Review: “Chain Saw Confidential” by Gunnar Hansen

A review by Brit.

In the eyes of many horror fans, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre is one of the greatest movies within the genre. It was released in 1974 and was quickly renowned for its craftsmanship and surprisingly bloodless violence. It was hated as much as it was loved. And in the form of Chain Saw Confidential, the one taking on the telling of the film’s origin story (and the reckoning of its legacy) is Gunnar Hansen. Who better than Leatherface himself to take on this muddy tale of dead chickens, melted film prints and runaway eight hour makeup chair sessions?

This book is largely an oral history of the making of Massacre, from the origins in the head of cigar-chomping director Tobe Hooper to the placement of the film in the Museum of Modern Art (and the scathing reviews that choice inspired). Helpfully, the story is also organized in the order of the actual movie’s plot. Hansen’s perspective is somewhat limited due to his starring role in the film. But he interviews cast and crew members extensively, openly admitting when details are inconsistent or if something has been completely forgotten. Add in thoughts about the movie from figures like John Landis (director of An American Werewolf in London) and it’s a very fun ride.

There are two reasons why I did not give this book five stars. The first is that readers who are inherently interested in horror and/or the filmmaking process itself will have a much better experience reading this book than those who are not. It’s undeniable. I’m a huge fan of Massacre, so naturally I enjoyed hearing about the nitty-gritty details about chicken bones and poor set insulation.The average reader may not care to hear about the post-production money distribution web of confusion that happened after the movie took off.

The second reason is that some readers may find Hansen’s treatise on horror at the end of the book tiring. It’s understandable that he has strong feelings on horror being connected to violence in American culture. But it’s 2017, and this debate now largely takes place only in academic and highly political circles. Even if you have no plans to watch Massacre for yourself, this book is still a good testament to the power of research and desire to tell the “real story” of how a legendary phenomenon came to be. Hansen writes in a wry voice that often reminded me of my grandfather. He’s exactly the kind of storyteller to take on this twisted, fun story.

My rating: 4/5 stars.

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Review: “Losing It” by Cora Carmack

Review: "Losing It” by Cora Carmack

A review by Vanessa.

I purchased this book on Amazon after finding Cora Carmack as a New York Times Best Seller, because sometimes we have to remember that the commercially popular authors are the ones that keep us all in business.

Being a theater major is hard, stressful work. The only thing even more stressful for Bliss Edwards is explaining to her best friend Kelsey why it is that at 22 years old, she is still a virgin. Because the reality is that Bliss is a bit of a control freak, and her lack of confidence in her abilities has kept her at “not ready” status for a long time. She is not really ready to graduate in one semester. She certainly isn’t ready for Kelsey’s reaction, which is to drag Bliss out to the nearest bar and proceed with finding her someone to help her lose it, and quick. But Bliss is tired of the stress and the worry and the wondering why she hasn’t just done it, so she decides to just do it. Just find a guy, and get it over with. The only other thing she is not ready for is Garrick.

The beautiful, blonde, blue-eyed, British man reading Shakespeare in the back of the bar catches Bliss’s eye, and completely turns her on in a way she never has been before. But when it comes to crunch time, Bliss can’t go through with it. For one thing she still isn’t ready, and for another she actually really likes Garrick. Rather than explain the truth and deal with the situation, Bliss gives an awkward lie and bolts. She’s ready to pretend it never happened until she makes it to the first day of spring term the next morning. Guess who is the new professor of Senior prep class? Of course it’s the recently-finished-with-graduate-school, former alumni, gorgeous man whom Bliss had just left naked and wanting in bed. But not only is he just as sweet and charming as he had been before the debacle, he actually seems to like her. Is he worth a risk that might get them both into a lot of trouble? When other people’s hearts are thrown into the mix as well, will Bliss finally let go and make a bold choice for what she really wants?

A very engaging read, this book is satisfyingly predictable while also maintaining a status as refreshing and entertaining. Bliss is a very real character, with oodles of self doubt that any reader can relate to. Though her existence is very mainstream, in a social setting where virginity is something to be ashamed of while feminine sexuality is also something to feel shame about, Bliss finds her own way through. She uses her emotions to fuel her acting in a way that it is very easy to respect, and makes her an entirely likable character. Garrick is a very real character as well. He is completely straightforward, and very honest in his pursuit of Bliss. He does not play games, or throw around his authority over her. Their romance is tension filled, but also toe-curling. This book definitely falls on the side of cliche when it comes to the overall story as the romantic aspect dominates the story arc. There were some larger themes that I think could have been better embraced, while still paying proper tribute to the romance that was obviously the major focus of the book. A few things came a little too easily, but all in all it was still good writing and an entertainingly sexy read. I am very interested to read the next book in the series, Faking It.

My rating: 4/5 stars.

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Review: “A Court of Thorns and Roses” by Sarah J Maas

A review by Amanda.

Nineteen year old Feyre is the sole provider for her family. Her father is unable to work after losing the family’s fortune and his merchant business in a risky venture. Feyre’s two older sisters seem content to live off of what meager rations and coins her hunting brings in, while giving only bitterness and indifference in return. Feyre is accustomed to burying her hurt and anger under a mask of ice and is marking time until her sisters can be married off to become someone else’s burden. She longs to be free of her responsibilities but a vow made to her dying mother keeps her stuck in place.

Everything changes when Feyre hunts too close to the border between her human village and Prythian, a land of myth and magic ruled by faeries. Retribution comes in the form of Tamlin, a powerful faerie lord with a cold, secretive demeanor who gives Feyre a choice between death or captivity. She chooses to become his prisoner to live out her life in Prythian in hopes that escape might someday be an option. She does not expect to enjoy the beauty of Tamlin’s estate,nor to develop friendships with the faeries who reside there. She does not expect that the real danger of Prythian may be one that isn’t from the legends with which she is familiar.

A Court of Thorns and Roses is a beautiful reimagining of the classic Beauty and the Beast story. The inspiration is clear while reading, but Feyre’s story is uniquely her own. Feyre is a wonderful protagonist. She is rough around the edges, distrusting of everyone and everything, and incredibly stubborn. Her strengths and weaknesses are rounded out, making her into a whole person. At no point is she a damsel in distress, although she is put into dangerous situations, some of which require help from others for her to survive.

Romance has a natural progression in this story, and is given enough weight to feel real, but not so much that it overshadows everything else. The world-building is seamless and beautiful. The plot is character-driven, and perfectly paced. Supporting characters are well-rounded and given plenty of agency, although there is a lack of diversity in both ethnicity and sexual orientation. Future books may address this issue. There is some violence in this story but nothing terribly graphic. There are a couple of consensual sexual encounters, as well as some non-consensual touching and kissing (again, not too graphic), but without compromising the integrity of the story or the characters. Fans of the author’s other series Throne of Glass and fans of authors Cinda Williams Chima, Marissa Meyer, and Cassandra Clare may enjoy this book. Book two, A Court of Mist and Fury has been released in hardcover. The third book, A Court of Wind and Ruin, will be released on May 2nd.

My rating: 4/5 stars.

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Review: “Mask of Shadows” by Linsey Miller

Review: “Mask of Shadows” by Linsey Miller

A review by Amanda.

Sallot Leon is a gender-fluid teen who has survived by fighting for money and robbing nobles. A chance encounter with a noble lady leads Sal to an exciting and dangerous new life. While robbing the intriguing Lady Elise, Sal discovers a poster advertising auditions for a position with the Queen’s Left Hand – her elite team of guards and assassins. Anyone may try to join the auditioners; they need only bring proof of their skills.  This may be the only way for Sal to exact vengeance on the Lords and Ladies responsible for the destruction of Sal’s homeland.

The main character Sal was clever, sneaky, and incredibly self-aware. The gender-fluidity was written with care and grace. The story was entirely told from Sal’s perspective, and Sal instructed inquiring minds to address them based on their appearance – “she” and “her” when she was dressed in feminine attire, “he” and “him” when he was wearing masculine clothes, and “they” and “them” when their clothes were neutral. This may seem confusing, but the character was written in such a way that gender truly did not matter. Gender fluidity was regarded as an oddity in this book, and Sal does express frustration with bigoted behaviors, but most of the characters accepted Sal as-is after a simple explanation about preferred pronouns. Readers got to know Sal as just “Sal”; an intelligent and shy person with a morbid sense of humor, who got flustered when romance was involved. Sal was quite likable, if stubbornly single-minded, and readers will find themselves emotionally invested.

The supporting characters were varied and had their own agendas and agency, although several could benefit from more definition. The plot moved at a quick and steady pace, with a lot of action nicely balanced with drama and romance. The world-building was fairly simplistic which was not a detriment to the story, but more details would have been welcome.  Fans of Sarah J Maas’s Throne of Glass series, or Victoria Aveyard’s Red Queen series may enjoy this book.

My rating: 4/5 stars.

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Review: “A Mad and Mindless Night” by Elizabeth Cole

Review: “A Mad and Mindless Night” by Elizabeth Cole

A review by Vanessa.

I was offered a review copy of this book by the author in exchange for an honest review. This book is set in an already existing series, but I was assured they were stand alones and you do not have to read previous books in order to enjoy others.

Elanora Morrison has a gift that has gotten her into a lot of trouble. She remembers everything. Her infallible memory and perfect recall, combined with her skill for scientific research, seemed like blessings when she met her husband Albert Morrison. But now they are the curse that keeps her under lock and key. Nora’s skills along with her husband’s innovation led them to create a highly valuable new form of communication. Their intent was to test it and sell the results to the government of England to aid them in their endeavors against their enemy, France. There is just one problem: Albert Morrison isn’t Albert Morrison anymore, and only Nora knows it. But he has told everyone that she is mad, and they believe it because he is a man. She has lost hope for escape, until one day an official from the government arrives to check on the progress of the project. Can Nora slip out of the confines of her locked attic room, and convince him to help her?

Ashley Allander is no government official. He is a scorned second son with a terrible reputation for torrid affairs and for ruining women; though many of the rumors are not true. He has no desire to play at being a spy, but when his older brother Bruce Allander, Lord Forrester, deigns to ask for his help he agrees. Bruce is a member of a highly secret organization of spies working for England, known as The Zodiac. Something has gone awry with Morrison’s project, and Bruce needs Ash to investigate. Ash would never admit it, but the role of hero is a tempting one. When he arrives at the estate and sees a woman standing on the roof near the window to an attic room, he is intrigued. Especially when he awakes to find the odd lady has snuck into his room, and begs him not to reveal that he even knows she exists. Are her wild stories true? Is something much more sinister brewing under the facade that is Albert Morrison? Perhaps together they can find out.

I totally enjoyed reading this book, and I will admit that I intend to seek out the rest of the Zodiac series because I believe they will be very fun reads. I was a bit worried at first that this novel would slip into the cliched and well worn story arc that can sometimes plague the historical romance genre, but the author definitely threw in enough twists to keep my interest. The character of Nora is very engaging, and not boringly typical at all. She is no wilting female ready to throw herself at the mercy of her savior. She is strong, incredibly clever, determined, and self-reliant. Though Ashley Allander does fit the mold of your typically misunderstood handsome rogue, the addition of his backstory is a very interesting twist on the “ruined woman” only with the gender roles turned upside down. In addition the romantic aspect was refreshing. There was no shy waif giving in to her desires for the man pursuing her. It was a determined and curious woman chasing her desire, and a handsome more experienced man giving in to his desire for her. Surrounded by a cast of engaging characters, who I only wish we could have learned more about, this was a very fun read.

My rating: 4/5 stars.

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Review: “Hetty: The Genius and Madness of America’s First Female Tycoon” by Charles Slack

Review:

A review by Brit.

The 1900s in America were known as the Industrial Age and the Gilded Age both. It was a time of extreme wealth, and extreme flaunting of wealth. But amidst all the millionaires and Jay Gatsby types, there was Hetty Robinson Green. She wore dresses that were years past fashionable. She cooked oatmeal on radiators and hopped from apartment to apartment to avoid paying taxes as a resident. She was also worth $1.6 billion dollars in today’s money.

Most biographies you read tend to idolize the subjects at hand. This book definitely falls prey to some of that, particularly with it’s care to debunk myths about Hetty. For example, she wasn’t actually so frugal that she let her son’s leg problems get so bad that it had to be amputated. She did her best as any mother would. But it is true that she often took him in disguise to be treated at free clinics… because she knew that going there as “the richest woman in America” would make them jack up the prices.

Hetty definitely isn’t a financial how-to guide. But it doesn’t shy away from talking about how Hetty herself became rich. It describes her moves to buy certain assets at certain times, taking the motivations of everyone involved in the deal into account. I’d recommend that readers unfamiliar with finance have a smartphone nearby just so they can look up certain phrases or names (e.g. different kinds of bonds). But overall, you don’t have to be a finance nerd to enjoy this book. The author goes above and beyond with additional historical details that add context to everything. He’s even courteous enough to add brief explainer sentences when someone re-appears in Hetty’s life (such as Collis P. Huntington, a railroad magnate who butted heads with Hetty and her son).

The main reason I would give this book only 4 out of 5 stars is because I don’t think I could recommend it to everyone that asked me for a good book to read. This book is a great read for anyone interested in history, money and how people influenced history in unexpected ways. But don’t expect a book you can skim lightly. This is a dense, absorbing read. You won’t want to set it down.

My rating: 4/5 stars.

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Review: “Review of Eleventh Grave in Moonlight (Charley Davidson #11) by Darynda Jones”

Review of Eleventh Grave in Moonlight (Charley Davidson #11) by Darynda Jones

A review by Amanda.

This book is the eleventh in the Charley Davidson series, and contains spoilers from previous books. I received this ebook for free from NetGalley in exchange for a fair and honest review.

New and shocking information about both Charley’s and Reyes’ origins came to light in book ten, The Curse of the Tenth Grave. But our snarky, caffeine-addicted heroine is still as plucky as ever. She is quick with the quips and sarcastic remarks, immensely loyal to her closest friends and family, and determined to save the world in her own, stubborn way. One of Reyes’ godly brothers has been trapped in the god glass, but that leaves one on the loose to hunt them down. With her infant daughter safely hidden away, Charley is free to focus on defeating her enemies, investigate for her PI clients, and sidestep the limitations her husband tries to place on her, for her safety. Oh, and dodge the angels sent to watch her after she threatened Jehovah.

With every new discovery regarding Charley’s distant past, I half expect that her personality will do an about-face. It is always a pleasant surprise when she retains everything that makes her Charley – her sassy, hilarious remarks, unwavering commitment to her loved ones, passion for Reyes, and her willingness to risk her own life to do what has to be done. That she manages to stay true to herself while also continuing to grow is a testament to the author’s talent in developing her characters in a realistic manner. The series is very much character driven, meaning readers will read book after book because of Charley herself, no matter what cases she is working on, or what is happening in the supernatural parts of her life. The supporting characters are just as integral, and exhibit just almost as much growth.

As much as I enjoyed this story, there was one aspect that disappointed. The main men in Charley’s life, namely Reyes and Ubie, continue to issue orders, even resorting to manipulation on occasion. They both hide their reasons for their demands, ostensibly for her safety, and get frustrated when she doesn’t listen. Aside from the fact that neither of these men seem to trust Charley with relevant information, it seems unlikely that two people who have known Charley for her entire life would actually expect her to comply without question. Reyes and Ubie should both know better, especially so late in the series. Reyes has fallen under the “protective male protagonist” stereotype several times before, as has Ubie, and it never works in their favor. This might be a more upsetting trend, were it not for Charley’s habit of calling them out on their behavior and her tendency to do what she wants anyway. This could be an intentional character flaw, especially for Reyes, since he is otherwise pretty close to perfect. Their banter and head-butting disagreements are still entertaining. Hopefully he will eventually grow past the need to protect Charley in this particular way.

I enjoyed this book just as much as the rest of the series and look forward to continuing with book twelve!

My rating: 4/5 stars.

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