Thursday, July 27, 2017

Review: Gwendy's Button Box

Gwendy's Button Box Gwendy's Button Box by Stephen King
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

When Gwendy Peterson meets a mysterious man in black on top of Suicide Stairs, he gives her the button box. One lever gives her a candy, one lever gives her a silver dollar, and the buttons give only death...

I've been a Constant Reader for a long time. This showed up on my BookGorilla email one morning and I gave it a shot. The writing was vintage King. It felt like putting on a favorite T-shirt.

Castle Rock and a character with the initials RF are back! A middle schooler winds up with a device of unimaginable power and with great power, everybody now, comes great responsibility. Gwendy's Button Box is a coming of age tale. Gwendy Peterson goes from middle school to high school with a monkey on her back in the shape of a box studded with eight buttons and two levers.

In some ways, the story reminded me of that Richard Matheson Twilight Zone episode that later became the movie The Box. Giving Gwendy the button box sounds like a fantastic act of destructive mischief on behalf of King's go-to bad guy. As I wolfed down the pages like a hungry billybumbler, I envisioned the horrors that were sure to wait for me at the end of the book.

Yeah, there was an ending but it wasn't the one I was picturing or anything near that Path of the Beam. It was letdown, not unlike the ending of The Colorado Kid. Lots of build up with not much of a payoff in this Constant Reader's opinion. While King's high up in my pantheon of writers, he's not lofty enough for me to pretend I enjoyed the last 10%. 3.5 out of 5.

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Sunday, July 23, 2017

Review: Tormentor

Tormentor Tormentor by William Meikle
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When Jim Greenwood moves to the Isle of Skye to start a new life after his wife's death, he has the misfortune of buying a house with a dark past. Will Jim meet the same fate as the previous owners?

Tormentor is the story of a house with a troubled past and the man who has the misfortune of trying to make a new life there. While I've read two other haunted house stories by William Meikle, Broken Sigil and Pentacle, this one was like neither.

It started simply, with a smudge of soot on the wall. The other islanders are pretty tight-lipped about the house but Jim gradually pieces things together, his grip on sanity loosening in the process.

This one is a slow burn, as much about island life and Jim's adjustments as it was about a man tormented by the entity living in his house, although torment might be a strong word for it.

The isolation of living on an island, coupled with it happening during winter, give the tale a lot of atmosphere. I kept wondering what the hell Jim was going to do next and what was going on behind the scenes.

I wasn't terribly fond of the ending but it was a gripping read while it lasted. Remind me not to buy a house on a Scotish island any time soon. Four out of five stars.

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Friday, July 21, 2017

Review: Doctor Who Roleplaying Game

Doctor Who Roleplaying Game Doctor Who Roleplaying Game by Cubicle 7
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It's been at least 15 years since I played a tabletop RPG, not that I haven't thought about it. When a Humble Bundle popped up for the Doctor Who RPG and 16 additional supplements for only $15, I figured it might be time to jump back in.

First off, the book is gorgeous. It's packed with photos from the 12th Doctor's adventures. The font and color choices of the text make it very readable.

Like a lot of roleplaying games, the book starts with an intro to roleplaying for noobs and then goes into a brief overview of The Doctor and his universe. A sample encounter is given to show an example of play.

The next chapter is all character creation, namely attributes, skills, and traits. It also asks the age old question "Who gets to play the Doctor?" I plan on having the Doctor be an NPC so I get to play him! Take that, players! Anyway, character creation is based on points so there will be a level playing field. Good traits give you advantages, bad traits give you disadvantages but also an additional character point. There are story points that let you alter a situation to your advantage.

The third chapter is about actually playing the game. The rules are pretty light. Roll a couple dice, add some attributes, compare to a number. The wider the margin of success or failure, the more dramatic the results. Combat is pretty lethal, which will encourage more Doctor Who-like adventures and less D&D style monster bashes. There are also stats for equipment and things of that nature.

Next is a chapter all about time travel, like paradoxes and other timey-wimey things, like Timelords, TARDISes, and other things that begin with the letter 'T'. Creatures are up next, complete with a section on aliens as player characters. Running the game and sample adventures round things out, along with an appendix of character sheets for The Doctor, Clara, and other.

It's a lot of material to digest but, as I already stated, the rules are pretty light. It looks like an easy game to teach someone. Also, there are archetypes in the appendix so people wouldn't have to start from square one when creating characters. I think the rules serve the setting well and I could see running a campaign using them. The book only covers the first season of the 12th Doctor, though, so some people might find something to complain about.

I'm not totally committed to attempting to run a Doctor Who campaign but I'm more excited about tabletop RPGs than I have been in years. Four out of five stars.


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Saturday, July 15, 2017

Review: The Dunfield Terror

The Dunfield Terror The Dunfield Terror by William Meikle
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When a strange glowing fog descends on a Newfoundland town, Frank and the rest of the snow plow crew try to save their neighbors. But what does the fog have to do with a bizarre experiment on the Dunfield in the 1950s?

In the chaos that ensued during the tribulations at DarkFuse, this went on sale and I snapped it up. I passed on it when it showed up on Netgalley, thinking it was a pastiche of HP Lovecraft's The Dunwich Horror. I was wrong.

You can see the confusion, though. It doesn't take much to get from Dunwich to Dunfield and William Meikle has written his share of Lovecraftian tales. However, this was more of an homage to The Colour Out of Space by way of the The Philadelphia Experiment.

The story is told in two threads: the present day and the time of the Dunfield experiment and its aftermath. The parallel structure does a lot to enhance the dread. If scientists couldn't contain the fog, how the hell can a crew of snowplow drivers?

Frank and his neighbors have been haunted by "the fucker" for decades, a glowing fog that warps and kills anything it touches. When the fog shows up during a blizzard, things go south in a hurry. The isolated townsfolk drop like flies and Frank knows there is very little any of them can do. The juxtaposition of the blizzard with the fog makes for some tense moments, pitting otherworldly horror and the everyday horror of death by exposure or frostbite.

The experimental thread focused on the horrors of the unknown and things men wasn't meant to know. The weird tech reminded me of Pentacle, making me think it probably takes place in the same universe, and also The Fold and 14. I also thought it was great how Meikle used The Philadelphia Experiment for the basis of a horror novel.

I feel like I've come to the William Meikle party late but I'm here for the duration now. Four out of five stars.

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Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Review: Fairy Lights

Fairy Lights Fairy Lights by Edward Lorn
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

What evil lurks on Palomar Mountain? Tony, Bobby, and Tony's mother are going to find out the hard way...

Most horror readers on Goodreads are familiar with Edward Lorn. Easy E is a good guy and doesn't come across as a complete asshat like a lot of authors. When DarkFuse hit the skids and dropped the price on a lot of their ebooks, my choice was made for me.

People fear the unknown and the wilderness represents the great unknown to a lot of people. Fairy Lights plays on those fears. A homicidal feral rapist doesn't help matters...

Fairy Lights was originally serialized on the DarkFuse website. While its roots show in places, I think the original format contributes to the horror. You never know who Lorn is going to introduce so he can kill them off in a brutal fashion a couple chapters later.

Bobby and Tony were well-realized characters. I hate when teenagers in books don't talk anything like real teens. I always think Ed does a good job with teenage dialogue and angst. Moss, as far as feral rapists go, was fairly detailed. I wouldn't mind knowing how The Handy trained him, though.

The Handy was hinted at for most of the story but only shown a couple times near the end, which I think was a good move. Once you see a monster enough times, it's not scary anymore. I'm looking in your direction, Predator II.

Fairy Lights was an entertaining read from an entertaining guy. As always, the Lorn delivers. Four out of five stars.


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Saturday, July 8, 2017

Review: Uptown Death Squad

Uptown Death Squad Uptown Death Squad by Nick Cato
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

When Ronald Washington III returned to his old neighborhood after five years in Vietnam, he just wanted to relax for a while, get laid, and try to get back to normal life. But when his mother is murdered because of his brother's mistake, Big Ron is going to get answers the only way he knows how!

I'm a big fan of 70s funk music so I've watched a few blaxploitation movies in my day, mostly for the soundtracks. When this came up on my Amazon recommendations one day, I decided to take the plunge.

Uptown Death Squad is an homage to the blaxploitation films of the 1970's. Big Ron kicks ass on whitey with the power of a hundred Shafts and Dolomites. For the most part, it's a pretty linear revenge tale with Ron and company dealing out violence on the dirty Eye-Talians that are invading their neighborhood.

Nick Cato's love for the subject matter is abundantly clear on every page. It's a fun, violent story but that's pretty much all it is. It doesn't stray into spoof territory, like Black Dynamite, but doesn't break any new ground either. While I enjoyed it, it feels like a distillation of quite a few blaxploitation movies without a whole lot of originality to it. Three out of five stars.

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Friday, July 7, 2017

Review: Pentacle

Pentacle Pentacle by William Meikle
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When John, the concierge of a haunted boarding house, hears something in the basement, he goes down to investigate and finds tapes left by the previous man to hold his post. As he listens to the tapes, he's horrified to find the exact events on the tapes unfolding around him...

Broken Sigil was my first William Meikle book and this book is part of the same mythology: creepy ass houses that draw troubled people to them, people who bear sigils carved into their flesh.

This one is all suspense, glimpses at the horrors from beyond that threaten to break through into our world. It's all John can do to keep the house in order, much less fix whatever has caused things to come unraveled. As with a lot of great horror, Meikle provides enough hints for readers to fill in the blanks and supply a lot of the really horrible shit themselves.

Pentacle reminded me of 14 a bit, probably because of the mysterious setting and the contraption in the basement. I really like the mythology Meikle is building on here and plan to track down the related works at some point.

In a time where I can't seem to find enough time to read, William Meikle has proved time and time again that I can count on him for a solid story every time. 4.5 out of 5 stars.

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