Saturday, June 16, 2018

Review: The Weight of Blood

The Weight of Blood The Weight of Blood by Laura McHugh
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

When the dismembered body of one of her friends is found, Lucy Dane goes down a rabbit hole of sex trafficking, a rabbit hole that nearly claimed her missing mother decades earlier. Will Lucy discover her mother's true fate before she meets her own?

I've had this book for at least a couple years but forgot about it until I started chewing through my backlog due to my wife's commandeering of the Kindle. It was a gripping read.

The Weight of Blood is told in two threads, one in the past when Lila Petrovich came to Henbane, the other in the present featuring her daughter Lucy. Henbane is a flyspeck town in the Ozarks and I feel like Laura McHugh did a good job capturing the small town way of life, complete with distrust of strangers. The two plot threads were like speeding trains heading toward each other on the same track. You know the end result isn't going to be pretty.

The two mysteries were fairly engaging, although I preferred the Lucy thread. Crete Dane is as rotten as they come but still cares for his family in a twisted sort of way. I felt bad for all the bad stuff that happened to Lila, especially since I knew the worst was yet to come.

The book reminds me of The Roanoke Girls more than anything else, although I preferred The Roanoke Girls. The characters were pretty thin and didn't have a lot of life to them. Lucy and Lila were so alike I forgot which was which a couple times. The writing didn't have much of a spark either. It was pretty basic. While the plot was good, the rest of it could have used more juice.

The Weight of Blood was very readable and I liked it but ultimately didn't have a whole lot of weight to it. 3.5 out of 5 stars.


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Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Review: The Impossible Fortress

The Impossible Fortress The Impossible Fortress by Jason Rekulak
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

In the glorious year of 1987, Vanna White appears in Playboy, sending Billy and his friends in a frenzy to grab that coveted magazine. All Billy has to do is get the alarm code from the stationary store owner's daughter, Mary. Things get complicated when Billy discovers Mary is into computer programming on her Commodore 64, just like he is...

Since my wife comandeered the Kindle to read Anne of Green Gables, I'm chewing through my physical backlog of books. I picked this one up at the Goodreads Summit in 2016. It was a fun little read.

It's funny that the Vanna White Playboy was part of the plot of The Impossible Fortress because that's the one skin magazine my dad had, that I know of. Way back in the day, a co-worker of my dad was dying of cancer and asked him to do the 1990 equivalent of clearing his browser history, retrieving his porn stash from his locker at work. Dad brought it home and said "That Vanna White Playboy is on top of the fridge in the garage if you guys want to look it. Don't let your mom catch you."

Anyway, The Impossible Fortress was fun book. While it's not marketed as such, it's probably best classified as a young adult book. I'm guessing Quirk pushed the nostalgia aspect to grab more readers.

The story is part heist tale, part coming of age. Billy and his friends plan capers to secure copies of the Vanna White Playboy issue. Billy starts having feelings for Mary while the two work on a computer game, The Impossible Fortress, for a contest. Anyone who has ever watched a John Hughes movie knows where things are going.

I found the Impossible Fortress entertaining while I was reading it. The nostalgia doesn't feel forced and doesn't overshadow the story. The relationship between Billy and Mary blossomed pretty naturally and I really wanted them to win the contest. Burglary to retrieve the Vanna White Playboy was kind of a stretch. It's not even a great issue but, then again, many a fourteen year old has done many a stupid thing for a glimpse at naked flesh.

While I found it entertaining, I didn't find it particularly memorable. The only characters of substance were Billy and Mary and the writing was... light, maybe? Unchallenging? Stripped down? The writing didn't have a lot of meat to it is what I'm getting at.

At the end of the day, it's a fun story but The Impossible Fortress isn't anything I'd say people need to go out of their way to read. The story is cute and the nostalgia is fun but that's all there is. Three out of five stars.



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Sunday, June 10, 2018

Review: The Risen

The Risen The Risen by Ron Rash
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

When Eugene and his brother Bill meet a girl while swimming in a creek, their lives are drawn into her web of sex and drugs. Eugene falls hard for Ligeia and would do anything for her until she suddenly leaves town. Now, almost fifty years later, a body identified as Ligeia's is found along the same creek. Just what the hell happened to the girl Eugene never got over?

During my Goodreads visit in 2016, they had a massive pile of books for us, free for the taking. I managed to restrain myself, taking only The Impossible Fortress, an Anthony Bourdain book (may he rest in peace) that I regifted to my brother, and this one. I devoured it on a couple sweltering weekend days.

The Risen is the story of the buried secrets of Eugene Matny's past coming back to haunt him, although they'd been subtly haunting him for a few decades. Back in the day, Eugene was hot and heavy for a hippy chick named Ligeia until she vanished from his life. When her body is discovered, he immediately suspects his brother lied to him about taking her to the bus station. What exactly his brother was lying about proved to be quite something.

Rash's writing style sucked me right in, easy yet poignant. The parallel structure of the book, one set in the present day and the other in the mythical age of 1969, kept me interested even in the stretches where not a lot was happening. Knowing the train wreck is coming doesn't mean you'll be able to get off the tracks in time to avoid getting swept up in it. The ending was even better than I was expecting.

And now we've come to the point in the review where I reveal why I only gave The Risen a three. The book felt like it was missing a little something, like the time I forgot to put bay leaves in my beef stew. For the reputation Ron Rash has, this book was kind of a letdown. "Average" would be the first word that comes to mind when I think of this book. It was engaging but I'm already forgetting details and I just finished it a few minutes ago.

I think the characters needed to be fleshed out more. Eugene was a drunk. Bill was a med student. Ligeia was a hippy. Eugene and Bill's grandfather was a tyrant. That's pretty much it. The characters were pretty flat to me.

The Risen was a worthwhile read but it probably wasn't the Ron Rash book I should have read if I wanted a new author to follow. Three out of five stars.


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Saturday, June 9, 2018

Review: Made to Kill

Made to Kill Made to Kill by Adam Christopher
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Ray Electromatic is the last existing robot who works as a private detective and assassin. When he is hired to find and kill a missing actor, he soon becomes entangled in a web of communists and mind control. Will Ray get his man and get his money?

Way back in the fall of 2016, I visited Goodreads headquarters and this book was in the goodie bag they gave me. Now, almost two years later, I have finally read it.

Taking place in an alternate version of the 1960s, one where robots were created and all but one, Ray Electormatic, were deactivated, Made to Kill is a Chandleresque tale of murder, lies, death, and dirty communists. Ray Electromatic operates as a detective and an assassin with the added caveat that he has to recharge every day and have his memory uploaded and erased. A supercomputer named Ava is his secretary/boss. Sound good yet?

Born out of imagining what a Raymond Chandler science fiction tale would be like, Made to Kill hits a lot of the Raymond Chandler beats. There are femme fatales, shady actors and government types, and Adam Christopher's Hollywood is just as filled with phonies and psychopaths as Chandlers. Ray's internal dialogue is peppered with dark humor and he approaches detection with the same grace, or lack thereof, of Philip Marlowe.

The story folds back in on itself a few times like some kind of tesseract. It was an engaging read but I wasn't ass over tea kettle over it. For a bad ass robot, Ray Electromatic didn't actually do a whole helluva lot besides drive around and he was tied up for a lot of the final portion of the book.

Made to Kill was an entertaining read for a rainy Saturday afternoon. I'm not sure I'll be sticking around for future installments, though. Three out of five stars.



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Monday, June 4, 2018

Review: Horses and Farms For Fiction Writers

Horses and Farms For Fiction Writers Horses and Farms For Fiction Writers by Horace Ponii
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Jim MacLachlan was one of the first friends I made on Goodreads. Since we both live in rural areas and work in IT and love Roger Zelazny, we hit it off pretty well.

Once upon a time, I was writing a fantasy story and had a question about horses, specifically how long it would take one to go 200 miles. Jim was my go-to guy since he has horses, including one that's the grandson of Secretariat. Not only did he answer my question, he gave me a lot more helpful information about horses. I like to think my fairly innocent question played a small part in Jim writing this book.

Apart from reading about them, I don't have a lot of experience with horses, although I've ridden a few and my grandpa has a photo of a couple horses he owned in the 1970s in his wallet where his grandchildren's should be. Jim gives a good overview of horses and the culture of horse owners here.

"Horses aren't cars with hooves" is a quote from the intro and something important to remember when writing about horses. Jim covers a broad range of horse topics the average person doesn't give much though to, like shoeing, dentistry, the difference between a horse and a pony, and many other subjects, like how horses deal with other animals and politics within the herd.

Jim's style is very accessible and often hilarious. I did not expect to read a story about his daughter taking her horse to school, only for it to sport a massive erection in front of her classmates. In addition to horses, Jim covers a lot of related topics, like life on a farm, other livestock, and things of that nature.

Much like the time I asked Jim how far a horse could go in 200 miles, this book provided much more information than I originally wanted but it's better to have it and not use it than need it and not have it. Horses and Farms For Fiction Writers should prove to be a good resource for writers wanting to include accurate depictions of horses and various horse-related things in their writing. Four out of five stars.

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Sunday, June 3, 2018

Review: Blood Standard

Blood Standard Blood Standard by Laird Barron
My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

When he sees his fellow gangsters killing walruses for fun, Isaiah Coleridge chops one of them in the throat and winds up exiled to a work farm in upstate New York. A teenage girl also staying at the farm disappears and Isaiah means to find her, stirring up a hornet's nest of gang members and corrupt law enforcement...

2017 was the year of Laird Barron for me. I managed to read every book he had in print so it was a no-brainer that I'd pick up this one, his first foray into crime fiction. Barron's prose is rooted in noir so I knew he'd do a great job.

Blood Standard is a mystery but Isaiah Coleridge is no Philip Marlowe. He pretty much bulldozes his way around, kicking ass and pissing people off. In some ways, he's a lot like Conrad Navarro, the protagonist of The Light is the Darkness, a brute of a man who would have been better off being born a thousand years earlier.

The writing was as I expected, grim, gruesome stuff written with a sort of poetry. Like Isaiah, I suspect Laird Barron wouldn't mind a Homburg and an overcoat, although he'd be wearing his someplace cold and desolate. If I wouldn't have been reading a physical copy, I would have highlighted half of the book on my Kindle.

Isaiah's a little more complicated than all of that, a half-Maori man haunted by his mother's death at the hands of his father when he was fifteen. Papa Coleridge is a piece of work, a career military man who went mercenary. While Isaiah wouldn't agree with, he's a lot more like his father than he'd like to admit.

While I don't pretend to understand Isaiah, I understand his motivations. It brought a tear to my eye when someone asked Isaiah why he did what he did and he said "I miss my dog." Animals and kids have an innocence that should be preserved. Yeah, I miss my dog too.

Isaiah's case takes him up against the White Manitou, a Native American organized crime organization, and corrupt cops and FBI agents. By the time the dust is settled and the blood is dried, the case is closed but not a lot of good came of it. The classic noir ending, in fact.

The supporting cast went a long way toward making Isaiah seem like more than a human wrecking ball. Lionel, Isaiah's drunken co-worker at the ranch, is the kind of friend every man wants, one that would follow him through the gates of hell. I also liked that Meg was tough and didn't immediately jump on Isaiah's groin. She proved to be a many-faceted character.

There were a whole lot of loose ends left behind but that's not all that surprising. If you follow Laird Barron on social media, you know he's already got the next Coleridge book in the can. I'm looking forward to Isaiah's next blood-spattered outing.

Laird Barron's first steps into the world of crime fiction were even better than I expected. 4.5 out of 5 stars.




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Monday, May 28, 2018

Review: The Somnambulist's Dreams

The Somnambulist's Dreams The Somnambulist's Dreams by Lars Boye Jerlach
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A lighthouse keeper finds the deranged writings of his predecessor, of dreams spanning time and space...

I never would have picked this up if my wife hadn't commandeered the kindle to read Anne of Green Gables. On that fateful day, Lars Boye Jerlach happened to email me, asking if I was interested in reading print copies of his books. Needless to say, I took the plunge.

The Somnabulist's Dreams is a tough animal to pin down. It reminded me of The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle a bit, even before Toru was mentioned. Enoch Soule's tales feel like fever dreams, strange vignettes featuring talking ravens, Edgar Allan Poe, Sigourney Weaver, David Bowie, and probably a lot of historical figures I didn't recognize.

One minor quibble: David Bowie does not have eyes that are different colors. One has a pupil that is permanently dilated due to an injury he suffered in a brawl.

The Somnambulist's Dreams could be interpreted as the fracturing reality of a man suffering from loss and loneliness. It could also be about the nature of reality and existence. I was pretty sure who the narrator would wind up being when I started but that didn't impede my enjoyment of the tale one iota. I wolfed it down in a quiet afternoon.

The Somnabulist's Dreams is an odd, quirky, enjoyable little book with no clear cut answers, one that can't be shoved into any particular genre. I'm looking forward to cracking Lars' other book, When all the days have gone, once I've had a little more time to digest this one. Four out of five stars.

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