November 30, 2010

Chasing Tale in November: Ray Bradbury, Tonia Brown, Neil Gaiman ...

November was a weird month. The whole month just gave me a very odd, slightly unsettling feeling. I think it may have been the roller coaster ride that was the weather. Rain, sun, gale-force winds, serene clouds, drizzly overcast, localized flooding, and that goddamn humidity even came back for a couple of days. And snow! November 20th marked the first snowfall of the season. I know the joke is that if you don't like the weather in the Maritimes wait five minutes, but this is ridiculous.

Bah, enough of me kvetching about the weather. Here are the books I added to my horde.

The Cat's Pajamas by Ray Bradbury - I love Ray Bradbury. Not in the same way as the cutie-pie who made the musicvideo, "Fuck Me Ray Bradbury", but still ... Anyway, I spied this on a bookshelf and I couldn't recall ever hearing about this collection before. Sufficed to say I scooped it up pretty quick for a couple of bucks. I still have to get around to The Illustrated Man, so this one may be waiting a while.

Lucky Stiff: Memoirs of an Undead Lover by Tonia Brown - I first caught wind of this novel via one of my favorite podcasts, The Funky Werepig, and threw it on the wish list. Then, I won it a while ago from vvb32reads (thanks again, Velvet) and wound up corresponding a bit with Tonia to contribute a guest post in October for my Monster Movie Marathon. The idea of a comedic zombie horror novel with an erotica twist has got to be a new one for the zombie genre. Should be interesting.

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman - Gaiman is an author who simply does not disappoint. This award-winning novel has been on my wish list for a while and I managed to scope out a copy of it on the cheap. It's the most recent paperback release, but it still has the illustrations by Dave McKean. It had been a while since I'd visited the independent bookstore from where I bought it, and I was glad to see that this time there were more customers in there than just me. My last visit depressed me. Support indy bookstores, people!

"Duel" Novella Series Volume 1 (The Orpheus & The Pearl by Kim Paffenroth and Nevermore by David Dunwoody) - I won this from Belfire Press and was immediately impressed by it. They took a novella from an established author and coupled it with an original novella by an up-and-coming author. The two stories even have a vague connection as each deals with resurrection and the undead in some fashion. That's where the similarities end, though. You can find my reviews of each novella at Skull Salad Reviews. And hopefully you've entered my giveaway which ends at midnight tonight--someone will get my copy mailed to them.

So that's what I got in November. What titles did you snag in November?

November 29, 2010

R.I.P. Leslie Nielsen

Leslie Nielsen died over the weekend at the age of 84. I grew up idolizing his comedic genius in the Naked Gun franchise, not to mention Airplane! His deadpan deliver hasn't been matched yet by anyone in film today. Sure, he starred in some terrible parody films late in his career, but it's not like Hollywood has been putting out much gold for the past decade or so--especially if you're over the age of 25.

He and George Kennedy made a fantastic duo on screen. And, yes, George Kennedy is still alive--I checked.

Here's some highlights from Airplane! and The Naked Gun.

Rabid Rewind: Pig Hunt

Pig Hunt
starring Travis Aaron Wade, Tina Huang, Howard Johnson, Trevor Bullock, and Les Claypool
directed by Jim Isaac
screenplay by Robert Mailer Anderson & Zach Anderson
Phase 4 Films (2010)

I almost included this one with my Monster Movie Marathon back in October, but there was just one problem: the actual monster doesn't appear on screen until the last ten minutes. The preceding ninety minutes of film are drenched in hillbilly horror that has surprisingly little to do with the fact that there's a 3,000 lb. wild boar stalking the Appalachian wilderness.

Oh wait, it's not Appalachia, it's California. They fooled me, because the setting looks like Appalachia and the accents sure sound non-Californian. But since northern California is the capital for grow-ops in the U.S., and there is a doozy of a marijuana field that comes into play in this movie, I guess that's reason enough to insult the audience's intelligence. Just as well the filmmakers insult ours since they provide so little to the characters they created.

A quartet of soldiers back from Iraq want to spend some time together out in the woods. You know, that classic bromance bonding experience. The main character (Wade) inherited his dead uncle's abandoned cabin in the middle of nowhere , so they'll go camping and hunting there. Never mind that his three friends exhibit zero hunting experience, the pudgy one even showing an aversion to guns and the whole notion of hunting, and he inexplicably takes along his girlfriend who doesn't seem to like any of his friends at all. He doesn't even seem keen on going because he broods the entire way there. In fact, the whole group seems ill-fit on screen when you stop to think about it, but that's the problem: thinking is counter-productive when watching this film.

So, the get-along gang heads out to the sticks and immediately runs afoul of a menacing hippie with a giant machete, a random occurrence only there to forebode a future encounter.. No sooner do they spend their first night in the woods and meet up with the hometown boy's two creepy childhood friends--or maybe they were cousins (doesn't matter). They invite themselves along for a hog hunt and even more tension between the group is established. At this point, I'm really questioning why any of these people are friends with each other. The pudgy friend is unarmed--so why he went along defies reason--complains incessantly about being there, and he brings a dog that doesn't hunt. Sufficed to say that I was rooting for his death early on.

The interactions between characters were pretty good once the hunt was on, though it's more for catchy one-liners than anything meaningful. Again, thinking is counter-productive. The hog hunt goes bad when one of them is injured. A huge marijuana grow-up is discovered and leads to a Mexican stand-off with a bloody end. Vengeful hillbillies invade and start chasing everyone down. And that ominous hippie returns to lead survivors back to the hippie commune. The entire notion that there is a monstrously gigantic wild hog is only implied through anecdotal talk and a horse killed off screen at the start of the movie.

The movie is a mishmash of things that I would have otherwise found quite entertaining. Deliverance style hillbilly hatred, bare-chested hippie babes, a sassy girlfriend who's a crack shot with a rifle, guns, knives, and a giant monster in the woods. The problem is that nothing really relates to the other and the entire plot seems very forced for the sake of including all those cool elements. In the "On the Hunt" featurette, the filmmakers talk about allusions to war, environmentalism, and all manner of sociopolitical hotspots, but I honestly saw none of that. The movie is not that topical.

The movie is a merciful in sticking with practical effects the whole way out. And Les Claypool's contributions to the score are a real treat with the twangy rhythms adding to the atmosphere, but the movie as a whole winds up being a mildly entertaining mess.

November 26, 2010

Rabid Rewind: Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog

Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog
starring Neil Patrick Harris, Felicia Day, & Nathan Fillion

directed by Joss Whedon

written by Maurissa Tancharden, Jed Whedon, Joss Whedon, & Zack Whedon

Mutant Enemy (2008)

Maybe if I had any real online presence at the time, I might have hopped on this bandwagon when it first started rolling. Be that as it may, I am a fan of it now.

Neil Patrick Harris plays Dr. Horrible, a second-rate super-villain looking for his chance to join the League of Evil. And when he's not plotting some crime or catastrophe, he's kvetching on his video blog. There's a certain Jack Benny or Bob Hope delivery with those to-the-camera moments of the movie that Harris seems pitch perfect at doing. And he's not a bad singer either.

And that's a big plus to this movie, because the singing could have been god-awful. Maybe I'm jaded, but musicals so rarely work nowadays(I find Glee insufferable, so forgive me). Dr. Horrible sings about his exploits and his nemesis, Captain Hammer, as well as his unrequited love for a girl he met at the local laundromat (Felicia Day).

If Harris does a great job portraying a slightly neurotic, and ultimately hapless villain, Nathan Fillion does an equal job at playing the blithely ignorant and self-absorbed superhero Captain Hammer. I remember Fillion stating in an interview that he always wanted to play a superhero, so I guess this was his shot and he played it for all it was worth.

The whole story is irresistible in its charm and satirical song lyrics. If you saw the musical episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, then this will be right up your alley. And in vintage Joss Whedon fashion, he's not opposed to throwing in a dash of pathos at the height of the comedy.

I believe the episodes are still viewable online, so just a Google search if you're curious. But the DVD extras were a treat, including the director's commentary presented as its own musical, so you might want to track that down too.

November 25, 2010

Getting Graphic: "Buffy the Vampire Slayer: The Long Way Home" by Joss Whedon & Georges Jeanty


Buffy the Vampire Slayer (Season 8, Vol. 1): The Long Way Home

written by Joss Whedon
illustrated by Georges Jeanty
Dark Horse Comics (2007)
ISBN 978-1-59307-822-5

Who knew a comic book would be the thing to remind just how much I miss Buffy the Vampire Slayer. God, I loved that show. I never cared for the movie, and I actually avoided the show for its first two seasons. Then, I got suckered into watching the Season 2 finale and I was hooked. Now, we're years removed from the series finale, but I still crave stories from that universe. I've even read novels from Christopher Golden and Nancy Holder to try and fill that void, but it's just not the same.

I thought the seventh and final season capped off the show quite nicely and I was content with saying goodbye to the show and its characters. I mean, they blew up Sunnydale, so that was a pretty hard thing to top. But after just a few pages of this graphic novel and I was sucked right back into the Buffy mythos as if the show had never ended. Like an old pair of jeans that still fit, there was an instant comfort level.

When the show ended, Buffy had destroyed the mother of all evil with the help of an army of slayers, awakened by Willow's witchcraft. So there was no longer a "chosen one"--there were chosen hundreds. In this so-called Season 8, Buffy is leading this army of young women into a continuing war with vampires and demons across the globe. Since Sunnydale is the world's largest pothole now, the Scooby Doo gang has gone international.

Buffy is kicking butt, as usual, and is so notorious among the demonic underworld she even has a couple of decoy slayers posing as her in other places. Xander, eye-patch and all, is leading a high-tech headquarters for slayers, psychics, and other femme fatales Willow is doing her thing, being all witchy elsewhere. And Buffy's little sister, Dawn, isn't so little anymore now that she's hooked up with a "thricewise" and become a giant as some kind of weird, magical S.T.I.

Those aren't the only characters to make a comeback in this book's pages though, as there are the enemies. I won't spoil all, but the first one is a pleasant surprise. Amy, the witch turned rat turned witch again, has returned. She somehow survived the Sunnydale apocalypse and has been rescued by a military operation that sees Buffy as both competition and a threat.

The sardonic dialogue is back in full glory and all the characters ring true. The twists are rapid-fire in true Whedon fashion, not always earth shattering but certainly eyebrow raising. And the artwork is absolutely gorgeous. It captures a lot of that pop culture vibe without making it feel too cartoonish, and the cover art that appears throughout is so damned close to the real thing it's scary.

If you too are a Buffy fan, you'll be doing yourself a favor by giving this a go.

November 24, 2010

Wish List Wednesday #74: Sarah Waters' "The Little Stranger"

Wish List Wednesday is a weekly meme I started in July '09, in which I put the spotlight on a book that is on my wish list--whether new release, blast from the past, or hidden gem.

Sometimes it feels like the country best suited for haunted house tales is England. It must be the eons of history that saturate the place. Heck, so much of North American folklore is derived and borrowed from English and European history, it's no wonder.

I think it is the setting that most intrigues me about The Little Stranger, a novel by Sarah Waters. Set in some idyllic little countryside in the aftermath of World War II, a family estate is slowly delapidating and the family residing within its walls seems to be breaking down bit by bit as well. Enter a small town doctor, who after a childhood experience many years ago, finds himself drawn back to the house and its family upon seeing the torment beset upon all who reside there. Not only are the forces at work psychological from the war and a tragic death in the family, but apparently supernatural forces too.

I continue to stumble across one rave review after another for this book, which is why I've placed it on my wish list. Do you have any novels about hauntings on your wish list?

On My Radar: Aaron Polson's "Loathsome, Dark, & Deep"

If you are unaware, Belfire Press--a small press that continually impresses this year with its titles--will soon release Aaron Polson's novel, Loathsome, Dark, & Deep.

Here's the write-up on what it's about:

After months of silence from the H&P Lumber and Pulp logging camp, strange raving madmen have wandered out of the woods near the Lewis River.

Civil War veteran Henry Barlow hasn’t carried a gun since his wife’s brutal murder, a memory he drowns nightly with bourbon and whiskey. When reports of the strange goings on at the Lewis River camp reach H&P, they send Barlow and a small band of armed mercenaries upriver to investigate.

Will they make it out alive?

The story is inspired by Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness and gets its title from a Robert Frost poem--creatively changed for ominous effect.

You can even read an excerpt from the novel by visiting Belfire Press by clicking here.

Right now, until November 30th, you can pre-order it for a discounted price of $8.99. That ain't not bad. Or if you want to take your chances, you can enter Aaron Polson's Very Loathsome Contest for a chance to win a copy of the novel.

Here's the book trailer to peak your interest a little more.

November 23, 2010

Giveaway: "Duel" Novella Series (Volume 1)

It's the season of giving, or it will be soon anyway, so I figured I would give away a book I reviewed this week after winning it from Belfire Press. You can learn more about this title, including purchase information, by clicking here.

THE PRIZE:

"Duel" Novella Series (Volume 1), which features two novellas, Orpheus and the Pearl by Kim Paffenroth and Nevermore by David Dunwoody.

Here are the write-ups for each story:

In our first “Duel” Novella Series release, we present the second print of Kim Paffenroth’s acclaimed Orpheus and the Pearl, paired with a new story from David Dunwoody titled Nevermore, or The Feast of Flesh.

Orpheus and the Pearl

In 1920 Massachusetts, Dr. Catherine MacGuire is mysteriously called to the home of the famous Dr. Wallston, to assist with some medical emergency that defies even his skill. The life-threatening problems she finds there have less to do with broken bodies than with warped souls, and it will take all her dedication as a healer to fix them.

Nevermore

Malcolm Witt died in his sleep at 11:07 PM. Four minutes later, his body rose and walked from the room. Malcolm watched it happen. And so begins 48 hours of a life-after-death struggle to save his friends, forgive his love, and put himself to rest, body and soul.

And if you're wondering where my reviews of each story are, you won't find them on Wag The Fox. Instead, you're going to need to visit Skull Salad Reviews, a short fiction review blog helmed by Aaron Polson.

Orpheus and the Pearl by Kim Paffenroth

Nevermore by David Dunwoody

THE RULES:

Open to all. The last time I gave away books from my own bookshelf, I limited eligibility to Canada and the US, but this time around it's international.

Contest ends November 30th at midnight (EST). That gives you nearly a full week in order to enter your name for a chance to win.

Winner to be announced and contacted on December 1st. As you fill out the form below, you will need to provide your e-mail address, Twitter username, or some other method by which I can contact you should your name be drawn.

Extra entries. There are two ways to earn extra entries. You can receive 1 by either following or becoming a follower of Wag The Fox. And you can receive 1 by either following or becoming a follower of Skull Salad Reviews.

Winner will be chosen randomly via Random.org. As each person enters, a number will be assigned to their entry (starting at 1 and moving up). Extra entries will be assigned a number as well, once all original entries are given a number. Then, whoever is linked to the number that is drawn will be the winner.

THE ENTRY FORM:



My Five: Favorite Buffy Episodes

I didn't much care for the movie version of Buffy the Vampire Slayer when it first came out in theaters. As a cynical teen, I thought it was Clueless but with vampires. As I grow up to become a cynical adult though, it kind of grew on me. And by the time the TV series started and got two seasons in, I became an unabashed fan of Joss Whedon and his stake-wielding cheerleader heroine.

Now there are already a metric ton of lists from people declaring their favorite Buffy episodes--or going so far as to declare them the greatest episodes. I'm only hear to give my opinion, and despite the seven seasons of episodes to choose from, I'm sticking with the fave five format.

If you've read other lists of Buffy episodes, you probably won't find any surprises with my list--except maybe one. I think there's something about the show that causes us fans to kind of march in lockstep when it comes to the truly stellar episodes. So, here are my favorites:

#5 "Graduation Day Part 2" (Season 3, Episode 22) - The third season is where I jumped on the Buffy bandwagon and stayed on, and the season finale cemented my love for the show. The entire season had been building to this unholy graduation ceremony in which the mayor was supposedly going to kill off the entire graduating class, Buffy included. To see how he planned to do it, and to see him come damned close to succeeding was just riveting. After being burned for years with cliffhanger endings to season finales from different shows, it was nice to see a show give me a payoff to head into summer. The CGI might be terribly dated by today's standards, but I think it's still worth checking out.

#4 "Normal Again" (Season 6, Episode 17) - What if the whole slayer thing was a delusion in Buffy's mind? When Buffy wakes up in an asylum and is told that her memories of being a vampire slayer are all made-up fantasies, there's this surreal moment as I watched when I actually thought: Are they actually going to pull a Dallas on me, here? This one tip-toed into Twilight Zone territory, which may be why I liked it so much. Buffy is wrestling with one reality where she is the Chosen One, and another where she's a lunatic--but her parents are alive. Tough call. It was episodes like this and my #3 pick that made the sixth season such a head-and-shoulders improvement over the previous season which kind of trod water in my view.

#3: "Villains" (Season 6, Episode 20) - Willow goes ballistic. And that's putting it nicely. The sixth season had an odd appeal to me, as the main villains were the three schleps who took up the dark arts in order to take down Buffy--like if Revenge of the Nerds was a villain's tale--and not the usual supernatural super-baddy. Buffy's gets shot, but Willow's squeeze Tara gets killed thanks to a stray bullet through the chest. That tears it with Willow who embraces her dark side and not only goes after the three nerdy villains, ripping the flesh off of one in one of the most graphically memorable scenes in the show's history, but she ends up trying to destroy everyone else in her insane rage. I love Willow, but I lust evil Willow.

#2: "Fear Itself" (Season 4, Episode ??) - Halloween, and the Scooby gang are going to their first college campus party. A costume party, no less. "Nightmares" was a similar episode of note from the first season, but this one had a better blend of funny and frights. And seeing Anya (Emma Caufield) prancing around in that bunny costume in a flagrant "f*ck you" to all the slutty costumes women wear on Halloween was a nice touch. The only thing better than watching each character contend with their greatest fear was finally discovering the fear demon responsible for their torment. Definitely a classic.

#1: "Hush" (Season 4, Episode 10) - One of the key factors that made this show so damned fun to watch was the dialogue. So, when an enemy comes to Sunnydale that robs everyone of their voices, this episode might have been asking for trouble. Instead, it absolutely shines. The dread and suspense as those well-dressed zombie-ish creatures floating around town offing people is amazing. If these guys had been recurring characters something would have been lost, but it exemplified how good Whedon and company were at creating compelling antagonists for stand-alone episodes. Love, love, love this episode.

Well, that's my list. Out of seven seasons, there are many episodes worth mentioning that are conspicuous by their absence, I admit. Which episode did I leave out that you would absolutely have to include in your fave five?

November 22, 2010

Getting Graphic: "Serenity: Those Left Behind" by Joss Whedon and Brett Matthews

Serenity: Those Left Behind
by Joss Whedon and Brett Matthews
illustrated by Will Conrad
Dark Horse Books (2006)
ISBN 1-59307-449-2


Did you watch Firefly when it was on Fox for its single season about ten years ago? Neither did I. It kind of slipped under my radar at the time. I caught the last couple of episodes, and fell in love with show just in time to learn it had been cancelled. Way to go, Fox.

I did, however, manage to catch the film Serenity, which acted as a psuedo-sequel to the TV show and a bookend on the story as a whole. So, to think there are graphic novels to help keep this universe going, it's a nice consolation.

The events of this book take place between the end of the show and the movie, which is kind of a necessity in my view since some irrevocable events occur in the movie.

The gang are on a job when things go awry--what else is new for them--and have to make a quick escape. Meanwhile, the proverbial boys in blue recruit a person from Mal's past to hunt the Firefly crew down. Those guys always seem to find Mal's enemies when they don't want to do the dirty work themselves.

The story is fairly average when you stand back and look at it, but the characters are depicted so accurately to their flesh-and-blood counterparts that it's easy to just sit back and read the back-and-forth between them. And given the fact that the story takes place before the movie, there's some sacrifice in the suspense department.

Still, if you enjoyed the show and lamented its premature demise, this book gives one more chance to escape into that strange future Whedon cooked up. Something between Star Wars and Deadwood, which is not a bad way to go I suppose.

Writing Like Crazy: A Winner Is Me

The world isn't in the habit of handing out major victories to yours truly, so when the tiny victories arrive I greet them with a smile and a thank you.

I found out recently that my flash fiction piece, "Staving off the Thaw," was awarded first place in its category for Blood Bound Books upcoming anthology, Seasons in the Abyss. The entire anthology is a writing contest of sorts with competitions for each season, the winner receiving pro-pay rates. Hooray for that. I had a story I'd had rattling around in my head when I originally heard about the contest, and when all was said and done I was pleased to see it accepted for the winter season.

Like I said, tiny victories.

Elsewhere on the writing front, I hear Fearology 2 should be published in the near future. That anthology is through Library of Horror Press and revolves around the theme of animal-based horror. In case you're curious, my story "Walk 'Em Up" involves rabbits. I had originally wanted to submit my short story about a zombie-fied dog, but they weren't looking for zombies and were sick of submissions starring dogs--I've since submitted that story elsewhere.

The dry spell continues with no new acceptances coming in my inbox, but I'm willing to chalk that up to the fact that I've been aiming higher as of late, submitting my short stories to predominantly pro-pay markets. I think I heard this referred to as the trickle-down method: start with the top-paying markets and work your way down. Time will tell if that actually pays off.

One of the tricks is picking out appropriate markets to which to submit. A recent story I submitted is one I would describe as speculative-fiction, but only because it deals with the end of the world. It's not strictly sci-fi, and it's certainly not horror or fantasy. There is a hint of western to it, but that's only because the setting is without much of the technology we take for granted. I'll keep my fingers crossed.

For now, I'm wrapping up a submission for Fearology 3, which is plant-based horror for that anthology. Animals, plants--I checked their line-up of themes and I was expecting to see minerals. It's not listed, though.

November 19, 2010

Rabid Rewind: The Devil's Tomb

The Devil's Tomb
starring Cuba Gooding Jr., Taryn Manning, Henry Rollins, Ron Perlman, and Ray Winstone
directed by Jason Connolly
screenplay by Keith Kjornes
Ice Cold Productions (2008)

I remember a time when Cuba Gooding Jr. was considered a hot commodity in Hollywood. How long ago was that now? He's not a terrible actor, but he manages to sign on to some terrible movies. The Devil's Tomb manages to avoid being a total disaster, but it's still a far cry from Jerry Maguire or even Daddy Day Camp. I guess I should tip my hat to this film's casting agent, because not only is Cuba in the lead, but the supporting cast includes the likes of Ray Winstone and Ron Perlman. Those are gets in my book.

Okay, so with the Iraq war raging on, Perlman plays an archeologist of sorts who is investigating an underground layer thought to hold some ancient relics--a discovery made in the search for WMDs. But he and his team lose contact with the outside world, so it's up to Captain Mack (Gooding Jr.) and his team of disparate soldiers to rescue them at the behest of a CIA operative (Valerie Cruz). When they arrive at the site, the only one they find is a priest who's barely alive and seemingly afflicted by some sort of disease.

The team heads down into the underground labyrinth in search of the others, but they soon find a menacing supernatural presence that has not only wreaked havoc on the original research team, but is now targeting Captain Mack and the others. And it seems the CIA operative knows a lot more than she's letting on.

There are moments in this film that are genuinely intense and suck you into the storyline, but they are not consistence and are continually interrupted by moments of sheer stupidity on the part of various team members. Perhaps the entity diminishes the higher reasoning power of the characters, but the utter lack of disbelief shown towards various hallucinations is astounding. For example, one soldier midway through the film sees a grade school version of the daughter she aborted years ago, instantly recognizes her, and follows after her without bothering to question why a small American child would be wandering an underground lair alone in the middle of an Iraqi desert. The movie is peppered with galling moments like that.

The dialogue is another drawback to the movie. Some confrontational moments are good and performed well by the cast, while others that usually involve drawn out pieces of exposition induce eye rolling. And the supposed tender moments between soldiers and their apparitions are just awful.

I'm not sure when a horror movie set in a modern-day war zone will be good, but I won't hold my breath. At least The Devil's Tomb was better than that horrid movie set in Afghanistan, Red Sands, which I saw earlier in the year.

November 18, 2010

On My Radar: Steven L. Shrewbury's "Thrall" & Jackie Gamber's "Redheart"

I received word recently from author Stephen Zimmer that Seventh Star Press, which publishes his two fantasy series (the Rising Dawn saga and the Fires in Eden series), has announced two new additions to their line-up: Steven Shrewsbury and Jackie Gamber.

Shrewsbury has a new fantasy novel called Thrall coming out. Those heroic fantasies aren't exactly my bag, but I keep giving them a chance to see if I'll come around, and I've heard Greg Hall and others on the Funky Werepig podcast praise Steven Shrewsbury often enough that I might have to check this out.

As for Jackie Gamber, hers is a name I've heard once in a while but never really stuck with me. But the idea of a YA fantasy series with dragons sounds interesting, starting with the novel Redheart. Granted, I avoided Eragon, but that had nothing to do with subject matter and more to do with the word of mouth I heard about that book.

If you'd like to read the full press release, you can visit Seventh Star Press' site by clicking here.

November 17, 2010

Wish List Wednesday #73: Richard Laymon's "The Cellar"

Wish List Wednesday is a weekly meme I started in July '09, in which I put the spotlight on a book that is on my wish list--whether new release, blast from the past, or hidden gem.

When it comes to authors with a last legacy in the horror genre, the late Richard Laymon is one whose name is mentioned over and over again. Since author Ty Schwamberger turned me onto Laymon's work, I've had a chance to read and review of couple of his novels (Bite and Glory Bus). Plus, I have a couple more sitting on my to-be-read pile (Savage and Come Out Tonight).

But there is one novel in particular that I would like to read, yet have never seen it on a shelf anywhere, and with the recent crumbling of Leisure Books which has been re-releasing the Laymon library, I shouldn't hold my breath. The book is Laymon's debut novel, The Cellar.

There's no real reason why I'd single this Laymon novel out besides the fact that it's the breakout one. I suppose growing up in a house that had a spooky ol' dirt floor cellar, that could play a role. But I think it boils down to getting a feel for where the guy started out from on his writing career.

I don't know, what would the Laymon fans suggest? Is there a novel by him that you'd suggest be read above the others?

November 16, 2010

Rabid Reads: "Haunted Harbours" by Steve Vernon


Haunted Harbours: Ghost Stories from Old Nova Scotia
by Steve Vernon
Nimbus Publishing (2006)
120 pages
ISBN 1-55109-592-0
I reviewed Steve Vernon's Halifax Haunts back in January and figured it was about time I read a few more ghost stories based on the local folklore. Vernon calls himself the hardest working horror author in Nova Scotia, and given the diligence in his research to compile these ghost stories I am not about to argue.
Where Halifax Haunts centered on Nova Scotia's capital for folklore, Haunted Harbours takes a broader approach and collects stories from across the province. And it's quite remarkable how rich the province's history is when it comes to ghost stories and reported hauntings when not a single story depicted in Vernon's book is a repeat from Bill Jessome's 1999 offering, Maritime Mysteries.
Vernon's writing comes off as very conversational. It's less like reading a book than it feels like you're listening to him spin a yarn at a kitchen party or campfire. Some of the finer details are lost to time, so Vernon fills them out with his own unique flourish, which--let's be honest--is the mark of any self-respecting storyteller. It's not a book meant to serve as an index but as a compendium of indelibly Nova Scotian ghost stories.
If I'm to gripe about the book, I'll take issue with how scant it is at 120 pages. No sooner did I become engrossed by a particular story, when Vernon would end it and move on to the next one. Each story is quite brief, allowing a reader to read through a couple on their coffee break. If you wish for a deep immersion into any specific story, you'll be disappointed. But if you're curious about Nova Scotia's history and would like to be hit with a scattershot blast of it, then this is just the book for you.
For me a few of the legends that sparked my interest involved the expulsion of Acadian settlers, the foreboding black dogs of Celtic legend, and shipwreck tales from the southern coast. On a personal note, I only wished to see more tales from the southwest of the province where I call home. But heck, who's to say Steve Vernon isn't cooking up yet another book of Maritime ghost stories? I still have to get around to reading his collection of New Brunswick tales, Wicked Woods.


CymLowell

November 15, 2010

My Five: Favorite Twilight Zone Actresses


As iconic as the male actors were on The Twilight Zone, there were a few plum roles for women too. It seems only right that I offer up a list of my favorite actresses from the show, since I listed the guys last week.

#5 Julie Newmar (in "Of Late I Think of Cliffordville") - My favorite Catwoman. Others may have their Eartha Kitts and their Michelle Pheiffers--and a couple ill-tasted folks can have their Halle Berrys--but Julie Newmar is the cat's meow in my book. And she played up that devilish villain persona just as well on The Twilight Zone by playing who else ... the Devil. This is a biased pick on my part, as she doesn't have a whole lot of screen time compared to the rest of the women on the list, but heck, it is my list after all.


#4 Diana Hyland (in "Spur of the Moment") - Hyland works a double-shift, as she plays not only a distraught fiancee tormented by a crazed woman on horseback, she also plays the crazed woman. Spoiler alert: it's her future self come to haunt her after she marries the wrong guy. How many people, if given the choice, would gallop after their younger self and tell them to go with option "B"--I'll bet a few.


#3 Lois Nettleton (in "The Midnight Sun") - When the Sun is slowly getting closer, or more accurately the Earth is orbiting closer to the Sun, it's surprising how civil some people can be as civilization collapses. Nettleton plays a distraught apartment tenant as the world slowly dies. It's a good performance that really makes you feel for her situation. And given global warming--yes, it exists, James Inhoffe--I wonder how long before this scenario plays out.


#2 Maxine Stuart (aka Donna Douglas in "The Eye of the Beholder") - If this gal had a pig nose she'd be the total package. I'm not overly fond of this episode, but I do have to had it to Stuart for being more than just a pretty face through the course of this episode. It's just too bad that the episode had to be so on-the-nose--literally and figuratively.


#1 Inger Stevens (in "The Hitch-Hiker" and "The Lateness of the Hour") - I gave Stevens the top spot because she managed to appear in two episodes and both of them were very good. Maybe it was just the way of the world back then that made it easier for the men to get recurring roles on The Twilight Zone and other shows. "The Hitch-Hiker" in particular is a good example of Stevens ability to draw sympathy and ratchet up tension. By today's standards, a lot of the suspense is drained from that episode, but it's still worth watching.

Well, that's my list. Are there any ladies you think deserve an honorable mention?

I'm Toying with a New Blog Design and I Want Your Opinion

It's been about a year since the last time I updated my blog design, so over the weekend I did up some quick banner graphics. I don't think I've done anything too extravagant, and most everything that was visible on the blog before is still here.

I would like some feedback from you, though. What you like, and more importantly what you don't like. Be as critical as you like, as I want to fine tune this over time and get it as easy to navigate as possible.

November 12, 2010

Rabid Rewind: Dark House

Dark House
starring Jeffrey Combs, Meghan Ory, Diane Salinger
directed by Darin Scott
screenplay by Darin Scott & Kerry Douglas Dye
Fatal Frame Pictures (2008)

I made the mistake of thinking this was going to be a straight-up horror movie. Then, in the first five minutes I realized I was about to sit through ninety minutes of campy, cheesy, body count horror. Half the movie is played for laughs, which is fine, but that was not how it was promoted when I saw the trailer months ago. I expected something very raw and very intense, and ultimately wound up seeing a disjointed plot held together by over-the-top performances.

On a quiet little street there's a house, one of those Victorian style abodes that wreak of the past just by looking at them. Some girls are gawking at it from the front steps, talking about how it's haunted. One of the girls breaks from the pack to venture inside and witnesses a massacre, dead kids on the floor and a disheveled old woman dying at the kitchen sink--her hands plunged into the garbage disposal. From there, we jump ahead about fifteen years to a high school drama club where pretty teenagers are being all angst-y and cynic-y.

At this point the movie is veering from mediocre to terrible with stock characters all chiding each other. There's the jock, the token black guy who doubles as the nerd, the annoying geek, the goth chick, the ditzy blond, and the quiet brooding brunette. I feared I was in for ninety minutes of insufferably lazy writing and bad acting, and then Jeffrey Combs shows up.

Combs plays a flamboyantly self-aggrandizing theme park promoter in search of last-minute acting talent. His new haunted house attraction, Dark House (oh my god, that's the title of the movie!), is to be visited by a couple of reporters to review the place, and so hires the six teens to roleplay for the night and possibly get hired on for the summer. The twist? It's the same house where all those murders occurred years ago. The running thread is that the brooding brunette (Meghan Ory) witnessed the murders and is adviced by her shrink to revisit the place to regain her memories and gain some closure. So, when the other teens show hesitation about the gig, she talks them into signing on.

Jump to the house and the ridiculously elaborate hologram effects that provide the haunted house scares. Beyond this point, you really need to shut off the reasoning center of your brain. The ghost in the house becomes a computer virus--don't ask me how--and infects the mainframe that controls all of the effects. And then the mayhem begins with the characters in the film dropping like flies at the hands of various stereotypical holographic characters turned corporeal.

There is hardly any suspense, and almost no emotional attachment to a single character. I suppose I'm meant to give a damn about the brunette, but she's not overly likeable. The only one I rooted to make it to the end of the movie was Jeffrey Combs because his performance was so deliciously Vaudevillian, something akin to Vincent Price at his campiest. His blending of confused outrage and self-absorbed panic is just damned fun to watch. The rest of the cast was cannon fodder as far as I was concerned.

This is the first of eight films I've seen as part of Fangoria's Frightfest. It's not exactly a strong start out of the gate, but it's by no means the worst horror movie I've seen this year. It's kind of fun, not very scary, thankfully more tongue-in-cheek than I originally expected, and the ridiculously convoluted ending is forgivable.

November 11, 2010

Rabid Reads: "Dracula Lives!" by Joshua Reynolds


Dracula Lives!
by Joshua Reynolds
Pulpwork Press (2010)
180 pages
ISBN 1452817456
EAN-13 9781452817453

Josh Reynolds is a writer I discovered what must be getting close to two years now, ever since I stumbled upon his blog Hunting Monsters. I've had a chance to read some of his short fiction, but this is the first chance I've had to read something longer than a dozen or so pages.

Dracula Lives! is a blend of horror, noir, spy thriller, urban fantasy, and probably a couple other sub-genres thrown in for good measure. But don't get hung up on labels. Just know this is a fast-paced pulpy adventure that's saturated in dry humor, with more twists per page than I dare count.

Jonas Cream, formerly of Her Royal Highness' Domestic Services in England, is an independent man for hire. Specializing in acquisitions it would seem, as he's tasked, by one of the many mysterious characters he meets while trying to avoid being murdered, with acquiring an especially rare object that's about to go up for auction in Budapest. Lot 49. Sounds innocuous enough, but it turns out to be a highly coveted object and Cream finds himself with more than one adversary out to relieve him of the object by any means necessary.

The cast of characters in this story is remarkably vast given the modest page count, but through the quick pace there were a few scenes where I had trouble keeping track of who was who and who was targeting who. Overall though, it played out to a more satisfying end than some of the other mystery thrillers I've read. I think the dry wit throughout the dialogue helped, as did the winding supernatural conspiracy. I've never gravitated towards the detective and spy novels of old, so throwing in some beastly creatures and a sultry vampire certainly helped sweeten the deal.

But for a book with the title Dracula Lives, there wasn't a whole lot of the bloodsucking icon. It's not a book that channels Bram Stoker, so don't expect that kind of prose or those types of characters. The connection to the legend of Dracula is contained within Lot 49, and while some are out to exploit it, others are sworn to make sure it never sees the light of day--destroyed if possible--and poor Mr. Cream is caught in the middle.

The prose is pulpy, not purple, and once I was a couple of chapters in I caught on to the kind of story I was in for--and it still managed to throw a couple of curve-balls my way. Blending genres can be tricky business, but I think Josh found a good balance with this one. Hopefully, he could match pace or do even better with the sequel he's got in the works.

November 10, 2010

And the Winner Is ...

Congrats to Sean Padlo! He's the lucky winner of a copy of Lisa Mannetti's The Gentling Box courtesy of Shadowfall Publications

An e-mail will be sent to you very soon, Sean, as well to Lisa and Bret at Shadowfall so you can let them know which format you would like to receive the novel (trade paperback or digital).

A special thanks to Lisa Mannetti and Shadowfall for contributing to this giveaway. And in case you missed the interview I conducted with Lisa at the start of this giveaway, you can find it here.

Wish List Wednesday #72: Stephen M. Irwin's "The Dead Path"

Wish List Wednesday is a weekly meme I started in July '09, in which I put the spotlight on a book that is on my wish list--whether new release, blast from the past, or hidden gem. 

If I've read a novel by an Australian author, I am unaware because I have never made it a point to seek out an Australian author's book. I think I ought to remedy that. Stephen M. Irwin has a debut novel out this October that sounds fairly promising. The Dead Path is a paranormal thriller/mystery, but let's just call it horror shall we. 

Ghosts. That's one in the plus column, in my book, but I've been burned in the past with lackluster titles. This one, judging from early reviews, seems to have a bit of a slow-burn literary bent to it that relies more on building atmosphere than creating jump scares, which is really a solid way to go most of the time when it comes to the supernatural. 

The whole grieving widower seeing ghosts thing might feel well-worn, especially when you look at shoddy Hollywood films that involves sullen leading men chasing shadows and things that go bump in the night, but I've got a good feeling about this book. I'll bet Irwin delivers the goods. 

Have you read any good books by Australian authors?

November 9, 2010

Rabid Reads: "Under the Dome" by Stephen King

Under the Dome
by Stephen King
Scribner (2009)
1074 pages
ISBN 978-1-4391-4850-1


Now that I've finally read through Under the Dome, I feel I can say with all honesty that I'm in the best shape of my life. Why? Because reading the hardcover edition of this book was a workout. Nearly 1,100 pages added up to be not only an epic read, but a hefty dumbbell by which to exercise.

And that sums up my primary complaint about this novel: it's too long.

I understand how crafting a story with dozens of characters requires a fair amount of space in order to establish them in such a way that they feel reasonably genuine and sympathetic. But, let's be honest, the events of the novel do not carry over a great passage of time--and the events depicted in the novel are at times drawn out to an interminable level. I'm not likely to be accused anytime soon of being an editor, but despite the purported cutting down of this book from an even greater length to its existing size, I think there is plenty of fluff left in the novel to whittle it down to a healthy--and relatively trim--eight hundred pages. I can think of a couple of superfluous scenes involving the points of view of animals which would not be missed.

As for the story, it's an interesting one that's for sure. On an uneventful October morning, the bucolic little Maine town of Chester Mills is unceremoniously trapped within an invisible forcefield. Not even the water from the brooks can penetrate the barrier beyond a miniscule trickle. The town essentially becomes the world's largest snowglobe.

Trapped inside is Dale Barbara, a retired soldier and vagabond hash slinger, looking to vacate the town after a violent altercation with Junior Rennie and a few others. Barbie doesn't want to hang around since Junior's dad is on the town council and is the unofficial mayor, and that's a headache Barbie can do without. Unfortunately for him, he reaches the outskirts of town just in time to see birds, a woodchuck, and even a small-engine plane crash into the newly formed barrier.

From there, civilization breaks down in record time. And that might be the other issue I have with this novel. With an event so extraordinary as an invisible forcefield, I would have expected a more mundane setting to greet it within its walls. You know, put plain folks in the situation and see how things play out. What Kind does, however, is introduce a sensational villain into the mix who defies belief--Junior Rennie's father, Big Jim. Where nearly everyone in Chester Mills feels pretty regular and believable, Big Jim comes off as a nearly cartoonish antagonist. And if there are enough Big Jims in America to count him as regular too, then I weep for that nation.

The novel is by no means a bad book. All things considered it's a good read with some inventive twists and turns. It is a novel that requires an investment of time and of patience, though. As a Stephen King, I am left mildly disappointed. Not because I foolishly compared this novel to The Stand, but because King has--in my opinion at any rate--a recent string of very good stories that make up a second win to his longstanding career. And King is at his best when he's longstanding rather than longwinded.

CymLowell

November 8, 2010

My Five: Favorite Twilight Zone Actors


We can all name off our favorite actors in film and television, but I'll bet anyone who is a fan of "The Twilight Zone" can name their favorite actors to appear on that show. If you go back and look at the list of performers to appear on that show, it's a who's who of Hollywood's great actors of the day.

Some only starred in a single episode, while others made recurring appearances. The ones who came back again and again are the one I've listed here--at least the five whose performances I've enjoyed the most. After completing this list though, I realized it was absent of a single actress--and "The Twilight Zone" had its share of fantastic female characters. I think I'll have to create another list for today. For now, here are my five favorite male actors to appear on the show:

#5 Jack Klugman ("A Passage for Trumpet", "A Game of Pool", "Death Ship", "In Praise of Pip"): Before The Twilight Zone, I only knew Klugman from Quincy reruns. I was not a fan. Seeing his performances as a struggling pool player, distraught astronaut, and a haunted musician won me over, though. Of the four episodes, I think my favorite performance is from "A Game of Pool". It reminded me a little bit of that Steve McQueen movie about a hustler on his last legs--I liked that movie, and I liked that episode.

#4 Lee Marvin ("The Grave" and "Steel"): The first time I saw Lee Marvin was when I was a little kid and my dad and I watched Cat Baloo (sp.) together--Dad loved that movie. If you haven't seen it, you should. And if you want a sample of his on screen presence, then The Twilight Zone is a great place to start. In "The Graven", he's a gunslinger scared to death at the prospect of revisiting a man he killed, and "Steel" shows him as a boxer who gets in the ring in lieu of his robotic protege (if you ever saw that Simpsons episode where Homer pretends to be Bart's robot gladliator, you'll get the jist). Mediocre roles given some shine by Marvin's acting.

#3 William Shatner ("Nick of Time" and "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet"): C'mon, I had to put Captain Kirk on the list, didn't I? While "Nightmare" is the iconic episode, I actually think he does a better job in "Nick of Time". That's probably because the character isn't so manic and crazed like the one in "Nightmare". This is another example of an actor making the rather mundane roles stand out thanks to an indelible acting style. It's hard to believe a dashing leading man like Shatner has turned into such a portly egotist--he's like Marlon Brando without the cred. Forget @#$% My Dad Says and watch these classic TZ episodes instead.

#2 John Dehner ("The Lonely", "The Jungle", and "Mr. Garrity and the Graves"): If anyone on this list exemplifies my monochrome vision of the late 50s and early 60s, it's Dehner. The man exudes a nostalgic dignity that borders on arrogance that suits the time even better than John Hamm from Mad Men. Oddly enough, his role as Mr. Garrity is probably the most memorable for me because it's a departure from the usual starched-shirt roles he played. There's an impish humor to the role that makes it stand out for me, and makes me appreciate him as an actor even more.

#1 Burgess Meredith ("Time Enough at Last", Mr. Dingle, the Strong", "The Obsolete Man", "Printer's Devil"): Hands down, when I think of The Twilight Zone, Meredith is the guy I attach to it as easily as I do Rod Serling. "Time Enough at Last" is my favorite all-time episode, but the other three in which Meredith starred are all very entertaining as well. "Printer's Devil" is a particular treat because he plays the Devil working for a small town newspaper, and you can see he's enjoying every second of it. God damn, that guy was just fun to watch no matter what.

As a matter of fact, just writing out this list I have a hankering for some Meredith goodness. Maybe Rocky is on somewhere, or I could search YouTube for a clip of him as the Penguin.

What do you think? Does he deserve the top spot on the list or do you think someone else belongs there?