Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Half a King

Half a King (Shattered Sea, #1)Half a King by Joe Abercrombie
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When his father and brother are killed, half-handed Yavri finds himself king. His reign is woefully short as he is betrayed and left for dead. After being rescued and sold into slavery, he plots his revenge...

I got this from Netgalley.

After the unbridled awesomeness of The First Law and its spinoffs, I was curious to see if Joe Abercrombie could tell a story set in another world. Turns out he can.

While Half a King is marketed as Young Adult (or Adults That Don't Enjoy Reading About Sex and/or Violence as Much as I Do, as I think of it these days), it's pretty grim at times. Yavri's life isn't easy and at no point did I feel like Yavri was working with a net, unlike a lot of YA protagonists. The story is low magic fantasy, possibly in our own world's far future. Descriptions are vague but I thought I caught references to radiation poisoning and concrete.

Half a King is a coming of age/hero's journey tale featuring Yavri, a prince with a withered hand. He's betrayed, swears vengeance, and goes about getting that vengeance he lusts for. The crew of misfits he assembles along the way help mold him into the man he needs to be to confront his uncle and take back the Black Chair. I loved those damn misfits, particularly Sumael and The Man Called Nothing, whom I hoped against hope was Logen Ninefingers despite this book not taking place in the First Law world. As with a lot of Abercrombie's supporting villains, Shadikshirram, wasn't all that vile and could have been a lead character under other circumstances.

The ending was full of surprises. There were revelations, deaths, and some surprising turns events. Abercrombie definitely proved to me that he wasn't a one trick pony with this one. Four out of five stars.

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Sunday, April 20, 2014

Relic of Death

Relic of DeathRelic of Death by David Bernstein
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When their car breaks down, two hitmen find a safe in a cabin in the woods. Inside the safe is a briefcase full of diamonds and soon the hitmen are at odds. But is the briefcase more than a briefcase?

I got this from DarkFuse via Netgalley.

The DarkFuse novella series keeps barreling forward, mowing down all other novella series in its path. This entry, Relic of Death, is more crime than horror, centering around a tried and true crime fiction MacGuffin, the mysterious briefcase.

This particular briefcase, however, drives people to madness and death, appearing to contain what the possessor wants the most. I have to think that it may have been inspired by the mysterious briefcase from pulp fiction.

The Relic of Death travels from owner to owner, leaving blood and insanity in its wake. What more can you ask for in a mysterious briefcase? Four out of five stars.

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Big Maria

Big MariaBig Maria by Johnny Shaw
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When three men with nothing left to lose go looking for a lost gold mine in the Yuma Proving Grounds, they have no idea the forces they will be up against...

Johnny Shaw is quickly blazing his way up my list of favorite authors. Big Maria is the tale of three losers looking for their big score. Frank is an old man with cancer. Harry Schmittberger (guess what his nickname is) is a prison guard. And Ricky was a bus driver until he wrecked his bus and became the defendent in a couple dozen lawsuits. When the legend of the Big Maria Mine reaches Harry's ears, the three men join forces, forming a unit almost as capable as one regular man.

The supporting cast is also pretty good. Bernardo and Ramon, Frank's nephews, are hilarious and even I was afraid of Frank's domineering daughter Mercedes. Cooker, aka Worky, was as close to a villain to be found in the book but I eventually felt sorry for him. Poor Worky. The obstacles the trio encountered were well done and seemed fairly accurate since they were venturing into an inhospitable desert that was also a firing range.

Big Maria is one hilarious book. From the opening with Harry puking into his own pants while passed out on the toilet, I was hooked. As with Shaw's other books, Dove Season and Plaster City, the prose is peppered with hilarious lines. Unlike a lot of humorous crime books, this one doesn't lose its luster after fifty pages or so and the humor doesn't descend to a ridiculous level. It's a lot like a Joe Lansdale books and like Lansdale, I think it would be a blast to go to a barbeque at Johnny Shaw's house.

The ending was great. It wasn't all blowjobs and rainbows and I liked how things were resolved.

Like Shaw's other two books, Big Maria would make a great movie. Four out of five stars.


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Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Plaster City

Plaster CityPlaster City by Johnny Shaw
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Jimmy Veeder is living the straight life with Angie and Juan, apart from the occasional Mavescapade, when Bobby's sixteen year old daughter goes missing. Together, Jimmy and Bobby navigate a cesspool of gang members and underground girl fights. But is Julie still alive? Or does she even want saving?

Plaster City was part of the Kindle First program in April. And it is spectacular! There aren't many sequels that don't diminish the original but I'd say Plaster City is even better than Dove Season, the first Jimmy Veeder fiasco.

Plaster City sees Jimmy and Bobby go on another of their alcohol and testosterone fueld adventures, this time looking for Bobby's sixteen year old daughter, a girl he barely knows. There's plenty of action, humor, and general mayhem, much like the first book. Buck Buck and Snout come back, as do Gris, Angie, and both the elder Morales and his criminal grandson Tomas. In addition to that, we get to meet Bobby's ex Becky and his father. The apple doesn't fall far from the tree there.

Even more than in Dove Season, I can't help but notice the resemblance of Shaw's tales to those of Joe Lansdale, both in humor and violence. The interplay between Jimmy and Bobby had me chuckling out loud quite a few times. I can't emphasize enough how funny these Jimmy Veeder books are. Hilarious but never degenerating into outright nonsense.

As in the first book, the dynamic duo took a world class ass kicking, especially Bobby. The ending surprised me a bit since there was a character I suspected was introduced to do some kind of heroic sacrifice but I'm glad Shaw went his way with it.

If you're looking for action, laughs, and outright enjoyment, you'll be hard pressed to find another book this awesome. Five out of five stars. It's a contender for the best book I've read in 2014 so far.

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Dove Season

Dove SeasonDove Season by Johnny Shaw
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When he finds out his father has terminal cancer, Jimmy Veeder returns home for the first time in over a decade. His father has one last request: one last visit with a bar girl named Yolanda. Little does Jimmy know the shitstorm his is about to unleash...

Since Plaster City was part of the Kindle First program this month, I thought it was high time I read Johnny Shaw's first Jimmy Veeder novel, Dove Season, and I'm very glad I did.

Dove Season is a crime tale that feels like something Joe Lansdale would cook up after a night of bad Mexican food. It takes place in the poor communities on the California/Mexico border. Jimmy Veeder is a conflicted Slacker who returns home to spend what remaining time his father has left with the old man. Who knew crossing the border to track down a hooker would stir up so much trouble?

Shaw's dialogue reminds me of Joe Lansdale's; full of black humor and sounding authentically rural. I lost count of all the quotable lines. Jimmy and his best friend Bobby Maves drink and wisecrack their way through the Mexican underworld, getting their asses handed to them repeatedly.

The humor is tempered with some brutality and surprising plot twists. I'm not going to spoil anything but this is certainly a book where the main character doesn't leave the story in a mass of unicorns and rainbows.

The relationships between Jimmy and his friends and the depiction of small town rural life were what separated this story from other crime books for me. The way Bobby and the Buckley's helped Jimmy blunder through everything was awesome.

I guess it's harder than I thought to articulate all the things I liked about this book. Here's a line that I found particularly hilarious: "I feel like I just walked into a tampon ad. I love the shit out of her but it's time we put on our man pants."

4.5 out of 5 stars. Bring on Plaster City!



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Thursday, April 10, 2014

Deceiver

DeceiverDeceiver by Kelli Owen
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A man's wife is murdered and he's understandably wrecked. When he finds a notebook in her luggage, he finds that his wife may not have been the person he thought she was...

I got this from Darkfuse via Netgalley.

Imagine you find evidence that your recently deceased spouse was a serial killer. That's the boat Matt Newman is in in Deceiver. He gradually slides from being the grieving husband to brimming with anger as he reads the entries in his deceased wife's notebook.

I've never read a Kelli Owen book before but she knows about building tension and conveying feelings of loss and anger like nobody's business. I sympathized with Matt at the various stages of his emotional journey.

The payoff at the end is pretty damn sweet. I don't have a bad thing to say about this book. It's an easy four star read.

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