Monday, November 28, 2016

Review: Alice

Alice Alice by Christina Henry
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

After her disastrous encounter with the Rabbit, Alice is confined to an insane asylum in the Old City. When a fire breaks out, she escapes the asylum with Hatcher, the axe-murdering inmate next door. However, the Jabberwock is on the loose as well, and to stop him, Alice will have to cross paths with the Rabbit once again...

Confession time: While I whiled away many a day playing Dungeons and Dragons, most of today's doorstop-sized fantasy novels don't hold a lot of interest for me. Alice, however, is another animal entirely.

While it has its roots in Lewis Caroll's familiar tales, Alice has a lot more in common with works like The Magicians and The Child Thief, deconstructions of older genre works. It bites like a horror novel at times and I was happy to let the bloody juices run down my chin.

Alice is not for the squeamish. She escapes the Rabbit's warren after he rapes her and soon finds herself locked up. Many figures from the earliest iterations of Alice's adventures are present and are crime bosses, many of them trafficking in women, in addition to their other vices.

The world building in Alice was exquisite, a Victorian era society where the rich live in the New City while the majority of people live in the dog eat dog world of the Old City, a world controlled by crime lords like The Walrus, Mr. Carpenter, The Caterpillar, Cheshire, and, of course, The Rabbit.

Aided by Hatcher, who may be an incarnation of The Mad Hatter, Alice goes careening through the back allies of the Old City, going up against all sorts of miscreants, discovering her birthright, and facing her darkest fears. That, and there is a shit load of violence. What more could a guy ask for?

Apart from thinking the ending was a little anti-climactic, I don't have anything bad to say about this book. It was creepy, unsettling, brutal, and a damn captivating read. It kicked a serious amount of ass and Christina Henry can come to my tea party any time. 4.5 out of 5 stars.

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Sunday, November 27, 2016

Review: The Violent Bear It Away

The Violent Bear It Away The Violent Bear It Away by Flannery O'Connor
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Francis Marion Tarwater buries his great uncle and heads to civilization to meet his uncle, the school teacher Rayber. Before his great uncle passed, he decreed that if he didn't baptize Rayber's son Bishop, Francis would. Can Rayber and the younger Tarwater fight destiny and break the elder Tarwater's hold on Francis from beyond the grave?

Flannery O'Connor sure was an upbeat person when it came to religion, wasn't she? The Violent Bear It Away is a tale of how one man's obsession took root in his entire family and ruined their lives time and time again, even after his death.

I had high hopes for the young Tarwater after the old man cashed in his chips. Unfortunately, fourteen years of living in the woods and tending a moonshine still didn't do much to prepare him for the outside world. Will he be able to shake his upbringing and find peace?

Fuck no, this is a Flannery O'Connor book, a book that tells you that clouds are lined with poison, not silver, and no matter how shitty your lot in life, things can always get a thousand times worse. I got lulled into a false sense of security a few times but should have seen the foreshadowing for what it was.

There were a couple holy shit moments near the end and while this was one bleak, powerful book, I was glad as shit that our time together was over. I wolfed it down in one sitting and I'm glad I did. I don't know that I would have felt up to finishing it otherwise.

The Violent Bear It Away is another feel good Flannery O"Connor tale of religion, revelation, and redemption. Or at least attempted redemption. 3.5 out of 5 stars.

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Saturday, November 26, 2016

Review: A Choir of Ill Children

A Choir of Ill Children A Choir of Ill Children by Tom Piccirilli
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

In the town of Kingdom Come, Thomas cares for his brothers, conjoined triplets, and for the mill, the town's only source of income. Who's kicking all the dogs? What happened to Thomas' family?

A Choir of Ill Children is a modern Southern Gothic tale, a slice in Thomas' bizarre life. To be honest, I'm not precisely sure what this was supposed to be. It reads like a collaboration between Flannery O'Connor and Donald Ray Pollock. There is a bleakness to the tale and a lot of strange shit happens. Some parts feel quite dreamlike and I'm not sure which ones actually happened.

I'm not even sure how to describe the plot. Thomas wanders from one encounter to the next and very little ever gets resolved. However, the encounters themselves are well-written and captivating. Someone's kicking all the dogs. There is lots of sex and violence, and mystery mute woman who is either eleven years old or twenty. There are witches, a preacher that speaks in tongues, and the Holy Order of the Flying Wallendas. And much more. Some things are best experiences for yourself.

As I said before, I thought the writing was great and Piccirilli's depictions of the grotesque are very well done. There are some scenes that will stick with me for a long time. Hell, I enjoyed the shit out of it despite being lost in the swamp a few times as to what was actually happening.

Overall, I liked this book and I'll be tracking down more of Tom Piccirilli's work. I enjoyed it even if I'm not sure what the hell actually happened. Three out of five stars.

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Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Review: Cujo

Cujo Cujo by Stephen King
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

When a two hundred pound St. Bernard goes rabid, no one is safe! Who will fall to Cujo before the disease he carries finishes him off?

I'm just going to come out and say it. Most of this book feels like filler to me. I think King took what was potentially an award winning tale of terror and jammed as much padding into it as he could until it was one of his shorter novels. Basically, it's a fantastic short story wrapped in a soap opera I couldn't give two shits about.

That being said, Cujo is a really powerful book in places. While I didn't care about a lot of things on the periphery, the core of it is pretty terrifying and heart-wrenching. No one wants their beloved family pet to turn on them and a rabid dog trapping a woman and her child in a car for DAYS is damn horrifying. As opposed to most of his menaces, Cujo is all too plausible.

The writing is good and the ending packs a huge punch. I sure didn't see that coming. It was like being kicked in the balls after you're already lying on the ground after being shot in the heart.

While I found that there was a lot of fat on this bone, it was pretty good at the core. Or marrow, in this case. Three hard-earned stars.

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Review: Charlie the Choo-Choo: From the world of The Dark Tower

Charlie the Choo-Choo: From the world of The Dark Tower Charlie the Choo-Choo: From the world of The Dark Tower by Beryl Evans
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Charlie the Choo-Choo has a secret. He can talk! But what will happen to Charlie and Engineer Bob once Charlie is replaced by a diesel locomotive?

Straight from the pages of The Waste Lands comes Charlie the Choo-Choo, the book within a book inspired by Blaine the Mono.

The tale reminds me a lot of Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel. Charlie and Engineer Bob are great until they are heartlessly replaced but still get one more shot at glory when the chips are down.

The artwork is suitably creepy. Charlie looks like he'd gladly gnaw the heads off of any one riding him. Stephen King writes in a style that is reminiscent of children's books, although he can't stop himself from making it a little on the wordy side.

I was planning on giving this to my nephews by I may just keep it for myself, on the shelf right next to my Dark Tower books. Four out of five stars.

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Monday, November 21, 2016

Review: Cyclops Road

Cyclops Road Cyclops Road by Jeff Strand
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

With a recently deceased wife and no job, Evan's life was going nowhere until a mysterious young woman named Harriet saves him from muggers. She's lived a monastic existence, training her whole life to combat a Cyclops that lives in Arizona. Like any sensible man, Evan decides to drive her there...

I'll read pretty much anything Jeff Strand writes at this point. A road trip that may or may not have a Cyclops at the end of it? Why the hell not?

Cyclops Road is one of Jeff Strand's quirkier books, like Kumquat. Evan's at rock bottom when Harriet falls into his life. Who wouldn't want to go on a crazy hero's journey type of quest given those circumstances.

Like most of Jeff Strand's works, Cyclops Road is pretty damn hilarious. Harriet guides Evan, the unbeliever, to three other companions the prophecy dictates they find, sending them zigzagging across the country. When they finally find the Cyclops, the wheels come off the ice cream truck in dramatic fashion.

While I liked Cyclops Road, I didn't love it. It was funny but the only characters I cared about were Evan and Harriet. After such hilarious tales as Kumquat and Blister, it was probably a case of me setting the bar a little too high. Jeff Strand's still high on my list of favorite authors, though.

To sum things up, Cyclops Road is a hilarious tale of faith, destiny, renewal, and monster slaying. Three out of five stars.

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Sunday, November 20, 2016

Review: The Dover Demon

The Dover Demon The Dover Demon by Hunter Shea
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Thirty years ago, four teenagers saw a creature the newspapers named The Dover Demon. Now, people are seeing the creature again and the four people's lives are going to converge. Will any of them survive?

I think Hunter Shea and I would have a lot to talk about. There was a five year period where I was into UFOs and an even longer time when I was fascinated by cryptids. How could I not give this a shot?

The Dover Demon uses the Dover Demon sighting in 1977 as a jumping on point and runs with it. The four people who saw the creature are leading very different lives when their shared past surfaces again. Kelly is an alcoholic. Sam runs a comic book shop and has a son, Nicky. Tank and Stephanie are happily married. When Nicky and his friends go looking for the Dover Demon after reading a blog post, the apple cart gets upset in dramatic fashion.

I love what Hunter Shea has done with the Dover Demon here, tying it with lots of staples of UFO lore and linking lots of different aspects of UFO mythology. Not only that, this is one balls-squeezing read. I wolfed it down in one long sitting, occasionally making noises of surprise and/or disgust.

Shea's writing reminds me of Richard Matheson's, not overly flowery but really punchy and evocative. There's some Kingliness in it as well, although it's from the early days of Stephen King. Some of his descriptions were nauseating and the mind-bending effects of the Dover Demon(s) was pretty disorienting. Also, he has a gift for suspense. I never once felt like the characters were working with a safety net. Unless they make safety nets out of razor wire these days...

Either Hunter Shea is one of my new favorite horror writers or he had me abducted and brainwashed by aliens. Either way, 4.5 out of 5 stars.

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Friday, November 18, 2016

Review: Loch Ness Revenge

Loch Ness Revenge Loch Ness Revenge by Hunter Shea
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When she was a child, Natalie McQueen watched the Loch Ness monster kill and eat her parents. Now, she's back at the Loch to get some payback!

As I've mentioned in other reviews, I spent a lot of my pre-teen years reading about cryptozoology, although I didn't know the term for it at the time. I spent countless afternoons reading about weird monsters, usually in books written by Daniel Cohen. Hunter Shea must have read some of the same books.

Loch Ness Revenge is just what the title says it is, a bloody tale of monster-hunting and carnage. It's also a hell of a lot of fun.

Natalie, plagued by night terrors, has been wanting to get revenge on the Loch Ness Monster for most of her life. Now, with her twin brother Austin and his monster hunter friend Henrik, she gets her chance.

This book was a hell of a lot of fun. Natalie and her friends have no idea how ill-equipped they are or even the number of monsters they face. Hunter references a lot of Loch Ness lore and theories, like the debunked surgeon's photo and the ideas that Nessie is some kind of plesiosaur or new form of seal.

While there's a lot of bloodshed, there's also a good amount of humor, although never when it would detract from the horror. Shea's writing has quite a punch to it and the story never feels like it's overstaying its welcome. While it's not a long book, it was the perfect length for what it was.

This was my first Hunter Shea book and now I'll probably be reading the rest of his cryptozoological horrors. Four out of five stars.

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Monday, November 14, 2016

Review: Bait

Bait Bait by J. Kent Messum
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Six heroin addicts wake up on an island in the Florida keys with no idea who they wound up there. The only thing standing between them and a top quality heroin fix on the next island is an expanse of shark-infested water...

When J. Kent Messum hit me up to review an ARC of this, I hesitated at first. Until I read about the sharks and the heroin, that is! Who doesn't like grim death sports? Welcome to the Heroin Games! May the odds be ever in your favor...

Jokes aside, this was pretty bad ass. While the characters weren't super-detailed, who the hell expects them to be? They're chum for a bunch of sharks!

The structure of the story added a lot to the experience, using shifting viewpoints and different points in time to tell the stories of the unwilling contestants before they wound up being shark bait for some sick bastards' amusement.

I felt like I was sitting right alongside the spectators on the boat, wondering who would be devoured next. I was wrong about who the last person standing would be, a nice surprise.

There's some serious gore in Bait. I let out a few audible groans during this, disturbing my dog. The suspense of the shark attacks was masterfully done. The ending was good and, as I said, a nice surprise.

Bait is a chum-spattered good time, a lot of fun in a time when we could all use some. Four out of five stars.

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Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Review: Goodnight Batcave

Goodnight Batcave Goodnight Batcave by Dave Croatto
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

My twin nephews have a birthday coming up so I couldn't resist snapping this up.

Goodnight Batcave is a parody of Goodnight Moon featuring everyone's favorite caped crusader produced by Mad Magazine. The art resembles what I remember the art from Mad being like and the prose mirrors that of Goodnight Moon.

What else do you need to know? For my brother, bedtime is like trying to herd the inmates back into Arkham Asylum so I'm hoping this takes the edge off a bit.

For an adult Bat-fan, I can't imagine a more fun children's book to read aloud. My girlfriend seemed entertained while I was reading it at the dinner table but that might have been pity. Five out of five stars.

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Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Review: Coco Butternut

Coco Butternut Coco Butternut by Joe R. Lansdale
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

When someone steals his mother's mummified dog, the beloved Coco Butternut, Jimmy Farmer hires Hap and Leonard to deliver the ransom. Too bad the dog won't be the only thing buried before the day is done...

I got this from Netgalley.

Coco Butternut is a Hap and Leonard novella set sometime after the events of Honky Tonk Samurai and Briar Patch Boogie: A Hap and Leonard Novelette. The boys are working for Brett at the detective agency when they catch the bizarre case of Coco Butternut.

Why would someone steal the mummified carcass of a wiener dog, you ask? Things get fairly complicated. Hap and Leonard are true to form, cracking wise and kicking ass, as are Brett and Chance.

It's a pretty slim book and I liked it but I wasn't blown away. I liked the callbacks to previous stories and the guys were in fine form but there wasn't a whole lot to the story. It felt like when you run into an old friend at the grocery store. It's fun catching up for a few minutes but then things get awkward. Do you shop alongside them? If not, what if you bump into each other again in the produce department?

Anyway. Coco Butternut was a fun Hap and Leonard novella but it was little more than an appetizer for Rusty Puppy. Three out of five stars.

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Goodreads Choice Awards Round 2 - The Awards That Melted Everything

So it's that magical time of year when the Goodreads Choice Awards takes up the top banner at Goodreads.

Let's face it.  Like most awards of this type, the Goodreads Choice Awards are a popularity contest and the winners are normally books that don't need any more recognition.  Is there any doubt the new Harry Potter book won't bulldoze the rest of the fantasy nominees or that End of Watch won't win best mystery even though Stephen King's Bill Hodges series isn't all that great?

Sometime in June or July, Tiffany McDaniel emailed me, asking if I'd review her book, The Summer That Melted Everything.  As I said elsewhere, I'd already passed on the book when I saw it on netgalley but the reviews on Goodreads had my interest.  I caved in, read it, and loved it.

The Summer That Melted Everything is one of those books everyone should read so I've been nudging it in people's direction ever since.  I voted for it to win the Not-The-Booker-Prize, and it won, despite The Guardian shitting on it and the other nominees.

And that brings us to the Goodreads Choice Awards.  The Summer That Melted Everything wasn't nominated for anything, passed over in favor of other books with better marketing or established names at the helm, books that didn't really need the award to get the word out.

I don't know that I was the first person to vote The Summer That Melted Everything as a write-in in fiction but I urged other people to do the same.  Low and behold, TSTME has made it to the second round in both Best Fiction and Best Debut.

You already know where this is headed.  Head over to Goodreads and vote for The Summer That Melted Everything in the Best Debut Goodreads Author and Best Fiction categories.  I'm not going to say the seas will boil and the skies will burn if you don't but why risk it?

Fine, the seas will boil and the skies will burn if you don't vote for The Summer That Melted Everything in the Goodreads Choice awards.  Cast your vote so more people will read this heart-wrenching, powerful modern-day classic.

Friday, November 4, 2016

Review: Last Days

Last Days Last Days by Brian Evenson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Former undercover cop Kline is at rock bottom, depressed and missing a hand, when a religious sect forcibly drafts him into service, ferreting out the killer of their leader. But is the leader really dead? And what sacrifices will Kline have to make to finally learn the truth?

This was one powerful little book. I devoured it in one sitting while waiting for car repairs, wondering how the rest of the patrons weren't shaken up by the events within.

It starts simply enough. Kline is at rock bottom when the phone calls start and eventually will look upon rock bottom with great fondness as he bores through the earths crust into greater depths of blood, fanaticism, and severed body parts.

When the tale begins, Kline is minus a hand courtesy of a gentleman with a meat cleaver on his last undercover job. The calls start and a certain religious sect who equate amputations with salvation make him an offer he can't refuse.

Kline skate the edge of sanity throughout most of the tale and goes through a large succession of meat grinders. The book has a creepy paranoid feel throughout. The simple put powerful style reminds me of Richard Stark in some ways, clipped and brutal.

As Kline descends into a haze of carnage and chaos, you have to wonder that even if he does survive, would he be better off dead? The Brotherhood of Mutilation makes for a great foil, probably because the idea isn't that far-fetched.

In The Last Days, Brian Evenson uses the tried and true hard-boiled PI template to tell one hell of a horror story. Four out of five stars.

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Thursday, November 3, 2016

Review: Danse Macabre

Danse Macabre Danse Macabre by Stephen King
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Danse Macabre is Stephen King covering the horror genre, in TV, film, radio, and text, from roughly 1950-1980. I'd been meaning to read this for a long time. The Kindle price was the clincher.

I don't really know what to say about this one. It was pretty middle of the road. Stephen King writes about three decades of the horror genre in various media. I thought some of the subjects were interesting, namely the movies and the books, many of which I'll have my eye out for. His insights on the nature of horror and why we like it so much were thought-provoking. However...

Okay, I'm a big Stephen King fan and think he's a great writer, even though he cranks out a best-seller as often as I pay my car insurance. He can be a bit wordy at times. With his prose, I don't notice it so much. With non-fiction, holy hell did I notice!

The Shrinking Man and The Haunting of Hill House were both barely longer than novellas but King drones on about them for twenty pages apiece! The autobiographical bits were way more interesting to me than some of the movies and books he wrote about. I have trouble giving a shit what Stephen King thinks about obscure B-movies made a couple decades before I was born that would seem hokey by today's standards.

Longwindedness aside, I did find the book informative and it added things to my watch list. Also, King shat on John Saul a few times. Was Saul the James Patterson of Horror in his day? Will my life have an unfillable void in it if I never read John Saul (or James Patterson)? Things to ponder.

You know what's not as fun as reading horror fiction or watching horror movies? Reading about what someone else thinks about them for one hundred pages too many! Three out of five stars.

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