John Dies at the End – A Review in Brief

John Dies at the End by David Wong

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

John Dies at the End (John Dies at the End, #1) by David Wong


When a book starts out with two young dudes fighting a monster made of deli cuts and spewing sausages, you know you’re going to have a good time. From the first few pages, John Dies at the End had me repeatedly laughing out loud and always kept me on my toes. There’s no way to predict what batshit direction the book is going to go next, because I’m not even sure David Wong knew when he wrote it. The strength of the inconsistent narrative and bizarre acid-trip-like turns taken in this adventure are both some of the highlights and lowlights.

The first half of this book is hands down my favorite, and feels like the most coherent portion of the story. Things get off the rails towards the back half when Wong dives into some Lovecraftian, interdimensional, jellyfish-slinging blood baths, but even when it was confusing, I was still enjoying it. No matter how muddled the narrative got, I always wanted to know what was going to happen next, and I cared about the well-being of these misfit characters.

In the end, David Wong has a unique voice and I’ve never read anything quite like this book. Is it perfect? No, but GoodReads doesn’t allow for half stars, so take a 5/5, David, you earned it.

Would recommend for fans of dark comedy, horror, and bizarre sci-fi.

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Are you a fan of adventure, drunk anti-heroes, or adventuring drunk anti-heroes? Maybe you should check out my books! Whiteout is the first in a planned trilogy, starring Nick Ventner, drunk monster hunter extraordinaire. Whiteout sees Nick pitted against the mythical yeti and a merciless mountain in a race against time with enemies hot on his heels.

More info on Good Reads:  https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/15019448.Ashton_Macaulay

The Tommyknockers – A Review in Brief

The Tommyknockers by Stephen King

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


The Tommyknockers has moments of greatness, but suffers from the same problem as some of King’s other works; it’s just too damned long. There were parts of the story that had me rapt, engaged, and wanting to know what happens next, but then there were also pieces that felt entirely irrelevant, never got fully resolved and felt like they should have been on the chopping block.

Much like other famous works of King’s, this tale sees another sleepy Maine town under siege by some blend of supernatural/extraterrestrial force. The main characters are strong as always, and when they’re in the story, it’s a joy to watch them interact. Where this book fell flat for me was some of the side characters. There are a lot of them, given that this is the story of a town, and not all of them are created equal. While some are given memorable moments, or sometimes even full on monologues, others are flat, not providing much beyond antagonism. King has proved through works like IT that he can absolutely write the hell out of side characters, making this outing a bit disappointing.

The story itself is simple, and engaging. Watching two friends dig up an ancient spaceship and observing its effects on a town full of unsuspecting folk is consistently entertaining. King does a great job of building mystery, and while the payoff isn’t perfect, I did leave the story feeling satisfied.

Overall, if you’re a king fan, and you’re looking for some pulpy scifi, you could do worse. Not a King fan? Not worth it.

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Are you a fan of adventure, drunk anti-heroes, or adventuring drunk anti-heroes? Maybe you should check out my books! Whiteout is the first in a planned trilogy, starring Nick Ventner, drunk monster hunter extraordinaire. Whiteout sees Nick pitted against the mythical yeti and a merciless mountain in a race against time with enemies hot on his heels.

More info on Good Reads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/15019448.Ashton_Macaulay

Cannery Row – A Review in Brief

Cannery Row by John Steinbeck

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Cannery row is less of a story and more of a description of a place in time. Steinbeck describes a coastal town with incredible detail using a constantly shifting perspective, examining the town through the eyes of a given person or place. It takes a few chapters to get used to, but as time went on, I felt like I got to know the setting better than most other works. Even in the short 181-page length, the author builds a memorable cast of characters and paints a thorough picture of their day-to-day lives. If you’re looking for a story, Cannery Row has a few, but none of them are central to the book’s purpose. Instead, Steinbeck makes the setting the main character, and its evolution through a short span of time the plot. It’s a very unique read, and I highly recommend it.

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Review in Brief – Secondhand Souls – Christopher Moore

Secondhand Souls (Grim Reaper, #2)

Secondhand Souls by Christopher Moore

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A Dirty Job is one of my favorite books I’ve read in recent memory, meaning the bar for Secondhand Souls was impossibly high for the jump. The story picks up right where A Dirty Job left off, and is at its most interesting in the first half. While the book focuses on the same characters, it ends up feeling like some of them lose their depth in favor of leaning more heavily into tropes. It’s unfortunate, because I love Charlie Asher so much, but he feels a little short-changed in the sequel. Fortunately, the new characters introduced for the sequels are standouts, with the villain, Lemon being one of my favorites.

The story is fun and intriguing, but ultimately feels handicapped by its conclusion. The book wraps up at a blinding pace with a bit of an anti-climactic showdown and ends up feeling a bit hollow. I would have liked to see a bit more depth in the last third of the book, but overall, the story was still enjoyable.

For fans of A Dirty Job, I’d definitely recommend picking it up. If nothing else, it gives more time with the characters we’ve come to love and has Moore’s trademark humor.

View all my reviews

Star Wars – The Re-Review – Episode 8

Here we are, at the end of the Skywalker Saga, almost ready for Episode 9. It’s been a long process with good movies, bad movies, and some that floundered in between. Today, I’m taking another look at Episode 8 – The Last Jedi, arguably the most controversial film in the Star Wars series. Critics lavished it with praise, and yet audience scores told a completely different story. I remember loving Last Jedi when I first saw it in theatres, and it definitely holds up on the re-watch. So, let’s get into it, feel free to fight me in the comments or on Twitter if you disagree, I’ll be waiting.

Here’s a quick refresher on where I scored the other films so far: Rogue One (3.5/5)A New Hope (4.5/5) The Empire Strikes Back(5/5)The Phantom Menace(2/5)Attack of the Clones(.5/5)Revenge of the Sith (3/5)Return of the Jedi (4/5), and The Force Awakens (4.5/5). You might notice, I’ve skipped Solo, but I will come back to it at a later date. I just got busy making an audio drama, a podcast, and writing a holiday story for y’all.

Last Jedi’s opening is incredible. It’s got humor, tension, great space fighting, and feels like it carries some real weight. For the first time in the series, we’re shown the consequences of running in, guns blazing, and staying until every last fighter is gone. The Resistance is nearly broken at the beginning of the film with only a handful of ships left to stand against the ever-increasing presence of the First Order. Despite all that, Poe is still joking with General Hux while he’s stalling for time in their master plan, and I love it.

Poe’s character is delightfully flawed in all the ways you’d expect from a hot shot pilot. Take him out of space and he would fit in easily with Tom Cruise’s Maverick from Top Gun. The only problem is, historically, Star Wars has never shown any consequences for that kind of behavior. In all the previous films, being a good pilot was enough to get you through three movies without losing anyone all that important along the way (unless you turned to the Sith). That’s why it feels so important to watch Poe fail in this movie and fail repeatedly.

About halfway through the film, Yoda says to Luke: Failure the best teacher is. This movie could not encompass that lesson more. From Luke’s failings as a Jedi Master, to Poe’s misguided hatred of Commander Holdo, or the half-baked plan on the Casino Planet, Canto Bight, it’s all about the main characters failing. A lot of people raged against that, and I don’t understand why. Part of me believes they were uncomfortable with so many of the lessons being handed down by women in positions of power, but that’s a rant for another time.  

Fuck yeah, Yoda commits arson, what else did you expect?

The main complaint I hear about Last Jedi is that it doesn’t feel Star Wars enough, and I frankly don’t see it. The thirty minutes on Canto Bight are exactly the kind of side plot shenanigans we’d expect, complete with a sweeping shot of a sweet alien Casino and prison breakouts with loveable rogues. The only missed opportunity there was having horse racing instead of pod racing… I mean come on, when I saw the casino rumble, I was excited and then immediately disappointed. Sure, the b-team spending their time releasing a bunch of alien horses was a bit cliched, but Canto Bight on the whole was such a cool creation, that I’m willing to forgive it a bit.

Now this… isn’t podracing, but it’s still pretty great

Luke’s entire training of Rey is exactly like what Yoda did for him on Dagobah, just extended and adapted for a modern audience. Rey also faces the dark side in a way that’s more real than any character we’ve seen before. That’s right, I mean you, Anakin. Her struggle is palpable and only underscored by her constant, mysterious connection with Kylo Ren. Together, they’re learning more about each other and themselves, and their final meeting led to one of the most epic saber fights I can remember. Is it disappointing to see Snoke go out so quick? Yes. Do I believe he’s gone entirely, no, because as Luke says: No one’s ever really gone.

I mean, this is pretty savage…

A quick aside, my money is on Snoke being some kind of avatar for the nearly-dead Emperor and that we’ll watch that play out in Episode 9. Luckily, if I’m wrong, you can tell me real soon.

 Getting back to my thread, if Luke’s training and Canto Bight weren’t Star Wars, the final ground assault on Crait absolutely is. This last stand against an army of armored AT-ATs and a miniaturized Death Star cannon is excellent and well shot. Watching the speeders kick up trails of red dust as they fly toward their inevitable doom was one of the cooler shots in the film. The resolution of the battle in the form of Luke’s last stand is powerful, badass, and exactly how I wanted him to go out. He’s cheeky to the very end, and still has one last lesson to teach his padawan. IF THAT’S NOT STAR WARS, I DON’T KNOW WHAT IS.

Ranting aside, watching the main characters learn from their own failures and the failures of others sets up the end of the movie perfectly. As The Resistance is starting to rise from the ashes and recover, so too are our beloved heroes. Poe finally gets his command, but he’s learned a valuable lesson, and will make a better leader because of it. Finn’s suicide mission is aborted by the very person who stopped him from running away in the first place. The list goes on, and I love the way Rian Johnson tied all these lessons together.

Overall, The Last Jedi was a very enjoyable breath of fresh air for the series. It would have been very easy to pump out another cookie-cutter Star Wars film, but instead, Johnson gave us something we had never seen before. Once Episode 9 comes out and ties up the story, I think we’ll find more people revisiting Episode 8 and truly appreciating what it set up. It might be rough around the edges, but Last Jedi still holds a spot near the top for me.