Sunday, January 29, 2017

Review: Harrison Squared

Harrison Squared Harrison Squared by Daryl Gregory
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

When he was three, Harrison Harrison lost his father and his leg in a boating accident. Or was it? Now, at age sixteen, he moves to the Massachusetts town of Dunnsmouth for his mother's latest research project. When she goes missing, Harrison quickly finds Dunnsmouth has more than its share of secrets...

Harrison Squared was a tough nut to crack for me. Aside from the missing leg, Harrison Harrison was kind of a Gary Stu. Also, I hated his implausible name. Who the hell would do that to their kid? Anyway, despite being a curmudgeon, I wound up being entertained by it.

Taking place in a safe, Pat Boone version of HP Lovecraft's world, is a fish out of water, coming of age tale that happens to include a nerfed version of the Cthulhu mythos. Harrison struggles to fit into a school of fish worshipers only to have his mother disappear. The rest is a Hard Boys mystery featuring fish people and their townie cohorts trying to open a portal and summon Urgaleth.

The writing was standard YA fare. The kids are smarter than the adults, everyone has overly clever dialogue, etc. While I knew Harrison would live, there was a sense of jeopardy at times. The ending was a little too easy but the book had series written all over it so I wasn't all that surprised. There were some Lovecraft references that I thought were hilarious. "My people do weird things with geometry," or something to that effect.

I thought the supporting cast were more interesting than Harrison. Aunt Sel, Lydia, Lub, and some of the others really livened things up. I wouldn't have minded learning more of The Scrimshander's past, however.

Although it wears its influences on its sleeve most of the time, if there had to be a young adult Cthulhu mythos tale, I'm glad it was this one. Annoyances aside, I wound up liking it. I could see it being a gateway book into deeper and darker things. Three out of five stars.

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Monday, January 23, 2017

Review: Whispers From The Abyss 2: The Horrors That Were and Shall Be

Whispers From The Abyss 2: The Horrors That Were and Shall Be Whispers From The Abyss 2: The Horrors That Were and Shall Be by Laird Barron
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Whispers from the Abyss 2 is a collection of 25 tales inspired by the works of H.P. Lovecraft.

I donated for the Kickstarter that created this anthology. It was well worth it.

Much like the original Whispers from the Abyss, Whispers From the Abyss 2 is a collection of tales designed to be wolfed down in one sitting.

Like all anthologies, the quality of the tales vary. Quality-wise, I felt like this one was a step behind the original. However, the content was worth the price, maybe even a wider range of Lovecraftian nasties than the previous one. Azathoth and the Innsmouth folk were prominently featured, always a plus in my book.

For my money, the standouts of Whispers from the Abyss 2 are We Are Not These Bodies, Strung Between the Stars by AC Wise, The Labyrinth of Sleep by Orrin Grey, Death May Die by Nathan Wunnder, Shadow Transit by Ferrett Steinmetz, Lucky Chuck Takes the Sunshine Express by John Palisano, and The Vindication of Y'ha-Nthlei by David Busboom.

While I didn't enjoy it as much as Whispers from the Abyss or Heroes of Red Hook, Whispers From the Abyss 2 was still a good weird fiction anthology. I'll be ready when the Kickstarter for the third volume is announced. 3.5 out of 5 stars.

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Friday, January 20, 2017

Review: The Con Season: A Novel of Survival Horror

The Con Season: A Novel of Survival Horror The Con Season: A Novel of Survival Horror by Adam Cesare
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

When five horror actors in various states of their careers are recruited for an interactive horror convention, they get more than they bargained for...

I've read a few novels that take place at conventions in the last few years. I Am Providence, Night of the Living Trekkies, and Shatnerquake come to mind. I keep seeing Adam Cesare's name pop up so I decided to give Con Season a shot.

The title is a little misleading. While it takes place in a convention of sorts, Camping Season might have been more appropriate. Anyway, Con Season is some bloody good fun.

Much like the guests at conventions of this type, the main characters are a mix of washed up has-beens and a rising star. It's not readily apparent which of them will survive, though three of them were more detailed than the others. The setup is a twist on the old "man getting hunted for sport" trope, only in this case, they're being hunted for fun, and being filmed to boot.

The body count is pretty high, as is the gore factor. It was a quick, fun read but I almost wish it would have went longer. While I like my horror short, the ending felt a little rushed to me. Some people's deaths were a little too easy.

The concept was a little too plausible in the age of reality TV, making for an unsettling read. Con Season is a fun horror novel that can be devoured in an extended sitting. You could find a lot worse ways to spend a few hours reading. 3.5 out of 5 stars.

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Thursday, January 19, 2017

Review: Whispers from the Abyss

Whispers from the Abyss Whispers from the Abyss by Kat Rocha
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Whispers from the Abyss is a collection of 33 tales inspired by the works of H.P. Lovecraft.

When Kat Rocha hit me up on twitter about Whispers of the Abyss 2, I checked out the lineup and plunked down my money, receiving this one as well in the bargain.

It seems everyone and their Deep One cousin puts out a Lovecraftian anthology these days. The thing that separates Whispers from the Abyss from the squamous pack is that the tales are pretty short, 2-10 pages, designed to be swallowed whole in a single sitting.

The subject matter and tone of the works are all over the spectrum, from dryly hilarious to chilling. Some of the stories were a little too short and needed a little more room to breath but I knew that going in. The presentation was top notch.

Like all anthologies, the stories vary in quality. A couple didn't do much for me but the collection as a whole was above average. Standouts include Fear and Loathing in Innsmouth, My Friend Fishfinger by Daisy, Age 7, The Substance in the Sound, and The Decorative Water Feature of Nameless Dread. Fear and Loathing in Innsmouth was by far my favorite tale of the collection. Much in the same vein as The Damned Highway, Dr. Gonzo heads to Innsmouth, looking for hints of Richard Nixon's corruption.

For today's reader on the go, Whispers from the Abyss is a great collection of scaly, tentacled horror. Four out of five stars.

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Monday, January 16, 2017

Review: Witching Hour Theatre

Witching Hour Theatre Witching Hour Theatre by Jonathan Janz
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Larry Wilson lives for the Witching Hour Theatre, the all-night horror triple feature at the Starlight Theatre. But will he escape with his life and sanity intact when the horror becomes all too real?

After Children of the Dark, I knew I had to read more Jonathan Janz. This one was only nintey-nine cents and I'm a cheap bastard.

Witching Hour Theatre is a retooling of Jonathan Janz' first published work, a chapbook published under his real name. While there's a Richard Laymon feel to things, it's clear young Janz knew what he was doing, even back then.

The story is pretty simple. During a horror movie marathon, the crowd starts thinning out and it's soon clear something sinister is happening. Larry Wilson, horror movie fan and sub-average Joe, has to deal with something far beyond his experience. And a lot of people get hacked to squishy bits.

After being thoroughly impressed by Children of the Dark, it was interesting to see Janz' work in its more or less embryonic form. All the things I like about his work are present, some hidden beneath a fine layer of gore. I liked Larry quite a bit, having much more in common with him than the action heroes that populate a lot of books. The ordeal he went through was brutal yet believable. Oddly enough, the afterword may have been my favorite part, talking about Janz' road to publication and his love for Stephen King.

Witching Hour Theatre is a fun, suspenseful gorefest, the written equivalent of a slasher flick. 3.5 out of 5 stars.

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Sunday, January 15, 2017

Review: Heroes of Red Hook

Heroes of Red Hook Heroes of Red Hook by Brian M. Sammons
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Heroes of Red Hook is a collection of Lovecraftian tales starring men and women of color, LGBT people, and other people spurned by society in the 1920's.

I contributed to the Kickstarter for this so it was high time I read it. Heroes of Red Hook contains eighteen tales, ranging from average to exceptional. Unlike a lot of collections of this type, I didn't consider a single one to be a dud.

It started a little rocky, though. Out of the first four, only two contained elements of cosmic horror. However, things soon kicked into high gear.

The tales featured a wide range of Lovecraftian elements, though Shub Niggurath, Dark Goat of the Woods with a Thousand Young, made more than its fair share of appearances. Quite a few of the tales feature characters that welcome revisiting.

Standouts of the collection include Beyond the Black Arcade by Edward Erdelac, The Backwards Man by Tim Waggoner, Hungry Ghosts by Cody Goodfellow, and Men and Women by Oscar Rios.

Heroes of Red Hook is a very well produced anthology of Lovecraftian tales, in content, theme, and presentation. If you're looking for a compelling anthology of cosmic horror, this one shouldn't be missed. Four out of five stars.

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Friday, January 13, 2017

Review: The Cthulhu Mythos Encyclopedia

The Cthulhu Mythos Encyclopedia The Cthulhu Mythos Encyclopedia by Daniel Harms
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Cthulhu Mythos Encyclopedia is a reference book detailing the works of HP Lovecraft and his contemporaries, as well as those influenced by them in the ensuing decades, relating to the Cthulhu mythos.

I've been on the periphery of Lovecraftian fandom for a couple decades, starting with Black Seas of Infinity: The Best of H.P. Lovecraft. With the amount of material out there, it's hard to know where to start. With this book, I finally feel like I have a guide.

The Cthulhu Mythos Encyclopedia is an exhaustive exploration of the Cthulhu mythos, detailing such mythos staples as Cthulhu, Nyarlathotep, and Randolph Carter, to tangently related characters like Conan, to later derivative works like Titus Crow. Throw in creatures like the Nightgaunts and books like the Book of Eibon, and you've got a ton of material to digest.

The best part is sources are mentioned. If you want to know where the information from the Dagon entry comes from, the book has you covered. If you want to know where The Blasted Heath is mentioned, ditto.

This book has quite a bit of depth and there must have been a staggering amount of research going into it. What other reference book has multiple origins of Abdul Alhazred, the mad Arab who penned the Necronomicon and the origin of the word Tekeli-Li?

The Cthulhu Mythos Encyclopedia isn't really a book you want to read from cover to cover. However, if you don't know Fthaggua from the Fungi from Yuggoth, you'll find this invaluable. Four out of five Fhtagn stars.

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Thursday, January 12, 2017

Review: Champion of the World

Champion of the World Champion of the World by Chad Dundas
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Disgraced former lightweight champion Pepper Van Dean has just parted ways with the carnival in a violent fashion when he's approached by Fritz Mundt, another former wrestler. Mundt's offer, training Garfield Taft for a shot at the world champion, Strangler Lesko, is too hard to pass up. Can Pepper claw his way back to the big time as Garfield Taft's trainer?

As I've said in other reviews, I've been a fan of pro wrestling off and on for most of my life. When a coworker recommended this, I eventually threw it on the pile. Hell, there aren't many novels about pro wrestling that I can think of other than Hoodtown.

Champion of the World takes place in the roarin' 20s, the golden age of pro wrestling. Frank Gotch has just retired and wrestling is on the down swing. Garfield Taft is fresh out of jail and has a big chance to win the title from Strangler Lesko. Pepper, his wife in tow, heads to Montana to train Taft. Things eventually go off the rails...

When the story starts, Pepper is working at a carnival for twenty five bucks a week, wrestling audience members and doing the hangman's drop, being hung by his neck ever night, saved only by his neck and back muscles. Crazy shit and that's just the beginning.

I'm not into historical novels or sports novels but I enjoyed Champion of the World quite a bit. While real wrestlers like Frank Gotch, Farmer Burns, the Zbyszkos, and others were mentioned, the characters are fictitious. Although I suspect Strangler Lesko was based on Strangler Lewis. And Fritz Mundt owes something to Toots Mondt. I could go on and on. I guess what I'm trying to say is that I love the way Dundas wove wrestling history into the tale.

Pepper's last shot at glory kept me interested in the book during the slow parts. As the truth behind Pepper's past, as well as Taft's, was revealed, the book became harder and harder to put down. The eventual respect between the grapplers was one of my favorite parts of the book.

The last 25% was pretty shocking. There was a swerve and things got a little crazy. I was a little disappointed by the ending but it was pretty much the only way it could go down.

For wrestling fans, particularly those of the golden age of wrestling, this one is not to be missed. Four out of five stars.

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Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Review: Russell Holbrook's The Water Babies

Russell Holbrook's The Water Babies Russell Holbrook's The Water Babies by Russell Holbrook
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Six teenagers go camping next to a bridge reputedly haunted by two mutant feral childern. Will any of them come back alive?

I had high hopes for this. It did not come close to meeting them.

The setup for this book was great. Civil war soldiers drown two kids after raping their mother and they haunt the scene of their death, killing and devouring anyone dumb enough to venture near at night. Sounds good, right?

Well, it wasn't. The book reads like a hybrid of gore horror and monster porn. The book didn't feel like it knew what it wanted to be. I was tired of the weird dream sequences after the first one.

The characters were pretty wooden and fairly unrealistic, like B-movie characters but not in a good or entertaining way. The story focused more on sex than horror. By the time the guy asked his girlfriend to pee on him, I was done expecting things to turn around and just waited for it to be over.

If this book wasn't so short, I wouldn't have finished it. As much as I hate to drop a negative review, the best things about this book were the cover and the initial setup. I think an editor could have focused the good ideas into something workable. Water Babies could have been a good gore horror story or a passable monster porn story. As it stands, it's kind of a damn mess. One out of five stars.

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Monday, January 9, 2017

Review: The Jersey Devil

The Jersey Devil The Jersey Devil by Hunter Shea
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When Jersey Devil sightings spike, Sam Willet and his family head to the New Jersey Pine Barrens for a reckoning sixty years in the making. With a cryptozoologist and a van full of firepower, will they be able to bring down the devil and live to tell the tale?

My young eyes first encountered the legend of the Jersey Devil in Monsters You Never Heard of sometime before the age of ten. I thought it was kind of lame and forgot about it until it was featured in an early X-Files episode. Anyway, since Hunter Shea is the bee's knees, I figured I'd give this one a shot when I saw the price dropped to ninety-nine cents. I'm cheap, what can I say.

The Jersey Devil is the story of Sam Willet and his family's axe to grind with the Jersey Devil, who terrorized Grandma Willet six decades earlier. Aided and abetted by a noted cryptozoologist, they walk into the Pine Barrens. Some of them even manage to hobble out.

This book is about as gentle as a trip to a slaughterhouse. Character after character are introduced, only to be fed through the Jersey meatgrinder once you feel something toward them. The body count is off the chart. The Devil's origins are explored and its mythology is expanded upon. And its many children go on a feeding frenzy...

I'd say this is the goriest Hunter Shea novel I've read yet and the threat of the Jersey Devil was probably the worst. After a while, I was just hoping one or more members of the Willet clan would survive.

The Jersey Devil is a gory good time, highly entertaining but definitely not for the squeamish. Four out of five stars.

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Thursday, January 5, 2017

Review: Atlas Obscura: An Explorer's Guide to the World's Hidden Wonders

Atlas Obscura: An Explorer's Guide to the World's Hidden Wonders Atlas Obscura: An Explorer's Guide to the World's Hidden Wonders by Joshua Foer
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Atlas Obscura is a guide to the world's strangest places.

I've been a fan of road trips almost as long as I've been an obscure facts nerd. This book combines the two in a fashion. I first came across it in an issue of mental_floss and was lucky enough to score a copy for Christmas.

Atlas Obscura has a lot of information on bizarre places around the world crammed into it's 400+ pages, from a penis museum in Iceland to a graveyard in northern Iran with penis-shaped tombstones, to other strange places that have little or nothing to do with penises, like pyramids in the northern part of Sudan or a baobob tree in South Africa with a bar inside. And that's even before America gets any coverage.

The book is organized by region for convenience. The photos in the book are really well done and most entries have one. There are footnotes containing other nearby oddities, which would be a great help if someone was planning an Oddity Odyssey. Some of the articles are on the Atlas Obscura website but many are just for the book.

I could spend paragraph after paragraph rattling off interesting bits from the book but it's best experienced for yourself. This book makes me want to take a drive from the cryptozoology museum in Maine to the ruins of Fordlandia in the Amazon. Four out of five stars.

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