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.


Tuesday, May 22, 2018

SHILOH by Philip Fracassi

Philip Fracassi once again gives us another unsettling, haunting novella, this time set during the infamous Battle of Shiloh, one of the bloodiest of the American Civil War. As we follow two twin brothers struggling to survive the conflict, the story is told in vivid, indelible imagery that paints the graphic horror of war, but also the OTHER disturbing horrors they discover amidst the carnage.
The war might spare my life, but I’m confident my soul is long-since forfeit. You don’t wash with another man’s blood and expect to get clean.
There is also a bonus story here called "Soda Jerk," abut a teenage girl who has recently moved to the small town of Sabbath, and what happens when the creepy dude next door gives her a tour of the town. It's a nifty little Matheson-ish story that's worth a read!


Thursday, May 17, 2018


There are many movies, especially the exploitation ones in the 70's, that present prostitution and pimps in a heightened way, whether it's glorifying a pimp's excess, or soaking us in the tragedy of it all, like on HBO's Hookers at the Point.

This noir does something different, showing us a less melodramatic transition that two people take into the business and letting us see how easy it can be to get caught up. We follow Lester Banks, a depressed loser who is barely making it by driving a cab, and his apartment neighbor Chelsea, a college student who has equally terrible money problems and finds solace in the arms of lovers every night. They decide to team up and go into business together, selling Chelsea's sex to horny men online while Lester provides transportation and protection. And as you can guess, it doesn't take long at all for this situation to go bad really fast.

Cizak double dares you to judge these characters. There were many times in the book where I was tempted to, but realized that it would be too easy and unfair to dismiss these two as simply: the loose girl who doesn't respect herself and the asshole that takes advantage of her. Cizak even has a chorus of bench ladies who live in their apartment building who judge berate the two constantly and I didn't want to be like them. We see everything through the lens of a man who's too broke and broken to care about much of anything. Because of this, the book's tone is very nihilistic and bitter and makes it challenging to empathize.

And it was tragic witnessing Lester and Chelsea's increasing resentment toward one another as they fell deeper into self-loathing. My main issue with the book is the conclusion and the fact that it feels like there wasn't as big of a consequence for Lester's actions as there were for Chelsea's. Books like this almost always end in destruction, and it's unfair that the woman in this situation bears the brunt of it more than the guy. But hell, I don't know, maybe life ain't fair...

In the end, it's a tricky book and not for everyone, but I enjoy books that challenge me in this way, daring me to follow unlikable characters, forcing me to see them and understand them in all their complexity.


Monday, May 14, 2018


This is one of the best comic series that I’ve been following so it’s disappointing that it’s single issue releases have been constantly delayed as of late. But the concluding chapter to this 2nd Book was finally released last week! In Book Two we follow a number of supporting characters as they deal with the aftermath of the two recent deaths in Craw County, and prepare for the fateful Homecoming game against Wetumpka County. The town is really expanded here for the reader as we focus on characters like Esaw, the Sheriff, the crazy snake-handling woodsman Boone, and vengeful newcomer Roberta Tubb, and we get too see how they all revolve around Coach Boss and the violent legacy of the county.

I was bowled over by Book One and once again, Southern Bastards features almost first-rate writing, including some stunning moments of dialogue. It's so impressive how Aaron forces you to follow a truly nasty villain like Coach Boss and actually make it really work, where you find yourself empathizing just a little. I hate the guy, but do I dare say I understand him? It's riveting stuff. And it's cool to see Aaron setting up the different characters on an inevitably violent collision course with Boss. It's like addictive, binge-worthy tv. Along with writers like Ed Brubaker, Brian K. Vaughan, and Jeff Lemire, Jason Aaron shows us what happens when you push the comic book medium to its full potential. This series suffers from too many delays, but everyone should be reading this awesome story of blood, beer, and BBQ.


Saturday, May 12, 2018

MAY by Marietta Miles

Let's get this out of the way. I don't know who decided on the cover for this book but it's terrible. And I'm bringing it up because Down & Out Books usually has fairly decent covers for their books. So did someone have something against this one? I'm confused. This book doesn't deserve this.

May tells parallel tales of a solitary woman: first in 1987 as she prepares for a storm on a North Carolina island, which is presented consecutively with the story of her life as a teenager on the mainland and the unfortunate circumstances that led her to where she is now.

The book takes an interesting approach at depicting loneliness and the events that can feed it, especially in showing the differences between May and the two other lead characters, Junior and Tommy, who all share a similar isolation but with totally different backgrounds. They all struggle to stay afloat emotionally and to feel that they matter. And by the end, May realizes that the salvation she needs might be found in caring for someone else rather than expecting to be cared for by others. I must say that I preferred the past storylines better than the present day one, mainly because the present story was filled with so many day-to-day minutiae, details that I feel were unnecessary, cramped the pace, and overstayed their welcome.

Even though you might see this book billed as a crime novel, it's nothing of the sort and it's more enjoyable when you don't have those expectations. I feel like Marietta Miles has a masterpiece in her and I'll be here to see it.

But please, please do better with covers Down & Out Books, if you're looking to actually sell copies!


Friday, May 11, 2018

HELL & GONE by Duane Swierczynski

*Book 2 of the Charlie Hardie Trilogy*

If you read the first book in the Charlie Hardie trilogy, Fun & Games, and think you know the way this series is going to continue, trust me, you have no idea.

Hell & Gone takes our favorite ex-cop-turned-house-sitter Charlie Hardie deeper into another level of the conspiracy that he found himself violently thrust into in the first novel, where he'll be challenged even more than before. It's pretty cool that this sequel feels completely different than it's predecessor, but yet totally fits. Swierczynski is one of the best writers of pure thriller out there, and like all of the great thriller writers, takes the most ridiculous of concepts and makes something really entertaining. All the craziness never felt forced to me or out of place. He kept throwing out so many creative and unexpected twists that I just gave up on trying to figure everything out and just went along for the ride.  Especially after the final scene, I can't wait to see where the final book takes us.