Sunday, August 26, 2018

Review: The Moonchild

The Moonchild The Moonchild by Kenneth McKenney
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

While on holiday in the Alps, young Simon Blackstone dies, succumbing to a mysterious illness. While SImon's family deals with his death, people around him are dying and the Blackstones must face the fact that their beloved Simon is a Moonchild! Can they bury him before what would have been his seventh birthday to stop the curse, with German police on their trail?

I noticed this while thumbing through Paperbacks from Hell: The Twisted History of '70s and '80s Horror Fiction and my wife snagged me a copy for my birthday. It was okay but I'm rethinking my approach regarding books I see in Paperbacks from Hell.

Losing a child is terrible. Having the child rise from the dead whenever his casket opens and kill someone with his monster claw is something else entirely. It's a shame I wasn't as captivated by this book as I wanted to be.

The writing style feels antiquated, like I imagine popular fiction from the 1920s was written. The characters aren't all that detailed or interesting. The menace of the Moonchild didn't really live up to its potential. Or maybe I'm being too hard on schlocky horror from the '70s.

There are some creepy moments but I was ultimately uninterested. Two out of five stars.

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Monday, August 20, 2018

Review: Mysterious Creatures

Mysterious Creatures Mysterious Creatures by Time-Life Books
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Mysterious Creaturs is a volume of the Mysteries of the Unknown series focusing on cryptozoology.

As I've said before, I was huge into cryptids as a kid, back when the world was a bigger place with plenty of room for unknown hominids and relict dinosaur populations. While we were visiting in California, I noticed my brother-in-law had a complete set of Mysteries of the Unknown, plus a six or seven doubles he wanted to give away. Since he wouldn't take no for an answer, I took this one with me, reasoning that I could use it to protect my wife's photo of us with Brent Spiner on the flight home and I could always stash it on a shelf in the basement and forget about it. I made the mistake of paging through it, seeing familiar (and sketchy) photos of Bigfoot and the Loch Ness Monster and I was powerless to resist its pull.

As the title indicates, Mysterious Creatures is about mysterious creatures, creatures that people have seen (or think they've seen) that may or may not actually exist. While I greatly enjoyed my trip to the Cryptozoology Museum in Portland, Maine, and the fiction of Hunter Shea, I'm very much a cynical, skeptical adult. This book may not have changed my mind on most of the creatures within but the tentacles of nostalgia had me snared.

For a book about cryptids, this is a slick, nice-looking books. The photos and illustrations are high quality. It was published in 1988 so there are some things that have since been debunked. However, there's still a lot of good content, including the photos that are in every other cryptozoology book like the Surgeon's photo of the Loch Ness Monster and still shots from the infamous Bigfoot film and centuries-old woodcuts of the Kraken.

For the most part, it's the big name monsters like the Loch Ness Monster, sea serpents, Bigfoot, and his cousins from all over the world that get most of the attention. Fortunately, Mokele Mbembe, the dinosaur of the Congo, gets a few pages. One of the lesser known cryptids, the Almas of Mongolia, gets a few as well at the end of the hominid chapter. For some reason, the Almas are the cryptids that I like the most as an adult. A relict Neanderthal population in a remote part of Mongolia sounds a lot less far-fetched than surviving dinosaurs to me.

For a cryptid fan, this book is a cool overview. However, the lesser known monsters don't get much play. There's no goatman, no mothman, no Mongolian Death Worm, etc. Three out of five stars, although your mileage may vary depending on how into cryptozoology you are and how much you've already read.

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Friday, August 17, 2018

Review: Mecha Samurai Empire

Mecha Samurai Empire Mecha Samurai Empire by Peter Tieryas
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Will misfit Makoto Fujimoto realize his dream of being a mecha pilot, with his abysmal grades and war between the United States of Japan and Germany looming in the background?

I really enjoyed United States of Japan but wanted more mecha action. Thankfully, this popped up on Netgalley not very long ago. I'll probably grab a physical copy to keep on my shelf beside United States of Japan because I liked it quite a bit.

Mecha Samurai Empire is part alternate history tale, part coming of age tale, with a generous helping of mecha action. Makoto Fujimoto is a misfit when the tale starts, a video gamer war orphan whose dreams of being a mecha pilot keep him going. Eventually, he gets there, and sees it isn't quite what he thought it was.

Since United States of Japan laid most of the groundwork, this one was more of a character story, believe it or not. Mac goes from being a callow kid to a pilot over the course of the book, making friends and blowing a lot of shit up along the way. My main gripe with USJ was the lack of mechas. This one had about 77% more mecha content and it was just the book I wanted to read.

Mac was a little passive but a big improvement over Ben Ishimura in the last book. Also, it was nice to see Agent Tsukino again. Griselda, Nori, Kujira, Kazu, and Chieko made for an interesting supporting cast, all the mecha pilots having fairly colorful personalities. I would have strangled Kujira!

There are all sorts of video game and pop culture Easter eggs, focused through USJ's alternate history lens. I caught references to Super Mario Bros 3, Madame Butterfly, Double Dragon, and Megaman II and that was just the tip of the iceberg. The mecha combat brought back fond memories of watching Voltron and Robotech after school.

Mecha Samurai empire is where Peter Tieryas breaks free of his Man in the High Castle roots and runs wild. I'm already looking forward to the next book. Four out of five stars.

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Tuesday, August 14, 2018

The Bird Box

Bird BoxBird Box by Josh Malerman
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Creatures plague the world, creatures who anyone who gazes upon them insane. Can Mallorie, with Boy and Girl in tow, make her way to safety in a community down the river, while blindfolded?

This book has been a pretty big deal for a couple years. Richard hooked me up as an early birthday present. Thanks again, old sport.

I loved the core concept behind the book: Earth is overrun by creatures who cause suicidal insanity when anyone looks at them. People walk around blindfolded when they're outdoors to protect themselves and board up all of their windows to prevent accidentally seeing the creatures. As someone who had a lot of nightmares about creatures peering in my window as a kid, I was hooked right off the bat.

The way the story was told was also pretty cool, two threads in different time periods: Mallorie with her housemates and Mallorie after everything went to shit. It was interesting to see who Mallorie's life changed so much in a few years as the world outside continued to decay. The story itself was compulsively readable.

The reasons I didn't love the shit out of this were two-fold. The characters are wafer thin and are basically just names most of the time. Boy and Girl don't even get names until the end of the book. The second reason is that the writing style is fairly flavorless. There wasn't a time I felt like reading passages aloud to my wife or even thinking "That was clever" to myself.

Bird Box was an engaging read with a great concept but I don't think it lived up to its full potential. Three out of five stars.

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Thursday, August 9, 2018

Review: Force of Nature

Force of Nature Force of Nature by Jane Harper
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Five men and five women went hiking into the bush for a corporate team-building activity. The women came out late with one woman missing, the woman Aaron Falk needs to talk to about a potential embezzling case. What happened in those woods and is Alice Russell still alive?

The Dry was one bad ass book so I snapped this one up once it temporarily fell into my cheapness range.

Force of Nature takes place in a remote part of Australia. The story is told in two threads: Aaron Falk and his partner, Carmen, piecing together what happened to Alice, and a few days in the past, when the women set off on their hike.

The way things unfolded was masterfully done. I had no idea what happened to Alice until it was spelled out for me. In retrospect, Jane Harper planted a lot of clues for me but I blew right by them. I'm going to chalk some of that up to me reading most of this on the plane back from Vegas in a haze after eight days of drinking too much and not eating or sleeping enough.

It was a very compelling read. Even though I wanted nothing more than sleep on the flight home, I forced myself to keep reading. I finished the second half the next day with cats piled around me, wanting to take a nap but not as much as I wanted to find out what happened to Alice Russell.

There's some great character development done with Aaron Falk in this, exploring his relationship with his father, which reminds me a little too much of my relationship with my father. I'll have to go have a beer with the old man soon.

Not a bad thing to say about Force of Nature. It's an easy four star read.

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Thursday, August 2, 2018

Review: Practitioners

Practitioners Practitioners by Matt Hayward
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Recovering from the death of his wife, Officer Henry Stapleton is on a downward spiral of booze. His wife's killer winds up dead, or does he? Henry visits a New Age healing center and starts experimenting with lucid dreaming. But what will he do when he discovers the machinations of a man who may not exist?

I follow Patrick Lacey on Twitter and I was all over this one as soon as I saw the cover.

The story feels more like a detective story than anything else a lot of the time. Henry Stapleton, benched after the death of his wife, tries to piece together the identity of Paul White, a guy buying up more and more of town and the mastermind behind Crystal Dreams, a New Age healing center that has opened up.

The book starts simply enough but escalates once Henry begins studying lucid dreaming. From there, it reminds me of the crazy ass second half of Keeper of the Children, with lots of crazy shit happening in dreams.

There was a few editing bumps, par for the course for small press horror. The writing was seamless, meaning I couldn't ever tell more than one person wrote it. Even half asleep on a plane to Las Vegas, I couldn't set the book aside. Four out of five stars.

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