September 30, 2009

A Horror Author's "Free" Experiment

I just read here that author, Darren G. Burton, is giving away free e-copies of his horror novel, Scarecrow, for free. It's apparently an experiment to see if he can reach a one million reader figure.

Well, people certainly do like free. Heck, I'd be inclined to download a copy too, if I had an e-reader of some kind. As it stands, I stare at my computer screen enough already, and I can't imagine reading an entire novel on my computer. Writing an entire novel on my computer is chore enough, thank you.

Still it begs the question of how effective a "for-free" campaign can be towards increasing sales. I mean, if an author is giving you his work for free, are you more inclined to pay cash for his work down the road? Or, are you just going to wait for the next time something is free?

If it works for the guy, so be it. More power to him. I can't help but wonder if he's selling himself short. He's got plenty of books under his belt already, so maybe this tactic works for him. What do you think?

The Mondays Wednesdays: Roman Polanski and the "Minor Technicality"

I usually save my rants for the Mondays, but this has had me steamed a little bit and I just need to vent and get it over with.

The thing about Roman Polanski's arrest in Switzerland is that, to see some of the reaction to it, I must be living in Bizarro world. I have to be, because the man pled guilty to drugging and raping a thirteen-year-old girl--the legalese term he officially plead to was "unlawful sexual intercourse with a minor"--then fled the country before his sentencing, thus making him a fugitive from justice as well. And yet, because the man is an award-winning film director--I recently watched Rosemary's Baby again and enjoyed it--celebrities and others in the arts community are calling his arrest and potential extradition back to the U.S. a travesty of justice. What in the blue hell are these people talking about?!

He administered alcohol and at least one Quaalude to the girl, then in her weakened and inebriated state and in spite of her protests, he performed oral, vaginal, and anal sex on the girl. After facing several charges for his heinous acts, his lawyers managed to whittle it down to a single charge of which he readily pleaded guilty. Then the bastard fled the country to France where extradition laws are practically non-existent. For over thirty years, three whole decades, he has been on the lamb, hiding from his crimes and the debt he owes to society. I don't care how good his movies are, Roman Polanski is a worthless miscreant.

What's even more infuriating about this is how unrepentant Polanski is after all these years. To this day, he asserts he did nothing wrong, that the girl was "thirteen going on thirty-five." Holy crap, is that his logic? Abigail Breslin turned thirteen this year and is a pretty smart whip for someone her age, so by Polanski's reasoning she's fair game for a guy in his forties (Polanski was around 42 when he raped the girl). That's deplorable.

His defenders, which are a gaggle of addle-minded cretins, among whom are names I would have never thought capable of defending a morally bankrupted individual like Polanski, have circled the wagons as if he's being hunted down by the Gestapo. If the L.A. prosecutors and the judge seeing his case back then are guilty of some kind of misconduct, that's a separate issue that we can all examine in its own time. It, however, does not negate the fact that Roman Polanski drugged and raped a thirteen-year-old girl, then absconded to the other side of the world so he wouldn't go to prison. Throw as many red herrings as you want at the issue, those actions are indefensible.

I have heard some galling things from celebrities this week as they have hoisted Polanski as some kind of Laurentian hero. Debra Winger referred to his crimes as "a three decades-old case that is dead but for minor technicalities," which I found to be the most loathsome attempt at justification so far, though it's possible more asinine comments have been made by the rapist's pals and confidants. The day we get to dismiss the drugging and raping of a minor and subsequent refusal to face punishment for thirty years a "minor technicality" is the day the justice system means absolutely nothing to rape victims around the globe.

Now, I grant you that the real victim in all this has grown up, matured, and exhibited the grace to forgive Polanski for his abominable crime. That, however, does not negate the fact that he actually did it, that he actually confessed to it, and that he actually tucked tail afterwards and sought sanctuary in France, thus wagging his middle finger to the entire justice system and every rape victim in America and the world. Is it any wonder the rape victim has been able to forgive him, as thirty years is plenty of time to get over an atrocity. It's rather noble of her to find a place in her heart to pardon that vile reprobate, but there is still the matter of fact that he has not paid a true price for his crimes--sipping expensive wine and skiing the slopes of Europe are hardly things I would describe as "hard time."

I see absolutely no excuse to defend Polanski, and I have lost a measure of respect for those who have thus far. I had no idea until this week that Warren Beatty once referred to Polanski's crime as a "personal mistake." What a nauseating euphemism. I'm amazed how much depravity the arts community will tolerate when it's committed by one of their own.

The sick, remorseless son-of-a-bitch should rot in prison for the rest of his life. And that's justice, Hollywood, not a travesty of justice.

Wish List Wednesday #14: "The Haunting of Hill House"

I love a good ghost story. So, it shouldn't be much of a shock that Shirley Jackson's quintessential novel is on my wish list. It's downright shameful I haven't read it yet, to be honest. But, it's not like her work is readily available these days in shops. I have been looking for her works and those of M.R. James, August Derluth, H.P. Lovecraft, and A. Merritt for years through the local shops to no avail. My only glimmer of hope comes from the short stories I can find online via various fan sites and literature sites.

There's supposed to be a copy of this book in one of the valley's libraries, but this--like Hell House--is something I want to add to my permanent collection.

I remember, albeit vaguely, the film adaptation starring Catherin Zeta-Jones. A good movie, but I'm a guy who wants to read the source material for the movies I like. I've only read her iconic short story, "The Lottery," but it was such a treasure I can't help but think that her other works are impressive as well. The Haunting of Hill House is likely a classic piece of literature for good reason. Not only is the story superb, but I suspect Jackson's storytelling ability is what makes it all the more enduring.

How about you? Are there any haunted house tales you rank high among your favorites?

Rabid Reads: "To Kill a Mockingbird" by Harper Lee

Title: To Kill a Mockingbird
Author: Harper Lee
Publisher: First published in 1960
Genre: Southern Gothic/Legal Drama
ISBN 9573258218
ISBN 13: 9789573258216

Note:This is the third book I'll be reviewing for Banned Books Week. Quite a few years ago, I understand it that parents and teachers in southern Nova Scotia complained and demanded To Kill a Mockingbird be removed from school libraries, claiming the book's use of the word "nigger" would likely result in the mistreatment and bullying of black students. Along with John Ball's In the Heat of the Night and Barbara Smucker's Underground in Canada, Lee's novel was temporarily removed from library shelves. Similar complaints have been filed in other provinces, too.

I was in the 11th grade when Harper Lee's classic novel was assigned as required reading in my high school. I don't recall a single complaint from students or parents at any point. At the time, what struck me wasn't the racial divide depicted in the novel, but the mangled arm of Boo Radley because my then English teacher had a mild disfigurement to one of his arms ... and that teacher dressed like he had stepped right out of the '50s too.

For anyone unfamiliar with the novel, where have you been?

It's a stark and moralistic tale told through the eyes of a young Alabama girl named Scout, growing up in the depression of the 1930s with her father, attorney Atticus Finch, and her brother Jem. It's through her point of view we experience a telling tale of wrong versus right. The racial barriers of the early 20th century are there, but there's that tone of moral certainty from the characters that rings through to nearly all who read it.

While plenty of plenty accuse Harper Lee of writing a sacchrine novel that does more to praise that era than to admonish it, I prefer to view the story as is--through the eyes of a child. I get plenty of time as an adult to see these issues play out in real life, that while Lee's story can seem like a historical fantasy, it still works for me.

It's been a while since I've read this book, but I've had the chance to read passages and it still takes me back--both to Lee's vision of Alabama and my own vision of home. The characters in To Kill a Mockingbird might be considered two-dimensional and walking props, but even so it's forgiveable for such a work of fiction. The characters seemed real enough when I was a teenager.

Sure, it's counted among my all-time favorites, but I surely won't join the chorus of detractors claiming this to be purely racist drivel.

What did you think of the novel when you first read it? Did you like it, or were you just glad to have one more piece of required reading in English class put behind you? Were you offended by the subject matter or the language used? Do you see any validity at all to the protests against the book, to have it removed from school libraries?

September 29, 2009

Writing Like Crazy in September 2009

I've got one submission ready to go this week for a zombie short story contest hosted by Dark Moon Books. The original deadline was scheduled for the end of this month, but they've extended it until the end of the year. That gives me some time to get it critiqued and polished just right.

I already have a piece of flash fiction called "Flower Girl" sitting in the Critters queue, so I should get some feedback on that in mid-October.

The next short story submission I'm finishing up is for the Dead Bells Anthology. I had a short story premise already in mind when I came across this one, which involves stories about people who wake up New Year's Day 2010 to find everyone else is dead. Not a zombie tale, but just stark dystopian fun.

In the meantime, there are a couple of new writing contests gearing up that I have added to my to-do list ...

Over at The Spectacle, they have an opening line contest going on for October. Write a scary three-sentence story opener and enter it for a chance to win a book and an online gift card at the end of the month ... just in time for Halloween.

Then I found out through Charlotte's Library about another contest hosted by the Literary Lab called "Genre Wars." Catchy.

"With Genre Wars, we want to celebrate all genres of writing. So, whether you write science-fiction/fantasy, horror/crime, literary, romance/women's fiction, children's literature/middle grade/young adult, or experimental, send in your work!"

I'm not sure what I have laying around that's within the 2,000 word limit, but I can always put one of the dormant ideas to use and come up with something new to submit. I have until December 1st to send something in. Plenty of time to procrastinate with. :)

As for my novel ... I'm editing again. Red pen duty. Ugh, so hard, so necessary. At least I still love the story. I just hope eventually that others will, too.

"Paranormal Activity": I Want to Go to There

What are the chances "Paranormal Activity" will be screened anywhere near me?

Because if any movie has a shot at getting me to buy an over-priced theater ticket, this is it, people. Viral marketing is working wonders for this thing and I'm as sucked in as the next schlub.


Wag the Blog #9: BYOB (Burn Your Own Book)

This week, while narrow-minded nitwits gnash their teeth over the latest book they perceive as an affront to their distorted views, the rest of us are all too happy to share our thoughts on how infelicitous and ineffective they are in trying to keep all of us from reading said books.

I blathered on yesterday with a rant on the subject, but there are countless others with something to say, and many with far more eloquence. So, I thought I'd focus this batch of links on some of the more interesting blog entries I have seen the past week, dedicated to Banned Books Week.

Back in June, Tess Gerritsen posted her thoughts on Murderati, entitled "Ban My Book. Please." She mentions the case of the four addle-brained arses who tried to win the legal right to burn library books they personally deemed offensive. The book in question? Baby Be-Bop.

In September, Donna at Lit Bites wrote a little something about a Book Banning in Brooklyn. This one touches on an eighty year old book that was banned for racially insensitive pictures. My goodness, who would've thunk it? I think anyone with a foot in the door of enlightenment realizes books from less tolerant times are going to contain the language of those times. Look hard enough and you'll likely find plenty of classic literature with bigoted views being espoused.

And surprise, surprise. Oklahoma hosted a book banning at a school this year. Author, Ellen Hopkins, learned one day before her scheduled visit to a Norman, OK middle school that her books, Crank and Glass, were removed from the library and her scheduled trip canceled by the school's principal because of a single complaint from a very ignorant parent. You can read her side of the story on her blog, HERE.

Thanks to BoingBoing and Cory Doctorow, I can think of one highschool student that is a legitimate rebel to his school and hero to his classmates. Which student? The "Kid keeping a library of banned books in her locker." That's who. All I have to say is BRAVO.

The Spectacle wants to know what book you'll read to commemorate Banned Books Week. I think I'm going to go with Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, though I'm sure I could pick up any horror novel off my bookshelf and be assured it's banned somewhere.

Amnesty Internation USA even takes time to acknowledge and bring awareness to some of the brave souls who have faced the harshest of persecutions because of their writing. To think a country would see fit to detain, imprison, and even torture a writer for their words is beyond dispicable.

And Bookworming in the 21st Century also chimes in, including a video of Ellen Hopkins reciting her Manifesto.

I see today that the Book Smugglers also have a great post, including that handy list of banned and challenged books from the past couple of years.

Note: If you have a blog post dedicated to Banned Books Week you'd like included in this, just leave a link to it in a comment or send me an e-mail with the link, and I'll add it to the list as soon as I can.

Rabid Reads: "The Subtle Knife" by Philip Pullman

Title The Subtle Knife (Book Two of His Dark Materials)
Author: Philip Pullman
Publisher: Knopf Books for Children (1997)
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy
Pages: 326
ISBN 0679879250
ISBN 13: 9780679879251

Note: As part of Banned Books Week, I thought I'd revisit one of my all-time favorite series of books, and one of the most challenged children's series anywhere, Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy. Catholic school's in particular decided to take great offense to Pullman's work when the film adaptation of The Golden Compass hit theaters in 2007.

I've already blogged about the first book in the series,
The Golden Compass, so if you're interested in reading that then simply click on the title and it will take you there.

Now, as fair warning, I will say that there are going to be SPOILERS for the first book mentioned in this review. Unavoidable, really, since this novel picks up almost immediately after the first. If you haven't read this series, then I suggest you trail off to another blog post or try to find a spoiler-free review of The Subtle Knife--good luck with that.

Okay, so the first book left off with Lyra's universe opened up to another universe, one even closer to our own. Her best friend is dead and she's after the killer who has escaped into the other world. She follows and finds Will, a boy from our universe, or one almost identical to it. Together they explore an abandoned landscape haunted by specters that feed on the souls of adults, leaving all of the children unattended in the city of Cittagazze.

I expected The Subtle Knife to be the continuation of Lyra Silvertongues quest for the secret of Dust and to get justice for the wrongs committed by her parents, each of whom have played a role in turning Lyra's life upside-down and killing more than one of her friends and acquaintances. So, I was more than a little surprised to find this story put her on the back burner, so to speak, in favor of Will and his story. He was an interesting character in spite of a couple of clich├ęs, like the missing father and mysterious men chasing him. At least Pullman gives Will some dimensions and his conflicts with his own morals--he killed a man who had broken into his home--help to keep pace with Lyra, even making her character seem a bit two-dimensional in spots.

The broader scope of the trilogy's story takes shape with this book, far more than with The Golden Compass, as the forces against the "Authority" rear their heads and it's revealed there is going to be a huge showdown between the entity that created all of the universes and those who feel he's worn out his welcome--that whole "anti-God" thing that got the less tolerant among the ranks in a tizzy.

There's so much more to the story than what can be dismissed as a blasphemous and deplorable series of books. Lyra and Will grow as characters, and we even see some new shades to Lord Asriel, Ms. Coulter, and a few others. I was disappointed, however, to see the diminished roles of Iorek Byrnison and Lee Scoresby. They were very intriguing characters from the first book I had hoped, in vain, would carry on at full speed through the rest of the series.

For some, The Subtle Knife is the weak spot in the trilogy, and they'll all have different reasons. For me, I think it held par with the first novel, even though it carried a much different tone. There's still the sense of foreboding and adventure, but the landscape is so alien compared to the first story that it's like The Golden Compass was little more than prelude.

You will definitely need to read the first book of this trilogy if you want any hope of following along with the events of the second book, and connecting with the established characters therein.

September 28, 2009

Down the Rabbit Hole I Go

Next week, The Neverending Bookshelf will be hosting a week dedicated to Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland.

I read the book as a child after being mesmerized by the Disney movie. I recently purchased it in a paperback that includes a plethora of Carroll's work, so I think I'll have to re-read the story to get in the mood for next week.

Check out the blog if you're interested in taking part in some manner.

Rabid Reads "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" by Douglas Adams

Title: The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (Film Tie-In Edition)
Author: Douglas Adams; with afterword by Robbie Stamp
Publisher: Pan McMillan Ltd. (2005); originally published in 1979
Genre: Science-Fiction/Humor
Pages: 323
ISBN 0-33043798-4

Note: As part of Banned Books Week, I'll be posting a review of a banned book for weekday. In Canada, Hitchhiker's Guide was once banned from a school because of the use of the word "whore." Yup, that's all it takes.

I probably should have checked the table of contents or something before getting this novel. I, being more a child of movies and television than books, assumed this novel contained the entire "Hitchhiker" saga. Wrong. I had an inkling there were five parts to this story, and originally sold as five separate novels. I did not, however, think this book would only contain the first of the five novels. It's the film tie-in edition for crying out loud. Was I out of line in thinking this should contain the "Hitchhiker" saga in its entirety? I guess I was. Ah well, live and learn.

For being only one fairly quick read--the actual novel only comprises 220 pages--I still had a great time reading this story. I liked the movie, and have heard enough deification of Douglas Adams, I thought it a safe bet I would enjoy The Hitchhiker's Guide in book form.

While the movie told the vast majority of the story through the eyes of Arthur Dent, schlubby English nobody, as a way of giving the viewing audience a point-of-view they could relate to and gain familiarity with during the fantastical events of the story. The book, at least this first one, gives a wider range of PoVs, by giving glimpses into the minds of others such as Trillian (a beautiful academic and the object of Arthur's affection), Ford (Arthur's best friend and a vagabond alien), Zaphod (the President of the Galaxy and a glorious scoundrel), and even Marvin, everyone's favorite paranoid android.

For those unfamiliar, this story basically starts out with the destruction of Earth--not a bad way to get things rolling. Our little ocean pearl is in the way of some industrialist aliens, known as Vogons, building an intergalactic highway. So, POOF! Earth's gone. Moments before it's destroyed, however, our hapless hero, Arthur Dent, is spared demise via his friend Ford Prefect's secret alien connections. And the "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy". Not long after being hurled into a mind-baffling universe of aliens of every shade of silly, Arthur is reunited with the woman he's pined over for weeks ... and the dashing alien who thwarted his attempts at talking to her in the first place. Conflict and hilarity ensue.

I don't think I need to bother summarizes beyond that, since the story is so absurd and hilarious it defies a proper encapsulation, and I'm just not the cat to do it justice. There's even a proper amount of suspense and action to keep the story rolling along.

While I enjoyed the movie, and subsequently this first novel in the series, I'm not a fanatic. I would require months of training to become as ravenous, protectionist, and geeky as the most ardent Hitchhiker fan. Or, maybe you must be born that way. I do think this was one of the funnier novels I've had the chance to read recently, though. The absurdest humor and snappy dialog really give this story a voice all its own.

It's an accessible sci-fi romp, so those like me who tend to stray from the harder sci-fi novels should feel comfortable sitting down to read this one. Just be prepared to take a lot of the terminology at face value and chalk it up to ridiculousness. And don't be surprised if you end up wanting to read the rest of the series, like me. The Restaurant at the End of the Universe is on my wish list now.

The Mondays: Banned Books Week

It's an odd thing, banning books. I've never understood the unmitigated self-aggrandizement of those who try to have books banned from our schools, libraries, and store shelves. Oh sure, they'll cite the protection of impressionable children and inarguably offensive language as part of their reasoning, but is that enough to give them the authority to dictate what books society may read and books we may not?

To answer that, I have two words: Fuck no.

It is insufferable enough to see special interest groups and assorted dingbats cry out against and attempt to sabotage the distribution of movies, video-games, and music. Yet, I find myself all the more disgusted when it is the printed word that is the target of such protestation. Aside from speech, it is the simplest and most cherished form of expression mankind has at its disposal. Perhaps my liberal sentimentality causes me too much of a headache on the subject.

I think what gets my quills up the most about the notion of banning books is the ridiculousness of the arguments against many of those books. I have little respect for such weak-minded opposition to what amounts to at best, innocuous subject matter seen in children's books, and at worst, some of the finest literary achievements to be seen anywhere. Perish the thought, a book exists which may impinge on a person's ideological upbringing. It's simply not adequate for the offended to steer clear of the supposedly appalling book, they must decry it and demonize it and hang it from the proverbial gallows. And if that doesn't work, the aliterate malcontents resort to book burning demonstrations. How droll ... in a medieval sort of way.

Are there books I consider repellent, loathsome, or out-and-out abhorrent? You bet I do. And I think a person would be better off ignoring those books altogether. But, just as abhorrent is the idea that I should take it upon myself to make sure no one has an opportunity to read those books. My tastes and personal beliefs are not paramount to those of anyone else, so when someone puts their crosshairs on a book like And Tango Makes Three, Baby Be-Bop, or possibly The Golden Compass, I want to tell the high-and-mighty to mind their own damned business.

It's very simple, people. If you don't like the book, don't read the book. If someone asks your opinion, feel free to tell them. Heck, you don't even have to be asked, just blog about it or something. It's your voice, use it. But, please, respect the rest of the world and let us exercise the same choice too. Just because you might think The Kite Runner and To Kill a Mockingbird are inappropriate books for you or your kids to read, you are not entitled to order the rest of us around. It might also help if you actually read the book you're trying to ban, so you have--oh, what's it called?--an informed opinion.

So, in the most diplomatic fashion I care to muster as a closing statement to the wannabe book banners of the world ...

If you think you're making the world a better place by banning books, you're sorely mistaken.

September 26, 2009

Rabid Reads "The Forest of Hands and Teeth" by Carrie Ryan

Title: The Forest of Hands and Teeth
Author: Carrie Ryan
Publisher: Delacorte Press; imprint of Random House Children's Books (2009)
Genre: Young Adult/Horror
Pages: 301
ISBN 978-0-385-73681-7

I've only read eight books published in 2009 thus far, which is more new releases than I've ever read in the past, but of those eight Carrie Ryan's debut novel is my favorite, by far. The novel sets the bar pretty high in my estimation for any other '09 release I get the chance to read.

When I first caught wind of this novel, the premise of a teenaged girl making her way through a ravaged land, filled with zombies, perked my interest. And the cover for the North American release looked fetching, too. Then, I heard about a prominent element of romance in the story, and I started getting a sickly flashback to when I tried to read Twilight--I'm sorry, but I'm still sorely disappointed by that book. To read the novel finally, my expectations have been exceeded and any trepidations I had about the content withered and died.

Mary, the narrator of this story, lives in a village that is literally a gated community. Gated and fenced in because the world has been overtaken by the zombie hordes dubbed the Unconsecrated. For Mary and everyone living within the walls of the village, there is no world beyond the fences and the multitude of the walking dead. The lives they live are modest and focused primarily on the survival and propigation of what's left of humanity. The timeline for the story also occurs several generations after the Return (aka, the downfall of humanity).

The zombies have always been there, on the other side of the fence, for Mary and the others. Despite the occasional break in their defences, which they've accounted for in several ways through the guidance of the Sisterhood and the Guardians (think post-apocalyptic nunnery and sentinels), the moans of the Unconsecrated are just background noise to their daily lives. But, when Mary's mother ends up dying as a result of straying to close to the fence, and her brother seemingly disowns her, Mary is thrust into the custody of the Sisterhood. It is in their Cathedral that Mary witnesses some startling secrets held by the Sisters and what may lie beyond the Forest of Hands and Teeth. Beyond that, the novel throws a bevy of twists and turns at Mary and the supporting character to the point where you wonder if even the narrator will make it to the end of the story.

There is a kind of poetry to Carrie Ryan's prose that sucks you in from the very first page. The almost withdrawn attitude of Mary towards the Unconsecrated and certain people in her life, gives an ethereal feel to the story as it finds its bearings. Her anguish over the unfairness of life and love can seem overwrought at times, but it's tolerable and really helps vivify her ordeals. This novel may be marketed as "YA," but it is stunning how mature and compelling it really is compared to other titles that I might classify as truly "YA." If there are those among you who have held off on reading this because of its categorization, forget about it and go read this book.

Bleak is certainly an apt word to use when describing the tone of this novel, but I wouldn't say it was at all depressing. The story hinges on faith and adversity and sacrifice, which are topics attacked from all angles from beginning to end. While I thought the ending came off as a bit ambiguous, it seemed to fit and didn't leave me banging my fist in frustration--I got that out of my system at the end of the second act.

I've read there is a sequel due to be released in the spring of 2010. It makes sense in a way, as there are enough unanswered questions to allow for a follow-up without it seeming tawdry. I just hope it can make par with such a fine debut novel from Ryan. And, hey, The Forest of Hands and Teeth has been optioned to Seven Star Pictures, so a film is likely to come out in 2012-13. That's a movie I have my fingers crossed for.

If you've read this book, and yet have read a better '09 title, please tell me. Because I want to read the book from this year that's better than this.

Other reviews of this novel can be read at the following blogs: Addicted to Books; Carrie's YA Bookshelf; Confessions of a Wandering Heart; Fantastic Book Review; Fantasy Book Critic; Finding Wonderland; HorrorScope; Just Your Typical Book Blog

September 25, 2009

Gearing Up for Banned Books Week

Banned Books Week is next week, but as a little something early I came across this video on YouTube, made by the American Library Association. For the occasion, next week I'll be posting a book review each weekday of a book that has been banned at some point in time--easy, I know, since so many books have been banned for one reason or another. I'll be sticking to some of my favorites, though.

Be sure to check out Bites for some other fun stuff going on for the week.

In the meantime, enjoy the video by clicking HERE. I'd embed it, but when I tried it was too wide for my blog's current settings.

Fave Five: Songs of the Summer

Summer's gone and I can't say I'm going to miss that heat and humidity. I'm hardly thrilled at the prospect of freezing my naughty bits off in the ungodly January cold, but I'm built like a polar bear. I can take the cold better than the hot.

And with summer go all of those summer hits on the radio. Sure, a few of them will still get airplay for weeks and months to come, but the race to have that quintessential summer track is over. Don't ask me who won though, as my tastes differ from the Billboard charts and Ryan Seacrest's countdown.

I will list my five favorite songs from this summer, just to put my two cents on what was enjoyable and less caustic to my eardrums than that insufferable Kid Rock anthem, "All Summer Long," from last year.

#5: "D.O.A. (Death of Autotune)" by Jay-Z - Like country music, rap music doesn't rate highly with me much of the time. But, like country music, there are a couple of artists that I can listen to and not grind my teeth in irritation. Jay-Z is one such artist, and this battle cry against the anabolic steroids of singing suited me just fine. If I have to hear one more song oozing with T-Pain, L'il Wayne, or whoever else insists on turning their voice into a synthesized abomination, I'm going to waterboard my radio.

#4: "The Last Recluse" by the Tragically Hip - Ah, the Hip. Some of their more recent releases have fallen flat with me--haven't really loved a Hip tune since "It's a Good Life If You Don't Weaken"--but this one wreaked of the Canadian band I grew up on. Anyone reading this from south of the border likely doesn't have a clue who they are, so allow me to suggest you give them a listen if you get a chance. Just don't expect rock and roll in the strictest sense, as they're a little folksier than that.

#3: "Hoodoo" by the British Colombians - I have no idea who these guys are, or if they're even from British Columbia, but I love this song. I can't make out half the lyrics, but that's fine. The guitar rhythm entrances me. I first heard this song and envisioned the opening credits to a Guy Ritchie caper movie set in Canada. Whether you like Ritchie films or not, I'm unconcerned.

#2: "Boom" by Anjulie - This song may have hit the airwaves a little before the summer season, since her second single ("Jamba") is all over the place now, but it is so infectious that I can't get it out of my head. If nothing else, I'd have to say it's the sexiest song I've heard all summer.

#1: "She's A Genius" by Jet - Come to think of it, Jet's songs seem to sound more and more alike each time I listen to them. Mind you, they're not as great offenders on that front as Nickelback--possibly my least favorite band of the decade. Whether this song is reminiscent of "Cold Hard Bitch" or "Gonna Be My Girl" or anything else they've put out, I don't care. No song this summer infiltrated my senses more than this one. It grew on me like a parasite, I suppose you could say, because I did not care for it at all the very first time I heard it. Over time, and being bombarded with it by the incessant nature of pop radio, I came to like this song and then love it. Sue me.

A few other songs I've enjoyed listening to while at the computer or on the road: "Fire" by Kasabian; "I Know You Want Me" by Pitbull; "Anything Except the Truth" by the Eagles of Death Metal; "I'm In Miami Trick" by LMAO.

September 24, 2009

Almost There: The "Support Your Local Library" Reading Challenge

I'm six books away from completing my goal of twenty-five books read from my local library. I signed up for it back in the summer at J. Kaye's Book Blog. I thought it might take me a little longer, but it's surprisingly gone by like a breeze.

I have a couple more books in the library queue--Coffin County by Gary Braunbeck and Let the Right One In by John Ajvide Lindqvist--and I'm sure I can think of other titles to check out before the end of the year.

If you've signed up for this reading challenge as well, how are you progressing?

In the meantime, HAPPY READING.

Yet Another Book Contest Link

I've been keeping an eye out to see if I could win a copy of Hush, Hush by Becca Fitzpatrick for a little while now. Well, my latest chance comes from I was a teenage book geek. For the next couple of days, the contest is still open internationally for entrants. The winner gets a copy of the book. Yay. Just click on the link if you want to enter too.

"Leviathan" ... Now That's A Book Trailer.

Scott Westerfeld posted the book trailer for Leviathan this week. Yeah. I want it. And I'll bet you will too after seeing this. Enjoy.

September 23, 2009

Wish List Wednesday #13: "Pressure"

If J.A. Konrath says Jeff Strand's Pressure is one of the scariest novels he's ever read, I'm gonna pay attention. And if Shroud Magazine calls Strand's work "masterful," then I'd better have this novel on my wish list.

Were you ever been dared to steal something from your local drugstore when you were in high school? Maybe that rite of passage didn't make the cut in your neck of the woods, but we had it in mine. I stole a pen. Gangster. Well, Alex Fletcher (the protagonist of Pressure) steals a box of condoms. After which, he learns his parents want nothing to do with him, are fed up, and ship him off to a boarding school for outcasts and misfits. Ah, parenting. It's at the school, he makes a few friends and meets one especially serial-killer-in-training named Darren.

I didn't go to a boarding school, but while in college I had a crazy roommate--two, actually. So, I have a suspicion this book is going to appeal to me, and scare the bejesus out of me, on more than one level. Has anyone read Jeff Strand's work? I've heard he has a knack for blending horror and humor, exemplified by his novel Brandon's Parasite apparently. That's another title I'm on the look-out for.

September 22, 2009

What About Jennifer's Personality?

Someone really needs to help me understand the supposed box office appeal of Megan Fox because I just don't buy it. And don't tell me it's because she's hot. I have eyes. I know full well how good she looks. What I have yet to see is anything else.

The last time I checked, Hollywood was brimming with gorgeous women looking to become famous actresses. Go into Tinseltown during midday, throw a stick, and you've got a 50/50 shot of smacking a wannabe starlet up side her head. Is that how Megan Fox was discovered? Because from what little I've seen of her acting ability, it can't be because she nailed the audition.

Now this is the point where people will wag a finger and tell me I'm being too cynical, that she's hardly the first person in Hollywood celebrated more for her looks than her talent. And those people are right for the most part. Remember the late nineties? When Denise Richards was on everyone's radar, appearing almost monthly on Maxim and FHM magazine covers, and starring is ever other teen-targeted movie? I do, and I also remember that she had one thing going for her ... well, two things is you want to be crude about it. Her most memorable role was in Wild Things, and that's solely because she did a topless threesome scene with Matt Dillon and Neve Campbell. Heck, remove Neve Campbell and it would have been forgettable.

When it comes to Megan Fox, however, she just appeared out of nowhere and instantly had a hype machine behind her. I don't think I've ever seen an actress thrust into the spotlight in spite of her abilities faster than her. It's a phenomenon all its own. Ever since the first Transformers debacle hit movie screens, Fox has been heralded as the "it" girl. A moniker that has been homogenized so flagrantly over the years, it hasn't meant anything since the year Heather Graham was named Hollywood's "it" girl following Boogie Nights--another movie made famous by sex scenes, so go figure. Unlike Graham, Fox's skyrocketing fame seems purely manufactured. With a single summer blockbuster that required only that she wear tight jeans and a tank-top, "the next Angelina Jolie" became the talk of the town. That's horse sh*t.

In a way, I kind of see how she was the perfect casting choice for Diablo Cody's sophomore flick, Jennifer's Body. I mean, who else is known exclusively for her physical beauty in movies than Megan Fox? Well, maybe Jessica Alba.

The thing that doesn't sit right me, I guess, is how I feel movie fans are being sold a bill of goods. Granted, movie fans also spend good money on bad movies--did I mention Transformers? I may be out of touch or have a selective memory, but movies used to require compelling actors who could carry a scene ... or at least carry a line. I see Megan Fox, who is emblematic of a disappointing direction in Hollywood's focus, and I see one more beautiful face without a thing to say.

Even Megan Fox tries to dispel the hoopla from time to time by saying she's not even sure she considers herself a good actress. Well, Megan, with all due respect, you are not a good actress. It's not that she's terrible, as there are some people on the silver screen so atrocious that there are arrest warrants for casting agents. But she is hardly a person without the chops to warrant such attention.

Time heals all wounds, though. She may improve over time if she takes herself seriously. Angelina Jolie did--maybe a little too seriously--and turned into a very talented actress. Then again, Lindsay Lohan showed a lot of potential, but ultimately crashed and burned through a shameful apathy towards her craft. Megan Fox is coming to a crossroads: Is she Angelina or Lindsay?

If I were a betting man, I'd lean towards Lindsay. Not the drunken, glassy eyed, cocaine fueled nosedive that Lindsay Lohan took, but more the smug, self-aggrandizing, overinflated sense of entitlement she exhibited. While I'm not buying the Megan Fox hype machine, she's the one who is surrounded by it and could easily start subscribing to it. All I can think is that she should enjoy the fame and the money while it lasts, because at this point it will only endure as long as her looks.

September 21, 2009

Book Contest Links & The Best Book in the World?

Beth at Writing It Out is holding a contest right now, where the winner will receive a secret book. The key to it all is picking out which book is the best book published in the last five years. Click HERE for details. Guessing correctly gets you extra entries. The contest ends October 5th.

I can't say with any certainly which book I'd say is the best book of the last five years--even the decade. I could probably come up with a list of my favorites from this decade. Come to think of it, I probably should since the decade is coming to a close and everyone loves lists. LOVES 'EM.

For another great contest, Fantasy/SciFi Lovin' Giveaways is holding a "I'm Not Changing My Blog Name" contest, where two winners will be chosen and will have the chance to choose from a diverse list of fantasy and sci-fi titles. Contest ends October 4th.

Cynthia at spookcyn has a contest going on too. One lucky winner will receive a copy of Geektastic. If you're lucky, it'll even be signed and personalized. Not too shabby. Just click HERE to read her most recent news, then scroll to the bottom for contest details. Contest ends September 30th.

Linny's Vault is celebrating 100 blog posts with a contest. You could win your choice of one of five movies--I have my eye on "Shaun of the Dead." Click HERE for details. Contest ends September 27th.

The Mondays: The Fall of Television

Ten years ago I was a TV junkie. Then reality shows inundated the networks, and I was left out in the cold. Millions of Canadians and Americans alike may be happy besotting themselves with hours of mindless drivel like The Bachelor and The Hills, but I just can't do it. I cling to the few brain cells that remain in my addled mind.

So, when there's an actual show on television that might be worth sitting down to watch, I'm eager to give it a chance ... provided it airs on a network I can tune in to. No HBO for this buckaroo. This fall there are a couple of shows on my radar to join the lean list of shows I already try to watch.

Flash Forward has my interest peaked. Everyone on the planet passes out for a little over two minutes, during which time they have dreams of their future. Sign me up. It's inspired by a speculative-fiction novel of the same name, by an author whose name I haven't discovered yet. I saw the novel just a few weeks ago--didn't buy it--and the author's name flitted right out of my skull by the time I hit the checkout counter. The show seems to have that "if you miss a single episode you're screwed" vibe to it, so I want to get on the bandwagon early. I only started watching Lost during its third season, and had to go back and watch the previous two by the grace of recap episodes and DVD collections. It's so much easier to follow the story arcs when you walk in on the ground floor.

Defying Gravity has been on for a few weeks and it showed so much promise early on. I've stopped watching it, though. I haven't seen the last two episodes and probably won't bother catching the rest of the season until I hear it has picked up the pace. It felt like an original concept, at least for television, and showed real promise during that first episode. But I find myself referring to it as "Lost in space," and not in a good way. The story seems slow, subplots feel inconsequential and there as filler, and some of the acting is about as bland as a Raman noodle. Someone let me know if this show is better than I'm letting on, or if it becomes watchable again.

The Vampire Diaries is a show I cut off at the knees in record time. I watched the first ten minutes and got dizzy from rolling my eyes so much. I'm not the target audience for this thing, so have fun VD fans. If I ever get the itch to see brooding teens sulking over brooding vampires, I'll rent Twilight for the first time.

Glee is another show that doesn't seem like something I'd be into, but I kind of liked the pilot that aired over the summer. I think the kudos goes to Jane Lynch (Is that her name? The one from Best in Show?) as the antagonistic coach. It has that air of satire towards musicals--a genre I hold a particular distaste. I'll give it a shot this fall and keep my fingers crossed.

The Jay Leno Show - Pass. I never watched The Tonight Show while he hosted, so I see no reason to start giving an hour of my life each night now.

And that's about it for the new shows. Anything else that seems to have potential is on a network I don't have, so I'll just have to wait to see next year if DVD collections come out for them. As for the established shows coming back this fall, I'm all over Supernatural, 30 Rock, The Daily Show, Family Guy, American Dad, Lost, and Fringe. Oh, and Castle and The Mentalist if I can catch them. Hmmm ... that's actually a lot of TV for a guy claiming not to be a TV junkie.

What's on your radar for this fall?

September 19, 2009

Rabid Reads "Ghost Huntress: The Awakening" by Marley Gibson

Title: Ghost Huntress: The Awakening (Book One)
Author: Marley Gibson
Publisher: Graphia; imprint of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing (2009)
Genre: YA Fantasy
Pages: 338
ISBN 978-0-547-15093-2

I can't say I liked this book. I also can't say I finished it. There is the very real possibility of a good story lurking inside this book's pages, but I'll never know because the first sixty pages failed to hook me at all.

The premise for the story sounds fantastic, which is why I made it a point to read it this summer. A young girl (Kendell Moorehead) moves from Chicago to the outskirts of Atlanta, provoking all the neccessary angst and anxiety of being uprooted during adolescence from the place she's grown up. Throw in a blossoming paranormal sensitivity to throw Kendell off balance even more, ultimately compelling her to seek out the spirits she has come in contact with, and you've got the makings of a good read.

Unfortunately for me, Kendell's voice irritated me. A lot. And, even though her voice sounded genuine enough at times to create a three-dimensional character, the teen-speak hit a saturation point with me in record time. While nowhere near as insufferable as the teens of "Dawnson's Creek" or "Gossip Girl," Kendell and those around her grated on me and made me question just how tiresome my friends and I sounded as teens.

The spooks and chills, in what little I read of the book, showed potential and good build-up. But, through the eyes of Kendell, I grew weary of her inner monologue, which sounded less like a scared teen than a supporting character in the Scooby Doo gang. That's just my cynical side showing, so take the criticism with a healthy dose of salt.

I'm nowhere near the target demographic for this title anyway, so it's not really for me to say whether people should rush out to read this book or not. Heck, with only eighty-or-so pages read, I would be a tad arrogant to give that kind of verdict. If the premise for the novel, which is the first in a trilogy, perks your curiosity as it did mine, then you should probably give it a read. Chances are you're going to give it a fairer shake than I did. I may even give it a second read sometime down the line, but right now. I guess it comes down to being in the mood to read this book.

Other reviews--by people who read the book in its entirety--can be found at the following book blogs: The Book Butterfly; Carrie's YA Bookshelf; Read This Book!

September 18, 2009

Shadows of the Emerald City's Table of Contents

Northern Frights Publishing released the complete listed on included stories for the upcoming Dark Oz anthology, Shadows of the Emerald City. In case you're interested, you can click HERE to take a look at the table of contents. I can't help but smile a little to see my short story, "Scarecrow's Sunrise," included in the mix.

And, I can't wait to get my hands on this and check read through the entire collection. The title of "Fly, Fly Pretty Monkey" from Camille Alexa has me particularly curious.

September 17, 2009

Meme, Myself, and I: Thanks for Introducing Me to This Book

Today's BBAW meme:
". . . Let’s talk about that book you know, the one you discovered only because you read about it on a book blog and then you realized you couldn’t live without it! And then you read it and you loved it so hard! Tell us about it and about the blogger (or bloggers!) that introduced the book to you!"

Carrie Ryan's The Forest of Hands and Teeth

I have a review of this book scheduled for later in the month. And I can thank several book blogs for bringing it to my attention. It was one of the very best reads I've come across so far in 2009. If you haven't read it yet, you're missing out.

Here are the book blog reviews that put me on the right track towards this title: Addicted to Books; Carrie's YA Bookshelf; Confessions of a Wandering Heart; Fantastic Book Review; Fantasy Book Critic; Finding Wonderland; HorrorScope; Just Your Typical Book Blog

September 16, 2009

Meme, Myself, and I: Reading (Book Blogger Appreciation Week)

To go along with Book Blogger Appreciation Week, I thought I'd add my own two cents to the themed meme they provided. Enjoy.

Do you snack while you read? If so, favorite reading snack? Sometimes, usually Tim Horton's Timbits when I do.

Do you tend to mark your books as you read, or does the idea of writing in books horrify you? Horrifies me. Markings are very distracting for me.

How do you keep your place while reading a book? Bookmark? Dog-ears? Laying the book flat open? A bookmark. Stopped dog-earring years ago.

Fiction, Non-fiction, or both? Mostly fiction. Non-fiction tends to be humor.

Hard copy or audiobooks? Hard copies (preferably hard cover).

Are you a person who tends to read to the end of chapters, or are you able to put a book down at any point? Invariably, I read to the end of a chapter.

If you come across an unfamiliar word, do you stop to look it up right away? I usually guess at its context.

What is the last book you bought? The latest book I purchased new is Dennis Lehane's Shutter Island.

Are you the type of person that only reads one book at a time or can you read more than one at a time? I try to have two books on the go.

Do you have a favorite time of day and/or place to read? The evening's. Primetime TV kind of sucks.

Do you prefer series books or stand alone books? I am reading a lot of series, but I actually prefer a good stand alone title.

Is there a specific book or author that you find yourself recommending over and over? Phillip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy.

How do you organize your books? (By genre, title, author’s last name, etc.?) Oh my, I have my books shelved by author's last name. Hard covers separate from paperbacks.

Wish List Wednesday #12: "The Song of Kali"

Lauded by horror fans and authors alike as one of the very best novels ever written. Prior to a recent reissue, I guess this was a hard novel to find. Well, it still is for me. I believe this was Dan Simmons' first novel too, so I guess he knocked it out of the park on his first time at bat (in a published sense at least).

An American poet, with his Indian wife and baby, head to Calcutta, India. There, awaits an epic poem cycle of Kali. But the poet who write it has disappeared. This book won a World Fantasy Award, and that ain't not bad.

Now, all I have to be is stay patient and keep scrounging the shops until I can snag a copy. Or if I win the lottery ... then I'm going on a tear.

For now, I have Simmons' novels, A Winter Haunting and Children of the Night, sitting on my TBR pile. That will tide me over, and give me a sense as to what his writing is like. Has anyone read Kali? Does it stand up to the praise?

September 15, 2009

How I'll Always Remember Patrick Swayze

I'm not in the habit of vocalizing my thoughts on celebrity deaths. I find too often that people place a newly deceased celebrity's accomplishments on a pedestal befitting a god. It may shock fans of Anna Nicole Smith, but the only people comparing her to Marilyn Monroe were addle-brained entertainment reporters and obsessed bloggers. Marilyn Monroe, she was most certainly not.

But today has turned into an unexpected day of remembrance for Patrick Swayze, who died late yesterday after a drawn-out battle with pancreatic cancer. I was not much of a fan of Swayze's work, I'll admit. Ghost was a good watch back when it first came out, but I can't sit through it anymore--that goes for many movies from that pseudo-era. And I've never watched Dirty Dancing in its entirety for two reasons: 1) It's a chick flick; 2) It's not very good. I'll shield my face now from the inevitable barrage of rotten produce.

Patrick Swayze did star in one movie that I do like, though. Actually, like isn't the proper word. I love this movie. Roadhouse. Yes, that's right, I hold a B-rated fight movie in higher regard than anything else Swayze has ever done in his career. I can't help it. It's a nostalgia factor that can't be penetrated by logic or time. I saw Roadhouse when I was a tween, my parenting renting it from a little video-tape rental shack. My Dad and I were always eying the shelf for something with testosterone--Death Wish with Charles Bronson, Dirty Harry with Clint Eastwood, or maybe a Stallone or Schwarzenegger movie.

Roadhouse came out of nowhere for me. I'd never heard of Patrick Swayze or anyone in the movie besides one guy, which was a professional wrestler (I was once a wrestling fan) named Terry Funk, who played one of the henchmen. The movie oozed 80s machismo and I gobbled it up with a spoon. Fights, guns, hot women, cool one-liners, and a monster truck ... Boy Heaven. If you're looking for clever storytelling, great acting, and a firm grip on reality, I suggest you watch something else. I saw Roadhouse again a few years ago, and while the veneer has diminished, and I like to kid myself by believing my tastes have matured, I still liked it. And Sam Elliott became a Hollywood icon to me with this one movie by stealing every scene he was in.

I never watched an episode of his most recent project, The Beast, but I may have to now, knowing the man has passed on. If you've got a favorite Swayze movie, like I do, maybe this week would be a good week to track it down and sit back on your couch to enjoy the work he did. I'm going to be looking for my choice as best Swayze film this week at my local library with fingers crossed. If I don't strike gold there, maybe one of the television stations will air it as their half-assed tribute.

Rest in peace, Patrick Swayze.