Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Review: Cape Fear

Cape Fear Cape Fear by John D. MacDonald
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

When rapist Max Cady gets out of jail, he goes looking for the man who put him there, Sam Bowden...

Cape Fear, aka The Executioners, was the source for a couple pretty good movies, one of my favorite episodes of The Simpsons, and, in a way, Mr. Burns, a post-electric play so I figured I should give it a read when it showed up on the cheap.

I watched the Martin Scorcese reversion of the movie in recent memory and the book is a less intense, less interesting version. No philandering on Sam's part, no creepy-ass Juliette Lewis sucking on Robert DeNiro's finger. Between that and seeing the Simpsons episode about 300 times, there weren't many surprises. Cady plays cat and mouse with the Bowden family until the shit finally goes down. The basic beats were the same so I had some trouble staying interested.

The ending was different than the movie, though, which was a nice surprise. However, I prefer the ending of the DeNiro movie. Another strike against the book is how dated the relationship between Sam and his wife seemed, along with a lot of the dialogue.

Basically, I spoiled the book for myself by watching the movie and having my brain saturated by the Simpsons episode. The book still had its chilling moments and I'm sure I would have given it four stars had I not seen the movie first. This was one of the rare occasions I thought the movie trumped the book. Three out of five stars.

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Monday, January 29, 2018

Review: Blackwater: The Complete Saga

Blackwater: The Complete Saga Blackwater: The Complete Saga by Michael McDowell
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

When Oscar Caskey finds the mysterious Elinor Dammert on the second floor of a hotel during a great flood, he brings her home and falls in love with her. But Elinor isn't what she seems and Mary-Love, Oscar's mother and matriarch of the Caskey clan, doesn't want Oscar marrying her...

That's the setup but it's just scratching the surface. How do you write a teaser for an 800 page epic?

My cohort Anthony Vacca recommended this and Paperbacks from Hell: The Twisted History of '70s and '80s Horror Fiction agreed with him. They both undersold it.

While Michael McDowell is primarily known as a horror writer and Blackwater definitely has scenes of horror in it, it's a sprawling family epic more than anything else. Oscar Caskey rescuing Elinor and bringing her back to his family kicks off an epic that spans three generations, starting in 1919 and ending during the 1960s.

Released as six novellas during the horror boom of the 1970s, Blackwater is a slow burn, the characters and their machinations taking center stage. It reminds me of The Pillars of the Earth in some ways. Painstaking time is taken to flesh out the Caskeys and their extended clan and the lumber business. The book is a comedy of manners at times, family drama at others, and the undercurrent of horror is lurking in the background, waiting to tear the arms off of some poor sucker at any moment.

The book primarily features conflict between strong female characters, first between Mary-Love and Elinor, and the conflict is carried on down the line. It could easily be a great historical novel if Elinor wasn't a man-eating river monster in disguise. All the maneuverings reminded me of Game of Thrones, only played out in an Alabama river town over the course of three generations.

The cast is richly developed and I unexpectedly started caring a little too much for this rich Southern family and their lumber business. The twists kept me thinking about the book when I wasn't reading it. The deaths were pretty sad, even Mary-Love's, even though she'd had it coming for a couple decades at that point.

There's so much I want to say but I don't want to spoil anything. This beast was 800 pages long but I would have gladly read 800 more. That's how enthralled I was by the saga of the Caskey clan. It's a crime that this book has been forgotten over the years. I'll read it on my kindle but I'll probably buy a hardcover just to keep on a shelf someplace. Five out of five stars.

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Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Review: Give Me Your Hand

Give Me Your Hand Give Me Your Hand by Megan Abbott
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

When she was 17, Kit's friend Diane made a confession to her that chilled her to the bone and almost derailed her life. Now, years later, Kit is a research scientist and Diane has reappeared in her life. Will Kit be able to coexist with Diane with the dark cloud looming over them?

Megan Abbott has been a favorite of mine for the past few years and I pounced on this as soon as I saw it on Netgalley.

Give Me Your Hand is a tale of secrets and the consequences of keeping them. Sooner or later, everything comes back to bite you in the ass. Kit learns this the hard way, as do a lot of the people in her orbit. The story is told in two threads, one in high school, the other in the present day. It's a departure from her recent run of girl-noir books but change is fine in this case.

Diane and Kit were more rivals than friends, both runners, each one of the smartest in their highschool in sleepy Lanister. Yes, Lanister, oddly fitting since I compare the machinations of teenage girls in Megan Abbott's books to Game of Thrones characters. Diane confesses something to Kit that nearly drives her mad. Years later, Kit's on the verge of having the life of a scientist she always wanted when Diane pops up again, a sociopathic bad penny.

This story is doomed to take a dark turn from the start and it does, of course. I always feel like Megan's giving the male part of her audience a secret window into the relationships of teenage girls, infinitely more complex than the comparatively shallow, sex-obsessed psyche of teenage boys. Casual eating disorders and sharing deep secrets seem to be the norm.

We also get a glimpse of how tough it is for women in the science field, both in Kit and Diane's competition with their lab mates and in Dr. Severin, the bad ass female scientist that is practically Wonder Woman to Kit, who seems willing to do anything to get what she wants.

The way Diane's secret is revealed is masterful, doled out in tiny morsels until you can't take anymore. When she shows up in the present day, things quickly veer into the exact wrong direction, like S.E. Hinton by way of Jim Thompson. Then something baffling happens and there are some Telltale Heart moments and things really get tense for a while.

As with her previous books, like Dare Me, You Will Know Me, and The End of Everything, I felt wrung out by the end. While a lot of other crime books get more press, Megan Abbott's are the best thing in the genre today. Five out of five stars.

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12 Questions with Michael Patrick Hicks

Today's guest is Michael Patrick Hicks, author of the upcoming Broken Shells.

What was the inspiration behind Broken Shells? 
Back in the summer of 2016, we were doing a lot of home remodeling (most of it not by choice, thanks to a vicious windstorm that ripped through our area) and discovering just how expensive parenting really is. Our budget grew very tight and we were cutting corners in as many places as we could to save money. I came home and found in the mail a big, bright yellow Money Carlo card from a local car dealership telling me I had won $5,000. I knew these things were a scam, so it went straight into the garbage, but I started getting these weird flashes of a story. Over the course of a few days, these ideas began percolating and finally took hold, and I set about telling the story of Antoine DeWitt and Jon Dangle.

Did you catch any hell for Revolver?
Not as much as I had braced myself for! I did get one e-mail, shortly after the story was first published a few years ago in the No Way Home anthology (currently out of print), from a reader who needed me to know what a godless communist he thought I was. I wish I would have kept the e-mail for when I need a good laugh.

Are you a Twilight Zone fan? I see some Twilight Zone in your books
Yes! I haven’t watched the show in some years now, but I certainly enjoyed the heck out of it. Henry Bemis is my spirit animal. And if you don’t know who Henry Bemis is, track down the episode “Time Enough At Last.” I’m pretty sure it would be my life story if I were to survive the apocalypse.

What do you think about the resurgence of the novella since the dawn of ebooks?
I love that the novella has made a huge return. It’s a format I love as both a reader and a writer, and I’m heartened to see readers rediscovering this particular form of storytelling. eBooks are the perfect medium for them, too. They’re cheap and easily digested, and the best ones can be supremely powerful in their themes and messages. I’m definitely a fan!

Are you a plotter, pantser, or something in between?
In between, I’d say. I typically have a mental outline that guides me through the opening, middle, and climax. Whatever happens in between those three tent poles, though, is fair game. Each project is different, though, and some come along fully formed. Others I just completely pants my way through and try to make it cogent enough to fix in a second draft.

Any publishing horror stories? 
Not yet! I’ve found the horror community to be rather warm and inviting, and I’ve made some great friendships and connections over the last few years all across the speculative fiction realm. As an indie author/publisher, I’ve been fortunate enough to miss out first-hand on some of the big debacles in publishing, even if just barely. I’d had submissions with both Samhain and DarkFuse shortly before each declared bankruptcy and shuttered their businesses. Rather than having a couple horror stories, I feel like I’ve dodged a few big bullets here and there.

Who are your biggest influences?
Stephen King, for sure. Michael Crichton, Barry Eisler, Richard K. Morgan, Tom Clancy, Dennis Lehane. Most of these guys I discovered back in high school and college, and they certainly had a big impact on my writing initially or were at least responsible for my wanting to write in the first place some twenty years ago. Nowadays, I’m finding a lot of influences from many of my contemporaries in indie and small press publishing, mostly because I’ve become huge fans of their works and they as individuals. I look at guys like Jonathan Janz, Hunter Shea, Edward Lorn, Brian Keene, Adam Cesare, Glenn Rolfe, and learn a lot just from reading their stories. They’re all terrific story tellers and writers. Each have one hell of a knack for craft, rock solid work ethics, and I hope I can do just as well one day.

Favorite book of all time?
Stephen King’s IT.

Being a new (and continuing) father, how do you carve out time to write?
It isn’t easy! I work a full-time office job, so my writing time is very, very limited these days and can often take a backseat to more pressing issues, like sick kids. Right now, everyone in my house has the flu or a cold, including me, so not a whole lot is getting done! Not too long ago I bought a foldable keyboard and installed a writing app on my phone so I can write for a little bit during my lunch break. My wife and I developed a schedule that, in theory, would allow us both at least an hour every night and a couple extra on the weekend to focus on ourselves and our work, but the reality is, that just hasn’t worked out at all. It’s a nice pipe dream, though! Mostly my writing time comes down to just grabbing ahold of it whenever and wherever I can. If I can wake up early and write, I’ll do that. I’ll write on my lunchbreak, or before bed. Sometimes I’m only able to lay down fifty new words, other times I can get a thousand. It’s almost always a struggle, though.

What are you reading now?
I am halfway through an ARC of Barry Eisler’s second Livia Lone book, The Night Trade. I’ve been an Eisler fan for a while now, and Livia might be his best creation yet as far as I’m concerned. She’s a beautifully developed, highly tragic figure who kicks a whole lot of ass. It’s fantastic stuff!

What are you working on now?
I’m currently writing the final installment in a trilogy of historical horror novellas that I hope to release late 2018/early 2019 depending on how everything goes. These books are my first go at writing any kind of historical fiction and it’s presented some of the most enjoyment I’ve had as a writer. I studied history, along with psychology and journalism, in college and it’s been a lot of fun to flex some of those particular research muscles again, digging through historical records and searching out as much information as I can on some fairly little-known events, as well as more popular historical incidents that have primarily served as inspiration.

Do you think being publically horsewhipped in the town square is too lenient a punishment for identity thieves?
Far, far, far too lenient. As you know, I’m a recent victim of identity fraud and the hoops I’ve had to go through to get everything sorted out have been hellacious. If they ever find the thief, I’d love to introduce him to Jon Dangle! There’s some things in Broken Shells that just might provide sufficient punishment for identity thieves everywhere.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Review: VHS Video Cover Art: 1980s to Early 1990s

VHS Video Cover Art: 1980s to Early 1990s VHS Video Cover Art: 1980s to Early 1990s by Thomas Hodge
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

VHS Video Cover Art: 1980s to Early 1990s is a collection of box art from VHS tapes.

Not long ago, my wife and I watched Please Rewind, a documentary about the rise and fall of VHS and the underground culture of VHS collector and was overcome by feelings of nostalgia. Days after that, this popped up as one of my recommendations on Amazon and I splurged.

As the title indicates, this is a coffee table book of VHS cover art, two boxes per page. Most of them are for b-movies, designed to grab the rubes by their resemblance to the art of popular movie boxes. This book screams 1980s from cover to cover.

Some of the box art took me back to days of riding down to the video store and having about five minutes to pick something out before Dad was ready to head back home. I hadn't thought of Earth Star Voyager or Misfits of Science in years. Others reminded me that movies like Bikini Carwash Company and Sorority Babes in the Slimeball Bowl-O-Rama had life outside of late night on Showtime.

The original cover art of Evil Dead and Return of the Living Dead were a couple of my favorites, since they looked like none of the 10-15 versions I'd seen before. Other boxes just reminded me how dumb 80s action movies were.

While I found the book charming for nostalgic reasons, there's really not much to it. Apart from two forewords, there's not much in the way of wordage. I think some artist profiles would have been nice. Maybe I'm just being a curmudgeon since Paperbacks from Hell: The Twisted History of '70s and '80s Horror Fiction was so awesome and this one suffers by comparison.

All things considered, I'll be keeping VHS Video Cover Art on my coffee table as long as it can bear all the weight. Three out of five stars.

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Review: Paperbacks from Hell: The Twisted History of '70s and '80s Horror Fiction

Paperbacks from Hell: The Twisted History of '70s and '80s Horror Fiction Paperbacks from Hell: The Twisted History of '70s and '80s Horror Fiction by Grady Hendrix
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Paperbacks from Hell covers the horror boom that started in the early 70's until its bitter end with the dawn of the 1990s and horror's displacement by serial killer fiction.

Aside from reading a ton of Stephen King in my late teens/early 20s, I'm a latecomer to the horror genre. Paperbacks from Hell was an education for me.

Paperbacks from Hell is a gorgeous book, full of cover images from the more notable books from the period. It's like a catalog of obscure horror novels.

Starting with the Satanic Panic of the early 1970s with Rosemary's Baby, The Other, and The Exorcist, Paperbacks from Hell covers the various trends in horror, from Satan to creepy kids to killer animals to haunted houses and beyond, mentioning notable examples from each trend. It also added a ton of books to my watchlist. How can I ignore books like Satan's Love Child, Squelch, Eat Them Alive, and Blackwater: The Complete Caskey Family Saga?

Paperbacks from Hell is a fountain of information on the glory days of horror and it will occupy a place on my coffee table for years to come so I can distract my guests with Killer Crabs and Burnt Offerings before I dismember them and feed them to the horrors living in my basement. Five out of five stars.

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Friday, January 19, 2018

Review: Every Heart a Doorway

Every Heart a Doorway Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children is a place for kids who've returned from places not unlike Narnia or Wonderland and struggle to find a place in life. When some of those kids start dropping like flies, Nancy and her group of outcasts struggle to figure out whose their assailant is...

Ever wonder what happens when you're too old to have adventures with Peter Pan or can't find the door back to Narnia? Apparently Seanan McGuire did enough to write a series about it. And judging by the first volume, it's pretty grand.

After a stay in the underworld, Nancy's parents send her to Eleanor West's school to help her adjust to a normal life, which would be a lot easier if her fellow students weren't dying around her with body parts removed. The mystery wasn't all that hard to crack once the skeleton showed up but I don't think the mystery was really the point of the of book.

My first impression of Every Heart a Doorway was The Graveyard Book meets The Magicians but that's kind of a lazy way to describe it. There's also some Peter S. Beagle in its parentage, I should think, as well as an infusion of loved childhood tales. While on the surface it's a natural progression of a lot of portal fantasy story, it's also a book about fitting in, enduring trauma, and never being able to regain lost innocence.

I'd recommend this to people who enjoy dark takes on old tales, like Alice or The Child Thief and books in that vein. Pretty sure I'm going to need to read the rest of these. Four out of five stars.

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Thursday, January 18, 2018

Review: Leviathan Wakes

Leviathan Wakes Leviathan Wakes by James S.A. Corey
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

James Holden is a crewman on an ice mining ship near Saturn that runs across an abandoned ship and quickly finds itself ambushed. But what does that have to do with a detective on Ceres tasked with finding a missing rich girl and bringing her back to Earth?

I'm only seven years late to the party on this but what's the point of watching a TV show based on a book without being able to annoy everyone by pointing out the differences? One of my earliest memories was watching the re-release of the original Star Wars in the theater 1981-ish so I've always been interested in space stories. This one was more Firefly than Star Wars but I liked it quite a bit.

Told using two different viewpoint characters, Leviathan Wakes is the story of a war unfolding between Earth, Mars, and the Belters, denizens of various asteroid settlements. Someone tries their damnedest to shift the blame around, though.

The Miller thread was by far my favorite. The down and out detective won me over with his sheer doggedness, losing everything in the process of finding a missing girl that no one actually wanted him to find. The thread with Holden and his ragtag gang reminded me of Firefly quite a bit. Their asses went from the frying pan to the fire so many times they should have been burned beyond recognition. When the two threads finally converged, I knew I was in for the long haul.

Leviathan Wakes is very hard to put down. It's written in an accessible style and is light on the science, though its portrayal of space and space travel is a lot harsher and leaning toward what life in space might really be like than a lot of science fiction. There's action, humor, intrigue, pretty much everything you'd want from a science fiction adventure story. It's not a perfect book, though. Sometimes the characters make a few too many snarky remarks and sometimes they do outright stupid things. Other than that, I've got no complaints.

I don't take a lot of chances on series that aren't yet completed but I'm glad I took a chance on this one. Leviathan Wakes is the best first book in a sf/fantasy series I've read in years. Four out of five stars.

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Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Review: High White Sun

High White Sun High White Sun by J. Todd Scott
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Two years after the death of Sheriff Ross, Sheriff Chris Cherry has another body on his hands and a gang of white supremacist bikers living in a nearby town...

The Far Empty wound up being fantastic so I scooped this up when it popped up on Netgalley.

The second book set in the sleepy Texas border town of Murfee packs almost as big of a punch as the first. When a man winds up dead outside a bar, Chris Cherry picks up the trail and it leads him to a family of white supremacist bikers in a nearby town. However, nothing is as cut and dry as it seems.

Much like the last book, it's the ensemble cast that powers the story forward. Chris has a mentor in Ben Harper, a widowed lawman that's Chris' right hand and a capable deputy in America Reynosa. The Earl family is a horrible reflection of the makeshift family Chris has in the Murfee PD. Aside from the undercover cop in their midst, that is...

There are wheels within wheels in this one. Lots of people are lying and keeping secrets and more than one person ends up in the ground because of it. Once I got over the 50% hump, it was a hard book to put aside.

Once again, J. Todd Scott did a great job with the scenery and location, making Murfee and the surrounding areas almost a character in the story. Chris Cherry, however, is probably the least interesting character in the book. If the supporting cast wasn't so rich, I don't think I'd rate this or The Far Empty as highly.

The ending wound up being an even bigger trainwreck than I thought. The Murfee PD went through the flames and none of them came out without at least minor burns. While satisfying on its own, I'm looking forward to the next book in the series.

While I didn't like it quite as much as The Far Empty, High White Sun was quite a read. Four out of five stars.

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Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Review: The Last Whisper in the Dark

The Last Whisper in the Dark The Last Whisper in the Dark by Tom Piccirilli
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A few months after his brother's execution, the man who married the love of Terrier Rand's life goes missing and Terry starts sniffing around. Meanwhile, Terry's mother's family reaches out to her for the first time in decades to tell her that her father is dying and Old Crowe might just have a job for Terry...

The Last Kind Words was phenonmenal and the goal for 2018 is to read as much Tom Piccirilli is possible. I broke through my ebook cheapness ceiling and grabbed this one post haste. I knew it was going to be good when I was threatening to shed tears after the first few pages.

The Last Whisper in the Dark picks up months after the events of The Last Kind Words. Terrier is watching Kimmi and Scooter, Chub's family that could have been his, when Chub goes missing after a botched bank robbery. The other thorns in his side are Danny Thompson, local mob boss, and Perry Crowe, Terry's estranged grandfather.

Much like The Last Kind Words, The Last Whisper in the Dark is all about family secrets and lies. Terry is hiding things from everyone, especially himself. His mother's family proves that not all the illegal inklings come from the Rand side.

There's a lot more going on in this one than Terrier Rand's previous outing. While I could see where some of it was heading, some of it still caught me off guard. I love that Terry showed some integrity and didn't immediately try to worm his way into Kimmi's life. He did some dumb things, though, things that I think would have come back on him had Tom Piccirilli lived long enough to write future volumes.

While I love the crime elements, my favorite parts of the book are the moments Terry shares with his mother, Wes, and even Endicott. The supporting cast was very rich, even after only two books.
The Rands are much more complex characters than they could have been. Terrier's father dealing with the onset of Altzheimer's was very sad and one of the many elements that sets this above 99% of crime books out there.

I only had a couple gripes with this. I thought the ending came out of left field and was a bigger logical leap than Terrier ought to have been able to make. The other gripe was the way Darla could have been a richer character but wound up pretty much being someone for Terry to bang.
The entirety of my reading experience was tinged with regret that Tom Piccirilli was dead. The Rand family had enough skeletons in the closet to fuel any number of future books.

The Last Whisper in the Dark is a great entry in the Terrier Rand saga. I just wish it wasn't the end. Four out of five stars.

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Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Review: Taste of Marrow

Taste of Marrow Taste of Marrow by Sarah Gailey
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In the aftermath of The Harriet operation, the crew is scattered. Hero and Houndstooth think one another dead. Adelia has baby Ysabel to contend with... until she doesn't. All roads lead to Baton Rouge and the gang may find themselves on opposite sides...

This one had been on my wish list since I finished River of Teeth. Fortunately, Richard rode to my rescue on the back of a hippo steed yet again.

Set months after River of Teeth, the gang is scattered to the four winds. Ysabel is kidnapped and Adelia is coerced into heading to Baton Rouge for one last job. Houndstooth and Archie are searching for Adelia and eventually their paths converge.

I was afraid some of the shine might have worn off the penny since River of Teeth but I was wrong. In some ways, the book felt like an extended epilogue of River of Teeth and gave some much needed closure if Sarah Gailey doesn't return to the hippo infested world she's crafted.

At first I was rolling my eyes at Houndstooth and Hero pining for one another so much but I was a believer by the end. Adelia's plight effected me more, though, torn apart by new motherhood and blackmail. Also, who knew your nipples could get infected? The partnership between Adelia and Hero provided my favorite character moments of the book.

The feral hippos continue to fascinate me. I really hope there's another book set in this universe.

Taste of Marrow is the best hippo-strewn gumbo western starring mostly nonheteronormative characters you'll read all year. Four out of five stars.

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Monday, January 8, 2018

Review: Broken Shells

Broken Shells Broken Shells by Michael Patrick Hicks
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When down on his luck mechanic Antoine DeWitt gets something in the mail saying he won $5,000 from the local car dealership, he has his doubts but his wife, baby, and mounting bills make him go to claim it anyway. The worst that can happen is that he doesn't get any money, right?

WRONG! The owner of the car dealership is part of a generations-long pact, sacrificing people who won't be missed to an alien evil that lurks beneath the ground! Can Antoine escape with his skin intact or will he join the rest of those that have vanished over the years?

Michael Patrick Hicks was the 2017 recipient of the coveted Dantastic Book Award for Goodreads Author Who Doesn't Suck. I saw on the twitter that he had a novella coming out in February and hit him up. Let's just say Michael might be the first two time winner of the Goodreads Author Who Doesn't Suck award because this was pretty damn good!

Broken Shells is a novella of desperation, both on the part of Antoine DeWitt and Jon Dangle. Antoine lost his job and his wife Channy is on his ass to find another one when he gets the Money Carlo flyer from the car dealership saying he's won $5,000, he's just desperate enough to go down there. Jon Dangle, on the other hand, is desperate for a different reason. For generations, his family has been responsible for keeping subterranean monsters in check by throwing them a victim every once in a while.

Claustrophobic carnage is the name of the game. Antoine wakes up in bad shape and things only get worse. Tight spaces, gore, and inhuman horrors infest the pages. There are no training wheels or hand holding during this read. There were a few times I thought "Mike, you sick bastard!" Not only is it ghastly fun, it's very well written, carrying none of the things I loath about a lot of self-published or small press horror. It's very well edited and professional, slick and seamless.

The ending was a little bleaker than I'd like, though I had a feeling it was headed that way. All in all, Broken Shells is an exceptional horror novella. Four out of five stars.

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Friday, January 5, 2018

Review: The Last Kind Words

The Last Kind Words The Last Kind Words by Tom Piccirilli
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Terrier Rand returns home, summoned by a phone call telling him of his brother Collie's impending execution. While Collie admits to the murders he committed, he knows one of the killings he's been charged with isn't his doing and wants Terrier to find out who was behind the murder of Rebecca Clarke. Will his investigation tear his family, a multi-generational gang of thieves, apart?

While I enjoyed A Choir of Ill Children, I wasn't super motivated to read another Tom Piccirilli book. I snapped this up for $1.99 and soon found I'd been quite a fool.

The Last Kind Words looks like a crime book on the surface. Terrier Rand has been on the run from his past for five years, a past full of burglaries and such, when he gets the fateful call. Terry slips back into his old life like a pair of shoes that don't fit right anymore, all the while trying to make sense of why his brother would murder eight people and wondering if he didn't have the same potential in himself.

While the mystery element is there, it's more about what binds a family together and what can tear it apart. Terrier didn't leave town under the best of circumstances and now he's reaping the rewards. His family mostly communicates through silence and minding their own business. A lot of things aren't the way he remembered them. His little sister is a teenager. His grandfather has Altzheimers and his uncles seem to be heading in that direction. Reports swarm the Rand house daily and Detective Gillmore is around all too often.

The mystery in and of itself was pretty engaging. It was just over the halfway mark that I had an inkling of who the killer was and I turned out to be right. I knew the big confrontation was going to be bad and I was not disappointed. The final ending was pretty sad.

Terrier Rand is one of the more interesting protagonists I've come across in recent years, a man from a family of thieves who finally has to take a long hard look at himself. While he's not a killer, he's definitely a thief through and through.

The Last Kind Words is a dark, funny, sad, thought-provoking book, so much more than what I thought I was getting. Time to buy more Tom Piccirilli. Five out of five stars.

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Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Review: Single White Female

Single White Female Single White Female by John Lutz
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

When Allie Jones suddenly finds herself in need of a roommate, she meets Hedra. Hedra is timid at first but she and Allie become friends and Hedra shows her true colors...

I remember when the movie version of Single White Female came out, although I was too young to be interested. I've read a couple John Lutz books before so I was ready for this when I found it on the cheap.

When you look for a roommate, try not to find one that's a psychopathic chameleon. I knew the bare bones of the plot but it was still a wild ride at times. Hedra moves in and starts usurping Allie's life. Before too long, Allie is in the soup so deep she might never get out.

The book was a slow burner at first but things picked up around the halfway mark. I've never seen the movie but from what I understand, the book is a lot more gruesome.

The resolution actually bugged me a little bit. A little too easy, maybe? Anyway, Single White Female was a fun way to spend a few hours. Three out of five stars.

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Review: The Bedding of Boys

The Bedding of Boys The Bedding of Boys by Edward Lorn
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When hebephile Regina Corsi sets her sights on young Nevada barnes, she'll do whatever she can to get him in her clutches. But how hard can it be for a gorgeous woman in her thirties to seduce a horny fourteen year old boy? And what about Ghost, the sheeted figure that does Regina's bidding?

Just after I reviewed Tampa last year, Edward Lorn emailed me, worried that he'd just wrote the same book. I said his approach was probably different and told him not to worry about it. Turns out, I was right.

Set in the town that gave Bay's End its name, The Bedding of Boys is about sexual predator Regina Corsi and her prey, Nevada Barnes. It's also about male and female sexuality and the differences thereof.

When the tale begins, Nevada is living happily with his parents and foster brother August. August spends a lot of his time catatonic with periods of wakefulness but there's much more to him than meets the eye. Regina is a predator and Nevada soon falls under her gaze. The mysterious Ghost following Regina around seemed like a pretty way to conveniently keep Regina under the radar until it was explained.

Edward Lorn clearly remembers what it's like to be fourteen, to be perpetually horny and to be as hard as a shovel handle at the slightest provocation. It's all too easy to see how Nevada gets entangled with Regina.

When things go off the rails, they do in a spectacular fashion. The ending was pretty much what it had to be after everything that came before it. After all, you can't very well have a train heading toward a chasm with no bridge suddenly stop at the last minute.

I loved the callbacks to the other books set in Bay's End, like Fog Warning, Life After Dane, The Sound of Broken Ribs, and Cruelty. I'm not sure The End will recover from this one, though.

If I had to pick something to bitch about, it was the way Ghost's origin tale killed the momentum toward the end of the book. It was necessary and I'm not sure of any other way that information could have conveyed. It still felt like a speed bump, though.

While it's not my favorite Lorn book, this one is up there, just a notch below The Sound of Broken Ribs. 4.5 out of stars.

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Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Review: Sorcerer

Sorcerer Sorcerer by Greg F. Gifune
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

When a beautiful woman offers unemployed Jeff McGrath a job, he has no idea what his new employer will require from him. But what, if anything, does that have to do with the homeless man Jeff's wife Eden seems oddly drawn to?

The demise of DarkFuse was one of the lower points of the last couple years as far as horror fiction goes. However, a lot of the DarkFuse novellas are available and well worth a read. Sorcerer is one of those.

Jeff McGrath is in dire straits when the opportunity of a lifetime drops into his lap. A gorgeous woman hooks him into working for International Facilitators and the mysterious Foster Hope. Jeff tries to back out but Hope already has him by the short hairs by then. I had a feeling things would go the way they did but it was still a great experience getting there.

Sorcerer is a frantic little novella, less than 100 pages but it packs the punch of a much bigger book.  It feels like a half-remembered Twilight Zone episode. Greg Gifune has never been one of my favorite horror authors but he knocked this one out of the park. If you're a fan of the Twilight SZone, definitely give Sorcerer a shot. Five out of five stars.

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Review: Astrophysics for People in a Hurry

Astrophysics for People in a Hurry Astrophysics for People in a Hurry by Neil deGrasse Tyson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Astrophysics for People in a Hurry is a very readable account of the creation of the universe and how the universe works, as related by Neil deGrasse Tyson.

I had this on my watch list for a long time but didn't pull the trigger until it went on sale for $1.99.

Since the first movie I saw in the theater was a rerelease of Star Wars sometime in the early 80s, space has always given me a sense of wonder. Astrophysics for People in a Hurry is an easily digestible summation of the universe, from the big bang to the present.

Neil deGrasse Tyson breaks down the universe into manageable chunks, from leptons to galaxies. He does a good job with theoretical concepts like dark matter and dark energy, pulsars, quasars, and other flashing bits. Since I've watched many of his appearances, it was easy to hear his voice in my head. There's a fair amount of humor but not enough to distract from all the sciencing going on.

Seriously, it's a pop science book about the universe. How much else can I say? If you already know a lot about astrophysics, it's probably not the book for you. However, if all you know about the formation of the universe is dimly remembered things from grade school, you'll probably enjoy it. Since most of my recent scientific knowlege comes from Doctor Who episodes, I enjoyed it quite a bit. Four out of five stars.

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Monday, January 1, 2018

Review: Cannibalism: A Perfectly Natural History

Cannibalism: A Perfectly Natural History Cannibalism: A Perfectly Natural History by Bill Schutt
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Cannibalism: A Perfectly Natural History is a book about cannibalism.

Laced with dark humor, Cannibalism: A Perfectly Natural History covers cannibalism in many in its many forms. Schutt starts with the animal kingdom, noting nutritional and evolutionary advantages to snacking on your own species. Tadpoles do it, insects do it, even the monkeys in the trees do it.

The bulk of the book deals with human cannibalism, from the Neanderthal to the present day. There's cannibalism for medicinal reasons, like epileptics drinking blood in Victorian times, to powdered mummies being injested, to cannibalism for religious reasons.

Religious and cultural views on cannibalism are explored, as is the grand daddy of them all, the Donner Party. Schutt deliberately sidesteps cannibal serial killers since that topic has been sensationalized to death by the media. The modern placenta-eating movement is covered in great detail, as are kuru and similar diseases.

The writing in Cannibalism is engaging, tinged with Schutt's dark brand of humor. I devoured the book in two long sittings like a tribesman not wanting his relative's corpse to go to waste as food for maggots. Apart from Bill Bryson, I'm not usually drawn to non-fiction but this book was really hard to put down.

If I had to pick out something to bitch about, it would be that kuru and other spongiform encephalopathies were given a little too much space. Apart from that not mentioning the episode of The IT Crowd that was about a cannibal, I have no complaints. I recommend to anyone even remotely interested in cannibalism. Four out of five stars.

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