Review: “Nightmares”, Ed. Ellen Datlow

Pros: Some fantastic stories
Cons: Some not-so-fantastic stories
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Editor Ellen Datlow’s collection Nightmares: A New Decade of Modern Horror contains more than 20 horror stories of a wide variety. As usual with an anthology, some stories are better than others, and frankly I doubt any two people would agree on all the stories. This makes it tough to give most anthologies more than a 4. One of the excellent sides of anthos, however, is the opportunity to find new authors to read.

There’s one type of story in particular that requires you to think like the writer to really get what happened. There are stories where the ends were ambiguous enough that I was left going, “huh?! What on earth did that mean?” Normally I enjoy ambiguity and such, but I felt it went a bit overboard here. That’s one portion of this that will be heavily dependent on the reader. I tend to think I’m somewhere in the middle when it comes to puzzling out what’s happening, so I’m sure there are those for which it’ll all make sense, while I’m also sure I won’t be the only person to leave a story confused.

Some of the stories involve the paranormal, while others concentrate on the human side of horror. There’s a horror writer who uses his connection to a curious family to do something terrible. (Gene Wolfe’s “Sob in the Silence”.) In Brian Hodge’s “Our Turn Too Will One Day Come,” our narrator has been gaslighted by his family for years (every time he sees something suspicious they assure him nothing’s going on). Now he has to help hide a murder, and at the same time he finds out what is really going on with his family. Hodge’s story was one of my favorites–well written, full of personality, and creepy.

Kaaron Warren’s “Dead Sea Fruit” is surreal, following the idea that a simple kiss can divulge a person’s secrets. I loved this concept. One of my other favorite stories is “Closet Dreams” by Lisa Tuttle. A child has been kidnapped and assaulted (that deserves a trigger warning). She starts trying to imagine her escape, just to have something to do, some bit of hope to hold onto. But of course it doesn’t end there…

Nicholas Royle’s excellent “Very Low-Flying Aircraft” involves a beach and a pilot who’s too good at what he does. You can see the end coming, but in this case that’s good: it allows the tension to hit hard and fast. Steve Duffy’s “The Clay Party” follows 48 people, seven families, as they try to take a wagon train to California using an unusual route that Mr. Clay (the instigator) insists will get them there faster. The story is fascinating. The group runs into so many troubles, and things take several weird turns. Ultimately, I really liked it.

I mostly enjoyed Laird Barron’s “Strappado”, but I feel like the characters should have come to a conclusion or two that they missed. And I did find the ending just a tad confusing. Despite all that, this was a very well-told story with fantastic characters. It involves the work of a mysterious artist who does horrific art installations, and people who are invited to behold the latest work in progress.

Stephen Graham Jones’s “Lonegan’s Luck,” is one of my favorites out of this book. An obvious snake oil salesman comes into town, with layer upon layer of intention. Without wrecking where this goes, I’ll just say that Jones fits a whole lot into such a small story! Lonegan in particular is a fantastic character.

After that you’ll find post-apocalyptic demons, a girl who likes to harm small creatures, a sacrifice to ensure safe passage, a zombie tale (that uses the word ‘zombie’! It’s about time!) in which zombies are largely pests. There are great writers in here–Garth Nix, Richard Kadrey, and more.

One of my favorites was John Langan’s “The Shallows”. I read this once before a couple of years ago, and yet I still remember it. Given how terrible my memory is, that’s high praise–it means it was fascinating enough to stick with me all that time. It’s a very Old Gods sort of tale, and the imagery is fabulous.

There are certainly tales in here that I didn’t enjoy for one reason or another, but there’s a great array of wonderful ones as well. I’d absolutely recommend it to my horror-loving friends.

 
NOTE: Free book provided by publisher in return for review
Expected publication date: October 31, 2016

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So… yeah

Apparently I had a dissociative event and lost two days. Thus, I am NOT ending my reviews. Yay! It’ll probably take me a couple weeks to really get up to speed again, though! And I don’t expect I’ll keep up the speed I’ve gone recently.

Posted in News & Musings, Reviews

Review: “The Naked Cookbook,” Tess Ward

Pros: Good food
Cons: The attitude and confusion
Rating: 2.5 out of 5

Fantastic stuffed avocado!

Fantastic stuffed avocado!

(Spinning one last review into the void.)

There are some wonderful recipes (stuffed avocadoes and avocado soup in particular), but also some problems. The table of contents uses utterly useless labels: pure, raw, stripped, bare, nude, clean, and detox. There’s a set of dressings that did not come out right or tasty, and certainly came out looking nothing like the photograph on the opposite page.

I’d go halfway on this book. There are some yummy things in it, but it needs experienced help to get any further. Oh! Also, as part of the whole theme, the cover is hard, thick cardboard. Which means… yep, no cleaning those little bits of oil or whatever that are easy to swipe off of a plasticized cover or sleeve. So parts of this cookbook are tasty, but I wouldn’t bother buying it.

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Turning off the lights

I never expected to be saying these words, but after 15 years of marriage (plus five for dating), I’m getting a divorce. I don’t expect to come back here, but I’ll leave it up for now in case it’s useful to anyone, or in the unlikely event that I come back. Thank you.

Posted in Cats, Cooking, Gaming, News & Musings, Reviews, Uncategorized, Writing

Review: “IQ,” Joe Ide

Pros: Fascinatingly bizarre characters
Cons: Messy time jumps
Rating: 4 out of 5

As we join the characters of Joe Ide’s IQ, an obviously eeeeevil man tries to kidnap a little girl. IQ (Isaiah Quintabe), using his quick thinking and clever mind, goes after the man and the girl. It’s a great ‘resume’ entry–like the chase scene at the beginning of a Bond movie, it shows exactly who and what IQ is. He obsesses over things that are ‘not quite right’, out of place, etc., so he notices things others don’t. His not-quite-sidekick, Dodson, is annoying but occasionally people-clever, and between the two of them, they almost have a winning PI team. Ever since IQ’s brother Marcus died, IQ can’t stop trying to make things better, in one way or another.

Now, rapper ‘Black the Knife’ (Cal) needs IQ’s help. Someone’s trying to kill him, and sent a lunatic assassin after him. When one attack doesn’t work, he tries another: like sending a huge, extremely aggressive pit bull that’s been trained to kill. While Cal has a nervous breakdown, IQ and Dodson take on the case. IQ prefers to help people who typically can’t afford his services, but he has to pay his rent, and this is a high-paying gig.

 

There’s a fascinating side-bar on large dogs and on the ways in which some people turn them into attack dogs. (It isn’t in any way anti-pit bull; it makes the case that the people who train and breed them this way are to blame.) Despite the fact that it could have been labeled as a brief infodump, I thought it was fascinating.

Pretty much the only thing I really wasn’t fond of was the time jumps. It got messy as to what happened when. I really wish authors would show restraint on flashbacks and other time-bending effects. Most of the time they just muddy the waters and confuse readers. (There’s only one version of this that I completely tolerate: Peter Clines’s use of simply “Then” and “Now” as chapter headings.)

The characters are fantastic. Even Dodson, who seems like a total buffoon at the start, has his tricks, his hidden depths, and some truly fantastic ambition (enough for him and IQ both). While IQ spends so much time in his own head that he practically needs a keeper. Watching the characters try to handle gang wars and empty wallets gets to be rather entertaining.

I wish the book hadn’t jumped around in time so much, for so little good reason. It seems to be catching on lately as a style; I hope it’s a short-lived one. Other than that, I really enjoyed IQ!

 

Free book received from publisher for this review
Estimated book publication date: October 18, 2016

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Review: “Blonde Ice,” R.G. Belsky

Pros: Great characterizations
Cons: One spot that confused me
Rating: 4 out of 5

R.G. Belsky’s Blonde Ice: A Gil Malloy Novel follows (obviously) Gil Malloy, a hot-shot journalist who likes jumping into the middle of trouble. A woman named Victoria Isaacs (formerly a high-priced escort named Houston) believes her husband is cheating on her and hired a private investigator, Melissa Ross, to find out. Now her husband has been missing for two days.

Here I must pause briefly to discuss characterization. Gil is the main character, and he definitely has… issues. What impressed me though is one particular sentence. While Victoria is upset (obviously) over what might have happened to her husband, Gil is already wondering if he should ask her out on a date:

“I decided it would be extremely tacky for me to ask her out on a date while she waited to find out” (whether her husband is alive and okay).

Now that is a brilliant piece of characterization condensed into a single sentence. We immediately know he has some understanding of social norms (since he realized it might be ‘tacky’). He probably sees those norms in transactional terms rather than as actual rules. It also sounds like he’s pretty non-empathetic since he’d even thought about the possibility seriously. One sentence. So much personality. Brilliant characterization. (And in fact, his personality and actions and words through the story were entirely in keeping with that one sentence.)

There’s a side storyline in which Gil’s ex-wife Susan comes back into his life. She’s probably the only person I can imagine keeping up with and understanding Gil in the long run. He’s already decided he wants to marry her again and also keeps trying to convince her to come to bed. To him it’s just obvious this needs to happen. (Did I mention that lack of empathy?)

Where everything fell down for me is when we got into a roulette wheel of drop-dead-gorgeous blond women, some of whom are the same woman, and some of whom are not. I totally lost track of the hot blonde women. Which is pretty funny, actually. As an aside, I have no idea why there’s a scene in here that turns into a lesson on making beef stroganoff casserole.

Gil’s rather unique personality made this book a lot of fun. The characterization of him stayed with him beautifully.

 
NOTE: Free book provided by publisher in return for honest review
Expected publication date: October 18, 2016

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Review: “Monsterland,” Michael Phillip Cash

Pros: Fascinating concept
Cons: Some definite plot holes
Rating: 2.5 out of 5

In Michael Phillip Cash’s Monsterland the tone of the tale starts out… overwrought. Purple. Melodramatic. Thankfully this improved over the course of the story. The melodrama is appropriate in some places, given that this is a somewhat campy tale, but it went overboard early on.

In this world a pandemic created zombie-like people. Folks subsequently discovered that werewolves and vampires already existed, but in small numbers (in particular the vamps seem headed for extinction). Dr. Vincent Conrad discovered a great way to take advantage: he has created seven “Monsterland” theme parks on six different continents. He’s made the opening night such a big deal that he has high-profile political figures present, such as the U.S. president. He’s also promised the vampires that he’ll help them overcome their downward spiral and try to find a cure for them, but they’re starting to have their doubts regarding his promises.

The theme parks offer many jobs during a severe economic downturn–another reason Dr. Conrad can get pretty much anything he wants right now.

 

The characters in this book were okay, but not great. The first time we see Dr. Conrad it’s on a television program, and he came across as creepy. When he’s at the theme park, he suddenly becomes this incredibly charismatic guy who can woo even the US president to come see his park on opening night. I can’t make the two images work together. There’s also the cliche of the bullying jock dating the stunning girl with a heart of gold who would rather be with the main character (she comes across as a bit of a rag doll with little agency of her own; she seems to be defined solely by her romantic relationships). I wish the author hadn’t fallen down on the job here.

There are some obvious similarities between Monsterland and Jurassic Park, so you can imagine the sorts of things that might happen. Toward the end of the tale things go crazy; the pace and danger pick up beautifully. On the whole the book is campy.

I had trouble understanding why the vampires were in such dire straights risking extinction. Given that they can turn people around them into ‘drones’ who’ll pretty much do whatever the vamps want them to do, there’s just no reason for vamps to be on the bottom of the heap.

 

Book provided free by publisher for review
Expected publication date: October 3, 2016

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Review: “Marshmallows”, Eileen Talanian

Pros: In love with this book
Cons: Had mild issues
Rating: 5 out of 5

I could wax poetic about marshmallows all day long. Even longer if we’re talking a semi-toasted marshmallow that’s got a little black crunch to it but mostly consists of warm brown melting-inside toastiness. Unless you have a gas stove (mournful eyes) we have no good marshmallow toasting apparatux. Yes, we could use the broiler, but that’s another tale involving fireballs and burn hair. We shall never speak of it again. (Well, maybe later) Besides, you have to get just that right combination of flavors, and that’s hard to do without the command of a stick over the blazing battlefield.

Eileen Talanian’s Marshmallows: Homemade Gourmet Treats is a great way to play around with making your own favorite marshmallow treat. Personally I like the limoncello best so far (some, but only a few, recipes use actual booze them them).

I’ve used this book already and so have had many events for which to make them. They always seem to be favored by everyone. We have had trouble getting the marshmallow fluff recipe to come out right, but every single regular marshmallow recipe comes out fine. Basically you make a ‘marshmallow syrup”, do a whole lot of fluffing up in a Kitchen Aid fitted with a whisk attachment (and you add a few more ingredients), and let it go. Individual recipes will tell you when to add what. When it’s done you pour it into a pan, smooth out, and let it sit for four hours. Then you flip it onto a dusted-with-coating cutting board, and start cutting and coating.

Marshmallow 'batter' (Limoncello) pre-curing

Marshmallow ‘batter’ (Limoncello) pre-curing

This is an example of the batter you whip up that has to ‘cure’ for four hours. After that time you can cut the whole thing up and dredge the marshmallows in a coating of your choice. I really like the vanilla marshmallows with cinnamon in the coating mix. I also gave one a shot with a hard cider and it worked pretty well. While I really enjoy the recipes as they’re presented I also recommend having a place or time when you can hand a bunch off, because holy cow these are sweet. My husband takes them to his office. Same with another friend. Because you really don’t need so much sugar!!

There are so many variations to try. We could keep a marshmallow marathon going for weeks!

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Review: “Deadline,” Mira Grant

Pros: In love with this series
Cons:
Rating: 5 out of 5

In Mira Grant’s (Seanan McGuire’s) Newsflesh series, Deadline (Book two of Newsflesh) the Zombie apocalypse has changed the world–although not entirely in ways you might assume. What’s more interesting is the news structures that came together as the traditional news channels hemmed and hawed. Now it’s bloggers who rule the stream. Some are “Newsies,” the ones who report on facts. “Irwins” like to get themselves into dardevil dangerous situations. Fictionals write the poetry and fiction that give people a bit of escapism. They’ve found that this combination works best. and draws some of the best ratings. One particularly good group consists of George (Georgia-newsie), Buffy (Georgette–fictional), and Shaun (the Irwin) This particular group is good at what they do and their ratings just keep going up–except that George and Buffy are both now dead. Shaun has to step up to the plate to assign new faces to jobs, but he’s also been hearing George in his head wherever he goes. Soon he’ll have to pull together his news team to uncover another terrible plot that threatens the world.

 

Shaun’s weird (crazy?) connection to George isn’t really escaping anyone’s notice, and Shaun’s just fine with having her there. Hell, sometimes he even drinks Coke–which he hates–to appease her. It doesn’t matter what they’re relationship was (adopted siblings), it matters that her voice sometimes saves him from doing some very stupid things.

There’s research being done in the area in which George had problems: she had a ‘reservoir’ of infection in her eyes, and she’s not the only one to find such reservoirs in their bodies. So far the scientists think it’s some sort of defense of the disease, but they can’t figure it out. Especially since people keep killing their test subjects as an unusually high rate.

Why are you asking me questions you know the answers to already? Nobody here needs the exposition.

Hallelujah or whatever. I love the meta-joke and the fact that she acknowledges the possibility. I think the eco-system of the various bloggers, their types, the permits they need, the materials they’re required to take in order to defend and so on is fascinating. Shaun’s grief is woven beautifully into his stories.

This is where I’d love to tell you one or two things, but they’d be spoilers. You’ll have to trust me that things get wild.

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Review: “Feed,” Mira Grant

Pros: Absolutely wonderful milieu and characters!
Cons:
Rating: 5 out of 5

In Mira Grant’s Feed (Newsflesh, Book 1), two curative viruses meet up and mutated into something terrible. So now we don’t get cancer or the common cold, but everyone eventually becomes a zombie, even if it’s when they die. The zombies haven’t really caused an ‘apocalypse’ but they’ve definitely resulted in some changes. For instance, if you’re a reporter you have to have all sorts of qualifications, be trained with a gun, and so on. It didn’t take long for traditional news sources to bow before the bloggers, who were much more willing to toss themselves straight into danger for a good story. Ratings are everything. George (Georgia) and her adoptive brother Shaun–along with their friend Buffy–got an invite to ride along on a Senator’s push toward the White House. They’re ready for the next level of providing the news.

George is a ‘Newsie’–someone who tries to report the facts of what’s happening. Shaun is an ‘Irwin’–he pokes and prods at the things that might bite back, enjoying the danger of it (I have to assume that’s named after Steve Irwin). Buffy is a ‘Fictional’–she writes poetry, stories, and so on. In this case she’s also along because she’s one of the best techies in the business, able to hide tiny little cameras and microphones in (or as) jewelry and so on.

 

There are zombies, and some information about them, but frankly this story is about the people. The real problem with the zombies is that in killing them you might get their blood on your skin. All mammals are already ‘infected’ by the virus, but it generally takes something to trigger that virus. An active virus from a blood spatter could activate a person’s dormant virus colony. This makes blood spatter–much easier to end up with than a bite–lethal. The bloggers go through so many quick blood tests, and gun training, and decontamination procedures, that they at least have some chance of surviving an encounter. Certainly they have to be bound and determined to do what they do if they want to go through all that. There are a couple of small mysteries to think about (zombies seem to get smarter the larger the pack they’re in), but not a whole lot of answers. It works.

The narration (mostly from George’s side) is fantastic. She and Shaun know very well how to handle their readers and the attention they get–George and Shaun’s parents basically adopted them as a means to get ratings, so there’s no love lost there. The group is bound and determined to ride their invitation all the way to the top. Along the way there are attempted murders, actual deaths, secrets unbound, global blogger conspiracies–and of course, zombie attacks.

The characters in here are fantastic. I love the relationship between Shaun and George. They use the campiness of the situation they’re in to play to the crowd, both informing and entertaining. I wouldn’t have expected to enjoy a zombie tale that was about bloggers, but Feed has changed my mind.

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