Friday, December 29, 2017

Review: The Light Is the Darkness

The Light Is the Darkness The Light Is the Darkness by Laird Barron
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Conrad Navarro, a modern day gladiator in an underground fighting league, has been searching for his missing sister Imogene for years. His search takes him all over the world and what he finds may devour humanity...

With this book, my quest to read all of the works of Laird Barron by the end of 2017 is complete. Honestly, it took me a little while to get into this one. I was puzzled over what it was supposed to be. At some point, things turned over and I was hooked.

Most of the descriptions I've read for The Light is the Darkness emphasize Conrad's job, that of a gladiator that fights to death or dismemberment in secret arenas all over the world. That part is secondary, I'd say. The Light is the Darkness is more about Conrad's search for his sister and all the secrets he uncovers along the way.

The Light is the Darkness actually feels more like a Roger Zelazny book than anything else, particularly This Immortal, albeit infused with the Barronoid mythos. Like the titular character whose first name he shares, Conrad is one of those capable, somewhat smart-mouthed protagonists that still manages to get way out of his depth.

Barron's prose is as delicious as always, with a poet's gift for phrasing. I caught a few more comic and pulp references than usual, like the one to the Shadow. One of the drawbacks of reading a physical book over an ebook is that you can't highlight things for later reference. There were a lot of sentences I would have highlighted in this one.

The cosmic horror lurks in the background for most of this book, although there are hints of the Children of Old Leech in the background and "time is a circle" was mention a couple times. As Conrad unearthed more secrets, I was pretty sure the book was heading toward a Jim Thompson sort of ending.

The Light is the Darkness is nasty, brutish, and short, quite a good way to spend a cold afternoon. Four out of five stars. Now that I've devoured the works of Laird Barron like an uncaring cosmic worm, I'm waiting patiently for Blood Standard.

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Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Review: The Encyclopedia of Jewish Myth, Magic and Mysticism

The Encyclopedia of Jewish Myth, Magic and Mysticism The Encyclopedia of Jewish Myth, Magic and Mysticism by Geoffrey W. Dennis
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Once upon a time, I read Edward Erdelac's Merkabah Rider series and was bowled over by the awesomeness, the combination of pulp western and Jewish mystacism. After a couple blog interviews with Ed, he tipped me off to this. My wife got it for me for my birthday and I've chewed on it on and off ever since.

The Encyclopedia of Jewish Myth, Magic and Mysticism is an exhaustive collection of various entries from Jewish myth and it's fascinating. While not something you'd ever want to read cover to cover, it offers lots of interesting morsels. While I initially came for the stuff like Golems and Lillith, I interrupted my wife's reading quite a few times to relate some obscure bit of lore I unearthed. I had no idea how much I'd known of magical traditions originated with the Jews.

It's not a rivetting read but holds a place of honor on my non-fiction shelf next to stuff like Into The Unknown and Atlas Obscura: An Explorer's Guide to the World's Hidden Wonders. I look forward to slowly digesting it over the next thousand years. Five out of five stars.

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Review: The Ranger

The Ranger The Ranger by Ace Atkins
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When his uncle, the county sheriff, eats a gun, Quinn Colson comes home to Tibbehah County, Mississippi, for the funeral. Turns out his home town is a cesspool and the chief turds are Johnny Stagg, a county official, and Gowrie, a meth-dealing white supremicist. Will Colson be able to clean up his home town?

I've read a couple of Ace Atkins' Spenser books and liked them quite a bit. Some guy has been telling me for years how good they are. He was right yet again.

The words are different but the song sounds familiar. Guy comes back to his home town, finds out the shitbags have taken over, and runs the bad guys out of town. Ace Atkins takes a staple of the western genre and shapes it into something all his own. Fortunately, Atkins makes hay with it.

Quinn Colson comes home and finds himself out of the loop, an outsider in his own back yard. The bad guys have a foothold and most of the town is ready to roll over for them. Quinn and his trusted circle of allies have an uphill battle ahead of them in the form of crooked politicians, crooked judges, crooked cops, and meth dealing white supremicists.

For a book with all of those volatile ingredients simmering in the stew pot, The Ranger is a surprisingly slow burner. It takes a while for all the pins to get set up. While things are simmering, Atkins explores small town life in the south, painting a bleak picture of what things are like in small towns once the money starts drying up. Quinn deals with his mother, his sister, and his old flame.

The ending was everything I hoped it would be, a southern fried version of the fight at the OK Corral. While it stood well on its own, it left me wanting more of Quinn Colson dealing with shitheels in his home town. I don't really have anything bad to say about The Ranger. Quinn was capable without being a super hero and the supporting cast Atkins has crafted has a few books in it easily.

The Ranger was a fun thriller and a fascinating look at life in rural Mississippi. I guess I'm in for the whole series now. Four out of five stars.

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Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Review: Open Season

Open Season Open Season by C.J. Box
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

When a man dies in his front yard carrying a cooler, Wyoming game warden Joe Pickett finds himself thrust into a mystery, a mystery that might cost him everything he holds dear...

Over the past ten years, I've read hundreds of mysteries and thrillers. There's a stripped down charm to some of them and many of them boil down to the oldest of tales: people being shitheads to each other. When this one popped up on the cheap, I decided to give it a shot. "Wyoming game warden" isn't something that comes to mind when I think of a sleuth.

Open Season starts out by establishing that Joe Pickett is a good man but not precisely on the ball. A guy gets his gun from him and he never lives it down. Joe's a family man, with two daughters and a bun in the oven. His wife is clearly the brains of the operation. When the very man that snatched his gun away from him winds up dead on their wood pile, Joe finds himself neck deep in something sinister.

The rural Wyoming setting was the star of the show for me. Being a hundred miles from nowhere is scary on its own, not to mention throwing in the wildlife and the fact that everyone is packing heat. Box did a great job capturing what life in a dying small town is like. I liked that Joe was a by the book game warden rather than some kind of smart mouth maverick like so many other sleuths.

The setup for the mystery was good but I felt like everything after that was telegraphed. When there are only three prominent characters besides the sleuth and his family, it's pretty obvious that one or more of them is involved in the shady business. I felt like I spent a lot of time waiting for Joe Pickett to catch up.

As much as I've complained, I did enjoy the book and the ending was cathartic enough to be worth it. Box resisted the temptation to make Pickett rush in with guns blazing like an action hero and kept things true to character.

While it wasn't the best mystery I read this year, Open Season was an engaging enough read and I'm open to reading the further adventures of Joe Pickett. Three out of five stars.

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Friday, December 22, 2017

Review: The Far Empty

The Far Empty The Far Empty by J. Todd Scott
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

When Deputy Chris Cherry finds some skeletal remains on a ranch, it sets him on a collision course with the law of Murfee, Texas in the form of renowned sheriff Standford "Judge" Ross, local hero. Ross's son Caleb carries a horrible secret, that his father is crazier than a shithouse rat...

I've read hundreds of mysteries and thrillers, so many that there aren't a whole lot of surprises left and I've gradually shifted toward horror. This one had enough twists and turns to make me rethink things.

The Far Empty is part modern day western, part slow burning thriller. "What if Lou Ford from The Killer Inside Me had a family and was a lot better at keeping his demons under wraps" is a lazy way to describe the book but that's essentially what it is. Judge Ross has the Texas town of Murfee snowed and only his son suspects the depths his father can sink to.

Chris Cherry is a failed college football star barely limping by in his old home town with his unhappy girlfriend when a rancher finds some remains on his property. Who do the remains belong to and who doesn't want them identified?

J. Todd Scott has assembled a great cast and I can't believe this is someone's first novel. The viewpoints shift between half a dozen or so characters: Caleb Ross, his friend America, Chris Cherry, Cherry's girlfriend Mel, the Sheriff, Deputy Duane Dupree, and new teacher Anne, who is carrying secrets of her own. By the end, I couldn't decide who was the most dangerous: Sheriff Ross, meth-addled Duane, or Mel.

For my money, the hallmark of a good mystery is making me feel like a rube at some point. Scott did a great job with misdirection. He was also adept at building the tension. You know the ending is going to be a bloody train wreck but it was still a hell of a road getting there.

The remote Texas setting was another thing I enjoyed, a far cry from thrillers happening in crowded metropolises. Scott did a great job at capturing what small town life is like, warts and all.

The Far Empty was a fantastic first novel and I'll be ready for the second book in the series once it drops. Five out of five stars.

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Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Review: 2017 on Goodreads

2017 on Goodreads 2017 on Goodreads by Various
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

2017 was a busier year than usual for me. I went to Maine, lost my dog of 17 years, and gained a wife and a cat. Thus I didn't read nearly as many books as I would have liked during quieter years.

However, I like to think the overall quality was much higher than in previous years. I was a little more selective and a lot less willing to push through things I wasn't enjoying. Reading is for pleasure, after all, not self-torture.

While I already compiled my 2017 Dantastic Book Awards, here are some highlights.

1. I finally saw the light and devoured most of the works of Laird Barron.
2. The Elephant Who Liked To Smash Small Cars was finally reprinted.
3. I read more than my share of neo-Lovecraftian fiction. Winter Tide, The Night Ocean, The Final Reconciliation, and After the End of the World were the creme of the crop.
4. I tore through most of Hunter Shea's creature features.
5. While the demise of DarkFuse was a shame, I took full advantage of the discounted ebooks. The Winter Box, Corpse Rider, and Fairy Lights were all more than worth what I paid for them.
6. With the rise of ebooks, novellas are back! The following novellas are highly recommended: The Tea Master and the Detective, River of Teeth, Revolver, and Just Add Water.
7. I did a fair amount of rereading, mostly books I initially read in the dreamlike time before Goodreads. I'm happy to say Hyperion, The Talisman, and The Handmaid's Tale all stood the test of time.
8. Other Books I enjoyed in 2017 - The Sound of Broken Ribs, Lost Boy: The True Story of Captain Hook, The Last Place You Look, The Dunfield Terror, Fungoid, and Tampa.

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Monday, December 18, 2017

Review: Fury Of The Orcas

Fury Of The Orcas Fury Of The Orcas by Hunter Shea
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Orcas all over the world are going insane and mauling humans and marine biologist Chet Clarke has been tapped to figure out why. Can he get to the bottom of the orcas' bizarre behavior before he ends up being their next victim?

Hunter Shea and his creature features are always good for a few hours of entertainment. When he sent this one to me, I attacked it like a frenzied orca tearing a kid apart at Sea World.

Sharing a lot with They Rise, Fury of the Orcas is another species on the rampage book, a b-movie funfest in book form. People are introduced only to die horribly. There's chaos, death after death, and the heroes run around like their asses are on fire for most of the book. What can even one of the world's foremost marine biologists do when the seas are awash with blood? In many ways, this felt like They Rise 2.0. If you didn't enjoy They Rise, you'll probably hate this one.

Megapods of orcas are pretty serious, especially once hints of what is causing the rampage is revealed. I like how Shea tied Fury of the Orcas in with They Rise and also Loch Ness Revenge. There seems to be an uber-Shea novel brewing that ties together quite a few threads.

Fury of the Orcas was another fun creature feature from Mr. Shea. Glad I have Megalodon In Paradise sitting on my coffee table already. Four out of five stars.

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Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Review: Bones of the Earth

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Saturday, December 9, 2017

Review: A Stir of Echoes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Thursday, December 7, 2017

Review: The Tea Master and the Detective

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Review: Mrs. Caliban

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Review: The Goldfinch

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Review: The Imago Sequence and Other Stories

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Monday, November 27, 2017

Review: Steel: And Other Stories

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Review: The Invasion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Sunday, November 26, 2017

Review: Occultation and Other Stories

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Review: Die Empty

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Monday, November 13, 2017

Review: Wrestle Maniacs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Sunday, November 12, 2017

Review: The Best of Richard Matheson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Friday, November 10, 2017

Review: A Song for Quiet

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Thursday, November 9, 2017

Review: The Handmaid's Tale

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Sunday, November 5, 2017

Review: An Apocalypse of Our Own

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

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

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

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

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

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Thursday, November 2, 2017

Review: Paradox Bound

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Monday, October 23, 2017

Review: Graveworm

GravewormGraveworm by Tim Curran
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Saturday, October 14, 2017

Review: Carrie

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Thursday, October 12, 2017

Review: The Beautiful Thing That Awaits Us All

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Friday, October 6, 2017

Review: Slobberknocker: My Life in Wrestling

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

Slobberknocker is the biography of wrestling announcer Jim Ross.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Sunday, October 1, 2017

Review: Swift to Chase

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Thursday, September 28, 2017

Review: Gone South

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Sunday, September 24, 2017

Review: X's For Eyes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Friday, September 22, 2017

Review: Gorel and the Pot Bellied God

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Thursday, September 21, 2017

Review: Man with No Name

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Review: The Croning

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Review: The Hole

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Monday, September 18, 2017

Review: Dweller

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Sunday, September 17, 2017

Review: The Breakdown

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Saturday, September 16, 2017

Review: Chills

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Friday, September 15, 2017

Review: After the End of the World

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Review: The Fall of Hyperion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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