July 31, 2009

Chasing Tale: July 2009

I didn't waste any time in July by pacing myself in terms of collecting books. As soon as Canada Day (July 1st) was over, the wellspring of books began again. And it just kept going from there. However, I did shed some of the older books on my shelves—some paperbacks I'd read and some I chalked up to buyer's remorse, as I wasn't likely to read them any time soon. Here's what the month of July provided for me ...

Coldheart Canyon by Clive BarkerA washed-up actor holes up in a secluded mansion after undergoing cosmetic surgery, in hopes of resurrecting his career. Instead, something else is resurrected in Coldheart Canyon and is going to make the actor's life a living hell. I'm game. I hadn't heard tell of this novel. Maybe it's just one of his lesser works, who knows. It's Barker though, so it can't be terrible.

The Damnation Game by Clive BarkerThis was Barker's debut novel, and earned him a Bram Stoker Award nomination for Best First Novel. He didn't win—Lisa Cantrell did—but he's done alright for himself in that time regardless. He even won a Stoker Award in 2004, and for a children's book no less. But, this is his first book, and is probably going to remain in my collection for quite a while after I've read it.

Obsession by Ramsey CampbellI saw this one in a small store on the very bottom shelf—I mean, the BOTTOM shelf—and scooped it up. Four people have their wishes come true in horrific fashion, and years later have to pay the piper. Nice. Campbell is touted as a must-read for any horror fan. Well, I have two novels from him waiting to be read, the second being ...

Incarnate by Ramsey CampbellTwo bucks for this paperback from the 80's. I have no idea yet what it's about. I just saw it, grabbed it, and rushed it home for the pile. I have another of his novels, Thieving Fear, on my wish list. No sign of it yet, but I have enough of his work to sample until that time comes.

City of Ashes (The Mortal Instruments: Book Two) by Cassandra ClareHah. I knew it. I knew if I waited long enough someone would trade in the second book in this series. It's become too popular among the YA fantasy, urban fantasy crowds for it not to. I have a suspicion I'll be buying the third book in the series brand new come the fall, though. But for now, I'm content to scratch a title off my wish list.

The Thief Lord by Cornelia FunkeThis one was in the children's section of a shop, under a stack of old copies of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone. It's a hardcover with a gorgeous cover, and the story of young pickpockets in Venice, Italy caught me. I hope it's good. It's won awards, so how bad can it be?

Darklings by Ray GartonEd Gorman posted a review of one of Garton's novels, Live Girls, which I instantly wanted. I haven't spotted it anywhere, and the only titles under Garton's name at my library seem to be tie-in novels for Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Sabrina the Teenage Witch. I'll pass on those, but this macabre little tale might be right up my alley.

Spook Country by William Gibson - While I'm not huge on sci-fi, I do like it, especially in movie form. And after hearing the term "cyber-punk" thrown around, I thought I should sample some. There doesn't appear to be a bigger name in that game than Gibson, so I looked to see what my local used bookstore had. There was a follow-up to Neuromancer (currently on my wish list), but when I saw the title Spook Country, I was sold. It may not have anything to do with ghosts, but secret agent style spooks will work just fine with me.

Marley & Me by John GroganThanks to Bella over at Bibliophile for this one. I haven't seen the movie yet, and I'm going to try not to until I have a chance to sit down and read the book it was based on. Besides, I have a lower tolerance level for Owen Wilson films than most, especially when they aren't out-and-out comedies. I'm am a sucker for a good dog movie, though. Benji, I miss you!

Messenger by Edward Lee - I happened upon a couple of Edward Lee novels at a hole-in-the-wall used-book store. There was this one and another called Infernal Angel, which looked really interesting. The trouble was that it's a sequel to another book titled City Infernal. I might have bought the second novel, but what are my chances of finding City Infernal when I haven't seen a Lee novel before now?

Is It Just Me Or Is Everything Shit? by Steve Lowe & Alan McArthurI one this comedic lexicon from a huge contest in June through Bookin' With Bingo. Each entrant had a half dozen or so titles to choose from for a chance to win. I was initially hung up between this title and another book with a satirical take on religion. This book by Lowe and McArthur turned out to lambaste everything, including religion. I was pleasantly surprised and grateful to have won it. You can read my review of this book HERE.

Tathea by Anne PerryI had some hardcover credit stored up at one of the shops I frequent, but finding titles that jump out at me is hard. So many are James Patterson, Dick Francis, Norah Roberts, and others who—while successful and quality authors—just don't appeal to me as a reader. Anne Perry's mystery novels could be chalked up in the litany of novelists I ignore (just not a huge mystery fan). but this is a fantasy novel. Her debut fantasy novel. While it's risky for authors to jump into another genre, I'm going to give her a shot.

The Night Class by Tom PiccirilliHere's another author I have yet to read, but have heard some good things, and I have his blog, The Cold Spot, on my blogroll too. It's a horror story set in a university—if it were a movie, I might steer clear. But hey, it won the 2002 Stoker Award, so it must be pretty darned good. I understand it that Piccirilli also writes westerns, at least in short story form. I may have to do some digging on that.

Deja Dead by Kathy ReichsI watched Bones on television one Thursday night; the following Friday I saw this book and decided to get it. You know, since Reichs is the author of the books the show is based on, and it all starts with this one. The two main characters, played by DeSchenal and Boreanz (I doubt I spelled either correctly), are very watchable too, so I have my fingers crossed for the books.

Koko by Peter StraubI have seen copies of this book everywhere, ever since I started trolling the used-book stores. I've never bothered to pick it up. After reading, "Years after the end of the Vietnam War, four veterans ..." I passed. Every time. But lately, I've read a couple of blogs that put this book over as one of Straub's best. Okay, fine. I'll shell out a couple bucks, throw it on the shelf, and see what happens.

The Ax by Donald E. WestlakeFinally. After searching high and low for this title, which is praised again and again, and has been on my wish list just this side of forever, I finally have it in my hands. Maybe I'll love it, maybe I won't. What I do know is that it will be one of the first acquisitions in July I'll be reading.

The Exodus Gate by Stephen ZimmerThanks to Amberkatze and Stephen Zimmer for holding a contest in June, in which I won a copy of the book. Stephen was kind enough to not just send a book, but a slew of promotional items including bookmarks and art cards (Matthew Perry's artwork for the cover and other pictures is fantastic). I recently reviewed this book, which you can check out HERE. It's mainly a fantasy novel, but with some science-fiction and horror thrown in for good measure.

... and that wraps up my book hording for July. God, do I love used-book stores and contests. Would you believe that for this month, with all of those books in my collection now, I spent less than five dollars?

July 30, 2009

Wag the Blog #6: That's Worse than a Tramp Stamp

This is a semi-weekly segment, at least that's how I'm aiming it, but this week's browsing proved to eventful. I can't help but share a few of the blogosphere's gems with the rest of you. Some of you are probably way ahead of me on some, but I'd like to think I'm bringing at least one thing new to your attention. Enjoay.

Bookshelves of Doom has shown me a tattoo that will haunt me for some time. People who get huge murals inked into their skin are of dubious mental acuity, in my opinion. I saw a guy once with a giant Hulk Hogan tattoo all over his back. Really, buddy? You happy with that choice in life? Well, I wonder how this Twilight fanatic will feel on her 40th birthday. I only hope the technology doesn't arrive in that time to remove such monstrosities. Live and learn, people.

Confessions of an Idiosyncratic Mind has a plum of a blog entry from last week. The plum being a bizarre murder plot involving bisexual conspirators, adoptive parents,and "Furries. It must be read to be believed.

io9 is fast becoming one of my favorite sites. While this isn't an original article in the purest sense, they gave credit where credit was due, so I shall too. So, io9 links to Morlet's Blog, which links to Paleo-Future, which has an incredible glimpse into the future as seen by 18th century German chocolate company, Hildebrands. If you are an aficionado of "steampunk," you will love this. If not, you'll still get a kick out of it. It's a slew of postcards with speculative renderings of technology in our time. Fantastic.

Storytellers Unplugged talks about the current craze of a novel, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. I haven't read it yet, but that could change by the end of the year. And, I still can't believe we're going to be seeing on store shelves the next book, Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters. Wow.

I'm waiting to be wowed by Isaac Asimov's work. Mind you, I've only read one novel and a smattering of short stories. None have convinced me the man matches the myth. Yet. Fantasy Cafe has a nice entry about Asimov that may put me in the right direction to becoming a fan of the godfather of sci-fi. I think onipar mentioned Foundation as an Asimov novel that needs to be read, and it seems the Cafe agrees.

Akasha at Aspirations from the Darkside asks us all what scares the bejesus out of us, while sharing the irrational fears she holds. Me? I offered one that still gets me to this day: Bugs crawling on my bare legs in the dark. Sweet Zombie Jesus!

The Vault of Horror is a great horror blog. And they've taken the time to recommend other great horror blogs. I already have a couple of these on my own blogroll, but I'll definitely check out the others I haven't visited yet.

And finally, I Heart Monster provided a link to a nifty little item I'll probably get some use out of in the future. I'm Canadian, and I wouldn't mind visiting some of those US-only sites. Here is the link provided.

July 29, 2009

Wish List Wednesday #5: "Twilight"

My library doesn't have Stephenie Meyer's runaway hit in stock for some inexplicable reason. I noticed they had New Moon, but Twilight is currently being ordered in--a single copy ordered in to be shared by several small libraries. I'm sitting on the queue for this title somewhere between 7th and 10th. I can't quite recall. What I do know is that it will probably be some time before I ever get around to reading about sparkly vampires.

Come on, Foxy, rent the movie. Oh sure, I could do that. But, aside from the adoring fanatics who treat Meyer's work like a religion, the reviews have been less than stellar. I'm not touching that movie until I read the book. And even then, I may avoid it like the Plague. I got suckered in by fanatics once before when the new "Star Wars" trilogy came out. What a load of space garbage. Nope, I'm quite content to wait until the half-dozen or so tweens ahead of me in the queue get their turn with Twilight. Then, I'll finally get to see what all the hype is about.

EDIT: I received word that I jumped ahead in the queue and it's waiting for me the library. I'm picking it up tomorrow and will probably read it this weekend.

July 28, 2009

WTF Google Alerts

A couple of Google Alerts came up. I've only started signing up for these things very recently.

The first one led me to Bella's Bibliophile Bookshelf. She's hosting the Bookworms Carnival for Young Adult Fantasy. Lots of great links there, including my review of City of Bones. Check it out.

The other one was just an oddball one that caught my eye. My natural namesake is at it again. Click here to see what I mean.

Book Review: "Frankenstein (Book One): Prodigal Son" by Dean Koontz & Kevin J. Anderson

Title: Frankenstein (Book One): Prodigal Son
Author(s): Dean Koontz and Kevin J. Anderson
Publisher: Bantam Books
Published: February 2005
Pages: 469
Genre: Horror
ISBN 0-553-58788-9

For about a year the first two books in Dean Koontz's "Frankenstein" trilogy have collected dust on my bookshelf, unread, waiting for when I could add the third book to the collection. Well, Koontz finally announced this year that the third novel, Dead and Alive, would be published at the end up July. That meant I needed to get cracking and read the first two, so I'd be primed to read the third.

The story isn't quite what I expected, but the revisionist history of the story was rewarding in its own right.

Frankenstein's monster is still alive, and very real—turns out Mary Shelley created her story out of real-life experience with Victor Frankenstein and his experiments, according to Koontz. After two hundred or so years of isolation, now in the Tibetan mountains, the monster now known as Deucalion has learned his creator is also inexplicably alive and residing in New Orleans. He had tried to kill Dr. Frankenstein in the past, but had been programmed to be incapable of harm against his creator. Now, he seeks a second chance.

Meanwhile, New Orleans is growing fearful as a serial killer is on the loose, harvesting specific body parts from his victims. The latest victim investigated by detectives Cameron O' Connor and Michael ??? is a murdered woman. Her hands surgically removed. What they aren't aware of in the beginning is the fact that two serial killers exist. One, a maniacal narcissist out to harvest his perfect mate piece by piece. The other, a disturbed and disobedient creation of Victor Helios (the latest alias for Dr. Frankenstein).

As Cameron becomes more and more involved with the cases, she realizes things are too weird to explain through conventional means. Especially when the latest murder victim has been eviscerated, and had two hearts. And, when she encounters—confronted, really—Deucalion at the latest victim's apartment, her idea of reality goes right out the window. Just wait until she discovers who the serial killers are, and New Orleans magnate Victor Helios is involved.

There is a lot going on in this first installment, and sets up the characters and storylines quite well. A lot of it is foreboding, however, and doesn't hold any direct bearing on the main story of the serial killers. For instance, we get to know the secret life of Dr. Frankenstein, as he is in the midst of creating an entire race of his macabre creations. Even his wife, Ericka, is one of many designed by his own hands.

While on one hand, we have the story of Cameron investigating serial killings in a murder mystery with some seriously fantastic elements, there is also the often visited premise of how human Frankenstein's creations really are, and how human they really want to be. The latter is where the meat of the story lies, but it's left as back story and prelude for the second book. One can only hope that Koontz keeps at that thread in the second book and piles it on towards what I hope is a stupendous climax in the third and final book.

As it stands, it's a good take on where the Frankenstein story could have reasonably gone after Mary Shelley's classic. It's not quite the epic re imagining I was hoping for. Some of the characters are intriguing and solidly dealt with, but at time I felt it was more diversionary than diverse. Urban fantasy fans may get a kick out of this, though horror fanatics may find it disappointing. I'm both, so I meet somewhere in the middle.

Fingers crossed on the second book, City of the Night.

July 25, 2009

Book Review: "Battle Royale" by Koushun Takami

Title: Battle Royale
Author: Koushun Takami (translated by Yuji Oniki)
Publisher: VIZ, LLC. (English)
Published: 2003 (English); 1999 (Japanese)
Genre: Speculative Fiction
Pages: 616
ISBN 1-56931-778-X

Ever since William Golding did it, writers have enjoyed throwing a bunch of characters onto a deserted island to see who would be the last one standing. It's a popular plot device in movies too. And who can blame them for doing it? Even the poorly executed stories are mildly entertaining. I think Koushun Takami may have set the bar pretty high, however, for anyone wanting to go this route. I haven't read The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins yet(I'm not sure her novel even takes place on an island), but despite the popularity of her novel, I suspect she had her work cut out for her. I know I'll be comparing her novel to this one when I finally get a chance to read it.

Battle Royale starts off plainly enough. So plain, in fact, I was nervous the English translation of this novel would end up killing the prose. Thankfully, those concerns were quickly abated, as the action and suspense pick up very fast. A busload of third-year junior high school students are gassed, and wake up in an ominous classroom with a cruel and eerily casual instructor. All forty-two students have just been selected for "The Program."

Far-fetched, sure, but we're dealing with an alternate Japan where the citizens live under a highly oppressive empire that makes Communist China seem like Switzerland. Each student is released into "the wild" in two minute intervals with only the clothes on their back and a daypack provided by their new instructor and his military guards. Each daypack is randomly given and contains a single weapon, since the objective of the Program is for the students to kill each other until one is left alive, declaring that student the winner and allowing him/her off the island to rejoin society.

While we experience the subsequent events on the island through the eyes of several students, the main focus is on Shuya Nanahara--the fairly popular kid with a heart of gold-- and an injured classmate, Noriko Nakagawa--a sweet girl who is the object of affection for one of Shuya's friends. Shuya's story is the one of witnessing the madness that quickly envelops the minds of many students, and the atrocities they are willing to commit on each other in order to "win the game."

Other students provide alternative points of view. Like Shinji Mimura, one of Shuya's best friends, and his efforts to figure out what's really going on with the Program and the island. Then there is Hiroki Sugimura, a young man on a mission to find the girl he loves before she is killed by one of the sadistic students playing the game. Then, there are the "villains": Kazuo Kiriyama (I kept calling him Kazoo) and Mitsuko Souma. Each are on their own path, and each have their own motivations and tactics in playing the game and hunting down their fellow classmates.

While some of the story can play to clique stereotypes and seemingly gratuitous violence, this is a chilling and suspenseful tale. I'm not sure if it was ever marketed as young-adult fiction, but the violence depicted is nothing I've ever read in YA before. This was straight-up horror, in my opinion, and some damned good storytelling to boot.

The twists along the way are intriguing as unlikely alliances are formed and inevitable betrayals permeate throughout. The Program is set up to thwart all attempts of protest, escape, and non-participation. A key deterrent to disobedience is the dog collar fitted around the neck of each student, set to detonate if tampered with, or if a specific student is caught in one of an increasing number of forbidden zones on the island.

I would have to recommend this book to anyone interested in some good old-fashioned blood and guts horror, sprinkled with teen angst and a nice lack of Gossip Girl-esque characters. Even the odd sense of some students having too keen an idea on what is really happening, like they'd read the novel themselves, is forgivable--maybe a little Dawson's Creek in nature, though. And, if you're looking for a story about teens that strays from any typical YA tropes, give this one a go.

I'm willing to bet that you won't see kids frolicking in a school playground the same way again after reading this book.

For another take on this novel, read the review posted over at Steph Su Reads. Her blog is the one that let me know this book existed.

July 23, 2009

Wag the Blog #5: Stephen King, Do You Kiss Your Mother with that Mouth?

My blogroll slowly but steadily grows with each passing week. A few have been removed due to inactivity, but far more have been added thanks to interesting and entertaining content. Here's a strong sampling of what I've stumbled across over the last week or so.

And Now the Screaming Starts is a recent addition to my blogroll, and this week it didn't disappoint. I'm an unapologetic Stephen King fan and will invariably gravitate towards a blog entry with a mere mention of his name. I liked this one because it looks at King's contribution to the American lexicon with his great prowess of the "f-bomb."

Speaking of horror writers, Brian Keene added a link to an interview he did with Famous Monsters of Filmland. I'll be checking it out this week.

Keeping up with the notable author theme, Ed Gorman has brought it to our attention via Cinema Rerto that NASA intentionally erased all of the original footage of the first Moon landing to cut costs. What the what?! Yeah, the most historic moment in the history of mankind ... who would want to hang on to that?

Bella at A Bibliophile's Bookshelf posted a link to an interview with J.R.R. Tolkien. It dates back to 1971 and is available as a podcast and a written transcript. I've only seen the movies, and haven't bothered with the books, but this might be something that could cause me to reconsider ... provided the interview is as engrossing as Bella lets on.

Josh Reynolds, over at Hunting Monsters, has done it again. He's managed to find an article discussing the werewolf myth and its destruction by Charles Darwin. No more werewolves, eh? Then how come I eat Purina every time there's a full moon? Huh, science man? Answer that one for me.

Get Rich or Die Tryin' may have been one of the greatest films ever made ... or a a cash-grab by 50 Cent. I'm no expert. The folks at Vault of Horror are, however, and they chilled me to the bone with word that Fiddy will co-star with Forrest Whitaker in a film adaptation of Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde. That's one of my favorite classic bits of literature, and now it may be ruined.

Dark Wolf's Fantasy Review can always be counted on for some great spotlights on fantasy artists and their work. This past week he interviewed Alex Popescu, a Romanian digital artist, and displayed a few of his pieces. The visual arts are something I always liked, especially when artwork sneaked its way between the covers of a novel--some edition of Stephen King's "Dark Tower" series are fan-freakin'-tastic. The artwork shown in this blog entry show some amazing landscapes of faraway worlds. Me likey.

Staying with the fantasy tip for a little bit longer, Fantasy Book Critic posted their two-part "Best of 2009" for fantasy, sci-fi, and mainstream literature--Part One and Part Two. Quite a few of those titles are on my wish list, and I've even had the chance to read Jack Kilborn's Afraid. This will be a great resource for when I go book shopping in the future.

There's a new thriller flick coming out called Orphan. It looks kind of generic and ho-hum, judging by the trailers. But I may watch it. Why? Because io9 was kind enough to let me know that there are actual people protesting it because of it's "anti-adoption" effects. Adoption agencies have suggested a boycott--yeah, because those always work.

Bookshelves of Doom comes up with some interesting blog posts more often than not. I have no idea where Leila stumbled across this site(Worth1000), but I like it. I'm going to be scouring it myself very soon.

If there are any writers out there who are curious about query letters, Nathan Bransford posted a great example of what a successful one looks like. Lisa Brackmann's letter is highlighted, as she sold Nathan on the idea of her novel, Rock Paper Tiger. Check it out.

Oz and Ends has an interesting piece about the Amazon Kindle and a recent scam involving pirated copies of George Orwell's Animal Farm and 1984. People really do love their stolen goods.

July 22, 2009

Wish List Wednesday #4: "Dean Koontz's Frankenstein: Dead and Alive (Book Three)"

This book has been sitting on a back burner somewhere for ages. Thankfully, I only became aware of this series from Dean Koontz about a year and a half ago, so my wait for the third book hasn't been as long as it has for others. But, it's slated to be released this summer, and it's about damned time, thank you very much.

I've only read the first book, Prodigal Son, so far, but it was a good read and immersed me in the universe thoroughly. Not only is the abomination now known as Deucalion alive and kicking, but his creator, Dr. Frankenstein, is still alive as well and under a new alias. Neither seem aware of the other's existence until Deucalion sees a picture of his creator in present-day New Orleans, then sets out from his Tibetan sanctum to find out what the mad doctor is up to now. Meanwhile, a serial killer—or two—is harvesting specific body parts across the city, and it's up to two detectives to find the killer(s). The investigation leads one of them face to face with Frankenstein's monster, and then all bets are off.

I have a feeling this trilogy will end up as a permanent fixture on my bookshelf, and there's only one piece missing. Thank you, Dean Koontz, for finally getting out it for public consumption. What took you so long?

July 21, 2009

Identity Theft Chat's Kindle Contest: Entry #1 (Wheelchair Antics)

I want an Amazon Kindle. Why? Because it's about the only way I'm going to read e-books that are longer than a novella. I'm the kind of guy who isn't keen on staring at a computer screen longer than necessary. I write at my computer, and believe me, I can go bleary eyed doing that.

So, Identity Theft Chat is hosting a contest this month where a winner will be randomly drawn to win an Amazon Kindle 2. I'm in. And to enter I need to read one of their many horror stories about identity theft, then blog about it, then link it to them. Here's what I saw on their site ...

Wheelchair Antics

All this guy wanted to do was rent a wheelchair for his grandmother-in-law while in Vegas. Later, he gets a call from his credit card company inquiring about a strange purchase at a Home Depot in St. Louis: $6,000 worth of gift cards.

What the what?! Okay, unless you're opening a gift card shop, why would you buy more than one, let alone a number necessitating a charge of six grand? Like the victim of fraud here, I'd have had a danged coronary.

And how low do you have to be to commit the fraud after renting a guy a wheelchair for an elderly old lady? That's some dirty pool, that is.

Note: Check out the link HERE to get details on the Kindle contest. Maybe you'll want to join too.

J. Kaye's Reading Challenge: Support Your Local Library 2009

J. Kaye's Book Blog is hosting a reading challenge, and I figured I should join up. It's all about library books and how many you can read through to the end of the year. I've been visiting my local library a lot more this year, and have already read quite a few from there, so this challenge should be a piece of cake.

So this will be the blog post I will keep updated with the books I've read from my local library. I currently have a half-dozen or so on hold, so depending upon how quickly I can get my hands on those titles, this reading challenge--I've signed up to read twenty-five books--such be a jiff.

Books Read Thus Far in "Support Your Local Library Challenge":
  1. Dirty Martini by J.A. Konrath
  2. No Country for Old Men by Cormac McCarthy
  3. When You Are Engulfed In Flames by David Sedaris
  4. Ghost Walk by Brian Keene
  5. Eighth Grade Bites by Heather Brewer
  6. The Price by Alexandra Sokoloff
  7. Battle Royale by Koushun Takami
  8. Hell House by Richard Matheson
  9. Twilight by Stephenie Meyer
  10. The Shimmer by David Morrell
  11. Strange Angels by Lili St. Crow
  12. The Strain by Guillermo Del Toro & Chuck Hogan
  13. The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan
  14. A Spectacle of Corruption by David Liss
  15. Coraline by Neil Gaiman
  16. Dead Until Dark by Charlaine Harris
  17. A Darkness Forged in Fire by Chris Evans
  18. Flash Forward by Robert J. Sawyer
  19. The Keep by F. Paul Wilson
  20. I Am American (And So Can You!) by Stephen Colbert
  21. Watchmen by Alan Moore & Dave Gibbons
  22. The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne
  23. Coffin County by Gary A. Braunbeck
  24. Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld
  25. Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist by Rachel Cohn & David Levithan
  26. Bar None by Tim Lebbon

July 20, 2009

Book Review: "Shadowland" by Peter Straub

Title: Shadowland
Author: Peter Straub
Publisher: Berkley edition via Coward, McCann, & Geoghegan, Inc.
Published: 1980
Pages: 468
Genre: Fantasy/Horror
ISBN: 0-425-09726-9

Nearly thirty years have passed since this novel was published, but readers of this generation are just as likely to find enjoyment within its pages as previous generations. I thought it was pretty good.

Imagine Harry Potter becoming an apprentice to Voldemort. That's a stretch when applying it to this book, but it's in the ballpark.

Tom Flanagan is attending a private school for boys during the mid-1950's. He's been invited by a friend, Del, to attend the house of Del's Uncle Cole, where they can spend the summer learning the tricks of a master magician. Tom declined the first offer over the Christmas vacation, but after the death of his father and some tormenting from Skeleton, the school bully, Tom is all too happy to join Del and his uncle.

Things are not as they appear, and Tom finds himself in a winding labyrinth of deceit, treachery, and death. It falls to him to find a way out of Shadowland, and bring Del and a mysterious--yet alluring--young girl named Rose with him ... if he can. But, he'll inevitably have to contend with Cole, his cronies, and his conjurations.

I must admit that there are parts of this book that drone on longer than needed. It's certainly a fun read, but it was a book I had no trouble setting down for extended periods because certain passages lost my interest. The unraveling of Shadowland's secrets in a slow, methodical pace were entertaining, though. It was nowhere near a break-neck pace compared to similar stories, but that shouldn't be a slight against it.

This is the only novel of Peter Straub's I have read thus far, but I'm willing to bet I'll find other works that exceed this one. Ghost Story, The Talisman (with Stephen King), and The Hellfire Club sound like they have potential to outshine this work. Still, it's worth a read if you want some dark fantasy to read ... or a darker precursor to Harry Potter.

For another take on this novel, you can check out Sharpening The Tip for a review.

July 19, 2009

Book Review: "The Exodus Gate" by Stephen Zimmer

Title: The Exodus Gate (Book One of the Rising Dawn Saga)
Author: Stephen Zimmer
Publisher: Seventh Star Press
Published: 2009
Genre: Fantasy
Pages: 566
ISBN 978-0-615-26747-0

After winning this book through a contest on Amberkatze's Book Blog, Stephen Zimmer was kind enough to ship not only the book but a plethora of promotional items as well. I received art cards, bookmarks, and even a poster among the booty. So, right off the bat, I need to thank both, again Stephen and Amber, for holding the contest in the first place. In a way, the contest allowed me to notice Zimmer's work, as--I must be honest here--I have glossed over the fantasy section of the bookstores in the past.

Blasphemy, sure, but I've been working to remedy that this year.

So, what kind of fantasy novel is Exodus Gate? Well, it's a sweeping epic and weighs in at nearly 600 pages--light reading for your run-of-the-mill fantasy fanatic--and is only the first of a projected five books in the Rising Dawn saga. For a guy like me, who has yet to read the Lord of the Rings trilogy because of both page count and the notoriety of fantasy-themed prose, that sounds a bit daunting. I entered the contest in hopes of giving it a chance if lucky enough to win, though.

Thankfully, this fantasy tale blends a whole lot of other stuff beyond the ol' swords and sorcery fare. We get a strong dose of science-fiction, a taste of horror, and even a dash of humor. It sounds like a mish-mash, and maybe it is, but the way the whole story is laid out it accomplishes what it sets out to do.

In the story, Benedict Darwin (the character's name was cool enough to catch my eye while initially reading the plot summary) is a late-night radio host dealing with kooky characters and their conspiracy theories and experiences with the supernatural and the unexplained. He's a little jaded by his work though, so when he gets his hands on a new virtual reality game being developed by a friend/fan he finds himself reinvigorated. But, the game is just a little too realistic, sending him into a world inhabited by giant wolves (An-Ki), giant monsters (Night Hunters), and some very angry demons (Fallen Angels).

Not long after Benedict's niece, Arianna, tries out the device they learn it's not a virtual reality game, but a gateway into the past. And when I say the past, I'm talking before the Great Flood. Which is kind of key of the story, as Diabolos (the head baddy) is looking to lead his armies (with the aid of an evil corporation responsible for the Gate in the present) into a full scale war on both Heaven and Earth. And the Exodus Gate is a key piece to that puzzle. So, when the corporation figures out the prototype isn't under lock and key like it should be, the hunt is on in the past and the present.

While there is sufficient action and suspense to this tale, which I've barely touched upon thus far, the book as a whole did feel like a prelude to something greater that's to come along later in the series. That's the one hang-up I have with most trilogies and sagas: the early books come off as hype for the final books. But you get a strong sense of where many of the characters are coming from.

I did find some of the dialogue to be inorganic among a few of the human characters. By that I mean they spoke with voices that didn't really sound like their own at times. The supernatural beings, however, were well defined and I became a fan of the An-Ki--I'm a sucker for a giant bipedal wolf. And while the slower sections of the story could get bogged down a little with narration, it was almost necessary to get a broad scope of the characters and the hardships they were about to be put through. It's the price to pay when investing more than one book on a storyline that features multiple characters spanning eons.

Thanks to the blend of modern with ancient, the story feels different from what I stereotype as standard fantasy literature. And for a first-time author, Stephen Zimmer carries it off well. To start a writing career with something on this large a scale, story-wise, is commendable. I can only hope that when the second book comes out in early 2010, he can build on the foundation he's laid out with this book and thoroughly hook me on the rest of the series.

July 18, 2009

Why Do Earwigs Exist?

If all of God's creatures have a useful purpose—a rightful place, as it were—on this planet, then someone please explain to me just what the hell kind of purpose God had in mind for the earwig.

A lot of bugs, insects, and creepy crawly things I can handle. There is a short-list, however, of some critters that I very much dislike. Near the top of the list is the earwig. I grew up in a rural area where the little bastards would seek shelter in whatever damp, dark nook the house or barns had to offer. I still remember heading out to the shed for an armload of firewood, only to lift a piece and find a small nesting of the things bundled up like in a writhing swarm. Blargh!

I'm not a big fan of bees, but they have a purpose. Mosquitoes annoy the heck out of me, but they even serve a purpose. But what in the blue hell does an earwig do besides gross me out?

I only rant about them like this since a couple of weeks of sporadic showers have brought the things into the house. I have killed well over twenty of them in the kitchen over the past week. I even had to get a new toothbrush when I found two squirming on my old one when I went to brush my teeth one night. I wanted to fumigate the entire block after that visual image burned into my mind.

Kill 'em all.

July 17, 2009

Another Richard Laymon Book Contest from Ty

Author, Ty Schwamberger, is charitable enough to allow one lucky winner a triple book from Headline--"The Richard Laymon Collection, Volume 1", which includes The Beast House, The Cellar, and The Midnight Tour.

Just click HERE to get the details, and enter before August 1st.

I was lucky enough to win the last Richard Laymon Book Contest Ty held, and I've got my fingers crossed on this one.

Book Review: "No Country for Old Men" by Cormac McCarthy

Title: No Country for Old Men
Author: Cormac McCarthy
Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf
Published: July 2005
Pages: 309
Genre: Crime/Thriller
ISBN: 0-375-40677-8

When I first saw the movie trailers for No Country, I saw a movie with some real potential to entertain. I'd eventually have those suspicions confirmed after renting the DVD. Before then, however, I sampled some of McCarthy's books, The Orchard Keeper. I was not impressed. The story bored me. But, I held out hopes that it was an aberration. I still very much wanted to read No Country, and I can say it was well worth the wait.

Llewelyn Moss is a welder living in Texas and he's just stumbled into a jackpot. While hunting antelope in God's country, he comes across the bloody aftermath of a drug deal gone bad. And, there's over two million in cash just screaming at him to take it and run. He does, and chides himself every second of the way for doing it.

He might have gotten away with it to if it wasn't for his better nature telling him to take some water out to a dying Mexican thug. By the time he gets there though, the guy's dead and more cronies are waiting to hunt Moss down. They're the least of his worries. Moss has the "ultimate badass" on his tail--goes by the name of Anton "Don't Call Me Sugar" Chigurgh.

Now, Moss and his lady are on the run. With "Sugar" chasing them, and the grizzled Sheriff Bell trying to keep things from getting any more bloody and gut-turning than what's already come to pass.

This story is rough, matter-of-fact, and will not end well for anyone involved. McCarthy may have some previous masterpieces to his credit, I can't say for sure, but this book I do know is officially one of my all-time favorites. He's got a writing style that resembles more of a transcript to a conversation over beers than a literary novel. It's a little refreshing in that regard, but--god damn!--would it kill the guy to use some quotation marks once in a while with his dialogue. I figure McCarthy is either allergice to 'em, or he's saving them up to donate to the Red Cross.

The movie won an Oscar. Did the book win anything? It should have.

If you're the type that likes a gritty, bloody crime thriller, you probably already have your favorites. If this book has passed you by, I say you've missed out. Read it. Or, at least rent the movie.

July 16, 2009

SciFi Guy Has a Big Contest + Interview with Mike Carey

I love me some contests for free books, so leave it to SciFi Guy to entice me into entering a contest for a chance at Mike Carey's new book, Dead Men's Boots.

You can enter the contest by clicking HERE.
And there is even an interview with Mike Carey, which you can read HERE.

It also bears mentioning that there is an added chance to win all three books in the urban fantasy trilogy, so check it out.

In other contest news, there are still quite a few others I'm currently entered in. If you haven't checked them out yourself, you might want to check out the sidebar on the right and look at the links to see what catches your eye. Ghost Huntress and Jasmyn are two I have my fingers crossed on, in particular.

Wag the Blog #4: This Wine Tastes Funny

In case anyone is interested in reading some flash fiction, The Clarity of Night is conducting a fun contest this week called "In Vino Veritas." I entered (entry #119 for the curious) and there are a ton of great entries I'm competing against. I've had a chance to read a few of them, and you are going to be entertained by so many. I have until Monday night to cast my participant vote in the Reader's Choice--not an easy task given what I've had the pleasure of reading so far. I'll probably end up waiting until the last minute before making a choice.

I subscribe to Film Fetish via e-mail, and I just read today that one of my favorite novels by Stephen King, Cell, is going to be made into a television mini-series, as reported by Fangoria. Some folks call this novel a poor man's Stand, but I could care less as I'm less jaded on the novel and consider it one of my very favorites. I'm cautiously optimistic about the mini-series.

I came across a reading list—a "Must Have List"—written by author Nate Kenyon, over at Horror Fiction News. The titles listed by Nate are some humdingers. I had a chance to read a few of them (Dracula, Rosemary's Baby, Frankenstein, and I Am Legend), and I see a couple more which are currently sitting on my bookshelf waiting to be read (The Girl Next Door and The Road). Every other book he lists is basically on my wish list, though I haven't heard tell of William Gibson's Neuromancer—onto the wish list it goes.

Literary agent, Nathan Bransford, hosted a Guest Blog Week during the first week of July. The one that stuck out for me was posted by Jordan McCullum, titled "The Top 7 Things Every Aspiring Author's Website Must Have." Hey, I'm one of those—the aspiring thing. I'm a ways off from creating an entire site, as I'm keeping my online presence busy just maintaining a single blog. One of these days. In any case, this is good advice for all wordsmiths with hopes and dreams.

Kelly at The Novel Bookworm has a new feature on her blog called Books You've Just Gotta Read. The first entry comes from Jill at Rhapsody in Books. I can't say I'm interested in reading the novel spotlighted, but I do like the title. A little generic, perhaps, but it does jump out at you.

Catherine Gardner at The Poisoned Apple is holding a contest that ends this coming Sunday. One of her stories, "Trench Foot," was recently published with Fantasy Magazine. To celebrate, she's holding a little contest where winners will receive Pirate/Fairy gift packs, and the grand prize winner gets a choice of one of three books. It's good stuff, people. Go check it out.

A recent blog I stumbled across, The Horror Geek has informed me of yet another zombie movie coming down the pipe. Gatekeeper is set to be an "American answer to Shaun of the Dead." That quote might turn me off entirely, but when the Horror Geek says that Ron "Frikkin'" Perlman is in it, I'm less pessimistic, and a Judge Reinhold appearance ups the W-T-F factor.

Dang, I forget which blog pointed me towards this tiny gem—maybe Guide to Literary Agents?--but it's worth a look-see by any writers addicted to prompts. Writer's Digest's latest blog, Promptly, is written by Zachary Petit and gives readers a writing prompt every other day. It's a competition of sorts, where submitters have a chance at winning some swag at the end of the week. I may have to give this a shot sometime soon.

Horror and Fantasy Book Review has a guest blog this week by Donna Lea Simpson, author of Lady Anne and the Ghost's Revenge—cool title, right? Anyway, her blog entry is titled, "Writing the Paranormal – The Difficulties of World Building." I think horror and fantasy fans, especially aspiring authors, could do well by giving it a read.

Critters Workshop

In an effort to get some feedback for my writing, I've decided to join the Critters Writers Workshop. I rarely get an opportunity to attend in-person workshops, and when I do I am the only one in the group who writes horror. Since Critters focuses on horror, science-fiction, and fantasy, I should at least have the chance to get feedback from people who have an appreciation for the genre, rather than a kindly six pack of elderly women working on their memoirs.

While they do offer some help with regards to people writing novels, the majority of the work being put in for critiquing ranges from flash fiction to novellas—most fitting in the short story range. Since, I want to increase the quality in writing for my short stories, this looks like a good venue to use to accomplish that. In the meantime, I'll have to be content with finding feedback on my novel through other means.

I remember a workshop of sorts, which I belonged to years ago, but it was done entirely through e-mail and everyone was given writing prompts and exercises, rather than presenting their own original work. I didn't last long in that setting. I'm hopeful I'll make some headway using Critters as a resource.

July 15, 2009

Wish List Wednesday #3: "Gods Behaving Badly"

I read a review for this book last year, I think it was in the Books section of the Globe & Mail. In any case, I liked the sound of it and meant to add it to my wish list. For some reason I never did, though. Then, I spied a mini-review for it in the local county newsletter—those things are on every shop counter in town and are basically a double-folded piece of paper with what's happening for the next couple of weeks. After seeing the blurb about this book, I made sure to add it to my wish list.

It's modern day London, and the Greek gods are shacked up in a rundown house, complete with a laurel wreath doorknocker. Aphrodite makes ends meet by working as a phone sex operator; Dionysus runs a night club; and Apollo is a lower-tier celebrity. While following the lives of these dethroned gods could be interesting on it's own, Phillips uses two mere mortals as the windows into their world. Alice is a meek and mild house cleaner, hired to keep the discheveled house from falling apart. Then there's Neil, who is in love with Alice. And that's where the drama builds because Apollo falls in love with Alice too, after taking an inadvertent hit from one of Eros' arrows.

I doubt it will overtake Neil Gaiman's American Gods as one of my favorites, but the premise sounds interesting enough to at least give it a chance.