August 31, 2010

Rabid Reads: "Freezer Burn" by Joe R. Lansdale

Freezer Burn
by Joe R. Lansdale
Warner Books (1999)
245 pages
ISBN 089296703X

There's something about a carnival that makes for a good story. Too bad that didn't work the other way around with equal effect. Some carnivals and sideshows are just awful. And the one imagined by Joe Lansdale in this novel sounds like it'd be kind of awful if I were to actually visit it. Fortunately, in the confines of this novel it was a real treat.

It takes a few chapters to get to the carnival, though. Before that, Lansdale introduces Bill as the protagonist. In just about any other story Bill would be the heel of the tale. He's an unintelligent, willfully ignorant, deceitful thief. His mother is dead and rotting up in her bedroom, and he hasn't bothered to inform anyone since the house isn't willed to him. And even though he'd like to forge her signature on the checks that keep coming in the mail, he's too devoid of talent to do it--and lacks the will to even try.

He does, however, get it into his head that he can make some money by robbing the fireworks stand across the road. And he really needs some money because he's down to eating the canned beats in the cupboard of a powerless house. But Bill and his two cronies foul things up and winds up on the run, presumably a fugitive from the law. That is a bit of a tale all its own that you'll have to read for yourself. It's when he stumbles upon a freak show carnival in east Texas, tired and lost and his face deformed by insect bites, that his luck seems to turn around a little bit. His luck isn't all the way turned around, mind you, as the cast of characters he meets all have their own story and Bill manages to get mixed up in all of their inner dealings too.

This was my first Lansdale novel and, boy, did I pick a wild one. The writing is a gritty, straight-forward kind of style peppered with slang and colloquialisms, some of them some real eye-catchers. I feel pretty safe in saying that this book offered the first occasion for me to see the words "stinky on his dinky." Ever. And it was reading so much of the story from Bill's point of view, as well as the entertaining dialogue, that really made this book stand out for me.

The ending felt a bit like a letdown, but that's simply because it didn't go in a direction I expected it to. That's fine, but after such a slow buildup through the novel, I kind of expected a bigger payoff. Not a Hollywood, guns-a-blazin' style ending, but something that would've let me close the book and let out a sigh of satisfaction. But, heck, it was still a fun ride and I am definitely on the hunt for more Lansdale novels to read.

If Lansdale fans have any suggestions, whether a Hap/Leonard novel or some short fiction, I'm all ears.


August 30, 2010

Writing Like Crazy: Multiplying Like Rabbits

After collecting a few more rejections this month I finally hit some pay dirt with a short story submission. Fearology 2, an anthology from Library of Horror Press comprised of animal-themed horror stories, accepted my story "Walk 'Em Up."

I had originally intended to submit a story that's been collecting dust this year that I like, which involves a boy and his dog--and a zombie dog--but I was informed that they wanted to steer clear of zombies and dogs, since they'd been receiving plenty of submissions involving both. So, I had to cook up something else. The suggested story of about a rabid fox didn't pan out as I attempted a rough draft, so I ditched that and created a little tale with a fluffy little bunny as the animal of choice. After I submitted it, I discovered it was up against 140+ other stories, and my hopeful optimism waned ... until I got the e-mail letting me know I made the cut.

The table of contents (viewable on the Library of Horror forum here) for the anthology will include:

  • Running With The Pack - D. K. Latta
  • Cat Food - Joleen Kuyper
  • Walk ‘Em Up - Gef Fox
  • The Monkey’s Sandwich - Craig Saunders
  • Horseman - Renee Carter Hall
  • Alien Registration - James Peak
  • Revenge On Apex Mountain - Michael Hodges
  • What Doesn’t Kill - K. A. Dean
  • Roaches - Amanda Northrup Mays
  • Goats Do Roam - Christopher King
  • Mahishasura - Richard Marsden
  • A Murder Of Crows - Henry Snider
  • Sons Of Gula - R. M. Ridley
  • Canis Finalis - Aaron Legler
  • Feeding Oscar - Donald Jacob Uitvlugt
  • Night Of The Widow - Alex J. Kane
  • Smells Like Neurosis - Kent Alyn
  • Peek-A-Boo - Eric Dimbleby
  • Beastial - Martin Rose
  • Infestation - Tom Harold
  • On The Banks Of The Royal Marsh - Daniel Powell
  • Doctor Dolittle He Ain’t - Wayne Goodchild
  • The Tora Bora Horror - Gregory L. Norris


- I've also capped off the month with a couple more submissions. One to Northern Frights Publishing for their anthology, Fallen: An Anthology of Demonic Horror, and another one to Library of Horror Press for their anthology, Malicious Deviance. Fingers crossed on both of those.

- Next up on the short story plate are about a half-dozen open calls for submissions, with deadlines between mid-September and Halloween. There's a ghost story anthology from Whitlock Publishing, another anthology from FableCroft, and the second volume of Tattered Souls from Cutting Block Press. I'm hoping to have something suitable to submit to each of those, as well as others.

- I found out from Jodi Lee on the Library of the Living Dead forums that the edits for the impending Dead Bells anthology are coming up soon. That's good news, as I'm not only excited at the prospect of seeing that book published in the coming months, but I am eager to dive into my contributor's copy to read all of the other stories as well.

- I've been pouring through my contributor's copy of Zero Gravity from Pill Hill Press and have really been entertained by some of the stories I've read so far. A couple of real treats to read have been Peter Freeman's "A Space Romance" and Alethea Kontis's "The Unicorn Tree."

Killer Kitsch: Moebius Models

When I was a little kid I dug model kits. But as a poor little kid, I didn't get many chances to own or build any models. Friends built scale model cars, jets, and I remember a castle one kid built and brought in to show off. I got by on my Lego and erector sets, and a few cheap kits I'd get from the Met (any Canadians remember that department store chain?).

Nowadays I just don't have the time, money, or dedication to try my hand at it. I do still enjoy checking out some of those model kits out there, though. So I was especially treated when I stumbled across a company's website that had a very cool looking Frankenstein model. It's the Universal Pictures version of the monster, no less.

The company is called Moebius Models and was started up by a hobby shop owner and modeler, Frank Winspur. Now I'm totally ignorant to the history of model kits, but there was apparently a highly coveted collection of monster models called the Aurora collection. Frankenstein, Wolfman, Dracula, Creature from the Black Lagoon, Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde, etc. I gotta say, if I'd known as a kid that these things were out there I would have probably saved pennies in a jar just to get my hands on one.

Moebius has resurrected a couple of those classic models, and have gotten licenses on some newer stuff. I saw they had licenses for Marvel's Iron Man, DC's Wonder Woman, and there's even a Conan the Barbarian on display. If this kind of thing ever interested you, their site is a neat little spot to browse and check out some very cool stuff. May I suggest you take a gander at the glow-in-the-dark Frankenstein. That is some kitsch-y coolness there.

August 27, 2010

Rabid Rewind: The Book of Eli

The Book of Eli
starring Denzel Washington, Mila Kunis, and Gary Oldman
directed by the Hughes Brothers
written by Gary Whitta
Warner Bros. (2010)

Despite being one of the best leading men in Hollywood, Denzel Washington's track record at the box office isn't exactly awe-inspiring. While it might be reasonable to chalk that up to a lingering racism in Tinseltown, some of the films that Denzel has starred in just haven't been that great. Virtuosity might be a prime example, though if you haven't seen it I recommend it as one of my guilty pleasures.

In The Book of Eli, Denzel plays an aging wanderer, Eli, in a post-apocalyptic America. He's heading west on foot carrying a book and a few other meager possessions, and violently decimates any thug or degenerate who tries to stop him. The abilities of his character in self-defense are made clear in an early scene where he kills a gang of a half-dozen or so with only a knife that would make Crocodile Dundee blush with envy. While never stated outright, there is a sense that he comes with a military background and a keen sense of duty.

What is implicitly stated is that the book he carries is the last remaining version of the King James Bible. Whatever war that decimated humanity was blamed on religion by those who survived, and all religious books--heck, most books of any sort--were subsequently destroyed. As it turns out, his soon-to-be nemesis played by Gary Oldman is a book-lover and -horder in search of a copy of the Bible in order to control his rampant town and gain influence in other towns.

Denzel plays the weary warrior quite well. Despite being on a self-described mission from God, he's imperfect and shows measures of empathy and callousness on his journey. Oldman as usual chews the scenery as yet another conniving and loathsome villain. I don't care how mediocre a movie is, sprinkle in some of Gary Oldman's sinister laughter and I'm happy as a clam. In a supporting role is Mila Kunis. Ably performed her role might have been in the film, I still--to this day--cannot remove her from her role as Jackie on "That 70s Show." To see her playing a gritty, hard-nosed femme fatale just feels a tad comical to me.

When the movie first came out I read reviews from critics had bemoaned a blatant pro-Christian sentiment in the film, since the so-called "Book of Eli" is the Holy Bible. As an atheist reading those reviews, I sat down to watch this film with the notion that the film was going to try to evangelize me at some point. That didn't happen. Only a staunch anti-theist would walk away from this film with an insulted attitude. What I saw was a film that did more than promote the Bible, but promoted literature as a whole. The full context of Eli's mission until the third act, but it shows he wasn't out to convert the masses to follow his God so much as trying to preserve something genuinely good in humanity.

And while the film's ending does provide a small amount of aggravation for me, it comes from the portrayal of certain characters in the final moments, and not any proselytizing message that might have been there. Despite its flaws it's a decent film. Average perhaps, but enjoyable if taken at face value.

Rabid Rewind: The Road

Title: The Road
Starring: Viggo Mortensen, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Robert Duvall, and Charlize Theron
Director: John Gillcoat
Screenplay: Joe Penhall; based on the novel by Cormac McCarthy
Released: Alliance Films (2009)
Genre: Horror; Drama; Dystopian

To make a movie based on such a bleak and relentless novel like The Road, I can imagine director John Gillcoat wondered how to convince audiences to sit through a story that seems to get more depressing with each scene. The book wasn't exactly what you'd call a romp, after all.

In a dystopian landscape that used to be America, a father and son are on a journey south. Dystopian is a polite term in this case for "gone to sh-t big time." While there is an allusion to some kind of environmental cataclysm, with fires engulfing everything, earthquakes rendering what's left to the ground, and the sun forever shrouded behind thick clouds and smoke, viewers looking for a clear explanation for why all life on Earth is dead or dying will be disappointed.

Viggo Mortensen plays the father and must have put himself through hell in order to effectively portray a starving man. Food is scarce in his world, and most of what he finds goes to his son. As such, Mortensen is skin and bones through most of this film and is one more disturbing ingredient for the film. By contrast, Kodi Smit-McPhee who plays his son is a glimmer of youth and vitality as they wander roads and wilderness together. And the resemblence in the face between Kodi and Charlize Theron, who plays his mother, is eery. One more reason to applaud the casting choices for the film.

Charlize Theron, however, plays a minor albeit pivotal role in the film, appearing in flashbacks to when the world started to collapse. While it might be fair to call her portrayal of a despondent mother-to-be and then a suicidal mother as sappy and overwrought, but I thought it worked well and helped gain all the more sympathy for Mortensen's character who must soldier on without her.

While father and son forage for whatever they can while avoiding contact with just about everyone else they cross paths with--and it's hard to blame them when slavery, rape, and cannibalism are harsh yet common occurrences in their world--there is an amazing scene in which they come across an old man making his own journey. Robert Duvall has that quiet dignity and heartache that is pitch perfect for his cameo. And if the movie is not your cup of tea, it's worth checking out for those ten minutes alone.

There's a universal heart string being strummed throughout the film concerning the unconditional devotion a father has for his son. And when life gets stripped down to the bare essentials, it shows how some lines can be crossed and yet some can never be crossed for the sake of a child. I don't remember there being a whole lot of fanfare for this movie when it hit theaters, and I'm pretty sure the Oscars forgot about it, but I think that might qualify it as a hidden gem.

August 26, 2010

Getting Graphic: "Kick-Ass" by Mark Millar

Title: Kick-Ass
Author: Mark Millar
Illustrator: John Romita Jr.
Published: Marvel Comics (2010); originally published as series in 2008
Genre: Superheroes; Comedy
ISBN 978-0-7851-3435-0

Wow, this was not exactly the graphic novel I was expecting to read. I knew it was going to be violent, as critics of the film adaptation seemed to take exception with Hit Girl's violent antics. What I didn't know was that the book was drenched in blood, piss, and more nudity that just about any Marvel comic I've ever read.

If you're not familiar with this graphic novel, the setup is pretty easy. Take a nerdy loner in high school who is looking for a way to break out of his shell, then give him the inspiration to dress up like a superhero and roam the streets looking to save the day. You might have heard on the news a few years ago about real life people who do this sort of thing. They dress up in wild costumes then go out in public and perform vigilante style justice and make citizen arrests. That might be where Millar got his inspiration from, actually.

Dave Lizewski sticks to dressing up in his green scuba suit and mask at night, so he can skulk through alleys and even wear his outfit under his regular clothes--you know, for that whole Superman feel when he rips his shirt off to reveal the costume underneath. Then he tries to confront some actual thugs. Where superheroes always get the upper-hand on lowlifes, Dave is beaten mercilessly. Punched, stomped, and even stabbed ... then run over by a car for good measure.

For some reason, he persists in his superhero fetish after physical rehabilitation. That's when he really has to hide his antics from his father, friends, and everyone else. But he also becomes a YouTube sensation when he finally beats up some bad guys, earns the name "Kick-Ass," and discovers he isn't the only one parading around the city in a costume fighting crime. Enter Hit Girl and Big Daddy.

Now that Chloe kid in the movie trailers--I haven't seen the movie yet--looks downright adorable, like a kid wearing a bad-ass Halloween costume. But in the graphic novel, Hit Girl looks like a tiny little maniac. She makes her first appearance in the book to save Kick-Ass from getting killed, and the wrath she lays upon the apartment full of gangsters is unholy. If you're not expecting something like that, then you'll do what I did and do a double-take at the pages while Hit Girl slices bad guys to pieces. An eleven year old, mind you, commits what I think is the most extreme, atrocious violence in the entire book.

Despite the fleeting shock value that comes with such stark scenes, the story does resonate on a certain level. Dave just wants to create his own identity, find himself somewhere in all the madness, and winds up seduced by the marginal fame he acquires. And the tragic circumstances of Hit Girl and her so-called origin story are just a harsh call to how messed up some parents can be. Big Daddy might be, in my estimation, a woefully unfit parent, but he's only fictional and I've seen far worse examples of parenting on the six o' clock news.

It's a good book, but it is by no means a cutesy piece of popcorn fluff for the little kids. This is a relentless, hyper-violent look at what it would really take to run around in spandex and chase villains. If there's a second volume to this, and by the looks of the ending there ought to be, then I'll definitely want to read it.

August 25, 2010

Wish List Wednesday #61: Pittacus Lore's "I Am Number Four"

Wish List Wednesday is a weekly meme I started in July '09, in which I put the spotlight on a book that is on my wish list--whether new release, blast from the past, or hidden gem.

Tomorrow marks the release of a new sci-fi novel that looks and sounds too good to resist. I have been wrong before, but sometimes a premise and a cover are all that's needed to get my attention.

Pittacus Lore--a pseudonym for James Frey of Oprah infamy--has written a novel titled, I Am Number Four. It's a bit familiar in plot, but there's something about the setting and tone that make me want to read it. A teen boy is on the run, moving from town to town across America, never staying too long and never making any friends. Then, he decides to settled down in Ohio and hopes to make a go of it there, as well as hoping those searching for him don't find him.

The big tease? The boy's an alien, the last of a batch of alien children sent to Earth because their home planet is dying. And the people looking for him don't exactly come in peace. It might sound a bit like "Roswell" or "Kyle XY," or even Superman, but there is some very positive press preceding this novel and I'm willing to give it a shot.

Heck, there's a better chance I'll read this than A Million Little Pieces. Does it sound like something you'd like to read?

August 24, 2010

Rabid Reads: "The Wild Vine" by Todd Kliman

Title: The Wild Vine (A Forgotten Grape and the Untold Story of American Wine)
Author: Todd Kliman
Published: Clarkson Potter/Publishers (2010), imprint of Crown Publishing, division of Random House
Pages: 280
Category/Genre: Nonfiction; Wine History
ISBN 978-0-307-40936-2

Here's something new I learned from reading this book: In winemaking, being described as "foxy" is not a compliment. If a wine is foxy, that basically means it smells and tastes like piss. One more reason to not drink wine, perhaps.

I'm not a wine drinker. The stuff gives me a headache if I have more than a glass or two. And even if it didn't, my tastebuds are illiterate to what makes a good wine. I've been given allegedly good wine that tasted as foxy as the cheap stuff my classmates used to guzzle on the weekends back in the day.

So, when I was contacted about reading and reviewing The Wild Vine, my initial reaction was to question how dull reading about wine would be compared to drinking it. Then I checked out the little write-up for the book on Amazon and saw it provided a kind of historical retrospective on a particular grape called the Norman that was supposed to be America's key into competing with Europe's finest wines. I don't read a lot of nonfiction, but this one sounded like there was potential to hold my attention better than most titles. I'm still not won over into the ranks of wine connoisseurs, but I have a new appreciation for the dedication and hardships of winemakers.

As America was still becoming a nation, land owners were looking for a way to exploit the fertile land and grow their own grapes for winemaking. Too bad for them, as the climate killed European grapes at every turn and the native varieties of grapes were of piss-poor quality for anything beyond vinegar--or maybe paint thinner if they'd thought to invent it. Enter Dr. Daniel Norton. The guy drove himself half-mad trying to cultivate a grape that could withstand the climate, disease, and be made into a marketable wine. The guy's exploits in not only trying to grow the grapes, but convincing others that he wasn't insane and recognize his efforts as something to be supported, are a remarkable story told deftly by Todd Kliman.

Kliman also includes some present-day interactions with a winemaker from Virginia named Jenni McCloud, who is a character all her own in this book's pages. She doesn't occupy a lot of the book, but she's a treat when she does.

If you're a foodie, a history nut, or a wine lover, I think you'd be doing yourself a favor by checking out this book. If you're a curious kitten, like me, looking to trying a book that is well outside your comfort zone, this one is worth at least considering. Kliman's writing avoids coming off as academic or listless like other nonfiction titles I've sampled over the years. It's condensed with a lot of information, but much of it comes off as conversational, which is a real help when pouring through its pages.

I'll stick with beer, though.

August 23, 2010

It Came from YouTube: F-ck Me, Ray Bradbury

Just in case you haven't seen it yet, there is an absolutely hilarious music video on YouTube dedicated to Ray Bradbury. I don't know who the singer is, but she puts Gaga to shame. If Bradbury saw this, I would pay good money to see his reaction.

On My Radar: Am I the Only One Already Tired of "The Event"?

If you've been watching NBC at all this summer--maybe, like me, you watched "Last Comic Standing"--then you've been seeing a ton of vignettes and promos for a new show called "The Event." It's a mysterious speculative fiction type of show by the looks of things, with multiple characters each playing some part in the so-called "event" that irrevocably impacts everyone's lives. By the looks of it, NBC is really banking on this show to corral all those orphaned "Lost" fans from ABC. How effective they will be at creating an addictive show remains to be seen, however.

Personally, I'm already sick of the show. I don't care. I might check out the premiere, just to see if it'll win me over, but I am sick to death with those hokey and contrived ads.

And this is why I have lost interest in a show that hasn't even debuted yet. It feels so blatant with its appeal to viewers who want multiple story arcs and multiple hanging questions. Just. Like. "Lost." Here's the thing about "The Event" though: It's not "Lost," and the commercials lead me to believe that the mystery behind the event has an expiry date. Interest and intrigue will wain quickly once the storyline is set in motion.

Look at "Defying Gravity" and "Flash Forward." Those two shows both had good casting choices--although there were a couple of choices I questioned--and intriguing premises to hook viewers. But both of those shows fizzled within weeks. Why? The mystery and suspense of each main storyline diminished over time, and the storylines on the periphery were not sufficient to hold viewers. The great thing about "Lost" that has yet to be copied was how the supporting characters had their own storylines that entertained viewers as much or more than the "Big Question" hanging over the series.

When I see ads for "The Event" with members of the cast speaking to the camera in character, I'm not intrigued. And that guy who played the government agent on "Heroes" is playing a government agent in "The Event." I have one of those weird feelings telling me that history may repeat itself. "Heroes" started strong and then fell apart after a single season. I suspect the same will happen to "The Event"--and I don't think it'll take a whole season to derail.

Maybe I'm being too much of a curmudgeon. It wouldn't be the first time. And I do enjoy being proven wrong. I just don't think I will be this fall.

August 20, 2010

Rest in Peace, Jamie Eyberg

Wednesday afternoon, I learned of the untimely and tragic death of fellow writer Jamie Eyberg.

Both Jamie and his wife Ann died last weekend at their home. One of the news articles relaying the terrible news can be found here. They are survived by their two children, Kennedy and Brendan. I can only offer my sincerest condolences to their family and friends.

I knew Jamie primarily as a writer, visiting his blog and sharing comments with him over the past year. That's how I'll remember him. For those who knew him better, they have the good fortune to have known him as friend, family man, and a thousand things more.

A memorial fund has been setup, which you can learn more about by clicking here, to help their children. Also, Aaron Polson has announced the profits of the 52 Stitches anthology will go to the fund, as will the profits from Library of Horror's witch anthology as announced by Michael West.

I'm sure all contributions to the fund, no matter how slight, are appreciated at this time. I have also added a widget which I found at Kody Boye's blog, which also announces a charity auction being organized through Library of the Living Dead. You can find the donation widget in the upper corner of the right-hand sidebar. The funds are to go to the two children. I've offered what little I can via PayPal and hope to donate more in the future.

And if you have a moment, I'd also encourage you to check out and enjoy one of Jamie's many stories. He was a talented and promising writer, and despite his passing, a measure of immortality is reached through his storytelling. Click here to see his bibliography.

Rest in peace, Jamie.

August 19, 2010

Getting Graphic: "Locke & Key: Welcome to Lovecraft" by Joe Hill

Title: Locke & Key (Volume 1): Welcome to Lovecraft
Author: Joe Hill
Illustrator: Gabriel Rodriguez
Published: IDW Publishing (2008)
Pages: 158
Genre: Fantasy/Horror
ISBN 978-1-60010-237-0

With a subtitle like "Welcome to Lovecraft," this first volume in Joe Hill's and Gabriel Rodriguez's Locke & Key series really sets up some expectations among horror fans. The name conjures some macabre and strange images, but for this graphic novel I think it's meant merely to provide some atmosphere to a noticeably shinier world than any H.P. Lovecraft ever created.

At it's heart, this is a story of a grieving family trying to come to terms with the murder of their father, Rendell Locke. As the guidance counselor for a disturbed teenager, Sam Lesser, Mr. Locke unwittingly sewed the seeds for his own death when Sam visited him at home and murdered him. Witnesses to the aftermath and nearly victims themselves, the three Locke children and their mother retreat to a small New England peninsula called Lovecraft. To a new home called Keyhouse, Rendell Locke's former home that's now cared for by his younger brother. Soon after arriving though, the youngest son, Bode, discovers the place has a mystique and history unknown to the rest of the family.

While the family is depicted at certain moments like a run-of-the-mill TV-movie cast, they come alive with each page and are very likable before long, which helps make it easy to root for them when things start going wrong. First, there's the strange "echo" at the bottom of the well in the well-house behind the main house, which befriends Bode and entices him to help get the spirit its freedom. Then, there's Keyhouse itself with a very strange door with an even stranger ability, a door that's one of many in the house. And then there's Sam Lesser who seeks to break out of prison in order to hunt down the rest of the Locke family for reasons that aren't merely his own.

I must admit to being thoroughly charmed by the artwork in this novel. Rodriguez adds an electric quality to the characters, resembling something between a conventional comic book character and a Rockwellian painting. The bloodier moments of the story come off as a bit glossier than you might expect for such gruesome scenes, but overall it really compliments the story and the characters.

As for Joe Hill's approach to developing each character, there's a lot left to explore but this is only the first volume, so there's plenty of time to dig deeper into their psyches. Bode is only a tyke and doesn't fully comprehend what's happened to his family, but he deals with it in his own way. His sister, Kinsey, is a bit angst-y and too Kristen Stewart at first but she comes around in no time to become sympathetic. The eldest kid, Tyler, is a bit harder to like at first because of his self-loathing because he blames himself over his father's death. Overtime, you appreciate his situation and what he does afterward is very sympaethic.

And while I didn't much care for the lead villain and its situation at the end of the novel, I can appreciate the twist and I am genuinely interested to see what happens in the second volume of Locke & Key. So, despite whatever flaws might exist with the book, it's easy for readers to immerse themselves in the world and get wrapped up in the mystery of Keyhouse and the Locke family's connection to it. And if nothing else, it's worth checking out for the splashy artwork.

I think there are two more volumes in this series, so I'll keep my fingers crossed that they can at least make par with this first volume.

August 18, 2010

Wish List Wednesday #60: Jeff Strand's "Dweller"

Wish List Wednesday is a weekly meme I started in July '09, in which I put the spotlight on a book that is on my wish list--whether new release, blast from the past, or hidden gem.

I'm the kind of guy who digs a good monster story. But, I have to admit that a monster terrorizing people, either on a small scale or a large scale, is an idea that is commonplace--basically ever since man drew pictures on cave walls. I mean, how many Godzilla and other cheesy sci-fi movies and the like a guy watch without becoming a bit tired of stories about monsters.

Well, it's nice when an author can offer a story involving a monster that strays from the obvious plot. Jeff Strand seems to have such a novel out now, titled Dweller. The monster in Strand's novel isn't some hulk behemoth on Godzilla's scale, but likely more along the scale of the Creature from the Black Lagoon or Frankenstein's modern day Prometheus. And the fact that the monster is befriended by an outcast of a boy is even more refreshing. Heck, the boy even named the monster Owen.

The book sounds really interesting, as it spans the lifelong relationship of the boy, Toby, and Owen through good and most certainly the bad. I'm certainly up for horror novels that walk to the beat of their own drum, and this one could be a really good one.

This book sound like something you'd be interested in reading too? If you've read it already, what did you think of it?

August 17, 2010

Rabid Reads: "The Confessions of Max Tivoli" by Andrew Sean Greer

Title: The Confessions of Max Tivoli
Author: Andrew Sean Greer
Published: Picador (2005)
Pages: 267
Genre: Romance; Speculative Fiction
ISBN 0-312-42381-0

When I first heard about this book, it was hyped as "the story Benjamin Button should have been." I have neither read nor watched The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, so I'm not qualified to say if that's true. I can say, after having read this book, that it is certainly one of the most absorbing love stories I've ever read.

Greer's novel is presented as a series of journal entries written by Max Tivoli in a pilfered notebook. Max is an old man and feels he must confess his strange and tumultuous life. For readers, things become immediately strange as Max reveals that he appears to be a boy of about twelve years of age as he writes his words. Thought strange by all who were around for his birth think him strange or tragic, including his parents, because he was born an old man in appearance and has aged backwards from that day onward.

Growing up, he has but one true friend, an affable boy named Hughie who shows no aversion or morbid curiosity to Max's condition. As for love, that's part of Max's confessions, as his first love becomes essentially his only love. He meets a girl named Alice and is taken with her on sight, but to her he appears to be a man in his sixties. As a rule handed down by his mother, Max is forced to live his life by how people regard his appearance. If he looks like an old man, he must act like an old man. So, his love for Alice goes unrequited until a fateful night when she comes to him distraught. A brief indiscretion draws the ire of Alice's mother, on more than one level that's explained in the book, and Max loses Alice from his life.

Things turn around for him by chance when after many years, and looking all the younger, he meets Alice again. But she obviously doesn't recognize him, so he assumes a new identity to try and win her affection again.

I really don't do this novel justice by explaining it here, and I've only really touched upon a smattering of what's in its pages. For such a brief novel of less than three hundred pages, the lifelong story of Max Tivoli is rich and ingenuous. By the time I finished it, I felt like I'd walked through a small epic. There's a little bit of pathos, some humor, and a couple of surprises. Some of the surprises are telegraphed, but I didn't find the lack of being awestruck diminished the story. I was more than happy to go along for the ride.

I would say this is a good choice for any fan of romance stories, or coming-of-age tales, or speculative works involving time and aging. I found it to be a rewarding reading experience, and I'll have to make it a point to seek out more of Greer's work in the years ahead.

Book Trailer: The Confessions of Max Tivoli

I will have a review of this book posted momentarily. But, in the mean time, here is the book trailer that I found on YouTube. Enjoy.

August 16, 2010

On My Radar: Ouroboros, My Favorite Book from 2009 Is Getting Re-Released

Last November I reviewed a book that came out in limited release through Arcane Wisdom, titled Ouroboros by Michael Kelly and Carol Weekes. It wound up becoming my favorite novel of 2009. You can read my review by clicking HERE to get an idea of what I loved so much about the book.

Now, word is out that the book is getting another release. But this time it'll be coming out as a trade paperback through Dark Regions Press. I'm just pleased as punch to hear that the book is getting another chance to reach a wider audience, and I'll gladly schill it to anyone who reads my blog.

So, if you might be interested in checking out this novel, I encourage you to click HERE to see the order page and get all the information you'll need on how to get your hands on it.

Michael Kelly's Blog: Lonesome Crow

August 13, 2010

Meme, Myself, & I: Must Love Dogs

The whole premise for this meme is pretty simple: If you're tagged, you create a blog entry littered with screen shots from horror films that all follow a central theme. B-Sol of Vault of Horror did images of murder, then tagged Andre of The Horror Digest. She did a fantastic blog post of images of "beautiful blood." Now, she has tagged me.

I'm not sure how original my theme is, but the first cohesive idea that popped into my head was animals in horror films. Then I figured I could whittle that down to dogs in horror. Hello, Cujo!


I Am Legend

A Boy and His Dog

Independence Day

Resident Evil

The Breed

Zoltan: Hound of Dracula

The Thing

Return of the Living Dead

The Hills Have Eyes

Pet Cemetery 2

Man's Best Friend

The Lost Boys

Invasion of the Body Snatchers

As for five people to tag, I'm going to go with:

  1. The Doctor Is In ...

  2. The Drunken Severed Head

  3. Zombies Don't Run

  4. Written by Sin

  5. Scare Sarah

Rabid Rewind: Green Zone

Title: Green Zone
Starring: Matt Damon, Greg Kinear, Tom Wilkinson
Director: Paul Greengrass
Writer: Brian Helgeland
Released: Universal Pictures (2010)
Genre: War; Action

When this movie first hit theaters, I read reviews for it that basically dismissed it as "Jason Bourne goes to war." Well, to a mild extent the critics are right in that Matt Damon's character in Green Zone, Miller, is just a one-man ass-kicking machine through much of the film. However, the subject matter of this movie over the Bourne series takes Damon's character into darker territory, which isn't something you might expect considering how gritty some of those moments in the Bourne series got.

The movie starts off with Miller and his team hopscotching around Iraq looking for WMDs in the earliest years of the second Iraq War. Sticking true to reality, the teams are finding jack all and Miller is really starting to question the quality of the intelligence they're receiving. But when he starts asking questions, he gets verbally smacked down at every turn. Frustrated with not getting any answers and continually sending his men on missions he knows will be fruitless, Miller ends up working with an embedded journalist as well as a CIA operative who are each looking for their own answers about why no one is finding WMDs.

The whole political thriller aspect of this movie is pretty fun to watch, and with a cast that includes Greg Kinear and Tom Wilkonson, the tense dialogue is easy to get swept up in. As for the action, I have no idea how plausible any of it is. I'm not a combat afficianado, so the tactics used in some of the action scenes may very well be inauthentic. They are very engaging though, and considering a fair number of the lesser roles are played by actual American soldiers, my suspension of disbelief comes easy.

Watching the movie, I couldn't help comparing it at times to The Hurt Locker. It's unavoidable if you've seen Kathryn Bigelow's Oscar-winning film. And while Green Zone is a good movie, when held up against other high quality war films of the past couple decades, it starts to pale. And the whole "WMD fraud" through line of the film came off as pretentious and preachy, like a Hollywood liberal getting paid a bunch of money to wag his finger at the Bush Administration for an unnecessary war. It was especially nauseating when Miller is spouting disillusioned dialogue like it's his first day at war. I doubt soldiers are that naive when they are made aware of the politics behind their mission.

Dick Cheney and Paul Bremmer, who Greg Kinear seems to embody through his performance, likely hate this film. Michael Moore and Ariana Huffington probably love it. Me, I kind of liked it, but I'll be more likely to watch The Hurt Locker again before I bother with this for a second time.

Book Vs. Movie: The Men Who Stare at Goats

Some things are just stranger than fiction. And if you don't believe me just read Jon Ronson's book, The Men Who Stare at Goats. The fact that it's a nonfiction title is astounding, because had I not known that before reading it, I'd have been sure if was utter fabrication.

When it comes the realms of science-fiction, there have arguably been more sparks of inspiration towards today's technology from books and movies than we might care to admit. The American military apparently is paying attention when it comes to ideas about mind control, teleportation, and extra sensory perception. The military brass entertained thoughts of practical application on the battlefield, but it's how they went about exploring those ideas that is awe-inspiring.

Turning Ronson's book into a movie though seemed to be a difficult task, at least I thought so. There are lots of pieces to the puzzle to the book, but there isn't an obvious plot there for a Hollywood film. It'd need a balance between satire and drama. Thankfully, the screenplay was written in such a way to focus on a couple of amalgamated characters and placing them in some of the crazier moments from the book. It also doesn't hurt to have such a strong cast, led by George Clooney, Ewan McGregor, Jeff Bridges, and Kevin Spacey.

Bob Wilton (Ewan McGregor) is a journalist looking for a story in Iraq during the war, and essentially represents Ronson and a throughway for the audience to see the action. Wilton meets Lyn Cassidy (George Clooney), a retired soldier with a past in the New Earth Army, which trained in some very unorthodox methods of warfare. While the two travel through the desert, Cassidy gives Wilton a glimpse into the past exploits of the military, and even shows some of his alleged abilities like cloud bursting and remote viewing. But the deeper Wilton gets into his story, the crazier and more real things get.

It's pretty funny just to see how the two characters play off of each other, but the real comedy comes from the flashbacks involving Cassidy's training from Bill Django (Jeff Bridges), a new age philosopher soldier, and the antagonism of Larry Hooper (Kevin Spacey) who keeps trying to upstage the rest of the trainees. Plus, there are a couple of amusing cameos in the movie from Robert Patrick as a Black Water style contractor and Stephen Lang (of Avatar fame now) as a brigadier general who tries to run through walls.

Despite whatever difficulties come from turning a nonfiction title into a motion picture, director Grant Heslov and screenwriter Peter Straughan do a pretty good job. They even manage to fit in snippets of Ronson's own words directly into the film, but overall the movie carries a voice of its own.

Winner: The Book. While the movie is entertaining, the ending comes off as a bit pat or bland--almost like a Scooby Doo ending, if you will. Ronson's book, while offering plenty of humor, also shows the serious side of what was going on and some of the darker elements that remained after the First Earth Battalion was scrapped. The movie is certainly worth watching for the performances from the cast, but to really appreciate the context behind the carnage, I think you'd be best off reading the book.

August 12, 2010

On My Radar: Cate Gardner's "Strange Men in Pinstripe Suits" Available for Pre-Order

Anthony J. Rapino, whose own debut novel (Soundtrack to the End of the World) is due for release next year from Bad Moon Books, hit me with a meme/contest this week. It's all to do with the impending release of Cate Gardner's short story collection, Strange Men in Pinstriped Suits.

The book is available for pre-order right now, just so you know, and at a discount of $1.99 off of the cover price. To help celebrate this release, Cate and Strange Publications have one heck of a contest going on. There's two prize packages to choose from, both of which are incredibly cool. But don't take my word for it; below is the meme that goes along with the contest.


The 'Strange Men in Pinstripe Suits' award is given to only the strangest of folk, and as the recipient of such you are deemed very strange indeed. Congratulations.

Now you must go forth and celebrate the strangeness of friends (and strangers - strangers are always allowed) by nominating blogs run by strange folk. *Beware, some people don't like you to refer to them as strange…Try to avoid them if possible.

Some rules:

1. Add the logo of the award to your blog post.
2. Add a link to the person who awarded it to you (don't mess with strange people).
3. Nominate seven other blogs telling us why you think the recipient is strange enough to deserve the award.
4. Leave a message for those nominated on their blogs.
5. And, if you email catephoenix(at)gmail(dot)com and tell her you've received the award for your strangeness, she'll enter you in the biggest kick-ass Strange Men competition ever. Details over at (click on the award link on the home page)


Pretty neat, huh? Well, here are my seven nominations for blogs and bloggers with varying degrees of strangeness:

  1. Adventures of Cecelia Bedelia - Celia isn't so much strange, so far as I know, but her reading tastes are eclectic enough to warrant nomination.

  2. Dollar Bin Horror - Only Rhonny could blend an affinity for horror with a frugal eye for consumerism. God love her.

  3. Ink and Paper - Jo has been blogging about fantasy literature, as well as YA titles, for over a year now. And I think David Eddings is her all-time favorite author, so that's strange enough for me.

  4. Little Miss Zombie - Melissa is Canadian and likes horror, both of which are strange characteristics--speaking strictly as a Canadian horror fan.

  5. Presenting Lenore - Lenore enjoys dystopian fiction. Don't believe me? Check out her blog. She might be addicted. Frankly, I'm worried.

  6. Too Much Horror Fiction - I thought I read too much horror fiction. Nope, not even close. Will's blog is firmly rooted in the horror genre, so he might like a chance to win some more. Or maybe he'd prefer the Beetlejuice action figure.

  7. vvb32 Reads - With reading habits that run the gamut between YA, zombies, vampires, steampunk, Japanese, and Jane Austen, is it any wonder why I'd send her a nomination?

Getting Graphic: "Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World (Vol. 2)" by Bryan Lee O' Malley

Title: Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World (Vol. 2)

Author/Illustrator: Bryan Lee O' Malley
Published: Oni Press (2005)
ISBN 1-932664-12-2

I dig snark. I just do. And Scott Pilgrim provides plenty of it in page after page of twenty-something angst and hijinks. When I read the first Scott Pilgrim book a few months ago, I enjoyed the tone, the art style, and the saturation of modern pop culture in every panel.

Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World picks up where the first book left off. Scott's dating his uber-crush, Ramona, and he's already vanquished one of her evil ex-boyfriends. But now the plot thickens. A lot.

Scott still hasn't officially broken up with his current seventeen year old girlfriend, Knives, who is just a little obsessive about him. Okay, she's a cross between Hello Kitty and Fatal Attraction. Then there's Scott's band and their opportunity to open for a hot new band. The hang up there, however, is that the band is led by Scott's ex-girlfriend.

The story has a couple more fights with the evil ex-boyfriends, and even what might be called a bonus fight, but the focus of this story seems to be on the blossoming relationship between Scott and Ramona. I'm not sure if I'd call it a more introspective volume than the first, but it sure adds more depth to Scott's life and relationships with everyone around him.

I must say that I'm really warming up to this series of comic books, thanks in large part to the buzz surrounding the film adaptation with Michael Cera. I just have to wade my way through the next four volumes before I get around to seeing the movie. The pop culture references and blase attitude towards the extraordinary window dressing given to Scott's reality are really fun. I hope to see more from the other books.

August 11, 2010

Wish List Wednesday #59: 3 Novellas

Wish List Wednesday is a weekly meme I started in July '09, in which I put the spotlight on a book that is on my wish list--whether new release, blast from the past, or hidden gem.

As much as I love a good novel, there is something to be said for a good novella. They're a bit of the red-headed stepchild in fiction, because they're too short to be a full-fledged novel and too long to be a short story. I suspect the gradual rise in popularity of e-books could help bring about a new renaissance for the novella length story.

This week, I thought I'd point out three novellas I have heard some very good things about and would enjoy the chance to read for myself. As hard to find as some novels are, novellas are like four-leaf clovers--damn near impossible to find them in a bookstore.

Chasing the Dragon by Nicholas Kaufmann - This is one that is supposedly out in paperback this year, so my chances of seeing it on a shelf somewhere has increased incrementally. I hope I do spy it somewhere because it sounds like a compelling and fun read. Saint George is fabled to have killed a dragon, but he really didn't. The dragon lived and has been up to its terrible ways for centuries, even protected by an army of zombies. And it's up to a descendant of St. George--a heroin addicted descendant, no less--to hunt down and slay the dragon once and for all. Doesn't that sound enticing?

Miranda by John R. Little - This one has been on my wish list for over a year now. It's like an urban myth for me, because every time it's mentioned it is raved as an absolute treasure to read, and one of the most beautifully written pieces of horror fiction in years--and I can't find it anywhere. Grrr. I think it falls into the category of "slipstream" fiction as it deals with a character who ages backwards, kind of like Benjamin Button.

The Eyes of the Carp by T.M. Wright - Have you ever seen a carp? Not exactly horrific, and not exactly a fish I'd say deserved to be used in a title. I first heard the title of this story and wondered: Is this a story about an evil fish? Can you blame me? In truth, it's a ghost story and by an author heralded as one of the best ghost story writers alive. He's been described as an intellectual author, a cerebral author, and an author who will force his readers to keep up with him. I'm game, and this story sounds like a good start in familiarizing myself with Wright's work.

August 10, 2010

Rabid Reads: "The Hellbound Heart" by Clive Barker

Title: The Hellbound Heart
Author: Clive Barker
Published: HarperCollins (2007); originally published in 1986
Pages: 164
Genre: Horror
ISBN 978-0-06-145288-8

I can't even remember how long it's been since I saw Hellraiser, but I'm pretty sure the movie resembled little of this novel of Clive Barker's. My memory has been known to betray me on occasion, though.

The novel comes off as a ghastlier version of British horror than what I've read before, with a house haunted in a roundabout way by a race of being from another dimension known as the Cenobites. Actually, they simply lay in wait for anyone who can solve the intricate puzzle box that has existed for ages. I'm not too familiar with Lovecraft's work, but I suspect this novel might be more akin to that brand of storytelling.

In a little townhouse Frank, a lecherous and insatiable rogue, manages to unlock the box and discovers a portal into a world that he believes promises new discoveries in lust, debauchery, and unparalleled hedonism. Instead, he is thrust into a hellish distortion of his desires. With the house seemingly abandoned, Frank's brother Rory moves in with fiance, Julia, in tow. While Rory is illiterate to the messages inside the house, Julia comes in contact with a ravaged form of Frank who wishes to escape back into the real world.

The book is remarkably brief, basically a novella, and still manages to feel like a full-length novel. The horrors feel real enough as you read, but there is a bit more distance from the gore than I usually find with Barker's early work--welcome to some readers, a disappointment to others. I found it was a satisfying read, but I admit to failing in seeing its place on such a high pedestal. It's good, don't get me wrong, but I found the erratic viewpoint in sections to be distracting, plus the Cenobites played a disappointingly minor role.

I'd still recommend it to any horror fan who has yet to read it, though I'd encourage them to ignore the hype and try to read it with a fresh slate. Also, don't expect Pinhead to make any cameo appearances.