Wednesday, December 22, 2021

Blood and Fire: The Unbelievable Real-Life Story of Wrestling's Original Sheik

Blood and Fire: The Unbelievable Real-Life Story of Wrestling's Original SheikBlood and Fire: The Unbelievable Real-Life Story of Wrestling's Original Sheik by Brian R Solomon
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Blood and Fire: The Unbelievable Real-Life Story of Wrestling's Original Sheik is the biography of Ed Farhat, aka The Sheik.

I was planning on getting this anyway since The Sheik is a legendary figure in the wrestling business but ECW Press hit me up for an ARC.

The book chronicles The Sheik's life, from his birth through his fifty year career and finally to his death and legacy. Most of my exposure to The Sheik was in my dad's collection of 1970s wrestling magazines and stories in other wrestlers' books so most of it was new to me.

Without going into too much detail, The Sheik's story is like a lot of other wrestlers' from his era. Humble beginnings, eventual stardom, owning a territory, and having it all come crashing down. Still, the book was loaded with interesting information. A lot of time is spent on the inner workings of the Detroit territory and the Sheik's forays into other territories, both in his prime and much, much later.

I found the evolution of the Sheik's character to be interesting, as well as his devotion to kayfabe, being in character most of the time. It's awesome that his grandkids called him Grandpa Sheik.

The later chapters of the book are sad and frustrating. The Sheik ran his Detroit territory into the ground by featuring himself on top for decades and holding down anyone who might threaten his spot. Once the territory started hemorrhaging money, The Sheik and his long suffering wife lost everything and the Sheik had to wrestle decades longer than he should have just to keep the lights on, even doing death matches in Japan when he was pushing 70. The Sheik training Sabu and Rob Van Dam was one of the few bright spots in the later chapters of the book, the Sheik giving something back to the wrestling business while he still could.

Blood and Fire is a great look behind the curtain of the Detroit Territory and the life of The Sheik. Five out of five foreign objects.

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Sunday, October 10, 2021

The Fisherman

The FishermanThe Fisherman by John Langan
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

When Abe's wife dies of cancer, he finds solace in fishing. Soon, he's joined by Dan, another widower. Together, the two men head for Dutchman's Creek. But why are locals afraid to talk about the creek and who or what is The Fisherman?

I've had this on my kindle for untold aeons but I finally found time to read it over the past few days. I wish I would have read it years ago because it is fantastic.

The framing sequence, Abe's tale, is written in a long winded, folksy kind of style. Abe relates his life and what drew him to fishing in the first place. It wasn't super interesting but had enough tantalizing tidbits to make me hang on for what I suspected was to come.

Most of The Fisherman is the story of what befell Dutchman's creek, as told to Abe and Dan by one of the locals. It's a great piece of horror/weird/dark fiction, reminding me of Lovecraft and his contemporaries or modern authors like Laird Barron: Sinister men of magic, fish-like things, cyclopean beasts, and worlds separated from ours by uncomfortably thin boundaries.

Once the story of Rainier and company started picking up steam, I had a feeling how things would tie back into the main tale and I was right. I read a great big chunk of the book while waiting for a tire to be repaired and I couldn't understand how everyone could be sitting around chitchatting while serious shit was going down.

The ending, while a little long-winded for my taste, put a nice capstone on everything. There's really nothing I can think of to complain about with The Fisherman. It's one of those books that felt like it was written with my tastes in mind. I hate to hand out too many five star reviews but it is what it is.

The Fisherman was a fantastic book I wish I'd read years earlier. Five out of five stars.

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Tuesday, October 5, 2021

Cold Moon Over Babylon

Cold Moon Over BabylonCold Moon Over Babylon by Michael McDowell
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

After their parents die, Jerry and Margaret Larkin grow up with their grandma Evelyn Larkin on the Larkin blueberry farm. When tragedy strikes, can Jerry and Evelyn unearth the culprit and bring him to justice?

I've been a Michael McDowell fan since reading Blackwater a few years ago. I bought this some time in the dim past and finally had time to focus on it.

This is some great shit, not to put too fine a point on it. Michael McDowell's southern horror tales do not disappoint and this is no exception. The Larkins have tragedy written all over them after the first chapter, when the parents are killed by finding a sack of rattlesnakes in the river. Fast forward to a dying blueberry farm, late mortgage payments, and a maniac in a gimp mask brutally killing someone and it's one hard book to put down.

I'm going to dance around the particulars of the plot. McDowell captures that edgy, "what was that noise outside" feeling of creeping dread very well. There are some huge surprises and the horror is a slow burn to a satisfying climax. I don't usually bug my wife with details about what I'm reading but she heard all about this one.

Cold Moon Over Babylon did not surpass Blackwater but is easily my #2 Michael McDowell book. Five out of five stars.

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Tuesday, September 28, 2021


KatieKatie by Michael McDowell
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When Philo Drax goes to care for her aging grandfather, she quickly winds up accused of his murder...

Michael McDowell is one of my favorite horror writers from the last forty-something years. My wife got this for me sometime after our son was born and I managed to find time to read it over the past couple weeks.

Written in a style reminiscent of his work on Blackwater, Katie isn't a horror novel as much as suspense with a heaping helping of tragedy porn. Every time things seem to be going her way, her cousin Katie and her parents, the Slapes, show up like a zit on school picture day. Philo loses what money she has and has relatives and friends murdered every time her paths cross with the Slapes, especially the hammer wielding fortune teller Katie.

The book is written in short chapters with frequent reversals of fortune, making it hard to put down but not without a sense of mounting dread. There were several parts when things were brightening up for Philo that I felt myself bracing for the eventual kick in the balls.

I thought it would be akin to a religious experience when the bad guys met their fates. While not that powerful, it was quite satisfying.

While Katie wasn't my favorite Michael McDowell book, I still enjoyed it quite a bit. Four out of five stars.

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Saturday, September 18, 2021

Tales from a Dirt Road

Tales From A Dirt RoadTales From A Dirt Road by Dutch Mantell
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Tales From a Dirt Road is the second book by Dirty Dutch Mantell, wrestler, manager, and pro wrestling booker.

The Dirty Dutchman is back with another collection of tales. Dutch's tales cover various points in his career, from working Mid-South with Jerry Lawler to his stint in the WWF to working with Jeff Jarrett and Vince Russo in TNA and various points in between.

Dutch's sense of humor pushes this book above the level of most wrestling books. He's a natural storyteller and peppers the book with humorous similes and one-liners.

Without giving too much away, Dutch spins some memorable yarns, like a road trip with Sid and the Iron Sheik while working for WCW, wrestling outside at a car dealership in 100 degree heat, and a secondhand tale about Ricky Morton's marriage being destroyed in real time by Tully Blanchard on an episode of the 700 Club. He also gives some insight on what it was like working with the WWF while The Clique was running things backstage, complete with Ron Harris threatening Shawn Michaels.

I'd intended to space this out over an entire weekend but here it is Saturday morning and I'm finished after reading most of it yesterday evening. Like I said, Dutch is a master storyteller.

Tales from a Dirt Road is a gripping, hilarious read. Four out of five stars. Where's that third book, Dutch?

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Thursday, September 16, 2021

The Land Below

The Land Below (The Land Below #1)The Land Below by William Meikle
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When two brothers, an old soldier, and a local shepherd descent into a cave system looking for treasure, they find... trouble!

William Meikle is a reliable horror writer and when I saw this on the heels of reading Return to the Lost Level, I had to pick it up.

I described The Land Below to my wife as "Journey to the Center of the Earth as a horror novel" and I think that's accurate. While there's still a sense of wonder ala Jules Verne, there's far more mounting dread and desperation.

The book is a short one but it's a desperate tale of survival in a system of strange caverns below the earth's surface with natural hazards and monsters. There are quite a few "Oh shit!" moments and I wolfed it down in two sittings.

When Ed hires Danny to guard he and Tommy on their expedition to find the lost treasure of the Teutonic Knights in a hidden cave in Austria, I assumed Danny and Tommy would be fighting the whole time. I didn't expect them to meet Stefan and Elsa, the shepherd and his dog, and while I knew things would quickly go pear shaped, it didn't unfold quite like I thought.

The Land Below is a Lost World horror novella. Four out of five stars.

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Tuesday, September 14, 2021

Return to the Lost Level

Return to the Lost LevelReturn to the Lost Level by Brian Keene
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

When Kasheena is kidnapped by the snake men along with most of the tribe, Aaron Pace and the survivors go looking for her. Can Pace and company survive the hazards of the Lost Level long enough to find his lady love?

I enjoyed The Lost Level but apparently not enough for me to not let six years elapse before I picked up the second book in the series.

Return to the Lost Level is a found manuscript book, written by Aaron Pace at some future date. As such, some of the sense of jeopardy is lost. Still, when every damn thing in the jungle wants to kill the heroes, you know there will be casualties.

Pace and company fight dinosaurs and carnivorous plants before taking on the snake men I mentioned earlier. Aside from some hints at Keene's Labyrinth mythos, that's pretty much the book. Pace is a capable hero, as befits the protagonist of a Lost World type of book. It was a fun adventure and an engaging read but it was kind of linear for my taste.

Three out of five stars. I'll read future Aaron Pace books but they're not a priority.

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