Bourne, Vandermeer Rothdas book review RSS
5.0 Stars

Still good! I was killing time and picked this up to read a few pages, and of course I ended up re-reading the entire thing. As before, the first ~60% is excellent, the middle 30% is ok, and the last 10% goes back up to great. What a lovely book.

Barbary Station, by R.E. Stearns
3.0 Stars

Decent! A dyad hijacks a ship going to the outer colonies, thinking that this prize will be their ticket into joining the pirate gang that has taken over Barbary Station. The Situation on the Station is not what they thought however, and instead of a rich pirate playground they find a failing habitat, divided between various factions and controlled by the station's mis-firing and psychotic maintenance AI. The pair spends the next 400 pages navigating loyalties, investigating mysteries, and trying to find a way to return the station to human control.

In general I liked the book; there's nothing too exceedingly skilled or clever, but everything in it kind of moderately works. I both liked and disliked the many sections about navigating the failing station, where travelers are moving between various ruined levels of the interior of the ring as well as along the outside. On the one hand, it had a neat sort of parkour/urban navigation feel, on the other hand it was difficult to translate the 3D situation into text and make it fully understandable. I did like the dizzying contrast of space with hull, I did like how close the vaccuum always was, I did want to know more about the larger situation in the solar system. Oh! And I liked the use of "Student Loans" as character motivation, e.g. why did you decide to become an adventurer and raid deadly dungeons full of monsters? Student loans man, student loans.

A Deadly Education, by Naomi Novik
4.0 Stars

An interesting but somewhat flawed outing by Novik. Perhaps the fault is my own; I love the concept of the book (dark and tricksy magic school) and the author (Novik, GOAT dragon-romance writer) and so I had really high expectations for this. The actual book isn't bad; it has an interesting protagonist (a decent witch raised right but who for some reason Fate has marked out for having only comically powerful and evil gifts that she can never actually use. It's like having a selection of nuclear bombs when what you really need is a broom), a *lot* of neat monsters (Novik did a great job in creating her own Monster Manual for the school, the Gelatinous Cubes are a particular standout), and an interesting idea of a magical school (Grimrock cogs and gears, floating in pure Void to keep it isolated and safe from intruders). There's also some common Novik elements like friendship and romance thrown in, kind of at a Ghibli-esque level, which are all fine. For some reason though the whole didn't quite gel for me, the world felt like it didn't quite cohere. The world building didn't quite add up, and had too many clashing elements. One of the main conceits of the book is that young wizards and witches are in grave danger, since A) they haven't learned to defend themselves yet and B) they are a source of magical power that can be consumed by monsters or other mages. And so you have *tons* of young wizards being eaten and dying throughout history, like 75% or so. But the world doesn't really match that, e.g. if you have 75% of your kids dying from monster attacks (and not even counting other factors), you would expect wizard Moms to need 10+ kids just to keep the population at replacement levels, and basically their entire culture should be wrenched by this basic fact. Instead the wizard lives are a bit too normal, and the kids are a bit too blase in the face of constant danger. I get that this is just sort of a conceit of the book, but it still made everything else seem too cartoonish for the book as a whole to work. Or to put it another way, it doesn't work well to have romantic-action-comedic brushes with danger on the one hand, and then on the other hands students are regularly being eaten by monsters/planar mouths that will condemn them to a million years of pure torment. In general it had too much Western consciousness and morality, rather than a more Russian fatalism or Eastern materialism. Given the world they live in.

Edit: I was trying and flailing to put my finger on what my complaint really was, and after re-reading the first 20 pages of VanderMeer's _Bourne_ I can say that my complaint was that this is not _Bourne_. That novel actually captures something of what it would be like, psychologically, to be in constant mortal danger for months and years on end and how it would warp and wrench the mind. Related: at the start of WWI, the British noted that their soldiers kept going ineffective from shell shock, and so in the spirit of Science they did a test where they kept a unit on the front line, in constant action, without any breaks, and then studied how many of the soldiers in the unit went insane over time. The short answer is "all of them". They found that of the survivors, ~95% of them became ineffective over the course of 90 days of combat. Which is again just to say that the character's in this book are way too relatable for the constant danger they are in! Ok, that niggling criticism is done. Now let me say some more nice things about the book. It reads super fast, I loved the "death flick" spell, very creative, I liked how Novik put as much creativity into spell creation as she did with monster creation, even if the spell world building doesn't entirely hold together (but at least no time travel, so it has that going for it). Finally, I liked the extended magic-mirror creation process. Whew! I think I am done now.

Battle Ground, Dresden Files book #119, by Jim Butcher
4.0 Stars

Ok, wow. As someone else described it on the internet, this 350 page book was basically one long boss battle. Every single stop is pulled out and every single past character and power gets involved. My earlier complaints about the first half of this book being slower and more faltering than usual are quelled; read together these two parts would form a really interesting work with the first half being more setup and foreplay and the second half being just a balls-out fight scene that ends up leveling every bit of scenery in the area. I'd kind of be ok with the series ending at this point, as the power levels have started to reach silly levels, but the author certainly does leave the plot open and ready for the next book in the installment. Other random thoughts:

- I kind of want to complain about this book's fellating of cops, but it did at least partially break from its pro-cop stance and veered towards realism when Karren Murphy shot Mouse the Dog. Much like Thomas struggling against his White-Court spirit demon, Karen spent years struggling against her cop-nature, knowing that in the end she would lose the battle but still valiantly fighting it. So this was a bittersweet entry in the series, as she finally lost that particular battle, gave in, and shot Dresden's dog to death.
- The book suffers a little bit from what you see in series that have gone on for a long while, with baddy-characters who were previously giant threats and irredeemably evil becoming sort of neutered through long exposure. I feel like several of Dresden's "allies" in this fight probably should have turned on him at various points, though I suppose you could also read that non-betrayal in some cases as being part of a longer game.
- The book suffers a little bit more from the author's interest in army tactics and such; you could see this same flaw in its fully evolved form in Butcher's Codex Alera series. That book focused much more on armies, which really aren't that interesting, rather than on conflict between individual characters, which are much more dramatic. In this book there's a fair amount of faffing about with brigade-level conflicts, which I'm sure is of interest to the author as he is a giant nerd, but does not (to me at least) make for stories that are super interesting.

Season of Storms, Witcher book #2
4.0 Stars

I was waiting for some image processing to finish, and this book was laying around, and thus history is made. Previously I had read every Witcher novel except for this one, but now I can say that I've read them all. My copy of Season of Storms was an early (that is to say extremely rough) translation, with numerous mistakes with tense, sentence structure, etc. The end effect though was better than you might think, it was like listening to a story told by an elderly Yiddish man, and there were frequent occasions where the non-standard sentence structure and word choices enlivened the tale. The plot of the story, like the telling of the story, was also enjoyably "off", with it darting in several directions and folding in a number of disparate elements. E.g. Is it monster hunting? City politics and dynastic politics and law and political intrigue? Mad wizard hunting, cruel wizard loving, deep mage plotting, disaster recovery, crime lord cuffing, or fox hunting? At different times the book makes lunges in each of these directions, and at the end I would be at a loss to really describe what it was about. It does act as a transition point between the early Witcher stories (shorter and mostly unconnected tales) and the later stories which tell a longer and more standard fantasy tale. In this book the author has begun tying the short stories together into a sort of larger tale, though not one that really has any consistency or over-arching plot. I enjoyed it? It was weird and not entirely sensible, but the flavor, cynicism, and blunt expressions were a pleasant change from more standard Western story telling. It was also snappy, frequently clever, and frequently funny.

Troubled Blood, by JK Rowling
2.0 Stars

I decided to try this out, in order to see what sort of atrocity Rowling is perpetrating now. Initially I was impressed by the book; the writing was fine, the descriptions were good, and it had slow and detailed character interactions and dialog that I was not expecting from a mystery novel. I'm used to mass-market mystery novels being extremely low quality, with fan-fic level writing and card-board cutout characters and a constant stream of lumpenprole thought-patterns and prurient sex and murder and crime. So in that regard, Troubled Blood was a big step up, as the writing was not actively bad and off-putting, and just in general it felt more humane and well thought out But then I started to have doubts. About 150 pages in, I started to realize that nothing had actually happened in this book, that the investigation was just barely getting started, that I didn't really care about the characters, and that there was still *800 pages* left in this ultra-long mystery novel. So... maybe the more standard mystery writers actually do know a thing or two about their craft. Give the reader something, anything, to hook them into your novel. I think in this regard Rowling might have been spoiled by her Harry Potter success, and at a certain level she just assumes that people will read 1000 pages by her, because what else are they going to do, *not* read the next installment of her work? But outside of the huge success of the Harry Potter main-line stories, yes, that's exactly what people are going to do. Anyway I gave up on the book around the ~150 page mark.

Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era by James M. McPherson
5.0 Stars

An inadvertent re-read. I wanted to just look up a few tidbits from the book, but as with Annihiliation I ended up re-reading the entire thing. I think the trick of this book is that the political struggle before the war is very engaging, and so you are drawn in by that initial ~250 pages. Then, without even realizing it, you transition into reading about the military struggle of the war and before you know it, it is too late, and you are reading ~400 pages about troop positions at the second battle of Mansasses or something. Key take away from this read: It all seemed very familiar, like we are locked in some bad BattleStar Galactica writer's room. There's an 1830's version of Philandro Castille and his family, as well as an 1831 version, and so on, where each time you are just like "jesus". There's a large contingent of Americans who will practice any sort of oppression and violence, while thinking well of themselves for it, and when criticized in any way they for their violence they will respond as the aggrieved and injured party and threaten yet more violence. While thinking well of themselves. Phrased another way, these are Americans who have been only lightly dusted by the intellectual and moral achievements of the last 5000 years, leaving the thinnest patina of rationalization over what is effectively an orangutan-zombie, a creature lacking in any sort of interior life or moral life or intellectual life. Oh! Like the creatures from Blindsight, but with a beer-gut. As my favorite podcast says, "It's not good."

Oh and right and it turns that we've been trying to conquer Cuba for literally 200 years now. Maybe, as a country, it is time we gave that up? Like with Canada, we tried three times, and then we were like, "yeah, I guess you're ok mate." We should do that with Cuba too I think.

The Club Dumas
2.0 Stars

A book that might have been decent or even good if the protagonist wasn't such a doof. The idea is that a mercenary book hunter and fixer, Corso, has been hired at an extravagant rate to investigate the authenticity of an ancient book. From there follows investigations, suicides, bribery, theft, assault, European travel, light murder and arson, etc. I'm making it sound more interesting than it actually is. The book is also extremely meta; it is about people who collect and hunt books, and the plot beats of the main story are setup to mirror the plot beats of *two* different books, the A) Three Musketeers and B) a fictional book of alchemy and demonology, which purports to lead the way to secret wisdom. On the face of it, it's an interesting conceit, to have the story mirror and intermix two other stories, one of which is entirely fictional to the book itself. In practice it only about 65% works; the author spends a bit too much time dwelling on the meta and not enough writing a story that is interesting and clever in and of itself.

I've mentioned some light problems, now let me mention more serious ones. The main character is not likeable, and when anyone in the story treats him as likeable or does anything for him it is annoying. I believe the funadmental problem is that the author has an idea of what a neat guy/cool guy is, and writes the protagonist to be this guy. But the author is wrong. Drinking gin isn't cool, board games are cool. And I'm not talking about Napoleonics, which Corso is lightly into, but real Euro games which mix cooperation and competition. Other things that are not cool: being hung up on the girl who left you because you were such an incurably boring downer, being rude to people, losing fist fights to guys, sexually assaulting girls. The main character has such a weirdo mythology of himself that it just makes me feel vicarious pain for anyone who has to deal with him, and it make reading the book a progressively more grueling task as the pages went by. So the book has interesting ideas, and the mechanics of the writing are fine, but I was out of phase with what the author was trying to portray.

Dark Harvest
1.5 Stars

A not very good entry in the canon that comes across particularly poorly via audiobook. The basic problem is that the book is long and the plot is short, and the difference between the two is made up by absurdly lengthening what should be much more straightforward plot beats. It reminded me of Netflix TV programs, where in liu of coming up with more plot points the writers just circle endlessly and pointlessly through the same narrative paths before finally and limply resolving things once their 10-hours has been filled. Anyway! There's a ritual, there's a guy come to stop it, but wait that's actually what the ritualists wanted all along. It's a completely-characteristic and predictable Warhammer story. Things are livened somewhat by A) the post-Katrina New Orleans swamp setting and B) the Bulldozer like main character and C) they did at least mostly commit to the ending. Still, any gathering excitment was continually deadened by every single investigative interaction going through this process.

Harrow the Ninth
4.0 Stars

A neat and fast-reading sequel that failed to really come together for me like the first one did. Part of this is due to the fractured narrative, as the main character has partial amnesia & sensory glitches & unreliable flashbacks & peer-to-peer-dreams, and has to use a Memento style system of notes to help her out. Part of this is due to my own amnesia, as I try to remember ~20 characters from a year ago. Part of this is due to the magic system, which reminded me of the transition from high school level math to college level math, where small seeds of misunderstanding blossomed into flowers of complete incomprehension. It did not help that the power level of the magic system launches completely into the stratosphere, so that all the main characters are basically demi-gods who can heal and reshape themselves at will and travel through dimensions and fight planet-size psychic beasts. And part of this is simply due to the character of the main character, Harrow, who seemed to have way too much detachment and chill for someone in her place. I kept comparing her to other teenage void priests/necromancers, e.g. the priestess from le Guin's The Tombs of Atuan, or the kindly necromancer from the Sabriel series. Both of these were grounded characters and grounded worlds that fully explored their subject and all its details. They felt like worlds you could reason about and understand, and less like "a wizard did it" (though of course a wizard did do it, just in a way that it is consistent and understandable given the previous world building).

Despite these flaws, Harrow is still an enjoyable book, and the author does an excellent job on a number of fronts. The simplest accolade is that I blazed through it and read the ~600 page book in ~2 days. The book does have energy and cliff hangers and central threats and mysteries and for the most part it does manage to draw you along. Many of the characters are neat, once you remember them, and the sensory description and anatomy poerty is often great. At its best the book has a giddy energy where the author leans into the psychedelic craziness, and it becomes something closer to a Philip Palmer book but with wizards. So despite parts of this not working, I am still looking forward to the final entry in the triology.

Green Magic, Assault on a City, by Jack Vance
4.0/3.0 Stars

Two shortish tales by Vance that I read while waiting for Windows updates to clean themselves up (40GB of wasted space? really?). Green Magic is classic, beautiful Vance, just 30 pages of constantly creating and unfolding. Assault on a City is longer and while it is sci-fi, it is sci-fi that is very close to everyday modern existence. It's also, like, really mean to city dwellers. I did like the education-via-maze, and I did like the word "gunk".

Peace Talks, Dresden Files book #118, by Jim Butcher
3.0 Stars

A serviceable entry in the series. Jim Butcher has been much slower than normal to publish this most recent book, due to A) divorce-and-remarriage and B) trying to move into a new house, and the changing living conditions disrupting his productivity. I am highly sympathetic to this; keeping multiple women satisfied is *exhausting*, and it's not made any easier when your sleep and environment are irregular. So I am grading this most recent book in the series on a slight curve. His basic story telling style still works; Butcher uses a sort of Mad Max: Fury Road pacing where he starts the action on page 5, and then just keeps compounding and complicating that action for the next 300 pages. It makes for some very quick and easy to read books. Things break down slightly in this book as it is shorter than normal, so the action doesn't get quite as deep/involved as we are used to, and also because this book is really just Part I, so things end on a lull between story beats rather than with a full resolution. There's also sort of a spottiness to the writing, with minor plotting mistakes and a lack of really stellar set-pieces. It is not his best work and tends to fall back on older beats and cliches that he has used frequently before. Anyway, despite the flaws I'm looking forward to Part II being the next book that I read, sometime in August.

Passage at Arms, by Glen Cook
4.0 Stars

Another bit of Glen Cookery. Outside of The Black Company this is probably his most famous and well regarded book; it takes the general formula of _Das Boot_ and submarine warfare and flings it all into space. I liked the result, and it benefits from the standard Cook Qualities of grounded characters drawn from his personal military experience, surprisingly intelligent and inventive world building, and well plotted and fast moving events. The basic sci-fi conceit is that human scientists have discovered a way to make small ships nearly disappear into their own pocket-universes, connected to the real universe by only the most microscopic of apertures. While pocketed, the ships are nearly invisible and untouchable (depending on how far up their own asses they have gone), and are only constrained by their fuel stores, the heat that they build up, and the gradually increasing weirdness of physics the further they narrow their aperture. It's the sci-fi equivalent of a submarine diving as it renders them difficult to detect and harm so long as they are submerged. The narrator of the story volunteers to join the crew of one of these ships as it sets out on a months long raiding mission. There's a steadily ratcheting tension as the ship and its crew face increasing danger from enemy action, the depletion of their ship and supplies, and a steadily worsening strategic situation. It is a neat plot that's done well, and it steadily introduces the detailed and crunchy concepts of its sci-fi world in a well thought out and considered way.

Elizabeth, Ken Greenhall
3.0 Stars

A novella about a very young, very beautiful, and very sociopathic Witch in New York. The book's narrator is odd; she has an extremely flat and straightforward affect, is utterly amoral, and while intelligent and perceptive she perceives and values things at a different wavelength than all of the other characters in the book. So while she arranges a number of deaths, she doesn't do so with any large amount of hatred or glee in wickedness. The main thing she cares about is the cultivation of her magic and the spirit-guide who talks to her through mirrors, and everything else in life sort of barely rises to the level of "interesting". So the character is not purely evil, she just does evil acts out of boredom, curiosity, amusement, self-advancement, and for protection. She does have her positive side; she enjoys and is mildly interested in several of the characters E.g. she enjoys her uncle's fierce desire for her, she enjoys a hedge mage's gender fluidity and magical talent. It's just that she is also willing to do away with them once they are inconvenient or challenging.

Despite this being a novella I think it would have been better if it was even shorter. The narrator's affect is neat and puzzling and it works well for a while, but it's also not one that you want to spend a ton of time with. I'd say it has enough charm to last for 125 pages but not for 175 pages . Also, despite the narrator's coldness and flatness the book itself is quite sensational, with lots of "dramatic" and "shocking" acts. This is fun and makes for a quick read, but ultimately I think it comes off less well/intelligently compared to other books which have similar starting points but do more clever and nuanced things with them (e.g. The Wasp Factory has a murderous youngster with magical thinking, but goes to more interesting places. E.g. A Darkness Visible has two murderous young semi-witches, but the descriptions of their psychology is much more fine, much more detailed, much more realistic. E.g. Brenda is far shorter and punchier and has more actual and relatable human passion. Finally and ever so slightly E.g., Flavia De Luce has some shared qualities, but again, the character is much more realistic to an actual child, who even though she is extremely gifted still has enormous blind spots and areas of inexperience simply because she hasn't lived long enough. This concludes my knowledge of relevant pre-teen and teenage witches.)

Wide Sargasso Sea, by Rhys
1.0 Stars

Rhysable! Another story of a lady who somehow parlays good money and a lack of responsibilities into a terrible situation. Although this time she is assisted by Mr Rochester.

This was my second attempt at Rhys, and I think I just have to accept that her writing does not do anything for me.

Assassin's Quest, by Robin Hobb
4.0 Stars

The third book in the series changes the format, and rather than being about the awakening and acceptance of the sexual bond of the main character with his wolf, the story instead switches to a harem format, as the protagonist and his wolf go on an extended journey with a bevy of available women. The cast includes:

Kettrigan - the young royal widow; her duty pulls her one way, her body the other.
Starling - a vivacious and flirtatious bard with a checkered past. Easy to bed, but can anyone truly win her heart?
Kettle - the knowledgeable older woman who's passion is veiled but unquenched. Seduces younger men with boardgames and talk about dragons, has a bit of a dom side
The Fool - androgynous and prickly, like a tawny lanky lychee, but inside she is the sweetest and most romantic of them all

Overall I liked the story, especially the sexy wife-swapping farce that happened at the end.

On a more meta-note, this book is a good example of why I wasn't entirely impressed with some of the points of _The Refrigerator Monologues_ (TRM). Yes, as TRM says trauma is often used by comics as a narrative fuel or excuse in order to enable fantasies of conflict or violence or power. The flip side though to that characteristically male story telling is the more characteristically female story telling where trauma is used to create narratives of hurt/comfort and martyrdom. This book (and the other Robin Hobb boooks) are good examples of this, as the author is constantly doing *terrible* things to her characters in order to advance the fantasy that she is creating and craft these highly emotional narratives. And more generally, authors of all stripes use trauma to push or initiate or sustain the narrative or emotion or fantasy that they are creating. So it's true that early comics use trauma against women to propel their stories, but all sorts of stories use all sorts of trauma. Hmm, ok, I guess there is the gendered aspect to the comics, so alright alright I will give it half marks on that.

The Refrigerator Monologues, by Catherynne M. Valente
3.5 Stars

A neatish novella by a talented author that is lessened by the work that it critiques. The idea of the novel is similar to Atwood's Penelope, except that rather than critiquing and re-imagining the role of women in the Odyssey, this book critiques and re-imagines the role of women in comic books. So you have a Spiderman chapter written by a Mary Jane type character, a chapter by a Queen of Atlantis, a chapter by a Harley Quinn stand in, etc. etc. The basic problem with this is that everyone already knows that the earlier comic books were all terrible. They were intentionally terrible. The comics were written for teenagers, and not high quality teenagers either. So this is a bit like writing a book critiquing the marketing copy on your cereal box, or complaining about the NYTimes Editorial section. It's like "yes, they are bad, they are intentionally bad, and if you are taking them seriously you are giving them more credibility than they deserve." There is also the issue that this critique is super-common these days, e.g. in the last year there have been not one but two Harley Quinn treatments that make many of the same points that this book does.

This is a shame, since the author herself is quite good. She is clearly a comics super-fan, and her ersatz versions of the well known characters and story lines are consistently creative, grounded, and fun. She's a skilled world builder and story teller. I would *much* rather read a straight up super-hero story written by Valente, than read her critique of terrible comics from 30 years ago. And now checking her wikipedia page... she is super prolific and I actually have read another one of her books before. So there you go.

Jane Eyre, by Bronte
3.0 Stars

A perfectly absurd book. In the dim warrens of my mind I had Jane Eyre lumped in with all the other 1800s English fiction. I was expecting it to be like Austen's books with extended sentences, careful character portraits, and gradual, realistic plotting. Nothing could be further from the truth! Eyre is a roller-coaster of silly characters and grand emotions and improbable events. It's not quite at the level of a Korean television drama or a Phillip Palmer book, but that is only because it was written in the 1850's before we had discovered the technology needed to reach such heights. The two main characters are the titular Jane, an 18 year-old ball of tightly repressed Puritan sexual energy, and Rochester, a 40 year old rich and roguish and cunning sleaze bucket. The two hit it off immediately. There are complications of course: differences in money and class, old family ties, a meddlesome priest, sudden inheritances, rain swept moors, etc. etc. What else to say. I loved the usage of "etoliated"; it's the first time I've seen the word outside the context of plants or art. I liked "charivari", it is such a cheerful word. I liked the conversations with Rochester, even if the character himself is an ass. The dialog is frequently delightful, even when the characters and their reasoning are silly. There's a lot of Christian LARPing, especially in the second volume, which made me pay steadily less attention to it, but the book has a strong finish which brought me back around.

She Who Waits, a Lowtown novel by Polansky
4.0 Stars

A fast, creative, gritty, and violent mystery-adventure that is true to its characters and world.

The last and the best in the LowTown trilogy. After a moderately disappointing second book I was expecting the decline to continue, in the pattern you typically see in trilogies. Instead the third book had what I thought was a better mystery (though too complex for my brain to 100% grasp, or to be 100% sure it all made sense), a better reason for the protagonist's actions, better plotting, and just a general creativity and pacing and trueness to the world that I really enjoyed. Other items I liked: how the book's aren't afraid to time skip 3-5 years, how Polansky lets the different characters develop and rise and fall over the years, and the flashbacks that reveal steadily more about the protagonist's life from book to book. For a bit I thought that there would be a magical reason (e.g. the Manchurian candidate magic) why the protagonist was such a doof in the second book, but the author seems to have settled on it just being the crystal meth that the character was abusing at the time. Which I guess is valid too. I also liked how this book had a bit more of spy-craft and relationships, and edged into semi-slightly Le Carre territory. It even had a Karla type character, in the form of the Old Man. To paraphrase him and Karla:


Oh and a final reason for my appreciation of this book was that I was coming to it after the execrable Landsdale book; the difference in talent and quality is just immense and it really made Polansky shine in comparison. Thanks Landsdale! :D

Our Business is Terror, by various Lansdales
1.0 Stars

Another Book People purchase, this time of modern mediocre terror tales. The basic formula is similar to M.R. James: each ~30 page scary story has a brief intro and outro, an initial investigation, and a stint of grounded and occasionally brutal action near the middle and end. There's a bit of urban fantasy here, and a lot of hiding behind only moderately effective chalk pentagrams. The stories are not complex or enormously clever, but each story has at least a few moments of sensory description that I liked.

The first half of the collection is written by Joe Landsdale, and while the Joe Landsdale stories were not brilliant they did have a simplicity and straightforwardness that helped make the super-normal action seem more real.. E.g. rather than hyping up how weird it was to have a shadow walk across the dinner table, the author just directly and plainly describes what happens. The second half of the collection had collaborative stories, written in conjunction by Joe Landsdale and his daughter. These stories were not good, mostly because the writing was terrible. A few characteristic examples:

"she was as dedicated to finding her chair as a workhorse is to finding the barn."

"I tried to go to sleep, but lay in the dark, twisting and turning as if the mattress were made of tacs."

These are not good sentences! And they just keep coming, one after another. It doesn't help matters that the main character in these secondary stories is this sort of unpleasant valley girl, while her companion is her toxic and poorly drawn boss. Halfway through the collection I thought that this was going to be a shaky 3-star book, but the collaborative stories dragged the compilation down to a solid 1 star.

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