Friday, January 18, 2019

Review: Black Mountain

Black Mountain Black Mountain by Laird Barron
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When two mutilated bodies of local criminals are found, signs point to a hired killer called The Croatoan. But the Croatoan has been dead for years, right? That's what Isaiah Coleridge wants to find out...

Laird Barron jumped nearly to the top of my favorite authors list in 2017. When this popped up on Netgalley, I had to read it.

Black Mountain continues the story of Isaiah Coleridge, part Maori former hitman trying to leave the killing behind. As Coleridge plays sleuth, his violent nature stares him in the face again and again. In this volume, Coleridge tries to find the perpetrator of two murders and winds up with much more on his hands.

Laird Barron's writing is as great as ever, part Chandler, part Thompson, part Ellroy, and even some Roger Zelazny in the mix, equally adept at poetic descriptions and stark violence. I had no idea who the killer was for most of the book. I was too busy trying to piece things together along with Isaiah and Lionel.

For part of the book, I thought Isaiah was a little too capable and the book meandered a bit. Then the rug got yanked out from under me and I wolfed down what was left in one long ass-numbing sitting. The Croatoan wound up being far more interesting than your run of the mill serial killers. The book flirted with cosmic horror a bit at times. Maybe the Children of Old Leech will be mentioned in the next one?

While I love his brand of horror, sometimes you just want to see bad guys get got. Laird Barron delivers the goods here. Four out of five stars.

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Thursday, January 10, 2019

A Time to Scatter Stones

A Time to Scatter Stones: A Matthew Scudder NovellaA Time to Scatter Stones: A Matthew Scudder Novella by Lawrence Block
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When a friend of his wife's comes to them with a problem involving an abusive man, Matt Scudder is on the case. But how can an old man stop a man he's never seen and whose name he doesn't know?

I've been a Lawrence Block fan since I read Grifter's Game and the Matthew Scudder series is one of my favorite series of any genre so when Mr. Block hit me up, this book shot to the top of my stack. When your favorite living crime author hands you a book, you read the damn thing!

One of the best features of the Matthew Scudder series is that Matt ages in real time. In this book, he's been sober 35 years and living comfortably with Elaine, who has joined a support group for former prostitutes. One of her friends needs help quitting the game but one of her old clients won't take No for an answer...

I'm happy to say Lawrence Block (and Matthew Scudder, for that matter) hasn't missed a beat since his last outing. This novella saw me through an oil change and tire rotation and I was actually disappointed that I had to drive home to finish it. Scudder fans of old will approve of how Matt gets things done. It was like running into some old friends and immediately picking up where you left off.

A Time to Scatter Stones was a great chance to catch up with one of my favorite characters and favorite authors. Four out of five stars.

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Review: Self Help: Life Lessons from the Bizarre Wrestling Career of Al Snow

Self Help: Life Lessons from the Bizarre Wrestling Career of Al Snow Self Help: Life Lessons from the Bizarre Wrestling Career of Al Snow by Al Snow
My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

Self Help: Life Lessons from the Bizarre Wrestling Career of Al Snow is the biography of wrestler Al Snow.

I've been an Al Snow fan for a long time. After learning about him through the various Apter mags, I was thrilled to see him come to the WWF, even though he floundered with the Avatar and Leif Cassidy gimmicks. When he made his resurgence with the Head gimmick, I was all in. In my mind, he could have easily worn one of the top belts in his prime. Anyway, I saw this book on Netgalley and had to give it a shot.

As I've mentioned many times before, the litmus test of any wrestling book is how quickly it gets to the wrestling related stuff. Al was already looking for a place to train by the 2% mark so I knew this one would be gold.

Al was consumed with the desire to become a wrestler at the ripe old age of 14 and couldn't see any other way to go. In an age where there's a wrestling school within 100 miles of most major cities, Al's struggle to break in was fascinating. The shit-kicking he took from Ole and Gene Anderson was touched upon in a few interviews I've watched but Al goes into more detail here. Al's one of the last guys to come up during the territory days so he delivers a lot of insight here.

Once he was finally trained, there's about a decade of paying his dues, driving hundreds of miles to wrestle in front of small crowds for no money, opening his own wrestling school and fighting in tough man contests for extra money. Once he was given bigger opportunities, well... Al's pretty candid about the things he did wrong in his earlier days in Smokey Mountain Wrestling, ECW, and the WWF, acknowledging things he should have done differently without a lot of bitterness. Post-WWE, Al talks about indepentdent gigs, both with or without midget wrestlers, and working backstage at TNA/Impact, an even bigger headache than I was picturing.

Al's a funny guy and his humor does a lot to underscore some of his points. I've watched more than my share of wrestling documentaries and interviews but quite a bit of the material in here was new to me. The extent of Al's injuries were news to me, as was his time in Japan. The TNA stuff was kind of heart breaking but it seems like Al was served quite a few figurative shit sandwiches backstage at ECW, WWE, and TNA. Possibly a few literal ones but that wasn't mentioned.

About the only gripe I can think of with the book is that I wanted more on certain topics., like working in Mexico or Japan. Honestly, though, it's a top tier wrestling book no matter how you slice it.

Funny, informative, and sometimes brutally honest, Self Help is a gripping account of the 35 year career of Al Snow. 4.5 out of 5 Styrofoam heads.

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Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Review: Fog Warning

Fog Warning Fog Warning by Edward Lorn
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

After running over a girl years earlier, Brent Cummings is a pill-addicted doctor in a small town hospital. After seeing a dead body in a park on his walk home, Brent calls the cops, only to wind up in jail on drug charges when the cops show up and the girl is gone. Did Brent actually see a corpse or was it the drugs? And if he did see a corpse, what happened to it?

My wife bought me a few books for Christmas and this was one of them since I have some gaps in my Edward Lorn back catalog. It filled me with holiday cheer as I scarfed it down on New Year's Day.

I know Ed had a problem with pills at some point and I suspect some of what happened in here stems from that. Brent Cummings is on the run from his past, coasting from day to day in an Oxy fog, when he finds a body in the park and winds up in the clink. A friend bails him out of jail and soon the fun really begins...

Fog Warning is a novella but I think it's the perfect length for this tale. There's never really a lull, never an opportune time for the reader to set it down and go take a leak. Once I tipped to what was going on, it was a race to get to the end.

It reminded me of an episode of Tales from the Darkside (my mom got me the complete series on DVD for Christmas) or Tales from the Crypt (still waiting on someone to buy me the complete series on DVD). Lorn could have taken the predictable route but chose to drive across a few lawns instead on the way to the conclusion.

Fog Warning is a fun horror novella from a fun author. Four out of five Oxycontins.

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Sunday, December 30, 2018

Brutus Beefcake: Struttin' & Cuttin'

Brutus Beefcake: Struttin' & Cuttin' - Official Autobiography (eBook)Brutus Beefcake: Struttin' & Cuttin' - Official Autobiography by Brutus Beefcake
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Brutus Beefcake: Struttin' & Cuttin' is the autobiography of Brutus Beefcake.

As I've mentioned in other reviews, I've been a pro-wrestling fan my entire life. While Brutus was never my favorite, I did dress up as The Barber for Halloween when I was 13. Thankfully, there are no surviving photos. One of my friends, Alex Davidson, recommended this to me two or three times before I finally gave it a read. I should have listened to him sooner because this was fucking great.

Brutus' career was derailed in the early 1990s when a parasailing accident destroyed his face and that's where the book starts. I was hooked from the first page. From there, we go to young Ed Leslie growing up in the Tampa area, meeting the boy who would be Hulk Hogan when they were both playing little league.

One early indicator of how much I'm going to enjoy a wrestling book is how quick they get to the wrestling part. Brutus was on the fringes of the wrestling business by the 10% mark so I sat back and enjoyed the ride after that.

Brutus covers all of his ups and downs, going from territory to territory, from his early days as Eddie Boulder to Eric Bischoff firing him via Fed-Ex in the late 1990s, and everywhere in between. We get Brutus' accounts of Andre the Giant, Danny Spivey kicking the shit out of Adrian Adonis, the infamous attack on Dynamite Kid by Jacques Rougeau, and lots of other backstage shenanigans. We also get hilarious road stories involving sex, drugs, drugs, booze, drugs, booze, and sex. I complain that a lot of wrestling books are light on road stories but this one is full of them.

It's not all hilarious, however. The story of Brutus' parasailing accident is not for the faint of heart. I read about it in the Apter mags not long after it happened but this version, from the Barber's own mouth, was so much worse. His life after WCW is no picnic, either, working indy shows for a fraction of what he once made. Fortunately, his life with wife #3 and a WWE Legends contract seems to have turned a corner for him.

I never thought I'd say this but Brutus Beefcake's book is the most entertaining wrestling book I've read in a very long time. Four out of five stars.

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Saturday, December 29, 2018

Review: Children of Time

Children of Time Children of Time by Adrian Tchaikovsky
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

As humanity's fortunes fade, an engineered nanovirus, not finding the monkeys it expected, begins elevating the insects and spiders of an earth-like world. Will it be the humans aboard the space ark Gilgamesh or the spiders of the green planet inherit the universe as... The Children of Time?

One of the lunch talkers was gushing over this book a few days ago, the rare interruption of my reading I can tolerate. Fortunately, I already had this on my kindle despite no memory of buying it. Anyway, I dug in and was quickly ensnared in its web.

Childen of Time is told in two silky, sticky threads: the humans aboard the Gilgamesh, with Holsten Mason, a classicist, as the view point character, and generations of uplifted spiders on Kern's World. As such, we see the rise of the spiders, aided by a human-made nanovirus, across generations, as Holsten is awoken to find the Gilgamesh and its people in various states of decline.

The worldbuilding is exquisite. Adrian Tchaikovsky's spiders are alien yet somehow familiar, not just feeling like humans in different bodies. AT clearly put a lot of thought into his worldbuilding, extrapolating a lot from spider behavior, not just plopping giant spiders down on an earthlike world. The various Portias, Biancas, and Fabians over the generations showed a lot of development and nuances. The spider civilization unfolded in an organic way and I couldn't get enough of it, with its crazy gender politics and technology based around trained ants and genetically encoded information.

The humans coping aboard the Gilgamesh weren't quite as interesting to me, although some interesting avenues are explored. Life aboard an ark isn't easy, especially when you're repeatedly awakened to find things have gone pear-shaped. The Gilgamesh's crew and cargo undergo some interesting reversals of fortune, some expected, others not.

By the time the two narrative threads entangled, I knew which side I wanted to come out on top. Tchaikovsky kept me guessing, though, right up until the end.

Children of Time features lots of things I find compelling in science fiction: artificial intelligence, evolved bugs, and generation ships, albeit unintentional. For once, I'm glad someone interrupted my lunchtime reading. Five out of five stars.

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Friday, December 21, 2018

Review: No Home for Boys

No Home for Boys No Home for Boys by Edward Lorn
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When Eric Penderecki torches his science class with a papier mache volcanco full of thermite, he winds up in the Bay's End Home for Boys, run by famous writer Trey Franklin. Little does he know Trey's reasons for running the home...

Edward Lorn hit me up to read this a while back. I'm down with the Lorn and have called him the future of horror on several occasions. Anyway, I was between books and decided to read this. I wolfed it down in two sittings.

No Home For Boys is some fucked up, timey-wimey cosmic horror, the seeds Lorn planted in all the books in the Bay's End universe finally bearing fruit. It is one hell of a ride.

Parts of it are auto-biographical, I expect. Trey went through some of the same meat grinders as old Easy E from what I've gleaned from Ed over the last few years. Lorn probably hasn't lived several lifetimes, although I don't know him THAT well.

A wise burnout once said "Time is a flat circle." In the case of the Lorniverse, time is a pretzel. Humanity inhabits the infinity shaped piece and the loop below is home to all sorts of nastiness. No Home For Boys explores that notion and also tackles things like religion, the afterlife, time, the universe, and everything. And it will also creep the begeezsus out of you if you're not careful.

I don't want to give too much away. Suffice to stay, Ed stuck the standing. His writing has matured quite a bit in the however many years I've been reading him. A story like this takes a lot of confidence to attempt. Admittedly, I was in the dark for parts of it, given the pretzel-y nature of things but I'd say he pulled it off.

Now that the book is (probably) closed on the Bay's End universe, I'll be interested to see what Edward Lorn does next. Four out of five stars.

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