Posts Tagged ‘review


Goodreads Review: How to be a Ghost Hunter

How to Be a Ghost HunterHow to Be a Ghost Hunter by Richard Southall

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Claiming to be any fresh ghost hunter’s essential how-to guide, the book itself reads more like a checklist of basic information; that in itself isn’t necessarily a crime, but when it’s information that could be found nearly anywhere with a quick Google search, it seems superfluous. The use of sometimes-confusing language (when discussing EVPs, for example, we refer frequently to “ghost recording,” which does not reference the act of recording the EVPs, but rather to a type of spirit) and occasional errors in the “recommended gear” section (the one that really jumped out at me was stating that the use of “Microsoft Photoshop” could be helpful) didn’t help much.
Overall, there wasn’t much substance here. Certainly nothing that warranted a whole book. A brief pamphlet or a simple web page could have conveyed the same and not felt padded, plus would have given more opportunity to fix errors or update as times change.

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Goodreads Review: The Priest’s Graveyard

The Priest's GraveyardThe Priest’s Graveyard by Ted Dekker

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The Priest’s Graveyard is fairly standard Dekker; take one part ritual abuse recovery, one part religious overtones, season with self-doubt and hints of romance, incorporate slight twist towards the end and bake until ready.

That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, mind you; it’s quite competent and interesting and kept me turning the pages until I reached the end. Once I reached that end, I did not feel any revulsion or any qualms about why I had bothered to read it at all. I was satisfied, but that was all it was.

On the technical level, the book does its job; there are no detectable grammatical, spelling or typesetting errors. The language is clear and concise, though thoroughly sanitized as Dekker is prone to doing. The characters are reasonably well formed, with distinct identities, arcs and mannerisms, with most of them providing enough information for you to get inside their heads and understand them without drowning you in exposition; only one stands out as lacking full treatment, our assumed antagonist, but since we never get a POV chapter from him and he’s meant to be at least a little ambiguous, I can live with that. Overall, nothing spectacular, but nothing that ruins the reading experience.

There are a pair of quibbles that I have with the book, however. Were it not for those, it would have bumped the book up to a solid four-star rating, rather than the 3 (and maybe a quarter) I would give it at this point. First is Renee’s backstory. Her interactions with Lamont are painted with rose-colored glasses – which given the circumstances is understandable and expected – but when you reach the end and discover certain things, it feels incomplete, as though there are things that should have been brought up – if not directly, at least hinted at – earlier. It could have been done without spoiling the twist, and given his performance in other novels (Three comes to mind), Dekker is more than up to the task.

The second is the last two pages. The apparent epilogue and the dialogue between our abuse victim and fallen priest is decent if a little saccharine, and could have closed the book out nicely. Then we’re treated to a post-epilogue scene that just feels out of place and, honestly, stupid. Chop those last two pages out, I think you’d have a better book.

Overall, though, a satisfying thriller, and would certainly recommend it to fans of Dekker’s other works, assuming they haven’t gotten sick of his basic formula.

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Goodreads Review: The Amityville Horror Conspiracy

The Amityville Horror ConspiracyThe Amityville Horror Conspiracy by Stephen Kaplan

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

It’s not exactly a secret that I despise the whole Amityville Horror phenomena. Thus it should come as no surprise that I found this utter shredding of the original saga to be very pleasing in the cold, dead corners of my heart.

Kaplan performs the usual (well deserved) hatchet job on the book itself, going point by point through 90% of the factual issues that have been discussed ad nauseum by dozens, if not hundreds, of others – including myself – over the years. That’s not exactly new territory, though having it all in one place and written with reasonable coherency is handy.

What puts it a notch above other, similar materials is the items related to the rise and aftermath of the Horror story. The lead up going over some aspects of the original De Feo murders was interesting, if failing to present anything really new, but the information about articles and interviews related to the Lutzes and their ever-shifting story of demonic possession and slime rivers chasing them up and down staircases features even more contradictions and about-faces than different editions of the book, and when you get into the discussions between George and Kaplan – or the lack thereof, in some cases – showcases even further how utterly batty the whole thing is.

So why only 3 stars? Because Kaplan is just a little bit of an egotist. Every contradiction, every new edge in debunking the mess that is unearthed comes with self-congratulatory pats on the back and portraits of a messianistic crusader for truth who is too often martyred for his cause by the shock-hungry American public who all-too-desperately wants to believe that an innocent suburbia can become host to ghosts, demons, angry Native Americans and evil pig ghost/demons. The discussion of his personal life, including the discussion of his marriage’s dissolution and eventual romance and marriage to his future cowriter and the blow by blow of heath scares and why exactly he didn’t want to work in buildings with stairs are likewise unwelcome visitors. They add nothing to the book’s assumed purpose and frequently interrupt the flow of attempting to piece together something resembling a factual account of the events surrounding the Horror. Were those not present, or were at least scaled back a notch, this would have easily earned 4 stars from me.

Bottom line? If the Amityville Horror fascinates, inspires or aggravates you, there’s things in here worth reading for both those who subscribe to the hogwash camp and those who still desperately seek to defend it. If you have a more generalized interest in true-life ghost stories or investigations, it’s probably still worth a look, being related to arguably one of the most famous American hauntings. If neither topic is of deep interest to you, this book isn’t going to change your mind.

One other consideration is the price point; I had a hard time hunting down a copy, and generally it goes for $30 or more. Whether that’s due to rarity or popularity, I’m not certain. But that may put off more casual students of the subject, so be forewarned.

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Goodreads Review: All Good Stories

All Good StoriesAll Good Stories by Linda G. Hill

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Well, that was different…

I came into this book not quite knowing what to expect. I knew it would involve “mushy stuff,” and that it was liable to be more lighthearted than my usual fare, but beyond that I didn’t have much to go on.

Let me say that I am glad I took the trip. Sometimes whim and chance lead us to things that we would not otherwise have come across, and in those moments we should be thankful.

The technical portion of the program is well done, and while in the first few chapters you might be prone to thinking it childish or a little over-the-top, it becomes clearer towards the end and you start to see how it all fits together. The final whammy – and the opportunity to read the central story that forms the third layer of the work – cap things off nicely and offer an explanation for the apparent oddity of certain turns of phrase elsewhere.

It’s not your standard romance, and gives this particular book-lover and writer a warm fuzzy feeling that there may yet be hope after all. If you’re even slightly on the fence about it, take the plunge. You’ll enjoy it.

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Goodreads Review: Fire Burn

Fire Burn: Tales of Witchery, a collection of true accounts of witchcraft and demonologyFire Burn: Tales of Witchery, a collection of true accounts of witchcraft and demonology by Ken Radford

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Might seem a little harsh, but overall I found this book lacking in substance, fairly repetitive and boring.

There’s roughly 50 “tales of witchery” to be found here, each one averaging around a page and a half. Given the short format – alongside the age of most of the cases and the general disregard for silly things like “evidence” in cases of witchcraft – it’s understandable that there isn’t a lot of detail to be had; still, it could have used some improvements in that regard, and when I finished, I was left sitting with the book in my lap and eyebrow raised, asking “What, that’s it?”

Add in that several of the stories seem to basically be the same story with the names shuffled around a bit, and it doesn’t really feel like this was worth reading. And that’s before you get to the ones that I’d read before in Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark or in other (better) collections of paranormal blurbs.

It’s not terribly written, and that’s probably the best I can say for it; would give it a pass unless you’re absolutely desperate for this sort of material.

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Goodreads Review: A Home For Rose

A Home for Rose: A Dark Desert TaleA Home for Rose: A Dark Desert Tale by Ingrid Foster

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

An amusing bit of creepiness.

Not a whole lot to say about this one; it’s quick, cheap and dirty. I’ll give you a shudder, though any veteran of horror is not going to be surprised.

One original bit that I did quite enjoy was the image of Rose mangling Mary. Like watching Child’s Play, at first the image is silly, but the more you think about it, the more it lodges in your head and the more disturbing it becomes.

On the downside, the flashback-followed-by-flash-forward was a little messy, and the constant POV hops made this harder to read than it should have been. They’re not deal breakers, and it’s still fun for all that… Just felt like it could have been a little more streamlined.

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Goodreads Review: The Harlot by the Side of the Road

The Harlot by the Side of the Road: Forbidden Tales of the BibleThe Harlot by the Side of the Road: Forbidden Tales of the Bible by Jonathan Kirsch

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The title sounds quite provocative, doesn’t it? Harlots!? In the Bible!? Why, yes. Plenty of them, in fact. Most people probably aren’t aware just how much sin, iniquity, vice and general delinquency is in their favorite book of judgement and good news, I’d wager.

Those are the people this book is for. At least, those among that group who have a willingness to listen to some of the weirder and less “Christian” behaviors that some of those Biblical characters got up to. Unfortunately, that may be too small of a target audience.

The prose is well formed, the ideas reasonably well thought out, and there’s plenty of footnotes to chase down if you’re the fact-checking sort. But if you’re like me, someone who is already aware of the devilry going on in the Holiest of Holy Books, you probably won’t find anything new or shocking. There’s unlikely to be any enticing new hooks to hang your hat on if you’re seeking sick thrills in the Bible or want more ammunition to start throwing when people put on their judgy faces.

Now, is that all bad? Probably not. As noted, there is an audience for this information… I was just not that audience, for which I am a little saddened.

The one actual negative that I can levy against the book – or perhaps, more accurately, the author – is that sometimes it goes a little far afield, as though seeking ways to connect favorite pet theories or conspiracies to situations where they really have no bearing; the “I shall sacrifice what first comes to meet me” tale is the worst offender in this respect, somehow taking a screwy story about a soldier who makes a bad vow and thus is expected to sacrifice his only child and turning it into a secret parable about lesbians and goddess worship, but the idea peeks its head around corners in most of the stories, especially as it applies to those two topics. Sometimes it feels as though the author has an axe to grind about the Sacred Feminine and just won’t come right out and say so. But still, entertaining stuff, and sure to send any DaVinci Code theorists over the moon with the possibilities.

All in all, a decent enough read for the would-be Biblical scholar, or the devout person looking for a reason to get mad about another attack on their religion, but overall not something I’d suggest specifically seeking out.

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Film Review: They’re Watching

Was casting the net about on Netflix, looking for something interesting to watch, when the suggestions coughed up a little flick called They’re Watching; from the description, it sounded like a sort of updated Blair Witch; camera crew heads out and finds more than they bargained for, this footage being their last testament to the world.

Sounded alright, so I clicked. One thing to note, it’s rather long. Just a hair over two hours, I believe. Which is pretty lengthy for a horror flick, especially one that is essentially the work of unknowns. Not an instant “Nope,” but something that bears mentioning, as usually 90 minutes is about as long of a welcome as this sort of material has with most folks.

For the first hour and 45 minutes, I was actually reasonably entertained. The camera work is done well, and because the crew – in this case, employees of a network producing a reality show about worldwide house-hunters and renovators – seem to actually know how to use their toys, we’re treated to far less of the “shaky cam” that usually permeates such fare. When it does happen, it’s because something interesting or exciting is happening, so it actually accentuates the film instead of just leaving you nauseated the entire time. The cast and characters, while being a little stereotypical, are all well done and fit nicely into their roles, and the mystery of just what’s going on is doled out in properly suspenseful nuggets. Perhaps a little slowly – the viewer will likely get to the punchline long before the characters do – but all in all it was done well. It had humor, suspense and a dash of mystery without beating you over the head with any of it.

Then the last fifteen minutes happen, and pretty much crap all over the rest of the movie. It felt like an art-focused director or writer had come to a studio, hat in hand, with an almost finished movie that was pretty good, and asked for some help getting it out there, and the studio execs smiled and nodded and told our little artists that they had a fine movie, one everyone should see… But there’s just this one, really tiny, change they’d like to make. Kay? Then they hired Michael Bay and Paul W.S. Anderson to scribble in an ending to appeal to the mass market and cackled while the original artists recoiled in terror at the abomination that was the result.

I prefer to believe that. It makes it easier. Otherwise I have to think that the same folks who made the first 7/8ths of the movie, the well-done and amusing hour and forty-five minutes that was set to a slow burn with a dramatic reveal that would probably leave all our characters dead and nothing but a black screen to show for it, actually intended for fifteen minutes of massive, badly CG’d explosions of gore that kept making me think of Mortal Kombat fatalities. That those same people who had done such an interesting job with the scene of the stupid Americans defiling a somber funeral, who had perfectly conveyed a party-gone-wrong when the Americans almost bond with the natives and then spoil it by throwing around the wrong word at just the wrong (or right?) time, who had managed to keep a delicious twist properly hinted at and yet not completely blasted out or spoiled before the final reveal, had actually intended for this low-rent, ill-fitting and utterly retarded ending to their masterpiece.

Yeah. I want to believe outside meddling and a second crew tacked that on at the last minute. Because it hurts too much inside otherwise.

Had the movie gone it’s course as the majority of the film seemed to be setting up, I’d easily give it three, edging into four stars. As it is, leaving such a nasty taste in my mouth, it gets two. Barely. And that mainly on the strengths of the first portion, a bitter nostalgia for the film we could have had.

The real thing to consider: Is it worth watching? Well, that depends. How good are you at pausing, pretending something else happened, and skipping the last fifteen minutes? If that’s something you feel you can do in good conscience, then by all means, give it a watch. When the power goes out, just assume our villain dispatches the remainder of the crew while the camera sits on the floor records it all, then snap to black or our villain’s face as they heft the device and cackle into it. You’ll be satisfied.

For those of us who had to be exposed to the telportation, lightning bolts, dudes getting turned into acid-spewing piles of frogs and all the rest, however… No. A million “nopes.” Do not engage.

What about you folks? Have you seen it? What did you think? Let us know in the box below!


Goodreads Review: The Evil That Men Do

The Evil That Men Do: FBI Profiler Roy Hazelwood's Journey into the Minds of Serial KillersThe Evil That Men Do: FBI Profiler Roy Hazelwood’s Journey into the Minds of Serial Killers by Stephen G. Michaud

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

While the book as a whole might be mildly interesting to those of us who enjoy reading about morbid things like serial rapists and murderers, I can’t say that I wholeheartedly recommend it. The writing style tends to dip at little into the sensationalistic, which seems to spoil the feel of fact-based information that it was trying to convey, and it lacks a consistent voice.

Also, it seems like almost everything is just a brief “snapshot.” There’s not really enough information to really dig your teeth into in any of the cases that are explored, with most of them taking up a page to a page and a half, usually amounting to “Hazelwood was right, the bad guy was caught, go ’Merica.” I would have liked some more in-depth analysis of how the profilers came to the conclusions they did, and what impact – if any – that had on the case as a whole and those involved in it such as victims, family members and all levels of law enforcement. There’s a bit of interesting material, here, but really the most fleshed out and useful intel to be gleaned is that relating to the creation of the BSU and how sexually-motivated crime was dealt with before and after that event.

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Goodreads Review: Five Nights at Freddy’s: The Silver Eyes

Five Nights at Freddy's: The Silver EyesFive Nights at Freddy’s: The Silver Eyes by Scott Cawthon

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

And you thought movies of games were bad…

Okay. It hurts me inside to say this. But it must be sad.

No. Just no. 100% no.

I enjoyed the FNAF games; not so much for the gameplay, but the story and implications behind it, and for the presentation, the subtlety and possibility that lay behind each seemingly-inconsequential image. You would think that this might provide an excellent mine for the written medium, for leaving readers guessing, for dragging out those mysteries one by one.

Well, you’d think so, and maybe it’s so, but for whatever reason, it just didn’t happen here. Some folks are upset because The Silver Eyes supposedly is an alternate universe and not necessarily 100% “canon” with the games, but honestly, that’s not that big of a deal. The games may not be “real,” anyway.

The problems begin on the technical level. Constant shifts of P.O.V. No warning or indication of those shifts (except for three of them in the next-to-last chapter, where they’re at least spaced out, but that kindness inexplicably stops again three pages later). Typos galore (I know I tie my hair with a rubber bang!) and the formatting is inconsistent. Adverbs and adjectives abound, and usually of the ridiculous and unnecessary sort.

But sometimes I can overlook technical aspects if there’s a good story to be told… Unfortunately, there isn’t one, here.

The elements that work (dead kids, possessed animatronics) work. On their own, at least. But we knew that, already, otherwise there wouldn’t be four games, an upcoming movie, and thousands of YouTubers out to discover “the truth.” The elements conjured for the story (Charlie’s brother, the forced awkward romance interludes between John and Charlie or Lamar and Marla – and really, did their names have to be anagrams? – dad’s mysterious partner who lost a hundred pounds and mysteriously appears to have actually gotten younger with no apparent supernatural explanation subbing for the games’ mysterious Purple Guy, just for a couple of examples) feel forced and shoved in like a checklist for bad horror novels.

The sad thing is there actually are good parts buried in here. Charlie’s childhood home, the abduction of Michael, the scene regarding Charlie’s father’s fate and the setup for the final confrontation are all well done, appropriately tense, and fit the mood of FNAF. Then they blow it, either resolving them quickly via deus ex machina or never referencing them again. No additional light is ever really shed on the central mysteries of the franchise, alternate universe or not.

On the whole it feels fractured and incomplete, both on a story and technical level. It hurts to say it, but the whole thing seems like fanfiction that got an extra polish job.

I’m not sorry I bought it; I think Cawthon and his creations are quite impressive, and supporting him so he can keep going is a worthy cause. But at the same time… I think he – and FNAF – deserve better, and rewarding him (or the author or whatever megalithic entity lies behind them) for such a substandard effort just feels wrong.

But that’s just my two cents.

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