August 29, 2009

Book Review: "The Shimmer" by David Morrell

Title: The Shimmer
Author: David Morrell
Publisher: Vanguard Press (2009)
Genre: Thriller
ISBN 978-1-59315-537-7

The local legend of the Rostav lights are based on an actual local legend of the phenomena based in Marfa, Texas. At night, countless witnesses claim to see shimmering orbs of light hovering over empty fields. Ranging in multiple colors and no apparent pattern, the lights have been a mystery since they were first seen by the Native-Americans long ago. Similar phenomena exist in other parts of the world too, but The Shimmer focuses on the east Texas setting of Rostav.

Dan Page, a police officer, comes home after a grueling shift to find his wife gone with only a small note telling him she's gone to visit her mother in San Antonio. But, her mother says she's not there. Dan is frantic until a small-town sheriff by the name of Costigan contacts him, informing him Tori is in Rostov and Dan needs to go there if he wants answers about why she's there. When he arrives via his Cessna single-engine plane (his instrument of catharsis from work), he discovers his wife has become enamored with the Rostov lights, which she first saw as a little girl. And she's not the only one fascinated by them.

It's a bit of a tourist trap, and on the night Dan reunites with Tori at the viewing platform they witness more than just an evocative light show--not seen by all who go to see it, for some reason--because a man who has seen the lights before is there and this time he's brought an assault rifle with him. Carnage ensues as he fires into the crowd until he's ultimately stopped by Dan, Tori, and Sheriff Costigan. The massacre might seem to be a climax to the story, but it all goes down within the first hundred pages. And Morrell's story focuses on more than just Dan and Tori.

There's also the military conspiracy occurring with Colonel Raleigh, a man with a storied past which revolves around the legend of the Rostov lights, plus a Sergeant Halloway who has been guarding a satellite array for months and has finally gotten a glimpse at the secret base's true nature--not to mention the captivating music coming from the array with one giant satellite dish pointing directly towards the site of the Rostav lights.

And if that's not enough, there's also the story arc about a fame-starved TV anchor looking to make a name for himself when he's picked to head to the scene of the massacre and get the exclusive on it and the Rostov lights.

I liked this novel. But, I didn't love it. I wanted to, but the surreal nature of the lights and the mystery to why Tori was so enamored with them became overshadowed by the whole military exploitation of the phenomena and the journalist's conniving ways of covering it all. For as much as I came to know Dan and Tori Page and their attempts to unravel the mystery of the lights, their story fell to the wayside as Colonel Raleigh's family history with the lights comes to bear throughout the novel, as well as Sergeant Halloway's descent into madness, and Brent Loft (the journalist) pokes his head under every stone. The 326 pages of this novel were jam-packed with so much subplot, it kept me on my toes, but it didn't do it in a good way.

I may be spoiling things when I say that the three narratives are segregated until the final scenes when all hell breaks loose, but I can't help but wonder if the story arcs and how unrelated they were to each other--in terms of character association and tone--were reasons why Morrell had taken so long to craft this story, writing and publishing three other novels while tinkering with this one. It's all a mish-mash to me and the undertones of each story, while related to the Rostov lights, were too dissimilar and made it feel like there were three novels happening at once.

Morrell's the expert, not me, but I am a book lover. And when it came to The Shimmer, I was only a book liker. I loved Creepers to death--one of the novels he wrote while crafting The Shimmer--and had high hopes for this one after reading previews and interviews. And it's not that I'm disappointed and want people to stay away from it, quite the opposite. I just have to publicly shrug my shoulders and ask aloud: What I missing here? The premise is intriguing as heck, and the characters were sympathetic, but when it was all said and done I felt a little underwhelmed. I hazard a guess I'm in the minority, though.

For differing opinions, you can read a review on The Novel Bookworm, or an interview with David Morrell by Ed Gorman.

August 28, 2009

Meme, Myself, and I: The Interview

I forget now where Steph Su came across this viral bit of interviewing, but it's my turn now to sit in the hot seat and answer some questions. For a clue as to what this is, you can find Steph's original post on this HERE. The premise is simple, she asks five questions and I answer them. I post the answers here on my blog, notify her, and at the same time open it up for readers of my blog to ask to be asked five questions by me. A kind of daisy chain approach to blog relations. Heck, it's a good way to waste time.

Steph provided me with eight questions from which to choose my five, so here they are in no particular order. And, for future reference, if anyone asks to be asked questions by yours truly, I'll do my best to come up with five more unique ones to those I've answers and Steph answered on her blog.

Question #1: In a horrible alternate universe your house burns down. Which three things would you save from the blaze?

Answer: While the computer is an easy answer, it's about five years old and I would not be opposed to the chance at getting a replacement due to fire. So, let it burn. What would be absolutely indispensable, however, would be my thumb drive. I keep a back up of all of my creative writing, research articles, podcasts, and other writing related tidbits stored on the little device. Secondly, I would have to save the photo album with all my early childhood pictures. Raised in the age before digital cameras, photographs were not treated so frivolously. There are some treasured pictures of my parents and grandparents that I would want to keep in the family, so I would definitely have to save them. And the third item? While I love books, I have no rare ones I cannot bear to part with. Ultimately, they're all replaceable, so let them fuel the fire. The third thing would have to be my father's wedding ring. After he died, my mother gave it to me. My hands are not small, but even my fingers were dwarfed by his. It fits loosely on my middle finger, but I keep it on a necklace and wear it around my neck on the days I do wear it. That's the big keeper, I suppose.

Question #2: Which books or authors would you recommend to a friend who wants to start reading YA?

Answer: I've sung his praise more than once, but I have to say Phillip Pullman. The His Dark Materials trilogy is about as close to a masterpiece, as most can in YA fantasy. I would also have to say Roald Dahl is a close second, thanks to how The Witches haunted me for years after I read it as a little boy.

Question #3: Who would play you in a movie about your life?

Answer: My boring life would need someone with some improvisational skills, plus a doughy lovable face. My vote would to Seth Rogan.

Question #4: One oft overlooked book that you think deserves more attention?

Answer: It was a best-seller, as are 99.9% of Stephen King's novels, but it was also panned by many as a weaker, abbreviated version of The Stand. I'm referring to Cell, which remains one of my favorite horror novels. It doesn't need any more sales, but I think a tad more open-mindedness would be nice.

Question #5: Without giving away any spoilers, what book ending would you change if you could, and, if possible to answer without revealing any spoilers, what would you change it to?

Answer: Cormac McCarthy's No Country for Old Men. Blasphemous antics to tamper with such a great story, I admit, but for those of you who have read it may agree with me that Llewelyn's wife (or was she his girlfriend?) caught a bad break towards the end of the story. I would remedy that out of purely sympathetic motivations and bleeding-heartedness.

There, that wasn't so hard. Thanks for lobbing those softballs, Steph.

Now, it's your turn. If you're interested in getting asked five questions by me to post on your own blog, all to keep this little daisy chain moving along, just post a comment with the words "interview me." Be sure to provide me with an e-mail address, so I can send you the five questions. Once you've received them, and answered them to your own satisfaction, post them on your blog then send me an e-mail or add another comment on my blog with a link to it. I'll then add the links to this blog entry or create an entirely new one to highlight everyone's answers.

NOTE: Since my access to the Internet has been a little more limited than usual lately, I may not be so immediate in my response.

August 27, 2009

A Lag in the Wag

My access to the internet is becoming even less reliable, so the activity on this blog may come to a screeching halt without notice at some point soon. It's not that I'm abandoning it, but I can't dedicate my time to something when I have no reasonable nor regular access to it. I'm still going to blog, and comment on other people's blogs, but it will likely be a far more sporadic fashion.

My kingdom for a laptop.

August 26, 2009

Wish List Wednesday #9: "Born Standing Up"

Steve Martin is one of the funniest people alive today. Have I seen The Pink Panther yet? No, as I have yet to hear word that they are paying people to watch such blasphemy. I haven't watched Cheaper By The Dozen or it's underwhelming sequel either. Sue me. These are not films I consider prime examples of Martin's comedic talents. Sure, his absence from those movies would render them undeniably horrible to the vast majority of those with cerebral cortices, but beggars can't be choosers.

When I speak of his genius, I'm thinking of The Jerk, Dean Men Don't Wear Plaid, and one of my all-time favorite films, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels. And this only speaks of his work in film. The man writes too. I have only had the pleasure to read a scant sampling of his essays, but it has left me wanting more. So, when I caught wind last year he had written about his time as a stand-up comic--that brief ear when he had the world by the gonads--I knew what I wanted for Christmas.

Christmas came, I didn't get it. Who knows, there might be another Christmas this year. Fingers crossed.

August 25, 2009

Book Review: "The Ax" by Donald E. Westlake

Title: The Ax
Author: Donald E. Westlake
Publisher: Warner Books, Inc. (1997)
Genre: Crime
ISBN 0-446-60608-1

Okay, now I get what all the praise was about with this book. This was a darned fine read and managed to exceed my expectations.

I'm a reader who is always on the lookout for quality novels. I'm not on the "new release bandwagon," so I look for those must-reads of yesteryear--I am playing catch-up with everyone else, after all. I think I first saw The Ax recommended in Stephen King's On Writing. It was one of dozens of books listed, but the diminutive title jumped out at me. I never hurried myself in finding it, though. Then, I started seeing more and more praise for this specific Westlake novel, to the point where I had to finally get myself a copy. I lucked out at a hole-in-the-wall shop.

The story is about and narrated by Burke Devore. Burke is unemployed, two years on the hunt for another job in the paper mill managerial racket, with bills and family strife starting to rack up and wear his down. He's straitlaced, skilled (albeit stringently to the paper mill industry), and plays by the rules. He's also past his prime, and he knows it.

After two long years without a job, Burke realizes the odds are stacked against him and other men in similar situations. More and more people are getting laid off to appease corporate interests, and what few jobs remain are being sought after by younger workers and fellow experienced hands alike. Burke needs an edge. And when he sees his dream job staring him in the face, and sees the man currently employed in "his" job, Burke decides he's going to create his own opportunity.

Burke's going to kill him.

But, first he needs to be sure he's the logical replacement, Burke sets out to list the names of a few unemployed men he considers his strongest competition ... and kill them first.

The lengths Burke Devore goes to through this descent into madness is captivating. Westlake takes an insane idea and uses Burke's voice throughout the novel to rationalize it to the point where I was rooting for him more than once. It's at once a comical satire on a recessionary environment and a dark, disturbing glimpse at how far one man will go to ensure his own family's livelihood.

To say the man is downtrodden would not be enough. If the torment of joblessness isn't enough for him, his marriage is on the rocks, and his teenage son is taking a dark path as well. The man's story is a tragedy, and while you may hope for the best and even sympathize with a few justified homicides, the end result can't be all that happy. Can it?

I don't want to spoil how the story plays out for people interested in reading this novel. The destination takes a backseat to the journey with this one, and the praise for the novel is well deserved. I think anyone who has ever worked a day in their life can find something to grab onto, man or woman, young or old. You may be a proper person and play by the rules, but so was Burke Devore. And he ended up grabbing a gun when he reached the end of his rope.

And after you read this book, you might see someone you work with a little differently. I know I've met a couple people in my life that could be the inspiration for the main character of this novel. And that might be the scariest part of the story.

August 24, 2009

Monday Muse #2: The Radio

Nowadays, when I'm writing I need to be immersed in silence. It used to be that I could write until my writing hand wanted to cramp into a monkey paw, with the television blaring and the incessant chatter of whomever I shared the living room with. I can't write like that anymore. I used to be able to tune it all out with relative ease. Maybe it's just a part of aging, because if someone so much as breathes audibly I am thrown out of my own thought bubble.

Something I seem to still be immune to is the radio. No matter when I find the time to write, I don't seem to mind at all if the radio is on and spewing out some random chatter or music. Passersby outside my windows, television, people in the house, and even yippy animals manage to knock me off track in my train of thought while trying to write. A radio, though? Not a problem. Am I the only one with this quirk?

So, I'm writing, the radio is on at a reasonable volume, and I'm just moving right along. It's background noise most of the time, but there are times when my ears will snag onto something being broadcast, and I'll actually have to stop what I'm doing and break out the writing journal. That's where I store all of the random story ideas, character sketches, and minute fits of brainstorming. The radio for all of its pluses and minuses has served me well with giving me ideas.

Sometimes it's an interviewee with an especially interesting life story or anecdote. Or there are the rare occasions when someone goes off on a tangent and presents themselves as a genuine a-hole--Billy Bob Thornton's interivew on CBC Radio's "Q" instantly springs to mind. Sometimes it's a song. Like a few weeks ago, the radio was set to a country station (not my first choice) and Dolly Parton's "Jolene" came on. Have you heard that song? Good lord, if you listen to it there is a very haunting and tragic tale being told, depending upon how you approach the lyrics. Lyrics aside, however, the tune is spellbinding. And I'm not even close to fitting the bill of a country and western fan.

Whether you're listening to a special interest article by a journalist or documentary narrator, or listening to the Top 40, or just some classical music, I'll bet you can find something on the radio that can inspire you to write a story. Maybe you've tried it already. If so, how did it go?

August 22, 2009

Book Review: "The Golden Compass" by Philip Pullman

Title: The Golden Compass (Book One of His Dark Materials)
Philip Pullman
Publisher: Scholastic
Published: 1995
Pages: 368
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy
ISBN-10: 0440238137
ISBN-13: 978-0440238133

No matter how good a story is, or how well a story is told, someone is going to be offended. I'm sure there is, somewhere on this planet, a nitwit who finds the phone book to be an offensive piece of literature and wants to see it banned. So, while I have never been surprised to hear of protests and boycotts against Philip Pullman's "His Dark Materials" trilogy, I do not come close to respecting them. I am also less than shocked when I hear the people, vehemently speaking out against these books, haven't bothered to read them. I'd like to think that a conscientious objector to Pullman's work would take the time to familiarize themselves with the words they hate. I'd like to think that, but I don't hold my breath.

The story begins with a young girl, Lyra Belacqua, in an alternate reality of our world. In the custody of Jordan College, she learns her uncle, Lord Asriel, is coming with important news from his latest scientific expedition. In a short amount of time, Lyra manages to thwart attempts to poison her uncle, learns of a mysterious and controversial substance called Dust, and finds out that her best friend, Roger, is the latest in a long list of children to go missing without explanation. All of this sends her on a whirlwind adventure to rescue her friend, and also to learn the secret of Dust.

Before her adventure begins with the lovely Mrs. Coulter, an authority within the Magesterium (think Vatican turned Parliament), she receives a long-held gift from Jordan's headmaster. It's an althiometer, or "golden compass," which is a rare and perplexing device. In her travels, she quickly learns it is used as a way of sussing out the truth of important questions and other matters. It also aides her in learning Mrs. Coulter has ulterior motives for taking Lyra under her wing.

The story builds into a race towards the unknown that puts any Indiana Jones, Harry Potter, or Luke Skywalker adventure right to shame (in my humble opinion). Lyra has several allies through her tale in this first piece of the trilogy. There's her constant companion and daemon—not demon—Pantamalion, a shape-shifting animal representation of Lyra's soul (all humans in this alternate universe have a daemon). There's Iorek Byrnison, a disgraced and dethroned king of the Panserbjorne (warrior-class polar bears). Plus, a host of sea-faring brethren to her friend Roger, that join her in her quest to save him. There's even a little help from a witch or two.

The Golden Compass is an intricate and captivating escapade through a world that is close enough to our own that we don't get lost or out of touch with what's happening, in spite of the absolutely fantastic events and characters populating Lyra's world. Characters are vividly drawn out through Pullman's penmanship, and I can think of few children's stories I would place above this one.

The pace is taut and the few moments of downtime for Lyra in her travels are filled up with small revelations about her past and the relationships of those around her. She comes to learn the true nature of why she was orphaned, the true identities of her parents, the importance of Dust to both Lord Asriel and Mrs. Coulter, and the reason for Roger's and other children's disappearances. For a girl who began this story wanting nothing more than to play war with her friends and traipse along Jordan's rooftops, Lyra comes to realize she has a lot of growing up to do and she'll have to do it in a short amount of time. The confines of her world inside Jordan College's walls became too small for her, and when her adventure reaches it's head, she'll know there's no turning back to the life she once knew.

I could say I recommend this book, this trilogy, to any fan of books. That would be an understatement of sorts. I must say this should be required reading for anyone young or young at heart, and especially for those who have lost that spark of childhood from their lives. If you end up being one of the petty few who are offended by this book and others like it, I pity you. I truly do.

August 21, 2009

An Open Letter of Thanks to the Critters Workshop and Its Members

I had an inkling I had signed up with a good bunch of people, after searching for a couple of weeks for a spot to hitch my creative tent. Now I know for sure I made a good choice in joining the Critters Workshop.

This past week, I received my long awaited feedback for my short story, "Rain Charmer." Despite the rules of being civil and respectful to fellow writers, I hoped the folks who took the time to read my story would let loose on it with both barrels. I knew it needed refining, but wanted to hold off on doing anything to it until I got the opinions of fellow writers.

I'm very glad to see the people who did read it were civil, respectful, and kindly tore the story to shreds. The story had it coming, and now that it's been eviscerated, I can see the bits that need to go and the bits that need to be added. Thank you, to everyone who threw in their two cents on how this story worked, and more importantly where it didn't work. A couple of things I had suspected from the start were pointed out by many. And I was even more pleased to see light shed on pieces of the story I didn't know needed to be addressed. All of the critiques are indispensable and I appreciate all of them.

Man, I wish I'd joined sooner.At least I'm a member now.

August 19, 2009

Wish List Wednesday #8: "Through A Glass, Darkly"

Here is the debut novel of a guy many say has the potential to be the new voice of horror literature. It's a tall order for Bill Hussey with only two novels published, with a third on the way, but I haven't come across a negative review for this book yet. The title is one that's been used in the past by other authors, and who could blame them, as it strikes such imagery in the mind's eye. Plus, Hussey's publishers gave his book a stark and evocative cover. It's deliciously dark.

I'm still trying my best to read the longstanding classics in horror—I hang my head in shame for having yet to read Richard Matheson's Hell Housebut I also try to make room for the newcomers in writing. I have strong, bludgeoning me over the head, suspicions I would be missing out on something special if I didn't read this novel at some point in my life. I just hope it's sooner rather than later.

As for the reviews on this one, check out these links to get an idea of what I mean: Shroud Magazine Reviews; Fantasy Book Critic.

August 18, 2009

A Few More Contest Links

I'm on the prowl to enter a few more book giveaways and contests. I just so happened to win a copy of Chris Eboch’s Haunted: The Ghost on the Stairs this week. So, a big thank you goes out to The Spectacle that hosted the contest. It looks like it will be a very fun read.

In the meantime, I'm entering a contest to win a copy of John Shirley's Bleak History, hosted by SciFiGuy. Click on the link for details and enter before the August 24 deadline.

Presenting Lenore has an extra ARC of Prophesy of the Sisters she's willing to send off to one lucky reader, to go along with the book review she posted. The giveaway ends on August 24 too, so get cracking.

Ending on August 21, Book Junkie has a giveaway where the winner gets all seven books in the Sookie Stackhouse series by Charlaine Harris. Yes, please. That's a big pile of books to be won.

J-Kaye's Book Blog has a contest running for a review copy of Dark Places by Gillian Flynn. Contest ends August 29.

Graeme's Fantasy Book Review is the place to go for a chance to win Strange Brew, which is a compilation of stories from the likes of Charlaine Harris, Jim Butcher, and others. It caught my eye, so I decided to take a chance. Contest ends August 23, and there's three copies to be won. There's also a giveaway for three signed copies of The King's Daughters by Natalie Mallet, which you can find HERE.

Until August 31, you can enter to win a paperback copy of Georgia Evans' Bloody Good. The giveaway is hosted by The Tome Traveller's Weblog, and there's a review to read as well.

Bookworming in the 21st Century has a contest going for Bella Fitzpatrick's Hush, Hush. I've read enough good stuff about this novel to make me throw my name in the hat. Contest ends August 21.

And count on Jo at Ink and Paper to hold a little giveaway for a piece of fiction I've had on my wishlist for a little while now. She's got a paperback copy of Lisa Shearin's Magic Lost, Trouble Found to give to a lucky winner. Contest ends August 21, so hurry.

And, finally, Blood of the Muse is holding a contest where a lucky winner gets Sergei Lukyanenko's Night Watch. The contest is running until the end of August, so there's still time left.

... I'll add more links as I find them today.

Book Review: "The Lovely Bones" by Alice Sebold

Title: The Lovely Bones
Author: Alice Sebold
Publisher: Little, Brown & Company

Published: July 2002
Pages: 328
Genre: Young Adult
ISBN 0-316-16881-5

When I re-entered the world of literature back at the start of the decade, I had little clue on what it was I should be reading. Aside from the most famous names in fiction, I was clueless. Heck, I'm still far and away from a place where I'd feel comfortable saying I'm "well read." Asking people for names of authors and novels I should be on the look-out for, Alice Sebold's sophmore novel The Lovely Bones came up. More than once. After getting the vague idea of what it was about, I put on a search for it. I soon found it atop a pile of new acquisitions at a used-book store. I snatched it up, bought it, and started reading it as soon as I got home. Upon finishing it, this book became a permanent fixture in my modest collection. And I rank it among my very favorite books.

Susie Salmon was raped and murdered in 1973. She was fourteen years old. And for the rest of the story, we watch her family grieve and look for answers, as well as seeing the turmoil in the life of her murderer. All this carries on over many years, and it's all encapsulated through the point of view of Susie, as she watches from her place in what might be described as Heaven's waiting room.

She can't pass on after death because she feels like there needs to be justice and closure for her family. She haunts them, and her killer, trying to find a way to make it known to those who can help how she died and how to make everything right again. As time passes though, she watches her family slowly disintergrate. The nature of her death is abound with rumors, as it's not clear to anyone except her and her killer how she died and where her remains have been hidden.

As much as you want to see the killer caught and thrown in prison, the story provokes you into wishing for something beyond that. You just want this family that's left in the wreakage of Susie's absence to heal and carry on. Even her friends and neighbors are shown to have reverberating effects from her death. The book can seem depressing and ultimately sad, but for those less inclined to read this kind of story, I encourage you to keep going. All of the people focused upon in the story reach at least some kind of resolution to their emotions, and many of their lives intertwine in ways no one could have anticipated ... least of all, Susie.

The story has a little bit of everything. And I do mean everything. All that's missing is a car chase, a talking mouse, and a cyborg. It blends superbly, however, and defies categorization. I only refer to it as YA fiction because Susie is fourteen. And, YA tends to be a kind of fiction that causes other people, men especially, to veer away. Don't. Read this book. It may not be a spy thriller, an urban fantasy, or a Mathesonian horror story, but it's a damned good book that deserves to be read by as many people as possible.

August 17, 2009

Monday Moratorium #2: Michael Jackson

There are Inuit, right now sitting on the shores of the Arctic Sea watching their precious sea ice melt, who know way too frigging much about the intimate details of Michael Jackson's life. Why? Because the guy died and the news media refuses to shut up about it. They're still shouting it from the rooftops, those jackass journalists.

When it happened, I was as surprised as anyone. By all means, tell me what happened and we can all take a moment to reflect on his life and career. And, maybe while we're at it, we can remind ourselves that in the last years of his life, no one outside his ardent fandom gave a flying fig about him. But after that--after we've buried the man and memorialized him with one of the most ridiculously televised spectacles in recent history--I would hope we could have all moved on with our lives.

My hopes were dashed.

I was a fool to think the memory of Michael Jackson could fade away quietly, with a semblance of dignity ill-afforded to the man while he lived. The subsequent three-ring circus has made Jacko's corporeal existence look like little more than prelude. The pop singer's much maligned idiosyncrasies were nothing more than the warm-up act, greasing the gears of tabloid journalism so that when the man did die we would have years of lascivious newshounds scouring the countryside for any kind of lead they could get their dirty mitts on, no matter how fallacious or tenuous.

I'm over it. I was over it the day I heard he kicked the bucket. Did his doctor kill him inadvertently through immoral use of prescription medicine? I don't care, I'm over it. Did he really father his three children, or even that look-a-like kid who sat in the front row of his funeral? I don't care, I'm over it. Is Anderson Cooper going to interview Bubbles the chimp one more time, to see if he can sully what little credibility CNN has tucked away in its coffers?

Oh, hey. Farrah Fawcett died. When did that happen?

August 15, 2009

Book Review: "Twilight" by Stephenie Meyer

Title: Twilight
Author: Stephenie Meyer
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
Pages: 498
Genre: YA Romance/Fantasy
ISBN 978-0-316-16017-9 (HC)
ISBN 978-0-316-01584-4 (PB)

I tried to like this book. I really did, you have to believe me. After hearing and reading so much hype and hate for this book (and the movie), I had put it off long enough. And, now that I have it out of my system, I can safely say this review will be one of my last public musings on the subject.

I think the main problem for me was going into this novel with preconceptions. I'm not just talking about the hysterics performed by Meyer's most ravenous fans, or the unrepentant vitriol put out by her detractors. I'm also referring to the overall aura I got of this book being an adventure into the world of contemporary vampires and werewolves. Had I gone into this thing with no idea at all of what to expect, I may not have come out of it so disappointed.

I had learned early on this wasn't a YA horror novel, as nothing horrific was noted in any of the press for the book or movie. But, I was naive enough to think this was going to be an adventure story as well as a romance. Well, it certainly had all the trappings of a romantic novel, but I felt no sense of adventure at all. Mind you, a foggy town in Washington state doesn't exactly come off as an exotic locale.

Maybe it's my male ego, my archaic expectations, or something else, but I genuinely expected some action and suspense from this novel. What I ended up reading was about three hundred pages of teen angst at high volume with absolutely nothing going on. At all. Just when I thought things were going to pick up for Bella (the incessantly brooding teen protagonist) when she was about to be accosted by some young men, Meyer pulls the rug out from under me and sends the "dazzling" and "perfect" vampire, Edward, swooping in to save the day in a most anticlimactic fashion.

I gave this book not fifty pages, not even a hundred pages to hook me. I gave it a full three hundred pages to give me something to grab onto. There was nothing there for a poor pleb like me, so I ended up skimming over the last two hundred pages. In doing so, I probably missed out on a heck of a climax, though I doubt it. A glossed-over showdown in a ballet studio didn't strike me as a scene I would regret raking past.

I'm sorry, ladies and gentlemen, I just did not enjoy this book. It's not terrible, and I won't begin to trash or chide Meyer's writing with the same gusto as those before me. It's simply not the book I had expected to read, and it's not a series I will be following in the future. Twilight loyalists are more than welcome to sing it's praises, as they have discovered something I have not. I can't fault them there, as there are plenty of books and movies I thoroughly love that provoke less than flattering criticisms from others.

For years now, there's been a showdown going on between Twilight's heartfelt fans and it's hate-filled defamers. In that showdown, I'll be the shopkeep who shutters his windows and waits under his counter for the gunfire to stop. Wake me when the fight's over.

To read another review, and possibly more diplomatic in nature, check out Popin's Lair.

August 14, 2009

Wag the Blog #7: Lenin the Cable Guy

A Dark Planet reminds me how rednecks and hillbillies are not only my neighbors, they're all over the world. And the ones on the other side of the world love to get drunk and act stupid just as much as the chuckleheads in my neck of the woods. At least natural selection is doing its part.

A Newbie's Guide to Publishing, J.A. Konrath's blog, has an interesting post on the extinction of the professional critic. Personally, I never gave a wooden nickel what Siskel and/or Ebert thought about movies. I care even less for the opinions of their successors, whatever their names are. As for book critics, I can't say I read their reviews all that often. I'll read the odd one in the Globe & Mail, but that's about it. I much prefer scoping out the opinions of fellow readers, especially the ones who enjoy--and are not snobbish towards--genre fiction.

And Now the Screaming Starts digs up a juicy news item from the 1890's. What kind of news? Oh, nothing much. Just your run-of-the-mill vampire cult wreaking havoc on the men, women, and children of Missouri. If you don't believe me, click on the link. CRWM posted the pics of the archived news article.

Bookgasm has a Q&A with author, Kim Paffenroth, about his latest novel, Valley of the Dead. I recently cited this book on Wish List Wednesday, and after reading this interivew, I have underlined its entry on my wish list.

Speaking of Paffenroth, Gospel of the Living Dead (his blog) is holding a contest until the end of the month. Buy any one of his books, send proof of purchase, and be entered to win a copy of either Dying to Live, Dying to Live: Life Sentence, or how about a signed ARC of Valley of the Dead? Me thinks I'll have to visit my local independent bookstore soon.

Grim Reviews has put me on track to a site dedicated to H.P. Lovecraft and his works. H.P. Podcraft offers a reading of one of Lovecraft's classic tales, followed by a discussion of the story by the hosts, Chris Lackey and Chad Fifer. I'm admittedly unfamiliar with Lovecraft's works, so this is an added treat for me. Thank you, Grim Blogger.

The Horror Geek talks about Scream 4. Talk about digging up a dead horse just to give it one more swift kick. Kudos to Neve Campbell for staying away from the movie. Her character's story reached its end in the third--and wholly unneccessary--film. What's more, it appears that Scream 4 is the jump-off for another trilogy. My only question: Why?

The Poisoned Apple's Catherine Gardener informs me that her new chapbook, The Sour Aftertaste of Olive Lemon, is now available at Bucket o' Guts for a very affordable $6 US. I'm Canadian, though, so there is probably some S&H to think about. I'm checking my couch for loose change now.

The Vault of Horror makes the case for why The Mist is a genuinely good horror movie. Thank you. After hearing word that the movie was trashed by the online world, I was aghast. I really liked that movie and thought it one of the better adaptations of Stephen King's work. Sure, there's a litany of movies based on King's stories, and the average is about half-good and half-bad. The Mist, however--as far as I'm concerned--falls into the "good" column.

August 13, 2009

Hint Fiction: The Flash Fiction Contest

I can't recall where I first heard about this contest, but it's quite likely to have been a blog I'm following. Probably more than one has mentioned it by now. At any rate, I've decided to quit stalling and throw my name in the hat with three of my own entries (the stipulation for a third entry being I needed to create a blog entry about the contest by tomorrow).

For details on the contest and the impending Hint Fiction anthology, click HERE for details.

The gist of it works like this: The anthology (published by W.W. Norton in fall of 2010) will include somewhere between a hundred and a hundred-and-fifty pieces of flash fiction. Each piece will be twenty-five words or less. Not a lot of real estate to craft a story, right? Wrong. Didn't Ernest Hemingway once write a piece of fiction consisting of six--count 'em, six--words? It's not easy, but it can be done.

So, in those scant twenty-five words you need to come up with a story that contains a beginning, middle, and end. My first crack at it was horrendous. The three I did manage to come up with, however, are good enough to submit, I feel. What each stories chances are when thrown in the lion's den with the countless other entries? Well, thankfully that's not up to me.

The deadline for submissions is August 31, so if you're interested in taking part you need to click on the link I provided and read the submission guidelines. Then, come up with a piece of flash fiction that stands a chance at being accepted. Easier said than done, but it's a good exercise either way.

This is all coming about thanks to Robert Swartwood. And, his site includes a link to the essay on "hint fiction" that started all of this, which can be read here. Check it out.

August 12, 2009

Wish List Wednesday #7: "Heart-Shaped Box"

Confession time: While I might blog with the handle of "Rabid," in all honestly, I'm quite a docile gent. Perhaps if I had displayed a bit more rabidity at the used-book store when there was a copy of this book on the shelves, a couple of months back, it might be in my hands instead of the hands of another reader. Nice guys finish last, I suppose.

This debut novel from Joe Hill is supposed to be the bee's knees. Heck, he won the Bram Stoker Award for Best First Novel, and even got nominated for Best Novel with this beauty. That ain't not bad. I'm sure I'll cross paths with a copy of this novel again soon enough, and after checking out his site I was happy to see he has a second novel out called Gunpowder. Interesting. Maybe that'll go on the wish list too.

August 11, 2009

Do You Like Horror? Do You Like Giveaways?

If the answer to both of those questions is "YES" then you need to take a pop over to Ty Schwamberger's blog and enter for a chance to win his horror novel, Night School. Click HERE for the details. I've got my name in the hat.

Also, I'd like to take a moment to thank to folks kind of enough to hold contests and giveaways I've been fortunate enough to win over the last few months.

There's Darque Reviews, where I won a copy of John Marco's Starfinder. Again, there's Ty Schwamberger, who gave me a copy of The Richard Laymon Collection: Volume 18. I won a copy of Jack Kilborn's Afraid over at Thoughts of Joy. At Bookin' with Bingo, I won a copy of Is It Just Me or Is Everything Shit? Bella at A Bibliophile's Bookshelf sent me a copy of John Grogan's Marley & Me. I won Stephen Zimmer's The Exodus Gate at Amberkatze's Blog. And most recently, I won the last three books in the "Harry Potter" series from Charlotte's Library.

Thankyou, again.

Book Review: "Hell House" by Richard Matheson

Title: Hell House
Author: Richard Matheson
Publisher: OHC by The Viking Press (1971); TPB by Tom Doherty Associates, LLC. (1999)
Pages: 301
Genre: Horror
ISBN-13: 978-0-312-86885-7
ISSN-10: 0-312-86885-5

Ask any horror fan to name the best horror novel with a haunted house as the setting, and I wager a great many will name this one. Until I get around to reading Shirley Jackson's The Haunting of Hill House and Stephen King's The Shining, I will defer to the mob. For now, Richard Matheson's classic sets the bar pretty gosh-darned high for any haunting tale I read from this day forward.

In the remote mountains of Maine, there is a mansion once owned by Emeric Belasco. During it's heyday, Belasco used the house as a veritable den of debauchery and despicability. Now, with all of the residents long since dead, and the house sitting as a shell of it's former glory, a dying millionaire who now owns the property has hired Dr. Lionel Barrett--a specialist in parapsychology and paranormal phenomena--to learn the secret of what is now known as Hell House. The millionaire longs for evidence of the afterlife in his last days, and has given the doctor a week to give him answers one way or the other, and has hired two mediums (Florence Tanner and Benjamin Fischer) to assist. Along with Barrett's wife, Edith, the doctor and the two mediums--one is the lone survivor of the last doomed attempt to learn the secrets of the "Mount Everest of haunted houses"--set up camp in the house and begin their experiments. Almost immediately the four are thrust into an escalating cataclysm of supernatural torture and torment.

I've waited far too long to read this Mathesonian masterpiece. And now that I've read it, I'm an even bigger fan of the man's work. I'm still a mere pup of fandom, having only read Hunted Past Reason, I Am Legend, and a collection of short stories, but I'm comfortable in describing myself as a fan, as I will undoubtedly be reading much more of his work in the coming years.

The game is set within the first chapter and readers get a sense of where the internal conflicts will be occurring, beyond the external trials with the house itself. Dr. Barrett is desperate to prove his latest invention a success--a device he's convinced will expose the true secrets behind the fabled events inside Hell House's walls and end them. His wife, Edith, is in the midst of a mental crisis and cannot bear the idea of going a single week without having her husband at her side. Despite trepidations about the house, she joins him on his journey rather than face another day alone. Florence Tanner is a psychic medium with an exuberance towards learning the house's secrets, and potentially helping any spirits have may need to communicate with her or need her help. Then there's Benjamin Frankin Fischer, the physical medium who was once the most heralded medium in America, during his teens. But his experience in Hell House, thirty years ago ruined him despite getting out of the house with his life. Now, he's returned to face his demons and do what he can to keep the others from meeting the same horrendous deaths as the last group to enter the house.

Matheson did a fine job weaving everything together in a mosaic of macabre, and all with a very quick three hundred pages. The ending is a twist upon twist that leaves you wanting more, even after you've closed the book a final time. I now fully understand why this book is required reading for any self-respecting fan of the genre. It's one of the finest reading experiences I've had in horror or otherwise.

While I may have borrowed this book from my local library, I'll still keep it on my wish list for the time when I can purchase a copy of it to place in my permanent collection. It's too good not to want to read it again ... and again. The mob and I have spoken.

August 10, 2009

Monday Muse #1: Author Interviews

Where do you get your ideas from?

It's the single most asked question of any successful author. Heck, even the aspiring authors get asked from time to time. It's a bit of an odd question, as anyone who has been on the receiving end will attest. There's a reasoning behind it when someone asks, though. I think it comes from the admiration of an author's work most of the time. You read a book you enjoy so thoroughly and unwaveringly, and you can't help but wonder: How the hell did he/she come up with that?

In my case, I think I was asked the question simply because the person asking had no idea I enjoyed writing. It came more out of disbelief than a genuine interest in where the inspiration comes from for the stories I write. You write? You? Really?

The ideas, in truth, come from everywhere. There's no road map to where they come from. They're like memories--not deposited in a single, compartmentalized section of the brain, but a confluence of synapses and impulses that buzz from one side of your head to the other. Ask a scientist to pinpoint where the ideas, dreams, and memories all come from and his own head will implode trying to come up with a consensual answer.

There are things I can point to, however, that can give some idea of how my ideas form. Which is why I'm starting this "Monday Muse" blog entry. Everyone has their own sources of inspiration. We don't always come away with something when we visit a particular well, but then there are times when we discover something useful we had no idea we were looking for in the first place.

For me, one place I've taken inspiration from has been found through author interviews. Lately, most of the interviews I've listened to have come in podcast form, though I have had the opportunities of catching patches of conversation on radio and television. There's something about hearing a writer's voice, as he discusses his work and the writing life, I find wholly engrossing. It's one thing to read an interview on the Internet or in print, but when you hear the voices there is a three-dimensional peephole into the author's world. A bit ironic I should find audio preferable to text in this instance.

In any case, I thought I would share some of the places I have managed to download and listen to interviews with authors of every stripe.

Authors on Tour Live - Tons of interviews and snippets with others from around the globe.

Diabolical Radio - Horror themed, with some very good interviews with authors like Brian Keene, J.A. Konrath, and John Saul.

Dread Media - Also horror themed, with reviews and discussions on films and books, plus those author interiews I like so much.

I Should Be Writing - Mur Lafferty is a writer with her own podcast, and her stories, advice, and interviews with others in the writing world are worth a listen.

The Next Chapter - A show on CBC Radio with a podcast archive. Nora Young interviews some of the most notable authors from around the world, with a healthy focus on Canadian literature.

Pod of Horror - Yet another horror-theme podcast. The most recent episode (#54) has two great interviews--David Morrell and James Rollins.

Writers & Company - Also on CBC Radio, this often goes into greater details of the authors' lives, but usually offers something entertaining.

The Writing Show - Interviews with authors, editors, agents, and others in the industry. This one is great for focusing on a specific genre or facet of writing.

If you have a podcast you'd care to suggest, feel free to leave a comment. Or maybe you'd like to leave your two cents on any of the podcasts I've listed. Tell me what you think. Do you ever find inspiration from hearing an author tell his journey through the writing world's morass?

August 8, 2009

Book Review: "Eighth Grade Bites" by Heather Brewer

Title: The Chronicles of Vladimir Todd: Eighth Grade Bites
Authors: Heather Brewer
Publisher: Dutton Children's Book
Published: 2007
Pages: 182
Genre: YA Fantasy
ISBN: 978-0-525-47811-9

Vladamir Tod is a vampire ... in his early teens. That smell overpowering your right now is angst of the highest potency. So, watch out. The cover of this book, all by it's lonesome, is enough to give you an idea of how meloncholy and misunderstood Vlad is through this story. It's like a West 49 ad designed by Twilight marks.

The story starts off in quaint fashion, as Vlad's English teacher gets offed by a mysterious vampire hunting Vlad. Chalked up as disappearance, the eight grade get a new substitute named Mr. Otis, who takes a keen interest in Mr. Tod. Meanwhile, poor ol' Vlad just wants to get all snuggly with Meredith, a girl who doesn't really come off as that much of a catch. Especially, considering she has a crush on Vlad's best friend, and sharer of Vlad's vampiric secret, Henry.

As if the teen vamp didn't feel like enough of an outcast, he starts to uncover secrets of his parents' deaths and history after discovering a strange journal in his Aunt Nelly's attic. Nelly isn't really his aunt, but a close friend to his late human mother. She's practically family, however, and adores him and cares for him. Heck, she even packs him peanut-butter-and-blood sandwiches for his school lunches.

The story is a little slow to ratchet up the suspense, for my tastes, as we spend so much of this compact tale getting to know how tormented and borderline emo Vlad is in his day-to-day life. He's funlovin' enough, and is about as close to normal with Henry as a half-vampire can be. What he lacks, however, is a support structure among his best friend and aunt, each of whom seem to find Vlad's suspsicions about Mr. Otis' intentions, the disappearance of the English teacher, and his father's journal far too fantastical and far-fetched to believe. At times, I wanted to reach through the pages and throttle Aunt Nelly and Henry, both, as they shake their heads in disbelief, even though they are consorting with a friggin' true blue vampire.

If you can suffer through the dismissiveness of the supporting characters, and Vlad's less-than-enthralling pines for Meredith, there's a decent little story to be had here. Thankfully, we get to the good stuff towards the end, even though it comes off a tad hastened, and the real action starts. As it stands, it's an okay start to what I hope is a series that improves upon itself with each installment. I have a feeling this series is best left to the youngin's while I drag my thirty-something behind to the bookshelves for something with a little more hair on its chest.

August 7, 2009

Fave Five: Fantasy Novels ... so far.

I may not be considered the biggest and most ardent fan of fantasy novels, but I do enjoy a good tale of a fantastical nature. In fact, some of my favorite novels of all-time fall into the category of fantasy. None are particularly focuses on the swords and sorcery fare, but I was never much of a Dungeons & Dragons kind of guy. It's not that I wouldn't enjoy those kinds of stories, but I hold a prejudice against them due to their long-winded nature. But, I digress.

So, I offer my five favorite books in the fantasy genre. Maybe one ore more appear on your own personal favorites. If so, let me know. Or if you have some fantasy novels in your fave five that you feel outshine the ones on my list, feel free to throw in your two cents in the Comments section. I'm always up for being pointed towards quality storytelling.

#5: American Gods by Neil Gaiman - I've only read two books of Gaiman's to date, and already he is one of my favorite authors. Both books are included in this list. I start with American Gods, which is a wonderful story about an ex-convict named Shadow hired to be the bodyguard for a strange man he meets on his plane ride home, a man who calls himself Mr. Wednesday. A simple enough proposition that is declined at first, until Shadow's girlfriend dies and comes back as a guardian angel from--what seems like--George Romero's dreams, and Mr. Wednesday turns out to be a god, and the ruling gods of the present are out to recruit Shadow and destroy his employer and all his kind. It's splendid storytelling all the way around.

#4: The Thief of Always by Clive Barker - While Barker is known best for writing some exemplary horror fiction, he can also tell one helluva children's fantasy tale. In this one, a young boy named Harvey Swick is whisked off to a magical mansion at invitation of a mysterious stranger called Rictus. The magical place known as Mr. Hood's Holiday House appeals to Harvey like any magic kingdom would to a young boy, especially when it provides an escape from parents and school. But the house, and especially Mr. Hood are too good to be true, and Harvey's fate may end up the same as every other child to set foot on the grounds. For me, to go from Barker's The Great and Secret Show and The Inhuman Condition, then end up with this tale with no presumption of what it's about ... well, I was pleasantly surprised to see a children's story dark enough to make the Brothers Grimm turn pale.

#3: Mort by Terry Pratchett - While stories involving death do hold a certain allure with me, this was the first novel I had read involving Death. You know, the guy with the scythe. Taking place in the famed Discworld universe, Mort is an affable young man unable to find an apprenticeship with any of the more traditional smiths and laborers in his village. Out of luck at the proverbial job fair, Mort lands his official apprenticeship with the Grim Reaper himself. What ensues is one of the funniest stories I've yet had the pleasure of reading. I didn't find Pratchett's The Truth as captivating, but those are only two books of dozens in the Discworld tales, so I'm bound to find another gem. Thud!, after all, is sitting on my TBR pile.

#2: The Golden Compass by Phillip Pullman - It's my favorite YA fantasy novel, so deserves it's spot among these other four novels. I could have added the two other novels from the His Dark Materials trilogy to this list, but I thought it best to focus on one. And since this book hooked me from the get-go, why not give it a nod. Lyra Silvertongue and Iorek Byrneson may be two of my favorite characters in any piece of literature I've read in my life. The story is captivating and worthy of any praise it receives, and undeserving of the ignorant scorn it's been given by others. I would welcome this book and this series to be included in any elementary school's required reading lists.

#1: Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman - This was the first book by Gaiman I got the chance to read. It took very few pages for me to come to think of it as an unheralded classic. It's popular, sure, especially among Gaiman's fans, but I think those outside those borders would be doing themselves a favor by reading this novel. I think I hold this tale of Anansi and his sons, Fat Charlie and Spider, with such wonder because it ran me through an emotional gamut. I laughed, I held my breath in suspense, I cheered, and I came within a whisker of shedding a tear towards the end. If there's ever been a negative word uttered against this novel, pay it no mind because it's the word of an imbecile. Am I too partisan?

August 6, 2009

A Bibliophile's Bookshelf Hosts Bookworms Carnival: Young Adult Fantasy Edition

I mentioned it a couple of days ago, but it's worth mentioning again that the book blog, A Bibliophile's Bookshelf, is hosting the latest Bookworms Carnival. This one dedicated to books categorized as young adult fantasy. You can find the blog entry HERE.

At the bottom of the plentiful offering of reviews from various book blogs, Bella added a question to bloggers to share for the occasion.

Tell us who your favorite YA Fantasy author is, or your favorite YA Fantasy book, and why it is so special to you.--A Bibliophile's Bookshelf

For me, it's an easy answer. I still regard Phillip Pullman as one of the very best authors when it comes to YA Fantasy, thanks to the stellar "His Dark Materials" trilogy. When I got back into reading, I didn't really consider delving into the literature aimed at the younger crowd. However, when I caught wind of this trilogy--right around the time they began filming The Golden Compass with Nicole Kidman and Daniel Craig--I decided I was likely missing out on something special. I was right.

I didn't actually get a hold of a copy of The Golden Compass in book form until the movie had been released in theaters. When I did finally read it, I was hooked. The characters are simultaneously preposterous and genuine, and the connection forged between Lyra and Iorek (I'm a sucker for a talking polar bear in battle armor) is one for the ages. I liked the movie as well, though the ending left a lot to be desired. I haven't heard about how the prospects of a film adaptation to The Subtle Knife are progressing, but I have my fingers crossed.

In keeping with this theme of Pullman and YA Fantasy, I'll be posting a review of The Golden Compass in August. I'll also be posting a review of Heather Brewer's Eighth Grade Bites. As well, there are the two reviews noted in Bella's blog entry, which I have already posted: Cassandra Clare's City of Bones; and John Marco's Starfinder.

A big thanks to Bella again for hosting this latest incarnation of the Bookworms Carnival. I've been enjoying this psuedo-blog tour the Carnival has going on. There's been a lot of great finds thanks to the blog entries connected with it.