Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Review: Zero Lives Remaining

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Review: Corpse Rider

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Review: The Winter Box

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Monday, June 26, 2017

Review: Tampa

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Saturday, June 24, 2017

Review: The Voynich Manuscript

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Friday, June 23, 2017

Review: Hoodoo Harry

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

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

I got this from Netgalley.

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

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

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

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

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Joking Hazard

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

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

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

For example:

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

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

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Review: Hungry Darkness

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Friday, June 16, 2017

Review: Fungoid

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Review: Optical Delusion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Sunday, June 11, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Monday, June 5, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Thursday, June 1, 2017

Review: Forever and a Death

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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