Lee's Mini Reviews
of Liar: Memoir of a Haunting, Meaningless Cycles in a Vicious Glass Prison, Berserker: Green Hell, Moon Child, Zero Saints (Santa Muerte), and Cathedral.
Wherein I cannot manage to write in-depth reviews for all the fabulous books on my device, or on my nightstand, but I want to feed as many authors as I possibly can, so I cobble together a selection books I have enjoyed recently and put up some quick-fire reviews that I hope will somehow translate into the sales equivalent of a cup of coffee for the authors concerned.
Let's dive in!
Liar: Memoir of a Haunting by E.F Schraeder
I met author E.F. Schraeder at an online conference last year, attending a kaffeeklatsch discussion she convened. I found her engaging, vibrant, and articulate. At that time, she'd recently released a collection of her short stories, Ghastly Tales of Gaiety and Greed: Unauthorized & Haunted Cedar Point. I resolved to get a copy, and I wasn't disappointed. Ghastly Tales is an odd collection of interconnected stories set in the lakeside resort of Cedar Point. The collection represents a unique approach to storytelling; a series of interconnected tales somewhat reminiscent of Stoker's Dracula, Schraeder's narratives are cobbled together from newspaper clippings, postcards, and other odd snippets. The result is a cohesive selection of weirdly dark and also strangely familiar tales. The stories are sharply told with a strong sense of place; even those of us who have never been to Ohio will recognise a certain insularity, along with the sinister ambiance of the perennial vacation. I loved the book and looked forward to a longer work from her.
Liar: Memoir of a Haunting dropped in my inbox yesterday. I dived right in. Too short for a novel, and too long for a novella, this oddly-pitched, off-grid story, kept me up all night (literally and figuratively). In Liar, Alex and JK buy a cabin in Vermont, the perfect escape from the everyday persecution they experience in the city. Surrounded by aspens, the new cabin is isolated, pastoral, and almost too good to be true, with the nearest neighbours a mile away. Only, Alex's job keeps her away, or perhaps she never intended to move, so JK moves to Vermont alone. Her unease escalating, JK chops firewood, keeps a solar diary, and puts up signs to keep out the hunters. Kept awake by the night noises of the aspens, and the implied menace of the hunters, she becomes increasingly paranoid, embarking on an investigation of a family in the village cemetery, along with the myriad missing persons from the area. Over time, the couple's relationship, and JK's sanity, fractures, and when she fails to return Alex's calls after several days, Alex flies to Vermont to discover JK missing. Liar is a disquieting slow burn tale, full of small town superstition and guardedness, and a startling study of isolation and otherness. Highly recommended.
Meaningless Cycles in a Vicious Glass Prison: Songs of Death and Love by Anton Cancre
Firstly, I have to apologise to Anton Cancre for not reviewing this gem earlier. I've had it on my bedside table for months now; it's been a delight to dip into before sleeping, or again on waking, before the curtains are drawn and the day enters. Meaningless Cycles is inspired by the 1994 Italian horror comedy Dellamorte Dellamore (Cemetery Man), and draws on the film's theme of a living death in which we all yearn for meaningful connection (against a backdrop of a zombie apocalypse). An original premise, and one that Cancre exploits with devastating effect. These short poems will turn you inside out; they will eviscerate you, and force you to examine your own stinking entrails. They are brutal, revelatory. HWA Lifetime Achievement Award winner Linda D. Addison describes the work as a 'wonderfully dark sensory trek', and she is never wrong. I particularly like, 'The Skull', a poem in four parts, or perhaps four unique poems. Meaningless Cycles includes an insightful foreword by Lucy A Snyder, and atmospheric cover art by Stephen Archer. Every bedside table needs a copy of this confronting little volume.
Berserker: Green Hell by Lee Franklin
If you like your military horror fast-paced, action-packed, and downright weird, then Berserker: Green Hell is the book for you. An Australian veteran, Franklin knows something about conjuring combat fear. Hell, this book is a stampeding jungle of fear. Add to that an underground lab, mutant monsters, and humanity's innate urge for survival, and you have one of the best military fiction tales I've read in years. I don't care how hardcore you are, expect to wince, cringe, and tremble.
(Caveat: includes body horror, sex, and extreme violence, so probably not for the teens. Hardcore horror fans will devour it).
Not sure? Why not sample Franklin's horror short, Sandgroper, for FREE first? In this chilling little creature-feature, geologist Aron is investigating some unexplained pinnacle formations in West Australia when a sandstorm sweeps in from the coast, bringing hell along for the ride.
Moon Child by Gaby Triana
Released this past week, Moon Child is the 17th novel by bestselling author Gaby Triana, and that experience shows in her tightly crafted well-paced approach to this supernatural New Adult novel, which sees teen Vale Callejas shipped off to a religious camp. With a wonderfully gothic Florida setting that practically seethes with humidity and societal expectation, and populated with a bevy of likeable and not so likeable characters, Vale must negotiate her own spiritual maturity amid the pervasive dark secrets which abound at Sunlake resort. Combining complicated family dynamics with the occult, Triana makes us believe anything is possible in this suspenseful coming of age tale. A fantastic read. And wow, gotta love the gorgeous Lynne Hansen cover art.
Santa Meurte (Zero Saints) by Gabino Iglesias.
Santa Meurte, the French version of Zero Saints released last year, and arrived in New Zealand last week, courtesy of Helene from Sontaine Editions, who saw my wistful musings on social media and kindly sent me a review copy (it wasn't a hint, really, Helene!) Already a fan of Iglesias's innovative narratives, and starved of French language texts, I devoured it. What a treat. Not only is this latest production gorgeous, Sante Meurtre is a seamless, slick, and true translation of the original novel. This is no mean feat, given the base material, yet translator Pierre Szczeciner artfully captures the atmosphere, the intent, and Iglesias's unapologetic habit of intermingling languages (Spanish and English, and sometimes Russian) in his stories. Hey, if you don't get it, then too bad for you. Except you do. Which means the translation kicks arse. Iglesias likes to change up the point of view in this one too, jumping from first person to second and back, just to keep Szczeciner on his toes. Otherwise, the French version is as brutal, noir, and bizarre as I remember: the story of illegal alien, Fernandez, who is forced to witness the torture and murder of his best mate by a gang from hell. What follows is intense, gritty, vicious, fast-paced, and magically real. There are dogs, a hitman, demons, and that damned bucket. You're going to want to pray to any deity who'll listen just to get through this brutal supernatural crime-noir. And six years on from Zero Saints' original release, the author's underlying message about the pressures of poverty, alienation, and cultural tension, seems more relevant than ever. Loved it.
Cathedral (A Quiet Apocalypse Book 2) by Dave Jeffery
In A Quiet Apocalypse, Dave Jeffery revealed a dystopia in which a mutant strain of bacterial meningitis, MNG-U, wiped out most of the world's population, and those who survive are left deaf -- a chilling and all too real possibility. The handful of people who are immune to the virus, the hearing, aren't safe, because (as in Wyndham's Day of the Triffids) anyone not afflicted is hunted down and enslaved. In this second tale, Cathedral, which can be read as a standalone, Jeffery picks up threads laid down in A Quiet Apocalypse, and centers on the first-person narrative of Sarah, who is deaf, the extreme society she concedes to live in in order to survive, and her gradual questioning of those constraints when a newcomer arrives.
I attended an online discussion of this latest book, where several commentators mentioned its resemblance to Cormac McCarthy's The Road. Those are big shoes to fill, but there is definitely something in that since Jeffery's tale is equally bleak and delivers a strong message about the kinds of civilisations that might evolve given certain parameters. Chilling in the light of the current COVID-19 pandemic and our ongoing global environmental pressures. Jeffery is well-known in horror circles as an advocate for people with disabilities, and particularly mental health sufferers, and his work includes an insightful non-didactic approach to themes of persecution and otherness. For that reason alone, I hope there will be more to this dark little series. Thought-provoking and thoroughly entertaining.
Disclaimer: I have met (in person or online) all of the authors mentioned above, so of course you cannot trust my review to be impartial. The only way to find out for sure if they can write a good yarn is to buy a copy of these works and draw your own conclusion. And no, there's no kickback for me -- just a chance for you to discover a great read.