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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.





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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.




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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.



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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.

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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.




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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.



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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.



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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.

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Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Review: Winter Tide

Winter Tide Winter Tide by Ruthanna Emrys
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Aphra and Caleb Marsh, survivors of the government's raid on Innsmouth in 1928 and the internment camp that followed, head to the east coast to find the lost books of their people. Will Miskatonic University give up its secrets? And what of the rumors of Russians researching body-swapping magic?

After reading Litany of the Earth in Cthulhusattva: Tales of the Black Gnosis, I was intrigued by Ruthanna Emrys' tale of the plight of the survivors of the government's raid on Innsmouth and wanted more. Tor turned me down for an ARC of this but good old Richard came through.

The Marsh siblings, the last known People of the Water, or Deep Ones, left on land, head east to reclaim their birthright, the accumulated knowledge once housed in the homes and libraries of Innsmouth. With a couple friends in tow, and a couple more new friends met on the way, they rediscover their lost heritage and cross paths with magic most fowl.

I love what Ruthanna Emrys has built atop the foundation that HP Lovecraft laid a long time ago. Her bricks aren't mortared with hate, however. By mirroring the experiences of the Innsmouth survivors and the interned Japanese Americans in World War II, she humanizes the Deep Ones quite a bit and gives a much greater depth to their culture. The book has a message of tolerance throughout, something the world could use more of in this day and age.

The relationship between Aphra and her students, the confluence, drive the story, making it much more nuanced than I thought it would be going in. You wouldn't think a book that's primarily people researching magic would be this gripping. I love the magic system and the way Emrys wove Lovecraftian concepts with her own ideas.

There's not a lot I didn't find fascinating about this book. If I had to pick one gripe, it would be that there wasn't a big showdown at the end, though the end was pretty satisfying and felt truer to the rest of the book than a monster smackdown would have.

As I've said many times before, I like the concepts HPL created better than works by Old Howie himself. Ruthanna Emrys uses those concepts better than most. Four out of five stars.

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Thursday, August 17, 2017

Review: Everything's Eventual: 14 Dark Tales

Everything's Eventual: 14 Dark Tales Everything's Eventual: 14 Dark Tales by Stephen King
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The wife had me watch 1408 a while back. I remembered it was in this collection but the only stories I even vaguely remember are the titular one and Little Sisters of Eluria. I figured 2017 was as good a time as any for a reread.

Even though I've been a Constant Reader for twenty years now, I always forget just how good Stephen King is at what he does until I start reading. The man knows his way around a story, though he gets a little wordy at times.

Like all short story collections, the stories vary in quality. I was surprised at how much I'd forgotten since I originally read this in 2002. Little Sisters of Eluria was better than I remembered, though Roland's story is missing something without the rest of the ka-tet. Everything's Eventual was great but since I came to it with more experienced eyes, it somewhat reminded me of Time Out of Joint. Autopsy Room was another great one. I liked The Road Virus Heads North but I feel like I read something similar a long time ago.

Some of the stories seemed a little out of place. I wasn't enamored with LT's Theory of Pets, The Death Room, or The Death of Jack Hamilton. As for 1408, the story that prompted me to pick the book back up... I actually preferred the movie. It was an okay story about a hotel room haunted by something but the movie really fleshed things out. Also, the Mike Enslin in the book is couple notches higher on the douche scale than the one John Cusack plays in the movie.

As with all short story collections, this one is a little hard to rate. Do Everything's Eventual, Little Sisters of Eluria, and Autopsy Room overcome the drag factor of the stories I didn't care that much for? At the end of the day, I'm slapping the traditional safety rating on this one. Three out of five stars.

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Saturday, August 12, 2017

Review: Sacculina

Sacculina Sacculina by Philip Fracassi
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Jim, his ex-con brother, his father, and Chris, a friend of his brother's, go fishing in the sea on a charter boat. But on that fateful day, their only catch is DEATH!

Sacculina is a short creature feature about killer barnacles. That's what you're getting. The characters are more developed that is necessary for a book of this time. Who would have thought a creature feature would have so much in the way of familial relationships in it?

Anyway, the barnacle threat is really well done. The fact that the barnacles are everywhere reminds me a lot of the "floor is lava" game everyone played as kids. Will any of the fishing party return? There's some gross body horror thrown into the mix, making Sacculina a nice morsel of horror fiction.

The ending was one of those chilling Twilight Zone endings. While it wasn't remarkable, I can't find anything really negative to say about it. Sacculina is a fun horror tale and a perfect read for a lazy Saturday morning. Three out of five stars.

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Review: Lost Boy

Lost Boy Lost Boy by Christina Henry
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A young man named Jamie tells the tale of the worst villain he's ever known... an impish boy named Peter.

I've long been a fan of dark retellings of classic tales, like Alice and The Child Thief. When I saw the Bibliosanctum was having a giveaway for this one, I jumped at the chance.

Lost Boy is a dark retelling of Peter Pan from the point of view of the boy who would become Captain Hook. And it's fantastic. What would an island populated by eleven year old boys really be like? It's way more like Lord of the Flies than Neverland. Lost Boys die all the time and Peter goes to the Other Place to retrieve more, just like he did with Jamie, the boy who has been his right hand for 150 seasons, at least.

Peter as an uncaring sociopath makes a lot of sense and is very well thought out. Peter has a short attention span and is extremely selfish and self-centered. The Lost Boys and the pirates are just playthings to him, to be tossed away as soon as they become uninteresting. Actually, he acts more like a cat than a little boy, now that I think about it.

After being on the island with Peter for nearly a century, Jamie starts seeing the chinks in Peter's armor and knows a bloody confrontation is coming. Peter isn't happy unless he's the center of attention so when Jaime spends more time with some of the newer Lost Boys, things go south in a hurry.

The book has a lot of brutal, heart-breaking plot twists. I set the book down to tell my wife about them a few times but, for the most part, I wolfed this book down in three sittings. It's a really gripping read and I couldn't wait to see what psychotic gesture of "friendship" Peter would make next.

The dark spin on the Peter Pan mythos was fantastic. This book postulates answers to age-old questions like "Why don't the boys age?" and "What's with the vendetta between Peter and the pirates?"

When Christina focused her dark lens on Peter Pan, she crafted a winner. If you like dark takes on classic tales, this is the book for you. Five out of five stars.



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Thursday, August 10, 2017

Review: The Resurrection of Joan Ashby

The Resurrection of Joan Ashby The Resurrection of Joan Ashby by Cherise Wolas
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Joan Ashby was on the fast track to being the next great American novelist until she got pregnant. She spends the better part of the next three decades writing off and on in secret while taking care of her family. Can she overcome age, obligations, and a crushing betrayal to take back her destiny?

This isn't the kind of book I normally read but I'm a sucker when a publisher, Flatiron, in this case, offers me an ARC directly, I usually take it. For most of the book, I was glad I did.

Since people are thin-skinned about what constitutes a spoiler these days, go ahead and turn back now if you don't want to know anything about the book. I have lot of conflicting thoughts about this book and can't be bothered with spoiler tags.

The Resurrection of Joan Ashby is a very well written book. The writing reminded me of Donna Tartt quite a bit and I was glued to the book for long periods, savoring every word. Cherise Wolas knows her way around a sentence, that's for sure.

A lot of young writers will probably identify with Joan Ashby. She's a determined young author, disdaining love and motherhood in favorite of writing. At a young age, she had two award winning short story collections published and damn near everyone, Joan included, can't wait to read her first novel. However, soon after getting married, she gets pregnant and everything changes.

The Resurrection of Joan Ashby is the story of Joan's long road back, kicking, screaming, and clawing. She finds unexpected joy in motherhood but, at the same time, wonders what might have been. There are ups and downs in the ensuing decades, including a horrible betrayal at the hands of a loved one.

Excerpts from Joan's writings are scattered throughout the book, some providing parallelism, and foreshadowing in some cases. It also gives a window into a character who keeps part of herself hidden most of the time. Other excerpts feel like they may have been added to provide some padding. For what this book is, it's a little on the longish side.

For the first two thirds of the book, this one was a no-brainer for an easy 4.5, possibly even 5 stars. Sure, some of the characters are a little thin but the writing is great. However, the third act turned into Eat, Pray, Love. Granted, it was a very well-written Eat, Pray, Love but for my money, a rich person running away from their problems in India doesn't make them seem sympathetic. It makes them seem selfish and self-absorbed.

I actually contemplated not finishing the book once she went to India, thinking it cowardly and out of character, but upon further reflection, her entire adult life was fueled by cowardice and selfishness, keeping her writing life separate from her family life at all costs. I thought she was going to turn things around near the end but she kept being a craphead. It wasn't poor Martin's fault their lives turned out the way the did! She had every opportunity from the start to change things and she never did. While I found Joan an interesting character, any sympathy I may have had for her evaporated when she got on the plane to India.

After the monumental first 66%, the book went into a downhill slide it never recovered from. The ending was a fart in the wind. Nothing really got resolved other than Joan finishing her book.

As far as I know, this is Cherise Wolas' first novel and it shows. The book could have easily lost 75-100 pages and would have been better for it. That being said, she's a smooth pimp when it comes to whipping the English language around. Since I was thinking about slapping a 5 on this badboy for 2/3rds of the book and a 2 for the last third, I guess I'll go ahead and give this a 3. The ending doesn't live up to the promise of the beginning and it's long for what it is.

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Thursday, August 3, 2017

Review: Bubba and the Cosmic Blood-Suckers

Bubba and the Cosmic Blood-Suckers Bubba and the Cosmic Blood-Suckers by Joe R. Lansdale
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In the early 1070's, Elvis and his team of monster hunters go up against bloodsuckers from another dimension.

While Hap and Leonard are the Joe Lansdale creations I enjoy the most, the really weird stuff like Zeppelins West are what brought me to the dance. When this came up on Netgalley, I couldn't resist.

Ever wonder what landed Elvis in that nursing home in Bubba Ho-Tep? This goes a long way in explaining things. I remember at least one other Lansdale story featuring Elvis from one of his short story collections. Anyway, Bubba and the Cosmic Blood-Suckers is one of Lansdale's stranger tales.

When Elvis wasn't performing in Vegas, he was fighting monsters and spending a lot of time in an isolation tank, drugged out and searching for some cosmic truth. The Colonel held Elvis' mother's soul captive, which explains why Elvis hooked up with the son of a bitch in the first place.

When strange things show up on an unfinished film of Elvis', the crew springs into action to fight some parasites from another dimension. It's way funnier than it sounds.

The trademark Lansdale wit is in full effect. My wife was clearly wondering what I was laughing at but learned long ago that it was better not to ask. The story was short and satisfying, like a hand job in a porno theater. Landale does a great job juggling humor and violence and Bubba and the Cosmic Blood-Suckers is no exception.

To say more would be to risk spoilage. If you're a fan of Bubba Hotep or any of Joe Lansdale's crazier tales, this one is not to be missed. Four out of five stars.

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Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Review: Seven Days of Us

Seven Days of Us Seven Days of Us by Francesca Hornak
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When Olivia Birch heads home for Christmas after relief work in Liberia, she dooms her family to spend seven days in quarantine. Can the family survive its own company?

This is not the type of book I usually read. The publisher contacted me and I accepted a print ARC for some reason. I'm quite glad I did.

Seven Days of Us is a tale about secrets, the secrets a family keeps from one another. Being locked up together over the holidays is like a steel cage match, even for a stiff upper lip British family like the Birchs.

Secrets can devour a person and the Birch family and their associates get hit by a swarm of piranhas. Illegitimate children, gay fiances, cancer, secret relationships, you name it. Some of the twists were predictable, unbelievable even. Others were like a punch in the groin. The last one was like bungee jumping, having the band snap, and landing on a mountain of broken glass. Once I got into the groove, I felt like Seven Days of Us was glued to my hands and eyes.

It's a compulsively readable book. The characters are well-nuanced and I couldn't wait to see what happened to them. It's begging to be made into a movie starring probably Colin Firth.

It's not my usual cup of tea but we all need a sip of Oolong instead of the usual Earl Grey now and then. Four out of five stars.

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Thursday, July 27, 2017

Review: Gwendy's Button Box

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Sunday, July 23, 2017

Review: Tormentor

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Friday, July 21, 2017

Review: Doctor Who Roleplaying Game

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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Saturday, July 15, 2017

Review: The Dunfield Terror

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Review: Fairy Lights

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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Saturday, July 8, 2017

Review: Uptown Death Squad

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

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

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

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

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

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Friday, July 7, 2017

Review: Pentacle

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Monday, July 3, 2017

Review: The Elephant Who Liked To Smash Small Cars

The Elephant Who Liked To Smash Small Cars The Elephant Who Liked To Smash Small Cars by Jean Merrill
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A friend of mine recommended this to me, saying it was a little demented for a child's book. Boy, was he right!

The plot is as follows: An elephant likes to smash small cars(although in one instance, it looks like he's attempting to have sex with one.) He's a car wrecking machine. One day, a car dealership specializing in small cars opens in the neighborhood and an orgy of car smashing destruction ensues. The dealer, his business obviously ruined, starts stocking large cars, too big for the elephant to smash. He then proceeds to repeatedly run over the elephant for the sole purpose of teaching him a lesson...

Edit: They finally reprinted this gem and I had the lady of the house read it aloud for my amusement. I took great glee in seeing her grow increasingly appalled as the elephant got his comeuppance. Anyway, the illustrations from the original edition are intact, as is the moral of the tale: "If you act like an asshole, sooner or later, someone is going to settle your hash for you."

I wish my mom would have read this to me when I was a youngling. Funny stuff, even for adults.

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Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Review: Zero Lives Remaining

Zero Lives Remaining Zero Lives Remaining by Adam Cesare
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The ghost at the arcade was largely harmless until it had to kill to protect its favorite patron. Now, the soul of a sociopath is melded with its own and the remaining people in the arcade will have to fight for their lives...

As someone who whiled away many Mountain Dew-fueled hours playing video games as a youth, a novella about a murderous video arcade was something I couldn't pass up. Plus, it was on my kindle and I had to read SOMETHING while my tires were getting rotated. What was I going to do, talk to the other patrons?

As I've said before, I think Adam Cesare and I would be best buds if we'd grown up in the same neighborhood. His video game references hit all the right notes for me without feeling patronizing or pandering. The Ghost and Goblins reference was spot on. Fuck, that was one hard game!

Zero Lives Remaining is a survival horror tale set in a haunted arcade. For a b-horror enthusiast like myself, it reminds me of the part of Maximum Overdrive when they're holed up in the gas station. No one can enter, no one can leave, and it's only a matter of time before the next person dies. Some of the characters are surprisingly well crafted for a novella where most of the cast is destined to die horribly. Dan Bowden, in particular, really had me rooting for him.

There's a fair amount of gore but nothing nausea-inducing. I thought I knew who the survivors would be at the beginning and I was way off.

Zero Lives Remaining is a fun horror novella and a perfect way to kill time waiting for your car to get serviced. Four out of five stars.

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Review: Corpse Rider

Corpse Rider Corpse Rider by Tim Curran
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When Christina noticed an untended grave at the cemetery, she felt pity and pulled the weeds. Little did she know what horror would follow her home...

I've been a fan of Tim Curran and his horror novellas for years so I had to snap this up once I whittled the unread pile down a bit.

The Corpse Rider is part psychological suspense, part ghost story, and I'd have to throw body horror into the mix as well. Christina's one act of pity sees her terrorized by a ghost and its even more horrible progeny.

What do you do when a ghost leaves you creepy ass gifts, saying what a good mother you'll make? Freak the shit out, that's what, as Christina understandably does. With her friends Nancy and Office Crews at her side, she tries to get to the bottom of things so she can fight off the thing making her life a living hell or die trying.

I think Curran hit every color in the horror prism in this one. There's a nagging creepiness, suspense, body horror, and some nasty ass shit. Corpse Rider joins Sow as one of the only horror tales to actually make me slightly nauseous.

I really liked the gravedigger and all the background behind the thing stalking Christina. It gave the tale an extra dimension that sent it climbing out of the corpse-haunted grave that spawned it and put it on a pedestal. While not for the squeamish, Corpse Rider isn't one to be missed. 4.5 out of 5 stars.

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