By Morgue Anne
An endless library containing every book that could ever have possibly existed. This would seem like a heaven to many people, but for Soren Johansson of “A Short Stay in Hell”, it’s a literal Hell. As a man who was unfortunately Mormon in his living life, Soren is surprised to discover that his idea of God is vastly inaccurate only moments before he is sent off to his near-eternal damnation. Author Steven L Peck takes this simple premise and expands on it perfectly in his novella.
The 108 pages gives the reader the perfect tasting of this library world without overwhelming them, and while part of me longs to read more about the happenings in this particular afterlife, I know that nothing would be so perfect as what Peck gives us, because it grants us the opportunity not only to enjoy the story but to savor the possibilities of the world presented to us by Peck. We fall past a thousand lifetimes and seemingly countless books as well as fall in love alongside Soren Johansson, but it hits us like a truck and keeps barreling past while we are left in the wake. He is burdened with a terrifying task to find the one tome containing his story, and granted all the time in the universe to complete it alongside all of the unfortunate souls doomed to this particular fate.
The twist that makes this purgatory a hell is that it is not a normal library of prose and compositions, but contains every 410 page book that could ever have possibly existed. This includes countless covers filled with nothing but nonsense, punctuation and letters thrown in every order there could ever be. The frustration is palpable, and while I don’t want to spoil anything, many groups are formed and evolve in their own ways both towards and away from civilization over the years.
Short Stay in Hell is a quick read, quite possible to do in one sitting if you aren’t careful and get sucked in too quickly. Yet it leaves a heavy impact, leaving you to mull over the ideas presented and, of course, decide on your own how you would fare to find your own story in the immeasurable library of Hell.
By Morgue Anne
Why is the Penis Shaped Like That is probably not a book I would recommend to read on the bus, or any other form of public-transportation, really. Yes, you could point to the “Scientific American” on the spine and reassure everyone giving you funny looks that it is, in fact, a collection of legitimate scientific studies about…weird and fun sex stuff. Or you could buy it for kindle and save yourself the embarrassment of only reading this particular book in the privacy of your own home. Or you could just not give a rat’s ass, because if you’re reading Why is the Penis Shaped Like That then you probably are not someone who’s overly concerned with grandmother’s giving you disapproving glances on the subway.
Let’s be honest - why wouldn’t you want to read a book with this title? If you have any inkling of something resembling a sexuality, you’ve probably had some questions over the years that your high school health class, church group, or grabby uncle just never got around to answering for you, most likely because they didn’t know. Jesse Bering dives into everything from the purpose of the female orgasm to the neurology of people who are sexually attracted to animals and evolution of bodily fluids, leaving no stone unturned in his search for answers.
Bering does a fantastic job of bringing his own voice to each essay while also staying fairly objective in a celebration of science at it’s best. While most people stop searching for answers as soon as they’re uncomfortable, Bering makes a point to dive even further and look at things from an objective viewpoint. This attitude may frighten a lot of people away, but consider that the more we understand something the better equipped we are to handle instances such as pedophilia. There is a lot of stuff in there discussing “vanilla” sex as well, such as the title essay and a few other pieces concerning male and female genitalia (with one of my personal favorites on the psycho-therapeutic aspects of semen). This is guaranteed to be a fantastic ice-breaker with all the strange information you will gain. I can’t count how many conversations I started with “So I’m reading this book about strange sexual studies…” and then went on to tell someone about foot fetishists. Or female ejaculation. Or the different scientific terms for blow jobs.
This is not a book I recommend to someone without a sense of humor, or anyone who is unable to get past the ‘ew ew ew’ part of their brain and take a look at something that might make them a little uncomfortable. This is for the curious, the scientist inside all of us who takes a look at the world around and wonders “Why?”. If you are still hesitant, consider this - if a gay man can suck it up and write an entire section of his book on vaginas for the sake of being fair and balanced, you can give Why is the Penis Shaped Like That a chance.
By Morgue Anne
Tina Fey may be a genius, and Amy Pohler will get my vote for president every election for the rest of life, but Caitlin Moran is my soul-sister. After reading her second book, Moranthology, I can imagine perfectly the two of us lounging on a couch, bleaching each other’s (copy-written) hair and trading stories about the effects of marijuana on various creatures in the animal kingdom. But only during the commercial breaks, because one simply does not talk during Sherlock. I feel like Caitlin (Yes, I’m calling her by her first name now) wouldn’t judge me for my fuzzy skull pajamas or my weird, crazy ideas about feminism not being just for women. I know, after reading only one of her books, that we would be best friends. That’s how much of herself Caitlin puts into this aptly titled Moranthology. Much like the author herself, Moranthology is quirky, passionate, and unflinchingly honest. Reading really did make me feel like I was sitting on a best friend’s couch, being way too caffeinated and sharing everything from our most embarrassing celebrity interview moments to views on womanhood. Let it be known that Moranthology is one of the few books in existence to actually make me laugh out loud (your move, David Sedaris). Caitlin’s energy jumps off every page and leaps from every word. With short chapters taken from her column in the Times of London, this is the perfect throw-in-your-purse and read it on the bus/in line at the post office/anywhere book. Just make sure you’re somewhere where it’s ok for you to frequently burst out in snorts of laughter, because there will be plenty of that. Just relax and enjoy it, because Caitlin Moran will go down in history as one or the revolutionarys of womanhood in our modern era, the Funny Girl. The women who refuse to out on pants on Sundays, who will never apologize for being ‘one of the dudes’ but will insist that all her dude friends shower regularly. I really, really hope this trend of intelligent, hilarious women takes more hold in our pop culture. God knows we could use a few more minds like my new friend Caitlin’s, and probably a few less like the Kardashians (or whoever’s popular and stupid nowadays). Although something tells me the significant others of the world won’t be too pleased when Caitlin’s “ask them something ridiculously important right as they drift to sleep” trend takes hold.
By Morgue Anne
Well the world didn’t end, but if had or if one day it does you probably don’t want to be caught by the apocalypse with an embarrassing book half finished on your nightstand. You want something that will impress the alien archaeologists or the angel of death (I hear she’s really hot), or maybe you just want to read something about the end of the world. Regardless of your reason, I have the perfect book for you to read as we usher in the end of days.
The Last Policeman by Ben Winters doesn’t have zombies or John Cusack, it’s not a disaster novel packed with adventure and heart-pounding excitement. This is not a post apocalyptic tale of survival, it’s a fairly accurate (in my opinion) depiction of a pre-apocalyptic culture, one that happens to be our own. The ‘What if’ presented by Winters is simple - What if there was an asteroid headed toward earth that we all knew was going to cause world-shattering destruction in exactly six months, but we didn’t know where exactly on the planet it would land and have no way of stopping it? Sounds terrifying, but before you start strapping on your old football pads and getting ready for Thunderdome, consider the six months of anticipation leading up to pur collective impending doom. Suddenly, this game isn’t about who’s Ish Williams and who’s Adrian Earl of Windsor. It’s about whether you are going to carry on with your life, give up, or go crazy. Ben Winters delivers a small but seriously powerful game changer that flips apocalypse literature on it’s head and gives us visions of a world somehow more frightening than the actual apocalypse - the build up.
While crops rot in the field and people swarm to the nearest church or strip club, there are bound to be those who will continue to carry on in their lives. Hank Palace is the title character not by virtue of being the last man on the job, but the last man on earth to care about his work. While many around him simply go through the motions of life half-heartily (Something we arguably already do), Palace finds himself sucked into a case of suicide that seems like something more. As the mystery unravels, the reader has to question if the world really cares about one more murder when everyone is going to die in a few short months anyway, and there is some relief to be found in the thought that at least one man will remain clinging to the idea of justice and society. I don’t want to give away too much of the plot, but it’s a worthy read for the end of days.
If the world doesn’t end, you can always gift it to someone. But just in case, make sure this is what’s sitting on your nightstand instead of 50 Shades of Grey.
Official site for Ben H. Winters
Review by Morgue Anne for Extollere
Still Life with the Brass Pole by Craig Machen is the kind of book I would give to my teenage brother to show him how not to live his life. Machen finds the perfect balance of ‘horrors of the world’ and ‘how fucked up and cool was that?’ Far too many broken-family and/or drug memoirs either tell of a good innocent child who gets swept away by circumstances or give us a buddy at the bar feeling of no regrets for a life lived fast. Machen doesn’t try to sugar-coat things - he knew what he was doing was wrong but he did it anyway. It doesn’t matter what ‘it’ is - getting his girlfriend pregnant, sleeping with a dancer from the strip club he works at - our author and protagonist is refreshingly honest with himself and his readers.
Born to an unwed teenage mother, Machen is adopted by a woman who spends much of her life trying to recapture her own teenage years and is quite probably more of an unfit mother than the one he is born to. It makes sense that the book opens with Craig and his adoptive father (and his adoptive father’s gay lover) doing lines of cocaine in the bathroom at his sisters’ birthday party - it’s that kind of book. While there is nothing overtly graphic, the situations themselves give this book a definite R-rating, and it certainly isn’t for people who are looking for a ‘nice-guy in a bad scene does good’ book.
Craig is a real person, and his honest writing helps us believe that this is more than just a caricatured portrayal of himself. We feel for this young man who’s too smart to think he will move forward in life working at a strip club, but the magic and allure of the dark side proves too strong a pull to resist. He is analytical enough to recognize each and every one of his mother’s mind games, but when he turns this same eye on himself he finds nothing but disappointment and depression.
Machen knows his life is fucked from the get-go, but still he pushed himself onward, trying to take two steps forward for each one back. Sometimes he succeeds, and sometimes he falls back into a stripper’s bed for months on end, but driving him constantly in the back of his mind is a desire to someday wake up for it all by being a better parent than he ever had himself. From the first pregnant girlfriend in his teenage years, it is apparent that for all the roles he tries to play - body builder, wild child, unfaithful boyfriend - the one he keeps wanting to return to is Father.
This story does have something resembling a happy ending - or at least a hopeful one - and that’s what makes this such a fantastic cautionary tale. Machen is honest with himself and doesn’t try to hide who he is or try to glorify his actions. Still Life with the Brass Pole is a different kind of memoir, one that feels more genuine because it isn’t going for any particular “angle” to try to suck you in and to be fair it doesn’t need one. This is a great read for anyone who’s ever gone down the darker path or just stood at the crossroads and wondered what it would be like.
Craig Machen’s Official Site
Written by Morgue Anne
I should start off my review of Jimmy by William Malmborg by saying that this is not for the faint of heart. There are some extreme and graphic scenes of violence that many people will find upsetting and I am sure that more than a few people will start this book and set it down after the first few chapters. Those people will be missing out. Those like Malmborg who understand that everyone’s mind has these dark corners and the purpose of art, particularly fictional writing, is for many to express that in a healthy way will enjoy and hopefully really appreciate this book for what it is. Jimmy is an escape from reality that can be safe, sane, and consensual while still being intensely frightening.
For Jimmy, the title character of Malmborg’s novel, this distinction is not so clear. Trapped in that terrible in-between of adulthood and adolescence, Jimmy is further cursed with an unquenchable desire he simply can’t shake.
Too embarrassed to even talk to anyone, Jimmy dives deeper in the world of online porn. Malmborg does a fantastic job of not harping on pornography and showing that it’s the lack of knowledge and real-world context that does the real damage. As Jimmy’s fetish takes a turn towards obsession, he starts doing more and more to satisfy himself until he can take it no more and kidnaps a girl from his school.
This novel is definitely deeper than it seems at first glance, so don’t disregard this as a shock-value book. It would have been far too easy to turn this into an erotic novel and be a more extreme erotica, and I appreciate that while this is easily one of the most fucked up books I’ve read in a while, it’s also incredibly well written. Jimmy goes on a very real journey and knows that many of the choices he makes on the way to adulthood are wrong even as he can’t stop himself from making them. He is frighteningly real - I was kind of the weird kid, and I know we all knew at least one person in high school who just didn’t fit in with everyone else. The tragedy is, of course, that Jimmy makes such terrible choices and the effect that this has on the people around him, proving that while every teenager makes dumb decisions, they can still scorch the earth around you forever.
This is a different kind of horror that I found exciting and terrifying. Jimmy Hawthorne is the scariest villain of all because he’s a human being. He learns lessons and actually grows on you as a character heartbeats after revolting you. If you are someone who understands that you can be both a monster and a human being, or if you can enjoy a good psychology-meets-true crime, this is your book. If you are not comfortable with the idea of violence, or if maybe you need your violence to be a little more abstract, avoid this. Or better yet, protest it. This is a book deserving of more attention.
Written by Grace Ibrahim
I Am Ocilla written by Diane M. Graham can easily be read in a day at 242 pages. It is the sort of book that when you pick it up you can’t put it down and it melts in your mind like brain candy. The story is good, the characters are loveable, the book is well paced and does not drag on unnecessarily at any point. I am Ocilla tells the story of ten companions who set out at various points in the story to undue a curse that has been the torment of the world for five hundred years.
At the start of the book we meet Tiana, Rowan, and Ash who are on their way to rescue a girl locked in a prison. The girl who is battered, broken, and very near deaths door only knows one thing that she is Ocilla. Once rescued Ocilla and the others set out on a journey that is thick with magic and adventure, it is a journey of self discovery, and perhaps most of all it is a journey of forgiveness and understanding.
Ocilla and her companions travel through each realm starting with the fairy realm then subsequently on to the realms of the Giants, Elves, Gnomes, and Dragons. As they pass through each realm a prophecy must be fulfilled in order to journey on to the next region. At every point there is something that needs healed, some grievance that needs forgiveness, and always a little more of Ocilla’s convoluted past is reveled.
I am Ocilla is laced with Christ allegory’s like many good fantasy books I mention this because it is something I personally like to know going in. However it does not come across as preachy at any point, on the contrary it is gentle and well done. I would encourage you to read the book even if this genre does not generally appeal to you. I am Ocilla is truly a breath of fresh air, is very well written and the story caries you beautifully through this journey of love forgiveness and strength with Ocilla and her companions.
Buy I Am Ocilla
Written by Morgue Anne
Horror Business by Ryan Bradford is a must for fans of horror. If you are an enthusiast of the genre and this book is not on your shelf (next to John Landis’ Monsters in the Movies and Craig Chenery’s Blood Splatter just in case there’s a reference you don’t get), than you might as well be a mindless zombie.
Named after (I’m assuming) one of the greatest Misfits songs of all time, Horror Business combines elements of a ghost story, zombie flick, and even a good old fashioned slasher with a little tiny bit of noir thrown in for good measure. This gives us as readers a witches brew of pure awesome that will give you a chill up your spine seconds before you bust open your guy laughing.
Rather than the usual adult-writing-as-a-child narrative that often leaves something to be desired, Horror Business feels like you’re being told a story from an old friend. Bradford does a fantastic job with the main character, Jason, giving us someone very relatable – a young child with an obsession. Having a passion instead of lots of friends is something I think many people can relate to in their childhood, especially lifelong horror fans. If not, Bradford does a great job showing us what it was like and gives a crash course in the world of scary films. If you are not a ‘hard core’ horror fan, than I would suggest taking notes on names and movies to look up later. Jason is a hard core horror fan. So much so that him and his brother have been making a slasher film, which is surprisingly well written, in their spare time. Naturally, there is the love interest who comes in to play the female lead for their film as well as bring the boys out to play in the cemetery. If you thought Super 8 was good but just not scary enough, this is your book.
But the most character-fun is had with Brock, Jason’s dog. As always, animals are the messengers of doom, and Brock is no exception. I don’t care how many zombie novels you have read and how desensitized you are to small children being used as frightening imagery, this dog is guaranteed to give you the creeps as it goes through its unholy transformation.
Part of the charm of Horror Business lies in the references to classic horror films. Bradford is careful not to go overboard, but every character is named after someone within the genre (Dario, Jason, etc), so if you spend your Friday nights in the dark watching scary movies, or have a very solid argument for whether Freddy or Jason is the best (It’s Freddy, no question), than you’ll probably thoroughly this book with no questions asked. If someone you love suffers from Horror addiction, I would suggest reading this book as a fun starting point and take notes so you can sound like you know what they’re talking about.
This is not a long book, I read through almost all of it while waiting at the DMV -which while many would argue is enough time to finish a Neil Stephenson novel, but served me just fine for the 136 pages between these covers, which I felt was the perfect length. Bradford doesn’t waste time with any filler material; he leaves things just as they need to be with only the facts essential to the plot built in. All in all, this is a fantastic self-published book. I would probably recommend this as one of those amazing YA novels that everyone should read regardless of age, and while this is definitely a must-have for horror fans, it’s also a fantastic book to give to someone as an introduction to the genre.
Horror Business is for sale by the author through lulu.
Written by Grace Ibrahim
The Tale of Genji is widely regarded as the fist novel ever written. It is well over thousand pages and has fifty four chapters. However I am only covering the abridged version in this review, which I suggest you read before deciding whether or not you want to take on this work in is entirety. This version was translated and edited by Royall Tyler who recently retired from teaching Japanese and Japanese Literature at the Australian National University.
The Tale of Genji however was written in Japan by Murasaki Shikibu, a lady of the Heian court. She was born around 973 AD and died probably in 1014. Murasaki was already known for her talent in poetry writing when she was called to serve the empress in 1006. The Tale of Genji was completed sometime between 1007-1008 while she was still serving at court.
The Tale of Genji tells the story of a prince born to an Intimate of the emperor. The hierarchy works like so, the emperor and his empress, after the empress was the Mistress of staff in theory she was a court official but she was really more like a junior wife. Then following those two are the consorts who are of noble birth, then after them came the intimates who are of low ranking noble birth or of common birth. The emperor did not have all these women due to enormous sexual appetite but more so because he was expected to make himself available to members of the upper aristocracy.
Genji our hero was born to an intimate who is an orphan an so has no family backing or political support. The emperor however is deeply devoted to her and longs to make Genji his heir apparent. However since he knows this is not possible he instead decides to remove Genji completely from the imperial family by giving him a surname (the imperial family has none) and appointing him as a senior government official.
Genji’s life is full of ups and downs and he eventually becomes the most powerful man in the kingdom however the story is less about this and more about the women he is involved with, who help shape him. From his mother in early childhood to the love of his life whom he raises as a daughter than later marries. Genji’s life though privileged is not without trial and error as a youth he makes many mistakes in love some of which are quite hilarious! He is described as “devastatingly handsome, charming and eloquent”. He also seems to posses unlimited material means eventually even that cannot protect him from the Kokiden consort she is the mother of the heir apparent and is Genji’s political enemy. She succeeds in forcing him in to self-exile when he is caught in bed with her little sister Oborozukiyo by her father! Genji then travels from Kyoto to Suma and since he is in disgrace he must leave his wife Murasaki whom he loves most in the world behind. After he is in the wilds languishing in misery over being separated from Murasaki he is almost killed in a great storm and starts to have strange dreams of supernatural beings and of his late father. However soon after the storms subside a eccentric and very wealthy man called the Akashi Novice arrives by boat to ask Genji to accompany him further up the shore to a his home. Genji goes with him and here we meet the Akashi Lady who is the daughter of the Akashi novice. When Genji is finally called back to the capitol from exile she is pregnant with his child. This child a girl will eventually become empress after the reign of Genji’s secret first born Reizei.
By the end of the book Genji has three children all by different mothers and all of whom go on to greatness. His first son whom he has with his stepmother empress Fujitsubo goes on to become emperor and his second son by his first wife Aoi goes on to be a court official. His daughter by the Akashi Lady goes on to become empress. During his daughter’s reign he receives the title of Grandfather of the emperor the highest title given to a commoner.
After Genji’s triumphant return from exile he is mainly concerned with power and beauty and though still tempted by several women he does not actually start any new relationships. His power and wealth grow to new heights but he is most concerned over Murasaki who is taken very ill and eventually dies leaving Genji now in his 50’s a shell of his former self. After Murasaki’s passing Genji retires to a temple and then dies roughly a year or two later. The last thirteen chapters pick up after a gap of about eight years after Genji’s passing and concern Genji’s grandson Prince Niou and his best friend and rival in love Kaoru these chapters cover there struggle to win the sister’s Oigimi and Naka no Kimi but this like much of the rest of the book also ends in tragedy.
Overall The tale of Genji is a great read and ranks in Japanese Literature on the level of Shakespeare, Homeric epics, Chaucer, and Proust’s Remembrance of things past, in the west.
Another version of the cover illustrated by Yoshitaka Amano.
Written by Grace Ibrahim
City Of Light is the first novel from Lauren Belfer but it does not disappoint. Set in Buffalo, New York in 1901 City Of Light tells the story of a city that is known for its wealth and sophistication, and a city that is rapidly changing. As the first massive hydraulic power plant to be built on Niagara falls gets under way, a president runs for reelection, and the great Pan-American Expo prepares to open in Buffalo.
City of light is told through the eyes of Louisa Barrett the young, well educated head mistress of the Macaulay school for girls. “Miss Barrett” is treated as an equal by the powerful business men that control the strings of life in Buffalo. These business men often meet in her parlor discussing the future of the city and luring her farther in to a false sense of security. Suddenly faced with a brutal murder Louisa’s hidden past comes back to haunt her and the strings of the city start to unravel as she fights to save not only the girls in her school but her self and her secret. Aided by her friend Francesca Coatsworth who is the daughter of the wealthiest family in Buffalo. Protected by her status Francesca is a self employed architect and a not so secret Lesbian often suspected of having “illicit relations” with Louisa. The two of them together must face loss past and present,over coming many skeletons in many closets.
The story is told beautifully through Louisa’s eyes as she tries to teach her students to be thinkers and not settle for life as just a wealthy trophy wife. Two students in particular struggle in there surroundings Millicent Talbert who is the first and only “colored” student to attend Macaulay and faces opposition and threats from every corner of the city, and Abigail Rushman who is lulled and taken advantage of by one of the elite businessmen of the city. Finding herself pregnant she turns to Louisa for help and a sad and desperate race to protect Abigail and her baby ensues.
City of light is a great read and I recommended it to everyone. As a historical fiction it really brings Buffalo in 1901 alive through a colorful and rich tapestry expertly woven by the characters. The book is 513 pages but pulls you along at such a pace that you won’t notice the length and will find your self wanting to read it all in one sitting, and equally wanting to to visit the places and walk the streets Louisa did. This book offers something for every one with mystery, romance, intrigue and old boundaries being not only pushed but broken as we follow the path of Louisa in the city of light.
Buy City of Light
Or buy a signed copy
Written by Morgue Anne
Nighthawk by Marie Francis looks like a normal book. It’s description sounds like a normal book, and it even smells like…Well, it actually smells like whatever your kindle smells like, since it’s only available as an e-book. But hidden inside the electronic pages of this self-published novel is a spectacular secret.
Nighthawk follows Tacoma police officer Evie Chevalier as she travels to the small town of Nighthawk, Washington in search of her childhood best friend. It seems that there is foul play involved – he walked off into the darkness in the middle of the night without alerting anyone, only to send a letter to the police days later explaining that he had moved away and would not be returning. The police don’t seem to think this is odd, but Evie knows better, especially with a few other men missing under the exact same circumstances. Francis takes her time to make sure that everything is in place and you are fully immersed in the story before completely catching you by surprise. I think Evie’s character can be sympathized because she doesn’t quite fit in. She walks a very thin line that I think is a more traveled path than many of us think, and it makes her more than just a character. There is also her feline companion, Diablo, who serves not only as an unforgettable sidekick but almost as a unit of measurement for the progression of the story. I don’t want to give too much away, but he grows more than any other character in this story.
About halfway through the novel, it goes from detective story to science fiction, and the transition is marvelous. Rather than falling back on the creatures we are already accustomed to and almost expect nowadays – vampires, werewolves, zombies – we are given instead creatures so ancient they have been lost to time and modern myth. It is clear that Francis knows her shit not only about the actual town of Nighthawk, but Native American mythos as well.
This is a fantastic first novel that shows great care and passion for the craft. I love to support those who have taken the self publishing route, and really hope that Nighthawk becomes successful enough to be sold as a physical book, because there are too many people missing out on the magic. I highly recommend this novel to almost all readers of fiction – those who enjoy a good mystery as well as those who are both new and old fans of science fiction. Nighthawk is a story the will entertain the masses on a number of levels, so make sure you get your copy and help support an independent artist who is more than deserving.
Buy a copy of Nighthawk (Otherworld Society)