April 30, 2012

Chasing Tale in March/April: Jim Butcher, Stephen King, Joe R. Lansdale ...

It's safe to say I'm reading more e-books than physical books these days, but the contributing factor for that is review commitments, nearly all of which have been e-books. That's fine by me since I got a Kindle for Christmas, but my love for the paperback hasn't diminished. I still browse bookstores and get books through online stores like Book Depository and Better World Books, which each offer discounted books and free shipping. I recently read a guest post by a British author named Mark Williams (read it here) that discussed how the prognostication on the demise of traditional publishing is a tad overblown. Yeah, I don't think the Big 6 are going anywhere, no matter how hard some proselytize to the contrary. Last I checked, despite the decimation of the music industry, the major music labels are still out there making profits.

What I have to wonder about is how long bookshops that get by selling used-books have before they start dropping off the face of the earth. For me, there are two stores within a fifteen-minute drive, but there used to be three until a year or so ago. Granted, the old gal who closed up her bookshop had been around since the dawn of the Gutenberg press. Half her inventory reflected that, too. But still, the idea that there is one less bookstore in my area is sad. Rural areas don't have the luxury of what a city, or even a large town, has at its disposal. On the other hand, the availability of books in my town--village may be more apt these days--has actually improved in the last ten years. The used-book shop is a new business in the last decade, and I'm at a loss to think of when the town last had a bookstore, assuming it ever had one. And the town library underwent renovations and moved into a proper building, whereas for a long time it existed as a cramped section of the town hall's basement.

I don't know what the next decade has in store, but I am loathe to think of a future sans bookstores.

Anyway, here are the books I bought or won over the last couple months:

Breathers by S.G. Browne - Those zombies just won't quit, man. They cannot be stopped from invading the minds of countless authors, and S.G. Browne is no exception. I won this book from Velvet over at vvb32reads

Blonde on a Broomstick by Carter Brown - I have no idea who Carter Brown is (apparently the pen name for Alan Yates after a quick Wiki search), but I spied a handful of old paperbacks from the 60s and 70s at the local bookshop. They look irresistibly pulpy with a blend of crime and horror, so I grabbed this one in hopes they'll be my cup of tea.

Storm Front (The Dresden Files #1) by Jim Butcher - One of the names that came up again and again during March's Urban Fantasy Marathon was Jim Butcher. I'd seen and heard the name plenty in my meanderings through the blogosphere, Twitterverse, and podcastmagoria (just made that word up), so I bought a used copy when I found it.

Full Dark, No Stars by Stephen King - Chances are pretty good that if you like Stephen King's novels, you'll love his novellas. I talked about this latest collection of four novellas in Wish List Wednesday #81. I think The Mist might still be my favorite of his novellas, but he's got quite a few under his belt and all the ones I've read have been really good. And I expect more of the same when I sit down to read these.

The Complete Drive-In by Joe R. Lansdale - I was window-shopping on Book Depository a while back, looking for a book to choose from after winning a giveaway, and stumbled across this collection. I've had it on my wish list for a while, but kind of let it slip off the radar. So, thanks to Jessica at Books: a true story for sending this one my way.

The Magdalena Vol. 1 by Ron Marz - Since I got into reading graphic novels a couple years ago, most of the stuff I've read has been published by Marvel and DC. On a lark, I entered a giveaway on a blog a recently discovered called I Smell Sheep. I won and the prize was this graphic novel from Top Cow. So thanks to Katie Dalton over there at the Sheep. I'm looking forward to reading this one.

Bite Me by Christopher Moore - The funniest thing about picking up this book at a used-book shop is the fact that I found it in the literary section alongside some very dour and sullen looking novels. That got a laugh out of me, enough so that I decided I needed to get it. I'm not familiar with Moore's work, but I recently listened to a podcast interview he did, which was enough for me to place his new novel, Sacré Bleu, on my wish list.

All of these titles can be found on Amazon, too:

Rabid Rewind: Harry Brown

Harry Brown
starring Michael Caine, Daniel Bradley, and Emily Mortimer
directed by Daniel Barber
screenplay by Gary Young
Samuel Goldwyn Films (2009)

Prior to seeing this movie, I could come up with quite a few qualifiers to describe Michael Caine, and "bad-ass" was not among them. Now that I've seen his turn as Harry Brown, I will have to reconsider.

Harry Brown is a retiree making it day-to-day in a rundown section of London while his wife lays comatose in bed. He lives in the kind of neighborhood you'd equate with those London riots from last year. Drugs and gang violence are pervasive, and for a quiet codger like Harry, it's probably nowhere near where he expected to end up. But, he has his pub and he has his friend, Len, to help ease the dreariness of it all. Things only get worse though, when his wife dies, and then Len is murdered by the young thugs who've been terrorizing him relentlessly. When it's clear the police aren't going to do much of anything to bring the criminals to justice, Harry reaches a breaking point and decides to rekindle his military training and go after the thugs himself.

Roger Ebert, a critic I don't normally look to for an opinion, actually made a pretty good this-meets-that comparison, calling the movie something between Charles Bronson's Death Wish and Clint Eastwood's Gran Torino. That's actually pretty spot on. Harry Brown is no superman, and even with his military background, he's no spring chicken and his emphysema doesn't help when he prowls the streets. The way he goes about getting revenge feels incredibly genuine, and incredibly tense as he first seeks to buy a gun from a drug dealer. The encounter with a strung-out junkie, his lacky friend, and a young woman who may be overdosing in the corner of the room is creepy and cringe-inducing, and effectively demonstrates that Harry is out of his element and won't stop regardless.

I'm not sure how well the movie was received in England. Maybe it was laughed out of theaters, I don't know. I can imagine a movie like this being made in Hollywood could really wind up as a clumsy caricature of the subject matter, but Harry Brown felt gritty and believable and not the least bit glamorous. Michael Caine is resolute and vulnerable and strikes a great balance between a despondent man looking for justice and an outraged citizen on the brink.

There isn't too much explored from the gangster's point of view, at least not until late in the film with the final showdown. It is far from how you might expect it though, but rewarding all the same. One thing that kind of quirked an eyebrow was Emily Mortimer's role as Detective Alice Frampton. She's the plucky go-getter out there to do the right thing, in spite of the cynicism that permeates in the precinct and on the streets. And at the very end of the movie when I thought her character would get a moment for some kind of vindication, and it didn't happen. At least I don't believe it did.

It's a really good movie and is another piece of gritty British fiction that has me hungry for more. If anyone has recommendations, I'm all ears.

April 27, 2012

Rabid Reads: "The Damned Highway" by Brian Keene and Nick Mamatas

The Damned Highway: Fear and Loathing in Arkham
by Uncle Lono (Brian Keene and Nick Mamatas)
210 pages
ISBN 9781595826855

While I do enjoy Lovecraftian horror, I've never been a fan of the author. And while I've yet to read a book written by Hunter S. Thompson, he's always struck me as a captivating character. So, all that considered, what the hell was I doing reading a book that melds the two? I'm hardly an aficionado of either subject. Honestly, I just thought it was a damned cool idea for a book.

Brian Keene and Nick Mamatas joined forces to craft a sincerely weird journey through the eyes of Hunter S. Thompson, under the guise of Uncle Lono, as he treks across America during the election season of 1968. It's treated as Thompson's attempt to further escape his own fame, while also getting up to his eyeballs in the same kind of gonzo legwork that made him famous in the first place. This time his mission is to unearth the American Nightmare, since the American Dream is dead. Boy, if he only knew.

Now, for a guy like me, my only familiarity with Hunter S. Thompson thus far has been the film adaptations of his work--the Johnny Depp stuff, basically. You would probably expect a book like this to be almost too inside or inaccessible for non-fans of Lovecraft and/or Thompson. Well, even with a vicarious hold of both men's work, I thoroughly enjoyed this novel. Right from the get-go, despite no direct utterance of Thompson's actual name, the character feels instantly recognizable, not to mention genuine. And I imagine that after I read Fear and Loathing and Hell's Angels, both of which sit somewhere in my home, I'll have an even greater appreciation for all of the work Brian Keene and Nick Mamatas put into this book.

Just a straight-up tribute to the man and his work would have been enjoyable enough, I imagine, given the artful manner in which his style and mood were captured. But throwing in the Lovecraft elements, both direct and alluded to, put the story on a different plain. From stumbling upon ritualistic torture in a seedy bar, to popping mushrooms from Yuggoth in an eighteen-wheeler bound for Arkham, to watching an old companion get carnal with a giant sea creature, the psychotropic rabbit hole Uncle Lono burrows down is too surreal to properly relate to prospective readers.

If there's fault to be found in the book, it's that it is a lean, and very mean two-hundred pages. I would have been content to see the antics carried out over a longer period, but it's hard to begrudge a book that has been distilled down to such a potent proof.

An added bonus comes with the allusions to the 2012 U.S. election, as Uncle Lono opines on the status of American politics in 1968. His inevitable showdown with good ol' Tricky Dick was especially splendiferous--in a macabre kind of way.

Between this, and Ellen Datlow's Supernatural Noir (which Iread and reviewed last year), if this is the caliber of fiction Dark Horse plans to publish outside the realm of comic books, then I can't wait to read what they have in store down the road.


April 26, 2012

Chasing Tale in April - Kindle Edition (4/25/12): Adam Cesare, Tim Lieder, Anthony Neil Smith ...

Chasing Tale is a regular look at the e-books I've recently downloaded and added to my to-be-read pile. Some are review copies forwarded to me, some are purchases from Amazon's Kindle Store or elsewhere, and others are freebies that caught my eye.

Bone Meal Broth by Adam Cesare - One of my favorite reads of 2012 so far is Adam's scary-as-all-heck novella, Tribesmen, so I have a good feeling about this short story collection he's released. I've already read a couple positive reviews for it, so I'm optimistic. And watch out for my review of Tribesmen in the coming weeks, as well as an interview with Adam.

She Nailed a Stake Through His Head edited by Tim Lieder - I mentioned this anthology quite a while ago (Wish List Wednesday #76), and it turns out there's a follow-up anthology coming out this year. When I heard news about that, I noticed a link to this first book on the Kindle Store and couldn't resist.

Hogdoggin' by Anthony Neil Smith - I have Anthony's Yellow Medicine on my to-be-read list, so when I saw a chance to download the sequel I took it. I really liked his collaboration with Victor Gischler, To the Devil, My Regards, and will be diving into his other novel, Choke On Your Lies, soon.

The Dirty Parts of the Bible by Sam Torode - When I get the chance to window-shop on the Kindle Store, looking at the freebie bestsellers can be like looking through that shopping cart at the supermarket that's full of dented cans and about-to-expire perishables: even lowered expectations leave the bar set too high. But sometimes a great title is enough to pull you in, like this novel.

April 25, 2012

Wish List Wednesday #113: Jennifer Pelland's "Machine"

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

Sci-fi is one of those genres I always say I'm going to read more of, but I always seem to let it fall to the wayside when I'm looking for an interlude between review commitments. There is one book I am eager to read this year that falls into the sci-fi category.

Jennifer Pelland is an author who I am only familiar with through a couple of short stories I've read in anthologies. One was especially impressive, which appeared in the Apex anthology, Dark Faith. Well, Apex has published her new novel, Machine.

I really like the premise for the book. A woman has her consciousness downloaded into a bioandroid while waiting for the cure to a genetic disorder that is killing her real body. Going through life inside the artificial body not only has its consequences physically, but culturally too, as strangers, co-workers, and even her wife see her differently. The longer she goes through life as a bioandroid, she even begins to see herself differently and begins exploring the boundaries and liberating effects of inhabiting a machine.

Sounds cool to me. Have you heard about this book? Does it sound like something you'd want to read?

April 24, 2012

Getting Graphic: "Scott Pilgrim Vs. The Universe" by Bryan Lee O' Malley

Scott Pilgrim Vs. The Universe (Vol. 5)
written and illustrated by Bryan Lee O' Malley
Oni Press (2009)
ISBN 9781934964101

It was May of last year when I read volume four in the Scott Pilgrim saga, so I was a little foggy where the story had left off the last time. The great thing about a Scott Pilgrim book is that as soon as I started reading, I was right back in the thick of things and enjoying all of the hijinks.

Scott has battled his way through most of Ramona's evil ex-boyfriends, but it's taken a toll on his relationship with her and with his band-mates, too. Ramona's past is creeping up on her too, as the nefarious Gideon still seems to have a hold on her. As for the band, Sex Ba-Bomb are recording their first record, but the gigs are sporadic and Scott kinda sucks on stage. At least he's still kicking tuckus when it comes to the evil exes.

There were a lot of fun little moments in this volume, but didn't feel nearly as epic as the other four editions. The story felt like it was in kind of a holding pattern, while the mystery of Gideon came into focus--metaphorically and literally. Plus, there was the whole issue of Scott dating Ramona and Knives at the same time for a while, and now Knives knows and figures Ramona should know, too.

This volume seemed to shine a brighter spotlight on Kim Pine than ever before, which I kind of liked. She's snarky, cute, loyal, and doesn't suffer a whole lot of bullsh*t from Scott or anyone else. Heck, if Bryan wanted to write another series of graphic novels with Kim as the focus, I'd have no complaints.

I love the artstyle, which seems especially tightknit in this volume, or maybe it's just been so long since I read a Scott Pilgrim book that it felt brand new all over again. In any case, the way the illustrations turns cutesy and cartoony when Scott feels confused and/or vulnerable are a nice touch.

Definitely looking forward to the sixth and final volume, which I hope to read sooner rather than later.

April 23, 2012

Rabid Rewind: Rise of the Planet of the Apes

Rise of the Planet of the Apes
starring James Franco, Andy Serkis, Frida Pinto, Brian Cox, and Jonathan Lithgow
directed by Rupert Wyatt
screenplay by Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver
20th Century Fox (2011)

I must admit that when I first heard about this movie, I was skeptical. Hell, I was downright cynical. I was never a Planet of the Apes fan, as I grew up more with the parodies than the actual films, and the Tim Burton remake was just a beautiful letdown. This movie, however, won me over.

James Franco plays a scientist searching for a cure for Alzheimer's, the disease that has diminished his once brilliant father (Lithgow). His latest attempt is tested on a chimpanzee and remarkably shows a rise in intelligence, which has dollar signs flashing in the eyes of his corporate overlords. But the chimp goes ballistic and is put down, only for Franco to find out it wasn't because of any side effect, but because she had an infant she was protecting. After the rest of the test subjects are ordered to be put down, Franco takes the baby chimp home and raises it, and soon discovers it has inherited the same intelligent traits of its mother. Despite the project being shut down, he tests the serum on his father and sees instant improvement, and the three (scientist, daddy, and the grown chimp now named Caesar) become a strong family unit. The dynamic is upset when Caesar protects the father when the Alzheimer's returns with a vengeance, and winds up in a ape sanctuary run by a corrupt father and son (Brian Cox and the kid who played Draco Malfoy in the Harry Potter films). And so the die is cast for Caesar and his journey towards an uprising of apes against humans.

There's a brief love interest between James Franco and Frido Pinto's veterinarian character, but that's a one-dimensional aside that seems more like the studio needed to find room for a female cast member. Honestly, as good an actress as she is, she was left with such an inconsequential character, I think she would have been much better off as the lead. I say that because James Franco was a little bit terrible in this movie. I don't know what it is about this guy's acting exactly, but I find him to be hit-or-miss when I see him on screen--mostly miss. Lithgow does good work as a man jerked back and forth between lucidity and senility. The villains are a bit vaudevillian in certain scenes, and Tom Felton's character seems mean-spirited solely for the sake of being mean-spirited.

Ignoring the predictability of the villains, the family dynamic between Caesar and his human family is really the heart of the movie, until the movie progresses into the prelude of the Planet of the Apes mythos. Then, it's an all-out action movie.

The movie might be utter cheeseball if not for the standout performance of the film by Andy Serkis as Caesar. His turn as Golem in the Lord of the Rings trilogy was impressive enough, breathing life into what is essentially a CGI character, but he knocks it out of the park with his performance in this movie. His ability to portray Caesar with the combination of animalistic instinct and human characteristics was remarkable. In fact, I believe it was a failure he didn't receive an Oscar nomination for Best Actor. He was that good.

I think the movie is flawed by some uninspired character development on the outer edges of the story, but the core is rock solid and does the Apes franchise justice. In fact, I think I'll go back and re-watch the original to see if I better appreciate it.

April 20, 2012

Rabid Reads: "Royal Street" by Suzanne Johnson

Royal Street (Sentinels of New Orleans #1)
by Suzanne Johnson
Tor Books (2012)
336 pages
ISBN 9780765317796

I wanted to read and review this novel in time for last month's Urban Fantasy Marathon, but it just wasn't in the cards. Suzanne Johnson did, however, offer a funguest post for the marathon. So, now that I've had a chance to read Suzanne's debut novel, did it meet my expectations?

Drusilla Jaco (call her DJ), a low-level wizard in New Orleans, has her world turned upside-down almost literally when Hurricane Katrina devastates the region. While her own house is spared the harshest destruction lowered on the city, her mentor Gerald's home is practically leveled and the senior sentinel has disappeared. From there, DJ's superiors send her back into New Orleans to not only investigate Gerald's fate, but help seal numerous openings into the Beyond that have appeared due in part to Hurricane Katrina. Once back, she must navigate through a city already brought to its knees, aided by a fellow sentinel named Alex who believes Gerald is alive and responsible for the buildings tensions between the wizards council and the preternatural forces in the Beyond.

This book further proves my half-witted theory that New Orleans is the third most popular U.S. city in urban fantasy, right behind New York and L.A. Royal Street might also be the UF novel I've read thus far that's made the city feel the most tangible. Maybe it's by setting the novel in the middle of the city's most horrendous disaster. I can still remember seeing those photos and aerial coverage on the six o'clock news the day after Katrina. It was nearly as surreal as watching the second Twin Tower fall live on TV. It never felt like human tragedy was being exploited in a tactless manner, in fact, there were a couple little moments in the book that showed that same old magic unique to the city that no disaster will take away.

As for the story, it was a bit boggy in sections for me, mainly because I felt the subplot of DJ's latent feelings towards Alex and his brother, Jake, was distracting from the main storyline, and not just distracting but a bit meandering at times, too. I was really hard to get a beat on where DJ's head was at. Good chemistry among characters aside from that, though. What really held me through the novel was the lingering question DJ had to deal with regarding her mentor's past antagonism towards the wizard council and the possibility that he was working against them. Throw in a cast of intriguing villains stepping out of the beyond, including Jean Lafitte, notorious pirate; Marie Laveau, a malevolent voodoo priestess; and Baron Semedi, a Haitian voodoo god--even Louis Armstrong (not a villain) makes a cameo appearance in the book. Any one of those three would have made for a great lead villain in the novel, but with the three it really felt like something epic was being built up.

Aside from sexual tension aspect of DJ's relationship with Alex, which I found didn't resonate all that well, their contentious banter and interactions were very fun and engaging, and it only got better as the action built up and a bit of one-upsmanship simmered between them. Throw in the periodically revealed secrets they kept from each other, they made a good duo, one I hope can continue in the sequel, River Road, which I think it due out in 2013. While it wasn't a runaway hit, the minor annoyances were far outweighed by a fantastic setting, deep and vibrant history with characters and plot, and great chemistry between DJ and Alex.


Getting Graphic: 'The Sandman Vol. 6: Fables and Reflections' by Neil Gaiman

The Sandman Vol. 6: Fables & Reflections
written by Neil Gaiman
illustrated by Bryan Talbot, Stan Woch, P. Craig Russell, Shawn McManus, John Watkiss, Jill Thompson, Duncan Eagleson, and Kent Williams
Vertigo (1999); originally published in 1993
264 pages
ISBN 9781563891069

The last time I dove into The Sandman series was when I read Volume 5 back in May of last year. As it turns out it was this volume, Fables and Reflections, that originally garnered my interest for this series, because I had seen more than one list citing this the best of the entire series and in comics period.

Like a few of the other books in the series, this is a collection of stand-alone stories rather than one long narrative. There are some winks and nods to past storylines, though.

It started off with a story called "Three Septembers and a January", with Morpheus actually saving a man's life by giving him a perpetual dream--delusion, really--of being the first and only Emporer of the United States. A bit of whimsy and a bit of tragedy really made this story a strong one out of the gate and set the bar high for the succeeding stories. "August" was an understated gem as a Roman Caesar spends a day as a pauper with his diminutive confidant guiding him through his city as he contemplates in peace over the fate of Rome without worry of the gods noticing him.

The standout of the bunch had to be "Orpheus" though, with a fantastic re-imagining of the classic fable of Orpheus and Eurydice, with Orpheus as the Sandman's only son. The story played out almost exactly how I expected it to, but it was so riveting with Gaiman's approach. From the wedding that was doomed from the start, to Orpheus' descent into Hades, I thought the whole tale was pitch perfect and the ending is probably one of the best from the entire Sandman series.

For those that have already read it, I don't really need to say anything. It's just a damned good, if not great, graphic novel. And if you haven't had the chance to read it--my god--you need to visit a comic book store or your local library and start reading this series. You won't be disappointed.


April 19, 2012

How Many Books by Women Have I Read So Far in 2012?

For 2012, I made a New Year's resolution after realizing I had read way too few books by women in 2011. I think it worked out to something like one out of five books I read were by women. This year I'm going to make sure that it's fifty-fifty.

So after four months, how am I doing so far?

Well, not great. Between January 1st and April 30th I've read 18 novels and 10 novellas. Of those, 7 novels and 4 novellas were written by women. Now, in my defense, the year is far from over and I'm still working through a lot of review commitments, which are predominantly by male authors.

I was going to include anthologies in this count as well, but after I thought about it, most anthologies run pretty even as far as gender parity, so not much sense in counting them in. Best to concentrate on the books written by one author.

I think the medium that is going to get me is graphic novels. I've read four so far this year, all written by guys. Let's face it, unless you know where to look, comic books are a real sausage-fest. Heck, when DC Comics rebooted 52 of their titles, apparently there was only one female writer to be found. I think they've improved that number--to like three or something, maybe. I'll let the fanboys correct me on that one. Anyway, as I'm working through quite a few trade paperback series, like Neil Gaiman's Sandman and Garth Robert Kirkman's Walking Dead, I'm going to need to get some recommendations on graphic novels by female authors. Anya's Ghost by Vera Brosgol, which I read last year, was a great read. Jodi Picoult's Wonder Woman stint, not so much.

So, if you want to give this boorish, chauvinistic troglodyte some directions to the nearest comic book publisher that actually has a robust staff of female writers, I'd sure appreciate it.

And while you're at it, why not share what your ratio is this year? Are you reading more books by men or women?

April 18, 2012

Chasing Tale in April - Kindle Edition (4/18/12): Donna Galanti, Ed Kurtz, Alexandra Sokoloff ...

Chasing Tale is a regular look at the recent e-books I've downloaded and added to my to-be-read pile. Some are review copies forwarded to me, some are purchases from Amazon's Kindle Store or elsewhere, and others are freebies that caught my eye.

The Respectable Face of Tyranny by Gary Fry - Spectral Press sent me their next release, this time a novella-length piece from Gary. I reviewed a chapbook Gary wrote that Spectral published last year, and it was pretty darned good, so I'm optimistic about this one.

A Human Element by Donna Galanti - Donna recently did a blog tour to promote her new paranormal suspense novel, and she even stopped by this blog on April 5th. I downloaded my review copy from Smashwords, though you'll also be able to find it on the Kindle Store--and even B&N if you're one of those people.

Bleed and Catch My Killer (Sam Truman #1) by Ed Kurtz - Not too long after I bought Bleed via the Kindle Store, I received a review copy of Ed's latest work, which is part of a new horror mystery series. I'll just have to flip a coin to decide which I read first.

The Chaos Walking Trilogy by Patrick Ness - I checked the Kindle Store one day at the end of March and saw all three books in this trilogy (The Knife of Never Letting Go, The Ask and the Answer, Monsters of Men) on sale for 99 cents each. The regular price for each one is around ten bucks, and I'll be damned if I'm paying that much for an e-book on the Kindle Store. I don't care how many glowing reviews I've read for these books.

Smarter Than the Average Werewolf by Mark Orr - Come on, you love that title too, don't you? When I first saw it my mind instantly envisioned the Wolfman stealing a picnic basket. The novel isn't some touch-in-cheek satire though, but I think a action-oriented urban fantasy style novel. I hope the book entertains me as much as the title. (courtesy of Belfire Press)

The Space Between and Book of Shadows by Alexandra Sokoloff - I had Book of Shadows on my wish list already (WLW #65), as Alexandra really impressed me with her novel, The Price, which I reviewed a while back. I downloaded Book of Shadows from the Kindle Store and noticed she has a YA novel, The Space Between, as well.

So there's some more e-books to check out on the Kindle Store. Have you already read one or more listed? What did you think?

April 17, 2012

Rabid Reads: "Kill Them All" (Dead Man #6) by Harry Shannon

Kill Them All (The Dead Man #6)
by Harry Shannon
Adventures in Television (2011)

I've been falling behind in Lee Goldberg's and William Rabkin's Dead Man series. In the time since I read the fifth volume, The Blood Mesa, which was way back in the summer of last year, a lot has happened. The series is already up to about the eighth volume--maybe ninth by now--and the books even got picked up Amazon's publishing wing, 47 North. Bigger and better things, but are the books still bringing the goods?

When last we saw our hero, he was in New Mexico as I recall thwarting a cult on the top of a mesa in the desert. In Kill Them All, Matt Cahill is wandering down a Nevada road until he finds himself in a desiccated "old west" town. And the sparse population is comprised of characters, each more eccentric than the last. After an impromptu display of his ass-kicking ability, Matt discovers there is an influence on a few people in town by who he suspects is Mr. Dark. But when he digs a little deeper on the outskirts at an old farm, he finds a whole lot more than he bargained for, including a brand new enemy who is out for blood--literally.

The book is filled with action of every stripe. Fist fights, gun fights. About the only thing missing was a car chase. Kill Them All also feels like the most stand-alone of all the books since the very first one. The wandering stranger motif is in full effect and done quite well, though the action took away from some character development of the townsfolk that I thought could have used just a bit more attention. And while the callback to the overarching storyline didn't go the way I expected, and was hoping for considering how long it was since I'd read from this series, the new introductions put into the story by Harry Shannon were really intriguing and added a new dreadful angle to Matt Cahill's ordeal that should come into play very nicely in future editions.

It's not a blowout return to the series, but that's on me given the amount of time it's been since I read The Blood Mesa, although the vibe of the Dead Man series is pitch perfect and the showdown with a gang of mercenaries was explosive literally and figuratively. Fans of the series ought to enjoy it, but newcomers are best to go back to the first book and work your way through. Pulpy, blood-soaked, sun-bleached fun.

April 16, 2012

Rabid Rewind: The Adjustment Bureau

The Adjustment Bureau
starring Matt Damon, Emily Blunt, and Terrence Stamp
directed & written by George Nolfi
based on a story by Philip K. Dick
Universal Pictures (2010)

Is there such a thing as fate? Such a thing would imply there is someone pulling the strings. Well heck, what if your heart's desire was diametrically opposed to that someone's grand plan? What would you do?

The Adjustment Bureau asks these questions in a loose adaptation of a Philip K. Dick story. Now, the batting average for Dick's film adaptations isn't terribly impressive--I'm still displeased with Paycheck, and I haven't even read the story it's based on. But thanks to solid performances from Matt Damon and Emily Blunt, this movie manages to create a compelling story with moments that border on great.

Damon plays a young New York congressman named Norris campaigning for U.S. Senate, and getting his butt kicked in the process. While preparing his concession speech in the bathroom of a hotel, he meets a gorgeous, charismatic, and mischievous woman hiding in a stall because hotel security found out she crashed a wedding upstairs. The two really hit it off, but part ways abruptly, and it seems Norris will never see her again--he didn't even get her name. But, as fate would have it, he does meet her again and finds out her name is Elise. Only it's against fate's wishes, thanks to an error on the part of the Adjustment Bureau.

As it turns out, Norris was only ever meant to meet Elise the one time to propel him on a predestined path, and this burgeoning relationship with her threatens to throw that whole plan out the window. That means the Adjustment Bureau has to set things right. They work behind the scenes, nudging people in one direction or another, like leading cattle through a chute. People still makes the choices, but the caseworkers for the Bureau can read minds and predict what choices will be made. It's emotion they have trouble reading, which is what drives Norris to track down Elise again and again while the Bureau throws up road blocks and pitfalls all along the way.

There are moments where the whole plot feels incredibly convoluted and predicated on a single preposterous turn of events. Thankfully, the performances make the taut situations feel real, and the early Keystone Kops antics of the caseworkers make for a few good laughs. That was a nice touch, because if this movie had taken itself too seriously, it would have been unbearable.

The special effects are spaced out so that the story relies more on the characters and the chases, but when moments like stepping through a door into a part of New York City miles away it looks seamless. Heck, I didn't realize until watching the DVD extras that the scene on Liberty Island was a green screen trick. And that's another thing about this movie: New York City is practically a character in the movie, featuring a slew of the city's iconic landmarks, even if for only brief moments.

I don't know how ardent Dick readers feel about this movie, but I liked it. I'd recommend it, but maybe it doesn't matter; maybe you're already predestined to watch it or not.

April 13, 2012

Rabid Reads: "The Bleeding Room" by Barry Napier

The Bleeding Room
Graveside Tales (2011)
316 pages
ISBN 9780983314134

I am almost always in the mood for a haunted house tale. I don't believe in ghosts or the supernatural, so you might think that's weird, but I just really enjoy a good ghost story. And after reading a glut of urban fantasy, I was especially ready to sit back with a good ol' fashioned horror novel like this one from Barry.

Terrence Bennett is an author and paranormal investigator--a skeptical one at that. He and Jack and Hank, his two-man crew, head into the woods of southern Virginia to spend the weekend inside the subject of his latest book: Hammer House. While Jack and Hank are believers in the supernatural after a particularly eventful experience in a purportedly haunted site, Terrence holds a more skeptical and disdainful attitude towards ghosts and the like. Hammer House will take care of that, though.

Have you ever been out in the woods and found an old, abandoned house? Just the sight of it is unsettling. It's a bit like seeing an old shipwreck on dry land. Well, Hammer House has that going for it and a whole lot more. The place is notorious among the residents of Ponderbrook for its multiple incidents of murder and death. Cozy.

Terrence, Jack, and Hank set up shop inside the house and try to see if they can capture any evidence of the paranormal. The place instantly gives off a bad vibe, even with Terrence, but aside from weird experiences while there, their time there is relatively uneventful. Oh, some crazy stuff goes on, but their after evidence, not anecdotes. Terrence becomes obsessed with his book once he is back home with his wife and young son, and as days pass a subliminal grip seems to take him, with violent images overtaking him and a compulsive urge to both finish the book and act out some really grotesque fantasies intruding on his imagination. Meanwhile, Jack and Hank are unable to shake the eery things they felt while in Hammer House too, but it's when they scrutinize the film footage they recorded that they realize something really did happen out there in the woods, and they need to warn Terrence.

When I first started reading this book and realized the main characters were ghost hunters, I became a bit skeptical about how much I would enjoy this book. That's because I am almost no interest in those ghost hunting shows that pollute cable TV. Have you seen them? You must have seen at least one. They're ridiculous, especially one I saw recently involving three guys who lock themselves in haunted houses, called Ghost Adventures. Fortunately, Barry's three guys are infinitely more likable, and the story is infinitely more engaging than anything I've seen from those real ghost hunters.

It is damned difficult to approach the haunted house story with something fresh. Like vampires, it's a well-worn genre, but one that I love. And Barry took really good care of it by creating a house that harkens to some of those classic ones like the Overlook from The Shining and that house in Amityville, yet still creates its own identity, especially when the fifth window appears. I won't go into any more detail than that, just trust me that the house is like a sleeping dragon and that window is like the beast opening one eye. That's the impression I got, anyway.

The book has its slow points, and there were a few times where the exposition got long-winded. And while I didn't have any trouble with the viewpoint changes among the main characters, there were points where the viewpoint switched to the spirit in the house, and that's something I've never been keen on. One of my peeves with ghost stories. Aside from some fat that could have been trimmed from the book, I really enjoyed it. If you have an affinity for haunted houses, or at least stories about them, you ought to consider this one.

April 12, 2012

Chasing Tale in April - Kindle Edition (4/12/12): Ray Banks, Kelli Owen, Tom Piccirilli ...

Chasing Tale is a regular look at the recent e-books I've downloaded and added to my to-be-read pile. Some are review copies forwarded to me, some are purchases from Amazon's Kindle Store or elsewhere, and others are freebies that caught my eye.

Wolf Tickets by Ray Banks - The title alone enticed me to buy this book. That, and the introductory price of 99 cents. I wanted to add a Ray Banks novel to my to-be-read pile after reading Gun, and this one sounds really promising.

The Darkest Shade of Grey by Alax Baxter - Red Penny Papers already offers up their content for free on their website, but they've also compiled this novelette together and are offering it as an e-book, whereas it was originally made available on their website in five installments.

Waiting Out Winter by Kelli Owen - I reviewed Kelli's novella, The Neighborhood, a little while back and had my suspicions confirmed that she was a helluva storyteller. So, when out of the blue, this other release from Thunderstorm Books was made available for free on the Kindle Store for a limited time, I swooped in and downloaded it.

Clown in the Moonlight by Tom Piccirilli - I already have Nightjack sitting on my to-be-read pile, but when Tom offered up his latest novella free of charge for a few days in March, I pounced. Every Shallow Cut was my favorite novella of 2011, so I wonder how this one will rank.

Loathsome, Dark, & Deep by Aaron Polson - I caught a couple freebies from Belfire Press in early March, but they had quite a few bargain happening on Smashwords for "Buy an E-book Week." I also bought this novel of Aaron's, inspired by Heart of Darkness, for half-price to boot. Not too shabby.

Shock Totem Issues 2 & 3 & Holiday Edition edited by K. Allen Wood - Shock Totem is one of those mags that really has its finger on the pulse of horror. I've read two issues thus far and there was a less-than-impressive story in either, so when I saw two more issues offered free for a limited time, I snagged them along as throwing down a mere 99 cents for their holiday edition.

April 11, 2012

Wish List Wednesday #112: Ania Alhborn's "Seed"

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.

One of the things I love about having an e-reader is that I don't have to worry about the disintegration of the horror genre with regards to mass market paperbacks. Sci-fi and fantasy are still getting by in that department, but I'll be damned if I can find a horror novel in a brick-and-mortar bookstore anymore. Enter the Kindle Store. And there's been a horror title that's been popping up on my Kindle Store recommendations again and again for months. Those recommendations are hit-or-miss, so I haven't been in a hurry to grab it, even for a dollar.

It's called Seed by Ania Alhborn and the cover is gorgeous. That, all by itself, puts it head and shoulders above 90% of the other self-published e-books for sale. But a great cover does not a good story makes. I needed some word of mouth from others who devour horror. And thanks to the fine folks at Dreadful Tales, I read a really good interview they did with Ania (click here to read that), and that settled it for me. I've got this on my wish list and I would have downloaded it already, but in that interview Ania mentioned the book is being re-edited and an updated version will be released in the summer. I figure I can afford to wait until this revamped edition of the book comes out, then I can add it to my to-be-read pile.

Give me your opinion. How timid are you when it comes to buying a cheap e-book from an author you've never heard of? Have you lucked out and bought one that really wowed you?