Wednesday, May 31, 2017

ARARAT by Christopher Golden

Ararat is set in that always dependable horror environment:  the cold, unyielding snow. It also works as a pretty effective locked-room thriller as well, taking place almost entirely in a recently-opened cave thousands of miles high up on the side of a mountain. In it, a group of scientists and adventurers discover what they believe to be the mummified wreck of Noah's Ark. But it really starts to get freaky once they find a tomb there with a body inside. A body with horns on its head.

As I mentioned before, the location sets a great mood and Golden does a good job at maintaining the atmosphere and the isolation of being stuck in a 4,000 year old shipwreck in a never-ending snowstorm. What's pretty potent in the middle section of the book is the feeling of paranoia that begins to infect the group.

The book never really took off for me though. Golden seemed to be skirting around a lot of interesting ideas and great moments but never really nailing it the way I'd hoped. Some of the conflicts and plot twists came off as strained and artificial. It wasn't terrible but when it features such great material for a premise, and it's effective setting, I expected to be more engaged and affected than I was. Golden does some solid writing here but it feels as if a stronger writer would have taken this story and killed it! Ararat may make for a good summer read thriller for some though, along the lines of Michael Crichton, Dan Simmons, or Dan Brown.


Sunday, May 28, 2017

SAGA VOL. 2 by Brian K. Vaughan

Jumped back into Saga with this second volume! We pick up again with our heroes as they are still on the run in their rocket ship (which happens to be a living tree they picked out of a rocket ship forest). And The Will, Lying Cat, and their two unlikely new partners are still in hot pursuit. This volume is just as enjoyable and hilarious as the first one. But we also explore the characters a bit deeper.

We get flashbacks that show us the time when Alana and Marko first meet as enemies and fall in love, which not only pushes the story forward by setting up their desire to seek out Oswald Heist, but it also makes the reader love them even more as a couple which is what makes the series work so well. Every character is great and I want to learn more about them! I especially enjoyed the further development of Prince Robot IV and his PTSD.

Vaughan and Staples seem to have found something really special here with this series.


Friday, May 26, 2017

RIVER OF TEETH by Sarah Gailey

If you catch my thoughts here on this blog you might realize that I almost never give an F grade. I try to always find the good in something and if I manage to at least finish the book, the author accomplished something. But I got halfway through this novella and couldn't finish anymore. I got tired of rolling my eyes. There is no book this year that has a cooler sounding concept than this one: a bayou western set during an alternate history where the gulf is filled with feral, man-eating hippos. I mean, come on, how could I resist? But alas, big disappointment.

The book might appeal to some (or many), but the cutesy, trite approach was not up my alley. For a novella, it felt like it was taking forever to get to the point, spending most of time introducing the characters and trying in vain to make them memorable. I would've loved this if I actually cared about the people, if the interactions weren't terribly awkward and if the attempt to make them memorable didn't turn into useless character quirks. It was kinda like an action/adventure Royal Tenenbaums with hippos. And to some people, that would sound awesome. But not to me.

None of it felt sincere at all; I could see right through Gailey's attempts at vivacity and quirk, and the western conventions felt like cartoons rather than something genuine. Like someone who watched a couple of wild west movies rather than showing a real love for the genre. And the non-binary gender neutral pronoun thing kept taking me out of the story, trying to gather when Gailey was referencing the group or just the character Hero themself. But to top it all off, I just wanted to get to some damn hippo action already! Is that too much to ask?



Wednesday, May 24, 2017

SACCULINA by Philip Fracassi

Have you ever read a horror novel or seen a movie where certain scenes made your skin tingle and itch?

No? Well, that happened to me.
Kept scratching.

I guess that's what they call "making your skin crawl." Fracassi's swift and creepy novella takes a common thing that most people have seen all the time (especially if you've spent time around boats or docks), and finally makes you realize how freakishly spine-tingling they can be. The story is rightfully simple, focusing on a fateful fishing trip that two brothers take with their childhood friend and father, a trip that quickly turns into a nightmare.
Jim could only stand and stare at the wet boards of the deck, wondering how all of this had gone so terribly, terribly wrong. 
While it might not feature the same haunting writing of his previous novella Fragile Dreams, I feel like the direct prose hear is a better fit for this type of story. But like his other work, Fracassi doesn't sacrifice emotion and character relationships in favor of cheap horror, and that's the main reason it works so well. Why didn't I give this an even higher score? I wish the book went even more balls out with the monster and horror. If you want to be really creeped out? Well, after you read the book, google the title, read a couple of articles, and see if you don't agree; it's pretty damn unnerving.


This parasite also modifies its host's behavior by causing infected male crabs to act as females, and to expand their abominable cavity. The host's behavior is also modified to treat S. carcini's eggs as if they were its own eggs
This Fracassi guy has such a great career ahead of him and I can't wait to see what's next.


Tuesday, May 23, 2017


This next installment of Criminal picks up once again following Tracy Lawless, the brooding AWOL soldier that showed up in Center City with vengeance on his mind back in Volume 2, Lawless, and got himself in a bit of trouble. He's still in trouble in this one, stuck under the thumb of the city's biggest crime lord. The story is a bit less personal here for Tracy, but just as dark and grimy, and with great writing, exactly the way I like it and with everything I've come to expect in the Criminal series. Brubaker has yet to disappoint!


Monday, May 22, 2017

THE CARTEL by Don Winslow

The Cartel picks up years after the final events in Winslow's drug war chronicle The Power of the Dog. And if you thought Dog was epic, wait till you get a load of this one. In a culmination of their 30-year feud, cartel lord Adán Barrera and DEA legend Art Keller have both lost everything and are stuck in their own prisons. Adán is living large behind the bars of a Mexican prison that he turns into his personal headquarters, and Art is living in seclusion at a border monastery. But when Adán strolls out of prison set on making himself El Patrón again, Art knows that he's the only one capable of bringing him down. But while both men are set on destroying one another, neither of them is prepared to face the cruel and sadistic ways that the drug war has evolved.
When the devil comes, he comes on angel's wings.
This sequel is basically the Godfather Part II or Empire Strikes Back of Winslow's Cartel trilogy. It's bigger, badder, darker, and more violent. I loved picking up again with these two main characters and found it fascinating to see them struggle with this ferociously brutal evolution of the drug war and the fact that they both had a hand in creating it. But the stand-out in this book is the vast supporting cast of scene-stealing characters, such as my favorite, the rational and pragmatic rising drug lord "Crazy" Eddie Ruiz, the tragic child killer Chuy (who's introductory chapter is one of the book's best), or the Juárez reporter Pablo Mora. Each of the rich supporting characters gives us a lens from which to view a particular aspect of this complicated war that affects so many parts of Mexican life and really provides the heart of the story. But the story's backbone is the Keller/Barrera feud, and here, as they each separately try to get a handle on the worsening violence, they still circle one another as their mutual hatred grows, and you get the sense that it can only possibly end with one of them dead.
At the end of the day or the end of the world, there are no separate souls. We will go to heaven or we will go to hell, but we will go together. 
The graphic violence is ratcheted up here, especially with Winslow's inclusion of the rise of the real-life Los Zetas organization, responsible for much of the brutal terror in the past decade in Mexico. It's a bit hard to read at times, and unbelievable, but some quick internet research or at least a passing interest in Mexican news will let you know the harsh truth that Winslow's depictions are not only plausible but actually based on real events. Just google Los Zetas, El Chapo, and recently, Javier Valdez. The timeliness and the authenticity makes the whole thing pretty gripping, and the action culminates in a masterful, climactic, jungle set-piece that kept my eyes glued to the page for the last 50 pages of the book.

If you like sweeping crime epics, these books are must-reads! And the best news of all is that Winslow is finishing the work on the last Cartel book, and I'm definitely pumped to read it!
They say that love conquers all. They're wrong, Keller thinks. Hate conquers all. It even conquers hate.


Wednesday, May 17, 2017

SAGA VOL. 1 by Brian K. Vaughan

Yes, I know I'm a bit of a "Richie-Come-Lately" to this Saga party and you've probably heard this before, but I'm here now, better late than never. This one is the real deal, this is what great comic book work is supposed to be: creative, original writing, iconic art, and most importantly (and I suppose the most difficult), a fine balance between the sequential art and written word. I always think it's important to understand what is going on, to provide just enough text to be able to understand things that you can't portray with pictures, but it's also important to avoid getting so wordy to the point that the writer probably should've just written a novel (Dark Tower books, anyone?).

Saga is an epic space opera that takes place in a far away galaxy where two warring races have been battling for generations. In the middle of the fight are two enemy soldiers, Alana and Marko, who fall in love, and along with their newborn baby, must evade both sides of the fight to find a safe place to start their family.

The makers of this series are really singular in their vision. It's so refreshing to see a piece of work so wholly original. And I think that Brian Vaughan and artist Fiona Staples achieve this by completely ripping away the limitations of their imagination. It's as if they reverted parts of their brains back to those of their six-year-old selves and just let all the crazy shit fly out and onto paper! Not only is our hero a magical warrior with horns on his head and our heroine a soldier with wings that shoots a pistol that stuns you by breaking your heart, but there's also a prince that has a television for a head, a seahorse that's also a talent agent, a bounty hunter client that walks around with a big hairless grumpy cat that is also a lie detector, and he's sad about getting friend-zoned by the love of his life, which happens to be this thing:

But the real genius is being able to wrangle all of these wacky ideas into something relatable, charming, and enthralling. It's got well-drawn action, witty, smart comedy, all mixed in with moments of tenderness. I can see what all the fuss is about with Saga. Based on the covers, I didn't think that this comic series would interest me, but boy was I wrong. And if you haven't read it for that reason, you're probably wrong too, so definitely give it a try. If you're a fan of the Guardians of the Galaxy movies, you'll probably love Saga.


Monday, May 15, 2017


This second volume in the epic Dark Tower graphic novel adaptation picks up immediately after the events on the first volume, which happen to be the final events of the Wizard and Glass flashback story. The comics are now treading into material that are not included in the original novels, aside from general mentions. We find Alain and Cuthbert on the run back to Gilead, trying to stay one step ahead of the Hambry posse as they try to make it home in one piece, all the while struggling to keep Roland from going crazy as he's being hypnotized by Maerlyn's Grapefruit.

The material here is still immensely wordy, especially in it's blabbermouthed narrator. It also feels as if there is a lot more telling than showing, which is bad news in any visual medium but especially in a comic book. One of my gripes with both this one and the first volume is that they sort of ruin the mystery of the villains. By showing so much of the Crimson King and the Man in Black, it lessens the impact that their omnipotent presence had over Stephen King's novels. And to top it off, not a whole lot happens in this one. It's pretty forgettable. Hurry up guys, let's get to the good stuff!


Saturday, May 13, 2017

THE SADIST'S BIBLE by Nicole Cushing

The cover for this horror novella made me think that it was something that I wouldn't be interested in at all. But this novel really went against my expectations, if not in what it's about, definitely in the direction it went. Nicole Cushing is no-holds-barred when it comes to her deviant approach towards sex and religion. In fact, if you are a prude of any sort or sensitive when it comes to Christianity, just stay away from this one. I'm neither, so I was impressed and drawn in by Cushing's boldness and nerve. She tells a story of a repressed Christian woman named Ellie who agrees to meet up with an online lover for a night of hot lesbian sex capped with a bit of suicide. But what both women discover is a horror beyond anything they are trying to escape in life and that the afterlife might not be the escape their hoping for.

But unfortunately, I felt pretty cold throughout most of the book. It felt like a scatter-brained rough draft to me, with every idea feeling incomplete. I felt disconnected through most of it, like the novella was just going through it's paces and not really fully committing. The character of Lori is the biggest culprit here. It seemed as though Cushing had great ideas with where to take her in relation to Ellie, but the exploration of the character seemed to have been abandoned. Even the absolutely insane climax felt like it was done simply for horrific effect rather than inspiring any real catharsis.

This could have been so much more, and really affecting, but it really fell short for me. But hey, what do I know, this was recently nominated for the Shirley Jackson and Bram Stoker Award!


Tuesday, May 9, 2017

INCOGNITO by Ed Brubaker

Another great book by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips; a fun, pulpy adventure with a strong, nifty concept. Zack Overkill is an infamous super-villain that is now working as a file clerk in a boring town while under Witness Protection and bored out of his damn mind. Once he starts getting loaded on some recreational drugs, it unlocks his long dormant powers and he decides to stretch his wings a bit, go on some adventures and actually save a few lives for a change!

I like the idea of a remorseless mass killer being forced into a normal life and then finding an outlet for his talents by being a hero just for kicks. Once Overkill finds himself stuck in the middle of an on-going battle between the cronies of his old mentor the Black Death (a Red Skull-type villain), and covert agency SOS (sorta like S.H.I.E.L.D.) the book becomes packed with action and twists, not to mention a scene-stealing supporting cast sporting cool super-names like Ava Destruction and Zoe Zeppelin. This is definitely not as strong as the other books I've read from this team so far but it's definitely a fun, escapist read.

Oh and I found my new nickname within these pages! You all may now call me: DICK DEADLY!


Monday, May 8, 2017

LAST DANCE IN PHOENIX by Kurt Reichenbaugh

It's a standard noir convention to feature a main character that many might deem unlikable, but the great ones make you identify and root for that character anyway. The key strength in Reichenbaugh's sly novel is that it not only does this but pulls it off in its own sneaky way. I went into the book reading it as a standard crime thriller. Kent Starling is a regular guy that's actually likable and who's banal but satisfying life is interrupted when a long lost friend begins pestering and blackmailing him online. But as Kent tries to get out from under, Reichenbaugh steadily shows us Kent's secrets and hints at the true nature of his character. I was uncomfortable in the way that I couldn't seem to decide how I felt about him. I found him self-involved but also strangely relatable. The author was really skilled with his handling of Kent's character and the way he withheld judgment. This aspect, along with Reichenbaugh's handling of the twists and turns, made it a pretty gripping read to me!