Wednesday, December 22, 2021

Blood and Fire: The Unbelievable Real-Life Story of Wrestling's Original Sheik

Blood and Fire: The Unbelievable Real-Life Story of Wrestling's Original SheikBlood and Fire: The Unbelievable Real-Life Story of Wrestling's Original Sheik by Brian R Solomon
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Blood and Fire: The Unbelievable Real-Life Story of Wrestling's Original Sheik is the biography of Ed Farhat, aka The Sheik.

I was planning on getting this anyway since The Sheik is a legendary figure in the wrestling business but ECW Press hit me up for an ARC.

The book chronicles The Sheik's life, from his birth through his fifty year career and finally to his death and legacy. Most of my exposure to The Sheik was in my dad's collection of 1970s wrestling magazines and stories in other wrestlers' books so most of it was new to me.

Without going into too much detail, The Sheik's story is like a lot of other wrestlers' from his era. Humble beginnings, eventual stardom, owning a territory, and having it all come crashing down. Still, the book was loaded with interesting information. A lot of time is spent on the inner workings of the Detroit territory and the Sheik's forays into other territories, both in his prime and much, much later.

I found the evolution of the Sheik's character to be interesting, as well as his devotion to kayfabe, being in character most of the time. It's awesome that his grandkids called him Grandpa Sheik.

The later chapters of the book are sad and frustrating. The Sheik ran his Detroit territory into the ground by featuring himself on top for decades and holding down anyone who might threaten his spot. Once the territory started hemorrhaging money, The Sheik and his long suffering wife lost everything and the Sheik had to wrestle decades longer than he should have just to keep the lights on, even doing death matches in Japan when he was pushing 70. The Sheik training Sabu and Rob Van Dam was one of the few bright spots in the later chapters of the book, the Sheik giving something back to the wrestling business while he still could.

Blood and Fire is a great look behind the curtain of the Detroit Territory and the life of The Sheik. Five out of five foreign objects.

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Sunday, October 10, 2021

The Fisherman

The FishermanThe Fisherman by John Langan
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

When Abe's wife dies of cancer, he finds solace in fishing. Soon, he's joined by Dan, another widower. Together, the two men head for Dutchman's Creek. But why are locals afraid to talk about the creek and who or what is The Fisherman?

I've had this on my kindle for untold aeons but I finally found time to read it over the past few days. I wish I would have read it years ago because it is fantastic.

The framing sequence, Abe's tale, is written in a long winded, folksy kind of style. Abe relates his life and what drew him to fishing in the first place. It wasn't super interesting but had enough tantalizing tidbits to make me hang on for what I suspected was to come.

Most of The Fisherman is the story of what befell Dutchman's creek, as told to Abe and Dan by one of the locals. It's a great piece of horror/weird/dark fiction, reminding me of Lovecraft and his contemporaries or modern authors like Laird Barron: Sinister men of magic, fish-like things, cyclopean beasts, and worlds separated from ours by uncomfortably thin boundaries.

Once the story of Rainier and company started picking up steam, I had a feeling how things would tie back into the main tale and I was right. I read a great big chunk of the book while waiting for a tire to be repaired and I couldn't understand how everyone could be sitting around chitchatting while serious shit was going down.

The ending, while a little long-winded for my taste, put a nice capstone on everything. There's really nothing I can think of to complain about with The Fisherman. It's one of those books that felt like it was written with my tastes in mind. I hate to hand out too many five star reviews but it is what it is.

The Fisherman was a fantastic book I wish I'd read years earlier. Five out of five stars.

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Tuesday, October 5, 2021

Cold Moon Over Babylon

Cold Moon Over BabylonCold Moon Over Babylon by Michael McDowell
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

After their parents die, Jerry and Margaret Larkin grow up with their grandma Evelyn Larkin on the Larkin blueberry farm. When tragedy strikes, can Jerry and Evelyn unearth the culprit and bring him to justice?

I've been a Michael McDowell fan since reading Blackwater a few years ago. I bought this some time in the dim past and finally had time to focus on it.

This is some great shit, not to put too fine a point on it. Michael McDowell's southern horror tales do not disappoint and this is no exception. The Larkins have tragedy written all over them after the first chapter, when the parents are killed by finding a sack of rattlesnakes in the river. Fast forward to a dying blueberry farm, late mortgage payments, and a maniac in a gimp mask brutally killing someone and it's one hard book to put down.

I'm going to dance around the particulars of the plot. McDowell captures that edgy, "what was that noise outside" feeling of creeping dread very well. There are some huge surprises and the horror is a slow burn to a satisfying climax. I don't usually bug my wife with details about what I'm reading but she heard all about this one.

Cold Moon Over Babylon did not surpass Blackwater but is easily my #2 Michael McDowell book. Five out of five stars.

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Tuesday, September 28, 2021


KatieKatie by Michael McDowell
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When Philo Drax goes to care for her aging grandfather, she quickly winds up accused of his murder...

Michael McDowell is one of my favorite horror writers from the last forty-something years. My wife got this for me sometime after our son was born and I managed to find time to read it over the past couple weeks.

Written in a style reminiscent of his work on Blackwater, Katie isn't a horror novel as much as suspense with a heaping helping of tragedy porn. Every time things seem to be going her way, her cousin Katie and her parents, the Slapes, show up like a zit on school picture day. Philo loses what money she has and has relatives and friends murdered every time her paths cross with the Slapes, especially the hammer wielding fortune teller Katie.

The book is written in short chapters with frequent reversals of fortune, making it hard to put down but not without a sense of mounting dread. There were several parts when things were brightening up for Philo that I felt myself bracing for the eventual kick in the balls.

I thought it would be akin to a religious experience when the bad guys met their fates. While not that powerful, it was quite satisfying.

While Katie wasn't my favorite Michael McDowell book, I still enjoyed it quite a bit. Four out of five stars.

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Saturday, September 18, 2021

Tales from a Dirt Road

Tales From A Dirt RoadTales From A Dirt Road by Dutch Mantell
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Tales From a Dirt Road is the second book by Dirty Dutch Mantell, wrestler, manager, and pro wrestling booker.

The Dirty Dutchman is back with another collection of tales. Dutch's tales cover various points in his career, from working Mid-South with Jerry Lawler to his stint in the WWF to working with Jeff Jarrett and Vince Russo in TNA and various points in between.

Dutch's sense of humor pushes this book above the level of most wrestling books. He's a natural storyteller and peppers the book with humorous similes and one-liners.

Without giving too much away, Dutch spins some memorable yarns, like a road trip with Sid and the Iron Sheik while working for WCW, wrestling outside at a car dealership in 100 degree heat, and a secondhand tale about Ricky Morton's marriage being destroyed in real time by Tully Blanchard on an episode of the 700 Club. He also gives some insight on what it was like working with the WWF while The Clique was running things backstage, complete with Ron Harris threatening Shawn Michaels.

I'd intended to space this out over an entire weekend but here it is Saturday morning and I'm finished after reading most of it yesterday evening. Like I said, Dutch is a master storyteller.

Tales from a Dirt Road is a gripping, hilarious read. Four out of five stars. Where's that third book, Dutch?

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Thursday, September 16, 2021

The Land Below

The Land Below (The Land Below #1)The Land Below by William Meikle
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When two brothers, an old soldier, and a local shepherd descent into a cave system looking for treasure, they find... trouble!

William Meikle is a reliable horror writer and when I saw this on the heels of reading Return to the Lost Level, I had to pick it up.

I described The Land Below to my wife as "Journey to the Center of the Earth as a horror novel" and I think that's accurate. While there's still a sense of wonder ala Jules Verne, there's far more mounting dread and desperation.

The book is a short one but it's a desperate tale of survival in a system of strange caverns below the earth's surface with natural hazards and monsters. There are quite a few "Oh shit!" moments and I wolfed it down in two sittings.

When Ed hires Danny to guard he and Tommy on their expedition to find the lost treasure of the Teutonic Knights in a hidden cave in Austria, I assumed Danny and Tommy would be fighting the whole time. I didn't expect them to meet Stefan and Elsa, the shepherd and his dog, and while I knew things would quickly go pear shaped, it didn't unfold quite like I thought.

The Land Below is a Lost World horror novella. Four out of five stars.

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Tuesday, September 14, 2021

Return to the Lost Level

Return to the Lost LevelReturn to the Lost Level by Brian Keene
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

When Kasheena is kidnapped by the snake men along with most of the tribe, Aaron Pace and the survivors go looking for her. Can Pace and company survive the hazards of the Lost Level long enough to find his lady love?

I enjoyed The Lost Level but apparently not enough for me to not let six years elapse before I picked up the second book in the series.

Return to the Lost Level is a found manuscript book, written by Aaron Pace at some future date. As such, some of the sense of jeopardy is lost. Still, when every damn thing in the jungle wants to kill the heroes, you know there will be casualties.

Pace and company fight dinosaurs and carnivorous plants before taking on the snake men I mentioned earlier. Aside from some hints at Keene's Labyrinth mythos, that's pretty much the book. Pace is a capable hero, as befits the protagonist of a Lost World type of book. It was a fun adventure and an engaging read but it was kind of linear for my taste.

Three out of five stars. I'll read future Aaron Pace books but they're not a priority.

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Monday, September 13, 2021

A Writer Prepares

A Writer PreparesA Writer Prepares by Lawrence Block
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A Writer Prepares is an account of the early years of Lawrence Block.

Lawrence Block has been one of my favorite living crime writers for almost twenty years at this point so I snapped this up once I figured I had enough free time to read it.

A Writer Prepares covers the early career of Lawrence Block, from his stints in college to toiling at the Scott Meredith agency to cranking out one or more porno books a month to make ends meet. The book ends with The Thief Who Couldn't Sleep, the book that Block feels lifted him to the next plateau.

Some of the stories were touched on in Block's other non-fiction, although I enjoyed reading them again. I'll never get tired of the story of Block cranking out a book in three days to pay the hospital bills after his daughter was born. Other aspects were new to me, like the drinking binges, moving to Wisconsin to work for a coin collecting magazine, or drinking cheap cough syrup that contained codeine for years.

Block wrote most of this in the 1990s and finished it in 2020, assuming he'd catch covid and die at some point in the near future. Thankfully, he didn't AND he finished the book. Block's frank about mistakes that were made and things that he might have done differently. He also doesn't pretend his books have all been masterpieces but isn't ashamed of them either, most of them having been reprinted fairly recently, some self-published.

A Writer Prepares is an interesting look at the foundational years of Lawrence Block. Five out of five stars.

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Monday, September 6, 2021

Jane Goes North

Jane Goes NorthJane Goes North by Joe R. Lansdale
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When Jane gets an invitation to her younger sister's wedding in the mail, she has to find a way from east Texas to Boston. Fortunately, her half blind neighbor Henry has a car. Can the two ladies cross thousands of miles with their lives and sanity intact?

I got an ARC of this some time in the hazy past but it was so poorly formatted that I gave up on it. Joe Lansdale is one of my favorite authors so I eventually bought the ebook.

Jane Goes North is a humorous road trip novel. Jane and Henry got up against an overweight guy in a motorized cart, white slavers, and shitty hotels while making the trek from Texas to Boston. Can a novel be a coming of age novel if the heroine is in her mid-thirties? Fuck it, yeah, it can. Everyone has to grow up sometime.

As always, Joe Lansdale's hilarious writing style takes a simple thing like a disastrous road trip and makes it hilarious. I could have highlighted half the damn book.

Jane Goes North is a hilarious road novel. Four out of five stars.

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My Life in Wrestling

My Life In WrestlingMy Life In Wrestling by Gary Hart
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

My Life In Wrestling is the biography of wrestling personality and booker Gary Hart.

One of my measuring sticks for a good wrestling book is how quickly it gets to the wrestling business. I think Gary was balls deep by the three percent mark.

I mostly know Gary Hart from his managing days in WCW and World Class so I was surprised at how many territories he worked, a lot of the time as the booker. Gary goes into detail about working for Jim Herd, Jimmy Crockett, the Funks, Jim Barnett, and Fritz Von Erich.

I had no idea how much booking Gary did, like him being the one to turn Dusty Rhodes face and consequently into one of the biggest attractions of his day. Like a lot of other wrestling books, he goes into what a shit show WCW was under Jim Herd.

The book is told in a matter of fact tone. Gary is up front about everything that happened, like threatening to cut a promoter with his straight razor to get his money to calling Jerry Jarrett a hillbilly bastard every time his name comes up. Gary admits to making some mistakes along the way as well as when he got the rug jerked out from under him. The most emotional parts of the book are when Gary saved Austin Idol and some others from a plane crash but couldn't save Bobby Shane and pretty much everything involving the Von Erichs.

Once his last run with Crockett was over, Gary gradually faded away while promoting occasional shows in Texas. It's kind of a shame the way things ended because he had a great mind for the business.

It took me a long time to finally read My Life in Wrestling and it was worth the wait. Five out of five stars.

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Sunday, September 5, 2021

The Sky Done Ripped

The Sky Done RippedThe Sky Done Ripped by Joe R. Lansdale
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When their ship goes down, Bill and Suzie Q are rescued by HG Wells and Ned the Seal and soon find themselves in a strange realm beneath the surface of the earth...

Joe Lansdale is a versatile writer, equally adept at crime, horror, and whatever the hell this is. I'm a fan of the Ned the Seal books from the Zeppelins West days so this one was a no brainer to pick up.

I have a feeling Lansdale and I would get along fabulously because this book has a lot of things near and dear to my heart in it, like lost civilizations, parallel worlds, dinosaurs, time travel, and things of that nature.

In keeping with his love of Victorian adventure stories, this one blends H.Rider Haggard's jungle tales with Tarzan and Journey to the Center of the Earth. Tango, the Tarzan analogue, is just as capable as Lord Greystoke, leading Ned the Seal and friends on a jungle journey to find the Golden Fleece to save his wife Jill from a mystery illness.

Monsters and jungle action abound, as well as poop, dick, and fart jokes. Poor Ned, already tired of adventure, has yet another one thrust upon him while waiting for HG Wells to return. While The Sky Done Ripped is a lighthearted adventure, that never stopped Lansdale from killing off characters before so I wasn't sure who, if anyone, would survive.

The Sky Done Ripped is a fun homage to Tarzan and lost world novels. Four out of five stars.

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Saturday, September 4, 2021

Moon Lake

Moon LakeMoon Lake by Joe R. Lansdale
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When Danny Russell was thirteen, his father drove their car into Moon Lake and only Danny managed to survive. Now, years later, the car has been found and Danny returns to Moon Lake, only to find his father's car wasn't the only thing hidden in Moon Lake's depths...

On the heels of More Better Deals, I grabbed the next Lansdale book from the priority pile. It was one hell of a read. Moon Lake is a completely different animal from More Better Deals. Moon Lake felt more like small town horror to me, though there weren't exactly any supernatural elements.

Moon Lake is a tale of a man digging into his past and unearthing something rotten. Danny Russell's father drove the family car into a lake with he and Danny in it in a bid to kill them. When it's finally found, there's a pile of bones in the trunk and more questions than answers.

Lansdale weaves a tale of small town racism and paranoia in Moon Lake. The town council is a bunch of bastards and has most of the town under their collective thumb. Can Daniel Russell drag them out into the light before he winds up with a bullet in his brain or worse?

Long Lincoln is almost a character in itself, a small town on the shores of a lake where a town was flooded decades before. Lansdale peppers the text with colorful similes but it's not one of his lighter affairs. It's a pretty dark book, honestly, one that's almost impossible to put down once it gets going.

When the manure hits the windmill, things come to a satisfying conclusion, although it's not completely happily every after.

Moon Lake is another winner from Joe Lansdale. Four out of five stars.

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Thursday, September 2, 2021

More Better Deals

More Better DealsMore Better Deals by Joe R. Lansdale
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When used car salesman Ed Edwards meets drive-in owner Nancy Craig, the sparks are immediate. The only hitch: Nancy's husband with a substantial insurance policy...

I'm a Lansdale fan from the pre-Internet age and it's hard for me to pass up one of his books. I'm a little behind in my mojo reading since my son was born but I finally made time to read this.

The setup for More Better Deals feels a lot like Double Indemnity but the characters and the execution are where the books diverge. Ed Edwards is a mixed race man passing as white, wanting to finally hit the big time instead of being a used car salesman. When Nancy shows up with a story about an abusive husband and the gates of heaven under her skirt, Ed is powerless to resist.

Since the big murder happens early in the book, there's plenty of time for the wheels to come off the plan and everyone to go to hell. Murder leads to kidnapping to whatever else before all is said and done. Complicating things are Ed's mom's drinking problem and everything that goes with it.

Lansdale's easy tone and hilarious dialog propel the story along. I could read a book about two Lansdale characters just sitting on tailgate bullshitting with each other. Nancy had a flashing neon sign reading "Trouble" pointed at her from the beginning but I could see where Ed was coming from. When shit goes south, it goes south hard.

More Better Deals is the high octane, mojo version of Double Indemnity. Four out of five stars.

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Friday, August 13, 2021


Conquer (The John Conquer Series Book 1)Conquer by Edward M. Erdelac
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Conquer collects seven short stories featuring John Conquer plus a preview of the Conquer novel, Fear of a Black Cat.

I'm a huge fan of Edward Erdelac's Merkabah Rider series so when I saw on Facebook that he was writing stories featuring John Conquer, described as Shaft meets Brother Voodoo, it was a no-brainer to grab this collection once it was released.

Much like The Merkabah Rider, Conquer is right in my wheelhouse. Part Blaxploitation, part supernatural, this hits all the right buttons for me. Conquer is a bad ass brother, a private detective people come to when strange shit is going on during the 1970s. In this book, he encounters a lot of weirdness, like a dead pimp haunting his old ride and a dead man shrunken to tiny size, floating inside a lava lamp.

Also like the Merkabah Rider, you can tell Erdelac did his homework. I'll have to pick his brain over what resources he use for the various magic techniques and creatures. You can feel Ed's love for the subject matter coming through. I don't usually get excited when a book I like gets adapted but I'd love if this was a TV show shot to look like it was from the 1970s.

Conquer gets all the stars. Now the wait for Fear of a Black Cat begins.

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Tuesday, August 10, 2021

Sabu: Scars, Silence, & Superglue

Sabu: Scars, Silence, & SuperglueSabu: Scars, Silence, & Superglue by Terry Brunk
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Sabu: Scars, Silence, & Superglue is the biography of professional wrestler Sabu.

Even before I ever saw him wrestle on TV, I was a Sabu fan. The maniacal daredevil captured my imagination in articles in the Apter wrestling mags. Hell, one of my first wrestling shirts was a Sabu shirt that I eventually wore to death. I even contributed to his GoFundMe when he needed surgery a few years ago. Anyway, my wife bought this for me a while back and I wolfed it down in two evenings while waiting for my son to fall asleep.

It's cliche to say a wrestling book pulls no punches but Sabu lays it all out there from the very beginning, from getting shot in the face as a teenager while hanging with the wrong crowd, to wetting the bed until he was 13, to not getting laid until he was 20. After the shooting, Sabu starts training the old school way with his uncle, The Sheik!

Sabu talks about his uncle working him like a dog with manual labor to try to get him to quit before taking him on the road, a road that would take him to Japan, ECW, WCW, the WWE, TNA, and various points between. Sabu's tone is pretty humble but he also isn't afraid to call people out on shitty behavior, like Ric Flair, Jim Ross, and Test, to name a few. He also puts over the people who treated him good, like Bret Hart and Terry Funk.

Unlike a lot of wrestling books, this books has tons of great road stories in it, like getting pulled over in his Winnebago with a bunch of Japanese wrestlers on the way to a show or pissing off the yakuza in Japan. Sabu also goes into depth about the backstage stuff everywhere he worked and gut churning details about his various injuries. He's honest about mistakes he made and things he should have done differently. He also doesn't go out of the way to put himself over, even though he was one of the most influential wrestlers of the 1990s. People are still stealing his stuff today.

For my money, Sabu: Scars, Silence, & Superglue is the epitome of what a wrestling book should be. Five out of five scars.

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Saturday, July 24, 2021

It's Vader Time

It's Vader Time:  The Story of a Modern Day GladiatorIt's Vader Time: The Story of a Modern Day Gladiator by Leon White
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It's Vader Time is the biography of professional wrestler Big Van Vader.

I'm a wrestling fan from way back and Vader was the biggest monster of them all for me for a long time. I even had my picture taken with him about a year before he died.

Anyway, this was on my radar for a while and my wife bought it for me using slow shipping rewards points from Amazan.

Leon White, the boy would become Vader, was born in Compton, CA, two months early weighing in at an impressive 11 pounds. Leon grew up fatherless and wound up playing football with older boys because of his size, eventually gravitating toward wrestling after his NFL career was over.

Leon was wrestling as Baby Bull Leon White by the 11% mark, a positive in my book. The book takes Leon from the AWA to the CWA in Germany to New Japan, WCW, the WWF, and all the rest of the places he wrestled.

Vader comes off as surprisingly humble considering everything he accomplished in wrestling and what a legit bad ass he's presented as. He covers the good times and the bad, like working with Inoki, traveling with Harley Race, eye witness accounts of the Arn Anderson-Sid Vicious fight, and the fight he had with Paul Orndorff that led to his exit from WCW. There are some good road stories, most involving Harley Race. Vader gives his side of the infamous Stan Hansen match that had his eye hanging out of his head and various other incidents from overseas.

Unlike a lot of other wrestlers, Vader doesn't talk himself up all that much, admitting that he was a sensitive teddy bear at times and giving other wrestlers their due. He also doesn't shy away from talking about how Ric Flair and Hulk Hogan shut him out of the main event scene in WCW during their respective reigns of terror. He's also open about his drug and alcohol abuse.

The last couple chapters were hard to read as Vader's body broke down on him, leading to having his knees replaced three different times to a forty-day coma and eventually his death due to pneumonia and congestive heart failure.

Like a lot of wrestling biographies, I wish there were more road stories. I also wish I would have appreciated Vader more when I was younger and still watching wrestling on a regular basis.

It's Vader Time is one of the better wrestling books out there. Four out of five power bombs.

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Thursday, March 18, 2021

Austin 3:16: 316 Facts & Stories about Stone Cold Steve Austin

Austin 3:16: 316 Facts & Stories about Stone Cold Steve AustinAustin 3:16: 316 Facts & Stories about Stone Cold Steve Austin by Michael McAvennie
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Austin 3:16: 316 Facts & Stories about Stone Cold Steve Austin is a collection of facts and trivia about wrestling's Steve Austin, as the title indicates.

ECW Press hit me up with a review copy of this. At the time, Steve Austin wasn't my favorite wrestler but as time passes, I see he was one of the last important personalities in wrestling so I agreed to read it.

As the title indicates, this book contains 316 facts and very short stories about Steve Austin. It's mostly trivia, like Steve Austin's mom going to the same high school as Virgil "Dusty Rhodes" Runnels. Others are stats, like how many times Steve Austin won the Royal Rumble, the combined number of days he was WWE champion, and things of that nature. The longest sections were given to transcripts of some of the god awful WHAT? promo segments. Seriously, fuck the WHAT? chant.

This is a pretty breezy book with as many as three segments on a page, meaning the 316 facts and stories fit into much fewer than 316 pages. It's a fun book for the most part, like reliving the best bits of the Attitude era without being subjected to the more cringe inducing moments. My main gripe is that the segments aren't in chronological order.

Austin 3:16: 316 Facts & Stories about Stone Cold Steve Austin is more fun that getting hit with a five pound metal bed pan. 3.5 out of 5 stars.

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Wednesday, March 10, 2021

Nitro: The Incredible Rise and Inevitable Collapse of Ted Turner's WCW

NITRO: The Incredible Rise and Inevitable Collapse of Ted Turner's WCWNITRO: The Incredible Rise and Inevitable Collapse of Ted Turner's WCW by Guy Evans
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Nitro is the story of the creation of Monday Nitro, the spark that set the Monday Night Wars ablaze, and its downfall.

As I've said before, I'm a wrestling fan from way back. Some of my earliest memories are of watching Wrestling at the Chase on Sunday mornings after church with my dad. Aside from the occasional indie show within a reasonable driving distance, I don't watch wrestling anymore but I'm up for pretty much any wrestling book that comes along so I was glad when my wife nabbed this one for me.

I was never a huge WCW fan when I was young. Even though the in-ring action was frequently better than the WWF's, the production always looked bush league and half assed to me. When Nitro premiered, I was skeptical but pleasantly surprised.

Anyway, this book deals with the creation of Nitro, the weeks it beat WWF in the ratings, and everything in the downward spiral after that. A lot of it has already been told in documentaries and other books. This one has statements from prominent people who were involved and paints a picture of constant chaos and backstabbing behind the scenes.

That's all well and good but this is a long ass book and a lot of it deals with behind the scenes dealings at Turner. I like the business side of wrestling but this is the business side of the business side of wrestling and I didn't find the corporate stuff terribly interesting. Part of it may be that I spend my working hours in a corporate setting and don't much care to read about meetings where they discuss wrestling using inane buzzwords.

Another part of my dislike for this book was the timing. We're so far removed from the death of WCW that most of the stories have already been told over and over. Nitro adds some wrinkles but I would have been more interested ten or fifteen years ago, when the wounds were still fresh. By the end, it was like being at my high school reunion for longer than I planned on and just wanting to go home.

All that being said, I did enjoy the wrestling bits quite a bit and the downfall of Vince Russo was enjoyable / infurating. Infuriating because an asshat was given the golden ticket and proceed to wipe his ass with it and enjoyable because he failed so spectacularly. WCW fans didn't want the WWF. That's why they were WCW fans. If the suits would have grasped that, WCW might still be around today. Bischoff is also a sleaze but at least he had some grasp of what wrestling fans wanted.

Even though it's a decade and a half past it's expiration date, I still found Nitro to be a pretty good read. Three out of five stars.

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Saturday, January 9, 2021

The World According to Dutch

The World According To DutchThe World According To Dutch by Dutch Mantell
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The World According to Dutch is a collection of mostly true stories by wrestler Dirty Dutch Mantell.

This has been on my radar for years despite my being able to count the number of Dutch Mantell matches I've seen on one hand. My wife grabbed this for me for the anniversary of our first date.

Dutch Mantell has a reputation for being a great storyteller and this book proves it. Dutch muses on his life in the wrestling business, wrestling a bear, working and booking in Puerto Rico, and mentoring future superstars like Steve Austin and The Undertaker. The book also covers some 3000 mile weeks working for Bill Watts, having the shit kicked out of him by Akira Maeda in UWFI, and various other wrestling misadventures.

Dutch's writing feels like sitting on the porch, listening to a disreputable uncle's stories over the cheapest beer imaginable. The 270 pages went by in a blur. Fortunately, there's a second volume to look forward to.

The World According to Dutch is a fun wrestling book from one of wrestling's last great storytellers. Four out of five bullwhips.

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Thursday, January 7, 2021

North American Lake Monsters

North American Lake MonstersNorth American Lake Monsters by Nathan Ballingrud
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

North American Lake Monsters is a collection of nine short stories by Nathan Ballingrud.

I'm not a short story fan and whatever made me throw this on my wishlist is lost in the Swiss cheese that is the mind of a father of a toddler. My wife bought me this for Christmas and I have now read it.

These stories are heavy on atmosphere and there are feelings of desperation and loss in all of them. I wouldn't exactly call them horror stories, more like human stories that are horror adjacent. A man deals with the aftermath of werewolf attack and the destruction of his business, a man fresh out of jail deals with his home life while there's a dead lake monster not far away. A man blames himself for his son's kidnapping even as he's gazing upon the corpse of an angel. I could go on.

The writing reminds me of Laird Barron's with some very poetic descriptions amidst the horror. I imagine they have some of the same influences. "... her hangover as heavy as a mantle of chains" was my favorite simile but there were countless others.

I'm not normally a fan of short story collections but I enjoyed the hell out of North American Lake Monsters. Four out of five angel carcasses.

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Saturday, January 2, 2021

Ripley's Believe It or Not! Sideshow and Other Carnival Curiosities

Ripley's Believe It or Not! Sideshow and Other Carnival CuriositiesRipley's Believe It or Not! Sideshow and Other Carnival Curiosities by Ripley's Believe It or Not!
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I was a fan of the Ripley's Believe it or Not series starring Jack Palance in the 1980s so this looked interesting. My in-laws bought it for me for Christmas.

This is a coffee table book about sideshow performers from the 19th century through today. It's loaded with photos and reproductions of old sideshow posters. Each performer is given a page or three of text and a couple photos.

Some of the entries, like Robert Wadlow, Jo-Jo the Dogfaced Boy, and Joseph Merrick, are fairly well known. However, there were a host of thin men, conjoined twins, and sword swallowers I'd never heard of. It's an entertaining book but it's also a little sad that some of the people's only livelihood was in exploiting their conditions.

Ripley's Believe It or Not! Sideshow and Other Carnival Curiosities is an interesting look at sideshow performers from the last 200 years. 3 out of 5 conjoined twins.

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The Old One and The Sea

The Old One and The Sea (Hardback)The Old One and The Sea by Lex H. Jones
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When an earthquake thrusts a strange black reef to the surface off the coast of Innsmouth, young Howard Phillips goes to investigate...

My wife and I have been accumulating odd children's books since before our son was conceived and I'm always on the lookout for new takes on the Cthulhu mythos so this was right in my wheelhouse.

The Old One and The Sea recasts Cthulhu as a misunderstood monster. The setup reminds me of Iron Giant or something of that nature. Boy befriends monster and the adults want it dead.

I like what Lex Jones does with HP Lovecraft and Cthulhu here. Cthulhu's like a big dumb dog with godlike powers, befriending little Howard. Howard, a little boy without a father, quickly grows attached, just in time for the adults to come fuck things up.

The artwork is cute but not nauseatingly so. There's still a hint of creepiness lurking around the edges. My favorite piece of art is after Cthulhu alters Howard so that they can venture beneath the waves together.

The Old One and The Sea is a charming new take on the Cthulhu mythos. I'll read it to my son when he's older and the stars are right. Four out of five Cyclopean monsters.

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