Category Archives: Reviews

Review: Sal & Gabi Break the Universe by Carlos Hernandez

Rubber Chickens for EVERYBODY!!

Review of

SAL & GABI Break the Universe

by Carlos Hernandez

5/5 Stars

First, a few words about the marvelous work the Rick Riordan Presents imprint is doing in bringing to the forefront of young adult literature amazing stories for different cultures, peoples, and perspectives.

While Riordan is known for his mythic tales of gods, demi-gods, and magic, Carlos Hernandez graces us with his own brand of magic filled with Cuban-American culture, cuisine and a delightful smattering of specific slang and flavor of Spanish experienced in the community of which he hails.

I meant it when I wrote ‘magic.’ Sal is an aspiring magician—and I ordered a rubber chicken in Sal and Carlos’ honor!

But what really makes the story soar are the characters and characterizations in the novel. These kids (and these days, anyone under thirty is a kid to this old man) feel extraordinarily real to me. How they speak, how they act, and how they interact felt perfect. They aren’t orphans or “Peanuts kids” (no parents around). Nor is anyone the pure “Christ figure” or the “Devil figure.”

The “bully” at the beginning of the story isn’t a bully at all. Gabi is NOT the brilliant “Hermione-Granger” type she starts off as. No one is all perfect or all flaws.

Just like…real people.

Of course, real people can’t yank things back and forth between Universes, but that sort of whimsical ability plays into the situational adventure Hernandez weaves here. Tension is created by events and we get to watch (me rather gleefully) as these delightful characters react in ways that are unexpected at first but make sense as you close the back cover.

It’s how Hernandez plays with the expected character buckets and tropes of the genre (helped by exquisite prose) that make this story so much fun.

If you aren’t cheering for Sal, Gabi, and Yasmany throughout the story, I don’t know what to say to you.

My only negative is the duration of the wait until we find out how Sal & Gabi Fix the Universe. Oh, book two…I need you now!

But I’ll be on the line at the book store day one of the sequel’s release to get me a copy. Of that, you can be sure.

Carlos at a reading, BOSKONE 2017 and his signature in his book “The Assimilated Cuban’s Guide to Quantum Santeria”

 

Review: Blood Standard by Laird Barron

Violence Was His Day Job

Review of

Blood Standard

by Laird Barron

 

 

4.5/5 Stars

Blood Standard by Laird Barron Is a violent, noir-esque mystery where the “hardboiled detective” is a mixed race (Maori/Caucasian) ex-mobster/hitter from Alaska.

Isaiah Coleridge’s love of animals gets him in trouble when he attacks a made-man of “the Outfit” who was heading up an illegal Walrus hunt to indulge in the black market ivory trade. Coleridge finds himself exiled to Upstate New York as a result and becomes a farm hand at a small, independent horse ranch. Where trouble is never less than a step behind the former hit man. When a local young woman with a troubled past goes missing, Isaiah quickly finds himself caught between local law enforcement, the Feds, mobsters, and street gangs–Familiar territory for Coleridge.

Barron does his normal Steller job creating deep characters who all walk in the grey areas between light and dark. His horror story background is used well in building tension and in creating a narrative full of twists and violence.

Laird Barron has crafted a terrific new series, and his fans from the horror genre should enjoy this fast-paced yet introspective tale typical of his writing. With the second in the series out now, I look forward to my next adventure with Isaiah and the quirky characters of rural New York.

Personal note: I had a wonderful hour-long conversation with Laird at the Merrimack Valley Halloween Book Festival last October, where we discussed his Coleridge series. He was the one who convinced me to take my upcoming novel Bayou Whispers and change it from a horror novel to a Supernatural Thriller.

 

Review: Good Omens

Armageddon Will Be Quirky

Review of

GOOD OMENS: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch

By Neil Gaiman & Terry Pratchett

4/5 Stars

This one has been on my “To Be Read” pile for far too long, and with the Amazon Prime series coming up, I thought it might be high time to give it a go.

I love Pratchett and I love Gaiman, so why not?

In a world that was created on Sunday, 21 October, 4004 B.C. at 9:00 AM GMT (give or take 15 minutes), this quirky and delightfully funny take on Good vs. Evil begins a weird ride with the birth (and subsequent misplacement) of the anti-Christ.

But a demon (Crowley) and an angel (Aziraphale) like the world as it is, thank you very much and would prefer Armageddon be put off indefinitely.

What follows is a mish-mash of perspectives and misadventures for the demon and angel, an Anti-Christ child named Adam and his little Gang called the Them, who has no idea who the child is, but Adam keeps making his conspiracy theories come true, a hell-hound named Dog who is a cute and fluffy mutt, a descendant of the titular Agnes Nutter, the last two Witchfinders in England and the Four Horsemen.

The story is more akin the Hitchhiker’s Guide in tone and lightness of prose than some of either author’s darker works. It’s a fun read, but I pulled a star for the significant amount of head-hopping that is, at times, confusing.

Overall, a good read. As always, I recommend reading the source material before seeing the movie/TV show

 

 

 

 

REVIEW: Ugly Little Things: Collected Horrors

4.5 stars out of 5

Reviewer’s Note: I was provided with an Advance Release Copy (ARC) of “Ugly Little Things” by Crystal Lake Publishing in return for a fair and honest review.

The Basics:

Todd Keisling is a nice, unassuming, generous, funny, and talented author. He is a delight to interact with and—as forward writer Mercedes M. Yardley says—“He’s somehow privy to more than we are.”

He is younger than I, yet so much wiser.

This collection is delightfully evil. I enjoyed each story between the covers, and have noted my favorites below. These characters creations of Keisling’s are amazingly real. As real as you, me, your coworkers…

Or your grandmother.

You will fear for them, cheer them on…wish them well or ill. And that is all by the author’s grand design. Pick this one up and enjoy the nightmares from the mind of an author who knows how to send old-fashioned chills rocketing up and down your spine.

The Details:

“A Man In Your Garden” is the perfect overture piece for this anthology. Keisling, in one brush stroke, shows us to expect the unexpected and reminds us that we can be our own worst enemy.

“Show Me Where the Waters Fill Your Grave” both surprised and horrified me. I’ve seen those videos of caskets floating down streets after Katrina. This was one of my favorites from this collection.

“Radio Free Nowhere” preys on your worst fears if you’ve ever traveled lonely roads without radio reception. Imagine: no cell signal, your ipod is out of juice and Sirius isn’t syncing up. It’s just you, the road, and a haunting tune sung by an unseen “woman…”

Next is “The Otherland Express,” about a teenager caught between unrequited love and an abusive father. The seventeen-year-old is met on the bus by one of many nobodies in the world and a choice is made. This one will leave your skin crawling.

“Saving Granny From The Devil” is a modern take on the Devil and Daniel Webster. Keisling’s delightful character development in the exploration of an age-old trope makes this one fresh and unexpected. Decisions made for the right reasons sometimes have unintended and horrific consequences.

Next was my least favorite story—“The Darkness Between Dead Stars.” Told in a “This is really what happened” style from the viewpoint of an engineer for a doomed Mars mission, I really didn’t sympathize with either the narrator or the “MVP.”

“Human Resources” made me laugh out loud, and I so do enjoy Keisling’s dry sense of humor. In the form of an e-mail resignation letter from a newly converted Human Resource Manager, this Lovecraftian note brings back for an encore performance Charles Boid (Praise His Glory).

Still chuckling over the last story, the horrific college boy/lust piece, “House of Nettle and Thorn,” is disturbing for many reasons, not the least of which is the depiction of the main character’s roommate: “Nick Edgleman’s contribution to the great human identity would be equal to a crusted stain on a pair of boxer shorts with the reek of Axe body spray.” We ALL knew somebody like him…

My second of three favorites was “When Karen Met Her Mountain.” Once again, Keisling’s deep character work creates a believable protagonist, whose own past horrors are reignited and amplified when a cult kidnaps her husband.

“The Final Reconciliation,” a novella I’d just recently read, completes the Ugly Little Things collection. It is the story of The Yellow Kings (delicious Lovecraft and “True Detective” reference), a heavy-metal band of four youngsters from Kentucky who set out on their first tour–told historically through an interview with the metal band’s now aged guitarist, Aiden Cross.

Keisling’s knowledge of Heavy Metal and his meticulous description of “band life” makes this piece my top pick of my favorite three.

Beware the groupies and preorder a copy today!

REVIEW: BEHOLD! Oddities, Curiosities and Undefinable Wonder

Step right up, if you dare…

I was provided an Advanced Release Copy (ARC) in return for an unbiased review.

I have a secret obsession with dark, disturbing, weird, and well-written anthologies. Crystal Lake Publishing has come out with a few of my favorites over the past few years, and BEHOLD! Oddities, Curiosities and Undefinable Wonders is the latest favorite, following on from last year’s Gutted: Beautiful Horror Stories and their annual Tales from the Lake collections.

The Short Review:

Buy it. It’s amazing and editor Doug Murano did a marvelous job putting together the collection–which features amazing wordsmiths such as Clive Barker, Lucy A. Snyder, Neil Gaiman, Stephanie M. Wytovich, John Langan, Lisa Morton, Richard Thomas and many others. Oh, and a wonderful foreword from Josh Malerman that you really shouldn’t skip over. Five Stars.

The Longer Review:

Right from the gorgeous cover by artist John Coulthart, the reader is invited between the pages into a literary carnival of wonders and the grotesque.

Behold! is divided into three sections – Oddities, Curiosities, and Undefinable Wonders (as the title suggests). The choice of Lisa Morton’s LaRue’s Dime Museum kicks off the Oddities section. It is a delightfully different and weird “freak show” type tale that is both unexpected and fresh. Brian Kirk‘s Wildflower, Cactus, Rose was a tough story to read based on the subject matter—but was beautiful and spine-tingling at the same time. The Baker of Millepoix by Hal Bodner is the story that most resembles a painting—beautiful, colorful. Picturesque, even. Finally, Jacqueline Ess: Her Will and Testament is a marvelously disturbing tales of guilt and horror intertwined with desire and love.

I was delighted at this point to discover that each section was separated by poetry by Stephanie M. Wytovich. An Exhibition of Mother and Monsters is between ‘Oddities’ and ‘Curiosities’ and As a Guest at the Telekinetic Tea Party dove tails into Lucy A Snyder’s Hazelnuts and Yummy Mummies close out ‘Curiosities’ and kicks off ‘Undefinable Wonders’

Curiosities begins with John Langan‘s Madame Painte: For Sale–a buyer beware story of sorts with a delicious ending. Chivalry by Neil Gaiman is next and is a feel good story….of a sort. Gaiman always draws me into his world-creations. Fully Boarded by Ramsey Campbell is a story that will give even the most stalwart traveller pause. Amelia’s Wake by Erinn L Kemper is a dark story of grief and sadness. Her story really resonated with me after the death of my dad last year.

A Ware That Will Not Keep, is an anecdotal story told by a grandfather about the atrocities of WW II and John F.D. Taft tells a sympathetic tale that is both sympathetic and horrific.

Horror to me is taking the everyday and turning it onto itself. Was the creaking floorboard REALLY just the house settling? Ed Pruitt’s Smoker by Patrick Freivald takes bee keeping to a very different place and works so very well.

Hazelnuts and Yummy Mummies by Lucy A. Snyder had me laughing to myself (as it was 3AM at the time, my wife found this disconcerting). If you have a unique take on humor, you will adore this one.

Undefinable Wonders begins with The Shiny Fruit of Our Tomorrows was such a real-world story, that I think you might have to read this one for yourself to process it. A nice one by Brian Hodge.

The Wakeful is another one of those ‘every day’ stories that make horror so disturbing. I’m just glad I was inside when I read it. Kristi DeMeester is now on my ‘to read’ list.

Christopher Coake‘s strange story Knitter , while clever was so different from The Wakeful that it shocked me into a different place. It is very well written and presented—I may just have not switched gears fast enough.

I adore subtle anti-religion tales, and that’s what Sarah Read gives us with Through Gravel. Deliciously executed.

The collection ends with one of my favorite authors, Richard Thomas and his short entitled Hiraeth. Yes, I had to look it up, and I’m glad I did before reading. Hiraeth, loosely translated, means homesick—but so much more. There is a passion and a sorrow in the Welsh word that no English translation can capture. This story was beautiful and deep—and is perfectly named. There is hope here. Beauty and wonder as well. And there is the knowledge that our world is unknowable in its complexity.

BEHOLD! Oddities, Curiosities and Undefinable Wonder is a collection that you will read over and over. Pay the entry fee and discover the worlds within for yourself.

But take heed. Some of these stories may change you.