August 31, 2011

Chasing Tale for August 31st, 2011: Emma Donaghue, Richard Kadrey, Lucy A. Snyder ...

There is something wrong with Canada Post. That's the only conclusion I can come to, because an unusually high number of books addressed to me are not showing up in my mailbox. I ordered a book from Book Depository back in April and it never arrived until this month. Book Depository had to mail the book three times before I got that one copy. As you'll see, I received a few books in the mail, but there are even more that I should have received by now. And it seems I'm not the only one having trouble with Canada Post, because all you have to do is search #canadapost on Twitter and you'll see a litany of similar complaints from people and businesses.

Now, I don't blame the postal workers. I blame the people signing their paychecks, because they're the ones that locked those workers out in June and basically brought mail delivery to a screeching halt across the country. Then, once the postal workers were brought back on the job, they were left with the task of making up for lost time and weren't permitted sufficient overtime--I don't think they received any overtime at all, frankly. There are a ton of packages and letters sitting in some kind of limbo now, and there's no real guarantee those items will ever get to their destinations.

I remember Canada Post touting how it was a profitable and efficient business. This year, I'm left to wonder how that is possibly true, as I take each successfully mailed book to be its own small miracle.

Bah, enough of my bellyaching. Let's see what book actually did appear in my mailbox:

King Maker by Maurice Broaddus - I won this from Bryan Schmidt who oversees Twitter #SFFWRTCHT, which is a sci-fi/fantasy chat for writers/readers every week on Twitter. I've already read and reviewed the sequel to this book, King's Justice, and despite enjoying the book I felt like I'd appreciate it better if I read King Maker. Now I've got a copy at my disposal.

Room by Emma Donoghue - I'm hard-pressed to think of a book that was talked about more in literary circles last year as Room. While I am an unabashed genre fan, I do enjoy the literary side of things, and there is enough quirkiness to the premise of this book to intrigue me. So I consider myself fortunate to have won this copy from Redneck Girl.

Vampire Empire: The Greyfriar by Clay & Susan Griffith - I entered a trivia contest at the start of July, hosted by the podcasts, I Should Be Writing, SF Signal, and Adventures in SciFi Publishing. And, hey, I won something from Pyr Books. It's an alternate history tale with some sci-fi, fantasy, and horror elements thrown in, and it looks really promising.

Kill the Dead by Richard Kadrey - I have been looking forward to this one ever since I read Sandman Slim. The first book offers a great blend of urban fantasy with horror, and I suspect an equally rewarding experience with this novel. I talked about it a bit in Wish List Wednesday #88, and I have a strong feeling the third book in the series, Aloha from Hell, will be on my wish list in due time.

Spellbent by Lucy A. Snyder - I took Book Depository three tries to mail this book to me, but it finally arrived. Nobody bats a thousand, I guess. Anyway, I mentioned my interest in this book back in Wish List Wednesday #83, and it's nice to finally have it added to my to-be-read pile.

Cinema of Shadows by Michael West - Seventh Star Press has been branching out with a few new authors and novels over the last year, but this is the first instance I can recall where a novel has been all-out horror. Michael West's novel about a haunted theater and the paranormal investigators who skulk through it one night ought to be a fun read, as I'm a big fan of ghost stories.

And those are the books that arrived in August. What gems did you find in your mailbox this past month?

August 30, 2011

Rabid Reads: "Come Closer" by Sara Gran

Come Closer
by Sara Gran
Soho Press (2003)
168 pages
ISBN 1569473285

Sometimes a book recommendation is a real eye-opener. In this case, Robert Dunbar (author of The Pines and most recently Willy) recommended Come Closer in a comment thread in the Literary Horror group on Goodreads.com. I've never heard of Gran before, but I'm a sucker for a good haunting story--and Dunbar is a man of discerning tastes. As evidenced by what turned out to be a very quick, but highly engrossing tale of horror.

Amanda seemingly has it all. She's married to a loving husband, Ed, has a great burgeoning career as an architect, and just moved into a wonderful fixer-upper of a home. If only that infernal tap-tap-tap would stop.

The signs are all there to tell Amanda she is possessed apparently, but she doesn't recognize them. It starts with unexplainable occurrences. Her boss receives an obscenity-laced memo from her that she doesn't remember writing. She and her boss pass it off as a cruel prank played by someone else in the firm. She and Ed hear a phantom tapping noise in the walls that they cannot trace. They pass it off as as rattling pipes, or maybe even a mouse, but the noises only occur when Amanda is in the house. She starts having strange dreams too, about her childhood imaginary friend, Pansy, who served as a kind of security blanket in the wake of her mother's death. Pansy is back in her dreams now, but goes by a new name. Naamah.

Amanda is the one telling her story, all the while insisting that the danger Naamah posed was only visible in retrospect. It's easy to see things from her perspective, and placing yourself in her shoes, it's hard to say you could do things differently. Especially when the specter of a malevolent spirit hangs over her shoulder at all times. The mounting isolation and deprivation of her will is a slow and heartbreaking story to watch unfold--and Sara Gran tells it with great precision and panache.

The novel is short, easily finished in a single evening, and reads not unlike a diary. But it's told in such a way that you see things not only from Amanda's perspective, but from Ed's as well, as he is an unwitting witness to Amanda's possession, thinking it a mental breakdown. The disintegration of their relationship as the possession worsens may be the most terrifying part of the tale.

I'm not sure if Sara Gran is an author who has since more supernatural tales, but not matter what she writes, but thanks to Robert Dunbar's recommendation I want to read more.  

August 29, 2011

Rabid Rewind: Rope (1948)

Rope
starring James Stewart, John Dall, and Farley Granger
directed by Alfred Hitchcock
screenplay by Arthur Laurents
adapted from the play by Patrick Hamilton
Warner Bros. (1948)

Earlier in the summer, I had a hankering to watch a Hitchcock flick. Cate Gardner recommended Rope, which I had never seen, so I borrowed it from my library and reveled in some darkly witty suspense. And, hey, it had Jimmy Stewart to boot.

Sometimes I forget how remarkably dark some movies were in those days. The movie starts with Brandon (Dall) and Phillip (Granger) murdering a former classmate, David, by strangling him with a rope. Scene one, murder. How's that grab ya? What makes the act even more macabre is the fact they are hosting a dinner party in the same apartment that evening, which is to be attended by David's fiance Janet and his parents, and they've hidden the body inside a chest. Oh, and did I mention the chest is being used as the buffet table for the party? Yeah, that's creepy.

Brandon and Phillip--Brandon at least--hold the opinion of being superior human beings, above the normal laws of man. It's through their criminal act, and subsequent perversion of the corpse's interment, they hope to exert their superiority. The cheery on top of their actions comes from Brandon's invitation to their former university housemaster, Rupert Cadell (Stewart), to join the dinner party, the very person who instilled the idea that even murder could be condoned--even encouraged.

The party itself is dull and stuffy, at least in my view, with these well-off characters behaving so droll and flippant, which makes the idea their dining in the company of a corpse just a tad satirical. James Stewart is basically my eyes for this film, with his sardonic--maybe even disdainful--demeanor through much of the dinner. Like, I can't believe I willfully surround myself with these cads. He picks up on the nervous behavior of Phillip, who is getting drunker by the minute, and Brandon, who seems to be fiendishly conspiring to set up the dead guy's fiance--a woman he himself was dating years before--with her ex-boyfriend that was surreptitiously invited to the dinner.

While the movies plays out, Hitchcock films it in huge blocks of single camera shots. Remember Good Fellas and that long shot of them making their way into the restaurant through the back? Well, imagine a whole movie filmed like that. The technology was a bit of an obstacle in more ways than one for Hitchcock apparently, because he not only was limited by only capturing scenes ten minutes at a time, but because the camera was one of the first technicolor cameras it was the size of a Buick. While the camera was rolled around the set following characters around the soundstage, walls and set pieces had to be moved and replaced, making the whole filming process some kind of strange stagehand ballet. The DVD extra included with this movie was as engaging to watch as the film itself with revelations like that.

As for the movie, it's probably a bit dry to today's audiences. But with such a captivating backstory on how it was made, and Hitchcock's own proclivities towards filmmaking, I really enjoyed the movie. The undertone of homo-eroticism in the movie didn't seem like a big deal at all to me, and had I not known of that little controversy ahead of time, probably would have ignored it altogether. I mean, I can see it if you want to pick the movie apart like that, but whether Brandon and Phillip were gay lovers or not seemed inconsequential to me. They were villains either way.

I'd definitely recommend the movie to anyone who hasn't seen it, and it has definitely got me hankering to watch more of Hitchcock's work. I'll have to look up his IMDB or something and see which movie he directed after this one. Maybe I'll try to watch them in chronological order, excluding the films preceding this one--unless you can offer up a recommendation in the comments section.

August 27, 2011

Rabid Reads: "The Egyptian" by Layton Green


The Egyptian
by Layton Green
First Ward 2011 e-book edition

Sometimes a book with an iconic setting will come along at a point when that particular region is experiencing some sort of turmoil, and in a way it kind of dates the book. In one sense, Layton Green's latest novel, The Egyptian, suffers from the uproar earlier this year in Egypt, which saw it's former ruler Mubarek thrown out of office and arrested for crimes against humanity. Fortunately, The Egyptian, doesn't focus on the politics of the region, but instead focuses intently on the cultural and historical aspects of Egypt, so political strife in the real world doesn't really hinder the storyline. And, frankly, it doesn't look like the media is paying much attention to Egypt anymore, so what does it matter?

The Egyptian is a follow-up novel to Layton's debut novel, The Summoner (click here to read my review), featuring special forces agent Dominic Grey. It's a sequel of sorts, but the storyline hear doesn't require you to really have any familiarity with the events that occurred in The Summoner. Still set in Africa, The Egyptian concerns itself with a whole new threat. A biological research company has had some extremely secret and extremely innovative technology stolen from them, and rather that contact the authorities, they have hired Dominic Grey. But the head of the company is very secretive about the nature of what's been stolen, initially saying only that it was a vial of liquid, and when Grey finds out what it is he finds himself drawn once more into a dangerous world of the supernatural--a quest for the fountain of youth.

The book also introduces a new character named Jax, a mercenary who has his own agenda with relation to the acquisition of the technology. There was an good dictodomy between Grey and Jax, as each had very different motives and ethical boundaries around their conduct. I wouldn't be surprised to see these two character cross paths again, and I think it has the potential to liven up the storyline, as it did here. I also found the introduction of a journalist named Victoria to be a welcome addition to the cast in this story, and found her to be a much livelier and cheerable character than Grey's love interest in the first novel, Rya.

That said, with all the chills and spills, I wasn't as engrossed in this novel as I was with The Summoner, which kind of surprised me because the premise for The Egyptian seemed like something far more thrilling in nature. The main point of excitement for me came in the form of a large mummy stalking and attacking certain characters throughout the book. Now "mummy" might be how it's seen by some, but it's important to remember that the supernatural is only alluded to and looked at with a very scientific approach, so if you think this mummy is a genuine mummy like from the Brandon Fraser movies, you've got another thing coming. This isn't that kind of series.

It's a good book, and an acceptable follow up to the previous book, with plenty of inner conflict and character development for the Dominic Grey character. And that's always a nice aspect to these globe-trotting thrillers, since the stereotype is that a scant few offer any character development at all in favor of the technical aspects of the story. If you enjoyed The Summer, you'll at least like this book, I figure. I just didn't love it.

August 25, 2011

Guest Post by Bradley Convissar: Self-Publishing, Story Length, and Pricing

A while back, I had an e-mail conversation with independent author, Brad Convissar, over the whole e-books topic. Following that, I invited him to write a guest post and share his opinions with everyone else. He was kind enough to oblige, and below is the result. Enjoy.
Bradley Convissar on Self-Publishing, Story Length, and Pricing:

I was offered the chance by Gef to write a post on the nature of self-published books in regard to length and pricing.  So, here we go.

First off, as a new author who plans to self publish, you may ask yourself, what should I write?  There are several things to consider:
  • Short stories - I think every self-published author should publish a handful of short stories for free.  Why?  Well, they take minimal time to do so you can get them out quickly.  And more importantly, i believe they give potential readers a chance to learn about you as a writer with minimal cost and time.  Sure, people can download samples, which may give them a taste of your style.  But as a reader, I like to know if a new author I am considering has the ability to write a whole story.  I want to know if an author can not only structure a story well, but also end it well.
     
  • Novellas vs novels - This is a purely arbitrary cut off, but I am going to define a novella as anything between 15,000 words and 60,000 words. Anything below, a short story, anything about a novel.  Now, I am an advocate for the first time author to start work on novellas first.  Why?  As a new author, you are already behind the eight-ball.  Dozens of established authors have huge back catalogues of previously published books.  This gives them a huge library they can put out, as well as an established reading base.  New authors can get lost when they have one novel out there while established authors who have been traditionally published can tout a dozen books.  The more books you have, the more potential exposure.  Sure, you can spend six months to a year writing an 80,000 word novel.  But while you're doing that, the established authors are tossing out a new book every 3-4 months and other self-published authors are publishing 2-4 novellas of 15,000-30,000 words a year.  Sure, quality counts, but you need to be found.  And readers like to have choices.  My three different novellas have a better chance of catching the eye of a new reader than your one novel.  Sure, I want to write a novel. And I will.  But I want to establish a reader base first.  I want to capture their attention with short stories, reel them in with novellas, then, when I have enough in my net, hit them on the head with a novel. 
Now, what should you write?  This is obviously a loaded question: write what you want.  But I've struggled with this question.  We are a television culture.  We love our series and we love our characters.  Now, I love my stand alone novels.  Most of the horror I read are stand alone novels.  But if you browse the best seller list, it is littered with series featuring recurring characters, whether it be an FBI agent or a police officer or CIA agent or pathologist, etc.  Hell, many of my favorite books are series: Dresden Files by Jim Butcher, The Nightside by Simon Green, the Pendergast books by Lincoln and Child, the Penn cage books by Greg Iles and the Lincoln Rhyme books by Jeff Deaver.  Even if a particular book/story is just good, not great, I'll snatch up the next book as soon as its out because I love the characters.  So this leaves me in a bind: I like writing stand alone novels.  I have dozens of stories.  But if you're first book isn't great, some of your readers may decide not to get the next book.  But, as I said earlier, if you have a series with a compelling lead character, that reader is more likely to come back.

So where does this leave me?  Right now, I am finishing up 2 stand-alone novellas.  After that, I'll probably start an open-ended long novella, short novel series, each book 50,000-60,000 words, and mix in a stand alone novella or short story collection along the way.  And then in 2013, get back to work on my novel.  That's my plan.  I want the exposure so I want to have a dozen stand alone books before I commit a full year to a 100,000 word novel.

And this brings me to my last topic, a very contentious topic: price:  this is tough, and there are two thoughts on the matter. On one side you have the $.99 camp.  The philosophy here is that people are more willing to spend $.99 on an unknown author than $2.99.  That readers are more often to buy a book on whim if it costs less than a dollar.  That to get exposure, you need to price cheap at the beginning.  The $2.99 camp philosophy says that people equate cost with quality, and if you only price at $.99, people are going to assume it is crap.  It's tough; you have to sell 6 books at $.99 to make the same you would make at selling one book at $2.99.  But you most likely will sell more at the lower price point, and while you may not make as much off the bat, the more people who read it, the more people who will talk about it.

I take a mixed approach:
  • Under 10,000 words- I never sell anything that is under 10,000 words.  I have plenty of friends and know other writers who sell single short stories for $.99, but I won't.  This is a personal decision.  If I want to sell short stories, I will bunch them into a 10,000-15,000 word collection
  • 10,000-25,000 words- This is my $.99 price point. 
  • 25,000-50,000 words- This is my $1.99 price point
  • Over 50,000 words- For me, this is the $2.99 price point
That being said, if/when I get around to doing a novella series, book one will ALWAYS be $.99.  You need to get people to read the first book, and that's how you do it.  Remember, impulse buying is huge.  Each subsequent book will probably cost $.99 for a month or two, and then go up to $2.99.  That way my early fans, the diehard fans, get a break for being loyal.

One last thing on pricing and word count: I wish more authors were up front on there description pages with word count.  I don’t want page count.  Page count means nothing in the digital age.  Some people think 250 words is a page, but if you've ever counted the average number of words on a printed page, it is 300-450 words.  I give word counts for all of my books.  Hell, if it is a short story collection, I give word count for the individual stories.  I believe in full disclosure.  I believe readers should know how many words they are getting for their money.  Nothing pisses people of more than spending $3-5 and getting 15,000 words.

Brad's novella: Dogs of War
So there it is, one man’s philosophy on the self-publishing world.  If you want to keep up with me, my blog is www.pandoraschildren.com.  My Facebook page is Bradley Convissar author, while my Twitter handle is @bconvisdmd.

August 24, 2011

Getting Graphic: "Irredeemable Vol. 1" by Mark Waid and Peter Krause

Irredeemable Vol. 1
created & written by Mark Waid
illustrated by Peter Krause
ISBN 9781934506905

What if the world's greatest superhero decided to become the world's greatest supervillain?

That's essentially the question posed by Mark Waid in this stark exploration of a Superman-esque hero's fall from grace.

The Plutonian is a clean-cut, All American type of superhero: he can fly, he's strong as all get-out, he shoots radiation beams with his eyes, he can hear a whisper on the other side of the planet--oh, and he'd indestructible. For years, he's protected mankind from the evils of the world, man-made and otherwise, but this story kicks off with him already turned to the dark side with the blood of millions on his hands. And he's has every other superhero on the planet shaking in their boots.

He is blatantly reminiscent of Superman, and I was never a fan of the Man of Steel. I think those hokey cartoons from the sixties and seventies, like The Super Friends, are to blame. So, in a way, seeing the ultimate superhero turned into the most despicable person on Earth strikes a chord with me. I ended up relishing this villainous side to such a goody-goody.

The story is presented as a bit of a mystery though, rather than seeing the Plutonian's heel turn. As the story begins, he's well on his way to destroying the world, one city--and one superhero--at a time. The guy is ruthless. In a game of cat-and-mouse, his former allies have banded together to figure out how to stop them, while also doing what little they can to save their own lives. Meanwhile, the supervillains have banded together, scratching their heads over just what is going on--and trying to save their own necks as well.

It's brutality wrapped up in that golden age style, which makes for an interesting dichotomy. Given these are all newly invented character though, the lack of connection and emotional investment to any of them creates a bit of a road block, but the story does what it can to make you care for them, and fear the Plutonian.

As a guy with only a surface level appreciation for comic books, I'm not familiar with Mark Waid's work, but he comes highly recommended it turns out, and I'm definitely looking for more from him.

August 23, 2011

Book Trailer & Giveaway: A. Gordon Smith's "Lockdown"

I don't know about you, but I don't come across much teen horror in my reading, so when a book as well-received as Alexander Gordon Smith's Lockdown comes along, it's a welcome treat.


The Escape from Furnace series is already a successful one, with Lockdown and its sequels (Solitary and Death Sentence) already garnering plenty of positive reviews from readers, and two more books in the series (Fugitives and Execution) scheduled for release in 2012.


So, thanks to the folks at Macmillan Publishing, I'm able to offer a copy of Lockdown to one lucky blog follower (living in the U.S. or Canada).


To get an idea of what the book is about, here's a brief summary and a snazzy book trailer:

Beneath Heaven is Hell....Beneath Hell is Furnace! Furnace Penitentiary: the world’s most secure prison for young offenders, buried a mile beneath the earth’s surface. Convicted of a murder he didn’t commit, sentenced to life without parole, “new fish” Alex Sawyer knows he has two choices: find a way out, or resign himself to a death behind bars, in the darkness at the bottom of the world.





THE RULES:

  1. You must be a resident of the U.S. or Canada.
  2. You must be a follower of the blog in some fashion (only one method needed): Google Friend Connect, Twitter, RSS, e-mail, etc ...
  3. Simply leave a comment on this blog post to enter, including the username you use to follow the blog, which method you use to follow, and an e-mail address so I can contact you if you win (i.e., emailaddress at gmail dot com).
  4. Giveaway is open until the end of September 4th, 2011, then I will randomly draw one winner on September 5th, 2011 and announce it on a separate blog post that day.
Sound simple enough? I sure hope so. If you have any questions or comments, feel free to leave a comment or send me a tweet or e-mail.

Good luck everyone!

August 22, 2011

Rabid Rewind: Carnival of Souls (1962)


Carnival of Souls
starring Candace Hilligoss, Sidney Berger, Frances Feist, Art Ellison, and Herk Harvey
directed by Herk Harvey
screenplay by Herk Harvey and John Clifford
Herts-Lion (1962)

What makes a cult classic? Is it as simple as a film with a strong story and memorable characters, falls under the radar of the mainstream, yet finds an audience with a niche few who espouse its merits over the years and decades? Carnival of Souls is one of those cult classics, but despite its recommendation from the eclectic and eminently talented Cate Gardner, I don't think I can count myself among the niche few who appreciate this film.

Originally released as a B movie in the early 60s, Carnival of Souls was an underdog from the get-go. It tells the story of a young woman named Mary, who steps out of a river onto its muddy banks, after she and her two friends plunge off a bridge in their car during a drag race. From that point on, a once vibrant organist becomes detached, exhibiting a cold manner towards to those around her. She eventually moves to Salt Lake City, Utah, where she takes a job as a church organist and becomes haunted by both the abandoned pavilion outside of town, as well as a menacing figure who appears to her as reflections, then as a ghoulish figure stalking after her.

I'm not sure how much $30,000 amounted to back in the early 60s, but I imagine you stretch that kind of movie budget a lot further than you can now. Yet, seeing the movie and learning it was made for that much, I'm tempted to ask: where did the money go? This feels like a very bare-bones type of production, not only because it relies on ambiance rather than practical effects, but because it feels like an even sparser production than George Romero's Night of the Living Dead. Actually, the biggest letdown for me was the acting, which made the performances in NotLD look downright Shakespearean by contrast.

Sidney Berger's performance as the creepy lech across the hall was a saving grace to the movie, though. While he came off nearly as hammy as the other actors, there was something to his role that made it seem more in tune. As for Candace Hilligoss, she effectively played the frightened aspect of her character, but the scenes in which she wasn't tormented by the ghoul (director Herk Harvey hamming it up in full makeup), she seemed as unconvincing as the local talent hired for the minor roles.

As for the twist ending of this film, it doesn't pack nearly as strong a punch to a cynical sod like me, in this day and age. This movie is best observed as a time capsule to a time of celebrated indy filmmakers who seemingly threw everything at the screen to see what stuck. But a cult classic? Not for me.

August 18, 2011

Rabid Reads: "Deathless" by Catherynne M. Valente

Deathless
by Catherynne M. Valente
Tor Books (2011)
352 pages
ISBN 9780765326300
Available via: Amazon / Book Depository

Last year I had the chance to read Ekaterina Sedia's The Secret History of Moscow, which I found to be a very satisfying traipse through Russian folklore. So I thought I good second visit would be through Catherynne Valente's Deathless.

The novel is a re-imagining of the fairytale about Koschei the Deathless, the Tsar of Life; and Marya Morevna, a peasant girl whisked away by Koschei to become his bride. It's set against a backdrop of the early twentieth century in Russia, as the Communist oppression is juxtaposed against the fantastical landscape of Marya's new kingdom with the Tsar of Life. A goulash of whimsical and fearsome characters adorn this book, as the story of Marya's very unfairytale romance to Koschei is played out in a fairytale setting.

Valente's storytelling offers up a very melodic style as the characters are introduced and the plot unfolds. The language used and the rhythmic way it is laid out in key spots give the sense you're being read a bedtime story of the most hauntingly tragic kind.

For someone unfamiliar with the Koschei fairytale, I really felt like a foreigner reading this book. I suspect a cursory glance at the source material would have offered me an even more rewarding experience, but at least the story, taken at face value, is enjoyable enough despite being ignorant to the winks and nods along the way. And between Deathless and The Secret History of Moscow, I get the feeling there is a wellspring of Russian folklore I'm missing out on.

I've had the good fortune to read some of Valente's short fiction over the last year or so, and I was quite looking forward to a chance to read one of her novels. Now that I have, I am pretty sure I will be actively seeking out her work in the future whenever the chance arises. If you're a fan of authors with a deft hand at the fantastic, hers is a name to look for.

August 17, 2011

Wish List Wednesday #102: Holly Black's "White Cat"


I've been a casual fan of the urban fantasy genre since 2009, pretty much around the same time I started this blog, coincidentally. But, because I don't fully immerse myself in the genre, I'm often left clueless as to which authors to look for beyond the few I've already tried. So, leave it to the plethora of blogs in my Google Reader to repeatedly suggest certain books.

One of those books comes from Holly Black called White Cat. Mixing crime and fantasy is an interesting mix, and was executed expertly I thought with the anthology, Supernatural Noir. But White Cat is directed towards a younger audience I think, and the urban fantasy genre tends to play things a little fast and loose, so the tone of this novel should be slightly less dark than some of the other stuff I've read this year.

Still, a story with a protagonist who killed his best friend has to have some dark subject matter. And with a profession such as curse worker, there's a unique twist to it all that could prove very entertaining.

The reviews I've read have been very good for the most part, but a couple of blogs I read didn't care for it too much, so should I get round to reading this one I'll have to keep my preconceptions in check.

How about you? Have you read this one, and if so, what did you think?

August 16, 2011

Chasing Tale (Digital Edition) August 16th, 2011: Robert J. Duperre, Mark Hodder, Lisa Mannetti ...

I wonder how much longer we have to wait before we get a universal format for e-books. I mean, how long did it take for Bluray to beat out HD DVD? Not long, I'll bet, since I'm probably the only one left who even remembers HD DVD. Amazon has things pretty much locked down with the Kindle formats, but those other formats just aren't going anywhere it seems. So, if these people refuse to pick one format and run with it, then I want an e-reader that's going to read all the formats. How hard can that be? If Kindle could read an EPUB file, it's be case closed. Am I wrong?

Jaded Mistress by Gary Charles - I caught a special offer via Shaun Jeffrey on Twitter, where Gary was giving away this novel on Smashwords for a limited time. I like free, so I gave it a peak, and considering it's a retelling of the Medusa myth from her point of view, I figured I could take a chance on it.

Silas by Robert J. Duperre - Robert will be stopping by the blog on September 9th as part of his blog tour. I was provided a review copy of his novel, though I'm doubtful I'll be able to read it by then. But, given its speculative fiction involving a dog, I'm definitely interested in reading it eventually.

The Strange Affair of Spring-Heeled Jack by Mark Hodder - Mark won the Phillip K. Dick Award for this novel not too long ago. I've read a couple good reviews for it already, so when I saw it on sale for two bucks on the Kindle Store, I got it.

The New Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn by Lisa Mannetti - Lisa has a new novel out, but this one is a departure from haunting historical fiction. Two cats, the resurrected embodiments of Tom and Huck. What? Yeah, this should be interesting.

The First Tale by Icy Sedgwick - After I won a writing competition at the Feckless Goblin, I found out the story judge has a couple books for sale on the Kindle Store, so I bought this 99 cent novella to test the waters.

Shock Totem #1 edited by K. Allen Wood - Shock Totem has their first issue online as an e-book finally, just as issue #4 comes out in print this summer. And at only a couple bucks, it was an easy purchase for some quality short fiction.


So what interesting e-books have you found lately?

August 15, 2011

Rabid Rewind: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part One


Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part One
starring Daniel Radcliffe, Emmat Watson, and Rupert Grint
directed by David Yates
written by Steve Cloves; based on the novel by J.K. Rowling
Warner Bros. (2010)

I was quite resistant to the whole Harry Potter phenomenon a decade ago. What a difference ten years can make.

It's coming to the end now, and at the end of the summer there won't be any more Harry Potter movies--lord willin'. I have enjoyed them all, mind you, but there is such a thing as too much of a good thing.

With Deathly Hallows, we're to be treated to two movies, which is reasonable considering the sizable nature of the source material. The books seem to grow by an extra hundred pages with each installment. This time, Harry is on the run, as Voldemort and his roving band of evil wizards impose their will on the wizarding world and seek to kill the bespectacled "chosen one."

As the movie played out, I found myself swept up yet again in the adventures of Harry, Hermione, and Ron. And it really was their movie this time around, as they took up the vast majority of the screen time. As I recall from past films, there was plenty of room to feature the long-standing supporting cast. This time, however, much of those familiar characters fell to the wayside, as the teenage trio spent much of the film on the run and on their own.

I think I criticized the book the same way, but I'll state again that Deathly Hallows abandons a lot of that childish mystery and wonder, complemented by a mosaic of characters, and instead focuses on a narrowly focused cat-and-mouse chase that really only acts as distraction and time-killing before the ultimate face-off between Harry and Voldemort--you'll have to wait for Part Two for that gem.

I liked this movie, but the climax isn't nearly as monumental as past Harry Potter films. That's to be expected, I suppose, when you chop a book in half and offer up all the stage-setting of the first half as its own movie. It's worth watching, yes, but I think I should have waited until I could have watched Part One and Part Two back to back.

August 11, 2011

Jinn Nation Blog Tour: A guest post by Caroline Barnard-Smith



Right now, Caroline Barnard-Smith is on a blog tour promoting her new novel, Jinn Nation. Today marks her stop at my blog with a special guest post, entitled "Why I Turned Indie." But first, here's a brief bio on Caroline:


Caroline Barnard-Smith has been writing stories since she was five years old. Having graduated from the University of Portsmouth with a bachelor's degree in English Literature, she now lives in Devon, England with her husband and baby daughter where she writes about ruthless vampires, lovelorn zombies and heinous blood cults. 


Her short stories have been published in numerous small press magazines, including Ballista, Hungur and Night to Dawn, and on the web at Dark Fire Fiction. 

Caroline's debut dark fantasy novel, Dunraven Road, was published by Immanion Press in June 2009. For various exciting reasons she's since turned her hand to indie publishing.  Jinn Nation is her first full-length independently published novel.  

When she's not writing, Caroline is busy running her handmade craft business, CazzCraft, selling both online and at craft fairs.

Why I Turned Indie 

If you're to believe the hype, everyone who self-publishes an e-book these days is a guaranteed millionaire.  Authors such as J.A. Konrath and H.P. Mallory have led the way with their books rarely leaving the bestseller charts while indie superstar, Amanda Hocking, has seen her paranormal romance novels sell in the hundreds of thousands.  Just recently it was announced that John Locke had become the first indie author to sell 1 million e-books through the Amazon Kindle store, joining such literary heavyweights as Stieg Larsson and Lee Child.  When I first decided to self-publish I knew I had a very slim chance of replicating these successes, although imagining the possibility of doing so definitely helped to fuel my decision.  Rather than believing I would become a bestselling author overnight, I was excited to see that both e-publishing and self-publishing had lost a lot of the stigma they once had.  It used to be that if you self-published or used the (admittedly sometimes dubious) services of a vanity publisher, your novel was instantly dismissed by critics, retailers and readers alike.  A book had to have a traditional publisher's seal of approval before it went out into the world or it was little better than kindling.  Since the sales of e-reading devices, particularly Amazon's Kindle and Barnes and Noble's Nook, skyrocketed over the course of last year, culminating in a Christmas that saw the Kindle outselling the latest Harry Potter novel, these preconceptions have begun to change.  Readers are far more likely to try a new and untested independent author than they ever were before because publishing in an electronic format means they are able to set the price, usually making their novels much cheaper than those written by their traditionally published contemporaries whose bosses have to pay all sorts of overheads.  To be honest, some of the e-book prices of mainstream novels are laughably high.  Why would you pay more for the e-version of a novel than you would for the paper version?  Come over to the dark side and try an indie, we won't rip you off, my friend (Scout's honour!)     

It wasn't just peoples' changing attitudes that convinced me to try indie publishing; the clincher for me was the amount of control you retain.  I was able to control every aspect of my novel.  I had an awesome proofreader but the definitive decision on the final manuscript was mine; I typeset the novel myself and although I'm completely hopeless with Photoshop and if left to my own devices would have produced a cover that looked like a 5-year-old had drawn it with crayons (trust me, I'm that bad), I'm lucky enough to know a very lovely graphic designer who created a cover for me, using my ideas and stock photography I had chosen.  Some authors wouldn't enjoy having to do all these things for themselves of course, and there's nothing wrong with that.  Even if you hire an editor and a book/cover designer (as many indie authors do), that still requires quite a bit of organisation.  You also have to market yourself, and market yourself hard if you want to get noticed, which can also be a daunting prospect (although from what I've heard, unless your name's Stephen King or Stephanie Meyer, traditional publishers will do pretty much nothing for you these days in the way of promotion or marketing, but that's a whole different blog post…)  All of this means that if you're not afraid to become a literary entrepreneur as well as a writer, indie publishing is a real and exciting option.  Plus there's the possibility of getting 70% royalties on Kindle sales, a rate you'd never see from a traditional publisher in a million years (maybe you'd see it in a million and one years, but they'd be really desperate to sign new authors by then because all the writers in the world would have turned indie, hehe.)          
 
Yes, there is some rubbish floating around out there and indie authors have taken flak because of it, but the rise of independent publishing has also signaled some wonderful things for genre fans.  Just a couple of years ago you would have been hard pressed to find a vampire novel that wasn't a Twilight clone.  This was because the traditional publishers were firmly in control of what readers could buy and, powers that be they thought they were, had determined that the tween appetite for shiny vegetarian vamps had cancelled out all other interest in the genre.  This was obviously ridiculous so many literary-minded vampire fans, myself included, began to write novels starring undead anti-heroes and even out-and-out villains who actually enjoyed their afterlife, who lusted for blood unapologetically and killed with impunity.  You can now find many of these novels for sale as self-pubbed e-books at the Kindle store and beyond.  Vampire fiction isn't the only genre enjoying a resurgence thanks to indie publishing; historical romance has made a big comeback as has epic fantasy and many more besides.  People have said there's never been a better time to be a writer, but I believe there's also never been a better time to be a reader.

END

I'd like to thank Caroline for stopping by the blog and offering an interesting perspective from an independent author. If you'd like to learn more about Caroline and her work, you can visit her website, her blog, or find her on Facebook and Twitter.

As for Jinn Nation, you can find it available for purchase through Amazon, Smashwords, and even Createspace. Here's a brief summary about the novel:

Once, the vampire Dylan had feared nothing and no one. He'd rampaged throughout the world on a seemingly never ending quest to fill his eternal years with the finest, most outrageous extravagances; with exquisite, soft-limbed young women and copious amounts of rich, vibrating blood. But life, however full of joy, inevitably changes.

Finding himself alone for the first time in his long unlife, Dylan turns to the preternatural race of savage creatures called the jinn - a path that inevitably leads him to Christa, a strangely childlike woman with the power to control minds and read thoughts. Mutually intrigued by each other, they set out on a blood-soaked road trip that crosses the United States and the Atlantic Ocean, finally leading them beyond the world itself to the mysterious fae kingdoms of the Inbetween.

August 10, 2011

Rabid Reads: "Arcane: Issue #1 (Spring 2011)" edited by Nathan Shumate


Arcane: Penny Dreadfuls for the 21st Century Issue #1
edited by Nathan Shumate
Cold Fusion Media Empire (2011)
Available via: Amazon

There is a new dog in the hunt for short horror fiction and its name is Arcane. I finally got a chance to read the inaugural issue, which was made available in late spring. With a subtitle of Penny Dreadfuls for the 21st Century, the tone is made readily apparent, which is a welcome change over some of the ambiguous titles of magazines and other short fiction markets.

Issue #1 contains a brief introduction by its editor, Nathan Shumate, as he lays out the format of the book is irrelevant compared to the subject matter. From there, readers are treated to twelve short stories from various authors. Rather than long established authors, Arcane features new voices, up-and-coming and a couple brand spanking new. As for the horror, there's a hodgepodge of styles and intensity. Where one story holds nothing back and reveals a visceral scene, another story takes a more lighthearted approach even revealing the absurdity of the situation.

When it comes to the more visceral side of things, there's Stephen Hill's "Laundry Night" with its shadowy laundry room in the lower ranks of a condominium. It's not a splatter-fest, but it's one of the more--if not the most--graphic stories in the collection. For lighter fare, there's Tom Wortman's "Dear Management", which is told via memos from a new employee to his superiors as he contends with a foul stench in his office. Most stories, however, offer a creepy vibe with varying levels of suspense and intrigue. A couple of my favorites come from Amanda C. Davis, whose "Courting the Queen of Sheba" offers a historical piece set in the early 20th century as a traveling carnival--I'm a sucker for stories involving carnivals and sideshows--and its latest attraction, a mummified corpse heralded as The Queen of Sheba. Another especially enjoyable story was S.M Williams' "Ricky and the Elder Gods", which offered two points of view in nearly real time, as one character hunts the other only to have the tables turned midway through the tale.

Like any periodical, it's a matter of hit-or-miss as you read each story, some resonating more than others, and invariably coming across one or more that fall flat. It's the nature of the short story collection. For an upstart magazine like Arcane, it's nice to see one more home for the pulpy goodness that comes from speculative fiction. There's a nostalgic quality to some of the stories, while others offer a taste of the present. While there isn't anything within its pages I would say advances the horror genre, the authors highlighted show that they are deftly carving out their own niche with some entertaining spine-tinglers.

August 9, 2011

Rabid Reads: "Reunion" by Jeff Bennington


Reunion
by Jeff Bennington
Nexgate Press (2011)
ASIN B004S7AR0E
Available via Amazon

High school shootings: they are practically a foreign concept in my neck of the woods. I mean, before Columbine, we here in Canada only really had the Polytechnique massacre as a touchstone to such violence, so far as I recall. And that was a shooting more associated with violence against women than bullied teens going apeshit. In either case, there's always been a bit of an aura around school shootings that they demand the utmost reverence in how violently they render a school, a community, even a nation. So, when a book like Reunion comes around, with a school shooting and its aftermath as the subject matter for a supernatural thriller, I wondered if there might be some kind of backlash, however slight.

Turns out there wasn't, and as I read reviews for the book over the last few months, I discovered many really enjoyed the book and its approach to the subject matter. And since it was only 99 cents on the Kindle Store when I bought it, I figured I could take a chance on it, too.

The story begins with the morning leading to a school shooting in Crescent Falls, Idaho, with a bullied, abused, neglected, and emotionally disturbed student named David Ray walks into school with multiple guns, killing eight, then turning one of his guns on himself. Twenty years later, the survivors prepare for their first high school reunion, five of whom providing viewpoints of the trauma, unresolved issues, and building tension as the reunion looms. Deputy Bryan Jacobs, one of the surviving students, is arguably the main character as he's the first of the five to see an apparition inside the dessicated school grounds, as well as a long-lingering love interest in a former classmate and fellow survivor, Kate. Kate's married to her high school sweetheart, Nick Tooley, however, who has turned to alcohol in his bout with depression over the years. The love triangle plays its own part in the story, but is not the only part, as they all contend with their emotions and the threat of a malevolent spirit waiting for them all to return to the school.

I wish I could say I enjoyed this novel as much as others have expressed, but I found it a real chore to work through. Some elements worked for me, such as the gradual introduction of the apparitions on the school grounds, and Nick Tooley's PTSD and growing madness, as he believes David Ray is speaking to him from beyond the grave. But the dialogue felt so stiff, forced even, and I couldn't rally behind any of the characters. I read one review that compared it to the kind of speech you'd hear in a daytime soap opera, and I think I can agree with that. As a result of the dialogue, and what felt at times like very predictable behavior, the characters didn't resonate with me at all.

I find I'm in the minority, and my attitude towards the novel are of no concern by most who read it. Perhaps I over-thought it, but that's only because I didn't get sucked into the story. I fell out of it once the pace slowed in the wake of the shootings, like a reset button had been hit and I had to get to know the characters in their adulthood all over again, and I just didn't care. It might be worth a chance for you, especially for a mere dollar or so on the Kindle Store, but I have a feeling there's a better chance for me at a satisfying read when Bennington's next novel, Act of Vengeance, comes out at the end of the year or the start of next year.

August 8, 2011

And the Summer Giveaway Winner Is ...

... well, before I get to announcing the winner, I just want to quickly thank all the people who stopped by the blog and entered. These blog hops are always a fun way to both win books and discover blogs.

Okay, on to the good stuff.



The winner of a paperback copy of Tom Piccirilli's Every Shallow Cut is:


SHANNON JOHNSON!!!

Congrats, Shannon. I'll be e-mailing you shortly.

August 4, 2011

Chasing Tale (August 4th, 2011): Alex Bledsoe, Christa Faust, Gary McMahon ...

I found out in July that my favorite online bookstore, The Book Depository, was bought out by Amazon. Since then, book prices at Book Depository have been going up. If they get rid of the free worldwide shipping and Paypal payment method ... well, I think Amazon will have effectively quashed their competition, not just acquired it.

And Amazon, despite their best efforts, ain't the only show in town. Not yet, anyway.

While I got a couple of bargains from Book Depository, I also won a couple books over the last couple of months that turned up in my mailbox.

The Hum and the Shiver by Alex Bledsoe - I won an ARC copy of this book from Alex, a promising fantasy/horror novel coming out in October through Tor, about a Iraq war veteran who returns to her hometown in Tennessee, followed by an ominous spirit, and receives dire omens. I've got one of Alex's novels on my wish list, a vampire tale called Blood Groove, so until I get my hands on that one, I'm pleased to have a chance to read his newest work.

Money Shot by Christa Faust - After reading a couple recommendations for a book called Chokehold, I did some Googling and discovered it was a sequel to this book. After checking out the cover and the pitch for it, I couldn't resist. A porn star out for revenge? Yup. I'm gonna get a kick out of this one.


Miserere: An Autumn Tale by Teresa Frohock - Teresa wrote a guest blog post in July titled, "Wicked WomenRule," as part of her blog tour to promote this novel. I've since received a signed copy for review and will be diving into it very soon.

The Concrete Grove by Gary McMahon - I won this book via a giveaway hosted by The Lucky Ladybug. Considering the good reviews this author has gotten for previous works, I am very interested to see how good this one is, which is supposed to be the first in a trilogy (or series).

Mistification by Kaaron Warren - Every once in a while a story about a magician will captivate me. Peter Straub's Shadowland and J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter being to prime examples. So, when I heard about this book, which was released earlier in the summer, I put it on my wish list and was fortunate enough to win a copy from Ruth over at My Devotional Thoughts.

Loss of Separation by Conrad Williams - At the start of the year, I highlighted five anticipated horrornovels for 2011, which included this one. As it stands, this will be the first of those five that I'll get to read. Conrad Williams is an author whose work gets recommended now and again, but is also one of those authors that doesn't get any real estate on the shelves of bookstores in my neck of the woods.



So, that's what came in this month.

Where do you go online when you shop for books? Are there any websites you refuse to buy from?