Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Barmy in Wonderland

Barmy in WonderlandBarmy in Wonderland by P.G. Wodehouse

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

In order to win the woman of his dreams, Cyril "Barmy" Fotheringay-Phipps invests ten thousand dollars into a stinker of a play to be close to her. Will he ever see any of his money back and win his woman's heart?

That P.G. Wodehouse is a sly one. Just as he managed to make golf interesting in The Clicking of Cutherbet, he managed to make me care about theater with Barmy in Wonderland.

Barmy in Wonderland features a few of the usual Wodehouse plot devices. You get the budding love between Barmy and Eileen "Dinty" Moore, the broken engagement between Mervyn Potter and his love, and hilarious drunken escapades featuring Potter and Phipps.

It's amazing how many interesting characters Wodehouse creates and then never uses again. To the best of my knowledge, Barmy, a member of the fabled Drones Club, is the only one who appears in other stories. It's a shame, too. Dinty Moore is strong female lead, like many of Wodehouse's women. Mervyn Potter, that hilarious drunken bastard, could have easily spawned stories on his own. I even enjoyed the two sleazy play producers, Lehman and McClure.

Oh, and I should mention my favorite line before I wrap this up: "She was so tight she could carry an armload of eels up five flights of stairs and not drop a single one."

As usual, everything works out in the end, as it normally does in Wodehouseland. The joy is in the journey, not the destination. While this one isn't my favorite Wodehouse, or even close, it's still hilarious and an easy three.

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Monday, December 26, 2011

Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs

Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs: A Low Culture ManifestoSex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs: A Low Culture Manifesto by Chuck Klosterman

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs: A Low Culture Manifesto is a collection of essays by Chuck Klosterman. It's also one of the rare books I'm not really sure how to review or even rate.

Chuck's essays cover such diverse topics as how the movies and TV are giving people unrealistic expectations about life and love, serial killers, the relationship between Reality Bites and The Empire Strikes Back, and that weird half season of Saved by the Bell that had that leather jacket wearing girl instead of Kelly and Jessie.

All of the essays within are peppered with Klosterman's insights and observations. Some of them are hilarious, like all women being in love with John Cusack and how the Lakers vs. The Celtics was really different social strata of Americans. Others feel a little too self-important to me, kind of like watching an interview with Quentin Tarantino and enjoying his movies slightly less the next time you watch them.

The back cover of my edition mentions Nick Hornby and Douglas Coupland, and I can understand the comparisons, but I've read a few books by comedians over the years and that's what this book reminds me of the most. Throw in a few "What is the deal with..."'s and you've got Seinlanguage.

That's about all I have to say. I liked it but if I was at the same party as Klosterman, I'd probably avoid him and hang out near the food and booze. I'll guess I'll give it a 3, the traditional safety rating.

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American Vampire Volume 1

American Vampire, Vol. 1American Vampire, Vol. 1 by Scott Snyder

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

American Vampire tells two tales: the origin and early days of American vampire Skinner Sweet in the dying days of the Old West, and the tragedy of aspiring actress Pearl Jones, who runs afoul of old world vampires in 1920's Los Angeles. How will their tales intersect?

Where do I start with this? I've never read Scott Snyder before but I loved his writing in this. Stephen King's was also really good, not surprising since he did write my favorite epic of all time, The Dark Tower. Rafael Albuquerque's artwork has come a long way since his days penciling Blue Beetle.

Scott Snyder is taking back vampires from the people who made them romantic fops. Vampires are murderous predators from beyond the grave and should be depicted as such! The vampires in American Vampire remind me of the vampires in I am Legend, Salem's Lot, and Garth Ennis's Preacher. They aren't pretty, don't fall in love with mortal girls, and love the taste of blood.

The two plots were both very interesting. While Skinner Sweet's story of carnage in the old west was good, I think I'd give the edge to the Snyder-penned tale of a Hollywood infested by vampires in the 1920's. I like the idea of different strains of vampirism based on genetics and such. It'll be interesting to see how this concept is explored in subsequent volumes.

I got American Vampire as a Christmas gift and it's pretty high in the Christmas gift ass-kicking hierarchy this year. It's an easy four stars if you like graphic novels and killer vampires.

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Thursday, December 22, 2011


Sacrifice (Burke, #6)Sacrifice by Andrew Vachss

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A gifted nine year old boy is a murderer that calls himself Satan's Child and it's up to Burke to find out how he got that way. Burke's also been tasked with finding a father and a missing baby. Can Burke find who he's looking for and set things right?

Right off the bat, Andrew Vachss is so bleak he makes James Ellroy look like Richard Simmons. The New York Burke lives in is a cesspool of pimps and pedophiles. Burke's a miserable loner but the men he goes up against make him look like a saint.

Sacrifice is one hell of a tale. Burke goes up against pedophiles, murderers, and gets into some heat with a voodoo cult. As usual, he's a survivor.

The thing that keeps me coming back to the Burke books is the setting and the supporting cast. New York is a member of the cast in Vachss's books and the supporting cast, Burke's family, are a well fleshed out bunch. I'm hoping Clarence and Belinda stick around for a few more books.

I don't really have any complaints. Vachss delivered the goods yet again. Now I'm going to go read something more uplifting.

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Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Ice in the Bedroom

Ice in the BedroomIce in the Bedroom by P.G. Wodehouse

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Freddie Widgeon needs money so he can invest in a coffee plantation and marry Sally Foster. Too bad Soapy Molloy swindled him out of his life savings. Soapy and his wife, Dolly, are looking to recover some jewelry they stole that's stashed in a country house, a country house currently occupied by Sally's employer, novelist Leila Yorke. Will Freddie be able to navigate the labyrinth of complications P.G. Wodehouse throws in his way and get the girl?

Ice in the Bedroom was written in P.G. Wodehouse's declining years but that doesn't mean it's not a great time. All the classic Wodehouse plot elements are here. We've got the jeopardized engagement between Freddie and Sally, imposters Soapy and Dolly Molloy, misunderstandings, lost loves, and a lot of dry British wit.

Leila Yorke, the novelist coming to idyllic Valley Fields to write a novel, is now one of my favorite Wodehouse characters, and I fear this is her only appearance. She's tough, ballsy, and isn't afraid to fire a shotgun. She also constantly says hilarious things, like "Pass me that champagne. Mustn't let it congeal." I'm also sad that Soapy and Dolly Molloy and their uneasy ally, seedy detective Chimp Twist, aren't in more of Wodehouse's books, although Chimp and the Molloys are in at least one other book whose name escapes me at the moment.

Freddie and Sally are the leading characters and are actually the characters I found the least interesting, since they are fairly typical for Wodehouse leads. He's not all that bright and she's a pretty tough cookie.

Like I said, there is a lot to like about Ice in the Bedroom. Wodehouse weaves a serpentine plot but everything comes together nicely at the end and it's a fun journey. I wouldn't start your Wodehouse experience with this book but it's definitely on par with a lot of his earlier works.

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Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Lepers and Mannequins

Lepers and MannequinsLepers and Mannequins by Eric Beeny

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The mannequins and the lepers are at war. It's too bad Quall, a leper, has fallen in love with Jaundice, a mannequin. Can their love conquer all or will they be destroyed?

Yeah, I may be risking my man card on this but my favorite bizarro stories seem to be the love stories. This one is a bizarro retelling of Romeo and Juliet. Only Romeo is a leper and Juliet is a mannequin.

Eric Beeny's writing is quite good, very good, in fact, considering this is his first novel. The story flowed very naturally and without any of those telltale first novel jitters.

Honestly, there isn't a lot more to tell. This is Capulets vs. Montagues all over again. You know, except for pieces falling off of the main characters. Well worth a couple hours reading.

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Merkabah Rider: Have Glyphs Will Travel

Merkabah Rider: Have Glyphs Will TravelMerkabah Rider: Have Glyphs Will Travel by Edward M. Erdelac

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Every reader eventually stumbles upon a book (or series) that feels like it was written with their particular tastes in mind. For me, one of those works is the Merkabah Rider series.

Volume three picks up where volume two left off, with The Rider, a Jewish mystic gunfighter in the old west, persuing Adon, his teacher and betrayer who means to bring about the end of the world.

The Long Sabbath: The Rider and Kabede ride into a remote camp with a horde of zombies on their trail, led by three rogue Sons of the Essenes. How can they survive when the soldiers throw them in jail on sight?

The Long Sabbath was a good reintroduction to the saga of the Merkabah Rider. The gore factor was high, both with the zombies and the other vile things, and more details of Adon's plans were revealed. One of the things that I love about the Rider is that he isn't a super hero and frequently takes quite a beating. Adon's renegades were formidable foes and I have a feeling we'll be seeing more of the same.

The War Shaman: Misquamacus is massing an Indian army to exterminate the Mexicans and white men and it's up to The Rider, Belden, and Kabade to stop him with the help of friends new and old. But can they stop Misquamacus from summoning one of the Great Old Ones?

The Rider didn't actually do that much in this one. It was more of an expository segment with the identity of Adam Belial revealed. Without giving anything away, I was not dissatisfied with the revelation in the least.

The Mules of Mazzikim: The Rider parts ways with Kabede and Belden to go to Yuma to find Nehema. But will he find her... or trouble?

Here we go! The Rider meets up with the succubus from then first book and chaos ensues. More details of the overall plot are revealed and the Rider winds up in a precarious predicament by the end.

The Man Called Other: The Rider winds up in the clink and meets up with...

Holy Sh!t! Revelations of a unbelievable magnitude are revealed when the Rider has a meeting that has been a long time coming. Much like the last stories in the previous volume, Erdelac turns everything on its ear. Man, the wait for the fourth and final volume is going to be torturous.

The Fire King Triumphant: The Rider and company return to Tombstone to get some answers...

There's not a lot I can reveal about this story without giving too much away. There are revelations, shocks, a cliffhanger, and Lovecraftian beasties.

In conclusion, Edward M. Erdelac consistently delivers the goods with this series. The Merkabah Rider should appeal to fans of Stephen King's Dark Tower, HP Lovecraft, Robert E. Howard, and similar works. If you like any of those things, you owe it to yourself to give the Merkabah Rider a try.

And now the agonizing wait for the fourth book begins...

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Thursday, December 8, 2011

Please Do Not Shoot Me in the Face

Please Do Not Shoot Me in the Face: a NovelPlease Do Not Shoot Me in the Face: a Novel by Bradley Sands

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Please Do Not Shoot Me in the Face is a collection of three novellas. Or is it a novel? That's what Bradley Sands has hired 7 year old detective Frankie Nougat to find out. As Nougat investigates the three stories within, will he find the theme of Please Do Not Shoot Me in the Face or die in the attempt?

Frankie Nougat and the Case of the Missing Heart: Frankie Nougat attempts to solve the case of why his parents are getting divorced. Grim hilarity ensues...

Yeah, Frankie Nougat goes through some emotional turmoil while trying to find out why his parents are getting divorced. Memorable moments including using his dog for a gun and meeting his mom's new chair, a man named Bill.

Cheesequake Smash-Up: In a battle for fast food dominance, McDonalds, Burger King, White Castle, and scores of other chains enter a building demolition derby. Gunning for a promotion, office worker Monty Catsin enters his employer, NGA, into the derby as well. Who will emerge as the sole provider of fast food in America?

Cheesequake Smashup is mother-whoopieing hilarious. Combine an absurd office, complete with an octogenerian sexpot, a giant goldfish, a gorilla, and lots of mobile buildings smashing into one another, and a heaping helping of absurd humor and you've got a winner on your hands. I'd say Cheesquake Smashup was worth the price of admission on its own.

Apocalypse Ninja: The worst ninja in the world tries to bring about the end of the world. Standing in his way are the worst pirates in the world.

The final tale in this collection (or the final section of this novel?) was by far the most enjoyable. The grins per page rating was very high and there was a lot of action. Also, there was a song that I couldn't help but hum along with to the tune of You're the Best from The Karate Kid.

So, is Please Do Not Shoot Me in the Face a novel or a collection of novellas? Who cares? If the epilogue is any indication, it's going to be bigger than The Bible one day!

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Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Spring Fever

Spring FeverSpring Fever by P.G. Wodehouse

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Lord Shorthands (aka Shorty) needs 200 pounds so he can marry his cook but he's competing with his own butler for her affections. Mike Cardinal wants to marry Teresa Cobbold, Shorty's daughter, but she thinks he's a player. Standwood Cobbold wants to marry the actress Eileen Stoker but his father won't hear of it. Throw in a valuable stamp, imposters, mistaken identity, and a domineering daughter and watch the chaos ensue...

I've been feeling crabby and directionless lately so I picked up a P.G. Wodehouse novel and started reading a couple days ago. While I'm still somewhat crabby and directionless, I'm also working a lot of 1930's British slang into my regular routine. The point is, I'd enjoy reading P.G. Wodehouse even if I was simultaneously hacksawing one of my own legs off.

Spring Fever was written during the apex of Wodehouse's career and it shows. Wodehouse maneuvers his characters through the story like a puppeteer. The plot twists are impeccably timed, hitting at the end of the chapters and making the book very nearly unputdownable.

Wodehouse is a writer firmly in the "if it ain't broke, don't fix it school." While he's worked from the same plot for nearly all of his books, it's always a pleasure to see what new wrinkles he adds to the old situations. I loved that Mike Cardinal's butler used to be a safecracker, that Shorty's butler has a gambling problem, and that Teresa Cobbold is a strong willed female cast from the same mold as a lot of other Wodehouse heroines.

The wordplay is a huge draw from me in Wodehouse books and this one was no exception, from the antiquated British slang to the insults to throwaway refences to the elder Cobbold's secretarie's shorthand resembling pneumonia germs, Spring Fever has a high grins per page rating.

While it's not a Jeeves or Blandings Castle book, Spring Fever is firmly a top shelf Wodehouse. If you want to see the master of the comedic novel at the top of his game, look no further.

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Sunday, December 4, 2011

A Hell of a Woman

A Hell of a WomanA Hell of a Woman by Jim Thompson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Down on his luck salesman Frank Dillon meets a girl named Mona who's being abused and practically put on the street corner by her elderly aunt. When Dillon finds out the aunt has over a hundred thousand dollars hidden in the house, he plans to kill her and run off with Mona. Unfortunately, this book was written by Jim Thompson...

Nobody writes noir tales about the wheels coming off an already shaky plan like old Mr. Cheerful himself, Jim Thompson. A Hell of a Woman is a tale very nearly from the James M. Cain mold. Man meets woman, bumps off someone in order to be with her, then quickly descends into madness.

Frank Dillon coming unglued is a testament to Jim Thompson's skill as a writer. As things start coming unraveled, Frank's cracking is very believable. The way his personality splits into two parts was very well done and quite jarring toward the end.

That's about all I can say without giving too much away. This is definitely an upper tier Jim Thompson book. It's an easy four stars.

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Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Bad Girls Need Love Too

Bad Girls Need Love Too: Pleasure Yourself with Pulp FictionBad Girls Need Love Too: Pleasure Yourself with Pulp Fiction by Gary Lovisi

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Bad Girls Need Love Too is a collection of covers of smut paperbacks from the 1960s. What more of a description do you need than that?

This book is almost 200 pages and I'd say maybe 20 have text on them. What little text that can be found are cheesy/smutty excepts from the novels. The rest are covers depicting women in varying states of undress. I could talk about the use of light and shadows or chiarascuro (which I know I did not spell right) but you know what you're getting into if you pick this book up. Fortunately, some great artists got their start illustrating smut paperbacks. There are some by Robert McGinnis and Robert Macguire, for example.

If you're into lurid pulp art, this is the book for you. I would like to read the following books based on the covers and/or titles. If you can find the images online, you'll immediately understand why:
Hotrod Sinners
Invasion of the Nymphomaniacs
Vagabond Virgin
He Kissed Her There
Satan was my Pimp
Sexy Psycho
Lingerie Ltd.
Satan's Harvest
Love Now, Pay Later
Hell's Harlot
Atomic Blonde
Satan's Daughters
Animal Broad
Women in Prison
Swingers in Danger
The Platinum Trap

Bad Girls Need Love Too is fun for the whole family, provided the whole family is into cover paintings from 60's smut novels. For more information, consult Bad Girls Need Love Too: the website.

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Monday, November 28, 2011

The Last Good Man

The Last Good ManThe Last Good Man by A.J. Kazinski

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

According to the Talmud, thirty-six righteous people exist on earth and if they all die, so does humanity. Now, people are dying all over the world with strange marks on their backs and it's up to a Danish policeman named Niels Bentzon to find out why. There have been thirty-four deaths already. Can Niels save the last two good men and save the world?

First off, I received this ARC from Scribner in exchange for reviewing it. This did not influence my opinion in the least. To be honest, The Last Good Man didn't have a whole lot going for it when I read the back cover blurb comparing it to The DaVinci Code and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, a book I'll never read and one I'm skeptical of because of all the hype. Still, free is free, and I begrudgingly gave it a read. Despite my initial misgivings, I wound up liking The Last Good Man quite a bit.

The main characters are an interesting bunch. Niels Bentzon, the protagonist, is a hostage negotiator who's manic depressive, can't bring himself to shoot anyone, and is manic depressive. He's a far cry from the macho hero I was dreading in this outing. The female lead, Hannah Lund, is also atypical. She's a divorced astrophysicist with a dead son and difficulty relating to anyone who isn't a genius. Interested yet?

Here's something else to pique your curiosity. This book has so many twists that it could be called The Last Good Man and his One Hundred Red Herrings. Some of the twists are predictable, many are not. One thing that I loved was that Kazinski avoided a lot of the thriller cliches that I hate.

For a thriller, it's surprisingly deep. The nature of good and evil are explored, as well as the existence of God. I liked that the plot was rooted in Jewish texts. The way Hannah figured out how to predict where the final two victims would be was pretty cool. Also, loved the ending. Not what I expected at all when I first picked up the book.

That's about all I can say without blowing any surprises. The Last Good Man is a good thriller and good entertainment for a rainy evening.

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Saturday, November 26, 2011

Seven Seagulls for a Single Nipple

Seven Seagulls for a Single NippleSeven Seagulls for a Single Nipple by Troy Chambers

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A nipple named Wilmorn falls in love with a woman and bargains with the Seagull gods for a chance to win her. Only she's a nun. And a lesbian. And he has to kill her true love to win a soul so he can have a life with her. Man, things are rough for nipples these days...

First off, this is the weirdest book in the 2011-2012 New Bizarro Author Series so far. It's also the best story featuring a talking nipple I've ever read.

This is one of those books I can hardly think of a way to describe beyond the summary. Like I mentioned, Wilmorn is a talking nipple that makes a pact with the Seagull Gods. His naivete is actually a little charming and nicely balanced by Stalin, the baby-faced lobster demon who was a serial rapist in a previous life. Yes, you read that right. No, I did not make that up.

It takes quite a bit for a book to make me shake my head in disbelief but I caught myself doing just that several times during this books slim 60 pages. Most of those were because of Stalin's actions. The ending was a bit of surprise.

Troy Chambers is a madman and I'll give him another shot sometime down the road. That's all I have. I don't really know what else I can say about this.

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Trashland A Go-Go

Trashland A Go-GoTrashland A Go-Go by Constance Ann Fitzgerald

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

After a pole dance goes horribly wrong, Coco Darling is tossed into the garbage and wakes up in a land of garbage. Can she find her way home without running afoul of Queen?

Yeah, I may have unearthed the gem of the 2011-2012 New Bizarro Author series.

If the Wizard of Oz starred a stripper and took place in a land of garbage, it would be very much like Trashland A Go-Go. Coco is a strong leading lady, not waiting for some guy to come along and save her. She's also tough as hell. Could you dig your way out of a room that has walls made of dirty diapers? Yeah, me either.

Coco's journey is full of funny moments as well as disgusting ones. Imagine a woman walking across a trash-filled landscape wearing an ugly bridesmaid dress and interacting with her talking fly sidekick. The villains are vile, the trash world is utilized to its full potential, and there are parts of the book that will make you want to laugh or puke, or both at the same time. That's pretty much all I can say without giving away too much.

Trashland A Go-Go is one of those first books that you're astonished is someone's first book. The writing is polished, the pace is great, and there aren't any missteps. It's also pretty accessible for a Bizarro book. If you're looking to give the Bizarro genre a shot, you can do a hell of a lot worse than Trashland A Go-Go.

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Cthulhu Comes to the Vampire Kingdom

Cthulhu Comes to the Vampire KingdomCthulhu Comes to the Vampire Kingdom by Cameron Pierce

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

With their frozen world depleted of resources and dying, a vampire couple named Franz and Lola attempt to summon the one being who can save them... Cthulhu! But will Cthulhu save their world or destroy it?

Cthulhu Comes to the Vampire Kingdom is a sometimes funny, all times bizarre tale by Cameron Pierce. It seems to be a commentary on the state of our world, with the world's blood supply running out similar to the way oil will one day and the Science Council standing in for the governments that turn a blind eye to environmental issues. But what I really notice is the monsters!

The characters are a mixed bag. Lola's my favorite, and probably Pierce's, even though doesn't get as much screen time as a lot of the others. Burn Girl was interesting but I don't think she had as much time as she should have. The teenage coven were a little annoying. I liked Bruno and Sarah but they could have also used more time devoted to them. I guess I just wish the book was longer.

Cthulhu has seen better days. He's been spending too much time looking at Lolcats on the internet and has visions of the perfect hamburger running through his head as a result. When he finally makes landfall after being summoned, it's almost an orgasmic moment.

In conclusion, Cthulhu Comes to the Vampire Kingdom was a good read, although a tad on the short side. If you like humorous depictions of Cthulhu and vampires, give it a read.

Old Cthulhu had a farm. E-I-E-I-O!

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The Driver's Guide to Hitting Pedestrians

The Driver's Guide to Hitting PedestriansThe Driver's Guide to Hitting Pedestrians by Andersen Prunty

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The Driver's Guide to Hitting Pedestrians is a collection of short stories by Andersen Prunty.

Andersen Prunty is swiftly becoming one of my favorite authors due to his versatility, something that is nicely illustrated in this short story collection. The stories contained within are absurd, hilarious, disturbing, thought-provoking, or a combination thereof.

There are twenty-three short stories in this collection and they're all very different. You get the tale of a driver in a gruesome game where you score points for hitting pedestrians, a man whose teeth leave his gums one day to go see the world, an architect building a skyscraper on his back, and a man who buys his favorite author at a bookstore. And those are just a few of the odd delights contained within.

If you're looking to give Andersen Prunty a shot, this is a good sampling of his work. Plus it will look good on your bookshelf.

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Friday, November 25, 2011

The Crud Masters

The Crud MastersThe Crud Masters by Justin Grimbol

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Crud Masters Boogers and Snuggles wind up on a collision course with a rumble with the NOLA kids. But how can they hope to defeat a bunch of rich kids with a Transformer on their side?

Remember the Outsiders? You know, the book by S.E. Hinton or the movie starring C. Thomas Howell? Whatever happened to that kid, anyway? The Crud Masters is like The Outsiders. Only the Greasers are the Crud Masters and the Socs are the NOLA kids. And their are a bunch of giant monsters and transformable robots. And the kids have sex. Yeah, it's not that much like the Outsiders except for the impending rumble, now that I think about it a little more.

The Crud Masters is a book set in a dystopian future where there's an even bigger divide between the rich and the poor. Giant monsters called Dagoons roam the seas. Technology has progressed but only the rich see the benefits.

At its core, The Crud Masters is an underdog story about downtrodden youths taking a stand against the upper class. Only there's a lot of sex, monsters, and robots. Seriously, the main conflict of the book is between a Transformer and a giant sea monster.

Any gripes? Nothing too huge. I wish the book was longer and I caught an above average number of punctuation mistakes. Other than that, I'd let the Crud Masters crash on my couch. It's an easy 3 and I'd like to see what Justin Grimbol could do with a full size novel.

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Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Zombies and Shit (spoilers)

Zombies and ShitZombies and Shit by Carlton Mellick III

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

In a post-apocalyptic future overrun by zombies, twenty people are dropped in the middle of a wasteland, forced to be contestants on the most popular reality show on earth, Zombie Survival! Which will find his or her way to the helicopter and be the only person to leave the Red Zone alive?

Once you read an awesome book by an author, it becomes the measuring stick against which you judge the subsequent books you read by that author. For my money, Warrior Wolf Women of the Wastelands is the measuring stick against which all other Carlton Mellick III books should be measured. Does Zombies and Shit measure up? Sadly, no, and I shall explain.

I've read a few Carlton Mellick III books in 2011 and most of them feature the following elements:
1. punks that are invariably superior to the rest of the characters
2. bizarre sexual fetishes
3. a woman with an unusually large clitoris
4. gore

Zombies and Shit features all of these. To me, it feels like elements of Apeshit and Warrior Wolf Women of the Wastelands were recycled and repacked with Return of the Living Dead style zombies to capitalize on the zombie fad that's currently everywhere. Also, Gogo's zombie fetish felt like it was shoehorned in and made me roll my eyes. It also irked me that the most annoying character in the book was one of the survivors.

At this point, you may notice that I gave it a 3 even though I've spent the review criticizing it so far. Well, I'm not going to lie. It's still a really fun book with the gore and weirdness I've come to expect from Carlton Mellick III. If I hadn't read any other CMIII books, I would have rated this one a lot higher. The inclusion of Mr. T as a zombie-killing machine, the T-2000, made me forget all of my gripes with the book every time he made an appearance.

To sum it up, if you're only going to read one Carlton Mellick III book, I wouldn't have it be this one, but if you're looking to give him a try and you're into zombies, this would be the book for you.

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Monday, November 21, 2011

Party Wolves in my Skull

Party Wolves in my SkullParty Wolves in my Skull by Michael Allen Rose

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

One morning, Norman Spooter's eyes leap out of his head and go on the run. Norman goes back to bed and wakes up to find a pack of wolves living inside his skull. Once he makes up his mind to get his eyes back, Norman crosses paths with Zoe, who just left her boyfriend, Walter. And Zoe is harboring secrets of her own...

You never know how weird a particular book in the New Bizarro Author series is going to be until you dig right in. While this is only my third book in the 2011-2012, NBA's, I'll be surprised if any of the rest are weirder than this.

Party Wolves in my Skull is an odd book, no two ways about it. How many other books have you read with eyeballs that want to marry each other, pot-smoking wolves living inside a man's skull, and woman-walrus relations? I hope that you say one, including this one.

I'm kind of at a loss for words on this one. The way that the relationship between Zoe and Norman developed was pretty realistic considering one of them always wears stilts and the other has a wolfpack in his head. Walter the walrus was the stereotype abusive boyfriend, though being a walrus set him apart from most of his ilk. Things were resolved nicely by the end. Things got a little dicey when Walter showed up and started kicking ass.

That's about all I have. Party Wolves in my Skull is a road book featuring a lot of strange things. It's the perfect gift for the walrus enthusiast in your life. 3.5 out of 5.

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Placenta of Love

Placenta of LovePlacenta of Love by Spike Marlowe

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

On Venus, the amusement park planet, robot pirate Captain Carl is granted free will and creates another life, an AI named Helen that he loves. When he tries to give Helen a living body made from a huge placenta, she runs amok and threatens to destroy the planet. Can Captain Carl stop her without killing the only being he's ever loved?

Sigh. It's that tired old story. Boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy and girl get back together. Only the boy is a sentient robot pirate in an amusement park. And the girl is a giant placenta with an AI for a brain and births smaller placentas. Okay, fine, it's not the same old story. What do you expect from a book written by a real life super heroine?

Placenta of Love is Bizarro love story. While on the surface you get a lot of Bizarro tropes like weird sex and dildos, underneath it's surprisingly sweet. Love conquers all, even the Robo-Pope and her Church of Transubstantial Birth Fear.

The writing is polished and I liked the way Spike started each chapter with a description of one of the park's attractions, like the Tunnel of Lust or the Driller.

I'm not really sure what else I can say without spoiling more of the plot than I already have. Jiji the Robo-cat was probably my favorite character. Spankies, anyone? I really liked it when Captain Carl stepped up and embraced his Robo-pirate nature.

If you like pirates, placentas, and popes, this is the book for you. Give Spike Marlowe a chance. I, for one, would like to see more from her.

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Sunday, November 20, 2011

Karaoke Death Squad

Karaoke Death SquadKaraoke Death Squad by Eric Mays

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Who are the three mysterious women roaming Baltimore's Karaoke scene and why do the men that leave with them disappear without a trace? That's what Odie Wharton wants to find out. Can he solve the mystery of the disappearances without disappearing himself, even with his Karaoke Death Squad watching his back?

The Bizarro genre is a lot like one of those boxes of assorted chocolates. When you pick one up, you could get carmel, crunchy frog, or even something disgusting like coconut. Karaoke Death Squad is one of the more accessible Bizarro novels I've ever read.

If I had to compare it to other books, Karaoke Death Squad reminds of Christopher Moore's Dirty Job and Neil Gaiman's Anansi Boys. Like those two books, Karaoke Death Squad is the story of an average Joe thrust into a situation involving beings of godlike power.

The characters are an interesting bunch. Odie Wharton, the lead, is a loser who lives in an "apartment" above his mom's house and works part time at a convenience store. When he's not being a Karaoke superstar, however. When other singers started dropping like flies, Odie doesn't waste time.

There are so many hilarious one-liners in this book that I quickly stopped writing them down. Odie's a character, that's for sure. If they made a KDS movie, he'd be played by Jack Black. The rest of the characters are pretty cool. Boris the Russian was easily my favorite.

There's not a lot more I can say without ruining a lot of the surprises. Karaoke Death Squad was a fun read. Eric Mays won me over with his short story in the Copeland Valley Sampler and continues to impress in this book. KDS should appeal to fans of Christoper Moore, Neil Gaiman's humorous work, and probably even fans of stuff like the Dresden Files. Highly recommended.

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Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The Continental Op

The Continental OpThe Continental Op by Dashiell Hammett

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Continental Op is a collection of short stories starring Dashiell Hammett's detective character, The Continental Op. Here are just some of the tales contained within.

The Tenth Clew: Millionaire Leopold Gantvoort is found dead and signs point to the mysterious Emil Bonfils. But what of the more obvious suspect, Gantvoort's 23 year old wife to be?

Not a bad way to start the collection. I've never read a story where someone had their head bashed in with a typewriter before. The mystery was pretty good, though I had some idea what was going on about halfway through.

The Golden Horseshoe: The Op goes to Mexico to bring back a rich woman's husband and gets more than he bargained for...

This story nicely illustrates The Continental Op's place in Matthew Scudder's ancestry as the Op bends the law to get a man put away.

The Girl with the Silver Eyes: A poet hires the Continental Pop to find his missing lover. Too bad she isn't who she pretends to be...

This one was a lot more complex than it first seemed and the Op demonstrated his ability quite well, both in detection and in violence. My favorit part, however, was how the poet was exasperating the Op at the beginning of the case.

The Whosis Kid: The Op crosses paths with a two-gun stickup man while on the trial of stolen jewels.

The op thinks his way out of a nasty situation when he gets caught between some double-crossing criminals. I love that the Op isn't afraid to fight dirty and knows he's no knight in shining armor.

In conclusion, The Continental Op is a collection of detective stories that are still influential even today. For it's historical value, it should be a must read for pulp detective fans.

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Sunday, November 13, 2011

Barbarian Beast Bitches of the Badlands

Barbarian Beast Bitches of the BadlandsBarbarian Beast Bitches of the Badlands by Carlton Mellick III

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Barbarian Beast B*tches of the Badlands is a collection of three novellas set in the world of Warrior Wolf Women of the Wastelands.

Barbarian Beast Babes of the Badlands: Apple and her boyfriend Sam join the pack of warrior wolf women. How will Sam adjust to his status as Apple's property and his new robot legs?

Barbarian Beast Babes of the Badlands was a nice way to get the collection started and re-introduce the world. It was cool reading about Apple, Talon, and Hyena again. The colossus and metal worms were good villans.

Horrendous Horror of the Hateful Hamburglar: As a band of Outlanders fights against a horde of mutants under the control of brain-eating parasites, the Hamburglar's horrifying past is revealed.

The Hamburglar, greatest samurai that ever lived, was only briefly glimpsed in Warrior Wolf Women of the Wastelands. He takes center stage in this one. My favorite line was "Before he was the Hamburglar, he was an ordinary psychopath."

Ferocious Female Furries in the Forbidden Zone: Set months after Warror Wolf Women of the Wastelands, Slayer steps into a leadership role with the tribe and makes Hyena her second in command. Talon and other Wolves are infected and the girls head south into the Forbidden Zone to find the cure.

The backstory of the metallic worm parasites takes center stage in this one. The culture of the Forbidden Zone was fascinating and the dynamic between the Wolves after Slayer took charge made this the standout of the book.

While I didn't enjoy this one as much as Warrior Wolf Women of the Wastelands, it's definitely a good read and should appeal to everyone who enjoyed the first book. If you're needing a lady post-apocalyptic werewolf fix, look no further.

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Gigantic Death Worm

Gigantic Death WormGigantic Death Worm by Vince Kramer

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

When Dave, his friend Mike, and Mike's girlfriend Suzanne get stranded on a ski lift, that's just the beginning of their problems. Soon, they're being attacked by bears that shoot wolves out of their mouths. Before they know it, gigantic death worms are attacking all the major cities in Arizona. From there, things get a little weird...

Here we are again. An entire new New Bizarro Author Series. Will it match up to the class of 2010-2011? If Gigantic Death Worm is any indication, then yes.

Ever hear of The Aristocrats joke? You know, the one about the guy who walks into a talent agent's office and describes a family doing some of the filthiest things you can imagine on stage? If the Aristocrats joke involved giant monsters, it would be Gigantic Death Worm.  And I mean that in the best possible way.

The characters in Gigantic Death Worm are an interesting bunch, to say the least. Dave, the protagonist, has a fairly interesting power caused by brain parasites. He can make things appear out of thin air. I won't reveal the source of his power but it's a doozy. Ponce DeLeon II: The Revenge, was the lynchpin that stopped the plot from being a bunch of gay jokes. Too bad he went out like he did. Worm-Head Girl didn't do anything for me at first but she rose to the occasion. All that aside, I'd say the Mexican ninjas were my favorite part of the tale. "That Ramon!"

Gigantic Death Worm is hilarious. That's about all I have to say.

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Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Nice Fillies Finish Last

Nice Fillies Finish LastNice Fillies Finish Last by Brett Halliday

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

When teh man who gave him a tip on a horse winds up dead, Michael Shayne's reporter friend Tim Rourke goes snooping around the track, looking for answers. When Rourke winds up in the hospital, Shayne takes the case and finds out the world of horse racing is more deadly than he ever imagined...

The more of the Mike Shayne's I read, the more convinced I am that I shouldn't read any of them after Davis Dresser left the Brett Halliday pseudonym to other writers.

Nice Fillies Finish Last has a lot in common with the other post-Dresser Mike Shayne book I've read, Fourth Down to Death. There's the same rape-y subtext, the same cardboard female characters, and the same superhero Mike Shayne.

Much like Fourth Down to Death, the plot was unnecessarily complex and also so tied to betting on horseracing that it was very inaccessible in some places to someone with only a rudimentary knowledge of horseracing and the gambling on thereof.

There were some interesting moments but they were few and far between. My impatience got the better of me in the last fifty pages and I started skimming. Shayne pretty much walks around, has women fall for him, and beats up on bad guys. He's like Mike Hammer, only with a car phone. To top it off, Shayne was barely in the first 60 pages.

While I didn't outright hate this book, I wouldn't recommend it. Read at your own risk.

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Sunday, October 30, 2011

Heads You Lose

Heads You LoseHeads You Lose by Brett Halliday

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A gas station owner named Clem Wilson calls Michael Shayne for help and is murdered while on the phone. Who murdered the gas station owner and why? That's what Michael Shayne has to know. But can he find out who gunned down Clem Wilson before he's gunned down himself?

Okay, now this is more like it. After the disappointment of Fourth Down to Death, Heads You Lose has redeemed Michael Shayne a bit in my eyes.

The plot to Heads You Lose is so much more complex than it seems at first glance. The wartime setting and the rationing of gasoline proves to be the lynchpin that holds everything together. It took me forever to figure out who killed Clem Wilson and I like to think I have respectable sleuthing skills.

The body count in this one is fairly high and most of the deaths were unexpected. Halliday did a lot of misdirection in this one. Clem Wilson's deserter son wound up being a giant red herring after it sure looked like he was behind his father's murder early on. While I knew there are over 100 of these, I still feared for Michael Shayne a couple times.

No big complaints on this. It's a product of the time it was written so the idea of rationing gas and rubber isn't really relateable. Aside from powerful lady lawyer, the other female characters were standard for detective stories of its day.

Some of the characters were a little weak but as a thrilling detective story, Heads You Lose easily got the job done. I wouldn't say it was amazing or timeless but I enjoyed it quite a bit.

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Friday, October 28, 2011

Fantastic Four: 1234

Fantastic Four: 1234Fantastic Four: 1234 by Grant Morrison

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

As Dr. Doom picks off the members of the Fantastic Four one at a time with help from Namor and the Mole Man, Reed Richards is cooped up in his lab. Can he find a way to stop Doom? And will he stop him if he can?

For a Grant Morrison story, 1234 is pretty straight forward. Dr. Doom is manipulating reality and trying to destroy the Fantastic Four. The Thing ends up human minus an arm, Sue gets entangled with Namor, and Johnny falls victim to the Mole Man.

Despite being pretty well written, I didn't find the story to have much substance. Grant Morrison's known for throwing a lot of big ideas around and that's what I expected from this one. Besides hints that Dr. Doom is part of Reed Richards' subconscious, there was very little of that here. Reed's role in the story reminded me of a condensed version of what Blackbolt did in the Inhumans miniseries by Jae Lee and Paul Jenkins.

The artwork was pretty good but I've seen better from Jae Lee both before and since. I guess my main gripe with 1234 is that neither creator really lived up to my expectations. It was still enjoyable but really nothing special.

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Thursday, October 27, 2011

Ska: An Oral History

Ska: An Oral HistorySka: An Oral History by Heather Augustyn

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Ska: An Oral History covers the history of ska music from its inception to Jamaica through the ska boom of the 90's, all the way up to present day.

Lean closer everyone, I have something to reveal. I became a ska fan when I got my first CD player in 1993 and my neighbor gave me a copy of Ska Core, the Devil, and More by The Mighty Mighty Bosstones. I've remained a fan of the music ever since, though these days I'm more into the more traditional ska sound of The Slackers, Mr. T-Bone, and Dr. Ring-Ding. Anyway, on to the review...

The chronicle starts in Jamaica, naturally. Pioneers like Derrick Morgan, Prince Buster, Desmond Dekker, Toots Hibbert, and The Skatellites were given their due. Some of the stuff, like Don Drummond murdering his girlfriend and dying in the insane asylum, I was familiar with. Others, like the feud between Derrick Morgan and Prince Buster, I was not.

From there, the English skinhead reggae scene of the 60's is covered, primarily focusing on Laurel Aitken and Judge Dread. The focus shifts to the two tone era of The Specials, the Selecter, Madness, and Bad Manners. It really put me in the mood to dig out the Specials debut album. Actually, I'd say a bit too much time was spent on the two-tone era. I could have done without entire chapters detailing The Beat, The Selecter, and Bad Manners. It seemed a bit like padding.

The third wave was covered, starting with the Toasters and Bim Skala Bim, and moving along with Fishbone, Let's Go Bowling, the Scofflaws, Agent 99, Jump with Joey, and the New York Ska Jazz Ensemble.

Hepcat was mentioned next and I began getting excited. Then radio ska bands like No Doubt and The Mighty Mighty Bosstones were mentioned. Deals gone bad was mentioned and then Agent Jay of The Slackers and Isaac Green of The Skalars talked about how the scene died because most of the people going to shows were in bands and nobody was buying records. Which I witnessed first hand in my first couple of years of going to ska shows.

That's pretty much it. The book did a good job of detailing the history of ska but I think it focused on the two tone era a little too much and could have used more than a mention of The Slackers, since they are by far the biggest touring American ska band at the moment. It also wouldn't have hurt to mention that ska has a much bigger audience in Europe and Japan, evident by the turnouts that Mr. T-Bone, The Moon Invaders, and Dr. Ring-Ding see. For being released in 2010, it doesn't feel current to me.

Man, it's hard to settle on a rating for this. I'm giving it a three. I'd give it a four but the writing seemed choppy in places, especially during the transitions between topics.

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Beyond the Valley of the Apocalypse Donkeys

Beyond the Valley of the Apocalypse DonkeysBeyond the Valley of the Apocalypse Donkeys by Jordan Krall

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Henry Price makes a delivery to a nudist colony and becomes entranced by a naked woman wearing a donkey mask. Gary Lancaster is obsessed with a movie called The Apocalypse Donkeys, a film that may or may not be real, and blueberry pancakes. Bill Stapleton is an aging former daredevil who knows someone is sleeping with his wife. But how are the men linked by the mysterious green hummingbird?

Jordan Krall continues to impress me. I first became a fan of his after Fistful of Feet, his bizarro western. Subsequent books of his like Squid Pulp Blues and King Scratch have reinforced my opinion of him as an author to watch in the future. Then this book came along.

I've read a lot of bizarro fiction in 2011 and this one may have taken the cake. How many other books have you read that prominently feature a naked woman in a donkey mask, a green hummingbird, blueberry pancakes, and a nudist colony? And I didn't even mention references to Small Wonder, that 80's sitcom featuring the little girl robot, or the 66 Ford Futura, the car they used to construct the Batmobile in the 1960's Batman show.

The book starts off just a little odd and becomes positively nightmarish by the end. The nature of identity is explored, as are aspects of voyeurism. The scene near the end with Gary and the coven of naked donkey-masked women was my favorite part of the book.

That's about all I have to say. Krall's rendered me speechless. It's an easy four but expect a helping of uneasiness while you read it.

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Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The Prettiest Girl I Ever Killed

The Prettiest Girl I Ever KilledThe Prettiest Girl I Ever Killed by Charles Runyon

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The sleepy town of Sherman seemed normal until Curt Friedland returned to clear his brother's name and get him out of jail. Now, a lot of accidental deaths are starting to seem like murder and housewife Velda Bayrd seems to be caught in the middle of things...

First off, The Prettiest Girl I Ever Killed is among the earliest serial killer novels. It stands up fairly well and has a nice "Who is the wolf in sheep's clothing" feel at times.

Velda Bayrd is unusual in that she's the heroine of a noir novel and isn't a femme fatale or a doormat. She's pretty interesting character, drawn to Curt Friendland despite being in a comfortable, albeit boring, marriage.

The writing is very workmanlike but it serves the purpose well enough. I like that Curt Friendland's almost a sociopath himself, driven to clear his brother's name at almost any cost.

The reveal of the killer was a bit of a letdown. There weren't enough likely suspects introduced to make my sleuthing efforts worthwhile. Still, the killer was pretty chilling once he was revealed and his background was explored a bit.

The Prettiest Girl I Ever Killed is an easy 3 and I'll be keeping an eye out for more paperback originals by Charles Runyon.

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Thursday, October 20, 2011


LaBravaLaBrava by Elmore Leonard

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Former Secret Service agent Joe LaBrava meets an actress he fell in love with at age twelve. Now she's being blackmailed by a redneck and his Cuban partner. Or is she...? Can LaBrava get to the bottom of things before he winds up dead?

When it comes to Elmore Leonard books, they're either awesome or just okay. This one is definitely closer to okay.

The plot was pretty good. LaBrava, a photographer and former FBI man, gets entangled with Jean Shaw, an actress he's pined over for years and a blackmail scheme. As always with Leonard, the dialogue and machinations were the stars of the show. Leonard paints a vivid picture of Florida's sleazy underbelly. The characters of LaBrava, Franny, Richie, and Rey were all pretty well rounded. I thought I had the ending figured out but it went in a slightly different direction.

It wasn't a great Elmore Leonard because everything felt a little too easy. I also thought the twist was tipped a little too early. Once I knew all the players in the blackmail game, I was ready for it to be over.

Still, even a mediocre Elmore Leonard is still pretty good. I liked it but I didn't love it.

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Sunday, October 16, 2011

Fourth Down to Death

Fourth Down to DeathFourth Down to Death by Brett Halliday

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

When Mike Shayne is hired by the owner of a football team to find out of one of his lineman purposely let his star quarterback get hurt, he gets a lot more than he bargained for...

First off, I'm not going to lie. I could tell you that I've been wanting to try another Mike Shayne mystery since Hard Case reprinted Murder is my Business but I really picked this one up because of the cover. I'll pause while you get an eyeful.

I hate to say it but the cover was my favorite part of this book. Fourth Down to Death is dated as hell, both in its 1970 setting and it's treatment of the female characters in general. Were the early 70's as misogynistic as I'm imagining? There's a rape-y subtext for part of the book and Mike Shayne strikes two women in the face, neither even close to being a danger to him.

The plot was overly-complicated for what it was and I wouldn't say it was actually solvable except by process of elimination. Maybe someone who's more into the ins and outs of gambling would appreciate it more. I just know that my eyes glazed over whenever the point spread was mentioned and I kept waiting for the vixen on the cover to show up.

It's not without it's moments, though. Shayne took a shit-kicking but kept getting up. He reminded me of Ross MacDonald's Lew Archer quite a bit. Both of them should have been suffering from post-concussion syndrome by the end of their series.

If you're curious about the Mike Shayne series, you'd be better served to read Murder is my Business. The best part of this one is the cover.

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Snuff (Discworld, #39)Snuff by Terry Pratchett

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Commander Sam Vimes of the Ankh-Morpork City Watch and his wife Sybil take Young Sam and go on vacation to Sybil's ancestral lands in the country. Fortunately for the Commander, crime soon rears its ugly head and he soon finds himself ensnared in a web of lies, smuggling, and murder! Can Vimes get to the bottom of things before he finds himself at the bottom of the river known as Old Treachery?

I always forget how good Terry Pratchett is during the year or years between new books. To the outsider, it would be easy to dismiss the Discworld books as silly fantasy novels. While they are silly, the Discworld books always deal with real issues as well. In this case, slavery and drugs. Snuff raises questions of what it means to be sentient, human rights, and the evils of looking the other way when something bad happens.

Pratchett's writing reminds me of P.G. Wodehouse's more with each passing book. I lost count of the clever lines. I even noticed reference to Tombstone ("I don't think I'm going to let you arrest me today."), Deadwood, and Jane Austen.

The characters are what drive the Discworld stories. Good thing, because they could easily degenerate into mindless silliness otherwise. Sam Vimes and his relationships with his family and the people of Ramkim were what made the story. Vimes' pep-talks with Feenie about what it means to be a copper, his caring tolerance for his son's fascination with poo, and his feelings toward the goblins showed why Pratchett is more than just a fantasy writer.

The plot itself was pretty good. A goblin is murdered while Sam Vimes is on vacation and he starts pulling at threads to find out why, leading him to discover smuggling and corruption. The disgusting religion of the goblins is explored and, by the end, society is changed. Goblins haven't been touched upon very much in the Discworld series so far and I'd say Pratchett did a great job developing them in Snuff.

I can't pretend this book was perfect, though. The last fifty pages dragged a bit. That's about the only gripe I have, actually. It's the best Discworld book in years and if Pratchett doesn't manage to write another City Watch book, it'll be a good way to end things.

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Saturday, October 8, 2011

Choke Hold

Choke Hold (Hard Case Crime, #68)Choke Hold by Christa Faust

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Working in a diner, Angel Dare thought she left her past behind her, both her former career as a porn star and as a vigilante taking down the men that left her for dead. All that changed when a former co-worker, Thick Vic Ventura, walked into her diner to meet his son, an up and coming MMA fighter, for the first time. Seconds later, Vic is mortally wounded by gunmen and asks Angel to take care of his son. Can Angel protect Cody and keep one step ahead of the men that want both of them dead?

Over a year ago, before Dorcester started going tits up, I pre-ordered this book, the second in the Hard Case line by Christa Faust. It was worth the wait.

This time out, Angel Dare's path intersects with the seedy underbelly of the mixed martial arts world. Much like the porn industry, there's a lot of unsavory elements lurking in the shadows and Cody is caught in the middle.

Angel is much as she was in the previous book: tough, crass, and more than a little randy. The dynamic between her, Cody, and Cody's trainer, Hank, was well done, as was Angel's conflicting feelings about Cody. The main characters went from the frying pan to the fire so many times it was almost like reading one of Norvell Page's old Spider pulps. The action was fast and frequently brutal.

Since Choke Hold takes place around the MMA world, you might think it has less smut than the previous Faust offering, Money Shot. You'd be wrong. Angel has needs, after all. One of my favorite parts near the end of the book is when Angel and company wander into an adult film convention while on the run from the bad guys.

The ending was shocking and more than a little abrupt. If I had a complaint, that would be it. Then again, it's a Hard Case so you know things will likely not end well.

I'm going to go out on a limb here and say I enjoyed this even more than Money Shot. The return of the Hard Case Crime series is a success so far in my book.

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Night Lines

NightlinesNightlines by John Lutz

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The twin of a murdered woman hires Nudger to track down her murderer, a possible serial killer. But why is her mother trying to keep Nudger from his investigation?

Nightlines is a pretty good crime/mystery story. While part of it is solvable by the reader, it still caught napping. Parts of it are hilariously dated. The plot hinges on people using phone company service lines to hook up with strangers. Nudger uses a payphone several times. I can't talk that much about the plot without spoiling too much of it. It's a fairly standard "catch the killer before he kills again" plot but with some added wrinkles and a couple twists at the end.

There are a couple aspects of the book I enjoyed immensely. Primarily, the character of Nudger is what sold the book for me. Nudger's not your typical detective. His office is above a donut shop. He's lonely and scared a lot of the time. He doesn't carry a gun. He chews antacid tablets constantly. He throws up at crime scenes. And he's not the guy the bombshells go for. He's got so little going for him that I wanted to buy him a beer or give him a hug. His relationship with Claudia was really touching and believably done.

The other part of the book I really dug is that John Lutz is on his way to making St. Louis as much a character in the book as New York is in Lawrence Block's Matthew Scudder series. When Nudger complains about the traffic on 270 or talks about taking 44 to 55 and getting off on Memorial, it makes me smile. I'm not even that familiar with St. Louis and I recognized a lot of the places Nudger goes on his investigation. At one point, Nudger was on Kingshighway and I kept hoping he'd stop at Uncle Bill's Pancake House for lunch.

I've mentioned Lawrence Block's Matthew Scudder in connection with Nudger a few times. They have a lot of similarities, both coming from tragic pasts, but I think Nudger may be a bit easier to relate to. If they were both stray dogs, Matthew Scudder would be the one you're afraid to pet while Nudger would be the one that's had the shit kicked out of it too many times and you feel sorry for it and give it the rest of your ham sandwich.

If you're looking for good detective yarn, Nudger's got what you need. Just don't expect him to be a superhero. He's more like the guy you let crash on your couch.

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Tuesday, October 4, 2011

The Deputy

The DeputyThe Deputy by Victor Gischler

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

All part-time deputy Toby Sawyer had to do was keep an eye on Luke Jordan's body. Now the corpse has vanished and people are coming out of the woodwork to put a bullet in Toby's head. Can Toby survive the night with his job and his life intact?

When I got my metric ton of free books at Bouchercon, Kemper mentioned that Victor Gischler was a good writer seconds before he went into his tantrum that I scored a free John Sandford. I have to say that that was one of many occasions when that curmudgeonly Kansan pointed me in the right direction.

Toby Sawyer's a screw-up, no two ways about it. He shows up to the crime scene wearing sweat pants and a Weezer tshirt with his badge pinned to it, wondering how he can wear his holster without his sweat pants falling down. That pretty much sums up his character. He lives in a trailer with his wife and infant son, has a girlfriend on the side, and doesn't have a lot going for him. It took me a little while but I really started getting behind Toby as he slowly stepped up and gifted the wrong-doers with hot lead.

Since The Deputy is told from the first person, I was as in the dark as Toby for most of the book. Tensions ran higher and higher the deeper I got into the book. So much shit gets piled on top of Toby that I didn't think he'd be able to dig his way out. The breakneck pace reminds me of The Wheelman quite a bit. Every time it looks like Toby's going to get a chance to rest, more bad guys come crawling out of the woodwork.

I can't really say much about the plot without ruining the book. It's well done but, like I said, I was in the dark as much as Toby was for most of the book.

The Deputy is a great example of modern day noir. It's not a perfect book by any means but it's an exciting way to spend a few hours. It's an easy four star book.

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Sunday, October 2, 2011

The Night and the Music

The Night and The MusicThe Night and The Music by Lawrence Block

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

For the first time ever, all the short stories featuring Matthew Scudder are collected between two covers.

Matthew Scudder has been my favorite detective for a few years now and I'm always ready for more of his stories. The Night and the Music is all I could hope for and more. From the touching intro by Brian Koppelman to Lawrence Block's notes at the end, I was once again entranced.

The stories presented are from various points in Matthew Scudder's career. It could easily serve as either a jumping on point for new readers or a nice summation of the series. You've got Matt solving staged suicides, setups, and mysterious deaths. There are stories of Matt during his seldom talked about days on the police force and even one of his jobs with Reliable, rounding up bootleg Batman merchandise. The later stories are my favorite. As Matt enters the later years of his life, he spends more time thinking about the old days. He and Elaine run into someone he arrested years before while vacationing in Italy. Mick Ballou and Matt talk about death and Mick asks Matt to be his best man.

The final story in the collection threatened to yank silent tears from my manly ducts. Mick has closed Grogan's and he, Matt, Elaine, and Kristin gather for one last night of stories. As Mick and Matt reminisced about the earlier times in that fabled bar, I remembered experiencing the same moments with them in the early books. If Lawrence Block never writes another Matthew Scudder book, One Last Night at Grogan's would be a beautiful way to end the series.

I can't recommend the Matthew Scudder series enough and The Night and The Music is no exception!

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Thursday, September 29, 2011


SteppenwolfSteppenwolf by Hermann Hesse

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Harry Haller fights a battle ever day against his animalistic nature, the Steppenwolf, the thing keeping him from fitting in with society. Will he conquer the Steppenwolf before it drives him to suicide?

I'd toyed with the idea of paraphrasing the opening of the 1970's Incredible Hulk TV show but it felt disrespectful to a book of this power. Steppenwolf is one of the more thought-provoking books I've ever read. I lost count of the number of times I stopped and pondered my own Steppenwolfishness.

Harry Haller is approaching 50, has few friends, and is contemplating suicide on his 50th birthday. For the most part, his friends are books and music. Seeing as how I'm writing this review on a website devoted to reading, I think more than a few of us can relate to Haller on some level. Who among us hasn't been at a party and thought "Man, I could be reading right now."

Haller's life starts spinning out of control when a strange man gives him a book entitled The Treatise of the Steppenwolf, in which he is mentioned by name. From there, Haller meets Hermine, a woman who guides him on a journey of self discovery (with sex and drugs.) The book takes a bizarre turn near the end.

The writing style is fairly accessible, even though it's been translated from German. Hesse throws a lot of big ideas around, like don't be afraid of life, don't let time get away from you, etc. I caught some references to Eastern religions, which makes sense since Hesse also wrote Siddhartha.

I don't think I'm doing a great job of conveying what I thought about this book. It reminded me of The Catcher in the Rye at some moments and G.K. Chesterton's The Man Who Was Thursday at others. I'm also struggling with how to rate it. I thought it was powerful and full of lots of interesting ideas but I'm not sure I actually liked it.

That's about all I have at the moment. I'm giving it a 4 with the caveat that I'll probably have to re-read it again sometime down the line to fully absorb it.

View all my reviews

Sunday, September 25, 2011

The Bizarro Ray Bradbury - My Interview with Tony Rauch

Today's interview is with Tony Rauch, author of Laredo and Eyeballs are Growing All Over Me ...Again.

How did you get involved in the Bizarro movement?
I always liked arty, absurdist writing, DaDa, abstract, experimental fic, adventures, etc. My first collection of shorts was published by Spout Press (Mpls) and the people at Eraserhead Press (Portland, OR) caught wind of it several years later and contacted me wondering if I had anything else. I sent them several groups of stories that they liked, so I began working with them. They published my last 2 collections. So I kind of got sucked into it, thinking that, after my first book I’d be on small, obscure, arty presses forever. Bizarro seems to be growing, but I feel very remote and removed from things living in Mpls, so I don’t know what others think about it.

Tell us about Eyeballs Growing All Over Me ...Again.
Well, I think it’s best for people to look at the synopsis and samples on my wordpress site and decide for themselves. But basically it’s a 140 page story collection of whimsical, dreamy, absurd, surreal, fantasy, sci fi, and fairy tale adventures. These fables will make great story starters for young adults and reluctant readers. Some of the pieces are absurdist or surreal adventures that hearken back to imaginative absurdism, sci-fi, and fantasy of the 1950s. With themes of longing, discovery, escape, eeriness and strange happenings in everyday life, readers will delight in these brief but wondrous adventures.  Basically, that’s the pitch.

Is there one story you've written that you'd say is your favorite?
One that is on my wordpress web site (under: books: despite our best efforts - will be in an upcoming collection) - a story called “I became a different person” in which someone wakes up and is a totally different person, but looks similar to his old self. So a take-off on a common ‘twilight zone’ paradigm. I didn’t invent this trope, but thought I’d borrow it to express my dissatisfaction with other people constantly trying to define you and use that invented definition for their gain and to keep you down. So in the story a man wakes in a strange bed with 2 strange women. They don’t believe him when he says he’s lost and all that, they merely agree with him in general (“well, everyone feels ‘lost’ at times”) in a polite and supportive manner, but which does not alleviate his distress. This continues through the story, as they take him about his day where he finds out he’s this fantastic partier who throws wild parties. He’s arrested and taken to jail while he meets another who knows and admires him who also just agrees with what he says. The next day he wakes up in a completely different environment, but this time he’s a criminal on the run. Hopefully it’s a story about identity, the limits of labels, getting stuck in things, etc.

Was there a book that made you realize you wanted to be a writer?
Several. I always liked short stories because they got to the point quickly without bogging you down in unneeded exposition and background filler. I saw some stories in various anthologies when I was in college which really set my mind reeling and opened doors in my mind. I then checked out the author’s books -

Most notably -
- Steve Martin – “Cruel shoes” – read it in 5th grade and thought it magnificent. It reminded me of the Saturday Night Live sketches I loved at the time – brief, absurd, thoughtful, and yet revealing underlying currents within ourselves and society. I’d never read anything that concise and powerful at that age. There is a power in brevity.

- Richard Brautigan – “Revenge of the lawn” – stories do not have to be long, or have a formal beginning or ending to be interesting. Fluid writing. Strange connections, metaphors, and descriptions.

- Donald Barthelme - story “A shower of gold” - stories can be abstract, absurd, minimal, etc. and yet you can still figure out the meaning or symbolism without having it all spelled out. Strange juxtapositions are interesting and set objects in new contexts.

- Leanard Micheals - story “Murderers” - stories don’t have to be long and meandering or have an assigned meaning - just the situation itself and the way it was told was compelling.

- Mark Layner – “My cousin, my gastroenterologist” – taught me stories could be brief, abstract, interesting, and not bogged down in meaning or contrived soap-opera histrionics and gimmicks. This was the one that to me said: “There are no rules. You can do anything. A story can be anything.” It was the one that knocked down all the restrictions.

- Stephen-Paul Martin – “The gothic twilight” and “Fear and philosophy” – for the same as all the above, but that abstract, collage, and arty could be very interesting and deep if kept brief.

- Barry Yourgrau – “A man jumps out of an airplane” and “Wearing dad’s head” – brief modern fairytales that sound ancient and new at the same time, sublime, ethereal, and yet part of our DNA, as if I knew these stories were a part of my history and was now being reminded of them.

Anyway, these were the books and stories that showed me that fiction can be wide open, that you can make your own rules and explore.

As I read Eyeballs Growing All Over Me ...Again, I kept thinking of Ray Bradbury.  Is he one of your influences?
Yes. Very much so. All sci fi from the 40s through the 60s, but especially the 50s. Bradbury is a great, underrated and undervalued writer. He has one of the greatest absurdist pieces I’ve ever read – “The watchful poker chip of H. Matise.”

Sci fi stories expound on ideas, and those ideas helped shape the space age – space ships, consumer appliances, computers, aliens, technology, ecology, ethics, morality, etc. with a sense of discovery, wonder, awe. Those stories open your mind to possibilities, they get you thinking.

After reading the New Kid, I have to ask: Did you have an electric football game as a kid?
Ha! No, but several neighbor’s did, and I thought they were really cool.

(originally I was going to have the figures be basketball players as that sport is more universal and thus maybe more common or relatable. I can’t remember why I switched them to football. Maybe because you’d need 2 basketball hoops and that would be harder to integrate into the story or make the game harder to play anywhere, where the footballers could just play anywhere. Also Basketball is more fluid, with few breaks – where football has a break every play, with substitutions, so the kids would be forced to ‘coach’ and interact with the players)

Was the writing experience for Eyeballs different than writing the stories that comprise Laredo?
Yes, actually. I wanted less abstract, less arty, and more focused stories than Laredo. I was going for more of a commercial vibe with the ‘eyeballs’ collection, with a nod to sci fi, the twilight zone, strange adventures, and all that. The stories are less open-ended in that they seem to mostly lead you somewhere specific. I wanted story starters for young adults and reluctant readers. I thought these vibes would be easier to market, easier for people to get their heads around.

With Laredo it was more like paintings, only written down. So each story was like a painting or collage that set up a vibe or feeling. Also I wanted a fairytale vibe.

So both books have similarities, but are also different.

I was never big on magical realism or fantasy, but thought I’d give them a try to gain more metal ammo, which ended up working out well. So some of the stories in both collections were more like experiments - to get me out of my comfort zone, get me thinking in new ways. I think they seem fresh because of that experimental leap.

Who are some of your influences?
That would be a long list, mostly short story writers -
Older writers:
Donald Barthelme, J.D. Salinger, Richard Brautigan, Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., Charles Bukowski, Franz Kafka, Leonard Michaels (murderers), Antoine de Saint Exupery (the little prince), Dr. Seuss (cool illustrations), Roald Dahl, Steve Martin (cruel shoes), W.P. Kinsella (the alligator report), Jim Heynen (the man who kept cigars in his cap)

Contemporary writers:
Barry Yourgrau, Mark Leyner, Adrienne Clasky (from the floodlands), Lydia Davis (Samuel Johnson is indignant), Etgar Keret, Stacey Richter, George Singleton, James Tate (Return to the city of white donkeys), Thom Jones, Italo Calvino, Stephen-Paul Martin, Will Self, Denis Johnson (Jesus’ son), David Gilbert (I shot the hairdresser), David Sedaris, Paul Di Filippo, D. Harlan Wilson, Andersen Prunty

Science fiction from the 40s, 50s, and 60s:
Rod Serling, L. Sprague De Camp, Ray Bradbury, Phillip K. Dick, Aurthur C. Clarke, Isaac Asimov, Charles Beaumont, Ursula K. Le Guin, etc.

What's your favorite book?
- Richard Brautigan – “Revenge of the lawn”
- Donald Barthelme - “Come back, Dr. Caligari”

These are adventures that just open my mind. They connect previously unconnected ideas in my head, which then form new ideas and new connections. These stories are often set in everyday environs – school classrooms, work office, backyard – but there are hidden discoveries to be made in the everyday. The writing is crisp, brief, fluid, and inventive.

Who's your favorite author?
Richard Brautigan. His style is so interesting and fluid. He connects and describes things in previously un-thought of ways.

What's the best book you've read in the last six months?
I re-read “Wyatt Earp, Frontier Marshal” again. This to me is an amazing adventure of a man who went through a lot of loss and lived to tell about it. His journey is operatic in scale, an odyssey of loss and perseverance. It’s very inspiring. He seemed to try to be neutral and see both sides of an issue, instead of letting his emotions get the better of him or letting others do his thinking for him. He wasn’t out to hurt anyone for his own gain. He was his own man.

Any words of wisdom for aspiring writers?
Keep writing. Write all the time. Write what you want, what interests you. Send your writing out to get published all the time as this may attract publishers. Figure out why you are writing. Set goals. Work to those goals. Stay focused, don’t get distracted by what others want you to be. Find a good editor to review your work before you send it out. Read a lot. I get inspiration from music, art, and other authors. Experiment and play around with ideas, language, form. Have a good work ethic, get efficient, but have a good life balance in order to draw ideas from other areas.

What's next for Tony Rauch?
I just finished three new collections – one absurdist, and two that are similar to my last short story collection, ‘eyeballs’, which are imaginative, whimsical, dreamy, absurd, surreal fantasy, sci-fi, and fairytale action adventures.

You can visit my website for samples of the stories and updates on new releases.

After those are released, I will continue to work on marketing and promotion for them. It’s tough to get the word out about the books.

But I don’t know what’s next after the new books are published and marketed. I have several other collections of shorts started, but they need a lot of work. I suppose that’s the sense of discovery in it all though – in finding out what’s next.

That brings up a question that I struggle with – what is success? To be an artist you can’t just coast on technique or comfortable formula, you have to go out there and explore the unknown in order to grow. You need to reach beyond what you already know in order to stay fresh.