Review: Ship the Kids on Ahead by Bill Stokes (Audiobook)

Review:

shipahead

Let me say at the outset that Ship the Kids on Ahead is not the typical sort of audiobook or reading material that I tend to gravitate toward, even in the realm of non-fiction. The time I’ve devoted to reading non-fiction as a whole is woefully inadequate, unfortunately, and tends to lean toward science-related topics or historical events rather than the slice-of-life minutia that Bill Stokes wrote about for the Wisconsin State Journal.

Happily, I found myself surprisingly entertained by Stokes view of small-town America circa the 1950s and ’60s. Obviously, quite a lot has changed since that era, but there are still plenty of timeless experiences that are easy to relate to, particularly in the matters of family and parenting, which is a topic that Stokes turns to fairly often. And I’m right there with him in thinking there needs to be time off work for the random occurrences of dumb days, those days that begin with a sudden breaking of a shoe lace and a small piece of shell in your eggs, portents that this will be a no-good, very bad, rotten day, one better spent in bed, perhaps reading a book.

These short stories are narrated by a handful of performers and all of them are up to the task of bringing Stokes’s words to life. RC Bray and Joe Hempel in particular were stand-outs for me, and they seemed to really connect with the material. Xe Sands, too, brought a nice feminine touch to the production for a few segments and it’s clear that I’ll have to keep an eye out for more of her work in the future.

Ship the Kids on Ahead presents the kind of columns we no longer see very much of in newspapers (at least by my estimation), and Stokes words in particular were designed to give the reader a smile or a bit of a chuckle after reading some of the more sobering stories print journalism brought to your doorstep. These are stories of daily life, of being stuck in traffic, or putting up a pegboard to hang tools from, or watering the Christmas tree and imbibing a bit too much in the process. Short, quirky, and entertaining, there is a broad appeal to the columns recorded here, and plenty to relate to.

[Note: I received a copy of this title from the publisher, Paul Stokes, in exchange for an honest review.]

 

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Review: Ship the Kids on Ahead by Bill Stokes (Audiobook)

Review: Corpse Rider by Tim Curran

Review:

corpse_rider

A few years ago, thanks to the Horror Aficionados group on Goodreads, I discovered a new-to-me author when it was suggested I check out Dead Sea by Tim Curran. I don’t remember which awesome reader suggested it, but I owe that person a huge, hearty thank you. I devoured that book and instantly bought a bunch more of Curran’s titles to add to my TBR, and have been a fan ever since.

His latest, Corpse Rider, is a hearty ghost story that exemplifies the notion that no good deed goes unpunished. While visiting her mother’s grave, Christina picks away the weeds from an older, long-untended headstone. This minor act upends her life, connecting her with the spirit of something hideous. While it’s certainly bad news for Christina, it’s a lot of good for readers.

Curran has remarkable skill at crafting disturbing scenes of grotesqueness and violence, and a few of the visuals he stuck in my head here will be with me for a while. Christina makes for a nicely flawed heroine, and the story surrounding her is rooted in an appropriately creepy historical context. Mostly, though, this is just a cool, gory, little ghost story (it comes in at around a smidge over 100 pages), and if you’re looking for a breezy read to help kick off some October scares leading up to Halloween, this is a great place to start.

 

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Review: Corpse Rider by Tim Curran

Review: Stranded by Bracken MacLeod

Review:

stranded

Stranded is the type of book that made me glad to be reading it indoors, in the known security and confines of my home, where I was nice and warm and comfortable, and had a nip of whiskey or Irish Mist to help keep the chills Bracken MacLeod was generating at bay.

Caught in an arctic storm, the ship Arctic Promise is thrown off-course from its destination and lost in the fog. Soon enough, the ship finds itself embedded in ice. In the distance, the flat horizon is broken only by the hump of an odd, indiscernible shape. The crew are sick with a mysterious illness, except for Noah, who finds himself constantly at odds with most of the crew. And the sick are seeing…something.

Right from the outset, MacLeod throws readers into the thick of things. His writing of the violent storm Noah and his shipmates find themselves in is phenomenally hair-raising and chaotic, and the unique threats of the arctic landscape itself are well posed and chillingly executed.

Much of the horror in Stranded is derived from the environment itself, as much as the crazed crewmen Noah is forced to contend with, and there’s a heavy, freezing atmosphere that permeates MacLeod’s writing. It’s strong stuff, and reminded me a bit of another arctic powerhouse horror-thriller in Dan Simmon’s The Terror. (If you want to know why I love arctic horror, this and The Terror are two books to check out for prime examples of environmental scares done right.)

MacLeod also does some great work with the characters here, although it is a bit of slow-boil to learn why Noah is so despised by so many of his shipmates. Noah catches a lot of flack, for various reasons, and I personally would not have minded getting a bit more information up front rather than having details parceled out piecemeal over the course of the book’s first half. This is a minor complaint in an otherwise strong work, though, but the motivations behind the firmly anti-Noah characters make for rich conflict, particularly in the book’s later segments.

Stranded is an impressive and visceral work of achingly cold environmental horror with a nifty sci-fi twist, and a work that has ensured Bracken MacLeod is an author whose releases I will be watching out for.

[Note: I received an advanced copy of this title for review from the publisher via NetGalley.]

 

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Review: Stranded by Bracken MacLeod

Review: Livia Lone by Barry Eisler

Review:

livialone

Livia Lone may be the darkest, and most accomplished, book from Barry Eisler yet. I’ve been a long-time reader of Eisler’s work, and a big fan of his series character, John Rain, but early on into his latest I found myself already needing more Livia Lone books. It may be heretical, but as much as I love Eisler’s mournful assassin, if, for whatever reason, we never hear from John Rain again, I’ll be OK as long as there’s plenty more of Livia Lone to fill the gap.

Livia is a tragic, tortured, and psychologically fascinating character. She’s also incredibly strong and capable, both mentally and physically, and is a protector at heart. Sold into slavery alongside her sister by her parents, Livia and Nason are shipped across the ocean from Thaliand to the USA, and separated along the way. Although Livia was rescued and adopted, the whereabouts of her sister are a mystery that has driven her for more than a decade, and she now works a police detective in the sex crimes division of Seattle PD. She also has some less than legal extracurricular activities targeting rapists.

Right from the get-go, Eisler tackles rape culture and male privilege with an appropriately seedy and disturbing examination of a would-be rapists mindset, and had me instantly rooting for Livia.

Although Lone metes out some incredibly satisfying vigilante justice, Eisler never fails to shy away from the grotesqueness of the world she inhabits. This is not a feel good read, and much of the book made me downright uncomfortable and disgusted. Livia Lone is absolutely brutal, and oftentimes quite graphic, in its depictions of human trafficking, violence, child abuse, and rape. The streaks of hope that do sparingly exist herein are fueled by revenge, and Livia’s willingness to overcome whatever obstacles are put in her way. While she may get beaten down, she refuses to be defeated, even at a young age. A dragon resides within her, and when she lets it loose, woe be to anyone stupid enough to get in her way.

Livia Lone is stark and uncompromising, bleak but rewarding. Like his titular heroine, Eisler does not pull any punches here, and although it often left me despairing for humanity I think it’s a better book for it. And Livia, herself, is a heroine that I need much more of.

[Note: I received an advanced copy of this for review from the publisher via NetGalley.]

 

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Review: Livia Lone by Barry Eisler

Review: The Warren by Brian Evenson

Review:

thewarren-brian-evenson

Although The Warren is short – less than a hundred pages and compelling enough to read in a single sitting – I needed some time to digest its content and figure out what I wanted to say about it. Ultimately, I think the less said about it the better. (And I do mean this in all seriousness, and in the best way possible.)

I went into this book blind, knowing very little about it other than it had a snazzy cover and was another release in Tor’s strong line of novellas. I think this is about all you should know about it, as well. It’s a good, twisty read and you should probably check it out so long as you can stand not having everything perfectly resolved and all questions neatly answered.

Not enough? OK, fine. Imagine taking some science fiction heavy weights, like Blade Runner and The Martian and tossing them in a heavy-duty blender with Memento for added flavor. The Warren, however, is far from simply a pastiche of these other works, even if I found their influences to be strong. What you end up with, though, is a short work that calls into question the nature of self and self-perception with an utterly unreliable narrator in what is, basically, a locked-room drama.

This warped and fairly grim narrative cares not a whit about delivering the goods in a linear fashion, so readers should go in with scrutinizing eyes and pay keen attention to the details. Brian Evenson raises a lot of questions within his story, most of which are either answered ambiguously at best, or left to the reader to suss out the clues. I enjoyed connecting the various puzzle pieces presented in The Warren, and I suspect that a second read-through would be both deeply rewarding and quite different than the initial journey. This is certainly a story that demands a focused reading, and the closer you inspect Evenson’s writing the more satisfying it becomes.

[Note: I received an advanced copy of this title for review from the publisher via NetGalley.]

 

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Review: The Warren by Brian Evenson

Review: Chills by Mary SanGiovanni

Review:

chills.jpg

I feel like I’ve been in a bit of a slump with my horror reads of late, with the last few titles being more misses than hits, the bad outweighing the good. Chills is a title that I’ve been looking forward to, ever since it was previously released as a signed, limited edition hardcover from Thunderstorm under the title The Blue People. I secured a copy of that edition earlier this year, but opted to keep it pristine and instead read an advanced copy of the Kensington Books edition on Kindle.

I’ve openly admitted in the past to being a sucker for winter-based horror thrills, and am always on the lookout for titles in this niche. Many thanks to John Carpenter and The Thing for this particular affectation. There’s something about blood-stained snow and monsters running wild that just really does it for me.

All of this is to say that I had certain hopes and expectations for Chills – it needed to satisfy some particular sweet spots I have for this corner of the horror genre, but it also needed to get me over that hump of disappointment I’ve been feeling lately after a couple less-than-stellar readings.

Well, Mary SanGiovanni delivered in spades. I flat-out loved Chills, and it grabbed me in a way that the last few horror books I’ve read failed to do. I did not want to put this book down, and I looked forward to my time with Colby, CT police detectives Jack Glazier, Reece Teagan, and occultist Kathy Ryan. Ryan in particular was an easy favorite in SanGiovanni’s cast of characters, and I’m hoping we get more of her in the future.

Set in a small, isolated town blanketed in a furious storm of snow and ice, unearthly monsters lurk and strike out with surprising viciousness, and a handful of dead bodies turning up around town are branded with strange, occult markings. Suffice to say, there’s a lot of bad stuff going on in Colby, and SanGiovanni not only crafts a wicked little creature feature, but one heck of a sharp cosmic horror thriller to boot. The Lovecraftian elements in Chills are very well rendered and help give a nice epic feel to this story of small-town terror. This is the type of stuff I good and truly dig.

Chills was my first title from SanGiovanni, and it most definitely will not be the last. I caught reference throughout the work to some of her other titles, most notably The Hollower, which has made its way onto my must-purchase list come payday.

[Note: I received an advanced copy of this title for review from the publisher via NetGalley.]

 

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Review: Chills by Mary SanGiovanni

Review: Out by Natsuo Kirino

Review:

out

My original OUT audiobook review and many others can be found at Audiobook Reviewer.

Out, an Edgar Award nominated crime novel out of Japan, is a deep, twisty, and complex thriller that is neither for the faint of heart, nor the uninitiated.

Natsuo Kirino does a masterful job penning this tale of murder, greed, corruption, and sexism taking a slow-boil approach and letting it all steep and simmer. Coming in at more than eighteen hours, this is not a quick whodunit kind of listen, but more of a howdunit – how, after a woman kills her husband, will she and her friends dispose of the body, and how will the act of mutilation that follows spiral out of control? How, exactly, will all their lives unravel in the wake of this rage-induced violence?

Out is a deeply layered story, with superb characterizations, and a number of plot threads intertwining and separating. These are women under stress, and Kirino paints intimate portraits of each, showing you both the good and the awful as they cope with the stress of not only their jobs at a box lunch factory, but with their personal lives and problems, and the growing complications of their complicity in a criminal conspiracy. New wrinkles subtly appear to keep both the characters and this book’s listeners on edge as the women are thrust into a strange, new world of police detectives, organized crime, betrayal, blackmail, and, ultimately, revenge as they find themselves scrutinized by an unknown outside force.

Emily Woo Zeller does an excellent job narrating the story, providing enough distinction between the four central women at the heart of this story, and hitting a (mostly) properly deep register for the males of the cast. At times, I thought she hit a little too-deeply for some of the men, giving the effect an almost comical vibe that didn’t jibe with the story, but it’s a minor enough caveat given the overall strength of her reading of the material. Out‘s production quality is top-notch, and the audio comes through cleanly and without a hitch, as I’ve come to expect as a listener of Audible Studio’s productions.

Out is a slow-going crime story, but one that’s well worth the time and attention required. It’s a dark story, punctuated with insight on Japanese culture and the treatment of women in their male-dominated society in between flashes of violence. Kirino does not shy away from violence – and, perhaps it should be noted that this is violence Kirino deals with here, not action as you may find in most other popular crime stories. The people in this book are not running around with guns and knives because it’s sexy and thrilling, but because they seek to do brutal damage to others, either to kill or to prevent themselves from being killed. This is a book where the actions of these characters carry a particularly heavy weight. Out is filled to the brim with bleak stuff, with depictions of rape, murder, and dismemberment, and Kirino puts his audience right in the middle of it all. These are characters who are seeking a way out, and at times it’s uncomfortable enough that the listener or reader may themselves be hoping for an easy escape as well.

 

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Review: Out by Natsuo Kirino