Thursday, January 30, 2014

The Ape Man's Brother

The Ape Man's BrotherThe Ape Man's Brother by Joe R. Lansdale
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Now it can be told: the true story of The Big Guy, a man raised by ape-like beings in a lost world and brought to civilization, as told by his ape-brother, Bill! What really happened when The Woman and her scientist father brought The Big Guy and his brother from their jungle home?

Joe Lansdale has been one of my top five writers for over a decade now. As much as I pimp his Hap & Leonard series to crime fans, what really grabbed my attention was his weirder fare like this.

In The Ape Man's Brother, Uncle Joe takes a page from Philip Jose Farmer's playbook and imagines what Tarzan, sorry, The Big Guy, might have been like if he actually existed. Only instead of Farmer's take, this tale is full of the usual mojo: sex, cursing, violence, and humor. Farmer sure didn't drag Tarzan and Cheetah to Hollywood and have them star in a movie based on their exploits. And Cheetah sure didn't... well, I don't want to spoil too much.

Even though Tarzan fans might not appreciate The Big Guy's antics, it's clear Joe Lansdale loves the subject matter he's tackling. There's pulpy action and, if you ask me, the Big Guy acts like a jungle-raised savage would if he was brought to Hollywood and had fame and fortune thrust upon him.

At 104 pages, it's a slim book but it's the perfect size for what it is: a hilarious tale only the mojo storyteller himself could dream up. With dinosaurs, lots of humor, violence, and the Big Guy sodomizing a dead lion, it's worth ever penny. Four out of five stars!

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Tuesday, January 28, 2014

The Furies

The Furies: A ThrillerThe Furies: A Thriller by Mark Alpert
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

When John Rogers meets a pretty girl in a bar, he has no idea what he's getting into, a clan war between two factions of mutant humans called Furies. Can John and Ariel escape the clan on their trail?

I got this from Netgalley.

First off, I see a lot of reviews that complain about the rest of the book not going very well with the prologue. Well, read the summary. The main story takes place in the present and the prologue takes place in 1645. Yeah, they're probably not going to have the same tone.

That being said, this book was mostly a thriller with some urban fantasy and sf sprinkled around the edges. I like the idea of a secret, long-lived race living among us composed mostly of hot redheads that need an outsider's seed... Wait, what was I talking about again?

Right. For a book that mentions a race burned as witches in the past, there's not a hell of a lot distinguishing this from your paint by numbers thriller in the first 40% of the book, complete with specific models of firearms and the instalove/forced hookup. It almost reads like someone dusted off a thriller novel they had in a trunk and said "You know, urban fantasy is very popular these days..." Arthur C. Clarke's quote about sufficiently advanced science being indistinguishable from magic at the beginning is very apt and pretty much sets the tone for the rest of the book.

Gripes aside, it is an engaging read, though. Lots of twists and turns, shooting, running, etc. The Fury society seemed fairly well thought out. It was interesting to read about a society where women have most of the power and all the men are infertile. I have to mention that there are a few infodumps about genetics, though, and I did find some characters' motivations questionable given the Fury society.

Once the book hit the 75% mark, the manure hit the windmill and cats and dogs started living together. The Furies had their world turned upside down quite a few times but it was an odd number of times so it was still upside down when the book ended. One thing I loved was that it didn't feel like Alpert was gunning for a sequel or neverending series, a rarity in this day and age.

That's about all I wanted to say. Oh, the one sex scene was surprisingly dirty. I think I covered everything now.

The final grade is going to have to be a 3. I wasn't cuckoo for cocoa puffs over it but I liked it more than I was indifferent toward it. It wasn't awesome but I didn't dislike it. Isn't that what the three stars are for?

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Sunday, January 26, 2014

Star Wars - Honor Among Thieves:

Honor Among Thieves (Star Wars: Empire and Rebellion, #2)Honor Among Thieves by James S.A. Corey
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

In the aftermath of The Battle of Yavin, Han Solo takes on a new mission for the Rebel Alliance: pick up a spy named Scarlet Hark on a planet in Imperial space. Since things are rarely simple, he finds a couple bounty hunters that want to take him back to Jabba the Hutt, Scarlet Hark, and the existence of an ancient device the Empire could use to control all of hyperspace travel. Can the legendary smuggler and his Wookie save the day?

There have been a couple periods in my life where I was convinced Star Wars was the best thing since sliced bread. The first time was when I was a very young lad and had 50-something Star Wars action figures. My relatives say I even slept with them when I was 4 but they are known liars. The second period I became enamored with Star Wars was when Timothy Zahn's Thrawn trilogy came out. Between then and my second, much more successful, stint in college arount the year 2000, I read 40-something of the Star Wars novels. Then I lost interest around the time the prequel trilogy was in full swing.

Anyway, when this came up on Netgalley, I decided I'd put the trauma of the prequel trilogy aside and give Star Wars another chance. It was a fun read but I'm not going to dig my old Star Wars sheets and pillowcases out of storage.

Han Solo and Chewbacca rang pretty true to their screen incarnations, although I thought Han could have been a little more capable. The novel does a good job illustrating how the events of Star Wars changed him by having him encounter an old crony and contrasting the two of them. Bassen Ray reminded me of a broken down Han Solo with an English accent. Scarlet Hark felt like Princess Leia with a lick of paint, however.

The plot was a little overly complicated but it was still fun. There were double crosses, the Millenium Falcon malfunctions, and lots of gunplay. There were event a few fairly funny bits. But at the end of the day, it's still a Star Wars novel. You know nobody who has an action figure made in his or her likeness is going to get killed and because of this particular novel's place in the timeline, you know the likelihood of any recurring character getting introduced is pretty slim.

All gripes aside, I was fairly entertained by this book. I wasn't as crazy as a Bantha in heat over it like I was the Zahn Trilogy or I, Jedi, but it was a good bit of pulpy fun that reminded me why I liked Star Wars in the first place. Three out of five stars.

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Saturday, January 25, 2014

Megan Abbott Gives Me The Fever

The Fever: A NovelThe Fever: A Novel by Megan Abbott
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When Deenie's best friend suffers a violent seizure in class, the students are shocked. When other girls begin suffering from mysterious ailments, chaos ensues as the community tries to find a cure. Is a strange illness caused by HPV the culprit? What about the town's polluted lake? Or is it just hysteria?

I got this from Netgalley.

After seeing Catching Fire in the theater, I noticed most of the teenage girls in the crowd were sobbing. I remarked on this the following Monday at work. One man, whose wife has been a teacher for 30 years, said his wife calls it "teenage girl hysteria. When one girl feels a strong emotion, pretty soon they all feel it." I don't know how accurate all of that is but it was on my mind when I began reading The Fever.

Before I forget to mention it, I had this cover song by The Cramps playing in my head portions of this book.

Anyway, The Fever is the tale of one girl falling victim to a mystery illness and the fallout from that event. Megan Abbott, as much as I love her noir tales, writes the hell out of what it's like to be a teenage girl during a time of crisis. It's like she used to be one or something...

I had a feeling what was up with the girls besides Lise who wound up in the hospital but it took me forever to figure out what actually happened to Lise. Megan paints a vivid picture of small town panic, high school girl politics, and how hard it must be to be the parent of a teenager. I think I'd rather be a guest at The Red Wedding than be a teenage girl in one of Megan Abbott's books.

The characters are well drawn. The Nash family were the POV characters for the novel. You've got the divorced dad who is a teacher at the high school where everything goes down, Eli, older son and star hockey player, and Deenie, the girl who knows all the girls who've fallen ill and is sure she'll be next.

Megan did a great job providing misdirection. I knew the HPV vaccine wasn't causing the trouble but she had me blaming the algae bloom in the polluted lake for part of the story, even though I was sure it was all in the girls' minds.

It was a great book. Megan Abbott makes teenage girl politics look like the Starks vs. The Lannisters. Four out of five stars.

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Wednesday, January 22, 2014


CRAWLCRAWL by Edward Lorn
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A couple whose marriage is in a state of crisis gets into a horrible car cash and Juliet winds up nailed to a post in the woods. She manages to get free but has to crawl for her life from the thing roaming the woods...

I'm going to take a detour before I get into the meat of the review. Most of us have been spammed by authors, an approach that never works. I'm much more likely to become interested in a writer's work if they also display their love of reading. When Edward Lorn put out the call to read this ARC on Booklikes, I jumped at the chance since he's demonstrated he's a writer that still loves to read. I was not disappointed.

You know that when the horrific car accident is just part of the setup in a horror story, you're on to something good. Crawl is a tale of desperation and survival, both of a couple's dying marriage and a woman trying to get away from a supernatural horror on a pair of shredded feet.

Since it's a novelette, that's all I'm going to divulge about the plot. Edward Lorn's writing is polished and chilling, like Robert McCammon or a young Stephen King. Juliet was a great character and her struggles were powerful, both with forgiving her husband and trying not to be torn apart. My feet stung in sympathy for her.

I can't help but think that, for me, the best thing about testing the waters over at Booklikes was that it lead to me discovering Edward Lorn. Four out of five stars.

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Monday, January 20, 2014

Kill Bill? More like Kill 'em all!

The Ballad of MilaThe Ballad of Mila by Matteo Strukul
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Two rival gangs fight for control of northern Italy's underworld and at the center of it all is a mysterious redhead named Mila. Will anyone be left standing when Mila is finished?

I got this from Netgalley and Exhibit A.

The Ballad of Mila reads like a combination of Fistful of Dollars and Kill Bill. The story is that of a wronged woman who trains for years, arranges for her mortal enemies to nearly annihilate one another, then swoops in to finish things up. Sound pretty good?

Mila is a deadly heroine from the Lisbeth Salander school of ass kicking. Not only is she a fearsome martial artist, she's also good with swords, knives, the Colt .45 and sniper rifles. That's what you get when you're raised by your WWII veteran grandfather after you see your father murdered, I guess.

The villains are suitably vile, though both are attached to their families. I almost felt sorry for them given how they had no chance against Mila. And therein lies the rub. Mila is such a bad ass that I was kind of bored. While the blood and gore was fun, Mila escaped almost without a scratch.

This book feels like more like a Hard Case title than an Exhibit A one. Hell, it feels more like a Hard Case more than most of the recent Hard Case releases as well. It's a fun pulpy action story. As long as you're not expecting the second coming of The Big Sleep, it should make for a few enjoyable hours of reading. 3 out of 5 stars.

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Saturday, January 18, 2014

Doctor Who: Into the Nowhere

Doctor Who: Into the Nowhere (Time Trips)Doctor Who: Into the Nowhere by Jenny Colgan
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The Doctor and Clara land on a planet that's not on any maps and neither the Doctor or The TARDIS have any knowledge of it. After a series of harrowing experiences, a walking skeleton beckons them to follow. Will they survive their meeting with the King of Bones? Of course they will. He's The Doctor!

I got this from Netgalley. Thanks, Netgalley!

Into the Nowhere is a short adventure featuring The Eleventh Doctor and Clara. Unlike some Doctor Who fiction I've read, The Doctor and his companion, Clara in this case, are very well written and consistent with their personalities from the show. The Doctor had some good jokes and even a couple tender moments.

The story is a little hokey but still fun. There's quicksand, walking skeletons, giant snakes, and a demented mastermind in the center of it all. It could have easily been a series seven episode.

This was a short story so there's not a lot more of the plot I can divulge without giving everything away. Even though it wasn't the best Doctor Who story I've ever read, the depiction of the Doctor and Clara turned what might have been a two star read into something I enjoyed. Three out of five stars.

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Friday, January 17, 2014

The Book of the Crowman - Spoilers, Sweetie

The Book of the Crowman (Black Dawn #2)The Book of the Crowman by Joseph D'Lacey
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

As Gordon Black draws ever closer to the Crowman, Megan Maurice walks the Black Feathered Path and chronicles the Crowman's tale for the good of the world. How are Gordon and the Crowman linked? And is the Crowman the world's destroyer or its salvation?

I got this from the fine folks at Angry Robot and Netgalley.

This review contains copious spoilers so read at your own risk.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Lush Life

Lush LifeLush Life by Richard Price
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Bartender Eric Cash sees a coworker murdered and proves to be a poor witness. But was he really just a witness or did he shoot Ike Marcus? And if he didn't, who did?

During my second meeting with Kemper, he mentioned Richard Price being pretty good. I promptly forgot the name until a year later while I was watching The Wire, another Kemper recommendation. I found this down at the used bookstore and picked it up.

It pains me to say it, since I hold Kemper and The Wire in high regard, but I wasn't head over heels for this book. Before Omar corners me on the street with a shotgun, I will elaborate.

There were a lot things I did like about Lush Life. I liked how Price muddied the waters. The interrogation scenes were pretty powerful. Eric being scared was understandable. I also really liked that Matty's kicks were at least as messed up as the project kids that factored into the story. Price's writing is clever and there was some unexpected humor in it.

The thing I didn't enjoy was how long and drawn out everything felt. The book was about a hundred pages too long for what it was. It felt like Price couldn't decide if he wanted to do crime/mystery or literary fiction and it didn't quite work for me as either kind of book.

Still, it wasn't a bad book. I liked it more than I disliked it. I'll give it the traditional safety rating of 3.

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Sunday, January 12, 2014

Doc Wormwood and the Lair of the Daido-Shotheth

Doc Wormwood and the Lair of the Daido-ShothethDoc Wormwood and the Lair of the Daido-Shotheth by Rod Redux
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

When a miner turns up in Moosup ranting like a maniac and afflicted with something horrible, Deputy Bill Starr and the rest of the townsfolk turn to the mysterious Doc Wormwood. Soon, they find themselves up against horrors from another world. Can even Doc Wormwood save the day?

Rod Redux serves up a tale of Lovecraftian beasties terrorizing a small town in the old West. Narrated in the first person by the town deputy, an afflicted miner shows up and things unfold in fairly standard fashion.

Doc Wormwood and the Lair of Daido-Shotheth provides a lot of thrills in this novella. You get horribly outnumbered heroes, a crawl through a mine, a mysterious Doctor with equally mysterious gadgets, and gross monsters that combine creepy aspects of spiders with the Aliens of the film franchise of the same name. Sound good? It is!

Since it's a novella, there's not a lot I can divulge without giving away the whole shebang. I don't have any specific complaints although I did find it somewhat predictable. The first person narrater also tipped me off that not everyone was going to die. Those minor gripes aside, it was a really fun read.

In my experience, combining the Western genre with the horrors of H.P. Lovecraft always makes for an entertaining tale. With Doc Wormwood, Rod Redux further proves this point. 3.5 out of 5 stars.

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Wednesday, January 8, 2014

The Knitting Circle Rapist Annihilation Squad

The Knitting Circle Rapist Annihilation SquadThe Knitting Circle Rapist Annihilation Squad by Derrick Jensen
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

After six women in a weekly knitting circle find that they are all rape survivors and none of their attackers were ever brought to justice, the go on a rapist-killing spree. Soon, other people, both men and women, join their cause. Will the hapless police be able to stop them before their revolution goes out of control?

Sometimes, a book title will be so amazing that I simply must read the book. Too bad a lot of awesome titles are attached to books that are only average.

First off, rape is bad.

Secondly, this wasn't a bad book by any means. I can get behind the idea of a bunch of women murdering rapists with knitting needles. The humor is close to Christopher Moore in both style and intensity, from the hilarious knitters to the equally hilarious cops.

However, the humor wears a little thin by the halfway mark. Also, it's hard to feel completely comfortable laughing about a story where rapists play such a prominent role. Most of the characters are caricatures.

Still, it's a fairly entertaining little book. Three out of Five stars.

Did I mention rape is bad?

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Monday, January 6, 2014

Unicorn Battle Squad

Unicorn Battle SquadUnicorn Battle Squad by Kirsten Alene
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

In a city of skyscrapers and bureaucrats, a young clerk named Carl finds a unicorn named Yuri and is soon dragged into the world of Unicorn Riders. Can Carl find out what really happened to his father before the same thing happens to him?

A wise man in the comment thread of this book said that with such an awesome title, the resulting book cannot hope to measure up. Sadly, he was right. On paper, it should be something I'd be all over. High weirdness level, bad-ass cyborg unicorns, dystopian setting.

Too bad it was kind of boring and felt uninspired. It's a slim book and very little happened before the 75 page mark and what happened wasn't terribly interesting. Instead of focusing on what I was reading, I continually found myself thinking of what else I could be reading.

There were some interesting bits, like the Unicorn Rider concept and the sword selection. However, I thought Kirsten Alene's previous book, Love in the Time of Dinosaurs, was more interesting and focused. Carl was just too passive for me to care what befell him. Not when I have a lot of other books lying around.

2 stars, sad to say.

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Sunday, January 5, 2014

Grudge Punk

Grudge PunkGrudge Punk by John McNee
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

There are a million stories in The Grudge and John McNee commits ten of them to paper in Grudge Punk.

Not long ago, Arthur Graham, knowing my love of free stuff, detective fiction, and Bizarro fiction, tipped me off that this was free on Amazon. Hard to pass up free.

Grudgehaven is a city of automatons, acid rain, and deception. In Grudge Punk, John McNee takes ten fairly standard setups for noir stories and places them in his bizarre city. A detective is hired to find the only flesh and blood woman in the Grudge. A crime lord hires a woman to be his biographer. A mayoral candidate has a fondness for killing hookers. Two lovers conspire to murder the female of the pair's husband. Now imagine the detective being made of granite and you'll have an idea of what Grudge Punk is about.

The weirdness level is extremely high in Grudge Punk but all of it is fairly logical and doesn't stray into the realm of absurdity or being weird for the sake of being weird. The world has its own internal logical and all the short stories in this collection are linked and build upon one another until the final tale.

By far, my favorite part of the mythology McNee has established is the ongoing war between Grudgehaven's two crime lords, the King of Eyes and the King of Broken Glass. I'd read a whole novel detailing the decades-long conflict.

It's hard to review a book of short stories without giving too much away. Suffice to say, if you like weird detective fiction, you won't want to miss this.

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BlazeBlaze by Stephen King
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Aided by the voice of his dead friend George in his head, a slow goliath named Blaze kidnaps an infant and holds him for ransom. Can Blaze hold things together long enough to collect the ransom?

Blaze is a straight up crime book from Stephen King, aside from the voice of George in Blaze's head, which might not even be supernatural in origin. I have to wonder why this wasn't the book Stephen King offered up to Hard Case instead of The Colorado Kid.

The story of Blaze unfolds in two parallel stories, one of the present day kidnapping and the other of Blaze's past, how a beating at the hands of his father rendered him a simpleton and landed him in the state home. I found Blaze's past way more interesting than his kidnapping scheme, which had some ludicrous moments due to Blaze not really knowing what he was doing. When the wheels predictably come off, things quickly go to hell in a handbasket.

For the most part, this book was just kind of there for me. Blaze was the only really memorable character for me. I thought that for a book that was less than 400 pages, there was a bit of the King bloat in effect. While I liked it, it almost fell back into the "it's okay" realm. Maybe it was a wrong book, wrong time scenario.

Apparently Stephen King wrote the original draft of Blaze around the same time he was writing Carrie. Carrie got picked up and Blaze fell by the wayside until King decided to revive it while on the Lisey's Story tour. Why he stuck the Bachman name on it, I don't know. It feels more King than Bachman to me.

Three out of five stars but it's a weak three.

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Thursday, January 2, 2014

He Died With His Eyes Open

He Died With His Eyes OpenHe Died With His Eyes Open by Derek Raymond
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A man of little consequence is found brutally murdered and the Detective Sergeant of the Department of Unexplained Deaths is given the case. It seems Staniland, the victim, was a writer, and has left a number of cassette tapes behind detailing the final weeks of his life, notably a woman he's obsessed with named Barbara and a man he calls the Laughing Cavalier. Will the Sergeant follow the same road to madness as Staniland in his quest to find the truth?

He Died With His Eyes Open kicks off a series of gritty Margaret Thatcher-era London mysteries and introduces their central character, the nameless Sergeant. The Factory, which lends it's name to the series, is concrete industrial building where the Department of Unexplained Deaths has its headquarters.

He Died With His Eyes Open is a bleak tale of hopelessness and obsession. If Jim Thompson tried his hand at writing The Big Sleep, it might wind up looking something like this. It's so bleak it reminded me of Hennig Mankell's Kurt Wallander series.

The central character, The Sergeant, is the last good cop in a corrupt system, spurning publicity and promotion in favor of getting the job done, seeing lesser cops move up the ladder time and time again. Once Charles Staniland's case is dropped in his lap, he refuses to let it go, walking the same dark roads as Charles as he pieces things together.

Raymond's London is a dirty place full of povery and desperation and the characters are products of the setting. Barbara, Harvey, The Knack, and most of the others all carry the weight of possible poverty on their backs. Bowman, the Sergeant's superior, is an ambitious younger cop that doesn't understand the Sergeant in the slightest.

As the Sergeant delved deeper into Staniland's final days, things started spiraling out of control. The ending was one for the ages.

Four out of five stars. I can't wait to read more of Derek Raymond's Factory series.

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