Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Bang Up: A Filthy Comedic Thriller

Bang Up: A Filthy Comedic ThrillerBang Up: A Filthy Comedic Thriller by Jeff Strand
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

When Ralph pays Kirk to have sex with his wife in order to drive her back to him, he didn't count on Kirk getting infatuated with her. And he certainly didn't think he'd have to pay another man to kill Kirk...

On the heels of reading Sick House, Kelly told me about this book and leaned on me to read it. One night not long after, I split a bottle of sake with my wife and this book was mysteriously on my kindle the next morning so I had no choice but to read it.

Bang Up is that ages old story: guy can't get it up unless his wife wears a puppet on her hand, guy suspects wife of wanting to cheat on him and hires another man to have disappointing sex with her to drive her back to him, sexy time ensues. Haven't we all read that one before?

Seriously, though, this is some good shit right here. Jeff Strand tells a hilarious story of infidelity gone wrong, complete with discussions on whether or not three people constitutes an orgy and uncomfortable small talk during the intermission of a three-way.

I don't want to spoil too much. The filth is filthy, the humor is humorous, and I can't blame Ralph for getting all riled up. Suffice to say, this one is possibly, POSSIBLY, tied with Kumquat as my favorite Jeff Strand book.

The subtitle "A Filthy Comedic Thriller" is an apt one. I can't think of a book that better encompasses those things. Five out of five stars.

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Friday, November 9, 2018

Sick House

Sick HouseSick House by Jeff Strand
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When Boyd Gardener gets a job in another town, he moves into a rental property with his wife and their two daughters. Odd things start happening, like food spoiling, and people getting ill. But there are far worse things in store for the Gardener family inside... THE SICK HOUSE!

I'm a big Jeff Strand fan and I finally pulled the trigger on buying this a couple weeks ago. I'm glad I did.

Sick House is told in two threads, that of three men hired to kill an old woman and Boyd Gardener and his family. It wasn't all that apparent just how the threads would intersect at first.

After Cyclops Road and Blister, I think I let my guard down a little. I won't make that mistake again. Jeff Strand spends the early portion of the book introducing Boyd and his family. Once you get to know them and like them, he unleashes the bad shit upon them. There's a lot more blood and gore in this than from a lot of Jeff Strand's recent books. There were times I didn't think any of the Gardeners would survive.

That's about all I want to reveal. It was an exciting haunted house tale, a type of horror that typically goes for the slow burn. Sick House was like having someone hold your hand to the burner of a stove. Once they turn the burner on, it's only a matter of seconds before you're smelling roasted skin. While I don't put this on the level of Kumquat, my favorite Strand book, it's definitely up there. 4 out of 5 stars.

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Thursday, November 1, 2018

The Switch House

The Switch HouseThe Switch House by Tim Meyer
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

After returning home from being on "Let's Switch Houses," nothing seems right in Angela and Terry's home, the least of which the void left by the death of their son. But when Angela begins seeing unsettling things, is she going crazy from grief or is it something more?

I saw Easy E talking this up on Twitter a while back and had a couple bucks in credit on the Big A so I pulled the trigger on it.

This was an entertaining haunted house tale. "Is Angela going insane or did the woman who lived in their house for a few months work some bad mojo on it" is the question throughout.

There were some horrifying images and tense moments in this but I thought it could have been fleshed out a bit more. The writing was technically good but no phrases jumped out and grabbed me by the genitals. I thought Angela was a great lead, though.

There were hints of greatness but The Switch House was middle of the road for me. Your mileage may vary, of course. Three out of five stars.

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Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Review: The Witch Elm

The Witch Elm The Witch Elm by Tana French
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

After suffering a brain injury during a burglary at his apartment, Toby goes to live with his terminally ill uncle Hugo. When a skull is found in a hollow tree on Hugo's property, the cops eye up Toby as a suspect. But with his brain injury, he can't be sure he's responsible or not...

I've been awaiting this Tana French book since it was available for pre-order since her Dublin Murder Squad books are some of my favorite things. I almost canceled my pre-order when I saw this was a standalone but stuck with it.

Tana French is one of my must-buy authors so it pains me to say I almost tossed this one back on the pile. The skull isn't found until about a third of the way through the book. The writing is as sharp as ever but I felt like something was missing. It was glacially paced and I didn't really care for Toby. He was unsympathetic before the beating and I only liked him a little bit more after.

Once the skull was found, however, I tore through the book in two or three long sittings. When the fuzz started sniffing around, I was about 90% sure Toby did it and was going to wind up in the clink. French ratcheted up the suspense and I was hooked for the duration. At various times, she had me believing a few different people were the killer. Things eventually went off the rails in a huge way and I was quite glad I didn't chuck it.

Once the mystery really kicked in, the book was good, almost great. Before that, I felt like she was padding things until she figured out whether she was writing a literary novel or one of her usual literary-mystery hybrids. A third of the book is too much setup for what was basically a whodunnit, no matter how well written it is!

Okay then. The Witch Elm is an enjoyable book once you get over the sloooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooow start. I don't want to say Tana French should stick with the Dublin Murder Squad but her next attempt at a standalone needs to be more engaging than this. Three out of five stars.

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Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Review: The Man Who Came Uptown

The Man Who Came Uptown The Man Who Came Uptown by George Pelecanos
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Michael Hudson is released from jail after witness refused to testify. After developing a voracious appetite for books in the joint, he just wants to get a job and read in peace. When the detective that got his witness to bow out comes looking for a favor, it's either be a getaway driver or go back to prison...

George Pelecanos is back in fine form with The Man Who Came Uptown. Michael Hudson just wants to get his life back to normal when Phil Ornazian braces him for a favor. Just let the guy read his damn book!

The atmosphere of George Pelecanos' Washington DC is still there but it's matured some since his last outing. While there were still references to cars, music, food, and dogs, they weren't as prominent as they normally are. There was a lot more book talk, however.

The Man Who Came Uptown was more character-driven than some of Pelecanos' previous books. Michael and Anna and the bond between them was one of the most interesting parts. Who can't empathize with a guy who just wants people to leave him alone so he can read?

Since it's a Pelecanos book, I was sure it was headed toward the usual shootout with drug dealers ending but it swerved around it into something more meaningful.

While I don't think it was Pelecanos' best, The Man Who Came Uptown was his best in a long while. Four out of five stars.

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Friday, October 5, 2018

Review: Everything is Horrible Now

Everything is Horrible Now Everything is Horrible Now by Edward Lorn
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Decades ago, the people of Bay's End burned the town founder and his wife after she was accused of being a witch. When the pastor kills his family and them himself with a shotgun, things appear to be coming full circle...

I first encountered Edward Lorn on Booklikes. He's one of those insidious types that never pushes his books on you. Anyway, a little while ago, he asked if I wanted to take a look at Everything is Horrible Now. Of course I did! I read the first 20% during a rare lunch break where people left me alone and I was starving for more!

"Everything is Horrible Now" is repeated throughout the story, first by Pastor George before he blows his brains all over his front porch in front of Wesley Haversham, then by others. It's partly small town horror, shades of early Stephen King when no one was safe, part cosmic horror. Hell, most forms of horror appear between the two covers at some point.

There are several viewpoint characters: Sheriff Hap Carrigan, the lawnman that resembles Lou Ford of The Killer Inside Me more than the heroes of most detective stories, Wesley Haversham, the farm boy who was in the wrong place at the wrong time, Kirby Johnson, the homosexual boy sent to Humble Hill to be "cured," and Pete Blackwood, an imaginative boy living with his hyper-religious grandmother Beulah. Beulah's also a viewpoint character, as is Gertie Fulgore, a woman from a family stricken with a blood curse that used to worship The Bastard.

I feel like I was missing a few things by not reading every Edward Lorn book in existence but I caught references to all of his books I've read up to this point. Easy E does a great job of juxtaposing cosmic horror with the everyday small town horrors of racism, fear, and ignorance. There is some extremely creep shit going on here, like the Coat Men, the people working at Humble Hill, and whatever the fuck the kid in the eyepatch is doing. The book feels like a Laird Barron book at times, what with the cosmic horror and talk about the nature of time and such.

There's a lot of small press horror out there and a lot of it is mediocre to average. What sets Ed apart from a lot of horror is his characters. They all rang true for me, from Hap's inner demons to the friendship between Pete and Wesley. He nicely captures what it was like to be an eleven year old boy. It also helps that Ed knows how to put the words in the right order. "Like an asshole full of concertina wire" was one of the early lines that jumped out at me and there were a hundred others.

Everything is Horrible Now turned out to be quite a wild ride with a lot of crazy bumps in the road. 4.5 out of 5 stars.

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Saturday, September 29, 2018

Review: Scapegoat

Scapegoat Scapegoat by Adam Howe
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Mike Rawson leaves his wife and baby behind for a weekend to go on a road trip to Wrestlemania III with Lonnie, Pork Chop, and Cyndi-from-the-bar. When they take a wrong turn and find a teenage girl with symbols carved into her body, what brand of hell have they gotten into?

Wrestling fiction is hard to come by and Adam Howe and James Newman have written some of the best. When Adam came knocking with Scapegoat, a book written by both of them, I couldn't turn him away.

While wrestling didn't turn out to be a big part of this, Scapegoat was still a fun read, a B-horror book about rock and roll and the end of the world. It's also hilarious.

Mike is the straight man of the tale, the member of the band that grew up and got a job. Lonnie and Pork Chop, still living in the days of Wrathbone, the band they thought would make them famous, have not grown up in the least. Cyndi-from-the-bar is a whole other animal. When they find a would-be teenage sacrifice, they find themselves hunted by a fundamentalist Christian sect. Hilarity and gore ensue.

Scapegoat was a lot of fun and avoided a lot of the cliches this type of book normally encompasses. Mike's not a hero or a bad ass. Neither are Pork Chop or Lonnie, though they all have their good points. It feels like a lost '80s satanic panic tale Joe Lansdale might have written.

Scapegoat is a funny, gore-strewn good time. Four out of five stars.

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