alt.Sherlock.Holmes: New Visions of The Great Detective by Gini Koch, Glen Mehn, and Jamie Wyman

Sherlock Holmes and her partner Dr. John Watson have barely set up as consulting detectives in LA before Tinsel Town’s finest come calling.

Joey Jackson and Tony Antonelli are in trouble: their partner, Cliff Camden, has disappeared without a trace on the eve of filming for a new show. The LAPD don’t care and Watson has his own reasons for wanting to stay out of it, but Holmes takes the case. But as she gets to work amidst the neurotic actors, grumbling film crews and low-level sleaze that permeates LA, a fresh murder turns everything on its head…

Winter, and the Soggiorno Brothers’ Traveling Wonder Show has pulled into its berth in Peru, Indiana. Sanford “Crash” Haus, proprietor and genius, and his friend, the retired soldier-turned-surgeon Jim “Dandy” Walker, are looking forward to a quiet few months. By happy coincidence, just as the Strong Man and the Tattooed Lady announce their betrothal, the Wonder Show’s old manager Professor Sylvestri – a minister, no less – rolls into town, with his ward in tow. Preparations for the happy day begin, but violence and misfortune attend on them…

Glen Mehn’s novella is a drug-fuelled descent into the experimental world of Warhol’s Factory. Holmes and Watson are faced with a mystery unlike any other, set against the backdrop of social, cultural and racial issues that rocked society and brought about the fierce (and sometimes violent) changes at the end of the swinging sixties… (via Goodreads)

Trigger Warningalt.Sherlock.Holmes contains subject matter and language that some might find disturbing/offensive. While the language and sentiments expressed are appropriate for their respective time periods, there are some who might find it bothersome. As the stories themselves do not come with any kind of warning, I thought it necessary to put one up myself.

Three different authors, three different versions of one of the most well known literary characters. That is the gift we are given in the book alt.Sherlock.Holmes.

Jamie Wyman is first, giving us a Holmes and Watson (though neither by that name) that sees the two working in a carnival setting in the 1930’s. Watson – known in this story as Walker – is an African American man whose leg was taken by the war. He is a Pinkerton agent when he first meets Holmes – known as Haus here – and subsequently joins the circus.

Personally, this was my favorite of the three stories. Not only with the story line but with how the characters felt when compared to their original counterparts. Haus very much felt like a slightly updated version of Doyle’s Holmes with his penchant for drawing people to him regardless of how they might be viewed by outside society. Seeing him in a carnival setting seems quite natural given his penchant for the dramatic. The same can be said for Walker; a dedicated and knowledgeable doctor who still carries traces of the warrior and fighter he used to be.

My only complaint was how the story ended because it left me desperately wanting more. I can only hope Wyman writes more stories of these two in this particular universe.

Second is Gini Koch with an offering that has been seen before – a female Sherlock Holmes. Set in the modern day, Ms. Holmes meets up with Dr. Watson when she is brought in to consult on a case. She eventually decides to stay in the States where she continues to solve cases.

This particular version of Holmes and Watson, though not unique in setting it in modern day, is unique in how it handles other aspects of the characters. Holmes has a bad habit – something that is not new – it is the habit itself that is. Holmes is addicted to reality TV and she is well versed in all of the different kinds that grace TV screens today.

It is also implied (at least this is how I interpret it) that Watson is bi. It is mentioned that he goes out with a male acquaintance for drinks but his head can also be turned by a pretty lady. It is even hinted that he has a crush on Holmes and she in turn possibly likes him. That these feelings were hinted at and not acted upon is lovely to see and adds a touch of realism to the story.

Lastly, comes Glen Mehn taking Holmes and Watson to 1960’s New York City. Both Holmes and Watson are part of the underground scene of the time. Holmes’ reasons are hazy at best but with Watson we come to understand that his serving in the Korean War has left him disillusioned and he now uses his doctor’s degree to make and sell drugs.

I will be honest dear reader and say that this last version was my least favorite of the three. I found it to be too dark and downright depressing at times. Not to mention the fact that BOTH John and Sherlock and junkies. Also, to try and add realism, Mehn sprinkles in well known people and events from the time – such as Andy Warhol. However, much of this feels forced and I found it detracted from the story instead of adding to it.

On the whole, I found alt.Sherlock.Holmes to be fairly enjoyable. If any of my readers are considering picking up this book in either paperback or e-book edition, my advice is to read and enjoy the first two and skip the third. Have fun!

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.

Fox 8 by George Saunders

Fox 8 has always been known as the daydreamer in his pack, the one his fellow foxes regarded with a knowing snort and a roll of the eyes. That is, until Fox 8 develops a unique skill: He teaches himself to speak “Yuman” by hiding in the bushes outside a house and listening to children’s bedtime stories. The power of language fuels his abundant curiosity about people—even after “danjer” arrives in the form of a new shopping mall that cuts off his food supply, sending Fox 8 on a harrowing quest to help save his pack.

A darkly comic short story, a fable about the all too real impact that we humans have on the environment. (via Goodreads)

Fox 8 is a very short book and as such my review will too be brief.

Before I begin though, I will warn my dear readers that there is animal death and cruelty in this story. It is brief but it could also be enough to put some readers off.

Told by a young fox who refers to himself as Fox 8, the same titled book offers a brief glimpse of what can happen when nature is forced out as humans move in.

At times, the story comes across as cute and amusing. For example, when Fox 8 and Fox 7 enter the shopping mall. They are astounded by what they see and believe themselves to be incredibly lucky by the food they find. Food that their pack desperately needs.

At other times, the story becomes sad and even violent. Fox 8’s pack is shown as slowly starving with some even dying. When Fox 8 and Fox 7 leave the shopping mall with their cache of food and come across some humans, another incident occurs. It is enough to make Fox 8 question why he originally found humans so interesting.

Another thing that could be off-putting to some readers is the language used by Fox 8 to tell his story. He only learned the language by listening to a mother reading to her children and as such his spelling is awful. The words and syntax are akin to an elementary school child. While I had little trouble with it, I can see where some might have problems trying to follow along.

Overall, I liked Fox 8. It is a very short book – I read it in less than half an hour – but it’s impact lasts. Certainly not a book for every one, but one I can recommend.

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.

Fox by Dubravka Ugrešic

With the shape-shifting and wily fox of Eastern folklore as an underlying motif, Fox is a novel that reinvents itself over and over again. It is a blending of literary trivia and the timeless story of a young woman trying to find love.

Through it’s narrative force the reader is taken from Russia to Japan, through Balkan minefields and on American road trips. We are taken from the 1920s to present day, as the novel explores the power of storytelling and literary invention. Of the notions of betrayal, and the randomness of human lives.

It is incredibly rare, dear reader, for me to not finish a book – much less write a review on it. Yet that is what I find myself doing with Ugresic’s Fox.

When I picked the book up off the shelf at my library, the blurb on the back seemed very interesting. It was only when I began reading, or at least trying to read, that I found myself sadly disappointed.

Perhaps it is because I do not find Ugresic’s writing style appealing. She has a kind of rambling style of writing, her words seeming to jumble together in an almost stream of consciousness style. Each chapter is its own unique story, centering on one particular event or another, but also interspersed with random bits of information that seem to pertain to what is happening.

Unfortunately, due to the style of writing, I found myself going cross eyed halfway through the first story. I could not even finish the second one before I was forced to put the book down.

Readers who are familiar with Ugresic’s previous works claim Fox is typical of her work. Perhaps it is because I myself am not familiar with her previous novels, or perhaps it is because there is something lost in the translation of this book in to English. Suffice it to say, I did not enjoy reading Fox. So much so that I did not even finish it.

Whether it is good or bad, I cannot really say. Nor can I honestly recommend it.

The Carrot Man by Theo A. Gerkin

Finding that one perfect roommate is never easy. When a 30-something writer meets his new roommate, he’s in for a shock when he meets a carrot.

Not a literal carrot; but instead the human vegetable kind. Lazy, ugly, and broke.

Dishes pile up in the kitchen, the bathroom resembles a literal dump, and Carrot Man never takes out the garbage. All of these things begin to bother the author to no end until he finally seems to snap.

The Carrot Man is a short story provided to me by the author for review.

The Carrot Man is one of those stories that I find difficult to write a review for. Mainly because the experience I had while reading it is quite different than the majority of the reviews I have seen about it over on Goodreads. In cases like this, I find myself having to be blunt.

I did not enjoy The Carrot Man.

The writing itself is decent enough, it is the narrator himself that I took issue with. He comes across as very narcissistic and is very difficult to sympathize with. As he spends the majority of the story telling us how awful his roommate is, he himself becomes an awful person. His liberal use of disparaging remarks is off-putting, as is his usage of problematic terms such as “retard”.

At times the narrator seems to be trying too hard to make himself sympathetic and to paint his roommate in a negative light. This backfires in the way that both individuals become unlikable.

As grateful as I am for Theo for providing his story to me for review, I sadly cannot recommend it. Unfunny and offensive, I must simply advise my readers to skip this one.

Zeus Grants Stupid Wishes by Cory O’Brien

For as long as mankind has been able to, they have told stories. Many of the stories told revolve around the gods and goddesses of the time and thus have survived. However, over time the stories sometimes tend to get a bit watered down.

In reality, the original stories are far, far more crazy. And interesting. And funny.

Any person who has been on Tumblr for a while will eventually learn of Zeus Grants Stupid Wishes and the hilarious genius of it. It is truly a book that keeps on giving because while I have read it several times by now, I find it laugh out loud funny every time.

Now, I will warn my readers there is a LOT of swearing and potty humor. However, since most myths center around sex in some way or another this is pretty standard. Still, more sensitive (as well as younger) readers should have a heads up.

Personally, I loved Zeus Grants Stupid Wishes. While it’s a quick read, it’s also one that can be read over and over and enjoyed every time. I recommend it for my older readers.

Dark Nocturne (Vampire Hunter D Volume 10) by Hideyuki Kikuchi

A siren’s song has been drawing young men to their deaths in the hills outside of Anise Village. No one in the village is able to locate where the song is coming from, so an outsider is hired to unlock the strange secret.

The village of Shirley’s Door has a dark secret. A yearly ritualistic sacrifice meant to protect the town and keep the monsters at bay. When an outsider finds himself caught between the young woman being sacrificed and her beau, the whole village itself might be doomed.

Countless years ago, two sides in a devastating war create their own living weapons. Genetically engineered creatures set to fight to the death; and though the war has been over for centuries, two remaining individuals are still set to battle. And in doing so, they could re-ignite a fight that has been dormant for a very long time.

Readers who have been a part of the graphic novel/manga/anime fandom for some time will immediately recognize the name ‘Vampire Hunter D’. Western audiences were introduced to the character via the first animated movie in the late 80’s, with the novels themselves not coming out in translated form until some years later. Individuals, like myself, were ecstatic with the release of each novel and while some are better than others, we still seek to collect them all.

While Dark Nocturne is labelled as number 10 in the Vampire Hunter series, it could actually fit any where in the early series itself. It is compromised of three short stories that were published independently in magazines before being collected for the novel here.

With all this being said, unfortunately I find Dark Nocturne to be one of the weakest books in the series. The stories themselves do not have to coherency of earlier novels and the characterization is often very weak. They feel as if they were written much earlier than previous novels, when Kikuchi was just beginning to write about D and had yet to get a hold on the character himself.

Compared to other novels in the series with the same protagonist, the D here feels off somehow. He is flippant and at times almost uncaring; and while in other stories D can be off putting, it is not to this degree. It was actually hard to like him, while he is a character I have enjoyed reading about for some time.

Purists like myself will of course want to add this book to their collection so they might have the whole set. Casual readers will want to skip this one as it does not add anything to the series and I think can be ignored as a whole.

Skip Dark Nocturne, dear readers. As much as I love Vampire Hunter D, I cannot in good faith recommend this one.

In a Glass Darkly by Sheridan Le Fanu

First published in 1872, this remarkable collection of stories includes such classics as Green Tea and Carmilla.

Each of the five stories are purported to be the cases of Dr. Hesselius; a ‘metaphysical’ doctor who is willing to consider ghosts both as both real and as hallucinations. The reader’s doubt and anxiety is meant to clearly mimic that of each story’s protagonist and so create the atmosphere of mystery that is the supernatural experience.

My dear reader, it pains me to end the year with a negative review but I’m afraid that is the way it will have to be.

I was unable to finish In a Glass Darkly and actually had to stop reading it out of sheer aggravation. The prose is so very purple and lurid that there were several times I had to reread a passage simply to try and make sense out of it. And more often than not, not being able to. While I am aware that Victorian writing styles vary greatly from the writing styles of today, I have read my share of books from that era and enjoyed quite a few.

Unfortunately, In a Glass Darkly is not one of them.

I believe I can understand what Le Fanu was trying to accomplish; however the efforts fall short. There is simply too much for the reader to try and digest. I cannot recommend this one, my dear readers, unless you are looking for something to put you to sleep.

 

Alabaster by Caitlin R. Kiernan

An albino girl wanders the sun-scorched backroads of a south Georgia summer, following the bidding of an angel – or perhaps only voices in her head – searching out and slaying ancient monsters who have hidden themselves away in the lonely places of the world.

First introduced in Caitlin R. Kiernan’s second novel, Threshold, Dancy has gone on to be the unlikely heroine in several short stories and even a novella. Each story is a small piece of a larger fantasy narrative and in Alabaster they are finally gathered together in to a single volume.

I admit, dear reader, I wasn’t quite sure what I was picking up when I picked Alabaster up off the shelf in my local library. In truth I had been looking for another book by the same author and ended up getting this one instead. From what I understood (or thought I understood), Dancy was a minor character in one of Kiernan’s novels and this collection of short stories expand upon her background.

Having not read Threshold, I don’t know if I’m correct or not. I do know, however, that these stories presume that the reader has at least a passing knowledge of Dancy. And having no prior knowledge of the character, I found myself a bit lost.

Kiernan is an excellent author, that much I do know from reading these short stories. She is able to spin a believable yarn; to give the reader information while still leaving something to the imagination. She does have the occasional penchant for run on sentences, but I have yet to read an author who doesn’t.

Readers who have read Threshold and are familiar with Dancy will likely enjoy this collection. It gives glimpses in to her character and takes the reader on brief adventures. I’m sure I would have enjoyed this book more if I had read the first book in the series, but all in all I found it a nice read.