Wednesday, June 26, 2013

In the Shadow of Gene Wolfe

Shadows of the New Sun: Stories in Honor of Gene WolfeShadows of the New Sun: Stories in Honor of Gene Wolfe by Bill Fawcett
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Shadows of the New Sun is a collection of stories inspired by Gene Wolfe's work and the author's fond memories of meeting Gene (or not).

Official Business: I got this from Netgalley. Thank you, Netgalley!

The authors included are Neil Gaiman, David Brin, David Drake, Nancy Kress, Timothy Zahn, Michael Stackpole, Aaron Allston, Michael Swanwick, Mike Resnick, and others. Neil Gaiman's story, the Lunar Labyrinth, is my favorite. Timothy Zahn's story and Frostfree, the tale of a refrigerator that transforms into a woman and gives a man love advice, were tied for second place.

To be honest, the stories vary in quality, both in writing and in content. I thought the author's memories of Gene Wolfe were actually more interesting than a lot the short stories. Still, it was great to see Severian again, even if Gene wasn't writing him. Like I said, the Gaiman story was my favorite but most of them were worth reading. If you're a Gene Wolfe fan, you'll probably be entertained by this book.

View all my reviews

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Heart-Shaped Box

Heart-Shaped BoxHeart-Shaped Box by Joe Hill
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When aging rocker Judas Coyne buys a ghost on the internet, he doesn't take it seriously. That is, until a musty old suit shows up in a heart-shaped box. Soon, Judas begins to see the horrifying spectre of a man wearing the suit. Things take a sinister turn and people start dying so Judas and his girlfriend Georgia go looking for the woman who sold him the suit, the sister of his deceased ex-girlfriend. Can Judas stop the man in the suit from destroying his life?

After NOS4A2, I thought it best to tackle some of Joe Hill's earlier books. His debut novel did not disappoint.

Heart-Shaped Box is a tale of revenge from beyond the grave. Craddock was a suitably creepy antagonist. When your enemy can control your mind, how can you stop him? The powerlessness that Judas felt for a good portion of the story made the story that much more effective.

Hill's writing is like his dad's, back when his dad was still emulating the late Richard Matheson and John D. MacDonald. It flows very well and doesn't get overly flowery. When a ghost is driving people mad, the prose doesn't have to be purple to be enjoyable.

Judas and Georgia wound up being much more developed than I originally thought. As Judas' background was explored, I understood how he got to where he was. Same with Georgia, aka Marybeth.

Joe's about as nice to his main characters as his old man. Judas and Georgia went through the wringer on the way to the end of the story and there was no magic to fix their grievous injuries.

Since Judas is an aging rock star, I expected a lot more references to music and musicians. I liked that his dogs were named after members of AC/DC. There were a disproportionate amount of Trent Reznor references, which I found odd since Judas is in his mid-50's. I'll chalk that up to Nine Inch Nails being some of Joe Hill's favorite music.

It was creepy but didn't keep me up at night. 4 stars.

View all my reviews

Saturday, June 22, 2013

The Ocean at the End of the Lane

The Ocean at the End of the LaneThe Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

While in his home town for a funeral, a middle aged man drives to the site of his parents' former home and visits visits the farm at the end of the road, where he remembers some curious events from when he was seven...

First off, I'll get the gripes out of the way. The Ocean at the End of the Lane is marketed as Gaiman's first adult novel since Anansi Boys. It feels a lot more like a young adult novel, more akin to the Graveyard Book or Coraline than American Gods. Secondly, it's only 175 pages long. In and of itself, that's fine, but with a whopping 25.99 price tag, it's kind of a gouge.

Gripes aside, The Ocean at the End of the Lane is a pretty cool book. Gaiman does a masterful job at portraying the nameless lead character, a seven year old boy who befriends at odd eleven-year old girl named Lettie, who may or may not be as old as the universe, and her mother and grand mother. Maiden, mother, and crone remember the Old Country, which sank, or the really Old Country, which blew up.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane, like a lot of Neil Gaimain work, deals with dreams, the effect of belief on reality, and forgotten things, like things that every kid knows and every adult has forgotten.

There's not a lot I can say without giving away the best bits. Gaiman has a way of making his young adult books way scarier than his adult ones and this one falls into that category. Urusula and the hunger birds were both pretty creepy, as was what happened with the boy's foot.

That's about all I can say. The Ocean at the End of the Lane is a really quick read but full of interesting ideas and great moments. Four out of five. I may elevate it to a five on a reread.

View all my reviews

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Bigfoot, Yeti, and Nessie: Oh My!

Abominable Science!: Origins of the Yeti, Nessie, and Other Famous CryptidsAbominable Science!: Origins of the Yeti, Nessie, and Other Famous Cryptids by Daniel Loxton
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Abominable Science talks about the origins of cryptids like Bigfoot, the Yeti, the Loch Ness monster, sea serpents, dinosaurs currently living in Africa, and cryptozoology in general.

Official Business: I got this from Netgalley. Thank you, Netgalley!

Confession time: When I was a kid, I was way into books like this, most written by Daniel Cohen. If the book had blurry photos of Bigfoot, the Loch Ness monster, or UFOs, I was all over it. When you're a kid, it's easy to swallow all that bullshit and not notice the taste. After all, the world is an enormous place when you're a kid, with plenty of room for things like Bigfoot, mammoths in Siberia, brontosauruses in Africa, and aliens all over the damn place. As you get older, your bullshit tolerance is worn down and it gets harder to believe in things like the Yeti. I still watch Monsterquest, though, but only for entertainment purposes, although they did find a colossal giant squid once.

Abominable Science debunks cryptids like Bigfoot, exposing known hoaxes and offering possible explanations for witness accounts. The tone is very academic and dry but there are occasional bits of humor. It wasn't something I could blaze through in a couple sittings.

Abominable Science follows the evolutions of various cryptids. Did you know the word "yeti" comes from the word "yeh-teh," which is a word the Nepalese use for more than one mountain animal, and no one reported seeing a white yeti until after someone coined the term Abominable Snowman? Sea serpent trends are explored, like why do a lot of sea serpents have heads and manes like horses?

Known hoaxes are exposed and some unexplained cases are dissected. You know that famous Bigfoot footage from the 70's? One of the men responsible was known to be an untrustworthy, used car salesman type of person and a friend of his came forward and alleged he was the one in the costume. And that famous Loch Ness monster photo? It was admittedly a model but that doesn't stop people from presenting it as evidence. And how about the fact that no one reported seeing a plesiosaur-looking creature in Loch Ness until AFTER the premiere of King Kong in Scotland, which happened to briefly depict a plesiosaur?

What I found even more interesting than the known hoaxes was the lengths that Bigfoot researchers and similar people would go to suppress evidence of hoaxes. Also, some cases, like that of a small Bigfoot-like primate like Jacko that allegedly lived on a farm, were debunked over a hundred years ago but are still cited as evidence today.

Something I didn't know: Some cryptozooologists are hoping to find relict dinosaurs in the hopes that it will disprove evolution and boost creationism.

Abominable Science is full of interesting information but could have been a more engaging read. Three stars.

View all my reviews

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Soul Circus

Soul Circus: A Derek Strange NovelSoul Circus: A Derek Strange Novel by George Pelecanos
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Derek Strange is hired to find evidence to keep Granville Oliver from getting the chair. Terry Quinn is helping his girlfriend find a missing girl. How will their cases intersect with a brewing turf war between two gangs?

In this Strange and Quinn outing, Pelecanos explores the gang life in Washington DC even deeper than he has in the past and Strange and Quinn are drowning in it. Strange is tracking down evidence that could keep a known gangster alive out of guilt for killing the man's father when he was a cop. Quinn's helping his girlfriend Sue Tracy find a missing girl. Dewayne Durham and Horace McKinley are heading toward a confrontation that can only end in violence. Dewayne's loser brother Mario touches a spark to a trail of gunpowder with an act of thoughtless violence that sends everything into motion.

Soul Circus has all the Pelecanos hallmarks: pop culture references, philosophical talk about the nature of guns, violence, and life in DC, and of course, Nick Stefanos. Things start getting tense once Mario finds himself in the soup and they don't let up until a couple bloody moments near the end.

The antagonists in Soul Circus are among Pelecanos' best I've read so far. Dewayne's crew and McKinley's crew are all much more developed than the heavies in most detective fiction. Monkey's feelings toward Juwan and his reluctance to harm the kid and Dewayne's feelings for his loser brother made the gangsters seem very real to me. Foreman and his code of ethics and love for his girlfriend made him surprisingly deep for a gunrunner, much more than I thought originally. Strange and Quinn were true to themselves throughout.

Strange and Quinn don't actually accomplish much in this book but the detecting is there, as is the violence. Too bad Pelecanos hasn't written more Derek Strange books since I only have one left.

View all my reviews

Saturday, June 15, 2013


JoylandJoyland by Stephen King
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

On the heels of a breakup, college student Devin Jones takes a summer job at an amusement park, an amusement park haunted by the ghost of a woman murdered on one of the rides. But what does that have to do with a woman and her dying child that Devin meets walking on a beach?

Stephen King throws the Hard Case line another bone with Joyland. Much like The Colorado Kid, it will undoubtedly draw much needed attention to the line despite not being like the other books.

Joyland is the story of Devin Jones trying to get his shit together after being dumped by his girlfriend. What better way to do that than to slave away at a carnival for 12 hours a day? Once Devin learns of the murder, he starts investigating. Well, the investigation is incidental. Mostly he works at the carnival, saving a couple lives along the way and meeting a kid with muscular dystrophy that he takes a liking to, as well as his foxy young mother.

Stephen King's writing is firing on all cylinders in this one and it's a relief that he wrote a story that's less than 800 pages for once. There are some anachronisms but they didn't yank me out of the story. I thought I knew who the killer was but King managed to pull the rug out from under me just before the big reveal.

I liked Devin a lot. He felt like an authentic 21 year old to me, something that a lot of writers can't seem to do. He was also pretty relatable. I think I had an early onset of the 21's and it lasted until I was about 24.

A quick side note: I like that King named a traveling circus after Manly Wade Wellman. I wonder how many people caught that reference.

The only gripe I have with this book is that it doesn't feel like a Hard Case. However, since it will let Hard Case keep the lights on for quite a while with the money it brings in, I'll let Uncle Steve off with a warning this time. Three stars.

View all my reviews

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Hell To Pay

Hell to PayHell to Pay by George Pelecanos
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Strange and Quinn take on two cases, one of a runaway turned prostitute and the background check of a longtime friend of Strange's daughter's new suitor. Complications ensue when a young boy on the football team Strange and Quinn are coaching is gunned down. Will Quinn be able to keep his temper in check long enough to get the girl back? Will Strange find dark secrets lurking in Calhoun Tucker's closet? What is the secret connection between the dead little boy, Strange, and the boy's unknown father?

Strange and Quinn are at it again. This time, most of the book is about the relationships between Strange and Quinn and the supporting cast. Strange and Janine's relationship is explored, Quinn meets another woman, and Strange and Quinn coach a peewee football team. Lurking in the background are Garfield Potter and his gang, a pimp named Worldwide Wilson, and druglord Granville Oliver.

The Derek Strange books, while detective fiction, are also Pelecanos' way of showing the rough way of life of poor black children in Washington DC, showing a different side of DC than we've seen with Nick Stefanos and the DC Quartet. Each of the antagonists grew up rough and while they are all pieces of garbage, they didn't have much choice in the matter.

I really like that Strange is committing to Janine and likely giving up his happy endings at the massage parlor. I also like that Quinn has a girlfriend now that will likely reign him in. Strange and Quinn are much more complex than they appeared at first glance.

Some of this book is hard to take, like the death of Joe Wilson. Hell, the fight between Worldwide and Quinn was one of the more brutal fist fights I've ever read. The connection between Strange and Granville was unexpected but made a lot of sense once it was revealed.

At this point, I'd read the phone book if Pelecanos had a hand in writing it. Four stars.

View all my reviews

Friday, June 7, 2013


DoorsDoors by Daniel Brako
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

While humoring a patient who can see imaginary doors everywhere, Dr. David Druas begins seeing the doors himself, leading him to bizarre alien worlds. When his patient winds up dead, Druas is the prime suspect, on the run from the police as well as the mysterious Doorkeeper...

First off, I got this from Netgalley. Thank you, Netgalley!

Doors initially sparked my interest on Netgalley because the cover reminded me of The Drawing of the Three. While they both feature doors no one else can see, that is where the similarities end.

My summary pretty much explains the tale. The Doors are an ancient piece of either technology or magic, triggered by an invocation, discovered by accident by Druas patient, in this case. The Doorkeepers' duty is to keep the Doors secret by any means necessary.

Doors uses multiple viewpoints and non-linear story telling to great effect, telling the story from David's point of view as well as some of his friends and building suspense. I really liked the concept of Doors and Doorkeepers.

This is a short review but Doors is a pretty short book. I'd say my only gripe is that I wish it had been twice as long.

View all my reviews

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Doctor Who and the Genesis of the Daleks

Doctor Who and the Genesis of the DaleksDoctor Who and the Genesis of the Daleks by Terrance Dicks
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

When the Time Lords highjack the Doctor's transmat beam and send him back in time to stop Davros from creating the Daleks, he has no choice but to comply. Unfortunately, Skaro is a wasteland, torn apart by the war between the Thals and the Kaleds, and The Doctor and Harry are soon separated from Sarah Jane and fine themselves on opposite sides of the conflict. Can the Doctor prevent the creation of the Daleks and save his friends?

So what am I doing reading the novelization of a classic Doctor Who episode featuring the Fourth Doctor? Well, Joyland is taking the slow boat from Toledo so I needed something short to fill the void. Luckily, Kemper sent me this for Christmas.

The writing is what you'd expect in a media tie-in book, pretty spare and workmanlike. It's pretty light on description. I'd say Terrance Dicks captured the characters pretty well but since he had the TV script to work from, that probably didn't take much effort.

Since I've never seen this Tom Baker episode, I was pleasantly surprised by the twists. Once the Dalek action kicked off, I was entertained enough to keep reading. Since 30% of the Doctor Who stories after this one feature the Daleks, there was little doubt things wouldn't be all fish fingers and custard at the end of the story.

Genesis of the Daleks was a fun diversion for a couple hours but I'm more than ready for Joyland to arrive.

View all my reviews

Wednesday, June 5, 2013


11/22/6311/22/63 by Stephen King
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

When a dying friend shows him a portal to 1958 in the back of his diner, Jake Epping finds himself venturing in the past with one goal in mind: Stopping Lee Harvey Oswald! But did Oswald do it? And can Jake stop him even if he did fire the shot that killed JFK?

Once I got over Stephen King's throbbing erection for the late 1950's/early 1960's, I enjoyed this book immensely. Here's how it all went down.

Jake's friend, an old diner owner, shows him a portal back to 1958. Each trip is like the first trip, meaning Al has been buying the same 12 pounds of ground beef at 1958 prices for years. Al wants Jake to stop the Kennedy assassination, something Al had been planning on doing until cancer laid him low. Jake gets railroaded into doing it and finds himself blundering around after Lee Harvey Oswald until 1963.

Yeah, it didn't sound that exciting to me either at first but I was hooked right away. Stephen King is criminally underrated as a writer, mostly because he writes mammoth best sellers more often than I clean my downstairs bathroom. Frequency aside, he can write the shit out of things. I had no trouble buying Jake's romance with Sadie, nor his reluctance to kill Oswald without being sure he was guilty, nor the idea that the past doesn't want to be changed. When the big moment came, I felt like the entire universe was at jeopardy, much like I did in The Dark Tower.

Speaking of The Dark Tower, there are Stephen King Easter eggs in abundance, like Jake meeting a certain two children in Derry, to the Takuro Spirit he sees by the road late in the tale.

I like the way King handled time travel, especially this exchange between Jake and Al, which I'm paraphrasing:
"What if you went back in time and killed your own grandfather?"
"Why the fuck would you do that?"
Another time travel bit I really liked was Jake had to take era-appropriate money with him. A lot of time travel stories neglect that.

While I was reading this, my girlfriend, who forcibly recommended the book to me, asked what I would do with a time portal that functioned like this one, returning two minutes after you left no matter how much time you spent in the past. I told her I'd sneak away and take long naps or go on reading vacations for a week or two of subjective time. That's one way to get some serious reading done.

I did have a few complaints, though. Jake does some awfully conspicuous things in the past for a guy who's trying to fly under the radar. Also, the aforementioned boner for JFK and his era. I have to think King was looking at the 50's and 60's through rose colored glasses. Food and drink tasting better in the past? Sounds like nostalgia to me.

All in all, this was the shortest 900 page book I've ever read and one hell of a read. 4 stars, leaning heavily toward five. I do not envy whichever book I read after this one.

View all my reviews

Sunday, June 2, 2013


WormWorm by Tim Curran
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

After an earthquake, first black sludge bubbles up from the depths of the earth, then a ravenous horde of gigantic, razor-mawed worms. Can any of the denizens of Pine Street, or even the entire town, survive?

First off, I got this from Netgalley. Thank you, Netgalley!

This is a B-movie horror flick that has been transmogrified into a book somehow, and an ebook at that. Ever see Tremors? It's like that, only without Kevin Bacon and with a lot more horror, gore, and what is most likely liquified fecal matter. Throw in something akin to tentacle-porn and we're up and running.

Worm tells the story of a neighborhood that's laid waste by cyclopean worms from the depths of the earth. No one is safe, not old people, mothers, deadbeats and their wives' effeminate dogs, or Italian guys who cheat on their frigid wives. The worms are hungry and don't care who they eat, often focusing on the breasts, faces, or genitals.

I could mention the characters by name but the gore is the star of the show. People getting mauled by gross worms was what I picked this up for and that's what I got. The writing was par for the course for a gore book of this time but I did catch myself quoting bits to my girlfriend while she was trying to watch TV.

Some people died in particularly inventive ways that I won't spoil. If this was a movie, it would have to be directed by one of the Italian gore directors like Fulci or Argento.

The ending was fairly believable for a book about worms the circumference of garbage cans but I was hoping for a less hopeful one. 3.5 gore-splattered stars! I'll have to be on the lookout for more Tim Curran.

View all my reviews


The reviewer interview series started on Shelf Inflicted yesterday. From June 1st through the 29th, I'll be interviewing a different Goodreads reviewer every day, including myself.  Check it out.