January 31, 2012

Rabid Reads: 'The Placebo Effect' by David Rotenberg

The Placebo Effect (Junction Chronicles Book One)
by David Rotenberg
Touchstone (an imprint of Simon & Schuster Canada, 2012)
338 pages
ISBN 9781439170113 (trade paperback)

I imagine being a human lie detector would have its perks. It would sure help figuring out who left the milk out on the kitchen counter! Sorry. Pet peeve. It'd have its drawbacks, too. I just wouldn't have put money on one of those drawbacks being NSA agents chasing you down. That's one of Decker Roberts' big problems, but it's one of many.

Decker is an acting coach, but his real gift comes from the strange ability to literally see whether people are telling the truth through visual cues when his eyes are closed. It's not so much that his Spidey senses tingle when someone lies, but he just innately knows when the guy is being truthful or not. It's not a talent he gets to use at parties, but it's a real hit in the corporate world. So, when Decker's bank accounts are emptied, his line of credit is tampered with, and his house burns down, Decker suspects one of his clients has decided he knows too much.

If that's not bad enough, an agent from the NSA has hunted him down as part of a clandestine program to study and exploit synaesthates (where one of the senses like sight gets a few wires crossed with another) like Decker. Then there's the issue of a shady pharmaceutical executive with a new drug due to hit the market and the idiot savant who helped him do it is seeking out Decker, too. Just paint a big bulls-eye on the poor guy's back--or brain might be the more apt body part.

The Placebo Effect is certainly unique in the thriller genre. This whole idea of the human senses being mish-mashed in a way was intriguing, and this version Rotenberg employs with his character, Decker, is something I have never heard of before. I had to wonder at times while reading if it was a complete device of the author's imagination, but I guess there's some legitimacy to it. And the whole corporate espionage and corruption is completely believable and easy to get into.

Some of the suspense was diminished for me though, because the villain is identified rather quickly, so it's less about solving the mystery through Decker's eyes, but just watching him sweat. Where the mystery is lost, the dialog is great, and the subplot of Decker's estranged son was probably the most compelling part of the whole novel. His son wants nothing to do with him and uses Decker's best friend to communicate with him--and hit him up for money.

Decker is a riveting character thrust into a less-than-riveting story. The book works as a stand-alone even though it's the first of a new series, but the pieces didn't feel like they fit as well as they should, even when the disparate plotlines merge towards the end of the book. It does everything it sets out to do, but the longer it went the more it felt like a standard cat-and-mouse chase. It was a pretty good ride, but I don't know how quickly I'll run out to read the second book in the series.


January 30, 2012

Rabid Rewind: Dirty Rotten Scoundrels

Dirty Rotten Scoundrels
starring Michael Caine and Steve Martin
directed by Frank Oz
screenplay by Dale Launer, Stanley Shapiro, and Paul Henning
Orion Pictures (1988)

This is one of those comedies that I never get tired of watching. Even after twenty-five years, it holds up. Steve Martin and Michael Caine seem like the unlikeliest comedy duo, in retrospect, but when I first saw this as a kid it seemed like a perfect match. And when I saw it again a couple months ago, I noticed the butler was played by the same guy who played the Sith Lord in the Star Wars franchise. That made me chuckle.

Michael Caine plays Lawrence Jamieson, a debanaire conman who fleeces wealthy women of their riches while luxuriating on the French Riviera. He's got the life any hustler would only dare to have in their wildest dreams. Enter Cedric Benson (Steve Martin), a two-bit grifter who realizes he can achieve a whole lot more than a free lunch when he sees what Lawrence has accomplished. In an effort to get rid of Cedric and restore balance to his own life, Lawrence agrees to train Cedric on the condition he take his business elsewhere, but when Cedric eventually turns against him they arrange a wager: the first man to con 50,000 Francs from a woman they agree upon as a target, wins, and loser leaves town.

The chemistry between these two guys is astonishing. Caine's on-screen sophistication is turned up to eleven on the dial, while Martin taps into his seediest attributes. Both men are ultimately deplorable for using women the way they do, but you can't help but love them. And the antics they get up to as they try to con their target, an American heiress played by Glenne Headley, are hilarious. There's one scene in particular, where Cedric plays a paraplegic war veteran trying get close to the heiress, only to have Lawrence pose at the renowned doctor Cedric actually concocted as part of his own con. The torture Lawrence puts Cedric through to make him walk again is hilarious. It's a level of slapstick that you just don't see these days.

Dirty Rotten Scoundrels remains one of my absolute favorite comedies of all time. If you haven't seen it yet, you have to. You just have to.

January 27, 2012

Rabid Reads: "Borderlands 3" edited by Thomas F. Monteleone

Borderlands 3
edited by Thomas F. Monteleone
White Wolf Fiction (1993)
272 pages
ISBN 1565041097

With cover art by none other than Dave McKean, I had the feeling this would be a real treat to read. You can't judge a book by its cover though, which is fine since the table of contents is just as enticing--if not more so.

Borderlands 3 is an anthology of horrific tales (published during the early 90s) that strives to avoid the common tropes of the genre, though its editor, Thomas Monteleone, admits in the preamble to a few of the stories that the quality of writing was too good to resist with certain stories that held familiar pieces.

As I mentioned, the contributing authors are impressive, with familiar names like Bentley Little, Ed Gorman, and Whitley Streiber, as well as names I'm not familiar with, but will now be sure to watch out for in other anthologies, such as Kathe Koja, Andrew Vachss, and J.L. Comeau.

Like any anthology, it's a mixed bag when it comes to personal preference, and not all stories resonated as well as others.

A few of the standouts, however, including Bentley Little's "The Man in the Passenger Seat", about an unsettling stranger who hitches a ride with a dour individual and gives him the ride of his life. There was also Ed Gorman's "The Ugly File", which dealt with a photographer collecting pictures of an unsettling nature for a wealthy couple. As well, I really enjoyed Poppy Z. Brite's "The Sixth Sentinel" and its supernatural romance--one-sided romance though it may be.

There's 21 stories in all, encapsulating the best of what horror had to offer in the nineties. I often hear readers, and even writers, bemoan the glut of bad horror that was floating around in that decade. If it was really a time when horror literature was in decline, you wouldn't know it by reading this anthology. I've got another Borderlands book sitting on my to-be-read pile, published in the early 2000s if I recall correctly, so it will be interesting to see the contrast between this book and that one when I finally get around to reading--not to mention any other Borderlands books I can get my hands on.


January 26, 2012

Chasing Tale (Digital Edition) for February 15th, 2012: Blake Crouch, J.A. Konrath, Scott Nicholson ...

Okay, here's the thing. Remember that giant effin' pile of e-books I blogged about a couple weeks ago? Well, that was only about half of 'em--less actually. The entire list of e-books I downloaded, thanks to all the holiday promotions, is just bonkers. The most prominent authors were Scott Nicholson, Blake Crouch, and J.A. Konrath, who seemed to offer up no less than half their backlist during the holidays, absolutely free.

And honestly, this was overkill, but when you live a life well outside of opulence, you don't turn your nose up at free books. Especially when a good number of them are written by authors whose works you've either read and enjoyed or have had even a mild interest in reading. I may not live long enough to read all these freebies by the time there's another onslaught of Kindle swag, but there's no harm in trying.

Here's what I got:
Blake Crouch: Bad Girl, Birds of Prey (with J.A. Konrath), Break You (novella), Famous, Four Live Rounds (collection), Fully Loaded (collection), Hunting Season (with Selena Kitt), Locked Doors, The Meteorologist, The Pain of Others, Perfect Little Town (novella), Serial Killers: Uncut (with J.A. Konrath)
J.A. Konrath: 65 Proof (collection), Crime Stories (collection), Disturb, Endurance, Exposed (with Ann Voss Peterson), Horror Stories (collection), Jack Daniels Stories (collection), Origin, Planter's Punch (with Tom Schreck), Shapeshifters Anonymous, Shot of Tequila, Suckers (with Jeff Strand), Symbios, Truck Stop, Wild Night Is Calling (short story with Ann Voss Peterson)
Scott Nicholson: As I Die Lying, Bad Blood (with J.R. Rain & H.T. Night), Creative Spirits, Cursed! (with J.R. Rain), Disintegration, The Harvest, Head Cases, October Girls, The Skull Ring, The Vampire Club (with J.R. Rain), Zombie Bits

Dead Mech by Jake Bible - Jake offered up this sci-fi/horror novel for free briefly on the Kindle Store. I caught one of his tweets advertising it, and scooped it up. It's got zombies in mech suits, so c'mon. I heard about this a year or so ago, but one of the many books that falls off the radar. Lucked out by getting it for free.

A Hollow Cube Is a Lonely Place by S.D. Foster - S.D. hit me up to review this collection of bizarro horror stories. Bizarro is one of those niche genres that I've yet to really dive into, but I am curious about it and some online acquaintances seem to really enjoy it, so I'm game.

One Buck Horror Volume 1 (anthology) by Christopher and Kris Hawkins - 99 cents is a bargain basement price for a horror periodical. Free is a steal. One Buck Horror is about six volumes in, or thereabouts, and offered up the first one for free as an enticement. I thought I'd already read it, but I must have gotten it mixed up with another I got, so I snagged it without hesitation.

The Fields (novella) by Ty Schwamberger - I've heard enough praise for Ty's novella, and I've been meaning to buy something of his for a while now. Spending a mere dollar for this unique-sounding zombie novella seemed like a easy choice.

Before Leonora Wakes by Lee Thompson - I've got Lee's Nursery Rhymes 4 Dead Children on my wish list, but I'm holding off until I can ween down my reading pile. But a free story over the holidays is no trouble to download and have at the ready.

I told ya, the number of e-books I downloaded is just bonkers. For the sake of expediency, here's a bullet point list of the other e-books I downloaded over the last month:

  • Beat to a Pulp: Hardboiled (anthology) by David Cranmer & Scott D. Parker
  • Double Tap (collection) and The Ass Is a Poor Receptacle for the Head (nonfiction) by Barry Eisler
  • Three on a Light (novella) by Victor Gischler
  • Dead Space and Top Suspense: Favorite Kills (with various authors) by Lee Goldberg
  • A World Torn Asunder (Vamprie Apocalypse #1) by Derek Gunn
  • The Nemesis Worm (novella) by Guy Haley
  • Legacy (Book One of the Resonance Tetralogy) by Hugo Jackson
  • Vampires by Aiden James
  • Saying Goodbye to the Sun by David McAfee
  • Rain Dogs by Gary McMahon
  • Here Be Monsters (anthology) by M.T. Murphy
  • Hope Town by Brendan P. Myers
  • Rock 'n' Rock Is Undead by Rose Pressey
  • Freeze by Daniel Pyle
  • Dark Horse (Jim Knighthorse #1) and Elvis Has Not Left the Building (Elvis Mystery Series #1) by J.R. Rain
  • Burden Kansas (Vampires of the Plains) by Alan Ryker
  • Monstrocity by Jeffrey Thomas
  • Abaddon and Grave Instinct by Robert W. Walker
  • Walking with Zombies (Zombie Armageddon 2) by Ian Woodhead

January 25, 2012

"The Travelling Theatrical Tour: The Thirsty Man": a guest post by Cate Gardner

The incomparable Cate Gardner is on a blog tour this month, promoting her latest books, The Theatre of Curious Acts and Barbed Wire Hearts. I had the pleasure of reading and reviewing Curious Acts and even included it among my year-end list of favorite novellas. And if you haven't managed to read it yet, you just might feel inclined to after reading Cate's guest post. Enjoy.

"The Traveling Theatrical Tour: The Thirsty Man"
by Cate Gardner
Thank you to Gef for allowing me to invade his blog for my Theatre of Curious Acts blog tour, otherwise known as the Traveling Theatrical Tour.

The below is a warning as to why you should remain fully hydrated when reading Theatre of Curious Acts. Sometimes things know you're thirsty.

"Jonathan Jacobsen sat at the theatre bar. He stared at the hands of the woman seated beside him or rather at the glass said hands cupped. He'd heard that people disappeared here. Perhaps, despite his incalculable thirst, that was why he waited.

God, he needed a drink.

Licking his lips, Jonathan leaned towards the woman's hands. She didn't flinch or move away, she didn't need to--the fairies did the work for her. They tugged at his hair and his jacket, pulling him away from the glass.

So, so thirsty.

"Leave me be," he said, hating the whimper that edged his voice.

They wouldn't. The never did. His throat fractured against the weight of his scream. Dry flakes caught in his windpipe. The woman emptied her glass. Jonathan gripped his throat. It hurt to gulp.

Someone approached, shimmering as though made of water--a girl and a mirage in this desert. She held her cupped hands out to him. She held a lake, or so it seemed to his thirst. The fairies didn't bother this girl, nor did they yank or pinch as she placed her cupped hands to Jonathan's lips.

So thirsty…

Jonathan buried his face in her hands. He lapped and lapped and lapped, and no matter how much he drank, he knew he'd never know his fill again.


Instructions on how to avoid Jonathan's fate are hidden in one copy of Theatre of Curious Acts, which is available from all good online bookstores. More details are available at the author's website www.categardner.net

Wish List Wednesday #108: Christa Faust's 'Choke Hold'

This is a recurring blog segment in which I highlight a book on my wish list. Sometimes it's a new release, sometimes a beloved classic, and sometimes it's a hidden gem.

She's the first female author in the history of Hard Case Crime. She's the one Quentin Tarantino described as "a Veronica in a world of Betties." She's Christa Faust and is responsible for a really cool noir novel called Money Shot.

Well, Money Shot has a sequel now. It's called Choke Hold and I want it. I recently read Money Shot (expect a review in the near future) and immediately put its sequel on the wish list. A book that features a former porn star without resorting to the lowest common denominator made for a fun, fast read. Here's a write-up via Goodreads for this sequel:

Angel Dare went into Witness Protection to escape her past—not as a porn star, but as a killer who took down the sex slavery ring that destroyed her life. But sometimes the past just won’t stay buried. When a former co-star is murdered, it’s up to Angel to get his son, a hotheaded MMA fighter, safely through the unforgiving Arizona desert, shady Mexican bordertowns, and the seductive neon mirage of Las Vegas.

Gritty, sexy, relentless--but enough about the author. I want to read this book.

January 24, 2012

Rabid Reads: "Money Shot" by Christa Faust

Money Shot
by Christa Faust
Hard Case Crime (2008)
250 pages
ISBN-13 9780857683465

The porn industry doesn't exactly have a sterling reputation, but has always seemed like a wellspring for stories for journalists and authors who want to shine a spotlight on it, which seems rather ironic considering the abominable storylines in porno flicks. Oh look, another plumber has arrived to work on her pipes. Christ Faust's novel uses the porn industry as a catalyst for a pulpy thrill ride that was about as scorching hot as its leading lady, Angel Dare.

Angel Dare, real name Gina Moretti, is a porn star turned talent agent, running her own small firm that offers representation for women that's an alternative to the notoriously male-centric--and let's face it, misogynistic--industry. When an old acquaintance calls and begs her to come out of retirement, as it were, Angel finds herself unable to resist an easy and sizable payday--as well as the chance to be in a scene with one of the hottest young studs in the industry today. However, she winds up walking into a setup; interrogated, threatened, beaten, raped, beaten some more, and left for dead in the truck of a car in a derelict section of L.A.

And that's only how the novel starts.

What ensues is a taut and relentless quest for answers and revenge. It's been a little while since I read a book I absolutely could not put down. This book? I could not put it down. I picked it up in the mood for a sleek thriller and wound up with an even more exciting adventure spanning L.A. to Vegas and back again. I would have been content with a simple romp. You know, popcorn fare. Instead, Christa Faust presents Angel Dare and her world in a way that offers more than the shiny veneer, but a fully fleshed--pun intended--and remarkably immersive way. When the heat turns up on Angel, it's not a case where she turns into an instant bad-ass and starts gunning for the bad guys. It takes a lot of time and a lot of help for her get her sh*t together, with plenty of mistakes along the way. This is one of the very last novels I read in 2011, and had it been a new release I'd have likely put it on the top of my faves list for that year. Still, regardless of what year it came out, it was one of my very favorite reads from last year.

The back of the book said Christa Faust is the first female author to be published by Hard Case Crime. If that's the case, considering how damn good this book is, I gotta wonder: what took so damn long, because if a female author came along with a novel half this good, they should've snapped it up in a heartbeat.

January 23, 2012

Rabid Rewind: Horrible Bosses

Horrible Bosses
starring Jason Bateman, Charlie Day, Jason Sudeikis, Jennifer Aniston, Colin Farrell, and Kevin Spacey
directed by Seth Gordon
screenplay by Michael Markowitz, John Francis Daley, Jonathan Goldstein
Warner Bros. (2011)

This movie might be my guilty pleasure for the year. For a movie littered with a metric ton of aging frat boy humor, I thought it wound up being much funnier than it had any right to be. The premise is simple, not to mention instantly relatable to anyone who has ever had an insufferable boss: what if you decided to murder your boss?

And let the hilarity ensue. Three friends are each enduring tyranny, harassment, and general misery under the thumbs of their bosses. It gets so bad that one night they seriously entertain the idea of killing their bosses, and even wind up seeking out a hitman. Their would-be hitman winds up being a "murder consultant" though, and they wind up agreeing to kill each other's bosses in a Hitchcockian farce.

As much as the movie might be a buddy comedy between Bateman, Sudeikis, and Day, it really felt like a playground for Spacey, Aniston, and Farrell to play the scuzziest pieces of human garbage to ever gain positions of authority. Colin Farrell had probably the zaniest and most memorable role in the film as Sudeikis' cokehead nepotist boss. I didn't find the character the least bit believable, Aniston's sociopathic nympho character even less so, but they did provide a bunch of laughs throughout. Spacey's character, for all the crazy behavior, did actually have a ring of truth and easily the most despicable character in the film.

I read a review when it first hit theaters that blasted it for racist and sexist humor. Well, considering the only black guy in the movie (Jamie Foxx) was a criminal, the racist charge isn't hard to jump to. As for being sexist, maybe that's stemmed from Aniston being the only female cast member of any prominence, and portraying a sex-starved seductress at that. Yeah, the sexist charge has legs, too. High brow, this movie is not, but the cheap laughs were effective. I liked The Hangover more, and recently saw Bridesmaids, which blows both movies out of the water, but I wasn't expecting Horrible Bosses to be anything more than ninety minutes of distraction. That's what I got, so bully for me.

January 19, 2012

Why I Still Write Short Stories: a guest post by Joe McKinney

I was recently asked if I'd care to review Joe McKinney's new collection via Redrum Press. While the book sounds promising, my review commitments are still stacked high. But by virtue of hearing plenty of praise for the guy's writing from other authors whom I'm familiar with, I offered Joe a chance to at least get the word out on my blog for his book. So, here's a little about Joe and his work in his own words. Enjoy.
Joe McKinney has been a patrol officer for the San Antonio Police Department, a homicide detective, a disaster mitigation specialist, a patrol commander, and a successful novelist. His books include the four part Dead World series, Quarantined and Dodging Bullets. His short fiction has been collected in The Red Empire and Other Stories and Dating in Dead World and Other Stories.

Why I Still Write Short Stories
by Joe McKinney

When I published my first novel, Dead City, back in 2006, my fellow homicide detectives at the San Antonio Police Department asked how long I was going to stay on the job. There's an assumption, I guess, among folks who don't write for a living that all writers get a regular delivery of cash dumped on their front lawn. Let me clear the air of that now. No such truck full of cash exists...at least for 99% of the writers out there.

That said, if you work hard, and you're lucky as hell, you can do pretty well for yourself as a writer. I won't be so crass as to talk about wages, but I have worked hard at my craft, and I have been luckier than I deserve, and as a result, for the last few years, I've done better as a writer than I have as a cop.

But nearly every penny of that windfall comes from my novels. I've had about a dozen short stories land in premium markets. One in particular, a zombie novella included in an upcoming graphic novel crossover project, brought in almost as much as Dead City did on its initial advance. But, as I said, good paying short stories are about as rare as hen's teeth. Even the premium markets keep a close eye on the purse strings.

So why write them? Why waste time on short stories when novels pay so much better? Furthermore, most writers who have hit their stride and are lucky enough to lock themselves into multi-book contracts have to deal with the pressures of looming deadlines. This has become a nearly constant state of affairs for me. At any one given time I usually have four or five projects due. Trust me, I am grateful for that. I wouldn't have it any other way. But it does lead to an awful lot of hand-wringing and fretting as I wonder how I'm going to get it all done. And then there's the day job to think about. And my family. And time to just sit and read. I wish I could clone myself. I wish I could cram 72 hours worth of activity into every day. But unfortunately, I can't. This, inevitably, leads me to having to turn away great offers to participate in various projects. I hate saying no, but that's just the reality of the business.

Anyway, I still write stories. I love them. They are the reason I got into writing in the first place. I remember, as a kid of twelve or thirteen, spending whole afternoons up in my room, scribbling out some horror or science fiction tale on a yellow legal pad lifted from my Dad's study. I'd finish the story, staple it together, and leave it at the corner of my desk for a few weeks before, inevitably, it'd end up in the trash. There's no telling how many of my stories now occupy landfills around the Houston area. A bunch, I'm sure.

That trend continues to this day, although I don't hand write them as much anymore, and I don't throw them away. But why write them? I haven't answered that question. Loving something is great, but that alone doesn't explain why I keep coming back to them. I mean, I love roller coasters too, but I don't sneak away every chance I get, or loose sleep, just so I can go ride them. There's something else going on here.

For me, short stories are where the real surprises happen. They are the test environments where I can explore any side trail off the main career path that happens to catch my eye. Writing a novel is an intense undertaking. It requires complete absorption within the characters and their world. That kind of absorption comes at a cost. When I finish a novel there is always a sense of ennui and separation anxiety. It's hard to walk away from anything that makes you care that much. Authors who write a series, or, in my case, made their reputations writing in a narrow field, such as zombies, have an added complication. Not only do they risk the ennui and separation anxiety, but also the danger of stagnation. For them, for me, it is difficult to keep their skills sharp when they are constantly revisiting the same world. Short stories do that for me. They keep me sharp by affording me the opportunity to challenge myself. They help writing remain something that I love, rather than a tedious chore I have to slog my way through just to satisfy a deadline.

I really got a sense of that when I was writing the story notes for my recent collection, The Red Empire and Other Stories (Redrum Press, 2012). Describing the stories, and recounting when they written, gave me a unique retrospective on my life as a professional writer. Through those notes, and through the eight stories I chose for the book, I reconnected with what I really love about writing - the thrill of telling a story.

The short story is not dead in modern America. Literary mainstream fiction has done a lot to sap the life out of it, but they haven't killed it. Storytelling is alive and well in genre fiction, and I, for one, am delighted to keep it going through short stories.

Thanks again to Joe for contributing this post. If anyone wants to learn some more about Joe and his new collection, be sure to visit his site, linked at the top of this post, or pay a visit to Redrum Horror. Or maybe just click on this link to browse the book on Amazon.com: The Red Empire and Other Stories.

Getting Graphic: "The Walking Dead Volume 4: The Heart's Desire" by Robert Kirkman & Charlie Adlard

The Walking Dead Volume 4: The Heart's Desire
written by Robert Kirkman
illustrated by Charlie Adlard
Image Comics (2005)
ISBN 1582405301

If all you know about this series is what you've seen on television, wow, you are missing out.

In this fourth volume of The Walking Dead series, Grimes and the gang are in a prison, which they've converted into a compound and bunker to protect them from the ceaseless zombie hordes outside its walls. Well, it's not totally inundated by zombies outside, since they've been able to make a couple of road trips to get more supplies and more survivors.

The book picks up where Volume 3: Safety Behind Bars left off, as Grime and the gang are about to be kicked out of the prison at gunpoint by the inmates who were there first. But the wing of the prison from where the inmates got the guns was full of zombies and they've broken loose, wreaking havoc on everyone. During the melee, with bullets whizzing by everywhere, Grimes takes a dastardly turn and kills the lead inmate to ensure he's no longer a threat, then covers up the murder as a misfire. And everyone buys it--or most of them do.

Tyreese, Grimes' right-hand man lately, knows what happened, which leads to tension between the two of them. But Tyreese's hands aren't clean either, as he murdered his daughter's boyfriend after a botched suicide pact between the two young lovers left her dead. Plus, when a mysterious young woman arrives, keenly skilled in dispatching zombies--even domesticating apparently as she arrives with two in tow--Tyreese winds up cheating on his pseudo-girlfriend, Carol, with her.

The dynamics between everyone are breaking down. Friendships, romances, familial bonds are all being pushed to the breaking point. And Grimes seems to be suffering the most, taking on a near maniacal approach to protecting the group that borders on tyranny.

It's an intriguing chapter in the saga, but there were a couple of instances that really drew me out of the story this time around. For one thing, the art style is such that I confused a couple of characters (the older white guys tend to all look alike) and had to re-read a couple of pages just to be sure who was saying what. Then, there is a point when the group forms a council and there are no women included--not one. That might be easy enough to accept if not for the off-stage deference the women give by handing over all responsibility to the men, apparently stating they just want to be protected by the men. That threw me right out the story, as there are at least incredibly strong and resourceful women, and the idea they would forfeit all decision making to the men feels ludicrous to me.

Overall, it's still an engaging story, and entirely separate now from that first season of the TV show. I just have to wonder how these characters are going to survive the next couple of volumes, since they seem to be falling apart at the seams. I guess I'll have to wait until I read Volume 5: The Best Defense.


January 17, 2012

Rabid Reads: "Monsters of L.A." by Lisa Morton

Monsters of L.A.
by Lisa Morton
Bad Moon Books (2011)
321 pages
ISBN 9780983779933

I'm a fan of themed anthologies. An editor has an overarching idea and assorts the stories from various authors into some semblance that helps bring the whole thing together. So, it stands to reason I ought to check out a collection of short stories by a single author, all under the umbrella of a single theme. In Lisa Morton's case, she's arranged twenty stories involving two key ingredients: monsters and her hometown of Los Angeles.

Monsters of L.A. starts off with one of the most iconic monsters of all, Frankenstein's monster. Lisa's incarnation isn't the one from Mary Shelley's classic tale, or even the Boris Karloff shambling giant, but a very frail, very human character named Daniel Moss. He and many of the other monsters that appear in this collection are reflections of the city in which they live, while other monsters are definitely of a more fantastical nature and still offer some glimpse of Los Angeles that Lisa feels deserves a brief spotlight.

A few of the stories are interconnected in various ways, either through being a direct followup like "The Bride" is to "Frankenstein", or through allusions and passing mentions like "The Phantom." There are also some aspects of the city that crop up periodically through the book, like Lisa's appreciation for architecture and fascination with a couple of the city's urban legends. There are moments where the book feels like a gruesome type of Pulp Fiction, with the focus jumping from place and place and person to person while still clinging to a singular ideal.

Like any collection, themed or otherwise, not every story resonated with me, and a couple felt like mere interludes before diving into richer subject matter. A couple of the favorites I'd recommend to anyone reading this collection are "The Phantom," which is a saddening story of a musician's fall from grace and an unexpected glimmer of solace; "Cat People," which explores one of those urban legends that I'd never heard of before called La Japonesa; and "The Hunchback" with its strikingly topical look at homophobia and bullying in schools.

Unlike other collections and anthologies, where I feel free to jump around and read stories at whim, I kind of felt like this collection needed to be read from front to back, kind of like how you listen to certain albums beginning to end. Pink Floyd, anyone? While comparing this book to one of those iconic records like The Wall or Dark Side of the Moon might be a stretch, it's a good book that really shows a love and abiding dedication to a city that is long fabled as a glitzy train wreck. Monsters of L.A. might not be a love letter to the city, but it's definitely a love letter to monsters.

January 16, 2012

Rabid Rewind: Rainn Wilson is Just 'Super'

starring Rainn Wilson, Ellen Page, Liv Tyler, Kevin Bacon, Michael Rooker, and Nathan Fillion
written & directed by James Gunn
Entertainment One (2011)

I wouldn't have thought Rainn Wilson could convincingly portray a superhero until I saw this movie. Rainn plays Frank, a short-order cook married to a gorgeous waitress (Liv Tyler) and living a rather dull, uneventful life. He's fine with that, though. Then his life falls apart when his wife falls back on her old drug addiction and leaves him for the town's drug lord (Kevin Bacon). It's then Frank has a vision from God--he's been experiencing visions and divine messages ever since he was a kid--who literally touches his brain and puts him on the path to becoming a superhero.

The best part of Frank's inspiration comes in the form of a low-rent Christian kids show about an evangelical superhero played by Nathan Fillion. Frank is a neophyte to superheroes though, and winds up seeking advice from the local comic book shop and the hyperactive store clerk (Ellen Page). Frank creates the alter-ego of The Crimson Bolt, sews together his own costume, thinks up a couple one-liners ("Shut up, crime!"), and brandishes a monkey wrench as his weapon of choice when he starts waylaying and assaulting random criminals in town. He gets his ass kicked in the process, but the near sadistic methods he uses to take down muggers, drug dealers, and pedophiles keep him going. The cartoonishness of bludgeoning someone with a wrench falls away instantly when he does his work, even dropping a cinder block on one thug that got a cringe out of me.

And if Rainn Wilson has this misguided vigilante streak in him, Ellen Page's character can be categorized as a psychopath. The sheer delight she takes as the Crimson Bolt's sidekick, Boltie, in doling out punishment to bad guys is frightening--and, honestly, a bit of a turn-on--in that "holy cow, she's insane" kind of way.

As for the bad guys, Kevin Bacon shows once again that he knows how to milk each scene for all its worth with these villainous characters he's played lately. I just wish there had been more time in the film to more closely explore Michael Rooker's henchman character, as well as the detective on the tale of the Crimson Bolt. If there's a fatal flaw to the film, it's that the supporting cast doesn't get quite enough time to shine.

Super is the kind of movie that Defendor should have been. It's a movie that looks at the idea of masked vigilantes, but better balances the comedy and dark elements to the subject matter. And Rainn Wilson's character is far more relatable, likeable, and less exploited than the one Woody Harrelson played in Defendor. Hell, I might go so far as to say I enjoyed this movie even more than Kick-Ass. It's a great hidden gem of a movie that any comic book fan or revenge flick buff should check out.

January 12, 2012

Getting Graphic: "Scalped Vol. 1: Indian Country" by Jason Aaron & R.M. Guerra

Scalped Volume 1: Indian Country
created & written by Jason Aaron
illustrated by R.M. Guerra
Vertigo Comics (2007)
ISBN 9781401213176

I was looking for recommendations from folks a while back for graphic novels they loved and that I should read. I believe it was Dustin Ashe who told me I ought to check out this series called Scalped from Vertigo Comics. I checked it out and saw it was a crime series with a cast of Native Americans. Now in Canada, it's a far cry from utopia for the First Nations, but at least their on the map. If television and film were true reflections of American society, Native Americans wouldn't exist.

In Scalped, Dashiel Bad Horse returns to the Prairie Rose Indian Reservation after fifteen years with little more than a set of nunchucks and a real bad attitude. When the corrupt Tribal Leader, Lincoln Red Crow, catches word that Bad Horse has returned--and has been kicking the holy hell out of his thugs--he offers Bad Horse a job as a deputy for the reservation. It helps focus Bad Horse's energy to more productive matters, and manages to piss off Bad Horse's estranged activist mother who is protesting the brand new casino. But it's unclear just why Bad Horse has returned to Prairie Rose. Is he back to reunite with Red Crow's daughter, settle some old scores, maybe even make amends for youthful transgressions, or does he simply want a piece of the action?

If there is a bright side to the Prairie Rose Reservation, there's no sign of it in this first volume. What few characters who are not either detestable or pathetic are given only passing glances. This story is about the crooks, thugs, and hustlers--and in classic crime story fashion, even the cops are crooked or on their way. Jason Aaron does a helluva job in transposing a story about casino mobsters onto an under-utilized landscape. As for Guerra's artwork, there's an explicitness to even the mundane, and the fury of the characters comes through at palpable levels.

Dashiel, or Dash, was a pretty tough character for me to rally behind. Hell, at the start of the story I thought he was the villain. Incrementally, his motivations and personality come through, and even those aren't exactly heroic, there was enough there to at least root for the guy. Or maybe the other characters like Lincoln Red Crow were just so unlikable, I had an easier time sympathizing with Dash.

Indian Country is a strong start in this series, but it's obvious that there is a whole lot more to read before the big picture is revealed. The new casino is the symbol or what's threatening the reservation, but there are the more personal stories--Dash's childhood turns out to be inexorably linked to what's going on now--and this first volume has only scratched the surface. I'll be interested to see how things play out in the second volume.

January 11, 2012

Wish List Wednesday #107: Joe R. Lansdale's 'Sunset and Sawdust'

This is a recurring blog segment in which I highlight a book on my wish list. Sometimes it's a new release, sometimes a beloved classic, and sometimes it's a hidden gem.

I really enjoy reading Joe Lansdale's novels when I get the chance. I checked out a couple books from his Hap and Leonard series (Savage Season, Devil Red) and I'll definitely be reading the rest of them over time, but Joe does a damned good job at writing stand-alone novels too, like Freezer Burn.

One stand-alone novel that caught my eye and sounds like the kind of mystery novel that would be right up my alley is one called Sunset and Sawdust. Hell, the title alone makes me want to read it.

Now, I'm not big on the mystery genre, particularly anything that's a detective mystery or a police procedural, but this one sounds like it is the kind that would appeal to my grittier tastes in reading. Here's the write-up via Goodreads:

In the middle of a cyclone, beautiful, red-haired Sunset Jones shoots her husband Pete dead when he tries to beat and rape her. To Camp Rapture’s general consternation, Sunset’s mother-in-law arranges for her to take over from Pete as town constable. As if that weren’t hard enough to swallow in depression era east Texas, Sunset actually takes the job seriously, and her investigation into a brutal double murder pulls her into a maelstrom of greed, corruption, and unspeakable malice. It is a case that will require a well of inner strength she never knew she had. Spirited and electrifying, Sunset and Sawdust is a mystery and a tale like nothing you’ve read before.

Sold. So, are you a Lansdale fan? What other books of his should I be looking for?

January 10, 2012

Rabid Reads: "Dust Devils" by James Reasoner

Dust Devils
by James Reasoner
The Book Place (2011)
originally published 2007

I don't know who came up with the term "redneck noir," but it's an apt one when applied to this southern thrillride.

Dust Devils starts off with a kind of strangers-in-the-night romance, as a young man Toby arrives on the doorstep of a lonely woman named Grace's farm looking for work. A bit wary at first, she hires him and a friendship begins, which quickly heats up. Then, the story takes one wild turn after another. I'm kind of hesitant to even discuss plot details beyond the first thirty pages, because a couple of jaw-droppers happen surprisingly early in this book.

Okay, here's one: After the two of them have sex for the first time, he snoops through her dresser drawers while she's sleeping and finds a gun. It's a bit out of character, but he finds more guns hidden about the house, and when Toby's about to confront her about it two gunmen arrive and reveal that she isn't who she says she is. Her names's not even Grace. She's really a bank robber, estranged from her cohorts who all believe she's sitting on the last big score they stole and double-crossed them to get it.

The book could almost be confused for a Harlequin romance in those first thirty pages or so, but it's all prelude. It's that slow, rattling ride to the top of the roller coaster before you take the first big plunge into a crazy cross-country journey. It's not all adrenaline-pumping action though, and some of what's there felt a bit tinny and form-fitted. Things happened at times a little too smoothly, even though the two are in constant danger. It felt, I suppose, like the stakes weren't as high as they should have been given their circumstances. Still, the action builds upon itself, as does the dynamic between the two as they are dragged deeper and deeper into criminal activity. And the ending is a powder keg.

There is one moment that irks me in the book, where Toby commits murder. He at least plays party to it, and given the way he was presented in the book up to that point, and the almost detached way in which he reacts to it, seemed really out of place. Albeit, the story mends itself before it's all over, so I really shouldn't gripe on that detail.

I was impressed with James' turn at the wheel when he wrote TheBlood Mesa for Lee Goldberg's and William Rabkin's Dead Man series (recently picked up for a publishing deal with Amazon's imprint, if I'm not mistaken), and Dust Devils shows why he was sought out to join the crew of authors on that series. I wasn't blown away by it, but it was a fun, quick read with as many twists as a sidewinder. And it's definitely worth checking out on Kindle right now, since it's being sold on the cheap.

January 9, 2012

Rabid Rewind: The Limey

The Limey
starring Terrence Stamp, Luis Guzman, Lesley Ann Warren, and Peter Fonda
directed by Steve Soderbergh
screenplay by Lem Dobbs
Artisan (1999)

I had never heard of this movie until a couple months ago, around the time Soderbergh's latest film hit theaters. I love revenge movies, so this wound up becoming a bit of a buried treasure for me.

Terrence Stamp plays Wilson, a British ex-con out of prison and on his way to America, namely Los Angeles, after receiving word his daughter died in a horrific car accident. An acquaintance of his daughter informs him that the official story isn't true. She was murdered. So Wilson, in all his don't-f--k-with-me glory, goes on the warpath.

Where this movie strays from the standard fare is how the filmwork jumps from moment to moment in Wilson's journey, like his thoughts are playing out on screen as well. He remembers his daughter, as a child and as a defiant teenager fed up with his criminal lifestyle. He fantasizes what he'll do when he finds the guy responsible for her death, Terry Valentine. Snapshots of the movie are replayed, even preplayed, to emphasize Wilson's emotional state and forebode what's to come.

Wilson is tough as nails, but vulnerable. In one of his early encounters with Valentine's associates he gets the holy hell kicked out of him and thrown out of the building. It's obviously not his first time on the receiving end of an ass-kicking, because he just dusts himself off, grabs his gun, and goes back in the building to lay waste to all but one thug. As the sole survivor flees, Wilson shouts, "Tell him I'm coming! TELL HIM I'M F--KING COMING!!!"

Valentine, played by Peter Fonda, isn't some kingpin badass. He's a record producer with an easy charm that comes from growing up and out of the wildest days of the sixties. The carousing with women half his age is utterly believable, but to think this guy could so easily get caught up in the criminal underworld shows a dichotomy to his life. And when the two start to collide, he starts to fall apart. In a way, I found Valentine kind of a sympathetic character when confronted by Wilson, because he's not a heartless criminal--only a halfwit millionaire with no concept of what his choices have wrought.

It's a bit rough around the edges, the pace dips in a couple spots, but Terrence Stamp knocks it out of the park--even Luis Guzman is sufferable. If you like revenge flicks too, and you haven't seen this one yet, you should definitely watch it.

January 6, 2012

Rabid Reads: "Claire Dewitt and the City of the Dead" by Sara Gran

Claire Dewitt and the City of the Dead
by Sara Gran
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (2011)
ISBN 0547428499

When it comes to murder mysteries, I'm going to be up front about this: I'm not a fan. After growing up on countless police procedurals and whodunits on TV, I am weary of the formula. So, when a mystery novel comes my way, I'm already opening the book with a clear bias against it. Which makes Sara Gran's new private eye, Claire Dewitt, a genuine stand out for me--because I loved this book.

Actually, I should be a little clearer than that. It's not so much the book that I love, but the character of Claire Dewitt, because she is such an outlier from what I've read of the genre.

I read one review of this book that described Dewitt as "Nancy Drew by way of Hunter S. Thompson." I can kind of see that, since Dewitt is a former child detective now grown up, tatted up, and has no compunction with taking recreational drugs.

Dewitt gets a call to come back to New Orleans, her former stomping grounds with her late mentor, Constance Darling, to investigate the disappearance of a state prosecutor in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. The city holds bad memories for her as she hasn't been there since her mentor was murdered. And when she arrives, memories flood back to her of her formative years in Brooklyn, New York, with her two best friends--one now dead and the other estranged--as well as dreams in which Constance Darling and others visit her to give cryptic clues on where she needs to go next in her investigation.

Like I mentioned before, I didn't become engrossed in the mystery of this novel nearly as much as I did with Claire Dewitt, herself. She's brusk, snarky, and surprisingly delicate at times. Her relationships with others are especially intriguing, as no one she knows really seems to like her, and she appears find with that. Her discipline comes from a vague adherence to I Ching philosophy, the memoirs of a master detective from France named Silette--oh yeah, and the drugs. She's incredibly effective at solving mysteries, though the murder of her mentor and her childhood friend still elude her. And while jealousy of her skills may be the source of dislike from those who know her, there's a self-destructive quality to her that rings through, and maybe people just don't want to be around her when she finally detonates--she's already spent time in a mental hospital.

If another character managed to stand out it was Gran's portrayal of New Orleans. Dewitt's journeys through the ravaged streets is a heartbreaking one at times, added with a puzzling subplot concerning an unmarked van Dewitt sees lurking the city time and again.

It's a riveting mystery in a city saturated by tragedy, and Claire Dewitt acts as a beacon of sanity--or incredibly focused insanity--as she tries to do a single bit of good while she's there. It's a wonderful story, and if there are more Claire Dewitt novels in the future, I look forward to reading each of them.


January 5, 2012

Chasing Tale (Digital Edition) for January 5th, 2012: Is there such a thing as too many?

One thing was abundantly clear last month, and that was authors had an innumerable amount of e-books to give away for Christmas--or sell them so cheap, they were practically giving them away. I couldn't check my any social media site without seeing a bargain. Now, I have a glut of goodies on my Kindle of such enormity that if they were physical books I would require one of those self-storage units. Honestly, it's no wonder how authors who sell cheap e-books don't see immediate results in terms of repeat sales. Consumers can't actually consume fast enough after they've gone on a spree. I'm a voracious reader, but not a speed reader.

Anyhow, here is a litany of e-books now waiting on my Kindle to be read:

Winds of Change by Jason Brannon - Permuted Press offered quite a few free and cheap e-books over Christmas, and this was one of them that got recommended to me.

Railroad!: Rodger Dodger by Tonia Brown - I like steampunk a little more each time I read it. I think a surefire way to win me over even more is to throw in some wild west elements, which is just what Tonia's done here.

Haunted by Glen Cadigan - Glen sent me a review copy of his novella in mid-December. Now, my review commitments are already insane, but novellas are easy to burn through in an evening, plus I'm a sucker for a good ghost story, so I'll keep my fingers crossed on this one.

Run and Desert Places by Blake Crouch - I've had Run on my wish list for months, so I was pleased to see it offered for free just before Christmas, along with another Crouch title.

Sparrowhawk and One Monster Is Not Enough by Paul Finch - After I read and reviewed Paul's chapbook, King Death, he got in touch with me to review a couple more of his books. One was Sparrowhawk, a Christmas themed tale I've already read and reviewed, and a short story collection.

Crisis Hospital by Belinda Frisch - After reading Dead Spell last year, I figured I should add another of Belinda's books to my shelf and this free offer caught my eye.

Judgment (The Jury #1) by Lee Goldberg - Here's one of the free books I snagged in December. I really enjoyed his work with the Dead Man series, and while I'm in no hurry to read a Monk novelization, I will however enjoy checking this mystery novel out.

Dead Earth: The Green Dawn by Mark Justice and David T. Wilbanks - I can't remember how exactly I discovered the Pod of Horror podcast, but once I listened to Mark's interviews with amazing horror authors, as well as his snappy back-and-forth with Horror World's Nancy Kalanta, I was a fan. Aside from being a podcast and radio host, Mark's an author too, and this little gem was available for free via Permuted Press.

Take the Long Way Home by Brian Keene - As readers, we take for granted that when we buy a book, the author is going to get paid. When I got a couple of Brian's novels last year, it turns out Dorchester Publishing didn't send Brian one thin dime--and he's not the only one getting shafted apparently. At least Deadite Press, who published this book, is going to give him his due.

Flee by Jack Kilborn and Ann Voss Peterson - I remember reading a couple glowing reviews for this one. And I'm warming up some to the spy thriller, and this one could be really good.

Among the Living by Timothy W. Long - A free novel, and one recommended by Rhiannon Frater to boot.

Speed Dating with the Dead and Transparent Lovers by Scott Nicholson - I already have a couple of Scott's novels on my to-be-read pile, but when he offered these books for free one day, I couldn't resist. What I've read from him has been in the southern gothic vein so far, but I get the feeling these one strike a different timbre.

Brutal Light by Gary W. Olson - Gary sent me a review copy of his independently published novel. It's got a good cover and premise, so hopefully the rest of it holds up when I finally get around to reading it.

Wildest Dreams by Norman Partridge - It was about a year ago I read and reviewed Norman's Halloween novella, Dark Harvest, which I loved. So when Cemetery Dance announced via e-mail this novella was on sale for 99 cents I didn't hesitate scooping it up.

Slag Attack and My Fake War by Anderson Prunty - I've heard Prunty's name bandied about, and I believe I've listened to him on Greg Hall's Funky Werepig podcast--I'll have to go back and check--so these two freebies caught my eye.

Arcane by Nathan Shumate (editor) - Arcane has morphed from a periodical to an anthology, jam-packed with thirty stories from authors such as Gemma Files, Milo James Fowler, and Damien Walters Grintalis. I really enjoyed the first issue of the now defunct periodical, so I'm eager to see what this huge collection has to offer.

Beautiful, Naked, & Dead by Josh Stallings - I forget who tweeted a link to this freebie, but sufficed to say I trusted that person to steer me in the right direction. Hope it's good.

Shotgun Gravy by Chuck Wendig - I've been visiting Chuck's blog, Terrible Minds, more and more the last several months. So, I figured it was time for me to put one of his books on my to-be-read pile. This novella with a title I just really liked was going for 99 cents, so I grabbed it.