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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Thursday, April 20, 2017

Review: Savage Jungle: Lair Of The Orang Pendek

Savage Jungle: Lair Of The Orang Pendek Savage Jungle: Lair Of The Orang Pendek by Hunter Shea
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

After recovering from their ordeal in Loch Ness Revenge, Natalie and Austin McQueen head to the Sumatran jungle with their friend Henrik to find the legendary Orang Pendek, primitive ape-like humanoids. Specifically, they're looking for the Orang Pendek that killed Henrik's father. Can they find the lost city of Gadang Ur and the Orang Pendek that dwell there so Henrik can quench the desire for revenge that threatens to consume him?

Since I am medically unable to resist one of Hunter Shea's cryptid books, I pounced on this one a few minutes after I finished Forest of Shadows.

Savage Jungle is an Indiana Jones-type of jungle adventure, combining the thrills of Raiders of the Lost Ark with the gore of most of Hunter Shea's books. It's one hell of fun read.

After recovering at a resort for a couple months, the McQueen twins attempt to return the favor Henrik Kooper gave them in the bloodbath that was Loch Ness Revenge. On their expedition, they encounter lost ruins, relict populations of dinosaurs, and the cryptids of the subtitle, the Orang Pendek.

I actually preferred this one to Loch Ness Revenge by a slight margin. Maybe it was the jungle setting or the relentless action. The expedition got chewed up by dinosaurs and shat out the other end. It would not have shocked me if they were all killed. Shea even detailed Orang Pendek culture to such a degree that I wouldn't mind a return trip to Gadang Ur. Not to mention some breadcrumbs left at the end. The characters speculate that their experience at Loch Ness might have led to humanity taking off their blinders in regard to the unknown and there are some hints dropped toward the end at more linked adventures with the survivors of this one, something I'm definitely on board for.

Instead of another tired Indiana Jones sequel or remaking The Mummy, Savage Jungle would make a fantastic summer blockbuster. Four out of five stars.


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Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Review: Forest of Shadows

Forest of Shadows Forest of Shadows by Hunter Shea
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Five years after his wife dies unexpectedly, John Backman takes his daughter, sister-in-law, and her son to Alaska to investigate a haunting. But the worst enemy of all may be the xenophobia of the townsfolk of Shida. No, I lied. It's the dark forces that threaten to consume whomever lives in the house...

In Forest of Shadows, Hunter Shea takes an unconventional, unsuspecting family to Alaska and exposes them to some staples of horror fiction, namely ghosts and a haunted house.

I've said before that one of Hunter Shea's strengths is his knack for creating likable characters. This is very true in Forest of Shadows since I loved John Backman and his family. His daughter Jessica was a believable kid who just wanted to be close to her father. Sister-in-law Eve let her own marriage fall apart to take care of her dead sister's family. Liam's a toddler and kind of a non-factor. Anyway, what I'm trying to say is that I quickly got attached to John and his family. Unlike a lot of horror or thriller novels, I really wanted John and Eve to get together. Why you gotta be such a tease, Hunter Shea?

While I've never been to Alaska, Hunter Shea painted a vivid picture of the life of an outsider in a small town, both from the points of view of the Backman family and the local characters, like Judas and Muraco.

The haunting was a many layered thing, not just ghosts wanting people out of their house. It had some creepy moments but shit really got real near the end. I did not see the ending coming and it was one of those punches in the gut that knocks the wind out of you and folds you in half.

Forest of Shadows is a creepy good time. Hunter Shea does it again. Four out of five stars.

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Monday, April 17, 2017

Review: Tortures of the Damned

Tortures of the Damned Tortures of the Damned by Hunter Shea
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

After New York falls victim to a trio of attacks, the Padilla family and their neighbors band together for survival but how can they survive against disease, fried electronics, and animals gone bloodthirsty?

After taking on the Dover Demon, the Loch Ness Monster, and the Jersey Devil, Hunter Shea takes on the apocalypse. When an EMP fries everything electronic, an unknown disease runs rampant, and something turns animals against humans, the Padilla family of Yonkers, New York, and their neighbors, Buck and Alexiana band together to survive and find out what happened. Things do not go well.

The post-apocalyptic genre is a little played out these days but Hunter Shea makes it fresh by leaving out zombies and focusing on the trials and tribulations of the Padilla family. Life without electricity is hard, even without rats, bats, horses, cats, dogs, and birds all gunning for them. Not to mention disease, gang members, and the threat of starvation. The apocalypse won't be fun, kids!

Daniel and Elizabeth struggle to keep their family together when obstacle after obstacle fall into their paths. Nothing is easy and no one is safe. Casualties are numerous and the body count is high. No one is unscathed for long and some of them have the shit "scathed" out of them.

I've mentioned it before but Hunter Shea is the master of introducing characters, making you care about them, and then having them die horribly. Tortures of the Damned is no exception. It's hardship after hardship, right until the heartbreaking ending. I knew it would end badly but couldn't set the book aside for long. Like a trainwreck, I just had to see it.

While it wasn't the usual subject matter for Hunter Shea, Tortures of the Damned was one gripping read. Four out of five stars.

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Sunday, April 16, 2017

Review: They Rise

They Rise They Rise by Hunter Shea
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

When a chimaera fish of usual size is caught, ichthyologist Brad "Whit" Whitley comes all the way from Australia to Miami to examine it. Having made the chimaera fish, aka ghost shark, his life's work, Whit thought he knew it all but discovered he had a lot more to learn when even larger ghost sharks start popping up and devouring everyone in sight. The only person Whit can turn to for help is even more fearsome, his ex-wife...

As I've said many times before, I'm a sucker for Hunter Shea's creature feature gore-fests. When this one dropped to ninety nine cents, my cheapness alarm when off and I snapped it up like a ghost shark on an unsuspecting swimmer.

They Rise is part cautionary tale, part bloodbath. Climate change has lead to more methane vents opening up on the ocean floor, causing ghost sharks to congregate and the oceans to run red with blood. Whit, the smart-mouthed scientist with a drinking problem, is forced to reject everything he knows about ghost sharks in an effort to stop their feeding frenzy. His ex-wife ends up in the same boat, pun intended, when her expedition studying the methane vents goes horribly wrong.

It's a fun story, full of ghost shark carnage. Shea's writing is as crisp as ever and Whit is hilarious, sometimes annoyingly so. However, the story wasn't up to Shea's usual efforts. It was pretty much a variant on Jaws, as could be expected with sharks. How about staying away from the water, people? The ending felt a little detached. When the coast guard and navy get involved, it gets a little impersonal.

Despite my gripes, it was still a fun read, just not an essential one. Three out of five stars.

Also:


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Friday, April 14, 2017

Review: We Are Always Watching

We Are Always Watching We Are Always Watching by Hunter Shea
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When the Ridley family falls on hard times, they're forced to move in with Abraham Ridley, Matt's father. Grandpa Ridley is a real son of a bitch but he's nothing in comparison to the Guardians, persons unknown who have been harassing the Ridleys and the other folk of Buttermilk Creek for generations...

Hunter Shea is the man and I was planning on reading this anyway when I won a copy on Horror After Dark. Thanks!

This isn't your usual Hunter Shea book. I'm a tremendous fan of his creature features starring cryptids and the mayhem they incite but this one was different, a slow-burner with more of a psychological bend.

Since time out of mind, the people of Buttermilk Creek have been harassed by the Guardians, people or creatures that leave threatening notes and that are constantly watching their targets. When West's father, Matt, suffers a brain injury leading to chronic vertigo, their lives fall apart and they leave NYC behind to live with his grandfather. Abraham is an asshole of the highest caliber and blames the family for the Guardians springing into action once again after years of silence.

The book feels like a coming of age tale at first. West is a likeable kid, a fan of horror movies and books. He's enamored with the only pretty girl in town that he's met and wonders about the truth of the Guardians and his own family's troubled past. When shit goes down, he acts in a very believable way and is in no way a Gary Stu.

Hell, the whole Ridely clan is subtly nuanced. Debi resents her husband's condition and keeps on trucking. Matt feels inadequate and pissed off because of his vertigo but can't help but lash out at his family. And Abraham has more than his share of skeletons in his closet.

The book is a slow burner but reaches a fever pitch around the 75% mark, when it goes from coming of age psychological horror to a fucking blood bath. I was felt like a mile of bad road after finishing it.

As always, Hunter Shea continues to impress the shit out of me. 4.5 out of 5 stars.

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Thursday, April 6, 2017

Review: Just Add Water

Just Add Water Just Add Water by Hunter Shea
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When David and Patrick order Amazing Sea Serpents from the ad in the back of a Wonder Woman comic, they wait 6-8 weeks to receive an envelope of disappointment in the mail. However, when they dump the Amazing Sea Serpents down the sewer, they get more than their money's worth.

I'd pre-ordered this, fueled by nostalgic memories of Sea Monkey ads in the backs of comics back in the day and my fandom of Hunter Shea. Imagine my delight when it popped up on Netgalley AND I got approved for it.

Just Add Water is another one of Hunter Shea's lovably gory creature features. David and Patrick are junior high kids at the dawn of the 1980s. Like many of us who were comic nerds in the days before such a thing was fashionable, the ad for some amazing anthropomorphic pets caught their eyes. Unlike most of us, they actually ordered them. Turns out, what they got was monster eggs.

Just Add Water feels like an 80's kids' monster movie, like The Monster Squad, only with a much higher body count and ten times as much gore. While there's a dose of nostalgia, it's so smeared in gore that it's soon unrecognizable. And the early 80s nostalgia isn't limited to comics and TV. There's also a key party that goes horribly, horribly wrong.

Hunter Shea's writing continues to entertain the shit out of me. I'm convinced we would have been buds back in our younger days due to our mutual interests in comics, cryptids, and monsters in general. Now if he'd just lift that damn restraining order...

Just Add Water is a horror novella that is a hell of a lot of bloody fun. I can't wait to read the next installment in the loosely connected series, Optical Delusion. Four out of five stars.

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Review: Half-Made Girls

Half-Made Girls Half-Made Girls by Sam Witt
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Joe Hark is the Night Marshal of Pitchfork County, a rural area of Missouri plagued by meth and monsters. When someone crucifies a mutilated girl in a church, Joe finds himself balls deep in a mess involving drugs, demonic forces, and dark gods.

Sam Witt wrote The Astromundi Cluster, a Spelljammer supplement I should get around to writing a review for one of these days. On a whim, I wanted to see what else he wrote and this popped up, for free no less. I've long thought rural fantasy had untapped potential as a genre and I was right in this case.

The lazy way to describe Half-Made Girls is The Dresden Files meets Winter's Bone. There's a lot more grit and a lot more gore than the Dresden files and I don't get the feeling the Night Marshall is working with a safety net like I do with Harry Dresden. The Night Marshall isn't an overly glib white knight. He's the guy that gets his hands dirty and does what needs to be done when someone walks the Left Hand Path of dark sorcery.

Set in Pitchfork County, Missouri, a dirt poor place where being a meth dealer is one of the only forms of employment, Half-Made Girls is a tale of dark forces that threaten to consume the earth and the one man that can stop them, the Night Marshall, Joe Hark. Now if he could just put aside his alcohol problem and the curse that has forced a wedge between his family and himself....

Joe Hark is more Roland the Gunslinger than Harry Dresden, a hard man that's been to hell and back a dozen times. When meth head cultist stir up some serious shit, The Night Marshall is forced to do some things he doesn't want to do and question his beliefs and methods in order to set things right. Heavy shit.

As befits the situation, the violence is stark and brutal and no one is making half-assed quips or tired Star Wars references. Even though I knew it was the first book in a series, I felt like all bets were off and I could be reading about a new Night Marshall in the second book.

There's a real sense of place to the book. Sam Witt paints a vivid picture of life in the Ozarks. When he's not painting it in blood and gore, anyway.

Sam Witt is also a much better writer than I thought he'd be. He knows how to write suspense and the dialogue is spot on. Also, he writes things like this: It looked like a bathroom at Hogwarts after a week long meth binge.

Half-Made Girls is a gripping, sometimes gut-wrenching read, so much more than the urban fantasy fluff I was afraid it was going to be. It actually has more in common with Brian Keene's Ghost Walk. Four out of five stars.

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Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Review: No Beast So Fierce

No Beast So Fierce No Beast So Fierce by Edward Bunker
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

When Max Dembo gets paroled after eight years in the joint, he's starting at square one. With no money and no job, how will he avoid falling back into his old habits?

As a white collar, law-abiding citizen, prison has always held a bit of mystique for me. I enjoyed The Animal Factory enough to snap this up when it showed up in my BookGorilla email on the cheap.

If I ever had any doubts about the ineffectiveness of the American prison system, they would have been shattered by this. Max is put back on the street with a suit ten years out of fashion and thirty bucks and expected to make something of himself. When no one will hire him, what other choice does he have but to turn to a life of crime?

Bunker's no Chandler but his writing gets the job done. I was reminded of Richard Stark's Parker at times. While he wasn't a complete asshole, Max wasn't a nice person when the chips were down. He did live by a certain criminal code, though, making him a much more complex character than I originally thought. The self-destructive nature of some of the characters also made me think of Jim Thompson and his happy hell storms.

The capers were well done, including the inevitable one where the wheels come off. There were some good twists and I didn't see the ending going down like that. I almost wish I'd skipped the epilogue, though.

While I didn't enjoy it as much as The Animal Factory, No Beast So Fierce was definitely worth a read. Three out of five stars.

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Saturday, March 25, 2017

Review: Prophets of the Ghost Ants

Prophets of the Ghost Ants Prophets of the Ghost Ants by Clark Thomas Carlton
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In a world where tiny humans live in symbiosis with insects, Anand is a half-breed of the lowest caste. When a new colony is to be formed, Anand is delighted at the prospect but soon finds himself living with a different clan and a new outlook. When the Ghost Ants attack his new home, Anand has a chance to change the world...

This was on my radar for a long time and I couldn't resist when it popped up on Netgalley. I was not disappointed.

While I'm not a fan of today's extruded fantasy product, originally scores big points with me and Prophets of the Ghost Ants has originality to spare. After a great cataclysm, the Earth is nearly destroyed and humans gradually evolve into being insect-sized for survival. Humans live in symbiosis with their gargantuan insect brethren and largely live in a caste system.

You don't normally read a fantasy novel where insects play a prominent role and the main character is in charge of emptying the chamber pots of nobles. I really liked the use of the caste system, somewhat emulating the hierarchy of ants. I also liked that each clan lived in symbiosis with different insects, like roaches, different varieties of ants, and termites.

Since it was a fantasy novel, you pretty much knew Anand was going to turn things upside down but I was surprised at the magnitude. It reminded me of Michael Moorcock's Elric books, only without so much genocide and melancholy. It was also very well thought out. There were no logical holes in the setting of the "Why don't they fly to Mordor on a giant eagle and drop the ring in the volcano" variety.

It was a fun journey, watching Anand go from being a shit scraper to the founder of a nation. The violence was harsh and there was a fair bit of smut in it, all the things I look for in a fantasy saga. Four out of five stars.

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Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Review: Imperial Valley

Imperial Valley Imperial Valley by Johnny Shaw
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When Tomas Morales tracks down Juan's grandfather, Jimmy Veeder and his wife head to Mexico for a honeymoon and to meet up with him, with Bobby Maves and Grizelda in tow. Little does Jimmy Veeder know that he's stepping into a hornet's nest of drug dealers and killers...

I got this from Netgalley.

Johnny Shaw's dimwitted duo, Jimmy Veeder and Bobby Maves, are back and in fine form. Jimmy gets married and heads to Mexico, only to stir up trouble as only he and Bobby Maves can. Things have changed since the last book, however. Jimmy has build a good life with Angie and Juan and has a lot more to lose.

As with the previous book, the humor is the star of the show. The book is peppered with hilarious lines, shades of early Joe Lansdale. In fact, if Joe Lansdale ever chooses to die and his estate wants to farm Hap and Leonard out to someone, he could do a lot worse than Johnny Shaw.

Speaking of Lansdale, Imperial Valley reminded me of Captains Outrageous, both because of the humor and of the structure, with the first half taking place in Mexico and the second, when the conflict comes home. While I knew Jimmy and Bobby wouldn't die, there were some tense moments.

One thing did irk me, however. When a book is this hilarious, it kind of deflates the sense of jeopardy. When everyone is cracking wise, it's hard to take the violence seriously. That being said, this book is high on violence but higher on laughs. I lost count of lines I would have uttered aloud if anyone was sitting within earshot.

Honestly, the third Jimmy Veeder fiasco does not disappoint. It's as funny as the previous two. Four out of five stars. Special bonus points to Shaw for including the world's deadliest Mexican from Blood & Tacos #1 for a cameo appearance.



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Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Review: Norse Mythology

Norse Mythology Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman is a compulsively readable retelling of various myths from Norse Mythology.

Once upon a time, in that hazy prehistoric time before Goodreads, Neil Gaiman was my favorite author. Sandman was the gateway drug but I read all the Gaiman works I could get my hands on: American Gods, Neverwhere, Coraline, Stardust, you get the point. As the years went by, some of the shine wore off that penny. As I explored Gaimain's influences, like P.G. Wodehouse and Ray Bradbury, some of the magic was diminished.

Anyway, I was Gaimain was writing this book and my interest was rekindled. I've been curious about Norse mythology since reading my first Thor comic. Gaimain delivers the goods here.

In Norse Mythology, Gaimain retells fifteen Norse myths, from the creation of the Aesir to Ragnarok, the twilight of the gods, making them accessible to the modern reader.

All of the Norse gods you're familiar with from pop culture, namely Odin, Thor, Loki, Balder, and Heimdall, are here, as well as a slew of others like Vidar, Kvasir, and Hod. I was tangentially aware of some of what transpired, like Loki giving birth to a six-legged horse and Odin hanging from Yggdrasil, the world tree, for nine days and nights before gaining his wisdom, but a lot of it was new to me. The Aesir sure liked to booze it up, didn't they?

While there was quite a bit to like about this book, the thing that really stuck in my mind was Naglfar, the ship of the dead made out of fingernails. Really. Loki tying his junk to the beard of a goat for entertainment purposes was right up there, though.

Reading Norse Mythology, I noticed echoes of it in fantasy novels I've read in past couple decades, most notably The Elric Saga Part II and The First Chronicles of Amber. For my money, this is the best thing Gaimain's done since The Graveyard Book (though Doctor Who: Nothing O'Clock was also pretty sweet.) Four out of five stars.

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Saturday, March 4, 2017

Review: Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation

Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation by Lynne Truss
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation is a humorous book about punctuation. Who knew punctuation could be so entertaining?

As someone who writes a fair bit (half a million words on Goodreads alone), I know my way around a sentence. However, when this popped up on Amazon on the cheap, I was powerless to resist, like my dog on a piece of cat shit.

In Eats, Shoots & Leaves, Lynn Truss takes us on a Bill Bryson-esque odyssey through a forest of commas, apostrophes, colons, semi-colons, and exclamation marks. Incidentally, did you know an exclamation mark is called a dog's cock in some circles? I did not.

Truss' writing makes things like how to properly use an apostrophe entertaining, using amusing phrasing and real life examples, offering up rules like "Don't use commas like a stupid person." It isn't all laughs, however. I normally avoid colons and semi-colons but I feel like she's given me a greater understanding of them.

There's not a whole lot more to divulge. It's no surprise this short but sweet book is a best-seller. It's very accessible and as entertaining as a book on punctuation can be. For grammarians and writers alike, Eats, Shoots & Leaves is a fun yet useful book about fairly boring subject. Four out of five stars.

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Friday, March 3, 2017

Review: Tanuki Tango Overdrive

Tanuki Tango Overdrive Tanuki Tango Overdrive by Arthur Graham
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Tanuki Tango Overdrive is a collection of three sexually charged tales featuring the enormously-testicled Tanuki and his wife by the sexually charged Arthur Graham.

A while back, Arthur sent me a pdf of this book and I resolved to read it. Since I'm getting older and my cognitive abilities are in decline, I promptly forgot about it. Yesterday, I received a mysterious package in the mail from Arthur Graham in the mail. An Author-Gram from Arthur Graham, if you will. This book was among the contents so I immediately plowed through it like a Tanuki at an orgy.

Tanuki Tango Overdrive skirts the line between bizarro fiction and monster porn and is better written than either genre typically is. Arthur Graham takes Tanuki, a Japanese nature spirit, and his wife to a swinger's party in the suicide forest, an indecent proposal in Hollywood from Robert Redford, and try stop a train from fucking a tower that looks like a vagina.

Caution - Tanuki Tango Overdrive may contain the following:
bukkake
anal sex
face fucking
orgies
a penis the size of a python with a dragon tattooed on it
testicles the size of grapefruits
Tanuki semen
cursing

I'll pause for a moment while you digest that.

One last thing: This was a self-published book but in no way resembles one. This is how self-published books should be done: impeccable editing and a professional looking product.

TTO is a lot of dirty good fun and made me want to play Super Mario Brothers 3. Three out of five stars.

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Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Review: The Last Place You Look

The Last Place You Look The Last Place You Look by Kristen Lepionka
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

When Roxane Weary takes on a case to find a woman that's supposedly been dead for fifteen years to clear her incarcerated boyfriend's name before he's executed, she's in way over her head. Can Roxane put her alcohol problem and her pain over her father's death aside long enough to crack the case?

Every time I try to quit accepting ARCs, something like this falls into my lap. Thanks again, karen.

I've been out of the detective fiction game for the past few months for the most part. Once you read a couple hundred crime books, everything starts seeming the same. Then a gem like this comes along.

The Last Place You Look stars Roxane Weary, a woman reeling from her cop father's death, coping by drinking a small ocean of whiskey. Between an ex-lover named Catherine that continuously toys with her to her current companion, her deceased father's partner, Roxane's life is a train wreck. She's just the type of girl you can count on to keep a man from getting executed, right?

Roxane reminds me of some unholy offspring of George Pelecanos's Nick Stefanos and Sara Gran's Claire DeWitt. If only she spent as much time detecting as she did throwing back slugs of whiskey... I kid. I loved Roxane, from her complex relationships with her family members to her questionable taste in sex partners.

In between black out drunks, she finds time to get wrapped up in quite a case. What seems like one murder ages ago winds up being quite a bit more. Roxane goes through both physical and emotional wringers multiple times on the way to one of the better crime fiction endings I've read in a long time.

One of the hallmarks of a great crime book, for me, anyway, is when the author makes me feel like a rube when the big reveal comes. I thought I had the killer pegged really early but that turned out to be a read herring. I pondered the title while cooking dinner and still didn't tip to who the killer was. Well done, Kristen. Well done.

I don't have a single bad things to say about this book. I'm greatly looking forward to reading more of Roxane's drunken escapades in the future. Five out of five stars.

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Sunday, February 26, 2017

Review: Agents of Dreamland

Agents of Dreamland Agents of Dreamland by CaitlĂ­n R. Kiernan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A government agent called The Signalman has a meeting with a mysterious woman in Winslow, Arizona about a bizarre cult murder near the Salton Sea days earlier. But what do those events have to do with the New Horizons space probe and a black and white movie penned by Edgar Rice Burroughs.

Despite my resolve to take on as few ARCs as possible this year, I couldn't resist this one when it popped up on Netgalley. It sounded wonderfully bizarre and it was.

Much like half of the books I've read so far in 2017, Agents of Dreamland is a modern Lovecraft tale of sorts, a tale of madness, alien fungus, shady government dealings, and an apocalypse on the horizon. There are a ton of ideas and hints in this novella, enough to fuel my imagination long after I finished it.

The Signalman is just a few years from retirement and fighting for every inch in that direction. Immacolata is a mysterious woman who knows many things she shouldn't. When she gives the Signalman her briefcase, his life gets several shades worse. The Fungi from Yuggoth are one of my favorite Lovecraftian baddies and they probably don't get enough press. Agents of Dreamland pushes them to their full potential, making for a chilling read.

Since it's a novella, I don't want to say much more. Suffice to say, Agents of Dreamland is a gripping read that blends Lovecraftian lore with conspiracy theories into a slick package brimming with ideas. 4.5 out of 5 stars.

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Saturday, February 25, 2017

Review: Merciless

Merciless Merciless by Kristal Stittle
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

After some bizarre phone calls, nurse Mercy Chalmers goes to visit her parents in the country. Her parents are gone and Mercy has the house to herself. Until the men in animal masks show up, that is...

The creepiness of the rabbit mask on the cover drew me to Merciless. That and the ninety-nine cent price tag.

For the most part, Merciless feels like Home Alone, only with homicidal men in animal masks instead of bumbling burglars. But why are they after Mercy? Turns out, they have a specific goal in mind.

Yeah, I wanted to like this way more than I did. The writing style grated on me a bit but I can't put a finger on why exactly it did. The plot wound up being a little more complex than I originally thought but the fact that they guys were shooting at Mercy doesn't make much sense once the main bad guy tips his hand.

The book was not without its charms, however. Mercy is a plucky heroine and it was almost orgasmic when she took the fight to her captors. I also liked the ending quite a bit. The suspense was well done and Kristal Stittle did a great job making Mercy's plight feel hopeless.

All things considered, I liked more about this book than I disliked. After the ending, I'd be willing to read another story starring Mercy. Three hard-earned stars out of five.

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Friday, February 24, 2017

Review: Rusty Puppy

Rusty Puppy Rusty Puppy by Joe R. Lansdale
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

When the woman who lives across the street from Brett's detective agency hires them to find out who killed her son, Hap and Leonard wind up in Camp Rapture, where the cops are worse than the criminals...

Rusty Puppy, the twelfth Hap and Leonard novel, features the dynamic duo we've all come to know and love, Hap and Leonard. As usual, the boys are in way over their heads, making smart ass remarks and sticking their noses where they don't belong.

Joe Lansdale's writing is as hilarious as ever, full of his front porch wisdom and hilarious one-liners. I'd say there's a quoteable line on almost every page. As per usual, the violence is pretty harsh once it finally arrives and the bad guys are huge scumbags. I like where things have gone with Chance and that Hap still bears some scars from the events of the last book.

While I enjoyed this as much as the last few, the series is starting to feel kind of formulaic. Hap and Leonard are still total bad asses despite having to be in their sixties at this point in the series. While the bad guys are pretty bad, there was no point that I thought they'd get the best of Hap and Leonard. Also, Marvin Hanson has covered for Hap and Leonard a few too many times to still have a badge.

Another gripe I had is that all the dangling threads from the last book were already resolved by the time this book was published in Briar Patch Boogie: A Hap and Leonard Novelette and Hap and Leonard: Blood and Lemonade.

Gripes aside, Lansdale still writes some of the best dialogue in crime fiction and I still devoured this thing in two sittings. It's gripping, and while I knew how it would end, it was still a lot of fun getting there and even a lesser Hap and Leonard book is still more enjoyable than a lot of books on the racks. 3.5 out of 5 stars.

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Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Review: Monstrumfuhrer

Monstrumfuhrer Monstrumfuhrer by Edward M. Erdelac
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Dr. Mengele has discovered Frankenstein's journal and is using it to create an army of invincible Nazi warriors. Jotham Podczaski goes north to find the only thing that can stop him: Frankenstein's original creation...

Edward Erdelac earned the golden ticket from me by virtue of The Merkabah Rider series. When he asked if I'd give this a read, it was an automatic Yes.

In Monstrumfuhrer, Erdelac juxtaposes the atrocities of the holocaust with the horrors of the reanimated dead. Jotham and his brother are rousted from their hiding place in a sympathetic woman's attic and dragged away to Auschwitz. Mengele takes an interest in Jotham, making him his errand boy, while Eliazar joins the resistance. Once Jotham sees Mengele's true colors, he manages to escape and heads north.

Erdelac's writing has improved by leaps and bounds since the Merkabah Rider series. Much like I thought The Dark Knight was too good to be a super hero movie and Batman was the weakest part, Monstrumfuhrer is almost too good of an account of the holocaust to have Frankenstein's monster in it.

Not that things don't get interesting once the Creature shows up. It turns out he has reasons of his own for coming back to civilization. The latter part of the book echoes the latter part of Mary Shelley's classic. It wasn't quite what I expected but was damn satisfying.

The writing was great but I thought maybe a little too much time was spent at Auschwitz. Or the Frankenstein elements could have been eliminated altogether. Even so, I enjoyed Monstrumfuhrer quite a bit. 3.5 out of 5 stars.

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