Saturday, August 12, 2017

Review: Sacculina

Sacculina Sacculina by Philip Fracassi
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Jim, his ex-con brother, his father, and Chris, a friend of his brother's, go fishing in the sea on a charter boat. But on that fateful day, their only catch is DEATH!

Sacculina is a short creature feature about killer barnacles. That's what you're getting. The characters are more developed that is necessary for a book of this time. Who would have thought a creature feature would have so much in the way of familial relationships in it?

Anyway, the barnacle threat is really well done. The fact that the barnacles are everywhere reminds me a lot of the "floor is lava" game everyone played as kids. Will any of the fishing party return? There's some gross body horror thrown into the mix, making Sacculina a nice morsel of horror fiction.

The ending was one of those chilling Twilight Zone endings. While it wasn't remarkable, I can't find anything really negative to say about it. Sacculina is a fun horror tale and a perfect read for a lazy Saturday morning. Three out of five stars.

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Review: Lost Boy

Lost Boy Lost Boy by Christina Henry
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A young man named Jamie tells the tale of the worst villain he's ever known... an impish boy named Peter.

I've long been a fan of dark retellings of classic tales, like Alice and The Child Thief. When I saw the Bibliosanctum was having a giveaway for this one, I jumped at the chance.

Lost Boy is a dark retelling of Peter Pan from the point of view of the boy who would become Captain Hook. And it's fantastic. What would an island populated by eleven year old boys really be like? It's way more like Lord of the Flies than Neverland. Lost Boys die all the time and Peter goes to the Other Place to retrieve more, just like he did with Jamie, the boy who has been his right hand for 150 seasons, at least.

Peter as an uncaring sociopath makes a lot of sense and is very well thought out. Peter has a short attention span and is extremely selfish and self-centered. The Lost Boys and the pirates are just playthings to him, to be tossed away as soon as they become uninteresting. Actually, he acts more like a cat than a little boy, now that I think about it.

After being on the island with Peter for nearly a century, Jamie starts seeing the chinks in Peter's armor and knows a bloody confrontation is coming. Peter isn't happy unless he's the center of attention so when Jaime spends more time with some of the newer Lost Boys, things go south in a hurry.

The book has a lot of brutal, heart-breaking plot twists. I set the book down to tell my wife about them a few times but, for the most part, I wolfed this book down in three sittings. It's a really gripping read and I couldn't wait to see what psychotic gesture of "friendship" Peter would make next.

The dark spin on the Peter Pan mythos was fantastic. This book postulates answers to age-old questions like "Why don't the boys age?" and "What's with the vendetta between Peter and the pirates?"

When Christina focused her dark lens on Peter Pan, she crafted a winner. If you like dark takes on classic tales, this is the book for you. Five out of five stars.



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Thursday, August 10, 2017

Review: The Resurrection of Joan Ashby

The Resurrection of Joan Ashby The Resurrection of Joan Ashby by Cherise Wolas
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Joan Ashby was on the fast track to being the next great American novelist until she got pregnant. She spends the better part of the next three decades writing off and on in secret while taking care of her family. Can she overcome age, obligations, and a crushing betrayal to take back her destiny?

This isn't the kind of book I normally read but I'm a sucker when a publisher, Flatiron, in this case, offers me an ARC directly, I usually take it. For most of the book, I was glad I did.

Since people are thin-skinned about what constitutes a spoiler these days, go ahead and turn back now if you don't want to know anything about the book. I have lot of conflicting thoughts about this book and can't be bothered with spoiler tags.

The Resurrection of Joan Ashby is a very well written book. The writing reminded me of Donna Tartt quite a bit and I was glued to the book for long periods, savoring every word. Cherise Wolas knows her way around a sentence, that's for sure.

A lot of young writers will probably identify with Joan Ashby. She's a determined young author, disdaining love and motherhood in favorite of writing. At a young age, she had two award winning short story collections published and damn near everyone, Joan included, can't wait to read her first novel. However, soon after getting married, she gets pregnant and everything changes.

The Resurrection of Joan Ashby is the story of Joan's long road back, kicking, screaming, and clawing. She finds unexpected joy in motherhood but, at the same time, wonders what might have been. There are ups and downs in the ensuing decades, including a horrible betrayal at the hands of a loved one.

Excerpts from Joan's writings are scattered throughout the book, some providing parallelism, and foreshadowing in some cases. It also gives a window into a character who keeps part of herself hidden most of the time. Other excerpts feel like they may have been added to provide some padding. For what this book is, it's a little on the longish side.

For the first two thirds of the book, this one was a no-brainer for an easy 4.5, possibly even 5 stars. Sure, some of the characters are a little thin but the writing is great. However, the third act turned into Eat, Pray, Love. Granted, it was a very well-written Eat, Pray, Love but for my money, a rich person running away from their problems in India doesn't make them seem sympathetic. It makes them seem selfish and self-absorbed.

I actually contemplated not finishing the book once she went to India, thinking it cowardly and out of character, but upon further reflection, her entire adult life was fueled by cowardice and selfishness, keeping her writing life separate from her family life at all costs. I thought she was going to turn things around near the end but she kept being a craphead. It wasn't poor Martin's fault their lives turned out the way the did! She had every opportunity from the start to change things and she never did. While I found Joan an interesting character, any sympathy I may have had for her evaporated when she got on the plane to India.

After the monumental first 66%, the book went into a downhill slide it never recovered from. The ending was a fart in the wind. Nothing really got resolved other than Joan finishing her book.

As far as I know, this is Cherise Wolas' first novel and it shows. The book could have easily lost 75-100 pages and would have been better for it. That being said, she's a smooth pimp when it comes to whipping the English language around. Since I was thinking about slapping a 5 on this badboy for 2/3rds of the book and a 2 for the last third, I guess I'll go ahead and give this a 3. The ending doesn't live up to the promise of the beginning and it's long for what it is.

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Thursday, August 3, 2017

Review: Bubba and the Cosmic Blood-Suckers

Bubba and the Cosmic Blood-Suckers Bubba and the Cosmic Blood-Suckers by Joe R. Lansdale
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In the early 1070's, Elvis and his team of monster hunters go up against bloodsuckers from another dimension.

While Hap and Leonard are the Joe Lansdale creations I enjoy the most, the really weird stuff like Zeppelins West are what brought me to the dance. When this came up on Netgalley, I couldn't resist.

Ever wonder what landed Elvis in that nursing home in Bubba Ho-Tep? This goes a long way in explaining things. I remember at least one other Lansdale story featuring Elvis from one of his short story collections. Anyway, Bubba and the Cosmic Blood-Suckers is one of Lansdale's stranger tales.

When Elvis wasn't performing in Vegas, he was fighting monsters and spending a lot of time in an isolation tank, drugged out and searching for some cosmic truth. The Colonel held Elvis' mother's soul captive, which explains why Elvis hooked up with the son of a bitch in the first place.

When strange things show up on an unfinished film of Elvis', the crew springs into action to fight some parasites from another dimension. It's way funnier than it sounds.

The trademark Lansdale wit is in full effect. My wife was clearly wondering what I was laughing at but learned long ago that it was better not to ask. The story was short and satisfying, like a hand job in a porno theater. Landale does a great job juggling humor and violence and Bubba and the Cosmic Blood-Suckers is no exception.

To say more would be to risk spoilage. If you're a fan of Bubba Hotep or any of Joe Lansdale's crazier tales, this one is not to be missed. Four out of five stars.

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Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Review: Seven Days of Us

Seven Days of Us Seven Days of Us by Francesca Hornak
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When Olivia Birch heads home for Christmas after relief work in Liberia, she dooms her family to spend seven days in quarantine. Can the family survive its own company?

This is not the type of book I usually read. The publisher contacted me and I accepted a print ARC for some reason. I'm quite glad I did.

Seven Days of Us is a tale about secrets, the secrets a family keeps from one another. Being locked up together over the holidays is like a steel cage match, even for a stiff upper lip British family like the Birchs.

Secrets can devour a person and the Birch family and their associates get hit by a swarm of piranhas. Illegitimate children, gay fiances, cancer, secret relationships, you name it. Some of the twists were predictable, unbelievable even. Others were like a punch in the groin. The last one was like bungee jumping, having the band snap, and landing on a mountain of broken glass. Once I got into the groove, I felt like Seven Days of Us was glued to my hands and eyes.

It's a compulsively readable book. The characters are well-nuanced and I couldn't wait to see what happened to them. It's begging to be made into a movie starring probably Colin Firth.

It's not my usual cup of tea but we all need a sip of Oolong instead of the usual Earl Grey now and then. Four out of five stars.

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Thursday, July 27, 2017

Review: Gwendy's Button Box

Gwendy's Button Box Gwendy's Button Box by Stephen King
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

When Gwendy Peterson meets a mysterious man in black on top of Suicide Stairs, he gives her the button box. One lever gives her a candy, one lever gives her a silver dollar, and the buttons give only death...

I've been a Constant Reader for a long time. This showed up on my BookGorilla email one morning and I gave it a shot. The writing was vintage King. It felt like putting on a favorite T-shirt.

Castle Rock and a character with the initials RF are back! A middle schooler winds up with a device of unimaginable power and with great power, everybody now, comes great responsibility. Gwendy's Button Box is a coming of age tale. Gwendy Peterson goes from middle school to high school with a monkey on her back in the shape of a box studded with eight buttons and two levers.

In some ways, the story reminded me of that Richard Matheson Twilight Zone episode that later became the movie The Box. Giving Gwendy the button box sounds like a fantastic act of destructive mischief on behalf of King's go-to bad guy. As I wolfed down the pages like a hungry billybumbler, I envisioned the horrors that were sure to wait for me at the end of the book.

Yeah, there was an ending but it wasn't the one I was picturing or anything near that Path of the Beam. It was letdown, not unlike the ending of The Colorado Kid. Lots of build up with not much of a payoff in this Constant Reader's opinion. While King's high up in my pantheon of writers, he's not lofty enough for me to pretend I enjoyed the last 10%. 3.5 out of 5.

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Sunday, July 23, 2017

Review: Tormentor

Tormentor Tormentor by William Meikle
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When Jim Greenwood moves to the Isle of Skye to start a new life after his wife's death, he has the misfortune of buying a house with a dark past. Will Jim meet the same fate as the previous owners?

Tormentor is the story of a house with a troubled past and the man who has the misfortune of trying to make a new life there. While I've read two other haunted house stories by William Meikle, Broken Sigil and Pentacle, this one was like neither.

It started simply, with a smudge of soot on the wall. The other islanders are pretty tight-lipped about the house but Jim gradually pieces things together, his grip on sanity loosening in the process.

This one is a slow burn, as much about island life and Jim's adjustments as it was about a man tormented by the entity living in his house, although torment might be a strong word for it.

The isolation of living on an island, coupled with it happening during winter, give the tale a lot of atmosphere. I kept wondering what the hell Jim was going to do next and what was going on behind the scenes.

I wasn't terribly fond of the ending but it was a gripping read while it lasted. Remind me not to buy a house on a Scotish island any time soon. Four out of five stars.

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