Sunday, July 31, 2016

Review: Red Right Hand

Red Right Hand Red Right Hand by Levi Black
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

When Charlie is saved from some skinless dogs by the Man in Black, her savior proves to be worse than the threat, for he is Nyarlathotep, the Crawling Chaos. Nyarlathotep has selected Charlie to be his acolyte and she has no choice in the matter...

As I've said before, I'm more interested in fiction influenced by HP Lovecraft than stories penned by old Howard himself. Red Right Hand fits the bill.

For all intents and purposes, Red Right Hand is some extremely gory urban fantasy. Charlie wins the cosmic horror lottery and winds up enslaved by Nyarlathotep. It seems old Nyarly wants to bump off two other Elder Gods on earth and have humanity all to himself. As Charlie serves the Crawling Chaos, her tortured past comes back to haunt her.

Levi Black's writing has some punch to it and is way more accessible than HP Lovecraft's. He weds cosmic horror, splatterpunk, and urban fantasy into a package that feels natural but nauseating at the same time. I also love that he worked HP Lovecraft into things as a character, much like Jonathan Howard did in Carter & Lovecraft.

Gods living among humans has been done before, as Charlie herself remarks, but I don't think much has been done with the Elder Gods in human form. The Man in Black takes Charlie and her friend Daniel on a tour of the Cthulhu mythos underground as he searches for his prey.

Charlie felt like a passenger in the story for the first fourth of the book but things picked up after that. I had a feeling where things might go but the final battle was still pretty crazy. The Sushi Priest and everything involving him was more than a little sanity blasting. The ending left things open enough for more Charlie Tristan Moore adventures, something I'd definitely be up for in some strange aeons.

While it wasn't the best mythos-influenced fiction I've ever read, Red Right Hand was still pretty bad ass. I'll be on the lookout for more Charlie and more Levi Black in the future. 3.5 out of 5 stars.

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Friday, July 29, 2016

Review: IQ

IQ IQ by Joe Ide
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Someone is gunning for rapper Black the Knife and he hires Isaiah Quintabe to find the killer. Can IQ stop the killer and the people who hired him before Black the Knife takes the big dirt nap?

Mullholland denies me for everything on Netgalley so when they sent me an invitation to read this one, I almost passed out of spite. I'm glad I didn't.

IQ is the first mystery starring Isaiah Quintabe and I hope there are many more to come. IQ is a high school dropout who takes cases for whatever people can pay. This book tells two tales, the current case involving Black the Knife and another tale of how Isaiah came to be who he is.

I really got into the book's parallel structure. The twin tales of Isaiah, one in the present day and the other in the past, did a lot to get me behind IQ. IQ is like a young black Sherlock Holmes, although not as much of an asshole. He's got a lot of knowledge and inductive reasoning skills in his cranium but is far from behind a super hero. Dodson, his Watson, isn't a sycophant like Holmes' sidekick either. The two have an adversarial relationship at times and it does a lot to set this book apart from similar ones.

The writing is pretty slick, particularly in the dialogue. East Long Beach felt real to me and the dialogue reminded me of Elmore Leonard or George Pelecanos, authentic and readable. There was also a fair bit of comedy.

The villain of the present day case was fairly believable and more than a little scary. The way Isaiah and Dodson eventually handled things, again, didn't make them look like super heroes. By the end, who hired the hitman to kill Black the Knife was almost an afterthought. I sure didn't figure it out.

Isaiah's not the most sympathetic character until the story delves into his troubled past with his brother and Dodson. By the time the two stories dovetailed together, I knew I was hooked on the series for the long haul.

If you're looking to jump aboard a new detective series at the ground floor, IQ is a little different than most of the crime books on the racks. IQ reads like an episode of Sherlock written by George Pelecanos. Four out of five stars.

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Wednesday, July 27, 2016

You Will Know Me

You Will Know MeYou Will Know Me by Megan Abbott
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Katie and Eric Knox will do anything for their gymnast prodigy Devon. When the boyfriend of one of her gymnastic instructors die, will Katie be able to keep their idyllic life from disintegrating around them?

Here we are, another Megan Abbott book and another series of cold knives in my heart. At first glance, I thought this might be similar to Dare Me, Megan's book about cheerleaders. You Will Know Me is about the parents of star gymnasts and the crazy shit they do for their kids.

From the first page, I knew I'd wolf this down like it was a brisket sandwich. All the dark hints of the coming train wreck were like a fishhook through my eyelids. I was powerless to look away as the lives of the Knox family and the rest of the gymnastic families were torn asunder.

The Knox family were as realistic a depiction of the alien world of elite gymnasts that I can fathom. Eric was the charming dad, Katie the doting mother, and Drew the little brother that wound up getting pushed into the background a lot of the time. Devon was the star, the thoroughbred the Knox family and most of the families at the gym pinned their hopes on. I hated that damn Gwen Weaver!

You Will Know me raises a lot of questions about families. How well can you really know someone, even if you've been with them for the better part of a decade? How far would you go for your kids?

Ryan's death scrapes open a lot of wounds and unearths a lot of dark secrets. I gasped aloud like a 1950s housewife when one of the twists was revealed but, even then, the Megster had a couple more twists to throw at me. Once again, she was the matador and I was the bull.

The writing was fantastic. It's been fascinating to watch Megan develop as a writer as I've devoured her books over the last few years. I lost track of lines I wanted to read out loud, bent on finishing it before bedtime.

I will share this gem:
the things you want, you never get them. And if you do, they're not what you thought they'd be. But you'd still do anything to keep them. Because you'd wanted them for so long.

There are other suspense writers that get more press but Megan Abbott's girl-noir tales are the best things going today. Five out of five stars.

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Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Review: Death of the Mallory Queen

Death of the Mallory Queen Death of the Mallory Queen by Lawrence Block
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When Mavis Mallory, owner and operator of Mallory Mystery Magazine shows up at the home/office of Leo Haig, she has one odd task in mind for the detective and his young assistant, Chip Harrison: find out who murdered her.

I was looking for a way to avoid coworkers while eating my lunch and found this Lawrence Block short on my kindle. It was a very enjoyable way to avoid human contact.

First off, Leo Haig and Chip Harrison are Lawrence Block's homage to Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin. Haig is obsessed with tropical fish instead of gardening and Chip Harrison is obsessed with chasing skirts.

Death of the Mallory Queen is a satirical throwback to the mysteries they don't publish many of these days. Mavis knows she is going to be killed and wants to make sure whomever does the deed gets punished. The story's primary setting is a mystery convention and all of the suspects are modeled after real people in the mystery genre, like Mickey Spillane, Otto Penzler, and others.

The conclusion was as outlandish as those in the mystery novels it parodies. The case was okay but I really enjoyed the interplay between Leo Haig and Chip Harrison. I'll have to pick up more of their adventures at some point. Four out of five stars.

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Monday, July 25, 2016

Review: Lion's Pride: The Turbulent History of New Japan Pro Wrestling

Lion's Pride: The Turbulent History of New Japan Pro Wrestling Lion's Pride: The Turbulent History of New Japan Pro Wrestling by Chris Charlton
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Lion's Pride is the story of New Japan Pro Wrestling.

As with a lot of guys my age who were wrestling fans during the 1980s and 1990s, Japanese wrestling always held some mystique. I didn't see a single Japanese wrestling match until the dawn of the internet made it much easier to get tapes and such. Lion's Pride lifts the veil and reveals the inner workings of one of Japan's biggest wrestling organizations.

As with all talk of Japanese wrestling, the book starts with Rikidozan and the Japanese Wrestling Association. From there, it follows the career of Antonio Inoki and his formation of New Japan. The many exoduses of talent are covered and New Japans ups and downs are many. Antonio Inoki, like many owner-wrestlers, booked himself over the rest of the talent time and time again. It's a wonder New Japan survived long enough for him to retire.

The book talked a lot of the creation of stars like Tatsumi Fujinami and Riki Choshu in the 1980s, Keiji Muto, Masa Chono, and Shinya Hashimoto in the 1990s, and Tanahashi and others for the new millennium. The book concludes in 2015, with the rise of Bullet Club and the launch of New Japan's streaming service.

Lion's Pride was really informative, highlighting some backstage stuff I wasn't privy to and expanding on a lot of things I'd only read about on Wikipedia. The writing was pretty good for a book of this type. I did think the organization was a little weird, deviating from the main narrative to talk about completely unrelated things. For the most part, however, the book did what it set out to do. Three out of five stars.

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Sunday, July 24, 2016

Review: Night of the Living Trekkies

Night of the Living Trekkies Night of the Living Trekkies by Kevin David Anderson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

When a zombie outbreak hits a Star Trek convention, it's up to Jim Pike, hotel manager, to get his sister and her friends out alive...

This showed up in my ebook deals a couple days ago. I'm a Star Trek fan and I liked zombies before the concept was run into the ground so this promised to be some brain-chomping good fun.

And it was. There are plenty of Star Trek references for the Trekkers and lots of zombie goodness for the fans of the reanimated. When you've got Klingons, a woman dressed like Princess Leia in the bikini from Return of the Jedi, and a red shirt named Willy Makit, you can't help but have a good time. While the Star Trek piece supplies the humor of the book, it doesn't go to a ridiculous level and the zombies still feel like a viable threat.

Jim Pike, a veteran of Afghanistan, denies the depths of his Star Trek fandom until it counts, and he steps into his Captain's tunic admirably. The book wound up feeling like Die Hard with zombies more than anything else.

Night of the Living Trekkies is a fun diversionary read. 3.5 out of 5 stars.

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Friday, July 22, 2016

Review: Labyrinth

Labyrinth Labyrinth by Yoshinori Shimizu
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

An amnesiac is given an experimental treatment by a specialist, reading various accounts of a violent sex crime, in order to regain his memories. But is he the killer? And is the treatment for something more sinister? Who is the specialist?

I got this from Netgalley

I'm not really sure about this one. I got it from Netgalley because it sounded bizarre and it was. I'm not precisely sure how to describe it.

Labyrinth starts in a hospital with a patient being given an experimental treatment in order to restore his memories. The bulk of the book is told in newspaper articles, interviews with people who knew the victim and the killer, statements to police, and even fictionalized accounts of a gruesome murder/mutilation.

I'm not sure if the identity of the patient is supposed to be a mystery since pretty much everyone will guess who he is in the first ten pages. The identity of the specialist wasn't overly mysterious either.

Maybe something was lost in translation, it was translated from Japanese, but I'm not sure what this book was trying to be. It seemed to be about identity and the senselessness of some crimes but I felt more confused by it than anything else. 2.5 out of 5 stars.

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Thursday, July 21, 2016

Time out of Joint

Time Out of JointTime Out of Joint by Philip K. Dick
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

While the rest of the world toils at their jobs, Ragle Gumm stays at home, his sole source of income a daily newspaper contest called "Where will the little green man appear next?" When odd things start happening, Ragle thinks he may be having a nervous breakdown. Is he or is it something much more sinister?

Of course it is something more sinister. This is a Philip K. Dick novel.

A Dickhead at work has been after me for years to read this. After mindbending reads like The Great Forgetting, Dark Matter, and The Mirage, the road I was on was leading to Dick anyway so I gave this a shot.

First off, the things I didn't care for: The prose was really bland and the pace was a little slow for a 250 page book with huge type. As for the rest of it, I liked it quite a bit. I wish the Goodreads summary and the back cover blurb hadn't spoiled the big twist, though.

Time out of Joint reads like an exceptionally paranoid Twilight Zone episode. Most aspects of Ragle Gumm's life are staged in order to keep him pacified and focused on "Where will the little green man appear next?" It's a conspiracy of massive proportions that safeguards America at the cost of Ragle Gum's day to day life.

When I picked up the book, I had no idea it would wind up being about a war between Earth and its colonies on the moon. Ragle Gum gradually pieces together what's really going on and tries to get the hell out of town. A lot of reviewers mention the Truman Show and it is about like that, only much crazier.

While I didn't think it was awesome, I did enjoy Time out of Joint. It's a literary ancestor to books like The Great Forgetting and Pines. Three out of five stars.

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The Q&A That Melted Everything: Ten Questions with Tiffany McDaniel

Today's guest is Tiffany McDaniel, author of The Summer that Melted Everything.

The Summer That Melted Everything reads like a lost classic, not a first novel.  Where the hell did you come from?
First off, thanks for the “lost classic” compliment.  I’m not deserving of that at all.  But I should say that while The Summer that Melted Everything is my debut being my first published novel, it’s actually the fifth or sixth novel I’ve written.   Truth is I have the ‘struggling to get published’ narrative that so many authors have.  I wrote my first novel when I was eighteen-years-old.  I wouldn’t get a publishing contract until I was twenty-nine.  It was eleven years of rejection and despair.  I lived in the abyss that is home to so many unpublished authors.  The genre I write, which is literary fiction, is not a genre publishers are happy to take a risk on. Literary fiction isn’t seen as being as lucrative as commercial fiction is.  It was even more difficult for them to take a risk on me, because my writing tends to be of the darker variety.  Dark literary fiction is not an easy sell to publishers, even though time and time again readers have proven to publishers that they have an appetite for this type of fiction.  I will say that with all the rejection, I began to fear I’d never be published.  I know I’m very fortunate to be in the position I am now about to see one of my novels on the shelf for the first time.  Publishing moves at a snail’s pace unfortunately, so the novel has been moving through the publishing house for the past two years getting its cover, blurbs, the whole publisher wheel turning.  I’m thirty-one now, so with all the years added up I’ve been waiting thirteen long years to see a book on the shelf.  So to answer your question of where the hell I’ve come from.  Well… I’ve finally come in from the dark.

Who are your biggest influences?
I read the literary heavyweights late in life, having spent my childhood and adolescence reading R.L. Stine.  I was a kid of the 90s so I grew up on his Goosebumps and Fear Street series.  Furthermore, I’ve been writing since I was a kid, so I can’t say any one author or book influenced me.  But I will say I’ve always had a bit of a cemetery gaze and have always been drawn to that southern gothic literature with its crooked crickets in the steamy field atmosphere.  Flannery O’Connor, Shirley Jackson, that old-soul myth telling of Ray Bradbury.  Nathaniel Hawthorne, Edgar Allan Poe, and even Harper Lee.  You know, all those authors and stories I think the crow would carry on its wings to a dilapidated mansion on the banks of a swamp.  All these authors I’ve mentioned, they are the true masters of the craft.  I’m a rambling fool with a broken tambourine compared to these authors.  How can we all not learn something from them?  On the whole, they’re the power lines that fuel the light I write by.

Have you experienced a horrible heat wave at some point?  The atmosphere was dead on.
The novel actually came about the summer I was twenty-eight.  It was one of those Ohio summers that I just felt like I was melting.  All my flesh and bone just liquefying and dropping to the ground, not even my soul able to escape the melt.  So that was how the title was born.  I’ll say I had a lot of fun writing about the heat.  As an author, I was challenged to write about sweat in different ways.  To describe perspiration and heat so it didn’t get repetitive.  Perhaps one of the reasons I could describe the heat was because I grew up in an older house without air conditioning.  We just couldn’t afford it, so we stayed cool by opening windows and using fans.  I’ve only had central air for the past two years or so.  Because I grew up with the heat, I still prefer opening a window instead of turning the air on.  Once you’ve known the heat, you kind of miss it when it’s not around.
Are you a plotter, pantser, or something in between?
I’m a pantser for sure.  I curse outlines.  For me, writing the idea down beforehand causes that idea to rot.  Instead I just sit at the laptop and type.  Each new word and page evolves the story.  I never know the direction the story is going to take or who the characters will be or do until I write that very last line.  I surprise myself throughout writing the story.  I don’t like to tame my story, and sometimes when you plan everything out you are taming the story in a way.  I don’t want a domesticated house cat for a novel.  I want a wild tiger I can feast on the jungle with.    

How long did it take you to write The Summer That Melted Everything?
I wrote it in a month.  On average it takes me a month to write a novel.  I’ve written one novel, Because of the Indians, in eight days.  Still not sure how that happened.  The thing about me is I like to get the story out as quick as I can.  I don’t like it waiting for too long.  I like to get the beginning, middle, and end down on the page and then spend more time polishing the language later.

If money was no object, who would you cast in the movie version?
I’d like to see Kate Winslet as Stella.  I think she has the ability to capture Stella’s emotional ache.  But also maybe Cate Blanchett.  Autopsy is a tall man, intelligent, elegant and I still haven’t really concreted who I think would be best.  For older Fielding perhaps Anthony Hopkins, Jeff Bridges, Sam Shepherd, even Jack Nicholson who I’ve loved since his turn as Jack Torrance (The Shining).  I think the younger characters will have to be filled by newcomers based on their age range of 13-18 years old.  For Fedelia perhaps Meryl Streep or Dame Judi Dench.  I feel as I’m naming these actors off that they don’t sound like they fit, but I think that’s true with any character in any book.  We all have those images in our heads of what the characters look like.  It’s difficult to line up an actor right away.  I will say I do hope the novel is translated to the screen.  I love film, and I write screenplays, so to me film just adds another layer to the story.  

I caught the Stephen King references.  What's your favorite King book?
I know it’s terrible to say being as I am an author, but I love the films based on King’s books more than the books themselves.  One of my favorite films of all is Stanley Kubrick’s version of The Shining.  I love Misery as well.  Shawshank Redemption, Delores Claiborne, The Secret Window.  I was a kid drawn to horror and spider webs, and remember watching Creepshow if only to pine over the skeleton image on the VHS’s cover.  Creepshow is of course mentioned in my novel, as is Cujo.  I felt like the references to King in my novel fit so well because of the 1980s setting and the fact that when I was a kid King was one of those authors that the adults in my life always said I was too young for.          

What are some of your favorite books? 
I want to be buried with Dandelion Wine so I can take an old friend with me into the next life, or at the very least so my ghost has something great to read.  I love all of Bradbury’s writing, but Dandelion Wine is my favorite of his.  I love Shirley Jackson’s entire collection as well.  She’s a piano in a storm, that one.  The first Jackson novel I read was We Have Always Lived in the Castle and that has remained a novel that is still my favorite of hers today.  I really like The Secret History by Donna Tartt and Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro.  A Good Man is Hard to Find by Flannery O’Connor who is the true gothic and the true southern.  I read Agatha Christie, especially when I’m looking for a reliable author.  I also really love James Wright’s Collected Poetry, Above the River.  Wright was a poet from my land of Ohio.  Eternity isn’t long enough to love his poetry.  Eternity isn’t long enough to love any of these authors and their words.      
What are you reading now?
Let Me Tell You: New Stories, Essays, and Other Writings by Shirley Jackson.

What's next on your plate?
I have eight completed novels.  The novel I’m hoping to follow The Summer that Melted Everything up with is When Lions Stood as Men.  It’s about a Jewish brother and sister who escape Nazi Germany, flee across the Atlantic, and end up in my land of Ohio.  While here they create their own camp of judgment where they serve as both the guards and the prisoners.  It’s a story about surviving guilt, love, and in essence the sins we create together.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Review: The Summer That Melted Everything

The Summer That Melted Everything The Summer That Melted Everything by Tiffany McDaniel
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

During a heat wave in the summer of 1984, Fielding Bliss's father invites the devil to town. When a 13 year old boy shows up claiming to be the devil, the Ohio town of Breathed will never be the same again...

I passed on this when I originally saw it on Netgalley, mostly because of Autopsy Bliss's name. Seriously? Autopsy? Anyway, Tiffany McDaniel emailed me a review request, mentioning how hard it was for first time authors to get reviews, and I caved in after my Grinch-like heart grew two sizes.

I honestly had no idea what to expect with this but I knew I'd struck gold right away. I read a lot of books where the prose is nothing spectacular. I could tell this one was special from the first paragraph or so.

The Summer That Melted Everything is Paradise Lost written by Flannery O'Connor, a southern Gothic tale with the power of a hurricane. It's a tale of families, racism, religion, small town mob mentalities, the evil that people hold in their hearts, and a lot of other serious themes.

The Summer That Melted Everything is Fielding Bliss' fall from grace, from being an optimistic 13 year old to be a broken adult decades later. The devil's arrival, Sal's arrival, turns his life upside town.

The Bliss family and their relationship with Sal fuels the narrative. Fielding Bliss and Sal are fast friends. Sal, devil or not, is wise beyond his years. Father Autopsy is a lawyer and mother Stella is a homemaker who is afraid to go outside. Brother Grand is good at everything, seemingly the boy every girl wants to be with. Sal's arrival changes all of them irrevocably.

There is a lot of emotional packed into this book and it sure dredged up some emotions in me. The part with the dog was just the tip of the emotional iceberg. It's thought provoking and has some serious weight to it. As I wrote earlier, it reads a lot like Flannery O'Connor and I felt wrung out after reading it.

The building hysteria of the townsfolk toward Sal reminds me of Needful Things a bit. I had no idea how the book would end but I knew it would be comparable to the destruction of Castle Rock. And it was. The last 20% was like watching the end of Old Yeller four or five times.

The Summer that Melted Everything is a first novel that reads like a lost classic. A bleak, emotional classic. Five out of Five stars.

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Monday, July 18, 2016

Review: Strangers on a Train

Strangers on a Train Strangers on a Train by Patricia Highsmith
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

When Guy Haines and Charles Anthony Bruno meet on a train, they discover they have one thing in common: each of them has someone they would be better off without. When Haines' estranged wife winds up strangled, he finds himself caught in Bruno's psychotic, alcoholic web...

Yeah, that makes the book sound really gripping. It wasn't. The Hitchcock film Strangers on a Train is legendary so I thought I'd give the book that inspired it a shot. I would have been better off watching Throw Mama From the Train again.

The setup is classic noir: two men, two murders, no complications. The problem is that neither man is all that interesting. Guy Haines is too by the book and Bruno is an alcoholic mama's boy, more sad that anything else.

It may have been a case of wrong book, wrong time, but the engine just didn't turn over for me with this one. I was pretty bored for the first half. After that, I was just ready for it to be over. The first murder was boring, the second was kind of illogical considering how flimsy things were, and the rest was just running out the clock.

I will say that Patricia Highsmith, like Jim Thompson, writes a very believable alcoholic psychopath. From her Wikipedia entry, I'd say a lot of it came from experience.

I'm going to paraphrase Roger Ebert (I think) here: Strangers on a Train is a gripping short story squeezed into 280 pages. Two out of five stars.

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Saturday, July 16, 2016

Review: Dark Matter

Dark Matter Dark Matter by Blake Crouch
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

On the way home from the local bar, Jason Dessen is ambushed by an unknown assailant in a geisha mask. After being injected with something, Jason wakes up and his world has been turned upside down...

As I mentioned in the past, I tend to resist books with any amount of hype attached. I even passed on this when it initially came up on Netgalley. However, the gang at Goodreads made me change my mind. So, yeah, the gang was right. Every once in a while, a book feels like it was written with my admittedly peculiar tastes in mind. This is one of those books that caught lightning in a bottle.

As with reads like The Man from Primrose Lane and The Great Forgetting, I'm going to keep this as vague as possible to retard spoilage. Dark Matter is a thriller with a science fiction bend. The What-the-fuckery level is quite high and I wolfed it down in two sittings. It's so damn readable I want to punch Blake Crouch in the junk.

Jason Dessen made for a great lead, a scientist with a loving family and a life he wasn't that enthused about. When he wakes up in another life, he quickly finds himself driving up diarrhea drive on four flat tires.

Since this wasn't my first ride on the weirdness wagon, I tipped to who the masked man was before the big reveal. However, I had no idea the magnitude of the mind fuck headed my way. I pretty much cleared my calendar to wolf down everything after the first 24%. It was that damn gripping.

The ending was great. I kind of guessed how things would go but Crouch hit the ball out of the park.

I don't really know what else I can say without spoiling things. I didn't think Blake Crouch could top Pines but top it he did. Dark Matter is a Twilight Zone episode written by Phillip K. Dick. 5 out of 5 stars.

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Friday, July 15, 2016

Review: United States of Japan

United States of Japan United States of Japan by Peter Tieryas
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

In a world where the Axis won World War II and Japan controls the western United States, a censor named Ben Ishimura and a secret police agent named Akiko Tsukino are trying to find the source of a video game called USA, which allows players to play in a world where America never fell...

I initially passed on this when I saw it on Netgalley but Peter Tieryas seems like a pretty cool guy on Goodreads and on Twitter so I gave it a shot when it went on sale for $1.99.

United States of Japan is a spiritual successor to The Man in the High Castle, which I really need to read one of these days. The USJ is a paranoid dystopia where the Emperor is everything and to speak against him means death. Skyscraper-sized mecha patrol the cities and everyone carries a portable computer called a portcal.

Ben Ishimura is a censor whose attitude prevents him from going anywhere in his career. Akikio Tsukino is a cop whose career means everything. What happens when these two get forced to work together? A fun tale full of action and gore, that's what!

United States of Japan was a fun read, full of gruesome deaths, gore, cyberpunk awesomeness, and some giant robots roaming around the periphery. The paranoid feel made it pretty gripping at times. I had a feeling who was responsible for the USA game but I was off by a degree or two.

I didn't actually care for Ben that much. He's pretty passive for a lead character and his attitude got on my nerves. Akiko, on the other hand, ran the gantlet over the course of the book and wound up being my favorite character, far from the mindless duty-bound cop she started the book as.

Aside from Ben, the only complaint I can think of would be that there weren't enough mecha battles. As a child of the 80's, I loved getting home from school in time to watch Voltron or Robotech and as such, can't get enough of giant robots duking it out.

United States of Japan makes dystopian alternate history fun! 3.5 out of 5 stars.

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Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Review: Icelander

Icelander Icelander by Dustin Long
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

When Shirley MacGuffin is found murdered, everyone looks to Our Heroine to find her killer. Our Heroine, however, only wants to find her missing dog. Since evil has no interest in her lack of interest, she gets drawn into the mystery anyway...

After reading The Boy Detective Fails and enjoying it, someone recommended this book to me since the two were similar.

Icelander is a postmodern, meta-fictional mystery that is a funhouse mirror reflection of the cozy mysteries of a bygone age. Our Heroine is the daughter of a famous detective whose cases have been fictionalized as the Memoirs of Emily Bean. She wakes up after a one night stand to find her friend murdered. Despite her best efforts to the contrary, she gets drawn into the mystery anyway.

The writing in Icelander is beautiful, with Wodehousian wordplay and clever dialogue throughout. The background of the Vanaheim and the Refurserkir was pretty interesting and the motivation of the villains made sense. The characters were fairly colorful and read like twisted Agatha Christie characters. While footnotes in fiction normally annoy me, the ones in this book were justified and usually amusing. Not Terry Pratchett footnote amusing but amusing none the less.

However, it seemed like the book was too occupied with its own cleverness to actually have things happen. Halfway through the book I was still waiting for something to actually happen. For my money, delightfully clever and witty prose doesn't amount to much unless it serves the story.

Overall, I'd say I liked it more than I thought it was just okay. Three out of five stars.

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Sunday, July 10, 2016

The Great Forgetting

The Great ForgettingThe Great Forgetting by James Renner
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

When Jack Felter returns to his home town to help care for his dementia-stricken father, he winds up looking for his missing childhood friend, Tony, the friend that stole his high school girlfriend. Jack meets Tony's last patient, a kid named Cole with a very compelling delusion, that everything we think we know about history is wrong...

After reading The Man from Primrose Lane and True Crime Addict: How I Lost Myself in the Mysterious Disappearance of Maura Murray, I just had to read more James Renner. The Great Forgetting made him rise even higher in my esteem.

The Great Forgetting is a mind-bender of Phillip K. Dickian proportions. How much do we trust the history books? How much do we trust our own memories? What if the conspiracy theories are true? This book raises those questions and more.

It's best to go into this book unprepared so I'm not going to spoil the particulars. Once the truth behind Cole, Tony, and the rest of what was actually going on was revealed, I had a hard time doing anything but finishing it.

If I had to complain about something, which I won't, is that the characters were a little thin. However, I loved Jack and his father, The Captain. Cole grew on me as well, but I hated Tony and didn't trust Sam. Hell, even Scopes and the Maestro turned out to have hidden depths.

The tension toward the end was almost maddening. I haven't felt this engrossed with a book since the Dark Tower series. That's as great a compliment as I can give any book. Five out of five stars.

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Friday, July 8, 2016

Review: Six-Gun Snow White

Six-Gun Snow White Six-Gun Snow White by Catherynne M. Valente
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

When a half-breed girl saddled with the nickname Snow White has had enough of her wicked stepmother, she goes on the run in the Wild West. As she lives by her gun and her wits, will past catch up with her?

Six-Gun Snow White is a retelling of Snow White as a western. It hearkens to earlier, non-sanitized, pre-Disney versions of the tale. Mr. H, Snow White's father, buys her mother, Gun Who Sings, from her tribe. Gun Who Sings dies in childbirth and things are as good as could be expected until the second Mrs. H moves in.

Valente really made me care about Snow White's hardships, both before she went on the run and after. Her stepmother really needed a bullet to the brain from Rose Red. Catherynne Valente's prose was as kick-ass as usual, although it felt a little wordy for the tale it was telling at times. I really liked the spin she put on the ending.

A lot of the fun of Six-Gun Snow White is seeing how Catherynne Valente has recast familiar aspects of the tale, from the Pinkerton Huntsman to the seven dwarves analogues, the sisters. The story is more like a western with echoes of the early versions of the tale than a straight translation.

Six-Gun Snow White is a well-written little novella, perfect for a short sitting full of grit and violence. 3.5 out of 5 stars.

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Thursday, July 7, 2016

Review: The Mirage

The Mirage The Mirage by Matt Ruff
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When Christian fundamentalists destroy the Tigris and Euphrates towers on 11/9, the United Arab States declare a war on terror on the nations of North America. Eight years later, Homeland security officers Mustafa, Amal, and Samir stumble upon relics from another world, a world where America is a super power and the Middle East is a fractured region...

On the heels of Lovecraft Country, I knew I had to read more Matt Ruff. This one sounded intriguing and it was definitely that.

The Mirage is an alternate history tale, one where the roles in the War on Terror are reversed, with the Arabians as the super power and the former United States as rogue territories. If I'd ever read The Man in the High Castle instead of only knowing it by reputation, I'd say they were in a similar vein.

The Mirage is essentially a detective story with Mustafa, Amal, and Samir trying to get to the bottom of things, like the relics and who was really behind the 11/9 attack, before falling victim to the machinations of Al Qaeda, the UAS secret police in this tale. Interspersed are entries from the Library of Alexandria, an online Wikipedia type of resource in this world, giving us tantalizing glimpses at the world's history without infodumping them in the text.

While the detective aspect was pretty cool, the fun of the story was seeing where everyone ended up in this reality. Saddam Hussein is an underworld kingpin, Osama bin Laden is a senator, and Dick Cheney is head of the Texas CIA and known for eliminating his rivals in hunting accidents.

I wolfed this book down in three sittings. It was quite readable and I couldn't wait to see how things panned out. By showing the war on terror in the mirror universe, Ruff shows what a shit show the whole thing was.

This is my favorite quote from the book:
"So in the other reality, Osama bin Laden is an Iraqi?"
"No, he's still from Jeddah," Amal said. "A 'Saudi' Arabian."
"Then why the hell would America invade Iraq?"
"Because God put a Texan in charge!"

I don't have many bad things to say about this book. I almost gave it a 5 but I thought the characters were a little skimpy and the ending could have been better. Overall, The Mirage was a great read and an interesting look at how things might have went another way. 4.5 out of 5 stars.

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Friday, July 1, 2016

Review: Back Door to L.A.

Back Door to L.A. Back Door to L.A. by Jack Clark
My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

Eddie Miles is thinking about giving up the cab driver life when his long lost daughter re-enters his life, only to disappear as quickly as she arrived. Who took her and why? That's what Eddie means to find out, forcing him to work with his worst enemy, his ex-wife!

Review: Cheating Death, Stealing Life: The Eddie Guerrero Story

Cheating Death, Stealing Life: The Eddie Guerrero Story Cheating Death, Stealing Life: The Eddie Guerrero Story by Eddie Guerrero
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Cheating Death, Stealing Life is the biography of Eddie Guerrero, chronicling his early life up until shortly after he won the WWE Heavyweight title.

Confession Time: I was a big professional wrestling fan for a quarter of a century. Eddie Guerrero was one of my favorites ten of those years and his death was one of the big reasons I quit watching.

One of the early indicators of how much I'll like a pro-wrestling biography is how quickly they make with the wrestling action. This book wasted no time. The wrestling stuff started on page one.

Eddie covered a lot of ground in the early goings, from growing up in a wrestling family and eventually breaking into the business in Mexico. He touches on his partying lifestyle early, which is good since later parts of the book show how much that lifestyle would threaten to destroy his life. In fact, it probably contributed to his early death.

Eddie's story goes from Mexico to Japan, from ECW to WCW, and finally to the WWE and the battles with addiction that eventually got him fired. Unlike in the ring, no punches are pulled. Eddie talks about all the times drugs and alcohol nearly cost him everything, eventually seeing him living in a crappy apartment and wrestling on the independent circuit just to make ends meet. When Eddie finally got his shit together, his life got back and track and he was called back up to the WWE. It was actually pretty hard-warming for a wrestling book.

Other than my usual gripes about there not being enough interesting road stories, this was a solid book. Cheating Death, Stealing Life, frog-splashed its way into my wrestling book top ten. Four out of five stars.

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