BENEATH A BLACK MOON by Benjamin Hanstein

beneath-a-black-moonWell, in this fantasy, horror, alternate history, (yeah, alternate history is really a genre, not just something Kellyanne Conway made up), steampunk novel,  there is something for everyone.  Even a sex change.   OK, that was inadvertent,  kind of like that Steve Martin, Lily Tomlin movie.

Our heroine, Mab … and here’s where we try to have our cake and eat it too…. is an actress, off, off, off, off, off Broadway, circa pre 1900s.  The gigs are bad, but then, so is she, actress-wise.   She has a real sleaze for a boyfriend, and in an altercation, he cuts her throat, and she finds herself in a dark, muddy, slimy disgusting place.  Turns out it is hell.  Strangely enough, she meets a guy, seems like a decent sort, and they slog together towards a hill, upon which stands a personage directing who goes where.  (No, really,  is Hell where a girl has to go these days to find a fella?)  While awaiting their turn, a sliver, a string width, of light pierces the blackness and begins to descend from above.  It reaches for the guy, but our gal Mab, being a survivor from the Bowery, etc. snags it and is hurled….   well, I don’t know how all this happens, but anyway she wakes up in the body of the guy.  Turns out the people wielding the light were witches trying to get the guy back.  Oops.  Missed.  They need him to find the killer of the daughter of the guy who invented the machine that created the light that got the dead guy back.  Sounds like the House that Jack built.   So our heroine turns into our hero.

Also, someone has been snatching young children and doing horrible things by way of knives.  Really disgusting.  I tended to skip over those parts.  We do get one scene where we see the guy and he sees angles,  and I told you this was a fantasy, so shut up.

So Mab, inside the guy’s revived body, is forced to go off in search of the killer, and meanwhile we have the search for the serial abductor/killer in the person of a sweet detective who Mab might have the hots for but can’t because she is in a man’s body,  but that large male body comes in handy for a lot of other heavy lifting kind of activities, so it all balances out.

There’s a guy who runs the city, seems like a decent sort, well, except for the monsters living beneath the streets which he unleashes, and turns out he is really a terrible person and a witch and can do all kinds of spells, and turn into things.  If you don’t generally care for fantasy, you will hate this book.  On the other hand, it is quite possible you will keep reading page after page after page,  telling yourself that you are going to abandon it…… right up until you get to the last page ….  where, …. spoiler alert, spoiler alert…… Mab does NOT get her own body back, and we are left thinking that maybe there is another book coming.

And the black moon.  There is this ominous dark presence, planetoid in shape which has risen over the city, and brought death, destruction, monsters, and apparently dirigibles with it,  with sea traffic all but eliminated because of the sea monsters, and disease and pestilence.  There is no explanation for this black moon;  it is just there.

As a reviewer on Goodreads, known only as Ralph,  wrote (lawsy, lawsy, I love it when somebody else does all the research work for me):

According to mystics and occultists, the Dark Satellite (not to be confused with the mysterious 13,000-year-old object in a polar orbit) began to recede from our Earth around 1881. Prior to that date, the object, sometimes described as an “astral moon” or a “dark body perceptible only on a psychical level,” exerted a sort of spiritual influence over humanity, causing spiritual turmoil and crises of the soul.the Dark Satellite is more of a physical manifestation, but still with occult influences, one than not only did not leave the Earth, continuing on its long orbit about the Sun, but which came to loom hugely over the Earth toward the middle of the Nineteenth Century. At the rising of the Black Moon, societies and countries collapsed, the wilderness and rural areas became dominated by Witches and those afflicted with “the Mark,” and the largest cities of the now-fallen United States of America became self-sufficient city-states.

I really enjoyed this book.  It requires more than the usual amount of suspension of disbelief, and it has a mystical and symbolic underlayment to it, which is probably why I couldn’t stop reading it.   I mean, blood, gore,  witches, monsters, people in bodies not their own… what’s not to like?

 

 

MR. HANCOCK’S SIGNATURE by Brian S. Wheeler

Mr. Hancock's SignatureGhost alert!  Ghost alert!

I figured that would get your attention.  I know some of you really like a good ghost story, and this one is a doozy.

You know how so many ghost stories are about evil spirits, and malevolent creatures.  Not really my cup of tea.  I keep asking myself, why does everyone always envision evil in the afterlife?   But this story has just the best collection of ghostly stuff.  You will totally love it.  There is a golem,  and a dead body, and water spirits, and almost best of all, a ghost train!

Allow me to explain.  It begins with the Hancocks, a farming family in the rural environs of a small town in the plains, the flatland, of Illinois.  I’ve been out there.  Boy, is it flat.   Miles of that flatness.  Well, the Hancocks, the last of them, is selling out, lock, stock and barrel, at auction.  Mr. Dunning, a hard-nosed businessman of a farmer,  has spent his time and money gobbling up failed farms and their equipment.  At the Hancock auction, Mr. Dunning offers to buy Hancock’s land, which contains the family cemetery, containing several generations of Hancocks.   The last remaining Hancock agrees, as long as Mr. Dunning maintains the cemetery, and permits no further burials in it.  Dunning agrees to the deal,  all is sold, and Hancock disappears, went wandering, and is never heard from again.

Mr. Hancock had a brother, dearly loved, who was killed in the war.  I am fuzzy as to which war.  His vehicle is blown up, and there are no remains to return to the family, but they do receive a box which contains his medals.  They obtain a black obelisk, which they erect in the center of the cemetery and bury the box in front of it.

Years later, the cemetery forgotten and abandoned, young Ian and friend ride their bikes out to see it, a kind of teen boy rite of passage in the area.  Ian sees the obelisk glowing red, and hears a humming, or thrumming, and he touches the stone and is overcome with a …. I don’t know what.  He is overcome.  Being the son of a military man, the father is stationed elsewhere and Ian soon after has to leave the town.

Fast forward to Ian as an adult, come back to the one town he felt was a little like home, hired to help the town rise out of its doldrums and try to rejuvenate it by attracting businesses to the place.

I know, you are asking about when the ghosts and golem will appear.  I am getting to that.  Have a little patience.  First we have to talk about the abandoned train trestle, which the kids jump from in rites of courage, etc.  Occasionally, the hidden rocks in the river claim a jumper.  And now we come to our first ghosts.  (I know.  You’re saying, “It’s about time, woman.  Get on with it.)  These are wispy spirits of the dead in the river, the accidental deaths, the kids who hit a rock, the suicides, and a few murders.

And these spirits haunt and taunt Minister Jackstone,  a former town drunk, now on the wagon, with a congregation that loves firearms.  He wears a couple of antique guns on his hips because he has made a deal with the river.  He will try to keep their memories alive if they stop haunting him.  At times when they come back, he goes back to the bottle.

And now the ghost train.  I sooooooo loved this ghost train.  It has a conductor with a pocket watch that tracks the hours of the universe, and goes all wonky when earthly activities are awry.   It has imps piling in the coal to make it hotter than hot so that the train can make a specific curve that will bring it into this dimension, where it arrives at the old depot, no longer used as a depot, but is a warehouse.  The night watchman feels the ghost train, sees the oncoming headlight of the huge monster, sees it stop, then leave the station.  What is left behind is a box, coffin sized.  The sheriff is called, and the box is found to contain a body.  It turns out to be the body of the last Hancock.  The local mortician takes it to prepare it for burial, but where to bury him is the question.  Ian feels he should be buried out in the family plot, the sheriff thinks the public cemetery in town should be the place.

There is where the golem enters the picture.  He is a sewn together creature, with a bad leg, and secretly comes to town.  The next morning after the arrival of the body, the body is found on the front steps of the local B&B.  How it got there out of the mortician’s locked basement work area is a mystery.  The body is taken back to the mortuary, and the following day is found in the old movie house, no longer in use.  The following day it is found up top on an abandoned smoke stack.

There is so much more wonderfulness to this story, but really, I hate making a spoiler out of it, so I will stop here, because I have given you the ghosts, the golem and the ghost train as promised.  If you like ghost stories,  paranormal, that kind of thing, do read this.  You won’t be sorry.

OK, field notes.  The golem is not strictly a golem.  A true golem is made of clay, or earth, and a spell put on it by its maker which brings it alive and if must do the bidding of its maker.  It is old Jewish lore.  This figure in our story is more  a self-created Frankensteinish creature, having sewn himself together to accomplish this one mission.

The ghost train comes back two more times.  For a reason.

The book was first published in 2008, and the e-version I have is riddled with editing problems –typos, missing words, homophones,  stuff like that. Enough to be slightly annoying but not enough to make it unreadable.  I would assume that a current version will have been thoroughly cleaned up by now.

I believe there is now a sequel, but for me, this was so perfect in and of itself that stretching it out any further would totally ruin it for me, no sequel for me.

Loved it.  Go read it.

 

 

SHAMAN HEALER HERETIC by M. Terry Green

shamanShamanism, which is some pretty serious stuff and usually connected to various religious beliefs, has been taken over by the genre writers because it has that je ne sais quoi about it …. a bit of the ol’ paranormal, a bit of the quaisi quantum, spirit animal helpers, and ghosts.  Who doesn’t like ghosts, right?   Oh, and in case you were wondering,  my spirit animal is the sloth, because, you know, indolence.

This book is about techno-shamans.   Instead of the peyote and other drugs, drumming, trance dancing, and deep meditation,  these folks are of the modern pip pip pip get to it, hurry it up, I got things to do variety.  They put on a pair of goggles which have been modified with electrical razzle dazzle, and go immediately to the Multiverrse, where they begin in the Middleworld, which is the portal to the Underworld and the Upper World.  Bam, just like that, no waiting for the dream bus to show up.

In this particular world, L.A. doncha know, the Shamans all work through a broker, if you will, who happens to be a Little Person.  think of him as the Shaman Pimp.  The Shamans do not know each other and for some reason not fully explained, it is better that they don’t.

Olivia…call her Livvy…. is visited one night by a kachina — Tawa, the sun kachina to be exact.  Kachinas are Hopi gods, of which there are hundreds.  It is giant, but does not speak.  But it is clear that he wants something.  And what he wants is help.

So here’s what Shamans do in this book.  They go into the Multiverse and rescue people whose souls have gotten stuck there, or whose souls have been stolen.  These folks manifest in the real world as people in a coma.

Well, things stop working in the Multiverse and it turns out that Tiamat, the Sumerian god of chaos and creation is back in town, after millenia of being vanquished by Marduk, the storm god.  Tiamat, for your information, looks like a chicken with paws.  Or a dragon with a beak and hands.  Hard to get a clear description when you are running for your life.

Livvy figures the only way to get rid of Tiamat is to band together with the other Shamans for their combined power.  She also feels she needs Marduk to help them out.  He now resides in Upper World, in a huge castle.  Turns out he is a grumpy old retired man, puttering in his garden, not much like the warrior god of yore.

The plot revolves around a seemingly helpful young man who actually isn’t helpful at all,  and the final battle between the shamans and Tiamat.

It was a fun read, filled with vignettes of her trips into the Multiverse to rescue people, the whole thing made more interesting by the introduction of the two ancient gods, who existed in the time before time.  That is really a long time ago.  Would you like to know some more about the Kachina, and  Tiamat and Marduk?  Of course you would.

tiamatThis is Tiamat.  She is considered the monstrous embodiment of primordial chaos.   Some sources identify her with images of a sea serpent or dragon.   She and her husband Apsu created the first generation of deities.  In Mesopotamian Religion (Sumerian, Assyrian, Akkadian and Babylonian), Tiamat is a primordial goddess of the ocean.    In our Shaman  book, she is pictured as huge, as a destroyer.

 

 

 

mardukThis handsome guy is Marduk, probably pronounced ‘Maratuk’.   He was a late-generation god from ancient Mesopotamia and patron deity of the city of Babylon. When Babylon became the political center of the Euphrates valley in the time of Hammurabi (18th century BC), he slowly started to rise to the position of the head of the Babylonian pantheon, a position he fully acquired by the second half of the second millennium BC.   In the city of Babylon, he resided in the temple Esagila.

 

 

 

 

tiamat battling mardukHere are Tiamat and Marduk depicted in the great epic battle that raised Marduk to the position of head of the deities.  It is suggested that the battle legend represents the fall of matriarchy and the rise of patriarchy.

 

 

 

 

tawa1This colorful personage is Kawa, the Sun god of the Hopi.  He is a representation of the spirit of the Sun, though he may on occasion be called the Sun Shield Kachina. He often appears standing to the side with a spruce tree in his left hand and a bell in his right. Also, he may appear in a Mixed Dance with the flute in his left hand that is associated with him in many myths.

The Hopi Indians are the westernmost of the Pueblo peoples.  Hopi Kachinas are supernaturals, embodying the spirits of living things and also the spirits of ancestors who have died and become a part of nature. Kachinas are believed to possess powers over nature, especially the weather, but higher gods limit the extent of their powers. Hopi men carve likenesses of the Kachinas from cottonwood root, and these are the well known Kachina dolls. Because there are many circumstances that arise requiring supernatural help, there are many Kachinas. Among the Hopi there are about 300 Kachinas that may be current, and at least another 200 that may be known but make only sporadic appearances.
This is what I love about reading;  the opportunity to learn.  If we don’t just cruise on past the things we don’t know about in order to just get on with the story, fiction can be a great source of information,  and a way to widen our world.

THE MANY DEATHS OF THE FIREFLY BROTHERS by Thomas Mullen

firefly brothersI can’t decide whether this book is a hoot or a deeply profound examination of what exactly is life, or both or just what.  But boy, was it fun.

It is set in the 1930s America, during the Depression.  A nice middle class family finds itself spiraling lower and lower as the father’s investments fail along with the economy.  The oldest son turns to running bootleg to earn money to support the family, gets busted twice, and after his release the second time, decides that robbing banks gives a better payoff.  He is joined by his youngest brother and off they go into the world of Baby Face Floyd, Dillinger, and the rest of the famous crime-spree guys.

The novel opens with the brothers, Jason and Whit Fireson, lying on slabs in a police morgue, full of bullet holes, dead.  Well, no, they are not dead.  At least, not any longer.  They WERE dead, but now, strangely enough, they are not.

So of course you know that with an opening like this, I am totally sucked in.  And you will be too.  Because who can resist folk hero outlaws, now called the Firefly Gang by the press and the public, robbing the banks that robbed the people?  And who seem to come back to life?  Well, not me, that’s for sure.

Remember Donny and Marie?  (“I’m a little bit country;  I’m a little bit rock and roll.”)  Well, this is a little bit paranormal, and a little bit crime fiction, and a whole lot of pretty good character development, and a whole lot more of action.  It is a story of Everyman in the Depression, the efforts to get by, the unemployment, the breadlines, the poverty, the dance marathons, the loss of everything with the Wall Street crash.  It is a story of struggle and desperation and hope, and ….. of resurrection.  Whooeeee momma!

Definitely one of the better books I have read lately.  Highly recommended.  Especially if you are hoping to wake up not dead after you die.

outlaws

 

THE TERMINALS: SPARK by Michael F. Stewart

terminalsThis book has so many titles it is hard to know what exactly to call it.  The Terminals: Spark.  Dying to Solve Crimes.

You know how they say life is what you make of it?  Well, in this book, we learn that death is what you make of it.  The Afterlife, more precisely.

If you want to solve crimes of various types, and you have you a Medium who can communicate with the dead through a glass doorknob,  think what you could do if you have a volunteer to die and stay in touch, as it were, and could go look for the miscreant in the Afterlife and send you back some answers?  Pretty nifty idea, no?

That is exactly what the General, who is himself dying of something or another, thinks when he comes across a young man who can speak with dead people.  He found this out when as a kid he touched a glass doorknob in his home and his deceased grandmother spoke with him.

So the General gets this idea that if you could persuade people with a terminal diagnosis who are going to die in a short time anyway to allow them to euthanize them with a specific mission to find and speak to some other dead person, they could solve some serious crimes, right?  They give the volunteer a glass doorknob like the one the Medium uses and Bob’s your uncle, or as we say in Sunny Mexico, Roberto es tu tio.

The catch is a lot of philosophical questions as to the actual nature of the afterlife.   It seems that it is different for each belief system, so for a Christian, you need a hell or heaven, for a Gnostic, there is the Pleroma, Buddhism has the bardos, Judaism has Sheol, Isam has a hell,  etc.  So for the volunteer on the ‘mission’, the volunteer has to be of the same faith as the dearly departed we want to contact.

The book stars a female Lt. Colonel who by not shooting a child suicide bomber before he reached her patrol group, got her patrol killed and herself damaged.  She wants to commit suicide and has tried a couple of times, before being brought to the General’s special secret unit, where she learns of their activities.   A Gnostic serial killer has abducted a school bus of 11 children.  His outlawed sect of Gnosticism believes that disgusting acts of sexual depravity and killing will help him achieve gnosis, or the ultimate knowledge, a bit like achieving Nirvana for Buddhists.  But in a confrontation, he is killed before telling where he has stashed the kids.  And of course, the Iowa’s governor’s daughter is one of the children, so there is even MORE enormous pressure on the authorities to find the kids alive.

Charlie is a gnostic monk who has received a diagnosis of terminal cancer, and it is the lady Colonel’s job to convince him to ‘go terminal’ in order to hunt down Hiller, the serial killer, and get the location of the kids.  It has to be another Gnostic believer in order to track down Hiller in Pleroma.

She he is given the doorknob and a lethal injection and off he goes.., where he discovers that Hiller has not achieved gnosis so hopes to be reincarnated for another try.

The story contains all kinds of twists and turns involving the various characters, and some heavy-handed discussion of the morality of killing people so they can go play P.I. in the Afterlife for you, and some suggestion that possibly not all of the volunteers were actually going to die all that soon so were deceived into agreeing to be euthanized.

There is also a lot of philosophical discussion about just what IS the afterlife, or more specifically, the afterdeath, and this is the book that asks the question: Does the afterlife exist solely because people believe in it?   What kind of afterlife is there for atheists?  If an atheist dies and you need to contact them, how can you send another atheist into the Nothing to find them?   One Sikh was being kept on life support until a mission came up for him.  His friend said, “Sikhs believe in reincarnation, so what is life support except prison, or slavery?  He’s in the box, like the cat.  Simultaneously dead and alive.”

Very interesting concept for a book, which has all the indications of being a series.

My unhappinesses with the book?   Use of the word ‘anyways‘.   It is always ‘anywayS, not just one particular character who talks like this.  Maybe it is a regionalism, but I really dislike it.   And a couple of grammatical boo-boos.  So many authors and their line editors have trouble with direct object pronouns, as in ” He gave it to John and I.”   Would you say He gave it to I?  No, of course not.   Just because you think He gave it to John and me sounds wrong, it IS NOT WRONG!

Tons of graphic violence and a number of chapters of detailed descriptions of torture of children.  No, I am sorry.  All that detail was NOT integral to the story.  You can tell me there is violence, bloody and obscene, and torture of a disgusting nature and I will believe you.  I don’t need minute descriptions, thanks very much.  After I got the idea of when it would be appearing, I skipped over that part.  It is not anything I really needed to know.

Other than that, I enjoyed the book, especially because of its unique take on the afterlife and on crime detection.  Yep, nowhere to run, nowhere to hide, not even after death.

forgotten wordHave you heard about the dyslexic devil worshipper? He sold his soul to santa.

This is a book whose plot description held great promise, a promise that was reneged on in the telling.   I hate it when that happens, don’t you?

Zena McGrath is a detective working for an International Police Organization at their Dublin Office. A routine day is turned upside down when she receives a call from her boss in the New York office.  A number of Catholic Priests have died in mysterious circumstances, the latest being an Irish Priest based at the Vatican. During the course of her investigations Zena uncovers a web of deceit at the heart of the Catholic Church.

These priests have all died after performing exorcisms, and had been possess by evil spirits, minions of Satan.  When she goes to the Vatican to investigate, she sees the Devil himself, a handsome devil, I might add, and lots of spirits following her around.  OK, so far, so not too bad.

The Cardinal who shows her around and takes her to see a dying priest, is under suspicion,  but seems sincere enough.  She goes to the New York City office of her unit, and this is where things start to break down plot-wise and writing-wise.  It felt like there had been some serious content editing on the first half of the book, but by the time we got to the second half, that editor had lost interest and went shopping.  Here’s my grievances:

  • First of all the writing.  It became choppy and felt fit for a middle-school book.  The whole thing is written in the present tense, strange but tolerable, but the dialog makes you want to throw up on your shoes.  The characters use the name of the person they are speaking to in just about every sentence.  Who talks like that?  “I will be a little late, Brian.”  “That’s OK, Zena. I will see you later.”  “Good, Brian.  I will meet you at 10:00.”  “Excellent,  Zena.  That works for me.”  “See you later, Brian.”
  • The plot.  Turns out Zena is called back so abruptly to NYC because a priest had been found whipped to death, tied to a pillar in a church basement, with a crown of thorns on his head.  His dying words mentioned Cardinal Donatelli.  It also turns out that there is this huge Satanic Cult operating in the city.  Meanwhile, that Satan person is still following Zena.  I’m kind of thinking that if he can pop in and out of her life, why does he need to follow her to see what she is up to?  BIIIIIIG plot hole.

She goes to have a drink in the afternoon and turns out that the handsome guy who owns the bar is one of the Satanists.  She learns through convoluted methods that Satan and his followers are planning a great world takeover, The New World Order.  And that the United Nations has an emergency meeting and decides to ban all religions and all religious displays and observances, which set the world into turmoil.  But Zena, of all the nobodies in the world, can be the one to save the world. Oh, pleeze.

It is so confusing, boring, and unbelievable.  Satan tells her to get rid of him, she, the big atheist, must find God.  So she goes to Jerusalem to look for God.  And guess who she find?  Yep, Jesus.   The second coming of Jesus, who gets on the telly and remonstrates with the world and tells them to play nice, then goes back to Heaven.

See what I mean?  Stupiest thing I ever read.  It wasn’t too bad, interesting at least, for the first half.  That ‘s why I continued reading it, hoping for it to again regain its stability, but it just kept getting worse.   Oh, well, you win some, you lose some.

They say when you play that Microsoft CD backward you can hear satanic messages,  but that’s nothing.       If you play it forward it will install Windows 10.

Satan1

satan2

 

THORES-CROSS by Karen Perkins

thores-crossGHOST STORY ALERT!!  GHOST STORY ALERT!!   I know some of you like ghost stories, and this one is a humdinger, and I didn’t want you to miss it.

Set in modern day Yorkshire, England, and the Yorkshire  of 1777,  it is the story of a mistreated teenage girl, Jennet, a recent orphan, who is taken advantage of by the local powerful gentry guy, and the ensuing misfortunes arising from that, forcing her to curse not only him but his family and the entire village.  The village decides she is a witch, and need I say more?

What has this got to do with Emma, a successful modern day author of pirate fantasies?  Well, she and the hubs, an architect, build a place by the reservoir of that very 1700’s village. The village was purposefully flooded and destroyed when the local government built the dam creating the reservoir back in the ummmm 60s, I think.   Their nearest neighbors are a family which has renovated an old derelict cottage dating back from the time of the benighted Jennet.

Emma, the writer, has an old stone inkpot she found in a crumbling wall years ago.  She puts it on display in her new office in the house.  And then she hears church bells — from the drowned church.  Her neighbor tells her that when you hear the bells, it means Jennet has come back.

Jennet’s curse is that all the Ramsgills – he of the offending deed — would die each generation, leaving only one Ramsgill in each generation to carry on with the loss.  And guess what, the nice neighbor lady is married to a Ramsgill.  Yep, a descendant of that accursed family.

I don’t want to tell you too much, because I want you to read it, but I will say there is a baby involved, and water, and fire.

I love stories about generational curses.  I wonder if they really exist?  I believe you can effectively curse the current crop, because the mind has a lot to do with what happens to you, like in Vodou, but I don’t believe you can effectively curse someone secretly.  Your target has to know about the curse.

This is a fine example of mixing the old with the current, and has good writing, exciting scenes, and stuff I wish I didn’t know about, me being the Pollyanna that I am.

There is a sequel, I believe, but there shouldn’t be.  It should stop right here.  There doesn’t need to be any more to this.

There is indeed a modern day Thruscross Reservoir, and it covers the drowned village of West End.

Modern day thruscross Reservoir and dam.

Modern day Thruscross Reservoir and dam.

Thruscross, Yorkshire

Thruscross, Yorkshire