Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Review: We Sold Our Souls

We Sold Our Souls We Sold Our Souls by Grady Hendrix
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In the 1990s, Kris Pulaski was the guitar player in a metal band called Dürt Würk. Now, she's broke and working the desk at Best Western. When one of her old bandmates announces the farewell tour of Koffin, his new band, Kris goes looking for some payback...

I'm a huge fan of Paperbacks from Hell and I liked My Best Friend's Exorcism so my interest was picqued. Fortunately, I won a Goodreads giveaway for this book a few weeks ago.

We Sold Our Souls is told in two parallel tracks: the wreckage of Kris' life and her days as a rocker. There's also the side story of Melanie Guttierez, a girl who wants to get to Vegas to see Koffin at any cost, but Kris is the star of the show.

Anyway, as Kris tracks down her old bandmates, she's forced to explore that fateful night, decades before, when Terry Hunt and his creepy new manager put some sinister contracts in front of the members of Dürt Würk.

We Sold Our Souls is part metal, part road book, and part horror. There were some frantic moments and one of the most claustrophobic scenes I've read. I had to stop for a few minutes and burden my wife with it. Lots of crazy, gruesome, unsettling shit happens.

For most of the book, I was planning on giving this five stars but I thought there were a few too many unanswered questions at the end. The ending was satisfying but felt like it was missing something just the same, like when you don't have any bay leaves and decide to make the soup anyway.

Not to hijack the review but I found myself comparing We Sold Our Souls to Todd Keisling's The Final Reconciliation quite a bit. For my money, The Final Reconciliation was the better music-themed horror novel.

At the end of the day, We Sold Our Souls was one hell of a great read. Four out of five stars.

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Thursday, December 6, 2018

Review: The Giver

The Giver The Giver by Lois Lowry
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Jonas' world seems like a utopia of peace and harmony with little conflict and everyone doing their job. That is, until Jonas is selected to be the new Receiver of Memories and learns utopia isn't all it's cracked up to be...

Once upon a time, sometime in the nebulous nineties when the only things I read were Star Wars and Anne Rice, my brother was assigned to read this in school. My mom read it after him and assigned it to me. Now, years later, my wife and I read it together. It still holds up.

The world Jonas lives in is one largely free of choices and free of strong emotions. People are assigned jobs, assigned families, and largely assigned lives. No one remembers the past or even realizes they're being denied freedom by no being able to decide things for themselves. No one except The Receiver of Memories, that is. As Jonas studies under the previous Receiver of Memories, the titular Giver, he sees all the things lurking under the surface of his perfect world.

I don't know much about Lois Lowry's influences but I see some Brave New World in this book's lineage with a dash of Handmaid's Tale. It's written as a YA book but I was an adult both times I read and enjoyed it. The book explores such themes as family, the value of choice, the importance of history, the dangers of blind conformity, and things of that nature. It's also a great story.

Two decades after I first read it, The Giver is still a great read. Once my wife recovers, we'll probably attack the other books set in the same world. 5 out of 5 stars.

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Friday, November 30, 2018

Review: Summer of Night

Summer of Night Summer of Night by Dan Simmons
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

When Tubby Cooke goes missing on the last day of sixth grade, Mike O'Rourke and his friends, the Bike Patrol, go looking and stumble upon Elm Haven's secret history of missing children and a turn of the century lynching. But what do those things have do with mysterious holes in the ground and a strange soldier stalking Mike's invalid grandmother?

While I loved the Hyperion and Joe Kurtz books, Dan Simmons has been hit or miss for me. This was definitely a hit.

Honestly, the first chapter almost made me throw it back on the pile. It's overwritten as hell and I was afraid the rest of the book would be suffering from the same malady. While there was some excessive wordiness, Summer of Night quickly clamped on to me like a lamprey.

Set in the summer of 1960, the summer after the end of sixth grade for most of the boys, Mike and friends get caught up in a mystery, a mystery that may or may not be be linked to a lynching at the turn of the century. Wait, a small town with a history of missing kids? Haven't I read this before?

Yes. Summer of Night has a lot in common with Stephen King's It but I found it more focused and it also had 100% less underage gang-bangs than It. People who've read It know what I'm talking about. Anyway, Simmons had me nostalgic for my childhood summer vacations, when summer lasted a hundred years and days could be spent exploring the woods, reading, or whatever the hell else you wanted to do.

The writing kept me enthralled and the boys rang true to me, even though they didn't swear nearly as much as the twelve year olds I knew did. Cordie Cooke wound up being my favorite of the supporting cast. Duane, chubby farm kid, and Lawrence, the fearless tagalong little brother, were my favorites overall, though the book was Mike's story for the second half.

The horror aspect was very well done, something I didn't suspect from Simmons. Some of it was in the realistic vein, like claustrophobia, or having a truck or dog bear down on you. The supernatural horror was also nicely executed but I'm not going to spoil anything.

That's about all I want reveal. I can't recommend this enough for horror fans. Coming of age horror is my favorite kind of horror and Summer of Night is now at the top of the pantheon, surpassing both It and Boy's Life. Five out of five stars.

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Sunday, November 25, 2018

Review: The Last

The LastThe Last by Hanna Jameson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Jon Keller is in Switzerland, half a world away from his family, when Washington DC and a lot of other cities get nuked. Now, stranded in a hotel with dozens of strangers, cut off from the internet, wondering if his family is still alive, Jon and others find a girl's body in one of the hotel's water tanks...

My man Easy E was bragging about how great this book was on Twitter months ago and I added it to my Netgalley wish list. Eventually, I was invited to read it and I read it on a single dreary Sunday. It was gripping, to say the least.

In a way, The Last reminds me of The Last Policeman. While the world is crumbling, one man has a mystery to solve, a mystery not a lot of other people seem to care about. In other ways, it reminds me of The Stand, a story of people surviving in the ruins of civilization. In all ways, it was one hell of a book.

I was surprised at how enthralled I was with the book. Hanna Jameson does a great job at building suspense and sewing some misdirection. Her characters were surprisingly rich. It would have been easy to go with stock characters in a story like this but Jon, Tomi, Dylan, and the rest were a complex bunch. Even Peter had his hidden dimensions. The book had a paranoid feel at times, like anyone at the hotel could have been the killer, and that anyone could be hiding in the vast but nearly vacant hotel.

I don't really want to reveal anything else. The Last combines my favorite things about post-apocalyptic fiction and mystery fiction. I can't recommend it enough. Five out of five stars.

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Sunday, November 18, 2018

Review: Final Girls

Final Girls Final Girls by Riley Sager
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Years ago, Quincy Carpenter became a Final Girl when she was the lone survivor of the Pine Cottage massacre. When one Final Girl is found dead and another shows up on Quincy's doorstep, she's forced to confront who she's become in the wake of the killings and what really happened at the Pine Cottage...

This is one of those hyped books that I resisted until it went on sale for $2.99. While I scored it highly, I'm not sure if the hype is deserved.

Quinn runs a baking blog when the story begins. Things quickly go south, however, when Lisa Milner winds up dead and Samantha Boyd shows up at her door. Sam takes Quinn on an odyssey of self discovery and self destruction until Quinn sees that she might not be everything she claims.

This was a gripping page turner. I read 75% of it on a gloomy Sunday morning, only moving to go to the can and to get something to drink. It's told in alternating threads, Quinn at the time of the massacre and Quinn today. The shifts were perfectly timed to build the suspense.

While I enjoyed the shit out of this, it was in no way perfect. Like a lot of overly hyped thrillers, it suffered from "too few characters" syndrome. When you only have four major characters and one of them is acting in an overly obvious fashion, it's not hard to piece together what is actually happening.

Even with its flaws, Final Girls was a very enjoyable thriller. Four out of five stars.

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Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Bang Up: A Filthy Comedic Thriller

Bang Up: A Filthy Comedic ThrillerBang Up: A Filthy Comedic Thriller by Jeff Strand
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

When Ralph pays Kirk to have sex with his wife in order to drive her back to him, he didn't count on Kirk getting infatuated with her. And he certainly didn't think he'd have to pay another man to kill Kirk...

On the heels of reading Sick House, Kelly told me about this book and leaned on me to read it. One night not long after, I split a bottle of sake with my wife and this book was mysteriously on my kindle the next morning so I had no choice but to read it.

Bang Up is that ages old story: guy can't get it up unless his wife wears a puppet on her hand, guy suspects wife of wanting to cheat on him and hires another man to have disappointing sex with her to drive her back to him, sexy time ensues. Haven't we all read that one before?

Seriously, though, this is some good shit right here. Jeff Strand tells a hilarious story of infidelity gone wrong, complete with discussions on whether or not three people constitutes an orgy and uncomfortable small talk during the intermission of a three-way.

I don't want to spoil too much. The filth is filthy, the humor is humorous, and I can't blame Ralph for getting all riled up. Suffice to say, this one is possibly, POSSIBLY, tied with Kumquat as my favorite Jeff Strand book.

The subtitle "A Filthy Comedic Thriller" is an apt one. I can't think of a book that better encompasses those things. Five out of five stars.

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Friday, November 9, 2018

Sick House

Sick HouseSick House by Jeff Strand
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When Boyd Gardener gets a job in another town, he moves into a rental property with his wife and their two daughters. Odd things start happening, like food spoiling, and people getting ill. But there are far worse things in store for the Gardener family inside... THE SICK HOUSE!

I'm a big Jeff Strand fan and I finally pulled the trigger on buying this a couple weeks ago. I'm glad I did.

Sick House is told in two threads, that of three men hired to kill an old woman and Boyd Gardener and his family. It wasn't all that apparent just how the threads would intersect at first.

After Cyclops Road and Blister, I think I let my guard down a little. I won't make that mistake again. Jeff Strand spends the early portion of the book introducing Boyd and his family. Once you get to know them and like them, he unleashes the bad shit upon them. There's a lot more blood and gore in this than from a lot of Jeff Strand's recent books. There were times I didn't think any of the Gardeners would survive.

That's about all I want to reveal. It was an exciting haunted house tale, a type of horror that typically goes for the slow burn. Sick House was like having someone hold your hand to the burner of a stove. Once they turn the burner on, it's only a matter of seconds before you're smelling roasted skin. While I don't put this on the level of Kumquat, my favorite Strand book, it's definitely up there. 4 out of 5 stars.

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