Saturday, January 28, 2012

More Evil Playthings, A Review of Angelic Knight's Toy Soldiers Anthology

I think I've figured out why these books are so damn disturbing.  There's something burned into our consciousness about toys that demand innocence and joy.  Yet, some of the best horrific imagery is the kind that takes these aspects of our culture and somehow transforms them into something sinister.  The strangest thing is that it doesn't take a lot of work.  A little scary music in the background can turn an innocuous rocking chair into the tool of the Prince of Darkness.  A close-up makes a smiling monkey with cymbals look like an incarnation from the gates of Hell.  Sometimes I think Joy and Terror come from the exact same place in our collective psyche, as though toys and fun represent nothing but escape from the evil in our world.

Okay, that's all the psychological junk, now lets get to specifics.  This book is a fun read.  Sometimes, I just couldn't get the image of my brothers and I shooting rubber bands at toy soldiers in our various play war maneuvers out of my head.  It was strange to read horror and have the standard horror emotions mixed with childhood memories.  It actually made the book scarier and more difficult to put down.  Here are some highlights

There's a particularly chilling story, Last Line of Defense, by Phil Hickes.  I have to tell you, I may have been clouded by a population of children at my house the size of most football programs, but this one scared me.  It's filled with standards in the genre, too, nothing really original.  That's not a criticism.  Hickes uses the stereotypes in a way that makes everything fresh.  I was happy to see stories involving nutcrackers, and I have to say that nutcrackers are probably the scariest of all toy soldiers.  I particularly enjoyed The Nutcracker's Game by Lisamarie Lamb.

I liked Jack M. Horne's poem, The Guard, and of course, the Angelic Knight crew was represented well with a poem from Blaze McRobb, a strangely poignant tale by Stacey Turner that makes you wonder if Disney got Toy Story all wrong, and more.  I liked the collection and you should pick it up.  It's a good production from a great independent publisher.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

A Review of Demonic Dolls

My daughter Bethany is ten years old now, and she still has golden curls that are almost like ringlets.  When she was abut one and a half, I visited my parents house with the kids for Christmas.  We arrived at about midnight, and my dad was already out for the night.  Right around six in the morning, I sat at the kitchen table with a cup of coffee.  My dad walked in and we caught up a bit.  Suddenly, he got as pale as a sheet and stopped mid-sentence.  I asked what was wrong, and he pointed down the hallway.  I looked around the corner, and there was my toddler in her little princess outfit walking down the hall.  He thought she was a china doll come to life.  We all laughed, but I'm not sure he ever got over it.

My wife will punch me if I say, "My name is Talking Tina..."  My sister banned gifts of china dolls for my niece.  If I go into a toy store and there are dolls on the shelves, my daughters guide me toward stuffed animals and games.  Face it, to a lot of us, dolls are creepy and scary.  Enter Angelic Knight Press, a fabulous independent publisher of speculative fiction.  Their initial anthology in their Satan's Toybox series is called Demonic Dolls, and they are...demonic and dolls.

Some of these stories are super cool.  Adeline, by Melissa Farrar, is an interesting treat.  Scott Goriscak's Playing with Dolls is a typical Goriscak gem.  I really enjoyed Stacey Turner's Soul Collector as well.  You'd think nobody could do an "unsuspecting people end up in haunted property and they're the last to know it was haunted" story and still make it worth reading, but Turner does.  Blaze McRobb, the knight who is not quite angelic who heads up this indie publisher has a fabulous introductory poem.  Here's a taste.

And so the girl, now is sitting, still is sitting, still is sitting, on the shiny floor of horror, deep inside the room of gloom. 
And her eyes have all the knowing of the dolls around her showing, and the knowledge still is growing, deep within this eerie room.

Want to take a guess to whom he's offering tribute?

Great anthology at a great price.

Friday, January 20, 2012

A review of Quislings, by Poppet

I think Poppet is one of the neatest independent authors around.  I reviewed Siethe, previously.  Let me warn everyone.  Poppet doesn't write for kids nor for the faint of heart, so don't pick up her books looking for sunshine and lollipops!

As with all of Poppet's writing, the characterization here is not lacking.  She creates dark and mysterious personalities placed in extraordinary circumstances.  Setting the book in the midst of Mayan cultural ramblings and modern crises is an especially neat treat for me.  It's a rich and powerful tapestry of setting and atmosphere.

I liked this book so much, that I'm guarding what I say so I give nothing away.  Experience it for yourself.  You'll love it.

Monday, January 16, 2012

The Trouble with Ap Miller

Okay, so this was intended to be a blog reviewing books generally intended for adults.  I don't mean erotica or high violence books, I just mean I'd intended to review for an audience of adults.  Along comes Ap Miller, the wonderful husband and wife writing team of Andrew and Patricia, and although they have a number of books for adults, they sent me The Boogedyman.  Bekah, my oldest daughter, fell in love with that one and even wrote her own review on her own review blog.  (Give her a thrill and leave her a comment.)  Okay, no problem.  One YA book and I could get back to shooting, screaming, kissing, and all that.

Except my daughters really love Ap Miller, so when they sent me Peter and the Pumpkin Patch, I had to read that.  (Yes, I'm the kind of guy who reads every single word before I let my kids read them.)  Okay, next thing you know, I had to do a review of that one because my youngest daughter Abby insisted it needed to be said.  Alright...soon people are sending me children's books left and right.  So, I reconcile myself to reviewing some of those as well.  The way I figure it, this is Rosser's Relaxed Reading Reviews.  Give your kid something to do and you'll get to relax for a little while, right?

So then, I pick up Ap Miller's new book, the Trouble with Tessa, and it's good.  My daughters love it even though it's a little young for them.  They're wonderful children's books about a rescued dachshund, Tessa.  I read the book and it was remarkable how easy it was to imagine a child rather than a dog.  Mommy is spoiling Tessa and Mommy knows it, but she spoils the dog because it's a rescued dog.

Tessa has a problem.
She loves to whine to her mommy.
She is very spoiled, and sits on the floor by
her mommy’s desk and cries.

I'm getting to know Andrew and Patricia, and I know about the real Tessa, and maybe that makes my take on the book a little one-sided, but I loved it.  For any of us who have ever had a rescued dog and dealt with the real fear of abandonment, you know what I mean.  Ap Miller wrote this book as a tribute, and it's special to me.  It's special anyway.  It's a great book, and you should pick it up for a kid in your life.  It's the first in a series, and you might as well pick up all of them.  If I know Ap Miller, your kids will love them.  You'll love them, too.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Abigail's Review of Where Hummingbirds Come From by Adele Crouch

I’ll have to content myself to a life with a family that’s just more interesting and, well, cooler than me. My wife is both smarter and better looking than me.  My four sons are all stronger, smarter, and far more handsome.  On top of that, all three of my daughters are more clever and more fun on any given afternoon.  Okay…yes, you counted right.  I have seven kids.  Yes.  Seven.  Okay?  It helps to close your eyes, shake your head, and just pretend you didn’t know.

With all of my kids, I’ve read thousands of children’s books.   When independent publishing came along, there was a flood of really bad children’s books on the market.  A bunch of folks who didn’t understand that children weren’t idiots just started pumping out junk and expected me to not only put it in front of my kids but to pay for it.  Ugh!  Few things irritate me more than that.

I’m happy to say that Adele Crouch is not one of those writers.  Her beautiful and simple story is the opposite in fact.  It’s short enough that I…oh, wait.  My daughter is reminding me that she’s the one reviewing this book, so here you go.  My lovely Abigail Mae has this to say:

Tweet tweedy tweet…Oh, didn’t see you there.  What is that you want to know?  Oh, what I think of Where Hummingbirds Come From? Well, I guess I could tell you a little. I just think it’s  a wonderful book!  All the games I play have something in them that has something to do with birds.  This has my Mother Nature love on the ball! Hummingbirds, streams, flowers, and even snow!  Awesome! Okay, back to what I was doing.  Tweet tweedy tweet…

It just gives me chills to think about how well my wife has raised that seven year-old despite my best efforts to spoil the daylights out of her.  I’m getting the nod from her that I can get back to my comments, so..It’s short enough that I don’t want to give away too much of the plot, but let me say that it’s a wonderful book.  The story unfolds on a grandmother’s knee as she recounts a story about the origins of hummingbirds.  It’s loving and nostalgic, and most importantly, it didn’t make me want to shoot somebody for treating kids like they can’t like something tender and sweet.

Abby’s seven, and well into chapter books, so maybe it says a lot about Adele Crouch that she still liked a picture book.  I liked it, too.  I also liked that she has a number of her books on Amazon with translations included.  This would allow you to practice another language while enjoying time with your kids.  Pick this one up, folks. Happy reading.  

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

The Ladies Temperance Club Farewell Tour by Jeff Lee

The promotional blurb for this book reads "Think Thelma and Louise meets Lucy and Ethel."  That's about all the review you need for this book. The premiere ladies-getting-back-at-the-world movie combined with the premiere comedy duo of all time is a great description.  The basic premise:  An abused woman with an alcoholic boyfriend stands up for herself by crushing his neanderthal head with a football trophy.  Friends help her dispose of the body, and it's time for a road trip. I really liked the story and the characters.

I love a book that deals with a serious theme but doesn't take itself too seriously.  It would have been far to easy for Lee to make an overwhelming and bitterly biting book attempting to assault the reader with its pure and honorable significance.  There are hundreds, if not thousands, of those flavor-of-the-month, pedantic, self-promoting works of vanity out there.  Lee doesn't fall into the trap.  He realizes he's writing a book, here, and the premise is far more geared toward developing the characters and showing their quirks than making any kind of comment on society.  Take a gander at this excerpt:

Let’s see…” Francine thumbed through some of the ads in the tourist guide.
We’ve got Sluts on Ice at the Tropicana.”
She turned the page.
Naked Sluts on Ice at Caesar’s.”
She turned the page again.
Or Forbidden Naked Sluts on Ice at the Rio.”
Kay and Vonda exchanged a pair of noncommittal shrugs. It didn’t make much
sense to either of them. After all, they could see the same thing for free in the RV’s
shower – minus the two-drink minimum, the choreography and all those silicone
Honey,” Vonda topped off her glass. “If it’s all the same, I don’t feel much like
seeing anything naked. Or on ice.”
Okay…” Francine continued thumbing through her complimentary tourist
guide. “But it ain’t gonna be easy.” 

I just love the satire.  I love the comment about the shower minus the silicone.  It's good stuff.  It would be way too easy to preach at us.  Come on, the book is about a woman who kills her abuser.  How can an author avoid it?  Lee does a heck of a job letting us feel the outrage and the empathy without directing us to.  I was very impressed.  The ending was a little more subtle than I expected, but hey, driving off a cliff has already been done, and RV's are a whole lot harder to drive than convertibles.

This is the first thing I've read by Lee, but you can bet it won't be the last.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Ragnar the Murderer by Lily Byrne

I reviewed this book some time ago for another site that has, alas, not fulfilled all of the promises made to me when I was recruited to, for example staying on the internet!  I liked this book, and I think it's a worthy read, so I'm posting another here.  Interestingly, I didn't keep a copy of my first review, and since the site at which I put it is gone, baby, gone; I'm just writing a new one.  If it ever pops up again, it will be interesting to know if I changed opinions on anything in the five or six months since I first posted.

First off, fair warning.  There are explicitly erotic scenes in this book.  Don't read it if you're squeamish, and don't give it to little children.  I have to tell you though, it takes a good author to write an explicit sex scene and not come off like a Penthouse letter.  Byrne does fine.

The story's good too.  It has a bit of the whole Romeo and Juliet thing going on, with two lovers from opposing tribes rising above the difficulties that poses.  Usually, that makes a story boring, trite, and ho hum.  Byrne has done a fine job with historical research, though, and her setting along with the work she put into it pulls the book out of the "been there, read that" territory and makes it a great read.

If you like romance novels that have a bit of adventure to them, and you enjoy erotica; you'll like this book.  It's inexpensive on Amazon, so what are you waiting for?