Friday, December 30, 2016

Review: Uprooted

Uprooted Uprooted by Naomi Novik
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A wizard called The Dragon watches over the valley from his tower. Once every ten years, he takes a girl from the valley as tribute. When he picks a girl named Agnieszka, he gets more than he bargained for...

One of my takeaways from The Goodreads Summit was that Uprooted was a guaranteed five star read. It didn't quite hit that high for me but it was a damn good read.

I didn't know until the acknowledgements that this was based on a Slavic folktale, though I suspected it was linked to Baba Yaga, the witch with the dancing hut I knew from mythology and, of course, playing Dungeons and Dragons. That it's based on a folk tale made sense since it immediately evoked the same feelings as other fairy tale-ish reads like The Last Unicorn, The Eyes of the Dragon, and another book I'll fill in later once I remember the name of it.

I've seen people call this YA and romance but I don't really think it was either. There is a romantic element and the heroine is 17 but it's straight up fantasy if you ask me.

Anyway, Uprooted is the tale of a valley with a corrupted enchanted Wood growing in the middle of it that spawns all kinds of nastiness and expands every year. The Dragon is the self-appointed protector of the valley and one curmudgeonly son of a bitch. I loved him right away. He picks a girl named Agnieszka to come live at his tower and she proves to be quite a handful.

The Wood, the malevolent forest, is one of my favorite parts of the book. Its ever-present danger reminded me of the corelings from The Warded Man at times. The woods can be a scary place when you're by yourself. Imagine if you could be torn to shreds by giant stick-insects or trapped inside a tree forever.

Agnieszka and The Dragon don't immediately become joined at the genitals and their relationship develops pretty organically. Still, as with most stories involving someone hundreds of years old knocking boots with someone not yet in their twenties, I found it a little implausible.

Corruption is everywhere seemed to be the underlying theme. Even without the threat of the Wood and its corrupting influence, The Rosyans and Polnyans would have found a way to go to war.

The ending was great. I really liked that it wasn't the usual happily ever after affair. It left a lot of unanswered questions, as it should be. The Dragon wouldn't be nearly as interesting with all of his secrets revealed.

I liked the first half a lot better than the second half, though Novik can definitely write a large battle. All things considered, it was a damn fine book to end the year with. Four out of five stars.

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Tuesday, December 27, 2016


WasteWaste by Andrew F. Sullivan
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

On the way home from work late at night, Jamie and Moses hit a lion, nearly totaling Jamie's car. Moses comes home to find his mother missing and wanders the bleak Ontario town of Larkhill looking for her. Meanwhile, Jamie finds himself homeless and discovers a body in waste can at work...

Waste is one gritty read, the tale of two losers and their respective circles of friends in Larkhill, a dying city of filthy hotels and abandoned buildings. An undercurrent of hopelessness runs through it, making it seem like a much longer book than it is.

The dead lion turns out to be incidental, although it does bind the fates of co-workers Jamie and Moses. Jamie has a daughter with a former co-worker but little else. Moses has a circle of wannabe skinhead friends and a brain-damaged mother, former bowling champion Elvira. Throw in a couple brothers with ZZ Top beards and a power drill fetish, a drug dealer named The Lorax, and the lion's cancer-ridden owner, and Waste becomes a powerful stew of violence and despair.

The book jumps back and forth in time, showing Jamie and Moses as kids before returning to their present predicaments. Poor Connor Condom! The first half or so of the book moves really slowly and I contemplated shelving it. However, the second half was a page-turner and was almost strong enough to lift the book up to four stars.

This isn't a book with a lot of likable characters. Everyone seemed coated in blood and shit by the end. Jamie's boss was the only one that seemed like a good guy but he was probably hiding something hideous under his benign veneer, like virgin snow covering up a thousand carcasses.

Sullivan's writing was right on. I felt grimy reading part of this and he has a great eye for detail. I felt pretty tired by the end of the book.

Waste is one brutal read, part Donald Ray Pollock, part Trainspotting. Three out of five stars.

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Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Review: Brave New World

Brave New World Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In a dystopian society of genetically engineered consumers pacified by drugs and conditioning, Bernard Marx cannot seem to fit in. When he visits a Savage reservation, his eyes are opened and he brings one of the savages back to England with him...

As I continue my bleak science fiction parade toward the new year, I wonder why I've never read Brave New World before.

In Brave New World, Aldous Huxley takes on consumerism, the media, genetic engineering, recreational drugs, religion, herd mentality, individualism, and lots of other socially relevant topics, weaving them into a science fiction setting that our world resembles more every day.

The setting and society are the stars of the show in Brave New World. The people live in a caste system based on genetics, conditioned from birth and pacified by drugs, living to consume goods and take soma to forget their troubles. Free love is encouraged but free thinking is not. Bernard Max can't seem to get with the program and winds up nearly causing a revolution.

The characters are pretty secondary to the setting but it wasn't hard to feel sorry for Bernard, the square peg in a world of round holes. Even when he gets a measure of fame, he still can't manage to shake the feeling that something's wrong. John the Savage provides a nice contrast, an outsider looking in on a world everyone else sees as normal but he sees as hellish.

Huxley may not have thought so at the time but he may have been a futurist. Our culture seems to be moving in the direction of Brave New World all the time. The rampant consumerism, lowest common denominator entertainment, and herd mentality all seem a little too familiar. Is the internet our soma? Things to ponder...

There are some classics that are as hard to read as an insurance policy written in Klingon and then there are ones like this. Brave New World is very readable and not at all dense. The ideas are very easy to absorb, especially in this day and age. In these uncertain times, Brave New World is as timely as ever. Four and a half stars.

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Friday, December 16, 2016

Review: Hap and Leonard: Blood and Lemonade

Hap and Leonard: Blood and Lemonade Hap and Leonard: Blood and Lemonade by Joe R. Lansdale
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Blood and Lemonade is a collection of tales of the early days of Hap Collins, wrapped in a mosaic novel as Hap and Leonard drive around, bullshitting with Bret, Chance, and each other.

I get a lot of ARCs and it's always a treat when I get one I was dying to read anyway. How could I pass up Hap and Leonard: Blood and Lemonade?

Using Hap and Leonard driving around and telling stories as a framing device, Hap and Leonard: Blood and Lemonade is a mosaic novel about the early life of Hap Collins. Some of the stories are about Hap, some are about Hap's father and Hap just narrates. They're all told in the much-revered Joe Lansdale style.

As near as I can tell, I've only read three of the stories before, although I could be wrong about that. As a mosaic novel, Blood and Lemonade works very well and does a lot to show how Hap, and in some cases Leonard, have been shaped by the events of their early lives.

Lansdale's beer and tailgate style of storytelling gives him a unique voice and feels like it was written specifically for my ears. There is comedy, fist fights, and even some horror in the form of a ghost story, showing the depth and versatility of Lansdale's style.

While I wouldn't recommend this as a first Hap and Leonard or first Joe Lansdale book, it's definitely a worthwhile read for anyone who is a fan of Hap and Leonard. Four out of five stars.

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Thursday, December 15, 2016

Review: Flowers for Algernon

Flowers for Algernon Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

When Charlie Gordon, a mentally disabled man, undergoes an experiment to increase his intelligence, his life changes in ways he never imagined. But will the intelligence increase be permanent.

I first became aware of Flowers for Algernon when it was mentioned in an episode of Newsradio. I forgot about it until that episode of The Simpsons inspired by it, when it was discovered Homer had a crayon lodged in his brain. I'd mostly forgotten about it again until it popped up for ninety-nine cents in one of my BookGorilla emails.

Flowers for Algernon is one of those stories I wish I would have read years earlier. It's simply marvelous. It's about the nature of intelligence and how intelligence can be divisive. It's a very emotional book.

Personally, this was a very powerful book for me. For a lot of my time in school, I was way ahead of the curve and didn't really click with other kids. As Charlie's intelligence grew, eventually surpassing even the scientists that experimented on him, his feelings of isolation increased and I felt a lot of kinship toward Charlie. His difficulties fitting in were the cherry on top of the lonely sundae.

As Charlie's intelligence grew and he comprehended things from his past, it was hard not to feel sorry for him. Once he starts sliding backward, the book keeps getting more and more sad. Keyes doesn't mind kicking you in the emotional junk, that's for sure.

I love the way the book is written in periodic progress reports from Charlie. It's perfect vehicle to show his increase in intelligence and eventual decline. There were man-tears shed over the course of the book. I had to set the book down a few times to keep from sobbing in my cube.

Flowers for Algernon is one of those rare science fiction novels that transcends the genre. Five out of five stars.

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Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Review: Keller's Fedora

Keller's Fedora Keller's Fedora by Lawrence Block
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

After Dot convinces him to come out of retirement for one last job, Keller has to play detective to figure out who the client wants eliminated, his wife's lover. Only things get complicated...

At the end of the last Keller book, I was hoping Block would let his hitman for hire rest. However, now I'm glad he didn't. Keller's Fedora was a fun read.

Keller's Fedora sees Keller buy a new hat and take the train north to bump someone off, leaving his wife and daughter in New Orleans. As with all Keller tales, the joy is in his interactions with Dot and in watching Keller use his ingenuity to get the job done.

Yeah, I sure was glad to see my favorite stamp-collecting hitman again. Block's writing is as crisp as ever, as slick as blood and brains on the head of a hammer. Keller's tender side and relationships with other characters set him apart from other killers for hire.

The case proved to be a tricky one but Keller and his fedora eventually got the job done. The first killer was easy enough and Keller figured out away to clean up the complications later, as he usually does.

Keller's Fedora is quite an enjoyable novella from one of my favorite living crime writers. Four out of five stars.

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Review: Animal Farm

Animal Farm Animal Farm by George Orwell
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Under the leadership of the pigs, the animals of Manor Farm overthrow their human owner and go into business for themselves with all animals doing their part. However, some parts involve a lot less work than others and things quickly change...

I somehow managed to dodge this landmine in high school and the ensuing couple decades. However, I had a few conversations about it at work and decided it was time to give it a read.

Animal Farm is a dystopian tale of revolution and the ensuing government. According to everyone, it's an allegory of the Russian revolution of 1917. However, it could easily be an allegory of every revolution ever. Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.

The revolution happens fairly quickly. The pigs organize the other animals and send farmer Jones out on his ass. After that, the future looks bright for about fifteen minutes. Then the pigs start maneuvering against each other and fucking over the other animals. There's also scapegoating, lying, rewriting history, and all sorts of things no government today does. That was sarcasm, before anyone decides to chime in.

This is a powerful little book with many messages. Power corrupts. Communism doesn't work. Those who don't know the past are doomed to repeat it. People are dicks.

There are some classics that are as dry as a geriatric's vagina and pretty joyless to read. Other classics are fairly easy reads containing a wealth of wisdom. Animal Farm is firmly in the second camp. In today's uncertain political climate, it is definitely a must read, although it may be a case of closing the barn door after the horse has already left. Five out of five stars.

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Review: Resume Speed

Resume Speed Resume Speed by Lawrence Block
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When Bill, a man with a drinking problem and a dark past, arrives in Cross Creek, Montana, things just seem perfect. Can he settle down and forget his past long enough to start a new life or will it all catch up with him?

I got this from Net Galley.

This was one entertaining slice of noir pie. Ala mode, of course.

A drifter named Bill wanders into a Montana town and tries to start a life for himself. Will his past run him down like a beer truck with no brakes? Probably.

Lawrence Block's writing goes down as slick as a shot of Old Crow. He makes every day activities like working in a diner, going out on a date, or running from an alcohol-drenched, blood-soaked past interesting to read about.

The central message of the book seems to be "You can change your name but you can't change yourself." Or possibly "You can't run from the past." Or maybe "Librarians are hot."

It's almost cringe-worthy to see Bill sabotage himself just as things are looking good. The ending of the book makes you wonder how many times Bill has done this particular song and dance.

At this point, I should just start handing Lawrence Block my money and just stop asking questions. Four out of five stars.

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Monday, December 12, 2016

Review: God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater

God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater by Kurt Vonnegut
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The Rosewater Foundation has more money than God. When Eliot Rosewater, the current head, starts making people nervous with all his talk of redistributing wealth, Norman Mushari decides to put Eliot's sanity to test in court and reaches out to the Rhode Island branch of the Rosewater family.

Kurt Vonnegut takes on capitalism and socialism in God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater, the fourth book of his I've read. I'm still not sure how I feel about the esteemed Mr. Vonnegut. I think his writing is exceptional but his plots are all over the place.

To put things as simply as I can, Eliot Rosewater goes off his nut and finds salvation in the form of hack science fiction writer Kilgore Trout and being a volunteer firefighter in the town of Rosewater, Indiana. His generous behavior, coupled with his alcoholic lifestyle, worry his family's lawyers enough for Norman Mushari to try to hijack the Rosewater legacy out from under him. Hilarity and some convoluted antics ensue.

Like all Vonnegut novels, God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater points out the absurdities of life. In this case, generosity in a world of capitalists. Vonnegut peppers the text with pearls of wisdom, such as “There's only one rule that I know of, babies—God damn it, you've got to be kind.”

The central message of the book seems to be that in a world where more people are replaced by robots and computers every day, even people without purpose need to be loved. Soon, we'll all be in that boat. In the end, Eliot manages to stick it to the man and all is as right with the world as it can be in a Kurt Vonnegut book.

So it goes. At the end of the day, I'm not sure how I felt about this book. I liked some parts quite a bit and others just seemed like filler. It wasn't my favorite Vonnegut but it was at least as good as Galápagos. Three out of five stars.

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Saturday, December 10, 2016

Review: The Nightly Disease

The Nightly Disease The Nightly Disease by Max Booth III
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

As if Isaac's soul-crushing gig as night auditor at The God Damn Hotel wasn't bad enough, now he has to contend with two methed up shoe manufacturers, a bulimic girl, and numerous corpses.

I got this from DarkFuse via Netgalley.

Ever wonder what crazy shit goes on at a hotel during the night shift? Wonder no longer!

The Nightly Disease is the tale of Isaac, the night auditor of a hotel, and how his life spiraled out of control after one ill advised decision. It's hilarious and suspenseful and very hard to put down. MBIII has a great ear for dialogue. Isaac's friendship with George was masterfully done.

While some of the scenarios were unlikely, they were all plausible and Max wove them into a tapestry of awesomeness. Max went from the frying pan to the fire, which was actually burning in another frying pan above another fire and so on and so forth.

The feeling of desperation grew throughout the book, as did my sympathy for Isaac. By the end, I was just hoping he'd live though it.

This is a little different than the books I normally get from DarkFuse, more noir than horror, but it was a damn fine read. Max Booth III drew on his own hotel experiences and delivered one hell of a tale. Four out of five stars.

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Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Review: Ghost Walk

Ghost Walk Ghost Walk by Brian Keene
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When Ken Ripple decided to build a haunted road, The Ghost Walk, he has no idea what horror will be unleashed. Can Amish sorcerer Levi Stoltzfus stop unspeakable horror from entering the world and devouring it?

I've read a couple Brian Keene books (The Lost Level and King of The Bastards) in the past and the hints at his Labyrinth mythos grabbed my attention. So, when Ghost Walk popped up for 99 cents for one day only, my decision was made.

Ghost Walk is the tale of an evil trying to enter the world and the man trying to stop it. Levi Stoltzfus is a very compelling character, hearkening to Roland Deschain of The Dark Tower series and The Rider from Merkabah Rider: Tales of a High Planes Drifter, although he's not a ripoff of either by any means. Levi is a sorcerer who isn't afraid to get his hands dirty, as long as it's God's will, and is surprisingly heartless at times. Seriously, Levi has a lot of potential and I hope Keene has him live up to it in future books.

The menace isn't as compelling as the character but is fairly chilling since it plays on its victims' worst fears. The way Levi dealt with it seemed logical given the workings of magic in Keene's universe. There was a little gore but not near as much as Keene is known for. The writing isn't spectacular but is more than adequate for the job. While he's no Elmore Leonard, Keene's dialogue is still pretty slick, balancing the horror with humor.

I don't really have many gripes with this book. I probably should have read Dark Hollow first but I didn't feel in the dark by any means. Reading more Brian Keene and Levi Stoltzfus will be one of my 2017 priorities. Four out of five stars.

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Monday, December 5, 2016

Review: 2016 on Goodreads

2016 on Goodreads 2016 on Goodreads by Various
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

2016 was a big year for me. I read a crazy amount of books, the second highest number since I started keeping track. I joined Marvel Unlimited. Oh, and I visited Goodreads Headquarters.

While I've already written up The 2016 Dantastic Book Awards, I read many more notable books than I could work into the awards. The Black Dahlia, The Big Nowhere, Radiance, Last Days, A Pretty Mouth, and Bait were all quality reads. I discovered authors like James Renner and Hunter Shea, and read new books by old favorites like Joe Lansdale, Megan Abbott, and Tana French.

What will 2017 bring? Who the hell knows? I know I'm planning on reading less, especially less ARCs, and do a lot more writing.

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Sunday, December 4, 2016

Review: Dungeons & Drag Queens

Dungeons & Drag Queens Dungeons & Drag Queens by M.P. Johnson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

When Sleazella LaRuse, Green Bay's top drag queen, gets whisked away to another realm to marry a demi-god, she finds herself in deep trouble. What Dravor, the man who summoned her, do when he finds out she is in fact a he?

While I'd been aware of this book for years, I couldn't resist snapping it up for ninety-nine cents on Bizarro Monday.

Dungeons & Drag Queens is a fun bizarro romp featuring the most fabulous of drag queens in a D&D type fantasy realm. Sleazella struggles to keep things together while having crazy adventures, leading up to marrying a god.

MP Johnson does a good job of weaving the drag queen lifestyle into the story. It didn't feel forced to me and Sleazella was hilarious. I thought the fantasy elements left a little to be desired, though. Either some elements needed to be fleshed out or the book needed to be about thirty pages shorter. Still, Sleazella handling monsters in her own fabulous manner was a nice change of pace. The ending was pretty spectacular, as was the epilogue.

At the end of the day, I'd say I liked the character of Sleazella way more than the actual story. I don't think the tale lived up to the awesome title slapped on it. It was a fun Bizarro tale but by no means the best Bizarro book I've ever read. Three out of five stars.

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Friday, December 2, 2016

Review: Cycle of the Werewolf

Cycle of the Werewolf Cycle of the Werewolf by Stephen King
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Under the light of the full moon, a werewolf stalks the people of Tarker's Mills. Can anyone stop... The Cycle of the Werewolf?!?!?!?

I first read this in high school, younger than my dog is now. It took me a few chapters to realize that Silver Bullet was based on it. Anyway, I found it for a buck at a yard sale a couple years ago and decided I could use a reread.

Like Kemper told me while I was reading it, Cycle of the Werewolf is essentially a Stephen King calendar. Each chapter is a month out of the year the werewolf is stalking the town, accompanied by one or more of Bernie Wrightson's fantastic illustrations. Stephen King's writing is as crisp as ever. Also, he wrote this during his prime so it isn't bloated or over-written in the least.

I actually prefer the movie in this case. It has a lot more depth. Marty Coslaw doesn't show up until halfway through the book. The book and movie hit most of the same beats. I think the book might rely on Bernie Wrightson's illustrations a little too much. For the most part, it's just a collection of werewolf attacks with not a lot else going on. That being said, I did like the structure, with every chapter being a month of the werewolf's reign of terror.

While it is strictly a B-list Stephen King book, Cycle of the Werewolf is by far the best Stephen King novel ever turned into a movie starring Cory Haim and Gary Busey. Three out of five stars.

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Review: A Pretty Mouth

A Pretty Mouth A Pretty Mouth by Molly Tanzer
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A Pretty Mouth contains the tales of multiple generations of the Calapash family.

My first exposure to Molly Tanzer was Vermilion. When I learned Colleen Danzig from I Am Providence was based on her, I figured I was due to give her another look.

A Pretty Mouth is really fucked up but in the best possible ways. I was hooked from the opening story. Speaking of which, Bertie Wooster loses a bet and Jeeves has to help one of Bertie's friends, Lord Calapash, with his bathtub-bound sister, who is addicted to the secretions of a bizarre octopus. From there, the weirdness train rolls backwards, exploring the various members of the Calapash clan throughout history, all the way back to the beginning of the line in ancient Rome.

Each story is written in a different style, from the Wodehousian language of the first story, to Bronte, on down the line. The stories all have a Lovecraftian undercurrent, with the Calapash's being known for their look, not unlike the Innsmouth look. There's sex, incest, twincest, murder, sorcery, Lovecraftian horror and lots of crazy ass shit.

The homages to various Lovecraft tales were well done and didn't feel like Lovecraft pastiches alone. Molly Tanzer put her personal touch on each tale, writing in a variety of styles, bringing a freshness to the Lovecraftian subgenre.

A Pretty Mouth hit the sweet spot for me. About the only negative thing I can say about it is that I wish it was twice as long. Four out of five stars.

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Thursday, December 1, 2016

Review: The Death of the Detective

The Death of the Detective The Death of the Detective by Mark Smith
My rating: 0 of 5 stars

As I get older, I've discovered I have no problem not finishing a book.

I'm not even bothering with a teaser on this. It's supposed to be a detective story but I got 100 pages in before throwing in the towel. Nothing much happens in the first chunk of the book. It's one of the most over-written books I've ever tried to read.

I'm not a picky guy. In fact, I grade a lot of books easier than I should. However, when reading a detective story, I ACTUALLY WANT SHIT TO HAPPEN. I don't read to have every aspect of the environment or a character's life before the story described to me in great detail.

I originally put it back on the pile with the intention of reading it again but I've decided I'm too old for that shit. There are plenty of unread books on my stack that I actually look forward to reading.

Final verdict - DNF. The National Book Award can kiss my ass.

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Monday, November 28, 2016

Review: Alice

Alice Alice by Christina Henry
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

After her disastrous encounter with the Rabbit, Alice is confined to an insane asylum in the Old City. When a fire breaks out, she escapes the asylum with Hatcher, the axe-murdering inmate next door. However, the Jabberwock is on the loose as well, and to stop him, Alice will have to cross paths with the Rabbit once again...

Confession time: While I whiled away many a day playing Dungeons and Dragons, most of today's doorstop-sized fantasy novels don't hold a lot of interest for me. Alice, however, is another animal entirely.

While it has its roots in Lewis Caroll's familiar tales, Alice has a lot more in common with works like The Magicians and The Child Thief, deconstructions of older genre works. It bites like a horror novel at times and I was happy to let the bloody juices run down my chin.

Alice is not for the squeamish. She escapes the Rabbit's warren after he rapes her and soon finds herself locked up. Many figures from the earliest iterations of Alice's adventures are present and are crime bosses, many of them trafficking in women, in addition to their other vices.

The world building in Alice was exquisite, a Victorian era society where the rich live in the New City while the majority of people live in the dog eat dog world of the Old City, a world controlled by crime lords like The Walrus, Mr. Carpenter, The Caterpillar, Cheshire, and, of course, The Rabbit.

Aided by Hatcher, who may be an incarnation of The Mad Hatter, Alice goes careening through the back allies of the Old City, going up against all sorts of miscreants, discovering her birthright, and facing her darkest fears. That, and there is a shit load of violence. What more could a guy ask for?

Apart from thinking the ending was a little anti-climactic, I don't have anything bad to say about this book. It was creepy, unsettling, brutal, and a damn captivating read. It kicked a serious amount of ass and Christina Henry can come to my tea party any time. 4.5 out of 5 stars.

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Sunday, November 27, 2016

Review: The Violent Bear It Away

The Violent Bear It Away The Violent Bear It Away by Flannery O'Connor
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Francis Marion Tarwater buries his great uncle and heads to civilization to meet his uncle, the school teacher Rayber. Before his great uncle passed, he decreed that if he didn't baptize Rayber's son Bishop, Francis would. Can Rayber and the younger Tarwater fight destiny and break the elder Tarwater's hold on Francis from beyond the grave?

Flannery O'Connor sure was an upbeat person when it came to religion, wasn't she? The Violent Bear It Away is a tale of how one man's obsession took root in his entire family and ruined their lives time and time again, even after his death.

I had high hopes for the young Tarwater after the old man cashed in his chips. Unfortunately, fourteen years of living in the woods and tending a moonshine still didn't do much to prepare him for the outside world. Will he be able to shake his upbringing and find peace?

Fuck no, this is a Flannery O'Connor book, a book that tells you that clouds are lined with poison, not silver, and no matter how shitty your lot in life, things can always get a thousand times worse. I got lulled into a false sense of security a few times but should have seen the foreshadowing for what it was.

There were a couple holy shit moments near the end and while this was one bleak, powerful book, I was glad as shit that our time together was over. I wolfed it down in one sitting and I'm glad I did. I don't know that I would have felt up to finishing it otherwise.

The Violent Bear It Away is another feel good Flannery O"Connor tale of religion, revelation, and redemption. Or at least attempted redemption. 3.5 out of 5 stars.

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Saturday, November 26, 2016

Review: A Choir of Ill Children

A Choir of Ill Children A Choir of Ill Children by Tom Piccirilli
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

In the town of Kingdom Come, Thomas cares for his brothers, conjoined triplets, and for the mill, the town's only source of income. Who's kicking all the dogs? What happened to Thomas' family?

A Choir of Ill Children is a modern Southern Gothic tale, a slice in Thomas' bizarre life. To be honest, I'm not precisely sure what this was supposed to be. It reads like a collaboration between Flannery O'Connor and Donald Ray Pollock. There is a bleakness to the tale and a lot of strange shit happens. Some parts feel quite dreamlike and I'm not sure which ones actually happened.

I'm not even sure how to describe the plot. Thomas wanders from one encounter to the next and very little ever gets resolved. However, the encounters themselves are well-written and captivating. Someone's kicking all the dogs. There is lots of sex and violence, and mystery mute woman who is either eleven years old or twenty. There are witches, a preacher that speaks in tongues, and the Holy Order of the Flying Wallendas. And much more. Some things are best experiences for yourself.

As I said before, I thought the writing was great and Piccirilli's depictions of the grotesque are very well done. There are some scenes that will stick with me for a long time. Hell, I enjoyed the shit out of it despite being lost in the swamp a few times as to what was actually happening.

Overall, I liked this book and I'll be tracking down more of Tom Piccirilli's work. I enjoyed it even if I'm not sure what the hell actually happened. Three out of five stars.

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Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Review: Cujo

Cujo Cujo by Stephen King
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

When a two hundred pound St. Bernard goes rabid, no one is safe! Who will fall to Cujo before the disease he carries finishes him off?

I'm just going to come out and say it. Most of this book feels like filler to me. I think King took what was potentially an award winning tale of terror and jammed as much padding into it as he could until it was one of his shorter novels. Basically, it's a fantastic short story wrapped in a soap opera I couldn't give two shits about.

That being said, Cujo is a really powerful book in places. While I didn't care about a lot of things on the periphery, the core of it is pretty terrifying and heart-wrenching. No one wants their beloved family pet to turn on them and a rabid dog trapping a woman and her child in a car for DAYS is damn horrifying. As opposed to most of his menaces, Cujo is all too plausible.

The writing is good and the ending packs a huge punch. I sure didn't see that coming. It was like being kicked in the balls after you're already lying on the ground after being shot in the heart.

While I found that there was a lot of fat on this bone, it was pretty good at the core. Or marrow, in this case. Three hard-earned stars.

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Review: Charlie the Choo-Choo: From the world of The Dark Tower

Charlie the Choo-Choo: From the world of The Dark Tower Charlie the Choo-Choo: From the world of The Dark Tower by Beryl Evans
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Charlie the Choo-Choo has a secret. He can talk! But what will happen to Charlie and Engineer Bob once Charlie is replaced by a diesel locomotive?

Straight from the pages of The Waste Lands comes Charlie the Choo-Choo, the book within a book inspired by Blaine the Mono.

The tale reminds me a lot of Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel. Charlie and Engineer Bob are great until they are heartlessly replaced but still get one more shot at glory when the chips are down.

The artwork is suitably creepy. Charlie looks like he'd gladly gnaw the heads off of any one riding him. Stephen King writes in a style that is reminiscent of children's books, although he can't stop himself from making it a little on the wordy side.

I was planning on giving this to my nephews by I may just keep it for myself, on the shelf right next to my Dark Tower books. Four out of five stars.

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Monday, November 21, 2016

Review: Cyclops Road

Cyclops Road Cyclops Road by Jeff Strand
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

With a recently deceased wife and no job, Evan's life was going nowhere until a mysterious young woman named Harriet saves him from muggers. She's lived a monastic existence, training her whole life to combat a Cyclops that lives in Arizona. Like any sensible man, Evan decides to drive her there...

I'll read pretty much anything Jeff Strand writes at this point. A road trip that may or may not have a Cyclops at the end of it? Why the hell not?

Cyclops Road is one of Jeff Strand's quirkier books, like Kumquat. Evan's at rock bottom when Harriet falls into his life. Who wouldn't want to go on a crazy hero's journey type of quest given those circumstances.

Like most of Jeff Strand's works, Cyclops Road is pretty damn hilarious. Harriet guides Evan, the unbeliever, to three other companions the prophecy dictates they find, sending them zigzagging across the country. When they finally find the Cyclops, the wheels come off the ice cream truck in dramatic fashion.

While I liked Cyclops Road, I didn't love it. It was funny but the only characters I cared about were Evan and Harriet. After such hilarious tales as Kumquat and Blister, it was probably a case of me setting the bar a little too high. Jeff Strand's still high on my list of favorite authors, though.

To sum things up, Cyclops Road is a hilarious tale of faith, destiny, renewal, and monster slaying. Three out of five stars.

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Sunday, November 20, 2016

Review: The Dover Demon

The Dover Demon The Dover Demon by Hunter Shea
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Thirty years ago, four teenagers saw a creature the newspapers named The Dover Demon. Now, people are seeing the creature again and the four people's lives are going to converge. Will any of them survive?

I think Hunter Shea and I would have a lot to talk about. There was a five year period where I was into UFOs and an even longer time when I was fascinated by cryptids. How could I not give this a shot?

The Dover Demon uses the Dover Demon sighting in 1977 as a jumping on point and runs with it. The four people who saw the creature are leading very different lives when their shared past surfaces again. Kelly is an alcoholic. Sam runs a comic book shop and has a son, Nicky. Tank and Stephanie are happily married. When Nicky and his friends go looking for the Dover Demon after reading a blog post, the apple cart gets upset in dramatic fashion.

I love what Hunter Shea has done with the Dover Demon here, tying it with lots of staples of UFO lore and linking lots of different aspects of UFO mythology. Not only that, this is one balls-squeezing read. I wolfed it down in one long sitting, occasionally making noises of surprise and/or disgust.

Shea's writing reminds me of Richard Matheson's, not overly flowery but really punchy and evocative. There's some Kingliness in it as well, although it's from the early days of Stephen King. Some of his descriptions were nauseating and the mind-bending effects of the Dover Demon(s) was pretty disorienting. Also, he has a gift for suspense. I never once felt like the characters were working with a safety net. Unless they make safety nets out of razor wire these days...

Either Hunter Shea is one of my new favorite horror writers or he had me abducted and brainwashed by aliens. Either way, 4.5 out of 5 stars.

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Friday, November 18, 2016

Review: Loch Ness Revenge

Loch Ness Revenge Loch Ness Revenge by Hunter Shea
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When she was a child, Natalie McQueen watched the Loch Ness monster kill and eat her parents. Now, she's back at the Loch to get some payback!

As I've mentioned in other reviews, I spent a lot of my pre-teen years reading about cryptozoology, although I didn't know the term for it at the time. I spent countless afternoons reading about weird monsters, usually in books written by Daniel Cohen. Hunter Shea must have read some of the same books.

Loch Ness Revenge is just what the title says it is, a bloody tale of monster-hunting and carnage. It's also a hell of a lot of fun.

Natalie, plagued by night terrors, has been wanting to get revenge on the Loch Ness Monster for most of her life. Now, with her twin brother Austin and his monster hunter friend Henrik, she gets her chance.

This book was a hell of a lot of fun. Natalie and her friends have no idea how ill-equipped they are or even the number of monsters they face. Hunter references a lot of Loch Ness lore and theories, like the debunked surgeon's photo and the ideas that Nessie is some kind of plesiosaur or new form of seal.

While there's a lot of bloodshed, there's also a good amount of humor, although never when it would detract from the horror. Shea's writing has quite a punch to it and the story never feels like it's overstaying its welcome. While it's not a long book, it was the perfect length for what it was.

This was my first Hunter Shea book and now I'll probably be reading the rest of his cryptozoological horrors. Four out of five stars.

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Monday, November 14, 2016

Review: Bait

Bait Bait by J. Kent Messum
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Six heroin addicts wake up on an island in the Florida keys with no idea who they wound up there. The only thing standing between them and a top quality heroin fix on the next island is an expanse of shark-infested water...

When J. Kent Messum hit me up to review an ARC of this, I hesitated at first. Until I read about the sharks and the heroin, that is! Who doesn't like grim death sports? Welcome to the Heroin Games! May the odds be ever in your favor...

Jokes aside, this was pretty bad ass. While the characters weren't super-detailed, who the hell expects them to be? They're chum for a bunch of sharks!

The structure of the story added a lot to the experience, using shifting viewpoints and different points in time to tell the stories of the unwilling contestants before they wound up being shark bait for some sick bastards' amusement.

I felt like I was sitting right alongside the spectators on the boat, wondering who would be devoured next. I was wrong about who the last person standing would be, a nice surprise.

There's some serious gore in Bait. I let out a few audible groans during this, disturbing my dog. The suspense of the shark attacks was masterfully done. The ending was good and, as I said, a nice surprise.

Bait is a chum-spattered good time, a lot of fun in a time when we could all use some. Four out of five stars.

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Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Review: Goodnight Batcave

Goodnight Batcave Goodnight Batcave by Dave Croatto
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

My twin nephews have a birthday coming up so I couldn't resist snapping this up.

Goodnight Batcave is a parody of Goodnight Moon featuring everyone's favorite caped crusader produced by Mad Magazine. The art resembles what I remember the art from Mad being like and the prose mirrors that of Goodnight Moon.

What else do you need to know? For my brother, bedtime is like trying to herd the inmates back into Arkham Asylum so I'm hoping this takes the edge off a bit.

For an adult Bat-fan, I can't imagine a more fun children's book to read aloud. My girlfriend seemed entertained while I was reading it at the dinner table but that might have been pity. Five out of five stars.

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Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Review: Coco Butternut

Coco Butternut Coco Butternut by Joe R. Lansdale
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

When someone steals his mother's mummified dog, the beloved Coco Butternut, Jimmy Farmer hires Hap and Leonard to deliver the ransom. Too bad the dog won't be the only thing buried before the day is done...

I got this from Netgalley.

Coco Butternut is a Hap and Leonard novella set sometime after the events of Honky Tonk Samurai and Briar Patch Boogie: A Hap and Leonard Novelette. The boys are working for Brett at the detective agency when they catch the bizarre case of Coco Butternut.

Why would someone steal the mummified carcass of a wiener dog, you ask? Things get fairly complicated. Hap and Leonard are true to form, cracking wise and kicking ass, as are Brett and Chance.

It's a pretty slim book and I liked it but I wasn't blown away. I liked the callbacks to previous stories and the guys were in fine form but there wasn't a whole lot to the story. It felt like when you run into an old friend at the grocery store. It's fun catching up for a few minutes but then things get awkward. Do you shop alongside them? If not, what if you bump into each other again in the produce department?

Anyway. Coco Butternut was a fun Hap and Leonard novella but it was little more than an appetizer for Rusty Puppy. Three out of five stars.

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Goodreads Choice Awards Round 2 - The Awards That Melted Everything

So it's that magical time of year when the Goodreads Choice Awards takes up the top banner at Goodreads.

Let's face it.  Like most awards of this type, the Goodreads Choice Awards are a popularity contest and the winners are normally books that don't need any more recognition.  Is there any doubt the new Harry Potter book won't bulldoze the rest of the fantasy nominees or that End of Watch won't win best mystery even though Stephen King's Bill Hodges series isn't all that great?

Sometime in June or July, Tiffany McDaniel emailed me, asking if I'd review her book, The Summer That Melted Everything.  As I said elsewhere, I'd already passed on the book when I saw it on netgalley but the reviews on Goodreads had my interest.  I caved in, read it, and loved it.

The Summer That Melted Everything is one of those books everyone should read so I've been nudging it in people's direction ever since.  I voted for it to win the Not-The-Booker-Prize, and it won, despite The Guardian shitting on it and the other nominees.

And that brings us to the Goodreads Choice Awards.  The Summer That Melted Everything wasn't nominated for anything, passed over in favor of other books with better marketing or established names at the helm, books that didn't really need the award to get the word out.

I don't know that I was the first person to vote The Summer That Melted Everything as a write-in in fiction but I urged other people to do the same.  Low and behold, TSTME has made it to the second round in both Best Fiction and Best Debut.

You already know where this is headed.  Head over to Goodreads and vote for The Summer That Melted Everything in the Best Debut Goodreads Author and Best Fiction categories.  I'm not going to say the seas will boil and the skies will burn if you don't but why risk it?

Fine, the seas will boil and the skies will burn if you don't vote for The Summer That Melted Everything in the Goodreads Choice awards.  Cast your vote so more people will read this heart-wrenching, powerful modern-day classic.

Friday, November 4, 2016

Review: Last Days

Last Days Last Days by Brian Evenson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Former undercover cop Kline is at rock bottom, depressed and missing a hand, when a religious sect forcibly drafts him into service, ferreting out the killer of their leader. But is the leader really dead? And what sacrifices will Kline have to make to finally learn the truth?

This was one powerful little book. I devoured it in one sitting while waiting for car repairs, wondering how the rest of the patrons weren't shaken up by the events within.

It starts simply enough. Kline is at rock bottom when the phone calls start and eventually will look upon rock bottom with great fondness as he bores through the earths crust into greater depths of blood, fanaticism, and severed body parts.

When the tale begins, Kline is minus a hand courtesy of a gentleman with a meat cleaver on his last undercover job. The calls start and a certain religious sect who equate amputations with salvation make him an offer he can't refuse.

Kline skate the edge of sanity throughout most of the tale and goes through a large succession of meat grinders. The book has a creepy paranoid feel throughout. The simple put powerful style reminds me of Richard Stark in some ways, clipped and brutal.

As Kline descends into a haze of carnage and chaos, you have to wonder that even if he does survive, would he be better off dead? The Brotherhood of Mutilation makes for a great foil, probably because the idea isn't that far-fetched.

In The Last Days, Brian Evenson uses the tried and true hard-boiled PI template to tell one hell of a horror story. Four out of five stars.

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Thursday, November 3, 2016

Review: Danse Macabre

Danse Macabre Danse Macabre by Stephen King
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Danse Macabre is Stephen King covering the horror genre, in TV, film, radio, and text, from roughly 1950-1980. I'd been meaning to read this for a long time. The Kindle price was the clincher.

I don't really know what to say about this one. It was pretty middle of the road. Stephen King writes about three decades of the horror genre in various media. I thought some of the subjects were interesting, namely the movies and the books, many of which I'll have my eye out for. His insights on the nature of horror and why we like it so much were thought-provoking. However...

Okay, I'm a big Stephen King fan and think he's a great writer, even though he cranks out a best-seller as often as I pay my car insurance. He can be a bit wordy at times. With his prose, I don't notice it so much. With non-fiction, holy hell did I notice!

The Shrinking Man and The Haunting of Hill House were both barely longer than novellas but King drones on about them for twenty pages apiece! The autobiographical bits were way more interesting to me than some of the movies and books he wrote about. I have trouble giving a shit what Stephen King thinks about obscure B-movies made a couple decades before I was born that would seem hokey by today's standards.

Longwindedness aside, I did find the book informative and it added things to my watch list. Also, King shat on John Saul a few times. Was Saul the James Patterson of Horror in his day? Will my life have an unfillable void in it if I never read John Saul (or James Patterson)? Things to ponder.

You know what's not as fun as reading horror fiction or watching horror movies? Reading about what someone else thinks about them for one hundred pages too many! Three out of five stars.

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Sunday, October 30, 2016

Review: I Am Providence

I Am Providence I Am Providence by Nick Mamatas
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When a writer is murdered at the Summer Tentacular, the annual Providence-based HP Lovecraft convention, Colleen Danzig plumbs the depths of the assembled fandom to find his killer. Can she stay alive long enough to find the murderer?

I Am Providence is a murder mystery set at an HP Lovecraft convention. It shows the dark underbelly of fandom, putting the fans under the microscope.

Colleen Danzig, the plucky heroine, goes through quite a bit of hell over the course of the book, both in her sleuthing and in the way fandom sometimes treats women in general. The other patrons of the convention remind me all too much of the kind of vocal fans one finds online.

The plot was very serpentine, or squamous, I guess. I had no idea who the killer was up until the end. Mamatas threw a barrel's worth of red herrings into the mix.

I really liked the parallel structure of the book, alternating between Colleen's point of view and that of the murder victim as his body decayed on a slab at the morgue. While free of Lovecraftian beasties, the book still had a undercurrent of nihilism and cosmic horror throughout.

I guess my only gripe would be that I didn't care for the ending. However, it rang true to most Lovecraft endings so it was pretty fitting.

With I Am Providence, Nick Mamatas tears the face off of Lovecraftian fandom and shows what lies beneath, warts and all. Four out of five stars.

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Review: Time Eaters

Time Eaters Time Eaters by Jay Wilburn
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

After a childhood tragedy, Al, with his best friend Nick, devotes his life to building a time machine. Will they destroy the universe in the attempt?

I've had my eye on the Time Eaters for a long time. When Perpetual Motion Machine Press announced their ninety-nine cents sale, I decided it was time.

Time Eaters is a cautionary tale about the dangers of time travel. In this case, the dangers of time travel are time paradoxes and ravenous cannibal time travelers. Al and Nick, best friends, encounter other versions of themselves, a woman named Angel, and lots of flesh eaters, all the while trying to piece together what has happened/will happen/is currently happening.

The book is told in two threads, one entitled Before and the other Then. It gets confusing at times but with two groups of the same characters at different points in their time lines, I don't see any other way Jay could have done things.

Jay Wilburn crafts a hard-hitting tale. It's only 216 pages but I almost wish it had been shorter. All the gore was a little hard to stomach at times. Also, Jay's flavor of time travel is never easy, leading to a traveler's hair and nails getting burnt off and assorted other complications. It reads more like a survival horror tale than a time travel story a lot of the time.

Once time travel is on the table, the story kicks into high gear, with Time Eaters materializing all over the place and the three lead characters trying to stay one step ahead of them in both threads. It's a high-octane tale, that's for sure.

The ending wasn't what I expected but I'd be open to reading another tale set in this world, even with the implications at the end.

If I was going to pick some nits, I'd point out the typos I ran across or the difficulty of keeping track of which timeline I was reading about, but I'll pass on all that. Time Eaters is by far the craziest time travel story I've ever read, part timey-wimey, part gore horror. 3 out of 5 stars.

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Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Review: The Halloween Tree

The Halloween Tree The Halloween Tree by Ray Bradbury
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

When their friend Pipkin is snatched away, his eight friends, with the mysterious Mr. Moundshroud, go looking for him, crossing time and space and learning all about Halloween.

Apart from some of his short stories, I've never ready any Bradbury. Since we're on the cusp of Halloween, I gave this a shot.

This is a cute, fun story. Mr. Moundshroud teaches the boys about Halloween across the ages while they look for their missing friend Pipkin. There aren't a lot of childrens' books that reference druids, mummies, witches, gargoyles, and the day of the dead. It brought back memories of Halloweens past for me.

The prose is poetic and flows like water from a hose. Some of it has an almost Doctor Seussian flair. I'm not surprised there's an animated version. The book screams to be a cartoon.

Bradbury's influence on later authors can be felt in this one. I notice some phrasing that Stephen King has echoed but the writing shouted Neil Gaiman at me. Coraline, The Graveyard Book, practically all of Gaiman's prose owes a debt to Ray Bradbury. Hell, The Sandman probably also has some Bradbury in his family tree.

I probably missed the window for perfect enjoyment of this book by decades. Even so, I enjoyed it quite a bit. 3.5 out of 5 stars. Now I really want to track down the animated version. Leonard Nimoy as Mr. Moundshroud!

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Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Review: Laughing Gas

Laughing Gas Laughing Gas by P.G. Wodehouse
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

When his cousin Egremont gets betrothed in Hollywood, Reggie Havershot has no choice but to go find him. Reggie finds Eggy but falls in love in the process with April June. After a strange incident in a dentist's office, Reggie swaps bodies with child star Joey Cooley. Will Reggie be able to set things right before Joey wrecks his life by punching everyone he dislikes in the snoot?

This is the first Wodehouse I've read in a couple years, recommended by none other than Gail Carriger at the 2016 Goodreads Summit.

It starts out with the old Wodehouse formula, a gentleman of leisure infatuated with a beautiful woman. Then the body swap happens and things go pear-shaped in a big way. Is Laughing Gas the spiritual ancestor of later body-swapping comedies like Freaky Friday, Vice Versa, and that episode of Red Dwarf where Lister and Rimmer switch bodies? Yes, yes it probably is.

Laughing Gas has more outlandish situations than most Wodehouse novels and is also a satire of Hollywood culture, something that hasn't changed in the eighty years since this book was written. I lost count of the hilarious lines Wodehouse wove into this ridiculous tapestry.

Despite its deviation from the tried and true Wodehouse formula, the trademark wordplay, twists of fate, impostors, and misunderstandings are in full swing. The additional complication of Cooley in Havershot's body rampaging around Hollywood, smiting his enemies, while Havershot endures the hell that Cooley has created back home provides additional laughs.

As with all Wodehouses, there are some reversals of fortune and everything ultimately turns out okay. While I liked Laughing Gas for its novelty and the usual Wodehousian wordplay, it wasn't up to the standards of The Code of the Woosters, Leave It to Psmith, or Cocktail Time. Three out of five stars.

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Friday, October 21, 2016

Review: The Sentinel

The Sentinel The Sentinel by Jeffrey Konvitz
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

When Allison Parker, a young model, returns to NYC after her father's funeral, she finds the perfect brownstone apartment. But what about the old blind priest who never leaves the building or her other, equally strange neighbors? What secrets is the building hiding?

Some books stand the test of time. Others remain a product of the time they were written. The Sentinel is one of the second type.

The setup for this book has a lot of potential. A woman moves into an apartment that seems to be a bargain and a lot of crazy shit happens. Too bad the rest of the book doesn't come close to living up to the potential of the setup.

From the beginning, I wanted to be interested but I didn't care about any of the characters enough to be invested in the story. Allison was an uninteresting doormat, Michael was a douche nozzle and he and Allison had zero chemistry. I had trouble believing they even knew each other, never mind them being in a relationship.

The paranoid, "is she going insane" angle of the book had potential but the cat was let out of the bag too quickly. The blind priest was the most interesting part of the book but not enough to save it.

As I said before, the book is a product of the time it was written. It feels like it was written specifically to capitalize on The Exorcist, Rosemary's Baby, and other devil-themed works of the 1970s.

The writing was unremarkable and the transitions between scenes were rocky. By the time the big revelation happened, I didn't care anymore. The detective angle in the background felt like padding to me. I already hated Michael. It didn't matter to me if he killed his ex-wife or not. Also, who brings a chisel to a break-in without something to hit it with?

Hate is a strong word but I can't think of anything good to say about this book except that the premise was promising and another writing could probably make hay with it. It really didn't work for me and I can't say I'd recommend it to anyone unless they want to read a shitty haunted house story for some reason. One star out of five.

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Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Review: Hammers on Bone

Hammers on Bone Hammers on Bone by Cassandra Khaw
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

When a kid tries to hire John Persons to kill his stepfather, the private investigator is intrigued. Persons quickly determines the stepfather isn't of this earth. Sometimes, it takes a monster to kill a monster...

This was a Netgalley find.

The combination of noir and Lovecraftian horror is a hard one for me to pass up so I jumped on this one straight away.

John Persons is a private investigator in London and not entirely as he seems to be. When young Abel shows up, Persons is intrigued and quickly finds himself in over his head. As with most noir, every damn body is lying about something and Persons means to figure out what's going on, safety be damned!

Cassandra Khaw does a good job weaving the noir and Lovecraftian stuff together nicely. Her London is not pretty or safe. When John Persons is your best hope, you might as well give up...

This book was far from cyclopean in size but packed a lot into it's 100-ish pages. Those guys and gals at sure know how to put out a novella. The ending was satisfying and left things open for more John Persons adventures. I was quite pleased with both John's true nature and that of the rest of the characters.

Hammers on Bone wasn't my favorite Lovecraftian detective tale but it was still damn good. I'll be thinking about it for nights to come. 3.5 out of 5 squamous stars.

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Sunday, October 16, 2016

Dantastic Voyage: My Trip to Goodreads Headquarters

Dateline: October 13, 2016
The day started like most of them.  I awoke at the usual time, 4:30 AM.  I could have slept later but I wanted to see my girlfriend off to work since I wouldn't see her for a couple days.

Once she was gone, I packed, which took all of five minutes.  I looked at the clock and saw I still had eight hours to kill before leaving for the airport.  Too wired up to read, I spent some time watching shows from the DVR, since we're planning on getting rid of DirecTV and switching to Netflix only once we switch internet providers this week.  Yeah, I could have left that out.

Anyway, once two o'clock arrived, I headed for the airport.  It takes about an hour to get there from my house but I padded the schedule with an additional hour, just in case.  A traffic jam and airport construction cut into my "just in case" time.

Since a travel agent booked my flight, I allotted some additional time for the flaming hoops I might have to jump through while checking in.  My check-in was as smooth as prunes through a baby so I soon found myself waiting for the flight to board.  I made significant progress in Children of the Dark and was soon in the air.

The flight went smoothly but about halfway, I began feeling the effects of getting up at 4:30 AM and traveling back in time two hours.  By the time I landed, I was pretty exhausted... and then sat on the runway for almost an hour!

My eyelids were made of concrete by the time I staggered through SFO to the BART terminal.  Fortunately, Jason Koivu had been texting me travel tips all day and my zombie brain was able to get me on the train.

The BART was a much rougher, louder ride than I thought.  It was approaching ten local time, midnight my time, when the BART vomited me out on the streets of San Francisco.  After getting my bearings, I trudged up Powell toward the Hotel Rex.

About halfway, Jason met me in the street and escorted me back to the hotel.  My tired brain would have followed him into a sex dungeon at that point.  Thankfully, it didn't come down to that.  After I stowed my gear, we walked around looking for a place to eat.

Since it was after 10, restaurants were closed and bars had closed their kitchens.  My dinner was a large bowl of peanuts and two bottles of Fat Tire.  All the tables at the pub were closed but it was attached to a hotel.  Jason and I wound up drinking beers in the hotel lobby.

After the makeshift meal, I went back to my room and crashed.  However, my brain was abuzz with speculation about the next day's events so it took me forever to go to sleep.

Dateline: October 14, 2016
After five or six hours of sleep, I felt somewhat alive, although the threat of becoming a zombie was still there.  We had some time to kill so Jason and I staked out the lobby for a while, seeing no one we recognized.  We ate breakfast at a nearby deli and made the pilgrimage to Goodreads headquarters.

We arrived at 188 Spear Street with half an hour to spare.  We stood at the entrance, eyeing up people who went into the building, seeing if we saw anyone we knew.  Still nobody, although the older gentleman later turned out to be the hilarious Bill Kerwin.  Jason and I are about 5'7 and Bill came up to our chins.

Anyway, we gave up our vigil and went upstairs.  At this point, we signed non-disclosure agreements so I can't talk about the cockfights, Russian roulette games, or the orgies we partook in later that day.

One by one, the other guests trickled in.  I wasn't exactly paying attention when I heard a woman say "My room was so hot I wedged the window open with a coat hanger.  I figured if I got raped, it would be worth it if the room was cool."  That was Gail Carriger.  I'd read Souless but I had no idea that Gail was the offspring of Mary Poppins and Indiana Jones.  She was dressed like someone from a steampunk version of the 1930s and pretty damn entertaining.

Anyway, once the group was assembled, they split us into four groups: authors, librarians, reviewers, and group moderators.  I was in a group with Bill Kerwin, MadelineJessica, and Elyse.

It was a pretty busy day.  We arrived at nine and they kept us pretty busy until the happy hour around 4:30.  Since I signed the NDA, I can't really talk that much about all the stuff we covered.  However, we gave them a lot of feedback and some cool new features are on the horizon.  I think the NDA I signed will allow me to mention the awesome taco bar they served us for lunch, all the books scattered around, and the many book-themed conference rooms.

Before the happy hour, they gave us each a Goodreads totebag full of goodies and showed us a pile of ARCs to choose from.  The happy hour was a feeding frenzy of appetizers and booze.  We met a lot of Goodreads staffers and generally chatted about books for a while.  There was a dinner scheduled afterwards but I decided to head back to the hotel for a power nap.  Jason had a headache, so he made the trek back with me.

I took a shower and flopped across the bed.  Unfortunately, sleep wasn't in the cards.  When I go to sleep, I like it to be colder than a dead pimp's heart in the room.  My room was the opposite of that.  Agreeing with Gail that a cool room was worth a raping, I wedged a trashcan in my window and tried to catch a breeze.  I slept for a few minutes and got up even more tired.  Jason and I headed downstairs, hoping to hobnob with the rest of the crew.  

No one was downstairs.  I texted Mark Monday.  He was under the weather and unable to meet up with us.  While I was a little disappointed, I was also slightly relieved since it meant I could go to bed at a reasonable hour.

After some deep-fried cauliflower, we went out for sushi.  By the time we got back, Madeline was waiting for a ride back to the airport and most of the people had gone to bed.  We spent some time chatting with the survivors and having another drink.

By the time I got back to my room, it was passably cool and I enjoyed some much needed sleep.  

Dateline: October 15, 2016
The last day was another travel day.  I was up way too early thanks to my traitorous body clock.  None of the restaurants near the hotel were open yet so Jason and I headed to the airport on the BART.  After getting through security, we ate bland breakfast sandwiches and reflected on the trip.

After a while, it was time to board.  I was a little sad to say goodbye to Jason.  We've been friends online for years and he did the lion's share of the work while we were in San Francisco with all the travel tips and leading the way.  I would have survived if he wasn't there but the whole thing wouldn't have gone as smoothly.

The flight back went mercifully quick.  I talked about dogs with the two women sitting next to me, finished reading Kin and knocked out Lords of Twilight.  I also talked to the owner of the M.C. Escher estate after complimenting his M.C. Escher hat.  He said he was looking to bring the estate to the St. Louis Art Museum.  Fingers crossed!

I picked up some Thai food on the way home and received a warm welcome from my girlfriend and my dog.  The cat acted like she didn't know I was gone, as per usual.

Closing Thoughts
The Goodreads Power User Summit was a good time and I'm glad I went.  It was fun chatting about books with the nerdiest of the nerds and getting to talk to the Goodreads staff about things.  I wouldn't have minded spreading the activities over two days instead of cramming it into one.  I also wouldn't have minded staying in San Francisco another couple days to see the city.

The Goodreads Power User Summit - four out of five stars.

Review: Lords of Twilight

Lords of Twilight Lords of Twilight by Greg F. Gifune
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

When Lane Boyce, a disgraced and divorced high school teacher moves to Edgar, Maine, he's just looking for some peace and quiet. After some cattle mutilations and lights in the sky, he gets anything but...

As a kid, I was fascinated by UFOs and read a lot of articles about them, scaring the shit out of myself in the process. As an adult, I think alien abductions are poppycock but I just couldn't pass up this DarkFuse novella.

Greg Gifune really knows how to build suspense. Is Lane going insane or is he being abducted? The disjointed way the story unfolds builds the tension and feeling of paranoia. Much of the horror is implied, making things that much worse.

This is a short novella so I probably shouldn't reveal much more. It's a scary dose of entertainment, good for a quick jolt of terror and an hour or two of reading. Three out of five stars.

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Review: Kin

Kin Kin by Kealan Patrick Burke
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

When Claire Lambert and her three friends crossed the paths of some murderous cannibal hillbillies while hiking in Alabama, their lives were destroyed forever. Claire lost her friends, her virginity, a few fingers, and her eye. But the Merrill family made one mistake: they let Claire live...

You know, when a book starts with a mutilated woman staggering along the side of the road, you know shit is only going to get worse. And it does.

Kin is a gore-strewn tale of depravity and a twisted notion of family. The Merrills kill and eat any outsider that dares cross their path. When Claire escapes, they go into panic mode looking for her. Meanwhile, people swoop down on the Merrills looking for vengeance. How could anything possibly go wrong?

The Merrills are some of the vilest villains I've ever encountered, kind of like Leatherface's family in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. The thing that really makes them scary is that they think God is on their side.

Once Claire gets to the hospital, the book splits into three threads that never quite come together. Thomas Finch and a friend from the army go gunning for the Merrills. Pete goes looking for a place to belong now that his father is dead. And Claire looks for a way to return to Elkwood and get some payback.

Oddly enough, the character I found most interesting was Luke Merrill, one of the villains. While loyal to his family, he has a lot of doubts about things, doubts that escalate after his father does some things to him.

Some of the plotting felt a little too convenient at first, although KPB set me straight on those. The ending wasn't what I expected but I still liked it. It was actually a nice change of pace from where I thought was going to happen, although it wasn't entirely satisfying.

Maybe it was the jet lag but I didn't think this book quite came together in the end for me. I still liked it but I think some parts could have been expanded a bit. I like my horror short but this was a little too short, I think.

At the end of the day, I liked Kin but I don't love it. Still, it should appeal to people who enjoy things like the Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Cabin Fever, and The Hills Have Eyes. Three out of Five stars.

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Review: Children of the Dark

Children of the Dark Children of the Dark by Jonathan Janz
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When the Moonlight Killer breaks out of prison, Will Burgess and the rest of the people of Shadeland live in fear of the vicious serial killer returning home...

Yeah, it's a lot more complex than that but it's hard to write a teaser than encapsulates teenage love, a serial killer, and supernatural horror without making a mess of things.

Children of the Dark is a coming of age horror tale in the tradition of Boy's Life, The Traveling Vampire Show, Bay's End, and, of course, The Body. Can it hang with the big dogs of the sub-genre?

Yes. Yes, it can.

In Will Burgess, Jonathan Janz crafts a sympathetic lead. Will's father died years ago and his mother is a pill-popper, leaving Will to raise his six year old sister, Peach. On a side note, Peach is adorable. Will plays baseball, has a couple of good friends, and is ass over tea kettle for Mia, the girlfriend of his arch-enemy.

When Carl Padgett busts out of jail, the whole town goes into lock down. It just so happens that this coincides with the time Mia invites Will to hang with her and her friends in the woods. See where this is going? I haven't even mentioned the titular Children of the Dark yet!

After seeing a strange creature in the woods, Will's friend Barley tells him of The Children, giant evil monsters supposedly living underground in the cave system below Shadeland. They reminded me of eight foot tall versions of Gollum from Lord of the Rings.

Anyway, Janz does a great job juggling the suspense of having a killer on the loose, the creeping horror of monsters in the woods, and the everyday horrors of being a teenager in love. When everything finally comes together, the book goes into survival horror mode and no one is safe!

As I read this on the plane to San Francisco, I kept looking at the other passengers, wondering why they were so calm with monsters on the loose and a serial killer serial killing people.

Apart from a twist I saw coming about ten pages into the book, I have nothing bad to say about this book. It's a gripping read and well worth the kindle price of only $2.99. I'll definitely be reading more Jonathan Janz. Four out of five stars.

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