Archive for the 'Book Reviews' Category



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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28
Feb
18

Goodreads Review: NOS4A2

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NOS4A2NOS4A2 by Joe Hill

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Oh, NOS4A2. I will miss you so, now that our time is done.

I have to say, I enjoyed this immensely; I came to it with a bit of trepidation, motivated mostly by curiosity, given that the author is Stephen King’s son. Snatched up alongside Heart-Shaped Box, I think NOS4A2 must now take its place amongst my favorite books. Whatever magic King found in his own youth could quite possibly be genetic, as it shines out in his son’s work as well.

The basics are easy enough: Vic McQueen (known to her father as “The Brat”) goes looking for trouble, and finds it, in the form of Charles Talent Manx. Vic has a knack for finding things; gifted with psychic abilities that draw her to the place where she can find what she wants most – so long as she is astride her favorite bike, at least – she’s found bracelets, a lost kitten and other objects. This time, it puts her in the hands of a psychotic who is also capable of traveling hidden roads. Manx – and his car, a vintage Rolls Royce with the ironic license plate of “NOS4A2” (say it phonetically) – has a habit of kidnapping children, draining whatever it is that makes them human, and depositing them in Christmasland, a wonderful amusement park where the fun (often in the form of games like scissors-for-the-drifter or bite-the-smallest) never ends. Besting Manx – with the assistance of an overweight bike mechanic and a few onlookers at the local general store – Vic proves the only victim to ever escape that fate.

Twenty years later, Manx is back. The years have taken their toll on Vic, and the psychic damage incurred by her too-frequent reality-bending trips through the “Shorter Way” on her bike have left her broken, half-psychotic, and barely able to care for herself, let alone her lover and son. When Manx steps in to take her child as vengeance, Vic has to rediscover her childhood talent to bring him back… before Wayne joins the other monstrous children in Christmasland.

All in all, a remarkable book, entertaining on multiple levels. The dialogue is spot-on, from Manx’s creepy (and vaguely bigoted) Southern Gentleman style to Tabitha (the FBI agent helping to look for Wayne)’s no-nonsense geek-girl authority. The characters are all entertaining and compelling, leaving the reader with definite ties towards each (and emitting a silent cheer each time one gets their just rewards, or mourning when things end poorly.)

What I found most interesting about the book were the callbacks – both deliberate statements and in general tone – to some of King’s work. This was perhaps made more obvious to me by my reading of Doctor Sleep not long before, but in many ways the two novels seem to have some mirrored themes… but while I felt Doctor Sleep missed a few boats and was entirely too tidy, NOS4A2 chimes properly. The pain of growing up and the sacrifices we have to make during the process; the loss of childhood wonder (and what too much of that wonder can do); the destruction of innocence and the consequences it holds later in life; growing to understand your parents, even if you can’t forgive them. All of those, plus the typical “we have to pretend this isn’t in any way autobiographical, so we’ll wrap it up in a story about psychic powers and freaky vampire-things!” remind this reader strongly of early King, and do it well. The children of Christmasland, and the disturbing thoughts they bring to mind – especially the discussion regarding “pure fun” essentially being “pure evil” – are some of the best “vampires” I’ve seen lately, and Manx and Bing make suitably gruesome antagonists (all the more so because they truly believe themselves to be doing good.)

Overall, I’d recommend the book to anyone who has a taste for horror but has been sadly starved of late, old-school King fans, someone looking for vampire themes without the glitter, and anyone who read Doctor Sleep and liked the ideas – child psychic atoning for the sins of the father and the self – but didn’t care for the execution.

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28
Feb
18

Goodreads Review: Doctor Sleep

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Doctor Sleep (The Shining, #2)Doctor Sleep by Stephen King

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Ooooh, Doctor Sleep. What do I say about you? I suppose I should mention that The Shining was never one of my favorites, despite my rabid love of most things Stephen King. It had moments, sure, but for the most part I could have lived my life quite happily without input from Danny Torrance and his drunken, abusive father and milquetoast mother.

Of course, thirty-ish years later, I’m still shelling out to buy the sequel, so I suppose that says something, doesn’t it?

The premise? Danny Torrance isn’t coping so well. Despite plenty of sunshine, love from his mother and a bit of psychic assistance from his pal Dick Halloran (who, as longtime readers may remember, saved little “Doc”‘s bacon back in The Shining), he’s become exactly what he despised. A washed up drunk who thinks it’s totally okay to steal from a single mother, so long as he can keep enough antifreeze in his system to keep the psychic voices quiet. Of course, that doesn’t make for much of a compelling character nor a Stephen King plot, so after finally discovering he’s hit rock bottom, Danny gets himself into the program, finds himself a nice quiet town, and all seems to be coming up roses at last.

Except for the guilt, that is. And the occasional psychic flashes of a young girl (Abra) who’s going to need his help, and of something terrible waiting ahead, a woman in a top hat who is not to be trifled with.

Doctor Sleep leads us down some interesting byways about redemption and the responsibilities inherent to the guilty and those with power, and prods at the idea of the abused-becoming-abuser (whether it be a child or a substance) concept, and does most of it fairly well; the prose is as clean and quick as King’s usual fare, and the True Knot are certainly an interesting take on vampires. Rosie the Hat makes for a suitably crazy villain, and despite the sappiness of the blossoming relationship between Abra and Danny (that has more than it’s share of echoes and callbacks to Doc and Dick in the original book, deliberately so), it works well enough, with the possible exception of one little plot twist regarding Abra’s heritage that comes up in the last few pages; most readers will see it coming, and dread it, and when it’s finally confirmed, it’s facepalm worthy (and a coincidence of the sort that only happens in Stephen King novels, to paraphrase one of his other characters from another series) but you can mostly ignore it and continue on.

Then you get to the ending. Had the book just stopped as Danny and his friends prepared to saddle up and ride down to the Overlook (because of course the ghosts of the past have their hands in the troubles of the present; if there’s one thing this book is about, it’s that one cannot escape the past; surprisingly, it manages to convey this theme without becoming completely heavy handed about it, and half the callbacks will only ding the “aha” moment later, or if you go back and reread the first one), I think I might have liked it better. Had the finale played out a little differently, or had the ultra-sappy reunion scene not been forced upon us (and this seems to be a trend with Mr. King of late; see also the end of 11/22/63 or Joyland) it might also have remained fairly well regarded. Alas, with the War of the Worlds-esque defeat of the True Knot and far too much handholding in the epilogue, I was left with a bitter taste in my mouth.

Now, that nastiness aside, there’s things to like here; most of the characters are interesting and well fleshed out (Rosie the Hat in particular is quite a joy to read, for me; that probably says something about my warped state of mind, but oh well.) and the plot moves along at a decent clip without skipping around unnecessarily. Personally, I would have liked to see more development for the members of the Knot, more background and detail on their escapades (actually, a whole novel on the main crew in this book coming together would do well on my wish list, methinks), but for who we get, King does well.

Overall, if you’re looking for a good redemption story, or if you just have to know what became of Danny, Wendy and Dick after the events of The Shining, it’s worth a read; otherwise, it’s probably safe to pass it up. You aren’t missing much. Except the opportunity to look with morbid curiosity every time an RV full of old people on vacation drives by you on the freeway…

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28
Feb
18

Goodreads Review: Dead(ish)

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DEAD[ish] (DEAD[ish] #1)DEAD[ish] by Naomi Kramer

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I’m not really sure what to say about Dead(ish); I almost feel bad giving it the score I did. There’s things to like here; the concept is amusing (for the short form, girl gets murdered by boyfriend, hires a P.I. to help find her body, wacky hijinks ensue), the writing style and voice are clear and entertaining, and the technical aspects of the work are well done.

Why only two stars, then? Primarily because it feels disjointed, and a trifle incomplete. Scenes just sort of happen, with little rhyme or reason. There’s one point that the dead woman is “teasing” the PI in the shower, seemingly with no better explanation than “because reasons!” There’s several sequences featuring an almost painfully flaming gay man that, while perhaps funny, seem almost ridiculously overblown when compared to the relative down-to-earth tropes and characterization of the other players. The boyfriend-slash-murderer also manages to land himself in the unbelievable category, apparently having a secret gay side, huge amounts of debts and bizarre culinary skills that are never explained and clash with the manner of presentation.

Overall, I think it’s the illogic of the thing that bothered me the most. To me, for something to be humorous – which Dead(ish) seems to be attempting – it has to make sense, by it’s own rules and logic if by no other judgement… and Dead(ish) seems to fall short on that score. With a bit more content – filling in some of the blank spots, detailing the character motivations and backgrounds a bit more – I’d say there’s enough spark here to warrant at least 3 and perhaps a 4 star rating. But it’s not quite there, yet.

Also, final warning – and one that’s echoed on Amazon’s page – but there’s a boatload of foul language and obscure Aussie slang in here, so be prepared if such things are not on your “okay” list, or be prepared to do some websearching to sort out the slang.

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28
Feb
18

Goodreads Review: The Scarlet Gospels

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The Scarlet GospelsThe Scarlet Gospels by Clive Barker

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

It’s taken years for Scarlet Gospels to finally arrive; the final confrontation between long-time Barker characters Pinhead and Harry D’Amour has been discussed, whispered of, teased and hinted at for so long it would be impossible for the book to stand up to the hype and expectations. The question, however, is whether or not its a good book.

My answer? “Kinda.” It’s amusing and reasonably well crafted, but there’s a few too many issues for me to be as positive and fanboyish as I have been about previous works. First off: It’s bloody short. Clocking in around 360 pages, it feels like an appetizer (especially when compared to other tomes in the back catalog), a feeling that is only made worse by previous statements made that it was potentially going to be in the 1000-2000 page range. Now, being short is not necessarily a flaw, provided the tale is there and there’s no obvious scarring, but that’s where Gospels is most obviously broken; there seem to be chunks of it missing, sudden flash cuts through potentially important events and conversations (often while in the same scene) that look as though someone just ripped pages out and said “Nah, nobody’ll miss that!” Harry and his friends’ journey across the landscape of Hell and the arrival of a certain character on earth, his plans and his disappearance from the pages being skimmed over in four paragraphs are the most obvious points, but there’s plenty of them.

Second, the level of torture porn involved. “Wait,” I hear you saying, “it’s Clive Barker! Isn’t that what you came for?” Well, yeah. That is kind of the point, especially when Pinhead is on screen, but much of the violence after the initial outburst and a couple of Harry’s flashbacks really feels like heaping abuse on Pinhead just to abuse Pinhead. Very little of it felt like it flowed naturally from the characters and their motivations (at least as presented in the book), feeling more like Barker was just tired of the Cenobite and wanted to punish him. Given certain comments the author has made during interviews, it feels even more like that’s the case. (Mind you, I’m not objecting to Pinhead getting his ass kicked and suffering; I just object on the grounds that it feels artificial and forced in context.)

Next, and this might irritate a few folks, but I got tired of hearing about how gay almost everyone was. I don’t care that they’re gay; given Pinhead’s job and history, sex is going to come up and so mentioning it is fine. There’s even some great comedic moments based on it, and with certain characters it is an important facet of how they behave and why they’re involved. But when every single character with the exception of Harry and Norma must divulge a constant stream of their bedroom antics, make a dick joke at least once every three pages, or discuss how stunningly huge that demon’s penis is, it gets tiresome. I’d be just as irate if Harry felt the need to constantly remind the other characters of his sexual exploits or discuss the size of everyone’s breasts. It’s not relevant and most of the time it feels crammed in (pardoning any puns.) I suspect if one were to dissect the book, you’d find more paragraphs of Dale and Caz swapping sex stories than you would with Pinhead plotting or explaining why he’s doing what he’s doing.

Which brings me to the last point. Pinhead’s motivations. At the start, they’re pretty clear; he’s wiping the earth of magic users and stealing their knowledge. Okay, great. Pinhead wants power. It starts getting murkier as we go further in, when he starts using those powers to pretty much attempt to murder everyone in Hell; by the time he reaches his destination, I was left sitting there asking myself “Why did he do all this again?” Following the revelation of what he finds there he pulls a 180 and opts for that lovely villain trope of “I vant to destroy zee vurld! Because reasons!” Again, felt like there were some missing pages. It’s not necessarily that sudden shift or apparent lack of rationale for doing what he’s doing – because Pinhead is consistently painted as a plotter, a tempter, a manipulator, having a reason for doing the things he’s doing – that are annoying; it’s the feeling like those things were there… somewhere… and were just skipped or glossed over. Without spoiling anything, it’s also unclear how he goes from the site of the climactic battle to his final meeting with Harry to his (apparent) demise; he just is in those places because reasons. No discussion of how he got from where we see him and the condition he’s in to the next spot where that condition is vastly different.

And I lied. There’s one more point. The Lament Configuration. And this is a SPOILER!!!! so stop here and skip ahead to the last paragraph, but this bothered me. One of them turns up at the end of the book, and like typical idiots, random character A decides to play with it and open a portal to Hell. Now, with no Pinhead (or other Cenobites, for that matter) to answer the call, it just opens the portal with no demonic arrival, and that’s fine. Then one of the other characters says “Hey, derp, what happens if you throw a Portable Hole into a Bag of Holding?” and punts the Configuration into Hell, making the puzzle box very upset and blowing up the portal. It’s actually a cool and amusing scene, but left me going “Why has nobody done that before?” Obviously, even if they had, it’s likely the Cenobites would have fetched it (unless the damage due to portal implosion was too severe; we’re left with a question mark on that count), but it still seems like a reasonable and at least semi-intelligent reaction, at least from someone who knows what they are and what they do, which plenty of characters in past appearances do. Just a little nag.

Final analysis? In my opinion, not the grand denouement I was hoping for. It was an entertaining read, and saying goodbye to Pinhead and Harry after three decades was something that probably needed to be done… but it still left me sad, and not the way some series do when they finally end, the sense of loss, that those characters have come to the end and its time to say goodbye; it was just thinking to myself that they deserved better. It left too many things hanging (and not in a “I can’t wait for him to write a book that talks about this! way) and overall just seemed like an excuse to murder Pinhead. Which needed to happen eventually, granted, but… not like that. One quick hop-back, that is a little spoilerific: Harry vs Pinhead is almost irrelevant; Harry could have been absent and the Cenobite would almost assuredly have ended up in the same place and still just as dead… and that’s a problem. When you throw two of your most known characters into a box for the cage match of doom and one of them is almost totally irrelevant, you might want to reevaluate your choices.

But that’s just my opinion.

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28
Feb
18

Goodreads Review: How the Snake Got Its Tail

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How the Snake Got Its TailHow the Snake Got Its Tail by Richard Rensberry

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Not really sure how to feel on this one…

Disclaimer: I got this book for free; do what you will with that information. This is also based entirely on the Kindle edition.

I enjoyed the artwork; the split panels were interesting, and while I don’t necessarily think it’s the best way to do things for a Kindle version, I imagine a print copy would look gorgeous. Some of them (“To stood up, Fro laid down” being my favorite) would probably even made decent posters.

The reading level is fine, appropriate language and word-choice for the target audience. Overall, seems competent enough and suitable.

I will say, however – and this may merely be because I don’t have a lot of experience with kids – that the “plot twist” just kind of appears suddenly with no real correlation to anything, and Fro’s last panel seems just a touch excessive. I’m all for keeping people off drugs, but this book seems to go with the logic of “smoke a joint and die,” which I don’t necessarily think is the best tactic, and the presentation felt a little heavy handed and sudden.

Just my opinion, though. As noted, it’s amusing at first, and the artwork’s great, so worth looking at, at least.

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26
Feb
18

Goodreads Review: Demonic Dolls

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Demonic Dolls: True Tales of Terrible ToysDemonic Dolls: True Tales of Terrible Toys by John Harker

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Fun and fascinating.

We’ve all heard tales of haunted dolls, regardless of our positions on the scale of skepticism. Collected here are a pile of those stories, from well-known miniature miscreants such as Robert and Annabelle, to internet mainstays like Harold the Haunted Doll, and numerous lesser known dolls with… Ahem… Questionable habits and provenances.

Regardless of your belief standpoint, each article is interesting and well written, and some of them – Claire and Peggy come immediately to mind – are incredibly disturbing. The last section and it’s warning of “caveat emptor” as regards deliberate purchase of “haunted” objects is perhaps a much needed warning, whether you take it to avoid being scammed or because you don’t really want that lovely Eeyore plush choking you to death one night.

All in all, a fun read and had some cases and information I hadn’t seen elsewhere before, so worth checking out if this is your sort of thing.

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