Friday, April 28, 2017

Review: C is for Cthulhu Coloring Book

C is for Cthulhu Coloring Book C is for Cthulhu Coloring Book by Greg Murphy
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The C is for Cthulhu Coloring Book is a 48 page coloring/activity book featuring the uncolored artwork from C is for Cthulhu: The Lovecraft Alphabet Book.

I got this for being a Kickstarter backer for Sweet Dreams, Cthulhu, an upcoming kids book, and it's pretty cool.

It features the artwork from C is for Cthulhu before it was colored, plus some bonus illustrations, some of which weren't in C is for Cthulhu. Also, there are activity book standards like getting Cthulhu out of a maze and a word search featuring various Lovecraftian names. And a Cthulhu mask you can cut out and wear around the house!

I think the coloring book version lacks some of the punch of C is for Cthulhu: The Lovecraft Alphabet Book but if you're going to expose your child to the horrors of cosmos and man's insignificance at an early age, he or she might as well get to color as well. Four out of five stars.

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Review: C is for Cthulhu: The Lovecraft Alphabet Book

C is for Cthulhu: The Lovecraft Alphabet Book C is for Cthulhu: The Lovecraft Alphabet Book by Jason Ciaramella
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

C is for Cthulhu is an alphabet book for kids. There is a page for each letter of the alphabet and artwork and a little snippet of prose depicting a character, place, or feature from the Cthulhu Mythos whose name begins with that letter. I think you get the idea.

I got this for being a Kickstarter backer for Sweet Dreams, Cthulhu, an upcoming kids book, and it is pretty damn sweet.

The artwork is spectacular, cute but still somewhat disturbing. The thing the artwork most reminds me of is Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker. Almost all of my favorite Lovecraftian beasties are well represented. From Abdul Al-Hazred to Zombies, the artwork knocks it out of the park. If I had to pick three favorite illustrations, they would be Black Goat with a Thousand Young, Hastur, and Shoggoth.




This particular digital version also includes unused concept art and some new art that had to be created for foreign editions.

I couldn't be more delighted with this book. If you want to start blasting some youngster's sanity at an early age, I couldn't think of a better place to start. Five out of five stars.

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Thursday, April 27, 2017

Review: The Phoenix Project: A Novel About IT, DevOps, and Helping Your Business Win

The Phoenix Project: A Novel About IT, DevOps, and Helping Your Business Win The Phoenix Project: A Novel About IT, DevOps, and Helping Your Business Win by Gene Kim
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Bill Palmer gets thrust into the CIO position at Parts Unlimited and has 90 days to make chicken salad out of chicken shit or the entire IT department gets outsourced. Does Bill have what it takes?

Confession Time: I've worked in IT for the past fifteen years. When the CTO of the company I work for strongly recommended all IT personnel read this, I bit the bullet.

Remember those after school specials that were some kind of lesson with a flimsy story wrapped around it? That's pretty much what this was. Only instead of featuring cool things like sex and drugs, this one was about the pitfalls of being an IT manager. It read like the book equivalent of the awful training video I had to watch when I worked loss prevention at K-mart about a thousand years ago.

Bill's a server guy who suddenly becomes CIO and is forced to turn the Phoenix Project around. Yeah, it's just as riveting as it sounds. All the kiss asses at work rave about the book but it's barely a novel. It's a management manual disguised as a novel. Not only that, Bill is kind of a dick and a Mary Sue. A Dick Sue, if you will.

Even before investigating the author, I could tell he was an operations guy rather than a developer. It was pretty easy to tell by the way he laid the heaviest of the blame on everyone except the server guys. It's like a garbage man writing a book where the garbage man is the only one who can save the day.

The book reads like someone recounting meetings he's been in, which is pretty much what it is. That and some corporate propaganda praising the use of Agile IT management and The Cloud. Actually, now that I think about it, it kind of reminds me of The Pillars of the Earth, where the plot is a loop of problems, solutions, and unexpected complications, only instead of a church, they're building an application. The rape levels aren't the same, either.

The book gets a little improbable by the end. After some pep talks and embracing the Agile philosophy, somehow a team that couldn't find its asses with both hands and a map can suddenly turn things around enough to master cloud computing in half a page.

Despite all the above-mentioned dislikes, and the fact that the characters are as thin as toilet paper from the Dollar Tree, this book wasn't a total piece of shit. Despite going in determined not to learn anything, I did manage to pick up some tips and saw a lot of similarities with my everyday life.

Two out of five stars. It's not much of a novel but someone who is already pondering embracing the techniques this book beats you over the head with will probably rate it a lot higher.

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Saturday, April 22, 2017

Review: Psycho

Psycho Psycho by Robert Bloch
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When Mary Crane skips town with $40,000 of her boss's money, she drives and drives, bedding down at the Bates Motel. She meets Norman Bates, who harbors secrets even more interesting than stolen money...

Everyone knows the basic beats of Psycho due to the iconic Alfred Hitchcock film. Woman gets knifed in the shower, psychotic mama's boy, etc. When it popped up for ninety-nine cents, I figured, what the hell? Shooting Star / Spiderweb was pretty good. Psycho was definitely worth the buck.

Inspired by real-life serial killer Ed Gein, Psycho is a tale of mental turmoil and the way it shapes the life a man dominated by his mother. And some woman gets killed and her boyfriend and sister try to figure out what the hell happened. Despite knowing quite a bit going in, Psycho was still a suspenseful read. Since stuff gets lost in translation from book to movie, a lot of it was still surprising. Of course, not having seen the movie in something like thirty years helped...

Bloch's prose is pretty tight. He doesn't waste a lot of time on flowery language, and knows how to ratchet up the suspense. I can see why Hitchcock chose to adapt it, though he chose to focus on different aspects than Bloch. The book and the movie are definitely different animals.

Psycho probably didn't have quite as much of an impact on me that it should have but that's because it's been dissected and imitated to death in the decades since it was written. It holds up really well compared to a lot of suspense novels written during the same era. Four out of five stars.

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Thursday, April 20, 2017

Review: Savage Jungle: Lair Of The Orang Pendek

Savage Jungle: Lair Of The Orang Pendek Savage Jungle: Lair Of The Orang Pendek by Hunter Shea
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

After recovering from their ordeal in Loch Ness Revenge, Natalie and Austin McQueen head to the Sumatran jungle with their friend Henrik to find the legendary Orang Pendek, primitive ape-like humanoids. Specifically, they're looking for the Orang Pendek that killed Henrik's father. Can they find the lost city of Gadang Ur and the Orang Pendek that dwell there so Henrik can quench the desire for revenge that threatens to consume him?

Since I am medically unable to resist one of Hunter Shea's cryptid books, I pounced on this one a few minutes after I finished Forest of Shadows.

Savage Jungle is an Indiana Jones-type of jungle adventure, combining the thrills of Raiders of the Lost Ark with the gore of most of Hunter Shea's books. It's one hell of fun read.

After recovering at a resort for a couple months, the McQueen twins attempt to return the favor Henrik Kooper gave them in the bloodbath that was Loch Ness Revenge. On their expedition, they encounter lost ruins, relict populations of dinosaurs, and the cryptids of the subtitle, the Orang Pendek.

I actually preferred this one to Loch Ness Revenge by a slight margin. Maybe it was the jungle setting or the relentless action. The expedition got chewed up by dinosaurs and shat out the other end. It would not have shocked me if they were all killed. Shea even detailed Orang Pendek culture to such a degree that I wouldn't mind a return trip to Gadang Ur. Not to mention some breadcrumbs left at the end. The characters speculate that their experience at Loch Ness might have led to humanity taking off their blinders in regard to the unknown and there are some hints dropped toward the end at more linked adventures with the survivors of this one, something I'm definitely on board for.

Instead of another tired Indiana Jones sequel or remaking The Mummy, Savage Jungle would make a fantastic summer blockbuster. Four out of five stars.


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Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Review: Forest of Shadows

Forest of Shadows Forest of Shadows by Hunter Shea
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Five years after his wife dies unexpectedly, John Backman takes his daughter, sister-in-law, and her son to Alaska to investigate a haunting. But the worst enemy of all may be the xenophobia of the townsfolk of Shida. No, I lied. It's the dark forces that threaten to consume whomever lives in the house...

In Forest of Shadows, Hunter Shea takes an unconventional, unsuspecting family to Alaska and exposes them to some staples of horror fiction, namely ghosts and a haunted house.

I've said before that one of Hunter Shea's strengths is his knack for creating likable characters. This is very true in Forest of Shadows since I loved John Backman and his family. His daughter Jessica was a believable kid who just wanted to be close to her father. Sister-in-law Eve let her own marriage fall apart to take care of her dead sister's family. Liam's a toddler and kind of a non-factor. Anyway, what I'm trying to say is that I quickly got attached to John and his family. Unlike a lot of horror or thriller novels, I really wanted John and Eve to get together. Why you gotta be such a tease, Hunter Shea?

While I've never been to Alaska, Hunter Shea painted a vivid picture of the life of an outsider in a small town, both from the points of view of the Backman family and the local characters, like Judas and Muraco.

The haunting was a many layered thing, not just ghosts wanting people out of their house. It had some creepy moments but shit really got real near the end. I did not see the ending coming and it was one of those punches in the gut that knocks the wind out of you and folds you in half.

Forest of Shadows is a creepy good time. Hunter Shea does it again. Four out of five stars.

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Monday, April 17, 2017

Review: Tortures of the Damned

Tortures of the Damned Tortures of the Damned by Hunter Shea
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

After New York falls victim to a trio of attacks, the Padilla family and their neighbors band together for survival but how can they survive against disease, fried electronics, and animals gone bloodthirsty?

After taking on the Dover Demon, the Loch Ness Monster, and the Jersey Devil, Hunter Shea takes on the apocalypse. When an EMP fries everything electronic, an unknown disease runs rampant, and something turns animals against humans, the Padilla family of Yonkers, New York, and their neighbors, Buck and Alexiana band together to survive and find out what happened. Things do not go well.

The post-apocalyptic genre is a little played out these days but Hunter Shea makes it fresh by leaving out zombies and focusing on the trials and tribulations of the Padilla family. Life without electricity is hard, even without rats, bats, horses, cats, dogs, and birds all gunning for them. Not to mention disease, gang members, and the threat of starvation. The apocalypse won't be fun, kids!

Daniel and Elizabeth struggle to keep their family together when obstacle after obstacle fall into their paths. Nothing is easy and no one is safe. Casualties are numerous and the body count is high. No one is unscathed for long and some of them have the shit "scathed" out of them.

I've mentioned it before but Hunter Shea is the master of introducing characters, making you care about them, and then having them die horribly. Tortures of the Damned is no exception. It's hardship after hardship, right until the heartbreaking ending. I knew it would end badly but couldn't set the book aside for long. Like a trainwreck, I just had to see it.

While it wasn't the usual subject matter for Hunter Shea, Tortures of the Damned was one gripping read. Four out of five stars.

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