April 29, 2011

Todd Russell's Mental Shrillness Blog Tour Stops by WTF on May 10th

At the beginning of May, Todd Russell kicks off his Mental Shrillness blog tour to promote his new flash fiction collection of the same name. You'll be able to read my review on May 10th, and Todd will be answering questions that day in the comments section.

Not only that, but there will be a couple of contests you can enter during the blog tour, too!

The first contest will see six winners receive a free copy of Mental Shrillness via Smashwords. To enter, simply visit each stop on the blog tour and look for a special factoid that will appear in each blog post. At the end of the tour, there will be a brief quiz, with those correctly answering 75% or more of the questions correctly entered into a draw.

The second contest is even easier. By leaving a comment (something meaningful) on any of the blog tour posts at any of the stops will receive a free PDF copy of a special flash fiction story by Todd Russell not seen inside the pages of Mental Shrillness.

CLICK HERE to see the blog tour schedule, which includes some stops at a few of my favorite blogs, Little Miss Zombie and Paperback Horror to name but two. And I'll see you back here on May 10th.

April 28, 2011

Rabid Rewind: "Machete"

Machete
starring: Danny Trejo, Robert De Niro, Jessica Alba, Michelle Rodriguez, Steven Seagal, and Jeff Fahey
directed by: Roberg Rodriguez
written by: Robert Rodriguez and Alvaro Rodriguez
20th Century Fox (2010)

How do you like your pulp? With extra pulp? Well, you're in luck, because Machete is nothing but pulp.

I was one of those people who absolutely loved the Grindhouse double feature, Planet Terror and Deathproof, and got a real kick out of the fake trailers other directors made to air between those two movies. I remember the buzz about one trailer especially, featuring Danny Trejo, called Machete. I guess it didn't take long for the green light to go up and Robert Rodriguez to start production on an actual movie.

The movie is unabashedly cheesy. The first five minutes have Machete, a Federale agent, rescuing a naked woman and killing a whole lotta bad guys in bloody fashion. He's double-crossed though, and is left for dead after the murders of his wife and daughter. Years later, he resurfaces in Texas a broken man, recruited by a business man to assassinate a xenophobic senator. But again, he's double-crossed.

From there, the movie is all about bloody revenge and liberation for illegal immigrants. The action scenes range from brilliantly executed to comically effective. As for the acting ...

The movie is an homage to various exploitation films, so I guess acting isn't a primary concern--or it's just purposefully presented as bad. Some actors like Danny Trejo, Jeff Fahey, Robert De Niro, and Michelle Rodriguez play their roles to great effect, while Steven Seagal and Jessica Alba--in my estimation, anyway--just didn't offer believable or even passable performances. Jessica Alba as an Immigration and Customs agent comes off as out of place and miscast as Denise Richards in that James Bond movie where she played the nuclear physicist. Still, Alba is easy on the eyes, and no one is gunning for an Oscar anyway, so what's the harm. Seagal, was a bit heartbreaking, though. I used to love his films as kid and young teen, and to see a pot-bellied lethargic version of the man waddling on screen just cut through whatever nostalgia there was.

Jeff Fahey really came off as the MVP in the movie, giving a performance that showed a steely demeanor and then manicly aggressive when pushed into a corner. And his scene with Cheech Marin in the church was a particular delight.

The movie accomplishes everything it sets out to do, so I really shouldn't gripe. I did have a fun time watching it despite my misgivings to certain aspects. But, I guess I was expecting something a little more high-end, after being wowed by Planet Terror and Deathproof--and even Inglorious Basterds. There's a fair bit of time separating this movie and Desperado, where I first recall seeing Trejo on screen. Given the choice, I'd probably re-watch Desperado.

April 27, 2011

Wish List Wednesday #96: Kalayna Price's "Grave Witch"

Back in October, I won a giveaway over at Angela's Dark Faerie Tales. I won a $10 Amazon.com gift card courtesy of Kalayna Price to help promote the debut novel of her Alex Craft series, Grave Witch.

Urban fantasy is a genre I've been gradually warming up to more and more over the last couple of years, thanks to authors like Cassandra Clare, Jaye Wells, Richard Kadrey, and others. So, I was figuring I'd use the card to snatch up Kalayna's book.

I hadn't used Amazon.com before though, and being Canadian made the shipping costs crazy. So, I've kept it on my wish list all this time.

I did happen to see a paperback copy of the book on Book Depository, on sale for less than $6, though. I think that could be a real steal, so I have it in my basket and will be ordering it soon enough. Meant to get it months ago, but I guess the same could be said for a lot of books.

What books have you been meaning to buy and just haven't gotten around to yet?

April 26, 2011

Rabid Reads: "Devil Red" by Joe R. Lansdale


Devil Red
by Joe R. Lansdale
205 pages
ISBN 9780307270986
Purchase via: AMAZON, KINDLE, or BOOK DEPOSITORY

It's a tricky thing reading a book that's the eighth in a series, when you've only read the first book in that series so far. With Joe Lansdale's Devil Red, however, that's exactly what I did. I was expecting to be a fair bit lost, with a metric ton of backstory peppered through the book to the point where I wouldn't know if I was coming or going. I've only read and reviewed the first book in the Hap & Leonard series, Savage Season, just a couple of weeks ago (click here to read that review if you like). Fortunately, Lansdale keeps the focus on the story at hand, and what preexisting stuff comes up in the novel doesn't require having read the other seven books--but I'll bet it would have helped.

If you're not familiar with these characters, just picture a couple of good ol' boys from east Texas who are pretty rough and tumble, and make their money by working as pseudo-investigators/enforcers for a private investigator. It's nothing close to glamorous work, but it pays the bills, and they're good at it--even if they lack any real finesse.

The story starts out with Hap and Leonard roughing up a couple of local thugs that had robbed an elderly lady. They're grizzled and grumpy, but their also game for the confrontation in a way, even though the pay is crap. But something is nagging at Hap, in a kind of "I'm getting too old for this shit" way. Still, when the opportunity to work a cold case about a young woman's murder, which may be connected to a series of murders involving a vampire cult, Hap and Leonard don't spend too much time hesitating.

It's kind of an emotional roller coaster, as these two guys get put through the ringer. That might just be the way things are for these two, since they got worked over pretty good in the first novel. Still, there is a cumulative effect that seems to be present in this book that makes the proverbial meat grinder they are put through all the more imposing.

I could gripe about not knowing a couple of the characters that are returning from a previous book, but that's just comes with the territory since I haven't read the other books save one. At least Lansdale didn't make me think while reading that I really should have read the other books first. I will, however, be reading those books some time down the road, that's for sure.

The writing is gritty and plain-spoken, which suits the story to a tee. The dialog is fantastic and really funny in spots. The action is great and doesn't let up for very long, since it's only a two-hundred page novel. It's just a damned fun read. It's Lansdale.

CymLowell

April 25, 2011

Rabid Reads: "52 Stitches: Horror Stories" by Aaron Polson (editor)


52 Stitches: Horror Stories
edited by Aaron Polson
128 pages

Flash fiction is an acquired taste. For many folks, they prefer to have a story they can get into like a hot bath. They want to soak in it, revel in it. By contrast, a piece of flash fiction can be like getting doused by a bucket of ice water. And to tell you the truth, there is just as much enjoyment to be derived from that. The trick is finding those stories that resonate.

With 52 Stitches, Aaron Polson has brought together fifty-two stories that appeared on the flash fiction site of the same name. With a 750 word limit, each other was pressed to come up with an engaging story, some fully formed and stand on their own, while others act more as a window, with the reader peering in on the middle of a scene. And all of the stories range from mildly haunting to outright disturbing.

It's one thing when a site offered convenient--and free-content for prospective readers online. It's another thing when the best of that content is compiled into a single, neat book and offered to the same readers. And, when you're a lover of the tactile feel of a genuine book, an anthology like this is always welcome.

For me, there are some familiar names that appear inside this book's pages. Cate Gardner, Barry Napier, Mercedes M. Yardley, Alan Baxter, K. Allen Wood, Jeremy Kelly, and even the late Jamie Eyberg. Reading Jamie's story, "The Trouble with Gnomes," was an enjoyable experience the first time I laid eyes on it. Seeing it again in this anthology offered a bitter reminder that one promising voice was silenced far too soon last year. The book is dedicated to Jamie's memory as well, which was a noble touch on the part of Aaron.

The book also offers, aside from those names with whom I'm already acquainted, some new names that I will try to remember going forward, as they also offered some fun stories. Michael Stone, J.J. Steinfeld, and Harper Hull to name a couple. Too many names to mention, really. Fifty-two, remember?

Not all of the stories are home runs, but I found plenty to enjoy, and I'm sure anyone looking for quick, bite-sized horror will too.

CymLowell

April 22, 2011

Rabid Rewind: "Never Let Me Go"

Never Let Me Go
starring Carey Mulligan, Keira Knightley, and Andrew Garfield
directed by Mark Romanek
written by Alex Garland
based on the novel by Kazuo Ishiguro
20th Century Fox (2010)

Since we are creeping ever closer to the uncomfortable question of sentience and human rights towards human clones, Never Let Me Go offers a forum in which to explore the subject. The setting it provides winds up rather dystopian, too.

Hailsham seems like one of those idyllic British private schools of yesteryear, but this one has a school population of a much more unsettling nature. Every student in Hailsham is a clone, created ultimately for the sole purpose of harvesting their organs to prolong the lives of real humans. It's not a near future setting though, instead offering an alternate universe where the science advances take place in the wake of World War II.

For the three main characters, Kathy, Ruth, and Tommy, the real world feels as alien to them as their world does to us. All they know is the school, never leaving the grounds as rules and rumors act as leashes about their necks. They are educated about the world in a very filtered fashion, since their future--held secret from them until their teen years--is so bleak. It's during their formative years that Kathy endears herself to Tommy, a troubled boy who finds himself a bit of an outcast in a school of outcasts. But when her best friend, Ruth, undermines her by pursuing Tommy as a love interest, Kathy winds up seeking something else to fill her heart--a life as a "carer" who acts as a companion to other clones as they undergo one organ extraction after another.

The alien concept of clone farms is juxtaposed brilliantly by the mundanity of a British township. Nothing exists visually in the film to lead you into thinking this is a sci-fi film, which is both an effort to avoid the sci-fi label, as well as a way to draw the audience in to a familiar word with an unfamiliar concept. As for the love triangle played out over the years in this story, it doesn't feel the least bit hokey, despite Carey Mulligan's prim and proper demeanor that veers dangerously close to Jane Austen territory. Sacrifice, betrayal, forgiveness are all explored and make for a genuinely engrossing movie.

This is one of those sci-fi films that very flagrantly tries to distance itself from the genre. The director, Mark Romanek, even goes so far as to describe the film as "a love story where the science fiction is this subtle patina on the story." I'm not sure how much the novel's author, Kazuo Ishiguro, tries to avert the sci-fi label, but it's a shame that a movie like this can be appreciated as both a love story and a sci-fi story--because it is clearly both and a fair bit more.

April 21, 2011

Getting Graphic: "30 Days of Night: Dark Days" by Steve Niles & Ben Templesmith

30 Days of Night: Dark Days
written by Steve Niles
illustrated by Ben Templesmith
IDW Publishing (2007)
ISBN 9781932382167

I thought 30 Days of Night was a great graphic novel, with a film adaptation that complimented it quite well. I don't hold such high hopes for Dark Days after seeing the trailer for the film adaption to this sequel. I may skip the movie altogether, lest it ruin what was another entertaining vampire story from Steve Niles and Ben Templesmith.

If you haven't read 30 Days of Night, there's going to be a couple of spoilers for that book revealed. So, maybe check out my review of the book, then decide if it's something you would be interested in.

As for Dark Days, it picks up well after the slaughter that occurred in Barrow, Alaska inside the pages of 30 Days of Night. Stella Olemaun, widow of Sheriff Eben Olemaun, has left Barrow and started her hunt for any and all vampires. They live in secret, shrouded by their own myth so no one believes in them. Stella has written a book recounting the Barrow massacre and is on a book tour, with her first stop being Los Angeles. She's tracked a pocket of them there and, along with her small but dedicated security detail, plans to flush them out.

On the other side of the coin is one of the elder vampires, incensed by her actions. A widow herself to one of the lead vampires killed in Barrow, he stalks Stella to exact her own measure of revenge.

The story, for me, loses some of its mystique compared to the isolation depicted in 30 Days of Night. Los Angeles, while a logical spot for vampires to lurk, doesn't feel unique as a setting. The characters and their interactions help make up for that, as Stella struggles with her mission when she learns her publisher is releasing her book as fiction, turning her into a bit of a laughing stock in the eyes of the real world.

The artwork of Templesmith comes off as frenetic and gives such a rabid tone to the subject matter, the city in which the story takes place is almost immaterial, because the characters--especially the vampires--practically jump off the page in all their gruesome glory. There's a sketchbook and charcoal quality to the pictures that just seem tailor-made for a vampire tale.

Overall, an entertaining book, and the expansion on the mthos kept me engaged the whole way through. It might not be a grand slam like the first graphic novel was, but it does well to carry on the story, and even offers hints at what the third volume might have in store.

April 20, 2011

Wish List Wednesday #95: Dan Simmons' "Drood"

Last year, I had the good fortune to read Black Hills by Dan Simmons and was so thoroughly impressed by the novel I proclaimed it my favorite of 2010. It was my first time reading his work and I am eager to read more, but with so much on my reading list at the moment, his name has fallen a bit to the wayside.

One of his novels that I absolutely want to read, however, is his historical tale of Charles Dickens and Wilkie Collins, Drood. Told through the eyes of Wilkie Collins, its a somewhat re-imagined tale of Dickens' final days and the unfinished manuscript he was working on.

I guess this novel appeals to me so much because I am a huge fan of Dickens' works Great Expectations and A Christmas Carol. A fictionalized version of the fame author, told by such an accomplished storyteller like Simmons is one I am certain to enjoy.

Have you read it by any chance? Did you like it? Are you a Dickens fan as well?

April 19, 2011

Writing Like Crazy: I'm Not Quite What You're Looking For

It can be disconcerting at times when you wait for a response from a publisher or periodical, only to wind up falling just short of the mark. They like the story, but it's simply not quite what they're looking for.

Ouch. It's the kind of phrase that stings despite the good will behind it. The story isn't bad--an editor will have no qualms in telling you that, I figure--but it either isn't a good enough fit for the magazine or collection, or there is some indefinable piece of the story that is holding it back.

I don't know, I suppose it's nothing really. What one person doesn't accept, another may very well scoop up. It's like fishing with a gun, the refraction of the water winds up distorting your aim just enough so that you miss that elusive fish. Just gotta adjust my aim and pull the trigger again when the next fish comes around.

Okay, enough of the clumsy aquatic metaphors.

In some happier news, Fearology 2: Beware All Animals Great and Small, is inching its way toward publication through Library of Horror Press. My story, "Walk 'Em Up," will appear inside its pages, and I'm really looking forward to reading what everyone else has written.

Here's a shot of the cover art:

Pretty cool, if you ask me.

In the meantime, I've got over a dozen other short stories submitted to various markets. Fingers crossed. And I've got more on the way.

Just noticed that the flash fiction market, Everyday Weirdness, seems to have died. Well, I noticed it back in February, but Duotrope made if official, pretty much. Oh well, I had a story submitted there from back in November. Alas, "King Lloyd" will have to try his luck someplace else.

April 18, 2011

Rabid Reads: "Sarah Court" by Craig Davidson


Sarah Court
by Craig Davidson
Chizine Publications (2010)
306 pages
ISBN: 1926851005, 978-1926851006

Sometimes, you may find yourself wondering about the secret lives of your neighbors. If you live on Sarah Court, those secrets are better left unsaid. Curiosity killed the cat--or squirrel--after all. For readers, safe and sound in our easy chairs, we can look on with a prurient disgust at the decaying lives of Sarah Court's residents. It's not a cheerful exploration. There are moments of dark humor, but overall this is a very bleak glimpse at a fictionalized segment of St. Catherine's, Ontario.

There's a kind of suburban Pulp Fiction quality to this book, as the story is told in five different sections through the eyes of five residents, all at one time or another living on that little street. The houses are identical on the outside, cheaply made and cheaply lived in. The slow torments and sudden rendering of each household is unique to each of those five houses, though.

Reading this book, Sarah Court slowly revealed itself as a spider's web. Otherwise separate threads all intersecting one another at different points, few if any leading to a happy ending. And while each family's story stands alone and tell its own story, it's those minute intersecting moments that allude to some grander story. Well, maybe "grander" isn't the right word, since "grand" gives the sense of something majestic. There's a huge, quiet tragedy happening occurring--one devastated life at a time.

The imagery is something that sticks with you, particularly the bursts of violence that befall some of the characters. Dylan Saberhagen's story is the one that sticks with me the most. An eleven-year-old boy with a weight problem and a boundless curiosity and imagination that earns him more bullying and ridicule than any one kid should be forced to endure. And seeing that boy through the eyes of his father Nick just makes it all the more heartbreaking.

It's not a horror novel, but the dark elements to this novel almost make Sarah Court feel like a malevolent force inflicting itself on these families. And while there is a hint of the supernatural to the book, it stays on the outskirts thankfully, otherwise it might have taken something away from the impact of the story. Even though the book is set in Ontario, there is something about Sarah Court and its residents that strikes close to home--and that might be where the real horror lies.
CymLowell

April 15, 2011

And the winners are ...

Yes, you read that right. There are TWO winners to my WIN THESE FIVE Zombie Books Giveaway.

The first winner is Moll89 who will be receiving the five zombie books from my own collection: Max Brooks' World War Z, Briane Keene's The Rising and City of the Dead, Tonia Brown's Lucky Stiff, and the audiobook version of Pride & Prejudice & Zombies.

However, Moll doesn't follow the blog, which means the sixth BONUS zombie book went to someone else. And that lucky someone was Twitter follower @Qweequeg. She will have the opportunity to choose a zombie book via Book Depository.

Thanks to everyone who entered the giveaway and visited my blog. I greatly appreciate it. In the meantime, I've contacted both winners and await their replies. Congrats again to both winners.

My bookshelves are still pretty stacked, so don't be surprised if I hold another giveaway later in the spring. I'm thinking that one will be an urban fantasy themed one.

Meme, Myself, & I: Follow Friday for April 15th, 2011

I don't take part in these all that often, but I thought I'd give it a go this week.

The question for this week's Follow Friday is:

 

Q. Do you have anyone that you can discuss books with IRL? Tell us about him/her.

 

First of all, I am so acronym illiterate, I had to Google "IRL" just to remember what the heck it means. "In real life" it turns out--should have known.

 

Anyway, the short answer is YES.

 

Family members read, but I'm not in that circle of discussion since most of it is Harlequinn romance novels. As for friends, that's not much by way of discussing books, either. Reality TV shows, absolutely, but that's another realm of discussion I avoid.

 

For me, I find the most engrossing in-person discussions about books happen with the local bookshop owners. I'm on a first name basis with them, since I'm constantly exchanging books and bargain hunting, and I invariably wind up discussing author recommendations or the latest bit of publishing news. And when we talk about books we each like, well we just prattle on ceaselessly.


My reading life is a fairly solitary one aside from that, in real life anyway, since horror literature tends to draw some queer looks from people.

April 14, 2011

An Author Interview with Barry Napier, author of "The Masks of Our Fathers"

Barry Napier recently delved into the world of self-publishing with his new novel, The Masks of Our Fathers. You can find my review by clicking here.

Here's a brief summary of what the book is about:

There is a powerful secret waiting in the forests of Moore’s Hollow. Buried in myths and ignored by history, there are dark things in the woods that laid claim to the land many years ago.

Jason Melhor heard about this secret around summer campfires as a boy. As a child, he came to know the legends well. But as he grew older, these fables disappeared with other childhood things.

Now, as a man unable to escape a past marred by an alcoholic father and his mother’s suicide, Jason has returned to Moore’s Hollow to bring his sordid family tragedy to a close. He has packed only a pistol and a single bullet.

But the secrets of Moore’s Hollow that Jason passed off as myths over the years are still lurking in the forests.

Something knows Jason has returned...and he has returned at the worst possible time.


I had a chance to interview Barry as well, asking him a few questions about his novel and writing in general. Enjoy.

Q: The woods of Virginia strikes me as a place with a lot of folklore. Was there any specific folklore that inspired this story, or was it strictly borne from your imagination?

A: There's this tract of land not too far from the house I grew up in where slaves were allegedly hanged in the wake of slavery being abolished.  To this day, people swear that they get turned around and lost when they pass through that spot, even experienced hunters that know the land well. Some will even tell you that you can heard screaming and laughter out there at night. The Masks of Our Fathers was originally set in that location but took a mind of it's own and the location eventually changed.  The tract of land in question is still alive in my fiction though, as it serves as the backdrop for one of my longer works in progress.
Q: The protagonist is suicidal, which seems like a unique twist for a character thrown into a life-threatening situation. As you started out with this story was this something you had in mind from the outset, or something that kind of came about as you delved deeper into the subject matter?

A: Yes.  I wanted a character that started at one of of the emotional spectrum and was, in a way, transformed and forced into an awakening on the other end of that spectrum.  A horror writer at heart, I knew I wanted the cause of this emotional shift to be of supernatural design rather than just some traumatic event.  I wanted to tell a story where personal demons and the unknown are actually the cause of a POSITIVE change rather than negative.

Q: Antlers have never struck me as scary--though, some folks might have a phobia of Bambi--but put them on a mask worn by a guy in a dark robe, and brandishing a pitchfork, and suddenly the antlers are pretty damned creepy. Where did the idea for that mask come from?

A: Growing up where I did, there are a lot of mounted deer heads on living room walls.  In my own opinion, this is sort of creepy and, in a way, ritualistic in and of itself.  But there is an image that always stuck with me from my childhood...falling asleep on the couch at my grandmother's house only to wake up and have my eyes fall on the mounted deer head on the wall, antlers like knives that were certainly coming for me in my sleep.  I've always wanted to incorporate that into my fiction somehow and this seemed like the perfect opportunity.

Q: If I'm not mistaken, this is your first self-published novel? What drove you to take that path rather than seek out a more traditional route like you have in the past?

A: Well, I did sent it to three small presses.  Only one responded within a four month time frame.  The comments were all positive but I was met with a lot of "this isn't QUITE what we're looking for."  I know it's not a traditional horror novel.  Calling it HORROR is a bit of stretch, I suppose. 

Anyway, as I was waiting for that third response to come in, I really got deep into JA Konrath's blog and saw what was happening in the Kindle world.  My friend Jeremy D. Brooks had also just self published his book Amity and made it sound like a fun and educational experience.  So I figured what the hell...

Q: How about sharing any other projects you have coming out this year, or perhaps nearing completion? Schill, man. Schill!

The Bleeding Room is coming from Graveside Tales in August.  I also have a comic book that will be going live, to be released issue by issue, in a few weeks (aiming at early May) that I have spent the last 2 years or so putting together.  I may have one more self published venture going live as well, but it's impossible to tell.  With about 4 active projects going on, I have no control over what hits the page...as any writer will tell you, it's typically the other way around.


I'd like to offer a big thanks to Barry for participating in the interview. If you would like to hear more from Barry, be sure to check out his appearance on The Funky Werepig, interviewed by Gregory Hall on April 16th. Or you can visit Barry's own blog at http://barrynapierwriting.wordpress.com/

April 13, 2011

Wish List Wednesday #94: Kaaron Warren's "Slights"

I do enjoy reading books by authors from beyond the borders of Canada and the U.S. I also enjoy checking the debut novels of authors. So, this debut novel from Australian author, Kaaron Warren, could act as a single stone to kill two birds.

Slights is the story of Stevie, who has a near-death experience. It's during this time she finds not Heaven or Hell, but a room full of people from her past who apparently all hold a grudge against her, torturing her in the afterlife. She's scarred by the experience, along with the deaths of her parents, but she also becomes obsessed with that place and goes on a journey of death over and over--both her own and those of others, as she uses other people who try and unlock death's secrets.

It's apparently a slow burn kind of novel, but the disturbing subject matter and eery premise are too good to resist. A slowly ramped up tension may work very well for a novel like this, and I'm curious to see how Warren pulls it off.

Have you had a chance to read this book yet? What did you think? Any other debut novels by Aussies I should be checking out as well?

April 12, 2011

Rabid Rewind: Paranormal Activity 2

Paranormal Activity 2
starring Brian Boland, Molly Ephraim, and Sprague Grayden
directed by Tod Williams
screenplay by Michael R. Perry, Christopher Landon, Tom Pabst, & Oren Peli
Paramount Pictures (2010)


About a year ago, I reviewed the first Paranormal Activity. I really liked it. Enjoyed it as much as The Blair Witch Project, if not a little more. But before I even had a chance to see it, I heard the box office success of the movie prompted Paramount to hot-shot a sequel into production in time to hit theaters one year later. Yikes.

I'm not opposed to sequels, but when they come with such rapidity, I get nervous. Saw was a really good horror movie that I thought took the genre in an interesting direction, but Saw 2 came out a mere one year later and pissed all over its potential. So, my expectations for Paranormal Activity 2 were already low.

In actuality, this movie is a prequel. Where it was Katie and her boyfriend, Micah, being tormented by a spirit in their home, we discover it started with Katie's sister, Kristi and her family. It's a kind of origin story for the haunting itself and sets up the mythology of the family and its curse rather well.

Kristi and her husband, Dan, are the victim of a robbery. But the only item stolen is a cherished necklace that was a gift from Katie. So Dan installs a bunch of security cameras inside and outside the house, and thus we have our method of watching the events unfold within the home. In the first movie, we went by a single camera used by Micah to record the paranormal activity. This time is edited footage of the security tapes, as well as some handy cam footage of their daughter (Kristi's stepdaughter), Ali.

The haunting starts off slow, with things being misplaced and other weird stuff, but it amps up gradually and revolves around Dan and Kristi's infant son, Hunter. But the family doesn't clue in right away and winds up blaming their maid for the weird shit, ultimately firing her. But things escalate and paranoia becomes prevalent, especially as Ali realizes there is a spirit in the house.

On one level, this movie is really fun to watch. It relies on that waiting-for-the-scare tension through a lot of scenes, and you constantly watch the screen during quiet moments, trying to spot where the spirit will manifest itself. A dropped frying pan, a pool vacuum moving on its own, or even spontaneous combustion. But on another level, it feels very familiar and it doesn't carry as much of an impact as from the first movie. Plus, the denial from the father as he watches the recorded footage that shows really weird shit, and using flimsy reasoning to not even care to look into it, is aggravating. The movie needs a doubting Thomas, but the guy takes it to an annoying level.

The payoff at the end makes up for any doldrum or loss of momentum through the early going of the film, but to hear there is a Paranormal Activity 3 in the works for release later this year, I am left with no other choice but to expect even less from that movie. This is a good horror movie, but it's only for people who are into the mythology of the first one or just enjoy haunting stories. Otherwise, I think people could skip this one.

April 11, 2011

Rabid Reads: "Savage Season" by Joe R. Lansdale


Savage Season
by Joe R. Lansdale
Vintage Books (2009)
originally published by Bantam in 1990
178 pages
ISBN 978030745383

I've had Joe Lansdale's novel, Bad Chili, sitting on my bookshelf for a little over a year. It's the only Lansdale novel I've seen in my neck of the woods--one of many authors who just don't show up on shelves around here. But I wanted to read Savage Season first, because it's the first "Hap & Leonard" novel, and I didn't want to read Bad Chili without having some clue of who Hap and Leonard were. As it stands, now that I've read Savage Season I can't wait to read the rest of the books.

Their names are Hap Collins and Leonard Pine. They're in their forties, they're Texans, and they're the best of friends. So, when one of Hap's old flames, Trudy--the old flame--returns with a proposition that could set them up quite comfortably in a financial sense, Hap in drawn in like a moth to a flame, and Leonard is right there to remind him how dumb he gets when Trudy comes calling. Still, Hap and Leonard aren't exactly living high on the hog and could use a good payday, so they wind up tangled in Trudy's mess, which includes another of her boyfriends, Howard, and a couple other goons so they can drudge up a boat somewhere in the backwaters of east Texas, and hope to find the millions in stolen bank money that's alleged to be there.

The shit they get into is downright comical. Even though Hap and Leonard have a fair idea there is something not quite right about the whole deal, they follow through with it. But thing have a way of turning sour, but not even they could have foreseen just how gummed up the works could get. Money has a strange way of affecting a man. A woman has an even stranger way. Mix the two and ... well, Joe Lansdale spins a good yarn to fill in the blanks.

The novel is a very quick read, but it doesn't feel like it short-changes you. You get to know Hap, Leonard, and even Trudy very well through their interactions with one another. The dialogue is really good in this book, but it's the way the scenes are laid out between these characters and how they relate to one another that really makes it a fun read. It's a plain spoken narrative through Hap's point of view, and his no bullshit way to telling things makes you like him all the more and root for him to have a happy ending.

I would recommend this novel to anyone who loves crime novels, but I'm betting that most of them are already fans of Lansdale's work. Forgive me for hopping on the bandwagon late. Better late than never, as I will be tearing in Bad Chili in the not too distant future. And, I see there is a brand new "Hap & Leonard" novel coming out this year called Devil Red, so I'll have to track that one down as well.

CymLowell

April 8, 2011

Rabid Rewind: Repo Men

Repo Men
starring Jude Law, Forrest Whitaker, and Liev Schrieber
directed by Miguel Sapochnik
screenplay by
Eric Garcia & Garrett Lerner
based on the novel by Eric Garcia,
The Repossession Mambo
Universal Pictures (2010)

 
I'm not sure how well this movie did at the box office, but I'd wager it didn't fare so well. It's a dark action film with a pretty disturbing premise for your average movie audience. Oh, it has its share of laughs alright, but you need a pretty sardonic sense of humor to appreciate it. I mean, it's about a guy who repossesses artificial organs from people when they can't make their payments. That's dark.

Jude Law takes the lead role as Remy, a family man who lives for his job. So much so, it strains his marriage to the point where he's given an ultimatum: Quit repo for something tamer, like the sales department, or lose his wife and son. Spoiler alert: He chooses his job, a choice he lives to regret. At least he has his long-time friend and partner in repo, Forrest Whitaker.

But while he's on one of his jobs, repossessing the heart of one of his favorite singers--he's a jazz fan--in a not so subtle bit symbolism, an accident happens with his defibrillator and winds up nearly dying himself. Fortunately for him, as far as his peers are concerned, he's given an artificial heart of his own. Not so fortunate for him, once he's back on the job, the poor bastard accumulates a conscience and bring himself to repo anymore. And the payments on his new heart are past due.

The world in this film has one of those near-future, quasi-dystopian feels to it. A bit clearer border between the lives of those who have and those who have not. When Remy finds himself stepping from one world into the other, he's reminded over and over again that his job took a whole lot more than expensive medical gadgets. Law offers a very sympathetic, almost surprisingly so, guy who reckons with his deeds and his new ordeal as a man being hunted by the same company he once worked for. As for Forrest Whitaker, there is a crazy edge to his performance where he seems to straddle the camaraderie with Law's character and outright, batshit insanity. He loves his job even more than Remy--maybe too much.

Alice Braga appears as a lounge singer and Artiforg recipient on the run as well. She becomes a kind of love interest for Remy, but she's really a road to redemption, as he spends his time protecting her when his old self would have looked out solely for himself.
The movie dips and dives with its tone. At one point, it's a bit satirical and charming with its bleak humor towards the subject matter. Then, the film will veer into some heavy and nearly overwrought drama during the serious moments. But I thought it worked. And the sparse action scenes, particularly a fight scene towards the very end of the film, are downright mesmerizing. Maybe that's because I was pleasantly surprised at how well Jude Law handled the action star aspects of his role. Given the less-than-glowing reviews I had seen for this movie when it was in theaters, I wasn't expecting much. I read the book and thought it good though, and that helped in boosting my desire to see this one. And I'm glad I did. It's worth checking out if you are in the mood for a sci-fi film.

April 7, 2011

Getting Graphic: "Wanted" by Mark Millar & J.G. Jones


Wantedby Mark Millar
illustrated by J.G. Jones
Top Cow Productions (2008)
ISBN 9781582404974

What if superheroes and supervillains were real? Okay, now what if superheroes were gone and the world never knew they existed? Pretty messed up, right?

Well, it is messed. In fact, seeing the film adaptation of Wanted before even becoming aware the graphic novel existed really gave me expectations that were entirely out of proportion to what this book was about. Let's just say, my opinion of this book is probably the polar opposite to anyone who read the comic book before they saw the movie.

The book starts off with a lowly clerk in some cubicle lamenting his boring, depressing existence. He's going nowhere at work, his girlfriend is cheating on him with his best friend, his boss is a total c-word, and he habitually Googles stress-related diseases and has more prescriptions than he count. His name is Wesley and he is a loser any way you look at it. That is until he is approached by a psychotic gun-toting hottie calling herself the Fox, who basically abducts him and tells him that his long-lost deadbeat dad was a supervillain--and he's just inherited the old man's fortune and place in the league of supervillains.

Wes has a hard time buying any of this since superheroes and supervillains only exist in comic books. And that's where things take an especially weird swing into left field. Because they do exist--or at least they did. All of the superheroes were killed off years ago in a huge apocalyptic battle, then the world's memories were wiped of them ever having existed, and the remaining defeated superheroes are given mediocre existences as TV parodies of themselves or senile old cronies rotting away in old folks homes. Now, the world is run by the supervillains who operate behind the curtain, as it were, and even have access to alternate dimensions to exploit those Earths and their resources.

It's an insanely convoluted world that's been created just to tell the story on one character's rise from obscurity.

I wanted to like the story, as I was one of the guys who really liked the movie Wanted, starring James McEvoy and Angelina Jolie. In the book, Wes is drawn to look like Eminem and the Fox is drawn as some hyper-sexualized Halle Berry. The whole tone of the book has a kind of angry, cynical, mean-spirited edge. And it made it extremely difficult to root for a single character in the book. Wes doesn't just find confidence and a rise to power, but he goes full-on evil. He kills and rapes indiscriminately, carries himself as vindictive and shallow, just about the whole way through. And when it looks like he's going to have an epiphany and rebuke his wayward path, he goes right back into his demented groove.

If you root for the villain, then you'll probably like this book, because it is a glorification of the bad guy mentality. But I need some kind of redeeming quality in a character if I'm going to give a shit about him, and Wes is just a depraved piece of garbage who becomes all the worse of an excuse for a human being by the end of the book. It's a tragedy, really. If it's satirical on a comic book world, then it's lost on me since I'm not immersed in that culture. It felt like fan fiction, to be perfectly honest, from a guy who resented the Superman's and Spider-Man's of the medium.

CymLowell

April 6, 2011

Wish List Wednesday #93: Ekaterina Sedia's "The House of Discarded Dreams"

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.

Last year, I read and reviewed an urban fantasy novel of sorts called The Secret History of Moscow by Ekaterina Sedia. Since then, I've had Sedia's name on my list of authors to watch for, and one of her new novels sounds like it could be another real treat to read.


The House of Discarded Dreams, published by Prime Books, is about an African-American college kid who movies into a house populated by a bunch of figures from African folklore and urban legends. Sounds like fun to me, though I'm sure there's plenty to go awry in this novel. The pitch-line for it even sounds a little like another book on my wish list, Marie Phillips' Gods Behaving Badly, except that one had Greek gods bandying about in a London backdrop.


At any rate, I've got this novel and a couple other books with Sedia's name on the cover on my wish list. Have you read any of her work? If so, what title, and what did you think of it?

April 5, 2011

Rabid Reads: "The Masks of Our Fathers" by Barry Napier

The Masks of Our Fathers
self-published (2011) via The Kindle Store

Sometimes when you go out to the woods, particularly to a cabin in the middle of nowhere, you hear some strange noises out there in the wilderness. Most of the time, you never see what's causing those noises, but you count on it being something you'd see on the nature channel. Well, in Barry Napier's novel, The Masks of Our Fathers, the lingering paranoia that comes from hearing those noises and being unsure just what exactly is making them is used to great effect.

Jason Melhor has returned to his family cabin in central Virginia, outside the small town of Moore's Hollow. He hasn't been there in years, but he hasn't come back for some weekend escape to soak up the ambience and nostalgia. No, he's brought a pistol with him--and one bullet.

That's a pretty good hook, but it's only part of the story. When Jason gets out to the cabin and starts brooding over some bad memories involving his mother's suicide and father's death, he puts that gun in his mouth and discovers he can't pull the trigger. And, right at that moment, someone bursts into the cabin, bloodied, beaten, and scared as hell about whoever--or whatever--is chasing him. Things only get worse when a figure with black eyes and antlers steps into the cabin as well.

Barry's short stories are a treat to read, but this novel took a little time to warm up to. That's because it actually took a few chapters to get to what I thought of as the meat of the story, as the beginning of the book spends its time establishing Jason as a character, as well as Moore's Hollow as the setting. Once it gets going though, it was a pretty hard book to put down--or in the case of my e-book edition, a hard laptop to set down. A few redundant sentences in the first half of the book were a bit distracting, as they seemed to cover the same tidbit of information like a record skipping, but overall the mindset of Jason is delivered in an even flow that makes the story a bit of a mystery on top of a horror story, since not all of his history or his intentions are laid out at the beginning. And when he starts seeing and apparition of his dead father appear in the cabin, the relationships with his family, a lost love, and alcoholism gradually come to bare. Plus, the fear and pain that goes along with being both suicidal and incapacitated was an intriguing mix through the heart of the book.

It's a bit shorter a novel than I was expecting, but that might be a good thing since Jason spends a great deal of time alone, bound and abandoned inside the cabin after his initial encounter with the two strangers. I had a hard time getting into Stephen King's Gerald's Game for that very reason, so a slightly shorter novel works for me in that regard. It's a moody, broody horror novel that's worth giving a chance in my opinion, and with it presently going for $1.99 on Kindle, it's a genuine bargain.

CymLowell

April 4, 2011

Chasing Tale in March: Douglas Adams, Gemma Files, Peter Straub ...

Spring cleaning is drawing near. Oh, how I dread having to go through that exercise again. The fair weather has returned, for the most part, and I wound up hitting the used-bookstores with a few exchanges. But, having done that, I've basically accomplished nothing by way of lessening the number of books on my shelf. So much for progress? Have you been spring cleaning your bookshelves, too? Forced yourself to finally part with that book you swore you would re-read, but never got around to actually doing it?

Anyway, here are the books I've added to my shelves:

The Restaurant at the End of the Universe by Douglas Adams - For some unearthly reason, one of the reviews that continually brings in blog visitors is The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. I wrote that review almost two years ago, but to this day it still lures visitors. So, I thought I should get around to reading the sequel. I said I would, but I haven't made an effort at all. I saw this ratty paperback for like a buck and thought, fuck it.

Cthulhurotica (anthology) edited by Carrie Cunn - Lovecraftian horror blended with erotic romance. Hunh. I'm game. I've read vampire erotica, werewolf, erotica, and even zombie erotica. So why not Cthulhu erotica? I won this via a book giveaway hosted by Cate Gardner--thanks, Cate!--and given the kind words she afforded it, I think there's a good chance I'll enjoy it too.

A Book of Tongues by Gemma Files (e-book) - At the start of the month I made a pledge to participate in The Ranting Dragon's 2011 Locus Reading Challenge. It spurred me on to read Ted Chiang's Lifecycle of Software Objects and Lavie Tidhar's The Bookman. As part of it, there were a slew of giveaways. I entered one for Gemma Files' debut novel because it struck me as a great premise--and it's published by Chizine. Score.

Strange Men in Pin-Striped Suits (collection) by Cate Gardner - Along with the Cthulhu anthology, Cate was kind enough to send along her own short story collection. I'm really looking forward to checking this one out, as I've been reading her short stories in various places online over the last year or two, since discovering her blog, and am convinced that she is going places. Incidentally, you can snag this at the Kindle Store for a cheap price right now. Think about it.

Borderlands 3 by Thomas Monteleone (editor) - I have another of the Borderlands anthologies sitting on my shelf, but when I saw this one I couldn't resist. This is a prime example of how my to-be-read pile is out of control. I can't even read one anthology in a series without snagging another. Well, I will read one of these before the end of the year. Promise.

Piercing by Ryu Murakami - I can't even remember why I have Murakami on my wish list. I think he penned a novel that was adapted to a very cool Japanese horror film. Audition, maybe? Anyway, I just spied this novel on a shelf and the name caught my eye. So I got in on the cheap and added it to the pile. It's a short novel, so it ought to be a quick read.

The Masks of Our Fathers by Barry Napier (Kindle) - Barry delved into the self-publishing recently with this new novel, so I decided to snag it. Two reasons. One, I like Barry's short fiction. Two, it was only 99 cents. Those are two pretty good reasons. Maybe I can chalk it up as a three-peat by counting it as part of the "Support The Little Guy" campaign, too.

The Harrowing by Alexandra Sokoloff - A mass market paperback of a Sokoloff novel found its way to my neck of the woods. Weird. I've had a few of her books on my wish list, but have never seen one on store shelves in Nova Scotia. This is her debut novel, which was published in 2006, so maybe that gives me a timeline of how long to wait for another of her books to appear around here.

A Dark Matter by Peter Straub - I put this book on my wish list last year, but it wasn't until I saw the recently released paperback in an independent bookstore that I figured I ought to get it. I haven't bought a book from an independent bookstore since Christmas, and the guilt was getting to me--not really, but ... still. Support your indie bookstores, people!

Best New Fantasy (2005) edited by Sean Wallace - I found this amidst a random pile of books. Wasn't too sure about getting it at first, but as soon as I saw the table of contents with authors like Catherynne M. Valente, Kelly Link, Joe Hill, among others, I didn't hesitate in scooping up this anthology from Prime Books.

Those are the books sitting on my bookshelf now. What books did you add to your collection and/or pile?

April 1, 2011

Rabid Reads: "The Bookman" by Lavie Tidhar

The Bookman
395 pages
ISBN-13: 9780007346585

To put it plainly, this novel offers a smorgasbord of steampunk goodness. Zeppelins, automatons, floating islands, cannon-fired space flight, lizard people, and a countless array of literary cameos from the Victorian and Edwardian eras. Oh, and somewhere in all that there is a sweeping adventure.

Orphan is a young poet, hopelessly in love with Lucy, who is set to take part in the launching ceremony of the first venture in unmanned spaceflight. But, a notorious terrorist known only as the Bookman sabotages the launch, killing Lucy and others in the process. From there, Orphan finds himself recruited to track down the Bookman and stop him before he does even more harm.

The story is set in an alternate universe in which real life figures from history, such as Karl Marx and Jack the Ripper, share the stage intermittently with authors of the time, like Jules Verne and Rudyard Kipling, as well as famed literary characters, such as Sherlock Holmes and Moriarty (who is the British Prime Minister). It's a kind of kaleidoscope effect that dazzles the reader, but also serves as a distraction from what I feel is a rather riding-the-rails storyline.

Orphan is a kind of chosen character, the type of "you're our only hope, Obi Wan!" kind of hero. But, if you watch his actions through the story, you might notice that he isn't chasing after his goals so much as he's being batted about Tidhar's universe like a ping pong ball, being pushed along from one discovery to the next. It was a kind of Alice in Wonderland effect, in my opinion. It didn't feel like it as I was reading, but when I finished the book I thought back and wondered, what exactly did Orphan do besides play someone else's pawn, pushed across the board as if someone was prodding his back with a stick?

Perhaps, an early scene in which Orphan plays chess with "the Turk" is meant to act as a prelude to his adventure and the role he plays in it.

It is a remarkably elaborate plot, considering the cast of characters and cameos, and the numerous twists did entertain me, but ultimately it felt less impactful because of Orphan seemingly being led along by a leash through much of the story.

There is a sequel in the works called Camera Obscura, which apparently picks up where The Bookman very neatly leaves off, so I'll be looking forward to reading that and seeing if I might better appreciate a book heralded as one of the best steampunk novels to be published in the last few years.