Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Review: No Beast So Fierce

No Beast So Fierce No Beast So Fierce by Edward Bunker
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

When Max Dembo gets paroled after eight years in the joint, he's starting at square one. With no money and no job, how will he avoid falling back into his old habits?

As a white collar, law-abiding citizen, prison has always held a bit of mystique for me. I enjoyed The Animal Factory enough to snap this up when it showed up in my BookGorilla email on the cheap.

If I ever had any doubts about the ineffectiveness of the American prison system, they would have been shattered by this. Max is put back on the street with a suit ten years out of fashion and thirty bucks and expected to make something of himself. When no one will hire him, what other choice does he have but to turn to a life of crime?

Bunker's no Chandler but his writing gets the job done. I was reminded of Richard Stark's Parker at times. While he wasn't a complete asshole, Max wasn't a nice person when the chips were down. He did live by a certain criminal code, though, making him a much more complex character than I originally thought. The self-destructive nature of some of the characters also made me think of Jim Thompson and his happy hell storms.

The capers were well done, including the inevitable one where the wheels come off. There were some good twists and I didn't see the ending going down like that. I almost wish I'd skipped the epilogue, though.

While I didn't enjoy it as much as The Animal Factory, No Beast So Fierce was definitely worth a read. Three out of five stars.

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Saturday, March 25, 2017

Review: Prophets of the Ghost Ants

Prophets of the Ghost Ants Prophets of the Ghost Ants by Clark Thomas Carlton
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In a world where tiny humans live in symbiosis with insects, Anand is a half-breed of the lowest caste. When a new colony is to be formed, Anand is delighted at the prospect but soon finds himself living with a different clan and a new outlook. When the Ghost Ants attack his new home, Anand has a chance to change the world...

This was on my radar for a long time and I couldn't resist when it popped up on Netgalley. I was not disappointed.

While I'm not a fan of today's extruded fantasy product, originally scores big points with me and Prophets of the Ghost Ants has originality to spare. After a great cataclysm, the Earth is nearly destroyed and humans gradually evolve into being insect-sized for survival. Humans live in symbiosis with their gargantuan insect brethren and largely live in a caste system.

You don't normally read a fantasy novel where insects play a prominent role and the main character is in charge of emptying the chamber pots of nobles. I really liked the use of the caste system, somewhat emulating the hierarchy of ants. I also liked that each clan lived in symbiosis with different insects, like roaches, different varieties of ants, and termites.

Since it was a fantasy novel, you pretty much knew Anand was going to turn things upside down but I was surprised at the magnitude. It reminded me of Michael Moorcock's Elric books, only without so much genocide and melancholy. It was also very well thought out. There were no logical holes in the setting of the "Why don't they fly to Mordor on a giant eagle and drop the ring in the volcano" variety.

It was a fun journey, watching Anand go from being a shit scraper to the founder of a nation. The violence was harsh and there was a fair bit of smut in it, all the things I look for in a fantasy saga. Four out of five stars.

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Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Review: Imperial Valley

Imperial Valley Imperial Valley by Johnny Shaw
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When Tomas Morales tracks down Juan's grandfather, Jimmy Veeder and his wife head to Mexico for a honeymoon and to meet up with him, with Bobby Maves and Grizelda in tow. Little does Jimmy Veeder know that he's stepping into a hornet's nest of drug dealers and killers...

I got this from Netgalley.

Johnny Shaw's dimwitted duo, Jimmy Veeder and Bobby Maves, are back and in fine form. Jimmy gets married and heads to Mexico, only to stir up trouble as only he and Bobby Maves can. Things have changed since the last book, however. Jimmy has build a good life with Angie and Juan and has a lot more to lose.

As with the previous book, the humor is the star of the show. The book is peppered with hilarious lines, shades of early Joe Lansdale. In fact, if Joe Lansdale ever chooses to die and his estate wants to farm Hap and Leonard out to someone, he could do a lot worse than Johnny Shaw.

Speaking of Lansdale, Imperial Valley reminded me of Captains Outrageous, both because of the humor and of the structure, with the first half taking place in Mexico and the second, when the conflict comes home. While I knew Jimmy and Bobby wouldn't die, there were some tense moments.

One thing did irk me, however. When a book is this hilarious, it kind of deflates the sense of jeopardy. When everyone is cracking wise, it's hard to take the violence seriously. That being said, this book is high on violence but higher on laughs. I lost count of lines I would have uttered aloud if anyone was sitting within earshot.

Honestly, the third Jimmy Veeder fiasco does not disappoint. It's as funny as the previous two. Four out of five stars. Special bonus points to Shaw for including the world's deadliest Mexican from Blood & Tacos #1 for a cameo appearance.

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Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Review: Norse Mythology

Norse Mythology Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman is a compulsively readable retelling of various myths from Norse Mythology.

Once upon a time, in that hazy prehistoric time before Goodreads, Neil Gaiman was my favorite author. Sandman was the gateway drug but I read all the Gaiman works I could get my hands on: American Gods, Neverwhere, Coraline, Stardust, you get the point. As the years went by, some of the shine wore off that penny. As I explored Gaimain's influences, like P.G. Wodehouse and Ray Bradbury, some of the magic was diminished.

Anyway, I was Gaimain was writing this book and my interest was rekindled. I've been curious about Norse mythology since reading my first Thor comic. Gaimain delivers the goods here.

In Norse Mythology, Gaimain retells fifteen Norse myths, from the creation of the Aesir to Ragnarok, the twilight of the gods, making them accessible to the modern reader.

All of the Norse gods you're familiar with from pop culture, namely Odin, Thor, Loki, Balder, and Heimdall, are here, as well as a slew of others like Vidar, Kvasir, and Hod. I was tangentially aware of some of what transpired, like Loki giving birth to a six-legged horse and Odin hanging from Yggdrasil, the world tree, for nine days and nights before gaining his wisdom, but a lot of it was new to me. The Aesir sure liked to booze it up, didn't they?

While there was quite a bit to like about this book, the thing that really stuck in my mind was Naglfar, the ship of the dead made out of fingernails. Really. Loki tying his junk to the beard of a goat for entertainment purposes was right up there, though.

Reading Norse Mythology, I noticed echoes of it in fantasy novels I've read in past couple decades, most notably The Elric Saga Part II and The First Chronicles of Amber. For my money, this is the best thing Gaimain's done since The Graveyard Book (though Doctor Who: Nothing O'Clock was also pretty sweet.) Four out of five stars.

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Saturday, March 4, 2017

Review: Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation

Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation by Lynne Truss
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation is a humorous book about punctuation. Who knew punctuation could be so entertaining?

As someone who writes a fair bit (half a million words on Goodreads alone), I know my way around a sentence. However, when this popped up on Amazon on the cheap, I was powerless to resist, like my dog on a piece of cat shit.

In Eats, Shoots & Leaves, Lynn Truss takes us on a Bill Bryson-esque odyssey through a forest of commas, apostrophes, colons, semi-colons, and exclamation marks. Incidentally, did you know an exclamation mark is called a dog's cock in some circles? I did not.

Truss' writing makes things like how to properly use an apostrophe entertaining, using amusing phrasing and real life examples, offering up rules like "Don't use commas like a stupid person." It isn't all laughs, however. I normally avoid colons and semi-colons but I feel like she's given me a greater understanding of them.

There's not a whole lot more to divulge. It's no surprise this short but sweet book is a best-seller. It's very accessible and as entertaining as a book on punctuation can be. For grammarians and writers alike, Eats, Shoots & Leaves is a fun yet useful book about fairly boring subject. Four out of five stars.

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Friday, March 3, 2017

Review: Tanuki Tango Overdrive

Tanuki Tango Overdrive Tanuki Tango Overdrive by Arthur Graham
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Tanuki Tango Overdrive is a collection of three sexually charged tales featuring the enormously-testicled Tanuki and his wife by the sexually charged Arthur Graham.

A while back, Arthur sent me a pdf of this book and I resolved to read it. Since I'm getting older and my cognitive abilities are in decline, I promptly forgot about it. Yesterday, I received a mysterious package in the mail from Arthur Graham in the mail. An Author-Gram from Arthur Graham, if you will. This book was among the contents so I immediately plowed through it like a Tanuki at an orgy.

Tanuki Tango Overdrive skirts the line between bizarro fiction and monster porn and is better written than either genre typically is. Arthur Graham takes Tanuki, a Japanese nature spirit, and his wife to a swinger's party in the suicide forest, an indecent proposal in Hollywood from Robert Redford, and try stop a train from fucking a tower that looks like a vagina.

Caution - Tanuki Tango Overdrive may contain the following:
anal sex
face fucking
a penis the size of a python with a dragon tattooed on it
testicles the size of grapefruits
Tanuki semen

I'll pause for a moment while you digest that.

One last thing: This was a self-published book but in no way resembles one. This is how self-published books should be done: impeccable editing and a professional looking product.

TTO is a lot of dirty good fun and made me want to play Super Mario Brothers 3. Three out of five stars.

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Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Review: The Last Place You Look

The Last Place You Look The Last Place You Look by Kristen Lepionka
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

When Roxane Weary takes on a case to find a woman that's supposedly been dead for fifteen years to clear her incarcerated boyfriend's name before he's executed, she's in way over her head. Can Roxane put her alcohol problem and her pain over her father's death aside long enough to crack the case?

Every time I try to quit accepting ARCs, something like this falls into my lap. Thanks again, karen.

I've been out of the detective fiction game for the past few months for the most part. Once you read a couple hundred crime books, everything starts seeming the same. Then a gem like this comes along.

The Last Place You Look stars Roxane Weary, a woman reeling from her cop father's death, coping by drinking a small ocean of whiskey. Between an ex-lover named Catherine that continuously toys with her to her current companion, her deceased father's partner, Roxane's life is a train wreck. She's just the type of girl you can count on to keep a man from getting executed, right?

Roxane reminds me of some unholy offspring of George Pelecanos's Nick Stefanos and Sara Gran's Claire DeWitt. If only she spent as much time detecting as she did throwing back slugs of whiskey... I kid. I loved Roxane, from her complex relationships with her family members to her questionable taste in sex partners.

In between black out drunks, she finds time to get wrapped up in quite a case. What seems like one murder ages ago winds up being quite a bit more. Roxane goes through both physical and emotional wringers multiple times on the way to one of the better crime fiction endings I've read in a long time.

One of the hallmarks of a great crime book, for me, anyway, is when the author makes me feel like a rube when the big reveal comes. I thought I had the killer pegged really early but that turned out to be a read herring. I pondered the title while cooking dinner and still didn't tip to who the killer was. Well done, Kristen. Well done.

I don't have a single bad things to say about this book. I'm greatly looking forward to reading more of Roxane's drunken escapades in the future. Five out of five stars.

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