Friday, September 22, 2017

Review: Gorel and the Pot Bellied God

Gorel and the Pot Bellied God Gorel and the Pot Bellied God by Lavie Tidhar
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

On his quest to find his homeland, Goliris, Gorel the gunslinger goes to Falang-Et to find a magic mirror. Will he find the way home or death?

I've read a few Lavie Tidhar books before, A Man Lies Dreaming being my favorite. When I saw this "guns and sorcery" novella on Amazon, I broke my $2.99 ebook ceiling to buy it. It was worth it.

Gorel and the Pot Bellied God is a fantasy tale, owing quite a bit to the works of Fritz Leiber, and to a lesser extect Michael Moorcock and Jack Vance. Gorel is a gun-toting, drug-addicted mercenary in a fantasy world populated by all sorts of intelligent humanoid creatures, most of which Gorel has sex with at some point in the story. You heard. This is like the classic swords and sorcery tales, only with sex, drugs, and guns.

A lot of Gorel's background is mysterious but he had contact with a goddess at some point in the past, leaving him addicted to a drug called god dust. It's also not clear on how far away Goliris is, if it's on the same planet or even in the same dimension. That being said, Gorel is a fun character, conflicted, horny, and violent.

The core of the story draws from the fairy tale of the Princess and the Frog, only in this version, they have hundreds upon hundreds of human-frog hybrid babies, the Falang. Gorel heads into Falang-Et along the way, acquiring companions, killing things, and having inter-species sex.

The ending is bittersweet but Gorel isn't giving up on his quest. Good thing, since I want to read more of his adventures. Four out of five stars.

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Thursday, September 21, 2017

Review: Man with No Name

Man with No Name Man with No Name by Laird Barron
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Heron clan of the Yakuza is tasked with abducting Muzaki, a former professional wrestler. However, Nanashi, loyal member of the Heron and a man with a mysterious past, has his doubts. And Muzaki might have just the answer for him...

On the heels of The Croning, nothing but another Laird Barron book would do. Fortunately, I already had this one on my kindle.

Man with No Name is part noir, part cosmic horror with emphasis on the noir. In fact, it's mostly a crime book until Muzaki's true nature comes to light. It's also an action-packed bloodbath ones things go pear-shaped and Muzaki tells Nanashi how things are. The unspeakable horror and the nature of time seem to be hallmarks of Barron's, a plus in my book.

The prose was great, just as it was in The Croning, full of colorful similes and metaphors. I highlighted quite a bit but I could have easily highlighted most of the novella. There was also quite a bit of dark humor. This would be a fantastic movie.

The bonus novella, Blood and Stardust, was also quite good, though I wish the space would have been devoted to the main tale.

My sophomore experience with Laird Barron was almost as satisfying as the first and I can't wait to read more. 4.5 out of 5 stars.





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Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Review: The Croning

The Croning The Croning by Laird Barron
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Don Miller has been married to his wife Michelle for 60 years and has been in the dark as to what goes on on her mysterious trips most of the time, beginning with a trip of theirs to Mexico decades ago that saw him beaten, scared, and out of his mind. What has she really been up to all these years and will Don survive the knowledge if he ever uncovers it?

Benoit Lelièvre of Dead End Follies has been singing the praises of Laird Barron for the last couple years. When this popped up on the cheap, I couldn't say no.

While I heard Laird Barron wrote cosmic horror, I immediately thought he'd be mining the H.P. Lovecraft vein, Cthulhu, shoggoths, and such. I was wrong. The vein he's working is all his own.

I had no idea what to expect with The Croning. It started with a very dark retelling of Rumpelstiltskin. At first, I was scratching my head but the book does a great job of establishing the Children of Old Leech as something that's been on earth a while. It also does some foreshadowing of events yet to come in the main tale.

The main tale tells of an ill-fated jaunt to Mexico that was Don's first brush with the horrors that lurk in the shadows. From there, it bounces back and forth between Don in his middle age to Don as an octogenarian, with Don walking the line between normalcy and sanity-blasting cosmic horror the entire time. When Don figures out what his wife's anthropology trips are really all about, it's far, far, far too late.

The odd structure does a lot to let the reader experience a lot of the disorientation Don normally feels. He's forgetful in the extreme and kind of a doormat. Although, being a doormat is probably the best one can hope for after sanity-testing revelations in a cave in Mexico. For my money, Old Leech and his children are more horrifying than Cthulhu ever as been. Earth is already in their clutches and it's only a matter of time.

Laird Barron's writing has a poetic flourish to it. I highlighted quite a few quotable lines on my kindle. He definitely a pulp author with a poet's heart, like Raymond Chandler or Robert E. Howard at times.

What else is there to say? The writing was fantastic, the story was compelling, and the horrors were horrifying. I'm glad I have a few more Barron books on my kindle. Five out of five stars.




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Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Review: The Hole

The Hole The Hole by William Meikle
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A strange hum coming from underground gives everyone in town nosebleeds. Then massive sinkholes open all over town. When the survivors are barred from leaving town by armed soldiers, things go to worse. Can the intrepid band of survivors figure out what's causing everything and get out of town alive?

William Meikle is one of my go-to guys when I need a well-written horror fix. While this wasn't one of my favorite Meikle books, it was still a lot of fun.

The Hole is the story of a collapsing town and the townspeople trying to overcome the horrors that lie beneath, as well as the everyday horror of the army not letting anyone leave town. I guess "disaster horror" is a good way to describe it. It's hard to not read it while imagining it as a disaster movie. Since the threat came from underground and the setting was a remote small town, I kept thinking about Tremors, although that's where the similarities end.

The characters are about what you'd expect. You get the small town sheriff, the town doctor, the town drunks, and various others. The body count is very high and the nature of the threat is moving target. Sinkholes, the nosebleed-inducing hum, and the things from below.

The pacing on The Hole was great. There was never a dull moment and no filler. One thing about William Meikle I love is that I've never come away from one of his books thinking "That was as bloated as a week old corpse. It could have lost 100 pages easily." The writing never overstays its welcome and had quite a few lines I highlighted on my Kindle.

It wasn't fantastic, though. The characters were on the thin side and while the story takes place in the United States, I caught a lot of British-sounding phrases in it, like it was originally written to take place in England but was hastily rewritten for the American market.

All things considers, The Hole was a fun read and I eagerly await my next William Meikle reading experience. 3.5 out of 5 stars.

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Monday, September 18, 2017

Review: Dweller

Dweller Dweller by Jeff Strand
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

An awkward eight year old boy named Toby sees a Bigfoot-like creature in the woods one day, starting a friendship that lasts a lifetime...

I've been a fan of Jeff Strand's and a cheap ass for a long time so I snapped this up for the princely sum of ninety-nine cents one day. It's not as polished as his later works but still quite enjoyable. It features a lot of what I loved in later works like Kumquat.

Dweller is a coming of age tale about an outcast boy and his friendship with a flesh-eating monster that lives in the forest behind his house. Their friendship weathers death, age, death, alcoholism, death, and death. There's also some death...

Yeah, this is as dysfunctional a tale as I've ever read but it has some touching moments. Toby repeatedly puts Owen, the monster, ahead of everything else and repeatedly pays the price. Bullies and loved ones alike meat their fate in Owen's jaws and talons. There's a George R.R. Martin level of heart-breaking killings in this, interspersed with humor and some great character moments.

Jeff Strand is one of my go-to guys and this book is a great example of his blend of humor and horror. Three out of five stars.

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Sunday, September 17, 2017

Review: The Breakdown

The Breakdown The Breakdown by B.A. Paris
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Cassandra takes a remote road home from a party one rainy night and sees a car broken down along the road. She doesn't stop for long and continues on her way, only to find out the next morning that the woman was murdered. Her mental state slowly unravels and it appears she's inherited her mother's early onset dementia. Or has she...

I keep seeing BA Paris everywhere so I snapped this up when it went on sale for ninety-nine cents. I wouldn't mind having my dollar back.

I don't know what I was expecting but it wasn't this. A woman may or may not be going off the deep end. That's pretty much it. The murder that happened close by pretty much fades into the background until the very end.

Tedious is the best word to describe this book. I found it incredibly tedious. It was a short read but the hours I spent reading it felt more like a week. I found Cassie more annoying than sympathetic and since the book only had three prominent characters, Cassie included, I had a pretty good idea of what was going on fairly early in the proceedings. After that, I was waiting for Cassie to catch up.

The wrap up came out of left field. It was at that point I interrupted my wife's Harry Potter reading to run down the story.

She said "Is that a short story?"
I said "No, it's a whole goddamn book."

That's the point I've been driving toward. I don't the setup had the juice to go novel length. It was engaging enough to finish but I have no fond memories of the time we spent together. Two out of five stars.

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Saturday, September 16, 2017

Review: Chills

Chills Chills by Mary SanGiovanni
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

A blizzard in late May is the least of the town of Colby's problems. A string of cult murders points to a cult bent on opening a gate to another world and it's up to a group of homicide detectives to stop them...

Yeah, it may have been a case of wrong book, wrong time, or the fact that I just finished After the End of the World, a book with some similarities to this one, but I never really grabbed on to Chills.

The blurb describes this as "True Detective meets HP Lovecraft," which really sparked my interest. However, the only resemblance to True Detective is that the book features detectives investigating some cult murders and there's nothing particularly Lovecraftian about it other than talk of creatures from the void.

The setup is pretty interesting. An east coast town is gripped in an unusually long winter and the cops are called in to investigate a cult murder. You've got Jack Glazier, a down and out divorced cop, Teagan, an Irish lady's man, and Kathy, an occult expert with a tortured past. The winning ingredients are all there. It was pretty much paint by numbers after that.

Maybe I've read too many detective and horror novels but there weren't a lot of surprises. After the novelty of monsters made of snow and ice wore off, it was all pretty standard. Not only that, some parts got on my nerves. The romance subplot was annoying and unnecessary and the characters did some illogical things to add some jeopardy to the end.

One thing that annoyed me more than it should have was that everyone casually knew what an anglerfish was. People kept describing one of the creatures as resembling an anglerfish and no one had to ask what an anglerfish was. I knew what one was but I hardly think what an anglerfish looks like is common knowledge. For the record, it looks like this:



I realize that's a lot of bitching so I have to note that I didn't actually hate the book. Some parts were scary and I liked the concept of the Hand of Black Stars cult. Jack and Kathy had interesting backgrounds and I wouldn't mind reading more about them. I did also like the creatures SanGiovanni introduced, like The Blue People and the various ice creatures. Mary SanGiovanni's writing was pretty sharp and I'm open to reading more from her. I just didn't particularly care for this book. Two out of five stars.

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Friday, September 15, 2017

Review: After the End of the World

After the End of the World After the End of the World by Jonathan L. Howard
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In the aftermath of the previous book, Dan Carter and Emily Lovecraft are struggling to fit into their new world when Dan gets an intriguing case that sees him going undercover as a security guard at Miskatonic University to investigate a joint German-American zero point energy experiment. But what does the mysterious Mr. Weston have to do with everything?

Carter & Lovecraft was one of my favorite books of 2015 so I've been dying to get my squamous tentacles on this ever since. Thank you, Netgalley!

Anyway, After the End of the World picks up where Carter and Lovecraft left off. Dan and Emily find themselves in a world where HPL's creatures are real and WWII didn't happen and the US and Germany are allies. Americans are a little too chummy with Nazis but that winds up being the least of Dan and Emily's problems.

Carter and Lovecraft have their hands full in this one, with Mr. Weston, Nazis, German cultists, the Necronomicon, and the prospect of figuring out how to undo the events of Carter and Lovecraft. The zero point energy project eventually sees them wind up on a remote island and that's where things really get cracking.

In the gulf not unlike the void between stars between the first book and this one, I'd forgotten how much I like these two characters. The banter between them is the star of the show for me. It's interesting that they're coping with the new status quo in different ways. I'd also forgotten just how slick Jonathan Howard's prose is at times.

I don't want to give away too much. Suffice to say, After the End of the World was just as good as Carter and Lovecraft and now I medically need to read the third installment. Four out of five stars.

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Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Review: The Fall of Hyperion

The Fall of Hyperion The Fall of Hyperion by Dan Simmons
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

As the pilgrims prepare to enter the Time Tombs, the war between the Ousters and the Hegemony is just hours from breaking out. Can they enter the Time Tombs quickly enough to prevent intergalactic war and the deaths of billions?

Here we are, the second half of the epic Dan Simmons started in Hyperion. Kassad, Brawne, and the other pilgrims introduced in the previous book meet their destinies. However, the bigger story is the war between the Hegemony and its enemies.

During my initial read, I didn't like this one as much as Hyperion, probably because it lacked the Canterbury Tales-like structure of the first book. However, I've softened upon the second read.

Using the dreams of Joseph Severin as a linking device, the story follows the actions of Hegemony CEO Meina Gladstone trying to avert war with the Ousters and frequently cuts to action on Hyperion. As the zero hour nears, the truth behind what is happening unfolds and it has wide reaching consequences.

I'm dancing around the actual events of the story to avoid spoilers but I can't imagine reading and enjoying Hyperion without devouring this one. People throw the word 'epic' around very lightly these days but Hyperion and Fall of Hyperion comprise an epic of galactic scope.

Gene Wolfe once said “My definition of good literature is that which can be read by an educated reader, and reread with increased pleasure.” Hyperion and Fall of Hyperion definitely fall into that category. The text of both books is peppered with literary references and lots of Christian symbolism, as well as thought provoking philosophical ideas. There's also a pro-environment message, as well as warnings of becoming too dependent on technology.

I get the feeling that Dan Simmons thought it might be his last big chance to show what he could do and he pulled out all the stops, combining heady science fiction concepts with things he gleaned from being an English major in college and years of teaching. I understood far more this time around but felt like there were still a lot of things I couldn't quite wrap my head around. I guess I'll schedule a reread for sometime in 2025. I hadn't planned on rereading the Endymion books but a reread of those is probably happening in 2018.

My second journey to the Time Tombs was even more rewarding than the first. Hyperion retains its place next to The Dark Tower as one of my favorite epics of all time. Five out of five stars.

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Sunday, September 10, 2017

Review: Hyperion

Hyperion Hyperion by Dan Simmons
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

On the eve of interstellar war between the Hegemony of Man and the barbarian Ousters over the fate of Hyperion, seven pilgrims embark on a journey to the Time Tombs and their mysterious protector, The Shrike, a three meter tall, four-armed monster covered with blades. One pilgrim will have his wish granted and the others will be impaled on the Shrike's Tree of Pain. Only one or more of the pilgrims isn't what he appears to be...

I first read Hyperion almost seven years ago as part of the The Hyperion Omnibus: Hyperion / The Fall of Hyperion. When I found the ebook on the cheap, I decided it was time for a reread.

Hyperion is an epic tale that's hard to quantify. Borrowing its structure from the Canterbury tales, Hyperion is a literary sf tour de force, encompassing much of what I love about reading in the first place. There are literary references, far away places with strange sounding names, three dimensional characters, and a universe that is anything but black and white. There is also artificial intelligence, faster than light travel, robots, lasers, and many other spectacular sf concoctions.

As I said before, Hyperion is really a multitude of tales in one. Seven people have been selected to go on what is possibly the final Shrike pilgrimage. Along the way, they tell their stories, stories which run the gamut of genre tales. There's romance, humor, action, adventure, sex, and violence, everything I love about genre fiction. Simmons really flexes his writing chops in this, from Martin Silenus' verbose tale of being a writer to Brawne Lamia's Raymond Chandler homage. World-building is often intrusive and wielded like a club but Simmons' world-building is more like a massage, doled out in bite-sized chunks during each of the characters' tales.

While the world-building is staggeringly interesting, it's the characters that really fuel this fire. A repentent soldier, a conflicted diplomat, an old man with a child aging in reverse, the captain of a treeship, a burden-carrying priest, a detective in love with a poet, and a poet in love with the past.

There isn't enough space to write down everything I loved about this book. The only gripe I have is that it ends abruptly once the Consul's tale is told and the real ending is in the second volume, The Fall of Hyperion. For my money, Hyperion stands alongside The Dark Tower as on of my favorite fantasy/sf works of all time.

I originally read this way back in 2011 and it was one of those wonderful books that eclipsed many of the books before it. On the second read, it still is. Five out of five stars.

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Saturday, September 9, 2017

Review: Little Boy Lost

Little Boy Lost Little Boy Lost by J.D. Trafford
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When a little girl walks into down and out St. Louis lawyer Justin Glass's office with a jar full of change, he has no choice but to take her case: find her missing brother. Unfortunately, the trail leads somewhere sinister...

Little Boy Lost is a legal thriller set in my back yard, St. Louis, Missouri. Trafford does a great job capturing the feel of St. Louis and there are a lot of details that give it additional authenticity. I loved that Justin won the Crown Candy Kitchen milkshake challenge in his youth.

Justin is a likeable but damaged lead, haunted by memories of his dead wife, caught in his father's and brother's political machinations. The case is fairly serpentine. Even though I knew the main suspect was a red herring, Trafford kept making me think he did it. Just who the hell is killing gang members anyway? I figured it out just a page or two before Justin did, almost when it was too late.

The side plots keep the book from becoming a formulaic thriller. Justin's relatives keep wanting to drag him into politics, his daughter is being bullied at school, and there are a few other things going on. Another thing the book has going for it is a surprisingly deep supporting cast for the first book in what is probably going to be a series: Schmitty the cop, Emma, Justin's way too capable paralegal, and the Bosnians working a the coffee shop up the road, Hermes and Nikolai.

Little Boy Lost is a good first book in what promises to be a great series. Four out of five stars.



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Saturday, September 2, 2017

Review: The Dark Half

The Dark Half The Dark Half by Stephen King
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When someone discovered literary writer Thad Beaumont was also crime writer George Stark and tried to blackmail him, Beaumont and his wife decided to go public and kill off George Stark themselves. But when the pseudonym takes on a life of his own and starts killing people connected to Thad, can anything stop him?

I read this sometime in that hazy dawn of time before Goodreads. Since we had a trip to Maine coming up, I decided to read it again.

The Dark Half is an underrated book. Thad Beaumont had a parasitic twin removed from inside his skull when he was 12. Since then, he's become a critically acclaimed literary writer and a blockbuster crime writer under the pseudonym George Stark, who goes on a murderous rampage when Thad kills him off.

This is one of those books where the main character is the least interesting one. Alan Pangborn is a great viewpoint character and a lot more interesting than Thad. He's a small town sheriff trying to do his job despite some crazy shit happening.

Basically, The Dark Half is Parker chasing down Donald Westlake. Since I've read all 23 Parker books Richard Stark wrote since the first time I read this, the reread was a much richer experience. I noticed some Richard Stark influence in the George Stark chapters. Also, I enjoyed the Creepshow reference, although I might have to check the timeline to see which one actually came first. "Call me Billie, everyone does!"

Aside from the psychopomp business with the sparrows and Stark falling apart, The Dark Half is pretty much a crime book. It doesn't feel nearly as long winded as some of King's books and the ending didn't suck for once. George Stark was a chilling villain and since I forgot the ending, I had no idea if Thad would live or not. Four out of five stars.

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