Monday, August 6, 2018

CANNIBALS: STORIES FROM THE EDGE OF THE PINE BARRENS by Jen Conley

Don't go into this book with it's crime label on your mind thinking that it'll be full of big violent thrills. In fact, it's the opposite, filled with quiet, small tales of little moments in the lives of the people in the New Jersey Pine Barrens and the moments that leave an impression, no matter how small. But that's not to say that the stories here are boring. As a matter of fact, I was pretty engaged throughout, as Conley has a real talent for quickly getting to the core of a character and an emotion, instantly grabbing you in a few paragraphs. There's an interesting nostalgic quality to the stories, where they feel more like memories, as if the characters, or in some cases, the omniscient narrator, can't shake the influence that these moments have had. I really enjoyed this taste of Conley's work and I wish that more writers had her skill with brevity. My favorite stories were probably "Finn's Missing Sister," "Angels," "Metalhead Marty In Love," and "Home Invasion".

GRADE: A-

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

OVERNIGHT by Philip Fracassi

This time around Fracassi takes us on a noir ride through the after-hours of a film set, where a night security guard meets a mysterious stranger and contends with temptation and an offer he can't refuse. I love how simple the story was, and how relatively innocent it all is at first. In the beginning I can see anyone agreeing to what Pete does. But as we all know, that's how it all starts. It's a short novelette with n anxiety-ridden ending and I love how much is left unsaid, but there are enough nuggets and details dropped for the reader to glean character motivations. I actually just got off set myself and said bye to the security guard and thought about this story; wondering what will happen after-hours!

GRADE: B+

SCALPED: BOOK THREE by Jason Aaron

"Been down so goddamn long that it looks like up to me."
Jeez, this thing just keeps getting better and better. By the climax of this installment, the tension is so high you can almost smell it coming off the page. Bad Horse is getting in WAAAYYY too deep and Red Crow is getting closer and closer to losing everything. And I want to see them both find some sort of peace. If you're a crime fiction fan and not reading Scalped, it's not too late to make a change and get your life together!
"I want to take you away from here. I want to tell you my secrets and I want you to love me for them."
 GRADE: A

Saturday, July 14, 2018

HERETICS by Greg F. Gifune

Told in alternating chapters detailing the events of the past and present, Gifune paints a picture of three outcast friends involved in a terrible tragedy in high school who must confront those events again as adults. The novella is told in Gifune's trademark atmospheric style and is exciting in the way it evolves. Not only does the book maintain a creepy but strangely romantic tone, but Gifune also skillfully doles out backstory slowly so that the feeling of dread grows and grows as we get closer to discovering what happened to these teenagers on that fateful night. I was worried about finding out the details but couldn't look away once it all started to go down. So far, Gifune's work has been pretty consistent in it's quality!
Harry wondered if someone without eyes still produced tears.
GRADE: B+

Sunday, July 1, 2018

SCALPED: BOOK TWO by Jason Aaron

"And once we've claimed what's due us, then all those people I shot, stabbed, scalped, hanged, an buried alone the way...all those poor bastards won't have died in vain. And for the first time in far too long, my dreams might again outnumber my regrets."
Book Two in this series improves on the solid first installment in every conceivable way. Not only is the artwork better rendered, the writing seems to have jumped up to the next level as well! While the first book introduces you to the characters and their world, now that all of that is over with, it's time to take a deeper dive, particularly into an exploration of the rich supporting characters. At the same time, as he continues to feel the pressure closing in from all sides, our protagonist Dashiell Bad Horse seeks comfort in every place he shouldn't. I can feel it. This series is going to be great.



GRADE: A-

Thursday, June 28, 2018

SCALPED: BOOK ONE by Jason Aaron

Dashiell Bad Horse resentfully returns to the Prairie Rose Indian Reservation with a pair of nunchucks and a bad attitude, beginning this dark dive into a tough and gritty crime drama and a new world created by Jason Aaron, and I thought this first installment was great.

This inciting plot isn't the newest thing you've probably read, with a guy returning to his hometown sparking a whole lotta drama. We've seen that before. But this is Jason Aaron we're talking about here, and he paints a complex tapestry the same way he does in his Southern Bastards series. He steadily reveals character and relationships and motivations through flashbacks and shifting POV's, and what you originally think you know about certain characters gets challenged constantly.

The art was a little problematic for me though. It was hard to tell certain characters apart and much of the action was messy and difficult to keep track of. Just like in movies, I feel like the rendering of action in comics should be clear and everytime I paused to try and get a sense of what was happening and who was who, it took me out of the story, and that's a problem. With better art I might've given this a better score. But I'm excited about where this story can go.

GRADE: B

Friday, June 15, 2018

SHARP OBJECTS by Gillian Flynn

I had pretty high hopes for this one. I was smitten with Gillian Flynn's Gone Girl, one of the most fascinating examples of modern noir in my opinion. But to my disappointment, Flynn's first novel happens to be a big fat bore in comparison. It's another one of those banal mystery books where most of the story features the "detective" walking around town conducting seemingly endless interviews looking for clues. If these scenes were integral to character development, or worked on a surface level with cool dialogue, I would've been more interested. But all this could've been forgiven if the mystery was interesting, but it's pretty obvious who the killer is almost immediately. And that wouldn't have been a big issue if I was really engaged in the characters and the family story depicted here, but I really just didn't care about any of them, aside from Camille.

The idea of a chronic cutter protagonist could've been really gripping, and Camille was the best part of the book, but I still felt like Flynn should've gone further with her development; it just wasn't enough to make the book fully enjoyable. Crime/mysteries are at their best when character and plot are inseparable and dependent on the other to succeed and I wish that these elements here worked in tandem more with one another. You can tell that Flynn grew and improved as a writer in a big way between this and her third book.

GRADE: C-

Monday, June 11, 2018

ALEX + ADA by Jonathan Luna and Sarah Vaughn

I've been increasingly interested in artificial intelligence and the idea of artificial conciousness after watching things like Westworld, Her, and Ex Machina, and Alex + Ada was a great way to continue that exploration. Set in a future where owning robots are an everyday trend, lonely and recently heartbroken Alex is gifted a state-of-the-art X5 model robot for his birthday. At first he wants nothing to do with it but then sees something special within her and decides to do the forbidden: allow her to gain sentience.

The simple, minimalist art works very well with this story, it's stark, digital appearance lends perfectly to this world and the atmosphere. Not only is this a an ambitious, heartfelt romance about true love crossing boundaries most people normally wouldn't think would be possible, it's also a smart,, humorous, thoughtful commentary on tolerance and an allegory that works in many different ways.

GRADE: A-


Sunday, June 10, 2018

LIKE LIONS by Brian Panowich

Yep, this book does exist. I was a little confused about whether or not that was true at first and I'm not sure what the hell is going with this book's release. It was delayed a couple of times and then out of nowhere and with little fanfare, the book showed up on small online marketplace sellers, not available through Amazon, Barnes and Noble, or even in libraries, without an book or an audiobook. I actually doubted whether or not the novel was actually available at all, but I saw that some reviews were out there.  And lo and behold,  I ordered it and got an actual, real-life copy!
"This mountain was a circle of tragedy that never stopped rolling."
I'd been meaning to read this for a while as I LOVED Panowich's first novel, Bull Mountain, and I couldn't wait to read the sequel. It takes place a year after the events in the first novel and features Clayton Burroughs struggling to protect his family and his land in the midst of the power vacuum created by the events of the first novel.

This deserves a proper release soon. Once again, Panowich shows real skill with pacing, reveals, and reversals, making for an entertaining, quick-read novel that's never boring. The story itself isn't as riveting and absorbing as Bull Mountain's, and not as well structured; feeling slightly rushed, but dammit, Panowich really knows how to suck you in! I really enjoyed this one and while the stunner of an ending may seem gimmicky to some, but not only does it work perfectly as a whole with Bull Mountain, but I thought it was a very fitting cherry-on-top to a narrative about legacy, consequences, and the cyclical, never-ending nature of violence.

GRADE: B+

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

IN THE RIVER by Jeremy Robert Johnson

She stated it as a fact. The sun shines. The wind blows. If he dies, so do I.
In this book about a man and his young son on a fateful fishing trip and the tragedy that befalls them, author Jeremy Robert Johnson crafts an intense tale of loss and grief wrapped up in a package of powerful imagery, top-notch writing and evocative language. It's creative, original, and never goes where you expect it to. I don't want to say too much and ruin the effect of experiencing it.
The sound of the rushing river became a torment. Time was broken. The man was broken. But the river acknowledged neither and carried on as it always had and would and the sound of it was the song of nothing caring and the man knew it would be the last thing he'd hear.

GRADE: A-