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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Sunday, April 16, 2017

Review: They Rise

They Rise They Rise by Hunter Shea
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

When a chimaera fish of usual size is caught, ichthyologist Brad "Whit" Whitley comes all the way from Australia to Miami to examine it. Having made the chimaera fish, aka ghost shark, his life's work, Whit thought he knew it all but discovered he had a lot more to learn when even larger ghost sharks start popping up and devouring everyone in sight. The only person Whit can turn to for help is even more fearsome, his ex-wife...

As I've said many times before, I'm a sucker for Hunter Shea's creature feature gore-fests. When this one dropped to ninety nine cents, my cheapness alarm when off and I snapped it up like a ghost shark on an unsuspecting swimmer.

They Rise is part cautionary tale, part bloodbath. Climate change has lead to more methane vents opening up on the ocean floor, causing ghost sharks to congregate and the oceans to run red with blood. Whit, the smart-mouthed scientist with a drinking problem, is forced to reject everything he knows about ghost sharks in an effort to stop their feeding frenzy. His ex-wife ends up in the same boat, pun intended, when her expedition studying the methane vents goes horribly wrong.

It's a fun story, full of ghost shark carnage. Shea's writing is as crisp as ever and Whit is hilarious, sometimes annoyingly so. However, the story wasn't up to Shea's usual efforts. It was pretty much a variant on Jaws, as could be expected with sharks. How about staying away from the water, people? The ending felt a little detached. When the coast guard and navy get involved, it gets a little impersonal.

Despite my gripes, it was still a fun read, just not an essential one. Three out of five stars.

Also:


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Friday, April 14, 2017

Review: We Are Always Watching

We Are Always Watching We Are Always Watching by Hunter Shea
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When the Ridley family falls on hard times, they're forced to move in with Abraham Ridley, Matt's father. Grandpa Ridley is a real son of a bitch but he's nothing in comparison to the Guardians, persons unknown who have been harassing the Ridleys and the other folk of Buttermilk Creek for generations...

Hunter Shea is the man and I was planning on reading this anyway when I won a copy on Horror After Dark. Thanks!

This isn't your usual Hunter Shea book. I'm a tremendous fan of his creature features starring cryptids and the mayhem they incite but this one was different, a slow-burner with more of a psychological bend.

Since time out of mind, the people of Buttermilk Creek have been harassed by the Guardians, people or creatures that leave threatening notes and that are constantly watching their targets. When West's father, Matt, suffers a brain injury leading to chronic vertigo, their lives fall apart and they leave NYC behind to live with his grandfather. Abraham is an asshole of the highest caliber and blames the family for the Guardians springing into action once again after years of silence.

The book feels like a coming of age tale at first. West is a likeable kid, a fan of horror movies and books. He's enamored with the only pretty girl in town that he's met and wonders about the truth of the Guardians and his own family's troubled past. When shit goes down, he acts in a very believable way and is in no way a Gary Stu.

Hell, the whole Ridely clan is subtly nuanced. Debi resents her husband's condition and keeps on trucking. Matt feels inadequate and pissed off because of his vertigo but can't help but lash out at his family. And Abraham has more than his share of skeletons in his closet.

The book is a slow burner but reaches a fever pitch around the 75% mark, when it goes from coming of age psychological horror to a fucking blood bath. I was felt like a mile of bad road after finishing it.

As always, Hunter Shea continues to impress the shit out of me. 4.5 out of 5 stars.

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Thursday, April 6, 2017

Review: Just Add Water

Just Add Water Just Add Water by Hunter Shea
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When David and Patrick order Amazing Sea Serpents from the ad in the back of a Wonder Woman comic, they wait 6-8 weeks to receive an envelope of disappointment in the mail. However, when they dump the Amazing Sea Serpents down the sewer, they get more than their money's worth.

I'd pre-ordered this, fueled by nostalgic memories of Sea Monkey ads in the backs of comics back in the day and my fandom of Hunter Shea. Imagine my delight when it popped up on Netgalley AND I got approved for it.

Just Add Water is another one of Hunter Shea's lovably gory creature features. David and Patrick are junior high kids at the dawn of the 1980s. Like many of us who were comic nerds in the days before such a thing was fashionable, the ad for some amazing anthropomorphic pets caught their eyes. Unlike most of us, they actually ordered them. Turns out, what they got was monster eggs.

Just Add Water feels like an 80's kids' monster movie, like The Monster Squad, only with a much higher body count and ten times as much gore. While there's a dose of nostalgia, it's so smeared in gore that it's soon unrecognizable. And the early 80s nostalgia isn't limited to comics and TV. There's also a key party that goes horribly, horribly wrong.

Hunter Shea's writing continues to entertain the shit out of me. I'm convinced we would have been buds back in our younger days due to our mutual interests in comics, cryptids, and monsters in general. Now if he'd just lift that damn restraining order...

Just Add Water is a horror novella that is a hell of a lot of bloody fun. I can't wait to read the next installment in the loosely connected series, Optical Delusion. Four out of five stars.

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Review: Half-Made Girls

Half-Made Girls Half-Made Girls by Sam Witt
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Joe Hark is the Night Marshal of Pitchfork County, a rural area of Missouri plagued by meth and monsters. When someone crucifies a mutilated girl in a church, Joe finds himself balls deep in a mess involving drugs, demonic forces, and dark gods.

Sam Witt wrote The Astromundi Cluster, a Spelljammer supplement I should get around to writing a review for one of these days. On a whim, I wanted to see what else he wrote and this popped up, for free no less. I've long thought rural fantasy had untapped potential as a genre and I was right in this case.

The lazy way to describe Half-Made Girls is The Dresden Files meets Winter's Bone. There's a lot more grit and a lot more gore than the Dresden files and I don't get the feeling the Night Marshall is working with a safety net like I do with Harry Dresden. The Night Marshall isn't an overly glib white knight. He's the guy that gets his hands dirty and does what needs to be done when someone walks the Left Hand Path of dark sorcery.

Set in Pitchfork County, Missouri, a dirt poor place where being a meth dealer is one of the only forms of employment, Half-Made Girls is a tale of dark forces that threaten to consume the earth and the one man that can stop them, the Night Marshall, Joe Hark. Now if he could just put aside his alcohol problem and the curse that has forced a wedge between his family and himself....

Joe Hark is more Roland the Gunslinger than Harry Dresden, a hard man that's been to hell and back a dozen times. When meth head cultist stir up some serious shit, The Night Marshall is forced to do some things he doesn't want to do and question his beliefs and methods in order to set things right. Heavy shit.

As befits the situation, the violence is stark and brutal and no one is making half-assed quips or tired Star Wars references. Even though I knew it was the first book in a series, I felt like all bets were off and I could be reading about a new Night Marshall in the second book.

There's a real sense of place to the book. Sam Witt paints a vivid picture of life in the Ozarks. When he's not painting it in blood and gore, anyway.

Sam Witt is also a much better writer than I thought he'd be. He knows how to write suspense and the dialogue is spot on. Also, he writes things like this: It looked like a bathroom at Hogwarts after a week long meth binge.

Half-Made Girls is a gripping, sometimes gut-wrenching read, so much more than the urban fantasy fluff I was afraid it was going to be. It actually has more in common with Brian Keene's Ghost Walk. Four out of five stars.

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Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Review: No Beast So Fierce

No Beast So Fierce No Beast So Fierce by Edward Bunker
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

When Max Dembo gets paroled after eight years in the joint, he's starting at square one. With no money and no job, how will he avoid falling back into his old habits?

As a white collar, law-abiding citizen, prison has always held a bit of mystique for me. I enjoyed The Animal Factory enough to snap this up when it showed up in my BookGorilla email on the cheap.

If I ever had any doubts about the ineffectiveness of the American prison system, they would have been shattered by this. Max is put back on the street with a suit ten years out of fashion and thirty bucks and expected to make something of himself. When no one will hire him, what other choice does he have but to turn to a life of crime?

Bunker's no Chandler but his writing gets the job done. I was reminded of Richard Stark's Parker at times. While he wasn't a complete asshole, Max wasn't a nice person when the chips were down. He did live by a certain criminal code, though, making him a much more complex character than I originally thought. The self-destructive nature of some of the characters also made me think of Jim Thompson and his happy hell storms.

The capers were well done, including the inevitable one where the wheels come off. There were some good twists and I didn't see the ending going down like that. I almost wish I'd skipped the epilogue, though.

While I didn't enjoy it as much as The Animal Factory, No Beast So Fierce was definitely worth a read. Three out of five stars.

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Saturday, March 25, 2017

Review: Prophets of the Ghost Ants

Prophets of the Ghost Ants Prophets of the Ghost Ants by Clark Thomas Carlton
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In a world where tiny humans live in symbiosis with insects, Anand is a half-breed of the lowest caste. When a new colony is to be formed, Anand is delighted at the prospect but soon finds himself living with a different clan and a new outlook. When the Ghost Ants attack his new home, Anand has a chance to change the world...

This was on my radar for a long time and I couldn't resist when it popped up on Netgalley. I was not disappointed.

While I'm not a fan of today's extruded fantasy product, originally scores big points with me and Prophets of the Ghost Ants has originality to spare. After a great cataclysm, the Earth is nearly destroyed and humans gradually evolve into being insect-sized for survival. Humans live in symbiosis with their gargantuan insect brethren and largely live in a caste system.

You don't normally read a fantasy novel where insects play a prominent role and the main character is in charge of emptying the chamber pots of nobles. I really liked the use of the caste system, somewhat emulating the hierarchy of ants. I also liked that each clan lived in symbiosis with different insects, like roaches, different varieties of ants, and termites.

Since it was a fantasy novel, you pretty much knew Anand was going to turn things upside down but I was surprised at the magnitude. It reminded me of Michael Moorcock's Elric books, only without so much genocide and melancholy. It was also very well thought out. There were no logical holes in the setting of the "Why don't they fly to Mordor on a giant eagle and drop the ring in the volcano" variety.

It was a fun journey, watching Anand go from being a shit scraper to the founder of a nation. The violence was harsh and there was a fair bit of smut in it, all the things I look for in a fantasy saga. Four out of five stars.

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Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Review: Imperial Valley

Imperial Valley Imperial Valley by Johnny Shaw
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When Tomas Morales tracks down Juan's grandfather, Jimmy Veeder and his wife head to Mexico for a honeymoon and to meet up with him, with Bobby Maves and Grizelda in tow. Little does Jimmy Veeder know that he's stepping into a hornet's nest of drug dealers and killers...

I got this from Netgalley.

Johnny Shaw's dimwitted duo, Jimmy Veeder and Bobby Maves, are back and in fine form. Jimmy gets married and heads to Mexico, only to stir up trouble as only he and Bobby Maves can. Things have changed since the last book, however. Jimmy has build a good life with Angie and Juan and has a lot more to lose.

As with the previous book, the humor is the star of the show. The book is peppered with hilarious lines, shades of early Joe Lansdale. In fact, if Joe Lansdale ever chooses to die and his estate wants to farm Hap and Leonard out to someone, he could do a lot worse than Johnny Shaw.

Speaking of Lansdale, Imperial Valley reminded me of Captains Outrageous, both because of the humor and of the structure, with the first half taking place in Mexico and the second, when the conflict comes home. While I knew Jimmy and Bobby wouldn't die, there were some tense moments.

One thing did irk me, however. When a book is this hilarious, it kind of deflates the sense of jeopardy. When everyone is cracking wise, it's hard to take the violence seriously. That being said, this book is high on violence but higher on laughs. I lost count of lines I would have uttered aloud if anyone was sitting within earshot.

Honestly, the third Jimmy Veeder fiasco does not disappoint. It's as funny as the previous two. Four out of five stars. Special bonus points to Shaw for including the world's deadliest Mexican from Blood & Tacos #1 for a cameo appearance.



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Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Review: Norse Mythology

Norse Mythology Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman is a compulsively readable retelling of various myths from Norse Mythology.

Once upon a time, in that hazy prehistoric time before Goodreads, Neil Gaiman was my favorite author. Sandman was the gateway drug but I read all the Gaiman works I could get my hands on: American Gods, Neverwhere, Coraline, Stardust, you get the point. As the years went by, some of the shine wore off that penny. As I explored Gaimain's influences, like P.G. Wodehouse and Ray Bradbury, some of the magic was diminished.

Anyway, I was Gaimain was writing this book and my interest was rekindled. I've been curious about Norse mythology since reading my first Thor comic. Gaimain delivers the goods here.

In Norse Mythology, Gaimain retells fifteen Norse myths, from the creation of the Aesir to Ragnarok, the twilight of the gods, making them accessible to the modern reader.

All of the Norse gods you're familiar with from pop culture, namely Odin, Thor, Loki, Balder, and Heimdall, are here, as well as a slew of others like Vidar, Kvasir, and Hod. I was tangentially aware of some of what transpired, like Loki giving birth to a six-legged horse and Odin hanging from Yggdrasil, the world tree, for nine days and nights before gaining his wisdom, but a lot of it was new to me. The Aesir sure liked to booze it up, didn't they?

While there was quite a bit to like about this book, the thing that really stuck in my mind was Naglfar, the ship of the dead made out of fingernails. Really. Loki tying his junk to the beard of a goat for entertainment purposes was right up there, though.

Reading Norse Mythology, I noticed echoes of it in fantasy novels I've read in past couple decades, most notably The Elric Saga Part II and The First Chronicles of Amber. For my money, this is the best thing Gaimain's done since The Graveyard Book (though Doctor Who: Nothing O'Clock was also pretty sweet.) Four out of five stars.

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Saturday, March 4, 2017

Review: Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation

Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation by Lynne Truss
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation is a humorous book about punctuation. Who knew punctuation could be so entertaining?

As someone who writes a fair bit (half a million words on Goodreads alone), I know my way around a sentence. However, when this popped up on Amazon on the cheap, I was powerless to resist, like my dog on a piece of cat shit.

In Eats, Shoots & Leaves, Lynn Truss takes us on a Bill Bryson-esque odyssey through a forest of commas, apostrophes, colons, semi-colons, and exclamation marks. Incidentally, did you know an exclamation mark is called a dog's cock in some circles? I did not.

Truss' writing makes things like how to properly use an apostrophe entertaining, using amusing phrasing and real life examples, offering up rules like "Don't use commas like a stupid person." It isn't all laughs, however. I normally avoid colons and semi-colons but I feel like she's given me a greater understanding of them.

There's not a whole lot more to divulge. It's no surprise this short but sweet book is a best-seller. It's very accessible and as entertaining as a book on punctuation can be. For grammarians and writers alike, Eats, Shoots & Leaves is a fun yet useful book about fairly boring subject. Four out of five stars.

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Friday, March 3, 2017

Review: Tanuki Tango Overdrive

Tanuki Tango Overdrive Tanuki Tango Overdrive by Arthur Graham
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Tanuki Tango Overdrive is a collection of three sexually charged tales featuring the enormously-testicled Tanuki and his wife by the sexually charged Arthur Graham.

A while back, Arthur sent me a pdf of this book and I resolved to read it. Since I'm getting older and my cognitive abilities are in decline, I promptly forgot about it. Yesterday, I received a mysterious package in the mail from Arthur Graham in the mail. An Author-Gram from Arthur Graham, if you will. This book was among the contents so I immediately plowed through it like a Tanuki at an orgy.

Tanuki Tango Overdrive skirts the line between bizarro fiction and monster porn and is better written than either genre typically is. Arthur Graham takes Tanuki, a Japanese nature spirit, and his wife to a swinger's party in the suicide forest, an indecent proposal in Hollywood from Robert Redford, and try stop a train from fucking a tower that looks like a vagina.

Caution - Tanuki Tango Overdrive may contain the following:
bukkake
anal sex
face fucking
orgies
a penis the size of a python with a dragon tattooed on it
testicles the size of grapefruits
Tanuki semen
cursing

I'll pause for a moment while you digest that.

One last thing: This was a self-published book but in no way resembles one. This is how self-published books should be done: impeccable editing and a professional looking product.

TTO is a lot of dirty good fun and made me want to play Super Mario Brothers 3. Three out of five stars.

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Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Review: The Last Place You Look

The Last Place You Look The Last Place You Look by Kristen Lepionka
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

When Roxane Weary takes on a case to find a woman that's supposedly been dead for fifteen years to clear her incarcerated boyfriend's name before he's executed, she's in way over her head. Can Roxane put her alcohol problem and her pain over her father's death aside long enough to crack the case?

Every time I try to quit accepting ARCs, something like this falls into my lap. Thanks again, karen.

I've been out of the detective fiction game for the past few months for the most part. Once you read a couple hundred crime books, everything starts seeming the same. Then a gem like this comes along.

The Last Place You Look stars Roxane Weary, a woman reeling from her cop father's death, coping by drinking a small ocean of whiskey. Between an ex-lover named Catherine that continuously toys with her to her current companion, her deceased father's partner, Roxane's life is a train wreck. She's just the type of girl you can count on to keep a man from getting executed, right?

Roxane reminds me of some unholy offspring of George Pelecanos's Nick Stefanos and Sara Gran's Claire DeWitt. If only she spent as much time detecting as she did throwing back slugs of whiskey... I kid. I loved Roxane, from her complex relationships with her family members to her questionable taste in sex partners.

In between black out drunks, she finds time to get wrapped up in quite a case. What seems like one murder ages ago winds up being quite a bit more. Roxane goes through both physical and emotional wringers multiple times on the way to one of the better crime fiction endings I've read in a long time.

One of the hallmarks of a great crime book, for me, anyway, is when the author makes me feel like a rube when the big reveal comes. I thought I had the killer pegged really early but that turned out to be a read herring. I pondered the title while cooking dinner and still didn't tip to who the killer was. Well done, Kristen. Well done.

I don't have a single bad things to say about this book. I'm greatly looking forward to reading more of Roxane's drunken escapades in the future. Five out of five stars.

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Sunday, February 26, 2017

Review: Agents of Dreamland

Agents of Dreamland Agents of Dreamland by CaitlĂ­n R. Kiernan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A government agent called The Signalman has a meeting with a mysterious woman in Winslow, Arizona about a bizarre cult murder near the Salton Sea days earlier. But what do those events have to do with the New Horizons space probe and a black and white movie penned by Edgar Rice Burroughs.

Despite my resolve to take on as few ARCs as possible this year, I couldn't resist this one when it popped up on Netgalley. It sounded wonderfully bizarre and it was.

Much like half of the books I've read so far in 2017, Agents of Dreamland is a modern Lovecraft tale of sorts, a tale of madness, alien fungus, shady government dealings, and an apocalypse on the horizon. There are a ton of ideas and hints in this novella, enough to fuel my imagination long after I finished it.

The Signalman is just a few years from retirement and fighting for every inch in that direction. Immacolata is a mysterious woman who knows many things she shouldn't. When she gives the Signalman her briefcase, his life gets several shades worse. The Fungi from Yuggoth are one of my favorite Lovecraftian baddies and they probably don't get enough press. Agents of Dreamland pushes them to their full potential, making for a chilling read.

Since it's a novella, I don't want to say much more. Suffice to say, Agents of Dreamland is a gripping read that blends Lovecraftian lore with conspiracy theories into a slick package brimming with ideas. 4.5 out of 5 stars.

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Saturday, February 25, 2017

Review: Merciless

Merciless Merciless by Kristal Stittle
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

After some bizarre phone calls, nurse Mercy Chalmers goes to visit her parents in the country. Her parents are gone and Mercy has the house to herself. Until the men in animal masks show up, that is...

The creepiness of the rabbit mask on the cover drew me to Merciless. That and the ninety-nine cent price tag.

For the most part, Merciless feels like Home Alone, only with homicidal men in animal masks instead of bumbling burglars. But why are they after Mercy? Turns out, they have a specific goal in mind.

Yeah, I wanted to like this way more than I did. The writing style grated on me a bit but I can't put a finger on why exactly it did. The plot wound up being a little more complex than I originally thought but the fact that they guys were shooting at Mercy doesn't make much sense once the main bad guy tips his hand.

The book was not without its charms, however. Mercy is a plucky heroine and it was almost orgasmic when she took the fight to her captors. I also liked the ending quite a bit. The suspense was well done and Kristal Stittle did a great job making Mercy's plight feel hopeless.

All things considered, I liked more about this book than I disliked. After the ending, I'd be willing to read another story starring Mercy. Three hard-earned stars out of five.

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Friday, February 24, 2017

Review: Rusty Puppy

Rusty Puppy Rusty Puppy by Joe R. Lansdale
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

When the woman who lives across the street from Brett's detective agency hires them to find out who killed her son, Hap and Leonard wind up in Camp Rapture, where the cops are worse than the criminals...

Rusty Puppy, the twelfth Hap and Leonard novel, features the dynamic duo we've all come to know and love, Hap and Leonard. As usual, the boys are in way over their heads, making smart ass remarks and sticking their noses where they don't belong.

Joe Lansdale's writing is as hilarious as ever, full of his front porch wisdom and hilarious one-liners. I'd say there's a quoteable line on almost every page. As per usual, the violence is pretty harsh once it finally arrives and the bad guys are huge scumbags. I like where things have gone with Chance and that Hap still bears some scars from the events of the last book.

While I enjoyed this as much as the last few, the series is starting to feel kind of formulaic. Hap and Leonard are still total bad asses despite having to be in their sixties at this point in the series. While the bad guys are pretty bad, there was no point that I thought they'd get the best of Hap and Leonard. Also, Marvin Hanson has covered for Hap and Leonard a few too many times to still have a badge.

Another gripe I had is that all the dangling threads from the last book were already resolved by the time this book was published in Briar Patch Boogie: A Hap and Leonard Novelette and Hap and Leonard: Blood and Lemonade.

Gripes aside, Lansdale still writes some of the best dialogue in crime fiction and I still devoured this thing in two sittings. It's gripping, and while I knew how it would end, it was still a lot of fun getting there and even a lesser Hap and Leonard book is still more enjoyable than a lot of books on the racks. 3.5 out of 5 stars.

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Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Review: Monstrumfuhrer

Monstrumfuhrer Monstrumfuhrer by Edward M. Erdelac
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Dr. Mengele has discovered Frankenstein's journal and is using it to create an army of invincible Nazi warriors. Jotham Podczaski goes north to find the only thing that can stop him: Frankenstein's original creation...

Edward Erdelac earned the golden ticket from me by virtue of The Merkabah Rider series. When he asked if I'd give this a read, it was an automatic Yes.

In Monstrumfuhrer, Erdelac juxtaposes the atrocities of the holocaust with the horrors of the reanimated dead. Jotham and his brother are rousted from their hiding place in a sympathetic woman's attic and dragged away to Auschwitz. Mengele takes an interest in Jotham, making him his errand boy, while Eliazar joins the resistance. Once Jotham sees Mengele's true colors, he manages to escape and heads north.

Erdelac's writing has improved by leaps and bounds since the Merkabah Rider series. Much like I thought The Dark Knight was too good to be a super hero movie and Batman was the weakest part, Monstrumfuhrer is almost too good of an account of the holocaust to have Frankenstein's monster in it.

Not that things don't get interesting once the Creature shows up. It turns out he has reasons of his own for coming back to civilization. The latter part of the book echoes the latter part of Mary Shelley's classic. It wasn't quite what I expected but was damn satisfying.

The writing was great but I thought maybe a little too much time was spent at Auschwitz. Or the Frankenstein elements could have been eliminated altogether. Even so, I enjoyed Monstrumfuhrer quite a bit. 3.5 out of 5 stars.

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Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Review: The Night Ocean

The Night Ocean The Night Ocean by Paul La Farge
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When Charlie Willet disappears, apparently commits suicide, his wife Marina explores the last couple years of his life, looking for reasons to believe he's still alive. Did Charlie's obsession with the Erotonomicon, the purported story of HP Lovecraft's affair with Robert Barlow, and the web of lies and hoaxes surrounding it lead to his doom?

Even though I rarely take on ARCs anymore, I jumped at the chance to read this one when Penguin offered it to me.

The Night Ocean is a tough book to classify. It's a Russian nesting doll, a Matryoshka, of hoaxes and lies surrounding one man's quest to learn the truth about the Erotonomicon, a book chronicling HP Lovecraft's love life. In some ways, it reminds me of Night Film. In others, of I Am Providence. I was hooked by the brain stem when Lovecraft referred to masturbation as Yog Sothoth.

The tale is part historical novel, part mystery. Marina tries to piece together what Charlie pieced together when he was trying to figure out if the Erotonomicon was a hoax or not. Needless to say, there are a lot of shifting viewpoints.

The Erotonomicon chapters were touching, and sometimes heartbreaking, with young Robert Barlow being in love with H.P. Lovecraft from afar and Lovecraft being unwilling to reciprocate. Well, for the most part...

Marina was playing catch-up for most of the book, much like I was, through a maze of hoaxes and lies, populated by legendary authors like William S. Burroughs, Frederick Pohl, C.M. Kornbluth, and many others. She follows Charlie's quest from Mexico to Canada, from Barlow to L.C. Spinks, the Erotonomicon's publisher.

I guess the Night Ocean is about multiple peoples' search for the truth. In this age of "alternative facts", the truth can be hard to come by. By the end of the book, I was almost as in the dark as I was in the beginning. I liked that the ending was ambiguous, however.

While I can't find a nice box to shoe-horn The Night Ocean into, it was a great read, even beautiful at times, surprising considering H.P. Lovecraft's usual subject matter. Four out of five stars.



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Review: The Montauk Monster

The Montauk Monster The Montauk Monster by Hunter Shea
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The sleepy resort town of Montauk is terrorized by strange beasts and it's up to Gray Dalton and the rest of the Montauk PD to get to the bottom of things. But have they bitten off more than they can chew?

The more Hunter Shea books I read, the more convinced I am that we would have been best buds when we were twelve. The Montauk Monster takes the cryptid of the same name and sets it on a gory rampage through Montauk and neighboring towns.

In some ways, this feels like a dry run of Shea's The Jersey Devil. There are multiple monsters terrorizing a small town and only a small group of people are prepared for what comes next. As in the Jersey Devil, Shea introduces character after character, only to have them mauled by the Montauk Monsters or succumb to the horrifying disease they carry.

Tying the creature's origin to nearby Plum Island was a master stroke. The chimeric, disease-bearing creatures hit the beaches of Montauk and no one is safe. They take down cops, stoners, reality stars, and a lot of other people before things are finally settled. By the time things are over, DARPA, FEMA, the CDC, and other acronyms get involved and the ending is far from happy.

Throw in some witty reparte and end-of-the-world sex, and that's pretty much it. The main characters, Dalton and Meredith, are pretty much stock thriller characters aside from the age difference and Meredith's bum leg. When I say this feels like a dry run of Jersey Devil, I mean it. It hits all the same beats and isn't quite as polished as JD.

At the end of the day, this creature feature by Hunter Shea was pretty damn entertaining but not as good as his later works. Three out of five stars.

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Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Review: The Damned Highway

The Damned Highway The Damned Highway by Brian Keene
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Uncle Lono leaves Colorado behind and heads east for Arkham, Massachusetts, in search of the American Nightmare. He winds up caught in a conspiracy that will see Richard Nixon raise Cthulhu from the depths of the ocean to destroy the world...

After reading Fear and Loathing in Innsmouth in Whispers from the Abyss, I was delighted to discover this work existed. Dr. Gonzo visiting Miskatonic University, Arkham, and Innsmouth, written by Brian Keene and Nick Mamatas: how could I lose?

The subtitle of this work is Fear and Loathing in Arkham so I knew what I was getting into. The Damned Highway is written in a voice very similar to Hunter S. Thompson. Only his drug-addled psyche could withstand the cosmic horrors of the Cthulhu mythos.

Without giving too much away, this is a road book peppered with references to Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and the Cthulhu mythos. Uncle Lono encounters Deep Ones, Cannocks, shoggoths, fungi from Yuggoth, and a lot of other crazy shit. It's a good mix of comedy and cosmic horror.

I have to admit I was a little skeptical at first but Keene and Mamatas did a great job weaving Hunter S. Thompson's style with Lovecraftian horror. Casting Nixon as the villain was a great touch. The last sixty pages or so were really hard to put down.

The Damned HIghway is a fun piece of Lovecraft-inspired fiction, penned by two of the best currently active horror writers. 3.5 out of 5 stars.

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Review: The Final Reconciliation

The Final Reconciliation The Final Reconciliation by Todd Keisling
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Metal band the Yellow Kings are on their first tour when they meet Camilla Bierce, the woman who will be their downfall...

I was tangentially aware of The King in Yellow for years after playing Call of Cthulhu: Horror Roleplaying and my interest was further piqued by True Detective. When I read the synopsis for this, I was all in.

Told by the lone survivor of the band thirty years in the future, The Final Reconciliation is the tale of the disintegration of a band as they record an album, both personally and mentally as the walls of reality thin and fray. I knew they were fucked when Camilla called Los Angeles Carcosa but the depth of the penetration was still pretty surprising.

As the dreams and visions of red-robed faceless things in an alien golden city become more and more intense, things go so far off track the rails are no longer visible.

The writing feels more like noir than horror, not a bad thing in my book. There's just enough foreshadowing in the narration to make you dread the ending that's barreling toward you. I had an idea about what Camilla's goal was fairly quickly but the ending was still a punch in the sternum.

I've read other mythos stories involving musicians, Bleeding Shadows and Crawlin' Chaos Blues springing to mind, but The Final Reconciliation is the best so far. Five out of five Yellow Signs.

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Thursday, February 2, 2017

Review: The Twenty-Year Death

The Twenty-Year Death The Twenty-Year Death by Ariel S. Winter
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Shem Rosenkrantz and his French wife Clothilde's lives turn toxic over the course of two decades.

I owned this gerbil masher since it came out but couldn't bring myself to read it until the kindle edition went on sale for ninety nine cents.

The Twenty Year Death is three interlinked novellas, each written in the voice of a past master. Malniveau Prison is written in the style of Georges Simenon. The Falling Star is written in the style of Raymond Chandler. Police at the Funeral is written in the style of Jim Thompson.

I've never read any Georges Simenon so I can't really say whether or not Malniveau Prison feels like one of his works. It's a locked room mystery of sorts with a convict found dead on the street. Clothilde is in her late teens and her husband is well on his way down the path of douchebaggery. The case itself was entertaining in an old school mystery kind of way but nothing remarkable. It's only been a couple days but I've already forgotten the names of the lead detectives.

By the time The Falling Star begins, Cholthilde is now Chloe Rose, a Hollywood starlet, and her husband is an even bigger asshat than before. A Marloweesque detective named Dennis Foster is hired to find the guy stalking her and stumbles upon the scenes of multiple murders. This story felt like a Marlowe homage but only because it features the wise-cracking detective that Raymond Chandler popularized and has been imitated quite a bit over the last eighty years or so. Unlike Chandler's work, however, there aren't quotable similes on every page and it lacks Marlowe's world-weariness. It felt like a retread of a much better work.

Police at the Funeral sees Shem Rosenkrantz at his lowest point, drunk, penniless, and living with a lady of questionable morals named Vee. He's in Maryland for his first wife's funeral when someone accidentally dies and Shem goes into a gin-filled Thompson-style spiral into madness. I could tell this was supposed to feel like a Thompson book since it features a drunken loser going off the rails but didn't have that undercurrent of insanity from the beginning that the better Jim Thompson books have.

I had high hopes for this. It did not meet them. It's touted as some great work of literature, told in the voices of three masters. I can't speak from the Simenon but the Chandler and Thompson pastiches are without soul, without the spark that made the original works great. It's pretty much a collection of pastiches linked by an asshole character who doesn't take center stage until the end.

Tfitoby got the bullet in the right chamber when he said "Reads like a literature student who thought it would be easy to write a genre novel after reading a few works by great authors with readily identifiable styles" This things screams style over substance. Instead of a fitting tribute to the masters, it's more like a ventriloquism act where you catch the guy's lips moving. Two out of five stars.


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Sunday, January 29, 2017

Review: Harrison Squared

Harrison Squared Harrison Squared by Daryl Gregory
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

When he was three, Harrison Harrison lost his father and his leg in a boating accident. Or was it? Now, at age sixteen, he moves to the Massachusetts town of Dunnsmouth for his mother's latest research project. When she goes missing, Harrison quickly finds Dunnsmouth has more than its share of secrets...

Harrison Squared was a tough nut to crack for me. Aside from the missing leg, Harrison Harrison was kind of a Gary Stu. Also, I hated his implausible name. Who the hell would do that to their kid? Anyway, despite being a curmudgeon, I wound up being entertained by it.

Taking place in a safe, Pat Boone version of HP Lovecraft's world, is a fish out of water, coming of age tale that happens to include a nerfed version of the Cthulhu mythos. Harrison struggles to fit into a school of fish worshipers only to have his mother disappear. The rest is a Hard Boys mystery featuring fish people and their townie cohorts trying to open a portal and summon Urgaleth.

The writing was standard YA fare. The kids are smarter than the adults, everyone has overly clever dialogue, etc. While I knew Harrison would live, there was a sense of jeopardy at times. The ending was a little too easy but the book had series written all over it so I wasn't all that surprised. There were some Lovecraft references that I thought were hilarious. "My people do weird things with geometry," or something to that effect.

I thought the supporting cast were more interesting than Harrison. Aunt Sel, Lydia, Lub, and some of the others really livened things up. I wouldn't have minded learning more of The Scrimshander's past, however.

Although it wears its influences on its sleeve most of the time, if there had to be a young adult Cthulhu mythos tale, I'm glad it was this one. Annoyances aside, I wound up liking it. I could see it being a gateway book into deeper and darker things. Three out of five stars.

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Monday, January 23, 2017

Review: Whispers From The Abyss 2: The Horrors That Were and Shall Be

Whispers From The Abyss 2: The Horrors That Were and Shall Be Whispers From The Abyss 2: The Horrors That Were and Shall Be by Laird Barron
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Whispers from the Abyss 2 is a collection of 25 tales inspired by the works of H.P. Lovecraft.

I donated for the Kickstarter that created this anthology. It was well worth it.

Much like the original Whispers from the Abyss, Whispers From the Abyss 2 is a collection of tales designed to be wolfed down in one sitting.

Like all anthologies, the quality of the tales vary. Quality-wise, I felt like this one was a step behind the original. However, the content was worth the price, maybe even a wider range of Lovecraftian nasties than the previous one. Azathoth and the Innsmouth folk were prominently featured, always a plus in my book.

For my money, the standouts of Whispers from the Abyss 2 are We Are Not These Bodies, Strung Between the Stars by AC Wise, The Labyrinth of Sleep by Orrin Grey, Death May Die by Nathan Wunnder, Shadow Transit by Ferrett Steinmetz, Lucky Chuck Takes the Sunshine Express by John Palisano, and The Vindication of Y'ha-Nthlei by David Busboom.

While I didn't enjoy it as much as Whispers from the Abyss or Heroes of Red Hook, Whispers From the Abyss 2 was still a good weird fiction anthology. I'll be ready when the Kickstarter for the third volume is announced. 3.5 out of 5 stars.



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Friday, January 20, 2017

Review: The Con Season: A Novel of Survival Horror

The Con Season: A Novel of Survival Horror The Con Season: A Novel of Survival Horror by Adam Cesare
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

When five horror actors in various states of their careers are recruited for an interactive horror convention, they get more than they bargained for...

I've read a few novels that take place at conventions in the last few years. I Am Providence, Night of the Living Trekkies, and Shatnerquake come to mind. I keep seeing Adam Cesare's name pop up so I decided to give Con Season a shot.

The title is a little misleading. While it takes place in a convention of sorts, Camping Season might have been more appropriate. Anyway, Con Season is some bloody good fun.

Much like the guests at conventions of this type, the main characters are a mix of washed up has-beens and a rising star. It's not readily apparent which of them will survive, though three of them were more detailed than the others. The setup is a twist on the old "man getting hunted for sport" trope, only in this case, they're being hunted for fun, and being filmed to boot.

The body count is pretty high, as is the gore factor. It was a quick, fun read but I almost wish it would have went longer. While I like my horror short, the ending felt a little rushed to me. Some people's deaths were a little too easy.

The concept was a little too plausible in the age of reality TV, making for an unsettling read. Con Season is a fun horror novel that can be devoured in an extended sitting. You could find a lot worse ways to spend a few hours reading. 3.5 out of 5 stars.

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Thursday, January 19, 2017

Review: Whispers from the Abyss

Whispers from the Abyss Whispers from the Abyss by Kat Rocha
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Whispers from the Abyss is a collection of 33 tales inspired by the works of H.P. Lovecraft.

When Kat Rocha hit me up on twitter about Whispers of the Abyss 2, I checked out the lineup and plunked down my money, receiving this one as well in the bargain.

It seems everyone and their Deep One cousin puts out a Lovecraftian anthology these days. The thing that separates Whispers from the Abyss from the squamous pack is that the tales are pretty short, 2-10 pages, designed to be swallowed whole in a single sitting.

The subject matter and tone of the works are all over the spectrum, from dryly hilarious to chilling. Some of the stories were a little too short and needed a little more room to breath but I knew that going in. The presentation was top notch.

Like all anthologies, the stories vary in quality. A couple didn't do much for me but the collection as a whole was above average. Standouts include Fear and Loathing in Innsmouth, My Friend Fishfinger by Daisy, Age 7, The Substance in the Sound, and The Decorative Water Feature of Nameless Dread. Fear and Loathing in Innsmouth was by far my favorite tale of the collection. Much in the same vein as The Damned Highway, Dr. Gonzo heads to Innsmouth, looking for hints of Richard Nixon's corruption.

For today's reader on the go, Whispers from the Abyss is a great collection of scaly, tentacled horror. Four out of five stars.



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Monday, January 16, 2017

Review: Witching Hour Theatre

Witching Hour Theatre Witching Hour Theatre by Jonathan Janz
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Larry Wilson lives for the Witching Hour Theatre, the all-night horror triple feature at the Starlight Theatre. But will he escape with his life and sanity intact when the horror becomes all too real?

After Children of the Dark, I knew I had to read more Jonathan Janz. This one was only nintey-nine cents and I'm a cheap bastard.

Witching Hour Theatre is a retooling of Jonathan Janz' first published work, a chapbook published under his real name. While there's a Richard Laymon feel to things, it's clear young Janz knew what he was doing, even back then.

The story is pretty simple. During a horror movie marathon, the crowd starts thinning out and it's soon clear something sinister is happening. Larry Wilson, horror movie fan and sub-average Joe, has to deal with something far beyond his experience. And a lot of people get hacked to squishy bits.

After being thoroughly impressed by Children of the Dark, it was interesting to see Janz' work in its more or less embryonic form. All the things I like about his work are present, some hidden beneath a fine layer of gore. I liked Larry quite a bit, having much more in common with him than the action heroes that populate a lot of books. The ordeal he went through was brutal yet believable. Oddly enough, the afterword may have been my favorite part, talking about Janz' road to publication and his love for Stephen King.

Witching Hour Theatre is a fun, suspenseful gorefest, the written equivalent of a slasher flick. 3.5 out of 5 stars.

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Sunday, January 15, 2017

Review: Heroes of Red Hook

Heroes of Red Hook Heroes of Red Hook by Brian M. Sammons
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Heroes of Red Hook is a collection of Lovecraftian tales starring men and women of color, LGBT people, and other people spurned by society in the 1920's.

I contributed to the Kickstarter for this so it was high time I read it. Heroes of Red Hook contains eighteen tales, ranging from average to exceptional. Unlike a lot of collections of this type, I didn't consider a single one to be a dud.

It started a little rocky, though. Out of the first four, only two contained elements of cosmic horror. However, things soon kicked into high gear.

The tales featured a wide range of Lovecraftian elements, though Shub Niggurath, Dark Goat of the Woods with a Thousand Young, made more than its fair share of appearances. Quite a few of the tales feature characters that welcome revisiting.

Standouts of the collection include Beyond the Black Arcade by Edward Erdelac, The Backwards Man by Tim Waggoner, Hungry Ghosts by Cody Goodfellow, and Men and Women by Oscar Rios.

Heroes of Red Hook is a very well produced anthology of Lovecraftian tales, in content, theme, and presentation. If you're looking for a compelling anthology of cosmic horror, this one shouldn't be missed. Four out of five stars.

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Friday, January 13, 2017

Review: The Cthulhu Mythos Encyclopedia

The Cthulhu Mythos Encyclopedia The Cthulhu Mythos Encyclopedia by Daniel Harms
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Cthulhu Mythos Encyclopedia is a reference book detailing the works of HP Lovecraft and his contemporaries, as well as those influenced by them in the ensuing decades, relating to the Cthulhu mythos.

I've been on the periphery of Lovecraftian fandom for a couple decades, starting with Black Seas of Infinity: The Best of H.P. Lovecraft. With the amount of material out there, it's hard to know where to start. With this book, I finally feel like I have a guide.

The Cthulhu Mythos Encyclopedia is an exhaustive exploration of the Cthulhu mythos, detailing such mythos staples as Cthulhu, Nyarlathotep, and Randolph Carter, to tangently related characters like Conan, to later derivative works like Titus Crow. Throw in creatures like the Nightgaunts and books like the Book of Eibon, and you've got a ton of material to digest.

The best part is sources are mentioned. If you want to know where the information from the Dagon entry comes from, the book has you covered. If you want to know where The Blasted Heath is mentioned, ditto.

This book has quite a bit of depth and there must have been a staggering amount of research going into it. What other reference book has multiple origins of Abdul Alhazred, the mad Arab who penned the Necronomicon and the origin of the word Tekeli-Li?

The Cthulhu Mythos Encyclopedia isn't really a book you want to read from cover to cover. However, if you don't know Fthaggua from the Fungi from Yuggoth, you'll find this invaluable. Four out of five Fhtagn stars.

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Thursday, January 12, 2017

Review: Champion of the World

Champion of the World Champion of the World by Chad Dundas
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Disgraced former lightweight champion Pepper Van Dean has just parted ways with the carnival in a violent fashion when he's approached by Fritz Mundt, another former wrestler. Mundt's offer, training Garfield Taft for a shot at the world champion, Strangler Lesko, is too hard to pass up. Can Pepper claw his way back to the big time as Garfield Taft's trainer?

As I've said in other reviews, I've been a fan of pro wrestling off and on for most of my life. When a coworker recommended this, I eventually threw it on the pile. Hell, there aren't many novels about pro wrestling that I can think of other than Hoodtown.

Champion of the World takes place in the roarin' 20s, the golden age of pro wrestling. Frank Gotch has just retired and wrestling is on the down swing. Garfield Taft is fresh out of jail and has a big chance to win the title from Strangler Lesko. Pepper, his wife in tow, heads to Montana to train Taft. Things eventually go off the rails...

When the story starts, Pepper is working at a carnival for twenty five bucks a week, wrestling audience members and doing the hangman's drop, being hung by his neck ever night, saved only by his neck and back muscles. Crazy shit and that's just the beginning.

I'm not into historical novels or sports novels but I enjoyed Champion of the World quite a bit. While real wrestlers like Frank Gotch, Farmer Burns, the Zbyszkos, and others were mentioned, the characters are fictitious. Although I suspect Strangler Lesko was based on Strangler Lewis. And Fritz Mundt owes something to Toots Mondt. I could go on and on. I guess what I'm trying to say is that I love the way Dundas wove wrestling history into the tale.

Pepper's last shot at glory kept me interested in the book during the slow parts. As the truth behind Pepper's past, as well as Taft's, was revealed, the book became harder and harder to put down. The eventual respect between the grapplers was one of my favorite parts of the book.

The last 25% was pretty shocking. There was a swerve and things got a little crazy. I was a little disappointed by the ending but it was pretty much the only way it could go down.

For wrestling fans, particularly those of the golden age of wrestling, this one is not to be missed. Four out of five stars.

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Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Review: Russell Holbrook's The Water Babies

Russell Holbrook's The Water Babies Russell Holbrook's The Water Babies by Russell Holbrook
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Six teenagers go camping next to a bridge reputedly haunted by two mutant feral childern. Will any of them come back alive?

I had high hopes for this. It did not come close to meeting them.

The setup for this book was great. Civil war soldiers drown two kids after raping their mother and they haunt the scene of their death, killing and devouring anyone dumb enough to venture near at night. Sounds good, right?

Well, it wasn't. The book reads like a hybrid of gore horror and monster porn. The book didn't feel like it knew what it wanted to be. I was tired of the weird dream sequences after the first one.

The characters were pretty wooden and fairly unrealistic, like B-movie characters but not in a good or entertaining way. The story focused more on sex than horror. By the time the guy asked his girlfriend to pee on him, I was done expecting things to turn around and just waited for it to be over.

If this book wasn't so short, I wouldn't have finished it. As much as I hate to drop a negative review, the best things about this book were the cover and the initial setup. I think an editor could have focused the good ideas into something workable. Water Babies could have been a good gore horror story or a passable monster porn story. As it stands, it's kind of a damn mess. One out of five stars.

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Monday, January 9, 2017

Review: The Jersey Devil

The Jersey Devil The Jersey Devil by Hunter Shea
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When Jersey Devil sightings spike, Sam Willet and his family head to the New Jersey Pine Barrens for a reckoning sixty years in the making. With a cryptozoologist and a van full of firepower, will they be able to bring down the devil and live to tell the tale?

My young eyes first encountered the legend of the Jersey Devil in Monsters You Never Heard of sometime before the age of ten. I thought it was kind of lame and forgot about it until it was featured in an early X-Files episode. Anyway, since Hunter Shea is the bee's knees, I figured I'd give this one a shot when I saw the price dropped to ninety-nine cents. I'm cheap, what can I say.

The Jersey Devil is the story of Sam Willet and his family's axe to grind with the Jersey Devil, who terrorized Grandma Willet six decades earlier. Aided and abetted by a noted cryptozoologist, they walk into the Pine Barrens. Some of them even manage to hobble out.

This book is about as gentle as a trip to a slaughterhouse. Character after character are introduced, only to be fed through the Jersey meatgrinder once you feel something toward them. The body count is off the chart. The Devil's origins are explored and its mythology is expanded upon. And its many children go on a feeding frenzy...

I'd say this is the goriest Hunter Shea novel I've read yet and the threat of the Jersey Devil was probably the worst. After a while, I was just hoping one or more members of the Willet clan would survive.

The Jersey Devil is a gory good time, highly entertaining but definitely not for the squeamish. Four out of five stars.

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Thursday, January 5, 2017

Review: Atlas Obscura: An Explorer's Guide to the World's Hidden Wonders

Atlas Obscura: An Explorer's Guide to the World's Hidden Wonders Atlas Obscura: An Explorer's Guide to the World's Hidden Wonders by Joshua Foer
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Atlas Obscura is a guide to the world's strangest places.

I've been a fan of road trips almost as long as I've been an obscure facts nerd. This book combines the two in a fashion. I first came across it in an issue of mental_floss and was lucky enough to score a copy for Christmas.

Atlas Obscura has a lot of information on bizarre places around the world crammed into it's 400+ pages, from a penis museum in Iceland to a graveyard in northern Iran with penis-shaped tombstones, to other strange places that have little or nothing to do with penises, like pyramids in the northern part of Sudan or a baobob tree in South Africa with a bar inside. And that's even before America gets any coverage.

The book is organized by region for convenience. The photos in the book are really well done and most entries have one. There are footnotes containing other nearby oddities, which would be a great help if someone was planning an Oddity Odyssey. Some of the articles are on the Atlas Obscura website but many are just for the book.

I could spend paragraph after paragraph rattling off interesting bits from the book but it's best experienced for yourself. This book makes me want to take a drive from the cryptozoology museum in Maine to the ruins of Fordlandia in the Amazon. Four out of five stars.

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