Thursday, February 27, 2014

Learning to Breathe Fire

Learning to Breathe Fire: The Rise of CrossFit and the Primal Future of FitnessLearning to Breathe Fire: The Rise of CrossFit and the Primal Future of Fitness by J.C. Herz
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

From the ages of 19 to 34, I worked out religiously 3-5 times a week. The last couple years, however, I let myself gradually slip out of the habit. After all, that's 3-5 more hours a week I could be reading. However, my girlfriend read up on CrossFit and told me we were going to start going a few times a week.

Since I was still reasonably fit for a couch potato, I figured I could handle it. I could not. It kicked my ass in less than 20 minutes and I was sore for three days, something that never happened to me in over a decade of lifting weights nearly every day. After that, I was more than a little intrigued about the torture we were paying for. Then this book popped up on Netgalley.

Learning to Breathe Fire tells the story of CrossFit and the science behind how it works. It talks about key figures in CrossFit history and explains why health clubs nerf everything and why they are largely ineffective at getting results. It also covers the CrossFit games.

It was pretty enlightening. I thought the people at CrossFit Warrior RX were just torturing me for fun the first couple of times. The science behind it sounds accurate. It made sense to me that we were doing workouts that blended cardio and strength training to spend maximum energy in a relatively short amount of time. The 20-30 minute workouts of the day (WODs) sure seem more efficient than lifting weights and doing cardio for a hour.

One thing I found interesting/terrifying were some of the workouts I might have to endure at some point. Like Fran, 21-15-9 reps of thrusters and pullups, which frequently makes people puke. Or Karen, which is 150 wall balls.

If I had to gripe about something in the book, it's that maybe it went a little too deep into the stories of the notable figures in CrossFit history. They were inspirational but I felt like I was watching a CrossFit infomercial after a while.

For someone who wants to see immediate results with the minimum time spent at the gym, CrossFit is the way to go and if you want to learn all about CrossFit, this is the book to read. Four sweaty stars!

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Monday, February 24, 2014

World's Greatest Dad

World's Greatest DadWorld's Greatest Dad by Edward Lorn
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

His life torn apart by his daughter's murder, Carl thinks all is lost until he starts receiving messages on the surface of his World's Greatest Dad coffee mug. Where will Kimmy's messages take him?

I'm not a huge fan of short stories in general but Edward Lorn knows how to get the most out of the format. World's Greatest Dad feels like an episode of the Outer Limits. Messages from beyond the grave!

Like every good Outer Limits episode, there's a bite you in ass twist to go with the creepiness that comes before. The conclusion is very satisfying, as meat hooks to the neck of a child killer often can be.

Four easy stars. Best of all, it's available for a free download on Goodreads!

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Morningside Fall

Morningside FallMorningside Fall by Jay Posey
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Wren's term as Governor of Morningside is short-lived when it becomes apparent he's been targeted by people within the Council. With his mother and a group of trusted allies, he flees the city. But who is working against him and why are the Weir massing in greater numbers?

I got this from Angry Robot via Netgalley.

The Weir threat escalates in the second entry in the Duskwalker series. Wren is struggling to grow into his role as boy governor of Morningside and the influx of people into Morningside, both the dwellers outside the walls and the Awakened, the former Weir, are making the rest of the population uneasy. Sound pretty good? Well...

Okay, here's the deal. I loved Three, the first book in this series. However, I didn't love this book. I felt like it very much suffers from "Second book in the Trilogy" syndrome. There's a lot of setup toward bigger things down the road but mostly there's a lot of running through the wastelands shooting at Weir. There is no new character to take Three's lead role so we get a lot of interchangeable warrior types acting as Wren's bodyguards and with no lynchpin character driving thing forward, my attention waned quite a bit. If it weren't for the last 20% of the book, I probably would have given it a 2.

The last 20% made up for a lot of my distaste for the rest of the book. A lot of stuff happens. Wren figures out how to stop the Weir, the mastermind is revealed, and a battle of monstrous proportions happens. The revelation of who the blindfolded man was was very satisfying. The third book is going to be an asskicker of Muhammed Ali proportions.

Morningside Fall is worth a read but I don't think it holds up very well when compared to Three. I do plan on sticking with the series, though. Three out of five stars.

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Wednesday, February 19, 2014


PeacemakerPeacemaker by Marianne de Pierres
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When park ranger Virgin Jackson witnesses a murder in Birrimun Park, the last natural landscape on earth, things quickly spiral out of control. With an unwanted partner by her side in the form of US Marshall Nate Sixkiller, can she get to the bottom of things? But what do the strange occurences have to do with Aquila, the mysterious eagle that has been appearing to her since she was a child?

I got this from Angry Robot via Netgalley.

Peacemaker is a sf mystery set in the future. Virgin Jackson, stubborn and bull-headed as she is, drags the reader from one catastrophe to another, and takes quite a beating in the process. Her partner on the case, Nate Sixkiller, is a very capable US Marshall who works with the Spiritual Service, monitoring events of a mystic nature.

It's really to pull off a story that uses mysticism in a technologically advanced time period but it works very well in Peacemaker. It brought back memories of how William Gibson was able to pull off a similar feat in Count Zero with the voodoo loas.

The fully urbanized future depicted in Peacemaker is a fairly bleak one. Imagine a world were the only natural landscape left is a park where tourists visit. The combination of Australian and Western culture present around the park makes for an interesting setting indeed, as do the various factions Virgin has to go to for help.

As you can tell, I liked a lot about this book. There were plenty of twists, turns, and double crosses. I loved that Virgin and Nate didn't get their genitals entangled at any point, which is a refreshing change of pace.

However, I did have a few minor gripes. I thought the plot with the Mythos could have been explained better and elaborated upon but I have a feeling that will be explored in the sequels. I also found Virgin's lack of trust and stubbornness to be infuriating at times but that helped drive the plot.

Peacemaker is a good sf mystery for people looking for something a little different. Four stars.

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Saturday, February 15, 2014

Fatal Enquiry

Fatal Enquiry (Barker & Llewelyn, #6)Fatal Enquiry by Will Thomas
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When his arch-nemesis Sebastian Nightwine returns to town, detective Cyrus Barker and his assistant Thomas Llewellyn are on guard. But why does Nightwine have diplomatic immunity and protection from Scotland Yard? Can Barker and Llewellyn find out what Nightwine is up to without winding up in jail?

I got this from Netgalley and the fine folks at St. Martin's.

This is the sixth Barker and Llewellyn book but, as the blurb on Netgalley promised, serves to reintroduce the pair to new readers and does a fine job at that. While there were a few references to past cases, I was perfectly able to enjoy this one on its own.

When it comes to Victorian detective stories, all things start with Sherlock Holmes. While Barker and Llewellyn might be the literary great grandchildren of Holmes and Watson, they owe little to the Great Detective and his chronicler. Barker, with his keen detective skills, is the Holmes of the pair, but he's a burly world traveler known for his skill with firearms and his fists. And he's not addicted to opium or other illicit substances, which is refreshing in a Victorian era detective. Llewellyn is a young handsome former felon and widower.

Another things that separates Barker and Llewellyn from Holmes and Watson is that Holmes and Watson never took a world class shit-kicking. Barker and Llewellyn go through several wringers in this one.

The story isn't all that complex at the beginning. Sebastian Nightwine, Barker's moriarty, returns to London with a plan of conquest and some maps and gets diplomatic immunity to keep Barker off his back. Soon, Barker is framed for murder and gets a bounty put on his head. Things quickly spiral out of control with a mysterious woman thrown into the mix.

Llewellyn, idealistic young Welshman, is a great narrator since he's normally almost as in the dark as the reader. Barker is a complicated man with a complicated past, far from the Sherlock Holmes-inspired character I thought he would be before I started reading. I felt bad for poor Llewellyn, getting dragged in Barker's wake for most of the book and taking a really brutal beating for his employer.

Will Thomas's writing has a fairly serious tone but was much easier to digest than a lot of similar books. There was also a good amount of humor. I loved that there was a killer named Psmith in it, who found the need to mention the silent P, much like P.G. Wodehouse's Psmith character. Man, I really need to read another Wodehouse book sometime soon.

Anyway, despite being the sixth book in a series and the first I've read, I found Fatal Enquiry to be a very engaging mystery full of characters I want to read more about. To the bookstore! Four out of five stars.

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Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Dead Five's Pass

Dead Five's PassDead Five's Pass by Colin F. Barnes
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When a new cave is discovered in Dead Five's Pass, local climbers go looking for it and don't return. Emergency rescue volunteer Carise answers the call and goes to find the boys with her old flame, Marcel. But what does the cave have to do with a bloody and batshit crazy girl that staggered down from the mountains? And what unknown horror lurks in the cave's stygian depths?

I got this from DarkFuse via Netgalley.

Colin Barnes crafts a claustrophobic Lovecraftian tale of horrors from space lurking in the dark places. What's worse than getting stranded in a cave in the mountains with nightfall coming? Getting stranded with a cyclopean horror that drives you mad before it devours you, that's what!

Unlike a lot of HPL influenced tales, I actually cared about the protagonists of Dead Five's Pass. Carise has hit rock bottom after a series of events wrecked her relationship with Marcel and now she's got a drinking problem. Marcel's in an unhappy relationship and can't seem to forget about Carise. Will they rekindle the old romance?

Surprisingly, that's not a big part of the story. The big part of the story is Carise and Marcel discovering what's lurking in the new cave beneath Dead Five's Pass and deciding what to do about it.

Colin F. Barnes' writing does a great job at conveying the feelings of desperation, claustrophobia, and hints of madness as the story goes on. Carise and Marcel are pushed beyond their limits, toward the edges of sanity, as they go up against cultists and the squamous object of their worship.

HPL would be proud. Four out of five stars.

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Tuesday, February 11, 2014

When We Fall

When We FallWhen We Fall by Peter Giglio
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

When a friendless 13 year old boy named Ben befriends the 17 year old girl across the street, things seem to be going pretty good. Until, that is, they make a film together that has a deceased boy making a cameo appearance...

I got this from DarkFuse via Netgalley.

So why is it the best coming of age stories come from authors primarily known for horror? Stephen King had The Body. Joe Lansdale had The Bottoms. And now Peter Giglio has When We Fall.

When We Fall is the story of a 13 year old boy coming to grips with the death of his best friend, the death of his worst enemy, and his first love.

Ben is a 13 year old with a passion for making Super 8 movies. Aubrey is his babysitter turned best friend/love interest. When the film they shoot shows his dead worst enemy, things quickly fall apart.

This is a pretty short novella so I can't divulge too much of what happens. Lets just say there's nothing like a couple deaths to turn a boy into a man. I found Ben to be a very relatable 13 year old and his feelings for Aubrey were very well done. Giglio did a good job of reminding me what it was like to be a 13 year old boy. For a novella from a horror publisher, there wasn't a lot of horror in it apart from a surprising death late in the story.

So far, the DarkFuse novella series can do no wrong for me. 3.5 out of 5 stars.

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Ancient Enemy

Ancient EnemyAncient Enemy by Michael McBride
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When his family's livestock is slaughtered, Sani Natonaba has to find out what is behind it, leaving the reservation to find it. But what do the mysterious killings have to do with the disappearance of his Anasazi ancestors centuries earlier?

I got this from DarkFuse via Netgalley.

So I'm pretty much in love with DarkFuse at this point. I think that when it comes to horror, shorter works often pack more of a punch and Ancient Enemy is no exception. And to think I almost didn't pick it up because of the cover. I was thinking it looked like I was going to play one of the Diablo games rather than embark on a journey into terror.

Ancient Enemy is the story of a poor Ute/Navajo teenager named Sani Natonaba. His mother is an alcoholic and his grandfather is immobile after a stroke, leaving him to tend their sheep and chickens. When something starts threatening their livelihood, Sani is forced to track it down, leading him to uncover an ancient feud between his people and something that lives underground...

Unlike other entries in this series, I'd never heard of the author, Michael McBride, before but he certainly has some chops. I was just as creeped out as Sani was when he made his journey into the catacombs below the ground.

Funny how the cover of this one gave me the impression he'd be going up against a demon. Ancient Enemy wound up being closer to what I pictured Nightcrawlers to be about. A lost tribe living beneath the surface of the earth, deforming themselves with animal horn grafts and mountain lion teeth. I saw the Charles Dexter Ward-style revelation coming at the end but that didn't diminish its power.

Sani crawls through tunnels in the dark, going up against subterranean savages, before finally settling things. What is it with me reading claustrophobia-inducing stories that take place underground lately?

The historical notes at the end were a nice touch, talking about tribal body modifications and lost tribes. Much like I Am The New God, part of the horror of Ancient Enemy was that it wasn't completely out of the realm of possibility.

DarkFuse keeps rolling forward with no end in sight. 4 out of 5 stars.

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Monday, February 10, 2014


CrawlspaceCrawlspace by Evans Light
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

When Tom's wife leaves town, he's looking forward to a week of debauchery with his hot young girlfriend Miranda, but first, he must spread lime in the crawlspace. But what will he do when he's locked inside?

Crawlspace is a short story of claustrophobic terror. Imagine your spouse finding out you're cheating on him or her and locking you in the crawlspace? And that's not even the worst part...

Since this was a short story and I don't want to spoil too much, I'll keep this brief. Evans Light's writing did a good job conveying Tom's claustrophobic conditions and his increasing desperation, and also did a good job showing how he'd gotten to that point in his life. I felt sorry for the guy even though he'd brought the situation on himself.

Crawlspace was on the fast track to four territory until I got to the end. "Boo!" on the ending. "Boo!" I say. 3.5 out of 5 stars.

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I Am The New God

I Am the New GodI Am the New God by Nicole Cushing
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

When Gregory Bryce starts receiving letters in the mail proclaiming that he will soon be a god, he has very little trouble believing them...

I got this from the fine folks at DarkFuse via Netgalley.

So what happens when one religious fanatic starts sending an unhinged college boy letters? Nothing good, that's what! I am the New God is a disturbing tale of delusion, mutilation, and murder. Gregory Bryce goes off his meds and goes on a one way ride to crazy town, with the mysterious hierophant at the wheel. Horror ensues.

Nicole Cushing's prose has come a long way since the last book of hers I read, How to Eat Fried Furries. Bryce's cold logic as he descends further and further into the catacombs of madness was even more chilling than the horrible things he did, and yet I still felt a little sorry for him.

Since it's a novella, there's not a lot else I can say about the plot without revealing all the good bits. There's a fair amount of gore but I'd say the most horrifying part is the psychological aspect and the fact that it could all really happen. 3.5 out of 5 stars.

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Last God Standing

Last God StandingLast God Standing by Michael Boatman
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

When God goes on sabbatical and becomes a human, the resulting power vacuum causes chaos among the obsolete gods, leading to a series of god killings. Meanwhile, God grows up to be Lando Cooper, an aspiring comedian who works for his father. Can Lando figure out who is making the power grab without forsaking his mortal life?

I got this from the fine folks at Angry Robot via Netgalley.

So it seems Michael Boatman of Arl$$ and Spin City fame is also a writer and a pretty funny one at that. Once I knew who Boatman was, I kept picturing him in the role of Lando Cooper. Before I get any further, how awesome is it that the main character's full name is Lando Calrissian Darnell Cooper?

Last God Standing is a humorous fantasy that also has some good ideas about gods and belief in it. Lando's a pretty relatable former deity, still living with his mother, still struggling to become what he wants to be. His relationship with his girlfriend is pretty believable, being afraid of meeting her parents since he's kind of a screw up and her father is due to be knighted. Lando's divorced parents were by far my favorite supporting cast members, though.

The conflict among the gods was well done and the scope of destruction when gods clash reminded me of some recent super hero movies. Speaking of super heroes, Lando's geek references were great and not overdone.

However, I liked the book but I didn't love it. Firstly, I thought Lando being mortal but still being able to access his Godly power, albeit with consequences, was a bit of a copout.

My other gripe was a matter of personal taste. Boatman told a funny tale but I felt like I read it before. As someone who went to Catholic school for 12 years and got dragged to church every Sunday morning for a couple decades, I've read a lot of religious-themed, gods in the modern world fiction, and I've also read a lot of humorous fantasy, and I didn't feel like this was breaking any new ground. Parts of it were really Neil Gaiman-ish, other parts Christopher Moore, and there was a dash of Lord of Light lurking in there.

Last God Standing was a funny read but I can't give it more than a 3. If I hadn't read so many similar books in the past, I'd probably give it a four, though.

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Saturday, February 8, 2014


NightcrawlersNightcrawlers by Tim Curran
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

When a bulldozer unearths corpses in a field, it's up to the police to figure out what's going on. Out-of-towner cop Kenney wonders what the rest of the police aren't telling him, what all the townspeople know but are afraid to do anything about: the degenerate subterraneans that lurk in the tunnels beneath the town of Haymarket...

I got this from Netgalley and the fine folks at DarkFuse.

So... I loved this book! It covers a lot of ground that I love in horror books, most notably the secrecy of small towns and degenerate subhuman cannibals... or are they?

Curran took me for a ride. I was all set for the story to go off an on inbred hillbilly serial killer tangent but it went in a completely different, even creepier direction.

The way the story unfolded was well done. After some teaser encounters with the underground dwellers, Kenney reads through the sheriff's file on incidents involving them, leading toward the third act, which was pretty much a dungeon crawl in the labyrinth of tunnels beneath the town.

This was only my second Tim Curran book but it won't be the last. He did a great job in building the suspense, conveying a feeling of claustrophobia, and describing the gore in horrid detail.

As I said before, the story progressed in a direction I didn't expect and the ending was more of that vein. Nightcrawlers held my attention tight the entire time and was the most fun I've had reading a horror novel in ages. Five stars.

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Friday, February 7, 2014

Kaiju Rising!

Kaiju Rising: Age of MonstersKaiju Rising: Age of Monsters by Larry Correia
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Kaiju Rising is an anthology of stories about giant monsters.

Not only did the concept sound fun, it sounded so fun that I kicked in some money for the Kickstarter. Hopefully, along with Pacific Rim, Kaiju Rising will usher in a giant monster Renaissance.

The stories in Kaiju Rising run the full spectrum of rampaging giant monster tales. Since I've calculated that I'll run out of room if I review all of them, here are some standouts.

Big Ben and the End of the Pier Show – James Lovegrove: This story does a great job setting the tone for the rest of the collection and sucking the reader in. I love that it takes place in a world where Kaiju attacks are so common that giant robots are sold specifically to combat them. The story of the owner of a money-losing pier and the impending battle between a kaiju called Red Devil and a KRV called Big Ben is a delight to read. I also liked that the ending wasn't what I expected.

The Lighthouse Keeper of Kurohaka Island – Kane Gilmour: A lighthouse keeper takes his son to an island not on any maps, an island where kaiju go to die, and tells him what really happened at Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the end of World War II. I liked this one quite a bit, especially that not everyone can perceive kaiju as they are and instead see natural disasters. I also love the concept of a kaiju graveyard.

One Last Round – Nathan Black: Loved this one. A giant undead crocodile ravages New Orleans and the only people who can stop it are the team that operate KRASURE, a giant kaiju-fighting robot.

Monstruo – Mike MacLean: This one is another favorite. A kaiju is approaching a Mexican resort and a man is dispatched to put down the young boy a parasite is using as a host to fight the beast. There are a lot of interesting concepts and contributions to kaiju lore in this one.

The Behemoth – Jonathan Wood: The Behemoth is the story of a mech pilot whose life is slowly disintegrating after his wife becomes a proxy. Wood introduces the concept that mech's need extra people inside to act as a buffer to all the sensory input the mech receives. Unfortunately, proxies have their memories erased. Great stuff!

And that's just a sampling. There are 18 more tales inside chock full of giant monster goodness!

Kaiju Rising was a nostalgia-fest of giant monsters, sometimes fighting equally-giant robots, and wanton destruction. While I didn't think they were all home runs, it was the best themed-anthology I've read in years. Four out of five stars.

Bonus Feature: Here's an interview I did with J.M. Martin, the editor.

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Devil in a Blue Dress

Devil in a Blue Dress: An Easy Rawlins Mystery  Devil in a Blue Dress: An Easy Rawlins Mystery by Walter Mosley
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When a jobless World War II vet named Easy Rawlins is hired to find a woman, he finds himself ensnared in a web of lies and murder. Can Easy find Daphne Monet without becoming another victim? And what secrets is Daphne Monet carrying?

Devil in a Blue Dress is a throwback to the pioneers of noir like Hammett, Chandler, and Cain. Only this PI is black and his case takes place in the black Los Angeles of 1948. Mosley's black LA is just as vivid as Chandler's seedy Hollywood underbelly.

Easy's supporting cast is as colorful as anything Hammett or Chandler ever crafted: Frank Green, Joppy, Junior, Dupree, and the rest. DeWitt Albright is a sociopathic villain, the most frightening kind, and Easy's pal Mouse isn't much higher on the food chain.

Easy is a conflicted character, not wanting to get too deep into the web of murder surrounding Daphne Monet but unable to stop himself. Mouse provides a nice contrast to Easy in that he's not conflicted in the least. As far as Bad Ass Friends go, Mouse is really high on my list. He's unhinged but likes Easy enough to follow him anywhere as long as Easy doesn't get in his way.

Owing to its early noir roots, the case is suitably serpentine. Once I assumed everyone except Easy was a liar, it was one hell of a ride to the finish.

The prose was good. I'd say it owed more to Hammett than Chandler. I'll be interested to see where the series goes from here considering how many of the players were dead by the end.

Four out of five stars. I think I've found the series that will eat up a portion of my 2014 crime reading.

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Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Doctor Who: Keeping up with the Joneses

Doctor Who: Keeping Up with the Joneses (Time Trips)Doctor Who: Keeping Up with the Joneses by Nick Harkaway
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

When the TARDIS strikes a temporal mine, The Doctor finds himself in Jonestown, Wales, and surrounded by familiar-seeming people. But he never left the TARDIS, did he? And can the Doctor undo whatever damage to the TARDIS the temporal mine has done? Of course! He's the Doctor...

I got this from Netgalley.

As I said in the teaser, the TARDIS hit a leftover weapon from the Time War and chaos ensues. In this outing, the Tenth Doctor has to suss out what's going on and save the day, as per usual.

Nick Haraway crafts an entertaining little Time Trip in Keeping Up with the Joneses. The Tenth Doctor is written in fine form and the mystery of Jonestown is well done. Without spoiling too much, it reminds me of one of the holodeck-centric episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation. It felt very much like a Doctor Who episode, complete with me imagining the "sorting stuff out" music playing near the end.

One minor disappointment is that I expected Marth Jones to be in it since the word Jones is in the title. Other than that, no gripes. I was entertained for the hour and a half it took me to read it.
These Time Trips are nice little nuggets of Whovian entertainment. While they aren't awesome, they're a lot of fun. Three out of five stars.

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A Cold Shot to the Heart

Cold Shot to the HeartCold Shot to the Heart by Wallace Stroby
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

When a high stakes poker game holdup goes south and a man ends up dead, career criminal Crissa Stone and her partners find themselves in deep trouble. Turns out the dead man was the son in law of a gangster and fresh out of jail Eddie Saint is hired to find his killer. Unfortuantely, Eddie doesn't live up to his name and decides the job isn't enough; he wants the money from the poker heist too...

George Pelecanos was raving about the latest book in this serious on the Twitter so I figured I should start at the beginning.

Crissa Stone is a conflicted character and was by far the most interesting part of the book. She's got a lover in jail and a daughter that is being raised by her cousin. She wants to get out of the game but can't seem to make that one last big score. She's like Richard Stark's Parker with estrogen. And feelings. I liked that she wasn't a cold blooded killer.

Eddie the Saint was a suitably vile villain, an unhinged psychopath that makes the lead characters seem saintly (heh) by comparison. He was on stage for about a page before I couldn't wait to see him get killed.

The writing reminds me of a wordier Richard Stark, the prose not quite as punchy but still good. If the Westlake estate hired someone to write more Parker books, I think Stroby could take on the job.

However, there was something I didn't like. For a career criminal, Crissa sure makes some stupid mistakes. When someone double-crosses you and attempts to kill you, do not leave them alive! The other mistake she made was not being ready when Saint showed up an hour early for their meet with murder in his heart. Criminals lie, lady!

Other than that, I enjoyed it enough to want to read the next book in the series. Three cautiously optimistic stars.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Dare Me

Dare MeDare Me by Megan Abbott
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Beth and Addy have been the top dogs on the cheerleading squad for years. When a new coach comes in and upsets the apple cart, how will Beth react to her role being usurped? And what dark things are waiting in the wings for Coach French?

Wow. I've said it before but Megan Abbott makes the politics of teenage girls look as brutal as the Game of Thrones.

Dare Me is a look behind the curtain at what makes teenage girls tick, specifically the ones motivated to be cheerleaders. Eating disorders, cattiness, the whole nine yards. When the Coach arrives and usurps Beth's role in the squad, things quickly start falling apart. Beth goes on a calculated rampage, the Coach's unhappiness is exposed, and Addy is stuck trying to hold everything together.

You wouldn't think a tale about cheerleaders would be this dark but the girls are like a pack of wolves, pouncing on any pack member that makes a misstep. Beth was pretty slick and would make a great femme fatale once she gets a few more years on her. Coach French seemed like she became a coach because it was the only part of her life she had control over. Addy's struggle between her loyalty to Beth and her new relationship with the coach kept the plot rocketing forward.

There's a twist near the halfway point that sends the book veering into standard noir territory. While I was pretty sure who the culprit was, Megan had me off on tangents a few times. I had an inkling of how the book was going to end but that did little to lessen the impact. It still hit like a cheerleader's head on an unpadded gym floor.

As of this writing, I've read five or six Megan Abbott books and this one was my favorite yet. Five out of five stars.

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Lovecraft's Monsters

Lovecraft's MonstersLovecraft's Monsters by Ellen Datlow
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Lovecraft's Monsters is a short story anthology of tales featuring monsters created by H.P. Lovecraft.

First off, H.P. Lovecraft, along with Edgar Rice Burroughs and Arthur Conan Doyle, is a writer that I'm much more interested in the works they inspired rather than their own writings. I know it's akin to liking a remake better than the original but HPL's prose has always been hard to digest for me and his character read like they were written by someone who never leaves his house. However, his Cthulhu Mythos is pretty special so I snatched this up when it appeared on Netgalley.

The introduction gives a brief overview and then goes to say the stories were either commissioned or picked because they haven't appeared in many anthologies. And then the first story was a Neil Gaiman one I've seen in at least two other books. Not a good sign, although it was the one where a werewolf is going up against the Cthulhu mythos so it wasn't terrible.

Like all books of this type, the stories vary in quality and enjoyment level. The stories by Laird Barron and Joe Lansdale were both really good. Noir and Lovecraft go really well together for me.

The Same Deep Waters as You by Brian Hodge was by far my favorite tale in the collection. The psychic star of The Animal Whisperer gets taken to an island off the coast of Washington to converse with citizens of a little place called Innsmouth, who have been imprisoned there since 1928...

All things considered, it's a pretty satisfying collection of homages to H.P. Lovecraft's monsters. Three out of Five stars.

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