Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Review: Burnt Offerings

Burnt Offerings Burnt Offerings by Robert Marasco
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

When the Rolfe family finds a beach house for the summer for only $900, it seems too good to be true. And it is, for the house seems to be exerting its influence on Marian, Ben, and their son David. Will the Rolfe family head back to Brooklyn before it's too late?

Chalk another one up to Paperbacks from Hell: The Twisted History of '70s and '80s Horror Fiction. This one caught my eye when I was perusing that sacred text one day and I eventually took the plunge.

Burnt Offerings is a slow-burn haunted house store, emphasis on the slow. The tortoise-like pace was a little frustrating for awhile. Also, it's very much rooted in the 1970s, from Marion being a mostly compliant house wife to some rapey moments from Ben, which seems to be a lot more commonplace in 70s fiction than it should be. It's one of Stephen King's inspirations for The Shining, and it shows. Most of the gripes I had with The Shining are here as well.

Now that I have my gripes out of the way early, I wound up enjoying the book once the pace picked up. The creepy atmosphere is very well done, starting with subtle bits of weirdness and eventually going full tilt.

Would you take a tray of food to an unseen ancient woman once a day to live in your dream house for a couple months? How far would you go for your dreams? These are the questions posed by Burnt Offerings. "If something looks too good to be true, it probably is" is probably the core message. I thought I knew which of the Rolfe's would go off the rails first but I was wrong.

The last 25% was pretty fantastic. If the rest of the book had been up to that standard, it would have been an easy four stars. As it stands, it had to work pretty hard to earn three from me. As always, your mileage may vary. If The Shining was to your liking, you might like this more than I did.

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Sunday, March 11, 2018

Review: The Summer Job: A Satanic Thriller

The Summer Job: A Satanic Thriller The Summer Job: A Satanic Thriller by Adam Cesare
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

When Claire takes a job at a hotel in a sleepy Massachusetts town, she gets more than she bargained for, with wild parties in the woods and a murderous cult lurking in the shadows...

I'm pretty sure this one was on sale when I got it, part of one of my daily cheap-o ebook emails. Adam Cesare is a pretty reliable horror writer for me.

After falling on rough times, Claire takes a summer job in a small town and things quickly go to hell in a wheelbarrow. The hotel is the base of operations of a satanic cult and the group rallying around a prophet in the woods isn't much better. What's a girl to do when she doesn't know who to trust?

The Summer Job reminded me of the movie The House of the Devil, although with a lot more dimension to it. If not for the cellphones and computers, it could have easily taken place during the Satanic Panic of the late 70s and early 80s. There's a paranoid feel to it at times and it's pretty obvious that everyone in town is a shithead of some degree. The burned, blind priest who has some mystery role in things made me think of The Sentinel, which I didn't really enjoy, but I liked his role here.

I enjoyed reading this book but it was never a drop-everything-and-put-my-life-on-hold kind of read. It was one of those books where the main character should have gotten the hell out of town instead of waiting around like an idiot for more bad shit to happen. However, I really enjoyed it when eventually Claire womaned up to settle some shit.

The Summer Job was a fun read but not as enjoyable as Video Night or Exponential. Three out of five stars.

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Friday, March 9, 2018

Review: Educated: A Memoir

Educated: A Memoir Educated: A Memoir by Tara Westover
My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

When a girl raised on a mountain in Idaho by her survivalist fundamentalist Mormon family sets foot in a classroom for the first time at the age of 17, how will things turn out? Can she ever escape the past?

Yeah, I made that sound like one of the sleazy thrillers I'm fond of but Educated is a memoir, not a potboiler. I don't normally read memoirs but I decided to take Random House up on their offer when they came knocking.

Educated is the story of Tara Westover's childhood on Buck's Peak, a mountain in Idaho, and her eventual leaving the mountain behind to pursue and education. It doesn't sound very interesting when you say it like that but her upbringing was crazy. Raised by a anti-government survivalist and fundamentalist Mormon father, Tara's early life was anything but ordinary: little education other than learning to read, being nearly worked to death in the scrapyard by her father, tormented by her probably-schizophrenic brother, not even sure of her own birthday. And then she decides to go to college...

The first third of the book was pretty bleak. I kept forgetting it wasn't a work of fiction and wanted to see a couple people dead in the snow. Once Tara goes to college, it's her against her family's beliefs. We all know how hard people cling to beliefs, just look at the ongoing debate on who the best captain of the Enterprise was. Even though it's pretty clear that it's Jean-Luc Picard.

Tara's journey was a trip back and forth through the labyrinth of her family's beliefs and a conflict between her desire to belong and the desire for more than just being someone's wife on a mountain. One thing I quite liked was that she never dragged her family's Mormon beliefs through the mud even though it would have been the easiest thing in the world for her to do and pretty understandable given everything it cost her.

Parts of the book are heartbreaking and it makes the end that much more satisfying. Tara getting her PhD despite where she came from and what it cost her makes me think I've probably squandered some of the opportunities I've been given over the years. 4.5 out of 5 stars.

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Saturday, March 3, 2018

Review: Zombie Bigfoot

Zombie Bigfoot Zombie Bigfoot by Nick Sullivan
My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

When a scientist, a reality show survivalist, and an expedition funded by an eccentric billionaire go into a remote forest looking for Bigfoot, they get more than the bargained for, for this Bigfoot is undead and hungers for human flesh!

Nick Sullivan hit me recently up to review some audio books he'd narrated. I don't do audio books but he seemed cool so I offered to review Zombie Bigfoot despite it going against my No Zombies policy.

Zombie Bigfoot is a creature feature combining zombies and a troop of Sasquatch for a lot of flesh-eating mayhem. It wound up being better than I was anticipating. Some creature features unveil the threat too early and then it's a lot of us against the creatures, which gets old after a while. This one unfolded a lot more organically and had some meat to it.

Sara Bishop is driven to prove Bigfoot exists and exonerate her father, who died in disgrace after a harrowing encounter with a Bigfoot years earlier. The rest of the humans were an interesting mix - a TV survivalist, a Native American tracker, some world class big game hunters, and a billionaire with a bottomless wallet. However, the troop of Sasquatch provided for some oddly touching moments.

The story goes in the route you'd expect with a title like Zombie Bigfoot but it's a fun, gore-slicked trail to travel. When a Zombie Bigfoot gets the munchies, no brains or entrails are safe.

The writing was workmanlike at first but I felt like Nick got comfortable and really cut loose in the second half, the writing getting a lot more colorful. I could tell he was having fun writing about people getting torn apart by a ravenous Sasquatch. I caught myself getting attached to Littlefoot and Brighteyes. A few times I thought "You'd better not kill the good Sasquatches, you asshole!"

Zombie Bigfoot was a fun read and a notch above a lot of the creature features out there. 3.5 out of 5 stars.

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Thursday, March 1, 2018

Review: Unbury Carol

Unbury Carol Unbury Carol by Josh Malerman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Carol Evers suffers from a bizarre condition: at times of stress, she lapses into a coma that closely resembles death, only she can hear what's going on around her. Now she's in one of her comas and her husband is planning on burying alive. The only man that can save her is a notorious outlaw that ran from her and her condition years ago, James Moxie...

Josh Malerman is all the rage these days. What better way to give him a shot than a Netgalley ARC of his upcoming book!

Unbury Carol takes place in a period not unlike the 1890s. It has a distinctively western feel but I don't think any of the places are real. Carol suffers from a weird condition that makes me think that if he doesn't suffer from sleep paralysis, Josh Malerman has at least read up on it. As someone who suffers the occasional bout of sleep paralysis, that's sure what it reminded me of. Carol calls the dark place she goes to Howltown, since she can only hear the hoarse sound of her own breathing. Creepy, huh?

The story is a race against time, with James Moxie hauling ass from Mackatoon to save his long lost love from being buried alive in Harrows, all the while with a hitman on his trail. It started a little slow but things got pretty hectic. The writing was good but nothing earth-shattering. I'd say the ever-building suspense was the star of the Wild West show.

Dwight Evers was a worm and Smoke was a psychotic arsonist, making for a pair of villains whose hash I couldn't wait to see settled. Moxie was a driven man seeking to put things right before it was too late. Still, Carol was the most interesting character, even though she just laid there, comatose but listening, for most of the book. Carol being helpless but aware made me feel claustrophobic at times. The ending was extremely satisfying. I would have done a "Yes!" with a fist pump but I had a couple sleeping cats to consider.

Unbury Carol was one hell of a gripping read. I'll be reading more Josh Malerman in the future. Four out of five stars.

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Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Review: Crazy Like A Fox: The Definitive Chronicle of Brian Pillman 20 Years Later

Crazy Like A Fox: The Definitive Chronicle of Brian Pillman 20 Years Later Crazy Like A Fox: The Definitive Chronicle of Brian Pillman 20 Years Later by Liam O'Rourke
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Crazy Like a Fox is the biography of wrestler Flyin' Brian Pillman.

As I've mentioned in other reviews, I've been a wrestling fan through most of my life. I knew of Brian Pillman but didn't see him wrestle until my family got cable sometime around 1991. WCW as a whole didn't impress me but I liked Brian Pillman, particularly his matches with Jushin Liger a year or two later. Anyway, when I heard about this book, I knew I had to read it.

The first thing I noticed was the writing style, more of a journalistic style than most wrestling books. Let's face it, the only time you normally notice the writing in a wrestling book it's because it's terrible. Quite the opposite here.

Actually, content-wise, the book failed my litmus test of not getting to the wrestling part by the 15% mark but that was actually an asset in this case. Most wrestlers predictably come to the industry via the failed jock route. Pillman had it rough coming up, born with throat polyps that threatened his life and his voice, and determined to succeed at football despite being undersized.

Once Pillman started training at the Hart brothers' school, things caught fire. I was glued to the book, reading it in two sittings. I was so enrapt that I bought the ebook so I could sneak read it at work even though I had the physical book sitting at home.

The book is packed with road stories and behind the scenes machinations that I won't spoil here. Suffice to say, the sheer number of times WCW missed the boat on Brian was nauseating. A few times I caught myself getting excited about prospective angles, forgetting that they never came to fruition. So many missed opportunities. I couldn't help but imagine a WCW with Brian Pillman as a headliner instead of the old guard or Brian going to the WWF healthy.

The Loose Cannon parts were some of my favorites. I was watching wrestling heavily at the time but there was still stuff I missed. There were also some stories of an adult nature that would never be included in a book put out by the WWE!

Since Brian has been gone for 20+ years at this point, the stories were cobbled together from interviews with the people who knew him. There's a palpable sadness, especially toward the end, since I knew how things were going to end. In fact, I was at In Your House: Badd Blood in 1997 when Brian's death was announced. Pillman's wife's behavior regarding the memorial shows in his honor were an extra turd in the shit sandwich.

The book ends on a hopeful note at least, with Brian Pillman Jr going into the business to pick up where his father left off.

For the longest time, Larry Matysik's Wrestling at the Chase: The Inside Story of Sam Muchnick and the Legends of Professional Wrestling was my measuring stick for a wrestling book. Now, it's this one. Five out of five stars.

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Saturday, February 24, 2018

Review: Slowly We Rot

Slowly We Rot Slowly We Rot by Bryan Smith
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Noah lives by himself in a cabin in the mountains in the waning days of the zombie apocalypse. When he's forced out of his idyllic nest, what will the world hold for him? What happens in a world ravaged by a zombie plague when most of the zombies are gone?

As I stated in my review for The Rising, I thought I was over zombies until recently. After The Rising, I was hungry for another bite. When Brian Keene tweeted that Slowly We Rot was only 99 cents, I pounced on it like flesh eaters on a bunch of hapless teenagers.

"So what happens to the survivors?" seems to be the theme of Slowly We Rot. Noah is wrenched out of his mountain paradise and decides to go searching for the girl who got away. It has some thematic similarities to The Rising but it's a much deeper book.

Slowly We Rot is a book about dealing with substance abuse almost as much as it is one about dealing with the everyday menaces of a zombie apocalypse. It took awhile for Noah's backstory to unfold. By the time I understood the scope of his addiction, he was far away from home, too far to turn back. I understood things weren't as they seemed past a certain point but not the depths of which Bryan Smith had hoodwinked me up to that point.

In my eyes, Smith crafted a pretty accurate account of what would happen in the dying days of humanity after the zombies die off, from the scavenging to people being utter crapheads to each other. It's the uncertainty of what was real and what wasn't that really docks Slowly We Rot a star. The break from reality took me out of the story. Somewhere around the 75% mark, my enthusiasm wore off. While I enjoyed the latter part of the book, the previous 75% was five star material.

That's about all I have to say, I guess. For a zombie book that didn't have all that much zombie action in it, Slowly We Rot is a pretty great read. Four out of five stars.

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