Saturday, July 30, 2016


He wished for his guns, but decided his hate would have to do.
While the country is neck-deep in civil war, unassuming Texas rancher Daniel Hays wakes up to find his loyal ranch-hand and lover Steven castrated and lynched, hanging from a juniper tree. Daniel gathers his guns and his horse Oscar and sets out to reap vengeance on those responsible.

Based on that summary, you might expect this novella to be a Death Wish-style Western actioner where Daniel tracks each man down one by one and we get episodes of violent, cathartic retribution in graphic detail. But I was pleasantly surprised that this was much more brooding and contemplative, and more about studying the nature of revenge, and how much of an ineffective effort it can be. It shows how muddled it can be, how it rarely goes the way many would expect, but shows how through it all, Daniel keeps going out of a sense of duty; it's something he simply has to do. Another thing that I really enjoyed was the little hint of what might be some magical realism, which really added great texture to this tale. I'm lowering the score a bit though because the ending felt like a bit of a rushed cop-out and a let-down.
"I hope you get your revenge. A man can't be right when there's somebody livin' that oughtn't be."

Friday, July 29, 2016

THE WINTER BOX by Tim Waggoner

A winter storm that has trapped everyone in their homes for the night. An unhappily married couple struggling to keep up appearances to each other even though they both know it's been a futile effort for years. Biting cold that seems to get worse by the minute. And an unassuming box that might hold more than just relationship memorabilia.

The stage is well set as the book begins; the atmosphere quickly and effectively developed. I loved the idea of telling what is essentially a simple story of a couple trying to save their marriage, and wrapping it in the trappings of a creepy horror tale. And I think it fits well in the DarkFuse line-up, with much of the book reminiscent of some of Greg F. Gifune's atmospheric work. But, the plot development here just didn't feel fully-conceived. I didn't get the sense that there was anything special about this anniversary night in particular that makes the time right for these events to happen, and I also didn't really understand what the importance of the winter box was as a plot point, although I understood it's thematic significance. All of the good ideas and concepts are there but it seemed like the second half of the book needed to be revisited to make it tighter, stronger, and more fully realized. And with that, this book's solid ending would have even more of an emotional pay-off. There's some good stuff in this one, enough for me to enjoy it, but it didn't feel fully accomplished.


Wednesday, July 27, 2016

THE LAST KIND WORDS by Tom Piccirilli

Tom Piccirilli is already one of my favorite authors even though this is actually the first novel I've read by him. I've read and loved a handful of his great novellas in the past year and have been infatuated with his sensitive but uncompromising writing. Tommy Pic doesn't disappoint in the full-length novel form either! Here, we follow the Rands, a family of Long Island thieves and burglars that go back generations who's strong bond has fallen apart after Collie, the oldest son, goes on an inexplicable killing spree that lands him on death row, and after the youngest son, Terrier, decides to abandon the family and go off on his own. But now after five years, Terry has returned and must confront this broken family that he deserted years before.

The characters pulled me in almost immediately, each one clearly drawn and familiar; each one deserving enough of their own novel. But the focus here is on Terry, a man haunted by the the potential legacy of the Rand name. Will he fall victim to severe Alzheimer's like his grandfather Shepherd, fall into the underneath and go mad-dog like his brother Collie, or will he simply just live the rest of his days in a house full of stolen junk; a faded, washed-up and lonely thief, breaking in to and creeping around in other homes at night, witnessing the lives of people happier than he is, and pining for his lost love? These questions haunt Terry throughout the novel as he knows that these are real possibilities. The themes Piccirilli tackles here are very similar to the one he explored in the last novella I read by him, All You Despise, the theme that the pull of family bond and obligation is almost impossible to explain, but can affect someone for the rest of their life. Both this novel and All You Despise can be seen as companion pieces, where Piccirilli tries to investigate why the power of family can be so strong and crippling. The novel is about family: longing for it, hating it, or simply just stuck with it whether you want to be or not.


Monday, July 18, 2016


I enjoyed this story collection by respected author Daniel Woodrell but it unfortunately suffers from the thing that threatens to plague many collections: the stories might not be very consistent in quality. There were several tales that really stood out, will definitely appeal to fans of his work, and really encompassed the themes Woodrell tackles throughout the whole collection. "Florianne" and "Uncle," two great tales of rural revenge, as well as "Black Step" and "Night Stand," two stunning sketches of PTSD in veterans, were very impressive, but many of the other stories were simply not that memorable. Also, many of the characters in this collection don't engage and stick with you the way other Woodrell creations do, like Shug or Glenda in The Death of Sweet Mister, or Ree in Winter's Bone. Fans of the author's poetic prose and the way he conjures environment and atmosphere should give this a go though!
Her chest had been cut away from her first, both sides, but she fell sick in other parts too, and the sick didn't rest; it prowled her body, salting her with ruin you couldn't see in her face for a good long while. Now the ruin just stares out at me, all the time, from those eyes that know about hope and that body that can't offer any.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

THE HEAVENLY TABLE by Donald Ray Pollock

Donald Ray Pollock's new novel can be equally frustrating and rewarding. Especially if you go into it expecting certain things based on the book blurb summary given by the publisher. I really enjoyed Pollock's writing in this one, just as tough and bold as we've come to expect in his work, but this time it has an added dose of black-humored wit that helped support the more pulp-y tone this book carried. Another thing that Pollock fans will expect are colorful, memorable characters, which this book has in spades. And that unfortunately leads to one aspect where the book falters, and that's in its pacing. The thing that's good to know before getting into the book is that it quickly jumps back and forth between a large cast of characters and Pollock spends a lot of time (one could argue unnecessarily) developing backstory for everyone, which really weakens the pace, to the point where a few times in the book I was wondering where he was going with all of this.

But once I got the hang of it all, it finally clicked to me that Pollock was creating a tapestry of this disparate cast of characters all dealing with the immense change that was happening around them in 1917, when the book is set. Whether it be the looming presence of the Great War across the sea in strange, faraway lands called Germany and France, to the growing popularity of automobiles, the introduction of indoor plumbing, or the breakdown of outlaw legend in the face of hard reality, every character here must come face to face with this change and decide either to move with it and embrace it, or to reject it. I wouldn't recommend this one to everyone, especially with its focus on so many seemingly secondary characters, but if you don't mind that, then give it a go. It's surely not as good as the author's first two books, but it's still a worthy addition to his work.

*I reviewed an Advance Copy of this through Netgalley in exchange for an honest opinion*


Sunday, July 3, 2016


I've really enjoyed almost every book that Jake Hinkson has written and this collection of short and flash fiction is no exception. It exhibits all of the elements that Hinkson's fans have come to expect: classic noir material, assured and succinct writing, examinations of the dark side of religion, and flawed characters who aren't heroes but yet demand our attention and our empathy. The best stories in the collection, like "The Theologians," is classic Hinkson, combining all of these elements into a great tale. It also features another Hinkson trait, a knack for engaging dialogue. Other great stories in the collection are "The Serpent Box," an atmospheric revenge story about a family of Pentecostal snake handlers, "Casual Encounters," about an on-a-whim Craigslist ad that leads to destruction, and "Night Terrors," about a man who, after waking up to his one-night-stand shrieking in her sleep, begins to regret his night of passion, but when the morning comes, he will surely regret it even more.

This was published by All Due Respect, a publisher who's books I've been recently discovering and who specializes in material that I definitely gravitate towards: "low-life literature," in their words! I'll be exploring more of their books soon.


Friday, July 1, 2016

SOUR CANDY by Kealan Patrick Burke

Sour Patch Kids are some of my favorite candies and my go-to movie theatre snack. But now, for at least the next year, everytime I pop one in my mouth, I'll think about this book. Damn you Kealan Patrick Burke for nearly ruining Sour Patches for me! If the plot itself wasn't unsettling enough (and it's best to go into the book not knowing much), Burke's disturbing prose haunted me from the start. It's a work of great psychological horror, touching on the inherent fears and stresses of parenthood, Wal-Mart, and the potential of total insanity, and turning them into a fucked up novella that's instantly disturbing and memorable.

Don't take candy from strangers guys...