Category Archives: Review

Mr. Rogers is nowhere in sight.

51. The Neighborhood – S.K. Epperson

There’s a bird hoarding nutbar whose brain will turn on him and a lot of other people, a lying doctor whose brother has SMALLPOX, of all the diseases to somehow get, and he’s trying to pass it off as HIV to a nurse he hired out of his hospital, the vocally disabled ex-cop who gardens and totally works out and also makes eyes for the eyeless as a single father, the ex-burglar who is pretty much just a dick – even when he’s shackled in a basement -, and the mentally underdeveloped adult who keeps getting into trouble he really doesn’t deserve. Epperson’s ensemble have generally distinct personalities, different motivations, and her story comes together in an entirely unpleasant for the characters but highly readable way.

I’ve now read three of her books and frankly, I like her stories. I also like how she works in awful things and diseases! By the way, the nurse and the ex-cop get together and since she was with the dude with Smallpox when he died and he was totally breathing in the room…everyone in the neighborhood who isn’t dead will now die of Smallpox. It’s a very stealthy way to have a happy ending that will turn out TERRIBLE. Yay!

All’s well that ends well; Merricat and Danger Crumples know how loaded endings can really be.

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I do believe that my favorite role of Rachel’s, Wanda Jo Oliver, was ineligible to be covered in this book. To the mobile fake crisis pregnancy center!

61. Girl Walks Into a Bar: Comedy Calamities, Dating Disasters, and a Midlife Miracle – Rachel Dratch

Rachel Dratch is very good at her characters. She is a very funny woman with great comedic timing. And her memoir is also funny and explores her character as an actual person with less great timing. Someone who has not had it easy in Hollywood with a career that didn’t have the easiest trajectory – it’s really interesting reading the story of someone who has been pushed around a bit more and doesn’t get to rely on the “pretty privilege” as much as other actors and comedians have. She actually has something to say and it is valuable to have the perspective of someone who has had some things come to them a bit later in life than they expected or that society teaches us to expect.

Pammy had a baby at age oneish and maintained a very strong spirit. Someone get her a fake crisis pregnancy center!

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They did not talk about Madeline Ashton.

70. We Are All Completely Fine – Daryl Gregory

“We’re different from other people,” she’d said. “We only feel at home when we’re a little bit afraid.”

As someone who has many similarities in thinking to a prey animal, I understand that sentiment better than I want to. I sometimes think that one of the reasons that guinea pigs and I get along so well is that very similarity – prey knows prey. And I am very strong and resilient, but I am also hypervigilant and many other things people don’t associate with being strong or resilient. I’m the worst kind of prey.

The premise of this clever little novella is a support group for people who’ve been through trauma that has a supernatural edge. There are five of them and they’re in group therapy – brought together to identify and process and try to work on what makes them different and deal with how trauma has re-wired their brains. Except that they find out they really just need to band together and try to help the youngest and most fiery of their five escape the cult that keeps coming after her because of what she keeps on the inside. It sort of works, sort of, and for the most part they come to a level of understanding and acceptance.

I really liked this, and it is the first work of Daryl Gregory I’ve ever read, but I kept feeling like I was missing something or that he was referencing his other works. It seemed like a novella relying on some shorthand I wasn’t privy to. We’ll see. However, we will not see soon, because my theme this year is to review the books of authors that I haven’t read much. If I haven’t read more than three of their books, they’re in. Short stories don’t count, although they certainly counted last year.

When Finny is feeling completely fine, he puts his little front feets out like this.

 

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Whiner.

32. The Bachman Books: Road Work – Richard Bachman

When I first read this book I felt very little sympathy for the main character. He seemed like a controlling jerk who can’t cope with change and decides to take it out on everyone else. I still think that’s a big part of who the main character is; he seems to be angry in part because he can’t control how things are changing and has acted like a complete entitled ass about some of it. However, as one ages, one has the possibility of understanding how people get to this point more easily. I imagine if he was a lady he wouldn’t have made the same decisions because he would’ve had more of an idea how stacked against you society can be and maybe not been so extreme in his reactions so as not to “cause a scene.” Of course, then there’s no book. “Woman calmly endures negative change despite many things working against her” is just how things are. Ew.

Danger Crumples faces the future while Ozymandias tries to hide under a stuffed turtle.

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Hand faces. There’s also a demented parrot.

14. Master of Lies – Graham Masterton

I thought this was going to be about castration and cults, but, it’s mostly not. It’s about an Italian cop and a very corrupt San Francisco police department and everybody’s in on it – except that guy who gets castrated. Also, there are hand faces.

I actually think the Fog City Satan case might make for a weird season of True Detective. It would resemble a crossover between seasons one and two – the vague supernatural (that would become super not vague) of season one and basically most of season two without any prostitution or drugs or Taylor Kitsch. Just some corruption, smarmy dialogue, and – now that I think about it – it’s got nothing really from season one. Take season two, add fully formed families for supernatural sacrifice and some hand faces, and it might have actually been a little better television.

Also, I think the state of constant upset in the world is making me super desensitized to gore and Graham Masterton’s usual level of vulgar description – or, he was getting soft in this one. Or bloodless. He did use the word “musk” one too many times and I never really squirmed after the scene with the nails in the first chapter.

“When is a book that says it’s about castration and cults actually going to be about castration and cults? What do we have to do to get some castration and cults going? Geez.” – Peregrine is very interested in “c” words. She’s cute.

 

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“I’m tired of you being so dark while I’m so impish and whimsical.”

53. Get In Trouble – Kelly Link

Kelly Link’s brand of magical realism is always something I look forward to reading. I bought her Get In Trouble short story collection as soon as it came out and read the eight stories I hadn’t read before quite quickly. It’s been interesting to read the evolution of how Link deals with forming her characters. They seem to be much more realized in this collection than they were in her earlier work and usually a non-character character bugs me, but it never did in her writing.

I don’t like the cover of this collection as much as the past three of hers, it’s too not-whimsical, too graphic designy for me. The feeling I get from Kelly Link stories is like entering a long-abandoned and overgrown mini-golf course with a fairytale theme at dusk and red, cream, and brushy lettering is not quite right.

Pammy would’ve made a good cover model, especially on her shiny 1950s chair. She’s darling and cautious and those sweet eyes hint at an abandoned mini-golf course within.

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Elephant and Castle

57. Looking for Jake – China Mieville

The first Mieville I ever read was for an epics and fairytales sort of class in college and it always surprises me that the book of his that was chosen (and it was in the early 2000s, so it’s not like there were a ton out to choose from) was the most concise and straightforward book of his I’d read until this short story collection. That book was King Rat, the drum and bass/jungle/house/grime version of the Pied Piper, in a way…and now you know the rest of the story.

Mieville tends to get a bit sprawling, to shove in a lot of ideas about London all at once and it can get overwhelming trying to parse out how every random character is contributing to the story. That tendency gets curbed by the lack of space in a short story. There’s no room for fifty versions of old-timey supernatural gangsters, which was comforting. I’m always intrigued by the Mieville novels I’ve read, then I get lost, then I wonder if it’s just because I’m not UKish that I’m lost, then I try to just go along for the ride because London really is my favorite city on earth and I still know bits of it by heart (but why…WHY…did the Piccadilly Circus HMV have to close? That’s where I got the first Grinderman LP – it’s special. Sister Ray’s better never close, I’ll have to cut someone.), then I regret not really reading that much Lovecraft before I started the book, and then I finish it and wonder what just happened. Thankfully, each story in Looking for Jake cannot cause that kind of journey. Not enough room.

Danger Crumples, getting sleepy from the mental taxation of sitting with me while I read Kraken.

We start in, well, what a shock, bizarro-London with “Looking for Jake,” and a breakdown in reality that involves nasty creatures. It’s what I expect from Mieville, but way reigned in and the situation is never really addressed. It seems to me the reigning is what causes the lack of explaining.

“Foundation” was really horrifying and quite sad; the images that it evokes are not ones I want to revisit.

This image of Danger Crumples, however, I will revisit as long as I have eyes.

“The Ball Room” – This is absolutely my favorite story in the whole collection and frankly, it might have inspired Horrorstor. It’s a bit gleeful in its exploration of the evil children’s ball pit in an Ikea-like store. This is the first time this story appeared in print and I would totally buy it just to have this story (I haven’t yet, as usual, I stumbled upon the existence of this collection while hunting for misshelved books.).

“Familiar” – Another tale I enjoyed quite a bit about what happens after a witch ditches his unliked familiar. It’s like Milo and Otis, without one of them, in London, and if one of them was growing in power and evil plotting abilities the whole time they were gone. So, more like Benji.

Okay, okay, don’t turn on the quizzical glare so hard, Dangey, I will admit I have not seen Benji. But I did run into the cover of Benji many times during the period of my youth when I was scared of dogs, okay? Benji scared me. At the video store.

“Entry Taken from a Medical Encyclopaedia” – Words are powerful. Infectious, even.

“Tis the Season” – Privatizing holidays…it reminded me of this pamphlet I found about the war on Christmas being orchestrated by the Bolsheviks way back in the day up until the current dickcheese took charge of the U.S. Now I think it’s not just dystopian London headed for a stupid situation where only rich people can celebrate Christmas.

“The Tain” – This was at one point published separately, but I always think it’s nice to know that there’s more than one way to get a particular short piece. Especially when it’s about mirror fauna escaping.

Danger Crumples was a master escape artist. Once, I got out of the shower to find him standing in the doorway of the guinea pigs’ room. And, when I moved into my current apartment he stayed one night away from me at the home of another and managed to chew himself out of his temporary laundry basket cage…but didn’t get out of the room. It was a solid attempt to Homeward Bound for a guinea pig.

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Cold sliced meat mentions: 0 (Stupid post-apocalyptic country)

27. Chimera – Mira Grant

It’s the end of the trilogy and Sal has finally realized that being afraid of cars is a learned behavior she shouldn’t have had. Finally. Geez. It took enough pages. I don’t recall anyone gaslighting her about cars in the first one, just her reacting to them- so, not signposted and I feel right for being annoyed the whole time. Also noticed by me – she lost her concern for her collection of carnivorous plants at some point. And I thought she and her boyfriend were compassionate.

Anyway, she has turned that lost compassion for plants into compassion for a zombie-child that read to me like a distraction for the sciencey parts and brought another confusing character relationship to the forefront. Sherman? When did Sherman not just seem like surface-level manipulative about “loving” Sal? Why does he love Sal? Why is anyone even interested in Sal beyond her tapeworm being skilled, again?

So, Sal finds a kid and goes on a post-apocalypse road trip and makes bad friends and bits of her have been put into the water supply by Sherman while he giggles like a maniac but also tries to present himself as a viable love interest. Yep, that’s a run-on, but, so’s the plot.

Thankfully, Tansy aka Foxy from Newsflesh part deux, doesn’t say anything in the entire book. Instead, the role of warped person who makes functional suggestions and does the heavy work is taken by Fishy, a guy who pretends to be in a video game. Actually, Fishy reminds me a lot of Shawn from Newsflesh. I feel like everyone in these two series is basically recycled somehow. But Georgia wasn’t as boring a narrator as Sal. Yeesh. Both, however, are diseased, broken, apparently good looking women. Okay then. I’m sure all the characters in both series would have a hell of a brunch together, although it might devolve into carnage if the cold cuts tray wasn’t re-stocked a few times.

“Seriously? No luncheon meats? None?” Thaddeus is shocked. Shocked, I tell you.

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It’s dark in here.

75. One Kick – Chelsea Cain

I learned a lot of uncomfortable information about child sex trafficking from this book and although it’s fiction, I do not wish to fact check anything. I have to say, I am not surprised that Chelsea Cain and Chuck Palahniuk were ever in the same writing group. Tidbits about uncomfortable things that validate the circumstances and actions of the story are a foundation for both writers. Chelsea Cain’s heroine Kick Lannigan is closed off but compassionate, she has a complicated and unpleasant past, and she makes for an intriguing guide through the world of One Kick. It’s very tense.

Also, there’s some level of weirdness with the follow-up. It was supposed to come out a long time ago and I had it on my Amazon Wish List and then it went wonky. I tried to look into it a couple of times and for now I’m going to have to go with “the book got kidnapped and trafficked,” which is really unfortunate on a couple of levels.

Belvedere tensely searches for new smells and a better napping spot. Guinea pig thrills.

 

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“Hey, it’s Randy. We’ve got until tomorrow morning to sacrifice Stephen to the devil.”

71. Living with the Dead – Kelley Armstrong

You know, I’m not sure that Hope and Karl can really carry a story. Hope’s a demon who has a hard time controlling her massive powers and Karl is a werewolf slash jewel thief (sometimes) that loves that demon. Karl didn’t really pop out much to me in the other werewolf stories, so his whole near-redemption situation wasn’t all that intriguing. I think maybe Armstrong knows that not all the characters really deserve their own book length work, but still wanted to use these two, and so she stuck them in with some other narrators in Living with the Dead. The result is a bit of a mess. The plot’s fine, a little involved considering that this is book nine in the Otherworld series and the reader is only familiar with a couple of the characters already – and vaguely familiar at that. Robyn, Hope’s friend that doesn’t know she’s a demon, who also has a dead husband who was – surprise! – a necromancer, starts finding lots of dead people around her. And not in a Sixth Sense way, in a “you must be the killer, you’re around” way. Oh, those supernatural crimes inspire the best police work. Well, this one kind of does once Robyn’s dead husband starts helping Finn, another new narrator.

Sometimes you read books in a series to have read the whole series…and if Armstrong’s writing wasn’t so easy to glide through, I might’ve skipped this one.

Ozma looks for a story with more dynamic narrators on the other side of the couch. The cooler werewolves are not back there, little Oz, I’m sorry.

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