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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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I am in love with the horror writing of Jonathan Janz. It is vicious, scary and sometimes downright dark (and possibly disturbing). In other words, books to curl up with at the fireplace with your bearpaw slippers, as you sup on milk and cookies. What? No. Or so I’ve heard. But enough about my … um, reading habits and let’s get on with the bleedy review. Yeah?

Needless to say, the cover of this book conveyed all the fear that it could possibly entail and then some (feel free to look at the cover … intimidating, yes …. well, good). Species originally revolves around two groups of people: Charly and her husband Eric; and a local newspaper crew (Jesse, Emma, and Colleen). Charly is a housewife with a newborn and two daughters (and apparently scorchingly hot) that is married to cheating wanker of husband named Eric. Apparently Eric is a volleyball coach that has thing for younger assistant coaches (who … surprise, surprise … often turn out to be young women). Despite his cheating, the thorn in his side is Sam Bledsoe, a contractor that is doing some renovations to his house. Yes, Sam is slightly older, divorced, knows a lot about home renovations (despite Eric’s awful, ignorant micromanaging) and a good looking, manly man-type. I imagine him as Sam Elliot in his forties (what … I like Sam Elliot … think what you want). And unlike Eric, Sam is actually decent to Charly and not because she often agrees with him over her husband’s ridiculous suggestions on home improvement. The truth is Sam Bledsoe is a decent chap (kinda like Sam Elliot … I’m never going to live that down, am I … very well). On the other side is the equation is a local newspaper crew consisted of Jesse, Emma and Colleen, that are on assignment to cover the opening weekend of a recreational park area called the (refrain from laughter) Peaceful Valley Nature Preserve. And there is a bit of soap opera going on here. Apparently Jesse has the hots for Emma but loves her from a distance. Colleen is a no-nonsense woman but, gleefully, senses this about Jesse.
Though it is not exactly the assignment they dreamed of they arrive at the Nature Preserve expecting a crateload of boredom and instead finding a college frat party. And rivals to Jesse’s affections. During the first evening, the three explore the grounds and the forested area with a large river where Jesse encountered a winged-monstrosity of a shadow in the night sky. At first he thought it was just some environmental effect wreaking havoc with his vision. And then there were the strange sounds. The woods that line the housing developments have always troubled Sam Bledsoe, for at night he always found those woods unnerving. Meanwhile, Charly is in the process of putting her children to bed, when she encounters a strange, naked, (over nine feet tall) humanoid creature with green eyes and feral teeth standing in her newborn’s room. Before she could scream, the creature grabs her newborn and leaps from a second story window and runs off into the woods. Back in the Nature Preserve, Jesse is standing the shadows of the woods watching Emma flirt with a jock-type when suddenly a bunch of tall creatures (think subterranean creatures of Descent except slight taller and some near Cloverdale sized) ran out of the woods and proceed to slaughter everyone at the party. What is even more disturbing is that some of these creatures, bearing exaggerated-size organs (that would probably give the likes of Ron Jeremy an inferior complex), and aside from mauling, engage in rape (of mostly deceased females). And then, the real horror begins (yes, you’ve read correctly).
Species is little under 300 pages, and the first 30-50 pages there is calmness. Beyond that it is ongoing, relentless intrigue, ghastliness, gore and … horror. And Janz does not make it boring or repetitive. It is possibly the first horror book I’ve ever read where the action stretched over several hundred pages. And along the blood-splattered journey we encounter Frank Red Elk. Yes, Frank is wisecracking Native American that has lived near and the preserve for many years … and knows about the existence of these monstrous creatures. He is also a porn aficionado. And as the two groups paths converge, they find themselves under the guidance of Frank, who not only makes it his duty to “compliment” some of the women of the group by telling them that they resemble certain porn stars but would at the most inappropriate times (usually when their lives were in peril) decide to discuss the differences between soft and hard core porn. Yes, I must confess (shamefully) that I visited Google on several occasions and found myself transported back to my Cinemax days that featured many of Frank’s infatuation. BTW, who still watches Cinemax … just asking … not judging.
Species IS a train ride of terror, where all the doors and windows are welded shut with steel bars, the cabins are splattered with blood, the brakes are destroyed and the end of the line results in the train plunging into a deep chasm. And the passengers know this. Sure it might give you some sleepless nights if you live near wooded areas that are filled with strange nightly sounds and I apologize to my mates that live in certain New England and Southern States. Caution to readers: try NOT to get too attached to the characters. Game of Thrones has nothing on Species (and don’t worry, I won’t detour by ranting about the last season … it’s probably been said ad nauseum). Jonathan Janz, I love you. Maybe more than Sam Elliot. Maybe.

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It’s been almost a year since I reviewed Christopher Rice’s Bone Music and I thought it was a delightful pilot for his Burning Girl thriller. So after having read this book I became like Kirsten Dunst (in Interview of the Vampire) and I wanted more. Apparently, my book lust didn’t go unnoticed and when Echo showed up in my library’s book list for purchase, it was met with wide open arms (and maybe some drooling and incoherent babbling). When it finally made it to the stacks, certain books were sacrificed (sorry Ben MacIntyre) and like a starving lycanthrope … pretty much pounced on it. But enough about my melodrama concerning anticipated books and other such bollocks (possible signs that I need to go out more), and let’s get on with the blooming review. Yeah?
Blood Echo returns with Charlotte Rowe (nee Trinia Pierce) who now works for Graydon Pharmaceuticals and its enigmatic CEO Cole in a very covert, black-ops capacity: she uses her ability to track down predator scum, and rips them a new one (in some cases, literally). In the beginning of Echo Charlotte is tracking a new tosser named Davies that has a penchant for abducting certain types of women, killing them, and using their skin to make things like belts and wallets. Yes, I can see images of Silence of the Lamb’s Buffalo Bill emerging in your minds but unlike Bill, Davies is not your Bed-Bath-And-Beyond type of serial killer (no lotion in baskets and such). Sorry, I couldn’t help that. Somewhere, along the line, the hunt closed in on Davies and what could have been simple walk-in-the-park operation almost turned into a disaster (almost) with some surprising results. After recovering Charlotte returns to the quiet town of Altamira for some rest and some loving from her (former bully turned …) boyfriend Luke Prescott. Just as Charlotte is being content to spend most of her days smelling roses and having a dizzying amount of sex with Luke, a battered woman, Lacey Shannon, shows up in Luke Prescott’s office. She blames a certain Jordy Clements for her predicament and wants him arrested. Jordy Clement is a young twit whose daddy was awarded a lucrative construction project in Altamira, hence Jordy thinks he’s the dog’s bollocks and has become a class-A wanker all over town. Luke decides to investigate this and after a bit of Teatro De Machismo, Jordy finds himself in a nice comfortable cell. And then it gets strange, as Luke receives a call from Cole Graydon to set Jordy free. To add to the strangeness, Lacey Shannon, has disappeared. As Luke investigates, he and Charlotte are unwittingly sucked into a conspiracy of which Jordy is central figure and involving some Proud Boy types. But is it a coincidence or was this meant for Charlotte to do her She-Hulk impression and take care of some more tossers? I’m afraid you’ve been misguided if you think I’m going to tell you this. Yes, I’m aware of my strange ability to spoil movies and books for people (sorry to a certain group of folks back in the 90s the never got to appreciate the Sixth Sense ending … yeah, in my 20s and no filter, impulse control) … so I’m trying to keep this “ability” under control. And … I have detoured. Also there is a touching return of hacker extraordinaire, Bailey, and Dylan, (psychopathic) former SEAL and scientist. Now most folks would (logically) assume this is where the book ends. Wrong. Rice , with just a thin sliver pages, packs in some delightful, jaw dropping revelations and mind-blowing twists that will leave some folks agape, staring into space and …even as the last word fades from their mind … in anticipation of the next Burning Girl book. Sorry Chris, old chap.

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Once in awhile, I would pick up something from a familiar and favourite author and though I have certain expectations, whether good or bad, I am often blown away (and then come the conflicted feelings). So when this novelette showed up on my stacks, I had my misgivings: “bloody hell, a Stephen King novelette, this can’t be good … it is too thin, hence not really good”. Unfortunately, I’ve forgotten the old wisdom of “not judging a book by its cover (or in this case, size)”. But it IS Stephen King and I was compelled to read it. So enough with the bollocks and other such pleasantries and let’s get on with it. Yeah?

Scott Carey is an easy going chap. Up there in age, a marathon runner and retired. But lately, there is something bugging his mind (well several things). Every morning Scott weighs himself and notices that his weight is decreasing and we’re not in fractions but high single digit deductions. The problem is that Scott is not on a particular diet and eats like a normal person that has never read or heard any of the health crap spouted by Gwyneth Paltrow. To make things worse, he goes to his doctor who informs him that he is … perfectly well (no cancer, tumours or any of that bollocks). Despite the increased eating that would put most buffet eaters to shame, the weight still keeps dropping. On the other hand is the problem of his new neighbours and their dog that likes to poop on his lawn. What’s even more is that his neighbour is a married lesbian couple that owns the only (struggling) vegetarian restaurant, named Holy Frijole (touted as veggie cuisine with at Tex Mex flair), in town: Deirdre McComb and Missy Donaldson. And though Missy is quite easy going, Deirdre hates him with a passion. When Scott encounters a Proud Boy type that was speaking terrible things about the couple, he simple defends them … and almost found himself in a fist exchange. Scott, emboldened by his stance, takes some other positive steps. As the town prepares for the annual Thanksgiving 12K run, unlikely alliances form as Scott struggles to figure out his mystery illness and unwittingly bringing out the best in people, some who’ve marinated themselves in horrible behaviour over the years. Yes, it seems that I may abruptly jumped ahead in my review, but keep in mind that this is a very small book and if I were to say more, then I would simply telling you the bloody story … and that would make me a tosser. So there.
Elevation is (very) quick read, but in those short pages King has packed some much goodness that made you wish for more, but … alas, the story had to end. And such a delightful yet bittersweet ending. Touching, a story that could be very easily applied to current dire socialscape that basically says what so many of us already know (though some are in heavy denial) that when you strip away all the political and ideological bollocks circulating out there, it is very easy for folks to get along and even find the commonness that bind us together. Touchy, feely you say. Maybe. But from Stephen King, you gasp. Yes. And it is good to know that warm fuzzy feeling you get from reading one of his books is not from fright-induced piss but this time, it is really from the heart.

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One of the things I get to do on a monthly basis is to sit down with a big list of upcoming books both fiction and nonfiction and decide which ones will make it into my library branch. It is a tedious, but it lets me know what’s out there and though not everything I desire do make it, at least I know that other branches have it and I can stalk their stacks. A few months ago, I came across Vigilance in one of those lists and as I read the synopsis, at first gave me a chuckle and I knew it was only a matter of time before someone wrote about this. And then I decided … why not. But enough with the bollocks of librarian life and let’s get on with the blooming review. Yeah?

John McDean is on top of his game (literally) and the name of the game is Vigilance. Apparently, mass shootings have become as common as having cereal for breakfast in the morning, which someone decided to not only monetize this “phenomenon” but turn it into a game show. This John McDean’s Noble Prize moment. And yes, welcome to 2030 America, where your murder will be televised on ONT (Our Nation’s Truth) tv network. Yes, I kid you not, that’s name of the network … sound’s almost like OAN (but we’re not going to touch that mess … for now). To get on the show, anyone can register online and then they have to go through a “screening” process. Apparently, not just any backwater psychopath can muster the cut (to paraphrase Debra Foreman from Real Genius): folks have to have standards. Bloody hell, an actual Debra Foreman reference (Google her, folks). For those that make the cut, the rules are “simple”: if the active shooter dies, all of his contacts get one million dollars; the surviving shooter (yes, there are more than one) providing there are no civilians, other shooters or law enforcement official left alive in the “arena”, gets 20 million dollars; if a civilian or law enforcement official kills the shooter they get 5 million dollars. Now here’s the kicker, the “arena” could be anywhere at anytime on a given day. In other words people know the day, they just don’t know the when or where. Who knows, it could be the very bar that you are sitting in watching the next Vigilance broadcast (order something more than the hot wings for it might be your last meal). Or the mall. Or a metro station. Hence, this is why people are encouraged to be armed where ever they go, just in case. Hence, the name Vigilance.

Believe it or not, Vigilance is a bit of sci-fi dystopia as we deal with exquisitely vicious uses of big data, AI that produce computer-generated, ex-military, tactical commentators (yes, there are commentators during the bloody show) or can real-time CGI an armed Vietnamese girl into an apple pie Nordic American female spouting all kind of propaganda bollocks as she squeezes off rounds. Then there is virtual and holographic sex involved. Just going to leave it at that. The book is mostly centered around to perspectives: John McDean and Delyna, a waitress at the South Tavern Bar. A new game of Vigilance is about to begin and McDean is about to cream his pants as he and his staff analyzes possible game arena prospects. On the other side of town, Delyna is serving up hot wings and drinks to bunch of mostly armed patrons all gathered there to watch the next exciting game of Vigilance. Yes, hot wings, alcohol … and armed patrons … what can possibly go wrong? I’m afraid that you’ll have to read that for yourself. Trust me, it’s good.
Slightly under 200 pages, Bennett packs a ton of suspense, gore, dark humour and surprising twists (with a smattering of racism and misogyny) … all done at a decent pace. Vigilance doesn’t come across as preachy (as some might logically assume) but it entertains while subtly screaming a wake up call of sorts. It is simply a story projected into a stark future using a social plague as an exaggerated background. It is the Purge meets the Running Man meets Battle Royale. And whether you are pro-gun, no-gun or in-between you’ll start reading Vigilance with one reaction and end with another. And for the most … one can only hope that Vigilance remains condemned to the white pages of fiction (in light of all the bollocks we are enduring) and is not a harbinger of things to come. And for some, might actually give us something to think about. Bloody hell.

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I’ve been watching a bunch of recent “horror” releases on DVD and it is sad to report that the art of horror movie making is becoming an endangered art. Has anyone seen that pile of buggering bollocks called Searching? Aye, at the end of the movie you’ll be “searching” for those 90 minutes of your life that you gave to watch this “thriller”. Thankfully, the world of literary horror is alive and doing quite well. I keep running into such delightful writers (i.e. through books that appear on my stack). So as I was reading the synopsis of Siren, I was, most naturally, intrigued especially when Mr. Janz was being heralded as the next best thing in modern horror. And maybe it was that exquisitely haunting book cover. So enough with the pleasantries and other such bollocks and let’s get on with the bleedy review. Yeah?

David Caine is a famous skeptic of the paranormal/supernatural world. That’s just a nice way of saying that this bloke doesn’t believe in ghosts and other such bollocks. Then one day, David is invited by an old friend (Chris and his wife Katherine) to spend a month in the most haunted house in Virginia: the Alexander house. A house built in the 1700s by a land baron to simply contain the depraved whims and fancies (sprinkled with a shitload of madness) of his eldest son, Judson. As David takes up the challenge and moves into the Alexander house, he finds himself surrounded by the strangest set of neighbours: a family that rewrites the definition of dysfunction (nymphomaniac housewife with a penchant for kinky porn/sex with a very enabling husband and two children are witnesses to the ongoing debauchery), a very reclusive neighbour that fishes and own shotgun, a no-nonsense female sherriff, a fiery woman that reminds him of a past love, and a precocious convenient store clerk. It doesn’t take very long for things to go bump in the night (actually on night ONE) and the novel does keep up the pace … and then accelerates. There are very dark ulterior motives and secrets at play and some folks aren’t what they seem to be … or know. Along with demons of the past of certain woman that he turned away (with tragic consequences) David is forced to deal with crazy neighbours, strange happenings going in the Alexandria house and strange woman that haunts the nearby bay with an alluring singing voice (in case you missed it, that would be the siren). But in that little hamlet, in Virginia, things aren’t all they seem, dark forces and secrets are coming forth, some folks know more than they’re saying and there are things that are going bump in the night aside from David’s new randy neighbour. David skepticism in the paranormal is about to take a flying leap out the window and to make things worse, he is closely evaluating his friendship with Chris. Stars, paths and events align from his past, reach out and converge with his current quest in the most shocking manner that will cause your jaw to drop right into that puddle of fright-induced piss.
Though he has written prior to this title, this is my first book by Jonathan Janz and it impressed the heck (among other things) out of me. Siren spares little, starts early, and amps up the terror that’ll make you, calmly, put your book down and turn on a few more lights in the house, especially on a cold windy night. With tree branches hitting your window. And though the art of horror movies are fast becoming a dying art, it is pleasant to know that written horror forges on with newer faces and talent. I look forward to his next book … as I try to get some sleep.

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