Thursday, February 22, 2018

Review: Kate's House

Kate's House Kate's House by Harriet Waugh
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Four year old Kate gets a dollhouse for Christmas. Somehow, her activities with the dollhouse influence the goings on in a rooming house not far away. Unfortunately, Kate does not play nice...

Chalk another one up to Paperbacks from Hell: The Twisted History of '70s and '80s Horror Fiction. My wife surprised me with this after I showed her the cover in that hallowed tome. It wasn't what I expected.

Harriet Waugh, spawn of Evelyn Waugh, is a chip off the old block. Kate's House is an amusing social commentary on life in England in the 1980s and certainly not a horror novel despite being marketed as one. There's far more dry wit than dripping blood.

While I was amused by the antics of the characters in the book, particularly the ones whose lives Kate controlled, I kept thinking about how another writer, one actually dedicated to writing horror, could have made hay with a concept like this.

If you're looking for clever word play and dry British wit, you might have better luck with Kate's House than I did. Don't judge a book by its cover. Two out of five stars.

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Sunday, February 18, 2018

Review: The Rising

The Rising The Rising by Brian Keene
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The shit has hit the fan and the dead walk the earth! Survivors wander around, staying one step ahead of the undead hordes and struggling to survive. Rogue military units are on patrol, rounding up survivors. Meanwhile, Jim Thurmond is on a trek from West Virginia to New Jersey to find his son...

I'm a zombie fan from way back. My favorite movie as a teenager was the 1990 Night of the Living Dead remake. I have the Return of the Living Dead soundtrack on vinyl (I can smell your brains!) and Zombies!!! the board game. About fifteen years ago, I kind of fell out of zombie fandom since it felt like it had all been done many, many times. However, in recent weeks we've dusted off the Zombies!!! board game and I had the hunger for some zombie fiction. This hit the spot like some nice warm brains.

The cause of the zombie plague this time was the government mucking with the barriers between dimensions. Now, everything with a brain gets reanimated upon death AND retains some of its own knowledge. The zombies in The Rising can use guns and drive as well as munch human flesh. I'm old school: I like my zombies slow, dumb, and numerous. However, these zombies wound up being very scary.

The gore and violence level is pretty high. People get chomped quite a bit and there are headshots galore. The zombie animals are no picnic either. Swarms of zombie birds are nothing to scoff at, not even in a helicopter.

The different viewpoint characters are what set this apart from being a typical zombie killfest. I felt for Jim's plight, even though I was pretty sure he'd get Cujo-ed at the end. Frankie was a born survivor. I was pretty sure she'd live through it. Baker's relationship with Worm was touching so I knew the emotional wringer was coming my way. While I was disgusted by the national guard unit led by Schow, I had no trouble believing in it.

There were a lot of memorable, inventive scenes in this book. The Rising was harder to put down than a shotgun during a zombie apocalypse. I've read a couple Brian Keene books before but now I'm a Brian Keene fan. Five out of five stars.

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Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Review: I Met a Traveller in an Antique Land

I Met a Traveller in an Antique Land I Met a Traveller in an Antique Land by Connie Willis
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A blogger wanders into what he thinks is a used bookstore to get out of the rain. Turns out the building is the refuge for the very last copies of books in existence.

The passage from Ozymandias is a clue to the name of the bookstore/refuge/whatever and also a clue to what it houses, relics from ages past, books in this case.

The teaser I wrote is pretty much it. I love the idea of there being a storehouse somewhere that houses books that would otherwise be lost forever. There isn't all that much of a story, though. Guy wanders into mysterious bookshop, looks around, leaves. Overall, it was a forgettable experience. I did like the ending quite a bit, though.

Thanks to the fine folks at Subterranean Press and Netgalley for this ARC. Three stars but it's a weak three.

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Review: The Detained

The Detained The Detained by Kristopher Triana
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When four people show up to their twenty year high school reunion, they find they're the only ones there apart from Coach Dixon and the gym is set up for detention, not a party. What binds Phoebe, Champ, Tyler, Sandy and the Coach together? And will they survive it?

Class reunions are awkward enough, what with having to socialize with people you didn't like decades ago. Imagine being trapped at one and being unable to leave? Even without the prospect of impending murder, that's a frightful proposition.

The Detained is the story of lingering guilt over the suicide of a classmate. If you want a lazy description, it's Poltergeist meats The Breakfast Club. What happens to The Brain, The Bad Boy, the Jock, and The Cheerleader after they've been carrying around guilt for twenty years and it's time to pay the piper?

Things start simply enough. People show up, get locked in, and then creepy turns to bloody. Will anyone emerge from the meat grinder unscathed?

That's pretty much all I want to divulge. The Detained is a powerful little novella and I'm glad I took Perpetual Motion Machine Publishing up on it. Four out of five stars.

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Monday, February 5, 2018

Review: The Nightmare Room

The Nightmare Room The Nightmare Room by Chris Sorensen
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When Pete Larson's father's health begins failing him, Pete and his wife Hannah head back to Pete's home town. They move into an old farmhouse his father owns and stir up some old demons, both figuratively and literally...

Chris Sorensen hit me up to read an ARC of this and I took the bait after reading the teaser.

The Nightmare Room is the story of both a haunted house and a haunted man. The house is haunted by the spectre of a grey man and the child he is tormenting. Pete and Hannah are haunted by the death of their son.

The book is a slow burn and I have to admit I had my doubts at first, though the abusive older man chasing a kid around was horrifying on its own. Things started popping for me around the halfway mark. I loved when Ellen Marx showed up and turned out to be not quite what Pete expected. The resolution to the haunting was fantastic and well worth the build up. Hannah, Pete's wife, wound up being my favorite character. Even though I knew it was a haunted house book, I had my doubts about Pete's sanity at times.

The writing is pretty slick and actually felt like a crime book at times. The book was relatively gore free and the few scenes of gore were used to accentuate what was going on, not gore for gore's sake.

Since this is a small press book, I'm going to point out that it was impeccably edited and not filled with typographical errors. It's a very professional-looking product. I shouldn't have to spell that out but we've all ran into small press books that looked like they were rushed into print.

The Nightmare Room is the best haunted house book I've read in a while. Four out of five stars.




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Sunday, February 4, 2018

Review: Baby Teeth

Baby Teeth Baby Teeth by Zoje Stage
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Hanna is seven years old and has yet to speak. She does manage to communicate, though, through malice toward her mother, Suzette. How can Suzette deal with her daughter's psychopathic tendencies when no one believes her?

I got this from Netgalley and the promise of a creepy homicidal kid lured me in. I was a little disappointed.

Like I said in the teaser, Hanna is seven years old, mute, and wishes violence death upon her mother. Suzette is a stay at home mom with Crohn's Disease. Hanna definitely wants mommy out of the way so she can have daddy all to herself. It sounds interesting but I was ultimately bored by most of it.

Alex, the dad, is unbelievably oblivious and I thought Suzette was kind of a doormat. How much shit does one person have to eat before they finally do something? Quite a bit, as it turns out. Hanna was interesting but everything she was planning was told from her point of view before it happened so there were very few surprises. I think it would have worked a lot better if we'd never got a glimpse inside Hanna's head.

It was engaging enough to finish and Zoje Stage's writing was good in a technical sense. The book made me feel very uneasy at times but that was its biggest accomplishment. I didn't find it suspenseful and by the end I was hoping Hanna would somehow kill both of her parents. Two out of five stars.

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Thursday, February 1, 2018

Review: The Neverending Story

The Neverending Story The Neverending Story by Michael Ende
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Nothing is devouring Fantastica bit by bit and The Childlike Empress tasks Atreyu with stopping it. Meanwhile, holed up in his school's attic, Bastian Balthazar Bux reads a purlorned book and soon finds himself pulled into... The Neverending Story!

Not too long ago, I bought my wife tickets to see the rerelease of The Dark Crystal in the theater and we got to talking about fantasy movies from the 1980s, which lead to rewatching The Neverending Story. Days after that, I found this book in the used bookstore I always go to and decided to give it a read.

If you've ever seen the movie, the first 45% of the book is 99% of the movie, with the standard book to movie tweaks, expunged parts, etc. Fantastica was changed to Fantastia for the movie. Some of the creatures look different. Atreyu is green, Falkor looks more like a lion than a dog, and so on. Entire scenes are omitted and dialogue is shuffled around to other characters to make up the difference. I kept telling my wife "Most of the movie has happened. What the hell is going to be in the second half?"

Well, the ending of the movie provides the hint. Once Bastian saves Fantastica, it's his responsibility to help rebuild it. Shit starts sliding downhill immediately after. Without going into it too much, absolute power corrupts absolutely and Bastian does what a lot of insecure people would do with godlike powers: abuses the shit out of it and becomes a raging dickhead. We all should have seen it coming. He stole a book in the first chapter! A book! He goes from being a relateable bookworm to an A-1 shitheel. After a bloody battle at the Ivory Tower, I wondered if Bastian could ever be redeemed.

Sure enough, he could. The last 80 pages were about Bastian seeing the error of his ways and using what little wishes he had left to leave Fantastica and generally grow the fuck up. The reunion with his father was pretty sweet and his conversation with Coreander puts a bow on everything.

Now that I've had time to digest thing, the book seems to partly be about coping with loss. Bastian and his father coping with his mother's death, and later, Bastian coping with losing everything the Childlike Empress gave him. It's also about taking responsibility for your actions and not being a chickenshit all the time. Bastian Balthazar Bux at the end of the book is almost totally different from the one at the beginning.

I wound up enjoying the book quite a bit but, like Falkor's depiction, the movie and the book are totally different animals. The movie captured the adventurous bits without all the morals in the second half. Michael Ende definitely crafted something special here. I wonder how much was lost in translation, though. I had my doubts about the second half but it was all worth it in the end, if a little sappy. Four out of five stars.

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