Saturday, September 29, 2012

Review: The Devil in Silver by Victor LaValle

The Devil in Silver  is a literary horror novel. It is literature, horror and also a bit of social commentary as well. It even manages to include a brief romance. It is really an amazing book. The monster - is it minotaur or man? Is it the devil that some patients claim? But that's not the only monstrous thing going on in the book.

Pepper has got problems. He "accidentally" assaults 3 cops. He didn't know they were cops at the time. The cops don't want to do the paperwork when they arrest him because it would mean working off the clock. So they bring Pepper to New Hyde Hospital to the psychiatric ward. There he is supposed to be kept for a mandatory 72 hour observation period. After the intake session, he meets Dorry who will be a close friend of sorts to him. She gives him a tour and escorts him to his room because, "Everyone should see a friendly face first when they come in here."

The first night after his first full day at the hospital, Pepper has his first encounter with the devil. He sees him as a minotaur with an elderly body and the head of a bison. A nurse interrupts whatever the devil was going to do and gives the Pepper and his roommate, Coffee, sedatives. The other patients tell him the Devil roams free at night. Dorry says it is just a man. Is it a shared hallucination or is it what they really see? Or is it a monster either way and it just doesn't matter what it looks like?

When he is a little less than most cooperative, he is medicated more and somehow 72 hours at New Hyde becomes weeks. Pepper has a lot more time on his hands to get to know the other patients. The major characters are all well developed, especially Dorry, Loochie, and Coffee. And with just a few deft details, LaValle manages to make many of the more minor characters memorable as well. For example, there is Nurse Josephine Washburn who worries about her mother being left all alone and resents the doctor constantly forgetting her name.

The social commentary can be a little confusing when it is not just examples illustrated in the course of the story. The author inserts comments aimed directly at the reader. At first I thought these were more of Pepper's thoughts. Sometimes I found that it added to the story and other times I found it a little distracting, but not enough to ruin my enjoyment of the book.

I found the story to be mostly unpredictable and really unlike anything I've read before. I enjoyed reading it. As with the novella Lucretia and the Kroons also by Victor LaValle and also classified as literary horror, I ended up reading the book twice. It really is an excellent book. I give it 4 out of 5 stars.

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book in exchange for my unbiased opinion.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Review: Quarantine by John Smolens

Quarantine takes place in the town of Newburyport, Massachusetts  in the year 1796. A ship arrives whose crew has suffered and continues to suffer losses from a mysterious illness. There is hope of containment, but it slips away as the boats row away from the ship under cover of night. Soon people in the town become ill. As the epidemic spreads, fear, greed, and instances of mob rule become common place.

Quarantine is basically well written. The characters you should like, no matter their flaws, are likable. The villains are not. Physician Giles Wiggins who quarantines the port and establishes a pest house to isolate the sick from the rest of the population and Leander Hatch are particularly well developed. Particularly unlikable is the black marketeer from Boston.

While the book basically delivers what it has promised, it does have flaws. The pacing in Part I is faster than the rest of the book. And much of the action seems to be described as if from at a distance.

The inclusion of the nastiness by the religious fanatics was perfect. This would be especially true I think in New England where just a century before they had hung the last witches to be hung in America to the south of  Newburyport in Salem.

The bits and pieces of romance were not really well developed, but were a nice touch. I didn't really see Enoch, Giles brother, vying much for Marie as he was indisposed much of the time due to drink. Giles on the other hand was quite taken with her and it showed.

Apart from the sickness finally ending, there are surprises to the ending of the book. It was somewhat unpredictable, yet believable, which made it more enjoyable.

I gave this book 3 out of 5 stars.

Disclaimer: I was provided with an advance copy of this book to provide my unbiased opinion.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Review: Lucretia and the Kroons by Victor LaValle

Lucretia and the Kroons is considered literate horror and is an excellent piece of novella length writing. It is also a touching story as it examines the relationship between Lucretia and her best friend Sunny.

Victor LaValle manages to paint an accurate picture of what it's like to be a 12 year old girl. From the beginning with her social concerns about her friends who she sees later "clumped together like socks that had just come out of the dryer" to her personal concerns about appearance and what people think of her, and her longing for Sunny to come back and make it all tolerable, Lucretia is 100% a 12 year old.

Sunny has been away getting treatment for an illness. Just when Sunny gets back and things look like they could become a little more normal for Loochie, as Lucretia is known to friends and family, things go sideways. She sees a Kroon on her fire escape who tells her through gestures that Sunny is upstairs in apartment 6D.

Louis, Loochie's older brother, has told her that 6D is where the Kroon's live and how monstrous they are and dangerous. And here begins a real adventure for Loochie. She feels she must go up there and rescue Sunny who is weak from treatment for the illness and being sick. Inside the apartment as she runs to evade the Kroons, she finds trees and concrete and more. Her resolve is tested more than once. She remembers Louis saying, "Horrors come for kids too. Being young doesn't protect anyone."

Lucretia and the Kroons is definitely worth reading. (In fact, I read it twice.) I give it 4 out of 5 stars.

Disclosure: I received a copy of this book in exchange for my unbiased opinion.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Review: DarkBeat by James Solo

DarkBeat by James Solo is a horror novel. Ricardo Sosa witnesses a Santeria ritual as a young teen. A policeman, Chuck Bolan,  mistakes drummer Adrian Lee for a cop killer and nearly beats him to death. Adrian Lee goes to Cuba and meets up with Sosa and begins to learn about Santeria and a kind of circle is beginning to be forged that will eventually be completed.

Honestly, I didn't like this novel that much. Parts of it were excellent, parts not so hot. James Solo handled the suspense in the novel very well for the most part. The tempo in the novel picked up as the novel goes on just the way you'd want it.

The horror parts however struck me as very heavy handed. The descriptions of the 2 sacrifices were very similar and I had a lot of trouble with the sacrifice that Adrian performed. If you are at all squeamish, this book is not for you. I expected the first sacrifice, but not the subject of the second. I lost all sympathy for the character at that point which may have been the author's goal. If I wasn't trying to finish to give my unbiased opinion of the book, I think I would have stopped reading right there.

Plot wise, I had a problem hanging in there in the beginning while the characters were introduced and their relationships to each other made clear. I wasn't sure who was important and who was not until chapters in. And later in the book, things seemed rushed towards the end. Some things were happening suddenly with no explanation or little transition.

Overall, the novel was ok, but not the greatest. I gave it 2 out of 5 stars.

Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book for reviewing purposes.

Review: That Bear Ate My Pants! by Tony James Slater

That Bear Ate My Pants! is an entertaining coming of age story involving more wild things of the non-partying variety than those that drink beer.

After some introspection admitting his acting abilities weren't the best and examining his options, Tony decided that a trip to Ecuador as a volunteer at the Santa Martha Animal Rescue Center was in order. At any given time, the rescue center is home to a variety of animals from monkeys, parrots, tortoises, big cats, to the bear that ate his pants and more. And according to Tony most of them seemed to want a piece of him, including the plant life.

The coming of age part involves the motivation that the ranch owner used on Tony on multiple occasions. When he wanted Tony to do something that he was reluctant to do, he asked him, "Are you a man?" And Tony would find himself doing whatever it was, no matter how absurdly dangerous he thought it was. And the funny thing is, by the end of his time at Santa Martha, after doing all these manly things and from some of his other experiences, he might find that he had indeed become more mature.

Honestly there is a lot more to it than that. His descriptions of their activities on and off the ranch are humorous for the most part and at the same time fascinating. He also makes a good case for learning more Spanish before a trip like that to Ecuador. There is a definite language barrier that he has to fight.

You need to read the book for the humor, the adventure and for the gems of characters such as Lady, Machita, Jimmy, and Toby. I gave this book 4 out of 5 stars for making me laugh out loud on more than one occasion.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Review: Heart-Shaped Box by Joe Hill

Heart-Shaped Box is an amazing, well crafted book. I could use a whole bunch of blurb type words to describe it (chilling, pageturner, suspenseful, well written...) and even though they might sound cliche each one would be true. This book grabbed my attention the way few books have lately. By page 50 I was so hooked I didn't want to put it down. I finished it in 2 days. 

Jude buys a haunted suit off the internet not knowing if a ghost really inhabits it or not, but is taken with the novelty to add to his to collection of the macabre. When the suit arrives not only is it haunted, but it opens up a whole can of worms to his past. As he wrestles with the menacing ghost who is everywhere he goes, it proves dangerous not only to him, but to those around him as well. The ghost has a personal vendetta against him and anyone who helps him.

The main characters, Jude and Marybeth (aka Georgia), are flawed in ways that if not handled right may cause a reader to dislike them. But I found that their flaws not only made them more human, but made me root for them to succeed and hope they would find change along the way for themselves for the better. 

The writing is well crafted. This is a debut novel, but Joe Hill comes across more as a well practiced writer. The writing is taut and powerful. The momentum is excellent and suspenseful. Everything draws the plot and characters forward. Once you start reading, you can't help but be drawn in yourself. For me what makes it an even better story was that I couldn't anticipate all of the choices the characters made or the forms the haunting takes. Also, the story stayed with me for days afterwards.

If you enjoy a good ghost story, suspenseful and full of horror, then I highly recommend this book. I give it 4 out of 5 stars.

Afterword: I think when I read this book, I was probably one of the few people left in America that didn't already know that Joe Hill is Stephen King's son. As such, I still think his writing should stand on it's own. And his writing is really good in this book.

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Review: Obsession: Tales of Irresistible Desire - ed. by Paula Guran

 with stories by Joe R. Lansdale, Storm Constantine, Elizabeth Hand, Tanith Lee, Charles de Lint, Stewart O'Nan and more.

junk food, pop singer, film star, collecting something, lover or potential lover, even work - at least temporarily."

But this collection of stories is about darker obsessions. They go further. They are not necessarily relationship oriented or sexual. There are a variety of obsessions explored. From the expected woman who is obsessed with the married man to a muse who inspires obsession and perhaps in turn becomes obsessed, and more. 

All of the stories are well written. And almost all of them take place in a city setting. For that reason you could also consider this anthology to be a dark urban fantasy collection, even though the eras and the locations of the cities in time and space may vary.

My personal favorites were Charles de Lint's "Tallulah" and Tanith Lee's "Nunc Dimitis." Both stories in retrospect were among the lighter of the tales. The Charles de Lint story takes place in Newford his beloved created city that recurs in his work.

All in all this book lives up to its promise to explore the darker side of obsessions. Every story is well written from the modern to the few classics included. I would highly recommend it for fans of urban fantasy, or if you just want to explore the topic of  obsessions. It's well worth your time. 

I gave this book 5 out of 5 stars as an outstanding collection of short stories.
It was released May 29, 2012.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Review: Blood Rock by Anthony Francis

Blood Rock  is the second in a series of urban fantasies by Anthony Francis featuring Dakota Frost. This time around, Dakota must face a killer who is using magical graffiti to reach out and kill seemingly in much the same way she uses her tattoos for offense and defense. With graffiti popping up all over Atlanta, deaths occurring,  and friends affected, Dakota worries - will Cinnamon be next?

I gave Blood Rock 3.5 stars. Overall it is a good book. My basic complaint was with how much or little emotion Dakota was showing during some scenes in the book. I felt that it wasn't really supported by other things in the text. Her lack of emotion in one scene in particular where a friend dies seemed peculiar.

Otherwise, the notion of magical graffiti was awesome. This was the first time I had come across that in my reading and found it very interesting. The exploration as to how it works exactly got a little heavy at times, but was interesting and important to the world building and ultimately to the plot. It also allowed for a comparison and further exploration as to how Dakota's magic works.

If  you enjoy slightly darker urban fantasy, you will like Blood Rock.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

On Books and Ebooks 

Posted: October 28, 2008 12:29 PM

Ebooks are not in opposition to print & paper books; they are a parallel tool to get the content contained in a book.
This Huffington Post article may not be the newest article in the world, but I think the statement above summarizes it well.

I have a Kindle. I enjoy using it. I love that I can carry multiple books on it at one time. If I don't feel like reading one book just then, I have options.

And there is nothing like holding a book in your hands: the smell, the weight of the book, the textures. It's a  heady, sensory experience that feeds the mind as well. Plus I love looking at them on the shelves. Some of them are real treasures to me.

And I used to love audio books for long car rides. Audio books have been a blessing for my mother whose eye sight is no longer the best in the world.

What do you think? Are ebooks in danger of replacing print books? Or, are they simply a parallel resource?

PS: At the bottom of the Hugh McGuire article there are a few websites listed with links for free ebooks such as Project Gutenburg.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Epic Kindle Giveaway Melted the Internet

This was part of the Epic Kindle Giveaway promotion that the authors did. As of now, they are in the process of contacting the winners. They had so many reposts and entries that facebook decided that some of the links were spam and not for real. They were for real. 

I downloaded some of the books. Currently I'm reading Drummer Boy by Scott Nicholson. Spooky and good so far. I love that Sharyn McCrumb wrote about his writing: “Scott Nicholson explores the dark legends of the southern end of the Appalachian mountain chain, a nightmare country that ends in Stephen King’s yard.”

Friday, January 13, 2012

On Tinnitus and Transcendental Meditation

A while back my Dad wrote a column for the Georgia Peach Cochlear Implant Association (GPCIA) which was picked up and reblogged in another post. He talks about his personal experiences using Transcendental Meditation (TM) and Tinnitus in the post. The comments are interesting too, particularly laughing crow's comment.

Here is a link to the other post.

Makes me think that maybe I need to go back to practicing TM. Or at least try it for a while and see if it makes a difference.