Thursday, September 22, 2016

In Brief by Shelley Lee Riley

(pb; 2015: story anthology)

Overall review:

This seventeen-story and -poem anthology is a sampler of various genres, from light-hearted slice-of-life joy to nightmarish journeys. The theme that links them together (for the most part) is a black-and-white morality -- most of these tales or, in some cases, would-be tales, are about punishing those who transgress or rewarding those who do not. If black-and-white morality puts you off, you might want to skip this collection.

For those who appreciate mixed-genre morality works, there is a lot in Brief to entertain you: concise writing, well-developed characters, (mostly) relatable situations and overall good writing.

Some of the works in Brief feel like warm-up exercises to better, more fully-realized stories or poems. With re-writing, time and a different pair of editorial eyes, these pieces could easily become publishable works, butterflies to their Brief-current cocoons.

The pieces that work are polished and microfiction-excellent. Short fiction can be a hard art to master, and Riley is close to doing so. Brief is a worthwhile purchase, not only for the pieces that work, but for the author's willingness to risk experimentation with the aforementioned warm-up exercises and occasional harsh characters.

Riley is a promising, on-the-cusp-of-greatness talent worth reading and supporting, with your time and your cash, if you can appreciate a firm ever-present morality and mostly-effective brevity.

Standout works:

1.)  "Brown Shoe": The physical journey of a shoe takes on more personal significance for a woman observing it.

2.)  "Ageless":  A woman in a store learns another lesson from her mother, now an old woman.

3.)  "Vanquished":  Vivid tale about an abusive father(Jack), his wife (Sophie) and his son (Jamie), whose lives are wildly altered by the events of one night.

4.)  "Night Changes": Avery, a teen rebelling against her mother's rules, has an unexpected encounter while sneaking out.

5.)  "Mother's Recluse": A woman takes care of her dead mother's cats.

6.) "Rouge": A terrible dog's arrival in a woman's life kicks off a series of significant life changes for her.

7.)  "#17": Twilight Zone-esque tale about a woman on a beach.

8.) "Images":  A meeting in a sleazy bar leads to unexpected developments. Fast-moving, entertaining stuff.

9.)  "Details": This television-themed vignette is light in tone, a promising start for a full-fledged story.

10.)  "Face in the Wall": Good use of symbolism in this fairy tale-esque, nightmare-toned tale about a grandmother and her grandchildren.

11.) "Sam's Stories": Fond, nostalgic story about an old horse trainer who humbles his critics with his independent attitude and actions.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Honky Tonk Samurai by Joe R. Lansdale

(hb; 2016: thirteenth book in the Hap and Leonard series)

From the inside flap:

"Only Hap and Leonard would catch a cold case with hot cars, hot women, and ugly skinheads.

"The story starts simply enough when Hap, a former 60s activist and self-proclaimed white trash rebel, and Leonard, a tough black, gay Vietnam vet and Republican with an addiction to Dr. Pepper, are working a freelance surveillance job in East Texas. The uneventful stakeout is coming to an end when the pair witness a man abusing his dog. Leonard takes matters into his own fists, and now the bruised dog abuser wants to press charges.

"One week later, a woman named Lilly Buckner drops by their new PI office with a proposition: find her missing granddaughter, or she'll turn in a video of Leonard beating the dog abuser. The pair agrees to take on the cold case and soon discover that the used car dealership where her granddaughter worked is actually a front for a prostitution ring. What began as a missing-person case becomes one of blackmail and murder."


Honky is one of my favorite entries in this series thus far. It has all the best aspects of previous Hap and Leonard page-turners, with its effective levity, lots of raw and realistic action, characters who are worth rooting for or hissing at, effective twists and a storyline that blends old and new elements – and characters, as well. New, colorful characters include the creepy, strange and compelling Booger; older characters include Vanilla Ride, Jim Bob, Cason Statler (Hap and Leonard’s playboy-reporter friend) and Marvin. Throw in a bunch of especially sicko hillbillies, and you have another future classic worth owning.

Followed by the story anthology Hap and Leonard (2016); Coco Butternut: A Hap and Leonard Novella (2017); Rusty Puppy (2017; novel); Cold Cotton (2017, novella); Hoodoo Harry (2017, novella) and Hap and Leonard: Blood and Lemonade (2017, mosaic novel) and Jackrabbit Smile (2018).

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

The Disciple by Laird Koenig

(pb; 1983)

From the back cover:

"They came together at the Willows.

"There by the riverside grave of his twin sister, Marc-Anthony met Brother Leaf, a soft-spoken man blessed with the awesome power to perform miracles. Cure the sick. . . Heal the crippled. . . Raise the dead. . .

"Marc Anthony became his most devoted disciple, and Brother Leaf rewarded his family with wondrous gifts. Love, for his lonely mother. Faith, for his arrogant father. Passion for his beautiful sister.

"Soon everyone came to Brother Leaf., for they believed he was a prayer come true. . . until the night of horror. Until the night when the miracles didn't work and the killing wouldn't stop."


Disciple is a fun, fast-read thriller about a family whose peril comes into being in the form a quiet young man whose underlying faith is more manipulative and dangerous than his uttered ideals and pursuits. There are few, if any surprises, in this tidy and well-written novel but that is not necessarily a bad thing if you keep your expectations modest and realistic about this effective tale of religious obsession, lies and other aspects of human darkness.

Thursday, September 08, 2016

Blood Father by Peter Craig

(pb; 2005) 

From the back cover:

"Lydia Carson is an accident waiting to happen. Strung out, she's always running from disaster, and more often she's running right into it. Now at seventeen, Lydia has stumbled onto real trouble. Not only has she witnessed a brutal murder perpetrated by her boyfriend, but his minions are out to make sure that she doesn't have a story to tell the police.

"John Link is a former Hell's Angel, an ex-con, trying to stay clean and sober while running a tattoo parlor from the kitchen of his trailer home. He's also Lydia's long-estranged father, and when both the police and her boyfriend's thugs are hot on Lydia's trail, Link becomes Lydia's only hope."


Blood  is an edgy, excellent drama-with-action novel with a strong story, characters who resonate as real people and concise writing, whether Craig is penning a quiet, regret-tinged moment between Lydia and Link or an explosive car chase-shootout scene. The heart and impetus of Blood is Link and Lydia's relationship, as it builds into something better. Everything fits here, there are no wasted words -- this is worth owning and it is one of my favorite reads of this year.


The film version was released stateside on August 26,2016. Jean François-Richet directed it, from a screenplay by the book's author and Andrea Berloff.

Mel Gibson played Link. Erin Moriarty played Lydia Carson. Diego Luna played Jonah. William H. Macy played Kirby. Miguel Sandoval played Arturo Rios.

Michael Parks played Preacher. Dale Dickey played Cherise. Richard Cabral played Joker. Daniel Macada played Choop.Raoul  Ryan Dorsey played Shamrock. Max Trujillo, billed as Raoul Trujillo, played The Cleaner.

Saturday, September 03, 2016

The Whorehouse That Jack Built by Kevin Sweeney

(eBook; 2015: novella)

From the back cover:

"It was a whorehouse but not one open to just anyone. To get there you had to be dying or insane. The services offered were all offered for the same price, which was everything you had. There were paths there that only those who crossed the border into the Undiscovered Country could find, if they knew the landmarks to follow, the signs to watch for.

"Clem followed and watched and two days ago his mule had died of exhaustion and it was just him and Lady keepin' on who knew how and finally they came to a dead town with no name at twilight and whorehouse with a sign above the door that Clem could not read:


"A whorehouse run by demons. A whorehouse that offered the greatest pleasures a man could ever want. . . in exchange for everything he had.

"Am I gonna do this? Am I really gonna do. . .

"The cancer in his belly twisted spikes through his impacted bowels and in front of him lay Lady,  a sacrifice.

"And Clem pushed that door open and stepped through that threshold."


Whorehouse's story in a nutshell: an "albino sexorcist", trying to close portals to the Abyss, has sex with inbred demons while chanting holy litanies and otherwise trying to kill his hated lust-mates. Much of this takes place in the book's titular location, run by Marshall McGregor (an ugly dwarf) who also goes by the name of Jack -- a shortened version of his more infamous moniker.

Whorehouse is not a book for the easily offended or the easily queasy. It is an ultra-vivid, viscous and over-the-top whirlwind tale of twisted religion, divinities, sadistic sex and hyperviolence. . . it is an entertaining bizarro fantasy suffused with hentai-esque overtones, distinctive and worth owning.

<em>The Freak</em> by Eleanor Robinson

(pb; 1980 ─ a.k.a. The Silverleaf Syndrome ) From the back cover “He was born monstrously deformed, a freak of nature. Possessed of ...