2019, The Year in Review

2019 was the busiest year yet for this blog. There were more posts, words, books and traffic than ever before. (I know I said the same thing last year, but I’ve outdone myself again.) I put a lot of effort in this year, and almost all of my reading was dedicated to this blog. I only managed to read 4 non horror/occult books over the whole year. If you haven’t been paying attention, this post will guide you through what I covered in 2019.

 

 

I read some really cool novels this year. I was so excited to find a cheap copy of Kathe Koja’s The Cipher in a thrift store, and I’m happy to report that it lived up to its reputation. I posted about Edward Lee’s The Bighead right at the beginning of the year, and it was an extremely gross, funny and enjoyable read.  My copy of C.S. Cody’s The Witching Night had been on my shelf for years, but I loved it when I got around to reading it this summer. Bari Wood’s The Tribe also blew me away. There’s no wonder that it was recently rereleased. Flesh by Richard Laymon may not have been a brilliant novel, but I really enjoyed it. I ended the year reading two classics of weird fiction, Fritz Leiber’s Our Lady of Darkness and William Hope Hodgson’s The House on the Borderland. Both of these books were awesome.

 

I did a few short story collections this year too. I was delighted to get my hands on Montague Summer’s long forgotten Ghost Stories. I also really enjoyed rereading Lovecraft’s stuff. (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3 and Part 4.) In May, I reviewed Teatro Grottesco by Thomas Ligotti. I absolutely adored that book, and I was surprised to see how much traffic that post got. (I also just finished his My Work is Not Yet Done, so expect to see more Ligotti here soon.) In October, I did a lengthy post on the two Splatterpunks anthologies from the 90s. The stories in these were of varying quality, but they did put me onto some cool writers. I actually thought that I had reviewed more short story collections than this when I started writing this paragraph, but that’s because I have spent the last few weeks working through Clive Barker’s Books of Blood. I haven’t finished all 6 yet, so it’ll be another while before they show up here. (Barker is one of the authors that Splatterpunks convinced me to check out.)

 

Of course, this blog isn’t just about fiction, and this year, I got into some very weird esoteric books indeed. The one I was most excited about was Geoff Gilbertson and Anthony Robert’s The Dark Gods. Jesus, that book was mental. (I’m also happy to report that a pdf copy has been uploaded to the internet since my post was published, so you won’t have to go through what I went through to read this very rare and very odd book.) I was also proud to present a review of Robert Eisler’s Man into Wolf, a very peculiar book on lycanthropy. Dr. Alexander James McIvor-Tyndall’s (pre-Nazi) swastika adorned Ghosts: A Message from the Illuminati was another interesting book to track down and read. Allen H. Greenfield’s books on UFOnauts and the secret rituals of the Men in Black are amoungst the strangest I have ever read. I read three (1, 2, 3) dumb books on sex magic over the course of the year, and George Bataille’s book on Gilles De Rais was a very depressing look at that dirty satanist paedophile. On top of H.P.’s fiction, the aforementioned Lovecraft posts all deal with Lovecraftian grimoires too.

 

I also read a bunch of utterly idiotic grimoires that were written by morons. Highlights include Fascination by Master Count de Leon, The Black Grimoire by Angel Zialor and Secrets of the Black Temple by the Red Spider. This shit was DUMB.

 

Finally, I reviewed a little bit of porn in 2019. Satan was a Lesbian and The She-Devils did not live up to their titles, but Ann L. Probe’s Alien Sex series was exactly as good as you’d expect.

We’re soon to enter the twenties, and while this post only looks at the books I’ve reviewed in 2019, this blog has been around for half a decade now. If you’re interested in looking back, you can check my yearly review posts for 2018, 2017, and 2016. (I didn’t do one for my first year.) You can also look through my site’s index for a complete list of the 300+ books that have been reviewed here over the past 5 years. If you enjoy this blog, please share it with like-minded people. You can get updates on twitter or facebook, and I’m always happy to get recommendations for my next review.

I hope you have a great new year!

The House on the Borderland – William Hope Hodgson

house on the borderland william hope hodgson.jpgThe House on the Borderland – William Hope Hodgson
1908

It’s coming close to the end of the year, and I have spent 2019 reading some absolute garbage. After reading and reviewing Fritz Leiber’s awesome Our Lady of Darkness last week, I really wanted to read another cool book. I’ve been meaning to read William Hope Hodgson’s The House on the Borderland for a couple of years, and when I found a free audiobook version last Sunday, I decided the time was right.

This was a very enjoyable piece of weird fiction. It’s about a strange man who lives in an old house in Ireland that seems to exist on the border of different dimensions. I spent the first half of the novel thinking it was basically just Night of the Living Dead with interdimensional pig-mutants instead of zombies, but the second half of the book has more in common with 2001: A Space Odyssey. (I just read Will Errickson’s review of this book and saw that he also made a 2001 comparison. Will, I swear this was coincidence!) There’s little wonder that H.P. Lovecraft was a big fan of this novel; there’s some very definite “the universe doesn’t care about you” vibes throughout.

I read William Hope Hodgson’s Carnacki the Ghost Finder stories a little under two years ago, and while I enjoyed them, I seem to remember them being a good deal more straight forward than this. One of those stories also includes evil pigs, and a couple of them are set in Ireland too. I reckon I enjoyed The House on the Borderland more, and I’m planning to read more by Hodgson in the future.

The only problem with reading good books, especially popular ones, is that I find myself at a loss for things to say when reviewing them. This one is cool, short and available for free in multiple formats. You might as well check it out.

Our Lady of Darkness – Fritz Leiber

fritz leiber our lady darknessOur Lady of Darkness – Fritz Leiber
Berkley Publishing – 1977

A recovering alcoholic reads a weird book about evil architecture and a notebook belonging to Clark Ashton Smith and then begins to see weird stuff through his binoculars. That’s the premise of Our Lady of Darkness by Fritz Leiber. The protagonist is also an author of weird fiction, and repeatedly references Lovecraft, M.R. James and Bierce. I really enjoyed this book, and reading it has made me want to check out more stuff by Leiber.

I didn’t know anything about the author when I started reading Our Lady of Darkness, but I only got a few chapters into this book before I realised that the main character is supposed to be him. Leiber’s name was Fritz, and the character’s name is Franz. They  have the same job, and I can’t put my finger on it exactly, but there was something about the sections on the protagonist’s wife and her death that had me convinced that Leiber was writing from experience. Sure enough, he lapsed into alcoholism after the death of his own wife, and this is obviously a largely autobiographical work. Although this novel contains some fantastic elements, this autobiographical stuff keeps it grounded and makes the weirdness all the more discomforting.

And the weirdness here is quite weird. The antagonist of the book is Thibaut de Castries, the author of Megapolisomancy: A New Science of Cities, a book about the supernatural power of large cities and their buildings. I found this idea quite Ballardian, not in the sense that Ballard was also fascinated with architecture but in the pairing of two seemingly disparate concepts. (De Castries links occult forces with architecture in a similar way to how Ballard links sex and car crashes.) It was cool to come across an idea as strange as this in a fantasy/horror novel.

I don’t have a huge amount else to say about this book. It’s a classic of weird fiction, and you should read it if you haven’t already.  An earlier version of the story was published as The Pale Brown Thing in Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, and I read yesterday that Leiber considered this an alternative telling of the same tale rather than just an earlier draft. Swan River Press published an edition of this version in 2016, but it’s long sold out. It would be cool if somebody could upload scans of the original printing to the internet. I’d be delighted to read another version of this story.

Daughters of the Devil – Charles LeFebure

daughters of the devil lefebure.jpgDaughters of the Devil – Charles LeFebure
1971 – Ace Books

The blurb on the back of this book describes its contents as “true stories of unparalleled sadistic erotica”. The front cover claims that it contains “Chilling accounts of fourteen women who used their terrifying powers of Darkness and Evil to inflict Pain for Pleasure!” It’s called Daughters of the Devil, for Christ’s sake. Can you imagine my delight when I found a copy of it for 5 dollars?

I mean, realistically, the book was shit, and I had known exactly what to expect. A few years ago, I read a book called The Devil’s Own by Peter Robson, and I had the feeling that this would be very similar. I just checked my copy of that book, and unsurprisingly, it was put out by the same publisher, Ace Books. After rereading my review of that book, I’m surprised at how similar it is to Daughters of the Devil. Charles LeFebure wrote two other books for Ace, Blood Cults and Witness to Witchcraft, and I reckon it’s safe to assume they’re the same kind of crap.

The chilling accounts in here are very sensational, and rarely convincing. Some of them are about real people, but I can’t find any evidence for the others. (This was my same complaint when I read The Devil’s Own.) When I googled some of the names in here, the only result I found was somebody else who had read this book complaining about the same lack of evidence.

I’m going to briefly describe each of the accounts in here in case anyone is interested.

  1. A girl gets involved in a Satanic cult. They have orgies and sacrifice a fetus during a black mass. This account references Crowley, H.T.F. Rhodes and the Abbé Guiborg’s Black Mass. It wasn’t believable, but it was a pretty good start to the book.
  2. Carletta Pantucci and her Daughters of Isis were a weird cult of lesbians that bred babies that they intended to raise as virgin cultists. They told the future by bloodletting women’s groins.
  3. There was a weird convent where nuns were crucified and whipped by a perverted priest and made to watch him fuck their Mother Superior. This was all done in the name of Christ.
  4. Caroline Langley, a one time friend of Aleister Crowley, commits acts of black magic, sometimes to kill people. I can find no evidence of Crowley ever knowing a Caroline Langley.
  5. A six month old curséd baby poisons a boy with witchcraft and the boy’s hand is amputated.
  6. Obango, the “Ga witch” from Ghana, bled ate and killed victims, 15 of whom were related to her. Ga witches have sex with animals.
  7. Annie Palmer, the rich voodoo priestess decapitated some of her slaves and raped others with snakes. (This one has some basis in fact.)
  8. Gdoma, an ugly Asian witch, coerces young people into sexing each-other up. LeFebure claims she’s very evil, but she doesn’t sound that bad really.
  9. Some Mexican woman ran a sex school for children in her house. She killed two abusive husbands.
  10. Caterina Sforza, a real Renaissance woman, is here described as ,’the most wicked woman of all time’.
  11. A Chinese child sex-slave grows up to start her own brothel in which random johns are taken to the secret rooms downstairs and tortured to death. The events in this story allow for no possible way that anyone could ever discover what had happened – there could be no evidence – but somehow the author is able to tell the tale. The lady died without any trial or case against her. It’s a cool story even if it’s completely fabricated.
  12. I got a bit into this one before I realised that I had actually heard it, or at least a version of it, before. It’s the story of Edward Arthur Wilson, the mysterious Brother XII, and his Madame Zee. Plenty of the details listed here are entirely false, but Lefebure’s fabrications don’t actually make the story any more interesting than it really is. I have another book on Brother XII that I have been meaning to read for a long time. I’ll definitely come back to Lefebure’s account when I get around to that one.
  13. Charlotte Gilbert leads a cult that worships cats and ritually sacrifices dogs because they are cat’s natural enemies. Her cult is a breakaway of the Glastonbury Essenes, a real order that supposedly worships aliens.
  14. The last account is of Catherine Deshayes (La Voisin), the abortionist and satanist involved in the Affair of the Poisons. This is the sensational account you’d expect.

 

Most of these stories contain little truth, and none of them are erotic. There is a fair bit of sadism though. This book is made up of descriptions of horrible women that probably never existed. The titles of this author’s other books sound very good, but they’re surely of the same quality. I’ll buy them if I ever see them for very cheap, but I wouldn’t be bothered hunting them down.

Six Ghost Stories – Montague Summers

 

summers six ghost stories.jpgSix Ghost Stories – Montague Summers
Snuggly Books – 2019

A few months ago, I got an email from my pal Sandy Robertson telling me that Snuggly Books were going to release a collection of short fiction by Montague Summers. I have long been aware that Monty had written a collection of short stories, but I knew that only a couple of these stories had ever actually been published and that it was difficult to find affordable copies of the books wherein these tales were collected. I’m a big fan and collector of the occult-related non-fiction books written and translated by Monty, and I am also a big fan of short horror fiction, so you will believe that I was very excited to hear that Monty’s ghost stories were finally being published. I ordered this collection for my birthday and read it last week.

20191130_224224This is the note from Timothy d’Arch Smith’s bibliography of Summers where I first read of these fabled fables.

These six stories lived up to my expectations. They are mostly about people who some acquire some kind of peculiar haunted object that brings about visions and specters. The obvious comparison to make is to M.R. James, who apparently had the chance to read and commend these tales. Incidentally, Montague Summers, the man, has always reminded me of the characters in James’s tales.

The writing in here isn’t what you might expect if you have only read Summers’ books on witchcraft. There’s some very long sentences, but Monty seems self-aware when he’s being verbose, and this comes across as charming rather than tedious. My biggest criticism is probably that the tone of some of these stories remains too light-hearted for too long. Everything will be going fine and dandy for all of the characters, and then a ghost will jump out and scare a person to death right at the very end of the story.

My favourite tale in here was The Grimoire. This one has been previously published in different texts, and it’s not hard to see why it was chosen above the others. It’s the story of a bibliophile whose local dealer procures him an aged book of sinister black magic. When the collector translates a passage from this heinous tome, scary things start happening. (I can’t help but wonder if Sam Raimi read this tale before writing Evil Dead.) This one was particularly cool because it feels like Summers, an expert on books about black magic, could be the narrator.

While not all terribly original, these stories are competent, fun and generally pretty satisfying. I read one each night after my family had gone to bed, sipping a cup of peppermint tea and hearing the cold November breeze blowing through the willow trees our garden. It was great. I suggest you enjoy these tales in a similar manner.

These stories are entertaining in and of themselves, but there’s something very exciting about reading a collection of tales that were believed to be lost for more than half a century. Summers’ old manuscripts went missing shortly after he died in 1948, and they were only unearthed a few years ago. Snuggly Books put out this collection in October (I think this is the only book from 2019 that I’ll have reviewed in 2019.), and they are planning to put out a second volume of Summers’ fiction early next year. This collection will include a novella titled The Bride of Christ. Sign me up!

Secret Magic Spells of the Romany Gypsies and Fascination – A Feast of Finbarr

I was pretty lazy with reading this week, so here’s a post on two more awful magical pamphlets from Finbarr Publications, publisher of the worst magical texts ever printed.

secret magic spells of the romany gypsiesSecret Magic Spells of the Romany Gypsies – C. McGiolla Cathain & M. McGrath
Finbarr -1993

Secret Magic Spells of the Romany Gypsies purports to be a collection of authentic gypsy spells for love, money and revenge. It’s a load of shit. All of the spells in here look something like this:

For this spell, all you need is a green candle and a picture of your true love. First, thoroughly rub the tip of the candle against your anus. Then Light the candle and let some of the wax drip on the photograph while uttering the following incantation;

“Tweedly diddly fiddly dum,
Fiddeldy diddeldy widdeldy wee,
Boomboom bumbum bambam bum
So mote it be”

You will marry your true love within a month.

The spells take up roughly half of the text. The rest is made up of anecdotes of these spells being used succesfully. I’ve noticed a similar approach in quite a few other books from Finbarr publications, but the stories in here are particularly unconvincing. One of the characters is referred to only as “B.S.”. I can’t shake the feeling that this was the authors cryptically confessing to feeding their audience complete and utter bullshit.

 

fascination master count de leonFascination – Master Count de Leon
Finbarr – 2015

Fascination is the shortest pamphlet I’ve read from Finbarr, and it’s probably the most absurd. The actual text is barely 7 pages long. The first 5 of these pages are spent praising Adolph Hitler, and the last 2 describe a ritual that you can use to become more like Adolph. The ritual consists of wagging your dick at your reflection in a mirror while muttering your own name exactly 99 times. Seriously. I’m not even joking. That’s all this book contains. It suggests that Hitler himself performed this ritual.

This is obviously a noteworthy magical offering, but I don’t feel much need to comment any further on it. If you think I’ve exaggerated about its contents, read it for yourself – the text is easy to find online.

The Black Books of Elverum

the black books of elverum.jpgThe Black Books of Elverum – Mary Rustad
Galde Press – 1999

In the 1970s, Mary Rustad, a lady in Norway, was looking through the farmhouse that she had recently moved into. This house had belonged to her family for centuries, and it was filled with old junk. She found two curious books in a box in the attic. When she opened them, she realised that they were books of magic spells, compiled or collected by her ancestors. The books supposedly date from the late 1700s/early 1800s, and research proved that several of Mary’s ancestors had been involved in a witchcraft trial in the 1600s. It seems as though witchcraft ran in her family. These books were the real deal, forgotten grimoires of black magic. The Black Books of Elverum is a translation of these two handwritten grimoires.

lucifer elverum.jpgThis cool picture of Lucifer is included, but I don’t think it’s from the actual grimoires.

The spells in here seem pretty silly. Some are appeals to Jesus, others are appeals to demons, but some are just recipes or instructions that don’t have any spiritual element. (The ones on how to abort a fetus basically just tell the woman to drink a bunch of poison.) These books offer insight into the fears, customs and beliefs of Norwegian farmers, and I reckon they’re of more interest to historians than they are to occultists. Who needs a spell to make themselves horny in an age when viagra and internet porn are so readily available?

spell to make yourself horny.jpg(Just in case your wifi is down)

Some of the spells in here are very specific. There are two to be used against a thief who leaves his turd behind him after he has carried out a burglary. This is really convenient when you want to send the Devil out after the miscreant who shit on your carpet and nicked your telly.

There’s instructions on how to find witches in here. The curious are to go to a church on certain nights during the year and to wait near the church bells. Witches are apparently quite fond of gnawing church bells with their teeth, and will take any opportunity to do so. I had never heard of this before, but when I looked it up, I found a book that claims that this odd belief was also held in parts of Sweden. Witches were supposed to bite off bits of church bells to use in their potions. Jesus, I hope they had a good dentist.

This was a pretty cool book. It’s presented well, and the material is very interesting. It contains scans of original texts, and there’s an appendix recounting the 1625 court case against Ingeborg Økset, Rustad’s ancestor. The whole thing is pretty short too, so it doesn’t take long to get through. If you’re interested in Norwegian folk magic, you should definitely read this book.