Tag Archives: book review

Weird Tales of Modernity: A Review

A secret that fans of Robert E. Howard and H. P. Lovecraft have known for years is that the works of these authors were much more than mere ghost and adventure stories. In the past couple of decades, a number of serious studies have confirmed that insightful and profound world views animated these tales, making them not only entertaining, but thought-provoking.

Jason Ray Carney is the latest scholar to analyze their enduring appeal. Carney, who teaches Literary Theory and Creative Writing at Christopher Newport University in Newport News, Virginia, also writes speculative fiction, and is the chair of the Pulp Studies section of the Popular Culture Association.

Weird Tales of Modernity examines Howard and Lovecraft, as well as the lesser-known Clark Ashton Smith, and considers their stories as critical reactions to modern art and the transience of life. While this study rewards the reader with a number of well-argued insights into the mindset and artistry of the three authors, it is not aimed at the general reading public. It is instead a highly technical analysis aimed at academics. While it lacks the conversational tone of Mark Finn’s Blood and Thunder, or the rollicking wit of Michel Houellebecq’s H. P. Lovecraft, it marches along with forceful logic and a careful mobilization of facts, backed by citations of numerous works from sixty-four notable authors and critics, including Jose Ortega y Gasset, W. B. Yeats, and T. S. Eliot.

Carney argues that Howard, Lovecraft, and Smith were united not only by their frequent appearance in the speculative fiction magazine Weird Tales, but also shared a common vision of art and life. A common theme in their stories was their rejection of modernism, and specifically, modern art, with its abandonment of traditional forms and the classical view of man. All three authors contemplated with disgust the creeping conformity that erased both individual and regional personalities. Robert E. Howard, for example, feared that “in a few generations all the United States will present one uniform pattern, modeled on the mechanized fabric of New York.” Such conformity, they warned, would not lead to global democracy, but to a dehumanized, soulless world.

Pulp fiction offered the “Weird Tales Three” a vehicle for expressing, and perhaps reclaiming, basic human experiences that modern life had taken from them. Howard, Lovecraft, and Smith crafted fiction that was, in Carney’s words, “sensational, often ineloquent or excessively ornate in style, and concerned with inciting raw emotions in readers – such as wonder, joy, excitement, and cosmic dread.”

Differing somewhat in style and theme, all three sought to rediscover those fundamental, ancient, and human emotions. Howard evoked them in his energetic tales of action and danger; Lovecraft showed us protagonists whose pursuit of esoteric knowledge forced them to confront inescapable cosmic horror; and Clark Aston Smith described characters desperately seeking lost joy, innocence, or love. All three conjured the frightening and the fantastic to focus the reader’s imagination on the ephemeral beauty and wonder that live in the ordinary.

Carney’s evaluation of Howard, Lovecraft, and Smith as a distinct subgroup provides an eye-opening and challenging appraisal that will help their readers to further appreciate their unique vision and artistry.

COVID-19 and Paris

Hemingway and Bumby
Hemingway and Bumby

Elmore Leonard, who admired Ernest Hemingway, and looked to him as a role model, once lamented that the famous author “didn’t have a sense of humor.”

I disagree.

I’ve been busy during our global time-out. I’ve been reading new fiction, as well as re-reading old favorites, including Ernest Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast, a series of vignettes of Hemingway’s early days as an author while starting a family in 1920s Paris.

This little book cannot be drained; every time I read it, I discover more treasures. And if the honorable Mr. Leonard were alive, I could tell him Hemingway displays a wicked sense of humor in A Moveable Feast.

Let’s look at a few examples.

The metaphor that links the book’s poignant scenes together is the sumptuous food and drink of Paris. Here’s how Hemingway launches our little tour:

As I ate the oysters with their strong taste of the sea and their faint metallic taste that the cold white wine washed away, leaving only the sea taste and the succulent texture, and as I drank their cold liquid from each shell and washed it down with the crisp taste of the wine, I lost the empty feeling and began to be happy and to make plans.

That should whet any appetite. It certainly works for me.

Hemingway depicts Paris as a sprawling, lusty muse for all artists. In those days, he knew no greater joy than parking himself at a little café and setting a freshly sharpened pencil to his notebook. Pure writerly bliss. But every paradise has its snake, and for Hemingway, it’s the aggressive follower:

“Hi Hem. What are you trying to do? Write in a café?”

Your luck had run out and you shut the notebook.

Other artists, and especially writers, cannot evade Hemingway’s sharp, scrutinizing eye:

Wyndham Lewis wore a wide black hat, like a character in the quarter, and was dressed like someone out of La Boheme. He had a face that reminded me of a frog, not a bullfrog but just any frog, and Paris was too big a puddle for him.

F. Scott Fitzgerald and his melancholic wife Zelda get much scrutiny. Scott and Zelda had what you could call a rough and tumble, bittersweet relationship. When Zelda informs Scott she considers his, um, manhood inadequate, Scott looks to Hemingway for reassurance, which he kindly offers:

“You’re perfectly fine,” I said. “You are O.K. There’s nothing wrong with you. You look at yourself from above and you look foreshortened. Go over to the Louvre and look at the people in the statues and then go home and look at yourself in the mirror in profile.”

“Those statues may not be accurate.”

“They are pretty good. Most people would settle for them.”

Ah, the healing power of art.

Blood & Thunder: A Review

I’ve just finished Blood and Thunder, Mark Finn’s literary biography of Robert E. Howard. It’s one of those books I hated to see end. Blood & Thunder is an entertaining and inspired introduction to one of the greatest fantasy writers who ever lived.

Finn stresses throughout this biography that Texas was a life-long influence on Howard. Finn, also a native Texan, knows what he’s talking about.

Howard’s unique voice has been described as robust, vivid, and dark. The sizable Anglo-Celtic population throughout the South, including Texas, accounts for much of this. As Howard wrote in a letter to H. P. Lovecraft:

“But no Negro ghost-story ever gave me the horror as did the tales told by my grandmother. All the gloominess and dark mysticism of the Gaelic nature was hers, and there was no light and mirth in her. Her tales showed what a strange legion of folk-lore grew up in the Scotch-Irish settlements of the Southwest, where transplanted Celtic myths and fairy-tales met and mingled with a substratum of slave legends.”

Another major but often overlooked influence on the future writer was the Western tall tale. The young man listened intently to his father, a small town doctor, who spun entertaining yarns for patients, family members, and friends. The chapter dedicated to the fine Texan tradition of the tall tale is titled “Authentic Liars,” a perceptive acknowledgement of the writer’s most crucial talent, the ability to tell a believable lie the audience will happily swallow.

The Texas young Robert E. Howard grew up in was barely a generation removed from the Wild West, and the boy was spellbound by first-hand accounts of Comanche raids and attacks by the Mexican rebel Pancho Villa, undoubtedly the inspiration for the bandits, kozaki, and Picts who brawled and stormed throughout the Hyborian kingdoms. Even Texas-sized rattlesnakes found their way into Howard’s stories (“The Scarlet Citadel,” for example.) As Finn puts it, “Conan, then, is much closer to the American frontier tradition than epic fantasy.”

The Texas oil boom not only overturned the state’s once-agrarian economy, but jolted the culture, and not in a good way. In a letter to H. P. Lovecraft, Howard wrote:

“I’ve seen old farmers, bent with toil, and ignorant of the feel of ten dollars at a time, become millionaires in a week, by the way of oil gushers. And I’ve seen them blow in every cent of it and die paupers. I’ve seen whole towns debauched by an oil boom and boys and girls go to the devil whole-sale. I’ve seen promising youths turn from respectable citizens to dope-fiends, drunkards, gamblers, and gangsters in a matter of months.”

Howard’s recurring theme of civilizational rot and downfall were not abstract notions; he experienced these things first hand. Like his friend and fellow writer H. P. Lovecraft, Howard viewed industrialization as a destructive, de-humanizing force.

It’s impossible to discuss Robert E. Howard without considering H. P. Lovecraft. The two masters corresponded extensively, and clearly influenced each other’s work. Howard set Conan in a Lovecraftian universe, complete with a number of Cthulhu mythos deities. But it was a reciprocal – and beneficial – relationship. Finn points out how Howard’s action-oriented style inspired Lovecraft, whose fiction tended toward the psychological, to include the well-done nighttime chase scene in “The Shadow Over Innsmouth,” one of Lovecraft’s greatest tales.

I cannot agree with all of Finn’s conclusions. For example, I winced at his assertion that Yasmina from Howard’s novella “The People of the Black Circle” is a “more fully realized” character than Belit from “Queen of the Black Coast.” C’mon! I applaud Finn’s rejection of L. Sprague de Camp’s unfair and uninformed opinion that Howard was a suicidal paranoid with Oedipal tendencies. However, to rebut de Camp by asserting Howard had no choice but to commit suicide is simply ridiculous.

All in all, though, this is a well-researched, intelligent, and sympathetic evaluation of Robert E. Howard’s life and legacy, one I highly recommend for both newcomers and seasoned fans.

A Review: THE GENIE HUNT

The Genie Hunt

I am honored by this kind review from author K. D. Dowdall:

M. C. Tuggle’s The Genie Hunt is so engaging that I could not put it down. I continued reading it until the end, without stopping. It is not often that I want to reread a novel that I just finished reading. It is that good. It is a rather unique story about a lawyer, a reformed law-breaker, a kidnapped Genie, and a crime. It is a story about a friendship under duress, life-threatening danger, and a who-done-it mystery. The writing is superb, smooth transitions through scenes, characters that are so real that I was sure I knew them. It was the great dialogue, however, that moved the story along, including, strong pacing and time elements, that rang true.

Please read the rest at K. D. Dowdall’s blog, and click the “Like” button.

Didi Oviatt reviews The Genie Hunt

The Genie Hunt

Author Didi Oviatt has posted this review of my latest book, The Genie Hunt. Here’s an excerpt:

I really like the main character, Buddy Vuncannon. … Buddy is placed in a situation where he’s forced to outsmart his opponents in law, as well as in crime, and the Genie. Through the struggle he thinks outside the box, and the way he is able to mentally navigate the situation at hand is genius. He’s very smart, always a step ahead.

I’m flattered! Be sure to pay Didi a visit, and read the rest of her review of The Genie Hunt.

The Genie Hunt Puts A Supernatural Twist On The Usual Mystery Novel

Manhattan with a twist

Kate Seabury reviews The Genie Hunt in Manhattan with a twist:

The author does a great job at combining real-life scenarios with elements of fantasy. The novella reads like a combination of the television shows “Law & Order” and “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.” The writing and content made it so I never knew what to expect; with each turn of the page came a new surprise and boy, does that make for fun reading. It was not at all a “horror” book, but rather a suspenseful mystery with a healthy dose of the supernatural.

I also enjoyed how Tuggle maintains the strong friendship between Buddy and Coot, even though the events in their lives seem to keep going from bad to worse. Even though everything happening could tear them apart, their bond never breaks. They remain loyal to one another and even are able to joke around and make the best of what is surely a terrible situation. I found myself endeared by their friendship, and I was rooting for them the entire time.

This was not my first M.C. Tuggle book–I reviewed a novella of his called “Aztec Midnight” sometime last year–so I knew there was going to be more to the story than what initially met my eye, but even I was surprised at the extent of the uniqueness and creativity which flowed from the beginning of the book to the very last page. I can confidently say I have never read anything like “The Genie Hunt” before, and I am looking forward to what Tuggle comes up with next.

Check out the entire review at Manhattan with a twist.

Twenty-four Days

Twenty-Four Days

I bought my copy and can’t wait to read it! That cover is thing of beauty. Here’s a synopsis:

An unlikely team is America’s only chance

World-renowned paleoanthropologist, Dr. Zeke Rowe is surprised when a friend from his SEAL past shows up in his Columbia lab and asks for help: Two submarines have been hijacked and Rowe might be the only man who can find them.

At first he refuses, fearing a return to his former life will end a sputtering romance with fellow scientist and love of his life, Kali Delamagente, but when one of his closest friends is killed by the hijackers, he changes his mind. He asks Delamagente for the use of her one-of-a-kind AI Otto who possesses the unique skill of being able to follow anything with a digital trail.

In a matter of hours, Otto finds one of the subs and it is neutralized.

But the second, Otto can’t locate.

Piece by piece, Rowe uncovers a bizarre nexus between Salah Al-Zahrawi–the world’s most dangerous terrorist and a man Rowe thought he had killed a year ago, a North Korean communications satellite America believes is a nuclear-tipped weapon, an ideologue that cares only about revenge, and the USS Bunker Hill (a Ticonderoga-class guided missile cruiser) tasked with supervising the satellite launch.

And a deadline that expires in twenty-four days.

As America teeters on the brink of destruction, Zeke finally realizes that Al-Zahrawi’s goal isn’t nuclear war, but payback against the country that cost him so much.

The reader and pro reviews are simply red-hot:

Kirkus Review:

A blistering pace is set from the beginning: dates open each new chapter/section, generating a countdown that intensifies the title’s time limit. Murray skillfully bounces from scene to scene, handling numerous characters, from hijackers to MI6 special agent Haster. … A steady tempo and indelible menace form a stirring nautical tale

Here’s what readers say:

 – J Murray’s long anticipated thriller, To Hunt a Sub, is a satisfying read from a fresh voice in the genre, and well worth the wait. The time devoted to research paid off, providing a much-appreciated authenticity to the sciency aspects of the plot. The author also departs from the formulaic pacing and heroics of contemporary commercialized thrillers. Instead, the moderately paced narrative is a seduction, rather than a sledgehammer.

 – One thing I enjoyed about this read is the technical reality Murray created for both the scientific and military aspects of the book. I completely believed the naval and investigatory hierarchy and protocols, as well as the operation inside the sub. I was fascinated by her explanation of Otto’s capabilities, the security efforts Kali employs to protect her data, and how she used Otto’s data to help Rowe.

 – The research and technical details she included in this book had me in complete awe. A cybervirus is crippling submarines–and as subs sunk to the bottom of the ocean, I found myself having a hard time breathing. It’s up to Zeke and Kali to save the entire country using their brains. If you love thrillers, this is definitely one you can’t miss!

Available now on Amazon.

Dragon Hoard

Dragon Hoard

Cathleen Townsend’s Dragon Hoard and Other Tales of Faerie offers the reader the variety of adventures one expects from a well-edited short story collection, but manages to do so while also organizing the book around off-beat and entertaining twists on fairy tales and folklore. The appearance of characters from outside the standard slate of characters adds even greater variety and interest to the mix.

There’s also some refreshing variety in how Townsend tweaks these old tales, with fresh treatments of character, setting, and time. In some cases, such as the title story, “Dragon Hoard,” the faerie character is an old school dragon doing what dragons do, only in a modern setting. Bored with sitting on a vast treasure, the dragon consults a stock broker with the intent of leveraging his fortune into political power. (I wondered if the recent election may have inspired this delightfully wicked tale, but it was published in 2015.)

“Troll,” my favorite, features a very un-troll-like troll who yearns to enjoy a sunrise. Despite his love of beauty for its own sake, he’s still a troll, and knows the sunlight will transform his body into stone. The touching ending reminded me of John Hurt from The Elephant Man. A close second was “Faerie Travel,” an urban fantasy about a young runaway who meets beautiful but deadly faeries and a grubby and devious human.

In “BabaYaga.com,” we encounter a character from Russian folklore who’s set up shop in America. The old witch has partnered with a laughably sleazy salesman who learns that magic plus computers can be a deadly combination. I had to Google Baba Yaga to figure out the ending (bird tracks?), but you know, when the story interests you enough to make you want to learn about folk traditions outside your usual cultural sphere, that’s an added benefit. Another story worth special notice is “Gargoyle,” which manages to be both charming and sad.

Dragon Hoard and Other Tales of Faerie delivers a different kind of ride, offering scares, laughs, and tears. And, for the next few days, it’s free! Highly recommended.

A Few Reviews of Maledicus: The Investigative Paranormal Society Book 1 by Charles F. French

I just finished this book and left my review at Amazon. Now I know what all the fuss is about. Suspenseful and captivating!

charles french words reading and writing

wp-1476386546701-maledicus112“Maledicus is sure to be a literary horror classic. I was amazed to find that this story was not at all what I thought it would be. In this telling of good vs. evil, of bravery and self-sacrifice, we see a portrayal of the most constant of human struggles that death often defies through sheer force of will and therein lies the deeper meaning that brought this novel to life by the author, Charles F. French. Concurrently with the demonic theme is a well-thought out philosophical approach to horror, wrapped in an evocative story that will capture your fear and terrify you. This story is abundant with tantalizing details, unforgettable characters, and words that will not only touch your heart and mind, but also take your breath away. It is a completely riveting story with suspense, mystery, horror, bravery, and a great love that transcends time. You will not be…

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Traveling with The Travelers (Spring Break Edition): Road Trip Book “Mix Tape”

I loved these suggestions of books an author should pack for a road trip.

K.L. Kranes

The end of the day today, somewhere between 2:00 and 4:00 pm, marks the beginning of Spring Break for many kids. And as the mother of a child in the Fairfax County public school system, that means it’s Spring Break for me too. (It’s much better to take off work than to spend the week watching your daughter skulk around the house with her phone and complain about being bored. We’ve got all summer for that.)

I am most excited to have 10 blissful days20170219_172644-v2 where I can read and write with reckless abandon! I can’t wait to keep working on the sequel to The Travelers and to take Volume 1 on another trip (It’s now been to NYC, Atlanta and Dallas).

However, we’ve also planned quite an adventure that involves a little road trip action. So, alas, it won’t be only reading and writing for me. (But I’ll find time to…

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