February 27, 2010

Rabid Reads: "Heart-Shaped Box" by Joe Hill

Title: Heart-Shaped Box
Author: Joe Hill
Published: William Morrow (2007); an imprint of Harper Collins
Pages: 374
Genre: Horror
ISBN 978-0-06-114793-7

Neil Gaiman described this book as the best debut horror novel since Clive Barker's The Damnation Game. I haven't gotten round to reading The Damnation Game yet, but considering the Barker novels I have read, I'd say that's very high praise. I can't recall where I first heard about Heart-Shaped Box, but the premise of a rock star falling victim to a curse struck me as intriguing. Not too long after placing it on my wish list, I scored a copy.

Judas Coyne (Jude for short) is a rock star from the same vein as Ozzy Osbourne, Alice Cooper, and other metal legends. It's the 21st century though and the height of Jude's notoriety has long since past. He still has a strong base of die-hard fans, and is still recognizable with his trademark beard and piercing eyes, but he's settled into a life of modest luxury and relative seclusion. He still clings to a few perks from his hey-days, however, like his sycophantic assistant, Danny, and his latest broken wing of a girlfriend, Georgia.

He still collects strange and rare objects too. Things like sketches by John Wayne Gacy, a trepanned skull, and even a snuff film. It's when his assistant lets him know there's an online auction for a ghost, replete with the dead man's suit, that Jude's macabre hobby finally bites him in the ass.

The novel could have turned into your standard haunted house tale. It certainly felt like it at the start, but it doesn't take long to learn that Joe Hill has other plans for this story. Like any good haunting story, it deals more with the characters being haunted than the actual haunting. The isolation and helplessness evoked by the dead man's ghost--a man with a direct connection to Jude's past--gradually turns into a road trip of sorts, a chase down a nightroad for salvation and confrontation with things that Jude has been hiding from himself for years.

It takes a while to get into Jude's head. I spent the first few chapters just thinking of him as a dime store novelty character, but as Hill reveals more about him and those around him, a very real and very tragic character comes into fruition. I'll go on a limb and guess Hill has more than a vicarious foothold on the music industry, because pieces of Jude's life felt genuine and not like a cliché of real-life rock stars.

The suspense was great and the pace taut through much of the novel. Jude and Georgia become very sympathetic, and I even came to sense the personalities of Jude's two dogs, which he discovers have a unique way of keeping him safe from harm in certain moments. The ghost, who is really the dead stepfather of a dead ex-girlfriend to Jude, becomes increasingly real the more that Jude uncovers as he tries to figure out how to be rid of it. At first, the ghost seems run-of-the-mill but becomes a very memorable villain with an intent so sinister, you wonder about the chances for a happy ending.

I'm not sure if I'd call it the best debut horror novel in decades--due in part to still needing to read some of the debut novels of now famous authors--but I was a very entertaining and very engrossing novel. Joe Hill put his best foot forward here.

February 26, 2010

Book Giveaway Links

In the mood for some more book giveaways? I am. I just can't help myself. There is an unholy number of giveaways happening right now, so I thought I'd let you know about at least the ones I've entered ... I'll update these as I go.

A new blog on my radar is
Dark Faerie Tales. They have a 500 Followers Contest going on right now until March 21st. Click HERE for the details. There will be five winners, each getting the pick of the litter from a great list of books, starting with the grand prize winner who chooses five from the list. Check it out.

Then there is Fantasy & Sci-Fi Lovin' News & Reviews. They have a giveaway happening where the winner will receive a copy of The Adamantine Palace by Stephen Deas. It's open until March 9th. Click HERE for details.

Teens Read and Write is hosting a huge Mega Book Giveaway. Click HERE for details. The contest is open until March 7th, and the more entrants there are, the more books become available to be won. At present there are going to be 20 winners. Count 'em, 20!

Until March 8th, you can enter a contest hosted by Presenting Lenore. Three winners will be chosen for a hardcover edition of Teri Hall's The Line. Click HERE for details. If you're not familiar with that title, it's okay because Lenore has a great review plus an interview with the offer that can read as well.

And then there's Bestsellers World. Right now they have a contest where a lucky winner will receive a copy of Seth Grahame-Smith's Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Slayer. The contest is open until March 26th, and you can click HERE for details.

Good luck, folks.

Fave Five: Horror Authors

It's been a while since I posted one of these favorites lists, so I think I'd churn one out just to say I did. The last few I've done have been about movies, so I thought I'd meander back into the realm of the written word. This is a book blog, after all.

I'm a fan of dark fiction, as you may well know, and last year I posted a list of my then five favorite horror novels. I've read more than a couple of titles this year, however, that have unofficially bumped around the titles on that list and the order in which they appear. And as I read even more dark fiction in 2010, particularly the heralded classics from years gone by, I have little doubt that the list will inevitably change again by next year.

I think a list that is not likely to change a whole lot any time soon is my list of favorite horror authors, which is the topic for this go-round. For the fellow fans of fright, the names below will come as no shock, but I figured I would put this list out there just to get it on record. So, let's hop to it.

#5: Jack Ketchum - I have only read two Ketchum novels, but the last one I read (The Girl Next Door) walloped me so hard last year, I'm convinced he deserves a place on this list. I've heard the synopses for a few of his other works and if he can write those novels half as good as he did with The Girl Next Door, then he definitely will stay on my favorite authors list until I'm dust in the wind.

#4: Dean Koontz - My favorite Koontz reference is from an episode of Family Guy where Brian the dog accidentally runs over with a van a man he thinks is Stephen King. But, when he discovers it's really Dean Koontz, Brian runs him over with the van again. I'm not sure where the King vs. Koontz factions come from--I guess everyone has a home team mentality for anything--but that kind of stuff is sometimes good for a laugh.

Unlike satirical references, Koontz's novels are no laughing matter. The man knows how to write a scary story. He doesn't hit the bullseye every time though, as he gets a hit-or-miss reaction from me each time I sit down to read one of his books. A couple I didn't care for at all (i.e., Sole Survivor), but a couple are absolute favorites for me (Velocity and Watchers). The Odd Thomas series seems to be another example of quality stuff from Koontz, as I quite liked the first book in the series and am gearing up to read the second soon.

#3: Richard Matheson - Here's a guy I really should have glommed onto as soon as I started reading again. It wasn't until two or three years ago, however, that I finally sat down with a Matheson novel, Hunted Past Reason. That was some messed up stuff, but it was a great thrill ride. And it's not even supposed to be one of his better novels. So, I started searching out more of his stuff, but for a guy as prolific as he is I had trouble finding titles on local shelves.

I eventually snagged I Am Legend as part of a short story collection, plus read Hell House which ranks very, very high as a favorite now. Then there are the film adaptations of his work like Stir of Echoes. He's even responsible for that classic Twilight Zone episode with William Shatner manically screaming, "There's something on the wing of the plane!" Tell me that's not a little bit awesome.

#2: Clive Barker - As a little kid, horror movies scared the bejesus out of me and I tended to steer away from them. Then I saw Nightbreed and despite my weak stomach churning at the sight of the monsters, the story being told was fantastic and hooked me. I later learned it was based on a book by Barker called Cabal. Oh, and he's also responsible for Hellraiser, so yeah. Pretty cool.

His books are the real meat of the meal, though. And he's not strictly horror, as his early success has allowed him to branch out into fantasy and children's literature--even a couple of video-games have a vicarious connection to him. I've read a half dozen or so of his books and have had my socks rocked each time. He's an author presently batting 1.000 with this reader, and I'm hoping the other novels on my bookshelf I've yet to read keep that streak alive.

FYI: My favorite Barker novel so far is The Great and Secret Show, which is a great blend of horror and fantasy.

#1: Stephen King - Bow down. That simple. When I got back into reading, Stephen King was the most readily available author on my sister's bookshelf that was not Norah Roberts. I read The Dark Half and loved it. From there, I started reading predominantly Stephen King novels as entertainment. And I still read his novels and get a great deal of enjoyment. That's due mainly to how prolific the guy is, and it's going to take me the rest of my life to work my way through his entire bibliography.

Two things that really stand out for me when it comes to King's work are:

  1. His short stories. Bite-sized fiction works well for me, especially when I'm out of the house. I'll carry a collection or anthology around and read a story or two at a time while sitting in a waiting room or on the bus. Plus, Stephen King knows how to get a lot of bang for the buck in a few thousand words. The novellas that appear in his collections are especially great. "The Mist" and "Secret Window" are two great examples that even managed to inspire a couple of very fun movies.

  2. The Dark Tower series. Someone suggested to me years back that I should find a copy of the first book in The Dark Tower series, The Gunslinger. I thought, why not. Wow. I'm hooked on that series now. I'm not into epic fantasies, but if authors started belting out fantasy tales like this, I'd be a devotee. There are seven books in all, five of which I've read. I'm almost wistful in setting to read the last two books in the series this year because the journey will be over. As a consolation, however, I've since started into The Dark Tower graphic novels from Marvel. Whenever someone wants a Stephen King recommended to them, I usually go with The Gunslinger.

That's my list. What does yours look like?

February 25, 2010

Meme, Myself, & I: 1 Truth, 6 Lies

Kent Allard over at Dead in the South tagged me this week with a meme. The gist is that once you've been tagged, you have to tell six outrageous lies about yourself and one truth, or one lie and six outrageous truths--whatever suits you. Then you tag a few other bloggers who will be up for the challenge. So, to keep this ball rolling, here are my six lies and one truth. I'll let you have fun picking out which one is the truth.

1) I know what puppy tastes like.

2) I once worked security for a rock concert. The lead singer of the obscure headlining band refused to take the stage. I was subsequently tasked by his band-mates to carry his inebriated butt onstage, where upon the cheers of the people in attendance spurred him into performing. I was never paid.

3) I once got so high and paranoid off hashish, I became convinced my mother would show up at the party, discover I'd done drugs, and disown me. In my drug-addled haze, I figured the best solution was to call my mother to pick me up at the party so she could take me home and I could sleep off the high. When she arrived at the party, I panicked and hid in the basement.

4) I, and two other boys, had to buy one of my friends a Super Nintendo to replace the one we used in a weekend marathon session of Mortal Kombat and NHL '93. The game console was on for nearly twenty-four hours before something inside caught fire and the back of the machine melted.

5) My girlfriend dumped me for my sister's fiancé. My sister tried to get us all on "Jerry Springer".

6) I played a practical joke on a college classmate that ended up putting him in the hospital. While he was sleeping in the passenger seat as I drove him back from a party, I parked the car directly in front of an idling Mack truck in a Tim Horton's parking lot. After I started screaming and honking the horn, he woke up, freaked out, and leaped out of the car to land so awkwardly he broke his collarbone.

7) I have a deep seeded fear of mud puddles.

There you have it. One of those is real. Good luck picking out which one.

Now to tag some others for this exercise in dishonesty tinged with confession. I think I will nominate Cate Gardner @ The Poisoned Apple, Celia Larsen @ The Adventures of Cecelia, Bella McGuire @ A Bibliophile's Bookshelf, Josh Reynolds @ Hunting Monsters, and Akasha Savage.

February 24, 2010

Wish List Wednesday #35: Sharp Objects

For the great amount of positive reviews and blurbs concerning this debut novel from Gillian Flynn, I'm a tad surprised I didn't see a single mention of it anywhere in 2009. I only caught wind of it when I spied it at the #1 spot on Nate Southard's top ten list for 2009. Who's Nate Southard? That's a question for next week's Wish List Wednesday.

Sharp Objects sounds like it could be a straight-up murder mystery novel, but Flynn adds a sinister bent in this story that caused Library Journal to describe her writing as "reminiscent of the works of Shirley Jackson." Really? Alright, I'll bite.

Camille Preaker is a reporter for a less than stellar newspaper, sent to her hometown to cover the murder of two little girls. Pretty cut and dry sounding stuff, I suppose, for mystery novels. But, I think the tension really gets ratcheted up when you take into account that Camille is days removed from a stay in a psychiatric hospital before heading back home. And home ends up being an old mansion with her hypochondriac of a mother and estrange half-sister. All of this collides and causes her to revisit her own traumatic childhood, while investigating the girls' tragic deaths.

I'm going to have to keep an eye out for this one. How about you? Did you catch wind of this last year? Did you get to read it for yourself, and if so what did you think?

February 23, 2010

Getting Graphic: "Batman: The Killing Joke" by Alan Moore

Title: Batman: The Killing Joke
Author: Alan Moore; illustrated by Brian Bolland
Published: Deluxe Edition by DC Comics (2008); originally by DC Comic (1988)
Pages: 64
Genre: Superhero
ISBN: 978-1-4012-1667-2

Despite warding off the hype from some that The Killing Joke is one of the very best Batman comics ever made, I still ended up with the opinion that it's reputation is overinflated. Mind you, when it comes to comic books, I'm still a neophyte.

For being a scant sixty-some pages, I'm assuming this was originally published as a two or three part run from DC. In an episodic format, the story may have impacted me more heavily. As a compiled graphic novel, it's a fun read, but towards the end I felt like there should have been more. For all the buildup and suspense through the tale, it ends on such a anticlimactic note. If that's Alan Moore's intention with this story, then so be it.

For those unfamiliar, this is more a story about the Joker than it is the Caped Crusader. It's a kind of origin tale, but considering the mystique surrounding the Joker's history--I really only know of the origin from the Tim Burton film--the idea that the preeminent villain of the Batman pantheon rose from such a hapless loser is surprising and a bit disappointing.

The Joker is loose, escaped from Arkham Asylum, and wants to get into the carnival business. Well, not really. The derelict carnival grounds are actually the testing grounds for his latest endeavor, which is to break a decent man's sanity. While the Joker executes his plan, we are given a glimpse into the man's past, the path that ultimately led him to turn from a failed comedian to the most dangerous villain Batman's ever faced.

I think that's the kicker for me with this story--the origin tale. I just didn't buy it. For a story that has supposedly sent ripples through the entire Batman universe, affecting nearly all Joker oriented stories in its wake, The Killing Joke provides a version of the Joker that is certainly more human, but is hardly a criminal to be considered so patently grievous. He does shoot and paralyze Barbara Gordon, which is pretty vile, especially when you consider what he does to her afterwards, but there's a disconnect between the Joker we see fully-formed and the defeatist schmuck appearing in the flashbacks. Those flashbacks show a stressed yet caring husband, and expectant father, desperate to provide for his family. Turning to a nighttime heist at the chemical plant where he once worked, he struggles with the idea of breaking the law to help the ones he loves.

I am a neophyte, remember, so I may be missing the grand appeal of this story. I just don't see what makes this THE Batman story. Alan Moore is an icon, yes, and Brian Bolland's artistry is near perfect at capturing each moment, whether it be for its brevity or its starkness. Perhaps the problem lies with my lack of familiarity with the comic books. Devotees to the comics can more easily draw the line between the flashbacks and the present storyline. They would know better how the evolution of the character validates such a drastic metamorphosis in the Joker. The Red Hood reference sailed right over my head, so that may tell you something. Personally, I'd bet there are origin tales for the Joker I would find far more approachable and appreciable than this one. Heck, Heath Ledger's performance--which I hear was partially inspired by The Killing Joke--appeals to me far more thanks to the vagueness of the character's history.

What ultimately redeems the Deluxe Edition of this graphic novel is Brian Bolland's short story that follows what happens after the curtain falls on Batman and the Joker in the original tale. Now that was some creepy and disturbing stuff I was not expecting to read or see. If you're a die-hard fan of all things "Batman," you know better than me about The Killing Joke and don't need my two cents on it. For those new to the realm of comics, especially Batman, you may want to read some other comics first before you dive into this one. There's a lot of unspoken history, winks and nods, and other tidbits that'll go right over the heads of the uninitiated.

I wish I were the kid who grew up with a pile of Batman comics in his bedroom, and knew the stories preceding this one. I loved the cartoons and the movies, but for a book like this, that only gives you a casual awareness--if not tenuous--of Batman and the Joker.

February 22, 2010

Writing Like Crazy: How Do You Write that First Draft?

Sometimes the hardest part about writing a story is conquering the blank page. I don't know how many times I've sat down to start a story--a wonderful, magnificent idea in my head crying to be free and to be heard--only to open up my writing pad or a new Open Office document and then freeze. Oh shit, how am I going to do this?

In my head, the story is great. It plays out like a motion picture in my mind's eye. And every time, I'm awestruck with the idea of turning that story out in written words. Despite any reasonable comprehension of the craft, I want the story to be perfect the first time I write it out. It never is, and I know full well it's silly to want think it should be, but there it is.

I think that's why probably the best piece of writing advice I've ever received is: First drafts are allowed to be terrible.

With those words, coming from more than one accomplished author, I have license to concentrate on getting the story out on paper without agonizing over the knowledge that it's going to need a lot of editing and fine-tuning. I can sift through the morass later, but I need to leave myself a trail of breadcrumbs first. Once the story has a beginning, a middle, and an end, I can look at the whole thing and better it in the second draft.

I've tried fixing the story as I go along. It works for some people, writing to a certain point then going back and fixing what they've written before carrying on with the rest of the story, but it doesn't work for me. When I start doing that, looking back at what I've done and breaking out my red pen to ensure everything is just right before I get on with the rest of the story, I end up sabotaging my own efforts. I'm like a serpent eating its own tale (pun intended).

So, I resolve with myself that each time I sit down to write a story I treat the first draft like a practise swing. If the story is there, somewhere in that longwinded, meandering mess, I can find it and clean off the ugly bits. And if it's not there, I can trash it and move on to the next story, and be content in knowing I didn't waste too much time.

Does that sound familiar to you? Do you write those first drafts in similar fashion, or are you a writer who makes sure it's done right the first time? Or maybe you've got another way of looking at it. If so, feel free to leave a comment. How do you write that first draft?

February 20, 2010

Rabid Reads: "Armageddon Bound" by Tim Marquitz

Title: Armageddon Bound (Demon Squad series)
Author: Tim Marquitz
Published: Damnation Books (2009)
Pages: 306
Genre: Urban Fantasy; Horror
Digital ISBN
Print ISBN: 978-1-61572-000-2

Urban fantasy, in my few experiences within the genre, tends to steer away from the perceived vulgarity of the horror genre even though there are horror elements that appear in many a UF title. Armageddon Bound isn't as timid when it comes to walking that line, and that is thanks largely to the protagonist and narrator of the tale, Frank Trigg--Satan's nephew and reluctant Antichrist.

To set the stage, God and Satan called a truce, made amends, and abandoned the universe fifty years ago. Today, Heaven, Hell, and little ol' Earth are on their own. And things are not going so well. Angels and Demons are still fighting, humans are still doing what humans do best, and poor Frank Trigg is caught in the middle. Once destined to be the Antichrist, he long since shirked his birthright and now makes do as a hired hitman of sorts with Demonic Resistance and Containment (DRAC).

DRAC is an anti-Armageddon faction comprised of wizards, telepaths, and other supernatural entities, doing what they can to prevent the End Times. Since there are no tog dogs anymore to pick up the pieces, the End Times truly mark the end of everything rather than a new beginning. Still, there are forces at work trying to jumpstart an Apocalypse. But it's not just DRAC that Frank finds as his allies, as Frank has an angelic cousin, Scarlett, a demonic mafia-style boss, Baalth, and others he doesn't exactly get along with. Not to mention his ex-wife, Victoria, who may or may not have put a hit out on him.

The noir-esque elements are at peak volume, with the story being a blend of heroism and cynicism coming from Frank Trigg. I mentioned him as the source of much of the vulgarity in the novel. Well, it's not a piece of gory fiction, if that's how you took the statement. Instead, it's his inner monologue that drips with puerile and lewd thoughts. The guy can't even think about his own cousin without fantasizing about her sexually.

Quentin Tarantino's Foxy Brown meets Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings it is not, but the mish-mash of styles gives it a vibe I ended up liking. To stray from movie references to video-games, it felt a bit like Grand Theft Auto mixed with God of War. But enough "this-meets-that" stuff, the book stands out to me. Let's leave it at that. And as the first book in a series, it caps off nicely like a stand alone novel, so readers can give it a try and not feel like they're only reading a prologue.

I thought the book was more urban than urbane, more ribald than refined, but Armageddon Bound was a fun read. And that was enough for me.

You can find another review of this title at: Fantasy Book Critic

February 19, 2010

Rabid Rewind: Public Enemies

Title: Public Enemies
Starring: Johnny Depp, Christian Bale
Directed by: Michael Mann
Released: 2009
Genre: Historical Bio-pic

This movie looks fantastic. What could have come precariously close to looking like a parody of itself, like a Dick Tracy spin-off, ended up looking like one of the most well crafted pieces of eye candy I've seen when it comes to movies depicting the Depression era.

It also feels like the kind of movie that was custom made for Johnny Depp. Granted, the guy just seems to have a knack for fitting himself into whatever character he plays. Christian Bale, on the other hand, seemed to be out of his element. That's a shame too, because to see how much work he put into researching the history of the man he played, you'd think he would have disappeared into the role. Maybe I'm just biased, but Bale is a lot like Tom Cruise to me, in that I never see his character. I just see him.

The film disappointed me, I must admit. As pretty as it is to look at, it's drawn out too long. It's about two and a half hours long, and given the very glossy treatment the movie was given, it could have easily been drawn back to a solid two hours. For as many intense scenes involving captivating shoot outs, fights, and escapes, there are an equal amount of muted, atmospheric moments of tedium. So many supporting characters are introduced through the duration of this film, you'd expect more development of those characters. But, no. Instead, many are only prop pieces placed on the screen for Depp and Bale to bounce off of.

I watched this movie and didn't really feel like I learned anything new about the famed bank robber, John Dillinger In fact, Michael Mann implanted so many contrivances in the narrative, I'm pretty sure I would need to hit the history books in order to debunk what I suspect are purely fabricated moments in Dillinger's life. It goes without saying that there is creative license afforded to movies like this, but there were a couple of scenes that just screamed "this never happened!"

If you're a fan of Johnny Depp, and I mean a big fan, you'll probably find enough in this movie to keep you entertained. He devours scenes each time the camera is on him, which plays well into the braggadocio of Dillinger Otherwise, I don't think anyone else needs to hurry to see this movie. If you want a better gangster bio-pic, seek out Warren Beatty's Bugsy.

February 18, 2010

Rabid Rewind: Adventureland

Title: Adventureland
Starring: Jesse Eisenberg, Kristen Stewart, Ryan Reynolds, Bill Hader
Directed by: Greg Motolla
Released: 2009
Genre: Comedy

I really hate the word "dramady." You know, that hybrid of a drama and a comedy. The kind of movie that gets hit with that clumsy label is fine by me, but I just hate the term--like Bennifer or Branjelina. It's just awful. One of the worst things about comedic dramas is the trailers. The marketing teams almost always promote the movie as a straight-up comedy, which is what happened to Adventureland, and what ultimately set me up for a letdown.

It wasn't a total letdown, but when the movie's trailers feature the funniest parts of the movie, feature the SNL alumni who actually have minor roles in the film, and hype it as "from the director of Superbad," it's not surprising that the film was given an uphill battle.

To be fair, when the movie goes for the laughs they nail it. And a lot of the more subdued dramatic bits are okay, even good at times, but there are a couple of people who really drag this movie through the mud.

The gist of the film deals with Jesse Eisenberg graduating highschool and looking forward to university in New York City. But when his father gets laid off and his college funds go poof, he has to take a summer job at a crap amusement park just to build up some funds. What follows is a kind of ninety-minute love letter to wasted youth in New Jersey. Watching the movie gave me nostalgic trips back to hanging out as a teen at the local theme park--big for our neck of the woods, but ultimately a faint whisper to the major theme parks.

Jesse Eisenberg does well as that more-mature-than-the-rest teen with a head full of big ideas and a pocket full of lint. Kristen Stewart is a bore. Her character is a bore, but it also seems to be the exact same character from Twilight. Only instead of brooding over a sparkly vampire, she's brooding over Ryan Reynolds in his douchebaggiest role yet. Bill Hader and Kirsten Wiig bring the best moments of the movie, which is a shame because they're in it for about ten minutes altogether.

Superbad this is not, nor was it meant to be. I may have liked it a lot more had I not been taken for a ride by the trailers. God, I hate it when trailers defeat any redeeming qualities a movie might have by misleading the would-be audience. What's your opinion on the movie and its marketing?

February 17, 2010

Wish List Wednesday #34: Mr. Shivers

All I know about this book is a short blurb I read on Fantasy Book Critic, but that was enough to put it on my interminable wish list.

Robert Jackson Bennett is a new name for me--I don't know about the rest of you--but his Depression era horror novel, Mr. Shivers, sounds intriguing.

Marcus Connelly is wandering across the great dustbowl that is America with a thirst for revenge. A scarred man has murdered his daughter, so he decides to hunt the man down to reap his own form of justice. As his search progresses, he quickly discovers that he's not alone, as there are others who have lost loved ones at the hands of this mysterious stranger. After they band together as a hunting party, Connelly suspects the killer they're chasing is something other than human. And Connelly's path to revenge may cost more than he'd originally anticipated.

That sounds cool as heck. It may not be any good, but the premise coupled with the backdrop sound promising. I'd be more than willing to give this novel a chance if I ever came across it.

Have you heard tell of this author and/of novel? What do you think? Sound good, or just not your cup of tea?

Rabid Rewind: Religulous

Title: Religulous
Starring: Bill Maher
Directed by: Larry Charles
Released: 2008

Dissidence doesn't jive when it comes to questioning the existence of a god. Doesn't matter which one, take your pick. But you gotta pick one, because if you don't believe in at least one, you're an infidel among the masses.

I like Bill Maher. Back when I was in college, the closest I came to being politically literate was watching episodes of Politically Incorrect. The guy had a great way of moderating a panel populated with both the reasoners and the raving lunatics. I've only had a couple of opportunities to see his HBO show, so it's a rare treat to see him at his most caustic and cogent.

Religulous is presented as a documentary with a flare for blending the pious with the punchline. Bill's an atheist--dirty word for the god fearing folk--and he travels a great portion of the globe asking questions about religion, gods, and faith. Where Sasha Barron Cohen had to dress up as a Euro trash homosexual to get a rise out of the religious right, all Bill Maher had to do was show up.

A lot of the humor in this DVD comes from what makes a lot of other things in life so damned funny, the blissfully ignorant and their illiteracy towards the ironic. Circular arguments abound, though there are a couple of instances where Bill is genuinely stumped by something poetic that's been put to him. And kudos to director, Larry Charles, for leaving those bits in, because they really help round out the whole performance.

Watching it once is good, but watching it again with the commentary of Bill Maher and Larry Charles is another fun experience. They don't talk about nuances of particular moments or arduous dilemmas they encounter during the film's production, but they do shoot the shit with a real sense of humor and definitely don't take themselves too seriously.

If you think the universe is only a few thousand years old, or you think Israel has no right to exist, chances are this film isn't for you. I don't think it's stopped you from pissing and moaning about it, though. No, this movie is for people who aren't afraid to laugh with and at religion.

February 16, 2010

Kevin Smith Vs. Southwest Airlines: Sticking Up for the Not-So-Little Guy

I've never flown in a plane in my life, and after listening to Kevin Smith's Smodcast #106--aptly titled "Go F**k Yourself, Southwest Airlines"--I have a feeling I never will.

I've heard enough horror stories over the years about various airlines. The litany of gripes have impressed upon me that air travel is about as enjoyable as a barbed-wire enema. And it turns out that as a fat guy I can add one more graceless offense by airlines to expect, should I ever try to book a flight somewhere.

You've likely heard on the news, tabloids, or blogosphere this week that Southwest Airlines kicked writer/director Kevin Smith off an Oakland-to-Burbank flight last weekend because they deemed he was a "safety risk." What the hell does that mean, you ask? That's fancy legalese for "Hey, fatty! Put down the bag of Oreos and waddle your wide load off our plane, you fat f**k!"

I could go on about the whole controversy, but I'm sure there are cleverer bloggers out there who've already ranted on it. Plus, Kevin Smith summed up the whole thing perfectly on his Smodcast. Or you can sift through his Twitter page (@thatkevinsmith). You'll at least get the full context of the incident from him, as the news media has done a piss poor job so far in addressing the dispute. I was particularly surprised at the vitriol coming from an anti-obesity/pro-Southwest pundit, but that's what I deserve for recording an episode of Anderson Cooper 360--never again.

As if I wasn't already disheartened by United Airlines for losing and damaging luggage without remorse, or Air Canada and their abject customer service. Now, Southwest Airlines is declaring war on fat people.

Well, I'm not one to jump on a bandwagon, but I will echo Kevin Smith's sentiments as a fellow fatty. Go fuck yourself, Southwest.

I wonder if the trains hate fat people. Heck, I wonder if the trains even still run.

Photo from: http://twitpic.com/1340gw

Rabid Reads: "Whip It" (aka "Derby Girl") by Shauna Cross

Title: Whip It (originally published as Derby Girl)
Author: Shauna Cross
Published: Square Fish (2009), an imprint of MacMillan; originally published by Henry Holt (2007) as
Derby Girl
Pages: 234
Genre: Young Adult
ISBN 978-0-312-53599-5
When I first heard about Drew Barrymore's directorial debut film, Whip It, I had no idea it was based on a book. So, when I learned the book was available at my library, I checked it out. Not bad. I just hope the movie's better.
It's a fast read with only a little more than two hundred pages, which was a bit of a shame because the premise of a repressed teen seeking catharsis through joining a roller derby league is pure gold. I remember seeing snippets of roller derby on television--usually airing immediately before or after pro wrestling--and finding the whole idea of it oddly entertaining. To this day, I don't have any real handle on the rules of roller derby, but I suspect the people who participate aren't that clear in that regard either.
Bliss Cavender is a teen girl from the embarrassingly small town of Bodeen, Texas, born into a legacy of small town pageant beauties. Her mother is not quite a tyrant in the pageant mom department, but she comes pretty close. And her father is about as engaged in the family dynamic as a stunned moose. Bliss is destined to be Miss Bluebonnet (the top crown for the local, vapid tarts) just like her mother was, but Bliss couldn't care less. She hates nearly every facet of her life and longs to break free to the small town life and find solace in a city of vibrancy.
Suffocating under her mother's rule, Bliss and her best friend, Pash, discover roller derby by happenstance on day, and Bliss instantly falls in love with it. Pash is happy to see Bliss has found something to make her happy, even though it's brutish. For Bliss, aside from barely being able to stand on a pair of roller skates, she and her blue-dyed hair are sure they were born to be a derby girl. She's coaxed into signing up for tryouts by one of the team's bold and beautiful captains, Malice in Wonderland--names are a bit of a big deal in roller derby, I guess, as Bliss takes on the moniker of Babe Ruthless.
I wish Bliss and her adventures as Babe Ruthless were the focus of this story. But, it was not to be, as the majority of it dealt with Bliss sneaking around behind her mother's back, falling for a hot bass player, and the inevitable complications in her friendship with Pash, as everything gets priority over her best friend. Roller derby is ultimately window dressing for the coming of age story. Damn, I've read and watched plenty of those.
I wanted more roller derby. There are some fun moments with it, but I had hoped for a more immersing experience in that world.
Oh well. Shauna Cross has created a fun and likable character with Bliss, who is really easy to root for as the story unfolds. As a guy, I couldn't help wanting more smash mouth action among the girls in the league, to compliment the events happening outside the rink. As it stands, the book is far more palatable for a brute like me than other "chick lit" romps I've come across.
Whip It is YA chick lit, but with a backdrop I quite liked. I found it far more enjoyable than those fifteen minutes I spent trying to sit through The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants years ago. Would I recommend this book to the guys? Probably not. To the ladies? Without hesitation.

February 15, 2010

Rabid Rewind: The Hangover

Title: The Hangover
Starring: Brad Cooper, Ed Helms, Zach Galifianakis, Heather Graham
Directed by:
Released: 2009
Genre: Comedy

What is it about Las Vegas that for the last decade or so the entertainment industry has been promoting the hell out of it? Is it purely a matter of lobbying Hollywood to market Sin City for them? Well, when that awful Ashton Kutcher film, What Happens in Vegas, hit theaters with a resounding thud I thought the whole idea of setting a lackluster story there had jumped the shark. Hollywood had become bored with Vegas. Then, I caught wind of yet another Vegas themed movie coming out called The Hangover. I thought, oh boy, here we go again.

Then I saw the trailer.

Dammit, I was interested. What got me was the idea that it was a balls-to-the-wall, male-oriented comedy, starring a couple of comedians (Ed Helms and Zach Galifianakis) I found really funny. It had potential.

What I didn't quite realize was the popularity this movie would achieve. "The best comedy of 2009." That's the kind of praise--or hype--this movie was getting. I'm inclined to agree too. It's at least in the top three.

The premise starts out with such a well-worn plot you'd swear it was doomed to fail. A groom-to-be and his three best friends go on a road trip, their last hurrah before marriage claims another bachelor's life. When they get to Vegas they toast what will be a memorable night, but the film cuts quickly to the morning after where three of them (minus the groom-to-be) wake up in their ravaged penthouse with no idea how Ed Helms lost a tooth, how a tiger got into the bathroom, or how a baby ended up in the closet.

What follows is a harried pursuit for their missing friend as they try to piece together what the hell happened to them. Like I said, it had all the tell-tale signs of an American Pie sequel for thirty-somethings. It worked though. Brad Cooper plays the slightly detestable bad boy with a heart of gold to perfection. A leading man in future films? I'm not convinced, but he did hit a high note in this role. He's complimented by razor sharp timing from Ed Helms and his shifts between timidity with an overbearing girlfriend and his frenzied panic when knee-deep in their dilemma. Then there's Zach Galifianakis who plays the oddball brother-in-law-to-be with such effortless style, you'd swear he really was that weird.

The movie can seem to some as little more than a series of comedic sketches strung together by a precarious plot that ultimately has a anticlimactic resolution. I forgave that part of the movie, however, because I was laughing too hard most of the time to be too critical. The Mike Tyson cameo was pretty good, but the ??? appearance as a crime boss was stellar and stole the show. And the only letdown in the whole movie was the ending, since the roller coaster ride had so many gimmicks through the middle of the film, the last fifteen minutes felt like a slow descent back to the ground level.

I'm going to keep my fingers crossed for the sequel, which is apparently being filmed sometime this year, and is set for 2011 I think. I'm unsure how it can make par with this movie, and who can blame me. I loved American Pie when it hit theaters a decade ago, but the sequels tired out the franchise very quickly, and now the original just isn't as funny as it used to be. There's a piece of me that worries Hollywood could do the same to The Hangover.

February 13, 2010

Rabid Reads: "Deadtown" by Nancy Holzner

Title: Deadtown
Author: Nancy Holzner
Published: Ace (2010); a division of Penguin
Pages: 326
Genre: Urban Fantasy
ISBN 978-0-441-01813-0

Victory "Vicky" Vaughn hunts demons for a living. Extraordinary work if you can get it. The world Vicky lives in isn't quite as extraordinary as it used to be, living in a section of Boston nicknamed Deadtown. Nowadays, ever since a mysterious zombie outbreak, the things that go bump in the night are pretty common place. The extraordinary part comes from trying to resolve the tensions and prejudices between humans and the not-so-human. So far, acceptance and civil liberties aren't plentiful for the Paranormal Americans.

Vicky's a shape-shifter, her roommate's a vampire, her boyfriend's a werewolf, and her protégé is a zombie. I think that runs the gamut of common tropes, though a metamorphic protagonist is something new with me. And Nancy Holzner has managed to tweak the rules for these paranormal beings to make it all seem fresh enough not to scoff. For instance, werewolves voluntarily fence themselves in a forest retreat three days out of every moon cycle, in order to avoid any unpleasantness in civilized society ... like eating people.

The main plot deals with a mystery of sorts, as the Hellion who killed Vicky's father before her eyes when she was eighteen has come back, somehow breaking through a supernatural barrier to block such demons from Boston. Its intent isn't clear, but Vicky suspects that someone is pulling the Hellion's strings for a greater purpose beyond just cooking her from the inside out. But, while she's trying to unravel that mystery, she's also dealing with an incorrigible, teen zombie apprentice named Tina with boundary and authority issues. Then there's her casual boyfriend, Alex, who is half werewolf, half lawyer--a deadly combination--and their ever complicated relationship. On top of all that, there's also a scientist soliciting her and her sister's family in order to crack the genome for shape-shifters.

The pacing is fast in this novel, and it has to be, because there are a lot of side-plots going on. In fact, there were moments when they became more distracting than anything else, like commercial breaks from the action. Fortunately, for those of us looking for straight up action the whole way through, the "breaks" are brief and some carry over into the main plot. And as the novel neared the end, and several things had yet to be resolved, I became nervous, anticipating one of those insufferable cliffhanger endings. Thank the heavens Holzner found a way to tie up all the loose strings in what might be consider record time when the end arrives.

What may be this novel's strongest feature is the time afforded to breath life into each character featured in the story. The interactions and relationships came off as very organic and believable, especially when you consider the supernatural setting. The universe Holzner created feels plausible and I thought she's built herself a great sandbox to play in with any future books.

My main criticism would have to be with some of the dialog. While there is a great conversational tone with Vicky and the characters she's closest to, there were moments when information would be dumped in heaps in the coarse of some interactions. Those moments felt like the characters weren't speaking to each other but were speaking to the reader.

Overall, I liked this one. It felt a little rough around the edges, but the whole story felt fun and easy to get into. The approach to zombies was different from the conventional approach, and I was personally relieved to see Holzner refrain from using the kind of vampires that sparkle. I'm not sure what she's got in store for a sequel to Deadtown, but I think I'll have to check it out whenever it's published.

You can find other reviews of this title at: Bitten by Books; Debuts & Reviews

February 12, 2010

How's My Blogging?

Well, it's coming up on a year since I started this blog. It's not a terrible place to visit, but I feel like I still need to carve out an identity for it. As it stands, it's predominately a book blog, which makes sense given that's the medium I'm most engrossed in these days. And as a book blog, it has a particular bend towards dark fiction.

On top of that, I've kept my occasional rantings and ravings about my own writing--I'm still a babe in the woods, so that's minimal at this point. Plus, some DVD reviews since I still love a good movie ... and bitching about bad ones.

But, I could always use some feedback. What do you like about this blog? What don't you like about it? Is there something missing, or is there something that just has to go? Feel free to leave a comment with your thoughts.

Last night, unable to sleep, I tinkered with Photoshop and created a possible banner to replace my existing one. What do you think? Yes. No. Needs work.

February 11, 2010

There Goes My "Heroes"

Heroes is over. And good riddance, I say. I watched the finale, after skipping nearly the entire season, and I have to say that the narrative of that series has been running around in circles ever since Season 2 jumped the genetically-mutated shark.

I remember when the show debuted. I thought, they're airing a quality version of Mutant-X on television ... network television. Well, my dreams were dashed after the first season. Let the historians debate over where the show went wrong. All I know is that they dropped the ball and never got it back. And that's a shame because as bad as it got, it was head and shoulders better than most of what's on network television these days.

So long, Heroes. All the best to the creators, writers, and actors ... and the key grips. May you find greener pastures. And better projects.

Thanks to Natalie Sin for cheering me up this week with some Batman & Robin fun.

Book Trailer: "51 Fiendish Ways to Leave Your Lover" by Lisa Mannetti

Lisa Mannetti wrote one of my favorite novels from 2008, The Gentling Box. Some bloggers have placed that book on their Best of 2009 lists. I didn't since it was published in '08, but I think the lady deserves every bit of praise she gets for that fantastic debut novel.

Now, she has a book trailer promoting another work--51 Fiendish Ways to Leave Your Lover. This is an illustrated gag book, in which she collaborated with artist, Glenn Chadbourne. It looks delightfully macabre.

Check out the book trailer, which conveniently includes purchase info. :)

Chasing Tale in February: Part One

Only a few days into February, I received a big ol' bog full of books from Brande over at Book Junkie. I won thirty-five books through her birthday giveaway at the start of the year. The contributing authors have since e-mailed me copies of the e-books I won, which I mentioned in the last Chasing Tale post. Last week, I received the fourteen titles from Brande's own collection. That only leaves the ten titles she ordered for me through Amazon. I've got more books than I know what to do with.

Here's what came in the mail last week:

  • Bound to Shadows by Keri Arthur
  • Shivers by Melinda Barron, Destiny Blaine, Catherine Chernov, & Annmarie Ortega
  • Unlawful Contact by Pamela Claire
  • Deep Kiss of Winter by Kressley Cole & Gena Showalter
  • It Happened One Night by Lisa Dale
  • Love at First Flight by Marie Force
  • The Untamed Bride by Stephanie Laurens
  • Knight of Pleasure by Margaret Mallory
  • Sins of the Flesh by Caridad Pineiro
  • Kissing Games of the World by Sandi Khan Shelton
  • The Darkest Whisper by Gena Showalter
  • Take Me by Shelli Stevens
  • A Highlander's Temptation by Sue-Ellen Welfonder
  • 9 Dragons by Michael Connolly

That last one isn't a romance, but a detective mystery novel. Talk about a black sheep among the herd. Plus, I received a trilogy of romance titles from one of the contributing authors to Brande's contest.

  • Discovery in Passion, Escape in Passion, Mercy in Passion by Shiela Stewart

That's a lot of bodice-ripping ribaldry. I may have bitten off more than I can chew. But, hey, ya gotta try new things. My 2010 resolution was to read from an even greater variety of novels, and as far as romance novels are concerned I'm set. I'm sure friends and family of the female persuasion will be borrowing those titles when they find out I have them.

So, my bookshelf is now stalked with romance, westerns, science-fiction, young adult, horror, mystery, and fantasy. What genres am I missing?