January 31, 2010

Bad Movie Week Starts Tomorrow

When browsing the library for good horror movies, I may as well be panning for gold. I'd probably have more luck.

This week, starting tomorrow, I'll post one Rabid Rewind each weekday. I've had a couple of these queued for much later, as I tend to keep the blog down to two reviews each week, whether book or DVD. So, I decided to group five of them together and make a themed week out of it.

These aren't all terrible movies, but none of them are very good. It's kind of a shame, because I know there are quality movies out there in the horror genre. It's just that, for some reason, they are never made available at the library. I can't say it's because other library members find the horror genre distasteful, because if that were the case, I wouldn't find such poor caliber on the shelves.

As best I can gather, these were donated to the library by people who regretted purchasing these DVDs. I know I would.

So, consider these reviews a public service announcement on what movies to steer away from when looking for scary films to watch. Then again, maybe your opinion differs on how good or bad these titles are. If so, feel free to leave a comment when the reviews are posted.

January 30, 2010

Rabid Reads: "Halifax Haunts" by Steve Vernon

Title: Halifax Haunts: Exploring the City's Spookiest Spaces
Author: Steve Vernon
Published: Nimbus Publishing (2009)
Genre: Historical nonfiction; Ghost stories
ISBN 978-1-55109-707-7

I enjoy a good ghost story. I have ever since I was a little kid and got freaked out whenever someone told a really intense one at night, whether at a campfire or holed up in a tent in the backyard. Growing up the woods, it was easy to let the imagination run wild when things went bump in the night ... mainly because half the time there really was something, albeit corporeal, responsible for said bump. Turns out the city of Halifax is full of its own share of ghost stories, and Steve Vernon has diligently compiled a slew of them in this collection.

If you don't know where Halifax is, it's the capital of Nova Scotia, Canada, is in one of the most historic cities in North America. And it turns out that a good deal of that history has clung to present day in the form of ghost stories and legends.

With a tinge of Maritime humor--you'd have to live here to truly appreciate it, I think--Vernon presents this collection with topographical maps and even the GPS coordinates under each story's title. If you're ever in the city and want a more macabre walking tour than your run-of-the-mill tourist marathon, consider carrying around a copy of this book and hitting a corner of the city. You aren't likely to visit every site mentioned in this book within a day, but there are clusters of sites all within walking distance, which could give you a chance to witness a fair amount of what is discussed in the book.

Growing up, I had been aware of the Fairview Lawn Cemetery and its connection with many of the victims of the Titanic, as well as reported ghost sightings on George's Island. I had no idea, however, that the city was littered with apparitions and ghostly folklore. It's an old city, so it stands to reason that it should hold several local legends. But to read this book, it's apparent the city is overrun with ghostly encounters.

I'm a skeptic, myself, and haven't seen a ghost or experienced ghostly phenomena. That doesn't diminish my appreciation for the history and the mystique that comes with each of these tales, though. Heck, half of these tales carry their own fable with them warning against such things as lust, revenge, greed, cowardice, and more. And again I reiterate, this is strictly within the confines a single city. If Halifax is emblematic of the rest of Canada and its paranormal past, I curious to see what Steve Vernon will dish out to readers in the years ahead. He's already put out two previous titles I plan on reading in the future, Haunted Harbors and Wicked Woods.

Whether you're a Haligonian, Maritimer, or just a lover of the paranormal, I think there's enough in this book to wet your appetite for the less conventional side of the city's history. You may end up doing a bit of followup research on your own if you come across a particularly gripping yarn. I know there are a couple that have perked my interest.

January 29, 2010

Chasing Tale in January

If not for winning a couple of book blog contests, I wouldn't have bothered with a Chasing Tale blog entry this month. I didn't get out to troll the shops but once this month. I don't know about you, but I find it a bit therapeutic at times to meander the aisles of a bookstore when I get the chance. Back in my college days, I did the same kind of thing at the L.C. (liquor commission, for the uninitiated). What can I say? My tastes have changed.

Here's what I received in January ...

Deadtown by Nancy Holzner (signed) - I won this novel from Nancy herself via a contest hosted by Fantasy Literature. It's urban fantasy with a sense of humor, which is right up my alley when it comes to urban fantasy. A shape-shifting demon hunter trying to avenge her father's death, while coping with a vampire roommate, werewolf boyfriend, and zombie protégé? Yeah, I'll give that a shot.

Voyeurs of Death by Shaun Jeffrey (e-book) - I can't recall where I saw the link for this free novella on Scribd, but at any rate I've got it now (might have been Horror World). I've no clue what it's about, but I recognize the authors name from a novel that caught a little buzz last year, which was called The Kult. I think a novella is the perfect size e-book for me, since I'm still sans e-reader. I hope it's good.

Armageddon Bound by Tim Marquitz (e-book) - I recently entered a contest to win a signed paperback of this title, but alas, it was not to be. I did, however, snag a free e-book edition of the title from Tim Marquitz, himself, so I could review it. The premise sounds like urban fantasy blended with some horror and noir for good measure. I think I can get on board with that.

Cruel Shoes by Steve Martin - Even though the 21st century has been remiss in providing Steve Martin with quality comedic roles in movies, he still has the three preceding decades on which to hang his hat. This book came out in the late seventies, during what might be considered Martin's wildest of days. And his best. I think the eighties or nineties were pretty good to him, but the height of his stand-up career occurred during the days of bell bottoms and gas shortages. It'll be interesting to read something in his own words, as I've yet to read his latest work, Born Standing Up.

Naked Pictures of Famous People by Jon Stewart - Another book of humor to add to my shelves. I'm a fan of the Daily Show, though I don't get to watch it as often as I used to. The man has a wit that's acerbic, concise, and charming. I'm hoping this book contains more of the same. If nothing else, it'll be interesting for me to see how his style of humor may have changed between now and the late nineties, when this book was published.

And then there was the cornucopia of books I won from Brande @ Book Junkie. Thirty-five books to commemorate her thirty-fifth birthday in December, and my name was the one of over 1300 to be drawn. I've never read a romance novel in my life--I don't count Twilight--but made my resolution for this year to cast an even wider net in my reading habits. I dare say my dance card with the romance writers of the world is filled in 2010. I haven't received them all yet, but that's only because the paper books are taking the snail mail route. They should arrive in early February.

Here are the e-books I've received so far from Brande and the authors:

  • Wolf Signs by Vivian Arend
  • Bella Signorina by Denyse Bridger
  • Come Monday by Mari Carr
  • Three to Play by Kris Cook
  • Cabin Fever by Alisha Rai
  • Club Shadowlands by Cherise Sinclair
  • Slave Castle by Claire Thompson.

January 28, 2010

But Are There 10 Films that Deserve Oscar Nominations This Year?

For the first time in Oscars history, ten nominees--not just five--will be announced very soon in the Motion Picture category. I can't remember the official reason why the Academy made this move, but I think it had something to do with including summer blockbusters and other popular movies among the critical successes.

I'm not convinced that's such a great criteria. Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen was the highest grossing movie in 2009, at least until Avatar: Revenge of the Cameron hit every theater on the face of the earth. I'm not sure what the demographics look like with regards to the movie-going public, but should we let the accolades go to movies that pander to ... you know what, I'm going to stop that sentence right there before I write something I'll regret.

So, there are ten slots to be filled this year and I don't think I've seen a single film from 2009 yet that has a chance at being nominated. But, I can make some educated guesses.

Up in the Air - Jason Reitman and George Clooney are practically locks for receiving nominations in the director and leading male categories, but I'm willing to bet the movie gets a nomination too.

Avatar - It won the Golden Globe, and I don't think a winner at those awards has been denied a nomination by the Oscars.

The Hurt Locker - It looks like a really good movie, something I'd eagerly sit down to watch, and the film--and Bigelow too--have received heaps of praise.

An Education - Something for the Brits. I say that facetiously, but you must admit that this sounds like the kind of movie that would be right up Oscar's alley.

Invictus - Clint Eastwood, Morgan Freeman, and Matt Damon tied to the same movie? I'm surprised it didn't get more recognition at the Golden Globes.

Precious - This might be the first time in ages that a film tied to Oprah Winfrey gets some love from Oscar.

Crazy Heart - It's got Jeff Bridges. 'Nuff said. He should have gotten an award for The Big Lebowski, but I'm not bitter. The Dude abides.

Inglorious Basterds - I'd nominate this movie for the trailer alone. I think this is the most antipicated DVD for me right now.

District 9 - Would it be so bad if a smart action, sci-fi movie got nominated? Would it?

Nine - It's a pseudo-musical with a metric ton of star names attached. If it's not nominated, I'll eat my hat.

That's my list. We'll find out what's officially nominated on February 2nd. Anyone have some dark horse picks to make? Or some obvious ones that I missed?

January 27, 2010

Wish List Wednesday #31: City Infernal

Never judge a book by it's cover. I know this, but that's an eye-catching cover. But the one that originally caught my eye was the sequel to this Edward Lee novel--Infernal Angel.

I was looking for an Ed Lee novel to add to my bookshelf while browsing a couple of used-book stores. I found two--Infernal Angel and Messenger. I was really drawn to the former, but as I looked at the back cover I realized it was the sequel to City Infernal.

I hate jumping into a series midway through. So, I bought Messenger. In the meantime, I'm keeping my eyes peeled for a copy of City Infernal, as the idea of a novel set entirely in Hell is intriguing. And Ed Lee is reputed as an unrelenting author of horror. I imagine he's one guy who could tackle the subject matter of eternal damnation and really make it sing.

Anyone read or heard about this book, or the series? If so, what did you think?

January 26, 2010

Rabid Reads: "The Purloined Boy" by Mortimus Clay

Title: The Purloined Boy (The Weirdling Cycle - Book One)
Author: Mortimus Clay
Published: Finster Press (2009)
Pages: 249
Genre: Young Adult; Fantasy
ISBN-10: 0-9821598-0-3
ISBN-13: 978-0-9821598-0-4

I won this book through Fantasy Book Critic after spying a rave review for the book on their blog. The cover grabbed me. The premise hooked me. The experience, however, was a tad underwhelming compared to how FBC reacted to it. It's a good story, but I just didn't consider it a great story.

Mortimus Clay is a cleverly fashioned nom de plume, complete with a blurb on the back cover by Charles Dickens from beyond the grave. That's the kind humor I like to see from a book such as this. The narrator, Mortimus, comes across as affable and conversational, as if you're sitting by the fire and listening to the old storyteller regale you with a fantastical tale.

The premise seems like something that should have been written already, which may be why there is that Dickensian feel. The hero of the story, Trevor Upjohn, is a ten-year-old boy living in a land called Superbia. He's one of many children living in what is a cross between a prison and a reeducation center for kids, as they've all been covertly abducted by bogeyman. If you've ever heard the stories of the monsters living in your closet, they're true in this story and have been stealing little kids for ages. The reeducation aspect stems from the fact that the children are taught that words like "home" and "parents" are filthy profanities that must never be spoken.

Trevor remembers his home and his parents though, through his dreams, and one day vocalizes this. He's quickly whisked off to be evaluated by the bogeyman's authorities and is deemed "Incorrigible"--a death sentence, basically, as nearly all children become food for the bogeymen. Trevor is snatched from the jaws of death when some familiar faces and some new ones come to his aide and take him to a secret land in Superbia, Olton, populated by escapees and others who strive to save all children and reunite them with their families.

If Lemony Snicket wrote The Matrix, you might end up with The Purloined Boy.

I really wanted to love this story, but came away only liking it. I may sound a bit pessimistic about the story, so let me assure you that it's not a bad story at all. It's downright good, in fact. I think for me it came down to timing. You know how it is with some books--some simply demand a certain mood while reading them. I thought I was eager to read this one, but I wasn't being sucked in. For a relatively diminutive novel, it took me nearly a week to finish.

The characters are believable given their circumstances and surroundings. The land of Superbia is given a very redolent texture, in each of the settings, from the Pantry, to the Sewage Works, to Olton. Even the pacing of the story was good, as the downtime was used to catch up on the history and what's to come. I guess the gripe I had was that for all the adventure and hijinks, I wasn't surprised by much of it, and even found it predictable in spots.

Bah, I'm just being a downer. And I think the story promises to entertain any other reader far more than it did me. Heck, I'll probably sit down to reread it once it's time for the sequel to be released sometime this year. If you enjoyed the stories of J.K. Rowling, Philip Pullman, Lemony Snicket, or C.S. Lewis, I have a feeling you'll find something to appreciate from Mortimus Clay.

You can read other book blog reviews of this title at: Eclectic Eccentric; Fantasy Book Critic; Stuff As Dreams Are Made Of

January 25, 2010

Death by a Thousand Paper Cuts

Ever have one of those days when nothing seems to go right on paper? Well, I've been having one of those months.

I don't know what it is, but it's like I've been jinxed. This is most definitely not the way I wanted to start off the new year. I've been working on a couple of short stories this month and nothing is coming together.

I subscribe to the idea that all first drafts are allowed to be terrible. But, even with that mantra, the first draft should still reveal some semblance of the finished product. The diamond in the rough should be glinting somewhere in all those words. So far, however, I've found nothing but fuel for disgruntlement.

It's not writer's block. I've had that. This is like watching your idea die once it's exposed to air.

Gargh. I'm over-thinking the process probably. But, I can't help but wonder if I should just let these stories die. I like the ideas, but I'm at a loss to get something cohesive from them as of yet.

I need catharsis.

But enough about me, how are you this week?

January 23, 2010

Rabid Reads: "Writers Workshop of Horror" by Michael Knost (editor)

Title: Writers Workshop of Horror
Editor: Michael Knost
Published: Woodland Press (2009)
Pages: 245
Genre: Nonfiction; Writing
ISBN 978-0-9824939-1-5

As an aspiring writer of dark fiction--any fiction, really--I am always on the hunt for a tidbit of advice from those in the industry, especially those whose works I've read and enjoyed. I started off with the odd copy of Writer's Digest magazine, then moved on to a handful of books from the Writer's Digest Book Club--a great birthday present for any beginning writer--and then scoured online to see all of the great blogs and online articles concerning the craft of writing. This past Christmas, I received a gift that has earned a permanent place among my books on the art of writing. Writers Workshop of Horror is the gift that keeps on giving.

The list of contributing authors is something to behold, all by itself. Brian Keene, Mort Castle, Tom Piccirilli, Joe R. Lansdale, Clive Barker, and the list goes on. This group could be discussing the subtleties of Carrot Top's prop comedy, or the mating habits of sea urchins, and I'd likely sit down to read a few passages. Keep them on the topic of writing and I'm likely to be riveted.

And I was.

A couple of the articles seemed familiar to me, but hardly unwelcome, as I can always use gentle reminders on every aspect of the craft. Whether it's Thomas F. Monteleone tackling the subject of dialogue, Jonathan Maberry discussing action and fight scenes, Brian Keene on the point of making time to write even when you think you don't have the time to write, this collection of essays, interviews, and testimonials helped add depth to the things I already had a basic grasp on. And some really opened my eyes to aspects I hadn't really taken the time to consider, like Piccirilli's article on personal themes in your writing.

The previously mentioned Mort Castle released a similar book, On Writing Horror, a few years back. It was one of those books I received from the WDBC. It's also one of the permanent fixtures on my bookshelf, one I still grab to peruse a section now and again. Michael Knost, however, has offered a great companion to that book. Heck, even as a stand-alone, it provides just about anything writers of varying ability should be looking for in advice from those who know better.

It's not the Holy Bible for horror writers, though there are contradictions like any good piece of biblical scripture. But it is a good piece of source material to have handy when you're looking for a bit of positive reinforcement, reeducation, or just a nudge in the right direction when you're stuck on some facet of the piece you're working on.

I'm unsure what kind of value the book offers to someone not actively writing though, except to say that it may provide the right amount of inspiration for you to start.

January 21, 2010

Wag the Blog #12: L.A. Candy = Empty Calories

I've crept around the blogosphere and found a few more interesting blog entries. I could probably post a ton more links, but let's it keep it relatively short and sweet this time around. And if you've come across some particularly entertaining or informative blog entries in your travels, feel free to leave a comment and post a link.

This week, the Globe and Mail's book blog, In Other Words, posted a short list of 2010 book releases that are not likely to appear on many wish lists. At least I hope not. I mean, sheesh, Lauren Conrad has allegedly written a second pseudo-novel. Why? Because the first one left so many unanswered questions?

Author, Bill Ward, has been reviewing some classic--or not so classic--80s flicks. The most recent one I saw posted on his blog is one of my all-time favorite cult classics, Big Trouble in Little China. If you are a fan of Kurt Russell, you've seen this movie. If not, you'd better.

Bev Vincent wrote a nice article about Aspring Writers over at Storytellers Unplugged. She talks about her own ordeals with the "aspiring" aspect of writing, and her encounter with one writer in particular and his struggles to sit down and write.

Alan Mott, at Bookgasm, posted a very funny article about the current trends in the books on shelves these days. It's called 20 Creative Ways to Become a Published Author, and it's definitely worth checking out. It's kind of depressing that, as funny as each example is, they're all true. Paris Hilton is credited as an author, people. I'd read her book, but I fear for my sanity.

Over at Unspeakable Horror!, Chad Helder graces us with his Top Ten Totally Subjective Reasons Why He Loves Stephen King. I forgot King coined the term "pyrokenesis." I recall he came up with "fuckery," so I wonder what other words he's invented.

I don't have an e-reader, but I think I'd like one. One problem is disposable income, but the bigger problem is discussed on Gizmodo--There Are Officially Too Damn Many E-Book Readers. I knew there were a few different brands, but the market is about to be saturated.

Mandy at Edge of Seventeen wrote an interesting blog asking What Happened to the Horror Genre in YA? It's a good question. Of the YA titles I've read, Carrie Ryan's The Forest of Hands and Teeth is about the closest I've seen come to horror, though it's not the focus of the story. Kate Cann's Possessed might be worth a look-see.

And finally, writer Jason Sanford offers his own brand of writing advice. And in compliance with his wishes, let's just call the title of the article, What Every Successful Author Knows! These are funny and eerily true.

January 20, 2010

Wish List Wednesday #30: The Resurrectionist

A lot of times with spying the title of a novel on a store shelf or online, those ones that start with "THE" and are followed by a single word, my eyes will glaze over and I'll just keep trucking along. The exceptions to that rule are when it's a notable author like Richard Laymon and The Cellar, as just knowing it's Laymon I wonder just what is in that damned cellar, or when the word following "THE" is particularly unique. Wrath James White caught my attention with the title of this novel, The Resurrectionist.

Well, just as you can't judge a book by its cover, you can't judge a book by its title. I've caught a couple of reviews for this novel, however, and I think there is more to like about the book than just the title. It sounds like a visceral story of death and dread and one man who seems to delight in both. It's one thing to die, it's quite another to die over and over again. If the book is as relentless as it's reputed to be, I think it'll be a very good read.

Have you heard of this new release? Had a chance to read it yet? If so, what did you think?

January 19, 2010

Rabid Reads: "Crown of Vengeance" by Stephen Zimmer

Title: Crown of Vengeance (Book One of the Fires in Eden Series)
Author: Stephen Zimmer
Published: Seventh Star Press (2009)
Pages: 597
Genre: Epic Fantasy
ISBN 9780982565612

I'm not very familiar with the epic fantasy genre, but I'm pretty sure few novels of that sort begin their tales in the American Midwest. To gaze at the cover of Stephen Zimmer's newest novel--the first book in his Fires in Eden series--it's deceptively conventional. But the story Zimmer has crafted seems to go for something other than your standard Dungeons & Dragons material. Particularly in the first hundred pages, as the cast of characters is introduced.

A Midwestern town is enveloped by a mysterious fogbank one night. A dozen or so of the townsfolk, clustered in smaller groups, outside wander through the mist and find themselves in a completely different world from their own. Upon their arrival in a world they come to know as Ave, they're first met by that Merlin looking fellow on the cover--The Wanderer--and are told they have been expected and danger lurks. They gradually familiarize themselves with this new world in spurts of awe-inspiring scenery and less than hospitable creatures, both sentient and not.

The nature of the humans' arrival in Ave isn't fully explained, but they are caught up in an impending war all the same, as an ominous figure known as the Unifier is sweeping over the land in order to conquer it for his master. And what little is left to stand in his way is in what's known as the Saxony and the Five Realms. And anyone that doesn't feel compelled to join the Unifier's every-growing army is set to be run down. And that includes the handful of strange humans now in Ave.

The book is nearly six hundred pages long, and it seems to need every page to cram the immense exercise of world building that Stephen Zimmer has undertaken here. The aspect of having modern day humans thrown into this world as an uninitiated reader's go-between is nice, but I just had a bit of trouble with the flow of the story. That's because the point of view periodically switches from character to character to character--a similar approach employed in Zimmer's other series, The Rising Dawn Saga--and I would have preferred something that hinged on a smaller cast. Maybe I'm just not conditioned to epic fantasies and the macroscopic universes featured in their pages.

The characters seem believable and act and react in rhythm with their own emotional baggage, and some arrived in Ave with their bags packed. The creatures in Ave range from familiar to entertainingly outlandish, with one of my personal favorites being the Darroks, which are basically dragons acting as zeppelins for the Unifier's army. The action is tight and moves with a brisk pace, but the slower moments seem to drag a bit, and I found myself skimming over passages to get back into the thrill ride. For the fans of epic fantasies, there is a slew of stuff to chew on, as the Crown of Vengeance sets the stage well for the rest of the Fires in Eden series.

Greenhorns like me may find it a bit intimidating, though. I guess it boils down to personal tastes and how adventurous you are in the reading department. Books like this are a trek outside my comfort zone, which is why I have yet to read a Lord of the Rings novel. Any time I pick up a book with more than five hundred pages, I'm already thinking that there's some fat to be trimmed in the narrative. So, I can't really criticize a fantasy novel for feeling a bit long-winded, when most of Zimmer's peers consider five hundred pages to be brief.

Ultimately, Crown of Vengeance wasn't my cup of tea, though I must commend Zimmer on his scope and ambition with not just this new Fires in Eden series, but his simultaneously running series, Rising Dawn, which started last year with The Exodus Gate. The man is nothing if not busy, and dedicated to his craft. I'm still not won over by the epic fantasy genre, but I see the talent there and am not giving up on it.

You can find other review for this title at: Only the Best SF/Fantasy

January 18, 2010

Book Trailer: "Crown of Vengeance" by Stephen Zimmer

Tomorrow, my review of Stephen Zimmer's Crown of Vengeance will be posted. It's epic fantasy, which is not my forté, but I gave it a fair shake since Stephen was kind enough to send me a review copy, as well as some great bits of swag to go with it--me likey bookmarks.

I received an e-mail from him this past week, in which he brought to my attention a new book trailer to compliment his latest novel. I've embedded it below, so check it out. That Matt Perry is a talented illustrator.


Golden Globes Got It Right ... Mostly

I ended up watching the Golden Globes last night, for the second year in a row no less. I tend to steer away from awards shows because of the tedium they are notorious for, but the Globes are a tad more casual--or artificially so--and the time passes much quicker with a book in my lap. Three hours of garish gloaters and lackluster luminaries, punctuated by the occasional meritorious moment, is more palatable when complimented by a rewarding activity like reading.

I thought Ricky Gervais did a very good job as the night's host. I'm not sure what the gig entails backstage, but it looks like an incredibly easy task so long as you're personable and affable. Walk out onstage a half-dozen times through the broadcast, tell a joke, introduce the presenters, and scoop up as much swag as you can carry at the end of the night. Sign me up.

The ballroom setting looked much more attractive than the theater setting of the Oscars. Mainly because the winners have to run a gauntlet half the time just to get to the stage. Jonathan Lithgow practically had to step across dinner tables when he won his award for his stint on Dexter--did they seat him next to the washrooms?

I don't watch the tabloid shows (Entertainment Tonight, Access Hollywood, etc.), so I don't know who was decreed as "best dressed," but I though that Kate Hudson and Reese Witherspoon each looked incredible. Halle Berry may have stolen the show in the glamorous department, though. Then there were others, as every year, who looked like wildebeests gaudily gift wrapped, but I won't name names.

As for the winners, I was happy to see The Hangover win Best Comedy. Sandra Bullock's win came as a bit of a surprise, but I can't say it was a terrible choice. And while I'm a fan of Robert Downey Jr., I was really surprised and pleased that he won for Sherlock Holmes--it must be a better movie than I first gave it credit for. I haven't seen Glee yet, so I can't hate on them for beating out 30 Rock. Besides, any show with Jane Lynch deserves some credit. I think the moment of the night had to be Jeff Bridges' win for Best Actor. The man is a class act, has a resume that should be the envy of 99% of Hollywood's actors, and seems to have put in a definitive performance this year with Crazy Heart.

Avatar took home Best Drama, with James Cameron snagging Best Director too? Alright, if you say so. I haven't seen the movie yet, but it felt like those awards rewarded box office power rather than superior achievement. I could be wrong.

And line of the night? "I like a drink as much as the next man ... unless the next man is Mel Gibson."

January 16, 2010

Rabid Reads: "World War Z" by Max Brooks

Title: World War Z
Author: Max Brooks
Published:Three Rivers Press, an imprint of Crown Publishing, a division of Random House (2006)
Pages: 342
Genre: Horror; Speculative Fiction
ISBN 978-0-307-34661-2

This book is not what I expected it to be. And that may be a good thing, as It surprised me in a good way.

When I first heard about this book back in 2007, I assumed in was some kind of pulpy zombie novel mixed in with some Band of Brothers for good measure. Then, after hearing and reading about it a bit, I learned it was more of a journal entry style take on a zombie apocalypse. I'm still averse to diary style fiction, so I was a bit disappointed, but still very intrigued by the whole premise of the book and the praise it had received. When I finally got a chance to read it--thanks, Celia--I realized that this was far more grand an endeavor than I could have anticipated. The scope of the story told in this book's three-hundred-and-some pages is a tad astounding.

I figured Brooks had a few key characters in mind and the novel would then revolve around their lives through the years of the Zombie Wars. Instead, Brooks presented it as a kind of documentary, his protagonist interviewed a plethora of other characters with an assortment of roles in the struggle for survival. The characters run the gamut, from an anti-semitic Kuwaiti recounting his youthful ignorance towards his father and Israel's offer of sanctuary, to a young women from Wisconsin now living in Canada after her family fled north in hopes the cold would ward off the threat of the walking dead, all the way to an Indian soldier's recounting of a revered general's last act in protecting his fellow Indians from a migrating swarm of the undead.

When I first heard about this book, I hadn't really read any "zombie" fiction. By the time I had it in my hands, I felt the publishing world had inundated the marketplace with more zombies than I could ever want to read. Like many of you, I'm over the manufactured fad of zombies from this decade. The novelty is gone, so it's going to take a really good story to catch and hold my interest. Max Brooks succeeded with this novel. I dare say I will never read a zombie novel like this again. It's not so much a truly original story with regards to the subject matter, but the global encompassment, coupled with the avoidance of being violently gratuitous make for a one-of-a-kind book. If this book were adapted into a mini-series, I wouldn't be surprised to hear it was directed by Ken Burns.

Some parts dragged for me, but that may be because they followed some especially intense moments in the story. And if you find yourself skipping over one or two of the interviews in the book, you're not going to get lost in the overall narrative of the tale. There are some allusions to other interviews and moments in certain sections of the book, which add a nice bit of continuity. I think the story could have used a clearer outlook of the world after World War Z, but that's me. There was a kind of "fog of war" to the aftermath in some areas of the final pages, but that is likely on purpose since the focus of the tale is on the war itself and those fighting it.

I'm not big of reading nonfiction, unless it's of a humorous nature, so the kinds of books that this novel plays off of are lost on me. I've watched enough war documentaries over the years, however, to get a sense of what Brooks was trying to achieve. And thankfully, he added a nice touch of humor to some of the stories in the book to keep me from finding the book to be too heavy handed. The book is serious, but it doesn't take itself too seriously. And neither should you if you decide to read it.

Enjoy the ride, and be thankful we'll all die from a combination of bird flu and melting ice caps before the zombies ever get us.

You can find another review for this title at: The Neverending Shelf

January 13, 2010

Wish List Wednesday #29: Tender Morsels

I get a kick out of new and interesting twists on classic tales. I previously cited my interest in Frank Breddor's take on Alice in Wonderland with his novel, The Looking Glass Wars. And I rather enjoyed Gregory Maguire's Wicked and his entertaining twist on The Wizard of Oz. So Margo Lanagan's Tender Morsels, while not directly borrowing from a classic fairy tale, does apparently borrow some of those fables to build her own world and throw in some very interesting characters.

From what I gather, the story deals with an abused young woman who is given a new life in her own personal heaven thanks to a sympathetic witch. As after she has two daughters who reach adolescence, her world is threatened when the borders between it and the real world weaken and allow some ominous characters to enter and threaten everything she holds dear.

That sounds like some potentially good reading. Throw in some talking bears and I'm sold. The novel is supposedly quite lyrical and poetic with the language and is one of the more "mature" young adult novels of the past year. Like many, I've come to enjoy quite a few YA novels in spite of my relatively advanced age. I hope should I get a chance to read Tender Morsels any time soon, I'll have as positive response to it as some of the reviews for it I've read.

January 12, 2010

I Heart the Kids in the Hall

A new show debuts tonight on CBC--that's in Canada--and I couldn't be more pleased. Why? Because it's written and performed by the Kids in the Hall. If you are unfamiliar with this comedy troupe, I pity you.

As an introduction, I found the trailer for their new show, Death Comes to Town, on YouTube. Enjoy.

by JazzySimpleton

And if that's not enough, here's another YouTube clip I found of one of my favorite KITH sketches.

by arielplain

Rabid Rewind: Year One

Title: Year One
Starring: Jack Black, Michael Cera, Olivia Wilde, David Cross, Hank Azaria, Oliver Platt
Directed by: Harold Ramis
Genre: Comedy
Released: 2009

While I doubt Year One will ever be accused of being a "smart" comedy, it certainly made me laugh a helluva lot when I sat down to watch it over the Christmas holidays. While Monty Python's Life of Brian may be the more revered biblically-based comedy, the tandem of Jack Black and Michael Cera had brilliant chemistry on screen as a comedic duo. Bob Hope and Bing Crosby never made me laugh like this during their "Road" movies.

The premise is simple enough and just to talk about it shows the potential for some great laughs. Take a couple of guys with present day attitudes and place them in ancient times. Then, for the movie, cast a slew of comedic actors with a penchant for improvisation and see what happens.

The plot of the movie is a bit sparse, almost tenuous, but the separate scenes play off so well as individual sketches that you could easily forgive the stitching used to connect one scene to the next. Black and Cera are a hunter and a gatherer, respectively--Cera's character, named Ooh (sp), may argue the point he's also a maker, since he invented drinking from a gourd within his tribe. They're the proverbial runts of the litter, as they can't find mates, can't exert any dominance among the other men, and have little to no respect among the rest of the tribe. Looking for something more, Black's character heads into the forest and eats from the Tree of Knowledge despite the protests of Cera's character.

They're soon kicked out of the tribe, marked as cursed for eating the forbidden fruit, and quickly discover there is an entire world beyond the borders of their territory. On their journey, they basically walk through a crude timeline of parables of the Old Testament. Cain and Abel, Abraham and Isaac, and the city of Sodom all appear in the film and even intermingle, like a cross pollination of biblical folklore. All the while, Black and Cera end up trying to discover their own identities and also redeem themselves to the tribeswomen they love.

What makes the movie so much fun to watch is the outrageousness and absurdity of certain scenes. Oliver Platt's performance as a high priest in Sodom is something to be seen to be believed. Hank Azaria as Abraham, first seen about to murder his son--McLovin is even in the movie--as a sacrifice to "the Lord, thy GOD!", looks so genuine in the garb he could pass for a cast member in a Heston movie ... if not for the hilarious rationalization he gives for the invention of circumcision.

The Hangover probably wins the moniker of "Best Comedy of 2009", but I think there's room to give Year One honorable mention for the over-the-top style presented by Harold Ramis' movie. This is the kind of Jack Black movie I like, when he's hamming it up for the cameras and has a supporting cast more than capable of keeping pace with him ... even outdoing him at times.

January 11, 2010

Clarity of Night's "Silhouette" Short Fiction Contest

Clarity of Night is hosting another flash fiction contest, this one entitled "Silhouette." There are only a couple of days left to enter, so if you're interested then you better get cracking. My entry is called "The Orchard and the Crow."

You can also vote for the Reader's Choice Award. There are a ton of entries so far, so you're bound to find something you'll really enjoy.

In the meantime, here's my entry from the last Clarity of Night contest, which was called "In Vino Veritas." Enjoy. And feedback is always welcome.

Liar's Glass
by Gef Fox

The flesh of my hand sang with pain. Tendrils of smoke wafted along the bottom of the glass, as Cassidy smirked from across the dining room table. Liar's glass. I had under-estimated her.

I expected the truth elixir, but she was still new to potions. I had drank enough in my lifetime to develop an immunity, anyway. Liar's glass, though—clever girl.

"So, you did kill my parents," she said.

I shrugged her words and the lingering pain. "As well I should have, my love. So long as they lived, you would remain rotting away under their rule. And we could never be together."

Her soft blue eyes turned hard, and she rose to her feet.

"My parents were tyrants, I grant you." She walked towards me. "But, you, Allesandro . You are so much more. So much worse."

I smiled and started to rise from my chair, to meet her halfway—as I had the night I cauterized her parents from her life—but I was frozen.

"What have you done, Cassidy?" I asked, unmoving. The unseen restraints held me.

"What you wanted of me, my love. I learned. Prisoner's Throne, I believe it's called." She plucked the knife from my plate.

"Cass, please. There's another way—"

"No more lies, Allesandro. Give my regards to my mother and father."

The cut was slow and deep. My life bled away. The smoke from the Liar's glass carried me to Hell like a chariot. Clever girl.


January 9, 2010

Rabid Reads: "Bar None" by Tim Lebbon

Title: Bar None
Author: Tim Lebbon
Published: Night Shade Books (2009)
Pages: 193
Genre: Horror; Fantasy
ISBN 978-1-59780-097-6

Last year, I heard a term describing a certain form of fiction--bizarro. I'm not sure if Tim Lebbon's Bar None qualifies as bizarro, but I feel comfortable in calling it bizarre.

It's a relatively brief story, weighing in at less than two hundred pages, but the story comes off as full, as complete. Having said that, there is a feeling of being left on the side of the road when the tale is finished. I became invested in the characters of the novel to a point, that when the ending arrived, I wanted more in spite of recognizing that the book ended pretty much where it needed to.

The end of the world occurred six months prior to where the story begins. A plague swept the world, and despite Britain's efforts to ward off the threat from their island, the United Kingdom shared the same fate as the rest of the planet. Five people survive, presumably immune to whatever virus is responsible, and have found refuge in a mansion on the outskirts of London. They have shelter, safety, food, and plenty of beer.

Beer plays a rather prominent role in this story, as it seems to propel and motivate the survivors. The horror and the emptiness that surrounds them is overwhelming, and they find a soothing dullness to the senses after a couple of pints each evening. In fact, each chapter is named after a fictional brand of beer. The narrator reminisces about his late wife and their courtship and marriage ... and their love of beer in nearly every chapter. So when supplies start to run low for them, they can either face facts or dull the pain with a few more pints before the end truly comes.

Their wakeup call comes in the form a blond-haired stranger who arrives on a motorcycle. Initially worried he may be a threat, the small group are quickly placated by his calm and curious demeanor. And when he tells each of them that there is a place where they can go, where they'll be safe, "the last bar on Earth," the group unanimously opt to heed the man's words and make the trip across the countryside to find Bar None.

And that's when things really get weird. And I like weird. But I like it best when it has some context. Now, I'm a bit of a simpleton in some regards, so some of the imagery employed in the storytelling could have whizzed right over my head without my knowing. But there are some things the characters witness in the story that go unexplained entirely, at least as near as I recall. It's not a requirement for everything to be tied up with a neat little bow with an accompanying pamphlet for the more ignorant readers, but a couple of things still had me scratching my head when I'd finished reading the book. The biggest question would concern the nature of the entities flying over the city: What the heck were those things?

If you read Cormac McCarthy's The Road and found it too depressing in tone, or read Stephen King's The Stand and found it too daunting in length, Tim Lebbon's story about a post apocalyptic world may be your cup of tea. Or should I say, mug of ale.