Sunday, September 13, 2020

Flaming Zepplins

Flaming Zeppelins: The Adventures of Ned the SealFlaming Zeppelins: The Adventures of Ned the Seal by Joe R. Lansdale
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Flaming Zeppelins contains Zeppelins West and Flaming London by Joe Lansdale.

In that hazy time before Goodreads, I read both of these books. While I love Hap and Leonard, these were the crazy ass books that made me a Joe Lansdale fan. Thanks to the magic of getting older, I remember almost nothing about them so I need a refresher course before I read the concluding book in the trilogy, The Sky Done Ripped.

Zeppelins West is the tale of a rescue mission that went tits up, sending our heroes out of the frying pan and into the fire, as the cliche goes. Wild Bill Hickok, Annie Oakley, Sitting Bull, and Buffalo Bill Cody's head in a jar try to save Frankenstein's Monster from the Japanese and wind up on the island of Doctor Momo.

Crude humor, witting lines, and violence abound as Lansdale hits a lot of Jules Verne and HG Welles high notes with spoofs of Doctor Moreau and Captain Nemo, with guest spots from the Tin Man and and a lot of other turn of the century literary characters. I forgot what a shit storm the second part of this novella is. The love affair between the Tin Man and SPOILER is my favorite part of the story.

Flaming London is what really happened when the Martians invaded London, with Mark Twain, Jules Verne, and Ned the Seal stranded on Misty Island for a while as the fabric of space and time unravels.

Mark Twain has hit rock bottom at the beginning of Flaming London, with only a dead monkey and two books to his name. He eventually teams up with Jules Verne and some old and new friends. Tears in the space time continuum abound as the heroes make a last stand in London, with Ned the Seal in tow. The Martians meet their end the old fashioned way, as they usually do.

Joe Lansdale isn't often mentioned as a steampunk author, probably because steampunk is all gears and goggles these days, but these are steampunk books as they were originally intended, throwbacks to the works of Jules Verne and HG Wells. Joe Lansdale might not be the father of steampunk but he's definitely steampunk's hilarious, foul mouthed uncle that isn't welcome at family gatherings. 4 out of 5 dead Martians.

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Wednesday, September 9, 2020

Dead Girl Blues

Dead Girl BluesDead Girl Blues by Lawrence Block
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In 1968, Buddy got away with a horrible crime and went on the run. When will his past inevitably catch up with him?

A while back, Lawrence Block sent me a PDF of this, asking if I might be interested in reviewing it. When your favorite living crime writer sends you something, you read it ASAP. Since we have a toddler running around, constantly shoving things into his mouth and plowing into things head first, ASAP wound up taking longer than expected.

The old dog still has quite a few tricks left in him, it seems. This was a gripping read. While Buddy isn't a sympathetic character, having killed a woman, having sex with her still warm body, and going on the lam under an assumed name, you wind up understanding him and even liking him just a little bit.

Does one horrible crime make someone an evil monster, even decades after the fact? That's the question Lawrence Block is posing in this one. Buddy assumes the name of a kid that died years earlier and lives a normal, full life for decades, not exactly looking over his shoulder constantly but with an awareness that the check is going to need to be paid one of these days.

The thing about Buddy is that he's not like a Jim Thompson sociopath where he's just a drink and some cross words away from hacking up his family. He's got his urges under control and runs a hardware store. He has a wife and kids. Huh, I just realized Buddy's assumed name is John James Thompson.

As with all Lawrence Block books, he wields misdirection like an expect surgeon with a scalpel. He even mentions Chekov's Gun when Thompson's looking at his revolver! I thought his goose was cooked for sure a couple times before the ending.

Dead Girl Blues is one of the more powerful Lawrence Block books in recent years. If it's his swan song, it's a worthy one. 4.5 out of 5 stars.


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Tuesday, September 8, 2020

Too Sweet: Inside the Indie Wrestling Revolution

Too Sweet: Inside the Indie Wrestling RevolutionToo Sweet: Inside the Indie Wrestling Revolution by Keith Elliot Greenberg
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Too Sweet is Keith Elliot Greenberg's look at the rise of Independent Wrestling. Or is it?

After a hiatus of a few years, I started watching wrestling again in 2017, specifically independent wrestling. I've gone to more live shows in the last three years than the previous forty combined, all but one of those independent shows. When ECW press offered me an ARC of this, I jumped at it.

First off, I know the subtitle is "Inside the Indie Wrestling Revolution" but it should really be subtitled "All Roads Lead to AEW" or something of that nature. The book is geared toward telling about the All In pay per view and the resulting formation of AEW with other bits in between. Can I fault Keith Elliot Greenberg for not writing the book I was expecting to read?

A little, I guess. The book dedicates some pages to the formation of various bigger indie promotions from 2001 to present, like Ring of Honor, CZW, Chikara, Evolve, Pro Wrestling Guerilla, and the usual suspects, in addition to more material than one would expect about GCW, although that makes sense with the Janela-AEW connection.

Seriously, this is more about the paths various wrestlers took to AEW than anything else. Most of the material is based around Cody Rhodes, the Young Bucks, and the rest of the AEW crew. If it was REALLY about the rise of independent wrestling, it would have featured more than a mention of Homicide, Eddie Kingston, Low Ki, Bryan Danielson, and the other guys that kept the independent scene interesting when ECW folded.

If you're looking to read about the Rise of AEW, I'd give this a 5. If you're actually wanting to read about independent wrestling in the last twenty years, I'd give it a 3.

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Monday, September 7, 2020

Betty

BettyBetty by Tiffany McDaniel
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Betty is a brutal coming of age tale, the tale of a girl with a Cherokee father, a white mother, and a family with enough skeletons in its closet to populate a decent sized cemetery. Will Betty make it out of Breathed, Ohio, alive?

As Goodreaders may know, I was a tremendous fan of The Summer That Melted Everything, Tiffany McDaniel's debut novel, and did what I could to help get the word out. When this one was ready to go, I was all in.

While The Summer That Melted Everything was published first, Betty was actually written first, making it the most powerful first novel I've ever read. The fact that parts of it are based on Tiffany's mother's life make it even more powerful.

Much like TSTME, is a work packed with lyrical prose and gutshot plot twists. Much like the protagonists in a Flannery O'Connor book, the Carpenters are doomed from page one and the rest of us get to experience their fates like a forgotten dog dragged behind a station wagon.

After drifting for a while, Landon Carpenter and his brood settle down in a house with a checkered past, a past that is spotless compared to some of the things in the Carpenters' past and also in their future. Landon steers the family between the icebergs as best he can. Betty has the misfortune of growing up in rural Ohio as half Cherokee, dealing with the other girls as well as her family.

That's about all I want to say about the plot for fear of spoilage. There were at least five times where I had to set the book down in order to process some horror that befell Betty or her family. As my friend Easy E said, this is the best modern horror novel in years, even though it isn't marketed as such. Nightmare clowns and giant spiders pale compared to the very real horrors whispered about behind closed doors.

Betty is a brutal coming of age novel that made me physically worn out, a shotgun blast of a novel. Five out of five stars.

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Monday, August 10, 2020

The 37th Parallel

The 37th Parallel: The Secret Truth Behind America's UFO HighwayThe 37th Parallel: The Secret Truth Behind America's UFO Highway by Ben Mezrich
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Chuck Zukowski is obsessed with UFO sightings. This is his story.

Despite the pandemic, we flew my sister-in-law and brother-in-law into town for Miles' first birthday. Before they left town, Marc pushed this on me. My in-laws are much more into UFOs than I am but I resolved to give this a read.

I was huge into UFOs as a kid but have gotten increasingly skeptical over the years. As a result, I approached this as a work of fiction but reserved the right to change my mind later.

This reminded me of James Renner's True Crime Addict more than anything else. It was written in an engaging style and felt more like fiction than a factual work.

The 37th Parallel chronicles Chuck Zukowski sojourn into the world of UFOs, starting with cattle mutilations and eventually leading to a dig at one of the Roswell crash sites and beyond.

I'm not going to debate the existence of UFOs here. I'm sure there's life elsewhere but the thing about space is that it's quite big. Anyway, this book can be interpreted in two ways: either it's a very engaging piece of fiction with a shitty ending or an account of one man's wild goose chase.

If you take it as a work of fiction, this is some gripping stuff, although I found the time jumps annoying. If you take it as fact, Chuck's wife should have divorced his ass decades ago. Yeah, I get the pursuit of truth and I understand his obsession at times but was it really worth all the sacrifices along the way?

At the end, I guess I'll say I was very entertained by this and possibly a little convinced Chuck isn't wasting his time. Four out of five little green men.



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Thursday, July 16, 2020

Smoke Gets in Your Eyes: And Other Lessons from the Crematory

Smoke Gets in Your Eyes: And Other Lessons from the CrematorySmoke Gets in Your Eyes: And Other Lessons from the Crematory by Caitlin Doughty
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Smoke Gets in Your Eyes is the story of Caitlin Doughty's ruminations on death and dying interspersed with her own journey from death touched little girl to licensed mortician.

My wife and I are big fans of Caitlin Doughty's Ask a Mortician series on Youtube and I bought this for my wife, who gave it to me as a reading assignment upon her completion.

Caitlin's writing has a funny yet respectful tone, much like her Youtube series. She details death practices and beliefs from around the world but the really interesting bits where about Caitlin herself. The funny tone makes a topic a lot of people find distasteful easy to digest and I kinda wish she'd try her hand at writing some crematorium based mysteries or something.

Raised in Hawaii, Caitlin saw a little girl fall from an escalator and die in a mall when she was a kid, forever changing the trajectory of her life. From there, she went from goth to crematory operator to mortuary school, pondering death the whole way.

There are darkly humorous stories, like molten fat gushing out of a cremation machine like something in a Three Stooges short, to poignant moments like Caitlin having to cremate a box of babies from the local hospital. She also pulls back the black curtain shrouding the funeral industry, an industry full of lies and pressure to upsell. Shady shit.

If you've been entertained by Caitlin's Ask a Mortician videos, this is a must read. Four out of five cremulators.

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Sunday, July 12, 2020

Will My Cat Eat My Eyeballs?

Will My Cat Eat My Eyeballs? Big Questions from Tiny Mortals About DeathWill My Cat Eat My Eyeballs? Big Questions from Tiny Mortals About Death by Caitlin Doughty
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Will My Cat Eat My Eyeballs? Big Questions from Tiny Mortals About Death is a collection of questions asked by children and their answers from Caitlin Doughty's book tours.

Until fairly recently, my wife entertained the possibility of being a funeral director. As a result, we've watched about 80% of Caitlin Doughty's Ask a Mortician videos on Youtube. I bought her all three of Caitlin's books and now I'm reading them as some sort of homework assignment.

In this volume, Caitlin addresses such topics as what happens to an astronaut's body in space, port-mortem pooping, do mummies stink, and can you be buried with a beloved pet, among other things. Caitlin addresses the topics with respect but also with her dark sense of humor, making for an entertaining read.

Any complaints? Nope. If you've been entertained by Caitlin's Ask a Mortician videos, you know what you're getting. This is class A death knowledge.

Will My Cat Eat My Eyeballs is a good source of info for kids and necromancers alike. Four out of five caskets.

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