Saturday, July 30, 2011

August, 2011 Reviews


(NOTE: The "smell ratings" at the end of some reviews rate the actual SMELL of the book and have nothing to do with the story.  Smell Ratings: 5 = excellent, 1 = odorless, 2-4 = you figure it out.  Book Key: hc = hardcover / tp = trade paperback / mmp - mass market paperback / rarer forms described.  Unless otherwise noted, all reviews are by Nick Cato).


COSMIC FORCES by Gregory Lamberson (to be released Oct., 2011 by Medallion Press / 380 pp / tp)

After battling an unusual serial killer in PERSONAL DEMONS and defeating an army of drug-spawned voodoo zombies in DESPERATE SOULS, private investigator Jake Helman returns in yet another action-packed case.  This time the wife of New York City's mayor hires Jake to see if her hubby is cheating on her.  What he discovers is far worse than a role in the hay: it seems the mayor belongs to an ancient order who have been manipulating world events for centuries . . . and the only way for Jake to bring these guys down is to join them.

But before Jake joins the order, he tangles with assassins, strange, hooded creatures, and through a folk lore expert, learns the legend of Avadiim, who turns out to be an all-too real octopus-like god who is worshipped by the mayor and his cronies.  Jake's ex-wife (as well as Cain and Abel) return from the afterlife, giving this installment its heaviest supernatural edge yet (and also some of its more emotional moments).

For fans of the series, there's a slight step taken in Jake's relationship with his psychic neighbor Laurel, and his former partner is still living in the form of a crow named Edgar.  Its highly recommended that newcomers check out the first two books in the series, as there's plenty of mention here of what came beforehand.

Despite losing an eye in the second novel, Jake's still as hard as nails as he deals with crooked politicans, battles man-sized as well as giant monsters, and even manages to help his ex-partner's teenaged son to get out of an obscure new age cult (!).

COSMIC FORCES' 380 pages fly by like lightning, and fans of the series will be satisfied.  Lamberson's modern noir/supernatural horror hybrid has become a must read for me.

Smell Rating: 2

MISTIFICATION by Kaaron Warren (2011 Angry Robot Books / 303 pp / tp and eBook)

Warren's latest novel deals with a young magician named Marvo (a REAL magician, not one of those phoney illusionists) who harbors some amazing powers.  With his parents gone, his grandmother takes care of him, and when a bunch of thugs try to kill him, she takes the boy to a secret room in a huge house where they live for four years(!).  The boy spends his days listening to his grandmother's life stories of magic, and also sneaks out daily to find them food.  If you can get past this whole premise (which I had a hard time doing), you'll probably stick around for the next act, in which Marvo's grandmother dies, forcing Marvo to finally venture out into the world.

Without any formal education, Marvo fends for himself by doing whatever he can, and also by "collecting" stories from the many people he meets (there's quite a few of these stories here, some of which tried my patience to the max).  He winds up in a psychiatric institution where he eventually gets into a relationship with one of the nurses.  They take off and begin performing magic shows together, and as a couple continue to collect stories from everyone they come into contact with (and while some of these stories are interesting, It seems like they're here for filler).

MISTIFICATION had the potential to do alot more than it does.  Marvo's powers are more discussed than actually used, and it seemed as if Warren was holding him back for some mysterious reason.  While there's some fine moments (especially during Marvo's magic act at a young child's birthday party), I kept waiting for more to happen, but it never did.

In the hands of a lesser writer, I don't know if I would've made it through MISTIFICATION; Warren's prose is always smooth and tight, and I liked the whole "real magic" angle at play here, but like her novel SLIGHTS, there's that same THING going on that seems to be keeping her from unleashing that true classic I KNOW she has in her.  A decent read, just don't expect too much magic...

DOOM MAGNETIC! by William Pauley III (2010 New Flesh Books 2010 / 132 pp / tp)

Maundin is on the run with a stolen purple television and hiding out in Chorizo, Nevada.  Unfortunately for him, a Japanese assassin from his past, along with some hungry aliens, are hot on Maundin’s trail.  Riding through the galaxy with a new partner, on his way to deliver the stolen item, Maundin is then captured and sent to his doom.  What’s a guy to do when he’s been listening to a voice in his head?

DOOM MAGNETIC! is a sci-fi western novella that reads like a bizarro comic book without the pictures (although it’s so descriptive you don’t need any pictures to complete the reading experience).  William Pauley III has created some unique and wonderful characters existing in a bizarre futuristic world of a planet in pieces, dark voids and genetic engineering gone oddly wrong.  Full of grit, gore, sex and violence, DOOM MAGNETIC! is an entertaining and fast-paced read.  And I discovered William is a David Bowie fan.

-Colleen Wanglund

HELL’S WATER by Thomas James Brown (2011 Lulu Publishers / 286 pp / tp)

Adam and Nick are university friends and roommates.  They are also very heavy drinkers.  Most nights of the week Adam and Nick can be found with their friends at the local pub drinking the night away.  They all knew the risks…to themselves and their grades.  One day, and Adam can’t remember when exactly, friends started to disappear and Nick’s behavior changed.  Adam began having nightmares but didn’t understand what they were.
With the help of his new friend Ross, Adam will try to stay sober long enough to help Nick, who seems to be unable to do without booze.  What they ultimately discover started with a stupid prank but led to demonic possession.  Will Adam be able to help Nick or is he a lost, and dangerous, cause?

Part horror, part dark comedy, HELL’S WATER is a dry (no pun intended) and interesting take on demonic possession and alcoholism.  The story by Thomas Brown is solid and keeps you guessing for quite some time as to the cause of Nick’s odd behavior and Adam’s recurring nightmare.  What I like most about the book is it’s cerebral horror….it has blood and the supernatural, but it’s not a book you can just skim through.  You need to pay attention, but it’s worth it. The character development is spot on and most readers will find someone to relate to.  While the narrative flows at a steady pace, I found myself a bit disappointed not only in the explanation of what happened to Nick, but as to the “how” it all happened.  I felt it came up just a bit short there.  Overall, though, HELL’S WATER is an entertaining and smart read with an ending I didn’t expect….and I like the unexpected.

-Colleen Wanglund

GOING MONSTERING by Edward Lee (2009 Bloodletting Press / 225 pp / hc)


Eew yuck. Yuck yuck yuck!!!!

I may have said so before in previous reviews, but THIS time I MEAN it … Ed Lee has really outdone himself. Some barrels have no bottom, and in GOING MONSTERING you’d need a deep-core oil rig or bathyscaphe to even get close. 

It’s appalling. It’s revolting. It’s nauseating and gorge-lurching. 

Debasing and vile. 

The details are DETAILED. I mean, whoa. 

The sensory descriptions will make you want to scour your brain with a wire brush. And bleach. And fire. You may discover that your very soul can projectile-vomit. 

The characters are one and all loathsome. Nothing likeable about ANY of them. Awful, awful people. Make-you-hate-humanity people. 

And yet I read the whole thing. Every page. Every sick, sick, twisted, nasty, unspeakable page. Couldn’t put it down. Couldn’t look away. 

The story is of three young women – losers all, two fat chicks and a skinny one, two bitter desperate skanks and one ignorant-to-the-point-of-stupid ‘good’ girl – being pledged to the Alpha House sorority. 

Alpha House, full of gorgeous and staggeringly successful babes. And it’s hard to decide who to despise more. 

To get in, the pledges have to make it through a week of tests and initiation. It starts off with bitchiness, verbal abuse and humiliation right from the first few pages and takes a screaming downhill plunge of a dive into terrible depths from there. 

Taboos, suffice to say, are violated. Almost all of them, really. 

You might be reading along, cringing, trying to comfort yourself by thinking it can’t get any worse. Wrong. It can, it will, and let me tell you, it DOES. 

There are no big plot twists, no surprises. Right from the start you know how this one’s going to go. You know what’s going to happen. You know how it’s going to end. You know how, and where, and how far. 

No, wait, I lie. There’s illustrations. THAT was a surprise! Especially as I was reading in the lounge of a cruise ship, most of the passengers of which were nice elderly Dutch people. Turn a page and OMG! I could have lost a finger to paper cuts. 

Ed, with all due respect and affection, seriously, I love ya man, but daaaaaaaaamn …

I don’t know if there’s much more I can say about this one, except that I sure do hope it never gets made into a movie!

-Christine Morgan

LUCIFER’S LOTTERY BY Edward Lee (2010 Dorchester / 336 pp / tp)

Woohoo—another visit to the Mephistopolis! I cannot get enough of Edward Lee’s take on Hell, the most fiendishly well-thought-out setting I’ve ever encountered, infernal or otherwise. World-building seminars at specfic cons, game designers, take note. THIS is how you do it!

Expanded into full-length novel from a novella called “The Senary,” LUCIFER’S LOTTERY is the story of Hudson, who’s about to enter seminary. He’s a man of good deeds and resisting temptation. Even when he sets out with the deliberate intention to sin, he can’t quite bring himself to do it. Even when he witnesses again and again the bleak worst of the world around him, he hangs onto his faith. 

Or hangs onto his guilt and fear … Hudson comes off as kind of a weasely self-serving jerk, actually. 

Then, Hudson receives news that he’s won the Senary, a form of lottery. He, out of everyone on earth, and for only the twelfth time in history, has been selected for this once-in-an-eternity all-inclusive prize package. 

He even gets a Dante-esque guided tour, personally guided by H.P. Lovecraft. Here’s Hell, the vast sprawling teeming city of it, running on torture and suffering and mutilation. Here’s what happens to the ordinary sinners and damned, torments galore. 

But, for the Privilato? For those Senary winners? It’s wealth beyond measure, luxuries untold, every carnal pleasure imaginable and some unimaginable. Celebrity! Fame! Power! Be the envy even of Archdukes and demon princes! All this CAN be YOURS! And wait! There’s more! Fringe benefits for the duration of your earthly life! 

Sounds tempting? Too good to be true? There must be a catch?

Wellllll … if you want to be PICKY … it does kind of mean spitting in God’s eye and snubbing the otherwise-assured glories of Heaven that Hudson has waiting for him. But aside from that? Nothing to worry about, honest. 

Meanwhile, as Hudson reels from the offers and experience, other storylines unfold. Two immense projects in Hell are nearing completion, a suicidal wheelchair-bound veteran on earth keeps having his plans interrupted, the rebel fallen angel Ezoriel’s resistance fighters are busy, and Lovecraft’s woeful sulking make him a hilarious scene-stealing Eeyore. 

The sixes drum might get beaten a bit overmuch, but otherwise it’s a rollicking return to the Mephistopolis. The Big L. has even more of a hate-on for females than ever before (talk about revenge porn!) in the wake of the INFERNAL trilogy. 

As always, it’s the little touches I enjoy the most. Demonic fashion tips, economy, cuisine, lifestyles of Hell, creative anatomy, culture … that’s what it’s all about. And what’s best? The ending leaves plenty of room for another sequel!

-Christine Morgan

THE FECUND’S MELANCHOLY DAUGHTER by Brent Hayward (2011 ChiZine Publications / 245 pgs / tp)

The city of Nowy Solum hasn’t seen the sun in over a century.  Sitting under a perpetual gloomy cloud cover, Nowy Solum is a dying city on the brink.  It is overcrowded, dangerous and segregated.  There are the humans with red blood running through their veins and the kholics, with black melancholia in theirs.  A limbless prophet makes his way to the city with news of a change coming.  The gods have woken from their slumber and have returned.  And there is a monster caged in the catacombs of Nowy Solum’s castle that hears all and knows all that goes on.  Her predictions of the future don’t bode well.

Part horror and part bizarro, THE FECUND’S MELANCHOLY DAUGHTER is a story about beliefs, racism, fear, and suffering.  The city’s leader lives a life of debauchery and her charge is falling apart around her.  By separating a set of twins, she has possibly touched off the coming end of her city.  The monster helps tell some of the story, which is extremely well-written.  As a matter of fact, the monster was my favorite character.  She is dangerous, spiteful, and yet somehow endearing.  The kholics seem to contain all of the negative emotions of humans, but the red-blooded humans seem to be no better off.  The character development is excellent and is never overdone.  The descriptiveness used by Hayward paints a very bleak place on its last legs, but also shows us other enclaves full of hope for the future.  The narrative flows at an even pace while keeping the reader fully engaged to the end.  There is nothing predictable or cliché here.  THE FECUND’S MELANCHOLY DAUGHTER is a wonderful and entertaining read.

-Colleen Wanglund

Smell Rating: 5

THE SAND DRAGON by Michael F. Stewart (2010 Double Dragon Press 2010 / 255pp / tp)

When an intact skeleton or a pterosaur is found in the tar sands of an oil refinery in Canada, paleontologist Kim Axon heads out to the site only to discover she’s been shoved aside in favor of anthropologist Bythell.  When the skeleton disappears in the middle of the night, Kim is beside herself and demands some answers.  She doesn’t trust Bythell as far as she can through.  Meanwhile, Patrick, who was given a fossil from the site by his aunt, goes on a killing rampage at the meat packing plant.  The fossil turned out to be an egg and it needs Patrick to help it feed.

The small Aboriginal town of Ft. Mic is caught in the middle of a potential mad cow-like disease and strangers who have gathered on the outskirts to worship the newly resurrected dragon that is their god.  Now, cut off from the rest of civilization by a government who intends to contain the “disease”, it’s up to Kim and the First Nations tribes to combat and ancient enemy.

The idea of THE SAND DRAGON is a good one.  However, I was disappointed in the execution of the story.  I felt there needed more character development, especially pertaining to the First Nations people and their connection to the dragon.  The story itself was a bit confusing and manic at times.  Stewart introduces vampires, but doesn’t completely make the connection between them and the dragon.  There’s plenty of carnage and violence, especially at the hands of a religious fanatic, whom I thoroughly enjoyed.  I was never really able to make a connection with Kim, the main character and I felt she was a bit cliché and shallow. The end was a bit on the predictable side and anticlimactic, although there is a sweet little twist, but is tempered with some confusion as to what happens to one of the characters.  At best I’ll say THE SAND DRAGON was average.

-Colleen Wanglund

RULE 34 by Charles Stross (2011 Ace Books / 258 pp / hc)

In this loose sequel to his 2007 novel HALTING STATE, someone (or something) is murdering (in unusual fashions) spammers across the Internet in 2035 Scotland.  Inspector Liz Kavanaugh--as head of the Rule 34 squad--must track the source of these murders down, and Stross brings the suspects flying at you from every angle.

In case you don't know what "Rule 34" means,  it's a "generally accepted internet rule that states pornography or sexually related material exists for any conceivable subject."  And while Stross manages to pull some really funny ideas out of this (the first victim is killed by an ancient enema machine!), there was still room for him to go a bit further...but considering this is a mainstream scifi novel, perhaps he kept things right on the dividing line?  And considering victims are offed by various household appliances, the author surprisingly pushes his tale at a (mostly) serious pace.  (I still can't get the image of one victim shrink-wrapped to his mattress out of my head).

While some may have a problem with the Internet lingo and Scottish slang (not to mention the second-person "real-time" viewpoint), Stross makes it work; and like William Gibson's classic NEUROMANCER, there isn't much time wasted explaining the technology that's in place: the reader is required to accept it and move on (something I have NO problem doing, and something that made Stross' HALTING STATE tedious at times).  Stross' near-future world features the Internet in continual personal access, and the brain-implanted mobile phones aren't so far fetched.

As a scifi police prodecural, RULE 34 moves along at a nice pace, bringing people from all walks of life together from several unusual subplots (my favorite being Anwar, a Muslim who does whatever he has to do to support his family, even when he becomes involved in international intrigue).

While I wish Stross would have given more time to the building relationship between Inspector Liz and Dorothy (perhaps we'll see that in a 3rd novel?), the perpetrator of the appliance murders took me by surprise and the novel as a whole left me satisfied.

(My only gripe: Every mention of Americans was extremely negative (but thankfully brief).  I don't know if Stross is trying to tick off his American fans or not, but if this keeps up it'll be hard for me to buy another title from him, which would SUCK being he's one of my favorite authors.)

Otherwise, RULE 34 makes up nicely for Stross' less-than-stellar third Laundry novel released last summer, THE FULLER MEMORANDUM.  Check it out.

Smell Rating: 4

NOTE: We are not taking submissions for review until November 1, 2011.  Scroll down to the bottom of  this page for more details...

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