Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Review: Bones of the Earth

Bones of the Earth Bones of the Earth by Michael Swanwick
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

When a mystery man walks into his office and makes the offer a lifetime, to study dinosaurs in the wild, paleontologist Richard Leyster has no choice but to take him up on it. However, time travel isn't as simple as it first seemed...

Michael Swanwick has been on my radar for years after some praise by China Mieville but I never took the plunge until several of his books popped up for cheap in one of my daily ebook emails.

People either seem to love or hate this book, which I can't fathom. It's was a pretty middle of the road book for me.

The books starts out great. If a shady government type showed up at your office with a ***spoiler*** in an Igloo cooler, you'd be powerless to resist as well. Leave it to the government to muck up a simple thing like time travel with bureaucracy...

The idea of studying dinosaurs in the wild gets complicated by fundamentalist extremists who want to discredit the notion of time travel in order to uphold the young Earth theory. Griffin and company ferret out the mole and try to get our scientists back to the future.

Oh, yeah. Things get timey-wimey right off the bat. Griffin, the military man in charge, works for The Old Man, a much older version of himself. Multiple versions of other characters are wandering around and people in the know are wary of violating the laws of causality and creating time paradoxes.

The meat of the book is the fate of the sabotaged expedition. Swanwick blessedly dipped in and out of their lives and didn't inflict the misery-porn that was their day to day existence upon us. The revelation of who the time travel came from was very satisfying to me, as was the consequences of the rest of the book.

Swanwick posits a lot of questions about dinosaurs, extinction events, and things of that nature. Some of the theories were really fun to think about, like dinos communicating through infrasound.

Oddly enough, I found the science behind the story to me more logical and thought out than the motivations of some of the characters. It's definitely not a character book unless you're into insta-love or insta-hate that later transforms into love. Also, there could have been more dinosaur action.

All things considered, I enjoyed this time travel yarn. Bones of the Earth was a solid $1.99 purchase and I'll be happy to read the other Swanwick books I have on my kindle. 3.5 out of 5 stars.



View all my reviews

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Review: A Stir of Echoes

A Stir of Echoes A Stir of Echoes by Richard Matheson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When Tom Wallace's brother-in-law hypnotizes him at a party, he inadvertently wakens something in Tom. Now, Tom sees the ghost of a woman in a black dress and can sense peoples' thoughts. But who is the woman in the black dress...?

Sometime in that half-forgotten time before Goodreads, I went on a Richard Matheson binge and this is one of the books I read. I thought I'd unloaded it at the local used bookstore years ago but I stumbled upon it in my basement while looking for something else. Since I'd forgotten most of it in the eons since I originally read it, it was like a whole new book.

A Stir of Echoes is a ghost story but it's also about the secrets people keep hidden from one another. Tom Wallace lives in a neighborhood in the suburbs with a wife, a baby, and another baby on the way. When he suddenly becomes a medium, things slowly go pear-shaped.

It's a fairly creepy tale, told in Richard Matheson's all meat, no filler style. Imagine waking up in the middle of the night to find a ghost in your house. Still, the biggest horrors are his neighbors and what they're capable of. I had a vague idea of how things went down but the twists still caught me off guard. As always, Matheson's prose is as smooth as bar of soap and just as slippery.

A Stir of Echoes was really hard to put down, even on the second read. One of these days, I'll have to watch the Kevin Bacon movie. Four out of five stars.

View all my reviews

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Review: The Tea Master and the Detective

The Tea Master and the Detective The Tea Master and the Detective by Aliette de Bodard
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Shadow's Child, the brain of a mindship, is shellshocked and brewing teas for safer space travel when a consulting detective shows up at her door...

This was a Netgalley find and one of the few Netgalley finds that didn't immediately feel like a homnework assignment from a hated teacher.

Set in an asteroid belt with a Vietnamese-influenced culture, The Tea Master and the Detective has its roots loosely planted in A Study In Scarlet. Long Chau hires The Shadow's Child to brew her tea and take her into the deep spaces to find a corpse in order to study its composition. (Sidebar - From what I gather, the deep spaces are like hyperspace, a medium to speed up space travel. Special teas are needed to keep travelers sane during their journeys.) The body isn't quiet what they expect and the mystery unfolds.

While the story shows its Sherlockian roots in places, that in no way diminishes the enjoyment. I really liked the asteroid belt settings, the deep spaces, hell, the worldbuilding in general. The worldbuilding is seamlessly done. I had a pretty good idea of the history of the world, the technology, and the culture, all without being beaten over the head with info dumps.

Recasting Watson as a ship's organic mind with a traumatic past was a novel approach and in keeping with the rest of the setting. I can honestly say The Shadow's Child is the most well-rounded ship's computer I've ever read about. You don't see the Enterprise's computer having dinner with the computers of other ships! Honestly, Long Chau's deductions and attitude are Sherlockian but she has a lot more depth than I originally thought. I loved the interplay between Long Chau and The Shadow's Child right away. Before I was even finished, I was dreaming of future stories featuring the pair.

Over the years, I've read a lot of detective stories based in other genres and most leave me yearning for gumshoes beating down doors or mannerly locked room mysteries. This one was the opposite of that. Five out of five stars.

View all my reviews

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Review: Mrs. Caliban

Mrs. Caliban Mrs. Caliban by Rachel Ingalls
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Dorthy's marriage is stagnant and falling apart when a frogman escapes from captivity. While Dorothy teaches him about the world, she winds up learning a lot of things herself...

I first learned of Mrs. Caliban on Book Riot, I think. I saw it was on sale for $1.70 earlier today and snapped it up.

It's a slim book, probably more novella than novel, but I thoroughly enjoyed this quirky, weird, sweet book. A woman falling in love with a frogman could easily be played for laughs or venture into monster porn territory but their relationship is very well done.

Dorthy is trapped in a loveless marriage, alone and childless, while her husband Fred philanders around. When a 6'7 aquatic monster named Larry shows up, she has no choice but to take him in and make him her lover. Seriously, how had I never heard of this book until recently?

Mrs. Caliban is an exploration of love and marriage, shown through Dorothy's eyes as she explains the ways of the world to Larry, telling him about life, the universe, and everything. Larry's ignorance about most things leads her to questioning a lot of those things herself. Things go pretty well until Larry starts venturing out on his own.

I don't have anything bad to say about this quirky masterpiece. Four out of five stars.

View all my reviews

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Review: The Goldfinch

The Goldfinch The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

When a bomb goes off in the Metropolitan Museum of art, it kills thirteen year old Theo Decker's mother and sends his life forever spiralling out of control, for young Theo walked out of the ruins of the museum with The Goldfinch, a priceless painting, and a lifetime of trauma to deal with...

This book was on my watch list for a long time. I planned on reading it after The Secret History but didn't pull the trigger until it went on sale for $1.99.

This is one of those books I have conflicting feelings over. It's a literary novel and is a fine example of everything that entails, both the things I like and the things I don't. Donna Tartt's writing is as wonderful as ever. She's got a knack for stringing words together, painting vivid images. The various locals all seemed very real: New York, Las Vegas, Amsterdam.

Little bits of philosophy were scattered throughout the text, musings on life, the universe, and everything. Theo goes from one fuck-up to the next, not really imagining any consequences down the line, and things go pretty well for him. Until they don't.

While I think The Goldfinch was beautifully written and very readable, I didn't give a rat's ass about any of the characters other than Boris. Boris was the only one I felt had any real substance. The rest were caricatures, for the most part. Theo didn't show a lot in the way of personality and seemed like a collection of traits more than a character.

Like a lot of modern lit, the book felt like it was trying too hard to be profound at times and wasn't terribly concerned with telling a story. This thing is a whopper at 771 pages and the story could have easily been told, flourishes and all, in half of that. I did like the twists when they happened but it was kind of like seeing a billboard along a stretch of I-70 in the middle of Kansas, something to break up the endless journey.

Near the end, Amanda asked me if I was enjoying it. Enjoy wasn't the word I would use. I'm glad I experienced the book and there were parts I liked quite a bit, most featuring Boris, but there was never a time I wished the book would never end.

In conclusion, I will probably never be on the board that awards the Pulitzer Prize. The Goldfinch is some fantastic writing but not a hell of a lot in the way of a story. Glad I read it, gladder still that it's over. Three out of five stars.

View all my reviews

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Review: The Imago Sequence and Other Stories

The Imago Sequence and Other Stories The Imago Sequence and Other Stories by Laird Barron
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Imago Sequence and Other Stories is a collection of short stories by Laird Barron.

This is Laird Barron's first short story collection and the fifth book of his I've read this year. I'm running out of ways to praise the man who has infected my brain like some kind of alien parasite.

Nine stories of sanity-blasting cosmic horror haunt its pages. Even though it's his first published collection, all of the Barronial bits are there: Chandler by way of Lovecraft prose, lonliness, helplessness, and things beyond mortal ken. I can't say enough about Barron's prose, a delicious but deadly poetry.

The stories themselves are a diverse mix, many touching upon his concepts of the nature of time and the Children of Old Leech. "Old Virginia" hooked me and held my attention like a vise. I was going to list the standouts but honestly the only one I wasn't ass over tea kettle for was "The Royal Zoo Is Closed". The two most noir-flavored, "Bulldozer" and "The Imago Sequence", were my favorites. There are some secrets man isn't meant to know.

Most of the stories take place in Washington State, which is now a place I don't want to visit for fear of sinister dohlmens, pylons, and alien horrors. His heroes are more Continental Op than mossback scholars, making the horrors they encounter that much worse.

I'm a latecomer to the Laird Barron party but now I'm the guest that won't leave. Got any yearbooks? Four out of five stars.

View all my reviews

Monday, November 27, 2017

Review: Steel: And Other Stories

Steel: And Other Stories Steel: And Other Stories by Richard Matheson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Steel: And Other Stories is a collection of Richard Matheson tales.

Not long ago, I read The Best of Richard Matheson and experienced the great man's stories for the first time in a decade or more. My whistle had been wetted so I picked this one up at the used bookstore a few days later.

First off, there was very little overlap between the two collections, only two or three stories. Secondly, this could easily have been called The Second Best of Richard Matheson. When most of Matheson's iconic tales were in the other collection, I should have expected as much.

The stories in Steel are a mixed bag in tone, subject matter, and quality. Steel was good but not great. The Splendid Source felt like a Monty Python sketch and was one of my favorite stories in the book. There are some thought-provoking stories, like The Traveler or Lemmings. Present in many of them, however, are Richard Matheson's twist endings. The man really loved his bite-you-in-the-ass endings, didn't he?

Steel: And Other Stories was a nice way to spend a few hours but it is in no way an essential Richard Matheson read. Three out of five stars.

View all my reviews

Review: The Invasion

The Invasion The Invasion by William Meikle
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When an acidic green snow falls on the Maritimes, people stay in doors and hope for the best. Until the truth behind the mysterious snow is revealed, that is. Can the world survive an invasion by an unknown force?

In a world where anyone can write a novel, it gets harder and harder to navigate the sea of crap out there. Fortunately, William Meikle has proven himself to be a beacon in the darkness time and time again so when The Invasion popped up for ninety-nine cents, I was powerless to resist.

The Invasion is the story of an alien invasion. Duh. I'm going to avoid the nuts and bolts behind it but I really love when William Meikle has done here. This is like no other alien invasion story I've ever read, apart from Fungoid.

At times, this felt like a dry run of some things Meikle would later do a notch better in Fungoid. However, The Invasion was still one hell of a read. The tales of two survivors painted a bleak picture of the world once the snow stopped falling and the really horrible shit began. Alice and Hiscock had different enough viewpoints to keep things interesting.

I kept picturing The Invasion as a gruesome version of a Hollywood summer blockbuster most of the time I was reading it. John Hurt, may he rest in peace, was in the forefront of my mind whenever the Professor was at center stage. The sheer devastation left in the wake of the snow was bad enough but wait until the plan to save the earth is unveiled!

While it wasn't my favorite William Meikle book, it was way up there. The Scotsman knows his disaster yarns, that's for sure. Four out of five stars.

View all my reviews

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Review: Occultation and Other Stories

Occultation and Other Stories Occultation and Other Stories by Laird Barron
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Occultation and Other Stories is a collection of nine short stories by Laird Barron.

My quest to devour all of Laird Barron's works by the end of 2017 continues with this book, Occulation. As befits a Shirley Jacks award winner, this is something to behold.

While I'm reading Barron's works in the order I come across them, for the most part, I'm beginning to recognize all the Barronoid themes: isolation, loss, and helplessness. Barron's Earth, all but overrun by the cosmic horrors that are the Children of Old Leech, is a very richly-built world. I normally hate the term "world-building" but Barron constructs quite a place brick by brick with his short stories. The dohlmen on Mystery Mountain, the Children of Old Leech, and even the Broadsword Hotel are touched upon in stories in other collections, as well as The Croning.

Like all short story collections, I liked some stories more than others but I wouldn't say any were duds. The Broadsword and The Lagerstatte were great and Mysterium Tremendum was the best story I've read so far in 2017.

Barron's writing reminds me of Raymond Chandler's quite a bit, although there's some Jim Thompson and HP Lovecraft in there as well. Barron's so at home with the noir style that I've already pre-ordered Blood Standard , his 2018 detective novel.

I feel like I'm repeating myself but time is a loop. Laird Barron is not to be missed by horror fans. 4.5 out of 5 stars.

View all my reviews

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Review: Die Empty

Die Empty Die Empty by Kirk Jones
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

You're forty and work a dead end job. You've tried giving your life meaning through possessions and failed. Your wife is having an affair with the neighbor and thinks you don't know. When Death shows up at your door with a job to do, what other choice do you have?

I first encountered Kirk Jones through the New Bizarro author series years ago, with Uncle Sam’s Carnival of Copulating Inanimals, and then years later with Journey to Abortosphere. The thing that sets his writing apart from other Bizarro fiction is that his stories always have a underlying logic no matter how demented things are on the surface. When he hit me up to read Die Empty, I was up for another run.

Die Empty is the story of one man's journey into middle age and the deal he made with Death. Told using a second person point of view, there's an odd intimacy to the tale. It's at once funny and depressing. Actually, the main character reminds me of the main character from Fight Club, only without all the macho bullshit going on.

Entering your forties sucks. You're not old yet but you're not young anymore. Die Empty captures this nicely. Lance, the main character, works a dead end job, lusts after every woman except his drunk wife, and basically coasts along. He hates his neighbor and not just because of the affair he's having with his wife. When Death shows up, Lance doesn't really have anything better to do but help Death claim some lives through shitty products in exchange for forty more years of life.

I'm not really selling this right but it's a hard book to quantify. Once I started reading it, that was pretty much it. There's humor, sadness, some time paradoxes, and even some lessons to be learned. I'm docking a fraction of a star because the Masters of the Universe action figures' name was Tri-Klops, not Cyclops.

Die Empty is a thought-provoking read, to say the least. It's not for everyone but if you're looking for something off the beaten path, this is it. Four out of five stars, adjusted for Tri-Klops.

View all my reviews

Monday, November 13, 2017

Review: Wrestle Maniacs

Wrestle Maniacs Wrestle Maniacs by Adam Howe
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Wrestle Maniacs is a short story anthology featuring stories about professional wrestling.

Let's face it: apart from Hoodtown, Champion of the World, and Ugly As Sin, there isn't a ton of pro wrestling fiction out there. When Adam Howe hit me up to read an ARC of this, I went for it like a series of Ric Flair chops in the corner.

I expected Wrestle Maniacs to be entertaining but I was pretty surprised at the overall quality of the collection. I've read a handful of the authors before, like Adam Howe, Gabino Iglesias, and James Newman but a lot of them were new to me and people I'll seek out later.

The stories run the gamut. There's comedy, tragedy, action, gore, and WRESTLING! There aren't many anthologies dedicated to one subject that actually cover a lot of ground. There was fiction loosely inspired by the tragedy of the Von Erich family, of Chris Benoit's murder/suicide, and the Montreal Screwjob. There were also really entertaining tales of luchadors and wrestlers that suddenly find themselves in a shoot. Or something out of the Twilight Zone, in one case.

My favorites were A Fiend in Need, Last of the High Flying Van Alstynes, and Rassle Hassle but there wasn't a jabronie in the bunch. I hope Wrestle Maniacs does well enough that Adam Howe and Honey Badger Press do another wrestling anthology in the future. Four out of five snap suplexes.

View all my reviews

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Review: The Best of Richard Matheson

The Best of Richard Matheson The Best of Richard Matheson by Richard Matheson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Best of Richard Matheson is a collection of 32 of Matheson's best.

Around the turn of the century, I was enduring the agonizing gulf between Dark Tower books four and five when the local bookstore owner turned me on to Richard Matheson, saying he was one of Stephen King's biggest influences. After devouring one of his westerns and I Am Legend and Other Stories, I was hooked.

After a creepy introduction by Victor LaValle, we're treated to many of Matheson's iconic tales, some of which were turned into Twilight Zone episodes or adapted to TV or film in other ways. Many of the greats are here: Button, Button, Nightmare at 20,000 Feet, Duel, Third from the Sun, as well as others I'd never read before, like The Prisoner, Big Surprise, and Mute.

It's funny that Matheson's is one of Stephen King's influences in that their writing isn't all that similar. Where King's prose is overly verbose at times, Matheson's is more like a sharpened knife. He cuts you hard and deep, knowing just how to hurt you the most. He knew just how to let the suspense build, like a pressure cooker. It's no wonder many of his stories were adapted for the Twilight Zone and other shows. Richard Matheson was the master of the twist ending.

The Best of Richard Matheson is a must read for anyone who likes suspenseful short stories, fans of the Twilight Zone, or Stephen King fans interested at getting a peek at some Kingly lineage. Four out of five stars.

View all my reviews

Friday, November 10, 2017

Review: A Song for Quiet

A Song for Quiet A Song for Quiet by Cassandra Khaw
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Shortly after the death of his father, bluesman Deacon James rolls into Arkham with an otherworldly song in his head and a sinister detective, John Persons, on his trail...

I follow Cassandra Khaw on twitter and she mentioned needing reviews for this. Since I liked her first John Persons novella, Hammers on Bone, I was all over it like a ghoul on an unsuspecting citizen of Arkham.

Noir mixed with cosmic horror is the best combo since chocolate and peanut butter and A Song for Quiet is a prime example. Much like in Lovecraft Country, the horrors of the cosmos mesh with the mundane horrors of racism and ignorance. Deacon James is much more worried about white folks putting the screws to him, partially in the form of the strange detective on his trail, than horrors from beyond the stars.

Melding music with Lovecraftiana isn't a totally new concept but Khaw does a great job with it here. The truth behind the song was in keeping with Lovecraftian tradition while still being fresh. Actually, the only gripe I have about the tale is I wish I'd read this one before Hammers on Bone so I wouldn't have an inkling what John Persons was up to.

Khaw's prose reminds me of Laird Barron's, a great blend of pulp and poetry. Where's my full length John Persons novel, Khaw? Where?

Silliness aside, this was one hell of a read. Four out of five squamous, suckered stars.

View all my reviews

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Review: The Handmaid's Tale

The Handmaid's Tale The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In the near future, the rights of women have been stripped away and the fertile ones become Handmaids and are assigned to upper class men. Offred remembers the time before and knows there must be a way out of the hell men have created...

Once upon a time, I dated a woman whose favorite writer was Margaret Atwood and she passed along this book for me to read. Frankly, I was pretty impressed with the dystopian tale but found it a little far-fetched at the time. Now, in the later part of 2017, it feels a lot more plausible so I decided it was time for a reread.

Margaret Atwood paints a grim view of a future when women's rights are stripped away until they're reduced to breeding stock. Reading is forbidden! Reading! At the time I first read it, it seemed like a paranoid fantasy. Now, in an era where people's rights are being steadily eroded and the gap between the rich and the poor is a fathomless chasm, it's all too easy to imagine. Anyway, the paranoid feel is one of my favorite parts. Anyone could be a rat!

Atwood knows her way around a sentence. The writing is rich and she weaves quite a narrative around the life and times of a Handmaid. While she alleges she doesn't write science fiction, yes, Margaret, this is science fiction, at least on some level. Just because it's also literary and something of a cautionary tale doesn't give it a free pass. While I like the writing quite a bit, I thought it was a little wordy for what it was.

The Handmaid's tale is a powerful book and there's a reason it's won so many awards and wound up on so many people's top lists. Through the magic of aging 10-12 years, I forgot most of it so it was like a whole new book. I'm glad I reread it. 4.5 out of 5 stars.



View all my reviews

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Review: An Apocalypse of Our Own

An Apocalypse of Our Own An Apocalypse of Our Own by Jeff Strand
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

When a green cloud makes people hemorrhage from every orifice, friends Kevin and Missy find themselves trapped in a bomb shelter. Can their friendship survive the end of the world, killer mutants, and having sex with each other?

Jeff Strand's brand of horror comedy is normally a can't miss prospect for me. This one popped up for ninety-nine cents and I was powerless to resist.

For a book that mostly takes place in a bomb shelter, An Apocalypse of Our Own is surprisingly hilarious. Kevin and Missy try to maintain a sense of normalcy while subsisting on canned goods and trying to crack the code on a lock that only allows them four attempts a day.

Strand's gore-strewn comedic skills are in full effect here. I had to stifle laughter quite a few times. I wound up busting this down half a star because of the dark turn near the end. Who would have thought an apocalypse featuring flesh-eating mutants would be such a downer? 3.5 out of 5 stars.

View all my reviews

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Review: Paradox Bound

Paradox Bound Paradox Bound by Peter Clines
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Eli Teague lives in Sanders, Maine, the town that time forgot. A chance encounter with a Model A Ford and its driver when he was a kid sets Eli on a collision course with all of America's history. That is, if the faceless men don't get him first...

Peter Clines impressed the shit out of me with The Fold and 14 so it was a no-brainer when Crown came knocking with an ARC of Paradox Bound.

Time travel stories are something that's hard to do well. Peter Clines takes an admirable stab at it in Paradox Bound. Instead of traveling through all of time and space, Eli and the searchers travel through American history, searching for the missing American dream.

Feeling more like a road book than a standard time travel story, Paradox Bound has a lot of innovative things about it. The faceless men, generic feds with no faces, protect the American dream until it is stolen and lost to history. Scores of people scour history looking for the American dream and the power to shape the country. Eli and Harry are just two such searchers, tooling around in a Model A and trying not to die.

The book maintains a pretty gripping pace. While I knew Eli wouldn't die, I wasn't sure about Harry or any of the other characters. Peter Clines did a great job with time paradoxes and keeping the proceedings logical while still being outlandish.

While I enjoyed this book, I didn't love it. I think Clines set the bar a little too high in 14 and The Fold. It had a less serious tone than either of those books. However, that wasn't the part that really rubbed me the wrong way. Eli makes a couple leaps in logic in the last 20% of the book that really didn't sit well with me. I can buy time, sorry, history travel, but I couldn't buy the conclusions Eli jumped to.

Paradox Bound is a fun book but I didn't think it was nearly as good as his previous two outings. Three out of five stars.

View all my reviews

Monday, October 23, 2017

Review: Graveworm

GravewormGraveworm by Tim Curran
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When her sister Lisa gets abducted, her abductor forces Tara Coombes into a sinister game. What depths will Tara sink to in order to get her sister back? And will she be able to return from those depths in one piece?

Tim Curran has been one of my go-to horror authors for the past few years. It was free on the Kindle one day a few weeks ago so I attacked it like a feral child on an old man in a dark room.

Graveworm is a tale of desperation and insanity. In order to find her sister, Tara Coombes has to become as monstrous as the man who abducted her. It's some pretty crazy shit. It feels like Psycho ramped up a few notches.

Lisa doesn't get much screen time and spends most of the book scared out of her mind. Tara keeps insanity at bay by knuckling up and trying to lure the Graveworm into a trap of her own weaving. Almost as interesting to me as the plight of the sisters Coombes were all the peripheral characters pulled into their orbits. Tara's current beau Steve and her ex, Frank, both get pulled into things, along with the neighbor gentleman whose name escapes me at the moment.

Henry and Worm, and their demented tea party of corpses, were pretty disturbing. Tim Curran can conjure up some revolting shit. While this one didn't physically make me gag like Sow, it was close to reaching the top of the gagometer. Necrophilia, incest, necrophilic incest, gore, and excessive creepiness are the rule of the day.

Despite the length of time it took me to get through it, Graveworm is one hell of a great read. Not for the squeamish, though. There's a hell of a lot to squeam over. Four out of five decomposing stars.

View all my reviews

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Review: Carrie

Carrie Carrie by Stephen King
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Outcast Carrie White has a secret. She's telekinetic. When a popular girl's boyfriend invites her to prom as atonement, she accepts, completely unaware of the horrors lurking on the horizon...

Carrie is Stephen King's first novel and has been part of our cultural landscape since it was made into a movie in the late 1970s. Somehow, I've escaped reading it or seeing the movie until now. I knew (or thought I knew) most of the wrinkles of the plot going in, due to sai King's On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft and numerous cultural references over the years.

Carrie is told using an interesting structure, alternating passages from Carrie's timeline as it unfolds and excepts from accounts of what happened at the prom in the far future. The structure reminded me of Not Comin' Home to You at times. I think Block did it better.

The story itself is pretty good. It's a story of rejection, acceptance, betrayal, and bloody, horrible vengeance. It very much feels like a first novel, over written in places, but there's still a certain Kingliness to it.

While I wouldn't say I disliked the story, I wasn't in love with it. It feels like a novellette that was padded to bring up to novel length to me. Maybe it's because I already knew where the story was headed, both because of the structure and because it's been part of our pop culture for so long, I just wasn't hooked by it. The ending was much more horrific than I thought it would be, though. The rampage was by far the best part of the book.

Possible connection with another Stephen King story: Teddy DuChamp, owner of Teddy's Amoco, is mentioned as having died in 1968 but his son still locks up the gas pumps. The age doesn't seem right for Teddy DuChamp of The Body, though.

I'm glad Stephen King broke into the business with Carrie but it just wasn't my bucket of pigs' blood. Two out of five stars.

View all my reviews

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Review: The Beautiful Thing That Awaits Us All

The Beautiful Thing That Awaits Us All The Beautiful Thing That Awaits Us All by Laird Barron
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Beautiful Thing That Awaits Us All is a collection of short stories by Laird Barron.

Laird Barron is my latest literary obsession so I was glad to have this on my kindle when I finished Swift to Chase.

The Beautiful Thing That Awaits Us All covers a lot of ground, from noir to supernatural horror to cosmic horror to the horror of a puppet show about the end of the world performed by Thomas Ligotti. However, the tales are linked, albeit more loosely than Swift to Chase. Ransom Hollow gets mentions in several stories, the same character appears in two stories and I believe is mentioned in another, and there are some stories that appear to be referencing The Croning. And the life of the party, the followers of Old Leech, show up to say hi.

The stories have Barron's stamp on them, be they ghost stories, were-creatures, cosmic horror, or the aforementioned puppet show. There's a sense of inevitability throughout and Laird's prose makes reading about apocalyptic horrors beyond our understanding pretty enjoyable. Some moments were as gritty as Cormac McCarthy, only with the proper punctuation.

I've said it before but I really like the way Laird Barron has put his own spin on cosmic horror, wedding the isolation and loneliness of the wilderness with abominations from beyond. I'm not ordinarily a fan of short stories but I'll read a thousand more if Laird Barron keeps writing them. Four out of five stars.

View all my reviews

Friday, October 6, 2017

Review: Slobberknocker: My Life in Wrestling

Slobberknocker: My Life in Wrestling Slobberknocker: My Life in Wrestling by Jim Ross
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Slobberknocker is the biography of wrestling announcer Jim Ross.

My first exposure to Jim Ross was during that shot time when a St. Louis station carried Bill Watts' UWF syndicated show. After that, I listen to him call matches in WCW and finally, the WWF/WWE. When I saw he was working on a book, I knew I had to read it.

The book starts and ends at Wrestlemania in 1999. The middle chronicles Jim Ross's life, from his days as a kid watching wrestling to breaking into the business to eventually becoming head of talent relations in the WWE.

The material within is great. There's self-deprecating humor and JR doesn't sugar coat much of anything. He freely admits his devotion to the wrestling business destroyed two of his marriages. He also goes into his bouts of Bell's Palsy with candid detail.

On the wrestling side of things, JR goes into the nuts and bolts of working for Bill Watts in the UWF/Mid-South, riding with the older wrestlers to learn the business. He goes into the chaos backstage at WCW and tells some very interesting stories about his friendship with Vince McMahon, something that's not normally touched upon in books like this. The road stories are pretty hilarious, as they usually are in wrestling books.

And here come the gripes! For one thing, some of the dates were way off. Did know one fact check this? Everyone knows the Montreal Screwjob happened in 1997, not 1998. And why the hell were some really interesting time periods glossed over? We got two pages of Bill Watts working for the WWF prior to Wrestlemania 11, and just a page or two more of Watts running WCW. Jim Ross was in the wrestling business for over forty years. Why wasn't this book about twice as large? And why did it stop at 1999? That's 18 years that weren't covered!

Gripes aside, this was a gripping book. It was too short, though. I expected the world from it and it's definitely a second tier wrestling book. 3.5 out of 5 stars.

View all my reviews

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Review: Swift to Chase

Swift to Chase Swift to Chase by Laird Barron
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Swift to Chase is a collection of interconnected Laird Barron tales, most set in Alaska.

That's really underselling the collection. In Swift to Chase, Laird Barron performs a juggling act, pitting the bleakness of life in Alaska with the mangled nature of time and cosmic horror that lurks just around the corner. The interconnected nature of the tales and the fact that they aren't presented in chronological order drives home Barron's concept of time that is as twisted and deformed as a wrecked car. There is a disjointed, dreamlike quality to the collection but that doesn't diminish the horror in the slightest.

The Jessica Mace tales that begin the collection set the stage for the rest of them. Almost every character mentioned in every story appears somewhere in the book. I could read a hundred Jessica Mace tales and still want more.

The book bounces around between people Jessica knows to her parents to the people her parents knew once upon a time, all the while the Followers of Old Leech lurk in the background like a time bomb hidden in a closet.

Laird Barron's prose is as delightful as ever. There's a certain poetry to his descriptions of people being stabbed, short, or rent limb from limb. I've mentioned some horror authors as guys I'm sure I would have been friends with had we met as teenagers. Barron would have been the guy that I would have wanted to talk to but would have been afraid to approach. I get the sense that his early life in Alaska was brutally hard but that's what makes this book so effective. Which is worse, unfathomable cosmic horror or being alone in the dark and cold of an Alaskan winter?

One of my favorite parts of the book is in the introduction. One of Paul Tremblay's little girls asks Laird how he got his eye patch. He says "Has your dad ever told you not to run with a pencil in your hand?"

This was one hell of a read. I'm giving it a 4 now but I'll probably bump that up on a reread. This is definitely a book that begs to be read more than once.

View all my reviews

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Review: Gone South

Gone South Gone South by Robert McCammon
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When Vietnam vet Dan Lambert gets a notice in the mail that his truck is being repossessed, he heads down to the bank. The bank manager is an arrogant asshole and before Dan knows it, things have gone south in a big way. Where will Dan run when the police are after him and the bank president puts a $15,000 bounty on his head?

After reading Boy's Life, I kept my eye out for more McCammon on the cheap. Gone South, Bookgorilla email, yadda, yadda, yadda.

For some reason, this book languished on my kindle until someone let me know there were both an Elvis impersonator and a parasitic twin in this book. After that, I had only to fit it into my schedule.

Dan Lambert is a semi-employed carpenter at the beginning of the book, a divorced Vietnam vet with Leukemia that never left the war behind. When he loses his truck, he unwittingly unleashes a shitstorm and soon finds himself on the run. On his trail are Flint Murtaugh, gambler/bounty hunter, and Pelvis Eisley, a would-be bounty hunter he's saddled with. Flint has a conjoined twin he calls Clint and Pevlis is an Elvis impersonator if that wasn't clear by his name.

Gone South is more of a straight up crime book than anything else. There are no supernatural elements. There's a little more gore than most crime books, though. It's more in the Elmore Leonard/Joe Lansdale vein of crime books than anything McCammon had done prior. Also like Elmore Leonard, you wind up liking the bad guys quite a bit. The dialogue is great and sometimes hilarious. McCammon also shows off his writing chops quite a bit. I highlighted quite a few memorable lines while reading.

In the introduction, which I'm glad I read after the fact, McCammon describes Gone South as a journey from hell back to the garden of Eden, which I can see now that I've finished. Dan, Arden, Murtaugh, and Eisely are all pretty directionless at the beginning. They all grow as characters through the story, going through the meatgrinder, and coming out changed on the other side. It doesn't hurt that there are much badder bad guys than Murtaugh along the way.

What else can I say? Gone South is a really gripping, entertaining read. I don't have anything bad to say about it. While I've read and enjoyed four or five Robert McCammon books before this, part of me always thought of him as a Stephen King ripoff and I didn't understand why some people held him in such high regard. I get it now. Four out of five stars.

View all my reviews

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Review: X's For Eyes

X's For Eyes X's For Eyes by Laird Barron
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Macbeth and Drederick Tooms are the wealthy sons of the founder of Sword Enterprises, an evil corporation bent on world domination. When they discover the wreckage of a Sword space probe, one that isn't due to launch for several days, a mystery is afoot!

Since I've recently discovered Laird Barron, I plan to devour everything he's written by the end of the year. Fortunately, I had this one on my kindle already.

X's For Eyes is an homage to the Hardy Boys books with Laird Barron's twisted cosmic horror woven in. It's a pretty crazy tale. When the story starts with a 12 year old and a 14 year old going on a road trip with whiskey and hookers, you know the end result is going to be something crazy.

And crazy it was! The Hardy Boy analogues go from one harrowing situation to another and are confronted with artificial intelligent super computers, conspiracies, a dark god from another dimension, and the peculiarities of time itself. Barron manages to work his theories on the nature of time seamlessly into what's a young man's adventure tale.

Barron's prose is as gorgeous as ever. Once again, I found myself wanting to highlight half the book. I had no idea where the plot would lead, always a plus.

X's For Eyes was a really fun but thought-provoking novella. There aren't a lot of writers with the chops to blend the Hardy Boys and cosmic, sanity-blasting horror so well. Fans of modern takes on The Hardy Boys and Nancy drew, like The Boy Detective Fails and The Case of the Bleeding Wall will find a lot to like here. Four out of five stars.

View all my reviews

Friday, September 22, 2017

Review: Gorel and the Pot Bellied God

Gorel and the Pot Bellied God Gorel and the Pot Bellied God by Lavie Tidhar
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

On his quest to find his homeland, Goliris, Gorel the gunslinger goes to Falang-Et to find a magic mirror. Will he find the way home or death?

I've read a few Lavie Tidhar books before, A Man Lies Dreaming being my favorite. When I saw this "guns and sorcery" novella on Amazon, I broke my $2.99 ebook ceiling to buy it. It was worth it.

Gorel and the Pot Bellied God is a fantasy tale, owing quite a bit to the works of Fritz Leiber, and to a lesser extect Michael Moorcock and Jack Vance. Gorel is a gun-toting, drug-addicted mercenary in a fantasy world populated by all sorts of intelligent humanoid creatures, most of which Gorel has sex with at some point in the story. You heard. This is like the classic swords and sorcery tales, only with sex, drugs, and guns.

A lot of Gorel's background is mysterious but he had contact with a goddess at some point in the past, leaving him addicted to a drug called god dust. It's also not clear on how far away Goliris is, if it's on the same planet or even in the same dimension. That being said, Gorel is a fun character, conflicted, horny, and violent.

The core of the story draws from the fairy tale of the Princess and the Frog, only in this version, they have hundreds upon hundreds of human-frog hybrid babies, the Falang. Gorel heads into Falang-Et along the way, acquiring companions, killing things, and having inter-species sex.

The ending is bittersweet but Gorel isn't giving up on his quest. Good thing, since I want to read more of his adventures. Four out of five stars.

View all my reviews

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Review: Man with No Name

Man with No Name Man with No Name by Laird Barron
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Heron clan of the Yakuza is tasked with abducting Muzaki, a former professional wrestler. However, Nanashi, loyal member of the Heron and a man with a mysterious past, has his doubts. And Muzaki might have just the answer for him...

On the heels of The Croning, nothing but another Laird Barron book would do. Fortunately, I already had this one on my kindle.

Man with No Name is part noir, part cosmic horror with emphasis on the noir. In fact, it's mostly a crime book until Muzaki's true nature comes to light. It's also an action-packed bloodbath ones things go pear-shaped and Muzaki tells Nanashi how things are. The unspeakable horror and the nature of time seem to be hallmarks of Barron's, a plus in my book.

The prose was great, just as it was in The Croning, full of colorful similes and metaphors. I highlighted quite a bit but I could have easily highlighted most of the novella. There was also quite a bit of dark humor. This would be a fantastic movie.

The bonus novella, Blood and Stardust, was also quite good, though I wish the space would have been devoted to the main tale.

My sophomore experience with Laird Barron was almost as satisfying as the first and I can't wait to read more. 4.5 out of 5 stars.





View all my reviews

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Review: The Croning

The Croning The Croning by Laird Barron
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Don Miller has been married to his wife Michelle for 60 years and has been in the dark as to what goes on on her mysterious trips most of the time, beginning with a trip of theirs to Mexico decades ago that saw him beaten, scared, and out of his mind. What has she really been up to all these years and will Don survive the knowledge if he ever uncovers it?

Benoit Lelièvre of Dead End Follies has been singing the praises of Laird Barron for the last couple years. When this popped up on the cheap, I couldn't say no.

While I heard Laird Barron wrote cosmic horror, I immediately thought he'd be mining the H.P. Lovecraft vein, Cthulhu, shoggoths, and such. I was wrong. The vein he's working is all his own.

I had no idea what to expect with The Croning. It started with a very dark retelling of Rumpelstiltskin. At first, I was scratching my head but the book does a great job of establishing the Children of Old Leech as something that's been on earth a while. It also does some foreshadowing of events yet to come in the main tale.

The main tale tells of an ill-fated jaunt to Mexico that was Don's first brush with the horrors that lurk in the shadows. From there, it bounces back and forth between Don in his middle age to Don as an octogenarian, with Don walking the line between normalcy and sanity-blasting cosmic horror the entire time. When Don figures out what his wife's anthropology trips are really all about, it's far, far, far too late.

The odd structure does a lot to let the reader experience a lot of the disorientation Don normally feels. He's forgetful in the extreme and kind of a doormat. Although, being a doormat is probably the best one can hope for after sanity-testing revelations in a cave in Mexico. For my money, Old Leech and his children are more horrifying than Cthulhu ever as been. Earth is already in their clutches and it's only a matter of time.

Laird Barron's writing has a poetic flourish to it. I highlighted quite a few quotable lines on my kindle. He definitely a pulp author with a poet's heart, like Raymond Chandler or Robert E. Howard at times.

What else is there to say? The writing was fantastic, the story was compelling, and the horrors were horrifying. I'm glad I have a few more Barron books on my kindle. Five out of five stars.




View all my reviews

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Review: The Hole

The Hole The Hole by William Meikle
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A strange hum coming from underground gives everyone in town nosebleeds. Then massive sinkholes open all over town. When the survivors are barred from leaving town by armed soldiers, things go to worse. Can the intrepid band of survivors figure out what's causing everything and get out of town alive?

William Meikle is one of my go-to guys when I need a well-written horror fix. While this wasn't one of my favorite Meikle books, it was still a lot of fun.

The Hole is the story of a collapsing town and the townspeople trying to overcome the horrors that lie beneath, as well as the everyday horror of the army not letting anyone leave town. I guess "disaster horror" is a good way to describe it. It's hard to not read it while imagining it as a disaster movie. Since the threat came from underground and the setting was a remote small town, I kept thinking about Tremors, although that's where the similarities end.

The characters are about what you'd expect. You get the small town sheriff, the town doctor, the town drunks, and various others. The body count is very high and the nature of the threat is moving target. Sinkholes, the nosebleed-inducing hum, and the things from below.

The pacing on The Hole was great. There was never a dull moment and no filler. One thing about William Meikle I love is that I've never come away from one of his books thinking "That was as bloated as a week old corpse. It could have lost 100 pages easily." The writing never overstays its welcome and had quite a few lines I highlighted on my Kindle.

It wasn't fantastic, though. The characters were on the thin side and while the story takes place in the United States, I caught a lot of British-sounding phrases in it, like it was originally written to take place in England but was hastily rewritten for the American market.

All things considers, The Hole was a fun read and I eagerly await my next William Meikle reading experience. 3.5 out of 5 stars.

View all my reviews

Monday, September 18, 2017

Review: Dweller

Dweller Dweller by Jeff Strand
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

An awkward eight year old boy named Toby sees a Bigfoot-like creature in the woods one day, starting a friendship that lasts a lifetime...

I've been a fan of Jeff Strand's and a cheap ass for a long time so I snapped this up for the princely sum of ninety-nine cents one day. It's not as polished as his later works but still quite enjoyable. It features a lot of what I loved in later works like Kumquat.

Dweller is a coming of age tale about an outcast boy and his friendship with a flesh-eating monster that lives in the forest behind his house. Their friendship weathers death, age, death, alcoholism, death, and death. There's also some death...

Yeah, this is as dysfunctional a tale as I've ever read but it has some touching moments. Toby repeatedly puts Owen, the monster, ahead of everything else and repeatedly pays the price. Bullies and loved ones alike meat their fate in Owen's jaws and talons. There's a George R.R. Martin level of heart-breaking killings in this, interspersed with humor and some great character moments.

Jeff Strand is one of my go-to guys and this book is a great example of his blend of humor and horror. Three out of five stars.

View all my reviews

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Review: The Breakdown

The Breakdown The Breakdown by B.A. Paris
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Cassandra takes a remote road home from a party one rainy night and sees a car broken down along the road. She doesn't stop for long and continues on her way, only to find out the next morning that the woman was murdered. Her mental state slowly unravels and it appears she's inherited her mother's early onset dementia. Or has she...

I keep seeing BA Paris everywhere so I snapped this up when it went on sale for ninety-nine cents. I wouldn't mind having my dollar back.

I don't know what I was expecting but it wasn't this. A woman may or may not be going off the deep end. That's pretty much it. The murder that happened close by pretty much fades into the background until the very end.

Tedious is the best word to describe this book. I found it incredibly tedious. It was a short read but the hours I spent reading it felt more like a week. I found Cassie more annoying than sympathetic and since the book only had three prominent characters, Cassie included, I had a pretty good idea of what was going on fairly early in the proceedings. After that, I was waiting for Cassie to catch up.

The wrap up came out of left field. It was at that point I interrupted my wife's Harry Potter reading to run down the story.

She said "Is that a short story?"
I said "No, it's a whole goddamn book."

That's the point I've been driving toward. I don't the setup had the juice to go novel length. It was engaging enough to finish but I have no fond memories of the time we spent together. Two out of five stars.

View all my reviews

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Review: Chills

Chills Chills by Mary SanGiovanni
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

A blizzard in late May is the least of the town of Colby's problems. A string of cult murders points to a cult bent on opening a gate to another world and it's up to a group of homicide detectives to stop them...

Yeah, it may have been a case of wrong book, wrong time, or the fact that I just finished After the End of the World, a book with some similarities to this one, but I never really grabbed on to Chills.

The blurb describes this as "True Detective meets HP Lovecraft," which really sparked my interest. However, the only resemblance to True Detective is that the book features detectives investigating some cult murders and there's nothing particularly Lovecraftian about it other than talk of creatures from the void.

The setup is pretty interesting. An east coast town is gripped in an unusually long winter and the cops are called in to investigate a cult murder. You've got Jack Glazier, a down and out divorced cop, Teagan, an Irish lady's man, and Kathy, an occult expert with a tortured past. The winning ingredients are all there. It was pretty much paint by numbers after that.

Maybe I've read too many detective and horror novels but there weren't a lot of surprises. After the novelty of monsters made of snow and ice wore off, it was all pretty standard. Not only that, some parts got on my nerves. The romance subplot was annoying and unnecessary and the characters did some illogical things to add some jeopardy to the end.

One thing that annoyed me more than it should have was that everyone casually knew what an anglerfish was. People kept describing one of the creatures as resembling an anglerfish and no one had to ask what an anglerfish was. I knew what one was but I hardly think what an anglerfish looks like is common knowledge. For the record, it looks like this:



I realize that's a lot of bitching so I have to note that I didn't actually hate the book. Some parts were scary and I liked the concept of the Hand of Black Stars cult. Jack and Kathy had interesting backgrounds and I wouldn't mind reading more about them. I did also like the creatures SanGiovanni introduced, like The Blue People and the various ice creatures. Mary SanGiovanni's writing was pretty sharp and I'm open to reading more from her. I just didn't particularly care for this book. Two out of five stars.

View all my reviews

Friday, September 15, 2017

Review: After the End of the World

After the End of the World After the End of the World by Jonathan L. Howard
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In the aftermath of the previous book, Dan Carter and Emily Lovecraft are struggling to fit into their new world when Dan gets an intriguing case that sees him going undercover as a security guard at Miskatonic University to investigate a joint German-American zero point energy experiment. But what does the mysterious Mr. Weston have to do with everything?

Carter & Lovecraft was one of my favorite books of 2015 so I've been dying to get my squamous tentacles on this ever since. Thank you, Netgalley!

Anyway, After the End of the World picks up where Carter and Lovecraft left off. Dan and Emily find themselves in a world where HPL's creatures are real and WWII didn't happen and the US and Germany are allies. Americans are a little too chummy with Nazis but that winds up being the least of Dan and Emily's problems.

Carter and Lovecraft have their hands full in this one, with Mr. Weston, Nazis, German cultists, the Necronomicon, and the prospect of figuring out how to undo the events of Carter and Lovecraft. The zero point energy project eventually sees them wind up on a remote island and that's where things really get cracking.

In the gulf not unlike the void between stars between the first book and this one, I'd forgotten how much I like these two characters. The banter between them is the star of the show for me. It's interesting that they're coping with the new status quo in different ways. I'd also forgotten just how slick Jonathan Howard's prose is at times.

I don't want to give away too much. Suffice to say, After the End of the World was just as good as Carter and Lovecraft and now I medically need to read the third installment. Four out of five stars.

View all my reviews

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Review: The Fall of Hyperion

The Fall of Hyperion The Fall of Hyperion by Dan Simmons
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

As the pilgrims prepare to enter the Time Tombs, the war between the Ousters and the Hegemony is just hours from breaking out. Can they enter the Time Tombs quickly enough to prevent intergalactic war and the deaths of billions?

Here we are, the second half of the epic Dan Simmons started in Hyperion. Kassad, Brawne, and the other pilgrims introduced in the previous book meet their destinies. However, the bigger story is the war between the Hegemony and its enemies.

During my initial read, I didn't like this one as much as Hyperion, probably because it lacked the Canterbury Tales-like structure of the first book. However, I've softened upon the second read.

Using the dreams of Joseph Severin as a linking device, the story follows the actions of Hegemony CEO Meina Gladstone trying to avert war with the Ousters and frequently cuts to action on Hyperion. As the zero hour nears, the truth behind what is happening unfolds and it has wide reaching consequences.

I'm dancing around the actual events of the story to avoid spoilers but I can't imagine reading and enjoying Hyperion without devouring this one. People throw the word 'epic' around very lightly these days but Hyperion and Fall of Hyperion comprise an epic of galactic scope.

Gene Wolfe once said “My definition of good literature is that which can be read by an educated reader, and reread with increased pleasure.” Hyperion and Fall of Hyperion definitely fall into that category. The text of both books is peppered with literary references and lots of Christian symbolism, as well as thought provoking philosophical ideas. There's also a pro-environment message, as well as warnings of becoming too dependent on technology.

I get the feeling that Dan Simmons thought it might be his last big chance to show what he could do and he pulled out all the stops, combining heady science fiction concepts with things he gleaned from being an English major in college and years of teaching. I understood far more this time around but felt like there were still a lot of things I couldn't quite wrap my head around. I guess I'll schedule a reread for sometime in 2025. I hadn't planned on rereading the Endymion books but a reread of those is probably happening in 2018.

My second journey to the Time Tombs was even more rewarding than the first. Hyperion retains its place next to The Dark Tower as one of my favorite epics of all time. Five out of five stars.

View all my reviews

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Review: Hyperion

Hyperion Hyperion by Dan Simmons
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

On the eve of interstellar war between the Hegemony of Man and the barbarian Ousters over the fate of Hyperion, seven pilgrims embark on a journey to the Time Tombs and their mysterious protector, The Shrike, a three meter tall, four-armed monster covered with blades. One pilgrim will have his wish granted and the others will be impaled on the Shrike's Tree of Pain. Only one or more of the pilgrims isn't what he appears to be...

I first read Hyperion almost seven years ago as part of the The Hyperion Omnibus: Hyperion / The Fall of Hyperion. When I found the ebook on the cheap, I decided it was time for a reread.

Hyperion is an epic tale that's hard to quantify. Borrowing its structure from the Canterbury tales, Hyperion is a literary sf tour de force, encompassing much of what I love about reading in the first place. There are literary references, far away places with strange sounding names, three dimensional characters, and a universe that is anything but black and white. There is also artificial intelligence, faster than light travel, robots, lasers, and many other spectacular sf concoctions.

As I said before, Hyperion is really a multitude of tales in one. Seven people have been selected to go on what is possibly the final Shrike pilgrimage. Along the way, they tell their stories, stories which run the gamut of genre tales. There's romance, humor, action, adventure, sex, and violence, everything I love about genre fiction. Simmons really flexes his writing chops in this, from Martin Silenus' verbose tale of being a writer to Brawne Lamia's Raymond Chandler homage. World-building is often intrusive and wielded like a club but Simmons' world-building is more like a massage, doled out in bite-sized chunks during each of the characters' tales.

While the world-building is staggeringly interesting, it's the characters that really fuel this fire. A repentent soldier, a conflicted diplomat, an old man with a child aging in reverse, the captain of a treeship, a burden-carrying priest, a detective in love with a poet, and a poet in love with the past.

There isn't enough space to write down everything I loved about this book. The only gripe I have is that it ends abruptly once the Consul's tale is told and the real ending is in the second volume, The Fall of Hyperion. For my money, Hyperion stands alongside The Dark Tower as on of my favorite fantasy/sf works of all time.

I originally read this way back in 2011 and it was one of those wonderful books that eclipsed many of the books before it. On the second read, it still is. Five out of five stars.

View all my reviews

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Review: Little Boy Lost

Little Boy Lost Little Boy Lost by J.D. Trafford
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When a little girl walks into down and out St. Louis lawyer Justin Glass's office with a jar full of change, he has no choice but to take her case: find her missing brother. Unfortunately, the trail leads somewhere sinister...

Little Boy Lost is a legal thriller set in my back yard, St. Louis, Missouri. Trafford does a great job capturing the feel of St. Louis and there are a lot of details that give it additional authenticity. I loved that Justin won the Crown Candy Kitchen milkshake challenge in his youth.

Justin is a likeable but damaged lead, haunted by memories of his dead wife, caught in his father's and brother's political machinations. The case is fairly serpentine. Even though I knew the main suspect was a red herring, Trafford kept making me think he did it. Just who the hell is killing gang members anyway? I figured it out just a page or two before Justin did, almost when it was too late.

The side plots keep the book from becoming a formulaic thriller. Justin's relatives keep wanting to drag him into politics, his daughter is being bullied at school, and there are a few other things going on. Another thing the book has going for it is a surprisingly deep supporting cast for the first book in what is probably going to be a series: Schmitty the cop, Emma, Justin's way too capable paralegal, and the Bosnians working a the coffee shop up the road, Hermes and Nikolai.

Little Boy Lost is a good first book in what promises to be a great series. Four out of five stars.



View all my reviews

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Review: The Dark Half

The Dark Half The Dark Half by Stephen King
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When someone discovered literary writer Thad Beaumont was also crime writer George Stark and tried to blackmail him, Beaumont and his wife decided to go public and kill off George Stark themselves. But when the pseudonym takes on a life of his own and starts killing people connected to Thad, can anything stop him?

I read this sometime in that hazy dawn of time before Goodreads. Since we had a trip to Maine coming up, I decided to read it again.

The Dark Half is an underrated book. Thad Beaumont had a parasitic twin removed from inside his skull when he was 12. Since then, he's become a critically acclaimed literary writer and a blockbuster crime writer under the pseudonym George Stark, who goes on a murderous rampage when Thad kills him off.

This is one of those books where the main character is the least interesting one. Alan Pangborn is a great viewpoint character and a lot more interesting than Thad. He's a small town sheriff trying to do his job despite some crazy shit happening.

Basically, The Dark Half is Parker chasing down Donald Westlake. Since I've read all 23 Parker books Richard Stark wrote since the first time I read this, the reread was a much richer experience. I noticed some Richard Stark influence in the George Stark chapters. Also, I enjoyed the Creepshow reference, although I might have to check the timeline to see which one actually came first. "Call me Billie, everyone does!"

Aside from the psychopomp business with the sparrows and Stark falling apart, The Dark Half is pretty much a crime book. It doesn't feel nearly as long winded as some of King's books and the ending didn't suck for once. George Stark was a chilling villain and since I forgot the ending, I had no idea if Thad would live or not. Four out of five stars.

View all my reviews

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Review: Sweet Dreams Cthulhu: A Lovecraftian Bedtime Book

Sweet Dreams Cthulhu: A Lovecraftian Bedtime Book Sweet Dreams Cthulhu: A Lovecraftian Bedtime Book by Jason Ciaramella
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Cthulhu has a bad dream and needs some reassurance from his friend, Howard Lovecraft.

I put in on the Kickstarter for this. It's a pretty adorable kids book. HPL helps Cthulhu get back to sleep, showing him that the shadows and monsters under his bed are nothing to be afraid of.

It's a slim 23 pages. While the story is as simplistic as every kid's book ever, the artwork is fantastic. It's a fun kid's book but not as good as C is for Cthulhu.




View all my reviews

Review: The Roanoke Girls

The Roanoke Girls The Roanoke Girls by Amy Engel
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

After her mother's death, Lane Roanoke spent a summer with family in rural Kansas. Now, years later, her cousin Allegra is missing and Lane goes back to Kansas to figure out what happened and face the events of the summer that changed her life...

I saw the title Roanoke Girls being thrown around but I knew nothing about the book when it went on sale for $2.99. Going in cold made it all the better.

The Roanoke Girls is part mystery, part horrible coming of age tale. Lane Roanoke is a damaged limb on a diseased family tree, trying to forget the events of the summer after her mom died. When her cousin Allegra goes missing, Lane has to face the music.

Much like Tampa, this will be a polarizing book. Also, much like Tampa, it's compulsively readable, a trainwreck on the page. The best villains aren't the scene-chewing maniacs. They're the ones convinced what they're doing is right. The Roanoke Girls shares that with Tampa as well.

The writing style reminds me of Megan Abbott, and the subject matter as well. The story is told in two threads: the summer after Lane's mother's death and her return to Kansas to find out what happened to Allegra. In both of them, Lane turns over rocks to see the horrors lurking underneath, horrors she's tied to by blood and more.

The way Lane handles relationships keeps the story going even when nothing much is happening. She's damaged by her past relationships and can't help but wreck her current ones. She's a sympathetic figure, even when she's being a bitch.

The mystery wasn't all that complex but it was fun seeing Lane connect the dots. Like I said, the book was really hard to put down. I read it in two long sittings.

I was tempted to give it five stars but little things about it bugged me. Do women talk about boobs so much? Also, I'm pretty sure it's impossible to shoot a hole in a metal sign with a BB gun. And I wish certain parties would have suffered much worse fates. Other than that, I can't think of anything to bitch about. I loved the small town setting, the mystery, pretty much the whole thing.

4.5 out of 5 stars.



View all my reviews

Monday, August 28, 2017

Review: The Talisman

The Talisman The Talisman by Stephen King
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Twelve year old Jack Sawyer's mother is dying of cancer and the only thing that can save her is The Talisman. Can Jack cross America and The Territories to claim it and save his mother?

I first read The Talisman while waiting for the last three Dark Tower books to be published. Thanks to the magic of getting older, I forgot 95% of what happened. When the ebook fell into my lap, I was ready for a reread.

Brief Side Bar: This book fell into my lap because Goodreads offered me an ebook of my choice in order to share my notes and highlights. At first, this seemed like a pain in the ass but it wound up being pretty useful when formulating my review. Also, it beat carrying the massive hard cover around like a cave man.

The Talisman is a coming of age tale and also a quest story. Jack Sawyer's mom has cancer and the only thing that can save her is The Talisman, a mysterious McGuffin housed in a haunted hotel all the way over on the opposite side of the country. Fortunately, Jack can cross over into The Territories, a fantasy/pseudo-western that exists alongside earth. Still with me?

Co-written with Peter Straub at the beginning of the 1980s, The Talisman simultaneously feels like a dry-run for the Dark Tower and a collection of Stephen King's greatest hits up to that point. Jack's trek across the country is not that unlike the ka-tet's journey to the Dark Tower and the Talisman is referred to as "the axle of all worlds" on several occasions, just like a certain Tower. King flirted with the concept of twinners in other books, though not by name. I have to believe Jack Sawyer is linked to Jake Chambers in some way. Maybe King didn't think he'd ever finish the Dark Tower so he worked as many ideas from it into The Talisman as he could.

The "greatest hits" notion I mentioned? Specific scenes seemed like they were almost lifted from other king books. The talk Speedy gives Jack is a lot like the talk Danny Torrance gets from Scatman Cruthers (I know that's not his name but I can't think of it at the moment) in The Shining. You also get King staples like the spooky tunnel. There were echoes of other, earlier King books in the mix that I've already forgotten. Not only that, there were some future echoes as well. The Alhambra hotel, anyone? Also, there were numerous things that would be revisited during various points of The Dark Tower.

So where is Peter Straub in all this? Honestly, I can't say since I've never read any Straub solo books. However, there are a few times in the text where the writing lacks a certain Kingliness. I'll chalk those up to Straub. There was some backtracking I didn't care for that I'll also blame on Straub.

For a kitten squisher of this size, there wasn't a whole lot in The Talisman that felt like it could be pruned. It takes a long time to hoof and thumb across America and The Territories and Jack Sawyer goes through several hells on the way. Oatley and Sunlight Gardener's boys home were the worst, in my opinion. Give me a railroad trip over a radioactive wasteland over those two places any day.

A co-worker of mine said King is at his best when writing about kids. I didn't agree with him at the time but I saw where he was coming from some ways into this book. While I thought Jack, and later Richie, talked more like seventeen year olds than twelve year olds, what twelve year old doesn't want to go on an adventure? I'd visit the Territories now, as a 40 year old kid.

I felt for Jack's companions at times but I would also be frustrated trying to travel with Wolf. More than once, I would have left Richie behind, though. When Jack finally reached the Agincourt, I had the put the book down so I could finish it at home rather than sneak read the rest in my cube. The big showdown at the end reminded me a lot of something that happened in The Wastelands. I was also really glad of how the ending turned out, the ending of Cujo still fresh in my mind.

The second time through The Talisman was just as enjoyable as the first time thanks to the magic of forgetting. Trial run of the Dark Tower or no, The Talisman is an enjoyable epic and a taste of things yet to come from Stephen King. Four out of five stars.



View all my reviews

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Review: Money Back Guarantee

Money Back Guarantee Money Back Guarantee by Hunter Shea
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When Dwight saw the ad for the nuclear sub in the back of a Spider-Man comic, he just had to have it. His mother Rosemary, flush from tupperware sales, was happy to get it for him. When Dwight nearly drowned in a mass of soggy cardboard, Rosemary wanted her money back!

I'm a fan of Hunter Shea's Mail Order Massacres so I snapped this up when it popped up on Netgalley.

As I said in my reviews of the previous two novellas in this series, I have fond memories of looking through the dubious ads in the backs of comics in the early 1980s so this series has hit all the right spots for me. Money Back Guarantee is no different.

When Dwight's cardboard nuclear sub arrived in the mail, I felt nostalgic but also sad for him. Once the sub became a soggy mess, I was solidly behind mother. Who knew the faceless corporation behind all that novelty garbage could be so sinister?

Hunter Shea's writing took me down a nostalgic road to the early 1980s, when I was a kid and everything was possible, including the stuff you could order from the back of comics. There are little nods to the early 1980s, like Tupperware parties, music, and movies, but I didn't feel like it was nostalgia-pandering. AdventureCo, the diabolic faceless corporation behind the junk, was much worse than I imagined.

While I think Mail Order Massacres is just a trilogy, I'd happily gobble up more of these like one of the flesh eating plants I saw in the back of Batman comic once upon a time. Four out of five stars.

View all my reviews