Tag Archives: bizarro

Book Review: Grambo

GramboGrambo by Dustin Reade

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The New Bizarro Authors Series is always interesting. It provides a testing ground for new voices in fiction and new styles that we may not have seen before. It’s often a breath of fresh air in the world of fiction writing.

Grambo by Dustin Reade is one such entry in this year’s NBAS. By the title and the cover, most will probably already know what the main theme of the book is, but there are enough unique elements that make this book worth a read.

The book starts with Martha covered in the blood of her enemies, then we flashback to how she got there. Yes, the entire book is one long flashback sequence. After Martha’s grandson costs his school their chance to go to the championship basketball game and a trip to the Supermall, the school’s faculty violently takes out their frustration on the entire family, but mistakenly leave Martha alive. After she is rescued by a mascot (that takes more explaining than I’m going to go into here), she begins recovering and train in martial arts and weapons to take her revenge on the faculty that killed her family.

The book is funny in a very self-aware kind of way. While it is very bloody and violent, it’s also done in a strange tongue-in-cheek kind of way. This is especially apparent when we get a training montage in the middle of the book. Yes, an actually movie style montage in writing. The author never loses site of the humor, even if it turns dark at times, and keeps the book self-aware that what we’re reading is rather silly, and that makes it work in a special way.

Now, being a fan of action movies and having seen all the “Rambo” films, I could be an internet troll and nitpick here that there isn’t that much in common with the actually films. But that’s unfair. It’s probably got more in common with “Death Wish” or even “Kill Bill,” but you try and find a punny title that works with those. Martha is not a Vietnam vet who’s being run out of town or on a rescue mission or in isolation and bitter at the world. It’s pure revenge fantasy.

The plot is not the steadiest thing in the world. It does feel at times like it has a bit of a stop and start motion to it. It’s not necessarily bad, as a breather from bloody, violent action is needed at times, but at the same time it’s occasionally a little unsteady, and the ending is almost diabetically sweet in contrast to the rest of the book, but it needed a good end for a main character that, despite the arguably justifiable violence she perpetrated in her quest for revenge, still remains likable and endearing.

From a technical standpoint, the book is well edited, with very few flaws. I hate to point this out in a lot of my reviews, but it’s a sticking point for me, and I feel it’s worth noting. So I’m pleased to say that there’s very little in the way of writing or editing flaws to pull the reader off the page. A plus for the author and the editor.

Grambo is a loving tongue-in-cheek tribute to action and revenge films, with well-drawn, focused characters. While the violence is extreme and over-the-top, it’s never inappropriately so. That sounds kind of strange, but when reading the book, you understand that the violence fits the theme perfectly. While the plot is occasionally a little jerky, it’s never overly so, and on the whole, this book makes for a fun read.

Grambo by Dustin Reade earns 4 ninja throwing stars out of 5.

Book Review: Babes in Gangland

Babes in GanglandBabes in Gangland by Bix Skahill

My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

I always enjoy the New Bizarro Authors Series. It’s something I look forward to every year. With this series, I get to read new voices in fiction, and often it’s a refreshing change to the norm, even within the bizarro genre.

Babes in Gangland by Bix Skahill introduces us to one of the seediest, most crime-ridden cities in the world, whose major industry is slaughterhouses. Kid Phoenix is a gangster who is shot behind his favorite strip joint slash educational facility, Stripping Through History. But in the hospital, an accident causes his soul to be transfer to a newborn baby. Nine months later, with the help of enormous henchman Ram Bountybar (great name, by the way), Kid Phoenix, now Baby Jaydon, begins a rampage as he tries to find out who had the guts to shoot him and exact his revenge. He is pursued by by a 100-year old cop and his 13-year-old partner with progeria.

First of all, this book is flat-out funny. Skahill never manages to lose the humor through the course of the novel. Actually, the two cops were funnier than Kid Phoenix/Baby Jaydon managed to be. He comes of as cute and funny for a little while, but by the end of the novel, he starts to wear a little thin. This might have more to do with shock-funny value of a little baby cussing and saying the kind of stuff that would make Tony Soprano blush, but it wears off after a little while. That’s probably why Baby Herman remained more of a secondary character in “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?”

At the same time, I think Skahill realized this, which is why the chapters get broken up and part of the story gets told from the viewpoint of the two cops as the book progress. It provides some relief and a bit of a mental refresh.

Switching off the viewpoints actually comes very naturally and is not jarring at all. Skahill manages to provide a unique voice for all of his characters to the point where I could practically hear their voices in my head with little trouble (don’t worry, I’m still taking my medication). I have to give kudos to the author for that as that’s not always an easy feat, especially with the way characters come and go from within this story as quickly as they do.

While the story is a fun and funny journey, I have to admit that the destination was disappointing. The entire plot basically raps up in two pages with an ending that almost comes completely out of the blue. There were hints to one mystery throughout this book that made the answer a bit obvious, but the other one comes out of nowhere, and frankly, it kind of pissed me off a little. It felt almost like the author just rolled the dice and let random chance decide the solution to the mystery with no hints to go back and say, “Oh yeah! I see it now!” and completely spoils one of the more endearing characters. Now, when you think about it and the motives given are explained, you can accept them halfway. But the fact that there weren’t enough or really any clues throughout the book makes it blindside the reader, and not in a good or satisfying way that makes one say “Yeah, that makes sense.” Instead, it leaves the reader saying “What the…?”

Still, as I mentioned, it’s a fun journey with lots of humor and great characters (and great character pairings), but it would have left me a lot more satisfied with more build-up or hints as the end approached. It’s like enjoying the taste of a fine steak as you chew it, but then being forced to spit it out right as you’re about to swallow.

Babes in Gangland by Bix Skahill earns 3.5 tommy guns out of 5.

Book Review: The Cheat Code for God Mode

The Cheat Code for God ModeThe Cheat Code for God Mode by Andy de Fonseca

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Every year, I look forward to the New Bizarro Authors Series, when I get to read new and untested voices in fiction. This series is all new authors, who have not previously had a published book, to test the waters for one year and see how well they are accepted by a wider audience.

I began this year by reading The Cheat Code for God Mode by Andy de Fonseca, which proved to be troubling. Not bad, just troubling, primarily because this book’s greatest strength is also its biggest weakness which is what makes writing and scoring this review so difficult.

Margy Plum and Victor Vance live in an odd world, where portals and wormholes are everyday modes of transportation and 8-bit pets are programmed to their owners’ needs. But something is amiss. First, Margy is having what she can only describe as psychotic episodes where she thinks she’s someone else. Then the two of them discover a game that, after entering a special code, allows them to change and control the world around them. This catches the attention of some rather special people who have been trying to track this game down for a long time. Unfortunately, I can’t say much more about the plot without giving away too much. This is part of the mystery of the book which I don’t want to spoil.

The characters are well written and even sympathetic. As far as a bizarro book goes, it’s also relatively tame, with any sexual references toned down or only implied. The editing is also very good, with few or no errors to pull the reader off the page. Which is good, because the plot is so involving.

Okay, those are the basics. To get more complicated, the book is just the right length. I know that sounds weird to say, but this is one of those instances where it fits. Sometimes I complain that these bizarro books are too short, and they feel like there is a lot more story left to tell. With The Cheat Code for God Mode, this is not the case. The author crams a lot of story into a fairly short space, and makes it work. What’s even more interesting is that it’s a complete story that doesn’t feel rushed. You get a full, satisfying tale that doesn’t leave many loose ends in a short space.

So, what’s the problem? That takes some explaining. This book is a nerd’s dream. It has tons of references to pop culture, science, and everything in nerdom. This made it a lot of fun as I read through it and could pick apart all the little things I recognized. Even a large chunk of the book is based on an actual scientific hypothesis of parallel universes.

This is where the problem comes in. When I review a book, I try to see it from more than one perspective when it comes to recommending it. I can tell if I enjoy a book, but I also try to imagine if it will be enjoyed by, well, not-me. And there’s the rub. It ‘s actually very hard to tell if this would be enjoyed by not-me. While it calls out lots of things that will make a nerd giggle with glee, I can see not only the jokes going over the heads of those who aren’t familiar with the subject, but possibly missing the point altogether. The book easily feels like it could have been a heavily hyperlinked ebook, or a heavily footnoted book like David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest, just so that people who aren’t familiar with the little nuances or the main subject could understand what they are and why they’re there, although the humor might still be lost on them.

It makes a great start to this year’s New Bizarro Authors Series. While this book has compelling and sympathetic characters, a great and full story, and lots of little references and jokes that fit well in the context and aren’t simply shoe-horned in, The Cheat God for God Mode gets a high recommendation but with grave reservations. If you’re a nerd who’s familiar with science and pop culture, you’ll get a lot out of this. But if you don’t, then you may end up feeling very lost in this strange universe.

The Cheat Code for God Mode by Andy de Fonseca earns 4 8-bit chickens out of 5.

Book Review: You Are Sloth

You Are Sloth!You Are Sloth! by Steve Lowe

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The sloth: An odd tree-dwelling animal, the most commonly referred to species of which has three toes and a permanent smile on its face.

The spammer: An internet-based douchebag who sends unsolicited email in bulk.

How are these two related? In You Are Sloth by Steve Lowe, a criminal simply known as the Spammer has begun sending out emails that turn people into their power animal. When you (yes, you) are turned into a sloth, you must join with your neighbors Cross the Asshole and Randy the Retard (named so by Cross the Asshole), you must track down the Spammer, discover his dastardly plot, and reap some three-toed vengeance.

So, the first thing you’ll notice is how I referred to “you” as the main character. That’s because this book is written in a second-person perspective (for those not familiar with literary terms, first person is “I,” second person is “you,” and third person is “he/she/it,” to put it quickly). The second-person perspective is usually used in things like those old “Choose Your Own Adventure” books. This is not one of those. It’s simply an experimental way of telling the story, and it works. I have to give Lowe a lot of credit for risking this kind of perspective. It’s odd at first, but you get used to it very quickly.

The second thing is that this book is funny. It is really funny. The humor is gross, inappropriate, and yet given the characters this book deals with, it couldn’t be any other way. These are very low-brow characters. If you don’t like lots of feces or mature themes in your story, especially death by bukkake, this might not be the best book for you. For me, it works perfectly in the context of this story.

The story flows, the characters develop, and it’s a fun journey along the way as you discover how to be a sloth. If anything, this book actually reminds me a little of Lowe’s earlier book Muscle Memory. In both books, characters find themselves in different bodies and have to come to terms with themselves, what they’ve done, and how they’ve lived their lives. This similarity isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I liked “Muscle Memory,” and while it’s a similar theme, the story itself is completely different.

I can’t really find a fault with this book. It’s hysterically funny, thoughtful, experimental, and really just an outright fun book to read. You really can’t go wrong here. Steve Lowe has written what is arguably one of the best books I’ve read all year, and I’m not exaggerating when I say that.

You Are Sloth by Steve Lowe earns 5 three-toes out of 5.

Book Review: The Haunted Vagina

The Haunted VaginaThe Haunted Vagina by Carlton Mellick III

My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

Cue music from “The Exorcist.”

Okay, I’ll give you a moment to clean your screen off after you just read the title and spit out what you were drinking.

So, what is The Haunted Vagina by Carlton Mellick III about? Really, you’re going to ask that? Okay. Imagine if your girlfriend’s vagina was the portal to another world with strange creatures inhabiting it. That’s the situation that Steve finds himself in. And…that’s pretty much it.

The really odd thing about this is that the simple concept actually works. Through Steve’s exploring this strange new world, it gives Mellick a chance to perform an almost straight-up world-building exercise. It’s a strangely interesting world with a mysterious history.

Steve himself goes through an interesting if very quick character evolution. The character is believable, switching between a coward and pretending to be brave because his girlfriend tells him to do something he really doesn’t want to do (who hasn’t been in that situation?). At the same time, the character evolution seems a little too quick and convenient. While it fits with the story, it also feels like the story itself could have been changed a little to slow down the character development.

One thing, which should be obvious, is that this book will not be for people who are squeamish around sexual situations. At least I really, really hope that’s obvious. Mellick doesn’t shy away from being fairly descriptive in these scenes, nor does he mince words. But, then again, if you’re going to pick this book up, you’re already expecting this, so I’m not sure why I’m even mentioning it.

The prose and editing are clean, which is a huge plus. Again, it’s a pet peeve of mine, so I’m glad this one was a smooth read, and I could stay in the book very easily without my inner editor distracting me.

While The Haunted Vagina is actually a decent book (quality-wise), and Mellick seems to have put a disturbing amount of thought into how a miniature world inside a woman’s womb would actually work. While the story is short and works in its own way, sometimes things feel a little convenient for pushing the plot along towards its conclusion a little too quickly. It ultimately feels more like an exercise in building an interesting world, but sacrifices a more involved story in the process.

The Haunted Vagina earns 3.5 tubes of lube out of 5.