Wednesday, February 21, 2018

An unsuccessful mix of miltary tale and vampires

Blood Demons

Richard Jeffries

Lyrical Underground 

March 20, 2018

2 stars


In South Dakota, a couple throw a child with a bomb off the top of Mount Rushmore and destroys the monument. In the middle east, a secret military unit is exploring a tip that might link to the planned destruction of the monument and find signs of a secret group that may be the original source for the legends of vampires.

In a nutshell, this is the idea behind Blood Demons by Richard Jeffries. It is an intriguing one and I was really looking forward to it. The basic plot is inspired and the combination of military adventure and horror is a nice touch. I really wished it took off but it didn't. I think there is a lot of blame to be spread around for this. But if I picked one it would be characterization. No one character ever become real and this is especially true for the main protagonist /unit leader Major Josiah Green. At least one character should stand out for the reader and it just doesn't happen. Add on some stiff and forced dialogue that doesn't always fit the situation and the desire to root for the characters disappears. Jeffries' demons, The Vetala, fares slightly better mainly due to attention regarding their origins and rituals and a link to vampire legends, but it just doesn't meld well especially when the Mount Rushmore attack, one of the best written scenes in the book, is largely forgotten as rather muddled action scenes in Afghanistan takes center stage.

So all in all I found it to be a choppy book. There wasn't really enough to keep my attention even though I struggled through it. I really cant give it more than two stars which I admit are mainly for what the book could have been rather than what it is.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

From the frying pan....

Broken Shells: A Subterranean Horror Novella

Michael Patrick Hicks


High Fever Books

February 2, 2018

4 stars



First, I want to say I liked the main character Antoine DeWitt immediately from the first page. I am not going to say why for the fear of alienating some of my readers who may not have the same lack of affection for a person, or type of person, as I do.. But it placed me on his side and I stayed there to the ending of this action packed horror novella.

Antoine is fired from his job for doing something that would cause me to hire him. Antoine has not lived an easy life. He has spent two years in jail for what was basically a frame-up and is now jobless with a girl friend and a child struggling in the poor part of the city. When he gets home he has mail from a car dealership that tells him he won five grand. He knows its a scam but his girl friend convinces him to check it out. From that point on, Antoine's life goes from shitty to terrifying.

Broken Shells: A Subterranean Horror Novella is more than a moral tale about "no free lunch". It is a novella that is all terror and action. Antoine finds himself fighting off insect-like demons and wondering whether the life he had was really that bad and realizing how much he has taken for granted. Of course this is in between trying to keep his head from being bit off and chewed. The "Subterranean" in the title tells you this takes place mostly underground but the real villains are above in the car dealership practicing their evil tradition. This is not by any means an unique idea. We've seen it before. But there is something fresh about it and I think it is Antoine himself that gives us that freshness. He is not our usual hero. He had made mistakes before, he is given a chance which turns bad, and we root for him even in the most hopeless situation. He is Everyman trying to do good in the most extreme situation. Think Die Hard with humanoid insects.

Broken Shells is a fast read and always an entertaining one. While it breaks no new ground, it does a lot with old soil. It is a fun read to start off this new year.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

What does your dog really think of you?

Hell Hound

Ken Greenhall

Valancourt Books

March 14, 2017

5 stars

Baxter is a bull terrier. He lives with in a precarious relationship with an elderly woman. Baxter sees the young couple next doors and wonder if that would be a better match for him as he tries to figure out these strange two legged creatures called humans. So one night, he places his body between the woman's legs and the long flight of stairs going down.

Baxter is a sociopath. He loves nothing yet has a curious obsession with humans and what they can teach him and what he can teach them. After a try with the young couple, that ends up for them no better than that of the old lady, he finds what may be a kinship with a young boy who is fascinated by Hitler and has as little capacity for love as Baxter. It is a match that will not bode well for anyone.

Hell Hound was written in 1977 by Ken Greenhall. If you never heard of him, you are not alone. We learn from the excellent introduction by Grady Hendrix that Greenhall wrote only six books before he passed away in 2014, not writing anything for 16 years before that. Hell Hound came out during the flood of horror paperbacks in the 70s and was undeservedly neglected. It is a minor masterpiece and certainly a horror novel ahead of its time. While other books of the 70s delighted in demon children, slashers and a bevy of visceral horrors, Hell Hound is deceptively quiet and vastly disturbing. Its sense of horror is directly related to Greenhall's subtle style. While murder and violence is present in the book, it is more unsettling to hear Baxter's own thoughts as he ponders over those who "own" him.

People have a great capacity for loyalty for those who seem to depend on them. I have benefited from that loyalty but I don't understand it. Urinate on their carpets, chew up one of the objects they endlessly accumulate. They sometimes punish but in their loyalty they always forgive. Does their loyalty have any limits? Some day I'll know. Soon, perhaps.

While most of the novel is in third person narration, there are interspersed passages that are from Baxter's first And therein lies the brilliance of this tale. We usually view dogs, as least the pet variety, as an extension of their person. Baxter's evilness does not come from nurturing. He is truly evil. In fact, we see that his later ward's control of him doesn't make him meaner or more violent than he already is. Baxter is actually rather philosophical about who he kills and insists on being the one who decides. His equally sociopathic ward focuses him and give an understanding of the evil existing beyond him. The kind he must learn from and conquer.

Despite the stylish subtlety that we don't usually see in a book like this, Hell Hound fits quite well among the horror novels of today. It has a cynical look on love and loyalty all the more disturbing since it is coming from man's best friend. It is certainly different from anything of its nature that I have read before . Comparing it to a contemporary canine of its time, Cujo was a sick doggie. Baxter is an intelligent bundle of terror. Of the two, Baxter is the one that will keep me up at night wondering what my pets really think of me.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Don't touch the doorknob!

Sick House

Jeff Strand


Amazon Digital Services LLC 

January 17, 2018

4 stars

It's nice to see Jeff Strand returning to straightout horror. He never really left it but the past books have really run the gamut from YA to ogre fantasy to road trip romance. Sick House is pure unadulterated horror, a combination of breaking and entering terror and haunted house thrills. Strand's infamous wit is still intact of course but....boy! Does he lay on the horror and gore in this one!

Boyd Gardner gets a promotion and moves his wife and two daughters into a new house rental. Unbeknownst to him, a gruesome trio of murders happened in the house . More disconcerting is the fact that three hit men were killed in the house to avenge for the death of a witch and their ghosts are still in a murderous mood. As far as hauntings go, this one is one of the more visceral ghost novels you will find. There is a short amount of buildup with strange happenings but it doesn't take long for the author to hit full stride with non-stop action. The Gardners are the type of family that makes for a fun read, complete with a smart-ass teenager and a quick witted mother. Boyd is no wimp either, going head on with the killer ghosts all the way to the end. Despite the heavy horror and gore, this is actually a fairly fun read, going full roller coaster throughout.

I like this type of Strand novel. I like most Strand novels but this feels like a step back to the roots. I suspect it was as much fun to write as to read. Fact, exciting and entertaining. If that is what you are looking for in a haunted house story with undead hit men then this is a must read.

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Don't grab me, Bro!

How to Tell Your Cat about Trump

Breaking Burgh


 Amazon Digital Services LLC

June 22, 2017

3 stars

I didn't used to worry about my cat Fred. During the election campaign, Fred would appropriately hiss at the screen whenever Trump appears. He seemed appropriately concerned about being grabbed and whether or not he would be deported. After all, we are pretty sure Fred has some Persian in him. But now that it has been about a year, he has become complacent about our new president. He just yawns or grooms himself when he sees Trump on the TV now. Is Fred becoming complacent or, worse, a secret Trump supporter?

Thankfully, the satirical blog and concessional publisher Breaking Burgh has addressed my concern and the concerns of liberal cat owners nationwide. First thing to remember is, even though you would like to believe it is true, your cat probably isn't a liberal to begin with. Most cat are libertarians owing to the delusion they are independent creatures while totally relying on you for their needs. When cats realize that Trump isn't trying to grab them or tax their tuna they may be more susceptible to the lure of Trump. The authors help you determine if your cat is a secret Trump supporter. I was happy to know Fred did not exhibit any pro-Trump behaviors. For example , he doesn't hiss at Mexicans, illegal or otherwise. Fred is an equal opportunity hisser.

How to Talk to Your Cat About Trump is brief and cute. It is clearly satirical and is unabashedly liberal in nature. It does require that one has an open minded sense of humor in order to enjoy it which it why I would not recommend this to our current president. However for most cat lovers and people who just like to laugh, it is a cute diversion.

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Immortality has a price

Ramses the Damned: The Passion of Cleopatra

Anne Rice & Christopher Rice

Anchor Books

November 21, 2017

3 & 1/2 stars

I believe Anne Rice lost her charms with me after the fourth or fifth vampire novel. The first three, starting with Interview with the Vampire, are masterpieces and cemented Rice's fame no master what she ended up writing. But even those novels soon started feeling like she wasn't really into it anymore. They became extended and tired run-throughs of the same ideas. The few other novels I read outside of the vampire niche didn't really grab me . But there is no denying Rice can be a mesmerizing writer in her best moments.

Her newest novel, Ramses the Damned: The Passion of Cleopatra is a sequel to her 1989 novel The Mummy which I have not read. To be honest, this particular book got my attention because it was co-authored with her son, Christopher Rice. In some ways, Christopher Rice is a more interesting writer for the 21st century and if you have not read him you should. Check out The Heaven Rises. Rice's style has many similarities to his mother and in this new book, they mesh well but I believe I see a little spark in Anne Rice's writing I haven't seen for a while. Perhaps it is the spark of a proud mother.

The Passion of Cleopatra starts where the first one left off. It would probably be best to read The Mummy first but the authors give us enough background to proceed if you didn't. Ramses and Julia are betrothed. Cleopatra does not die in the train accident and fire but is cared for by a doctor who develops a slavish devotion to her. Most importantly we discover that the originator of the immortality potion is still alive and another immortal who is looking for the potion is searching has his own obsessive reasons for doing so. It appears, as Cleopatra has already found out, a little potion is not necessarily a good thing.

There is of course much more with lots of sub-plots and characters. Julia's brother who had a tragic romance with Cleopatra in the first book and a woman named Sibyl who has a mysterious and disturbing connection with Cleopatra are two of the more interesting characters asides from the lead protagonists. But this introduction, or rehashing, of these plots and characters tend to slow down the novel and it really doesn't go into full gear until about halfway through. It pays to get there though and it does give us a connection to the characters when it goes into full swing. Anne Rice always had a very Victorian feel, in my opinion, despite her modern sensitivity to emotions and sex and her son seems to play into that well enough to blend in with the style.

Overall, The Passion of Cleopatra is an entertaining read. I think those, like myself, who soured a bit on Anne Rice novels in the past will find this to be worth reading. Those who love Anne Rice or liked the first Ramses the Damned book will not be disappointed.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Audiocast: The Martian by Andy Weir

Author David Agranoff and I did another audiocast where we discussed Andy Weir's new novel, Artemis. You can check it out below.