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review 2018-07-11 15:36
Unusual science-fiction which makes us question what it means to be human
The Last Feast - Zeb Haradon

I write this review as a member of Rosie’s Book Review Team and thank Rosie Amber (check here if you would like to have your book reviewed) and the author for providing me with an ARC copy of this novel, that I freely chose to review.

I had read a number of reviews of this author’s previous novel, The Usurper King, and although I haven’t read it yet I was intrigued by the subject and the feedback on the quality of his writing, and following a recommendation of his new book by a fellow reviewer, I could not resist.

This book is difficult to categorise and, for me, that is one of its appeals, although it will perhaps put off some genre readers. I won’t rehash the plot as the description is detailed enough and the book is quite short (it is perhaps a bit long for a novella, but it is shorter than most novels). The setting and much of the action would fit into the science-fiction genre. The degree of detail and description of technology and processes is not such that it should put off casual readers (I found the scientific background intriguing although I’m not an expert and cannot comment on how accurate it is), although it might not satisfy hard science-fiction fans.

A number of characters appear in the short novel, but the main character and first-person narrator of the story is Jim. Like Scheherazade, he is doomed to be forever telling stories, although, in his case, it is always the same story, the story, or history, of his (their) origin. Somehow (I won’t go into the details. I’ll leave that for readers to discover), Jim has managed to cheat death and has lived for hundreds and hundreds of years. Although the story he is forever retelling is, at least in appearance, the story of how he ended up in his current situation, through the process of telling the story, we learn about Jim himself. Snippets of his life keep coming up, and these are enmeshed with the history of humanity at large, as he has become, accidentally, the somewhat reluctant chronicler of human civilisation. I am not sure any of the characters are sympathetic

The story —which gets at some of the fundamental questions Philosophy has been studying for centuries— involves a small spaceship crew faced with an impossible situation. What if they were the only beings left alive in the universe and only had access to finite resources in order to survive? (Yes, this sounds familiar). Would they hold on tight to the hope of a possible rescue from outside and risk their survival possibilities to pursue that dream? Or would they try to survive at whatever cost? The book divides the crew into two, the ones who are more realistic and are happy to continue living on their current circumstances, and the ones that refuse to give up the hope for a better but uncertain life. There are members of the crew that seem to cycle from one position to another, and some who keep their cards close to their chests and we don’t know full well what they think. Suicide is high in the book, and the desperation of the characters that choose that way out is credible and easy to understand and empathise with. The narrative takes the characters to the limit and then pushes them beyond it. Ultimately, it is impossible not to read this book and wonder what makes life worth living. Is life itself enough in its own right? Is survival against all odds the best attitude? What is the result of, and the price to pay for, pursuing such a course of action?

I am fascinated by the novel, and particularly by Jim’s character. As he tells the story, it becomes clear that at some point he made a momentous decision. He says he has been on the brink of suicide for hundreds of years, but after something tragic happened (no spoilers), he decided he would keep on living. Although the book has plenty of strange goings on (cannibalism, BDSM sex… which make for a hard read but are not the most graphically detailed and gore examples I have read, by any means) and it shuns conventional morality, this decision and Jim’s motivation behind it are what will keep this book present in my mind, and I know I will be thinking about it for a long time. (Why would anybody put himself or herself through such a thing? How do we deal with loss and grief?)

There are references to literary classics (and the author’s note at the end mentions some of them and also the conception of the project, its development, and its different incarnations), to historical artefacts and works of art, and the distinctive voice of the narrator (a mixture of wit, matter-of-factness and the odd flash of dark humour), the quality of the writing, and the story combine to make it a compelling and disquieting read. After reading this book, I’ve become very intrigued by the author, and I’m curious about his previous novel, as the protagonist of that book was also called Jim. That Jim was quickly becoming old and this one is determined to live forever. I wonder…

I recommend this book to people looking for an exceptional voice and a unique story, who don’t mind being challenged by difficult topics, dark subjects, and stories that don’t fit neatly into a clear genre. If you like to experiment and are looking for something different, I encourage you to give it a go.

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review 2017-05-31 10:05
A bizarre true story brought to life in a novel that moves across genres.
Devil in the Countryside - Cory Barclay

I write this review as part of Rosie’s Book Review Team. Thanks to Rosie Amber and to the author for offering me an ARC copy of this book that I freely chose to review.

This is a book based on a real case (although so many years later and with the few documents and written clues available it is difficult to know what might have been ‘real’ and ‘true’ at the time) that has all the elements to be a fabulous novel, or a TV investigative documentary, or a movie. You can check the Werewolf of Bedburg and you’ll find a lot of information (or rather, a bit of information elaborated upon and repeated everywhere, but not many different sources). It’s easy to understand why the author would become fascinated with the subject and I also see how a writer would feel that the bare bones of the case that can be found through research would make a great starting point to write a fully-fledged and fleshed-out story. And that is what the author decided to do. In such a case, decisions have to be made as to how close to keep to the facts (such as they are) and how many fictional elements should be introduced. With this particular story, there were also many possibilities with regards to genre. Should it be a historical novel, researching the place and times and fitting in the specifics of the story around the findings? Should it be a mystery/thriller, chasing and investigating an early example of a serial killer? Should it be a horror novel? Personally, I’m not sure what I would have done, but as a reader, this novel was not what I expected. This has probably more to do with me than with the book itself but, in my opinion, it tries to be too many things.

The novel has elements of historical fiction. The author explains, in an end note, who were the real characters, and who the ones he created, and also briefly exposes some of the liberties he took. The historical background and facts are fairly accurate (although if you research the story, it seems that the fate of the daughter was very different to the one in the book, that seems an attempt at introducing a romance and a happy ending of sorts, that, in my opinion, does not befit the subject), and one of the things that the author does very well is to reflect the conflict between Catholics and Protestants at the time, the atmosphere of deep suspicion and hostility, and the paranoia that permeated all levels of society, whereby nobody was safe and anybody could be betrayed and accused of being a follower of the wrong faith. The author uses modern language, a perfectly good choice to ensure more readers access the text, but there are anachronisms and expressions that felt out of place (and perhaps using a more neutral, rather than a very casual language would have been less jarring, as some expressions sounded particularly weird in such setting. We have references to teenager, an expression only in use in the XXc. , characters drink coffee whilst it was never introduced to Germany until the late part of the XVII century…). I also wondered about some of the characters’ actions. Sybil, a young girl who lost her mother and looks after her father and younger brother, challenges her father’s authority with no consequences, goes out by herself and does things I would have thought would be out of character (but I will try and not offer too many spoilers). Dieter is a young and pious priest that seems to change his faith and his mind practically overnight (no matter what he thought about the bishop, the religion he’d dedicated years to, one would expect it would mean more to him than that) as a result of falling in love at first sight (as there is nothing in common between him and the girl) and in general I felt most of the characters were not psychologically consistent. I am not an authority on that historical period, although I have read other books about that era that created a clearer picture in my mind, about the historical period and also about the society of the time.

Whilst the novel opens as if it was going to be a straight investigation into bizarre murders, with a suggestion of the paranormal, there are some elements of investigation (following people, plenty of intrigues, researching paperwork), but a lot of the novel is taken up by telling (more than showing) us about the religious situation, the machinations of the powerful of the time (particularly Bishop Solomon, not a real character who is truly despicable and has no redeeming features at all) and it stirs the book towards the territory of the intrigue/conspiracy-theory novel  (it appears likely that those aspects played a big part during the trial of the man who was found guilty of being the werewolf).

Although at the beginning there is the suggestion that there might be elements of horror in the novel that is not the case. Or rather, the real horror is the way the truth is sacrificed to political and religious interests and how no side is above using any means to win (the Catholics come out of it slightly worse off, but nobody is truly blameless).  There is action, violence (some for comic relief, but some extreme and graphic, including torture scenes and gross deaths), and war, so this is not a gentle novel for people intent on learning a bit about the historical era, but it is not scary in sense horror lovers would expect.

The story is told in the third person from the point of view of different characters, and each chapter starts with the name of the character whose point of view we share, although at times we get reflections and comments from an omniscient point of view (comments about character’s feelings or motivations that do not seem to come from them). Heinrich, the investigator, is an enigmatic character we never get to know well, as although we see things from his point of view, we aren’t privy to his full motivations (and that is aided by the third person narration). He is at times presented as weak and ineffective (a bit like Johnny Depp’s depiction of Ichabod Crane in Sleepy Hollow) and at others, he is clever and manipulative (and the ending is quite eerie, but no, I won’t say anything else). He seems determined to carry on with his investigation and get to the truth one minute, and then he settles for what he knows is a lie, behaving as a corrupt cog-in-the-machine.

I suspect it was partly because of the point of view changes but I found it difficult to connect with the characters (my favourite was Georg, a conflicted character whose motivations are easier to understand and who was, despite his flaws, a good man.  I felt sorry for Sybil but her character didn’t quite gel for me) although it is impossible not to be horrified at what went on and I didn’t manage to get the timing of the events straight in my mind.

Some of the comments expressed unhappiness with the ending, but for me, that is well resolved (perhaps apart from the happy ending part of it, but then that is a matter of genre) and I did not find its openness a problem but rather a plus.

Most of my difficulties with the book stem from my own expectations about what the story was going to be about and how it was going to be told. I’ve read many positive reviews about the book, and as I said, it does create a sense of dread, paranoia, and suspicion that can help us imagine what living in that historical period, so uncertain, must have been like.  And it has a chilling and eerie ending. So, if you are intrigued by the history behind it, don’t take my word for it and check a sample of the book. And do a bit of research. It will prove, once more, that reality can be stranger than fiction.

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review 2017-05-10 02:00
Cannibalism by Bill Schutt
Cannibalism: A Perfectly Natural History - Bill Schutt

This review can also be found at Carole's Random Life in Books.

I don't read a lot of non-fiction books but for some reason as soon as I saw this book I knew I wanted to read it. I love learning about anything medical or science related so it was as surprising of a choice as you might think. I have always said that I read a little bit of everything and this book is proof positive of that fact. Cannibalism is a really interesting subject and I learned a lot while listening to this book. It was really an enjoyable experience.

I have to admit that as soon as I saw this book, I started thinking about criminals who practice cannibalism. If you are looking for a book that chronicles the actions of serial killers, this probably isn't the book for you. There is a little bit of those kind of stories in this book but very few. The author actually makes a point to explain why he chose not to focus on criminals. This book instead deals with many other topics pertaining to cannibalism.

If you are interested in learning about cannibalism in nature, look no further because this book is full of that kind of information. This books covers cannibalism in fish, birds, tadpoles, insects, and spiders. It discusses why it might be advantageous for animals to cannibalize others creatures of their own species sometimes including their own offspring. I can honestly say that I learned more about cannibalism in nature than I even knew that I wanted to know.

I really enjoyed the sections of the book that involved human cannibalism. The very few sections that did discuss criminal cannibalism were very interesting. At the very beginning of the book, I learned that the book Psycho is based off a true story of a man that killed and cannibalized his victims. Survival cannibalism was another very interesting topic. I had never heard of the Donner party prior to listening to this book but I was captivated and saddened by their story. There is a section that discusses the eating of one's placenta, not something that I ever gave any thought to before this book but interesting nonetheless.

I thought that Tom Perkins was the perfect narrator for this book. It almost felt as if I were listening to a nature show on television. His voice is exactly the kind of voice I think of when imagining the voice over sections in any nature program. This book had a lot of details and was full of information but I never tired of listening to it largely because of the narrator's skill.

I would recommend this book to anyone interested in the topic. It is a heavy subject but it is delivered in a very readable manner. There are a lot of details but it is presented in an entertaining manner. I was entertained and learned a few things. This is the first book by Bill Shutt that I have read but I would consider his work in the furture.

I received a review copy of this book from HighBridge Audio via Audiobook Jukebox.

Initial Thoughts
This was an interesting book. I learned quite a few things and was entertained. There were some sections that were a bit too detailed for my tastes but overall this was a good listen. I am ready for a cannibalism category in the next trivia night I attend!

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review 2017-02-20 00:00
Cannibalism: A Perfectly Natural History
Cannibalism: A Perfectly Natural History... Cannibalism: A Perfectly Natural History - Bill Schutt,Patricia J. Wynne
Eating one’s own kind is completely natural behavior in thousands of species, including humans.

image


Well...that is something I have to read...when I'm in the proper mood.
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review 2016-12-02 02:37
All In Fear: A Collection of Six Horror Tales
All in Fear: A Collection of Six Horror Tales - Steve Berman,K.J. Charles,J.A. Rock,Kris Ripper,Roan Parrish,Avon Gale

 

 
6 romance authors unleash their dark side and I, for one, couldn’t be happier. These stories all focus on things darker than most romances and all have well fleshed out characters and even a few steamy moments going on between all of the scares. I could read stories like these all day, every day. Too bad I have bills and a job and there aren’t enough of these sorts of tales to feed that kind of need anyway . . .

On to the stories.

Company by Roan Parrish
A lonely teen spends his summer obsessively reading a vampire comic. It seems he’s a fallen a little in love with the fictional vampire character named Michel. One early morning he just so happens to bump into his obsession in the flesh! I think I would’ve passed out dead but Nick is made of stronger stuff and the two strike up an awkward sort of friendship that brings Nick comfort. When Nick returns to school, he begins a real relationship with a genuine boy who seems to like him quite a bit but Michel is always there lurking about in the corners with menace in his eyes . . . That’ll put a damper on any romantic interludes.

Is Michel real? Will Michel and/or Nick sabotage Nick’s chance for happiness and first love?

I’m not telling. This was a great way to start off the collection. It’s a creepy little story and I won’t say anything more because I don’t want to ruin it.  4 Stars

Love Me True by Kris Ripper
“There’s nothing better after a truly shitty day than coming home, locking my boyfriend’s wrists in padded handcuffs, gagging him, and whaling on him with a paddle. Nothing is better than that feeling, that rush.”

Well, then! Now that’s the way to start off a story.

Palmer spends his days in a job he loathes and most of his nights at the black jack table and/or screwing his true love Jon. You can’t have everything but at least Palmer has Jon. The two are deeply in love but Jon has some devastatingly dark passions. Passions he wants to share with Palmer . . .

I watch far too much true crime tv, more probably than any sane person should, and because of this I forecasted this one very early on and it didn’t surprise me. The relationship, the lust, the love, and the devastation were all nice and juicy though, just like my favorite true crime shows. 3 ½ Stars


The Price of Meat by KJ Charles
I think this story is my favorite. It is so horrific and yet so dignified and proper all at the same time, possibly due to the setting, the language and the spunky, fearless protagonist. Whatever it was, it all worked for me. It was nuts and I loved it. The story is complete in and of itself but I would love to see this character and this twisted world made into a full length book.

Much to Johanna’s dismay, Arabella, the love of her life, has been committed to Mr Fogg’s Asylum for the Weak-Minded by her dastardly relatives. Arabella is not certifiable; her relatives are just greedy and want her inheritance. As you can imagine, Mr. Fogg’s Asylum is not a nice place. People die under their care after they’ve been horribly abused. Johanna cannot wait another day and takes action after learning a secret that she can use as leverage to free Arabella before something completely dreadful happens to her.

This secret leads Johanna into a lawless land of horrors where violence, disfigurement, murder and worse terrors await all who step through a hidden door . . .

This story is freaking fantastic and you must read it! It is disturbing, it has moments of dark humor, many twisty turns, and a brave “I’ll do it all my own damn self” type of heroine and my eyeballs were glued to all of its words.  Five stars.


His Mouth Will Taste of Chernobyl by Steve Berman
Steve is one of a few pledges for a frat house. He’s really not into the whole frat-life thing but endures the pain and humiliation because it’s what his father demands – or he’ll cut off funds.

"New Orleans lured me then lied to me. My father spoke as if the city had been a sweetheart of his. He loved his alma mater more than my mother. I find the entire state stifling like the shacks at summer camp, when I discovered, surrounded by other boys, how much I wanted to push one into a dark room, form a knot with our limbs, take kisses. "

Before leaving for university, Steve’s dad gave him a flask and promised it would help him make friends but he must NEVER drink from it himself. It has some magical quality that fills it with whatever the drinker wishes. This is college. You can imagine just how popular this thing could make a guy! But all but one of his new frat “friends” are assholes who use and abuse him. His self-esteem is low and he’s sickened by the things he’s done, especially when a sweet boy starts showing interest in him. So armed with his magical flask, he’s forced to take his life back . . .

This is angsty, awful, lusty and sweet all rolled into one short little story definitely worth your time. 4 ½ Stars

Legion: A Love Story by Avon Gale
This is one weird little tale.

Staff Sergeant Jason Essex of the United States Marine Corps is assigned a strange mission. He is given very strict instructions to monitor an enclosure for eight weeks. The enclosure holds an “entity” that must not ever be spoken to. Jason is told that it looks like a human being but it isn’t and that it lies.

There's a man in there dark and pale and something is wrong with his eyes.

At first, he follows directions but as time goes by loneliness and curiosity set in and he begins to bend the rules. That’s when the freaky dreams begin . . .

The story is told in letters, reports, recordings, journal entries and Reddit and Google searches that get increasingly stranger as he spends more time with the “entity” that starts looking like his former crush. This story is unique, eerie, and a little sexy too. 4 Stars

Beauties by J.A. Rock
“At a presentation celebrating the public opening of Carnificiality, Lester Usole watched Dr. Anne Cullom fuck a pair of twin Beauties.”

In this here world, Beauties are Artificial Beings (AB’s) created for pleasure and abuse. Sick people pay good money for those things but Lester isn’t a sick person. He programs and raises AB infants and is at the ceremony for work and quite sickened by what he’s shown. It’s here he first meets Ira, an AB so dangerous, so violent that he cannot be sold to the public. He is covered in bruises and Lester makes a brash decision to take him home, keep him safe and study him.

Poor misguided Lester. He truly has no idea what he has just brought home.

This story was disturbing on so many levels. It isn’t sexually explicit, despite the opening sentence, but it bothered me deeply as only the best horror tales can. 4 Stars

 
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