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[personal profile] joysilence2013-03-21 04:17 am

Adam Nevill Redux

A couple of ears ago I reviewed Adam LG Nevill's debut Banquet of the Damned here. Although it got off to a wobbly start it turned out to be an enjoyable Jamesian chiller that was fun despite a few beginners' flaws. Since then, I've also read Apartment 16 (a haunted house and arty Wyndham Lewis-inspired mayhem) and The Ritual (Nevill's go at pagan horror among the primeval forests of Scandinavia.) Though for some reason I never got round to reviewing these, they were both good, effective supernatural thrillers that were unafraid to channel the great writers of the Golden Age such as Machen, James and Blackwood.

So now I've just finished his most recent novel, 2012's Last Days. Kyle Freeman is a young director with a string of successful documentaries to his name, but he's horribly in debt. So when Max, a wealthy maker of New Age films offers him and friend Dan silly money to make a documentary about a bloodthirsty religious cult, he is glad to accept. He refuses to spend too much time wondering why old hippy Max wants him to chronicle the tragic story of the sinister Last Days cult, which ended in a tragic bloodbath in the Arizona desert. Or why Max is so keen he should immediately embark on a tour of the Last Dayers old haunts...But Max ends up getting more involved than he should when he realises this dark piece of history is far from dead and buried.

Hell hath enlarged herself )
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[personal profile] joysilence2013-03-18 01:51 am

Deborah Harkness novel

Regular sufferers of this community may be familiar with my general dislike of the new genre of "paranormal romance". However, I was tempted to pick up Deborah Harkness' fat novel A Discovery of Witches from a charity shop a little while ago, because it had a nice cover and cost 50p. Plus I always like to know just what I'm slagging off - or perhaps I would even be pleasantly surprised if the book was good. But did I end up mourning the loss of the king's ransom I paid for it?

Malleus Maleficarum )
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[personal profile] joysilence2013-03-01 06:31 pm

Ladies Only Collection

Sexism in horror fiction is a fairly hot topic at the moment, and the role of the all-female anthology is the subject of some debate. Is it a good thing? Do women horror authors still need this kind of leg-up from the industry? And so on. Whatever one's opinion, no-one can deny that it's been quite a while since a major women-only collection has come out, as far as I'm aware. So I was keen to pick up Mammoth's latest doorstop collection, The Mammoth Book of Ghost Stories by Women, especially since the editor is Marie Regan, one half of the duo that brought us the excellent Hellraiser mythos-themed collection Hellbound.

A bunch of blaaaady women, as Alan Sugar would say )
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[personal profile] joysilence2013-02-13 06:30 pm

Novella collection

Well it looks as if my New Year's resolution to spend less money on books has already gone up in smoke. Only joking, of course I don't do resolutions. And in any case I simply had to bag Fourbodings, a quartet of supernatural novellas by Terry Lamsley, Simon Clark, Tim Lebbon and Mark Morris, edited by Peter Crowther (all from 2005). It's a rare book and generally unavailable in the UK, so when I saw a signed copy for £12 I had to pounce! The retail price is usually quite starborgling (starting at around $50), but is it worth it? I'm sure you're all dying to know before you part with your hard-earned moolah.

Hung, Drawn and Quartered )
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[personal profile] joysilence2013-02-10 06:28 pm

James Turner collection

While I was buying the Fourbodings anthology I also chanced on another book of supernatural literature in the same shop: Where Shadows Fall: Fourteen Ghost Stories by James Turner. This book is now so obscure that there are no significant websites containing any content about it - nothing for me to link to except a very brief Amazon page and a bunch of equally uninformative bookshop listings! So I shall have to undertake this review single-handed :D All I know about Turner is that he wrote two other collections, Staircase to the Sea and The Stone Peninsula, both equally forgotten by readers today. But is this collective amnesia justified or horribly unfair?

Life's but a walking shadow... )
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[personal profile] joysilence2013-03-10 06:28 pm

Phil Rickman novel

Well, it has been a while but Phil Rickman has finally produced another Merrily Watkins novel: The Secrets of Pain. Regular readers may know that I'm a huge fan of Phil Rickman, especially his novels about Church of England "deliverance consultant" (or exorcist) Merrily Watkins. They feature a beguiling mixture of police procedural, ecclesiastical goings-on and supernatural or mystical content. They have been described as "The Vicar of Dibley meets Cracker",though that doesn't do justice to the numinous feel of the novels or the fascinating, vital way they evoke modern rural Britain at its most beautiful and horrific. I first checked out Rickman after reading a glowing review of The Fabric of Sin by Steve Duffy, which should tell you something about the quality of the writing in these books!

I ended up giving The Fabric... a good review myself, and after moving on to A Crown of Lights I was irretrievably hooked on the series. Though I've been a bit slack about reviewing them all here they are all of a high standard (my favourite The Remains of an Altar, has the numinous turned up to 11 and is a remarkable, haunting story.) However, I found 2009's To Dream of The Dead a bit lacking. The Watkins series is into the double figures now and I was a bit scared that the author might be falling into a cookie-cutter approach. To Dream of the Dead had an unusually heavy emphasis on the police procedural side of things, focussed on incredibly depressing subjects (global warming and Richard Dawkins-style fascist atheism) and generally lacked the magic of the earlier novels. But can The Secrets of Pain repair the damage to Rickman's reputation?

Our Friends Ecclesiastic )
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[personal profile] joysilence2013-03-08 08:29 am

Reggie Oliver Redux

Members of this community may remember that I recently gave a glowing review to Reggie Oliver's first story collection, The Dreams of Cardinal Vittorini, recently re-issued in a mercifully cheap paperback form by the Tartarus Press. At the time I expressed the fervent hope that they'd follow this up with a re-issue of his second collection, The Complete Symphonies of Adolf Hitler, which is (even) more highly regarded by fans of supernatural fiction. And guess what? Tartarus have just done it! The Complete Symphonies... is now available for £15 in elegant paperback form. I've just finished devouring it and here are my opinionated regurgitations for your reading pleasure.

A Symphony of Terror? )
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[personal profile] joysilence2013-01-09 12:13 pm

New Weird Collection

A while ago my fancy was taken by a newish collection called The Weird by Jeff and Ann Vandermeer. It had a good line-up of weird fiction old and new, so I ordered it, but somewhere along the line I made a mistake and a different Vandermeer book, The New Weird, came instead. After roundly cursing the editor for calling both books such similar names, I forgot to send the book back for a refund in time and so I figured I might as well read it.

What I Thought )
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[personal profile] joysilence2013-01-05 04:36 am

New Jonathan Oliver anthology

Jonathan Oliver's haunted house-themed anthology House of Fear was one of the best books of 2012 - full of scary wheat with remarkably little chaff. Now, he's got another themed collection out - Magic, An Anthology of the Esoteric and Arcane (which both mean the same thing, but never mind the pretentious title.)

Another Success for Oliver? )
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[personal profile] joysilence2013-01-05 04:35 am

Paul Finch Regional Rampage

Now for my second Halifax purchase! Terror Tales of East Anglia is the latest of Paul Finch's regional anthologies, where stories by some of Britain's most famous modern horror authors alternate with short, to-the-point chunks of local folklore and supernatural phenomena. And all in a cheap(ish) paperback! I enjoyed Terror Tales of the Lake District, but issues with Paypal prevented me from buying the daftly-named Terror Tales of the Cotswolds. So I was delighted to find this latest number in Halifax, in tangible form on Reggie Oliver's bookstall with no bloody "payment gateways" (actually Portals to Hell) to navigate.

Ours was the marsh country )
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[personal profile] joysilence2012-12-24 08:15 pm

Ghosts and Scholars collection

And now for a review of the first book I bought at this year's Halifax Ghost Story Festival. The Ghosts and Scholars Book of Shadows is a collection of contemporary ghost stories based on existing tales by M R James. The aim was to showcase all the winners of a recent G&S story competition, and all but one of the stories are previously unpublished.

Quis est iste qui scribit? )
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[personal profile] joysilence2012-12-18 05:04 pm

(no subject)

As I should've mentioned ages ago, Issue 11 of the Irish Journal of Gothic and Horror Studies is now online. It contains many interesting articles on a range of topics - white noise in horror, Charles Fort, dark pop art, and the class politics of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre - but I my appetite was especially whetted by Fiona McCulloch's essay "'Looking Back': Scottish Queer Gothic Returns in Zoe Strachan's Ever Fallen in Love. I didn't even know there was a Scottish Queer Gothic genre and after reading a couple of paragraphs decided to buy the book and read it before continuing with the essay, to avoid spoilers!

We All Fall Down )
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[personal profile] joysilence2012-12-15 04:09 am

Simon Bestwick Novel

As you may have gathered from my recent review of his retrospective collection Pictures of the Dark, I am a big fan of British horror author Simon Bestwick. So I was pleased to find that he's got a second novel out this year - The Faceless. Bestwick's short fiction just keeps getting better, but is he such a hot-shot when it comes to the long haul?

Les Yeux Sans Visage )
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[personal profile] joysilence2012-12-09 06:50 pm

Halifax Ghost Story Festival

Due to popular demand (one person's request does count as popular by my standards, yes) here is a little account of my day at the Halifax Ghost Story Festival last weekend. As I mentioned before, we arrived on Friday night and spent the night at the Dean Clough Travelodge, part of the Clough's complex of Victorian factories. I like the place a lot and thought it was a great place to talk ghost stories - the factories are set apart from the town and face onto a huge, windy expanse of square, and about a third of the towering soot-blackened stone buildings have evaded the hand of the restorer. The various buildings holding the Clough's museums, restaurants etc. are joined by a network of stone walks and tunnels also suggesting great age, with a canal running through it all. It actually felt a bit like a medieval castle complex. The Travelodge is in a restored part of the site but was surprisingly nice for a £30 a night chain hotel - the rooms seem to follow the original layout of the five-storey factory and the original stone walls and small factory windows remain, giving the rooms more character than is usually found in such places. After our terrible experience with the Imperial Crown hotel in Halifax town centre in 2010 (an appalling place costing twice as much as the Travelodge) we were also relieved to find a high level of cleanliness in the rooms! It was also very quiet at night, but I didn't manage more than an hour of sleep overnight due to issues with my body-clock.

Consequently I was rather knackered by the time we made it to the Crossley Art Gallery (a pleasant, modern space) at 11 the next morning for the panel on M R James and his modern descendants. Ray Rusell, co-owner of Tartarus Press, chaired the panel which consisted of modern Jamesian master Reggie Oliver, Ramsey Campbell (standing in at the last minute for John Probert) and Joel Lane, a talented writer of contemporary urban horror who Ray described as the "sceptic" of the line-up. Ray began with a question that has been much-discussed by supernatural fiction fans: what makes James different from those who came before him, and why is he such a big deal?

More about the talk )

Afternoon and Sunday events )
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[personal profile] joysilence2012-11-30 09:18 am

Best New Horror 23

The Mammoth Book of Best New Horror 23 hit the shops in time for Hallowe-en, and as always I snapped up my copy, eager to get Stephen Jones' take on what has been a rather good year in horror.

The Mammoth Rides Out )
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[personal profile] joysilence2012-11-11 05:10 pm

Reggie Oliver Collection

As regular readers may have noticed, I'm a fan of Reggie Oliver, but my attempts to secure a whole book of his stories have been thwarted for years by the rarity and price of hardback editions of his work. But all that's just changed! Tartarus Press have wrested Oliver's first collection, The Dreams of Cardinal Vittorini from the clutches of small-press loony soapbox The Haunted River and this year they've brought out a much-awaited second edition in....PAPERBACK!!!

Since the beginning of his career nine years ago Oliver has established himself as the number one contender for the title of the New MR James. His understated, concise prose, frequent use of antiquarian themes and impressive panoply of lurking horrors ensure that the spectre of Old Monty pervades a lot of his work. Oliver has even completed the unfinished James story 'The Game of Bear'! However, Oliver is far from being a lazy copycat and usually manages to imbue his stories with a charm all his own (at least if the ten or so tales I've read are anything to go by.) But as I eagerly cracked open my copy of The Dreams..., I had to wonder whether this early collection would match later stories such as 'The Children of Monte Rosa' and 'A Child's Problem'?

The Things that Dreams Are Made Of )
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[personal profile] joysilence2012-11-11 05:08 pm

Catching up with Conrad Williams

I really liked Conrad William's debut novel Head Injuries, but somehow never got round to reading any of his later books, so I was delighted to see his latest effort, Separation Loss (2012) on the shelves of the Sheffield Central Library! (The horror collection there is tiny, but someone's obviously keeping their finger on the pulse..)

We Have A Technical )

I am thinking of reading some more Williams but am not sure which of his books I would like. None of his other novels have very attractive jacket descriptions (they all seem to be about the end of the world, and scientific dystopias, both themes that are pretty worn-out by now) but if any of these books really are good then I'd give them a whirl, so please let fly with the recommendations!
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[personal profile] joysilence2011-04-03 05:41 pm

The Stones of Muncaster Cathedral

Although I seem to be constantly mentioning Robert Westall in these pages, it's been a while since I reviewed any of his books. So here are my thoughts on The Stones of Muncaster Cathedral, a collection of two unabashedly supernatural novellas.

Old Jack City )

All in all it's a good way to discover Robert Westall's fiction without committing to a longer novel. I don't know if this book is still in print, but it can usually be had from Fantasticfiction.co.uk for a matter of pence!
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[personal profile] joysilence2011-03-27 11:40 am

"The Green Man" anthology

In my last post I looked at a pagan horror novel nearly a century old. But who are the big names in pagan and sylvan horror today? With this question in mind I recently purchased the anthology The Green Man edited by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling. If you're puzzled by the apparently phallocratic title, I should perhaps explain that the "Green Man" is a recurring character in British folklore and folk art that has manifested in many different avatars over the centuries. The green man is characteristically portrayed as a face made of leaves and branches, with leaves and plant life pouring out of its mouth. A famous example of these tree-faced fellows is the sculpture of Baphomet in the old Templar church at Garside on the Welsh border. The church and its leafy denizen even starred in a Phil Rickman novel, The Origin of Sin, and were a crucial part of the novel's success. So I was very keen to read an anthology of new tales and poetry about this verdant gentleman.

Echoing Green )

In short, The Green Man is a great idea poorly executed. There is far too much emphasis on the fairytale (despite Datlow having already pumped out several fairy-themed anthologies!) and many of the stories are unforgivably childish, even they are written as YA fiction. It was a disappointing read, especially since the book is absolutely stunning to look at. £10 gets you a hardback with gorgeous jacket artwork and charming original line drawings at the head of each story, all by Charles Vess. The paper is unusually lovely to handle and the layout is exquisite. I wouldn't recommend The Green Man to the general horror fan, but if you enjoy the fairy tale format or perhaps have young children of your own, then it might be worth purchasing. And one thing's certain, it'll look great on your shelf!
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[personal profile] joysilence2011-03-23 07:37 am

Edgar Jepson

As some of you may know, my especial favourite strand of supernatural fiction is pagan or sylvan horror. Although fear of the woods has been with us since for ever, and has always appeared intermittently in ghost stories by classic genre authors like J S LeFanu and M R James, the full-blown "pagan horror" story only really appeared at the turn of the 19th century, with the writings of Arthur Machen and later Algernon Blackwood followed by a raft of fine writing by the likes of John Buchan, Saki and Walter de la Mare in the first half of the 20th century.

But going back to the beginnings of the subgenre, we encounter an author who is often overlooked - all but unheard-of today, in fact - but who made a big splash at the time just like Machen did with the succes de scandale that was The Great God Pan (1890) I'm talking about Edgar Jepson and his 1910 novel The Garden at No.19. I first heard about this novel when John Pelan's Nightshade Press published a new edition of it a few years ago, but was sadly unable to afford a copy at the time! Luckily, a few weeks ago, Fate (or possibly Pan himself?) threw me a bone. Kessinger Publishings Legacy Reprints have now done a facsimile reprint of the first edition of The Garden... - which is available in paperback for under £10 via the Fantasticfiction website! Naturally I leaped at the chance to order it.

But was it worth the excitement? Does the novel live up to the hype? Let's find out, as they say on Blue Peter.

Pan's People )

If you want more Jepson facts check out the wikipedia page, and you can even read his most famous short story 'The Tea-Leaf' here at the Gaslight website.