Archive for the 'Book Reviews' Category

07
May
18

Goodreads Review: Sleeping Beauties

Sleeping BeautiesSleeping Beauties by Stephen King
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I don’t know what went wrong, here. I suspect the youngest King sibling just isn’t up to the snuff of his father and older brother.

While reading this, I frequently felt as though the two authors were fighting for control. One would go off on a tangent of limited importance, often garbled by what felt like overblown political correctness, and in the next handful of pages you could almost physically feel someone grabbing hold of the helm and dragging it back to course… painfully, and not always successfully.

The premise – every woman in the world falls asleep and goes into a cocoon, what happens now? – is interesting enough, but I felt the execution was frequently lacking. Most sequences felt as though I’d seen them, in better shape, elsewhere; by the halfway point I was wondering if Owen dug through dad’s junk drawer, pulled out a pile of random first draft pages of other books – especially Under the Dome, The Stand and Cell – then asked dad to help him glue them together somehow. It sounds kind of harsh to put it that way, but…

I found the whole thing difficult to care about. There were dozens of characters, but unlike other King works where a large cast – like The Stand, ‘Salem’s Lot, or the Dark Tower saga – features, I had difficulty telling them apart. Most of them were faceless and interchangeable, and descriptives for the majority of them only came when a hammer was about to be brought out for a bit of virtue signaling. Clint and Lila are well done and interesting, but their marital conflict feels forced and stupid, and blows over way too easily, leaving you asking yourself what the point of it was.

The last gripe about the characters comes in the form of who one might arguably call the “main” character of the book; Evie Black. Without spoiling much, she’s the key to everything, and has the standard set of mystic mumbo-jumbo for the magic MacGuffin. She has the potential to be interesting, but despite having several chapters from her POV and multiple other characters commenting on her emotional state, we never really get to understand what she’s doing. She seems to be playing both sides against the middle for no reason, despite obvious distaste for it and sympathy on both sides. If there was some more insight into her motives, her nature, or what the hell she was actually hoping to accomplish, it might have been better off.

And then there’s the ending. We’re treated to roughly twenty pages of staccato notes on what everybody did after things were resolved, feeling like one of those 80’s movies that puts text over still images of the main characters, only even less satisfying. It’s not their fates that are the problem; it’s the presentation.

All in all, I feel this wasn’t really worth my time. It was… okay, at best. Maybe worth grabbing if it’s on the cheap or you absolutely MUST have everything King has written, but probably skippable otherwise.

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28
Feb
18

Goodreads Review: Six Fang Marks & A Tetanus Shot

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Six Fang Marks  a Tetanus ShotSix Fang Marks a Tetanus Shot by Richard de Nooy

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I’m going to start off by saying this book is probably not for everyone. It’s certainly bizarre, being composed primarily of stream-of-consciousness scribblings allegedly cribbed from the primary characters’ journals mixed with a smattering of psychology textbook quotes, primarily on the subject of accident-prone and suicidal people. Untangling the central thread of the narrative is not for the faint of heart. Once you do however, there are some incredibly gut-wrenching nuggets of truth buried within that are – in my opinion, at least – well worth the price of admission.

The central theme is the relationship between a pair of troubled brothers. Rem, an accident-prone, thrill-seeking borderline autistic (and potential psycho/sociopath) and Ace, a failed college student, lab worker and troublemaker who spends much of his time documenting his brother’s insane antics and trying to clean up the messes. It comes off well, with the brothers and their relationship portrayed quite vividly and much more realistically than in most works; Ace and Rem may be dysfunctional, but they share a true bond and it’s on great display, without getting into sappy After School Special territory nor swinging too far in the opposite direction of making them polarized reflections full of spite and venom.

The technical aspects of the novel are solid, with the language being clear and well written – though a bit of a primer in Dutch and South African terminology would likely help the reader – in as much as it’s supposed to be. Admittedly, there are points where the narrative becomes clear as mud, but in every one of those instances I felt as though that was the intention – and they were cleared up eventually – so I don’t feel much need to dock it for those.

Where the book really hits you, however, is the emotional component. After spending a bit of time setting up the weirdness of Rem and Ace’s relationship, up to the point where you’re probably casting Rem as the burly, slow, troublemaker and Ace as the shining knight who covers his brother’s butt, you are treated to the blow by blow (via one character’s recollections and a collection of police interviews) of what happened to a character who had often been referenced but never seen in the book previously. Those revelations – and their reverberations – shatter that initial painting of the characters, and do it extremely well. It’s rare that something in a book comes out of left field (while still having all the seeds planted and ready for observation, had you but noticed…) and punches me in the gut, and this book did it three times. High marks on that count alone.

The final few pages of the book, composed of correspondence and some extra scenes, was also very interesting… not sure if that correspondence was something the author actually engaged in when writing/publishing the book, or if it’s more set dressing to “sell” the rest of the tale but in either case the inclusion was brilliant and intriguing. The extra sections didn’t do much for me – I felt the tale as it had been told was fine enough – but were still of interest.

Overall, I’d say it’s certainly worth a look if you like strange psychological tales (especially in the Chuck P stripe, though this lacks much of the gore that the former is famous for), but should probably be avoided if you’re of the tribe who prefers not to mix too much heavy thought into your reading. Excellent material.

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28
Feb
18

Goodreads Review: I Met A Demon

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I Met A DemonI Met A Demon by Petronela Ungureanu

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

The premise? Young man, away from home, suffers a terrifying encounter with something beyond the pale and lives to tell about it.
The delivery? About 8 pages of rambling, presented in a journal-like format, wherein he moves into an uncomfortable room, gives cheesecake to an old woman, complains about the lack of mod-cons, kidnaps a stray dog and names it Silly, and sees a large, black fuzzy thing that he rants at for an unknown time before walking out.

While I am not averse to short fiction, whether purchased individually or wholesale in a collection, I have to get hooked, fast and hard, for me to care; this failed in that endeavor. Primarily due to our narrator. He goes to great lengths (spending almost an entire page) discussing how he is thoroughly a modern man of his time (the 70s), but constantly breaks that “character” as his language seems designed to impress or ape an almost Victorian style. There was a great deal of setup involving his childhood and recurring nightmares that he supposedly suffered, put to rest by the blessing of a priest – which, to be fair, was a potentially interesting hook – that ultimately ends up feeling like just a lame attempt to foreshadow the coming encounter, and casts it in a senseless light. (If he was blessed as a child and the incidents stopped, why is he then vulnerable to the “demon” now?)

The other “spooky” events – sounds of crying, things stomping and scurrying in the attic, neither of which are ever really explored or explained – only seem to be tacked on as the standard tropes one needs before a spectral visitation, but don’t seem to have any ultimate relevance to whatever-it-was that appears to our narrator.

The inclusion of the dog and the narrator’s friends seems silly, unnecessary – especially because ultimately the friends smoke, drink and go home rather than engaging in the “rat-hunt” that was planned, and have no interaction with the beastie, thus serving no purpose to the tale, and the dog sits outside, eats, and howls a little when the “demon” arrives, but otherwise is equally irrelevant. Also, he gets abandoned when the narrator flees, which just isn’t cool, man.

Then we finally get to the “demon.” It’s a… giant… black… furry… thing. I guess. With no nose or mouth. But it’s got big burning eyes (the better to see you with?) and can apparently cough (ahem-ahem, as our narrator puts it.) And it… stands there. And perhaps I’m made of sterner stuff (and have had my own “experiences” far worse than this), but I didn’t find this frightening or ominous at all, especially since it does nothing but stand and stare.

Yes. That’s all it does. It stands there. While our narrator discusses the “million years” he stands before it, starting with prayer, moving on to begging, cursing, more prayer, “loses his mind,” “nearly dies,” begs it to tell him what it wants, demands the same, prays some more and curses some more. Then our narrator walks through it with an “Our Father.” The end!

Well, not quite. Then we’re treated to a bit of purple prose about how he abandoned all his stuff (Poor Silly…) and how he’s quite sure that there must be angels, because he met a demon.

I just… I don’t know. I really don’t. I suspect with a proper edit job (paragraphs would be nice) to make it look less like a Facebook post on a ghost-hunting site would do wonders. If it’s attempting to be fiction, expansion on the “rats,” Auntie’s background, our narrator’s past, nightmares and blessing, and the “demon” itself, while trimming back or fleshing out seemingly irrelevant nubbins like the dog or the friends would be helpful; if it’s intended as non-fiction, turning it into a more essay-like format (or including the text as-is, then adding in a “research paper” type portion afterward) might make it better in my eyes. If it lies somewhere in the middle, then any or all of those suggestions could help.

As it currently stands, however, the premise shows promise, but ultimately falls flat. As a blog post or something similar, relating a brush with the supernatural? Maybe. As a Creepypasta or Crappypasta? Might be okay. Though I’d still want to see some severe editing. As a bit of short fiction, though, I felt it was a huge letdown.

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28
Feb
18

Goodreads Review: Joyland

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JoylandJoyland by Stephen King

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Joyland’s premise is simple; drop an unsuspecting college kid on the edge of a nervous breakdown into a (potentially haunted) amusement park, toss in a damsel in distress, an unsolved murder (or four…) and maybe a ghost or two, let the mess sort itself out.

Fairly standard King, in other words. And it’s not all that inaccurate; Joyland is indeed like much of King’s backlog. Take one depressed post-teenager, a semi-mundane (but slightly surreal) setting, add spooks, and stir. But like most King novels, there’s a lot more under the hood if you stop to look.

Dev Jones comes to Joyland one summer to put some cash in his pocket and get a little perspective on life. When he joins the rest of Team Beagle at the dog-themed amusement park, we’re given a vivid description of carnival terminology and a slice of a life beyond what most of us will ever be used to. Unlike most of his fellow “greenies,” Dev takes to it with a will, even requesting that he stay on for the off season, taking a semester off from college (and away from his cheating ex-girlfriend). The local fortune-teller’s cryptic warnings, and the friendship Dev forms with Mike, Annie and Milo Ross along with the whispers of a ghost haunting the Horror House certainly help make that decision as well.

To say much more would likely give the game away, but the point of it is this: The on-top story (about friendship with Annie, Milo and Mike and digging into the murder in the park) is just paint. Joyland is really about living, growing up, the scabs and scars that get inflicted on us in our youth and what we do with them as adults. And those moments that, as King puts it, “are treasure. They’re precious. They shine.” Hidden underneath all the carny-talk and whodunit questions, you see Dev trying to rebuild himself, to be a better man… and from the occasional interjections of his older self (who’s telling us this story) you see the places where he succeeded… and where he failed. Joyland will rest happily alongside IT and ‘Salem’s Lot as a testament to those ideals, to childhood and learning to grow up – or thinking you had, only to see that it’s all still there, from that first kiss with the girl next door to the fear of the boogeyman under the bed or in the closet – and the bittersweet taste of your childhood’s departure. It’s about feeling something, and that always has been what King does best… even without a parade of beasts.

I recommend this one to anybody, but especially to people who like a good whodunit or ghost story, and those looking to be punched right in the feels, as the internet is fond of saying these days. Joyland makes you care about Mike Ross, Laura Gray and Dev Jones, and the epilogue is more touching and somehow right than any thousand romances or “heartwarming stories” that clog the shelves these days. Check it out.

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28
Feb
18

Goodreads Review: Dolor

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DOLOR: Books I-VDOLOR: Books I-V by Rick Florino

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Rick Florino’s Dolor reminds me a lot of Silent Hill. A very terrible place that you’d never want to visit. But – again like Silent Hill – I find myself drawn to it, and insist on poking all the mysteries and unpleasant secrets that lie beneath the sleepy little town exterior; my sense of warped and morbid curiosity just won’t let these sorts of things lie still.

Dolor: Books I-V is a compendium of the first five books of Dolor (as if that wasn’t apparent enough from the title.) This is true in both the literal publishing sense, and the in-story sense, as each tale is presented as a journal of someone touched by the strangeness, madness and danger that lurks in the city. Each presents a different main character, a slightly different oogity-boogity causing the ruckus, and an appropriately grisly end (though often with a sunshine-and-rainbows “What just happened”) as the wraparound story – an FBI agent exploring the remains of a burned-out house and discovering the journals – grows steadily more bizzarre. It’s got an interesting framework and some good concepts going for it, I’ll say that much.

On the good side:
The wraparound story makes for good presentation – though what’s contained in this volume feels like only half the story, I’d certainly like to hear more – and there’s a certain dreamlike etherealness to the whole affair that seems to suit the mood well. Again, echoes of Silent Hill, with the multiple layers of objective/subjective reality and leaving you wondering just what the hell is going on and how much of it’s real. The feeling that, despite the varying nature of the supernatural threats (including possessed teddy bears, cthonic entities, demon babies and vampires), there’s some link between them and ultimately a singular explanation for the terrible things that happen there is omnipresent. The descriptions of the gore and violence are well done and vivid (a scene where a character is run over by a car left me wincing quite a bit) and the characters, when presented properly, are reasonably entertaining stereotypes of the folks you’d find in a small town that’s still big enough to have class divides and bureaucratic corruption.

On the downsides:
This may be a quibble rather than a genuine downside, but it feels unfinished. The wraparound story has no real resolution, and while the other tales seem to be building towards a final revelation and potential showdown (or at least an apocalypse) it never arrives. It’s possible there are more books of Dolor out there, but I’ve yet to find them, thus giving the impression that this is unfortunately as complete as it’s going to get. If I’m wrong on this count, feel free to point me at the others and I’ll remove this “grr” moment. 🙂

The characters I found to be interesting in concept, but lacking a little in execution. Most seemed to be a little wooden, their speech a little off and “too scripted,” if that makes sense. The recurring character of Caleb feels a little too “Knight in Shining Armor,” naturally immune to all forms of corruption or frustration (at least until the teddy bear starts talking). The “Satanic” characters feel just a little excessive in their stereotypical portrayals (one has pentagrams tattooed all over him, does tons of drugs, participates in orgies and sacrifices infants and children for seemingly no reason other than “just because.” Don’t get me wrong, I like a crazy villain, and crazy cultists are always go-to options, but he felt like a caricature of every parent’s nightmares during that whole “Satan’s Sacrifices” media blitz/scare from fifteen years ago or so.)

The language and technical aspects of the writing felt like they could use a little tuning up; too many run-on sentences, repeated phrasing and repetitive description for my tastes. It doesn’t hurt the overall feel too much, and I still found it enjoyable, but I think if a good editor reamed through this, it could easily have gotten up to four stars.

Lastly, the characters and the town suffer from what I call Sunnydale Syndrome. If the murder and violence rate is so high, and creepy/weird things keep happening, why are these people still here? Sure, the cultists/Satanists might enjoy it, but the normal folks stick around for… what? The rent-controlled housing?

Overall, if you like creepy reads and have an afternoon to spare, Dolor is a decent choice and worth poking at; it left me with more questions than answers and the desire to know more, which is always a positive. With some edits, some tweaked dialogue and a more believable villain, the score could be higher, but don’t take the 3 stars as an indication of “trash.” It’s still fun. Or as Stephen King might put it: “It can be set aside with a smile, and called trash. But not bad trash.”

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28
Feb
18

Goodreads Review: Rakasha

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Rakasha: Legend of the Hindi Tiger DemonRakasha: Legend of the Hindi Tiger Demon by Robert Davis

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Most people who know me suspect there’s something deeply wrong with me. When given the choice between reading an uplifting tale of hope and love, or reading something terrifying and/or blood-splattered, I’ll take the ghosts and gore nearly every time. That’s somewhat problematic of late, as the pickings have been slim for such content. Then I was exposed to this.

A series of short pieces dealing with the rakasha, a tiger-demon that makes its home in the jungles of India – though the stories themselves cover a much wider hunting ground – Rakasha connects early with the unfortunate end of a foul-mouthed, drug-dealing biker on the run. Despite the short length of the pieces, each of the characters felt as fleshed out, if not more so, than those appearing in much longer fiction. From our unnamed biker friend who serves as our introduction to Jeff the church-appointed monster-slayer, every one of them had some amusing dialogue snippets and at least one aspect to love them for (or love to hate them for, in the case of the Rakasha her/itself.) The settings were interesting and varied, and the description sold me on the oppressive claustrophobia of the jungles and the aura of mistrust and poverty surrounding the small villages where the rakasha hunt and play.

The book as a whole was very vivid and visual in nature, providing some great “mental movies” as I cast actors and considered what it’d be like to see it on the big screen. Most of my reading time is spent fretting about dialogue and individual connections, the intangibles that often end up difficult to translate into film or television, but Rakasha felt almost like a screenplay, begging to put in an appearance on late-night television or on the silver screen.

There’s really not much negative to be said about this one; it’s certainly one of the more enjoyable things that have crossed my reading shelf in some time. If anything, it’s that I want more. Further expansion on the mysterious monster-hunting order, more background on Jeff and his priestly pal, perhaps the continued exploits of the younger Rakasha. Not that it doesn’t feel complete as is, just would like more. There’s a couple of awkward sentences, but overall they fit the “voice” of the book, and the meaning is still clear so no major worries there.

Overall, if you’re a fan of old Clive Barker and Bentley Little (think Books of Blood/Hellbound Heart, or The Return) or had a love of the more gruesome aspects of Lumley’s whamphyri, or are just looking for a good gore-soaked romp, do yourself a favor and check this one out. I suspect you’ll be pleased.

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28
Feb
18

Goodreads Review: Food Therapy

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Food Therapy (3:53 a.m. #2)Food Therapy by Nocomus Columbus

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Have a hankering for some immensely disturbing and disjointed peeks into a fractured individual (or three)? Then this is for you. As with his previous effort (3:53 a.m.), Food Therapy introduces us to some incredibly fractured individuals and lets us spend some time in their heads… until they get their just deserts, that is.

Speaking of deserts, Corey, our first new friend, loves them. As he tells his mother, why he’s only had two cases of Oreos today! Having been a hefty lad from the start, Corey ballooned up to over 800 pounds following the loss of his father, and has since taken up residence in the living room, reigning over his mother like a petty, piggish despot; his implement of rule? The backscratcher, his mighty scepter. Corey proves to be both vile and sympathetic (occasionally both simultaneously) as one eats their way through the pages (pun most definitely intended) and witnesses the tyrant’s rise – and eventual fall – while he obsesses over the pizza delivery girl, makes friends with a former solider, and talks to the ashes of a preacher’s son.

Then there’s his mother. Though we’re rarely allowed directly into her head, her actions convey the implication that she’s just as warped as her son… if not more so. From the moment she informs him that she’s opening a new business – a massage therapy center, to which exclusively male clients come, hmmm… – one has to wonder what’s going on in her head. When Jim, perhaps the only friend Corey has ever made, proposes they begin dating she only grows worse, culminating in her actions in the epilogue of the piece.

Lastly, there’s Jim. With “salvation” and “redemption” tattooed on his arms, he’s seen – and done – some terrible things. Before the tale is done, he’ll add at least one more to his count. With a clever callback to 3:53 AM, Food Therapy is tied up in a tasty bite sized package, leaving the reader wanting more.

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