Thursday, March 22, 2018

Review: The Blinds

The Blinds The Blinds by Adam Sternbergh
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Caesura, Texas, is a sleepy town where no one remembers their past, witnesses and criminals living out a unique form of witness protection. When Sheriff Calvin Cooper suddenly has a murder to deal with, he has his work cut out for him. Who could the killer be if he's the only one that's supposed to have a gun and half the town could be murderers?

Quite a few people on my friends list enjoyed the hell out of this one. Since I'm a cheap ass, I saved up Amazon rewards points and bought it that way. And those people who enjoyed it were right.

The Blinds reminded me of Pines more than anything else, although, like Pines, I had to think it had some of The Prisoner in its lineage.

The Blinds is the nickname for the town and the files containing the true identities of the people dwelling there. Fueled and funded by a mysterious project, people coming to The Blinds have parts of their memories blanked and everyone goes about their lives without telephone or internet, blissfully unaware of whether their next door neighbor is a killer or a snitch. Things go well for about eight years, until the killing starts...

Hard-boiled with a slight sf edge would be the best way to describe it. Other than memories being tampered with, it's a straight up crime book. Calvin Cooper pieces things together as best he can, trying to hold the town together despite a murderer in their midst, town between being a lazy loser and actually wanting to do the right thing.

The Blinds was a gripping read, with twist after twist. I read the first two hundred pages in a long sitting. The rest of the book was read in agonizing lunch hour snippets. Things quickly get out of hand once the killing starts and I wasn't sure the town would be there at the end.

The core concept is an intriguing one, a town where anyone can get a fresh start and be part of a community. The book also raises some questions about identity. Ultimately, your past will more often than not catch up with you and bite you on the taint.

I really don't have any complaints with The Blinds. At times, I felt like it was written with my tastes in mind. Four out of five stars.

View all my reviews

Monday, March 19, 2018

Review: Idaho

Idaho Idaho by Emily Ruskovich
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

One day while out chopping wood, Wade Mitchell's wife does something unspeakable, sending their lives off course forever. Years later, Wade has remarried and is slowly losing his memories to early onset dementia. Can his second wife, Ann, piece together what happened before Wade forgets himself?

I blazed through Idaho in a couple long sittings and as I sit here, I'm having trouble quantifying how I feel about it. I thought it was going to be a literary mystery but the killer was revealed very early on. It's more about coping with loss, I guess. Life, memories, freedom, etc.

The writing had a literary feel and the story is told in a non-linear fashion, jumping back and forth through the lives of Wade, his first wife, Jenny, their daughters, and his second wife, Ann. I enjoyed piecing together what happened through the various time jumps. Jenny's time in prison was easily my favorite part.

Like I said, it's a hard book for me to quantify. It had its share of touching moments but it also had long stretches where not a whole lot happened to advance the plot. There were a couple extraneous characters that got too much time devoted to them in threads that were ultimately inconsequential. Most of all, there were some unanswered questions, leaving me thinking there should have been an epilogue to wrap a couple things up. While I enjoyed the writing, the structure was probably my favorite part.

Here we are at the end and I'm still not quite sure how to rate this. I like Idaho but it felt like a literary author "slumming it" by writing a genre book but afraid to go all-in. I guess I'll give it a 3 and call it a day.

View all my reviews

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Review: Look For Her

Look For Her Look For Her by Emily Winslow
My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

When DNA evidence re-opens a case forty-years cold, Morris Keene and his former partner, new mother Chloe Frohmann go looking to solve the disappearance and murder of Annalise Wood. Only, things get very complicated very quickly...

I got this in my first PageHabit horror box. It is in no way a horror novel but was pretty great none the less.

Annalise Wood disappeared on her way from school one day in 1976 and was never seen again. Her body was eventually found in a shallow grave and, years later, DNA evidence on the skirt leads to a suspect. However, that wouldn't be much of a story.

This is the fourth book in the Keene and Frohmann series but I didn't feel lost. The relationship between Keene and Frohmann threw enough clues about what happened in the previous books to keep me in the loop AND make me want to read the previous three, which brings me to my next point: This book was great.

The writing style reminded me of Tana French a bit and Keene and Frohmann behaved more like the Dublin Murder Squad than typical fictitious cops. There was lots of driving around and talking to people. The added wrinkles were Dr. Laurie Ambrose, a therapist with connections to the case, and Annalise Williams, one of her patients that was a little too obsessed with the disappearance of Annalise in the 70s.

What looked to be a straightforward case wound back in on itself numerous times. I kept setting the book down to bring my wife up to speed and she was kind enough to pretend to be interested. Once I dug in, stopping for any length of time was maddening.

The ending was great and the epilogue pretty much wrapped everything up. Apart from it being in the PageHabit horror box instead of an actual horror novel, I have no complaints. 4.5 out of 5 stars.

View all my reviews

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Review: Burnt Offerings

Burnt Offerings Burnt Offerings by Robert Marasco
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

When the Rolfe family finds a beach house for the summer for only $900, it seems too good to be true. And it is, for the house seems to be exerting its influence on Marian, Ben, and their son David. Will the Rolfe family head back to Brooklyn before it's too late?

Chalk another one up to Paperbacks from Hell: The Twisted History of '70s and '80s Horror Fiction. This one caught my eye when I was perusing that sacred text one day and I eventually took the plunge.

Burnt Offerings is a slow-burn haunted house store, emphasis on the slow. The tortoise-like pace was a little frustrating for awhile. Also, it's very much rooted in the 1970s, from Marion being a mostly compliant house wife to some rapey moments from Ben, which seems to be a lot more commonplace in 70s fiction than it should be. It's one of Stephen King's inspirations for The Shining, and it shows. Most of the gripes I had with The Shining are here as well.

Now that I have my gripes out of the way early, I wound up enjoying the book once the pace picked up. The creepy atmosphere is very well done, starting with subtle bits of weirdness and eventually going full tilt.

Would you take a tray of food to an unseen ancient woman once a day to live in your dream house for a couple months? How far would you go for your dreams? These are the questions posed by Burnt Offerings. "If something looks too good to be true, it probably is" is probably the core message. I thought I knew which of the Rolfe's would go off the rails first but I was wrong.

The last 25% was pretty fantastic. If the rest of the book had been up to that standard, it would have been an easy four stars. As it stands, it had to work pretty hard to earn three from me. As always, your mileage may vary. If The Shining was to your liking, you might like this more than I did.

View all my reviews

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Review: The Summer Job: A Satanic Thriller

The Summer Job: A Satanic Thriller The Summer Job: A Satanic Thriller by Adam Cesare
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

When Claire takes a job at a hotel in a sleepy Massachusetts town, she gets more than she bargained for, with wild parties in the woods and a murderous cult lurking in the shadows...

I'm pretty sure this one was on sale when I got it, part of one of my daily cheap-o ebook emails. Adam Cesare is a pretty reliable horror writer for me.

After falling on rough times, Claire takes a summer job in a small town and things quickly go to hell in a wheelbarrow. The hotel is the base of operations of a satanic cult and the group rallying around a prophet in the woods isn't much better. What's a girl to do when she doesn't know who to trust?

The Summer Job reminded me of the movie The House of the Devil, although with a lot more dimension to it. If not for the cellphones and computers, it could have easily taken place during the Satanic Panic of the late 70s and early 80s. There's a paranoid feel to it at times and it's pretty obvious that everyone in town is a shithead of some degree. The burned, blind priest who has some mystery role in things made me think of The Sentinel, which I didn't really enjoy, but I liked his role here.

I enjoyed reading this book but it was never a drop-everything-and-put-my-life-on-hold kind of read. It was one of those books where the main character should have gotten the hell out of town instead of waiting around like an idiot for more bad shit to happen. However, I really enjoyed it when eventually Claire womaned up to settle some shit.

The Summer Job was a fun read but not as enjoyable as Video Night or Exponential. Three out of five stars.

View all my reviews

Friday, March 9, 2018

Review: Educated: A Memoir

Educated: A Memoir Educated: A Memoir by Tara Westover
My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

When a girl raised on a mountain in Idaho by her survivalist fundamentalist Mormon family sets foot in a classroom for the first time at the age of 17, how will things turn out? Can she ever escape the past?

Yeah, I made that sound like one of the sleazy thrillers I'm fond of but Educated is a memoir, not a potboiler. I don't normally read memoirs but I decided to take Random House up on their offer when they came knocking.

Educated is the story of Tara Westover's childhood on Buck's Peak, a mountain in Idaho, and her eventual leaving the mountain behind to pursue and education. It doesn't sound very interesting when you say it like that but her upbringing was crazy. Raised by a anti-government survivalist and fundamentalist Mormon father, Tara's early life was anything but ordinary: little education other than learning to read, being nearly worked to death in the scrapyard by her father, tormented by her probably-schizophrenic brother, not even sure of her own birthday. And then she decides to go to college...

The first third of the book was pretty bleak. I kept forgetting it wasn't a work of fiction and wanted to see a couple people dead in the snow. Once Tara goes to college, it's her against her family's beliefs. We all know how hard people cling to beliefs, just look at the ongoing debate on who the best captain of the Enterprise was. Even though it's pretty clear that it's Jean-Luc Picard.

Tara's journey was a trip back and forth through the labyrinth of her family's beliefs and a conflict between her desire to belong and the desire for more than just being someone's wife on a mountain. One thing I quite liked was that she never dragged her family's Mormon beliefs through the mud even though it would have been the easiest thing in the world for her to do and pretty understandable given everything it cost her.

Parts of the book are heartbreaking and it makes the end that much more satisfying. Tara getting her PhD despite where she came from and what it cost her makes me think I've probably squandered some of the opportunities I've been given over the years. 4.5 out of 5 stars.

View all my reviews

Saturday, March 3, 2018

Review: Zombie Bigfoot

Zombie Bigfoot Zombie Bigfoot by Nick Sullivan
My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

When a scientist, a reality show survivalist, and an expedition funded by an eccentric billionaire go into a remote forest looking for Bigfoot, they get more than the bargained for, for this Bigfoot is undead and hungers for human flesh!

Nick Sullivan hit me recently up to review some audio books he'd narrated. I don't do audio books but he seemed cool so I offered to review Zombie Bigfoot despite it going against my No Zombies policy.

Zombie Bigfoot is a creature feature combining zombies and a troop of Sasquatch for a lot of flesh-eating mayhem. It wound up being better than I was anticipating. Some creature features unveil the threat too early and then it's a lot of us against the creatures, which gets old after a while. This one unfolded a lot more organically and had some meat to it.

Sara Bishop is driven to prove Bigfoot exists and exonerate her father, who died in disgrace after a harrowing encounter with a Bigfoot years earlier. The rest of the humans were an interesting mix - a TV survivalist, a Native American tracker, some world class big game hunters, and a billionaire with a bottomless wallet. However, the troop of Sasquatch provided for some oddly touching moments.

The story goes in the route you'd expect with a title like Zombie Bigfoot but it's a fun, gore-slicked trail to travel. When a Zombie Bigfoot gets the munchies, no brains or entrails are safe.

The writing was workmanlike at first but I felt like Nick got comfortable and really cut loose in the second half, the writing getting a lot more colorful. I could tell he was having fun writing about people getting torn apart by a ravenous Sasquatch. I caught myself getting attached to Littlefoot and Brighteyes. A few times I thought "You'd better not kill the good Sasquatches, you asshole!"

Zombie Bigfoot was a fun read and a notch above a lot of the creature features out there. 3.5 out of 5 stars.

View all my reviews