Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Review: Monkey Number 100030338732 and Other Stories by C.C. Hogan

Monkey Number 100030338732 and Other Stories
C.C. Hogan
genre: science fiction short stories
Find it at Amazon
Author's website

I’m not usually a big fan of short stories. I prefer longer works. I mean, if I’m enjoying a story I just want it to go on longer. A bite sized snack that just doesn’t satisfy. Another thing I often struggle with is that in a collection of stories maybe one or two grab me but the rest are either flat or just not on the same level. It’s hard to maintain energy and consistency across stories that are usually crafted separately. So when I picked up C.C. Hogan’s collection of four short stories entitled Monkey Number 100030338732 and Other Stories and I was extremely pleasantly surprised.

Hogan offers up four captivating stories, each with an interesting premise, clean execution and an unexpected ending that kept me hooked. Each tale starts out with the barest bones, an absence of context that the author then builds on one brick at a time until you find yourself living within the well constructed walls of a superb story. Hogan manages to maintain this level of storytelling throughout the entire collection.

I won’t break down the stories individually. I didn’t read anything about them until I dove into the first one and I couldn’t put the book down until I finished the last one. When I later read the blurb on the stories I was glad I hadn’t known what was going on. The slow reveal is so engaging.

I will say that I loved the second and fourth stories the best. The New Futurist is a tiny little thread that twists and winds through your brain—the very style of the prose reflecting the mindset of the main character. The Glass Blower, which makes up the final half of this volume is by far the most in depth story in the book, and hints at what a longer work by this author might be like.

Of course, now that I’m done with the book, I really wish there were more. I would love to see what Hogan can do with a novel length offering. Hint, hint.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Review: Hollow's Charge by Arielle LeClair

Hollow’s Charge
Arielle LeClair
genre: Fantasy

Let me start by saying that I really enjoyed this book. When Arielle LeClair publishes subsequent works set in the world she has created, I’ll be there to read those.

This novel contains all the important aspects of a good fantasy novel: intrigue and adventure, a well thought out world, magic and a touch of romance. LeClair builds and maintains tension well, keeping the reader’s attention throughout the entire novel. The magic system is subtle yet central to the story, effective yet not overdone. 

Character development is well executed. I had no problems accepting the motivations of the various players. Character development and growth was handled well. One could say that the villain is a tad one dimensional. I wouldn’t have minded having at least one thing that might make her briefly sympathetic. A moment of accessibility here and there to give her more depth. But even this issue isn’t critical.

The only thing about this novel that I struggled with were the sudden shifts in perspective. I’m not sure if LeClair was specifically going for the omniscient third person or not, but I found the sudden changes in point of view jarring in many cases. For a stretch we would be seeing the action as if behind one character and then abruptly in the same scene we’d see the action from another character point of view. It might be better if these changes were isolated by chapter. On the other hand, perhaps other readers would not struggle with this as much as me.

There were a few typos or other small issues here and there but nothing that bothered me. The action and flow of the book easily reduced any impact those things might have had. 

But when the dust settled, this was a good book that I enjoyed reading and can easily recommend to readers that enjoy straight up, old school fantasy.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Review: In the Hands of the Unknown by A.E. Hellstorm

In the Hands of the Unknown: A novel about the Star Students of the Golden Fleece Society

A.E. Hellstorm
genre: horror
Find it at Amazon
Author's webpage

First, I must point out that while this is the first book in a series that hasn't been completed, the story stands alone and has no cliffhanger.

This book really grabbed me from the first page and held on tight, a death grip pulling me through the story relentlessly toward what I would describe as sublime terror in the final chapters. I found this slow, inexorable building of tension and fear reminiscent of the works of Lovecraft—some of my favorite horror fiction of all time. What started out as macabre and disturbing was horrifying by the final pages. In a world of horror dominated by gore, shock value and slaughter, it was wonderful to read this book.

That's not to say that the writing style itself is the same as the style of Lovecraft. The voice is unique, the storytelling modern and easy to read.

Told in the third person, I found the voice of the main character extremely easy to get behind. While Miriam/Claire is a strong female protagonist, she's also vulnerable—a skillfully woven combination of the two sides. This gave her some depth that really drew me in. While I've always had a fascination for strong female leads, some of the best ones out there have vulnerabilities. The other characters were just as well built. None of the central ones were single faceted foils. Especially well handled was Cyrus, one of Claire's partners.

Every book has technical issues, but overall this was quite clean. There were very few errors—definitely not enough to pull me out of the story.

The only thing I really struggled with was wrapping my head around the backstory that will back the entire series. The author dribbles out details about this over the course of the story but when the dust settled I felt that I wanted to know more about the Star Students of the Golden Fleece Society. Some of this might be simply my own failing in not understanding some common mythology or archetype. I also imagine that more will become clear in future books in the series.

I really hope that the author will write more works like this. It's been far too long since subtlety, tone and mood were so dominant in horror fiction. Don't get me wrong—it's not ALL subtlety; there are more than a few scenes that are violent and frightening. One actually made me uncomfortable, and that can be an important dynamic in horror fiction. But overall the tension rises from beginning to end in a slow, yet powerful progression, never letting up or allowing the reader to relax.

I strongly recommend this for readers that enjoy this kind of horror and I really am hoping to see more books in this style from this author.

Disclaimer: I purchased this book on my own, the author did not solicit a review. The views in this review are mine and mine alone.