Friday 24 November 2023

The Lighthouse Witches by C.J. Cooke (Berkley) | review by Douglas J. Ogurek

Runes, grimoires, hexes, and bone triangles: three timelines weave together a complex tale of female empowerment.  

Something strange has happened on the Scottish island of Lòn Haven, and the answer hinges on a horrible occurrence at a lighthouse called The Longing. 

The Lighthouse Witches moves between three different timelines. The central story, which takes place in 1998, focuses on British artist Olivia “Liv” Stay and her three daughters facing economic peril. The wealthy and conspicuously absent owner of the ramshackle lighthouse commissions Liv to paint odd symbols on its interior. Liv meets a man named Fin and gradually learns more about Lòn Haven’s residents and history. She also learns there’s much more to the lighthouse than the water on the floor and the bats on the ceiling; this lighthouse has a history that is not favourable toward women.

This first portion also dips into the point of view of Liv’s combative oldest daughter Saffy, who seeks to learn more about the lighthouse by exploring the caves beneath it. 

The second timeline occurs in 2021 and is told from the perspective of Luna, Liv’s middle daughter and presumably the only surviving member of the family. Luna, now pregnant, is haunted by a sketchy memory of getting tied to a tree in a forest while her mother and two sisters disappeared. When Luna’s long-lost younger sister Clover resurfaces, her appearance and behaviour shock Luna and lead to complications. 

The third story, narrated by Patrick Roberts through his grimoire, takes place in 1662. It details his travails on the island, including a relationship with a special friend named Amy and an accusation made against his mother. 

Cooke pulls off an impressive balancing act with the alternating timelines, breadth of years, and variety of points of view (i.e. first-person past, first-person present, third-person present). She also uses Lòn Haven’s gloomy weather to thicken the pall of mysteriousness that shrouds the island, a place whose residents fear supernatural creatures called wildlings and where some children have numbers branded on their arms. Perhaps the novel’s greatest accomplishment is its treatment of the age-old problem of the suppression of women.—Douglas J. Ogurek ****

Monday 20 November 2023

Theaker's Quarterly Fiction #75: out now!

Theaker's Quarterly Fiction #75 is now out in all formats!

free epub | free pdf | print UK | print USA | Kindle UK | Kindle US

Welcome to our seventy-fifth issue of Theaker’s Quarterly Fiction. Thank you for your patience, which we have repaid with four short stories, an essay by Rafe McGregor on "The World-Ecology of Climate Change Cinema", a lengthy report from FantasyCon 2023, and forty pages of reviews!

The stories in this issue are "Piggyback Writer" by Matthew G. Rees, "Kleptobiblia" by Harris Coverley, "Recovery Mission" by Eva Schultz and "Two Friends" by Antonella Coriander, the final chapter in the story of Beatrice and Veronique, which began all the way back in TQF47.

Our reviews this issue are from Douglas J. Ogurek, Rafe McGregor and Stephen Theaker, who consider the work of Josh Malerman, Nate Southard, R.B. Lemberg and David Owain Hughes, plus the films Blue Beetle, Children of Men, Knock at the Cabin and Terrifier 2, plus the television shows Carnival Row, Season 2, and Star Trek: Picard, Season 3.

The cover art for this issue was generated using Wombo Dream, based on a photograph by Stephen Theaker.

Monday 13 November 2023

Dream Scenario | review by Stephen Theaker

Paul Matthews (Nicolas Cage) is a mid-to-late-career professor with tenure. He is married to a beautiful wife (Julianne Nicholson), has two daughters, and lives in a big gorgeous house, but he is still dissatisfied with life. He dreams of finding a publisher for his book on ant intelligence, but has never actually got around to writing it. His classes are poorly attended, engagement from students is low, and he can't do anything about an old colleague who is planning to build on his unpublished work.

Sunday 5 November 2023

Clown in a Cornfield by Adam Cesare (HarperTeen) | review by Douglas J. Ogurek

Town mascot turned madman: young adult slasher tale with political underpinnings explores the battle between tradition and change.

Have you ever been in a situation where you thought older people weren’t listening to you? Of course you have. What about a scenario where younger people push for a change you don’t want? Admit it: you’ve been there as well. These are the issues at play in Adam Cesare’s Clown in a Cornfield, though the stakes are likely much higher than you’ve ever encountered. 

When financial hardship hits, Dr Glenn Maybrook and his teenage daughter Quinn move from Philadelphia to Kettle Springs, Missouri. Here, elders view teens as a threat to their rural town’s hallowed traditions, and teens suspect adults are trying to impose their values on them. 

Quinn soon meets Cole Hill, a charismatic quarterback. You know the type: attractive, confident, admired by his peers yet haunted by his past. She gets involved in Cole’s group of ne’er-do-wells: Janet, Ronnie (who clearly likes Cole), the bodyguard-like Tucker, and the beer-swigging party boy Matt. Power-hungry Sheriff George Dunne, resenting the changes happening under his watch, has his sights set on the teens. 

Overshadowing all of this is Frendo, the unofficial town mascot invented by Cole’s grandfather. Initially, the only evidence of Frendo that Quinn sees is the faded painting of the clown on a burned-down factory across the cornfield next to her house. But Frendo will make more appearances, and not all Frendos in Kettle Springs are kid friendly. 

Though there’s nothing groundbreaking about this young adult horror story in which characters gradually get picked off by someone or something, it zips along and keeps the reader engaged. The over-the-top weaponry (e.g., chainsaw, circular saw, machete) fits the typical slasher fare. 

Not only does Cesare defend the voice of young people, but he also combats the notion that heroines need to be rescued by a male figure. Quinn Maybrook is a strong, thoughtful, and brave young woman not prone to swooning at the slightest threat. Cesare also explores the complexities of Quinn’s relationship with her father and how her mother’s drug problem complicated their lives.

At its core, the novel advocates for youth-inspired change, which is nothing to clown around about.—Douglas J. Ogurek***