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Month: March 2017

Book Review: Shit Luck (2016)

Shit Luck by Tiffany Scandal
Genre: Bizarro/Horror/Comedy
Published by: Eraserhead Press
Release Date: November 18, 2016

It’s difficult to write a novel in second-person because the voice itself tends to distance the reader, combining that with the bizarro genre which tends to alienate some readers for its off the wall content and you have a recipe for disaster. Despite all of this SHIT LUCK happens to be inviting, warm, disgusting AND laugh out loud funny as hell. A fuck of a feat to pull off for any writer, but Tiffany Scandal nails it with aplomb.

Shit Luck follows the story of a nameless female protagonist having the worst couple days of her life: she burnt off a piece of her hair, she gets mugged, her car breaks down, she gets fired from her job of 6 years, and more. It follows Murphy’s Law: anything that can go wrong, will go wrong. And this gets worse later on in the story when her friend invites her  to a frat party to cheer her up after she lost her job, and she dies. No glitz or glamour, no crime. Frat Party. D E A D.

Unfortunately this isn’t the end of her luck, it’s just the start of a life after. Think of it like reincarnation, except you have no idea what life you’ll get, where you’ll be, or what year it is (a nice caveat is that you get to keep your own body). For instance, being reincarnated into a world where the only way you can go through any door successfully is by crab-walking. A little bit more into the narrative she dies. Again. Killed by a man she saw at the party. The exact same man.

And, so, a very strange and bloody cat and mouse chase begins with being killed and being sort of brought back to the life after time and time again.

Tiffany Scandal works magic into these strange scenarios and zany worlds. In between the wacky stuff going on in the narrative there are times where the character says something so deep and personal it harkens back one of the best things about this book: relatability. How we all deal with the bad, sometimes terrible things that life throws at it, the way life sucks ass and things don’t ever go right for you, how your love life is falling apart or not going at all, how you just wanna get laid, etc. It’s all in here.

This is one of the rare books that is just funny. No holds barred, laugh out loud funny with all the gruesome murder, period blood shooting out of you, a bitch of a mom, an actual baby-man. It’s a book that moves in breakneck speed that demands to be read in one sitting (I did).

SHIT LUCK is my first book by Tiffany Scandal, but it won’t be my last, that’s for sure. Look out for those (THERE’S NO HAPPY ENDING, and JIGSAW YOUTH) sometime in the near future.

10/10

Buy SHIT LUCK on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, IndieBound
Find Tiffany on Twitter
Her personal website

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Book Review: The Soul Standard (2016)

The Soul Standard by Nik Korpon, Caleb J. Ross, Axel Taiari, and Richard Thomas
Genre: Noir & Crime
Published by: Dzanc Books
Release date: July 26, 2016

Soul Standard is a book encompassing four intertwining novellas, set in different areas of the same city, and in different seasons. Personally, I’d been waiting for about 4-5 years for this book, and while I’m late to the party it does not disappoint at all. I’ll break down my thoughts on each novella individually in the order of the book, and finalize my thoughts on the book overall.

Four Corners — Caleb J. Ross

Four Corners is set in the Financial District where paper currency is dying and is quickly being replaced with blackmarket organ trading/organ harvesting, Favors, and Juice – a cocktail of drugs hinted at having a science fictional inception. The story follows an accountant named Max where his past meets his present colliding with the ruthlessness of Max’s boss Mr. Reiss, a construction/financial mogul who has seedier ties to The City, and an old flame from his childhood. A story built on sin and how it’ll always catch up to you, like a hellhound. A lot of the world building for The City, and the following stories is centered here. An opener that’ll leave a hole in your gut.

Packed with great writing and incredibly interesting concepts like a man wrapping tape around his body so when he throws himself outside of a building his organs will still be intact for his family to harvest. Brutal stuff.

Punhos Sagrados — Nik Korpon

Punhos Sagrados is set in the Red Light District, and while this may get you thinking this will be a dark sex-filled story, it’s anything but. This tragedy laden story follows Marcel, bareknuckle boxer who’s heading towards a downward spiral in his fighting career doing anything he can to care for his mentally ill wife, Mona. All he wants is to make enough money to give Mona the proper care she deserves, and set them back on the path to a normal life. Enter Carissa, a bar-lounge singer who stirs things in Marcel he hasn’t felt in years. It all comes to head when Marcel take a side hustle with Carissa sending them both into a spiral neither will return whole from. It’s a surprisingly emotional story.

Nik’s writing is scalpel sharp, and in my opinion, he writes action like no other. A good chunk of the story revolves around Marcel’s time in the ring, and in the hands of a lesser writer this would flat on its face. Nik’s does not, and it makes the story all the more powerful.

Golden Geese — Richard Thomas

Golden Geese is set in the Outskirts, an area outside of the city filled with farmland and largely absent of people. It follows the story of Trevor, a man who is addicted to Juice and has come to the Outskirt to escape the repercussions from his past actions in The City. His job is mostly waste management…of the human variety. He is left packages—fingers, decapitated heads, ankles, feet, etc, and disposes them in a pig pen where the animals have a penchant for human meat and blood. It’s a nice homage to the Hannibal film (2001). The story expands upon on the established world building found in Four Corners touching on the shadows within the shadows such as the unspeakable crimes of The City, the origins of Juice, and the kinks of the rich and powerful of The City. It’s a story of man on his last legs, desperately looking for any measure of redemption. It’s one of the more violent, and grim/bleaker stories in Soul Standard.

Richard’s writing is sharp, although at times his prose feels a bit forced in the sense that it’s tailored to fit the bleak aesthetic of noir instead of the story doing that on its own. Bleakness for the sake of bleakness, as it were. Overall, the story is impressive in it’s use of violence, and the tenor of the voice carrying it throughout.

Jamais Vu — Axel Taiari

Jamais Vu is set in Ghost Town, a ghetto of sorts for The City. It follows Jules Lethe, a man searching for his missing daughter. This is made increasingly complicated because of the condition he suffers from: prosopagnosia, an inability to recognize faces. I don’t want to say too much about this story other because it NEEDS to be read. It’s one of the most emotionally impactful stories I’ve read in a very long time. It renders the unimaginable loss of a child real. A vitally powerful ending to an incredible book.

Phew…Axel’s writing here is just next level. His prose is layered with literary reference ranging from Sherlock Holmes, to Shakespeare, to Dante. You can find more about the references he tucked into his prose here.

 

Punhos Sagrados and Jamais Vu are my personal standouts of The Soul Standard. However, if any of these authors are new to you, then I think The Soul Standard is a good entry point for you to dig into. Each author’s distinct voice can be found here, and it’s a testament of their skill to pull off a shared world as interesting as this one. Each author has something unique and interesting to offer you as a reader, and you won’t be disappointed. This has all the smatterings of black, white, grey, and red you could possibly imagine. Bleak, violent, and noir as fuck it’s a collection unlike any other.

10/10*

Buy this book on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Dzanc’s website
Twitter(s): Caleb, Nik, Richard, Axel

*For the future, will be grading reviews on a 10 point scale
**Bonus content I: a 4-essay article detailing how the book came to be, each author’s writing process, and building a shared world**
**Bonus content II: Booked. Podcast interviewed the four authors. Here is part 1 (with Caleb and Nik) and part 2 (with Richard and Axel)**

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Micro-review: Serious Moonlight by Amanda Gowin & Craig Wallwork

Serious Moonlight is comprised of “The Aquarium” by Amanda Gowin and “Stilled Longing” by Craig Wallwork. Both revel in love and the brutality of it in its execution, both in its physical manifestation in Gowin’s story, and emotional in Wallwork’s story. “The Aquarium” deals with a couple—Christoph, and an unnamed woman, the escalation of violence between them and outside of them, and how they transition to states of love. Both are murderers, one for hire (it seems), and the other for pleasure. It’s a dark, volatile little thing, but it handles sex, more violent/BDSM style kinks well. “Stilled Longing” is the tale of a woman born in strange circumstances, and the ways her slow, crippling physical disfigurement affect her view of the world. It also touches on the different kinds of familial love—the longing for it, the absence of it, and expressing those feelings.

All in all, they’re both beautiful stories. Well written, and the care for each story shines through. Definitely worth .99c and 25-30 minutes of your life.

Buy it on Amazon
Find Amanda on Twitter
**Craig isn’t on social media

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Album Review — Speakpanther by Speak & Dream Panther (2017)

Album: Speakpanther
Artist: Speak & Dream Panther
Release Date: February 24, 2017
Genre: Hip Hop
Length: 22 mins
Released by: Sheran Stone Barnett

I first heard of Speak via an interview on Sway in the Morning and at the end of that interview my mans laid down a fire freestyle (starts 4:35). Ever since then I’ve been a fan and following him. He’s had multiple projects across the years–Sex Quest 3, Fall Time Radness, just to name a few. He’s also ghostwritten for various rappers/artists throughout the years.

Onto the album, Speakpanther is a hazy look into biculturalism through a Mexican-American perspective.  I think it’s the most vulnerable Speak has been on a project touching on various topics such as his difficulties of finding love, the rising violence in American society and how our reactions on social media make us numb to it all, the harshness of crossing the border, balancing Latino and American culture etc, etc. It’s not without it’s moments of braggadocio which there is plenty on this project–women, sex, his come up in the rap game, being high on coke/weed/speedballs. He’s a charismatic and varied rapper oozing with wit, playfulness, pop culture references and intensity all at once.

The production from Dream Panther is psychedelic in texture, using synths and guitars to carry that energy throughout various songs like opener “Howdyyy”, “Viva La Lagunilla”, among others. This is juxtaposed by the harder, more experimental songs like “Not From Here”, “Dollar Beer, Free Shots”, and “Trap 3D”. It’s a difficult balance to maintain but it’s solid in its execution.

If there’s one gripe I have about the album is the mix of Speak’s vocals—at times his voice is overpowered by the beats which makes the listening experience a tad harder trying to figure out what Speak is saying, but overall the album is definitely a must-buy if you’re a rap fan and you wanna hear BARZ. On a personal note, the album is made more relatable to me because as a hip hop fan/listener I don’t really hear much of the Latin-American experience, so it was refreshing to see this project touch on that.

Stand out tracks include: “Not From Here (feat. Liphemra & Poshgod)”, “Dollar Beer, Free Shots”, “Trap 3D”.

Buy on iTunes
Stream on Apple Music, Soundcloud, and Spotify 
Find Speak on Twitter
Find Dream Panther on Twitter

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Dirty First Impressions — Ghost Recon Wildlands (Open Beta, 2017)

Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Wildlands (PS4, XB1, PC)
Genre: Open World, 3rd Person Shooter, FPS, RPG
Release Date: March 7, 2017
Version Played: PC
Time Played: 4-5 hours

Ghost Recon Wildlands is the latest entry in the Ghost Recon franchise, the previous entry (Future Soldier) coming out in 2012. It’s another Ubisoft game, meaning: a huge open world with various collectibles, missions, enemy patrols, skill points, and the like. Despite having such a massive world, it felt incredibly hollow. Granted, I mostly played in one of the two areas available in the beta, so the full game will likely showcase the range of different landscapes, and what you can do in them.

However, the gripes I had with one area may extend to the full game. For instance, the kilometers between missions, side quests, and collecting skill points is excruciating and tedious. The time and distance is sometimes worse when you’re cutting through the mountains. It doesn’t help that the controls for most of the vehicles border on cartoony. The car’s handling is incredibly loose, and the camera is so sensitive it may induce vomiting. The numerous (and quite frankly, too many) helicopters are practically useless in the state they’re in — the handling is way too stiff, and toggling the helicopter forward doesn’t actually move you forward. You have to play this game of altitude and jostling the helicopter back and forth to get anywhere. The boats worked okay. Thankfully, motorcycles were the saving grace. Being on those was fun as hell given all the off-roading you’re practically forced to do.

The combat was both refreshing and frustrating. Going from 3rd person in exploration to 1st person as you aim was a very jarring experience to say the least. If this bothers you, you can change the settings so that you’re mostly in 3rd person unless you go into sniping. At first, the change in perspective was frustrating, but ultimately serves a purpose: tactical precision. Combat in general feels very much like a militaristic operation — scouting enemy positions with drones, tagging enemies to coordinate kills, looking for the best entry point to get in and get out undetected, finding weaknesses in an enemy base (killing the power, for instance), calling for support from the local militia, etc. If you’re caught out of position, or the enemy spots you, you’re likely to die and quick. If you’re hidden, are caught, and run the enemy will not stop chasing you because you hid in some bush for 30 seconds, no they will chase you for 10-15 mins no matter if you’re in a car or boat making combat more exciting/nerve wracking if you’re the only person alive in your squad. The game’s RPG elements come in leveling up, allocating skill points, and the extensive attachments/modifications you can make to your weapons, changing their damage, recoil, accuracy, etc.

Your team’s AI can be great, or can be incredibly stupid. Walking outside a church to 6 enemies with no cover and dying instantly is moronic. Defending your flank efficiently, and lining up headshots for coordinated takedowns is awesome. Personally, to have the best experience you have to play with a group of friends. Nothing like strapping a car with C4, driving into an enemy base and blowing your friend up in the process. But seriously, squad up because it makes the game so much more tactical in its approach, and really has you plan for the various random encounters you’ll have throughout the world.

Being a beta, I encountered a few bugs, like a friendly player looping in an animation when getting on a helicopter, vehicles popping in front of you and killing you, things like that but nothing game breaking. However, it did crash on me twice for seemingly no reason. I’ll give it this though: the game is absolutely beautiful. Lush, vibrant jungles, dirt mountainous roads, snowy landscapes, etc. However, do I think it’s worth your time and money? I can’t say it is. Maybe buy it as a Game of the Year edition fully loaded with DLCs and fixes?

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