September 30, 2011

Rabid Reads: "The Hum and the Shiver" by Alex Bledsoe

The Hum and the Shiver
by Alex Bledsoe
Tor Books (2011)
304 pages
ISBN 9780765327444

I received an advance uncorrected proof of this novel early in the summer, eager to read my first Alex Bledsoe novel after hearing good things about Blood Groove and Dark Jenny. But what I wasn't expecting, even after reading the plot summary on the back of the book, was the kind of story Alex had cooked up in The Hum and the Shiver.

Set in the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee, Private Brownyn Hyatt has returned home to great fanfare as a wounded war hero from Iraq. She doesn't feel like a hero, however, emotionally wounded as well as physically. Her real healing begins once back home with her parents and younger brother in the hills outside of town, among her people, the Tufa, a rather mysterious race with no known origin--they were simply there when the European settlers arrived. Music plays heavily in the Tufa heritage, and it's through Brownyn's reintroduction to music through her mandolin, Magda, she hopes to start feeling normal again.

But, a haint is looming around her family's home, a ghostly omen that waits for Brownyn with a threat of death in the family--and not necessarily hers. If spirits weren't haunting enough, her past comes back to visit her as well. A wild child with a reputation as "The Brownynator", her restless spirit is still trying to find its way, as her ex-boyfriend tries to rekindle their hard-edged romance, and reporters lurk around every corner to get her life story. Not to mention, a new preacher in the area is compelled to get to know the aloof war hero, too.

While I originally thought this novel would concern itself primarily with the haint and its deathly premonitions, and what Brownyn must do to prevent someone close to her from dying, the book is much less plot driven than it is hinged on the strength of its characters. Brownyn is at once tough as nails, but vulnerable to her fiery demeanor and aimless recovery. And the specter of death poses as much a threat to her reliving her trauma in the war as it does to enduring any impending tragedy in the family. She's the kind of girl, who at arm's length would earn the reputation as promiscuous and an all-round bad seed, but there's a genuine and sympathetic story to how she earned that reputation.

The supporting characters came off equally strong too, with a steely father who wants to protect his daughter without coddling her, and a mother who is relieved to have her home, yet harbors her own tumultuous emotions around Brownyn's return and future. The preacher is likable as well, offering a great outsider's view of Brownyn and the Tufa, as he tries to learn more about her and build a congregation among a people with no need or want of him and his religion. Even the "villains" are spared the standard template and given sincere motivations for their behavior. Her ex-boyfriend might be a grade-A dick, but at least you learn why and can relate to a small degree.

The book does take its fantastical turn about halfway through, and honestly, I found it a bit jarring when it happened. I was worried it might throw the pace of the novel off and send the story veering off into left field, but once those elements were finally brought out into the open, it all seemed to fit quite well. I did find there was one character, the reporter with a Tufa connection, to be a bit tacked on, it didn't really hinder the story. As a whole, the book is as much a modest bit of magic as the Tufa. Strong storytelling, damn near perfect characterization and dialogue, and a wholly satisfying end. I'm even more eager to read more of Alex's work after reading The Hum and the Shiver, and I bet you will too.

September 29, 2011

Chasing Tale for September 29th, 2011: Ray Bradbury, Shock Totem, Sarah Waters ...

Where the heck did summer go? Man, that was fast. Oh well, autumn is my time to shine, as opposed to summer which is my time to swelter. This time of year is great for another reason: Halloween!

I don't go crazy over Halloween, but it is a very cool holiday when you think about it. As a kid, you get to disguise yourself and prowl the neighborhood with friends and extort junk food from strangers. Try that any other day of the year and you'll be labeled a delinquent. And as a man, you get one day of the year to dress up as your favorite Sailor Moon character without that specter of shame hovering over you at the supermarket. Did I write Sailor Moon? I meant Iron Man--yeah, Iron Man.

Kids have to be careful these days, though. The streets are dangerous with bullies and pedophiles, and apparently apple juice if Dr. Oz has anything to say about it. It was a safer time back in my day, when the worst I had to worry about was a razorblade in my candy apple. Ah, memories.

Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury - I've wanted this one for a while, mentioning it way back in Wish List Wednesday #52, and actually found a copy at a used-book shop. I've seen plenty of copies of Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451 and The Martian Chronicles, but this was the first copy of Something Wicked I've ever seen on a store shelf. About f--king time if you ask me. And I do believe this will be my Halloween read this year.

Lockdown: Escape from Furnace by A. Gordon Smith - I recently hosted a giveaway with this book as the prize courtesy of Macmillian Publishing. I've had it on my wish list since last year, since YA horror doesn't seem to be as prevalent as I'd care to see. I finally received my review copy in the mail, so I'll have to tear into it soon.

The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters - I mentioned this book in WLW #74 and actually had a chance to borrow it earlier in the year, but I still wanted my own copy. Thankfully, I found a hardcover copy of it at the annual library book sale. It was the only one of the few books I bought that I had on my watch list, the rest I just grabbed at random and got out there due to the shoulder-to-shoulder crowd. I hate crowds, so I count myself lucky to have gotten one book I wanted.

Shock Totem #4 edited by K. Allen Wood - I won a signed copy of Shock Totem's fourth issue from Lee Thompson, one of its contributing authors, and a rising name in horror. I recently read and reviewed the inaugural issue of Shock Totem, which was first published back in 2009. And that issue really got my taste buds craving more of the macabre. I suspect this will satiate my appetite ... for a little while. I've already read a couple of the stories (Lee's included), and this issue might be even better than the first.

That's what's new on my bookshelf. What did you add to yours?

September 28, 2011

It's back ... and this time it's personal. The Return of the Monster Movie Marathon!!!

Last year, I hosted a week of guest posts leading into Halloween called the MonsterMovie Marathon. I thought it turned out nicely with a lot of authors and bloggers offering up their thoughts on their favorite movie monsters. This year, I'm bringing it back and doing things on a slightly larger scale, stretching things out for a whole three weeks. Every single weekday will feature a guest post from an author or blogger, while I'll be using the weekends to blog about a few of the monster movies I've enjoyed recently--and even a few books I've read with monsters in them.

Plus, I'll be including a couple of giveaways for readers this year. One of the prizes will be an audiobook copy of Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters by Ben H. Winters and Jane Austen. Another will be announced on October 24th to coincide with the Spooktacular Giveaway Blog Hop.

"Monster" is a broad term in this marathon. Oh, you can count on the giant monsters like Godzilla and King Kong, but don't forget the Universal-style monsters like Frankenstein and The Creature from the Black Lagoon. Then, you've got the monsters that have saturated the pop culture landscape like vampires and zombies. Oh, and don't forget cuddly monsters like the Muppets, or the oddball monsters like killer tomatoes, and why not some of those mythical creatures like the Minotaur or the Kraken.

So be sure to check out the blog throughout October for all your monster needs. Here's a look at the schedule:

Oct. 7th - Monster Movie Marathon Giveaway: Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters
Oct. 8th - my review of the Norwegian film Trollhunter
Oct. 9th - my review of the third novel in Jonathan Maberry's Pine Deep trilogy, Bad Moon Rising
Oct. 10th - Carol Weekes, author of Terribillis and The Color of Bone
Oct. 11th - Louise Bohmer, author of The Black Act
Oct. 12th - Tim Marquitz, author of Armageddon Bound,
Oct. 13th - Pam from The Midnyte Reader
Oct. 14th - Tim McGregor, screenwriter and author of Bad Wolf
Oct. 15th - my review of the animated kids movie Monsters Vs. Aliens
Oct. 16th - my review of Steve Vernon's middle-grade novel, Sinking Deeper
Oct. 17th - Mark A. Gunnells, author of Asylum
Oct. 18th - Peter from TheMan Eating Bookworm
Oct. 19th - Rosey from Rosey's Review
Oct. 20th - Amy Grech, author of Blanket of White
Oct. 21st - Eva from Darkeva's Dark Delights
Oct. 22nd - my review of the SyFy original movie Dinocroc Vs. Supergator
Oct. 23rd - my review of Cherie Priest's historical horror nove, Those Who Went Remain There Still
Oct. 24th - Velvet from vvb32reads
Oct. 25th - Ryan from Wordsmithsonia
Oct. 26th - Zoe E. Witten, author of Peter the Wolf
Oct. 27th - Jennifer from Book Den
Oct. 28th - Michael West, author of Cinema of Shadows
Oct. 29th - my review of the Hammer Films classic, The Mummy
Oct. 30th - my review of Jeff Strand's body horror thrillride, Benjamin's Parasite
Oct. 31st - Monster Movie Marathon Wrap-Up
Nov. 1st - Giveaway winners announced

There's going to be lots of good stuff to be read through October. I've had a chance to read the first few contributions to come in and the topics are as diverse as the guests themselves. Just like last year, actually. I hope you'll stop by, check out what everyone has to say on their monsters of choice, and leave a comment or two and share your own opinions.

September 27, 2011

Rabid Reads: "To the Devil, My Regards" by Victor Gischler & A. Neil Smith

To the Devil, My Regards
by Victor Gischler & A. Neil Smith
Kindle Edition (2011)

In case you're wondering: No, the Devil does not appear in this novella. Z.Z. DelPresto, the narrator of this little tale, does have to go through hell to solve who murdered the daughter of his client.

DelPresto, is a private eye, eking out a living down south in Florida and Alabama. His latest client is an ill-tempered business mogul has hired him to tail the guy's wife, convinced she's being unfaithful. While doing so, DelPresto is confronted by the seventeen-year-old daughter, which winds up becoming a wild trist that ends with her dead and DelPresto caught by the police over her corpse with the knife in his hands. Uh oh.

After being released by police, following an intense--and briefly violent--interrogation, DelPresto hits the streets to find out who did it. But as much as he is on the hunt, others are hunting him. The story starts off very strong, with a great blend of humor and violence, as DelPresto basically gets his ass handed to him by cops and crooks alike. He tries to piece together who would have motive to kill the girl and not get killed himself in the process. Then, midway through the novella, there was a bit of a lull. At least to me it felt like the pace of the book had slowed or lost momentum, but by the third act it picks up again and offers a satisfying, albeit a familiar end.

It's not the kind of story that reinvents the wheel, but it is told with great precision, and wastes no time at all. This is a streamlined story that brings the goods. Fans of the private eye genre may be better equipped to say how well-worn the plot might be, but DelPresto was a great character through which to see the story told. If there are more collaborations in the works between Gischler and Smith, I say bring them on.

September 26, 2011

Rabid Rewind: The Walking Dead (Season One)

I was late to the dance when it came to The Walking Dead. I didn't start reading the comic books until this year, so I had no clue what to expect when in the hype machine began at ComicCon 2010 for the TV series. And when the show finally premiered on AMC, a channel I don't have, I had to wait for a chance to see it as a DVD collection. Well, this past summer I finally got the chance to see it, and now I can appreciate what all the hype was about.

As the first episode, "Days Gone Bye," starts with Sheriff Rick Grimes crossing paths with a little girl turned zombie and roundly blowing her brains out, Frank Darabont lets the audience know that this is not going to be run-of-the-mill popcorn fare. Within the first two minutes, it is about as bleak and violent as it can get. But, it does get more bleak--and most certainly more violent. And, while the whole waking up from a coma to a post-apocalyptic landscape is far from original, like the graphic novel, it worked in setting tone and the stage for which the story would play out. Plus, taking a bicycle from a legless zombie offered its own macabre spin.

There were only six episodes to this first season, which seems really strange in the world of American TV, but the concise nature of that first season gave it a potent vibe, forcing the creators to pack a lot of punch in those episodes and get the audience hooked, not to mention willing to wait an entire year for the second season. The show seems to spend even more time getting to know each character than the graphic novels, and there are even a couple of characters I don't recall seeing in the first few volumes of the books. The show effectively strikes its own chord and sets itself apart from not only the source material, but anything you can find on television.

In fact, there are moments through this series that feel like they slipped under the censors radar. Yeah, CSI and other forensic shows have some gruesome scenes from time to time--poking around inside cadavers isn't pretty business-but The Walking Dead has to be the first time I've ever seen characters smear their clothes with zombie guts to camouflage their scent. The gruesome appearance of some scenes with the zombies are not the focus of the show, which is important if the show is going to survive with a mainstream audience. It's the brutal nature of the relationships, and how some endure while others disintegrate over the course of events, which really acts as the heart of the show and keeps it moving forward.

The cast seems pitch-perfect. Andrew Lincoln captures the frailty and resilience of Sheriff Grimes, and disguises his English accent really well. I had no clue he wasn't American until I watched the DVD extras. Sarah Wayne Callies is superb as Frank's wife, Rachel. Jon Bernthal seems to be the guy of actor born to play the conflicted heel, as he portrays Shane, Rick's best friend, and Rachel's secret lover in the wake of the apocalypse. An added treat was seeing Michael Rooker as Merle, the hard-nosed bigot biker, since he is always fun to watch in films and television.

The second season starts very soon, but I won't be able to see it until it comes out on DVD. Ah well. But if you have a chance to watch it, I say do it. And go find the first season on DVD somewhere, and watch that. It ought to be very easy to get caught up on what has happened so far, and the cliffhanger at the end of the first season promises to give some even more brutal storylines heading into the second season. It's just a shame that Frank Darabont has walked away from the show. I don't know why that is, but I really hope The Walking Dead doesn't go the road of NBC's Heroes, which fell apart at the seams after its first season.

September 22, 2011

Wish List Wednesday #103: Tim Pratt's "Briarpatch"

One of the convenient ways of keeping track of all the new book releases month by month is a great review blog called Fantasy Book Critic. And, thanks to them, I'm on the lookout for another well-established author whose work I've yet to read.

Tim Pratt has more than a couple novels to his credit, but his latest really caught my eye with both its premise and its publisher. Briarpatch strikes me as a dark fantasy with some chilling--and quirky--undercurrents. Here's the write-up via Amazon:

Darrin's life has been going downhill ever since his girlfriend Bridget walked out on him without a word of explanation six months ago. Soon after losing her, he lost his job, and his car, and eventually his enthusiasm for life. He can't imagine things getting worse - until he sees Bridget again, for the first time since she walked out, just moments before she leaps to her death from a bridge. In his quest to find out why Bridget took her own life, he encounters a depressive (and possibly immortal) cult leader; a man with a car that can drive out of this world and into others; a beautiful psychotic with a chrome shotgun; and a bridge that, maybe, leads to heaven. Darrin's journey leads him into a place called the Briarpatch, which is either the crawlspace of the universe, or a series of ambitious building projects abandoned by god, or a tangle of alternative universes, depending on who you ask. Somewhere in that disorderly snarl of worlds, he hopes to find Bridget again... or at least a reason to live without her.
Sounds good to me. It's being published by Chizine, and I've yet to be disappointed by anything of theirs I've read. What do you think? Sound like something you'd want to read, too?

Rabid Reads: "The Rift" by R.J. Clark

The Rift
self-published (2011)

As if New Orleans hasn't been through enough in this reality, Ryan Clark has created an alternate reality in which a literal rift into Hell was opened up back in the seventies, turning the city into ground zero for all kinds of demonic carnage. Things are kept in check, however, and a macabre kind of status quo is created. Humans and demons co-existing, more of less, in the Big Easy. And at the center of all, there's Matt Faustus, a private eye who is possessed--literally.

For Matt Faustus, the whole Hell on Earth takes a very personal turn, particularly since the rift opened on the day he was born--not to mention an especially nasty bugger of a demon became bound to his very soul. Now, he walked with a cross around his neck, and not your run-of-the-mill crucifix necklace either. No, this one basically keeps things relatively in check, though the demon can still do some damage by way of enhancing Matt's strength and healing abilities.

Having a demon caged in your body is one thing, but trying to hunt another down is something else entirely, and that's precisely what he has to do when a little girl is abducted from her home by the demon the girl's affluent family owned. Yeah, some demons wind up as some kind of weird slave labor if you can believe that. As Matt investigates, he crosses paths with all sorts of nasty creatures from the depths of Hell, on this side of the Rift and the other. The worst of which just might be his ex-girlfriend, too.

I gotta say this book was a pleasant surprise. At first glance, I wasn't expecting a whole lot after reading the plot summary for this one on Amazon. But within the first couple of chapters, with the brash demeanor of Matt Faustus, the fast-paced action he's thrown into, and the vivid--albeit hellish--landscape R.J. Clark creates in this novel, I was hooked. The pulpy side of things gets a little overdone in spots, and some of Matt's inner monologue feels way too cliched more than once, but the overall appeal of this book was undeniable.

If you enjoy high-octane action with a heavy dose of the fantastic, you will likely find what you need here.


Getting Graphic: "Liberty Meadows: Eden (Book 1)" by Frank Cho

Liberty Meadows: Eden (Book 1)
created, written, & illustrated by Frank Cho
Image Comics (2002)
ISBN 1582402604

I've always loved comic books, even if it was from far, particularly the artists. And one of the artists whose name I have heard repeatedly as one of the best in recent years is Frank Cho. So, I went out and tracked down a copy of this graphic novel that is a huge collection of Cho's Liberty Meadows comic strip.

And it kind of goes to show how unfamiliar I am with most comic books, because I had no idea this was a collection of comic strips rather than a collection of 32-page at a time comic books. That being said, Liberty Meadows was a nice change of pace from the graphic novels I've been reading over the last couple of years. I don't read comic strips like I used to when I was a kid. I couldn't afford to buy comic books when I was a kid, so I got by with reading the comic strips in my parents' newspapers and the Sunday Funnies.

Liberty Meadows, in case you've never seen it before, is set in a nature sanctuary and revolves around the day-to-day lives of some quirky, and some outright deranged, animals and the people looking after them. There's Frank the vet, a bookish, buttoned-down kind of guy, and then there's his unrequited love, Brandy the animal psychiatrist, who is way out of his league. The boy-meets-girl elements to the book are charming, and exemplify the whole nerdy guy idolizing a pinup girl, since Brandy looks like she stepped right out of a pinup calendar, though it's her empathy and intelligence that are highlighted most.

The animals are the stars, though. There's a retired circus bear who looks more like a feral koala, a hypochondriacal frog, and a lustful slacker pig. For me, however, the stars were Truman the duck and his best friend, a dachshund named ????. Truman's naivity, deferential demeanor, and childlike wonder were absolutely charming. Frankly, I wanted a pet duck after reading this book ... until I remembered what ducks were like in real life.

Sometimes, when you read and review books that are predominantly dark fiction, a light-hearted respite is needed from time to time, and this book fit the bill. A wonderful mixture of cuteness and mayhem.

September 20, 2011

Getting Graphic: "The Walking Dead Vol. 3" by Robert Kirkman & Charlie Adlard

The Walking Dead Vol. 3: Safety Behind Bars
written by Robert Kirkman
illustrated by Charlie Adlard
Image Comics (2005)
ISBN 9781582404875

At the end of Volume 2, Rick Grimes and what remained of his get-along gang had left Atlanta in search of safer ground from the zombie hordes, and had discovered an abandoned prison. But, as Volume 3 begins, it turns out the prison isn't entirely abandoned. Once inside they find four people remaining--prison inmates, no less.

Tensions mount despite the new barrier in place between them and the zombies outside, as one prisoner admits to murdering his wife for cheating on him. The group stays and starts to make themselves at home behind bars, sorting out supplies and bedding arrangements, clearing out the dead and undead from the unoccupied areas of the prison. Rick even travels back to the farmhouse they'd left to encourage Hershel and his family to join them and turn the prison into a community, pooling their resources.

But, threats loom.

Despite the iron bars, concrete walls, and barbed-wire fences, the zombies are still everywhere, and everyone has to stay on their toes since warm weather is returning and the things seem to be getting a little more active. Then there is the whole shacked up with convicts dilemma. Plus, Tyreese's daughter and her boyfriend are still plotting something behind everyone's back and see the prison as the perfect place to carry it out.

The characters ring true on just about every page, though some of the dialogue is tiresome with its exposition and info-dumping. The motivations and conflicts between many of the characters feel genuine, and once again the dread of bad things to come germinates with them rather than the shambling corpses that surround them. The backdrop of a prison has been used in a lot of different movies and books, but this had its own vibe and felt brand new.

But, holy moly, is it bleak. Robert Kirkman et al show no remorse and just when you catch of whiff of contentment or happiness, the rug is pulled and the horrors awaiting them are even more gruesome than the last time. I loved this book, and feel kind of guilty for it, because the story as a whole is still so depressing. The characters persevere, however, and I'm looking forward to what lays in wait for them in the fourth volume.


September 19, 2011

Rabid Rewind: Hobo with a Shotgun

Hobo with a Shotgun
starring Rutger Hauer, Gregory Smith
directed by Jason Eisner
written by John Davies
released 2010

How do you make a really good movie out of nothing but a fake trailer? Well, you don't. You make Hobo with a Shotgun.

The plot is the movie title. You've got a hobo, played by none other than Rutger Hauer, who arrives in a city ruled by a criminal element led by a psychopath called the Drake. The hobo just wants to scrape up enough money to buy a lawnmower though, so he can start a horticulture business I suppose. He picked a crap town to do it in, since I don't see any lawns in a drab cityscape populated by the morally bankrupt. Thugs, crooked cops, pedophiles, pimps, prostitutes, and a guy with a camera exploiting the homeless. But, he's eventually dragged into the fight against evil and instead buys a shotgun--and a shitload of shells.

I gotta say that out of all the movies associated with the Grindhouse franchise, Hobo with a Shotgun only interested me for two reasons: 1) Rutger Hauer, who I haven't seen in a starring role in ages; 2) the movie is filmed in Halifax, Nova Scotia. If this film had been made in Asbury Park or Des Moines, I wouldn't have given a damn. There was that homegrown element to it that peaked my interest.

As it stands, the movie is drenched in a weird 80s, dystopian backdrop. It's kind of like a view of the near future via a 1987 kaleidoscope. I even saw an honest-to-god K car (anyone remember those?). Ultra-violent, accentuated with hammy dialogue, the movie is more amusing than engaging. I remember someone saying--maybe it was author Jeff Strand--"if you're the kind of person who wants to see Hobo with a Shotgun, you're going to love Hobo with a Shotgun." That just about sums up the movie for anyone who hasn't seen it.

I didn't love it, though. And I think that's because I didn't want to see it for the same reason as most folks. I basically just wanted to see it so I could say I've seen it, sort of like the audience for The Human Centipede, a movie I do not want to see.

It's a conveniently short movie, clocking in around 100 minutes, yet it seemed to take forever for the hobo to get his shotgun. At least when the gunplay started, the entertainment factor went way up, and the ending was deliciously ridiculous. The practical effects, as silly as they were at times like Rutger Hauer bursting through the entrails of a slain villain used as camouflage, were a welcome respite from the ceaseless CGI of today's films too, to be honest. And, I think it works really well as an homage to those low-budget, low-rent action movies of the 80s, but the characters (especially the villains) felt like parodies rather than tributes. I'll sum the movie up by reiterating that if you're the kind of person who wants to watch Hobo, you're going to love Hobo.

September 15, 2011

Rabid Reads: "Miserere" by Teresa Frohock

Miserere: An Autumn Tale
by Teresa Frohock
Night Shade Books (2011)
280 pages

I'm not a reader who gravitates toward sword-and-sorcery type fantasy, but I'm always up for stepping outside my comfort zone. A good in-road for a guy like me is an element of horror, which in this case comes in the form of demonic possession.

Lucian Negru may be an exorcist, but if you're expecting something akin to William Peter Blatty, you're going to be disappointed. This is dark fantasy set in another world--aptly called Woerld--between Hell and Earth. A bastion that guards Heaven from all Hell quite literally breaking loose.

Lucian is a crippled, indentured servant to his sister, Catarina, who schemes to breach the barriers between Hell and Woerld in order to become one of Woerld's rulers. Bound by an oath of loyalty, he's betrayed his his mentor, his brothers-in-arms, and his true love, Rachel, literally abandoning her in Hell at Catarina's behest. So when an opportunity shows itself for redemption, he takes it and flees his sister's clutches to seek out Rachel and a chance at forgiveness. "Miserere" translates to "mercy" after all.

His chance at redemption comes in the form of a young girl, Lindsey, who has inadvertently stepped through a gateway known as a Veil from Earth into Woerld. His heroic actions come with a price though, and prompt his former comrades to seek his arrest, and Rachel is the one sent to pursue him. But Catarina has dispatched her own forces to find Lucian and drag him back to her, so he can fulfill his role in her evil schemes.

The book gets off to a bit of a slow start, but understandably for the characters and the stakes to be introduced. It was with the introduction of Lindsey that had me nervous for a moment though, because the stark shift from Lucien's point of view in the medieval Woerld to Lindsey's present-day Earth. Fortunately, the disparity in setting in brief, just to get Lindsey into Woerld and act as an initiate for readers to experience this strange land through her eyes.

The geography of Woerld was a bit murky for me as a read, but I'm thankful there wasn't a ton of exposition, and the story focused on the characters. The story is told essentially through Lucien's eyes, but passages focusing on Rachel, Catarina, and Lindsey offer great vantage points to see what is going on and how everything is interconnected among them and other characters.

The magic and supernatural elements of the story were dealt with in expert fashion, with what I thought was a unique use of prayer and meditation as a way to cast spells. The good guys summon magic from themselves, like an inner light--literally at times--while the villains must resort to using other means like amulets. Aside from a couple instances where Teresa seems to dwell on the minutia of the magic a bit long, she offers a great system for the fantastic to seem plausible.

The story as a whole feels like a stand-alone novel, but Teresa leaves just enough room for a continuation in a likely series of novels for readers who are left wanting more. But the ending is satisfying enough in its own right that readers reluctant to invest in one more fantasy series won't feel cheated by loose strings at the end of the novel. Fantasy fans of every stripe should be charmed by this story, and those who tend to veer from this kind of story may want to give it a chance, because it's far more accessible than what preconceptions might tell you.

September 14, 2011

My True Ghost Story

Barry Napier wants ghost stories--true ghost stories. Now, I might write about the supernatural, but I'm not the kind of cat who actually believes in ghosts. But, I've had some strange experiences in my life, predominantly in the rural setting of my childhood. Nothing like an old house on top of a hill and a backyard full of wilderness to spark ghostly rumors and encounters.

One of the stories that springs to mind is one from when I was eighteen or nineteen. I was babysitting my sister and her friends at the house while Mom was at work. Babysitting is an inaccurate term, since my sister and her friends were only a few years younger than me. I was basically there to make sure they didn't burn the house down--or invite boys over.

They had the upstairs to themselves, while I tried to stay out of their way watching TV downstairs. Unbeknownst to me at the time, one of the girls brought a Ouija board. Our father had died that year, and the gals thought it would be a bright idea to see if they could summon his spirit. Kind of cute in its way, since Dad was even less inclined to believe in ghosts and such than me.

Some time past sundown, I was in the kitchen making popcorn, and only a few seconds after turning the machine on I heard a chorus of spine-chilling screams directly above me from my sister's bedroom. I raced upstairs with no clue what I'm going to see--did a bat get in the house or did someone cut themselves on something? I was about halfway up the stairs when the girls met me at the top of the steps in pitch black.

"Did you do something to the lights?"

"Did you mess with the fuse box?"

The girls hurled a slew of breathy, accusing questions at me, all the while I'm frozen mid-step on the stairs wondering just what the hell is going on. Come to find out, they'd been using the Ouija board trying to talk to Dad or any ghost they could find. They'd asked if there was a spirit in the room, and the marker pointed to yes, then spelled out D-A-D. That freaked them all out, but the screams didn't start until every lamp light and hallway light upstairs blew out.

Now, it was an old house, and the wiring would be redone in the next couple years, so that's a likely explanation, but the timing raised a lot of hairs on my neck that night.

Chasing Tale (Digital Edition) for September 14th, 2011: Cate Gardner, Duane Swierczynski, Richard Wright ...

Is there a tablet that can effectively mimic e-ink technology? I ask this, because that seems to be the thing that could turn the iPad and other tablets into the device for reading e-books. If you've ever tried to read e-books on an LCD/LED screen, you've probably felt some eye strain after an extended period. Plus, there's the insufferable glare on the screen when you try to read outside. While tablets, with their oodles of apps, are a great new toy for this decade, they just aren't the ideal reading device. But, if there was some way to turn that tablet into a Kindle-like e-reader, then that would be a real game-changer, I wager.

Surely, in an age that offers up some of the most unnecessary, ridiculous techno-toys we dare imagine--we have breakdancing robots, for crying out loud--there must be one developer out there who can crack this nut.

Bah, until that day comes, here are the e-books I've added to my reading pile:

The Spectral Press Chapbook Series 1-3 - Spectral Press has a series of chapbooks out and I've got these three for review by Gary McMahon, Gary Fry, and Cate Gardner respectively. Each story is about twenty-thirty pages, making them very easy reads, and I'll likely devour them all in a single evening. I haven't read anything from the two Gary's yet, but Cate's got chops, so I'm really looking forward to Nowhere Hall.

Theatre of Curious Acts by Cate Gardner - Cate's on a roll this year, as this novella is due for release in December through Hadley Rille Books. I've read her short fiction on line, as well with the impressive collection Strange Men in Pinstripe Suits, so I'm eager to read a lengthier story.

Miranda by John R. Little - September 7th was Buy A Book Day, so I bought a book. My wish list is a mile long, but I did remember having this novella on my wish list for quite some time. And now that Cemetery Dance has it in Kindle form, I figured it was time to buy it.

Hell and Gone by Duane Swierczynski - I loved--loved!--Swierczynski's Fun and Games. It's still the front runner for my favorite read of 2011. One book that has a good shot at knocking it down a spot is its sequel. The first book left just enough room for a sequel, so it'll be interesting to see how Duane tries to top himself in this series.

Cuckoo by Richard Wright - This novel was originally published in 2002, but Richard is re-releasing it himself as an e-book, with a paperback release slated for sometime this month. He sent me a review copy, and considering he's finagled some praise from noteworthy authors, I'm optimistic about this sinister sounding story.

And that's what's new for e-books on my end? What's new with you?

September 13, 2011

Getting Graphic: "Irredeemable Vol. 2" by Mark Waid and Peter Krause

Irredeemable Vol. 2
created and written by Mark Waid
illustrated by Peter Krause
Boom! Studios (2009)
ISBN 9781608860005

The world's most powerful superhero ever, the Plutonian, has gone outhouse crazy and turned into the world's most dangerous supervillain. But despite the ability to destroy the entire world and everyone in it, the damage he has caused hasn't been total, and his former allies are still alive--most of them anyway--trying to evade his wrath and find a way to stop him. Good luck with that. The guy sank the entire nation of Singapore for crying out loud.

This second volume picks up the action as the Plutonians former allies, the Paradigm, are try to regroup after the shelacking they received during their last encounter with the Plutonian. Heroe are dead, others injured, and the mad scientist of the group, Qubit, has resorted to building android replicas of Plutonian's arch-nemesis, Modeus, in an attempt to find the supervillain--the one guy on the planet Plutonian is genuinely frightened of.

Meanwhile, secrets are bubbling to the surface that offer the real reasons behind Plutonian's betrayal and atrocities. An especially disturbing discovery is made when the group finds his secret lair, which is not totally unlike Superman's Fortress of Solitude--though Supes didn't keep an BDSM shrine of his unrequited love, and a female supervillain serving as a sex slave so she may be spared death. Yeah, dude's lost it.

The revelations and inner turmoil among the members of the Paradigm are all very engaging, and I'm officially on board the bandwagon for this series. Sometimes recommendations from people really work out, as I discovered this series thanks to listening to a podcast interview with Brian Keene and Mary SanGiovanni on Snark Infested Waters back in July, where the host mentioned one of the comic books he had recently been reading and enjoying. Good stuff, indeed.

September 12, 2011

Rabid Rewind: Carriers

starring Chris Pine, Piper Perabo, Emily Vancamp, and Lou Taylor Pucci
written and directed by Alex & David Pastor
Paramount Pictures (2009)

When I saw the trailer for this movie a couple years ago, I assumed it was about zombies. BUZZ--wrong. It's apocalyptic, that's for sure, but the downfall of mankind is in the form of a virulent disease that slowly kills everyone it infects--and it's infected just about everyone on the planet. No zombies or anything zombie-ish. Just dead or dying people strewn across the land, and four teenagers on a last ditch road trip to a family beach house for safety.

Now, the back of the DVD case describes these four characters, lead by the new Captain Kirk, Chris Pine, but I couldn't believe that for a second. How old are Chris Pine and Piper Perabo, anyway? Hell, Coyote Ugly was, what, ten years ago? And she wasn't even playing a high school kid back then, so how am I supposed to buy into that little character detail? Beverly Hills 90210 offered more believability on that front.

Anyway, Chris Pine plays a douche bag boyfriend, leading his girlfriend, little brother, and baby brother's pseudo-girlfriend cross country on open roads to their summer beach house where they spent their childhood. A disease has ravaged the land, and what few people remain are in it for themselves. That point is driven home early when the quartet are roadblocked by an SUV containing a father and his young daughter. The father insists he just needs some fuel, but when they see his daughter is infected they hightail it out of there, getting a window smashed by the father, and a rock on the roadside busting their oil line. When their car dies, they wander back with fuel--and a gun--back to the SUV and make a deal of sorts to take the father and daughter to a military compound where a cure is supposedly in the works.

To sum up this movie in a word, I'll go with bleak.

I'll also go ahead and characterize all four characters as entirely unlikable. Chris Pine's character is insufferable, to the point where if I was in the group, I'd weigh my chances with the disease over the douche bag. His little brother might have been likable had it not been for the shifts between righteous indignation towards his brother's behavior, and his own repellent tactics that emerge later in the film. Then, the girl they are with, whose relationship with the little brother I never really caught on to, is a hard-hearted jezebel. Piper Perabo's character comes close to being likable, but the idea that she's in love with Pine's character makes her seem foolish to the nth degree, then she becomes deceptive towards the others midway through the film and loses all sympathy.

I need at least one character I can either root for or identify with, and I got none of that from this movie. The guy from Law & Order: SVU who plays the father they meet is probably the most relatable in a sense, but he doesn't last too long.

The suspense is there in many spots throughout the film, so that's a saving grace, but the movie wound up meaning nothing in the end. Had the relationship between the two brothers been explored more to give the movie a better entry point for viewers, I think it would have helped the movie a lot, but it was kind of wasted in the end. Too bad, because this movie had a lot of potential.

September 9, 2011

Interview and Giveaway with Robert J. Duperre: Author of "Silas"

This week, I have a special interview with author, Robert J. Duperre, to discuss his new novel Silas, which is available now, as part of his blog tour. On top of the interview, there is also a chance for you to win an Amazon Kindle by taking part in his trivia contest, which spans each stop on his blog tour. You'll find Question #10 on the tour down below, following the interview. But, first, here's a little information about Robert and his new book, Silas.

Bio: Robert J. Duperre is a lover of literature in all its forms. Be it horror, fantasy, science fiction, literary fiction, or even romance, he delves into it all and relishes every minute of it. It is his desire to show this love of all genres by creating wide-reaching stories that defy classification, that can reach the widest possible audience.

Robert lives in northern Connecticut with his wife, the artist
Jessica Torrant, his three wonderful children, and Leonardo the one-eyed wonder yellow Lab. You can read more about Robert and his views and ideas by visiting

About Robert J. Duperre - website, facebook, twitter

About Silas: Ken Lowery is a man at odds with his life. He hates his job, is disappointed in his marriage, and feels resigned to leading a mundane existence.

That all changes when his wife brings home a rambunctious Black Labrador puppy named Silas, who forges a remarkable connection with Ken and begins to heal his inner turmoil. When some neighborhood children start to go missing, he takes it upon himself to protect those around him and is thrust into a surreal world where monsters roam. Not everything is what it seems to be, he soon discovers, including his new best friend
An Interview with Robert J. Duperre

Gef: Since you're a dog lover, at least so much as your connection with your own dog, how easily did it come to you to write this novel? 
Robert: It was easier to write this than anything else I’ve done – novels and short stories included.  The only tough part was how to tell it.  I actually struggled with that for over a year, starting and stopping constantly, until I realized I should simply tell it in first person.  After that, it took me 38 days to finish the rough draft.  As a point of reference, the first draft of The Fall, my first book, I wrote over the span of 2 years – which included a ton of plotting and constant rehashing of story ideas that just didn’t work.  With Silas, everything fell into place.  Every detail, every twist, every character trait.  I guess you could say it was the perfect storm from a writing perspective.  I’m not sure I’ll ever experience it again, though it would be nice if I did.
Gef: Considering the dark elements the book explores, were there moments of the story that you found yourself straying from for the sake of contemplating your own dog's mortality? 
Robert: No.  One of the more prominent aspects of my personality is that I want to feel everything.  If I can make myself shiver, make myself cry, or get myself angry, I keep pushing in that direction.  There were quite a few times while writing this book that I exited my studio, walked over to my wife, and sobbed for a bit.  It might sound strange, but I actually enjoy it.  I figure that if I can’t elicit emotion from myself, then the reader won’t feel it, either.  In that way, it’s no holds barred…as long as the sentiment works for the story.  (Which sometimes it does not.  I actually changed the ending of Silas quite a bit while editing, simply because I thought my second idea would work better, be more viable, than what I’d originally written.)
Gef: W.C. Fields said never to work with kids or animals, though that was with regards to film. But, how about books? Would it be fair to say there are elements to the nature of animals, particularly dogs, that offer difficulties in fiction? Or do you find them as easy to write for as for a human characters?
Robert: There are some quite obvious limitations to writing animals, especially when they’re main characters in a book.  Chief among these is communication.  There are only so many times you can say a dog barked or wagged its tail or licked a face before it begins to feel repetitive.  This was by far the toughest part of writing the book, though there is a twist in the middle that I think helps add meaning to the animal’s physical actions and reactions.  There were tons of mundane references to dog-type behavior that I ended up cutting from the final draft, and I think it works better that way.  That being said, and though I love the way the book turned out, I have a feeling this will be the last time I have an animal as a main character.

Gef: Horror tends to get a bad rap as a genre. How do you find readers react to, what I guess you might call, the dog genre? Have you found readers have preconceptions about how a book with a dog as one of the main players should play out?
Robert: I certainly think some folks have notions of the way something like this should go, which is why it’s extremely important that it’s stated in the product description just what kind of book you’re about to read.  I’ve gotten a couple reviews by folks who weren’t expecting the story to take the turns it did, though they still enjoyed the experience immensely.  “Not usually my sort of thing,” and the like.  When I look at it that way, I guess I did my job.

As for horror getting a bad rap…you’re right, it does.  Unfortunately, there are too many examples of simple hack-and-slash, gore-filled texts.  I try not to write that way.  Sure, I may have a gory scene or two, but more than anything I want to build atmosphere and empathy for the characters.  And besides, I don’t consider Silas a horror story.  It has horror elements, but also science fiction, fantasy, and human interest, as well.  If I had to define it, I’d say it’s more along the lines of a contemporary fantasy or supernatural thriller.  I only hope I haven’t pigeonholed myself as a horror writer with my zombie series so much that readers can’t see me as anything but.

Gef: You've got a penchant for recurring characters in your fiction, it would seem, as one character in Silas appears in a short story you've written, and another character is intended for a separate series of books. Is this a matter of connecting your works into a broader context, or do you just get attracted to certain characters and want to play with them in a different sandbox?

Robert: It’s a combination of both, really.  The first character you mentioned – the one who shows up in my short story, Sins of Our Fathers, I added after the first draft was finished.  He’s been in my head for a long time, and actually figures prominently in another two (unpublished) short stories I’ve written.  But he’s not a main player, just someone I use as a sort of guardian angel for certain characters who need guidance.  The second character you mention, however, is different.  I wrote Silas specifically to have a duel purpose – to tell the tale of a man on the edge who goes on a fantastic adventure with his dog, and to act as an introduction of to the protagonist in my next series.  So I guess you could call this book a prequel, though it does stand on its own.

That being said, all of my work is connected in one way or another.  I purposefully created a world that is in fact many worlds weaved into one.  Each story I have to tell is an extension of another story I’ve either written or plan to write.  It helps each tale gain cohesion in my own head, and also acts as Easter Eggs to return readers.  

Gef: For me, my favorite dog movie might be Turner and Hooch--I know, I know--and my favorite book with a dog would have to be Dean Koontz's Watchers. Do you have a favorite book or movie with a dog as a featured character?
Robert: I did love Watchers (and Silas borrows a bit from that particular storyline), but without a doubt, Where The Red Fern Grows is my favorite all-time book involving dogs.  I read it as a child, and afterwards bawled for hours upon end.  The feelings I had while reading it have stayed with me for the rest of my life, and there aren’t many books I can say that about.

And don’t feel bad about loving Turner and Hooch.  It’s Tom Hanks and a bulldog, for crying out loud!  Pure comedy gold, I tell you.
Thank you for having me in for a chat, Gef.  It was quite fun, and I ended up learning something about my own writing that I hadn’t thought of before.  Which is always nice.

And thank you, Robert.

If anyone wants to follow along on Robert's blog tour and catch up on some of the previous guest posts and interviews, you can find all of the respective links by clicking here.

Contest Info: Answer the question of the day in the form provided and you are entered in the Kindle3 Giveaway. Questions provide contestants the chance to choose one of two answers (questions center around a playlist of songs Rob put together for Silas).  Contestants are awarded three points for the correct answer (one point for the wrong) with the chance to gather up to 45 entries by answering each question. Open US/Canada