Book Review: Frankenstein Dreams edited by Michael Sims


Frankenstein Dreams edited by Michael Sims

So what did science fiction look like when modern science was still in its infancy? Michael Sims has put together a collection of 19th century short science fiction stories that illustrate not only the breadth and the creativity of the field prior to the turn of the 20th century, but also the creepy prescience of some of the writers (if not for strict scientific fact, then for topics that would remain scifi staples into the current day).

In this collection we find mechanical brides made to order, vicious monsters awaiting daring pilots in the upper levels of the atmosphere, superhuman senses, alternate dimensions, strange aliens, time travel, and apocalyptic plagues and disasters. The stories, which include samples from authors like Mary Shelley, Edgar Allen Poe, Jules Verne, and Rudyard Kipling, range from chapter excerpts to short stories to stories fashioned so like news items that, War of the Worlds-style, many people accepted them as fact.

My biggest complaint is that for the bigger names in the collection, clearly selected for their name recognition to the larger public, Sims has largely chosen to include only bits of chapters from their most famous works. As someone who looks to these collections to find little known authors or stories, this was a bit frustrating. I would have preferred something a little more off the beaten path. 

Fans of Victorian literature and scifi buffs should check this volume out. In these stories, we can see the seed of inspiration for a number of modern tales.

A copy of this book was provided by the publisher via Goodreads Giveaways in exchange for an honest review. 

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Book Box Review and Unboxing: The Nocturnal Reader’s Box – October

It’s the most wonderful time of the year, and the one year anniversary for The Nocturnal Reader’s Box! This is also their first month without a theme and I’ve been waiting on tenterhooks to see what’s going to be included! Also, look at that box! It’s huge, it’s enormous, it’s . . . really, really big! This month’s box is definitely bigger than in past months, and it’s chock-full of goodies for wicked boys and girls!

First and foremost is always the books, so without further ado . . .

Three books in this box! First up is The Valancourt Book of Horror Stories Volume Two, a collection of short scary stories (which genre I’m really beginning to appreciate). From the Goodreads description:

Valancourt Books has earned a reputation as one of the foremost publishers of lost and rediscovered classics, reissuing more than 400 unjustly neglected works from the late 18th century all the way to the early 21st. In this second volume of rare horror stories, the editors of Valancourt Books have selected fourteen tales – all by Valancourt authors – for this new collection spanning two centuries of horror. This volume features a previously unpublished ghost story by Nevil Shute, a brand-new tale by award-winning author Stephen Gregory, and twelve other tales that have never or seldom been reprinted. 

In this volume, you will encounter tales of ghosts, haunted houses, witchcraft, possession, demonic pacts, and ancient, nameless horrors. Stories of the weird and macabre, of a man tormented by an age-old evil, a corpse returned from the dead, a brutal killer with a shocking secret, a contraption with the power to trap its victims eternally inside a nightmare. With stories ranging from frightening to horrific to weird to darkly humorous, by a lineup of authors that includes both masters of horror fiction and award-winning literary greats, this is a horror anthology like no other. 

Features stories by: Mary Elizabeth Braddon • John Buchan • R. Chetwynd-Hayes • Isabel Colegate • Basil Copper • Thomas De Quincey • Stephen Gregory • Michael McDowell • John Metcalfe • Beverley Nichols • Nevil Shute • Bernard Taylor • Russell Thorndike • Robert Westall

Next up is Valancourt’s reprint of Michael McDowell’s Cold Moon Over Babylon. I’ve just started getting into McDowell’s writing (thanks to Paperbacks From Hell by Grady Hendrix) and I couldn’t be more thrilled to find one of his books in this box! From the Goodreads description:

Terror grows in Babylon, a typical sleepy Southern town with its throbbing sun and fog-shrouded swamps.

Margaret Larkin has been robbed of her innocence — and her life. Her killer is rich and powerful, beyond the grasp of earthly law.
Now, in the murky depths of the local river, a shifting, almost human shape slowly takes form. Night after night it will pursue the murderer. It will watch him from the trees. And in the chill waters of the river, it will claim him in the ultimate embrace.

The cold moon rises, the awful squishing sounds begin…

And finally, What the Hell did I Just Read by David Wong, the third book in his John Dies at the End series. My copy was signed  (YAY!). From the Goodreads description:

NYT bestselling author Wong takes readers to a whole new level with his latest dark comic sci-fi thriller, set in the world of John Dies at the End and This Book is Full of Spiders

John Dies at the End’s “smart take on fear manages to tap into readers’ existential dread on one page, then have them laughing the next” (Publishers Weekly) and This Book is Full of Spiders was “unlike any other book of the genre” (Washington Post). Now, Wong is back with the third installment of this black-humored thriller series.

Dave, John and Amy recount what seems like a fairly straightforward tale of a shape-shifting creature from another dimension that is stealing children and brainwashing their parents, but it eventually becomes clear that someone is lying, and that someone is the narrators. 

The novel you’re reading is a cover-up, and the “true” story reveals itself in the cracks of their hilariously convoluted, and sometimes contradictory, narrative. 

Equal parts terrifying and darkly comedic in his writing, David Wong “will be remembered as one of today’s great satirists” (Nerdist).

Now that I own all three, I feel a binge read coming on.

As always, the extra goodies in the box were utterly fantastic!

Also included were an I [heart] Horror bookmark, a Nocturnal Readers sticker, an Edgar Allan Poe pin, and a patch with everyone’s favorite creepy ghost girl from Ringu 

There was a lovely bit of artwork (now on my wall)

A candle in “Carnival Calliope” scent (raspberry, sugar, and vanilla) inspired by Something Wicked This Way Comes

An Ibis and Jacquel’s Funeral Parlor pint glass from American Gods

And a tote bag for The Long Walk (there was the option for a tee-shirt but I went with the tote).

In all, it’s quite a fantastic haul, and the things they’ve been teasing for November sound just as wonderful. I’d say that their first month without a theme did not disappoint! 

If you haven’t already, go to The Nocturnal Reader’s Box website, and see if you can reserve a slot for the next box!

Book Review: Waiting for the Punch by Marc Maron


Waiting for the Punch: Words to Live by from the WTF Podcast by Marc Maron

Marc Maron started the WTF Podcast 8 years ago, interviewing celebrities in his garage. The former stand up comedian went from the brink of failure to producing a wildly popular show. Maron has hosted people like Robin Williams, Norm McDonald, President Obama, Dan Harmon, Louis CK, Al Gore, and more. His laid-back, informal method of “interviewing” his guests has led to his being able to have something more akin to a conversation, rather than a pat question and answer session. This style has allowed his guests (and Maron himself) to open up and approach topics honestly. Sometimes painfully so.

Waiting for the Punch is a compilation of excerpts from various interviews, broken up by chapter into subjects such as success, failure, addiction, relationships, sexuality, and more. The folks featured in the book run the gamut from comedians to politicians, drag queens to musicians. While some of the excerpts are laugh-out-loud funny, many are truly moving, as the guests talk about trauma or troubles from their past.

In the end, the book has something for everyone. I especially love the way so many guests seem willing to talk openly about struggling with addiction, mental illness, or childhood trauma. The excerpts from Robin Williams always struck an especially poignant note with me. If you’re looking for a comedic-leaning book about dealing with life, this is a great, inspiring read.

An advance copy of this book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review: Pork Pie Hat by Peter Straub

pork pie hat

Pork Pie Hat by Peter Straub

A graduate student with a passion for jazz finds out that the legendary “Pork Pie Hat,” far from being dead as previously presumed, is alive and well and playing at a dive bar in the East Village. The student goes down to see him play, and the mysterious “Hat” soon becomes an object of fascination. As the compulsion to see him play begins to push aside his coursework, the student manages to snag an interview with the strange and reculsive saxophonist. On Halloween night, Hat tells the student a story from his childhood, of screams in a dark and lonely wood, of mysterious and menacing men in big black cars . . .

I had no idea what to expect when starting this book. At a mere 175 pages, it really qualifies as a novella (or extra-long short story) rather than a true novel. The shorter length, however, is perfect for devouring in one sitting (which I highly recommend).

This is my first time reading something by Peter Straub, but I knew he had written with Stephen King in the past, so I felt like I had some idea of what I was getting into. Pork Pie Hat both confirmed and defied my expectations. Straub’s style in this book is vaguely Lovecraftian (even if the subject matter is not), and overall the book is a creepily atmospheric tale, even if it is given more to “all monsters are human” than the supernatural (but hey, being black in the South in the early part of the 20th century would have been terrifying a;ll by itself).

So, if you’re looking for a quick bite of a story to get yourself into the Halloween spirit, this is a great book for you. Straub does a wonderful job putting you in Pork Pie Hat’s shoes on a dark Halloween night so long ago.

Book Review: Rejected Princesses by Jason Porath

rejected princesses

Rejected Princesses: Tales of History’s Boldest Heroines, Hellions, and Heretics by Jason Porath

Dear husband brought this book to my attention after hearing a segment about it on NPR (what a very good husband!). After hearing only a few anecdotes about it, I needed to read it, NOW. Thank goodness for Amazon Prime.

Rejected Princesses grew out of a lunchtime chat among Dreamworks animators: Who was least likely to be turned into an animated princess? Out of this seed grew a blog (http://www.rejectedprincesses.com) and the blog sprouted a book (with a second on the way!). The first volume is a massively heavy compendium of 100 women who defied norms, expectations, invading armies, assailants, and politicians. Each entry is roughly 2-3 pages long, and each features a Disney-style illustration of the featured “princess.”

The entries are neatly cataloged with maturity ratings and applicable trigger warnings. This means you can read the more family-friendly entries to the kids, and save the stories of rape, murder, and revenge for later (or never, as it suits you). In this way, Porath has created a book that has something for all ages, while at the same time not glossing over the violence experience by quite a few defiant women. The stories also skip across time, space, and legend. You’ll find biblical queens next to Bolivian revolutionaries next to British suffragettes next to African warriors next to Japanese samurais. You’ll find straight women and women who represent every color of the LGBTQA rainbow. Porath show us that there is a princess out there for everyone.

This book was amazing. Some women, like Hatshepsut (the only female pharaoh in Egypt), Harriet Tubman (“Moses” of escaping slaves), and Joan of Arc (the gold standard of defiant woman) I had heard of already, but others like Saint Olga of Kiev (who set a town on fire using pigeons), Calafia (mythical Muslim queen and namesake for the state of California), and Trung Trac and Trung Nhi (Vietnamese sisters who led armies to defeat the Chinese in the 1st century) I had never even guessed existed. The book is jam-packed with these kinds of stories, and the encyclopedia-entry-style of each story means it’s easy to pick up and put down as needed, and come back to your favorite parts. Once you read through the book, there are even more entries on the Rejected Princesses website, so you can head over there to keep getting your fix.

This is a great book for anyone looking for inspiration from some truly badass ladies. Porath’s rating system means that you can share these stories with the little girls in your life, and let them know they can grow up to command their own tank regiment (Mariya Oktyabrskaya), overcome handicaps (Wilma Rudolph), be great at math (Hypatia), and/or decide exactly what they want out life and strive for it.

Book Review: Mexico by Josh Barkan


Mexico: Stories by Josh Barkan

This is a book of tangentially connected short stories, all taking place in and around Mexico City, Mexico. We hear from painters, chefs, and cancer patients, architects, and plastic surgeons. We do not really hear from any Mexicans. Nearly all the subjects of the stories are ex-pats from the United States. Only three stories involve individuals born in the country, and even these keep themselves separated from the land of their birth.

In addition, the stories all tend to revolve around one theme: Narcos and violence. A chef’s restaurant is visited by an infamous Narco and he is tasked with making him “the best thing he has ever eaten,” a cancer patient talks with the former wife of a midlevel drug kingpin, an architect gets caught in the crossfire of rival gangs, a painter is taken by professional kidnappers and held for ransom.

This book is a series of stories about outsiders looking in, and so sees only the violence and corruption. You will find nothing of Mexican culture or everyday life here, instead you will find poverty and deprivation. This is not a book about Mexico, it is about disconnectedness.

I must admit to being a bit disappointed by the single-mindedness of the subject matter. I had been looking forward to a variety of stories about the country, as there’s much, much more to Mexico than Narcos and death. Though the stories are well written, the repetition of theme gets old after a while.

An advence copy of this book was provided by the publisher via LibraryThing in exchange for an honest review. Mexico will be available for purchase on January 24th, 2017.