish (The Witcher #1) by Andrzej Sapkowski

The Last Wish by Andrzej Sapkowski
The Last Wish cover

Geralt of Rivia is a witcher. A cunning sorcerer. A merciless assassin. And a cold-blooded killer. His sole purpose: to destroy the monsters that plague the world. But not everything monstrous-looking is evil and not everything fair is good… and in every fairy tale there is a grain of truth.

A collection of short stories introducing Geralt of Rivia, to be followed by the first novel in the actual series, The Blood of Elves.

Note that, while The Last Wish was published after The Sword of Destiny, the stories contained in The Last Wish take place first chronologically, and many of the individual stories were published before The Sword of Destiny.

Technically, The Last Wish is not the first book in The Witcher series though it is often listed as book one. In truth it was printed after The Sword of Destiny – book three – of the series. However, as the events in The Last Wish take place before The Sword of Destiny, it is put first when listing the books of the series.

Since I have not played the Witcher games before reading the books, I did not go in with any expectations aside from the knowledge that this a fantasy series unlike many on the market today. I’m glad for this because from what I understand, there are differences between the two and I know I would be constantly comparing them.

The Last Wish was originally written in Polish and translated to English, a fact that is sometimes obvious while reading. Because while Sapkowski builds a world that is easily believable, the action and story becomes clunky and awkward at times. And as I do not read Polish, I am relying on the English translation when giving my opinion.

The characters that populate the world that Sapkowski writes of are a diverse sort. There are royalty and there are servants, there are those who are human and there are those that are not. These creatures come from a variety of tales and easily recognizable; vampires, elves, goblins, and gnomes.

What gives realism to the world created is that no one character is perfect. There are no “good guys” and “bad guys”. Every character does what they believe is the right thing; for themselves, for their loved ones, for their city or village. Even the titular character – Geralt of Rivera – does not fall in one particular category. As a Witcher, it is his job to seek out the monsters that plague the people. It is a profession he has trained for since he was a child and it is unclear whether he truly enjoys his work or not.

The Last Wish, as well as the rest of the Witcher series, isn’t your ordinary fantasy series. While it does have the creatures that are common in other books, there is also a darkness and a gritty element that may not appeal to everyone. Those who are looking for some realism in their fantasy will likely enjoy it.

Confessions by Kanae Minato (Translated by Stephen Snyder)

Book cover for Confessions by Kanae Minato

Her pupils killed her daughter. Now, she will have her revenge.

After an engagement that ended in tragedy, all Yuko Moriguchi had to live for was her four-year-old child, Manami. Now, after a heartbreaking accident on the grounds of the middle school where she teaches, Yuko has given up and tendered her resignation. 

But first, she has one last lecture to deliver. She tells a story that will upend everything her students ever thought they knew about two of their peers, and sets in motion a maniacal plot for revenge. 

As avid a reader as I am and with as much free time as I now have, it is still rare for me to finish a book in less than two days. Confessions I finished in one evening.

Confessions is a story about revenge. About having it and the repercussions it brings. Not just to those who are on the receiving end but also to those around them.

Told in a series of stories, each one is dedicated to a person involved with the events. The first one is told in manner of a lecture by Yuko Moriguchi, a teacher who is on the verge of retiring. Having lost her daughter she is naturally distraught and it is when she has pieced the pieces together of what happened that she plans (and executes) her revenge.

Confessions is a dark and twisted tale. Twisted in the way that just when you believe you know which way the story is going, Minato causes the story to shift and take a completely different direction. It is not a nice book, several reviews I have seen online call it “fucked up” and I completely concur. It is almost akin to a train wreck – horrifying and yet one cannot look away.

Horror fans are likely to be keen on this particular book. Especially if you are like me and enjoy the more psychological aspect of horror and less of the blood and gore aspect. Certainly not for the feint of heart but a good read nonetheless.

A Debt of Survival by L.F. Falconer

A Debt of Survival cover

The summer of 1969 sees Neil Armstrong walk on the moon. In California, the Manson family commits bloody murder. A half million people descend upon Woodstock in New York. And in Diablo Springs, Nevada, something evil crawls out of the earth.

Fifteen years in law enforcement never prepared Sheriff Don Lattimore for this. Suspecting his daughter is involved in satanic activity within an abandoned house on Redwing Lane, he soon finds himself mired in an investigation straight from the depths of Hell. A wave of destruction sweeps over the county and the death toll rises daily.

Plagued by a mentally unstable witness, a crumbling marriage, and the war-born ghosts of his own past, Lattimore no longer knows where to turn in his battle to preserve his community. Then a stranger comes to town, offering deliverance. Now Lattimore faces a horrific decision. Is he willing to sacrifice a child for the greater good? Even his own? (via Goodreads)

The year of 1969 was, historically, a year of changes. The country itself was in transition, moving from one school of thought to another. And it is in this changing setting that Falconer sets her novel.

A Debt of Survival is not for the faint of heart. It is dark and gritty and at times quite violent. A few scenes are even hard to read simply because they lay the truth of war bare. War, regardless of the time or place, is not pleasant. It doesn’t matter who is on what side, or if those fighting are even human; it is nasty and cruel and Falconer does not shy away from this.

On the surface, A Debt of Survival seems like a rather straight forward horror type novel. It is only as one reads further and gets to the real meat of the story do we realize that not everything is as black and white. That maybe those proclaiming to be the ‘good guys’ aren’t all that good. Or maybe they are but only for their definition of good.

This book had me practically from the first word on the first page up to the final phrase. It kept me on the edge of my seat, eagerly turning the page in an effort to find out just what happens next. The ending is and isn’t satisfying and is a set up for what I sincerely hope will become a series. I would love to find out what happens to these characters down the road.

Provided for Review: The Fiends in the Furrows: An Anthology of Folk Horror

This book was provided for review by the kind people of Nosetouch Press. Thank you!

Two young men working as a team supply a vicious drug dealer with a potent and difficult to come by drug. When one of them tries to go back on the straight and narrow path, his former boss is determined to find him and bring him back.

Every year the people of the town are summoned to harvest the fruit at Genesis Farms. They do not know what kind of fruit it is they are gathering, nor do they know where it eventually goes. All any one knows is that they must go; and not for the money but because they are obligated to.

An unfaithful wife returns from the grave and to her husband’s side. The only issue is that she is missing her head as her husband had sliced it off the night before.

These are but three of the stories included in The Fiends in the Furrows: An Anthology of Folk Horror. Each of the nine stories seems stranger than the last and each touches on a variety of themes. From the paranoia that sometimes arises from rural isolation to the monstrous rituals and arcane ceremonies that are handed down generation to generation.

Personally, I love a good horror and the ones featured in The Fiends in the Furrows were right up my alley. While there is a bit of violence, the stories tend to rely more on psychological horror than physical horror. In this way they remind me of many a foreign horror film. Most (but certainly not all) American horror films rely on blood and gore, on jump scares and other visual signs to try and scare the audience. Foreign horror films on the other hand (again, not all), tend to rely on the psychological. They play with your mind, showing only hints and shadows, making one wonder what is was exactly that they saw.

So it is with the stories in this book. Very little is laid out concrete for the reader. Instead, most things are hinted at, leaving the reader to fill in the details with their own imagination. Leaving them to finish the story and decide what exactly happens next.

I was not familiar with any of the authors features in this collection but that does not mean I did not enjoy them. Each brought their own unique flavor of storytelling and was able to add to the tapestry that is this enthralling book. Reading who love a good page turner and who enjoy thinking about what happens next will surely devour this book just as I have done.

Provided for Review: The Plotters by Un-su Kim (Translated by Sora Kim-Russell)

This book was provided for review by the kind folks at Netgalley. Thank you!

The important thing is not who pulls the trigger but who’s behind the person who pulls the trigger—the plotters, the masterminds working in the shadows. Raised by Old Raccoon in The Library of Dogs, Reseng has always been surrounded by plots to kill—and by books that no one ever reads. In Seoul’s corrupt underworld, he was destined to be an assassin.

Until he breaks the rules. That’s when he meets a trio of young women—a convenience store worker, her wheelchair-bound sister, and a cross-eyed obsessive knitter—with an extraordinary plot of their own.

The Plotters is one of those novels that doesn’t quite fit in to any one genre. On the one hand you have a dark novel filled with violence and a game of cat and mouse that keeps one guessing up to the last pages. On the other hand, you have an almost slice-of-life type of story with the main character, Reseng, simply trying to get through another day. It is an interesting mixture and a dichotomy that shouldn’t work yet somehow does.

Now I will not lie to you dear reader, there is a good deal of violence in this book. Not surprising considering this is a book about assassins. People shoot at each other, have knife fights, so forth and so on; and while the fight scenes don’t go in to too much detail, there is still the potential that some readers could find it triggering.

While The Plotters was an enjoyable read, it did start at a kind of slow pace. For the majority of the first half of the book we are following Reseng as he goes about his business as an assassin. It isn’t until over halfway through the book that we meet the three women who challenge his views of the underworld in which he resides. Perhaps if he had met these women earlier, the book would have taken a different turn from what it did.

On the whole, I liked reading The Plotters. While I am quite sure some of the nuances were lost in the translation from Korean to English, it was still enough to keep me interested and reading. Readers who enjoy darker, film noir type stories will likely enjoy this one as well.

Provided for review: After Hope Dies by Lilly Haraden

This book was provided for review by the folks at NetGalley

This is what happens after America dies: the monsters take over.

A young prostitute’s reanimated soul prowls the streets, seeking revenge against her killers. The reclusive nerd who lives next door suffers from a serious problem that goes far beyond the time-bending demon infesting his body. And across town, an occult guide owns a brothel where you can buy a child for cheap.

Inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement, this dark literary fantasy debut examines life for the most disadvantaged who call post-prosperity America home.

Author/Publisher/Reviewers Note: This book deals with darker themes including racist content, depictions of rape, and strong themes of child sexualization/exploitation. If ANY of these subjects make you uncomfortable, then this is not the story for you.

My dearest reader, if the above paragraph in bold as well as the brief description above has not already convinced you, let me state it AGAIN – this book contains disturbing imagery. It is NOT for the faint of heart or easily offended. There are numerous passages that require the reader to have a strong constitution. Several of the reviews I have seen, the person reading it did not take the warning seriously and sadly suffered for it.

All of that aside: After Hope Dies is an excellent book. It provides a truly scary “What if…?” that once the reader finishes the book – including the epilogue – will leave them wondering just how much could potentially occur.

In three short stories, After Hope Dies, follows several individuals in a not to distant future. The city they are in could be anywhere in the United States and the persons the overall story centers on live in one of the poorest sections. Drug use as well as vices of other kinds run rampant and all of the characters are affected in one way or another.

While each individual story has its own main character, they also cross over in to the other stories. The child prostitute in the first story is the next door neighbor of the game playing introvert of the second story, and she goes to school with the younger sister who features in the third story. The introvert runs in the same gaming circles as the older sister in the third story. And between them all is the brothel owner and his assistant. They all play off of one another, acting and reacting to events as they occur.

Each person has their own story and Haraden does an admirable job of delving in to each one. It is certainly not an easy task, some of the jobs that these characters take on could be described as distasteful, yet they all do what they must. They make deals with demons with the intent of living another day.

Haraden’s writing is smooth and strong. As disturbing as some scenes are, they are penned in a way that is not difficult to imagine. The stories are easy to follow and the characters can be related to by most. As someone who is whiter than the proverbial sour cream, I will never be able to fully relate to the discrimination (both internal and external) faced by many. Reading After Hope Dies however, gave me a tiny inkling and takes me one step closer to understanding.

At times hard to read and hard to stomach, it is an engrossing book and one I simply must recommend.