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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Review: The Winter Box

The Winter Box The Winter Box by Tim Waggoner
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Todd and Heather's marriage has been on the rocks for some time. When they get trapped at home with no power during a blizzard, they're forced to confront their problems by the terror that lurks within... the Winter Box!

Okay, I made The Winter Box sound like a Twilight Zone episode. I guess it could be but it's more like a ghost story/cautionary tale.

Todd and Heather have drifted apart over the years and the specter of divorce is lurking in the background. When they get snowed in, weird things start happening and they're forced to work on their marriage, though it may be too late.

The Winter Box is a chilling tale in many ways. The blizzard and power outage are the least so. Much more chilling is what they let happen to their marriage and the shitstorm emanating from the Winter Box.

I've said many times that ebooks have once again made the novella a viable form and this is a prime example. The Winter Box is a fantastic story. I can't say enough good things about it. Five out of five stars.

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Monday, June 26, 2017

Review: Tampa

Tampa Tampa by Alissa Nutting
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

On the surface, Celeste Price and her husband are the perfect couple. He's a cop and she teaches junior high. However, her secret ravenous lust for young boys threatens to tear them apart...

Yeah, this is one of those polarizing books. It asks the uncomfortable question "If a gorgeous 26 year old teacher wants to bed a very willing 14 year old student of hers, is it really rape?" A wise man once wrote "the best villain is the one who thinks he's the hero" and Celeste definitely thinks she's in the right.

The book is written in a funny, vulgar style, so much so that you forget you're reading about a sociopathic child predator at times. The style reminds me of a more humorous, more vulgar Megan Abbott. The plot, however, is a sexuallized reverse Lolita, I guess. Celeste pursues and persuades a boy into a sexual relationship with her and they furiously bump uglies until the train gets derailed. A couple derailments, in fact. In some ways, it reminds me of a Jim Thompson book. You can tell how abnormal Celeste is and know it's only a matter of time before everything goes to several shades of shit.

The book made me feel dirtier than the floor of a porno theater but it was compulsively readable. It simultaneously made me wish I had a Playboy centerfold for a teacher in eighth grade and made me glad I didn't.

Uncomfortable but readable is my final feeling on the book. It was a gripping read and I'll be interested to read whatever Alissa Nutting writes next. Four out of five stars.

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Saturday, June 24, 2017

Review: The Voynich Manuscript

The Voynich Manuscript The Voynich Manuscript by Unknown
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The Voynich Manuscript is a book from the 15th century, written in a language no one can identify, let alone read. This book is divided into three sections: two introductions and the manuscript itself.

When this popped up on Netgalley, I had to give it a go. I've been aware of the Voynich Manuscript for about a decade and how often do you get to look at an undecipherable Renaissance era tome?

The introduction traces the Voynich manuscripts history from its discovery to modern day and hypothesizes its origins. Is it a scientist's enciphered journal or just meaningless gibberish?

I can see how people would arrive at either interpretation. There are some sections that look botanical, some medical, some astronomical, and some featuring naked women. As a sf/fantasy reader, the book most resembles a wizard's spell book or an alien explorer's journal. Maybe it's in a language older than mankind and its deciphering will wake Cthulhu from his dead and dreaming slumber on the floor of the Pacific.

The first section makes for somewhat interesting reading, if a little dry. The rest looks like someone's drawings and the kind of text you see when you try to read a book in your dreams. It's an interesting curiosity. I wouldn't mind having a physical version on my coffee table to flip through every now and again. Three out of five stars.

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Friday, June 23, 2017

Review: Hoodoo Harry

Hoodoo Harry Hoodoo Harry by Joe R. Lansdale
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When Hap and Leonard are leaving the fishing hole, a book mobile driven by a twelve year old boy crashes into them, killing the boy and Leonard's truck. The mystery of the boy and the bookmobile sends them down a spider hole of kidnapping and murder..

I got this from Netgalley.

In Hoodoo Harry, Hap and Leonard are at it again, trying to get to the bottom of a book mobile that's been mising for fifteen years and the deceased boy who was driving it. After getting patched up, the boys drive out to Nesbit and dig into the past of the boy and the vehicle and its disappearance a decade and a half before.

Hoodoo Harry is a fairly short mystery novella. Lansdale used some classic misdirection. Even though I knew the suspect I picked probably didn't do it, he still pulled the wool over my eyes.

Hap, Leonard, Marvin Hanson, and Brett were all in fine form, although how much crime commited by Hap and Leonard can Marvin keep sweeping under the rug? He's police chief, not police god, as he remarked during the tale.

Hoodoo Harry was a lot of fun and a worth edition to the ongoing legend of Hap and Leonard. Four out of five stars.

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Joking Hazard

Joking Hazard
Publisher: the creators of Cyanide and Happiness
My Rating: 5 out of 5 stars










Back in the day, my girlfriend at the time turned me on to Cyanide and Happiness, a webcomic that was in alignment with my own twisted sense of humor.  Now, a decade later, the keys to the universe are in the hands of me and 2-4 of my closest friends.

Joking Hazard is a card game for people with a dark and twisted sense of humor.  The box includes 360 cards, each a panel from a Cyanide and Happiness strip, and the instruction sheet.  The game is pretty simple.  Whomever's turn it is flips over a card from the deck, adds one of their own to the strip, and the remaining players try to end the comic strip in the funniest of ways.

For example:

Yeah, it's a hilarious experience.  The replay value is pretty high.  We've played a few times now and it hasn't worn thin yet.  I'm chomping at the bit to get the expansions for even more demented fun.

Joking Hazard is a hilarious game that should appeal to fans of Cards Against Humanity and dark humor in general.  Five out of five stars.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Review: Hungry Darkness

Hungry Darkness Hungry Darkness by Gabino Iglesias
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When a diver gets a grant from National Geographic to explore an undersea cave, he widens portions of it using explosives and unwittingly unleashes hell off the coast of Belize. The government turns to Gabriel Robles, a guide and diver, to find the beast and kill it. Can Gabriel do the job before he winds up the creature's next meal?

I've been following Gabino Iglesias since Gutmouth was part of the new bizarro author series. When Hungry Darkness went on sale for 99 cents, I couldn't pass it up. Since 2017 is apparently the year of the creature feature for me, this was right in my wheelhouse.

Hungry Darkness preys on the fear of the unknown and uses it to build suspense. Whether it's in an undersea cave or on the open water, no one is safe. Like most stories of this type, I have to compare it to Jaws, only the creature in Hungry Darkness is way smarter than any shark.

The cut scenes featuring other people getting killed and devoured also ratcheted up the suspense. While I knew not everyone would get out alive, the ending was still pretty satisfying. I almost hoped there were two creatures and one of them would eat the hero at the end.

The prose and the dialogue are pretty slick. At one point, the sunset was described as "a radioactive orange sinking into a barrel of oil" or something to that effect. There's really nothing bad I can say about this book. The characters are maybe a little thin but this is a book about a guy hunting a monster!

Hungry Darkness. Four out of five stars. Go buy it!

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Friday, June 16, 2017

Review: Fungoid

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

When a horrible rain falls, ravenous fungus infects anyone it touches. Can Shaun make his way across Canada to reunite with his family before the fungus consumes the world?

Fungus and its life cycle have held a fascination for me since my first morel hunt and fungal fiction like City of Saints and Madmen holds a place in my heart. Fungoid now joins them in my chest cavity.

It started simply enough with rain, rain that burned and unleashed some kind of super fungus that consumed everything organic. The end of the world has arrived and it is by fungus. Imagine not being able to let a drop of rainwater touch you or you'll die horribly. That's the gist of things, at first, anyway.

Meikle uses several viewpoint characters to show how the fungoid chaos has spread across Canada. There are a couple hazmat guys, a mycologist, a woman taking care of her sons and the man on his way home to them. Some characters live and some die.

It's not until the fungus starts fruiting that the crazy shit really starts, when the fungus starts using its adaptations to kill even more people. I'll keep things vague but things went from bad to worse very quickly.

Fungoid is a survival horror tale somewhat reminiscent of John Wyndham's "cozy catastrophres," although there's nothing cozy about it. It's Fungin' great! Four out of five stars.

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Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Review: Optical Delusion

Optical Delusion Optical Delusion by Hunter Shea
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When Martin Blackstone's son is given a pair of X-Ray specs from a comic book, they don't seem to work. Martin puts them on and discovers a whole new world lurking just beneath the surface. How far will Martin's obsession with the X-Ray specs take him?

Hunter Shea is my go-to guy when it comes to fun horror. When this came up on Netgalley, I couldn't resist.

First we got a horror novel about sea monkeys. Now, X-Ray specs! Like most pre-pubescent boys who bought comics in the late 1970s and early 80s, I saw the ads for these and always wondered what it would be like to wear a pair.

Pretty horrific, it turns out. Sure, Martin cheats at poker and ogles the hottest woman in town but sometimes, you see too much. Optical Delusion is almost a tale of addiction for that reason. It's also gory good fun as Martin goes off the rails.

Much like Just Add Water, Optical Delusion is a love letter to those cheesy ads in the backs of comic books from years past, only this love letter is written in blood. Four out of five stars.

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Sunday, June 11, 2017

Review: Domald Tromp Pounded In The Butt By The Handsome Russian T-Rex Who Also Peed On His Butt And Then Blackmailed Him With The Videos Of His Butt Getting Peed On

Domald Tromp Pounded In The Butt By The Handsome Russian T-Rex Who Also Peed On His Butt And Then Blackmailed Him With The Videos Of His Butt Getting Peed On Domald Tromp Pounded In The Butt By The Handsome Russian T-Rex Who Also Peed On His Butt And Then Blackmailed Him With The Videos Of His Butt Getting Peed On by Chuck Tingle
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

What does a billionaire do to get his rocks off? When he's Domald Tromp, he goes to Russia, snorts a plate of powdered unicorn horn, and hires a T-Rex prostitute. Of course he does.

I've had a buy-this-for-me shelf for years. When I put Domald Tromp Pounded In The Butt By The Handsome Russian T-Rex Who Also Peed On His Butt And Then Blackmailed Him With The Videos Of His Butt Getting Peed On on it, Carol took me up on it and became the first person to actually buy me something.

The lady of the house and I were painting the living room and had some time to kill before the second coat so I knocked this out.

The title is pretty much the plot. Domald Tromp goes to Russia and gets plowed by a T-Rex prostitute, whose accomplice films it. What will they blackmail Tromp to do? Read it and find out.

For monster porn, Domald Tromp Pounded In The Butt By The Handsome Russian T-Rex Who Also Peed On His Butt And Then Blackmailed Him With The Videos Of His Butt Getting Peed On is about as well-written as it gets. There are some surprisingly tender moments between Domald and the T-Rex after Domald gets his anus torn the hell up and drenched in urine.

I've never had gay sex but I imagine this is a pretty good account of what happens when a man and a dinosaur get down to business. Is it really gay porn if a dinosaur is involved? One of life's great mysteries, I guess.

A special bonus tale sees Domald Tromp as both President of the United States AND the Loch Ness Monster initiating some guy into the ways of dinosaur-on-man gay action.

Both stories were fairly entertaining and surprisingly well-written for what they were. I doubt I'll return to the Tingleverse any time soon but I'm glad I visited. 3 out of 5 stars.

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Monday, June 5, 2017

Review: The Broken Hours: A Novel of H.P. Lovecraft

The Broken Hours: A Novel of H.P. Lovecraft The Broken Hours: A Novel of H.P. Lovecraft by Jacqueline Baker
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

When Arthor Crandle is down on his luck, he gets a job as a personal assistant to a reclusive Providence author whose initials are H.P. While getting increasingly vexed by his absent employer, Crandle is haunted by the ghost of a little girl...

I had my eye on this one for a while but the ebook was ridiculously expensive. Fortunately, it went on sale a couple weeks ago. Frankly, I wouldn't mind having my $2.99 back.

Basically, this is both a haunted house story and a story of congenital insanity. Is Crandle losing his mind? Is the house really haunted? Will H.P. Lovecraft ever make an appearance?

Okay, so it has some creepy parts but I have to do some griping about this book. What the hell is the point about a horror story involving H.P. Lovecraft if you aren't going to include any elements from the Cthulhu mythos? It's really misleading. The author character could have been a fictitious author and the story would have had the same impact. Not only that, there would be at least one reader that wouldn't have felt mislead by what was probably a cash grab.

Anyway, nothing much happens. There are a few moments of horror but it's mostly tedium. The big twist was telegraphed and could be predicted by anyone who's ever seen an episode of the Twilight Zone or any movie by M. Night Shamalama-ding-dong.

Two out of five stars, only because I didn't actually hate it and it was well-written. Too bad not much actually happened.

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Thursday, June 1, 2017

Review: Forever and a Death

Forever and a Death Forever and a Death by Donald E. Westlake
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

When engineer George Manville invented a way to create a soliton wave that would destroy buildings build atop landfill, Richard Curtis, his employer, was pleased beyond measure. However, a woman's near-death during the initial test and Curtis' reaction to it has put them at odds. Can Manville stop Curtis before he uses the process against its true target?

I've read 70-something books in the Hard Case Crime Series and I'm a fan of Donald Westlake so this one was an easy grab when the fine folks at Titan offered it to me.

Crafted from a rejected James Bond script Westlake wrote a few years before his death, Forever and a Death is a posthumous publication, what may be the last from Donald Westlake. It's also not a bad read.

The James Bond roots of Forever and a Death are fairly visible in the action, the international intrigue, and in the general plot. Isn't a billionaire with a doomsday device a Bond staple? The violence is Stark at times (get it?) and Westlake has always been able to weave a yarn together. The soliton wave is suitably Bond-esque without being completely ridiculous. Although I wonder why it took most of the characters so long to figure out where Curtis was planning to strike.

Richard Curtis, millionaire villain, was by far the most interesting character in the book. Therein lies my problem with the whole book. When you take James Bond out of the story, what do you have? George Manville is pretty good at dealing out violence for someone who is an engineer but he clearly lacks the charisma of 007. Manville gets lost in an ensemble cast of more interesting characters, like Jerry Diedrich, the environmentalist nursing a secret grudge against Curtis, or even Colin Bennett, Curtis' henchman carrying around secrets of his own.

Forever and a Death is my favorite posthumous Westlake so far and a fun read but I couldn't help wondering how it would have played as a James Bond film. 3.5 out of 5 stars.

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Thursday, May 25, 2017

Review: River of Teeth

River of Teeth River of Teeth by Sarah Gailey
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In a world where the US government DID import hippos into the Louisiana swamp to raise for meat in the 1800s, Winslow Houndstooth gets hired for a caper, no, an operation, to get the Hippos out of The Harriet, a vast marsh overrun with feral hippos. Only one member of his crew is a traitor...

When I read about this on the Facebook, I knew I had to read it. A western with people riding hippos? What's not to like? Anyway, Tor denied me on netgalley but an early birthday present from the esteemed Richard saved the day.

Where to start? The book kind of reminds me of the part in The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly when Blondie and Tuco blow up the bridge. Only instead of the desert, it's in the Lousiana swamp. And they're riding hippos. And instead of Clint Eastwood and Eli Wallach, the crew is a bisexual English former hippo rancher, a rotund con woman, a pregnant professional killer, a gambler, and a person of indeterminate gender. And instead of a bridge, they're using explosives to get the hippos out of the Harriet. Huh, I guess it's only superficially like the bridge scene...

The mistrust among the crew is one of the drivers of the story, along with Houndstooth's quest for vengeance. It would make a great movie. What would you call a western set in the Lousiana swamp? A gumbo western?

Anyway, it's a lot of fun. While it uses western conventions and a western plot structure, the setting and the characters make it something else entirely. Something I want to read much more of. Good thing the sequel comes out soon. Four out of five stars.

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Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Review: Two Lost Boys

Two Lost Boys Two Lost Boys by L.F. Robertson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When Andy Hardy's appeal comes up, Janet Moodie catches the case. Andy is on death row for raping and murdering two women with his brother, Emory. Can Janet get Andy's sentence reduced to life? And what hold does the Hardy boys' mother have over them?

Recently, the people at Titan hit me up to read Forever and a Death. I said I would and added that I'd take anything else they wanted to send my way. This showed up not too long after and I'm glad I'm kind of a book mooch.

Two Lost Boys is a legal thriller but it's also an exploration into family secrets and how people become who they are. As Janet mines Andy's past, she unearths more and more dark secrets Ma Hardy would prefer to keep hidden. I saw some of the twists coming but I was still pleasantly surprised in places.

Janet Moodie is far from the usual thriller heroine. She's middle aged and a widow, living with her dog after her husband's suicide years before. She's not Wonder Woman but she gets things done. I liked her right away.

Since the case hinges on Andy being mentally disabled and not deserving of the death penalty, lots and lots of dirty laundry gets aired. Andy seems less like a criminal than an unwitting dupe and the worst person in the Hardy family sure isn't him. After the thirty percent mark, the book had its fangs buried in my brain stem and I couldn't get it out of my mind.

Even though legal thrillers are normally as welcome as a fart in an elevator on my bookshelf, I really enjoyed this one. Four out of five stars.



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Review: Black Site

Black Site Black Site by Michael Patrick Hicks
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When a bunch of clones search for the origins of human life through genetic experiments, they uncover something far older and more sinister...

Black Site is a sf horror novella with Lovecraftian overtones and one hell of a read. Alpha and his fellow clones were innocently dabbling with genetic manipulation when they accidentally unleash a life form from the dawn of the universe. Awesomeness ensues.

As impressed as I was with Revolver, Black Site is even better. It has that claustrophobic feeling that the Alien movies share as well as an undercurrent of insanity. MPH has crafted a brutal horror tale here. Four out of five stars.

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Friday, May 19, 2017

Review: Cold Cotton: A Hap and Leonard Novella

Cold Cotton: A Hap and Leonard Novella Cold Cotton: A Hap and Leonard Novella by Joe R. Lansdale
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Who would have thought Hap not being able to get a boner would get everyone into so much trouble? When a potential therapist calls Brett Sawyer's detective agency, she hires the gang to figure out who is harassing her. Things quickly spin out of control and Hap and Leonard quickly find themselves balls deep in trouble.

Cold Cotton is a Hap and Leonard novella set some time after Honky Tonk Samurai. The boys wind up being caught up in a web of greed and murder. Oh, and Hap is as impotent as a eunuch. There's also a nymphomaniac, a Rottweiler, and wall to wall witty banter.

The story is hilarious, as most Joe Lansdale books are, and very entertaining. Since it's a novella, the laugh density is pretty high and it doesn't overstay its welcome. Hap and Leonard are in fine form, although Leonard doesn't get as much attention as I would have liked. Nice to see his relationship with Pookie still going strong, though.

That's about all I'm prepared to say. I'm beginning to like the Hap and Leonard novellas better than the novels. Four out of five stars.

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Review: Video Night

Video Night Video Night by Adam Cesare
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Every Friday night, high school seniors Billy and Tom watch a horror movie in Billy's basement. As this Friday draws near, a secret alien invasion threatens to take over the town. Can Billy and Tom save the world in time to watch The Re-Animator and keep the Video Night tradition alive?

Back when I was a horny teenage boy in that hazy time before the internet, I'd stay up all hours of the night watching movies on Showtime, trying to catch a glimpse of boob. In the process, I watched a lot of b-movies, mostly horror. Video Night brings back fond memories of that time.

In the vein of the 'teenagers against an other worldly menace' movies of the 1980s/early 1990s, Video Night is a fun, nostalgia-laden gorefest. What else can you expect when alien organisms are infecting people?

I was reminded of a whole slew of movies while reading this: Night of the Creeps, Night of the Comet, Monster Squad, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Return of the Living Dead, and a whole slew of others. It seems like the whole damn down was crawling with monsters by the end.

The ending did not disappoint and was true to the books origins. My hunger for more of Adam Cesare's work has grown significantly since I first opened the book.

It might be a case of the perfect book for the time I was reading but I can't think of a single bad thing to say about this book. I think Adam Cesare and I would have been pals had we met as teenagers. Five out of five stars.

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Monday, May 15, 2017

The Sound of Broken Ribs

The Sound of Broken RibsThe Sound of Broken Ribs by Edward Lorn
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

When Belinda Walsh's husband leaves her homeless and penniless, she goes out looking to ruin someone else and runs down writer Lei Duncan.  Only Lei Duncan lives and isn't in the mood to be ruined.

The Lorn hit me up to read an ARC of this and I was game.  After all, he's never let me down before.  This books kicks the Lornography up several notches.

The Sound of Broken Ribs is a horror novel about loss, revenge and pain.  If you had the chance to get revenge upon someone that wrecked you life, would you do it?  How would you go about it?

Edward Lorn's writing has always reminded me of a young Stephen King's: lean, evocative, and powerful.  Actually, this reminds me of Stephen King in another way.  Lei Walsh is run over while running along the road.

Anyway, the writing is lean and mean and the twists cut right to the bone.  Every time another twist hit me like a speeding car, I'd look at the number of pages left and wonder "What the hell else can happen to these characters?"  Sure enough, worse things were always lurking around the curve.

Lei's road to recovery and revenge was painful.  I even felt sorry for Belinda's hit and run ass.  This book is one calamity after another and almost impossible to put down.

I can't praise this book enough.  If I hadn't already anointed Edward Lorn the Future of Horror, I would with this book.  Five out of five stars.

* You can buy the Sound of Broken Ribs here.


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Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Review: All-Night Terror

All-Night Terror All-Night Terror by Adam Cesare
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

When a recently fired TV host takes the station hostage, Danny Chambers, along with the other viewers, is forced to watch the host's six favorite movies with the police waiting in the wings.

Using a hostage situation at a TV station as a framing device, All-Night Terror is a collection of six horror tales (and four bonus tales in the appendix.) It feels very much like Creepshow or one of any number of anthology horror films that came out in the 1980s.

As with any collection, some of the tales are better than others. Of the ten, Killing Time in the Off-Season, Appraisal, and Bringing Down The Giants were my favorites. Appraisal was genuinely scary. The others were just horror movie style fun.

It's not a game changer but it's a damn fun read. In the Afterword, Adam Cesare mentions that it was written to get people to try his and Matt Serafini's other works. In that, it has succeeded since I'm chomping at the bit to read Video Night. Three out of five stars.

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Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Review: Cthulhusattva: Tales of the Black Gnosis

Cthulhusattva: Tales of the Black Gnosis Cthulhusattva: Tales of the Black Gnosis by Scott R. Jones
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Cthulhusattva: Tales of the Black Gnosis is a collection of Cthulhu mythos stories. The theme of the collection is enlightenment through insanity, that the cultists found in most mythos stories are the extremists and that more or less regular people lead more or less normal lives while worshiping the Great Old Ones, Elder Gods, and the like.

Like most anthologies, the stories range from okay to pretty damn good. For me, the standouts were We Three Kings, Messages, Mr. Johnson and the Old Ones, and The Litany of Earth.

While I enjoyed it, it lacked some of the punch of other Lovecraft anthologies I've read recently like Heroes of Red Hook and Whispers from the Abyss. I guess that's what happened when you take away the soul-blasting horror from beyond the stars and things of that nature.

Cthulhusattva: Tales of the Black Gnosis is an interesting concept but you can better spend your squamous dollars elsewhere. Three out of five stars.

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Friday, May 5, 2017

Review: Revolver

Revolver Revolver by Michael Patrick Hicks
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

In an all too plausible dystopian future, Cara Stone agrees to be on Revolver, a web show where the contestant raises money for his or her family before killing themselves on live TV. Too bad Cara has other plans...

Michael Patrick Hicks is one of those sneaky Goodreads authors that pretends to be an ordinary reader and rarely mentions his own books. Pretty slick, huh?

Anyway, Revolver is a dystopian novella reminiscent of Richard Bachman's The Running Man. Society has gone to hell in a hand basket since the women-hating, gun-loving religious zealots took over. Food riots are common and The Revolver is the only way out for a lot of people. Yeah, it's way too plausible and not as far away as one might hope. Cara ruminates on her past as the show time grows near. When the cameras role, things quickly go off the rails with Cara wielding the smoking gun.

Michael's writing packs a punch, both in terms of subject matter and word choices. Also, the suspense is agonizing. There are some powerful moments in the book and I'm at a loss at how to express myself. Fear for the future? Hell, fear for the present?

Revolver is one powerful little novella and a chilling vision of things to come. Five out of five stars.

Note: For the month of May, Michael is donating the proceeds from Revolver to the ACLU. See his website for details.

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Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Review: Mad Dog: The Maurice Vachon Story

Mad Dog: The Maurice Vachon Story Mad Dog: The Maurice Vachon Story by Bertrand Hebert
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Mad Dog Vachon is one of those legendary wrestlers I've been aware of for years but don't know a whole lot about. When this popped up on Netgalley, I decided to attack it like Mad Dog Vachon himself.

Mad Dog: The Maurice Vachon Story chronicles the life and times of Mad Dog Vachon, from his childhood as the trouble-making son of a Montreal policeman to an amateur wrestler, complete with a trip to the Olympics, to his career as a professional wrestler.

Mad Dog Vachon had a long and interesting career. Some of it I was already familiar with, mostly through Wikipedia research after he was added to the Legends of Wrestling Card Game. Yeah, I'm kind of a dork. However, a lot of it was new to me.

As I've said before, I like my wrestling books to make with the wrestling pretty quickly. Mad Dog was a pro by the 20% mark so I was satisfied. The book focuses on backstage politics and Mad Dog going from territory to territory, fairly interesting stuff. There weren't a lot of road stories but the ones that were included were epic.

Mad Dog had some serious brushes with death over the years, including multiple near fatal car accidents, blading too deeply, and assaults by fans, even taking someone's eye out with a fork in a bar fight. Once his wrestling career wrapped up, Mad Dog had a good run as a TV personality until he was hit by a car and had his leg amputated.

The parts of the book detailing his tenure in the AWA were my favorites. As with all wrestling books, I wish more road stories had been included. That's pretty much my only gripe. I'm a little sad I didn't get to experience Mad Dog Vachon during his heyday. It sounds like he was a larger than life character. 3.5 out of 5 stars.

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Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Review: Exponential

Exponential Exponential by Adam Cesare
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

When a janitor smuggles a laboratory mouse home, he has no idea of the horror he has unleashed upon the southwest. Holed up in a desert dive, two meth heads, an ex-cop, and a gambler have to find a way past the ravenous beast and to freedom...

As I get older, I'm rediscovering my fondness for gore-splattered creature features. Exponential, Adam Cesare's homage to The Blob and road horror movies, fits the bill.

Exponential is an homage to The Blob and it shows. Only instead of a giant amoeba, the blob of Exponential is a gelatinous pile of dissolving organs and bone fragments. Kind of like the contents of a Taco Bell burrito.

The group of strangers stranded someplace and threatened by an unspeakable menace is one of my favorite horror tropes and Cecsare mines the vein pretty hard. I was at once reminded of Tremors, Maximum Overdrive, and a hundred other B movies from the 80s and early 90s. The characters were surprisingly rich. Kate mourns a dead child. Ken tries to do the right thing despite being a meth dealer. Nez couldn't hack being a cop anymore. Vicki runs from her childhood.

The carnage level is very high. I never felt like the characters were working with a net, which is a good thing because that net would be saturated with blood and bits of monster before long. The ending was satisfying but I'm hoping Son of Exponential shows up one of these days.

Exponential is a shitty 80s horror movie in book form. I mean that in the best of ways. 3.5 out of 5 stars.

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Friday, April 28, 2017

Review: C is for Cthulhu Coloring Book

C is for Cthulhu Coloring Book C is for Cthulhu Coloring Book by Greg Murphy
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The C is for Cthulhu Coloring Book is a 48 page coloring/activity book featuring the uncolored artwork from C is for Cthulhu: The Lovecraft Alphabet Book.

I got this for being a Kickstarter backer for Sweet Dreams, Cthulhu, an upcoming kids book, and it's pretty cool.

It features the artwork from C is for Cthulhu before it was colored, plus some bonus illustrations, some of which weren't in C is for Cthulhu. Also, there are activity book standards like getting Cthulhu out of a maze and a word search featuring various Lovecraftian names. And a Cthulhu mask you can cut out and wear around the house!

I think the coloring book version lacks some of the punch of C is for Cthulhu: The Lovecraft Alphabet Book but if you're going to expose your child to the horrors of cosmos and man's insignificance at an early age, he or she might as well get to color as well. Four out of five stars.

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Review: C is for Cthulhu: The Lovecraft Alphabet Book

C is for Cthulhu: The Lovecraft Alphabet Book C is for Cthulhu: The Lovecraft Alphabet Book by Jason Ciaramella
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

C is for Cthulhu is an alphabet book for kids. There is a page for each letter of the alphabet and artwork and a little snippet of prose depicting a character, place, or feature from the Cthulhu Mythos whose name begins with that letter. I think you get the idea.

I got this for being a Kickstarter backer for Sweet Dreams, Cthulhu, an upcoming kids book, and it is pretty damn sweet.

The artwork is spectacular, cute but still somewhat disturbing. The thing the artwork most reminds me of is Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker. Almost all of my favorite Lovecraftian beasties are well represented. From Abdul Al-Hazred to Zombies, the artwork knocks it out of the park. If I had to pick three favorite illustrations, they would be Black Goat with a Thousand Young, Hastur, and Shoggoth.




This particular digital version also includes unused concept art and some new art that had to be created for foreign editions.

I couldn't be more delighted with this book. If you want to start blasting some youngster's sanity at an early age, I couldn't think of a better place to start. Five out of five stars.

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Thursday, April 27, 2017

Review: The Phoenix Project: A Novel About IT, DevOps, and Helping Your Business Win

The Phoenix Project: A Novel About IT, DevOps, and Helping Your Business Win The Phoenix Project: A Novel About IT, DevOps, and Helping Your Business Win by Gene Kim
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Bill Palmer gets thrust into the CIO position at Parts Unlimited and has 90 days to make chicken salad out of chicken shit or the entire IT department gets outsourced. Does Bill have what it takes?

Confession Time: I've worked in IT for the past fifteen years. When the CTO of the company I work for strongly recommended all IT personnel read this, I bit the bullet.

Remember those after school specials that were some kind of lesson with a flimsy story wrapped around it? That's pretty much what this was. Only instead of featuring cool things like sex and drugs, this one was about the pitfalls of being an IT manager. It read like the book equivalent of the awful training video I had to watch when I worked loss prevention at K-mart about a thousand years ago.

Bill's a server guy who suddenly becomes CIO and is forced to turn the Phoenix Project around. Yeah, it's just as riveting as it sounds. All the kiss asses at work rave about the book but it's barely a novel. It's a management manual disguised as a novel. Not only that, Bill is kind of a dick and a Mary Sue. A Dick Sue, if you will.

Even before investigating the author, I could tell he was an operations guy rather than a developer. It was pretty easy to tell by the way he laid the heaviest of the blame on everyone except the server guys. It's like a garbage man writing a book where the garbage man is the only one who can save the day.

The book reads like someone recounting meetings he's been in, which is pretty much what it is. That and some corporate propaganda praising the use of Agile IT management and The Cloud. Actually, now that I think about it, it kind of reminds me of The Pillars of the Earth, where the plot is a loop of problems, solutions, and unexpected complications, only instead of a church, they're building an application. The rape levels aren't the same, either.

The book gets a little improbable by the end. After some pep talks and embracing the Agile philosophy, somehow a team that couldn't find its asses with both hands and a map can suddenly turn things around enough to master cloud computing in half a page.

Despite all the above-mentioned dislikes, and the fact that the characters are as thin as toilet paper from the Dollar Tree, this book wasn't a total piece of shit. Despite going in determined not to learn anything, I did manage to pick up some tips and saw a lot of similarities with my everyday life.

Two out of five stars. It's not much of a novel but someone who is already pondering embracing the techniques this book beats you over the head with will probably rate it a lot higher.

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Saturday, April 22, 2017

Review: Psycho

Psycho Psycho by Robert Bloch
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When Mary Crane skips town with $40,000 of her boss's money, she drives and drives, bedding down at the Bates Motel. She meets Norman Bates, who harbors secrets even more interesting than stolen money...

Everyone knows the basic beats of Psycho due to the iconic Alfred Hitchcock film. Woman gets knifed in the shower, psychotic mama's boy, etc. When it popped up for ninety-nine cents, I figured, what the hell? Shooting Star / Spiderweb was pretty good. Psycho was definitely worth the buck.

Inspired by real-life serial killer Ed Gein, Psycho is a tale of mental turmoil and the way it shapes the life a man dominated by his mother. And some woman gets killed and her boyfriend and sister try to figure out what the hell happened. Despite knowing quite a bit going in, Psycho was still a suspenseful read. Since stuff gets lost in translation from book to movie, a lot of it was still surprising. Of course, not having seen the movie in something like thirty years helped...

Bloch's prose is pretty tight. He doesn't waste a lot of time on flowery language, and knows how to ratchet up the suspense. I can see why Hitchcock chose to adapt it, though he chose to focus on different aspects than Bloch. The book and the movie are definitely different animals.

Psycho probably didn't have quite as much of an impact on me that it should have but that's because it's been dissected and imitated to death in the decades since it was written. It holds up really well compared to a lot of suspense novels written during the same era. Four out of five stars.

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