Catch-Up Quickies 24

First a quick explanation!

Due to some severe health issues over the last few years, and a lingering chronic condition, my planned review schedule went right out of the window and I have been scrabbling ever since to get it back on track.

In my latest attempt to try to regain some lost ground, I have been scrunching some of my (overdue) reviews together into one or two posts each week: shorter reviews, but still covering all of the points I intended to.

It’s been a bit slower going than I would like recently, but I figure as long as I keep going, we’ll get there in the end!



Title:  Random Man
Author:  Layden Robinson
Publisher:  Independently published

Blurb:  7 colorful tales driven by graphic intensity, horror, erotica and dark fantasy.

Review: This is a really short collection of dark and twisted stories – seven in all – some of them only a few pages long.

The stories writhe with pain and bitterness, sex and violence and profanity and despair. The prose is almost poetic as it stream-of-consciousnesses its way onto the pages like the drug-spawned vomit of an omniscient observer, who watches emotionlessly as his subjects twitch and flail under his inky deluge.

That is to say, these stories are definitely not going to be for everyone, and may be best paired with mind-altering substances of your choice!

I found some of these stories a little too disjointed and nonsensical for my personal tastes, but did enjoy ‘An Emotional Puppet’, which reminded me a little of The Magnus Archives podcast, and ‘Leonard’s Violet Dilemma’ which appealed to the survivalist gamer in me.

If you’re looking for a dark and disturbing rabbit hole to fall into for a short time, then this may be just what you’re looking for. If you’re after a bit of light reading for mild entertainment, then probably not.

Purchase Link: Random Man on Amazon

Title:  The Beasts of Success
Author:  Jasun Ether
Publisher:  Independently published

Blurb:  How far down the rabbit hole are you willing to go?

In this dog-eat-dog world, three friends find themselves getting nowhere in their careers despite their education and work skills. They decide to make their own rules to the game of life and play dirty to get ahead. Each of them concoct schemes to sabotage colleagues and clear the path for their swift advancement.

Through a journey of deception and personal discovery, they find that life at the top isn’t what they imagined it would be. All the while, they’re not aware that they’re part of a much larger game being played by a world-controlling group that doesn’t have their best interests in mind. And with a physical manifestation of karma on the loose, their futures are uncertain.

In this fast-paced, entertaining ride, readers will confront a cache of arcane truth and thought-provoking situations by means of dark humor, satire, and zany humor. The Beasts of Success lifts the veil on a hidden world of which few are aware. How deep does the rabbit hole go?

Review: This feels like two books in one. The first is a gory, gross-out shocker, courting controversy and edged with dark humour, like a Farrelly brothers’ film set in the world of business and dirty dealings. The second is a moralistic, ‘mass awakening’, ‘do your own research, sheeple!’, conspiracy theory tome. Unfortunately, neither of this is really my cup of tea, and I suspect that I am simply not an edgy enough audience.

The book starts with three disenfranchised, disillusioned outsider men – Dale, Jeremy and Tim – who decide to try to get ahead in their chosen careers by playing a series of career-ending pranks on their colleagues. Then follows the progress of their pranks, involving lots of drugs and bodily fluids (and solids), loads of profanity and some shameful treatment of women, the overweight and ‘foreigners’. There is not one likable character here, by the author’s design, which is by no means a deal-breaker, but can make it hard to engage with the characters’ journeys.

The plot is interspersed with rants about government control, alien control, corporate evil, obesity and junk food, brainwashing, subjugation of the masses via economics, the poisoning of the water supply, GM foods, vaccinations, and so on and so on. (Wake up, sheeple!) It is pretty hard to tell which, if any, views are endorsed by the author as all come from highly immoral or amoral sources, and there are some interesting ethical pointers found in the main character’s dreams, as their subconscious minds attempt to steer them away from the damaging courses they are on.

There is a moral shift towards the end of the book, for some of the main characters, but it is a little hard to buy into their ‘enlightenment’, as they only change when it suits them to do so, and it is hardly redemptive when they showed zero empathy for others throughout and, in fact, took great pleasure in cruelty and in ruining the lives of others.

I can definitely see this being a fun and/or interesting read for those who believe in a malevolent global agenda and enjoy gross-out dark humour tinged with horror, but this one just wasn’t for me.

Purchase Link: The Beasts of Success on Amazon

Title:  The Latecomers
Author:  Rich Marcello
Publisher:  Moonshine Cove Publishing LLC

Blurb:  AN AGING COUPLE AND THEIR CLOSEST FRIENDS PIECE TOGETHER A LIFE-CHANGING PLAN FROM AN OTHERWORLDLY TEXT.

Maggie and Charlie Latecomer, at the beginning of the last third of their lives, love each other but are conflicted over what it means to age well in a youth-oriented society. Forced into early retirement and with grown children in distant cities, they’ve settled into a curbed routine, leaving Charlie restless and longing for more.

When the Latecomers and their friends discover a mystical book of indecipherable logographs, the corporeal world and preternatural world intertwine. They set off on a restorative journey to uncover the secrets of the book that pits them against a potent corporate foe in a struggle for the hearts and minds of woman and men the world over.

A treatise on aging, health, wisdom, and love couched in an adventure, The Latecomers will make readers question the nature of deep relationships and the fabric of modern society.

Review: This was a bit of a mixed book, in terms of both content and style, and yet the writing was good throughout.

For most of the book, the story follows titular characters Charlie and Maggie Latecomer – a retired couple in their second marriage, a bit artsy and a bit pretentious, living love’s true dream of spiritually and sexually understanding partnership. Until Charlie runs off to a commune in a fit of mid-life crisis restlessness.

Maggie follows, and the two slowly form a moai of friends and lovers, creating a tight-knit support circle instead of a more traditional coupled marriage. This involves lots of sex and spiritual awakening, and I want to note how much I enjoy seeing authors bust the myth that older people just shrivel up and stop sexing it up when they retire!

Then, towards the very last 20% of the story we switch from relationship realism to spiritual magical realism, with a Big Pharma villain and a race for precious spiritual and lucrative resources respectively.

I loved all of the symbolism and mythology woven throughout the whole of the narrative – valknut necklaces, Overlamma, ikigais, Vishaldamsa plants, vegvisir, Stones and Pilgrims – but felt the overall pacing of the plot, with the long, slow build-up and then short burst of action, was a little unsatisfying. And while I was eventually won over by the story and characters, it did take some perseverance to get into, and it didn’t feel like the characters had a lot of room to develop with the plot, as they were already portrayed as mature, spiritual and understanding to start with.

This was an enjoyable read, with lots to interest and intrigue, but it didn’t quite fulfil its potential for me.

Purchase Link: The Latecomers on Amazon

Title:  Thirteen Storeys
Author:  Jonathan Sims
Publisher:  Gollancz

Blurb:  A haunted house tour-de-force from the creator of THE MAGNUS ARCHIVES podcast.

GOING UP?

A dinner party is held in the penthouse of a multimillion-pound development. All the guests are strangers – even to their host, the billionaire owner of the building.

None of them know why they were selected to receive his invitation. Whether privileged or deprived, they share only one thing in common – they’ve all experienced a shocking disturbance within the building’s walls.

By the end of the night, their host is dead, and none of the guests will say what happened.

His death has remained one of the biggest unsolved mysteries – until now.

But are you ready for their stories?

Review: This is the book that led me to discovering The Magnus Archives – a podcast written by Jonathan Sims and produced by Rusty Quill – which is one of my favourite long-running horror/love stories of all time!

Having since listened to the full five seasons of the podcast, I can definitely see how its influence overlaps with Thirteen Storeys, with that impulse to explore the different, individual fears of humankind in loving, haunting detail.

This book consists of a series of these small, individual horror stories, all linked together by the building they are set in and by the climactic event they are leading up to. The stories cover everything from paranoia, haunting paintings, AI, imaginary friends, insomnia, mouldy walls and bleeding plumbing. Throughout it all there is a pervasive atmosphere of wrongness, creeping claustrophobia and twisting of perception. Even the timeline adds to the disorienting effect, as the separate stories crisscross and overlap each other.

The only criticism I have, is that the ‘spine’ that the stories hang from – the story of the death of building owner Tobias Fell, announced at the beginning and dramatically revealed at the end – is not really a strong enough thread to hold together all of the excellent horror that comes between. We don’t really get to know the characters well enough by the time the reveal comes round, and then the final scenes feel a little bit rushed too… I would have preferred a more prolonged climax where the author could explore the effects on his characters in more detail and give their individual personas and fears more relevance to the final events.

That said, I definitely didn’t put the book down once from the moment I picked it up to the last page, and can still describe the stories in it over a year after I last read it. Plus I ran out and treated myself to a hardback copy to keep and re-read. So, despite the slight lack of overall cohesiveness, I still consider Jonathan Sims to be a master of the horrors of the human psyche and will obsessively read/listen to anything he writes in future!

Purchase Link: Thirteen Storeys on Amazon

Title:  The World Without Flags
Author:  Ben Lyle Bedard
Publisher:  Independently published



Blurb:  Ten years after a plague of parasitic worms decimated humanity, turning some of them into zombies, the world has become a dangerous country of bandits and hunger. Across this landscape, a young woman must overcome terror and isolation to survive. Driven by determination and loyalty, she must leave the only home she has ever known, confronting both death and her past. Pushed to her uttermost limits, she will discover who she is and what she is willing to sacrifice.

The stand-alone sequel to the award-winning The World Without Crows, The World Without Flags is a story of survival, loyalty, and what we suffer for the ones we love.

Review: I had no idea when I picked it up that this book was a sequel (The World Without Crows), so I can very confidently assert that it reads perfectly well as a stand-alone novel!

The story follows Kestrel as she attempts to survive in a post-plague world. With rumblings of a war between surviving US political factions looming, in which citizens are being compelled to choose a side, and the possibility that the dreaded ‘Worms’ plague may not be as over as everyone believes, Kestrel has to take on the whole world and fight, lie and scheme to try to protect the very few people she cares about.

I read this one during the Covid pandemic and that possibly wasn’t the best timing… or maybe it was, if the aim was to give myself multiple sleepless, plague-filled nights! I just couldn’t stop reading. The Worms are utterly, viscerally horrific, the action and suspense are gripping and the overall story of love, sacrifice and survival is very touching.

I can definitely recommend this story to fans of well-written, compelling horror-survival. Just don’t let those Worms get in your head…!

Purchase Link: The World Without Flags on Amazon

I compile these reviews in chronological order based on when they were supposed to be scheduled, so the actual books in each batch are fairly random. Surprisingly, this batch turned out to be a little on the horror-heavy side… a bit of a walk in the dark to take your minds off sunburn in the park!

This will be my last catch-up quickie for a few weeks, as I am taking a week or two off to spend with the small Shines, but I have a couple of blog tour posts scheduled to keep you all going until I return. I know, I spoil you! 😉

Keep cool and happy reading!

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