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.

View all my reviews

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?

View all my reviews

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.

View all my reviews

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.

View all my reviews

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.

View all my reviews

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.

View all my reviews

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.

View all my reviews

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.

View all my reviews

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.

View all my reviews

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.

View all my reviews