Friday, December 30, 2016

Review: Uprooted

Uprooted Uprooted by Naomi Novik
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A wizard called The Dragon watches over the valley from his tower. Once every ten years, he takes a girl from the valley as tribute. When he picks a girl named Agnieszka, he gets more than he bargained for...

One of my takeaways from The Goodreads Summit was that Uprooted was a guaranteed five star read. It didn't quite hit that high for me but it was a damn good read.

I didn't know until the acknowledgements that this was based on a Slavic folktale, though I suspected it was linked to Baba Yaga, the witch with the dancing hut I knew from mythology and, of course, playing Dungeons and Dragons. That it's based on a folk tale made sense since it immediately evoked the same feelings as other fairy tale-ish reads like The Last Unicorn, The Eyes of the Dragon, and another book I'll fill in later once I remember the name of it.

I've seen people call this YA and romance but I don't really think it was either. There is a romantic element and the heroine is 17 but it's straight up fantasy if you ask me.

Anyway, Uprooted is the tale of a valley with a corrupted enchanted Wood growing in the middle of it that spawns all kinds of nastiness and expands every year. The Dragon is the self-appointed protector of the valley and one curmudgeonly son of a bitch. I loved him right away. He picks a girl named Agnieszka to come live at his tower and she proves to be quite a handful.

The Wood, the malevolent forest, is one of my favorite parts of the book. Its ever-present danger reminded me of the corelings from The Warded Man at times. The woods can be a scary place when you're by yourself. Imagine if you could be torn to shreds by giant stick-insects or trapped inside a tree forever.

Agnieszka and The Dragon don't immediately become joined at the genitals and their relationship develops pretty organically. Still, as with most stories involving someone hundreds of years old knocking boots with someone not yet in their twenties, I found it a little implausible.

Corruption is everywhere seemed to be the underlying theme. Even without the threat of the Wood and its corrupting influence, The Rosyans and Polnyans would have found a way to go to war.

The ending was great. I really liked that it wasn't the usual happily ever after affair. It left a lot of unanswered questions, as it should be. The Dragon wouldn't be nearly as interesting with all of his secrets revealed.

I liked the first half a lot better than the second half, though Novik can definitely write a large battle. All things considered, it was a damn fine book to end the year with. Four out of five stars.

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Tuesday, December 27, 2016


WasteWaste by Andrew F. Sullivan
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

On the way home from work late at night, Jamie and Moses hit a lion, nearly totaling Jamie's car. Moses comes home to find his mother missing and wanders the bleak Ontario town of Larkhill looking for her. Meanwhile, Jamie finds himself homeless and discovers a body in waste can at work...

Waste is one gritty read, the tale of two losers and their respective circles of friends in Larkhill, a dying city of filthy hotels and abandoned buildings. An undercurrent of hopelessness runs through it, making it seem like a much longer book than it is.

The dead lion turns out to be incidental, although it does bind the fates of co-workers Jamie and Moses. Jamie has a daughter with a former co-worker but little else. Moses has a circle of wannabe skinhead friends and a brain-damaged mother, former bowling champion Elvira. Throw in a couple brothers with ZZ Top beards and a power drill fetish, a drug dealer named The Lorax, and the lion's cancer-ridden owner, and Waste becomes a powerful stew of violence and despair.

The book jumps back and forth in time, showing Jamie and Moses as kids before returning to their present predicaments. Poor Connor Condom! The first half or so of the book moves really slowly and I contemplated shelving it. However, the second half was a page-turner and was almost strong enough to lift the book up to four stars.

This isn't a book with a lot of likable characters. Everyone seemed coated in blood and shit by the end. Jamie's boss was the only one that seemed like a good guy but he was probably hiding something hideous under his benign veneer, like virgin snow covering up a thousand carcasses.

Sullivan's writing was right on. I felt grimy reading part of this and he has a great eye for detail. I felt pretty tired by the end of the book.

Waste is one brutal read, part Donald Ray Pollock, part Trainspotting. Three out of five stars.

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Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Review: Brave New World

Brave New World Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In a dystopian society of genetically engineered consumers pacified by drugs and conditioning, Bernard Marx cannot seem to fit in. When he visits a Savage reservation, his eyes are opened and he brings one of the savages back to England with him...

As I continue my bleak science fiction parade toward the new year, I wonder why I've never read Brave New World before.

In Brave New World, Aldous Huxley takes on consumerism, the media, genetic engineering, recreational drugs, religion, herd mentality, individualism, and lots of other socially relevant topics, weaving them into a science fiction setting that our world resembles more every day.

The setting and society are the stars of the show in Brave New World. The people live in a caste system based on genetics, conditioned from birth and pacified by drugs, living to consume goods and take soma to forget their troubles. Free love is encouraged but free thinking is not. Bernard Max can't seem to get with the program and winds up nearly causing a revolution.

The characters are pretty secondary to the setting but it wasn't hard to feel sorry for Bernard, the square peg in a world of round holes. Even when he gets a measure of fame, he still can't manage to shake the feeling that something's wrong. John the Savage provides a nice contrast, an outsider looking in on a world everyone else sees as normal but he sees as hellish.

Huxley may not have thought so at the time but he may have been a futurist. Our culture seems to be moving in the direction of Brave New World all the time. The rampant consumerism, lowest common denominator entertainment, and herd mentality all seem a little too familiar. Is the internet our soma? Things to ponder...

There are some classics that are as hard to read as an insurance policy written in Klingon and then there are ones like this. Brave New World is very readable and not at all dense. The ideas are very easy to absorb, especially in this day and age. In these uncertain times, Brave New World is as timely as ever. Four and a half stars.

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Friday, December 16, 2016

Review: Hap and Leonard: Blood and Lemonade

Hap and Leonard: Blood and Lemonade Hap and Leonard: Blood and Lemonade by Joe R. Lansdale
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Blood and Lemonade is a collection of tales of the early days of Hap Collins, wrapped in a mosaic novel as Hap and Leonard drive around, bullshitting with Bret, Chance, and each other.

I get a lot of ARCs and it's always a treat when I get one I was dying to read anyway. How could I pass up Hap and Leonard: Blood and Lemonade?

Using Hap and Leonard driving around and telling stories as a framing device, Hap and Leonard: Blood and Lemonade is a mosaic novel about the early life of Hap Collins. Some of the stories are about Hap, some are about Hap's father and Hap just narrates. They're all told in the much-revered Joe Lansdale style.

As near as I can tell, I've only read three of the stories before, although I could be wrong about that. As a mosaic novel, Blood and Lemonade works very well and does a lot to show how Hap, and in some cases Leonard, have been shaped by the events of their early lives.

Lansdale's beer and tailgate style of storytelling gives him a unique voice and feels like it was written specifically for my ears. There is comedy, fist fights, and even some horror in the form of a ghost story, showing the depth and versatility of Lansdale's style.

While I wouldn't recommend this as a first Hap and Leonard or first Joe Lansdale book, it's definitely a worthwhile read for anyone who is a fan of Hap and Leonard. Four out of five stars.

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Thursday, December 15, 2016

Review: Flowers for Algernon

Flowers for Algernon Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

When Charlie Gordon, a mentally disabled man, undergoes an experiment to increase his intelligence, his life changes in ways he never imagined. But will the intelligence increase be permanent.

I first became aware of Flowers for Algernon when it was mentioned in an episode of Newsradio. I forgot about it until that episode of The Simpsons inspired by it, when it was discovered Homer had a crayon lodged in his brain. I'd mostly forgotten about it again until it popped up for ninety-nine cents in one of my BookGorilla emails.

Flowers for Algernon is one of those stories I wish I would have read years earlier. It's simply marvelous. It's about the nature of intelligence and how intelligence can be divisive. It's a very emotional book.

Personally, this was a very powerful book for me. For a lot of my time in school, I was way ahead of the curve and didn't really click with other kids. As Charlie's intelligence grew, eventually surpassing even the scientists that experimented on him, his feelings of isolation increased and I felt a lot of kinship toward Charlie. His difficulties fitting in were the cherry on top of the lonely sundae.

As Charlie's intelligence grew and he comprehended things from his past, it was hard not to feel sorry for him. Once he starts sliding backward, the book keeps getting more and more sad. Keyes doesn't mind kicking you in the emotional junk, that's for sure.

I love the way the book is written in periodic progress reports from Charlie. It's perfect vehicle to show his increase in intelligence and eventual decline. There were man-tears shed over the course of the book. I had to set the book down a few times to keep from sobbing in my cube.

Flowers for Algernon is one of those rare science fiction novels that transcends the genre. Five out of five stars.

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Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Review: Keller's Fedora

Keller's Fedora Keller's Fedora by Lawrence Block
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

After Dot convinces him to come out of retirement for one last job, Keller has to play detective to figure out who the client wants eliminated, his wife's lover. Only things get complicated...

At the end of the last Keller book, I was hoping Block would let his hitman for hire rest. However, now I'm glad he didn't. Keller's Fedora was a fun read.

Keller's Fedora sees Keller buy a new hat and take the train north to bump someone off, leaving his wife and daughter in New Orleans. As with all Keller tales, the joy is in his interactions with Dot and in watching Keller use his ingenuity to get the job done.

Yeah, I sure was glad to see my favorite stamp-collecting hitman again. Block's writing is as crisp as ever, as slick as blood and brains on the head of a hammer. Keller's tender side and relationships with other characters set him apart from other killers for hire.

The case proved to be a tricky one but Keller and his fedora eventually got the job done. The first killer was easy enough and Keller figured out away to clean up the complications later, as he usually does.

Keller's Fedora is quite an enjoyable novella from one of my favorite living crime writers. Four out of five stars.

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Review: Animal Farm

Animal Farm Animal Farm by George Orwell
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Under the leadership of the pigs, the animals of Manor Farm overthrow their human owner and go into business for themselves with all animals doing their part. However, some parts involve a lot less work than others and things quickly change...

I somehow managed to dodge this landmine in high school and the ensuing couple decades. However, I had a few conversations about it at work and decided it was time to give it a read.

Animal Farm is a dystopian tale of revolution and the ensuing government. According to everyone, it's an allegory of the Russian revolution of 1917. However, it could easily be an allegory of every revolution ever. Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.

The revolution happens fairly quickly. The pigs organize the other animals and send farmer Jones out on his ass. After that, the future looks bright for about fifteen minutes. Then the pigs start maneuvering against each other and fucking over the other animals. There's also scapegoating, lying, rewriting history, and all sorts of things no government today does. That was sarcasm, before anyone decides to chime in.

This is a powerful little book with many messages. Power corrupts. Communism doesn't work. Those who don't know the past are doomed to repeat it. People are dicks.

There are some classics that are as dry as a geriatric's vagina and pretty joyless to read. Other classics are fairly easy reads containing a wealth of wisdom. Animal Farm is firmly in the second camp. In today's uncertain political climate, it is definitely a must read, although it may be a case of closing the barn door after the horse has already left. Five out of five stars.

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Review: Resume Speed

Resume Speed Resume Speed by Lawrence Block
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When Bill, a man with a drinking problem and a dark past, arrives in Cross Creek, Montana, things just seem perfect. Can he settle down and forget his past long enough to start a new life or will it all catch up with him?

I got this from Net Galley.

This was one entertaining slice of noir pie. Ala mode, of course.

A drifter named Bill wanders into a Montana town and tries to start a life for himself. Will his past run him down like a beer truck with no brakes? Probably.

Lawrence Block's writing goes down as slick as a shot of Old Crow. He makes every day activities like working in a diner, going out on a date, or running from an alcohol-drenched, blood-soaked past interesting to read about.

The central message of the book seems to be "You can change your name but you can't change yourself." Or possibly "You can't run from the past." Or maybe "Librarians are hot."

It's almost cringe-worthy to see Bill sabotage himself just as things are looking good. The ending of the book makes you wonder how many times Bill has done this particular song and dance.

At this point, I should just start handing Lawrence Block my money and just stop asking questions. Four out of five stars.

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Monday, December 12, 2016

Review: God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater

God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater by Kurt Vonnegut
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The Rosewater Foundation has more money than God. When Eliot Rosewater, the current head, starts making people nervous with all his talk of redistributing wealth, Norman Mushari decides to put Eliot's sanity to test in court and reaches out to the Rhode Island branch of the Rosewater family.

Kurt Vonnegut takes on capitalism and socialism in God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater, the fourth book of his I've read. I'm still not sure how I feel about the esteemed Mr. Vonnegut. I think his writing is exceptional but his plots are all over the place.

To put things as simply as I can, Eliot Rosewater goes off his nut and finds salvation in the form of hack science fiction writer Kilgore Trout and being a volunteer firefighter in the town of Rosewater, Indiana. His generous behavior, coupled with his alcoholic lifestyle, worry his family's lawyers enough for Norman Mushari to try to hijack the Rosewater legacy out from under him. Hilarity and some convoluted antics ensue.

Like all Vonnegut novels, God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater points out the absurdities of life. In this case, generosity in a world of capitalists. Vonnegut peppers the text with pearls of wisdom, such as “There's only one rule that I know of, babies—God damn it, you've got to be kind.”

The central message of the book seems to be that in a world where more people are replaced by robots and computers every day, even people without purpose need to be loved. Soon, we'll all be in that boat. In the end, Eliot manages to stick it to the man and all is as right with the world as it can be in a Kurt Vonnegut book.

So it goes. At the end of the day, I'm not sure how I felt about this book. I liked some parts quite a bit and others just seemed like filler. It wasn't my favorite Vonnegut but it was at least as good as Galápagos. Three out of five stars.

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Saturday, December 10, 2016

Review: The Nightly Disease

The Nightly Disease The Nightly Disease by Max Booth III
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

As if Isaac's soul-crushing gig as night auditor at The God Damn Hotel wasn't bad enough, now he has to contend with two methed up shoe manufacturers, a bulimic girl, and numerous corpses.

I got this from DarkFuse via Netgalley.

Ever wonder what crazy shit goes on at a hotel during the night shift? Wonder no longer!

The Nightly Disease is the tale of Isaac, the night auditor of a hotel, and how his life spiraled out of control after one ill advised decision. It's hilarious and suspenseful and very hard to put down. MBIII has a great ear for dialogue. Isaac's friendship with George was masterfully done.

While some of the scenarios were unlikely, they were all plausible and Max wove them into a tapestry of awesomeness. Max went from the frying pan to the fire, which was actually burning in another frying pan above another fire and so on and so forth.

The feeling of desperation grew throughout the book, as did my sympathy for Isaac. By the end, I was just hoping he'd live though it.

This is a little different than the books I normally get from DarkFuse, more noir than horror, but it was a damn fine read. Max Booth III drew on his own hotel experiences and delivered one hell of a tale. Four out of five stars.

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Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Review: Ghost Walk

Ghost Walk Ghost Walk by Brian Keene
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When Ken Ripple decided to build a haunted road, The Ghost Walk, he has no idea what horror will be unleashed. Can Amish sorcerer Levi Stoltzfus stop unspeakable horror from entering the world and devouring it?

I've read a couple Brian Keene books (The Lost Level and King of The Bastards) in the past and the hints at his Labyrinth mythos grabbed my attention. So, when Ghost Walk popped up for 99 cents for one day only, my decision was made.

Ghost Walk is the tale of an evil trying to enter the world and the man trying to stop it. Levi Stoltzfus is a very compelling character, hearkening to Roland Deschain of The Dark Tower series and The Rider from Merkabah Rider: Tales of a High Planes Drifter, although he's not a ripoff of either by any means. Levi is a sorcerer who isn't afraid to get his hands dirty, as long as it's God's will, and is surprisingly heartless at times. Seriously, Levi has a lot of potential and I hope Keene has him live up to it in future books.

The menace isn't as compelling as the character but is fairly chilling since it plays on its victims' worst fears. The way Levi dealt with it seemed logical given the workings of magic in Keene's universe. There was a little gore but not near as much as Keene is known for. The writing isn't spectacular but is more than adequate for the job. While he's no Elmore Leonard, Keene's dialogue is still pretty slick, balancing the horror with humor.

I don't really have many gripes with this book. I probably should have read Dark Hollow first but I didn't feel in the dark by any means. Reading more Brian Keene and Levi Stoltzfus will be one of my 2017 priorities. Four out of five stars.

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Monday, December 5, 2016

Review: 2016 on Goodreads

2016 on Goodreads 2016 on Goodreads by Various
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

2016 was a big year for me. I read a crazy amount of books, the second highest number since I started keeping track. I joined Marvel Unlimited. Oh, and I visited Goodreads Headquarters.

While I've already written up The 2016 Dantastic Book Awards, I read many more notable books than I could work into the awards. The Black Dahlia, The Big Nowhere, Radiance, Last Days, A Pretty Mouth, and Bait were all quality reads. I discovered authors like James Renner and Hunter Shea, and read new books by old favorites like Joe Lansdale, Megan Abbott, and Tana French.

What will 2017 bring? Who the hell knows? I know I'm planning on reading less, especially less ARCs, and do a lot more writing.

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Sunday, December 4, 2016

Review: Dungeons & Drag Queens

Dungeons & Drag Queens Dungeons & Drag Queens by M.P. Johnson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

When Sleazella LaRuse, Green Bay's top drag queen, gets whisked away to another realm to marry a demi-god, she finds herself in deep trouble. What Dravor, the man who summoned her, do when he finds out she is in fact a he?

While I'd been aware of this book for years, I couldn't resist snapping it up for ninety-nine cents on Bizarro Monday.

Dungeons & Drag Queens is a fun bizarro romp featuring the most fabulous of drag queens in a D&D type fantasy realm. Sleazella struggles to keep things together while having crazy adventures, leading up to marrying a god.

MP Johnson does a good job of weaving the drag queen lifestyle into the story. It didn't feel forced to me and Sleazella was hilarious. I thought the fantasy elements left a little to be desired, though. Either some elements needed to be fleshed out or the book needed to be about thirty pages shorter. Still, Sleazella handling monsters in her own fabulous manner was a nice change of pace. The ending was pretty spectacular, as was the epilogue.

At the end of the day, I'd say I liked the character of Sleazella way more than the actual story. I don't think the tale lived up to the awesome title slapped on it. It was a fun Bizarro tale but by no means the best Bizarro book I've ever read. Three out of five stars.

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Friday, December 2, 2016

Review: Cycle of the Werewolf

Cycle of the Werewolf Cycle of the Werewolf by Stephen King
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Under the light of the full moon, a werewolf stalks the people of Tarker's Mills. Can anyone stop... The Cycle of the Werewolf?!?!?!?

I first read this in high school, younger than my dog is now. It took me a few chapters to realize that Silver Bullet was based on it. Anyway, I found it for a buck at a yard sale a couple years ago and decided I could use a reread.

Like Kemper told me while I was reading it, Cycle of the Werewolf is essentially a Stephen King calendar. Each chapter is a month out of the year the werewolf is stalking the town, accompanied by one or more of Bernie Wrightson's fantastic illustrations. Stephen King's writing is as crisp as ever. Also, he wrote this during his prime so it isn't bloated or over-written in the least.

I actually prefer the movie in this case. It has a lot more depth. Marty Coslaw doesn't show up until halfway through the book. The book and movie hit most of the same beats. I think the book might rely on Bernie Wrightson's illustrations a little too much. For the most part, it's just a collection of werewolf attacks with not a lot else going on. That being said, I did like the structure, with every chapter being a month of the werewolf's reign of terror.

While it is strictly a B-list Stephen King book, Cycle of the Werewolf is by far the best Stephen King novel ever turned into a movie starring Cory Haim and Gary Busey. Three out of five stars.

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Review: A Pretty Mouth

A Pretty Mouth A Pretty Mouth by Molly Tanzer
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A Pretty Mouth contains the tales of multiple generations of the Calapash family.

My first exposure to Molly Tanzer was Vermilion. When I learned Colleen Danzig from I Am Providence was based on her, I figured I was due to give her another look.

A Pretty Mouth is really fucked up but in the best possible ways. I was hooked from the opening story. Speaking of which, Bertie Wooster loses a bet and Jeeves has to help one of Bertie's friends, Lord Calapash, with his bathtub-bound sister, who is addicted to the secretions of a bizarre octopus. From there, the weirdness train rolls backwards, exploring the various members of the Calapash clan throughout history, all the way back to the beginning of the line in ancient Rome.

Each story is written in a different style, from the Wodehousian language of the first story, to Bronte, on down the line. The stories all have a Lovecraftian undercurrent, with the Calapash's being known for their look, not unlike the Innsmouth look. There's sex, incest, twincest, murder, sorcery, Lovecraftian horror and lots of crazy ass shit.

The homages to various Lovecraft tales were well done and didn't feel like Lovecraft pastiches alone. Molly Tanzer put her personal touch on each tale, writing in a variety of styles, bringing a freshness to the Lovecraftian subgenre.

A Pretty Mouth hit the sweet spot for me. About the only negative thing I can say about it is that I wish it was twice as long. Four out of five stars.

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Thursday, December 1, 2016

Review: The Death of the Detective

The Death of the Detective The Death of the Detective by Mark Smith
My rating: 0 of 5 stars

As I get older, I've discovered I have no problem not finishing a book.

I'm not even bothering with a teaser on this. It's supposed to be a detective story but I got 100 pages in before throwing in the towel. Nothing much happens in the first chunk of the book. It's one of the most over-written books I've ever tried to read.

I'm not a picky guy. In fact, I grade a lot of books easier than I should. However, when reading a detective story, I ACTUALLY WANT SHIT TO HAPPEN. I don't read to have every aspect of the environment or a character's life before the story described to me in great detail.

I originally put it back on the pile with the intention of reading it again but I've decided I'm too old for that shit. There are plenty of unread books on my stack that I actually look forward to reading.

Final verdict - DNF. The National Book Award can kiss my ass.

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