Saturday, March 31, 2018

Review: Diana Christmas

Diana Christmas Diana Christmas by F.R. Jameson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When young Michael Mallory is tasked with writing an article about forgotten siren Diana Christmas, he quickly falls under her spell. Diana tells him she's being blackmailed and Michael goes to settle tings and quickly winds up in way over his head...

I've been friends with F.R. Jameson here on Goodreads for years. When he hit me up to review an ARC of Diana Christmas, I took him up on it. I was hooked form the first page.

Taking a page out of the early Megan Abbott playbook, James weaves the tale of Diana Christmas, a screen goddess that faded into obscurity, and Michael Mallory, the twenty-two year old that she gets her hooks into. Logically, I thought Michael was an idiot for a lot of the book. As a red-blooded male, I understood why he did what he did, logical or not.

It started off simply enough: confront a blackmailer and get him to stop. Things got a little more complicated after that, mostly due to the fact that Diana Christmas was, in fact, crazier than a shit house rat. Things go off the rails in a big way, as expected in stories of this type. Knowing it's Michael telling the story doesn't kill the tension. He gets seven shades of shit beat out of him before the end. Speaking of the ending, it hit me like a truck.

F. R. James crafted a good hard-boiled tale with Diana Christmas. Four out of five stars.

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Friday, March 30, 2018

Review: Aetherchrist

Aetherchrist Aetherchrist by Kirk Jones
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When a knife salesman named Rey stumbles upon a man with numerous TVs in his garage, all tuned to static on analog signals, his world is turned upside down forever. Now, his thoughts are showing up on TV screens and showing him things he'd rather not see...

Even though my Review Request Guidlines get harsher by the week, I'm really a big softie so I was happy to take Kirk Jones up on an ARC of his latest. This shit is pretty fucked up. I mean that in the best possible way.

"Part horror, part nutso conspiracy thriller" would be the best way to describe Aetherchrist. Much like he mined the Philadephia Experiment for Journey to Abortosphere, this time Kirk Jones takes on the ultimate question: Why did the government keep using analog towers long after cable was introduced?

Rey's kind of a loser, secretly lusting after his boss. When he starts seeing weird things in the analog static, shit quickly gets out of hand. The true scope of the book is reveal when Rey meets other people with the same ability. I'd say it's Kirk's most ambitious book to date and he did a great job weaving the various ideas together.

Bill's notebooks are used to do a little of the world building at the beginning of each chapter, which I liked. It sidestepped a lot of infodumping that way and gave hints of things to come. Once Rey met Aero, things really got going. The whole package reminded me of lost Twilight Zone episode that was too bizarre to air. Also, I couldn't get that Doctor Who episode where the video of the Weeping Angel is played on a loop out of my head while I was reading it.

Aetherchrist was one bizarre experience. Not for the faint of heart but ultimately an engaging read. Four out of five stars.

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Thursday, March 29, 2018

Review: Jackrabbit Smile

Jackrabbit Smile Jackrabbit Smile by Joe R. Lansdale
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

When a white supremicist and his mother show up at Brett's detective agency, Hap and Leonard are conflicted but agrees to track down Jackrabbit, the missing sister/daughter. Marvel Creek is on its way to being segregated and Hap and Leonard run afoul of The Professor, the mastermind behind it all. Will Hap and Leonard be able to bring Jackrabbit home alive?

Hap and Leonard are up to their old tricks, cracking wise and generally pissing off the bad guys until everything errupts in a hornet's nest of violence. This time, they're in Hap's old stomping grounds, Marvel Creek, which is under the thumb of a segregationist.

Disclaimer: These are my opinions and should not be treated as a personal attack if they don't match yours.

Let's hit the positives first. Hap and Leonard are still hilarious and Joe Lansdale is one of my favorite writers. I've read 50-something of his books and he always makes me laugh. Not only that, he can write some horrifying scenes, which he does in this one. It's easy to forget he started off as a splatterpunk writer. The confrontation at the end was one of his best. The callbacks to previous Lansdale tales, both from Hap and Leonard's previous outings and other works, like Fender Lizards, were nice nods to the things past. The bad guys were bad but Hap and Leonard were "more bad" as Hap would say. It was a pretty entertaining read. However...

...This is the 13th Hap and Leonard book. If you've stuck around this long, Hap and Leonard are as familiar as the bickering old couple that lives down the street. I've been reading about Hap and Leonard for almost half my life at this point and there aren't a lot of surprises left anymore. With the guys working for Brett and Marvin Hanson vouching for them every time they get into a scrape, everything feels safe and comfortable and there's none of the desperation of the earlier books left.

Jackrabbit Smile is an engaging, entertaining read but I didn't think it was nearly as good as some of the other books in the series. Three out of five stars.

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Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Review: Providence

Providence Providence by Caroline Kepnes
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

When Jon Bronson disappears on the way to school one day, he leaves his best friend Chloe wondering what happened to him. Four years later, he wakes up in a basement, jacked up and with no memory of the past four years, only a copy of The Dunwich Horror with some notes written inside. Will Jon and Chloe be able to pick up where they left off?

This was a Netgalley pick. Edward Lorn and some other trusted reviewers have sung the praises of Caroline Kepnes in the past so I decided to take a chance.

Overall, I liked my first Caroline Kepnes experience. The shifting viewpoints between Jon, Chloe, and Eggs held my interest and a main character that gives people heart attacks is a pretty interesting hook in a story of unrequited love.

The book is promoted as a thriller but it's really about relationships and intimacy. Eggs and his wife, Jon and Chloe, Chloe and Carrig, all very different relationships between very different characters. Also, fuck Carrig! Since I've read a few hundred detective novels, I had a soft spot for Eggs and his obsession with The Beard.

And here's the part that I hated: fully 80% of the book could have been avoided if Jon had just emailed Chloe and said "I give people heart attacks. That's why I'm being a douche nozzle." Considering Jon mostly communicates by text and email anyway, this makes a lot more sense than torturing himself for the better part of a decade.

And now we're back at the other piece of bread in this complement sandwich of a review. While their situation was outlandish, I think Kepnes did a great job with the various characters. I had no trouble believing in Eggs, Chloe, or Jon. They were all very fleshed out acted like real people would in the situation, aside from the lack of communication I mentioned earlier. The Lovecraft connection was also well done. I've read the Dunwich Horror a couple times but I think someone could infer what they need to and not feel lost.

And here we are at the end of the review. I enjoyed Providence but it wasn't a game changer or something I felt like neglecting my health and/or personal hygiene to read. 3.5 out of 5 stars.

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Thursday, March 22, 2018

Review: The Blinds

The Blinds The Blinds by Adam Sternbergh
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Caesura, Texas, is a sleepy town where no one remembers their past, witnesses and criminals living out a unique form of witness protection. When Sheriff Calvin Cooper suddenly has a murder to deal with, he has his work cut out for him. Who could the killer be if he's the only one that's supposed to have a gun and half the town could be murderers?

Quite a few people on my friends list enjoyed the hell out of this one. Since I'm a cheap ass, I saved up Amazon rewards points and bought it that way. And those people who enjoyed it were right.

The Blinds reminded me of Pines more than anything else, although, like Pines, I had to think it had some of The Prisoner in its lineage.

The Blinds is the nickname for the town and the files containing the true identities of the people dwelling there. Fueled and funded by a mysterious project, people coming to The Blinds have parts of their memories blanked and everyone goes about their lives without telephone or internet, blissfully unaware of whether their next door neighbor is a killer or a snitch. Things go well for about eight years, until the killing starts...

Hard-boiled with a slight sf edge would be the best way to describe it. Other than memories being tampered with, it's a straight up crime book. Calvin Cooper pieces things together as best he can, trying to hold the town together despite a murderer in their midst, town between being a lazy loser and actually wanting to do the right thing.

The Blinds was a gripping read, with twist after twist. I read the first two hundred pages in a long sitting. The rest of the book was read in agonizing lunch hour snippets. Things quickly get out of hand once the killing starts and I wasn't sure the town would be there at the end.

The core concept is an intriguing one, a town where anyone can get a fresh start and be part of a community. The book also raises some questions about identity. Ultimately, your past will more often than not catch up with you and bite you on the taint.

I really don't have any complaints with The Blinds. At times, I felt like it was written with my tastes in mind. Four out of five stars.

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Monday, March 19, 2018

Review: Idaho

Idaho Idaho by Emily Ruskovich
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

One day while out chopping wood, Wade Mitchell's wife does something unspeakable, sending their lives off course forever. Years later, Wade has remarried and is slowly losing his memories to early onset dementia. Can his second wife, Ann, piece together what happened before Wade forgets himself?

I blazed through Idaho in a couple long sittings and as I sit here, I'm having trouble quantifying how I feel about it. I thought it was going to be a literary mystery but the killer was revealed very early on. It's more about coping with loss, I guess. Life, memories, freedom, etc.

The writing had a literary feel and the story is told in a non-linear fashion, jumping back and forth through the lives of Wade, his first wife, Jenny, their daughters, and his second wife, Ann. I enjoyed piecing together what happened through the various time jumps. Jenny's time in prison was easily my favorite part.

Like I said, it's a hard book for me to quantify. It had its share of touching moments but it also had long stretches where not a whole lot happened to advance the plot. There were a couple extraneous characters that got too much time devoted to them in threads that were ultimately inconsequential. Most of all, there were some unanswered questions, leaving me thinking there should have been an epilogue to wrap a couple things up. While I enjoyed the writing, the structure was probably my favorite part.

Here we are at the end and I'm still not quite sure how to rate this. I like Idaho but it felt like a literary author "slumming it" by writing a genre book but afraid to go all-in. I guess I'll give it a 3 and call it a day.

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Sunday, March 18, 2018

Review: Look For Her

Look For Her Look For Her by Emily Winslow
My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

When DNA evidence re-opens a case forty-years cold, Morris Keene and his former partner, new mother Chloe Frohmann go looking to solve the disappearance and murder of Annalise Wood. Only, things get very complicated very quickly...

I got this in my first PageHabit horror box. It is in no way a horror novel but was pretty great none the less.

Annalise Wood disappeared on her way from school one day in 1976 and was never seen again. Her body was eventually found in a shallow grave and, years later, DNA evidence on the skirt leads to a suspect. However, that wouldn't be much of a story.

This is the fourth book in the Keene and Frohmann series but I didn't feel lost. The relationship between Keene and Frohmann threw enough clues about what happened in the previous books to keep me in the loop AND make me want to read the previous three, which brings me to my next point: This book was great.

The writing style reminded me of Tana French a bit and Keene and Frohmann behaved more like the Dublin Murder Squad than typical fictitious cops. There was lots of driving around and talking to people. The added wrinkles were Dr. Laurie Ambrose, a therapist with connections to the case, and Annalise Williams, one of her patients that was a little too obsessed with the disappearance of Annalise in the 70s.

What looked to be a straightforward case wound back in on itself numerous times. I kept setting the book down to bring my wife up to speed and she was kind enough to pretend to be interested. Once I dug in, stopping for any length of time was maddening.

The ending was great and the epilogue pretty much wrapped everything up. Apart from it being in the PageHabit horror box instead of an actual horror novel, I have no complaints. 4.5 out of 5 stars.

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Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Review: Burnt Offerings

Burnt Offerings Burnt Offerings by Robert Marasco
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

When the Rolfe family finds a beach house for the summer for only $900, it seems too good to be true. And it is, for the house seems to be exerting its influence on Marian, Ben, and their son David. Will the Rolfe family head back to Brooklyn before it's too late?

Chalk another one up to Paperbacks from Hell: The Twisted History of '70s and '80s Horror Fiction. This one caught my eye when I was perusing that sacred text one day and I eventually took the plunge.

Burnt Offerings is a slow-burn haunted house store, emphasis on the slow. The tortoise-like pace was a little frustrating for awhile. Also, it's very much rooted in the 1970s, from Marion being a mostly compliant house wife to some rapey moments from Ben, which seems to be a lot more commonplace in 70s fiction than it should be. It's one of Stephen King's inspirations for The Shining, and it shows. Most of the gripes I had with The Shining are here as well.

Now that I have my gripes out of the way early, I wound up enjoying the book once the pace picked up. The creepy atmosphere is very well done, starting with subtle bits of weirdness and eventually going full tilt.

Would you take a tray of food to an unseen ancient woman once a day to live in your dream house for a couple months? How far would you go for your dreams? These are the questions posed by Burnt Offerings. "If something looks too good to be true, it probably is" is probably the core message. I thought I knew which of the Rolfe's would go off the rails first but I was wrong.

The last 25% was pretty fantastic. If the rest of the book had been up to that standard, it would have been an easy four stars. As it stands, it had to work pretty hard to earn three from me. As always, your mileage may vary. If The Shining was to your liking, you might like this more than I did.

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Sunday, March 11, 2018

Review: The Summer Job: A Satanic Thriller

The Summer Job: A Satanic Thriller The Summer Job: A Satanic Thriller by Adam Cesare
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

When Claire takes a job at a hotel in a sleepy Massachusetts town, she gets more than she bargained for, with wild parties in the woods and a murderous cult lurking in the shadows...

I'm pretty sure this one was on sale when I got it, part of one of my daily cheap-o ebook emails. Adam Cesare is a pretty reliable horror writer for me.

After falling on rough times, Claire takes a summer job in a small town and things quickly go to hell in a wheelbarrow. The hotel is the base of operations of a satanic cult and the group rallying around a prophet in the woods isn't much better. What's a girl to do when she doesn't know who to trust?

The Summer Job reminded me of the movie The House of the Devil, although with a lot more dimension to it. If not for the cellphones and computers, it could have easily taken place during the Satanic Panic of the late 70s and early 80s. There's a paranoid feel to it at times and it's pretty obvious that everyone in town is a shithead of some degree. The burned, blind priest who has some mystery role in things made me think of The Sentinel, which I didn't really enjoy, but I liked his role here.

I enjoyed reading this book but it was never a drop-everything-and-put-my-life-on-hold kind of read. It was one of those books where the main character should have gotten the hell out of town instead of waiting around like an idiot for more bad shit to happen. However, I really enjoyed it when eventually Claire womaned up to settle some shit.

The Summer Job was a fun read but not as enjoyable as Video Night or Exponential. Three out of five stars.

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Friday, March 9, 2018

Review: Educated: A Memoir

Educated: A Memoir Educated: A Memoir by Tara Westover
My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

When a girl raised on a mountain in Idaho by her survivalist fundamentalist Mormon family sets foot in a classroom for the first time at the age of 17, how will things turn out? Can she ever escape the past?

Yeah, I made that sound like one of the sleazy thrillers I'm fond of but Educated is a memoir, not a potboiler. I don't normally read memoirs but I decided to take Random House up on their offer when they came knocking.

Educated is the story of Tara Westover's childhood on Buck's Peak, a mountain in Idaho, and her eventual leaving the mountain behind to pursue and education. It doesn't sound very interesting when you say it like that but her upbringing was crazy. Raised by a anti-government survivalist and fundamentalist Mormon father, Tara's early life was anything but ordinary: little education other than learning to read, being nearly worked to death in the scrapyard by her father, tormented by her probably-schizophrenic brother, not even sure of her own birthday. And then she decides to go to college...

The first third of the book was pretty bleak. I kept forgetting it wasn't a work of fiction and wanted to see a couple people dead in the snow. Once Tara goes to college, it's her against her family's beliefs. We all know how hard people cling to beliefs, just look at the ongoing debate on who the best captain of the Enterprise was. Even though it's pretty clear that it's Jean-Luc Picard.

Tara's journey was a trip back and forth through the labyrinth of her family's beliefs and a conflict between her desire to belong and the desire for more than just being someone's wife on a mountain. One thing I quite liked was that she never dragged her family's Mormon beliefs through the mud even though it would have been the easiest thing in the world for her to do and pretty understandable given everything it cost her.

Parts of the book are heartbreaking and it makes the end that much more satisfying. Tara getting her PhD despite where she came from and what it cost her makes me think I've probably squandered some of the opportunities I've been given over the years. 4.5 out of 5 stars.

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Saturday, March 3, 2018

Review: Zombie Bigfoot

Zombie Bigfoot Zombie Bigfoot by Nick Sullivan
My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

When a scientist, a reality show survivalist, and an expedition funded by an eccentric billionaire go into a remote forest looking for Bigfoot, they get more than the bargained for, for this Bigfoot is undead and hungers for human flesh!

Nick Sullivan hit me recently up to review some audio books he'd narrated. I don't do audio books but he seemed cool so I offered to review Zombie Bigfoot despite it going against my No Zombies policy.

Zombie Bigfoot is a creature feature combining zombies and a troop of Sasquatch for a lot of flesh-eating mayhem. It wound up being better than I was anticipating. Some creature features unveil the threat too early and then it's a lot of us against the creatures, which gets old after a while. This one unfolded a lot more organically and had some meat to it.

Sara Bishop is driven to prove Bigfoot exists and exonerate her father, who died in disgrace after a harrowing encounter with a Bigfoot years earlier. The rest of the humans were an interesting mix - a TV survivalist, a Native American tracker, some world class big game hunters, and a billionaire with a bottomless wallet. However, the troop of Sasquatch provided for some oddly touching moments.

The story goes in the route you'd expect with a title like Zombie Bigfoot but it's a fun, gore-slicked trail to travel. When a Zombie Bigfoot gets the munchies, no brains or entrails are safe.

The writing was workmanlike at first but I felt like Nick got comfortable and really cut loose in the second half, the writing getting a lot more colorful. I could tell he was having fun writing about people getting torn apart by a ravenous Sasquatch. I caught myself getting attached to Littlefoot and Brighteyes. A few times I thought "You'd better not kill the good Sasquatches, you asshole!"

Zombie Bigfoot was a fun read and a notch above a lot of the creature features out there. 3.5 out of 5 stars.

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Thursday, March 1, 2018

Review: Unbury Carol

Unbury Carol Unbury Carol by Josh Malerman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Carol Evers suffers from a bizarre condition: at times of stress, she lapses into a coma that closely resembles death, only she can hear what's going on around her. Now she's in one of her comas and her husband is planning on burying alive. The only man that can save her is a notorious outlaw that ran from her and her condition years ago, James Moxie...

Josh Malerman is all the rage these days. What better way to give him a shot than a Netgalley ARC of his upcoming book!

Unbury Carol takes place in a period not unlike the 1890s. It has a distinctively western feel but I don't think any of the places are real. Carol suffers from a weird condition that makes me think that if he doesn't suffer from sleep paralysis, Josh Malerman has at least read up on it. As someone who suffers the occasional bout of sleep paralysis, that's sure what it reminded me of. Carol calls the dark place she goes to Howltown, since she can only hear the hoarse sound of her own breathing. Creepy, huh?

The story is a race against time, with James Moxie hauling ass from Mackatoon to save his long lost love from being buried alive in Harrows, all the while with a hitman on his trail. It started a little slow but things got pretty hectic. The writing was good but nothing earth-shattering. I'd say the ever-building suspense was the star of the Wild West show.

Dwight Evers was a worm and Smoke was a psychotic arsonist, making for a pair of villains whose hash I couldn't wait to see settled. Moxie was a driven man seeking to put things right before it was too late. Still, Carol was the most interesting character, even though she just laid there, comatose but listening, for most of the book. Carol being helpless but aware made me feel claustrophobic at times. The ending was extremely satisfying. I would have done a "Yes!" with a fist pump but I had a couple sleeping cats to consider.

Unbury Carol was one hell of a gripping read. I'll be reading more Josh Malerman in the future. Four out of five stars.

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