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I recently discovered that Debbie Harry wrote a memoir. Well truth be told, I came across this little ditty about a year ago when I was perusing the booklists for purchasing for the library. Then other books came along, and a minor thing called a pandemic happened. So as I was going through my library e-book collection, my eyes alighted on this and it was AVAILABLE (yes !!!). Needless to say … but enough with the pleasantries and such bollocks, and on with the bleedy review.

Growing up in the TV-less land of Guyana during the 70s, by default, had many of us attached to our radios. I may have heard Rapture and Call Me numerous times on our radio, but I definitely remember the reggae-styled The Tide Is High. Actually, it was very popular in the country because of that very reggae-style beat. I always imagined it was a sultry, brown-skinned woman (that probably looked like Pam Grier) with dread-locked hair crooning The Tide Is High over the radio. Yes, I have a thing for Pam Grier (still do) and … bloody hell, I was in for a surprise. Flash forward to the early 80s where television sets (despite no transmission of telly signals in the country still) rigged to Betamax players were popping up in various venues to entertain people. One such location was the local sports club, in our town, that on Saturdays would host free videos for the kids/teens to watch. One such Saturday as I was waiting for the main movie to begin, they were playing a bunch of music videos to fill the time. And then Blondie’s Heart of Glass appeared on the screen … and for the first time in my teeny life the concept of infatuation became a vicious reality. Everything around me seem to disappear (yapping kids, rowdy teenagers, preening girls) and it was just me … and sultry Debbie Harry. My love affair with Blondie had begun. And I know this was a bit of detour here … but there.

A love child (her words) as a result of a liaison between an American woman and a married Englishman, Deborah Harry (not her original name) was placed up for adoption. She was adopted by a childless couple (the Harrys) in New Jersey. Ms Harry’s revisiting of her childhood is quite refreshing and delightfully simple where she, I suspect being quite the tomboy, bravely explored the nearby woods that hosted transient and hobo types, read books (she’s a bookworm) and later on wrestled with her floor rug as she watched wrestling on the telly. In other words, a really decent childhood, despite her tough introduction to the world. Well, there was that odd encounter, at eight years old, that involved indecent exposure and a masturbating pervert. Yes, there were absolute tossers back then. An eight year old kid. Seriously?

Moving through her teens like most typical teens and beyond her college years, with a new sense of independence, she eventually moved across the river into New York City and conception of Blondie begins. We are returned to a New York City where Times Square isn’t exactly the family friendly glitterfest that it is today and lofts on Canal Street and Soho cost $75 – $100 a month for rent (yes, this was a very long time ago). As she sets out to start her musical career we find ourselves revisiting a downtown staple that was once the hub of emerging underground music scene (punk et al): CBGB/OMFUG (which actually stands for Country, Bluegrass, Blues and Other Music For Uplifting Gormandizers … aye, quite a mouthful). Along the way she and her band mates struggle to earn a living as they salvage tossed out clothing to remake into their own stage gear (yes, folks back then real punk clothing was mostly DIY since we didn’t have Hot Topic around with their ridiculous prices). There were a few perilous turns in Debbie’s NYC life: a sexual assault in the presence of an incapacitated boyfriend and a near Ted Bundy moment when she reluctantly accepted a ride from seemingly, “decent” stranger. Needless to say on both occasions, visions comprised of Dexter and Hostel emerged in my mind as I thought of these two wankers. At CBGB, she formed friendships with Joey Ramone (of the Ramones), Fab 5 Freddy, Lou Reed, Joan Jett, Patti Smith, and Siouxie Sioux (of Siouxie and the Banshees) … to name a few. One of the highlights of the earlier parts of her career was being invited on tour with Iggy Pop and David Bowie, where she learned the glaring differences between American and British punk. Let’s just say that the Brits are bit more tribal, physical and spit on groups as a sign of appreciation (a tradition that Iggy Pop claims to have pioneered). Thankfully, these folks never encountered Donita Sparks of L7 that would have rewarded such a (misread) gesture by tossing a “freshly” retrieved used tampon in the crowd (ah, such good times). Then there is that unnerving time that she worked with Phil Spector, who had an unhealthy fascination with guns and was quite the nutter. Not much changed over the years and we all know how that turned out. Though quite brilliant, the writing was on the wall for that one.
The NYC underground music scene was often intertwined with elements of the NYC art scene where both sides sometimes use each other as muses. This was seen in Harry’s relationship with the likes of Andy Warhol, Basquiat, and the controversial Mapplethorpe. Ms. Harry also talked about her fascinating film career and some of those movies that became cult classics: John Waters’ Hairspray and Videodrome. She was actually offered a script for Blade Runner but her record label (bloody tossers) “forbade” it. So now, with this disclosure, my mind is left generating scenarios of her playing Priss (Darryl Hannah) or Rachel (Sean Young). Bloody hell, I guess we’ll never know.
In writing about the paramours in her life, for the most, there are never a dull moment. There was some housepainter chap in New Jersey that liked guns and was a wee bit possessive to point where dear Debbie almost went into a form of witness protection living. Then there were a few interesting ones like Harry Dean Stanton (aye, the bloke from the original Repo Man) and Penn Jillette (yes, Penn from the Penn and Teller duo). There is a bit of an eyebrow raiser story about her collaborating with Penn to modify a Jacuzzi into an aquatic orgasm-delivery system. It is quite the venture and read. For some reason, I like Chris Stein. He is the constant in her life (lover, the other pillar of Blondie, and really good friend), and in my humble opinion, that one that should have rode off into the sunset with the girl. Only in this case, Duckie married Kristy Swanson and left Molly Ringwald by herself (yes, a Pretty in Pink reference). Alas, but good news, they still remain great friends through it all.
Filled with very intimate photographs and fan-generated art (much to my delight) Face It is quite the literary feast for Blondie and punk fans. Though written as a memoir/autobiography, it unwittingly turns Lady Deborah into a guide of the past NYC underground music and art scene and it is quite an education. We also get to see the really petty world of the record industry from the Blade Runner incident to a certain scumbag manager to their treatment at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction. Surviving being burnt out of several apartments, near-electrocution, carbon monoxide poisoning, and many times on the extreme generosity of great friends (since there were many occasions of having no dosh), Debbie Harry and Blondie etched themselves into the psyche of the world of rock and punk. She is delightfully blunt, and is not afraid to put aside the tough exterior and talk about her vulnerabilities. Face It, she’s badass (I couldn’t help it).

And yes, I still have the hots for her.

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Running title: Behind The Beautiful Forevers – Life, Death And Hope In A Mumbai Undercity

This book was published in 2012 (yes, eight years old) and by some strange standards, it may be considered “old”. Whatever. For some strange reason I’ve always wanted to read this book (aside from the fact someone gave it to me eons ago and it was sitting on my bookshelf) and eventually it took a quarantine to force me to read it. Needless to say, I regret not having read this MUCH EARLIER. But enough with the bollocks and such and let’s get on with the bloody review.

Beautiful centers on the lives of inhabitants of a makeshift settlement, not too far from a group of luxury hotels near the Mumbai airport, called Annawadi. It is basically a settlement built by squatters who merely exists in the shadows of India’s society. The book, however, centers around some interesting characters.
There is Abdul, along with his mother Zehrunisa, a garbage sorter that has his trade down to a “science”. Barely a teen, along with his younger brother, this is what he does to provide for his family after his father suffered an injury to his back (which doesn’t seem to stop him from impregnating Zehrunisa). Then there is the mother/daughter team of Asha and Manju. Asha aims to be a top slumlord … someday … with great political affiliations, but in the meanwhile serves as the village councilor, that prostitutes herself and engages in little bouts of fraud and extortion. Yes, she’s quite the ambitious one. Manju, her daughter on the other hand has a decent education and earns money tutoring internet basics and classes that paid district teachers neglect to do. Did I mention that Manju is a prepubescent teen? Then there is Fatima or One-Leg, a one legged amputee (hence the nickname) that is a bit of a trouble maker but gets around in more ways than one and proving, simultaneously, that amputation does not dampen the libido or promiscuity. The Hussains (Abdul, Zehrunisa et al) have done quite well for themselves mostly due to Abdul’s discerning eye for scavenging “quality” garbage that can be sold to recyclers. Unfortunately, when you live on the margins of society, you are a sitting duck for every motivated hyena and coyote that comes by. In this case, the “coyotes” are usually police officers that shake down scavengers for the little that they earn. In some cases, successful scavengers such as Abdul, simply because they’ve been granted “privileged access” to some of the prime “dumping grounds” by the police. If this sounds infuriating already, the bad news is that I’ve just gotten started. Asha, as the village councilor, is the person that people carry their grievances to and she, in turn, uses her affiliations to “help” them. Now when Asha “helps” someone it is actually a favour and tribute (money) is expected and this is not usually a one-time payout. To go against that protocol is to find yourself accosted by police officers under some trumped-up charge and eventually in the “rescuing” arms of Asha who just happened to be in the neighbourhood. Right. And that “rescue” will come at steep cost. The moral: don’t mess around with Asha’s tribute.

The story takes a dramatic turn when a vicious conflict occurs between Fatima (One-Leg) and the Hussains. As the Hussains were trying to “renovate” their shack, Fatima (out of pure envy) claimed that the renovation efforts were affecting her wall. Harsh words were exchanged, and threats were made, and no thought anymore of it. Except for Fatima, that took it to a new diabolical level: she poured kerosene on herself and set herself aflame with the hope that the Hussains would be blamed for her injuries or murder (should she actually die). Complete bollocks, one would say. Sadly, this incident was the catalyst that started the domino effect in revealing how permeated corruption and abuse is many nooks and crannies of India. Abdul and his father are arrested based on really, crappy, accounts that would stun most active and practicing nitwits. The harsh reality of this is that it was not even about justice, but a haphazard conspiracy to extort the Hussains. All coordinated by the police and … Asha. And just when things couldn’t get any lower, we’re introduced to special executive officer Poornima Paikrao. Her main task is to collect victim statements but instead choose to participate in this conspiracy by coaching the crime scene and the victim. She also attempted to extort the Hussains several times during the arrest, during the incarceration and then outside the courthouse DURING the trial. When often pleaded upon for her help, her favourite saying (with upturned palms) was: “But what can I do?” There were times I heard my inner voice scream (at this farcical behaviour): “Your bloody job!!!”.
Unfortunately, fate was not kinder to Fatima as experienced by her treatment in the hospital (that has probably never heard of the Hippocratic oath). Cringeworthy examples include her IV bag with a “used” needle sticking out of it, since the nurses thought it a waste to use a new needle. Don’t worry I’ll save you some the “juicy” stuff. Along the way there are some sad side stories such as Abdul’s friend, Kalu (the movie-teller) that was murdered but was written off as “due to sickness” by corrupt police investigators and it is so blatantly fraudulent that you’d be aghast reading about it. The other was the suicide of Meena, Manju’s friend, that was subjected to way too much beatings by her parents and even brothers. I shudder to think that she was subjected to more than just beatings … by her brothers. And sadly, suicide was her escape.

A slight detour. In case you’re wondering what a “movie-teller” is, it is basically someone that tells an entire movie from beginning to end. Yes, I know that is frowned upon in America, but imagine growing up in a society where you couldn’t afford to go the movies as often as you’d like (and, in my case, lived in country that did not broadcast tv waves until 1985). As teenagers, back in Guyana, it was always common sight (back then) to see your mates gathered around an animated character as he basically told you the entire movie (sound effects and action included, Micheal Winslow would have been proud). Some kids were so really good at it, so much that it was the next best thing to being at the movies. And yes, you’ve been privy to another strange bit of my life.

For a country that has given the world yoga, Gandhi, herbal medicine, delicious spices (it is hard to fathom life without a decent curry) … and call centers that staff a lot of “Americans”, Beautiful paints a slightly less flattering image. Unlike America, where even the poor can afford to have lofty dreams and even achieve it, Beautiful shows a world where the poor can’t even see past their surroundings (e.g. Asha’s slumlord ambition). The poor preys on the poor and even worse, those that are supposed to protect the poor and the innocent are the biggest predators of all. In short, life is cheaper than cheap in Annawadi.If you’re looking for sunny, upbeat stories, that feels like Bollywood song and dance sequence, then I am afraid that this is not the book. The writing and story, is however, very riveting and grabs you but be forewarned that your emotions will cycle faster than the changing colours of a steroid-infused Aurora Borealis.

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I came across this book a few months ago on one of the shelves of another branch and it seemed like it was published by the same umbrella that also publish a slew of delightful horror writers such as my good man, Jonathan Janz. So after having read the synopsis, I was compelled to read this strange new author and as Hannibal Lector said, to the little kid on the airplane about to partake (unwittingly) of some poor sap’s fried brains, one has to try new things. Little did I know what awaited me in those pages? So enough with the bollocks and let’s get on with the blooming book review.

Austin and Angie has young family, with their newborn daughter Ceili. They’ve got a nice house in a seemingly nice neighbourhood though the one the houses close to them is strangely vacant and unoccupied. It is a simple life. Austin loves Angie though there are times when she gets on his last decent nerve. Aye, we’ve all been there. Well, personally I can’t honestly say that since I’ve never been married. And no, I’m not living that grand bachelor life as most would believe, though that would have been nice excuse but nay. And I divulged a bit of my life and … detoured . Dreadfully sorry about that. So one evening after one of those “moments” Austin makes his way to the local watering hole to drink his woes away and encounters a mysterious, raven-haired beauty named Regina. Regina has tattoos and a strange little book that she writes strange stuff in, and as she engages Austin in a conversation somewhere along the line she mentions that she’s a witch. And sure enough, some of us have been in that situation, where usually the conversation usually dies and folks go their separate ways or those who seek to pursue their curiosity maintain so from distance. Austin chose the latter (though not from a distance) and when Regina asked of his true desires, being the romantic, he mentions that wished his wife would die. Yes, you read correctly. A bloke meets a complete mysterious stranger in a bar, who claims to be a witch, and when asked what he would wish for most … aye. Now even Stevie Wonder on dark moonless night can see where this is heading. Several days later, Austin returns home from work and hears his wife chatting up a storm with someone in the house. She is introduced as the new neighbour that is now residing in what was once the strangely vacant house next door. His new neighbour is (you guessed it) the mysterious Regina. To make things even more interesting his daughter, Ceili, seems to take a liking to Regina. And then the shit hits the fan. One day Austin returns from work and finds his wife … dead. Some sort of accident. So as Austin starts looking forward to life as single father, Regina steps into his life to comfort him. She’s a good friend and even better, she loves Ceili and Ceili loves her. Yet, Austin still remains in a slump. So they decide to have night out and Regina just happens to find the most perfect babysitter in a town. Not bad for someone who’s new to the town. Red flags abound. After their date, Regina “melts” in Austin arms and they have mind-blowing sex. Nay. Red-hot, kinky, mind-blowing sex … that involves a wee bit of cutesy bloodletting ritualistic stuff. And so nightly erotic bacchanalia ensues and Austin, guided by the second “head”, can’t believe his luck. And just when the sex couldn’t get any hotter, Regina decides to take Austin on special date night to a special club. You know those clubs: by day it is simply unassuming house or building, but by night it is a party like no other where only certain folks get in. There might be masks, candles, whips, and passwords like “Fidelio” involved with Sisters of Mercy music being played in the background. Or so I’ve heard. But in Austin’s case, he was blindfolded on his way to this secret club. The club was called the Devil’s Equinox where beyond the regular dancing crowd were lower level dark rooms where a procession of hooded women dressed as nuns gathered and initiated new members into this “dark gathering”. Sure enough, Austin thought it was just all costume and kink, until he met the Mother Superior, who informed him that he was an initiate and that he to make a pledge to the Dark Lord. After giving in and “pledging” he was orally pleasured by one of the hooded acolytes that turned out to be … his babysitter. There is a field of red flags fluttering noisily at this point, but alas … Austin’s second head has serious case of tunnel vision. And somewhere in his mind it is occurring to him that Regina is not your garden variety weekend Wiccan, and she’s into some seriously scary and dark shit that would make Richard Ramirez cower and cry for his mother. Aye, all that freely given, great, fiery sex has a price. No strings attached, they say, sure, and I have bridge and beachfront Arizona property to sell you. And Regina has a diabolical plan that involves Ceili that would make your blood run cold and would soon put Austin in a fight for his and Ceili’s life… and soul. And just keep in mind the strangely vacant house I mentioned earlier. Just thought I should mention that … and that’s all. Not going to be a bloody tosser and ruin a good scare.
Disturbingly dark, Equinox will have peeking over the pages in a mixture of fear and anxiety as you race towards the terrifying yet interesting conclusion … that would satisfy those few that have a very dark sense of humour. And also might be warning to blokes that are hanging around hardcore matriarchal Satanic cults for the “good sex” … let’s just say it doesn’t end well. You’ve been warned. And yes, the grass is always greener … on the septic tank.

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Hello there, mates. How’s everyone doing thus far with this pandemic? I hope all is well with you and yours, and yes … I looking forward the return of Normalcy 2.0. Lets be real, normal will change for many of us, but enough of that. I came across this title during my monthly “vetting” of the booklist in order to decide what gets onto the stacks at my branch (and what does not). When you encounter a tagline, that reads “the biggest company, the perfect algorithm, what could possibly go wrong?”, on a book with a cover that is designed to parody the packaging of a certain well-known online retailer … well, an evil grin along with a good hunch emerge in my mind. And here we are. But enough with my usual bollocks and such and let’s get on with the blooming review. Yeah?
Qualityland is actually the name of a country in the (near, possible???) future. Somewhere along the line a certain country with a troubled history (I’m guessing Germany but don’t quote me on that … please) decided that they needed to change their name and voila … Qualityland. In Qualityland the citizens are known as QualityPeople that use QualityMoney (or Qualities) for currency and QualityPads for internet access (and just about everything else). TouchKiss is the way most digital transactions are concluded. Yes, instead of using fingerprint recognition, it is deemed more secure to use your lips since these are not so easily forged. A bit worrisome in the event of pandemics, if you ask me. AI along with realistic humanoid androids (apart and combined) are rampant and normal as everyday life. Self-driving taxis bicker and harass passengers to rate their service even though they may not carry you completely to your destination in what is determined as a red-zone (or unsafe neighbourhood). Yes, in case you missed that bit, algorithms have made self-driving cars very discriminating especially when it comes to certain neighbourhoods. It gets better. Daily or certain social interactions allow you to be rated. The higher your rating on Everybody (Qualityland’s version of Facebook and Twitter combined), the greater your access to jobs, medical care, and even wealth, fame, sex. If your ratings fall to 10 or less you are known as a Useless. Needless to say, your life becomes a crapshoot at that point. Oh, and another thing, surnames are based on parental or current occupations such as (for example) Melissa Sex-Worker or everyone that is unemployed shares the (indignity) of the surname, Jobless. And then there is TheShop, an online warehouse, with algorithms so tuned that they are practically psychic and knows (and delivers) what you (might) want or need before you even know it. And as it turns out they are usually correct. And for some strange reason Jennifer Aniston does not fare well and her rom-coms are seen as a celluloid curse that the world has to tolerate.
Peter Jobless, is an unemployed (shocker) slacker that inherited a scrapping business from his late father and also lives where he works. Due to some strange environmental law, repairs to any form of automatons (even Roombas) are forbidden and once discarded these devices have to report to the nearest local scrapper. Martyn Chairman is a sleazoid politician that cheats on his wife with every willing Qualiteen intern and loves browsing revenge porn sites … and also works for Conrad Cook, a celebrity chef turned president. Kiki Unknown is an enigmatic hacker that knows the ins and outs of most systems and makes a living through various unorthodox means (such as blackmailing men with videos of them self-pleasuring to revenge porn sites). Yes, I know you’ve just imagined one possible scenario in this book. Henryk Engineer is cross between Bezos, Musk with a hint of Zuckerburg thrown in, a recluse and the CEO of TheShop. And then there is John of Us, the first android poised to be elected as president of Qualityland. Somewhere along the way, Peter Jobless life hits the skids: first he’s dumped by his girlfriend since the dating app (called QualityPartner) advised her to do so and replaced him with a newer, exciting partner … whilst on an actual date (!). Then on a date with Melissa Sex-Worker (you can guess what she does for a living) he breaks a (Sex) contract by not (get this) having sex. This led to his rating plummeting and giving the status of Useless. Just when his life couldn’t get anymore complicated he gets a delivery from TheShop: a blue dolphin vibrator. To his chagrin and dismay, when he tries to return it, TheShop refuses to accept it since …well … algorithms don’t make mistakes. And so starts the strange odyssey to meet face to face with Henryk Engineer as Peter Jobless bumbles into love and unwittingly starts a revolution … all because of a blue dolphin vibrator.
Qualityland though set in the future, is a delightful parody and at the same time, a cautionary tale about where we’re actually heading (or already in). One of the most interesting moments in the book was the android, John of Us, speech about data-mining and not what but who is really the “product” that Big Data is selling out there. Not exactly earth-shattering, but enough to occasionally pop you out of sleep some of the nights and channel your inner Albert Finney (I’m as mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore”). Throughout the book there are these little pop-ups of snapshots of web content, some humourous, some disturbing and some laughable … with comments (alas, there are trolls in Qualityland). A superbly hilarious, thought-provoking book with a wee touch of the disturbing (especially the obvious dislike for all things Jennifer Aniston), Qualityland has something for everyone of varying stripes. Dare I say, a nice beach companion for the coming summer (even if you’re a Jennifer Aniston fan and there is no more need of social distancing, or that coronathing hanging around).

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Stephen King is having a really cool year. The second part of IT was in the theatres (it was bloody awesome … no pun intended … ok, maybe just a little). And the sequel to The Shining, Doctor Sleep (which I reviewed several years ago … feel free to look it up), made it to the movies this month (about bloody time). Needless to say, I saw it and Rebecca Ferguson played a delightful Rose the Hat (gave me the hibby-jibbies). So when I heard that this book was on the horizon, I just couldn’t wait and it was spared very little resting time in the stacks at my branch. But enough with the blah-blah-blah, pleasantries and other such bollocks and let’s get on with the blasted review. Yeah?

Tim Jamieson has come to a sudden dead-end in his career, as cop in a Florida town, and has decided to settle for the “greener pastures” of (get this) New York City. An overbooked flight changes his mind and he ends up hitchhiking (with over two thousand dollars for giving up his seat on the plane) towards the North. He soon finds himself in a small, unknown town in the South Carolina. He settles and finds a job as a night knocker: basically a cop that patrols the town and knocks on the doors of businesses and certain individuals in order to make sure all is well. The pay sucks, it is simple and he is unarmed, but life in this town is just as simple and nice. Or so it seems … for the time being.

Luke Ellis is twelve-year old kid. He is your typical twelve year old with a few minor exceptions: he is quite the child prodigy and when he is in a certain mood eating utensils and other things tend to move around on their own. Yes, Luke is telekinetic. And then one night, Luke’s parents are murdered and Luke is kidnapped and brought to a strange place in Maine known as …. (wait for it) … The Institute. The institute is run by a psychotic, Nurse Ratched type named Mrs. Sigsby and is staffed by a bunch of motherless, ex-military types of varying specialties. On entrance to the Institute many of the kids are told a yarn about them serving their country and saving the world …. and then the brutality …er, testing begins. Despite these are pre-pubescent teens, failure to confirm is met with physical abuse and even a form of water torture that makes waterboarding feel like a quaint baptism. Wait, a minute … children being separated from families and treated badly? Sounds familiar. Maybe not, only from the strange and twisted mind of King. Aye, that’s it. Along the way Luke befriends Kalisha Benson (who sounds like the Afro-American girl in last season’s Stranger Things), Nick Wilholm (the rebel), Avery and George Iles. Sort of like a twisted verstion of the Breakfast Club, except that these kids never go home, detention seems permanent and Mr. Vernon does not give out 500 word essays to write when they act up … they either get pummeled or tortured. But all is not lost, since the kids have found a friend in the form of Maureen Alvorson (a woman that re-stocks the vending machine that offers cigarette-type looking candies and alcohol … yes, you read right, among other things). The bad news, in all this, is that the kids don’t know that mom and dad are dead. The really bad news is that Maureen has a sinister ulterior motive that is unknown to these desperately, trusting teens. The kids find out that the Institute is divided into two parts: The Front Half where the new “recruits” are initially deployed for the Guantanamo Experience and then … there is the Back Half where kids simply disappear and are never heard from … ever … and it also features are weird humming sound. When that weird humming sounds changes to a pitch somebody in the world dies … puppies (thankfully) are spared. Somewhere along the line, Luke finds out the fate of his parents despite the Institute’s attempt to isolate him from that information and decides to go Freddy Mercury … and break free. It is during his strange odyssey (which would explain the cover) from the Institute that he crosses paths with Tim Jamieson … and needless to say … the shit hits the fan. And this where I stop for I fear that I will be spilling some unnecessary beans. To say more would be a complete and utter tosser to spoil for everyone … so there.

It. Is. Premium. King. Grabbed from various goings-on in this messed up world King stitches together a frightening quilt of a tale (or is it?) that is bloody disturbing yet intensively-mesmerizing that’ll leave you clinging on to the edge of the covers, as you battle insignificant things like eating, sleeping and bodily functions … all the way the breathtaking conclusion. Though there aren’t any preternatural creatures lurking around, this just might be his most disturbing and frightening yet. Why? Just look around us. Need I say more. And some of us just might utter a silent prayer and hope that this stuff remains bound and condemned to the pages of fiction. Mr. King, you remain America’s scary yet delightful uncle. Jolly good show, my good man.

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Why, yes, it is another Jonathan Janz book and I can’t seem to get enough of his horror writing. And no, I’m not being paid one quid to promote his stuff (gasp!!!), and I actually like his stuff. And apparently he’s listening to my thoughts and writing tons of books every year. Maybe I should keep that part about him “listening to my thoughts” to myself. Too crazy? Oh well, enough with the bollocks and on with the review. Yeah?

Roderick Wells is the most celebrated yet reclusive writer in the world. So when ten “lucky” writers are offered an exclusive invitation to his summer-long writing retreat, their dreams are aglow with riches and literary fame. They, however, are instructed not to tell ANYONE about this invitation since that would be an automatic disqualification. Maybe it’s just me but that qualifies as red flag behaviour. I’ve seen enough horror movies that start with that premise … they never end good. Or maybe I need to get out more. Maybe. The winner of this contest gets three million dollars and a recommendation to the publisher, of their dreams, to publish their books. Upon arriving the participants are made to wear blindfolds and are taken into a strange forest that has a Gothic-type mansion in the middle of nowhere. Yes, more screaming red flags that even Stevie Wonder can see on a dark, moonless night. Among the writers is Lucy, an actual published Young Adult (YA) writer that had great but short-lived success with one book and has yet to write another for over a decade. There is also the unpublished Rich and rising star Elaine. And there are few sociopaths within, Anna and Bryan. During their first meeting with an old Roderick Wells and his alluring youthful wife, Amanda, Rich receives a scary premonition about Roderick. And the shit hits the fan. With no access to the Internet but a great sprawling library available, the writers have to create stories and everyday are selected to read their stories to everyone else (I once took a class like that … one the best English classes I ever took in college). The genre was selected by Wells and it turns out to be (wait for it) … horror. Yes. Writers that are found lacking are treated to acidic criticism by Wells who make Simon Cowell seem like Julie Andrews in the Sound of Music. And they are eventually “eliminated” or as Wells would put it … “sent home”. Sort of like saying that the ailing Fluffy was being sent off to that “wonderful” farm to roam freely with all the other animals. Even more disturbing is that the eliminated writers tend to leave without their possessions, which Wells’ manservant, Wilson, claims that he’ll take care of it. Sure thing, mate. The strange thing is that as writers become “eliminated” Wells seem to get younger and strange things start to appear in and around his mansion. Maybe it is just the atmosphere. Yeah, and I’m the Queen of England. Strangely enough, what started out as a seemingly random gathering of writers turns out to be anything but. They are all bound by pasts filled with misdeeds and skeletons (some literally) in the closet. And no … I’m not going to spell out those misdeeds that ranged from bloody sleazy to viciously disturbing. Yes, I’d be a tosser if I robbed you of all the fun. So there.
Roderick Wells is Hannibal Lector (without the cannibalism … I think) meets Julie Andrews (minus the cheery demeanour) with a hint of Dracula (minus the fangs … I think). A good portion of the book was dedicated to revisiting the sordid, dark pasts of these writers, which adds beautifully to story and will easily evoke emotions for these characters. Basically those you’d love to see live or die (gruesomely). But be careful and choose wisely (or play it safe and don’t choose at all), because this IS a Jonathan Janz book. Don’t become attached to characters. You’ve been warned. Enjoy the read.

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Yes, I know. I didn’t post anything on September, and the Evil Parrot will gladly admit to cocking up big time. Was pretty busy at work (yes, the library gets pretty hectic) and then I went to Vegas. Aye, gun ranges galore and jamming with rock bands at the Fremont Experience (Element 67 and Alter Ego crushed it). Everything else falls under the “whatever happens at Vegas” grouping (spoiler alert: not much, since I’m very chill). So I shall make up for my September misdeeds and offer you not one, nor two … but THREE reviews and since it is October, they are all Jonathan Janz stuff. Yes, it is like a book review grindhouse (and yes, I may have aged myself, since most folks may not know about grindhouse movie theater days … where you paid to see TWO movies instead of one and they consisted of violence, gore, and the occasional sexploitation). Great son and dad moments (and I mean that). But enough about Vegas, grindhouse movies and other such bollocks and let’s get on with the blooming review. Yeah?
I am being spoiled by Mr. Janz. Within a two year period, my book review blog has become littered with his stuff. And I’m about to do some more littering. So much (awesome) horror writing. And after every book, I’m like Kirsten Dunst in Interview With the Vampire: I want more. And it seems as if Mr. Janz is more than happy to oblige. If we ever cross paths, Mr. Janz, there is a pint with your name on it my good man.
The cover and the title , Wolf Land, spares little in alerting the reader what this book is about: werewolves. But be warned there is, a disclaimer in the beginning of the book (yes, I kid you not), promises that this is not those romanticized tales of werewolves … dear heavens, no. Feel free to put thoughts of Kate Beckinsale running around in body hugging latex out to pasture … then again … Alas, it gets quite dark, and viciously disturbing. Even some horror book taboos may have been crossed (if there is such a thing). Aye, there is more than just fictional victims being ripped to shreds here. The story begins with a bunch of former high school mates meeting up in a wooded area (it always a wooded area … what gives Janz) for some kind of party. The usual bollocks: kegs, beer, barbecues and hopes of shameful, drunken bouts of the old in-out, in-out. Sometime during this gathering, a stranger crashes and intrudes on the party goers. After taunting them, he changes into a werewolf and attacks them, and it is quite a vicious scene. Some die and a few survive. Among the survivors are an odd assortment of characters: Glenn Kershaw (a jock type with a cool Vette); Joyce (a librarian … YES !!! … that has a crush on Glenn); Duane “Short Pump” Mckidd (an occasional butt of jokes); Weezer (a typical wimpy, loser type); Savannah (a single mother with an adorable kid named Jake); and Melody Bridwell (who is secretly being used as a weekly rape toy by her father and four brothers … yes, you are reading right and the dark stuff hasn’t even been touched as yet). Now unlike that usual bollocks about the full moon, these werewolves can simply turn due to triggers that could be atmospheric, emotional or possibly certain foods (I’m not spelling it out and ruining the story for folks). There is even an interesting twist to this tale where some of the turned survivors not only change physically but psychologically. Some turned out to be latent psychotics and used their new-found abilities in terrifying and very, very disturbing ways. Sides of good and evil are drawn, and like most Janz books the bets are off on just about everyone. Try not to get attached to ANY of the characters. Though some wankers do
get their due, there is enough piles of bodies that would leave most folks shaking their heads at the end of the book … and wondering about the next book. And think people were shocked over the Red Wedding in Game Of Thrones. And yes, I did go there GoT folks.

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Believe it or not, I’m not all about testosterone-induced action and violence, or horror gorefests decorated with crimson splatters and hung innards. Oh no. Aside from the rare blue moon (and I do mean RARE) occasion that may include some touchy-feely or naughty reading (and I’m not talking 50 Shades … there is sooo much better erotica out there … or so I have been told), I do like to indulge my funny bone. Alas, I am one of those easily amused types (Geico and Subaru dog-tested commercials make me completely lose it … and that’s just the tip of the iceberg). So when I came across the synopsis of Kill The Farm Boy, I couldn’t help myself … and needless to say, was not disappointed. Well enough with all the bloody pleasantries, and let’s get on it. Yeah?

Once upon a time, in a land far away, some princess got her finger pricked on a rose and she and entire castle fell into an enchanted sleep. Except for a half-bunny bard, that couldn’t hold tune to save her life, named Argabella. Meanwhile, in a farm (not so far away from the castle), a farm boy named Worstley (his brother Bestly was killed by a lord for being too handsome) is informed by a (seemingly meth-addicted, badly dressed , hygienical atrocity) pixie named Staph that he is the Chosen One. So like most “chosen ones” Worstley sets out, armed with a jar of pickled herring, to free the princess from her enchanted sleep. He is accompanied by a trash-talking billy goat (and scene stealer) named Gustave that has a taste for old boots (especially if its marinated in foot sweat of olde). Along the way they encounter a huntress/assassin named Poltro that has a fear of chickens and is a bumbling buffoon. There is a seven foot, ebony, female warrior named Fia who wears a chain-mail bikini and fears her own sword (that may be a wee bit vampiric in nature). Along with Argabella, there is the Dark Lord named Toby whose magical skills seems to be limited to causing half-done bakery products to rain down on you, though to both relief and dismay of the group this “skill” has saved the group from starving during their travels. Toby has also been known to make up for the lack “sorcery” skills by (gasp) outsourcing his magic to mail-ordered potions and whats-not. So as they set out on journey with an ever-evolving quest (yes, I’m afraid waking princesses from enchanted comas aren’t so simple since there will be unnecessary greasing of palms and strange favours) they encounter strange worlds: enterprising trolls with shopping bazaars that are meant to take more than money from unwary travelers; persnickety gigantic, rock monsters with refined culinary abilities that would school Gordon Ramsey; strange towns like the elven Morningwood with its strange inhabitants and naughty double entendres abound.

It is Monty-Python meets Princess Bride meets Airplane meets Nation Lampoon Vacation and even though the summer is close to an end there is still time to grab this hilarious read by the delightful Dawson/Hearne team. And end summer (officially in September) with some laughter … preferably poolside or on a beach. Yes, I sniggered and giggled like a little girl as I read this … on the transit systems … much to the dismay of my fellow commuters. I apologize if that unnerved the lot of you (though in NYC, that behavior is usually reserved for the mentally unbalanced or those imbibing strange chemical concoctions that might be illegal/controlled). The really good news is that this part of a series (YES !!!!!) called The Tales of Pell. And, heaven knows, we could certainly use a bit of levity right about now in consideration of the bollocks coming through the airwaves. Dawson and Hearne you have captured my heart and I can’t wait for the rest of the Tales of Pell. Rock on, Gustave !!!

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Running title: Gray Day – My Undercover Mission To Expose America’s First Cyber Spy

This title appeared in one of our earlier monthly non-fiction book lists that we use to determine which books we should buy for our library branches. There is a good possibility that I may have selected this book but somehow forgot about its existence … until I came across it in the stacks. And then the memory floodgates opened and I remembered salivating like a Pavlovian dog on the synopsis. I need to get out more. And since I was “jonesing” for a book to read and simply grabbed this for my literary “fix”. But enough with the drug allegories and other such bollocks and on with the bloomin review. Yeah?

I do remember when this story broke back in the early 2000s, it was quite the shitstorm. Robert Hanssen, was one of the biggest moles, in American history, who sold secrets to the Russians and compromised much of America’s tactical strategies against our enemies. On the bad side of things (yes, you are reading right) he compromised the lives of many agents and Russian defectors. Needless to say, America was tremoring for months after this broke through and for that period I was curious about this.

Eric O’Neill was an FBI “ghost”, agents capable of efficiently hunting and capturing spies and intelligence traitors. He was also newly married to Julianna, a former citizen of (then) East Germany. Something that he did not disclose to his superiors and got him sidelined for about year. Apparently, having romantic dalliances with women from former Communist countries whilst working for the US government was frowned upon … compromised security and all that good stuff. Then one day, he was suddenly enlisted on a spy hunting mission. The target, one of their own: Robert Hanssen. Robert Hanssen, at the time, was selected (also off the sidelines) to start (get this) the FBI’s first cybercrime unit. In other words this was more than the fox guarding the henhouse; he was bloody building the henhouse, too. The mission, should he choose to accept it (and thankfully did) was to work as subordinate of Hanssen and observe him. Oh right, Hanssen is also a master spy that is very elusive (for more than a decade) and this might be the Bureau’s last chance to nail his sorry ass (no pressure). And there begins the intense cat and mouse game. The problem is that as you progress throughout the book you start to question who is the real cat or mouse and yes … this perspective will change a few times during your reading. Now if you are expecting to read a boring book about some bloke observing a traitorous tosser, you are in for a shocker. Despite the knowledge of how this story ended, Gray still retains that icy grip of a thrilling, suspense-riddled spy novel (Jason Bourne be damned) that makes every page hard to resist turning and sometimes waging a battle with insignificant things like eating, sleeping or using the bathroom. There are some jaw-dropping revelations that appear in this book and it does not favour the FBI about the numerous times the Bureau may have dropped the ball that could have easily ended Hanssen’s long spree. Much earlier. Thankfully the Bureau have learned and has evolved. And as O’Neill struggles with the task on one hand and his law studies on the other, his homefront begins to take a beating. Odd hours at work, mostly due to a “broken server”, being distant in conversation and strange phone calls are putting a strain on his new marriage. He is unable to discuss his work with a woman he is terminally in love with and this begins the slow unravelling on both sides. Robert Hanssen comes off as an arrogant, covertly-cocky, know-it-all that will solicit very little or no sympathy from most readers.
Gray Day is, subtly, a tribute to the folks that work at the FBI and what they do. Yes, apparently it is more than interviewing serial killers that have a penchant for Chianti and fava beans.Most of all it gives a snapshot of the toll and the cost that many of the agents have to pay for the sake of protecting this beautiful country despite some of the bollocks, concerning their abilities, that have been floating around on the airwaves during a certain investigation that involves a certain far east country (there I said it). Jolly good show, Mr. O’Neill, and thanks for your service.

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Ever since read The Siren and the Spector and Savage Species, Jonathan Janz’s horror writing has become as a warehouse-sized blood bank with me, as a vampire, trapped inside of it. Another way of saying it’s like being a kid in candy store … oh who am I kidding … I’ve got brilliant folks that take the time and come read my humble little blog. Dreadfully sorry. I truly hope that Hollywood would put some of his work on screen because, seriously speaking, the horror scene in Hollywood SUCKS. Badly. Case and point: millennial themed Truth or Dare and Wish Upon. And the list goes on … and I won’t rant on this bollocks … for now. So when The Nightmare Girl by (my newly minted favourite) horror writer landed on the stacks, I basically went feral and pounced on it. Interesting note: this my third Janz book within a six month period. But who cares? And enough with the pleasantries and other such bollocks, and on with the bloody review. Yes?

Joe Crawford is a contractor that repairs homes. He has a beautiful wife, Michelle, and a daughter named Lily. Delightful little family. One day as Joe was filling up at a gas station, Joe observed what can be easily pass for child abuse as a young feral –looking mother scolds her child viciously. Though others simply watch on (or resorting to tosser acts such as recording on their smartphones) Joe decides to take action and intervene. He soon finds himself assaulted by not only the child’s feral-looking mother but also the child’s grandmother (who is quite a bit of work herself). The authorities arrive arresting the mother (Angie) and grandmother (Sharon). Leaving the child, Stevie Waltz, with the Crawfords for a few days until foster reassignment. Several days after her release from jail, Angel Waltz pours some gasoline on her body and lights herself afire … but not before stalking the Crawfords and menacing them. When Joe sneaks into the cemetery to observe the funeral of Angie Waltz, he finds it not only odd but unnerving since it is not like your typical funeral: strange rituals and utterances in a Latin-like language. Unknown to the Crawfords is that they have stumbled onto an ancient fire cult that is very vicious with strange dark rituals, and are not exactly the type to invite you over from tea and crumpets. Soon strange things start to happen to the Crawfords as Sharon Waltz (the grandmother) threatens retribution on the entire family for not revealing where her grandson, her only ties to Angie, foster home location. Police Chief Daniel Copeland is tall Afro-American, wisecracking, no-nonsense police chief and is thrown in to this strange conflict that is brewing between the Crawfords and this cultish clan. He’s also an avid Nicholas Sparks reader.
Just when things couldn’t seem to get any better, an old house that next to the Crawfords that went unsold for many months was finally bought by a charming older, high-society type (and somewhat sexually adventurous), couple called the Markers: Mitch and Bridget Marker. What’s even more intriguing is that they seem interested in hiring Joe Crawford for a lucrative remodeling of the large mansion type house. And though Joe is appreciative of the work, there is in the back of his mind that there are too many coincidences, especially when Bridget seemingly has the hots for him … with ulterior motives. To add to this, his assistant, Kevin Gentry, has started to behave a wee bit odd. And as the world seems to close in on the Crawfords, they find an ally in Daniel Copeland which they will need as things quickly take a frightening and sinister turn as some twists, in the story, would reveal that some people aren’t whom (or what) they appear to be.

Nightmare is one of those atmospheric horror pieces that keeps teasing you into believing that scary stuff is waiting on the next page but it doesn’t yet it builds in the anxiety at each turn of the page. Legs will be crossed, bladder and bowel systems stifled because when the shit hits the fan it will be brutal and vicious and prisoners will not be taken. And it will happen as casually as a stroll in the park. You won’t see it coming. And as always, I caution folks as they venture into a Jonathan Janz terrorscape: try not to get too attached to characters.You will thank me for that bit of advice. Mr. Janz, you are spoiling me.

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