May 31, 2011

Rabid Reads: "The Woman" by Jack Ketchum & Lucky McKee


The Woman
by Jack Ketchum and Lucky McKee

Jack Ketchum has taken a turn or two into the realm of supernatural horror, but the vast majority of his work is firmly rooted in the real world. The man knows how to plumb the darkest elements of the mundane, amplify them, and hurl them full-force into your face as you read his work. But, how does the guy who offers a veritable masterpiece in The Girl Next Door fare when collaborating with the likes of Lucky McKee on a novel and film?

Chris Cleek, an authoritative family man, stumbles upon a wild woman bathing in a woodland stream while he's out taking his gun for a walk. Entranced by her existence, he's immediately drawn to her and sets out to capture her and confine her within the basement of his home. His stated goal is to domesticate her, to civilize her. But, even his wife, Bell, and three children, Brian, Peggy, and Darleen, something is else is going on with disturbing addition to the household.

On the other side of the coin, the Woman is savage and primal in nature, and sees Cleek for what he is: a threat. Not only do we see her through the family's eyes, but we also see them through her eyes. She sees the complicit nature of the wife, the burgeoning menace of the son, and the fearful signs of pregnancy in the eldest daughter.

In fact, as the story progresses, it becomes more and more a story of the eldest daughter, Peggy. She's pregnant, but has kept it secret from everyone to a point of absurdity as she wears baggy sweaters and ostracizes herself from family and friends. When a teacher at the school approaches her in an effort to reach out and help her through the ordeal, she panics instead of sighs a breath of relief. The teacher wants to tell her parents, but for Peggy that is simply not an option. The teacher doesn't drop the matter though, and eventually threatens to bring Peggy's world crashing down--if the Woman chained in the fruit cellar doesn't do it first.

The first two acts of his novel avoid the more extreme elements of the subject matter, instead establishing the stakes, the behaviors of the characters, and the setup for an inevitable showdown. It's the third act, however, that throws the playbook out the window and goes full-bore. There was a bit of a speed bump for me with regards to the teacher and her prospective involvement with the family, which felt like a forced play by Ketchum and McKee. I may have to re-read that part sometime, but regardless of whether I'm right or wrong on that point, it did nothing to detract from the intensity and haunting nature of the story.

I remember a few months back there was a bit of controversy over the film adaptation when it was screened at--I believe--Sundance, labeled "misogynistic" and "abhorrent" by a couple of cranky audience members (viewable for a good laugh on YouTube), If the film can stay reasonably loyal to the source material though, and given it's directed by one of the authors I see no reason why it shouldn't, I would very much like to see the movie and find out if it's as chilling on screen as it is on the page.

May 30, 2011

Rabid Rewind: Tron: Legacy


Tron: Legacy
starring Jeff Bridges, Garrett Hedlund, Olivia Wilde, Michael Sheen, and Bruce Boxleitner
directed by Joseph Kosinski
screenplay by Adam Horowitz, Steven Lisberger, Edward Kitsis
Walt Disney Pictures (2010)

Last year, I re-watched a childhood favorite to see if it held up after all this time. Tron was a movie that captivated me when I was a boy, but I only ever saw it the once. So, I sat down and viewed it--then I reviewed it. The abbreviated review: it didn't hold up.

After seeing the initial teasers for Tron: Legacy a year or so ago, I was salivating to see it, but it would be months before it hit theaters. So, I did the next best thing and hunted down the original. Oh man, what a disappointment that was. After watching that, I was considerably less enthused about a sequel, regardless of how advanced the CGI was going to be. The story from the first movie was kind of crap, really, and I expected the same from the sequel. So, I waited until now to watch it on DVD.

Turns out the sequel is better than the original in not only the special effects, but the story is more tightly woven and believable this time around--as believable as a movie about getting sucked into a video game can be.

Since this movie takes place some thirty years after the events of the first movie, it tries to do what it can to act as a stand-alone tale and offer direct links to the original. Flynn (Bridges), the hero of the first film, is gone, mysteriously vanishing one night in 1989 while working on a secret project for his technology company, Encom. Present day sees his grown son, Sam (Hedlund), summoned to Flynn's abandoned arcade via a mysterious page. When he goes there, he finds his father's secret project in a back room, a virtual game environment akin to the same one Flynn had been sucked into in the original film. Surprise, surprise, Sam gets sucked into the game world and subsequently goes on an adventure in this dystopian virtual world--all too similar to the adventure Flynn went on thirty years prior.

And that's about it. It's feels less like a Tron sequel than a reboot of the franchise, basically telling the same story with fancier graphics and more bombastic characters. Bridges plays double-duty, portraying a gray-haired Flynn trapped in the game world, as well as his youthful virtual counterpart turned nemesis, CLU. While I have heard people marvel about the CGI used to turn back the clock on Jeff Bridges' facial features, but I found it to be a mixed bag. Some scenes with CLU play rather seamlessly and it's easy to believe that this is an actual character, but I found more scenes showed the limits of the technology and CLU looked like a real person with a video-game character's head pasted on top of his shoulders.

As for the lead actor, Garrett Hedlund, I thought he had all the charisma of a wet boot. With competent to remarkable performances from the likes of Jeff Bridges, Bruce Boxleitner, Olivia Wilde, and an especially David Bowian performance from Michael Sheen, Hedlund came off as a poor choice as the protagonist, making it really hard to care about Sam as a character, let alone root for him to win the day.

The visual effects are most certainly dazzling, effectively distract from the questions raised by a frenetic plot. The big question of how CLU sends the page into the real world to lure Sam in the first place is never answered satisfactorily, which nagged at me through the whole movie. Still, when I shut my brain off to that plot hole, the rest of the movie is quite enjoyable.

At the end of the day, I don't think this movie is going to carry as much weight as the original over time, nor will it outshine James Cameron's Avatar as a visual 3D feast, but I am far more likely to re-watch Tron: Legacy than I am either Avatar or the original Tron.

May 27, 2011

Chasing Tale in May (Digital Edition): Jeff Bennington, Duane Swierczynski, Dave Zeltserman ...

I may not have an e-reader, but that sure hasn't stopped me from buying e-books lately. I read them on my laptop, which is a might better than when I first started reading e-books off my old desktop computer with that old CRT monitor--mothersmuckers, that was hard on the eyes! Nowadays, I use the Kindle for PC app, which is far and away better than reading a PDF. I also have the Nook for PC app installed for when I have EPUB files to read, but those are rare occurrences.

I prefer Amazon.com over BN.com because there's just no hassle at all when I use gift cards to buy e-books there, as opposed to the miserable experience I had trying to redeem a gift card on B&N's site. It didn't take long to see why Amazon is dominating. I just wish there were e-readers besides the Kindle that could read their e-books, because I hate the proprietary nature of the device.

So, onto the book collecting. I bought a couple on the Kindle Store, got a couple review copies, and a couple freebies. I recently signed up as an Amazon associate too, so if you're interested in purchasing any of these Kindle books, simply click on the title and authors name (Book Title by Author's Name), and you'll go straight to that book's Amazon.com details page.

Reunion by Jeff Bennington - I'm not sure where I first heard about this book--maybe Scott Nicholson's blog or maybe it was on Twitter. At any rate, Jeff has been on a blog tour for a couple of months promoting this supernatural thriller. Part of the promotion was a Kindle giveaway (nice), and the other part was offering the e-book for a scant 99 cents (very nice).


The Damned Busters by Matthew Hughes - I received an advance review copy of this sci-fi novel. It's got an interesting hook, and a great looking cover. Considering it's published through Angry Robot Books, there's a fairly good chance I'll enjoy it since I've been lucky thus far reading their publications.

Heaven in Hell (Dead Man #3) by Lee Goldberg and William Rabkin - I may not rush out and buy any of Lee Goldberg's Monk novels (not a fan of the show), but I'm definitely on the bandwagon for this Dead Man series he and William Rabkin have spearheaded. This third installment was released in early May, and I'll be offering my review of it sometime in the next couple of weeks.


The Gospel of Bucky Dennis by J.R. Parks - Thanks to Paperback Horror, I caught wind of this e-book, which was free for a week. I have no idea who J.R. Parks is, what this book is about, but if it's good enough for [name], then it's good enough for me.


The Black God's War by Moses Siregar III - John Ottinger, who runs a great sci-fi blog called Grasping for the Wind, pointed me towards a free novella being offered by the author, which acts as a precursor to an epic fantasy. I keep trying to warm up to epic fantasy, but so far I've found them to be too ... well ... epic. Perhaps a novella will charm me more than the 700 page novels that seem so popular in the genre.


Fun and Games by Duane Swierczynski - This is another digital arc of a book due for release in early June, so expect my review to coincide with it. I heart crime fiction more and more, and it looks like Swierczynski could wind up being a go-to guy in the future. I've ordered his 2009 novel, Severance Package, which was heralded by quite a few whose recommendations I trust.


Blood Crimes (Book One) by Dave Zeltserman - My blog roll is crazy long, but one of the places I try to visit every week is The Man Eating Bookworm. Thanks to Peter and his blog, I discovered Dave Zeltserman was offering the first book in a new series on the Kindle Store until the end of May for only 99 cents. I read Zeltserman's novel, The Caretaker of Lorne Field, earlier in the year, so I'm well aware of how talented a storyteller he is. With that in mind, a buck was nothing short of a bargain.


The Zombie Feed Vol. 1 by Jason Sizemore (editor) - It wasn't all that long ago I read and reviewed Asylum by Mark Allen Gunnells, which was the first release from Apex's imprint, The Zombie Feed. Well, Jason Sizemore has a collection of stories out now, which looks to be quite promising. Fingers crossed.


Those are my e-book finds. What have you added to your e-reader lately?

May 26, 2011

Rabid Rewind: "Inception"


Inception
starring: Leo DiCaprio, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ken Watanabe, Ellen Page, and Cillian Murphy
written & directed by: Christopher Nolan
Warner Bros. (2010)

If you've seen Inception, chances are pretty good that you end up on one of two teams: Team Loved-It or Team Hated-It. Because, you either thought this was one of the trippiest, gamechanging-est pieces of cinema to come along in recent years. Or, you think this was one of the most convoluted, schizophrenic pieces of tripe to hit the screen since The Matrix sequels.

As for me, I am on Team Loved-It, but I recognize that writer/director Christopher Nolan used up a lot of capital with the loyalties of movie-goers with this movie. It's an alienating film, because it doesn't just demand your attention the whole way through, but it wags its finger at you if you so much as blink and lose your place in the story. I'm pretty sure I'm the last guy to get around to seeing this film, but just in case, I'll keep this spoiler free for anyone living in bunkers in Montana waiting for the Chinese to taker over--or President Obama to present his birth certificate. Those boys don't get out much.

Leo plays Dom Cobb, an extractor. He and his cohorts steal information from people, but they pilfer the information by breaking into the target's subconscious mind during a dreaming state, as a sci-fi version of corporate espionage. Think of him as a bank robber who breaks into dreams rather than banks. Then, they are tasked with planting an idea in someone's mind, rather than taking one away. A process called "inception" and is considered impossible, but Cobb believes he can do it. His motivation isn't purely for money though, as the corporate mogul who has hired his team (Watanabe) promises to get his criminal record cleared so he can return to the U.S. and be with his children again.

Leo's performance is engrossing, if also familiar, and offers up another tortured soul as the hero, which seems to be a pastiche with this guy. While he does good, and Ellen Page plays the role of a new recruit with a talent for constructing dreams quite well, it's Joseph Gordon-Levitt who steals the show in my opinion. On one hand, I marvel at how the kid from Third Rock from the Sun has turned into such a talented dramatic actor, and on the other hand I am befuddled how he is not Hollywood's new leading man.

The special effects are amazing, done so in such a way that the screen feels saturated with them at times. The last five years especially have seen some truly remarkable leaps forward in CGI melded with practical effects, so much so that it comes off as seamless, and it has a spoiling effect when watching other films. I recently watched Knight & Day, which is a prime example of how less than stellar CGI effects can suck you out of a movie. Inception has no such issues, and you wind up feeling at points like you've fallen down the rabbit hole right along with the characters.

I'm not equipped to dive into the nitty-gritty of the sci-fi elements in this movie, as I was just looking for a really good story. And I got it. I'm undecided if this is my favorite movie of 2010 now, but it's certainly in the running.

May 25, 2011

Wish List Wednesday #100: Matt Haig's "The Radleys"

I don't care if a book gets a lot of praise from mainstream book critics, like The Radleys by Matt Haig. I have never given those critics any more regard than I do for book bloggers or the anonymous mob that reviews on Amazon.com. It's word of mouth that will sway me into giving a book a chance, and that's what has perked my ear with The Radleys, because the word of mouth has been very favorable.

And that's what a book with vampires needs to get me the least bit interested these days. I haven't read as many vampire novels as most horror and dark fiction fans, but I've read enough that I need something that breaks from the norm. And a suburban setting with a British family who just happens to be vampires strikes me as a book that diverges from the conventional wisdom of vampire lore. The parents have always known, but their two teenage children are only realizing they are different. It sounds utterly fascinating to me.

Have you heard of this book? Have you read it by any chance? Are you, perhaps, sick of vampires?

Splash Into Summer Giveaway: #SupportTheLittleGuy


I've hosted a few book giveaways on this blog, but this is my first blog hop. These things are always a fun way to discover blogs--and win a book or two if you're lucky.

So, for this time around I am offering a few books as prizes from authors you may not have heard of, but show a great deal of promise. On Twitter, author Brandon Layng started a campaign called #SupportTheLittleGuy as a way for readers and writers to help get the word out on up-and-coming authors in need of whatever exposure they can get. I like that sentiment, not only as an obscure writer, but because I have discovered a great number of talented storytellers through word of mouth on blogs and Twitter that I would otherwise likely never have discovered.

So, I have two giveaways: one is fantasy and science-fiction, the second is for the horror fans.

Giveaway #1: Push of the Sky by Camille Alexa and Strange Men in Pinstripe Suits by Cate Gardner

These two authors know how to blend weird and wonderful in their stories. Each short story collection offers a great glimpse at what we can expect in the future from these two. For a closer look, you can read my reviews of each collection by clicking on the following links: Push of the Sky; Strange Men in Pinstripe Suits.


Giveaway #2: 52 Stitches by Aaron Polson and Courting Morpheus by Jodi Lee

If you're looking for something a little darker in your short fiction, here are two anthologies that may be just what the doctor ordered. Aaron Polson brings together fifty-two pieces of flash fiction all with a clear horror vibe, while Jodi Lee offers up a slew of authors all using her fictional town of New Bedlam as the backdrop for their sinister tales. You can read my reviews of these anthologies by clicking on the following links: 52 Stitches; Courting Morpheus.

And, after you've thrown your name in the hat for one-or-both of these prizes, be sure to check out the other giveaways taking place this week. There are well over 300 blogs participating, so you're bound to find a few giveaways that will appeal to you. Good luck!

THE RULES: If you live in Canada or the United States you're eligible, so simply fill out the form below and that is it. Too easy, right? You don't even have to be a follower of this blog to be eligible, though it is appreciated. So, what are you waiting for?

Giveaway ends on May 31st at midnight, and the winners will be announced on June 1st.



May 24, 2011

Rabid Reads: "Fun & Games" by Duane Swierczynski

Fun & Games
Mulholland Books (June 2011)
ISBN 9780316133289
Purchase via: Amazon / Book Depository

Hollywood has its own mythology, or maybe it's just really good at revamping the mythologies of other places with a lot of glitz. In either case, Duane Swierczynski has concocted a novel, the first of a trilogy it turns out, that taps into the kind of conspiracy-laden thrill rides only Hollywood could call its own.

Take a washed-out Hollywood starlet, Lane Madden, and put her behind the wheel of a fast car in one of the richer sections of L.A., then have a crew of killers try to run her off the road to make it look like an accident. The killers: a fabled organization called "The Accident People." They're the people who are offing politicians and celebrities in such a way to appear accidental, but still leave a few onlookers wondering if maybe something else is at play.

On the other side of the coin is Charlie Hardie, a retired cop-of-sorts turned house-sitter to the wealthy. The biggest thing on his plate is pitching his tent at his next gig, watching old movies, and getting shitfaced. So when he gets to L.A. on the same day Lane Madden breaks into the house he's hired to look after, inadvertently putting him between her and her would-be assassins, sufficed to say everyone's day is ruined.

The sheer amount of ass this novel kicked cannot be measured. When I started into this book, I was in the mood for a hard-boiled, relentless piece of pulp. I'd been getting a good dose of it this spring from the likes of Jeff Strand, Lee Goldberg, and Joe R. Lansdale, but Swierczynski managed to up the ante with this one. The pace is quick, and punctuated by shifting points of view between Charlie, Lane, as well as a gorgeous ringleader named Mann and her gang of techno-savvy thugs. A scene barely has time to end before a twist is thrown in and the characters are scrambling to recover and start the cat-and-mouse all over again. Well, "cat-and-mouse" might be too delicate a term for the kind of utter torture Charlie and other characters are put through in the course of this novel. Maybe "profanity-laden meatgrinder" would be apt.

The layers of mystery within the story is surprising, as certain things are held back from you as the reader for the sake of intrigue and suspense, and once certain details are revealed, some new question is raised that has you wondering how far down the rabbit hole this thing goes. While the book can be accused of being convoluted, it's done in such a way that it's hard not to appreciate the lengths to which it has been laid out for your enjoyment.

There was only one niggling detail concerning the climax of the story that irked me. I won't go into details, because I don't want to spoil anything for folks tempted to read this book, but there is something about how the book plays out in the end that sucked me out of the story immediately and threatened to ruin the entire experience. Fortunately, it didn't become an overriding factor, and I still walked away from this book utterly satisfied and salivating at the chance to read its sequel, Hell and Gone. This just might be my new favorite novel of the year.

May 23, 2011

Rabid Reads: "The Summoner" by Layton Green


The Summoner
Gryphon Works (2010)
ISBN: 1456546864 (e-book)

The Summoner is one of those sweeping thriller novels with a tightly wound mystery and plenty of suspense. I guess you could lump it in with a Dan Brown novel, a la The Da Vinci Code, but the one Dan Brown novel I read was interminable, and I've frankly been soured on this type of story ever since my first taste. Layton Green's offering, however, has kind of won me over to a degree, and offers a glimpse of what I could expect if I continue to give this kind of thriller novel a chance.

The story revolves around Dominic Grey, a security agent who specializes with diplomats and other government entities. He is in Zimbabwe to investigate the disappearance, as a U.S. diplomat vanished during a secret religious ceremony in the outback outside the city of Harare. Aided by cult expert, Viktor Radek, and a gorgeous government liaison, Nya Mashumba, Grey has navigate the tumultuous political and cultural climate of Zimbabwe, as well as avoid becoming a target by a dangerous religious sect himself.

Aside from a backdrop that is fairly new to me--can't remember reading any stories set in Zimbabwe--The Summoner plays the supernatural angle very well, teasing there is more to the superstitions and practices of the cult Grey investigates. In fact, there is a miniature history lesson in religions and cults laid out in this books pages that thankfully doesn't come off as dry and dull. There's nothing worse than getting smacked over the head by a lot of info dumping, when it comes to subject matter than is likely alien to the casual reader, but Layton Green manages to find the balance and through Dominic Grey's eyes we gradually learn about things and the threats they pose.

The pacing is pretty good, building tension and plenty of proverbial road blocks thrown in Grey's way, though I found some of the dialogue a bit flat at times. Overall though, the characters come through nicely, and I particularly found Professor Radek to be the one I gravitated towards the most--probably because he was the expert on religious phenomena and offers those juxtapositions between the known and the unknown.

The climax is a very good pay off, in my opinion, and while it doesn't traipse into gory territory, there is one scene late in the novel where a person in essentially skinned alive that was absolutely gruesome. And, it looks like Green has his eyes on turning Dominic Grey into a recurring character in novels, as there is apparently a sequel in the works. Don't get worried about cliffhangers or unresolved endings though, as the book works perfectly as a stand-alone novel.

Thriller fans should be in for a treat with this one, and I'd say anyone looking for a suspenseful mystery with a relatively unique setting could find some real entertainment in this book's pages as well. Heck, even supernatural horror fans like me might want to take a chance on it, just to try something that is not their usual brand of reading. I'm unsure if I'll dedicate myself to the sequel and possible series of Dominic Grey novels, since I'm hip deep in so many series already, but I certainly won't count it out as a possibility.

CymLowell

May 20, 2011

Rabid Rewind: "Let Me In"


Let Me In
starring Kodi Smith-McPhee, Chloe Moretz, Elias Koteas, and Richard Jenkins
written and directed by Matt Reeves
based on the book by John Ajvide Lindqvist

Matt Reeves is responsible for one of the most unenjoyable movies I've seen in the last ten years, Cloverfield. Now, he's responsible for one of my very favorite movies of the last ten years, Let Me In.

I've already reviewed the novel written by John Lindqvist, and even the original Swedish film adaptation, so I don't feel I need to dive too deeply into the setup. Long story, short: A bullied young boy befriends a new girl in his tenement who turns out to be a vampire. With me so far? Good.

Two things stick out for me with regards to this movie. For one, the casting is pretty much perfect. Cody Smit-McPhee (The Road), plays Oscar, a tormented boy living with his divorcee mother and feels utterly alone and helpless. Then, there is Chloe Moretz (Kick-Ass) who plays Eli, a mysterious girl who moves into the tenement with who Oscar presumes is her father. The interplay between these two characters, while not quite as enigmatic as in the Swedish film is incredibly gripping. To further bolster the cast is Elias Koteas as the detective investigating the string of murders in the area, Richard Jenkins as the man Eli lives with and acts essentially as an errand boy for her. For the two kids to hold their own in scenes with such accomplished character actors like Koteas and Jenkins is truly remarkable. I wonder if these kids will continue to steal scenes in the future or if they'll disappear from the limelight like other promising child actors--anyone heard from Haley Joel Osmant lately?

The second thing that stick out for me is the omitted subject matter that didn't make it from the book to the film. There is a teenage boy who is not touched upon, and the middle-aged drunkards are nearly non-existent, only touched upon in one key scene compared to the fully-fleshed subplot of the book. And the relationship between Oscar and his father is relegated to a single scene involving a phone call. The movie is even more streamlined than the Swedish adaptation, and the weird thing was that it didn't bother me in the least. The story is condensed to the most important core elements and winds up becoming all the better a movie for doing it.

I can't even remember now what my favorite horror film of 2010 was before I saw Let Me In. All I know is that this is my pick as the top film of the 2010, now. Watch it.

May 19, 2011

Rabid Reads: "Strange Men in Pinstripe Suits" by Cate Gardner

Strange Men in Pinstripe Suits
Strange Publications (2010)
191 pages
ISBN 9780982026649
Purchase via: Amazon / Kindle

I won a copy of the erotic horror anthology, Cthulhurotica, from Cate Gardner back in March, along with which, she sent me a copy of her own short story collection, Strange Men in Pinstripe Suits. Well, as curious as I was to see what Cthulhurotica had to offer, I was even more curious to finally dive into a heaping pile of Cate's short fiction, as I've enjoyed the stories of hers that I've found across the internet with various online magazines.

If you're unfamiliar with her work, I guess you could say she specializes in the weird, because many of her stories are told in such a way as if you're seeing them through a funhouse mirror. "Fantasy" is a broad brush that might not do her work justice, so I'll stick with "weird."

There's over twenty stories in this collection, of varying lengths and styles. After a nice introduction from Nathaniel Lambert, the book kicks off with a one page story called "Dandelion Fluff" that works well to set the tone for the rest of the book.

A few of the standout stories for me were "The Forest of Discarded Hearts", "The Sulphurous Clouds of Lucifer Matches", "Frog and the Mail Order Bride", "The Moth Brigade", and "Trench Foot". Some stories have been published before, like "Trench Foot", which I first read online at Fantasy Magazine, while others are brand new, appearing for the first time in this collection's pages. If I had to pick a favorite, I'd likely go with "The Moth Brigade" for its blend of science-fiction and fantasy--and I'm a sucker for a good robot story.

So many of the stories have a whimsical feel to them, they border on the surreal. And what stories don't start off with a feeling of falling down the proverbial rabbit hole, carry the sensation of having already face-planted into Wonderland with a resounding thwap. Cate's stories are invariably fun to read and I look forward to when she starts cranking out the longer works, as well.


CymLowell

May 18, 2011

Wish List Wednesday #99: Blake Crouch's "Run"


I am only familiar with Blake Crouch through his collaborations with J.A. Konrath (aka Jack Kilborn) on the dueling-killers novella, Serial, and the high-octane vampire thriller, Draculas. I am curious to see what the guy's work is like when he's writing solo. He's got a library of books to his credit already, but he recently came out with a self-published thriller that is being touted as his best work yet.

Run is a succinct title, as the story is about a man and his family on the run from a landscape filled with remorseless killers. The premise feels vaguely like Stephen King's The Running Man, except it's not a game show. The country has gone to hell and the murderers and psychopaths are taking over.

I'm not sure, but I think this might be the first self-published novel I've featured on this little Wish List Wednesday meme. It's about time, since I have been reading some self-published e-books over the last year or so and I've been fortunate in separating the wheat from the chaff. I figure Crouch's novel will be another instance of reading the best of what self-published authors have to offer.

How about you? Read Blake Crouch's work before? What did you think?

May 17, 2011

Rabid Reads: "Ring of Knives" by James Daniels


Dead Man: Ring of Knives (The Dead Man #2)
by James Daniels
Adventures in Television, Inc. (2011)
ASIN: B004ULVRKC
Purchase for Amazon Kindle

I read and reviewed the first novella in The Dead Man series, Face of Evil, back in March and thoroughly enjoyed it (click here to read that review). I basically summed it up as a book version to a strong season premiere of a very promising TV show. So, now that I've read the second book in the series, Ring of Knives, does the series hold onto its momentum, or does it falter?

Matthew Cahill is now a vagabond, following the events of Face of Evil, with an innate sixth sense that allows him to literally see the evil simmering in people under the influence of an evil force he knows as Mr. Dark. It's not exactly a gift though, since he seems to be a magnet for evil now, and the evil people in the world appear to him with rotting, festering, disgusting features. And, when Matt winds up at the Carthage Mental Health Center, he finds himself surrounded by evil.

He's there to meet with a doctor who treated a patient with a similar ability to Matt's, though the other guy was labeled crazy and placed in a padded room. And, Matt half-wonders if he might be crazy, too. When he arrives at the health center though, the patient has been transferred and the doctor is up and gone. After forming an unlikely--and temporary--bond with one of the employees, Matt learns that the doctor isn't gone--he's been committed.

While I'm not sure how well Ring of Knives works as a stand-alone, it is definitely a strong follow-up to Face of Fear. James Daniels tapped into the Matt Cahill character quite well, and offered up a great dilemma as Matt investigates a mental patient with a similar affliction to his own and the ominous facility where he was housed. An insane asylum isn't exactly a unique backdrop for a horror or suspense tale, but there was enough there in a tightly woven novella to give it its own flavor.

There were moments where it felt a bit by the numbers, but that was during the first half of the book. By the time the story passed the halfway mark, all bets were off, and the climax was a nice pay off.

If Ring of Knives accomplishes one thing without question, it is the fact that The Dead Man is a book series worth reading, with a base level established in terms of tone and quality. I won't go so far as to say it's as good or better than Face of Fear, but it's close enough to make a satisfying read and hungry for the next installment The third book in the series, Hell in Heaven, will be out very soon--if it's not already released--with Lee Goldberg and William Rabkin back in at the helm, and I am definitely on board for that one.

CymLowell

May 16, 2011

What Book(s) Should I Giveaway Next Week?

On May 25th, I'll be taking part in the Spring into Summer blog hog, hosted by I Am A Reader, Not A Writer and Page Turners Blog. Over 250 blogs will be taking part, with giveaways for books, gift cards, swag, and more.

As for me, I'll be giving away a book or two--but I need help.

My problem is that I'm still undecided on which book to giveaway. I could offer a book of choice via Book Depository, or a specific book I want to highlight--maybe one I've reviewed in 2011--or I could round up five books from my own bookshelf and give those away.

I want opinions from you, since you might want to throw your name in the hat when it's time. Would you want to vie for a horror novel, or something from urban fantasy, or how about a book or two from authors you might not be familiar with?

A #SupportTheLittleGuy giveaway would likely include: Push of the Sky by Camille Alexa, Strange Men in Pinstripe Suits by Cate Gardner, Courting Morpheus by Jodi Lee (editor), and 52 Stitches by Aaron Polson (editor).

An urban fantasy giveaway would likely include: Sandman Slim by Richard Kadrey, an ARC of King's Justice by Maurice Broaddus, The Secret History of Moscow by Ekaterina Sedia, and City of Ashes by Cassandra Clare.

Let me know and on May 25th I'll announce what the prize will be.

May 14, 2011

Rabid Rewind: "The Last Exorcism"


The Last Exorcism
starring Patrick Fabian, Louis Herthum, and Ashley Bell
directed by Daniel Stamm
written by Huck Botko & Andrew Gurland
Alliance Films (2010)

This film isn't as good as The Exorcist--fine, but I don't think it's trying to be, so let's put that little gripe to bed.

When it comes to the fake-documentary style movies, it takes some slick work to get me to enjoy the story. The Blair Witch Project and Paranormal Activity did it well, in my opinion--not to mention District 9--while I absolutely hated Cloverfield, and I didn't much care for Quarantine, either. One of the keys to a good movie that uses the conceit of a documentary style is creating characters that the audience will root for, will actually care about. The Last Exorcism accomplishes this remarkably well, I thought.

If you haven't seen it, the plot is fairly simple. A preacher (Fabian), brought up from childhood to be one, no longer has faith, especially in the ways of exorcisms. But, he has grown weary of his profession, lost his faith--and his son--and wants to expose exorcisms as frauds, which is why he hires a two-person documentary crew to join him on his next exorcism. What he decides will be his last exorcism before leaving the church altogether.

A teenage girl named in Louisiana is suspected to be possessed by a demon, as she has been behaving strangely and livestock has been slaughtered on the isolated farm. The father is a Christian fundamentalist to a bizarre degree, shunning even the local church for not being religious enough, and the brother is harboring resentment towards religion, his alcoholic father, and all outsiders. And Ashley, she's just as polite and cute as a button. The pastor goes through the motions and shows the camera crew how he exploits the family and tricks them with into thinking he has excised the supposed demon.

It goes off without a hitch, he gets paid, the camera crew gets some great footage, and they're on their merry way into the sunset. But, the girl winds up at their motel in the middle of the night in a catatonic state--with no knowledge of where they were staying or how she walked five miles to get there. After that, things start to escalate and the pastor and the camera crew suspect there is something more sinister going on at the house, possibly involving the father.

There is a good amount of tension through most of the movie, which plays well as two possible scenarios are posited. Either the girl is psychologically damaged, repressing some traumatic events involving her father, or maybe she really is possessed.

The acting is good, a bit tinny in spots, but nothing is done over the top with regards the performances, I thought. Special effects are minimal, keeping things feeling very real and organic. The camera work gets a bit distracting in spots with the hurky-jerky stuff, but nothing close to nausea inducing like other movies. There are moments when they are scrambling around in the dark with only the light atop the camera to guide them, and those are somewhat annoying, but forgivable.

A good, little horror movie that I think got a bit too much grief from the anti-Eli Roth crowd. If you are in the mood for a demonic possession movie, and want something other than the mainstays, I'd recommend giving this one a chance.

May 12, 2011

10 Blogs That Heart Horror Fiction

For as vast as the blogosphere is, blogs dedicated to horror fiction are a rare find. Plenty of blogs for the paranormal romance crowd, and you can't take a step without tripping over a YA blog, but horror doesn't get a lot of play for some reason. Well, the genre is kind of a red-headed stepchild among the other genre orphans. I think there's a lot to like about the genre though, which is why my blog is dedicated to dark fiction.

I'm not alone, either. Here are ten other blogs for you to check out that offer their own perspective on horror, thrillers, dark fantasy, and the like--and each one has heart.

Darkeva's Dark Delights: Don't ask me where I first discovered her blog--maybe she discovered mine first. At any rate, Darkeva has a great blog full of reviews and interviews, all dedicated to horror and dark fantasy.

Dead in theSouth: I've been following Kent's blog for about as long as I've been blogging, myself. When he's not interviewing the best and brightest authors over at Cemetery Dance, he's throwing out his own opinions on books and movies.

Dollar Bin Horror: Rhonny Reaper has a great horror blog as far as I'm concerned. Of course, I'm a cheapskate, which works out well given the theme of her blog. But, when she's not highlighting bargains on horror movies, obscure and otherwise, she's bringing attention to some of the more off-the-beaten-path horror fiction around.

Ginger Nuts of Horror: Here you'll find some fantastic interviews and reviews of some of the grittiest and most visceral horror literature out today. Case in point, this interview with Nate Southard, in which I learn Deadite Press will be re-releasing Southard's novella, Just Like Hell.

Grade Z Horror: Good ol' Captain Murdock treated readers to Richard Laymon Month this past April. If you are in any way a fan of Laymon's work, I recommend you check that out. Or, any number of his book reviews. The guy can fish up some gruesome stuff from time to time.

Little MissZombie: Melissa has a fantastic blog for horror fans. And, she really outdid herself in February when she hosted Women in Horror Recognition Month with a slew of interviews with horror authors of the female persuasion.

The Man EatingBookworm: Peter can suss out quality horror like nobody's business. Lately, he's been especially good at highlighting books on the Kindle Store that don't suck. C'mon, you've seen what's on the Kindle Store. Trust Peter, he will rarely steer your wrong. For instance, his Blake Crouch Week.

Paperback Horror: Colum loves horror and it shows with his blog. He shines a light on the best of the genre, whether it be the bestsellers or hidden gems you might otherwise never have heard of. Just recently, he pointed me towards an author named J.R. Ward with an interesting novel titled, The Gospel of Bucky Dennis.

Read Horror: Michael Wilson is onto something with his blog. Reviews, previews, news, and more. The highlight might be his Meet The Author interviews, which highlight some of the new faces in horror these days.

Too Much HorrorFiction: If you're a fan of the horror novels of the past, particularly the 70s and 80s, then you'll want to pay a visit to Will's blog. Just ogling the old paperback covers of yesteryear is enough to make it worth checking out. But, the reviews offer a great insight into horror's past and how it relates to the present.


There you go, ten blogs for you to visit, assuming you haven't already. There are more out there, though. That's where you come in.

What blogs with a penchant for horror fiction do you visit? What would you recommend I add to my blog roll? I want horror, ladies and gentlemen, so lay it on me.

May 11, 2011

Wish List Wednesday #98: Gemma Files' "A Rope of Thorns"

I'm not sure how popular the weird western genre is, but I have a feeling it's one that I could really get into. Back in March, I won an e-book copy of Gemma Files' debut novel, A Book of Tongues, courtesy of The Ranting Dragon and Chizine Publications. So, I figured I had better put the sequel, A Rope of Thorns, on my wish list.

The Hexslinger series tells the story of Ed Morrow, a former Pinkerton agent turned gun-for-hire. Set in a western landscape, he is tasked with learning all he can about a magician--or hexslinger in this world--named Asher Rook who is hellbent on breaking the curse preventing hexslingers from consolidating their powers and unleashing an Aztec god's unholy army in the process.

The story goes a whole lot deeper than that, and this second book promises to bring even more goodness than the first.

Have you heard tell of this series? Sound like something you'd be interested in, too?

May 10, 2011

Rabid Reads: "Mental Shrillness" by Todd Russell + Interview (Blog Tour)


Mental Shrillness
by Todd Russell
(2011)

The rise of the e-book is remarkable for providing an outlet not only for authors to release their new works directly to the consumer, but it also offers a chance for authors to dust off some of their older works, too.

Todd Russell, in this modest collection of stories, offers five pieces of flash fiction originally published in the mid- to late-90s on a writers area of AOL, along with a 7,000 word short story published on the same AOL section as a flash fiction serial. It's a small collection presently being offered at a small price of ninety-nine cents. Regardless of price though, what does this collection have to offer?

The flash fiction is about what you would expect from bite-sized stories that average around 500 words. Each carries a rather sinister tone, some more effective than others in providing a chill down the spine. "Falling the Bobbitt Way" is probably the creepiest and most uniquely written among the bunch, with a real stomach-turning current running through it.

The meat of this collection, however, seems to lie in the longest story, "The Illusion". A husband finds himself pulled into a carnival world that traipses between reality and dreams, where he's trapped and slowly robbed of his own identity, and even risks drawing his wife into his mess. Carnival stories are a pretty easy sell when it comes to horror, and the story presented here is pretty good. Aside from a couple of scenes that felt muddled to me, it was a satisfying tale.

Overall, the collection feels too lean. I'm so accustomed to reading collections that cover a wide range of stories--even anthologizing a career at times. Mental Shrillness, by contrast, feels like a brief interlude that reminisces on Todd Russell's earliest work. While interesting to see stories like this pulled from obscurity and a bygone era of the Internet, I was quite literally hoping for more. What's included is okay, but may be better served over time as a piece of a broader collection of works.

 Direct link to Mental Shrillness Blog Tour:

CONTESTS:
Mental Shrillness Blog Tour CONTEST #1 information
Prize
: Win 1 of 6 Mental Shrillness ebooks, delivered via Smashwords coupon
Number of prizes
: *6* unique winners to be chosen randomly from the pool on Sunday, May 22, if more than six elligible entries. No purchase neccessary. Winners will be notified by email (the contest form will have a place to enter in email address).
How to enter
: collect Mental Shrillness Factoids at each blog tour stop and return here to answer the quiz questions (there will be a quiz posted below on May 15, 2011). If you score at least 75% on the quiz you'll be entered into the pool of possible winners to be chosen from random draw on Sunday May 22, 2011. The Mental Shrillness Factoids will either be mentioned in the comment area of the tour stop on the tour stop day OR will be inside the blog post on the tour stop day. The factoid will only come from the author or the blog host. There will be a total of 12 Mental Shrillness factoids shared. One per day, one per tour stop.
Contest eligibility ends:
Friday May 20, 2011
Prizes awarded
: Sunday May 22, 2011

Mental Shrillness Blog Tour CONTEST #2 information

Prize
: PDF version of flash fiction story written by Todd Russell during the same era as the stories in Mental Shrillnesss.
Number of prizes
: Unlimited
How to enter
: Leave at least one legitimate blog comment on each blog during the tour days and then return here and leave a comment using the Facebook comments form below with your name used at each blog. Once verified on May 22 you'll receive a PM through Facebook with download location for PDF of story
Contest eligibility ends:
Friday May 20, 2011
Prizes awarded
: Sunday May 22, 2011

INTERVIEW QUESTIONS for TODD RUSSELL:
  1. What prompted you to republish these stories? Was it as simple as wanting to avail them to a new audience?
  2. Compared to most collections I've read, this is an especially brief one. Was that intentional, to only release stories that were part of the AOL writing community? Do you intend to release similarly segmented collections?
  3. What do you consider the main draw for you towards writing flash fiction?
  4. How easy or hard do you find the transition from short fiction to long fiction?
  5. What writing communities, if any online, do you find yourself drawn to nowadays?
  6. What other works can readers expect to see from you down the line?

May 9, 2011

Rabid Reads: "A Book of Tongues (Hexslinger #1)" by Gemma Files

A Book of Tongues (Hexslinger #1)
by Gemma Files
Chizine Publications (2010)

Do you love a good western? Sure you do, but do you love evil westerns? Well, I think that's exactly what you're going to get when you read Gemma Files' debut novel, A Book of Tongues, whether you use that adjective in a complimentary manner or not.

The novel is set in a world set a couple of years after the American Civil War, but with one key difference from ours: it's populated by wielders of magic known as hexslingers. In this world, a Pinkerton agent named Morrow is tasked with infiltrating a criminal gang led by a hexslinger known as Reverend Rook. Rook, aided by his right-hand man and lover, Chess, isn't on some mere mission of petty theft and murder. The former preacher is haunted and under the influence of an Aztex goddess bent on reentering the world and bringing a few of her friends back as well.

That right there sounds like a simple enough setup for some good ol' pulpy western fun, but there's more to this story than just that. Heroes are pretty hard to come by in this novel, for one thing. Just about every major character we experience this story through has either some serious emotional baggage or just a mean-spirited streak running through them. There's also a strong "in over my head" vibe from both Morrow and Rook, as Morrow finds undercover work with the gang especially daunting when Chess' violent nature regularly rears up when out in public, and Rook's gradual discovery of what his magical powers are capable of doing and where they could lead offer a bleak future ahead of him.

The story comes off a bit disjointed in parts, not only with the switches between points of view that really affect the pace of the novel, but there are also these little preludes at the beginning of each of the three acts that feel quite disparate from the rest of the book. It's an engrossing read though, unhindered by the fade-to-black moments. Some of the language, particularly relating to the mythology was a stumbling block for me--but I'm a dullard with that sort of thing anyway. A real anglophone, I am. But on the other side of that coin is Files' way to weaving the dialogue and the narrative into a rich tapestry of this magical wild west. It feels utterly authentic, and by the time I reached the end of the book I was ready for more, which is just as well because the book clearly points the reader towards the next book, A Rope of Thorns.

I've read other reviews that express a certain discomfort, or simply surprise, as it relates to the unfiltered homosexuality that exists between Rook and Chess. I didn't really have any qualms with that at all. Frankly, I thought it was a nice change of pace from the cut-and-dry westerns I'm so used to watching or reading that make zero reference to gay characters, particularly genuine gay characters. In fact, the relationships between the magical elements of hexslingers and the sexuality demonstrated between them was a fascinating aspect of the novel.

For a debut novel, it's an ambitious yarn Gemma Files has spun, and is yet another example of Chizine's eye for stories off the beaten path. I'm looking forward to reading A Rope of Thorns, but all the previously published short story collections of Gemma Files, because this author is one to watch in the years ahead.

CymLowell

May 6, 2011

Rabid Reads: "King's Justice" by Maurice Broaddus

King's Justice (The Knights of Breton Court II)
by Maurice Broaddus
Angry Robots (2011)
416 pages
ISBN 9780857660824

I missed out on reading the first book in Broaddus' Knights of Breton Court series, King Maker, so when I won this ARC copy of the sequel via Goodreads, I wondered if I was going to be stepping into a book with no idea of the backstory. Thankfully, Broaddus sets the stage early on in the book by re-introducing the major players and the stakes leading from the first book into this one.

It also helps that the series is a non-too-subtle Arthurian legend with a modern day backdrop, so a little familiarity with who some of the characters represent and their relationships was a nice break.

Instead of King Arthur, we have King James White (I wonder if he is inspired from author Wrath James White, a collaborator with Broaddus on a novel called Orgy of Souls), along with his girlfriend, Lady G, and mentor of sorts and resident crazy man, Merle. The kingdom, as it stands, is a drug-infested section of Indianapolis called Breton Court. Gang violence has escalated to a degree that White has stepped in as a would-be peacemaker, but forces are at play to sabotage his efforts.

The cast of characters is a bit lengthy, but Broaddus kindly offers a list of the players at the beginning of the book, reminiscent to the start of stage plays. Definitely comes in handy when scenes switch and a new character enters, and I'm left wondering, "Wait, who is that again and in which gang or alliance are they connected?"

The fantasy element is a more understated than I had anticipated, but it is there and used to great effect. I mean, you can't have a real world setting and then have mystical battles waged in the middle a major American city. People might notice. Those with the magical abilities are relatively few, seemingly extensions from a bygone era with faeries and dwarves also making appearances.

Colvin, as the lead villain was an intriguing nemesis for King, as well as the contentious relationship he had with his sister, Omarosa (I still can't read that name without thinking of the crazy lady from The Apprentice). And some of the supporting characters are real treats, like Lee and Cantrell, a pair of mismatched police officers, and Naptown Red, a villain on the rise leading into the next book.

I liked the book, but I still think I would have had a better appreciation for it had I read King Maker first. So, I'll likely give this book a second chance when the third--and presumably final--book in the series, King's War, comes out. Then, I can read all three in a go and see the sweeping epic unfold in one fell swoop. I'm also even more inclined to look for Maurice Broaddus' other works, including the previously mentioned Orgy of Souls, his Dark Faith anthology, and another book with an enticing title, Devil's Marionette.
CymLowell