December 30, 2009

Wish List Wednesday #27: The Alchemy of Stone

I'm not familiar with Ekaterina Sedia, but I've seen mention of a recent novel of hers that strikes me as a potentially great read. It's called The Alchemy of Stone.

It sounds like it might fall into, or at least dangle over the precipice of, steampunk science-fiction. Io9.com describes the novel's plot as "a clockwork cyborg caught up in a workers' revolution." I think I could dig into a novel with that kind of approach to the subject matter.

What makes it even more intriguing for me is the fact that the creator of The Sarah Connor Chronicles--that ill-fated and ill-executed Fox TV show--Josh Friedman apparently said he wanted to tackle similar themes of The Alchemy of Stone in his television show. I hold a strong appreciation for the first two Terminator films. The third one disappointed me, as it was basically a multi-million dollar political campaign for Arnold in his bid to become California's governor. The Sarah Connor Chronicles only served to deaden my love for the Terminator mythos further, as the casting choices were predominantly poor and the storylines meandered between plodding and preposterous--but this isn't about my lament for a failed franchise, it's about a promising novel.

Where a television show failed, Sedia's novel could very well succeed, and I would very much enjoy an opportunity to read it and see for myself. She's also edited a werewolf anthology, Running with the Pack, due out in 2010 that looks interesting.

December 29, 2009

Curl up with a Book and a Nook! Contest

lick here to enter Curl Up with a Book…and a Nook Contest.

Rabid Reads: "Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist" by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan

Title: Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist
Authors: Rachel Cohn and David Levithan
Published: Alfred A. Knopf ( May 2006); an imprint of Random House
Pages: 183
Genre: Young Adult
ISBN-10: 0-375-83531-8
ISBN-13: 978-0-375-83531-5

I've been waiting for weeks to watch the film adaptation of this book, as I'm apparently not the only library member who wants to borrow the DVD. When I made my request for the movie, I actually didn't know it was based on a book. So, while I wait to watch the movie, I thought I'd borrow the book. Surprise, surprise, there was no waiting list in that department.

Now that I've had a chance to read this title by Cohn and Levithan, two things spring to mind: 1) I'm really glad I took the time to read this novella (anything less than 250 pages is novella territory for me); 2) I have a feeling that I'm going to nitpick the movie when I eventually see it.

The story takes place in New York, and it doesn't take long to appreciate just how steeped the characters of Nick and Norah are in their slice of New York City life. Nick is the bassist, and lone straight guy, in a "queercore" punk band that seems to change its name with each gig they get. Norah is the broody, "straight-edge" daughter of a music executive, out on the town with her friend, Catherine, who isn't nearly as averse to alcohol.

It's Saturday night and both Nick and Norah are at a hole-in-the-wall club where their paths cross for the first time. Nick and his bandmates--sans drummer for some reason--have just finished their set, and Nick's handling bitch duties with the equipment while the other guys are basking in drunken adoration of both boys and girls. But, Nick's ex, Tris, is there too ... with her new boyfriend, and that's something he just can't handle yet. Norah is possibly one of the few sober people in the club that night, basically trying all she can to keep her friend, Catherine, from ending up in the broom closet with some random singer or guitarist. Plus, one of her former childhood friends, Tris, is there and that's something she can't quite handle at the moment. So, when Nick asks Norah out of the blue to pose as his girlfriend for five minutes to stick it to Tris, Norah accepts by locking face with him as Tris approaches.

That's only the beginning of the story for these two, as the story goes through their entire night together as they wind through Manhattan. Chapter by chapter, we switch points of view between Nick and Norah, as they go through a one-night emotional gauntlet. Cohn handles writing duties for Norah's character, while Levithan writes out Nick's experiences. It's an interesting tandem, to be sure, and the thought processes of both characters play well. There are moments when it can feel a little jarring jumping from Nick to Norah, or vice versa, but by the time you finish reading you feel a sense of completion and resolution to their respective stories.

The interplay between Nick and Norah was great and I really found myself rooting for the both of them, especially when they fucked up at different points through the night. The dialog is razor sharp between them as they get to know each other and gradually fall for each other in a way neither expected or initially wanted, yet nothing in the book feels contrived or tacked on. Well, there is one make out scene towards the end that is eyebrow raising to a point where I thought it was there more for shock value than anything.

Other than that, however, I felt so much more at home reading about Nick and Norah than watching just about any teen comedy that's come around in the last ten years. And that really makes me wonder how I'm going to eventually react to the film adaptation, because if it's been diverted from the story that this book tells, and given some glossy "teen romp" veneer that pollutes so many movies, I'm going to be sorely disappointed.

December 28, 2009

Rabid Rewind: Drag Me to Hell

Title: Drag Me to Hell
Starring: Alison Lohman, Justin Long, Lorna Raver
Directed by: Sam Raimi
Released: 2009
Genre: Horror

I'm the kind of guy who still marvels (no pun intended) at the fact that the director of the Spider-Man trilogy, Sam Raimi, is the man behind the Evil Dead trilogy. Mind you, it's not nearly as mind boggling as the fact that Robert Rodriguez is responsible for Desperado and Spy Kids. So, I wonder if people who came to know Raimi's work through the Spider-Man films were taken aback with news that Drag Me to Hell was going to be an all-out horror film.

I enjoy the Evil Dead films, but I must admit that it has more to do with Bruce Campbell's performances than Sam Raimi's writing and directing. Still, Drag Me to Hell is one of the few horror films to come out in 2009 that I've been looking forward to watching. I'm not a Saw fan, the teen horror schlock doesn't interest me in the least, and anything that looks remotely watchable tends to be obscure direct-to-DVD fare that I'll never see unless I win the lottery and go nuts with online shopping. Drag Me to Hell, for me, is a breath of fresh air in mainstream horror cinema.

What makes this film all the more enjoyable is the fact that it doesn't take itself too seriously. The steel trap of many a horror film is failure to recognize the humor and absurdity that may exist in some facet of the film. At no point does Drag Me to Hell misstep into becoming a parody of itself. Tongue is squarely in cheek through much of this movie, which is practically a bar code for any Sam Raimi film.

Alison Lohman plays a loan officer, Christine, with aspirations of becoming assistant manager. But the question hanging over her head is whether she's cutthroat enough to make the tough calls regarding clients and applicants. Enter Sylvia, played remarkably by Lorna Raver. Sylvia is old, a little crude, a fair distance from fetching, and in need of an extension on her mortgage payments. She's ill and the costs have taken a toll on her. When Christine gently refuses her, Sylvia begs. When Christine bristles and calls security, Sylvia attacks.

It's at this point when the movie's tone veers from Sophie Kinsella to Stephen King. Sylvia puts a curse on Christine, which will have the mousy banker literally dragged into Hell if she can't break the curse in three days. The scare tactics are familiar yet effective in the escalating stages of Christine's torment, plus a few sight gags--a nosebleed scene strikes a surprisingly funny chord--help ease the tension. Justin "I'm a Mac" Long makes for a nice twist on the doting girlfriend schtick, in a nice bit of role reversal, with his incessant rationality towards Christine's plight and his quick wit aimed at the odd things they encounter while looking for a solution.

Horror fans have already watched this movie and chimed in, but those with an aversion to movies like this may want to at least consider watching it. The film is fast-paced, humorous, frightful, and has an ending that is sudden and satisfying.

December 26, 2009

Rabid Reads: "Coffin County" by Gary Braunbeck


Title: Coffin County
Author: Gary Braunbeck

Published: Leisure Books (June 2008); a division of Dorchester Publishing
Pages: 334
Genre: Horror
ISBN 10: 0-8439-6050-7
ISBN 13: 978-0-8439-6050-1

My local library and the local used-book stores carry a healthy assortment of dark fiction, but there are some names--notable, award-winning authors--who are conspicuous by their absence when I search their titles out. Gary Braunbeck is one such author. After catching wind from other readers and writers that Braunbeck is a superlative horror author, I kept an eye out for his books, but eventually had to end up using an inter-library exchange with another provincial library to get what seems to be the sole Braunbeck novel in the province. Now that I've had the chance to sample his work, I'm not only surprised to have not been made aware of his novels sooner, but surprised that there aren't more of his titles out there sitting on shelves. I guess that's just a disadvantage to living in the boondocks.

Cedar Hill, Ohio is the place where this twisted tale of death and justice and redemption takes place. It's narrated by a character who refers to himself as "The Reverend," but also goes by other names. The Reverend recounts the story of Cedar Hill's latest round of tragedies, as it holds a history so disturbing and fabled locally that the area is nicknamed "Coffin County." The periodic leaps from one character's point-of-view to another through the story might seem disjointed at times, but the Reverend character is there to help lace it all together in a web that gradually turns into a cohesive tapestry of the town and everyone in it, both past and present.

As I mentioned, the town has a hefty history of disasters, including a devastating inferno known as the Great Fire, a glut of murders, and the notorious casket factory fire that took down the entire town in its day. Now, Cedar Hill is beset by another killer who starts his mysterious rampage in a small diner. The aftermath, however, proves to be even more bizarre than the crime itself.

Detective Ben Littlejohn is the guy who gets the case, even though the "power-suits" in town aren't convinced he's stable enough, as he's still getting over the death of his wife, and the murders have been committed on the anniversary of her death. But before the story gets to Ben, the Reverend gives readers a peak at the supernatural and the real cause of what caused Coffin County to earn that nickname. Two powerful and destructive forces are loosed upon the small town and each play their role in not only the murders at the diner, but more deaths, and the steady disintegration of the town and the sanity of Ben Littlejohn.

There's a blue-collar beauty to Braunbeck's writing, and I can see why readers and writers recommend him so highly, but I must admit that it took me a while to get sucked into this story. I felt I was out of rhythm with the Reverend for the first hundred pages or so, and I think it comes from the fact that the first fifty are dedicated to the the events at the coffin factory, and then it thrusts into the present with the murders at the diner. Plus, there are unattributed snippets of dialog between the supernatural entities of the story. Those hit me like speed bumps the first few times they appeared.

Overall, however, the story comes together and that tapestry I alluded to becomes a real work of art, as past and present meld and point to a future that doesn't promise much chance of a happy ending for anyone involved. And the ending is a doozy. Even though I pieced together some of it before it all came to light--the mystery elements of this novel will work for many, I'm sure--the real climax of the story threw me and I had to admit that I did not see it coming.

While I'm not the kind of guy who usually clambers for a sequel to a stand-alone novel, I think there is enough meat left on the bone at the end of the novel to warrant a follow-up of some kind, because I'd be interested to see how the characters in the final chapter carry on. At any rate, Coffin County was a darned good read, well deserving of the nomination and accolades it's received, and I think any book that reminds me of Clive Barker's The Great and Secret Show is worth recommending to others.

December 24, 2009

Book Trailer: "Sandman Slim"

Since I listed Sandman Slim yesterday, I have found a video on YouTube in which the author, Richard Kadrey, discusses the book for Harper Collins video studio. If the book peaks your interest too, check out this video.



Video courtesy of WilliamMorrow1 @ YouTube

P.S. - It's Christmas Eve. Enjoy the holidays and I hope you get something nice in your stocking.

December 23, 2009

Wish List Wednesday #26: "Sandman Slim"

It never fails. The end of a year comes around, or in this case a decade, and lists proliferate the Internet. Most are inconsequential and of no interest to me, but one topic I am drawn to is reading lists. And io9 recently came up with a couple of really helpful lists of recommended reading. The list, from which I spied this title, dealt with books for fans of particular movies.

For fans of The Dark Knight, starring Christian Bale and Heath Ledger, io9 recommended a novel by Richard Kadrey called Sandman Slim. They mention this book because of its noir atmosphere, and two main characters butting heads in a city that may or may not deserve protecting. It's set in a real city (Los Angeles) instead of a glamorized or revisionist version, like Gotham City. And I'm not sure if io9 meant it figuratively or not, but the hero returns from Hell to protect the city. Whether the character is literally or symbolically from Hell, the book sounds like it could be an engaging read.

Have you heard of Richard Kadrey's work before? Is there another of his novels that I should keep an eye out for? Or maybe another novel that captures the atmosphere or tone of The Dark Knight? It was a damned good movie, after all.

December 22, 2009

Rabid Reads: "Leviathan" by Scott Westerfeld

Title: Leviathan
Author: Scott Westerfeld; illustrated by Keith Thompson
Published: Simon Pulse (2009); an imprint of Simon & Schuster, Inc.
Pages: 440
Genre: Young Adult; Science-Fiction; Steampunk
ISBN 978-1-4169-7173-3

I had the opportunity to borrow this from my local library, so rather than wait to find a copy trickled down to the used-book stores to then read, I placed a hold on it and was actually first in line to check it out. That's a first for a new release. So, I've had the chance to sample the much ballyhooed "steampunk," as well as check out the work of accomplished author, Scott Westerfeld. I'm impressed on both counts.

Taking place in an alternate version of Europe before the start of the Great War. The first half of this novel is told through two parallel storylines. On one hand, we start off with young Austrian prince, Alex, who is roused from his bed in the dead of night by two of his father's loyal confidants, Master Klopp and Count Volger, after the assassination of his parents abroad. Then, there is the story of a young girl, Deryn, posing as a boy in order to enlist as a midshipmen in the British forces after her father's tragic death, fearing she may not be able to fulfill her dream due to her gender. The story delves into the lives of each teen as they are shaken from the remnants of their childhood and whisked into tumultuous lessons in adulthood and duty, as their respective countries prepare for war.

The instruments of war is where the "steampunk" element comes into play. On Alex's side are the Clankers, as Germany and Austria have adopted a very industrial mode of war machines, with two-legged tanks and monstrously huge, spider-legged machines that could be described as land-based battleships. Anything with wheels or treads is relegated to the farmers and lower classes. On Deryn's side are the Darwinists and their genetically manipulated vehicles and weapons. The discovery and exploitation of animal DNA has enabled the Darwinists to use the "life threads" of assorted creatures to build alternative forms of transportation and weaponry, including hot-air balloons derived from jellyfish DNA, and a huge airship called Leviathan that's reminiscent of a giant whale with an entire ecosystem regulating it. Thanks to the interspersed artwork of Keith Thompson complimenting the vivid descriptions of Westerfeld, the eye candy is plentiful from both the Clankers and the Darwinists.

Aside from the window dressing, however, there is an engrossing story taking place inside this book's pages--two actually since it takes almost half the book before Alex and Deryn even cross paths, and when they do it's in a big way. Alex is on the run from the Clankers, as he's the loose string that could threaten the German/Austrian alliance against the Darwinists. While Deryn finds herself in battle at the same time she's trying to keep her true identity a secret from her shipmates and superiors. And when the two teens do finally meet, they could inadvertently plunge the whole continent into war before any side is truly prepared.

For what's listed as young adult, this novel is fairly mature, though not so much that it should deter parents from letting their kids read it. There is some grade-A imagination at work, and it's worth the read just to soak in all that eye candy I referred to earlier. I found this book good enough for me to look forward to the next installment, as well to take Westerfeld's Uglies series for a spin to see how that fares.

Other reviews of this novel can be found at: Fantasy Book Critic; Laura's Review Book Shelf; My Favorite Books

December 21, 2009

Rabid Rewind: Transformers 2 - Revenge of the Fallen

Title: Transformers 2: Revenge of the Fallen
Starring: Shia Labeouf, Megan Fox, and a ton of loud noises
Directed: Michael Bay
Released: 2009
Genre: Summer Blockbuster

I did not find this movie to be as terrible as I had expected it to be. Don't get me wrong, I still thought it was terrible, just not as terrible as I had preconceived. Perhaps expectations are simply set too high for a franchise that is based on what amounts to a brand of toys. I certainly won't expect riveting subject matter from any films in the future based on Lego or Hot Wheels.

I hate to sound like every other detractor of these Michael Bay monstrosities, but I'm simply perplexed at the success each movie has garnered in the box office and DVD sales. These are less story-based films than they are glorified exhibitions of CGI, as fans of the toys and cartoons have grown up to work in the movie business and get spend months playing with digitized versions of their favorite robots. You could savor far more enjoyment by watching your son play with his Transformers action figures than sitting through a staggering two-and-a-half hours of--let's face it--what amounts to ear rape.

Loud is too abbreviated a word to describe the acoustic assault I endured through the nonsensical action scenes of this movie. Meretricious may be an appropriately long word to describe the overly flashy, and ultimately vacuous film's nature. Plot? The effrontery to ask for such a thing from this movie. It's shiny, loud, and Megan Fox has been tacked on for good measure. Take your demands for story structure and cohesion, and take a hike, pal. This movie is an idolization of empty calories. Transformers 2 is the world's biggest Twinkie.

I've bemoaned my experience long enough. If you watched this movie and loved it, chances are you're not even reading this ... or anything else for that matter. And if you watched it and hated it, then I'm just preaching to the choir and should move on to a happier topic.

Like, when does District 9 come out on DVD?

December 20, 2009

Fave Five: Christmas Movies

Oooh, it's almost here. I'm so excited. Actually, not really. I haven't gotten giddy over Christmas in a long time. My sister was always the one in the family that wrapped herself in the Christmas spirit like it was a down comforter on a chilly night. Me, I'm content with a cup of hot chocolate, a book, and the utter and complete absence of incessant caroling.

Then there are the movies. December is the month when the TV networks churn out those holiday classics that have been collecting dust in the archives for the other eleven months of the year. I gotta tell ya, most of them I will not miss if I never see them again. My eyes have been bludgeoned more times than I can count by It's A Wonderful Life and Miracle on 42nd Street. But at least there is a nostalgic factor with those movies. What really grinds on me is the schlock that has been made over the last several years that is not classic, not nostalgic, and simply not good.

I do have a few favorites, however, when it comes to the Christmas season. So, let's compare notes and see how these five flicks rank on your personal list.

#5: Bad Santa - Before Billy Bob Thornton went off the rails, he managed to chalk up quite a few good movies to his credit. One of my personal favorites has him playing a foul-mouthed, alcoholic burglar who gets hired as a mall Santa every year, then robs the mall blind on Christmas Eve with the help of his cohort, a little person playing Santa's elf with an insatiably greedy girlfriend. For whatever flaws this movie might have, the cast is brilliant with performances I can watch over and over. Billy Bob, Lauren Graham, Bernie Mac, John Ritter, and whoever plays the fat kid who befriends Billy Bob during his darkest hour.

#4: Die Hard - The plot of this movie occurs during the Christmas season, so it counts. They don't all have to be dripping with saccharine sentiment--Bad Santa sure wasn't. Maybe I just needed an excuse to put a Bruce Willis movie on one of my lists, but it is my list, after all. Bruce Willis is a New York cop in L.A. with his wife when she's held hostage in a high rise tower with a bunch of other socialites at the corporate Christmas party, at the whim of a maniacal and utterly cool villain played by Alan Rickman. The sequel had snow, and might be considered a better candidate in the Christmas category, but I really didn't care for that movie at all besides the highly watchable gun fight in the airport.

#3: National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation - Simply put, this is the best movie National Lampoon has ever had its name attached to. And it might be Chevy Chase's best movie too. If there is a movie that better captures the sheer dread and calamity that comes with attending a family Christmas dinner, amplifying it to absurd and hilarious proportions, I would like to see it. Nowadays, a movie with a title preceded by the words "National Lampoon's" provokes about as much excitement as a political debate between Sarah Palin and a cactus. At least they've got this movie to place on their mantle.

#2: A Christmas Carol - I haven't seen the new Disney CGI extravaganza starring Jim Carey, but I have a suspicion it's more sizzle than steak. For all of Hollywood's attempts, and even that of the Muppets, I haven't seen an adaptation of Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol that's better than the 1950s incarnation starring Alastair Sim. I'm likely biased because I saw this movie every Christmas as a child and loved it every time, unlike many of the other monochrome movies that air during the holidays. I'm indoctrinated probably by this movie and I'll make no apologies for ranking it so highly.

#1: Scrooged - The idea that a "hip," comedic update to the Dickens classic, stewed in 80s goodness, as my absolute favorite Christmas movie is, well ... ludicrous. But here we are. What does it is some fantastic performances by Bill Murray, Carol Kane, Bobcat Goldthwait (sp.), and the rest of the cast. The movie has its shortfalls, like the dry and unsympathetic portrayal of Marley's family. But the supporting cast is redeemed by ??? and the scenes within the homeless shelter. And the scene between Bill Murray and Carol Kane involving Trivial Pursuit and a toaster gets a hearty laugh out of me to this day.

Now that I think of it, Bill Murray rarely puts out a bad movie--at least movies I don't like. The guy's got a pretty good batting average compared to some of the other SNL alumni and comedic actors. I'll have to do a Bill Murray Fave Five sometime in 2010. Make a note of that.

In the meantime, MERRY CHRISTMAS!

December 19, 2009

Rabid Reads: "Audrey's Door" by Sarah Langan

Title: Audrey's Door
Author: Sarah Langan
Published: Harper (October 2009)
Pages: 412
Genre: Paranormal Suspense; Horror
ISBN 978-0-06-162421-6


I do like me a story about a haunted house, and Sarah Langan manages to carve a twisted tale about a very unusual and very haunted building known as the Breviary. Langan cites Stephen King's The Shining and Ira Levin's Rosemary's Baby as two classic novels that helped to inspire her and even influence her in the telling of this tale. It's a tall order to follow after two such classic horror novels, but she's no stranger to weaving her own horrific stories, as she's already met success with her two previous works, The Missing and The Keeper.

The key to a good haunted house tale isn't so much the house, but the characters residing within its walls. In Audrey's Door, the title character--Audrey Lucas--is as haunted as the Breviary, if not more so. A drifter and a loner with her mother through most of her formative years, Audrey is withdrawn and quiet and seemingly lost as an adult in a world she barely understands. Still, she perseveres and casts off the shackles of a tormented youth to become a successful architect and accept the marriage proposal of her New York City sweetheart, Saraub. But the relationship is fleeting because of her intimacy issues and the persistence of her OCD, so she ends up searching for an apartment of her own. And that's where the story begins--her discovery of an astoundingly affordable apartment 14B in the Breviary.

The previous tenants, a divorced mother of four and her children, died ... by the mother's hands no less. This serves as the pretext that allows Audrey to move into the apartment so quickly and so cheaply. As an architect, she's instantly drawn to the building's structure, Chaotic Naturalism, in which right angles and straight lines are a rarity. The building is the last remnant of an architectural movement long since forgotten, but she's found it. Or it's found her.

It takes no time at all for dark visions to haunt her, visions of her past, those close to her in the present, and those living under the watchful eyes of the Breviary. Dominating her visions and her mindset is a door. A door she is compelled to build, yet fears may be her final undoing.

And it's not like everything else in her life is coming up rose, either. Saraub is distraught over losing her, and becoming more drunk and violent the longer they're apart. Her coworkers are ill-equipped to keep up with her or cover for her when things don't go right. Her mother is rotting away in a psychiatric hospital in Nebraska, whom she hasn't seen since the day she deposited her there. And her neighbors in the Breviary range from quirky to downright irksome. And the Door, always calling out to be built.

I found this novel to be a bit like a very hot bath. It took me a while to get into it, the temperature just not suited to my tastes, but as time went on I adjusted and soon felt right at home flipping through its pages. Clumsy analogy? Sure, but I think you catch my drift. This isn't a suspense novel that builds on the suspense right away, as Audrey's character requires a bit of familiarity first. She's damaged goods in a lot of ways, and as her layers are brought to light, I found her faults were tempered by those of the Breviary. Almost like a symbiosis, though it was really a more parasitic relationship between she and the building. It's a tale where you are never quite sure just how much of the manifestations experienced by Audrey are those of the Breviary's making, or her own.

If I were to be flippant in describing this novel, I might call it "Ugly Betty Meets Hell House." That doesn't do this novel justice, however--though the description amuses me--since Sarah Langan has created a vibrantly disturbing novel. If I'm to gripe, it's to simply state that I found the chapters written through the point of view of secondary characters more distracting than complimenting.

If you enjoy paranormal suspense, haunted houses, or flawed characters put through an emotional wringer, you might want to check this title out.

Other reviews for this title can be found at: Dark Scribe Magazine; Fantasy Book Critic; FearZone

December 18, 2009

Book Trailer: "Audrey's Door" by Sarah Langan

Tomorrow, my review of Sarah Langan's Audrey's Door will be posted. Until then, I thought I would add the book trailer for the novel, which I found on YouTube. Pretty creepy stuff. If you like haunted houses, you may want to put this on your wish list.

December 17, 2009

A Pretty Big Book Contest Link

Book Junkie is hosting a rather large book giveaway contest. It's her Happy Birthday Book Bash, in which she'll be giving away more than 30 books to a very lucky winner--I think it's 35 books in all.

Why 35? Well, she's turning 35 in December. She don't look it--flattery doesn't gain extra points, though.

The contest is open to the U.S. and Canada, with the winner being randomly drawn on New Year's Day. So, if you love books, click on the link above and check it out. There are a lot of contirbuting author's to this contest, and you even get to name a few from your own wish list should you win.

Oh, I think I can come up with a few titles. :)

Wag the Blog #11: So That's Why He's Not All Comma'd Up

2009 marks the year I became a fan of Cormac McCarthy's writing, thanks to the superb novels, No Country for Old Men and The Road. John Hornor @ Bastardized Version, however, points out in comical fashion that it's not all that hard to mimic McCarthy's writing style.

Thanks to Josh Reynolds @ Hunting Monsters for this link. Realms of Fantasy Magazine has a snazzy new website--I missed the old, sad one entirely--and it looks clean and inviting. It also has a link in its editorial to a PDF of their most recent edition. Free reading material? I'll bite.

Horror World has a bit of short fiction up on their site too. Check out F. Paul Wilson's "Performance" if you've got a little time to kill.

All Things Horror's Holiday Gift Guide is full of gift-giving suggestions for the horror fan in your inner circle. What Lovecraft fan wouldn't kill to have a plush Cthulhu doll? Isn't he precious? He's the most adorable scourge of mankind I've ever seen. It's on my wish list.

Speaking of wish lists, if you're at a loss over what to put on your reading wish list through 2010, Liviu @ Fantasy Book Critic has you covered in a big, big way. A three-part list of Liviu's Anticipated 2010 Releases: Part One, Part Two, and Part Three. Those three blog entries eclipse my entire Wish List Wednesday meme thus far. And a lot of those 2010 releases are going on my wish list, you betcha.

And when it comes to books, Joe Hill's Heart-Shaped Box is on my winter reading list, which is scheduled to be posted soon. But I already want to read his second novel, after reading the review for Horns on And Now the Screaming Starts.

If lists of holiday gifts and impending new releases aren't enough, it's the end of a decade, which means countdown lists are coming by the boatload this month. BJ-C @ Day of the Woman offers a list of her least favorite horror films of 2009. I've only seen part of one of those movies--The Uninvited was so bad, I just skipped to the end after twenty minutes or so--but I dare say she's spot on with nearly all on the list. I still want to see Antichrist, though.

On a more positive note, Charlie Jane Anders @ io9 offers up the 20 best science-fiction movies of the decade. I have quite a few of these movies queued at the library too, which should be good viewing through the winter. Slither, which is on the list, just missed the cut on my Fave Five lists for Sci-Fi Horror and Comedic Horror. It's a good movie, people. Also nice to see Charlie recognized Pitch Black and Serenity, as each were highly enjoyable movies for me.

Annalee Newitz @ io9 also has a list. Hers is the 20 best science-fiction novels of the decade. My reading wish list has stretch marks now.

I'm not familiar with Mike Hawthorne or his work, but some of the sketches he's been posting on this blog--brought to my attention via Brian Keene--make me wish I was. The man can draw. Simple as that.

Nerine Dorman @ Frightening Journeys has a great interview with John Everson, author of Covenant and more recently The 13th.

Hey, did you hear the joke about the author who got punched in the face by a border guard, then got arrested for allegedly assaulting said border guard--by headbutting the guy's fist, I assume. No? Oh, that's right. That's because it's no joke. Check out the blog of author, Peter Watts, for some clarity on that one. Just look for the blog entries tagged as Squidgate.

John Ottinger's Grasping for the Wind has been growing on me ever since I discovered it a couple months ago. While away on vacation, he let a few guest bloggers fill in. One of whom was Bill Ward with a trio of posts that I'm getting a kick out of reading. They're aptly titled Ramp Up Your Reading. The three installments are Expand Your Horizons, Do It Better, More and Faster. Now that I look at those subtitles, they may be more aptly applied to Tiger Woods' marital advice.

My Reading List for the Winter

As winter fast approaches, my narrow-mindedness starts to bubble up about global warming. It usually sounds like, "What's taking so long?" Mind you, since I'm built like a polar bear, I'm more suited for cold weather than hot. So, I keep my kvetching to a minimum about the ice and snow. The silver lining to all that cold weather is the fact that I get an excuse to curl up under a blanket at night with a book. And with a to-be-read pile that is obscene in length, I have no shortage in reading material. I thought I'd share six titles that I'm looking forward to reading while I rekindle my addiction to hot chocolate and marshmallows--Mmm ... marshmallows.

World War Z by Max Brooks - This "Oral History of the Zombie War" was given to me by Celia of Adventures of Cecelia Bedelia, and I'm looking very much forward to sitting down and finally reading it. Even though I'm not the biggest fan of journal entry style fiction, I'm more than willing to make an exception for this title that seems to be one of the preeminent titles in zombie fiction. Some people are gaga over the walking dead, while I'm lukewarm. I enjoy zombie tales when they bring something new to the table, rather than imitating what George Romero has already done, and this book sounds like it fits the bill.

City of Ashes by Cassandra Clare - It was about a year ago when I read the first book in Clare's Mortal Instruments series, City of Bones. I really liked it, and I'm finally making time to read the second installment in the series. The way the first book left off with a cliffhanger after a major swerve irked me, and I'm hopeful the second book doesn't treat me the same way. The third book, City of Glass, is out on shelves now--I hope it doesn't take me another year for me to get around to reading that one.

Spook Country by William Gibson - I don't read enough science-fiction. So, if I'm going to then I should read some of the best. William Gibson gets enough praise, so I think he's a great writer to start with in 2010. A story set in a near-future America, about a journalist out to find a secret agent who is nearly impossible to track down unless he wants to find you. I have another of Gibson's books, Count Zero, sitting on my to-be-read pile, but Spook Country sounds too good to pass up.

Heart-Shaped Box by Joe Hill - This might be the one novel among the six that I'm most looking forward to reading. An aging rock star with a penchant for collecting macabre items purchases the suit of a dead man because it's reputed to be haunted. After it arrives in a black heart-shaped box, that's when the rock star realizes that this is one piece of memorabilia that ain't just a conversation piece. I've read nothing but good things about this novel since I first heard about it. It's also one of three Stoker Award winning novels on this reading list. I have a feeling this will become part of my permanent collection.

Duma Key by Stephen King - I'm a mark for King's writing. Sue me. This one sounds like a potential classic among all of his works, so I will be reading it before I get around to finishing the amazing Dark Tower series. It deals with a divorced man still dealing with the aftermath of losing his right arm, his job, and his wife. After moving from Minnesota for the Florida keys, he befriends an old woman as he discovers the catharsis of painting. But his creations hold a dark power with a connection to the old woman's past. Oh yeah, this is gonna be good.

Ghost Road Blues by Jonathan Maberry - Aside from digging the cover for this novel, I really dig the premise. Thirty years after a serial killer wreaked bloody havoc on the otherwise mild Pennsylvania town of Pine Deep, "The Spookiest Town in America" is gearing up for a huge Halloween extravaganza ... but something even more evil than that one killer is gearing up for an extravaganza of its own. This is the first novel of a trilogy, and I've got a sneaking suspicion that this will be a very rewarding series.

December 16, 2009

Wish List Wednesday #25: "The Looking Glass Wars"


Oh wow, I just read a few of the reviews for this title on Good Reads. Talk about mixed. The most fanatic of fans to Lewis Carroll's classic work are relentless in their lambasting of Frank Beddor and his re-imagining of the Alice in Wonderland mythos. Venomous words from many who consider Wonderland sacred territory. Yet, there are other--less ardent--readers of The Looking Glass Wars who praise this book for its imaginative twist on the story. I think I might favor the opinions of the latter.

Turns out Alice was real, but her name was Alyss Heart. And after escaping Wonderland and the wrath of a Redd, she tells her tale to Lewis Carroll in hopes someone from Wonderland will come to her aid. Carroll fouls up the story and gets countless details wrong, so Alice is left to fend for herself. That is, until she's found by the Mad Hatter, her royal bodyguard named Hatter Madigan. Then things really get strange.

I'm a pretty open-minded guy, so I am willing to give this book a chance. Whether I'm willing to give the entire trilogy a chance, that'll depend on whether I enjoy the first book when I ever get around to reading it. I like revisionist fiction, re-imagining established worlds and characters, and skewed views of what we take for granted. Frank Beddor's work might be right up my alley ... or those Wonderland die-hards might not be so out of line after all.

December 15, 2009

Rabid Reads: "Blanket of White" by Amy Grech

Title: Blanket of White
Author: Amy Grech
Published: Damnation Books (2009)
Pages: 132
Genre: Horror; Short Story Collection
ISBN 978-1-61572-017-0 (Print)
ISBN 978-1-61572-018-7 (Digital)

It wasn't all that long ago that I read an article on io9 that highlighted some of the small press publishers out there turning heads. Among them, I saw Damnation Books mentioned for a couple of titles--one of them being a zombie-themed cookbook, aptly titled The Zombie Cookbook. So, it must have been a bit of predestination when author, Amy Grech, contacted me with a request to read and review her new short story collection, Blanket of White. I say this because I didn't realize until I received it in the mail that the book has been published by none other than Damnation Books. Go figure.

I was a bit surprised by the book's size, as it weighs in rather light with only 132 pages. Still, there are fourteen stories in all, and while many are brief, they can pack a punch to the unsuspecting.

When it comes to short story collections, the majority that I've read can be classified as hit-and-miss. I think Clive Barker's Books of Blood is the only collection I've come across so far that's held me rapt from cover to cover. While I wasn't wowed by every story Grech included among her fourteen stories, there were quite a few that I consider worth sitting down to read.

"Perishables," the tale of a man's buckling to hunger in the wake of a nuclear fallout stood out among the collection. The prospect of cannibalism as a means of sustenance is always disturbing. Then there was "Russian Roulette," where an adulterous affair turns to a dangerous game in order to keep the excitement at its peak ... and then the husband enters the scene. I was reminded of a Hitchcock kind of mood with that one, especially the hints of humor offered in the beginning. My favorite out of all of them would have to be "Damp Wind and Leaves," a romantic remembrance of Halloween during a boy's most formative year. It may not be a story that hits the high notes of Bradbury's classics, but I found Grech's story did justice to one of my favorite times of the year.

If I'm to note the hits, I may as well visit the other side of the coin and mention what I felt were misses. "Prevention" didn't resonate with me. A story of a neglected son inflicting his long awaited revenge on his mother, as he initially poses as his favored brother. The story started off well, but I felt the ending--the twist especially--missed the mark. Then there was "Raven's Revenge" and the relative ease with which the characters took to believing a raven was inhabited by the spirit of a murdered man. I might have gotten swept up in this story more had it not been for the suspected murderers apparent eagerness to confess once confronted.

Those are the peaks and valleys for me, and I'm sure the opinions vary for each reader of these tales of debauchery, deception, and departure. Such is the case with just about any collection of short fiction you find. I've seen reviews where people rave over the title story, "Blanket of White," though I was middle of the road with that one. And then there was "Ashes to Ashes," and the somewhat overlooked reactions it received, while I thought it quite enjoyable. If you happen upon this collection, either in paperback of e-book format, I don't doubt you'll come out of it with your own take on which stories stand out for you.

Grech's writing comes off as direct and unapologetic, which works for most of the stories, while a couple could have benefited from a more nuanced approach. It's all relative, in the end, and when Amy Grech is amassing compliments from the likes of Joel Sutherland and Nate Kenyon--two accomplished authors of dark fiction--she's certainly on the right path. It will be interesting to see where her writing is at as the years progress.

Other reviews for this book can be found at: Fright.com; Lark Neville's Blog; Not the Baseball Pitcher