May 31, 2012

Rabid Reads: "Haunted" by Glen Cadigan


I imagine the hardships that come with enduring PTSD are formidable enough, particularly after serving in a war, that the idea of encountering the supernatural would only exacerbate things. That's part of the story with this novella by Glen Cadigan, as a young war veteran struggles to go through civilian life while seeking treatment for his PTSD, as well as contend with the ghosts residing in the Berkeley tower where he worked as night watchman.

In a story narrated by a young man whose name I believe is ever revealed in the course of the book, my initial preconceptions of this being a spooky ghost story were put to rest pretty quickly, as there is very little suspense or actual scares. This is more of a contemporary story that includes some paranormal activity as a backdrop. The real focus of the story is on the war vet's growing obsession with the truth behind the apparitions he sees throughout the building as he goes on his nightly patrols. But he can't just go around asking the other people in the building about it, because he's already getting sideways glances and rumors spread about him after his initial encounter with a ghost.

The story is an interesting one, and the narrator provides a unique character in a ghost story. The pace slows to a crawl at times though, and if it wasn't for my overall affinity for ghost stories I would have probably set it down by the midway point. I'm biased, as when I see a ghost story titled Haunted, I wants ghosts by the bowful, and I felt too many were left offstage, so to speak, and only alluded to by the narrator. I stuck with it, and while the payoff isn't quite what I expected as far as the mystery of the ghost sightings, the character growth had good progression and it felt like the young protagonist was going to have as close to a happy ending as was reasonable.

May 30, 2012

Wish List Wednesday #115: Stephen King's "The Wind Through the Keyhole"

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.

If you know anything about me courtesy of this blog, it is the fact that I am a fan of Stephen King's work. In fact, The Dark Half, one of his relatively uncelebrated novels is responsible for getting me back into reading over ten years ago. Before my tastes diversified in the subsequent years, I devoured a bunch of books by the king of horror, and one of those books was The Gunslinger. That first book in the Dark Tower saga captivated me like few books ever have.

I've followed through the journey of Roland and his ka-tet through all of the books, though I've actually held off on reading the seventh and final book, The Dark Tower, because I've wanted to stay in the middle of that journey. Well, it turns out that I'm not the only one finished with Roland and his gang, because Stephen King has written another novel and planted it between the events of Wizard and Glass and The Wolves of the Calla. It's called The Wind Through the Keyhole, and quite frankly I don't care what it's about, I instantly put it on my wish list.

I'll finally read The Dark Tower this year and will hopefully have this new book in my hands afterward, so I can continue on and finish this adventure once and for all. It's pretty silly how I've procrastinated with finishing this series of books, but I'm not a guy who does much re-reading of books. For this series, however, I may have to make an exception.

May 29, 2012

Getting Graphic: 'The Sandman Vol. 6: Fables and Reflection' 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.

May 28, 2012

Rabid Rewind: Hanna

starring Saoirse Ronan, Eric Bana, and Cate Blanchett
directed by Joe Wright
screenplay by David Farr and Seth Lochhead
Focus Features (2011)

It wasn't until after the movie was over and I voiced my initial reaction on Twitter that I found out the girl playing the title character, Hanna, was the same actress who played Susie Salmon in TheLovely Bones. Either the adaptation of one of my favorite books from the last decade wasn't that memorable, or Saoirse Ronan really disappeared into her role and did a magnificent job. I prefer to hold to the latter.

Hanna is a Euro-thriller that could be described bluntly as La Femme Nakita meets Alice in Wonderland--fewer Cheshire cats, more henchmen with guns. Hann (Ronan) is a seventeen-year-old living in the snowy desolation of northern Finland with her father, Erik (Eric Bana). She's been trained pretty much since birth to be a killer. Erik, a former CIA agent gone rogue, has been caring for Hanna while in hiding to prepare her for the day when she could assassinate the CIA agent responsible for her mother's murder, Marissa Wiegler (Cate Blanchett). The movie basically starts with Hanna activating the homing device that will signal the CIA to her presence and bring her in, while Erik leaves her alone to her mission.

After a lengthy detainment in a secret facility, Hanna kills a decoy posing as Wiegler, then escapes the facility only to find herself alone and unfamiliar with everything she sees. She learns she is in Morocco and falls in with a family on vacation and on their way to Berlin. Wiegler, meanwhile, employs an old ally to hunt down Hanna and retrieve her while she hunts down Erik. From there, the movie works on two plains: Hanna is a babe in the woods that is ... well, everything that is not Finland; she is also an assassin on the run and resolute in completing that mission and finding out what her true family ties are and why she and her father have targets on their backs.

Ronan does a remarkable job of portraying a young woman who is nearly childlike in her wonder while experiencing life outside the company of her father for the first time, and also a determined and almost sinister assassin who is much more capable and dangerous than her pursuers give her credit for. Cate Blanchett is, as usual, a treat to see perform and with a character to delightfully evil to play, she makes one helluva villain. Everyone else is pretty good, but it's the cat-and-mouse dynamic between Ronan and Blanchett that carries the movie.

Strip away the taut mystery behind Hanna's origins and Erik's history with Wiegler and the CIA, and you've still got one of the better action movies to come along in years with fight scenes and chases that were absolutely exhilarating to watch. Ronan's initial fight scene inside the holding room of the CIA compound and Bana's one-take/one-camera brawl in a parking lot were two real stand-outs. Throw in the humor of a fish-out-of-water teen trying to fit in with people her own age and the movie feels downright original at times.

I thoroughly enjoyed it and would recommend it to just about anyone, and I'm left hopeful that Ronan gets more roles like this to shine--and Blanchett gets to play more villains.

May 26, 2012

Rabid Reads: "The Hunger Games" by Suzanne Collins

The Hunger Games
by Suzanne Collins
Scholastic (2008)
374 pages
ISBN 9780439023481

I first heard about The Hunger Games through the book section of the Globe & Mail here in Canada, which had a blurb given by Stephen King across a prominent ad. I didn't rush out to read the book though, just put it on my wish list and left it at that. Then, I saw the trailer for the film adaptation starring Jennifer Lawrence and Woody Harrelson, and that's when I realized I needed to get it over with and read this book. But after years of procrastination on my part and ceaseless hype on the part of those who published it, did it live up to my expectations?

Set sometime in the future, civilization as we know has collapsed and in its place a new power structure has risen in Panem (what used to be North America), presiding over twelve colonies that all serve the Capitol. There used to be thirteen, but one city was destroyed during a civil war, and serves as a cautionary tale to the remaining twelve. Since peace was reestablished, an annual event airs on television. It's called the Hunger Games. Think of it as a macabre cross between American Idol and Stephen King's Running Man. And our protagonist, Katniss, a sixteen-year-old girl has just volunteered to enter, thus sparing her twelve-year-old sister from having to compete.

Each of the twelve colonies randomly select one boy and one girl, between the ages of twelve and eighteen. After being whisked from their homes to the Capitol, they are lavished with every luxury imaginable during their training until they are all thrust into a remote landscape and forced to fight each other to the death until only one remains. Sounds like good watchin'. And it better be, because it's compulsory viewing for the colonists, as a reminder that rebellion will only serve to kill all their sons and daughters.

For Katniss, the ideals of surviving to bring honor and glory, however fleeting, back home are a distant second to her longing to spare her mother and sister from seeing her weak and scared. She's spent much of her life providing for them in the wake of her father's death in a coal mine, and has become resilient and calloused in the process. In fact, aside from the selfless act of replacing her sister after the random drawing, Katniss isn't a terribly likable character. She's resentful towards her mother who had a mental breakdown after her Dad died, and is self-centered to a degree that's really irritating. Granted, her living conditions don't exactly lend themselves to a happy-go-lucky adolescence.

The first half of the book spends time establishing who Katniss is and how she sees those around her, as she's plucked from her life and introduced to an Oz-like world in the Capitol. Peeta, the baker's son, is the other teen chosen to compete, and together they try to maneuver their way through ridiculous protocol and the stacked odds against them in training. As well, Katniss must weight how much she can trust Peeta once the games begin, because only one can be declared winner, and her paranoia has her questioning not only his every move, but her own as well. The second half of the book is all about the Hunger Games, when she, Peeta, and the twenty-two other teens are sent into the arena to fight. Here, things are really turned on their head, as Katniss finally realizes her hunting skills are the only thing that's going to keep her alive, namely her prowess with a bow and arrow. Unfortunately, the weapons are laid out as bait at the start of the games to encourage immediate confrontation, so Katniss has to settle for grabbing what supplies she can and hiding in the forest before one of the others kills her.

The book is exciting for nearly the entire way through, with each chapter offering enough suspense and cliffhangers to make you keep turning pages. There are some aggravating aspects to the book, though. One of the big problems I had with the book was Katniss' evasion of killing others to survive. It seemed at nearly every turn, when her hand was forced and she had to defend herself, there was some kind of godhand stepping in to take care of the killing for her. I don't want to go into detail more than that, as that's spoiler enough I'm sure, but when other competitors are getting blood on their hands, Katniss seems to be surviving less by skill than by sheer luck. Another facet of the Hunger Games I didn't like was the idea of sponsors in the Capitol airdropping supplies to competitors at certain times during the games. Since Katniss and everyone else are being filmed by hidden cameras and tracking devices, their performances are used to garner sponsors for things like food or medicine or whatever the case may be. For Katniss, the little items that parachute their way were literal deus ex machina. Things are at their worst? Don't worry, here's that thing you desperately need and would otherwise die without it.

That much I can ignore, but for me, the ending was just awful. This, I can't spoil, so sufficed to say there is something that happens towards the end of the Hunger Games that comes out of nowhere and just derails the whole story for me. And then--and I don't think I'm spoiling anything since this is the first book in a trilogy--after Katniss gets out of the Games, there is further annoyance to the "after show" and her attitudes towards other characters when things had settled down. I'm still looking forward to reading the second book, Catching Fire, but only because I'm hoping Suzanne Collins' plans for this story make up for the loose strings left in this book.


May 25, 2012

Chasing Tale in May - Kindle Edition (5/25/12): Mur Lafferty, Anthony J. Rapino, Steve Vernon ...

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.

The Secret Life of Copernicus H. Stringfellow by Lorin Barber - I swear, I accepted a review copy of this book based on its title alone. It looks like middle-grade fantasy, but when I was a kid that was the stuff I read the most.

A Blind Eye to the Rearview by Eric A. Jackson - The fine lads at Abattoir Press sent me a review copy of this novella. I get the feeling Abattoir is going to be one of those little publishers-that-could that I will need to keep an eye on. Promising stuff.

The Afterlife Series, Playing for Keeps, Her Side, and Marco and the Red Granny by Mur Lafferty - Through May and June, Mur is offering what I believe is all of her currently published books for free. They're all available in a handy ZIP file in either mobi or epub format. Her podcast, I Should Be Writing, is one of my favorites among my iTunes subscriptions. It's about time I tried reading one of her books.

Soundtrack to the End of the World by Anthony J. Rapino - I have a review of Anthony's Moon Hill short story collection coming up in July, , so I was pleased he sent me a review copy of his new novel coming out via Bad Moon Books, which I've been waiting to read ever since I first heard about it well over ago.

Sudden Death Overtime by Steve Vernon - I've enjoyed Steve's collections of Maritime folklore, his horror stories, and even a children's book he wrote, so when Crossroad Press released this novella with a gruesomely Canadian cover, I just couldn't resist--and I don't even like hockey.

The Car Thief by Theodore Weesner - I received an ARC copy of this novel. Another example of a book and its author with whom I'm unfamiliar, yet find the book's premise intriguing.

There's some of the books I've added to my to-be-read pile on my Kindle. What have you downloaded lately?

May 23, 2012

Starting in June: A Summer Dedicated to Short Fiction

I have something in the works for this summer with the blog. Well, a lot of somethings actually, as I'll be dedicating the entire summer to short fiction. Basically anything that's less than a hundred pages, everything from novellas to flash fiction, but the biggest focus will be on short stories.

The movies, novels, and comic books will fall to the wayside until autumn. Starting June 20th, I'm keeping it short--and hopefully the puns to a minimum. Each weekday through the summer you can expect to see something on the blog pertaining to short fiction. Anthologies, magazines, collections, podcasts, and some of my all-time favorite stories. I won't be alone in this though, as I'm finagling a slew of authors and editors to take part as well. So on top of my allegedly coherent ramblings, expect to read some interviews, guest posts, round table discussions, plus more than a couple giveaways.

I've had good fun with the Monster Movie Marathon each October, which I hope to do again this fall, as well as the Urban Fantasy Marathon back in March. But with three whole months of summer to fill, this will be the longest marathon yet. I hope you'll stop by, and for those of you who do, I hope you find something you enjoy--and with the cavalcade of talented people taking part, I can't imagine it will be that hard.

The banner is a work in progress.

May 22, 2012

Getting Graphic: "30 Days of Night Vol. 3: Return to Barrow" by Steve Niles and Ben Templesmith

30 Days of Night Volume 3: Return to Barrow
written by Steve Niles
illustrated by Ben Templesmith
IDW Publishing (2004)
ISBN 9781932382365

It's been over a year since I read DarkDays, the second volume in the 30Days of Night series, so I figured it was about time I hopped back on the bandwagon. After the first two graphic novels impressed me, I had some really high hopes for this third book.

Barrow is rebuilding, though it's a shadow of its former self, still heavily scarred from the murderous rampage of a vampire clan that descended on the remote Alaskan town. The new sheriff is the brother of a murdered resident who is skeptical about the stories of vampires and wants to find out what really happened to the town and his brother. Well, it takes no time at for him to figure out that vampires are real, because the vampires are back in Barrow.

Apparently, vampires hate loose strings. Stands to reason, considering they've been able to exist for centuries without detection. Barrow is as much a symbol of their potential ruin as it is an easy meal. Still, the vampires throw themselves at Barrow haphazardly, without organization or focus, until an FBI agent recently turned arrives with a desire for self-preservation--and revenge against the humans that would see him destroyed.

The initial setup for this book was great, and I was really looking forward to how Barrow would be depicted in the aftermath of what it went through, but this was a bit of a disappointment for me. The artwork is, again, top-notch. Templesmith does such a superb job of capturing the ferocity of the vampires and the desolation of an arctic landscape, every page was a treat to pore over. But there really didn't seem to be a lot of meat on the bone when it came to the story and these characters. The plot felt very rushed and often times like an abbreviated version of the first graphic novel. A couple of secondary characters, namely the deputy and the surly hunter, got a bit of the spotlight, but they didn't seem to have a really important place in the story, like they were there more for atmosphere than anything else. And with a lot of the mystique removed from the vampires in the first two volumes, the threat they presented in this book didn't feel nearly as imposing.

The book was a fun diversion over a weekend, but I found myself wishing I had the fourth volume to read immediately afterward just to see if the pace and depth of the story might increase. I dunno, but it seems like this third volume is one that readers could afford to skip and not risk missing out on anything hinged too tightly to the main story.

May 21, 2012

Rabid Rewind: Wet Hot American Summer

Wet Hot American Summer
starring Michael Showalter, Janeane Garofalo, David Hyde Pierce, Paul Rudd, Amy Poehler, Bradley Cooper, and Christopher Meloni
directed by David Wain
screenplay by David Wain and Michael Showalter
USA Films (2001)

I finally watched this movie and it only took me 11 years to do it. It was an underdog comedy set to come out during the summer of 2001, and given it was a satire of those old comedies of the 80s, like Porky's and Meatballs, that I loved as a kid, it seemed like a sure hit. Then, it got crapped on by everybody and tanked at the theater so bad, the only movie that might have done worse that year was Mariah Carey's Glitter. Sufficed to say, I never bothered going to the theater to see it, and I never made an effort to find it on VHS--yes, there were still more video-tapes than DVDs way back then.

Then, around 2007, something happened. I guess enough time had passed, and Wet Hot American Summer hit some kind of cult status. My interest was renewed, but it wouldn't be until this year that I'd finally get my hands on a copy.

It's 1981 and the last day of summer camp for a group of Jewish kids in a bucolic section of Maine. There's a talent show in the works for that night, but in the mean time everyone is trying to squeeze as much fun out of their final hours before they all have to go home. For Coop (Michael Showalter), that means finally asking out the girl of his dreams and fellow counselor, Katie (Marguerite Moreau), which is not easy given his shyness and the fact she's been seeing Andy (Paul Rudd). For Victor, that means hooking up with the sluttiest girl at the camp, Abby, only to get relegated to driving a vanload of the kids to go canoeing. And for the camp director, Beth (Janeane Garofalo), she has to balance newfound love with the neighboring astrophysicist (David Hyde Pierce) and keeping the counselors and kids from killing themselves and each other.

If Dazed and Confused had been filmed as a sardonic slapstick, it might have looked something like Wet Hot American Summer. The whole movie is like a frenetic homage to those screwball comedies from the old days. It's kind of uneven in its approach though. Some characters are portrayed so earnestly, while others are played as insane parodies, and when the two share the screen it came off as awkward. The movie is basically a stitched together sketch comedy with just enough plot running through to hold it all together. But when the zaniness is turned up to ridiculous degrees, it kind of takes away from the whole experience.

It's really hard to criticize a movie that intentionally casts actors ten years too old for their roles. That alone makes the movie so delightfully screwed up that any hair-brained points in the movie are unconditionally forgiven. And to see a movie starring actors who are now bona fide stars like Paul Rudd, Elizabeth Banks, Amy Poehler, and Bradley Cooper--not to mention bit parts from two of my favorite comedic actors, Judah Friedlander and H. John Benjamin as a can of vegetables--the movie has a wonderful yearbook vibe to it.

I found out there is a prequel in the works with the entire cast reprising their roles. That's so crazy it just might be crazy--and I can't wait to see it.

May 18, 2012

Rabid Reads: "The Sorrows" by Jonathan Janz

The Sorrows
ISBN 9781609286590

What's better than a spooky old house? How about a spooky old castle? Yeah, that's a good start, but what if the castle is on a remote island? Even better. With Jonathan Janz's debut novel, he presents a horror novel that offers a blend of old gothic chills and modern gruesomeness. But, does the combination work?

The Sorrows is a great evocative name, and just so happens to be the name of the castle in which this story is set, named after a symphony created by a composer named Blackwood whose family owns the estate off the southern California coast. Now, the castle will be the muse for an aging musician under deadline to compose the score for a much-hyped horror film. Ben Shadeland is divorced, and his ex-wife is turning their son, Joshua, against him as she moves in with a new lover named Ryan. So when Ben's friend and collaborator, Eddie, tries to convince him that the Sorrows is the perfect place to get the creative juices flowing, Ben reluctantly agrees if only in part to take his mind off the torment his ex is putting him through. Along for the ride are Claire, an aspiring musician in her own right who idolizes Ben and desperately wants to work with him, and Eva, a seductive assistant to their employer who is tagging along to keep tabs on their progress since Ben has a habit of pushing his deadlines. The four are flown via helicopter to Castle Blackwood where they will reside on their own until the movie score is finished.

At the same time, a young heir and all-round degenerate, Chris Blackwood, has descended into another tight squeeze, in debt with some unsavory characters, and his arrogant tycoon of a father has no sympathy for him whatsoever. As their story progresses intermittently through the novel, it becomes clear that Chris has some traumatic memories stemming from his childhood at Castle Blackwood, and his discovery of a long-lost journal belonging to his great-grandfather's servant--chapters of which also appear intermittently through the book--offer glimpses into the estate's sinister history. At first, the chapters involving Chris Blackwood seem tangential and used as filler, but it becomes evident before long that his path is bound to converge with the Sorrows once more.

Janz crafts a story that initially feels like a familiar one, but by the end of the first act a first swerve occurs and the predictable course of action disappears entirely. And by the end of the novel you realize, the story has gone in a direction you would never have anticipated. Despite some character motivations and behavior that feel suspect at times, his writing kept me off balance, as just when I thought I had the book figured out it would slightly askew and the terror would come from an entirely new direction. I'd go into greater detail on that, but I think readers ought to discover all of that for themselves.

Ben is a great protagonist and easily likable despite his shortcomings. His point of view is only one of a half-dozen or so, however, and the others (especially the journal entries of the Blackwood's servant, which harken to the Lovecraft and M.R. James style) offer a very good rounding of the dominant storyline. As for the chills and thrills, they vary from the classic gothic tension that comes from roaming halls and catacombs of an old castle, to some titillating and/or terrifying scenes that gives glimpses into the dreadful history of the castle and its former residents.

Some of the occurrences towards the end of the book, leading into the climax, strained my suspension of disbelief, but overall I thought this was a strong debut and I'm definitely looking forward to Janz's second outing through Samhain later this year, titled House of Skin--a title that gets its own cameo within this novel.


May 17, 2012

Making Movies with Man-Eaters: An Interview with Adam Cesare

Adam Cesare's novella, Tribesmen, is a damned scary book. I say as much in my review of it. The premise sounds like it should be good, but it winds up being great. A skeleton crew of filmmakers fly out to a remote Caribbean island for a fast, cheap production that is supposed to be a landmark exploitation film, only to wind up being a bloodbath for all involved. After I read and reviewed the book, I cornered Adam for an interview so he could explain just how in the hell he came up with this story. Enjoy.

Gef: What was the impetus behind Tribesmen?

Adam: That’s a hard question to answer, because Tribesmen is kind of a “chicken or the egg” situation. I had heard what John Skipp wanted for this new line of books (fast-paced, movie-sized stories that avoid the bloat that occurs in a lot of plus-sized genre novels) and I had wanted to do something that dealt with this period in film history. So the book kind of grew out of John’s vision for Ravenous Shadows and finding a way to deal with these motifs in a way that appealed to me as a writer and, hopefully, to readers as readers.

Gef: If I can get away with classifying Tribesmen as a slasher, I'd qualify that by adding "with a soul," because the characters are fleshed out (pun intended). Did those six characters evolve over the course of writing the story, or did you already have a clear picture of them (or at least a couple of them) before you started putting pen to paper?

Adam: There is some slashing, but I would call it more of a possession/survival story, it skews heavier to the supernatural than many slashers do. Not that I’m above the slasher sub-genre, love it to pieces.

Some characters evolved, the two protagonists probably the most, but three of them were just there. There’s no character that I wanted to make so one-sided and horrible that you wanted them to die. I think that’s a common trope in slasher movies, that one character that you can’t wait to see get an axe in the face. I tried my best to give a dose of humanity to everyone. Tito, who’s the overbearing film director, is kind of a skummy guy. He may belong to an archetype, but he’s not a stereotype, history is filled with Titos.

Gef: Tribesmen kicks off John Skipp's Ravenous Shadows line of books. So how does it feel to be on the front lines for a new publisher?

Adam: Well, I don’t know how you felt when you heard the idea behind it (shorter books that pack a lot of punch), but all I could think was “hell yeah!”

Skipp’s a genre legend, so getting to work with him was of course a dream come true, but the idea of the thing is so vital. It’s a push to make reading cool again, and if you look at the way distribution methods have changed, it’s the wave of the future.

People are reading on e-readers and phones, you no longer have to stretch a book to mass market length if the story doesn’t call for it. Readers don’t want fluff, they want good writing and fresh storytelling. That’s what Skipp aims to give them. I would say that I “hope the idea catches on” but I don’t need hope, I know it will. I’m honored that Tribesmen is along for the ride.

Gef: You studied film at Boston University. Do you have any horror stories of your own regarding film projects you worked on?

Adam: I only took one film production class while I was in school. I respect the people that can do it, but I didn’t have the stomach for that much collaboration. You live and die on the work of other people (some you may or may not get along with), that was too much pressure. If I continued down that line of study, I’m sure I would have had some stories of my own, but I got out while the gettin’ was good.

I was a film major in the sense that I wrote papers about film and took a bunch of screenwriting classes, which can be its own kind of horror. DEADLINES! GROUP DISCUSSION! PAPERCUTS!

Gef: Some of those exploitation films from the 70s are not for the faint of heart. What's one that really disturbed you as a viewer and made you say, "I can't believe someone had the balls to make that!"?

Adam: The Italian cannibal movies have always been more interesting to me as a cultural phenomenon than they are entertaining. You’ve got to stand back and wonder “how did these get made?” There’s something really icky about them. There’s animal cruelty and not-so-subtle racism in a lot of these films, stuff that’s really upsetting to a lot of viewers and rightfully so.

I try to play with these ideas and add a gory “what if” element. Someone called it the “novelization of a film that doesn’t exist” which I took as a compliment, but it’s really about what goes on behind the camera, so I prefer to call it the making-of feature from hell. The ugliness that the directors and producers want to put on screen comes back to bite them. Literally. 

Gef: With Tribesmen taking place mostly on a Caribbean island, I wonder if the tropics are even your idea of a great vacation spot. And if not, where is the most idyllic place to go to get away from it all--and hopefully not meet a bloody demise?

Adam: Anywhere, Gef. As long as I can get there safe and read some books, I’d take a vacation anywhere.

Gef: You also have a short story collection out called Bone Meal Broth. Is the tone in that found similar to Tribesmen or is it a more eclectic batch of stories?

Adam: Much more eclectic. There’s two southern grotesque stories (my personal favorite subgenre), a bizarre noir story, a dark scifi one, some creature stuff, and it ends with one really quiet story that isn’t really horror at all. It’s got something for everyone.

I had written a bunch of short stories before diving into longer works, some of them were lucky enough to find homes in some great markets. But that was awhile ago and those rights came back to me, but I still wanted people to be able to check those out, because I’m quite proud of them. Bone Meal Broth is nine stories, about half of them have been published in journals and magazines, and half are original to the collection. It’s 20,000 words of material for two bucks, I wanted it to be a low-risk sampler platter of my work. I really hope people enjoy it. So far the feedback’s been great.

Gef: Okay, you're washed up on an island. What book do you have with you? What survival equipment do you have with you? And for food, what do you have a lifetime supply of?

Adam: Okay my playing-by-the-rules answer is Hamlet, the edition doesn’t really matter but I’d prefer one that’s got some extensive annotations so I can squeeze some extra reading material out of it. For food, I’d settle for ramen noodles, hopefully I could catch some fish or something to add to it.

Cheating answer: I’ve got my kindle and some kind of solar-powered generator. That way I don’t have to pick. I not only get some Faulkner and other old dead guys and gals, but I get Joe Lansdale, Martin McDonagh, Sarah Langan, Jeff Strand, Stephen Graham Jones, Jack Ketchum, and all my other still-kickin’ favorites.

Gef: I've become a real junkie for novellas over the last year or so, thanks in great part to the rise in e-books. Has the popularity in e-books hit you yet, and if so what have you found yourself gravitating towards you didn't before?

Adam: I've been a kindle guy from the beginning. Not really because I'm a gadget guy, but because it's a great way to save shelf space.

As much as I was talking up novellas earlier in the interview, I think the ebook revolution also works the other way, in that I now read books that are too big to carry around comfortably. I’m talking doorstops like King’s most recent ones or the George R.R. Martin A Song of Ice and Fire books.

I’m reading Dance with Dragons right now, the only other option is the hardcover, and it’s the same weight as all my other books. I saw a girl hefting it on the subway the other day. Good for her that she’s that into the series that she’s taking it with her on the go, but it looked like she was reading a cinderblock.

Maybe someday I’ll get around to reading Infinite Jest. Probably not, but now it’s a bit easier to think that I might one day because I won't have to lug it around.

Gef: In my review, I mentioned that I've read books so far in 2012 that I found creepy, cringe-worthy, spooky, and just plain gross, but Tribesmen is the scariest one I've read so far. So let's say for you, over the last twelve months, what's the scariest books you've read?

Adam: It’s not a straight “horror story” but Rio Youers’ Westlake Soul is one of the best I’ve read in the last twelve months and it’s also centered around a truly terrifying real-world premise. Powerful, heartbreaking material.

Gef: What's the next project we can expect to see from you?

Adam: Next for me? I’ve got my first novel coming out in January from Samhain. It’s called Video Night and it’s a pitch-dark buddy-comedy set during the 1988 alien invasion of Long Island, NY. This is a special book and I’m thrilled to be working with Samhain, they’re really poised for world domination and their horror lineup is ironclad.

Thanks so much for taking the time to talk with me, Gef!

And thanks to Adam as well.

If you'd like to learn more about Adam and his work, you can check out his profile on Goodreads or visit his blog, Brain Tremors. Plus, you can find his books on Amazon: Tribesmen in Kindle format; Tribesmen in paperback; and Bone Meal Broth in Kindle format.

May 16, 2012

Wish List Wednesday #114: Alex Bledsoe's "Blood Groove"

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.

One of my favorite novels of 2011 was The Hum and the Shiver by Alex Bledsoe. I originally heard about Alex when I read a review for his vampire novel, The Girls with Games of Blood, which sounded really promising. The trouble was that it was the sequel to another book called Blood Groove.

Now, vampires are just a tad overdone, but even I will admit to being a sucker for a good twist on the trope--or even just a well-written book with no twist. This one sounds interesting, as an Irish vampire gets staked to death in 1915, then wakes up in Memphis circa 1975. He's a bit of a fish out of water and falls in with the only other vampires he meets, a group of teenagers whose only knowledge of vampires comes from exploitation films. Together they have to find out who is behind a new street drug that appears to kill vampires.

With the characters, the settings, and the plot, I think there is a lot of potential for a very fun, very engaging read. It and its sequel sound like the kind of story that's right up my alley.

How about you: what vampires novels do you have on your wish list at the moment? Or are you done with the bloodsuckers?

May 15, 2012

Rabid Reads: "Tribesmen" by Adam Cesare

Ravenous Shadows (2012)

There is something almost mythological about the film industry of the 70s. Maybe it was the tumultuous political climate mixed with an upheaval in cultural norms, but whatever the catalysts were, movies from that era carry a certain mystique when we look back on them. Especially, if you have any appreciation for cult classics and exploitation films. It seems Adam Cesare has a great appreciation for that era, and if not he sure knows how to fake it.

Tribesmen is a tightly packed story of a small film crew lured into working for a sleazy director in the early 80s, during the twilight years of the exploitation genre. Cost-cutting is the top consideration with this cannibal film, with a skeleton crew of six (including the director and his two "star" actors) on a remote Caribbean island that, upon arrival, is totally deserted. Tensions are already building on the cramped plane ride to the island for their three-day shoot, and when the plane strands them there and the natives are nowhere to be found, the film is beginning to look like a disaster-in-waiting to everyone but the director.

Each chapter switches point of view to a different character, in part to help establish each character and their motivations, and to accommodate the inevitable body count, because not everyone is making it off the island alive. Through their eyes, we bare witness to a rapid free-fall into madness when the spirits of the slaughtered islanders influence the mindsets of the crew and inevitably have them turn on one another.

The atmosphere is just about pitch perfect for both the setting and the pace of this novella. No time is wasted in getting into the sheer visceral horror that ensues, yet the characters are all given enough in the beginning to show their colors. Aside from the director, who feels like the epitomization of the sleaziest cinematic fare, the characters avoid feeling like cardboard cutouts that you might expect from the film equivalent to a story like this. There's a surreal quality to how the horror begins, and once it gets started it is like seeing the scene pass through an hourglass into some blood-soaked bizarro-land. I won't spoil how, but the first kill firmly establishes that you can take nothing for granted and it is literally open season on everyone.

Tribesmen is like a hollow-point bullet. It will bore into your brain through a small entry point, but when it exits your brain it's going to leave a gory mess between your ears. In 2012 so far, I've read horror stories that are spooky, creepy, cringe-worthy, and just plain gross, but Tribesmen is the scariest one I've read so far in 2012.

May 14, 2012

Rabid Rewind: Bridesmaids

starring Kristen Wiig, Maya Rudolph, Rose Byrne, and Melissa McCarthy
directed by Paul Feig
screenplay by Annie Mumolo & Kristen Wiig
Universal Pictures (2011)

I've done my turn as the best man in a wedding, but the most stressful thing I had to do was make a speech at the reception--tanked it, by the way. At least I wasn't responsible for giving anyone food poisoning so bad they sh*t themselves in the middle of a busy street. Yeah, that happens in this movie.

Kristen Wiig finally got her turn in the starring role of a comedy, and unsurprisingly does a fantastic job. The gal might be my favorite SNL star since Phil Hartman, so seeing her make good on the big screen is an added treat. Throw in the comedic talents of Maya Rudolph as her best friend turned bride-to-be, Melissa McCarthy, Wendi McLendon-Covey (oved her in Reno 911), and Ellie Kemper, and the movie was bound to be great.

Annie (Wiig) is getting her ass kicked by life, with a failed business, creepy roommates, and an A-grade douchebag for what she only wishes was her boyfriend. Her one saving grace is having a great best friend, Lillian (Rudolph), but when Lillian gets engaged that puts one more little wrench in Annie's life. But she is genuinely happy for Lillian and wants to do her best to make the bridal shower and all the rest a great success. The trouble is Lillian's other good friend (Rose Byrne) is wealthy and charming and out to steal the show.

Kristen Wiig is utterly likable, with her mix of sexy and nerdy, and is juxtaposed with Rose Byrne as the rich snob. And while the witty dialogue and intermittent moments of tenderness and sincerity, the pleasure of this movie comes from the over-the-top comedy from the motley crew of bridesmaids. Melissa McCarthy may have channeled John Belushi or Chris Farley, because if this was a cast of guys, that's who I'd have pegged for her role. Ellie Kemper was a bit of a scene-stealer too, as the Disney-obsessed and sexually repressed coworker. Between scenes involving rapid and violent food poisoning, inebriated escapades on an airplane, and flagrant attempts to provoke a traffic cop, the movie was loaded with laugh-out-loud moments.

I gotta admit that I probably wouldn't have been as charmed by the movie if it was a cast of men instead of women. An all-female cast in a comedy shouldn't be a novelty. And a lady-led comedy that's actually funny instead of a lazy written piece of tripe--Sex and the City, I'm looking in your direction--shouldn't be a rarity. Not that the bro-centric comedies fare any better. Bridesmaids is hilarious, plain and simple, and I really wish there were more comedies as good as this one.

May 11, 2012

Rabid Reads: "Undertaker's Moon" by Ronald Kelly

Undertaker's Moon
originally published by Zebra under the title: Moon of the Werewolf
CrossroadsPress (2011)

When I downloaded this novel from Crossroads Press, I had no idea it was originally published over twenty years ago as a Zebra mass market paperback. So, what I thought was a new release was really a blast from the past, with a brand new editing job and a fresh coat of paint. Which raises the question: how does a twenty-year-old werewolf novel hold up over time?

Most werewolves in fiction these days tend to be like the ones in Twilight, the type that change into actual wolves, but you don't see a whole lot of wolfmen. Well, Ronald Kelly wrote a book that seems much more influenced by Universal Studios than the usual fare these days. Kelly's werewolves are a bit different, both in their Irish heritage and their ferocity. This book feels firmly set in the time in which it was written, which was the late 80s, chock full of archetype characters (i.e., the arrogant jock and the mysterious drifter) and over-the-top violence.

Set in Tennessee, the small town of Old Hickory has inherited a new undertaker after their old one died. The new proprietor is part of a family of five originally from Ireland, though they've spent several years in America working as undertakers. The O' Shea's, led by the eldest Crom McManus, seem normal enough at first, but suspicions grow among a select few of the residents when strange and gruesome deaths start taking place around Old Hickory. Most are unassuming, as the O' Shea's have a certain level of charm and disarming eccentricities. They're Irish after all, perfectly normal ... as long as you don't notice their bursts of feral strength, shimmering predatory eyes--and don't forget the excessive body hair at times.

When one of the local teen boys, Brian Reece, a chubby introvert with an affinity for horror movies, winds up the object of affection for the young Rosie O' Shea, he also finds a new confidence in himself--and the ire of her big brother, Devon. Devon, meanwhile, has grown weary of the traditional werewolf ways as dictated by McManus, which has the family feasting on dead flesh rather than living humans so as to avoid detection. Devon wants fresh meat and figures he can add it as one more vice to quite a list. The story plays out with readers getting a view from both the good guys and bad guys, which isn't so clear cut as the story progresses. The O' Shea's aren't a band of mustache-twirling, two-dimensional villains, as the family dynamic and how they came to be werewolves is very well laid out and helps create a lot of sympathy for them. Though, Devon is clearly an unlikable cad and almost seems to be malicious for the sake of being malicious. And as for the heroes, I was just happy to see a chubby guy get a leading role for a change.

The book feels drawn-out in spots and felt less like a cinematic spinetingler and more like a made-for-TV schlockfest at times. There are a lot of entertaining and harrowing moments though, and the interest level always rebounded when the focus honed in on the conflict between Brian's small band of heroes and their lycanthropic adversaries.. The werewolves when they appear are gruesomely depicted and Kelly does a lot to give their existence and their behavior substance in a real world setting. The idea of surviving and laying low by feeding on the recently deceased struck me as particularly inventive. And some of the secondary characters that pop up, and some who pop out, were added treats to this literary popcorn fare.

A masterpiece this is not, but werewolf fans ought to enjoy it, and anyone with an affinity for those horror movies of the 80s and pulpy paperbacks of the same era, could find a weekend of entertainment in this book's pages too. It even includes a brief novella that acts as a prequel of sorts, though reading it first risks spoiling some of the developments in the novel, as forewarned by Kelly in his afterword.


May 9, 2012

Chasing Tale in May - Kindle Edition (5/10/12): Abomination Magazine, Tonia Brown, Barry Napier, ...

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.

Do Kindles get bogged down by the more ebooks you download onto them? I only ask because it seems my Kindle, which is only a few months old, chugs when I open up a new e-book to read. Flipping pages is fine, but ever since the little guy started amassing an army of e-books, he's been about as quick as cold molasses. Am I alone here or is this just the status quo with e-readers?

Anyway, here are even more books added to the Kindle:

On Unfaithful Wings by Bruce Blake - I downloaded this as a freebie off the Kindle Store after Bruce hit me up for a review. A story about an angel trying to get his life back by harvesting enough souls for Heaven sounds interesting enough for me to give it a chance.

Skin Trade by Tonia Brown - Tonia has a blog tour coming up soon to promote her new book, and she'll be stopping by the blog with a guest post. I've got this advanced review copy with its gruesome cover, and I get the distinct feeling the tone with be a lot different from her zombie-rotica novel, Lucky Stiff, and her steampunk novella series, Railroad.

The Brotherhood of Piaxia by Michael Drakich - Epic fantasy ain't exactly my bag, but I've read a couple books with varying levels of enjoyment. Michael gave me a review copy of his new novel for when the time comes for me to give the genre another chance.

Abomination Magazine #1 edited by Corey J. Goldberg - It's always good to see a new market crop up for short horror fiction, so when I was offered a review copy of Abomination's inaugural issues, I just had to give it a look-see.

A Satan Carol by Alan Kessler - I haven't a clue what this book is about precisely, but I do love the Dickens classic, so the idea of a horror-tinged variation does sound interesting.

Born of Blood by S.B. Knight - I received a PDF review copy of this darkly-themed short novel. I'm not able to glean too much from the back cover. Something about a young woman caught between two sides in a battle that's involved her family for generations. Hey, why not.

The Hollows by Barry Napier - Barry's latest novel hit the Kindle Store a few weeks ago, and I was probably one of the first cats to download it. I've read two of his novels so far (liked the first one and really liked the second one), so I'm optimistic about this one.

Cemeteries of the Heart by Grant Palmquist - Grant sent me a review copy of this short story collection. I see he's got a book cover by Jeroen Ten Berge, whose name I've seen as cover designer on more than a couple e-books over the last year or so. The guy has a flare, so I hope the stories follow suit.

Quintessence of Dust by Craig Wallwork - Craig is another author generous enough to offer a copy of his short story collection. No idea what to expect from this book, but I will say I had to look up "quintessence" on my laptop dictionary. I know "quintessential," but I wanted to be sure. I guess I need to restock my word-of-the-day toilet paper.

That's what I downloaded. So, what have you got on your e-reader?