Recommendations: Standalone Fantasy


I’m a little late this morning with today’s post. Health stuff. ‘Nuff said, am I right? Nothing to worry about! Just enough that it put me off schedule. Today’s topic is standalone fantasy. I think some of what holds people back from trying fantasy is the intimidating series, each installment a massive murder weapon waiting to happen. The good news is I can recommend some very manageable books that stand completely on their own for first timers.

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Recommendations: Short Story Collections


Short stories are a particular passion of mine. The right kind can pack so much plot and character into a short space that it’s astounding. They benefit from quick, sudden twists and shocking reveals. They don’t waste a second of space, and collections of short stories can be wonderful breaks from full-length novels. Here are some favorites of mine that you might want to check out.

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Vampiric Reads: Where To Continue


If this is the first time you’re seeing this, go check out the previous post about where to start with vampire fiction. This is for the people who have already read the classics and the popular books. Now we get into the reads that are off the beaten path.

The Informers by Bret Easton Ellis. This might be considered spoilers in a way. For most of the book, the stories in this collection seem normal. They’re vaguely connected. They take place in the same kind of world Ellis always writes about: the world of the disaffected rich kid. It’s as wonderful as all his other writing, but toward the end, it suddenly veers into the truly unexpected. There are vampires. Not metaphorical ones but literal ones. I don’t want to say much more than that. I’m hoping this will be like a carrot on a string that will convince people to read this fantastic book. Also, I say they’re not metaphorical, but in a way, they are. In Ellis’s universe peopled by the selfish elite, vampires fit right in.

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Vampiric Reads: Where to Start


I love vampires. That’s become a taboo thing to admit, with vampires now considered more romantic figures than frightening ones. But it’s true, and I can’t deny it. I love vampires of all kinds. The monster, the seducer, and all the very weird in-betweens. The vampire is one of our most richly varied creatures, from folklore to pop culture. There have been so many twists on the idea, that I obviously feel it bears talking about.

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Short Book Recommendations: Halloween Edition


Previously, I gave some recommendations for short books. It’s time to do it again, but this time with Halloween reads in mind. There’s still time, so if you wanted something shorter to read for the season, here are plenty of options for you. The page counts are from my own editions to give you an idea of how short these books really are.

The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving (71 Pages) We’re starting with the classics. This one has been taken and shaken up several times, but the original is still creepy. Maybe not for the reasons you’d imagine. It has a bit of fridge horror to it, which makes it even creepier in my book. Pair it up with the Disney cartoon for extra fun.

Strange Case of Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson (116 Pages) A werewolf story! Well, technically. The good doctor doesn’t turn into a literal wolf, but this story is all about a good man unleashing his id all over the world. And just how sick and nasty that turns out to be. It’s also tragic like a werewolf curse, making it very similar at its heart. Also, another classic, the kind that proves why they have staying power.

Carmilla by J. Sheridan Le Fanu (112 Pages) A classic vampire tale that predates Dracula, tackling the story from the perspective of a young woman who is beset upon by another young woman. Very controversial for its time, which makes it an interesting one to dissect. It’s also just chilling. The author wasn’t faced with the vampire conventions we have today, so the patterns Carmilla follows are steeped much deeper in folk tradition. Try this one out for something new… that’s actually very old.

Child of God by Cormac McCarthy (186 Pages) This one’s for the people who are looking for something besides books about monsters. This is a literary novel with a dark edge sharp as a knife. We follow Lester Ballard, and he has lodged in my brain with the same force as characters like Patrick Bateman and Hannibal Lecter. So if you’re looking for something dark, autumnal, and unforgiving, this is for you.

Your House Is On Fire, Your Children All Gone by Stefan Kiesbye (198 Pages) Another in the same vein as the above. That title alone would be a terrible thing to hear, wouldn’t it? Already it’s chilling. It’s mainly about a German village that’s trapped in very old ways and very superstitious. It makes for a haunting read punctuated by some truly terrifying moments but with a literary edge that makes it darkly beautiful.

Who Goes There? by John W. Campbell Jr. (161 Pages) If what you’re after is a book about a monster that’s just fun and not super deep, here is the story that eventually became The Thing from Another World and John Carpenter’s remake (my favorite movie of all time) The Thing. It’s all about a bunch of burly men trying to deal with an alien threat with some nice, horror notes throughout. It’s a bit cheesy and pulpy, but it’s worth trying out, especially if you’re a fan of either adaptation.

I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream by Harlan Ellison (134 Pages) Keeping on the science fiction path for a moment longer, this is a modern classic. It tackles the existential horror of being trapped and tortured in a way that no other story ever has or ever will. We follow the last humans on earth as they’re toyed with by a supercomputer named AM. And it is devastating. Also, very well-written. Ellison can always be counted on for that. Keep in mind that the page count is for an entire collection of stories, so there’s more spookiness to be found than just the one.

The Grownup by Gillian Flynn (63 Pages) Typical of Flynn, this is one twisty, turny ride. Is there a haunting? Perhaps. Is there a twisted person behind it all? Maybe. Is our gray-morality character going to find they’re on the wrong side of all of it? Oh, you know it’s true. It’s quick and fun, perfect for the season, and it’ll tide you over until she finishes that next, dark book.

The Ballad of Black Tom by Victor LaValle (149 Pages) I did a fuller review of this in my September 2016 wrap-up. I get to explain there why I feel this book was brilliant, fun, and frightening with important messages all over the place. It’s a riff on Lovecraft. It’s surprising and page-turning. I feel like this one has it all for your Halloween needs.

The Hellbound Heart by Clive Barker (164 Pages) Ending on the strongest note I can imagine. The book that became Hellraiser, a modern horror classic. It’s a little different than the movie that came after it, but the changes were all made by the author himself, so you can see how both versions of the story are valid. It’s dark and gruesome with lovely writing. It’s a vision that is entirely unique to Barker, and it’s worth having a look.

Now guess what! Redbubble is having a sitewide sale on the 24th, and I have a special code for you. If you buy something from my shop, use 20off-sjdesigns at checkout to get 20% off tomorrow. This code expires at 11:59 PM of the 24th, so take advantage now. I know no one wants to think about Christmas before Halloween, but it is coming. This could help you stock up on much needed prezzies.

Know that any support you guys give me is so appreciated. As always, happy geeking!

Apocalyptic Reads: Part Two


I’m back with more apocalypses. Be sure to check out part one if you haven’t already. It’s full of great recommendations, and here are some more. Though these are world-ending scenarios of the weird variety.

birdboxBird Box by Josh Malerman. This one got a great deal of hype last year, and this is a rare case where it was deserved. The scenario here is that creatures, coming from who-knows-where, are among us. Looking at one of these creatures results in instant psychosis. It can cause you to hurt yourself or others, and this phenomenon is spreading like an epidemic. The story bounces back and forth between when this first began and a point in the future where our main character is trying to take two children down the river to a safer place. Blindfolded.

This is the most claustrophobic book, as you can well imagine. It’s people trapped in a house where they can’t even look out the window. Going outside, and they sometimes have to, becomes an incredible ordeal. More importantly, as with any book of this nature, they’re trapped with each other. The tension builds to a crescendo that is shattering. Just this one time, listen to the hype.

Demons by John Shirley. I may end up being the only one to truly love this bizarre masterpiece, but I feel it’s worth a shot to share it. On the surface, this one is simple. We get something like a Biblical apocalypse, and I say “something like”, because mainly that means just what it says on the tin: demons. Crazed, violent demons of a few, strange varieties appear and start to, well, kill people. Horribly. And they’re everywhere. It’s gruesome, and the recommendation definitely applies to you if you’re a horror fan.

The story is told in two parts. That initial touchdown of the demons and how they’re dealt with. Then a second part where a man gets involved in such a weird way that I don’t dare spoil it. Please read it. If you’re like me, and you want books off the beaten path with stories that you didn’t think anyone would have the nerve to write, read this book. Read anything by John Shirley really, but this one especially. The climax in the second half of the book is something I will never get over. And I mean that in the best way possible.

bloodmoneyDr. Bloodmoney by Philip K. Dick. Now I am allowed the incredible privilege to talk about Philip K. Dick. He’s always written about broken societies and imperfect futures, but this one really is about a world that has ended and is limping back to life. Typical of any PKD book, trying to summarize this is going to be almost impossible. There’s a bomb that goes off, and several, disparate characters are affected. There’s a blending of their stories, and each of them is unlike anyone you’ll ever read about.

We get the initial incident, and then the rest of the story is concerned with how they survive after that. They rebuild and form a community. But don’t think for a second this is by the numbers, because things get so very weird. Thanks mostly to the presence of a character named Hoppy, a mutant with mind powers. Like Demons, this needs to be experienced to be believed.

The Day of the Triffids by John Wyndham. We open with a man with bandaged eyes waking up with the feeling that something has gone terribly wrong. The night before, there was a meteor shower that blinded everyone who looked at it, which was most people. So Bill Masen is now a man with sight in the world of the blind. The really unfortunate thing is, in this world, there are also Triffids. Plants that can walk, sting, and kill. When you have sight, they’re fairly easy to avoid. But now the Triffids have the advantage.

I didn’t expect what this book delivered. First off, what a different scenario, am I right? The combination of a random epidemic of blindness and these sentient plants was pure magic. Wyndham also writes beyond that, with all those survival trappings about helping others and when you have to run instead of help. How to repopulate the earth, which becomes a tough conversation about monogamy and survival and choice. There’s a lot here to absorb in a short space, and I can promise it will surprise you.

catscradleCat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut. Like PKD, Vonnegut wrote a lot about the end of the world or our inevitable terrible future. This particular one is about ice-nine, created by Dr. Felix Hoenikker. It can turn water into an irreversible solid. So if dropped in the wrong place, it could destroy the entire world’s water supply. He’s put it in the hands of his unstable children, which means we’re probably all goners.

Like all of Vonnegut’s work it’s an eccentric fable, a satire told with humor but holding a kernel of sad horror within it. It’s considered one of his best, and I won’t argue with that. It’s definitely one of his most popular. If you wanted to get into his work in general, this would be an excellent place to start. Or end. Get it? Bad joke. I’ll stop now.

Five more books for your end-times needs. If you want to support this blog, check out my Redbubble Shop. As always, happy geeking!

5 Short Book Recommendations


Sometimes you need a book for the afternoon. Something quick and satisfying to make you feel accomplished or to help you get through that book challenge. Here are several recommendations that will do just that. From all sorts of genres, so there should be something here for everyone.

I’ve seen several people do this, but in particular I was inspired by Jean at Bookishthoughts. She limits herself to very, very short books, and I might be a bit more lax on that, but rest assured they will be short. I’ll give page counts of my editions with each one to illustrate how short we’re talking.

Grendel by John Gardner (152 pages) This is a retelling of Beowulf from the perspective of its first monster, Grendel. This was a recent read, and it coupled with the new video Jean made about short books inspired this article. It’s a mix of fantasy with a bit of horror. It has lots of poetic and philosophical bits thrown in to make it a very in-depth read despite its short length. Gardner does a fantastic job of giving Grendel a lot of character and making his point-of-view, even though it’s very bleak, relatable.

A Man Without a Country by Kurt Vonnegut (145 pages) A non-fiction book of essays and artwork from Vonnegut’s later years. It’s a little sad, because he discusses how he has given up on trying to convince humankind to be better than we are, but it also can’t help but be great. Because it’s Vonnegut. So it can be sad, yes. And amusing. And illuminating. And all the things Vonnegut is but in a smaller space.

The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter (162 pages) This is a short story collection comprised of fairy tale retellings, but don’t look for them to be Disney-fied. Like their dark origins, these are bloody and strange. They also take on a decidedly feminist slant if that is something you look for in your literature. It’s fantastical and darkly entertaining. I especially recommend the title story and “The Company of Wolves”.

Revenge by Yoko Ogawa (162 pages) Another short story collection. This one a translated work from Japan. Like The Bloody Chamber, this is dark and bizarre. All the stories are linked to one another, and that becomes kind of a treasure hunt as you read. The whole collection, for me, ended up feeling very dreamlike. Unlike anything I’d read before. If you want a different experience with a set of short stories, try this out.

Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller (113 pages) Everyone ought to try this one, simply because it’s a classic. Also, it’s a play, so it reads even faster than a book might. We follow Willy Loman as the American dream crumbles all around him. It’s tragic, real, and a pretty important read. I was shocked by how much the story and its characters moved me. It will catch you off guard.

Expect I will do one of these again, since there are no end to the shorter books, the sort you can read in a day, that are worth your time. If you want to support this blog, check out my Redbubble Shop. And as always, happy geeking!