Saturday, April 29, 2017

Book Review: The Water Knife by Paolo Bacigalupi

he Water Knife by Paolo Bacigalupi

Hardcover, 371 pages Published May 2015 by Knopf

So this is the first entry in my eco-horror/dystopia-a-thon. Also my first time checking out Bacigalupi who I have known for awhile would likely be up my alley. Known for writing novels that depict a future destroyed by climate change. His Wind-up girl that took place in a drowned Bangkok of the future is one of the best reviewed sci-fi novels of the century so far and already considered a classic in the making.

Lets get something out of the way, if you are a climate change denier you are (dangerous and) not likely to enjoy this book although I don't think you are the target audience of this book. This not-so-far in the future novel is a glimpse into the future of the american Southwest if we don't turn things around. The author is known for his sci-fi, and certainly it is speculative but had this exact same novel been written by someone not effected by the genre ghetto this novel would be taken as seriously as it has every right to be.

The Water Knife is about an all to real future we face. This novel is about the life that depends of the flowing stream of the Colorado river. Colorado, Arizona, Nevada and southern California all depend on the mighty river. Every city, and small town along the way do as well. I have to think about with every drop of water I drink, bath or use to cook. You see I live in San Diego at the end of the supply chain of the same Colorado River.

In this dystopia government agencies fight and over water rights and Arizona has recently lost most of the water it depends on. The borders are closed between states, Arizona is dealing with Mad Max extra like Texan refugees and Nevada and California are taking drastic steps to keep refugees out. We see this through an excellently plotted array of characters who each could have supported their own novels. The most interesting is an enforcer doing dirty deeds for Nevada named Angel Velasquez who works for a brutally intense woman behind the Nevada water authority named Catherine Case. She is hearing rumors of a new water source in Arizona perhaps an ancient aquifer. The maguffuin becomes the water rights in question.

So at this point Angel has to travel across this awful messed up future Arizona that has fallen into chaos. There he meets Lucy who is a reporter cover the violence and death on the other side of the Arizona border. There are other characters fellow 'Water knifes' and refugees. This is not just a tale of political intrigue there is violence, betrayal, romance desperation and excellently plotted tale of the best things in story telling parallels and reversals.

I am sold on Bacigalupi as a story teller. I think this is an important novel that already has a wide audience but considering the vision of the future it presents deserves a wider look. Here in the southwest this should be required reading. Sure it is a dystopia and as such it exaggerates to clarify but the book was well researched. If we don't want to see this world become a real thing, then we need to make sure more people check it out.

Some might consider this book preaching to the choir. I feel on the issue of climate change there is no such thing. Most of you who understand it is a problem have taken very little time to think about what all this means for our future, your children's future. If you are in the so-called choir then perhaps a little more time and thought into what you buy and more importantly what you eat would be in order.Just my opinion.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Book Review: Chills by Mary Sangiovanni

Chills by Mary Sangiovanni

Paperback, 320 pages

Published September 2016 by Lyrical Underground

“True Detective” meets H.P. Lovecraft in this chilling novel of murder, mystery, and slow-mounting dread." The description of this novel above sold me. I have enjoyed SanGiovanni in interviews on podcasts, and even though I had a couple copies of her books on my shelf for years I never got around to reading them. This was going to be the first one because I loved the tone suggested and the plot sounded interesting.

A freak late spring snowstorm hits as a detective tries to solve a bizarre murder. The first act of this book is a very intense slow burn cosmic horror piece. Each page develops serious dread. Honestly I could have handled another hundred pages of this.

One of the best most fascinating scenes was an interrogation between the lead character and her brother - a serial killer now in prison. This is where the True Detective comparisons come into play. Really it is one chapter. It was very tightly wound and I was hoping the novel would returned to it.

The deep and cosmic dread of the first half was everything I was looking for and the second half of the novel turns into something else that I feel gets into the territory of spoiler. Consider yourself warned. Chills is the third in a trilogy, a fact I didn't know this until I went to Good reads to post this review and had re-edit it. I am not sure if I am missing something, maybe the back story with the brother - not sure.

The best thing I can say about this one is I now want to read the novels that will for me be prequels. However I didn't enjoy the second half of the novel quite as much once it became a full on monster attack. SanGiovanni did such a wonderful job building the dread I wish the book had a longer second act focused on that part of the story and a shorter third act that dominated the novel's entire second half as is.

Am I glad I read Chills? Yes. For sure. I think horror fans will too, and I think many will disagree with me about the second half. I think you should decide for yourself. It is a cool book and deserves to be read and debated. SanGiovanni certainly knows how to write monsters. I am sold for sure and will read more SanGiovanni.

Monday, April 24, 2017

San Diego Bahr Crawl reading available online...

Horrible Imaginings Film Festival helped organize the San Diego leg of what is being called "The Bahr Crawl." It has been a road trip of readings to celebrate the release of Angel Meat, a new collection of short stories from award-winning author Laura Lee Bahr. Joining her in these readings are Splatterpunk legend John Skipp, Andrew J. Stone, and San Diego's own David Agranoff and Anthony Trevino, who brought selections of their own to share at Verbatim Books.

Check out this brief preview, and listen to the full sessions at:

http://www.dreadcentral.com/podcasts/225175/horrible-imaginings-175-dark-stories-bahr-crawl/

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Book Review: Aftermath: Empire's End (Star Wars: Aftermath #3) by Chuck Wendig

Aftermath: Empire's End (Star Wars: Aftermath #3) by Chuck Wendig

Hardcover, 423 pages

Published February 2017 by Del Rey Books

Look this is a Star Wars novel. It is the third in a trilogy. I reviewed the first two. The Aftermath trilogy is meant to tell the story of the events after Return of the Jedi. I know alot of fan boys were upset the novel that was promoted as the Journey to The Force Awakens and that it was not about Luke, Leia and Han on every page. I have never understood the bad reviews.

Even though books 2 and 3 of this trilogy do not have the journey tag this is the book that most sets up Force Awakens. Empire's End is about the battle of Jakku that left the ruins of the empire behind.

Why was it such important battle fought on a random world. This book will answer those questions. I know that is the thing that will sell most nerds but come on there is alot to the aftermath trilogy and it is common theme with it's readers.

I fell in love with the characters. Sure I was impressed by Wendig's ability to tell an epic SW story but more important than spinning the galaxy spanning story is creating character like Sinjar and Norra Wexley who were likable SW characters.

One of the problems that the prequels suffered from was that no one liked the characters. I liked that Wendig made Characters that felt like Star Wars. Mister Bones certainly fills the comic relief droid, Timmin the young idealist in the mercenary crew in general they are fun characters, by the end I was thinking I wanted more novels with them. Norra and Jas both have moments of great-ness and in this novel the way they separate is handled with style. But the most interesting character is Sinjir. Not because he is the first openly gay character in Star Wars although that is cool. What makes Sinjar cool is his position as ex-imperial enforcer turned empire war criminal hunter. Very cool.

Book one was the most direct story of the first days after ROJ, even over lapping, and introduced the new characters. Book two dealt with the battle for the Wookie home world and Book three is mostly a set up for the battle.

All three are character driven and fun. The two things that made this a entertaining read (by that I mean the whole trilogy) and something I think SW fans should read. It comes down to why Jakku? Does it add depth to the star wars universe and is fun at the same time what more do you want?

Book Review + Author Interview: The City, Awake by duncan b. barlow

The City, Awake by duncan b. barlow

Paperback Published March 2017 by Stalking Horse Press

This review comes with it's fair share of bias. I have to explain how that works for me. When I like a person or artist I root for them to do well like anyone else. When that artist is a friend I have known for years it doesn't mean I will like everything they do. Duncan Barlow is someone I got to know through the hardcore scene. Some of his bands Guilt, By the Grace of God and especially Endpoint were huge parts of my teenage and young adult life. That is not to say he hasn't played on records that I didn't like. I am able to be critical, I say that so you can understand just how much I liked this book. I liked Duncan's first novel Supercell Anemia but I loved this novel.

In the 90's midwest hardcore scene shows were a little like mini-family reunions. Duncan was always someone I looked forward to seeing and chatting with when I saw one of his band's name on the flyer. He was one of the first people I talked to about my dreams to one day be a writer. We shared similar challenges with leaning disabilities. In my case I found my dyslexia to be crippling to my desire to write. I can point to one inspiring conversation with Duncan outside a show in my hometown that lead to me feeling that I had to pursue those dreams.

Thanks Duncan. OK so the novel...

The City, Awake is a early contender for my top ten reads of the year. It is very hard to talk about the book without spoilers in my opinion. The strengths come in the reveals and the inventiveness with which the author puts his cards on the table. So this review will have a spoiler warning at some point and then we will talk more openly after that.

The City, Awake is a genius surrealist noir that perfectly balances character, narrative drive and experimental prose. It opens with a note in a man's pocket. "You are David. You were made in God's image. You are the author of all language,emender of sins." After a few chapters we see David get the same note in other moments. Sometimes he excepts the note, but in one case he doesn't except insists that his name is Saul and through Saul we look into the mystery. in other tracks David is sometimes closer and further from the truth. Beyond that we see some traditional noir tropes.

Saul/ David hunts for clues in a city that is not clearly defined as real, and throughout the narrative we can never feel safe that we are in a real setting. Delightfully weird, The City, Awake is an experience. It has the effect of feeling like we are are being lead by expert. Very different types of books but it reminded me of the reading experience that I had reading Brian Evenson's The Warren. Read it, Read it!

****Spoilers ****

So one of the things that impressed me most about this novel was that I was fooled for 150 or so pages. The first chapter is numbered 7, the second is numbed 18, some chapters are numbered 23, and 30. When David wakes up at different points with the same note I assumed as I think most readers will that we have a lead with Amnesia. We do have a lead with memory issues, but those numbers were not time signatures as I thought they were. The Reader certainly should feel that way because Barlow is setting up a excellent twist. The numbers represent Doppelgangers number designation in a wider plot.

The slight of hand was well executed, perfectly fair and had me perfectly fooled. For this reason alone the novel is worth the money and effort. Well done.

END SPOILERS

I have known duncan for 27 years, since he was guitarist of one of my favorite bands Endpoint when we were both in high school. So I was excited to interview him for the review. I hope you enjoy. It is raw no editing, just a chat by old friends.

We talk about his novel the City Awake, writing and how we both struggled to adapt to dyslexia to become authors. 10 minutes spoiler free. From 10 minutes in to about 30 is about the book the last half hour is about general writing.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Book Review + Author interview: Grunt Life (Task Force Ombra #1) by Weston Ochse

Grunt Life (Task Force Ombra #1) by Weston Ochse

Paperback, 432 pages

Published April 2014 by Solaris

I am a huge fan of military sci-fi, there is certainly nothing wrong with it being written by people who have never served and some of it is very good. Heinlein never was in the military and neither was Scalzi and Old Man's War is probably the best novel in the sub-genre this century. Certainly Grunt life is the most IMPORTANT military sci-fi novel of this century. Probably the most imporant since A certain Vietnam vet wrote a sci-fi novel by the name of the Forever War. There is a little something extra when you have novels like the Forever War written vets like Joe Handleman or the works of Weston Ochse.

Weston Ochse is a Bram Stoker award winning author who started his second military fiction trilogy with Grunt life. The first was a very good pulpy horror/ monster trilogy called Seal Team 666. In three books the Seal team team took on creatures and conspiracies that took them around the globe fighting monsters (I reviewed the first book last year). Of course one of the strengths Ochse who spent decades in the military or contracting over seas brings is a sense of reality many author couldn't.

Grunt life is the story of Benjamin Carter Mason who attempts suicide in the opening pages, he is prevented from doing that and given a choice. You can kill yourself now, or die for us and do something important. Mason is unsure but gives himself over to train with a group of mentally ill and suicidal soldiers that make up Task Force OMBRA.

Ombra you see has been preparing for the day when the invasion comes. They know some very alien force is already preparing the ground work. The non-humans are called the Cray, who are testing humans with acts of mind control that result in a epidemic of violent acts that appear random. A whole novel could have been built out of OMBRA's research into these events.

That however is not the point, we are very tightly focused on Mason. Written in first person this forces the narrative to stay with the main Character and away from generals, world leaders or a global view of the alien invasion. This is Grunt life after all. I want to be careful to remain spoiler free but the really smart thing Ochse brings to this military Sci-fi sub-genre is including victims of PTSD as twist on the classic Dirty Dozen set-up.

This is a military sci-fi novel that is much deeper than a surface action novel. A story about PTSD, that explores the issues related to the trauma that is all to common in warriors. The novel is also very much about what it means to be a grunt and of course the title suggests that. Without giving away the back half of the book it is not just the main characters who have an arc.

Seal Team 666 was a fun book, one I really enjoyed but damn Grunt Life is 1,000 times better. So yes read it.

Since I had met and talked to Weston a few times I asked him if I could interview him to make as a bonus video for my youtube channel/ this blog. We try not to spoil the book for the first 10 minutes, but after that we do mild spoilers. Here is the thing the last 20 minutes are real nitty gritty details about writing the book. I think all authors could learn from the discussion. So yeah here it is.

You can download the audio for a limited time here on my soundcloud page:

https://soundcloud.com/david-agranoff/weston-ochse-interview

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Book Review: Nod by Adrian Barnes

Nod by Adrian Barnes

Paperback, 261 pages

Published September 1st 2015 by Titan Books (first published November 2012)

Literary Awards:

Arthur C. Clarke Award Nominee for Best Novel (2013)

One of my favorite sub-genres of fiction skirts both science fiction and horror but comes down mostly in the horror camp. It is the odd high concept end of the world novel. Nod is one of these novels that hinges on a excellent concept.

Global insomnia, seen through the eyes of our two main characters Paul and Tanya. Paul is one of the few who can still sleep.Tanya is with the majority of our species struggling to sleep. As the days drag on society starts crumble. Food is not being made, restaurants are not opening, the basic functions are coming slowly to a halt. The premise comes built with a excellent ticking time bomb built in. How many days before you become ill? How many before you lose your sanity? In the vacuum new religions pop up and not surprising those desperate for sleep that they would look to the sleepers for answers. Paul becomes a reluctant prophet.

Adrian Barnes is a great writer but I am not sure he is as strong of a pure story-teller. Maybe that is not fair but I think writing horror it is good to have certain finely tuned techniques. I just found myself feeling through-out the story that we were missing moments of suspense and dramatic tension. In the back of the Titan edition that I read included a interview with Barnes so I consider this information fair game for the review. The author makes clear that he is not a genre writer. Which is fine, lots of non-genre authors have written excellent pieces of science fiction horror from Cormac Mcarthy's The Road to Mary Doria Russel's The Sparrow there are great examples.

In this case Barnes has a neat concept, interesting characters, well written and involving prose. So there is plenty to like the problem I had with the book is that I wanted more of the tension building between Tanya and Paul for example. I thought about moment where he might wake up and find her not in bed in the early days. Maybe chapters devoted to her tension listening to him snore, watching him dream when she was tortured by the inability to sleep. I think a genre author who knows the field better might not miss the idea of how tense it would be to sleep 5 or 6 days in knowing the world was filled with people losing their minds not sleeping near by. Barnes did work well with the ticking clock of sanity but even that could have gotten more targeted attention.

Last in the story there is a chapter that takes place on a U.S. naval vessel that is a classic example of telling, meaning events took place outside of the narrative. Technical things aside I think the novel has alot of interesting things to to say about life, death and our culture. Paul is very outspoken character and his eye into the end is interesting one. Even if I though I was critical of this novel I read it fast and there is no greater compliment I can give a book. As for high concept apocalypse you will see many such titles on my best of the year blog posts heading back years now. Novels like Tim Lebbon's The Silence and M.R. Carey's The Girl with All the Gifts are strong examples of this kind of novel. Both were written with incredible skill. Going back a little farther the poetic example of John Shirley's The Other End and his gonzo end of the world novel Demons.

I bring up those other examples because they all balance high concept with excellent plotting and construction. Nod was good read, one I was glad to have. Those interested high concept end of the world novels should add them to their list. As much as I enjoyed it I could not call it a masterpiece. Shout-out to my co-worker Andrea for lending me the book. Clearly she has eye more my taste in books!

Book Review: 13 minutes by Sarah Pinborough

13 minutes by Sarah Pinborough

Paperback, 405 pages

Published July 2016 by Gollancz

US edition summer 2017

Sarah Pinborough is one of my favorite authors. So when I say this was not one of my favorites of her novels understand something. It is still a GREAT book and really that just says so much about her entire catalog.

13 Minutes is indeed a brilliant YA murder mystery. It is funny because it was marketed as YA,I believe that is because it is about teens. At the same time the paperback has "not suitable for younger readers." This book will be released in U.S. this summer and there is a degree that the YA classification could hurt it with adult readers. I hope not because what it says about teens in this social media era would be good for more adults to see.

This novel is a murder mystery that involves teens, social media and bullying. On the surface it is the story of Natasha a teen who is found in the river, brought back from the brink of death no memory of the events before she died for 13 minutes.

There is a cast of friends and frenemies who are involved. Being a modern tale of murder and teenage women alot of the story unfolds in text, social media and the like. Pinborough does an excellent job of using the different media to unfold the story. This is similar to the technique Stephen King made famous in his first novel Carrie. The POV switches are jarring at times sometimes feeling random but they are not at all random. Pinborough places the POV changes intentionally to drive the story and she is always in control.

This novel about teenage women in England feels correct but of course how do I know what those teens think like. that is important because the the motivations and the narrative drive are so closely tied to Becca an old friend of Natasha (the victim) and her group of friends who embrace the name "the Barbies" for their social circle.

The ending is not as jaw dropping as Pinbrough's next book Behind Her Eyes but that is OK not every ending has to be a stunner. it is just as good a feeling when the end of a book can get you to raise your eyebrow and say 'Huh.' I think this ending does a little more of that. 13 minutes has alot to say about the world teenagers live in, and one that i think would be good for young women to read even if some moments are intense. Adults have good reason to read it as well as a tiny window into the pressures of the cool kids at school in this modern world.

The murder, or attempted murder in this case is a Mcguffin that sets the wheels in motion. 13 minutes is an exploration of modern teenage social dynamic and in that sense it is a much deeper novel then it appears on the surface. Like I said at the start of this review this is probably my least favorite Sarah Pinborugh novel that I have read so far, that is not a insult by any means. The Dog Faced Gods trilogy is my favorite horror trilogy, Behind Her Eyes is a masterpiece and mayhem and Murder were excellent examples of an author stretching out of her comfort zone(by writing a period piece). So You know what 13 minutes is a great read and one you should check out...after Behind Her eyes if you are a thriller type. If you are horror reader start with A Matter of Blood. Either way read some Pinbrough.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Book review: Ratings Game by Ryan C. Thomas

Ratings Game by Ryan C. Thomas

Paperback, 349 pages

Published May 2008 by Cohort Press

Ratings game is a book I have meant to read for years. The second novel of San Diego based horror author Ryan C. Thomas is a bit of a departure from his first novel The Summer I Died. A decade has passed since those first two books came out and we have had a chance to see the potential RCT showed grow into several books and reputation for character driven horror.

I really like the left turn that RCT took with this second novel, his first release was a masterpiece of extreme horror. It would have been easy go straight back to the blood drenched success of The Summer I Died right away. RCT did eventually do two sequels (on my to read list) but this novel has a very different tone.

Blending social commentary, satire and the occasional gore soaked serial killing. Ratings Game is the story of Roland Stone and Doug Hardwood. Two new York based TV anchors who are on the edge of aging out of the industry for good. After an encounter at a bar they both realize what they need is a big story attached to their names.

It starts when Roland finds the body of a homeless man already dead. He claims the murder with a letter sent to him at the station, he names the killer and the ratings soar. Not to be outdone Hardwood is on to him and stages his own more violent murder with a letter that comes in the mail to his station. On the outside it looks like two killers engaged in a game, but of course it is a boost in the ratings and viewers they want. What follows is a novel that is a smart mix of Anchorman and American Psycho.

On the surface the concept is pretty silly, which is why the novel goes the route of satire. This was a smart move that RCT has crafted a fun novel that captures the "it bleeds it leads" world of news. The two killers "the Chef" (Stone) and Cassnova Carver (Hardwood) bring the gore and style to their murders. This is something Thomas brings to this novel mainstream satires would have strayed away from.

If there is a weakness in the novel it is the sexism of the characters while probably accurate got a bit grating to me. Ratings Game was just as funny as anything I have read from Jeff Strand who is considered the king of horror comedy. I laughed alot reading the book and I really appreciated that it was so different from his first book.

Excellently plotted and structured to deliver a well timed story. If you have not read any Ryan C. Thomas I would start with The Summer I Died, that is just a perfect horror novel. That being said Ratings game is probably a better more dynamic example of what Ryan C. Thomas is capable of.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Book Review: Among Madmen by Jim Starlin & Daina Graziunas

Among Madmen by Jim Starlin & Daina Graziunas

Paperback, 268 pages

Published 1990 by Roc

This is a short but wickedly intense read written by a married couple and long time comic book creators Jim Starlin and Daina Graziunas. Released in 1990 this is apparently a lost classic that was blurbed by Stephen King and George Romero at the time of it's release. I think I first heard of it when Brian Keene mentioned it in a interview on Dread Media, I just happened to be in a used bookstore an hour later and found it for $2. Sold.

I am surprised I had never heard of it because it's post apocalypse setting a gritty characters make it right up my alley. It is a cool book with lots of little pieces of art through out and starting each chapter. It is also very ahead of it's time by taking the zombie novel and adding the berzerker element.

The story of Tom Laker a vet and former NYPD cop who moves with his wife after a virus starts slowly turning the population of into berzerkers. He has become the sheriff of this small town and is trusted to protect the community. Laker is a great character his anguish bleeds off the page. He is trying desperately to hide the fact that his wife has the disease and is at times trying to kill him.

Matters are made worse when a band of raiders are making there way to the small town and someone inside is helping set them up. As we head toward the final battle Tom has to confront his world and family falling apart at the same time.

This novel packs alot of story and emotional punch into it's short page count despite being just over 200 pages it feels epic. Tom Laker and his psycho deputy Benny are both really strong characters who carry alot of the novel on their shoulders. I was less impressed with the story line between Tom and his wife Maria. It just didn't work for me but I feel for Tom when it came to a head.

The placement of the art was an issue. Some of the art spoiled the coming narrative since it appeared a page or two ahead of events in the prose. That said a few times this was used to actually add to the suspense. This is a must read for folks who really enjoy dark, brooding end of the world stories. In that sub-genre it is pretty classic. If that is not a strong motivation for you I don't think it is essential reading.

Monday, March 6, 2017

Book Review: Little Heaven by Nick Cutter

Little Heaven by Nick Cutter

Hardcover, 496 pages

Published January 10th 2017 by Gallery Books

Nick Cutter is one of the hottest names in horror fiction, and for good reason. The ironically this hot name is a pen name for Canadian literary author Craig Davidson most well known a novel Rust and Bone. I have read all four Nick Cutter books now and I thought the praise was certainly warranted. I enjoyed The Deep and the Acolyte but I didn't like either one nearly as much as the Cutter debut The Troop. That debut was a wicked intense character rich body horror novel. At a time when major publishers were shy about hardcover horror it was a major hit.

It worked in part because despite a modern settings it felt retro in all the right ways. It felt like a a golden age of horror paperback classic. People rightly compared to it to classic Stephen King. I thought it was an effective and disturbing horror novel that made the best of a lean prose style.

So now we have Little Heaven. First off it is nice to see Cutter shake the Bentley Little title disease that has plagued him. Finally a novel that is not THE ___ Whatever. To me Little Heaven is a masterpiece of horror fiction and pays tribute to 80's in a even stronger sense than The Troop did. As good as the last two Cutter books were they missed that retro feel that made The Troop special.

So I have seen again the comparisons to classic Stephen King but in this case I don't see it at all. This is lazy analysis from readers who might not know the influences on this novel. This novel has more Clive Barker and Robert McCammon in it's DNA than King. I would also argue the setting and characters give it more of a Cormac McCarthy feel than King. With the structure and dialogue a argument could also be made that Tarantino was a influence.

Cutter proudly wheres his influence on his sleeve, and that is why we talk so much about it. Take all this narrative chemistry and it adds it up to novel that feels like others but is actually like nothing I have read before. Personally I would use the word masterpiece. In part because I think a novel that delivers exactly the feeling of classics and causes me to turn pages is all I am asking for.

This is the story of four trained killers given the mission to rescue a young boy whose father has taken him to a compound called Little Heaven in the New Mexico desert. Cutter clearly has fashioned this cult after real life cults and doesn't hide it as you discover in the second half. We know quickly that these killers are not normal humans. The narrative switches back and forth from the mid 60's to the 80's and the structure unrolls the story in a unconventional but very effective manner.

We know the four mercenaries survived but they changed and are haunted by what they have seen. The supernatural elements have surreal quality that brings to mind early Clive Barker. Monsters like the Long Walker were disturbing in how unnatural they were yet described so well you see them in your mind and were nothing short of creepy.

The tone reminded me of McCammon's Gone South. This comes from the characters that are both scary and hilarious at times. The prose itself was excellent. Cutter creates vivid landscapes and the horrors pop off the page causing several cringe worthy moments of supernatural horror.

I made a mistake reading some of the reviews on goodreads, and the litreactor review by Max Booth that called this book a rehash of IT. I honestly was not sure we all read the same book. So yeah I think you should read Little Heaven. I think it is the best Cutter book and personally I think the best horror novel in years.

Now something new. Below is a audio review/ discussion between author Anthony Trevino and myself talking about the book. it's 20 minutes the first half is non-spoilers and the second half talks more about the writing in the book. Check it out. I am going to do a few more of these from time to time on the blog.

Friday, March 3, 2017

Book Review: Masque by F.Paul Wilson and Matthew J. Costello

Masque by F.Paul Wilson and Matthew J. Costello

Paperback, 368 pages

Published June 1999 by Aspect

I have been reading mostly new releases lately so this is kinda of a random book for me in a couple ways. Anyone following my reviews knows F.Paul Wilson is one of my top five writers easily, his ability to pace and structure a novel is the best on the planet. I admit I had not heard of Matthew Costello before but Dr. Wilson was the first draw, and the high concepts.

Look I picked this up at a used bookstore that was going out of business and the corny cover made me laugh. That said It is one of my favorite authors and when I read the back cover description I was sold.

This novel is set a century or two in the future in a dystopia, I got the feeling these future earthlings had survived a nuclear war or a ecological collapse but that was a bit vague. Don't misunderstand me this novel is effective at many things, one of which is world building. No matter how strange this world was it felt fully developed. This was important because the concept was such a vital part of the story.

At the heart was a very interesting character Tristan. Indentured to a corporation Tristan is not a normal person. He is a perfect spy because his genetically engineered to be a shapeshifter. The people with metamorphic DNA are called "mimes" and for good reason they are very mistrusted in this world. Tristan wants to be locked into one form and finally get citizenship. To get these things he must complete one mission.

What follows is a strange cyberpunk spy novel that is not as streamlined as I used to with Wilson. One of his strengths is no frills narratives that fly! The level of weird here was source of constant enjoyment for this reader. Former mimes turned religious leaders, Mutant underground clubs, and hero constantly changing identity. Tristan gets dragged into plot to kill off all Mimes and can't trust anyone.

First off this novel is 19 years old so some of the technology and terms you would expect to feel out of date. Not really, the most out of date thing in this novel is the Max Headroom-ish cover art. The elements of Noir,spy thrillers and Cyberpunk are perfectly executed.

Keep in mind it was released in 1998 it was ahead of it's time. Two popular works of fiction came later and did very similar things. In the not super close but was on my mind category is the Richard Morgan novel Altered Carbon (and it's sequels) in that novel all the name elements were there. Spy, noir and Cyberpunk, The hero didn't morph DNA but was switching bodies and never said the same. Fans of Altered Carbon might really enjoy it.

As the morphagentic DNA shape shifters. Yeah they had those in Fringe. Yes it was done here first. Did someone at Bad Robot read this novel first? Who can say? I suspect it was coincidence.

Overall I enjoyed this novel but I can think of a dozen F.Paul Wilson books I would recommend before this one. If you are looking for weird whacked out Cyberpunk not written by authors not known for this sub-genre then yeah, It is a fun read.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Book Review: The Last Policeman by Ben H. Winters

The Last Policeman by Ben H. Winters

Paperback, 316 pages

Published July 2012 by Quirk Books

Edgar Award for Best Paperback Original (2013)

The lone cop who gives a shit about a murder, that no one else thinks is a murder to a trope way over used in mystery or cop dramas so you have to give credit to Winters her. It is hard to make a mystery original at this point, but every genre has been over done at some point. One of the most fundamental ways to breath life into genre writing is cross genre. Science fiction does this all the time. It is not a new thing, but I am not sure how much this tactic is used by traditional mystery writers.

Ben Winters is a writer who lived in my home state of Indiana and got on my Radar last year when he cracked my personal top ten with the intensely political alternative history book Underground airlines. While this book gets filed in Mystery it is certainly more science fiction to me.

Set in a world that is 77 days from the end, the earth of The Last Policeman is on a collusion course with asteroid big enough to end everything. Social-norms are out the window and things are bad in this small New Hampsire town That Hank Palace a 27 rookie detective is trusted to solve crimes. So when he finds a man hung in the bathroom his buddies just consider it "another hanger."

Suicide is all too common in this world so no one, not even the put upon medical examiner wants to consider this latest case a murder. Palace of course can shake the case. From here it is a trope-fest. I mean the corny cop dialogue, love interest involved in the case, deeper involvement in a larger case it is all there and perfect. I mean those perfect tropes set against a new apocalyptic setting is what makes this one special.

I think the familiar moments are what made me feel so comfortable reading this book. I enjoyed the dialogue. If there is one weakness is that the mystery ends up feeling pretty low stakes consider all that is happening in the world. That can work out if the themes grow in the next two books. Yeah this is a trilogy and I hope Winters treads a little new ground in the next two books.

Winters is a interesting writer I was impressed by this but even more so by his Underground Airlines. Sorry this review is a little short I neck deep in writing a novel at the moment. So my attention is a little scattered.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Magazine Review: Cemetary Dance Joe Hill Double issue

Cemetery Dance issues #74/75

Cemetery Dance is one of the longest running magazines for horror fiction and I admit I missed a few issues, since my local bookstore Mysterious Galaxy carries I am going to make a point to buy each issue. Now if only they would carry Dark Discoveries.

I was pretty clear that I was not a big fan of the last Joe Hill novel the Fireman, but that is OK because I am huge fan of his work and him personally. So when I saw this double issue was coming I knew I wanted to get it. I also enjoy the usua suspect essays, even Thomas Monteleono's MAFIA pieces even if I disagree with the points being made.

I was excited for the Joe Hill interview being done by long time Stephen King expert, assuming that his knowledge of the family might provide fresh questions. It was fun interview but maybe not as deep as I was hoping.

I skipped the Fireman excerpt as I have already read the novel but the new novella "Snapshot 88"is excellent piece. A somewhat experimental mystery that takes the narrative and wraps it around a story about dementia. What is cool is as the characters spiral into insanity the narrative loses it's form and becomes more and more strange. Well done.

There are plenty of short stories by other authors but three stood out for me. The story by Ray Garton was my favorite, followed by Lisa Morton and Josh Malerman's short by very interesting story.

Big thumbs up.

Book Review: Behind Her Eyes by Sarah Pinborough

Behind Her eyes by Sarah Pinborough

Hardcover, 320 pages

Published January 2017 by Flatiron Books

It is really hard to talk about this book without spoilers. I am going to try very hard to discuss this psychological thriller without ruining the reading experience for those of you who have not read it. I tried to go in knowing as little as possible and I think that is the best way to go.

I discovered Sarah Pinborough in 2012, when I learned that she had written a book with one of my writing heroes F.Paul Wilson. I decided to check out the first book of a trilogy called Dog Faced Gods. That first book A Matter of Blood was one of the best books I read that year and a rare book i have considered re-reading. It is a master work of supernatural neo-noir dystopia and still my personal Pinborough favorite. As I continued to follow the output of Pinborough I have read masterpiece after masterpiece.

You can find reviews of Murder, Mayhem, Death House and of course the rest of the Dog Faced Gods Trilogy. I think many readers will be introduced to her from this latest book which has become a #1 bestseller in her native England. I think in time it will grow to have just as many readers here in the states. I mean they are selling this bad boy at Costco. For us to see someone from our community hit mainstream success is super wonderful. It couldn't happen a better and more hard working novelist.

So the question becomes is it worthy of all the hype?

First let me say that BHE is compulsive and additive read. Pinbrough always had skills for plotting, emotional depth and of course creating terror on the page. The big leap here is just magnetic the pull forward of the narrative. You will tear through this. You might not realize it but you'll have suspend disbelief and kinda ride with it at times. This is not supernatural novel but you will have to take a leap and if you do you'll be glad.

Behind Her Eyes is the story Adele and Louise two women whose lives are intertwined. Louise is a single mom who has chance encounter with a man at bar. It is just a kiss but one to remember. So when that man walks into her work and becomes her new boss it is a horrible coincidence, made worse by the fact that he is married. Louise tries to keep it personal but she slowly falls for the man.

His wife Adele is a special case. Survivor of a tragic accident that her future husband David saved her from. Adele and Louise share more than a man. Victim of night terrors and a survivor of a tragic teenage experience that left her with nightmares. It is what bonds Adele and Louise who become friends. Louise is now keeping a secret from her new friend and her husband that she is sleeping with. There is more going on but this love triangle is one that is best to enter with as little heads up as possible.

The book is being promoted with a hashtag #wtfthatending. When I first saw that I thought it was a mistake, Because how could the story still surprise? I thought of Old Boy the Korean movie with one of the best twist endings ever. I once told someone they would never guess the end and of course half way through he did.

This book is excellently plotted and when I closed the book the ending got me for sure. I was impressed and seething with jealousy That Pinborough pulled off such a great ending. I mean I am a total geek for story plotting and structure and goddamn it this was so tight it was hard not to be jealous.

BHE is a fantastic read, if you like domestic thrillers like Gone Girl and Girl on the Train you should check this out. This book is in that genre but it takes a writer like Sarah Pinborough to cross the lines that she does. She does one thing those other authors as good as they are would not dare to do.

"You should read BEHIND HER EYES. Even if it's not a thumping good read, it's bloody brilliant." - Stephen King

"I'm being perfectly honest when I say "Behind Her Eyes" is a quantum leap for her. She's always been good but she surpasses her best here." - F.Paul Wilson

Friday, February 3, 2017

Book Review: The Library at Mount Char by Scott Hawkins

The Library at Mount Char by Scott Hawkins

Paperback, 388 pages

Published March 15th 2016 by Broadway Books

This is the second book in a row that I read because of Facebook posts by authors I respect. In this case it was a post by one of my all time favorite authors F.Paul Wilson who said "It’s a work of amazing imagination...Its influences come from all directions: the Old Testament to Kipling’s “The Jungle Book” to regression analysis and beyond." That was enough to sell me on it. I put on my hold for later in the library and now just seemed the time.

It is a weird and amazing fantasy novel that is challenging to explain. The dust jacket of the book says:

A missing God.

A library with the secrets to the universe.

A woman too busy to notice her heart slipping away.

The Main Character of the novel is Carolyn who was brought to the library in the 70's after losing her parents. She has a new Father who we eventually learn is a god. The library outside of space and time is a massive pyramid filled with all the knowledge and secrets of the universe. Makes sense right, her brothers and sisters are at library to learn the knowledge of the universe but when their father disappears they are dragged back to our world to try and find him.

This novel is cross between high fantasy that verges on the feelings evoked by biblical and greek gods in fiction with moments of gonzo violence and bizarro surrealism and humor. I was not expecting some of the crude humor but the novel never feels dumb. With chapter titles like Buddhism for Assholes this is C.S. Lewis style fantasy. The level of imagination and creativity is just as extreme as some of the humor.

As fantastic as the setting is the characters at the heart of the novel Carolyn, Steve and NSA agent Erwin are fully realized. Erwin is probably the character I most related to, and he has some of the best moments and lines in the novel. Carolyn is interesting and certainly this is here story, you can not say she is a hero. A deeply flawed character that has access to godhood. Hawkins smartly rolls out her back in the second half of the book.

This is a excellently written, paced and realized novel. I didn't give it higher markings because I just didn't connect with it. However I read it quickly and laughed often while reading. This bizarro fantasy novel will probably please most readers. The last 80 pages I felt really cooked. I think it is cool to read a epic fantasy set in our modern that also celebrates the magic of a Library.

Book Review: The Valley by John Renehan

The Valley by John Renehan

Hardcover, 433 pages

Published March 2015 by Dutton

>Named one of Wall Street Journal's Best Books of 2015

>Selected as a Military Times's Best Book of the Year

With a title like The Valley you horor readers may think that this was a Bentley Little novel written under a pen name. Nah, this is a novel I learned about from a facebook post by Steal Team 666 author Weston Ochse. Now Weston is a man who served in country and when he praised the book I became interested. Little side note. This is why it is good to support the book-o-sphere by talking about and reviewing the books that you like. This novel would not have been on my radar any other way.

The Valley is a mystery thriller, set against the back drop of the never ending military occupation of Afghanistan. Written by a former intfintry man turned Lawyer the Valley is from what I am told a realistic look at the occupation wrapped in a thriller. Sounded cool to me. This books has more detective novel tropes than war novels ones. That is what makes it interesting.

I suppose it is bot a murder mystery as the investigation that Lt. Black is sent to do is a not a murder. A platoon at a remote outpost is at the heart of this story. A goat at a remote village was killed this has potential to destabilize the remote Valley that gives the novel it's name. No one in the book seems to mind that goat was shot, it was a warning shot and a tribe's dead goat is what sends Lt. Black in to action. Keep in mind he has not left base in a long time, and being sent to investigate something as seemingly trivial just seems like a waste of time. There is of course more going on.

I am trusting that this setting is accurate, the accuracy of the world seems to be there but what do I know. Considering the praise of those who have lived in country I will buy it. The mystery is not about something as simple or standard as a murder. the mystery is complex but it also highlights many of the confusions that come from the culture clash caused by military occupation.

The writing is very good, the prose is simple but driving. Stylized over written prose would work against a story like this. Not to say it is poorly written. Renehan is an excellent writer who unfolds the story close to perfection. The mystery stays intact through 3/4 of the book but we get enough clues to be interested, confused and ultimately paid off.

As a war novel this work is not preachy infact everything it says about the occupation is do very subtly, so don't think Platoon this is more like a mystery that just so happens to be set against the back drop of America's longest engagement on foreign soil. your political feelings wont factor in most readers judgement of this book.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Book Review: Long Form Religious Porn by Laura Lee Bahr

Long Form Religious Porn by Laura Lee Bahr

Paperback, 202 pages

Published 2015 by Fungasm Press

Laura Lee Bahr is a fantastic storyteller. A multiple platform artist who has starred in, written and directed films. She has written stand out story stories in anthologies that were filled with the biggest names in genre fiction and her first novel Haunt won the wonderland book award for best novel. That novel Haunt is a absolute masterpiece of LA bizarro noir. It is a one of a kind book that is part choose your adventure, part horror and never feels like a traditional novel.

On the surface this a more straight forward narrative than Bahr's debut, but the subject matter and story elements are just as subversive. This is a funny book in many ways, and pokes fun at Hollyweird. Bahr writes LA like King writes Maine. With a completely different tone LFRP explores LA just as her first book did.

The story of aspiring writer - director Madeline Hunter who is desperately trying to get her Indie film made. The key to getting it made cast George Clooney in the story of Dominique Colt - a woman who murdered her partners in a three-some romance. Mads is not having having luck getting the movie started but perhaps her friend revealing that he is a vampire will change things. He reveals that vampires are all over the industry, operating like a cult.

The writing is excellent and most important for a structure geek like me the story unfolds perfectly, balancing the Madeline story with the back story that inspired her film. The main characters are well constructed, but in many ways I found Dominique to be the character I was most interested in.

LFRP is great storytelling unleashed from mainstream expectations and Laura Lee Bahr proves again she is one of the most impressive voices in Bizarro. This novel doesn't forsake intelligence for crude humor Although the book has one of the most cringe worthy farts in a book I have ever read. At times this book is erotic, funny and always weird. Not of that stuff would work for me if not the hands of a gifted storyteller. Thankfully it is.

One of my top ten reads of 2016. I read this on a flight between San Diego to Indiana, only stopping to switch planes. I was almost a month late with the review, but not I loved this book.

Book Review: The Heavenly Table by Donald Ray Pollock

The Heavenly Table by Donald Ray Pollock

Hardcover, 384 pages Published July 2016 by Doubleday

There are a few critics whose opinions I value more than others. This book got the top slot on "The novel Pursuit" top ten list by California critic Marvin Vernon. Since it was his novel of the year I was very interested. I can say right off the bat I didn't like this novel as much Vernon, but after reading this book I can also understand why he liked it and I didn't.

The Heavenly Table is hillbilly noir set in backwoods Ohio in the nineteen-teens around the same time as the first world war was raging in Germany. The narrative has a main point of view family in the Jewitt gang, but interludes and side characters make up a thinly connected mosaic.

The Jewitt family made up of three brothers Chimney, Cane and Cob have grown-up with Pearle a widowed illiterate farmer. Their father believes the heavenly table they go to after death is what is important. They are poor dirt poor when Pearle suddenly passes the boys feel sudden freedom. No one to tell them not to eat all their food, to go to bed. They have a brother who can read and they are all about pulp western books about Bucket Bloody Bill. Why not become outlaws? They need money and food and start by robbing a bank. They want to avoid violence, but as you might suspect their plans don't exactly work out. Their outlaw life does in many ways mirrors the pulps they love.

The Heavenly Table also follows several other characters some directly connected to the story, some with very thin connections. This is one place where the novel lost me. Sometimes this move away from the main narrative confused me. When I hooked on the main story - ten pages on some other unconnected story can lose my attention. There is a subplot about a Gay solider that was more interesting to me than most of the other interludes.

The prose is excellent, the characters are vivid and Pollock paints a grim world. That said there is some weird off beat humor and it is not stretch to compare this book to Cormac McCarthy. I think my problems with the book was a lack or narrative clarity, and a personal dislike for how redneck the book was. Not sure I was in the mood to be in this world.

That said I didn't enjoy this novel, but I respect it enough I am interested to read more by this author.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Book Review: Central Station by Lavie Tidhar

Central Station by Lavie Tidhar

Paperback, 275 pages

Published May 2016 by Tachyon Publications

"Rising above them is Central Station, the interplanetary hub between all things: the constantly shifting Tel Aviv; a powerful virtual arena, and the space colonies where humanity has gone to escape the ravages of poverty and war. Everything is connected by the Others, powerful alien entities who, through the Conversation—a shifting, flowing stream of consciousness—are just the beginning of irrevocable change."

Central Station is the third release by the world Fantasy award winning author. It is a a really cool concept that while sold and marketed as novel is much more of short story collection. This didn't really occur to me until I was 100 pages or so into it. It was then that I looked in the back to see that many of the pieces were published in various magazines and anthologies.

Certainly it is a mosaic style of story telling and while the setting is entirely futuristic I think Tidhar is going for a Cloud Atlas feel to the book. The stories are interconnected for sure and not just by the setting - the current bus Station of Tel Aviv, which in this book is a interplanetary spaceport.

One or more of the stories ventures out into the galaxy at wide, and certainly Mars looms in many of the stories. The main connecting narrative is found in a story line about data vampire that feed off information left similar to blood. the different stories have different leads but perhaps the most interesting was Boris Chong who just returned from a years on Mars. There is magic, surrealism and plenty of Science Fiction invention.

Over all this was a neat book but the last of a single driving narrative slowed me down a bit because I was not primed to read a collection, I believed even 90 pages in that I was reading a novel. The impressive invention on every page is fun and makes the book a worth while read but I would not consider it essential reading.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Book Review: The Ballad of Black Tom by Victor Lavalle

The Ballad of Black Tom by Victor Lavalle

Paperback, 149 pages

Published February 16th 2016 by Tor.com

This is a short book but it is packed genius and invention. Pretty audacious of the author to use 1920's Brooklyn to explore racism in a Lovecraftian novella. Horror author HP Lovecraft has been the source of controversy in recent years when black authors objected to the use of his face on the world fantasy award. You see if you didn't know HP Lovecraft beloved for his genre expanding horror fiction was also a flaming racist.

While many authors write in a lovecraftian style or universe what makes the Ballad of Black Tom such an impressive book is that it explores the issue of racism of Lovecraft's time. If you are not a serious fan of Lovecraft you may not understand the levels here. Indeed I am not exactly a scholar of Lovecraft so I sure much of it goes over my head. People who think it was just his letters often forget the Horror of Red Hook and this book is like photo negative of that work.

You see Lovecraft lived in the Red Hook neighborhood of Brooklyn during this period, which he considered the worst of his life. It is my understanding that a great of his racism was expressed with most venom during this era. So here we have a novella that tells a Lovecraftian style story exploring these themes and even includes some cool noir settings and happening jazz environments.

The story of a street hustler named Charles Tester who is hired to deliver a magic tome. For a short book alot happens, and I think the only flaw is that to really get the strength of this book you have know Lovecraft. That said it is written with skill, and the voice is powerful. Second Tor novella I read this year and they were both great. I am glad they are doing these.

This novella is is but the best thing I can say about it is that it is important.