February 29, 2012

Chasing Tale for February 29th, 2012: James M. Cain, Christopher Fowler, Dan Simmons ...

After the glut of e-books I downloaded to my new Kindle over the Christmas holidays, I felt kind of guilty because when I browsed through the independent bookstore at the mall over the holidays--twice--and had a disappointing time on both occasions. I scoured the shelves, meandering from one end of the store to the other and back again, and found only one book on display that sparked my interest. And since I hate leaving a bookstore empty-handed, I bought it. Sure, the store isn't that big compared to a big chain store like Chapters, but it's the biggest one in my neck of the woods with considerably more shelf space than the more local one that's basically a couple shelves and a turnstile display inside a gift shop.

Sure, I could have called ahead of time to order a book I wanted, then waited 3-4 weeks before getting it, which I have done multiple times in the past, but if I wanted to do that I could just order the book via Book Depository (provided it was available) and have it sent straight to my mailbox with free shipping, and maybe even a discount off the sticker price to boot. And when it comes time to support local business, I order books through the used-bookshop that's within walking distance. Never mind the sinful convenience of reading e-books now that I have a Kindle. When I take the time out of my day to browse a bookstore, I want it to be a store where there's a good chance--if not a guaranteed chance--that I'll find a book I want to buy. These days, it's the used-bookshops that are more reliable in that department than the ones selling the bestsellers.

I mean, it's bad enough the genre fiction is relegated to the very back of the store, but when half of those books are written by a half-dozen of the big-name players, the selection is quite simply inadequate for a guy like me. The whole experience taught me that my taste in books and the inventory of a brick-and-mortar store just don't jibe. I'll keep supporting independent bookstores, but from now on I am not going to feel bad if I leave empty-handed.

Enough belly-aching. Let's have a peak at the books I got this month, including the one book I bought at the mall:

The Postman Always Rings Twice by James M. Cain - This is one of those classic novels that I figure I have gotta read before I die. It's also the kind of book I imagine will be best read from the well-worn 60s-era paperback I got for less than a toonie. These are the kind of little discoveries I enjoy when I browse a used-bookshop.

Hell Train by Christopher Fowler - I spied the cover of this book a couple months back on Fantasy BookCritic, then I read a couple reviews for it on blogs I subscribe to, and figured a horror novel with a heavy Hammer Films influence could be really entertaining. This is that one book I found at the mall, and considering it looks like an out-and-out horror novel, I was frankly surprised it was shelved in the store at all. It must have been an oversight on the store's part, because the only other horror novels in that store have King or Koontz on the cover.

Sadie Walker Is Stranded by Madeleine Roux - I won a copy of this book courtesy of Suzanne Johnson's Preternatura blog. I've read a couple positive reviews for this one, the cover is nicely done, and I've yet to grow weary of the zombie genre. Hopefully, this one holds up.

The Terror by Dan Simmons - This was a find at my local used-bookshop. Seeing a book with Simmons' name on the cover catches my eye instantly, though I've yet to grab one of his sci-fi novels. Someday perhaps, but I'll need to read this and Drood first.

So those are the paperbacks added to my shelf this month. How is the selection at your local bookstore?

February 28, 2012

Rabid Reads: "Darkness: Two Decades of Modern Horror" by Ellen Datlow

Darkness: Two Decades of Modern Horror
edited by Ellen Datlow
Tachyon Publications (2010)
424 pages
ISBN 1892391953

If you aren't well-versed in the best of short fiction within the horror genre, Ellen Datlow to the rescue. With Darkness, Ellen takes a look back on the last twenty-five years of horror, more specifically the years between 1980 and 2005, and compiles twenty-five stories from some of the most notorious names in the genre.

I had blogged about this book back in Wish List Wednesday #43, mainly for the "greatest hits" feel of the anthology, and the list of contributing authors was incredible. But, when I actually had a gander at the table of contents earlier this year and realized it contained a short story I've been wanting to read for years, I actually put an effort to track down a copy of the book. That story?

George R. R. Martin's "The Pear-Shaped Man." That short story, first published in 1987, was practically urban legend for me, as multiple people have cited it as a must read and one of the best short stories in horror. A face value, a story about a creepy neighbor might not sound like much, but Mr. Game of Thrones really amped up the creepy factor in this one and by the end of it my skin was crawling. Definitely a gem and reason enough to hunt down this anthology.

But wait ... there's more!

Peter Straub's "The Juniper Tree" (1988) is another haunting story, but this one takes a more subdued albeit just as disturbing tale of lost innocence. Dan Simmons had a fun one called "Two Minutes Forty-Five Seconds" (1988) about a businessman's fated trip on board a jet. A couple others I thought were exceptional among the exceptional were Joe Lansdale's "The Phone Woman" (1990), Denis Etchison's "The Dog Park" (1993), and Joyce Carol Oates' " " (1995).

The book was a great time capsule, and nearly every read was new to me. The only three I recall reading before are Clive Barker's "Jacqueline Ess" (1984), Stephen King's "Chattery Teeth" (1992), and Joe Hill's "My Father's Mask" (2005). Everything else, including some great stories from Kelly Link, Gary Wolfe, and Kathe Koja were almost like finding buried treasure. It may not be a book that's ideal for those who have already devoured the works of these notable authors, but for anyone looking to get a diverse sampling of what the last few decades have to offer, this is a book you shouldn't miss.

February 27, 2012

Rabid Rewind: The Dark Knight

The Dark Knight
starring Christian Bale, Aaron Eckhart, Heath Ledger, Maggie Gylenhaal, Morgan Freeman, Eric Roberts, and Michael Caine
directed by Christopher Nolan
screenplay by Jonathan Nolan and Christopher Nolan
Warner Bros. (2008)

Brian Singer's X-Men showed us that a superhero movie in the 21st century could be good. Sam Raimi's Spider-Man showed us what a great one looks like. But Christopher Nolan showed us something truly iconic. The Dark Knight became the stuff of legend.

Batman Begins is a really good origin story, but that's about all it is, and a movie I have never felt the need to revisit. Bruce Wayne is showed at his most vulnerable and flawed, and his rise to becoming Batman is one of the better origin stories in the superhero genre. The Dark Knight, however, is where we all knew the story was going to get good.

The movie picks up a couple years after the first one, and Batman has put the fear of God into every mob boss in Gotham. That's got them scared--and desperate. Things are so bad that when a maniacal newcomer calling himself the Joker offers to kill Batman for a hefty price, they agree. And so begins one of DC's most fabled battles between good and evil. After seeing this movie three or four times, I'm convinced that this movie would still be considered a benchmark in the genre even if Heath Ledger hadn't tragically died in the prime of his life. Some folks might dismiss the success of this film to movie-goers wanting to see Ledger's last movie, which I highly doubt--besides, Doctor Parnassus was his final film.

Christian Bale actually feels like the weak link, if there must be one in this movie. That exaggerated gruff voice he uses when parading around as Batman is just ridiculous. I didn't really notice it in the first film, and didn't mind it the first time I saw this one, but every time I sit down to re-watch it that voice gets more and more insufferable. Despite my annoyance with his voice, Bale does a great job showing the dichotomy Bruce Wayne strives for with the playboy image and the caped crusader. And Michael Caine as Alfred to play a foil is about pitch perfect.

I'm sure if I really wanted to, I could dissect this movie and find a whole bunch of things to find fault in, but I won't. It's just too much fun to get wrapped up in the story, and unlike too many superhero movies there is a strong story in The Dark Knight. Bruce Wayne doesn't want to be Batman anymore; he wants to marry his sweetheart, and D.A. Harvey Dent looks like a perfect replacement to take on Gotham's crime bosses. The tragedy of having to stay at arm's length from the ones you love most so you can protect them is a poignant bit of storytelling, and Christopher Nolan finds a brilliant way to tell that story and still keep people enthralled with fights, chases, and explosions.

I'll let the supergeeks quibble over which superhero movie is the greatest one of all time. I'm only saying here that The Dark Knight is one of my favorites.

February 23, 2012

Rabid Reads: "The New Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn" by Lisa Mannetti

The New Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn
Shadowfall Publications (2011)
246 pages
ISBN 9781936457090

After reading some of the darkest and grimmest historical fiction from Lisa Mannetti's talented and twisted mind, I had the chance to read her latest novel which demonstrates her penchant for the whimsical and satirical. She already showed her humorous side with 51 Fiendish Ways to Leave Your Lover, illustrated by Glenn Chadbourne, but this novel was to show a deeper exposure of her funny bone. At least, that's what I'd hoped given the source material was penned by Mark Twain.

It's with a sigh of relief that this novel is most assuredly not a literary mash-up a la Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. With all due respect to authors who cram their prose in-between the passages of literary classics, I much prefer when an author explores brand new material with those established characters. Lisa doesn't merely throw some witches and werewolves into some of Twain's old lore. She crafts her own story by absconding with two literary icons and dropping them quite unceremoniously in her world. And the way she does it is both mischievous and charming.

Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn find themselves reincarnated as a pair of white fluffy kittens, and given the monikers--for a little while anyway--of Cream Puff and Coconut. Aside from that niggling detail, the two boys acclimate themselves to their feline lifestyles rather well. They're adept at finding prime spots to nap, are waited on indoors, and have free roam outdoors. Not terrible for a couple kids at heart. This setup alone would have been amusing enough given Lisa's talent; just let the two have quaint adventures in the backyard chasing mice and generally being cats; but Lisa takes Huck and Tom and really makes their new lives interesting.

They're adopted by a witch who calls herself Lady B and given their true names back of Tom and Huck, as she recognizes their spirits and enlists them as her familiars. As they start their new lives with her in the Chancery House, they not only become better acquainted with being cats, but also acquainted with witchcraft, even learning a few tricks of their own. If antics involving magic and Lady B's werewolf friends, and an antagonistic woman named Lily, there's a love story brewing for Lady B as she searches for true love. Tom and Huck get the idea to help her out, in their own impish ways.

Personally, I was always more of a fan of Mark Twain's sardonic wit in his letters and essays, though it's been years since I last read any of those--I really should remedy that. I read Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn way back in junior high as required reading, and like most required reading, I repelled from it. I think Lisa has warmed me up to it, thanks to reminding me just how vibrant and varied the language was. And Lisa expertly employs that Twain style of writing, telling this story through Tom Sawyer's eyes. The mannerisms and speech feel so much like what I remember from Twain's writing, it was remarkable.

There were lulls for me in a few spots, but I was impressed overall, and one particular scene involving a seance was outright hilarious. The book is worth reading for that alone, in my opinion. I read the grown-up edition of the book, which is one of two editions, as a version of younger readers is available for purchase, too. I think that must exist solely to exclude some of the racier moments in the story, but I'll bet the heart and hilarity are intact.

If you're a fan of Twain, it's a must read. If you're in the mood for some humor and fantastical escapades, this book is a pretty safe bet, as well. Lisa's done it again.

February 22, 2012

Chasing Tale for February 22nd, 2012 (Digital Edition): Adam Cesare, Chuck Wendig, Dave Zeltserman ...

Despite the enormity of my to-be-read pile, the books just keep coming. This time around it's mostly advance review copies for new releases, with a couple freebies I found on Amazon.com. Let's have a gander.

Tribesmen by Adam Cesare - Adam Blomquist has a new novella under the Cesare name. John Skipp does the introduction, and I think is even the publisher. "A cunning, cinematic redmeat feast for weird film lovers and horror freaks." I may need to dig out my nightlight.

Seven Stories by Brian James Freeman - I remember really enjoying Brian's novella, ThePainted Darkness, so when Cemetery Dance published this collection and offered it free for a limited time, there was nothing to discuss. Instant download.

Merkabah Rider: Tales of a High Plains Drifter by Edward Erdelac - 2011 saw me turn into a fan of the weird western. The seeds were already there with my affinity for Stephen King's Dark Tower series, but that was never full-blown western. This novel, however, sounds like it is.

Of Blood and Honey by Stina Leicht - On February 1st, Stina sent out a tweet that Night Shade Books was offering the first book in her Fey and the Fallen series for free to promote the release of the second book. I had this one on my wish list after hearing her talk about it on the podcast, Writing Excuses, so it was a nice treat to get it gratis.

Everything Theory: Cold Compass by Barry Napier - Barry has a new book out. Sixth Sense meets The X-Files, apparently. The guy is a machine. I won this one at the start of last month, and if it holds up as well as The Bleeding Room, then I will enjoy it thoroughly.

Echoes of the Dead by Aaron Polson - Some a-hole plagiarized this book and put it on the Kindle Store under a different title and flagrantly fake pseudonym. It's been removed thankfully, and Aaron offered the real deal for a limited time for free. Thanks, Aaron. You rock. 

Welcome to Moon Hill by Anthony J. Rapino - Tony was generous enough to send me a review copy of his brand new short story collection. Hard to say when I will be able to get around to it, but this is one I've been looking forward to checking out. You can find out more by checking out his site.

The Monster Within Idea by R. Thomas Riley - When I saw a mention of this book on Google Plus in February, then remembered hearing it praised by Greg Hall and others on the Funky Werepig podcast. It's got a great title and those Piggy Petters know a good book when they whore it, more often than not.

The Light Side of Dark by Voni Ryan - Thanks to Jodi and her minions at Belfire Press, I won a copy of this new collection from a duo writing under a pseudonym. It's been a while since I dug into a Belfire title, but I've come to expect good things from the little press that could. I suspect I'll find a fair bit to enjoy in this book's pages.

Faint of Heart by Jeff Strand - Getting a book for free is always nice, but getting a book by Jeff Strand is extra nice. Jeff had this up for free on the Kindle Store at the start of the month. This was a no-brainer, which suits my intellect to a tea.

Down Here in the Dark by Lee Thompson - I've got one of Lee's novellas already sitting on my Kindle waiting to be read, but I was incredibly surprised and grateful when he provided me with a copy of this short novel for review, too. Thanks to his great short fiction, I'm burning through my review commitments so I can get to these.

Blackbirds by Chuck Wendig - I've been checking out Chuck's blog for a year or so and finding some of his foul-mouthed advice quite helpful. Now that his urban fantasy novel is due out soon through Angry Robot Books, I'm eager to see what his fiction is like.

Bad Karma by Dave Zeltserman - A Zeltserman novel offered for free is kind of a no-brainer for me. No idea what this one's about, I just know I was so impressed by Caretaker of Lorne Field that I doubt I'll be disappointed.

What e-books did you download recently?

February 21, 2012

In Which I Read "The Graveyard Book" by Neil Gaiman

The Graveyard Book
by Neil Gaiman
Harper (2008)
307 pages
ISBN 9780060530945

When Neil Gaiman writes a children's book, he seems to tap into the same vein that brought about some of the most chilling nursery rhymes and fairy tales in history. Thank goodness for that, because happy-go-lucky children's stories are fine, by even kids need to know about the things with sharp teeth--and sharp knives.

Nobody Owens is an orphan. His parents and sister were murdered one night when he was only an infant. As if by divine intervention, Nobody evaded the murderer, a sinister individual known as the man Jack, by leaving his crib and toddling off to a nearby graveyard. It was there he was saved by the ghosts and a married couple, the Owens, and a mysterious, looming figure named Silas. Despite the barriers between the living and the dead, the people of the graveyard protect the baby and essentially adopt him, and divert the man Jack from his evil intentions, with Silas posing as the graveyards's caretaker and convincing Jack the baby he's looking for must have gone somewhere else. After that, the baby is given the name Nobody--"Bod" for short.

The book then follows Bod through his childhood living in the graveyard, learning at the feet of Silas his protector, as well as several of the ghostly residents. They are a closeknit community, but even in the graveyard dangers lurk, and Bod again and again finds himself in peril. Ghouls, witches, unscrupulous pawnbrokers, and an ominous entity beneath the graveyard all makes appearances in Bod's formative years. And there's always the spectre of the man Jack somewhere out there in the world, still searching for him.

Things aren't all gloom and doom for the boy, and as he grows up in his spooky surroundings, he lives a life that is boundless with adventure, discovery, mystery, and love. Neil Gaiman captures all of it too, with a deft style that seems like old hat for him by now. Making the ordinary a wondrous playground, and the extraordinary the classroom for wonderful life lessons.

It's pretty hard to find a single thing to quibble over with this story. I just wish I had been a boy when I first read it. I guess I'll have to settle for it delighting my inner child, who is now a little less afraid of those cemeteries he grew up around in his boyhood.


February 20, 2012

Rabid Rewind: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2
starring Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint, Alan Rickman, and Ralph Fiennes
directed by David Yates
screenplay by Steve Kloves
based on the books by J.K. Rowling
Warner Bros. (2011)

I'm not much of a fanboy, so it was with some perplexity that I looked at the devotees of the Harry Potter franchise as they lined up for days outside theaters to see this movie. There's never been a franchise that's affected me anywhere near that level, not even my favorite TV/film franchise, Star Trek. Granted, you can count on one finger the number of Star Trek movies to inspire that level of excitement. But I will say that with each successive Harry Potter movie, I've looked forward to them more and more. Mind you, I've always been content to wait until they're out on DVD, even waiting for them a couple times to be broadcast on TV. With Deathly Hallows Part 2, this is definitely the most I've looked forward to watching one of these movies ... but was it worth the wait?

It's been over six months since I saw Deathly Hallows Part 1, and even longer since I read the book, but it was pretty easy to get right back in the thick of things. I'm pretty sure any newcomers to the story would be utterly lost, but who the heck would jump into a long-running film series by starting with the very last one? This was purely for the audiences who had already invested a lot of time into these characters, and I was really impressed with how well the movie stayed true to the style and the tone of the book.

One of the most striking things to me was the flashbacks to the previous movies. My god, those kids literally grew up on a movie set. I'll bet if you listen closely to one of those mid-point movies, like Goblet of Fire, you can hear Rupert Grint's balls drop. Enjoy that mental picture, ladies and gents.

The movie is basically the action-saturated payoff for the entire series. Every movie has worked well enough as a stand-alone, most of them anyway, but there's been that prelude to the big showdown between Harry and Voldemort in each of those movies, and fans have been chomping at the bit to see it with their own eyes. Well, the final movie delivers and then some. As far as coherent plot and concise storytelling, the movie isn't exactly textbook, because it's not meant to exist as its own film. So much of the movie is hinged on stuff that's already been said or happened that loyalists to the franchise risk getting lost early on.

The special effects are top notch and trump just about anything Michael Bay could cook up on his best day, due in no small part to how expertly the fantastical aspects of the movie are used to accentuate the story rather than distract from the lack of one. It's an epic farewell to a world of characters that have captivated audiences for a decade or more on the silver screen and living rooms. Some scenes play out almost exactly as I imagined them while reading the book, more so than any of the other movies, with a few surprising approaches to key scenes. It's a bit early for me to say this is a classic film, as I'll need to see it sometime down the road again, but I felt very satisfied with how it all came to pass.

If you haven't seen the Harry Potter movies yet, they're worth watching, and now that they're complete new viewers can tear through the entire series at their leisure. And seeing those characters grow up might seem even more drastic that way.

February 17, 2012

The Moon Hill Blog Tour: Genre-Bending (a guest post by Anthony J. Rapino)

To cap off the week, here's a guest post from Anthony J. Rapino, a talented author whose work is finally getting a spotlight shone on it. I've been checking out his short stories for a couple years now, when I come across them on the Internet or anthologies, so it's especially nice to see the guy with a brand new collection of his stories being published. To celebrate, he's in the middle of a blog tour to get the word out, and I was eager to give him one more apple crate to stand on and hock his wares. Enjoy.
The Moon Hill Blog Tour: Genre-Bending
by Anthony J. Rapino
Thanks to Gef for helping celebrate the release of my new horror collection, Welcome to Moon Hill.

Recently, it was brought to my attention that my horror collection isn’t really horror. Or, more accurately, a good portion of the stories in the collection are not horror. My response surprised even me: “I know.” I did know! Yet somehow it hadn’t occurred to me that marketing it as “horror” might hurt sales. I’m still not sure it does.

Let me explain. I write horror; this is true. But when I write, I also blur genre lines. I’m not talking combo genres like horror/sci-fi or mystery/western. I simply mean I don’t force the stories I write to adhere to horror conventions. I let the story tell itself, whatever that may mean.

What I’m left with is a collection of stories that, if I’m being accurate, range across multiple subgenres: speculative fiction, absurdist, horror, magical realism, bizarro, dark humor, and so on.

One of the problems with marketing such a collection is that with all these different subgenres commingling, it’s incredibly hard to choose a single blanket genre (although personally, I believe horror, or at the very least speculative fiction, works fine). The second problem is that Amazon doesn’t have many subgenres to choose from. There are some, but not many. For instance, the only “horror” subcategories available on Amazon are occult, dark fantasy, anthologies, and ghosts.

Honestly, that’s okay with me. Genres are important for categorization. It makes it easier for people to find what they’re looking for. But beyond that, I find them absolutely unnecessary. I’ve always hated labels when applied to people, and at its worst, genres are just as bad.

I can’t count the number of times I wouldn’t read a book or see a movie solely based on the genre (Romantic comedy? No thanks!) only to finally see it and love it. Then I’d say to myself, “Self, that movie was in fact a romantic comedy, and yet it transcended it’s genre to the point of brilliance.” Okay, so I never actually said that, but the point stands.

The same goes for novels. Plenty of people might see Welcome to Moon Hill in the horror category and skip it, because they hate horror (or whatever their idea of horror may be). But then they’d miss out on the stories in the collection that are more than horror, the ones that are about wonder, hope, or love, merely told with speculative elements or an undercurrent of darkness.

That’s when genre labels are bad: When they dictate what a person reads.

Let’s all attempt to branch out, try something new, and not let labels dictate our lives.

If you’d like to help me defeat all normalcy left in the universe, join my Minions. And for proof of my psychosis, please visit my website.

Moon Hill is a forgotten place that few purposely visit, and even less leave. Once you arrive, the deep dark of the forest creeps into your mind and will not relent. Strange flowers that grow from deer carcasses, murderous lunatics, talking ravens, wriggling parasites that induce eruptive confessions, and demons of every variety: they all live here too.

Even so, the residents of Moon Hill can feel, beyond the fear and distress, that this land is special and they are lucky to live here. Most everyone feels that way right up until the day they come a little too close to the magic of this place. When dusk's light leaks through their carefully locked doors and rips holes in their minds.

Then, they pray for release.

--Welcome to Moon Hill.

February 16, 2012

Rabid Reads: 'Guarding the Healer' by Gabriel Beyers

Guarding the Healer
published in 2011

When you delve into the horror genre you can find many a novel with a spotlight on the destroyers of the world, but how often do you find one that explores the healers? And I'm talking literally here, as the protagonist in Gabriel Beyers' debut novel is just that--a healer.

Silas Walker wants to be a good little Christian and when he discovers he's been blessed with the ability to heal, he gets his chance to really make a difference. The healing powers aren't something he can really control consciously though, like some kind of super power; it's more like he has become an instrument of God and the power flows through Silas. There's a malevolent force lurking in town, however, and has gone so far as to possess a troubled young man in order to torment and target Silas.

To me, it felt like this novel took a little while to find its footing. Silas' character was constructed well through the opening chapters and the conflicts he is faced with once he realizes he's been imbued with a healing force felt very convincing. That said, the opening chapters were surprisingly heavy with the supernatural. I expected the slow build with that stuff as the novel progressed, but from the get-go the angels and demons are given the spotlight. And for a while I wondered if the novel was going to be told predominantly through the eyes of Silas' guardian angel, Nassarius. In fact, as the novel progressed I found myself really wishing the story was told strictly from Silas' viewpoint rather than moments with the angel. That aspect of the novel felt a little too inside and kind of diminished some tension. It was the human factor of the novel I thought deserved a much bigger focus, even though it was already the dominant storyline. I thought the introduction of Tommy, a drifter with a past that winds up aiding Silas, was especially helpful in caring the humanity of the story.

While I didn't care for the novel a whole lot, I do have to say that Gabriel did a real good job in presenting his characters through the whole of the novel. Nothing felt forced or artificial, and even though there were some lulls that could have been put on the chopping block, each character definitely shone through. It's a novel that is okay, bordering on very good, but just fell short for me and didn't hold my interest in many spots. It's worth giving a chance if you like tales of supernatural forces infringing on the mundane, particularly if you're into the whole demons versus angels thing, but for me it wasn't quite enough.

February 15, 2012

Wish List Wednesday #110: Carol Weekes' "Terribilis"

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.

While I wait to review Carol Weekes' The Color of Bone, which will be published by Dark Regions Press, I have another of her books on my wish list.

Terribilis is a novel published by Atomic Fez, and isn't the kind of novel I'd normally go for (looking at the plot summary), but considering how impressed I was with her collaboration with Michael Kelly for Ouroboros, I'm more than willing to give it a go.

A detective thriller set in Ontario, Canada, a serial killer is on the loose, killing people and making the deaths appear to be heroin overdoses. The detectives on the case look to a biology professor for answers, due to his expertise with a very rare breed of frog. How this all connects to the murders, I'm still unclear, but I'm intrigued, that's for sure. And the end of the backcover blurb describes the book as "an uncomfortable journey into a 21st century heart of darkness." Hey, that could be really good.

So, here's a question: how many of you have read a novel set in Canada? Most of the folks who visit my blog are American, so I'm curious to know if you've ever tried out some fiction from the great white north. Leave a comment.

February 14, 2012

Rabid Reads: "Harbor" by John Adjvide Lindqvist

John Adjvide Lindqvist
Thomas Dunne Books (2011)
500 pages
ISBN 0312680279

In Harbor, it seems to me that Lindqvist does for ghosts what he did for vampires in Let the Right One In; taking the well-worn genre, hanging it on the clothesline, and batting the dust out of it with a stick. But, if that was his aim, did it work?

Set against the rustic, hard-bitten backdrop of Domaro, an island that's part of an archipelago off the coast of Sweden, Anders and his wife and daughter go out for a walk one morning to tour the lighthouse on a neighboring island. After hiking across the ice, however, his daughter disappears, feared to have fallen through the ice. But the ice is so thick, it's a wonder how that would be possible, yet she is gone all the same. Two years later, divorced and a drunkard, Anders returns to Domaro to get his life together. Instead, he becomes enmeshed in a mystery concerning a specter that may or may not be his daughter, and a history to the island that demands secrecy from the island's residents--including Anders' grandmother.

The evocative imagery is a real strong suit in Lindqvist's writing. There are moments when you can feel the cold biting into your skin. I recall some cold, bleak moments in Let the Right One In, but this book is practically cold to the touch. And the supernatural aspects of the novel offered some unsettling, off-key notes to a very sad song.

The way in which the story delves back into both Anders' childhood, as well as Simon's (the long-time lover of Anders' grandmother), can be a bit disorienting at times. It focus of the story takes a while to hone in, as scenes act as precursors. Actually, as I read the book I found Simon's side of the story even more intriguing than Anders'. Simon is a retired illusionist and escape artist, who bought a house on Domaro to keep his drug-addicted lover away from temptation. It doesn't work though, and she eventually leaves him, but he stays on the island and falls in love with Anna-Greta, Anders' grandmother, when Anders is a young boy. During his time on the island he finds a creature called a Spritus, which is some kind of folkloric critter that is straight out of some legend I've never heard of. It's like a little slug that can give its owner some extraordinary gifts--or curses, depending on how you look at it.

The creepy factor really amps up in the last hundred pages, and that's about as close to a spoiler as I dare spill. I think some might find it a bit off from everything that comes before it, but at the end of the book, I thought it worked and had me mulling it over for the rest of the night after I set the book down.

I really enjoyed this book. And if Lindqvist really did want to find a new way to approach the "haunted" trope, he succeeded with flying colors. There are moments were it's engrossing, disturbing, and a little disorienting when you least expect it. It's not as spellbinding as Let the Right One In, and I suppose it's a bit unfair to compare the two since the tone and subject matter is dissimilar, but I can't help it. But to say I didn't like this book as much is like saying I don't like ice-cream cones as much as I like ice-cream sundaes--Dude, it's still ice-cream!


February 13, 2012

Rabid Rewind: Insidious

starring Patrick Wilson, Rose Byrne, Lin Shaye, and Barbara Hershey
directed by James Wan
written by Leigh Whannel
Alliance Films (2011)

I am always skeptical when movie critics tout any film as "the best in decades", and the blurbs that Alliance Films plastered on the DVD case for this movie read like I was set to watch Stanley Kubrick's The Shining. I hate that about hype, whether it's movies, TV, or even books. I just want a good story, so please don't set the bar insanely high before I've even sat down to enjoy your product. Now, having said all that, Insidious was pretty effing good.

Josh and Renai (Patrick Wilson and Rose Byrne) move their three kids into a new house in some quaint little suburb, but when their eldest son, Dalton, goes into a coma following an incident in the attic, strange things start happening in the house. Doors open, something bangs on the walls, there are voices whispering, and even a malevolent figures looms over their infant daughter. The building tension and escalating jump scares through the course of the haunting feel very familiar, but none of it felt cliched. Rose Byrne especially performed well as a the distraught mother who knows there's something evil in the house but can't convince her husband. It's a sticking point in haunted house films that grates on me more often than not, but the chemistry between Byrne and Wilson worked well, and most of their characters' choices felt plausible.

After a really intense encounter that has their comatose son targeted by some malevolent spirit, Renai convinces Josh to move them to a new house, which adds even more strain to their relationship, as he's been avoiding the house by working late, leaving her alone to deal with the tumult. But the spirits follow them to the new house, and when a medium named Elise(Lin Shaye) comes to investigate, they learn it's not the house, but their son that is haunted. This was where things took a different tone for a while, with Josh suddenly resistant to all notions that there is a supernatural influence, despite witnessing several disturbing instances. Then there is the bumbling duo of ghost hunters that accompany Elise, one even played by the movie's screenwriter, Leigh Whannel. In one sense, the comedic touches helped add a release valve on the very heavy suspense, but it became more of a distraction from the plot than anything else.

For a movie that could have easily drifted into Amityville Horror territory--that's not a compliment, by the way--Insidious finds a balance between the fantastic and the frightening. There is one scene involving an astral plain called The Further that felt like a blatant callback to Poltergeist (you'll know the one I mean when you see it). And the seance scene, despite a couple tweaks, felt well-worn and lacked any real suspense for me. It's oddly enough, the jump scares that work best in the film, used to their fullest potential. A couple of times I actually flinched, and that doesn't happen very often with modern horror films.

I don't think I'd rank it high on my list of favorite haunted house movies, but it was an entertaining one that's for sure, and I think it'll be a movie I won't mind revisiting again and again.

The house with its hardwood floors and shadowed corners is practically a breed ground for spooky scenarios,

Josh, Renai, and Dalton Lambert hired Elise, a medium, and Specs, Leigh Whannel, to get rid of a demon. Lorraine his mother knows abotu Josh's past. Lipstick-Face Demon, Old Woman, Long Haired Fiend, and the Doll Girls.

February 9, 2012

Getting Graphic: "American Vampire Vol. Two" by Scott Snyder & Rafael Albuquerque

American Vampire Volume Two
written by Scott Snyder
illustrated by Rafael Albuquerque and Mateus Santolouco
ISBN 9781401230692

If I didn't impress the point enough when I blogged about American Vampire Volume One, then let me make it clear right now: if you are a fan of vampires in all their monstrous glory, you need to read this series.

It's Las Vegas during the mid-1930s. The Hoover Dam is nearing completion and the head honchos of the consortium responsible for its construction are being murdered. These aren't gangland slayings; gangsters tend not to drain their victims of all their blood.

Cash McCogan, Vegas' young and grizzled police chief is doing what he can to keep the peace, but he's understaffed and his cells are filling up with the rowdy, carousing dam workers. The murders are the worst among a whole lot of bad. Enter two FBI agents to give him a hand with a bit of inside knowledge on who-or-what is responsible for the killings. It doesn't take long for the FBI cover to fall apart, revealing the two newcomers in town are vampire hunters. And they've got their sites on the same guy Cash does: Skinner Sweet, or as he's going by in his Vegas bordello, Jim Smoke.

Meanwhile Pearl Jones, the formidable young woman Skinner turned into a vampire in Volume One is living the idyllic life with the love of her life in the Colorado outback ... until the vampire hunters arrive. They aren't out to kill her though; they just want information that may help their comrades in Las Vegas.

That's the first three parts of this graphic novel called "Devil in the Sand." After that there's a two-part story titled "The Way Out," which takes a closer look at Pearl Jones and her attempt at a happily ever after in Colorado. It becomes apparent that won't be easy, and not because of vampire hunters. Hattie Hargrove, Pearl's former friend turned vamp, is still alive and--hoo boy--she is pissed.

Even if the stories weren't so damned riveting, gritty, and relentless, this book would be well worth reading just to gawk at the artwork. Rafael's illustrations are as alluring and gruesome as they were in the first volume, and Mateus' work with "The Way Out" shows he is no slouch either. The mix of hard-scrabble desert and carnal cityscape are impressive enough, but the viciousness and vulnerability--not to mention the carnality--are captured perfectly.

February 8, 2012

Wish List Wednesday #109: Patrick deWitt's "The Sisters Brothers"

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.

The cover caught my eye. The premise held my interest. And its seemingly ceaseless literary award nominations will not let me forget it. So I'm putting The Sisters Brothers by Patrick DeWitt on my wish list.

I've never read a lot of westerns, even though it's a genre I always seem to enjoy. Lately, I've been into weird westerns a la A Book of Tongues and Hallowed Ground. The Sisters Brothers isn't a book with a fantastical element, but a literary excursion by an author with an affinity for the genre.

Take two henchmen who are brothers, one with a taste for killing and the other only a loyalty to his kin, and send them on a job to kill a prospector who has run afoul of their boss, the Commodore. The western as a backdrop for sibling loyalty and rivalry sounds really good and this is one I can't wait to read once I get the chance.

How about you? Are you interested in reading this book or any other westerns these days?

Press Release: Mad House's Open Call for Submissions

 Jose Cruz, over at Mad House, wanted to get the word out on a new online project. The premise for the anthology sounds promising, though I personally don't have any stories at the ready that might be suitable--yet. Have a gander and see if this might be up your alley.

Mad House: The Macabre Magazine
Call for Contributions! 

Do you crave classic horror stories? Do you love the musty smell of a paperback anthology containing vintage horror? Stories about creepy old houses, aristocratic vampires, Lovecraftian creatures, and tales of psychological spooks?

We wanted to send a shout out to all interested parties who would want to submit pieces in this vein to MAD HOUSE, a new digital magazine that’s eager to hear the terrifying tales that all you storytellers have to share. In addition to fiction, we're open for nonfiction, poetry, and artwork.

If you pine after the Universal and Hammer horror films and worship authors like Poe, M.R. James, Ray Bradbury, Richard Matheson, and many others, then MAD HOUSE is the monster mag for you!

The official deadline for any and all submissions for our premiere issue is MAY 5TH, 2012. We are planning on releasing the anthology in time for the Halloween season and need to have all materials at the ready by the above timeline. Don’t miss out on your chance!

At this time we cannot offer payment to our contributors. We're putting this magazine together for the pure fun of it and out of our love for all that is classic horror. We hope to someday offer monetary compensation for the great work that we’re provided with. In the meantime it is our desire to simply put together a loving publication that we can all share with other terror-loving friends.

We prefer that your submission is in Word document format, 12 point Times New Roman, single-spaced.
Stories can reach up to a 7,000 word maximum. Maximum word count for articles is 5,000 words.
Attach it to your email and make sure you include the piece's title and your name in the subject line.
We will request short bios upon acceptance of your piece(s).

Address all submissions to madhousemag [at] yahoo [dot] com.

MAD HOUSE will require the non-exclusive right to use submissions in our free online edition and any possible PDF editions. First world electronic rights revert back to the creators three months after publication in MAD HOUSE. Reprints are more than welcome. We only ask that creators notify us of previous appearances of their work and credit MAD HOUSE for future publication of their accepted piece.

Check out our blog for more information. Be careful as you traverse through MAD HOUSE and always keep your hands at the level of your eyes! You never know who you may run into.

MAD HOUSE MAGAZINE: http://madhousemag.blogspot.com/

February 7, 2012

Getting Graphic: "Anya's Ghost" by Vera Brosgol

Anya's Ghost
written & illustrated by Vera Brosgol
221 pages
First Second (2011)
ISBN (Paperback) 9781596435520

Neil Gaiman blurbed about this graphic novel, saying it was "a masterpiece." I didn't adore it quite as much as that, but I'll readily admit that it was really, really good. A Russian teen named Anya is about as snarky as you get. She's annoyed by her little brother, embarrassed by her Russian heritage (having taken speech lessons to drop her accent), constantly evading her mother's fatty home-cooking, constantly avoiding the other Russian kid in school who is a target of bullies on a daily basis, has a crush on one of the cutest guys in her private school, her only friend is an Irish tomboy with a bigger nicotine addiction than her, is barely getting by with her schoolwork, and she thinks she's fat. Did I leave anything out? Oh yeah, she just fell down an old, abandoned well. How could things possibly get worse?

Well, I suppose there is that ghost. You know, the girl whose skeleton Anya nearly fell on at the bottom of the well. And when Anya finally gets help and is pulled out of the well, the ghosts follows her home thanks to one of her finger bones being gathered into Anya's backpack as Anya is rescued.

The relationship between Anya and her ghostly companion take some strange and wonderful turns. Turns out the ghost's name is Emily, and she says she was at the bottom of the well because she was murdered. So in return for helping Anya cheat on her tests, get some key info on her crush, and employ Emily for some other industrious uses, Anya agrees to help solve Emily's murder. From there, the book takes a surprisingly dark turn and Anya finds herself in real trouble the more she tries to figure out who killed Emily and why.

Despite Anya's bristly demeanor, she is an incredibly likeable character who becomes easy to root for, even when she's charging headlong into some obvious poor life choices. If you don't identify with her on some level, I'll bet you went to school with someone who reminds you of Anya. The comedy comes off well-timed, both with the witty quips and the slapstick. It's not all teen angst and snarky dialog though, as the midway point brings in some real tension and suspense. When things really get going towards the end, you don't feel like you're reading a YA comedy, but a full-on horror story.

As for the art style, Vera draws with a homegrown charm. The characters have an appearance reminiscent of Saturday morning cartoons, but there's a bit of what I'd call American manga in there too that gives it a feel I believe The Simpsons coined as "edgy-cute." I think a fan of Scott Pilgrim could really appreciate a book like this. As for me, I had a blast reading it, and I think I'm going to need to track down more of Vera's work.


February 6, 2012

Rabid Rewind: Season of the Witch (2011)

Season of the Witch
starring Nicolas Cage, Ron Perlman, Claire Foy, and Christopher Lee
directed by Dominic Sena
screenplay by Bragi Schut
Alliance Films (2011)

I don't know what goes on in Nicolas Cage's head when he's picking movies to star in. Maybe it's the mortgage, or maybe he just doesn't care anymore. Whatever the case, this movie strays so far into "bad" territory that it winds up spiking the needle so hard it goes right back into "good" territory.

Cage plays a knight doing his part in the Crusades, killing just about everyone who gets in his way. With his best buddy, played by Ron Perlman, he's having the time of his life, at least until he winds up seeing innocent women and children murdered. I can't imagine he spent so many years with that bloodthirsty gang of soldiers without seeing one lady slapped around before then, but whatever. As soon as the battle is over he and Perlman quit and head for home. That puts them on the hit list though, and are faced with either getting killed off by their former allies or joining one last mission to escort an accused witch to stand trial for her crimes. Seems like an easy choice, but he frets over it for some reason and only agrees to take her when he sees she's being abused.

So they all head down the yellow brick road to the monastery, but unlike Wizard of Oz the witch is locked in a cage and along for the ride. There are no lions or tigers or bears either, but there are very big wolves with very big teeth. Seemingly summoned by Anna the witch. They travel through the woods and meet all kinds of pitfalls, and one by one their small band is taken out by one horrific occurrence after another. Unfortunately, there isn't a whole lot of excitement until they get to the monastery. Then business picks up. By that time though, I'm completely checked out and not even Ron Perlman's mesmerizing grimace can keep me engaged.

The movie is cheese, plain and simple, and it's played completely straight. Even the zippy one-liners are delivered with deadpan sincerity. I mean when the priest says, "We're gonna need more Holy water," how can you not laugh?

I wanted to like this movie, I really did. Even after the countless reviews that trashed it, I still wanted to give it a chance. Nicolas Cage has that effect on me. I've seen just about every movie he's ever been in--not Captain Morelli's Mandolin or whatever it's called; I have my limits--and a lot of those movies have no business being made. I mean, did you see that awful one he did about seeing a couple minutes into the future, and Jessica Biel was his love interest? Effing atrocious, yet I sat through the whole thing. That's the gravitas he has.

The movie has it's moments, but they're far and few between, and there are so many other movies set during the middle ages and involve the supernatural. The 13th Warrior springs to mind. In fact, go find that movie and watch it. Antonio Banderas and Vikings: now that's a winning combination.

February 3, 2012

Chasing Tale for February 3rd, 2012: Raymond Chandler, Joe R. Lansdale, Ekaterina Sedia ...

Now that I have a Kindle, the whole brick-and-mortar thing can seem a bit passe from time to time, but I tell ya: nothing beats walking down the aisles of a store with nothing to look at but books. As convenient as Amazon and other online stores might be, nothing comes close to capturing that. Granted, in winter it's nice not to have to drive through snow, slush, and ice, just to find a book to buy. Still, we persevere.

Here are books I've added to my actual bookshelf this past month:

The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler - I've heard Chandler's name bandied about long enough; it's time I read one of his novels this year. I found this one on the cheap at my local used-book store and in really good condition, too.

Eve of Darkness by S.J. Day - I already have a bunch of urban fantasy novels to read, but I spied this one on sale in one of those rotating shelves that you see in supermarkets sometimes.

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep by Philip K. Dick - I enjoyed Ridley Scott's film adaptation as much as the next guy, but I've never actually read the book. And, considering the film is a bit of a departure from the book, like so many other movies based on books, it's a wonder I haven't sought out this book sooner. Actually, I have been keeping my eye out for it the last few years in used bookstores, but I never saw a copy of it until early in May--and the copy I got is a very ratty looking paperback that I got for a buck. Still, a bargain.

Sunset and Sawdust by Joe R. Lansdale - I got this one shortly after putting it on my wish list. Lansdale's a heckuva writer and while I want to work my way through his Hap & Leonard series from start to finish, I want to read more of his stand-alone novels too, and this one sounds like it'll be good.

The Alchemy of Stone by Ekaterina Sedia - I won my choice of a book from Book Depository courtesy of the book blog, Chocolate Chunky Munkie. I opted for this one, since I really like the setup for this one, and Sedia's Secret History of Moscow was a very enjoyable read.

That's my haul. What books did you get this month?