Book Reviews

5 Reviews (2 New)
A Dark and Scary Place

The Call of Cthulhu & Other Weird Stories, by HP Lovecraft


Publisher: The London Folio Society

Format: Hardback with Slip Cover

Illustrations: Dan Hillier

Published: 1928 (This Edition 2017)

The Folio Society of London has released two versions of this collection: the Limited Version which is bound in eco-simulated leather, blocked with a design by the artist Dan Hillier, who also produces six illustrations, eight mandalas. The version received for review is the Core Edition, bound in cloth blocked with a design by the artist. It is set in Italian Old Style with Goudy Forum as display, and incorporates 472 heavy pages and 18 stories, with a title page spread and six black and white illustrations inspired by the weird and bizarre and ultimately brilliantly dark stories of HP Lovecraft. Endpapers spot varnished with a design by the artist, gold gilt page tops, and a printed metallic slipcase 10” x 6.75”. There is a very entertaining and informative preface by author, comic writer and all-round eccentric Alan Moore.

There is something to be coveted about a quality, lovingly constructed hardback book (it’s better than coveting your neighbour’s ass!). This is a very nice book, and any new publication of the stories I know and love so well is always cause for celebration in my opinion. Lovecraft is easily in the top three horror fiction writers of all time, and I would even venture to say was quite possibly the greatest. He dubbed his own style as Weird Fiction, but is possibly better described as Cosmic Horror.

Now, you would think with a publication format as unique as this we might be expected to be offered the complete works of this great writer. Instead, we have what turns out to be a quite diverse collection of his tales. Every fan will undoubtedly have their own favourites and that’s to be expected; however, I have some reservations about some of the choices presented. Possibly, the notion is to vary the types of story to show originality of style and content. Nevertheless, certain more well-known examples are always going to have more impact on the untried reader.

The inclusion of those seldom represented in Lovecraft collections has to be commended, but Celephais (featuring a dream city which might just be real), and Facts Concerning the Late Arthur Jermyn and His Family (a potted history of relations involving a white ape race), may just leave newcomers somewhat cold without the context of other stories. Herbert West – Reanimator is more well-known because of the film, and this is precisely the reason why I’m not keen on the then contemporary variation on the Frankenstein theme.

I like the inclusion of The Outsider, Cool  Air, and The Statement of Randolph Carter – all effective stand-alone tales of the macabre. But the best examples are left until last: no collection should be without the mesmerising The Call of Cthulhu (uncovering the background to a small idol of the greatest and most terrible of the Ancient Ones), then we have The Colour Out of Space (wherein an object is uncovered which corrupts the land and anyone living on it – a keen personal favourite), The Whisperer in Darkness (correspondence to a man studying a frightening phenomenon), and The Shadow Over Innsmouth (I love this one too, in which a little sea port is overrun with humanoid sea mutants who worship or fear a god).

As the book contains large areas of blank page around the print, you wonder if more content could have been added. I realise At the Mountains of Madness is pretty much a novel, but it would have been nice to see the excellent The Strange High House in the Mist, The Shadow Out of  Time, and The Dunwich Horror. Still, any true book collector with cash to spare will lap this book up and perhaps see it as an investment. I very much enjoyed revisiting these timeless classics.

Verdict: 8 out of 10

 (Review originally written by Ty Power for reviewgraveyard 2017) 


Marvel: The Avengers Vault


Authors: Peter A. David

Publisher: Aurum Press

Format: Hardback

Publication Date: March 2015

Following the success of Marvel’s Avengers: Assemble film comes the imminent Avengers: Age of Ultron. To tie-in with this much anticipated superhero extravaganza we get Marvel: The  Avengers Vault, a hardcover history of the much-loved fighting team, by Peter A. David, a writer with a twenty year connection with superhero books, comics and graphic novels (The Incredible  Hulk/Wolverine/Spider-Man/Supergirl/Aquaman). It is released by Aurum Press, an imprint of the Quarto Publishing Group UK, on very good quality full colour paper, at a RRP of £25.00.

I unashamedly love the Marvel live-action films, but I confess to knowing very little of the comic book history since I read them as a kid – and even then it was mainly my favourites Batman (admittedly DC) and Spider-Man. The only Marvel graphic novels I have read in the last decade or two are the Spider-Man tales written by J. Michael Straczynski, as I love his writing and characterisation. Although the movies require no pre-knowledge of the  characters and situations, this is certainly where a book like this comes into its own. The Avengers Vault takes us briefly through the main events of the Avengers comic book history, from its origins to shortly before the Avengers: Assemble movie. All the main players get a mention; the different writers and artists and what they did with the storylines and team line-ups. I have to say I had no idea just how many super-powered heroes had served a stint in one variation or another of The Avengers. I think most people would prefer that the main quartet of characters remain stable, with only the peripheral ones coming and going. This is what the next section of the book explores.

It starts with Captain America, a creation I don’t hold much affinity for – although the industrial espionage, intrigue and edge-of-the-seat action made The Winter Soldier a very fine film. Cap was created as a WWII hero to go up against Hitler and the Nazis, but later found himself floundering without a visible  enemy in a somewhat sinister cold war setting. Therefore, the  character was reinvented and brought into the sixties by (who else but) Stan Lee. Captain America has a most bizarre history, including no less than four versions which turn out to be imposters!

Next we move on to Thor, with a short but useful lesson in Norse mythology, and how this connects to Thor’s comic book origins and that of his hammer, Mjolnir. With Thor, Stan Lee created a different kind of hero. Being a god, he is obliged to answer to Odin and protect Asgard, as well as aid the Earth for the love of a human woman. The arrival of his mischievous half-brother, Loki, tests the patience of the moral, honourable and virtuous Thunder God. With three films following his exploits, weapons  industrialist and scientific genius, Tony Stark – otherwise known as Iron Man – is almost certainly better known. Again, we get a description of the rather conceited character’s history and  background. Then it’s The Hulk, who is probably the most well-known of these central characters, just because of its beautiful Jekyll and Hyde simplicity.

The last section of the book explores The Avengers  on film and TV – particularly the animated series bringing it up-to-date post-Civil War storyline. There is some quite simply gorgeous artwork from different time periods, and plenty of covers shown from ground breaking stories or first time issues. In addition, there are some pockets concealing layouts, artwork and early  sketches. So, if you can afford the £25 price, and you’re a fan of Marvel and/or The Avengers – particularly if you’re not aware of  the comic timelines – then this is the book for you.

Verdict: 8 out of 10

(Review originally written by Ty Power for sci-fi-online 2015) 


The Exorcist, William Peter Blatty


Publisher: The London Folio Society

Format: Hardback with Slip Cover

Illustrations: Jeremy Caniglia

Published: 1971 (This Edition 2017)

William Peter Blatty’s The Exorcist novel gets a brand new publication courtesy of the Folio Society. This format is a cloth-bound hardback set in Warnock Pro with Mason Serif display. There are 368 thick white pages, and 13 full page colour illustrations by Jeremy Caniglia. The book is presented in a Spot UV slipcase.

This is a republication of the 2011 40th Anniversary Edition, which features certain refinements and additional material by the author. As Blatty admits, he was forced by the scriptwriting offer to rush his original ending. So this was his chance to put things right. Not that anyone noticed a lacking in its first release. It was a sensation and instant bestseller. As well as its expressive and graphic imagery this prose also emerged at a time that added to the overall impact. The end of the Summer of Love and the stark reality that was the Vietnam War woke up the populace to the fact that perhaps everything isn’t right with the world after all.

The extra material includes a new character, but it doesn’t upset the balance. It’s in the form of a dream wherein a priest/demon appears to Father Karras. It’s creepy and somewhat surreal.

I’m happy to report the effect of the book over the years hasn’t really lessened, as I feared it might. The only thing I would say is I couldn’t help picturing the film as I read it. This is unavoidable really; however, as the William Friedkin movie is one of the best ever made there is no real harm done.

I’ve always respected well-constructed books to the point of obsession – particularly nice hardback collections. This example is a beauty. The materials are good quality, it feels relatively heavy in your hands, and the illustrations – sort of sepia effect photographs with an eerie otherworldly aspect to them – are perfect for the subject matter. A very nice release for genuine book lovers everywhere. A timely decision too, as The Exorcist stage play hits the West End of London.

Verdict: 9 out of 10

 (Review originally written by Ty Power for reviewgraveyard 2017) 


Marvel: Absolutely Everything You Need to Know


Authors: Adam Bray, Lorraine Cink, John Sazaklis and Sven Wilson

Publisher: DK

Format: Hardback

Publication Date: September 2016

Marvel: Absolutely Everything You Need To Know is a large format hardback book with a textured cover showing a close-up up the left side of the Hulk’s face, with a speech balloon having him saying the title. The other side of his face is on the rear. Both eyes display gold foil. It contains 235 active full-colour pages depicting all of the most well-known heroes and villains, as well as many of the obscure characters and situations in double-page splashes of art and information. It is published by DK (Dorling Kindersley Limited) of the Strand, London, and retails at £17.99.

The book is divided into the chapters, Characters, Teams, Locations, Science and Magic, and Key Events. The most eye-catching of these is the first; each popular hero and villain gets his/her own double page of artwork from different eras amongst a number of inset fascinating facts. They’re all here: Spider-Man, Captain America, Prince Namor – the Sub-Mariner, Iron Man, Ant Man and Wasp, Thor, Hulk, Daredevil, and many more including Captain Marvel and Doctor Strange. A multitude of bad guys line up for attention, too: Thanos, Loki, the Red Skull, Norman Osborn, Doctor Octopus, Kingpin, and my personal favourite Venom – to mention just a few. Then there are the Teams, like the Avengers, X-Men, Fantastic Four, S.H.I.E.L.D. and Guardians of the Galaxy. Several Classic Clashes, Alternative Worlds, Iconic Artefacts and Locations will have even the most die-hard Marvel fans scrabbling for previously unknown titbits of information about their favourite characters.

The good thing about this book is that it will appeal to followers and casual readers of all ages who are curious about Stan Lee’s ‘babies’ and the plot lines and turning points in their existence. People will love the contrasting styles of artwork from across the years, but also accumulate brief fascinating facts without becoming bogged-down in decades of back story (much of it more than a little crazy). So, all in all a good place to start getting your Marvel general knowledge up to speed, before deciding which superhero path to go down.

Verdict: 8 out of 10

(Review originally written by Ty Power for sci-fi-online 2016) 


Something Wicked This Way Comes, by Ray Bradbury


Publisher: The London Folio Society

Format: Hardback with Slip Cover

Illustrations: Tim McDonagh

Published: 1962 (This Edition 2019)

The Folio Society, London publishes the classic Something Wicked This Way Comes, by premium Science Fiction, Fantasy, Horror and Mystery writer Ray Bradbury. Originally published in 1962 by Simon & Schuster, this luxury 2019 reprint by permission of the Bradbury Estate is presented in hardcover, with good quality paper and wide margins. There are seven hauntingly beautiful red, yellow and black full-page illustrations by Tim McDonagh which are spaced throughout the book – including a skeletal carousel horse which adorns the hard slip case. There is an introduction by comedian, actor and Bradbury fan Frank Skinner, and an Afterward by Bradbury from 1999 called Carnivals, Near and Far.

William Halloway and James Nightshade are 12 year-old neighbours and best friends. They spend all their time together and know each other implicitly, but are as different as chalk and cheese, the sun and the moon. When a lightning rod salesman turns up and warns the boys of an approaching storm, it seems to be a portent of things to come. The atmosphere becomes palpable as a dark carnival arrives just out of town. The boys witness a man riding the carousel backwards and becoming a young boy himself. The friends’ teacher is enticed and lost in the Hall of Mirrors. They have seen too much. Mr Dark, The Illustrated Man sends the Dust Witch and then brings the carnival parade to town with the sole intention of finding the hiding boys. How can they win through against the dark powers of The Skeleton, Mademoiselle Tarot, The Dwarf and Demon Guillotine? Perhaps they need an unexpected ally…

Ray Bradbury (1920-2012) is one of my top ten favourite writers of all time. His output was prolific and highly impressive. Furthermore, he couldn’t have been a better ambassador for the profession. Best known for short story collections such as Long After Midnight, The Small Assassin, The October Country, Dark They Were and Golden Eyed, I Sing the Body Electric, and The Golden Apples of the Sun (to name but a few), he also wrote a handful of timeless novels including Dandelion Wine, Fahrenheit 451, The Silver Locusts (The Martian Chronicles), and Something Wicked This Way Comes. The last time I read this book (I still have the paperback) I was in my teens or maybe early twenties. Around that time I couldn’t get enough of Bradbury, and devoured everything that was available. To my young and enquiring mind Bradbury’s prose was full of magic and poetry of phrase. Everything was wondrous and bright, and mystical and dark.

In Dandelion Wine and certain short stories Ray Bradbury created a boy character called Douglas. To all intents and purposes Douglas was Bradbury himself, remembering his young and innocent days when everything was larger than life. You could say that in this story Bradbury is Will Halloway, the wide-eyed, sensible and cautious opposite to his neighbour and best friend, Jim Nightshade (the excitable and reckless half). They absorb everything around them as if seeing it for the first and last time. To modern day readers the first few pages will seem slow, but Bradbury is quickly setting the scene in his favoured month of October in a small town, and introducing the partnership of Will and Jim while things still seem mundane – so that the coming oddities will appear that much more pronounced. It soon takes off and a series of set piece events sweep you along for the ride. The Hall of Mirrors, the Dark Carousel, Will’s clash with the Dust Witch, Mr Dark and his mysterious Freaks, and particularly Will’s dad’s novel defence against the Dust Witch, and his marked bullet when he volunteers to shoot as part of a fixed stage performance; there are so many tense, exciting and sometimes humorous moments that it’s difficult to do justice to the whole. But it is in no way complicated or forced. Magical is the word.

You might think this is solely a children’s book, however, the inclusion of Will’s father serves as a link between the generations, bridging the gap. So we get the thoughts, opinions and reactions of Charles Halloway as well as the boys. This is a book which spans any age gap. It is highly recommended for the Folio Society’s tribute to Bradbury and one of his major works.

Verdict: 10 out of 10

(Review originally written by Ty Power for sci-fi-online 2019)