March 31, 2011

Chasing Tale Diaries: Books I Will Never Read

Never judge a book by its cover. That's the truism you hear when it comes to literature--and everything else for that matter. But, for now, let's stick with books.

It may not be right to judge a book by its cover, but is it okay to judge a book by its backstory?

Last year, there was some serious buzz going on about a book called I Am Number Four. The first thing that grabbed my attention was the cover (what was that truism I just mentioned?). I found out the author, Pittacus Lore, was really a pseudonym. For James Frey, the A Million Little Pieces guy, the one who got browbeaten by Oprah for passing his fictionalized book off as a memoir. Yeah, that guy.

Still, I was interested and put the book on my wish list, even mentioning it in my Wish List Wednesday meme. I mean, if the guy was writing straight-up fiction, rather than hoodwinking readers with a B.S. autobiography, I figured it was worth giving a chance. I read A Million Little Pieces, after all, and it wasn't terrible--not great, but not terrible.

But, I haven't read the book yet, nor have I seen the movie based on it, and I probably never will. Why?

I read an article in New York Magazine titled, "James Frey's Fiction Factory," which really irked me. Among the more displeasing realities behind the creation of this book: James Frey didn't even write it, so much as he came up with the story idea and commissioned an aspiring young author to pen the manuscript. That's not such a bad thing on its own, but the young man Frey recruited was coerced into signing a contract that forbade him from revealing himself as having anything to do with the book, and the other stipulations seemed outrageous (you can see a copy of a contract the article's author received).

That sounds fucking shady, man. There's even more disreputable details behind the making of I Am Number Four and how James Frey's cynical, cash-grab enterprise operates. What it all adds up to is the book scratched off my wish list--and I'll be damned if I sit down to watch the movie, either.

So, I ask you: am I unreasonable in dismissing this book entirely without having read it? Heck, I'm basically swearing off anything associated with James Frey, too. Am I wrong, or are you also fed up with Frey?

I'm interested in hearing you think of this book and my opinion on it. Also, are there any books you refuse to read?

March 30, 2011

Wish List Wednesday #92: Victor Gischler's "Go-Go Girls of the Apocalypse"

Sometimes, a book can entice you by its title alone. Such is the case by a post-apocalyptic romp by Victor Gischler called Go-Go Girls of the Apocalypse. Admit it, you kind of want to read it now, too. Don't ya?

Well, if you're still unsure, here's the plot summary for the book, courtesy of Goodreads:

Mortimer Tate was a recently divorced insurance salesman when he holed up in a cave on top of a mountain in Tennessee and rode out the end of the world.  
Go-Go Girls of the Apocalypse begins nine years later, when he emerges into a bizarre landscape filled with hollow reminders of an America that no longer exists. The highways are lined with abandoned automobiles; electricity is generated by indentured servants pedaling stationary bicycles. What little civilization remains revolves around 
Joey Armageddon's Sassy A-Go-Go strip clubs, where the beer is cold, the lap dancers are hot, and the bouncers are armed with M16s.  
Accompanied by his cowboy sidekick Buffalo Bill, the gorgeous stripper Sheila, and the mountain man Ted, Mortimer journeys to the lost city of Atlanta - and a showdown that might determine the fate of humanity.

Pretty cool, huh? I think so, anyway. That's why I'm putting it on my wish list.

March 29, 2011

Getting Graphic: "American Vampire" by Scott Snyder, Rafael Albuquerque & Stephen King

American Vampire
by Scott Snyder and Stephen King
illustrated by Rafael Albuquerque
Vertigo Comics (2010)
ISBN 9781401228309
"Suck on this." The title of Stephen King's foreword seems to be a volley at Stephenie Meyer and all authors who seek to domesticate the revered bloodsuckers of literature. He, along with the story's creator Scott Snyder, want vampires with sharp teeth, bad attitudes, and evil intentions. Well, they've offered a comic book that delivers on all fronts.
Stephen King tackles the origin story, while Scott Snyder offers a parallel storyline that occurs some decades later about vampires in America during the 19th century and early 20th century. The story starts in Los Angeles circa 1925, as Pearl Jones tries to climb her way to fame as an extra on a Hollywood movie lot. After catching the eye of a dashing leading man, she's invited to a party where she is to meet with the big wigs--and a chance at the bright lights. There's no happy ending for Pearl, however, when she winds up the main course for the vampire masters of the leading man and dumped in the California desert to die. But, she doesn't die--thanks to Skinner Sweet.
Skinner Sweet is no hero, we quickly learn, though. Imagine a vicious and remorseless Billy the Kid during 1880, hunted down by lawmen and supposedly killed by the same vampire overlords out to exploit the American West. Instead, Sweet is turned and eventually hunts down the bloodsuckers who created him. And he is a bit different, evolved in a sense, and uses his adaptations to leave a brand new trail of blood on the ground. All the while, a no-nonsense lawman who initially brought Sweet to justice is tormented by his fiance's murder at the hands of Sweet and vows to end him once and for all.
Rafael Albuquerque's artistry on each page seems perfectly suited to capture the nostalgic glamor of the 1920s and the gritty western feel from the 1880s. And the ugliness of the vampires and their animalistic rage comes through in every scene they appear. All in all, it's not an especially gory book, but when blood is spilled, it is in no small amount. The only way I can think to make the book look more authentic is if it was entirely sepia-toned.
I really got a kick out of this book. Yes, vampires are done to death. The same can be said for westerns. Heck, I probably wouldn't have to look that hard to find a sub-genre of vampire westerns. American Vampire really strikes a chord though, and it feels like a new benchmark going forward. A kind of can-you-top-this dare to the rest of the comic book and literary world. With the onslaught of vampire fiction that refuses to die down, maybe someone will come along and offer something that will top this, but I wouldn't hold my breath.
If there's a negative thing to say about this book, I think it would be the villains. Well, the villains other than Skinner Sweet. They felt a bit familiar and less fleshed out compared to other characters. Cliches? Maybe. With a character as iconic as Skinner Sweet, it's a forgivable smudge on an otherwise spectacular story.


March 28, 2011

Rabid Rewind: The Disappearance of Alice Creed

The Disappearance of Alice Creed
starring Gemma Arterton, Martin Compston, & Eddie Marsan
written & directed by J. Blakes
Maple Pictures (2010)

It's hard to recall a movie about a kidnapping that didn't romanticize or sugarcoat the actual criminal act. J. Blakes offers a film that is much sharper edged and remorseless in its portrayal of abduction. Sure, it's still a thriller that borders on exploitation at times, but if you want to see a kidnapping that instills genuine disgust for the abductors and fear for the abducted, you'll want to watch Alice Creed.

The movie begins from the perspective of the two abductors preparing an apartment in some unnamed part of London, boarding up windows, soundproofing walls, and fitting a bed with rope and shackles. Then they go out and get their target, Alice Creed (Arterton). The plan is simple and executed with a cold and detached efficiency. She's gagged, bound, and blindfolded, then tied to the bed, stripped, photographed, redressed in sweats, and left alone in her "cell" while the ransom note is sent replete with photos.

The two men (Compston and Marsan) are convinced the plan will work, but must rigidly remain focused or risk fouling up in some way that will get them arrested or killed. While one shows an aggressive and dominant attitude towards the situation, the other seems to have trepidations about what they are doing. It causes friction, but it's when they're separated that the real trouble brews. And when Alice finds an opening to break free and find help, that's when the stakes rise even higher.

Seeing Arterton's performance is difficult to watch at times, as the fear she exudes is palpable. The humiliation and powerlessness of being stripped and tied to a bed, even being forced to piss in a bottle while still tied to the bed, is an absolutely cringe-inducing ordeal to sit through as the audience. Compared to the abysmal Prince of Persia, which she also starred in, this movie shows her as a standout actress, and not just a pretty girl at the mercy of her captors.

As for the two men in the film, they do a fair job as well, and the interplay between them is rivoting. Suspicions mount and betrayals are formed. And what might otherwise be convoluted comes off as very organic.

There is one big flaw to the film, in my view, and that pertains to a key moment in the first act. I don't want to spoil it, but I will, so if you don't want to know then I suggest you stop reading. You see, Alice manages to get the jump on one of her captors after he unties her so she can defecate in a bucket. She gets his gun and is ready to shoot him and make a break for it, but when the guy takes off his mask and reveals himself as her boyfriend, Danny. He orchestrated the whole kidnapping and ransom to bilk her father of millions--money she's been cut off from--so they can run away together. But the other guy doesn't know they are together, and he's returned to the apartment, so she has to get back in bed and play along with Danny's plan or the whole plan will blow up in his face. And she relents. She gives him the gun and allows herself to be tied and gagged again, so the ransom can be paid, Danny can double-cross his partner, and the lovers can start over somewhere else.

When she decides to play along with Danny's repugnant plan, it sucked me right out of the movie. For two reasons: 1) I doubt any woman--or man for that matter--would not want to escape from that apartment immediately, and even shoot their lover in the scrotum while doing so; 2) she still attempts to escape later in the movie, thus making her look like a complete idiot because she's in an even worse situation as a result of waiting, when she could have made a clean getaway the first time by shooting both captors and walking right out of the building. As a matter of fact, now that I think about it, that's a damned infuriating plot hole.

But, if you can force yourself to ignore the logic of that one huge plot point, the movie is a very engrossing experience. If you can't get over that hump though, the rest of the movie is a waste of time and will only piss you off in the end.

March 25, 2011

The WIN THESE FIVE Zombie Books Giveaway + BONUS

How hard can it be to give someone a book? I've hosted a couple giveaways on this blog, and it doesn't seem all that complicated.

Yet, there are blogs out there that can't seem to handle it. I won't name names, but I will say I'd had a couple disappointing experiences after winning giveaways. In one case, I'm still waiting for nine books to arrive in the mail, and I've been waiting for over a year. Groan. Sufficed to say, I quit holding my breath a while back.

But, rather than piss and moan at length, I figured I would do something positive and host my own little giveaway. I've picked out a few books from my collection, packaged them together, and will give them away to one lucky winner. And they're all zombie books. The five books up for grabs are:

Max Brooks' World War Z - I read and reviewed this one back at the start of 2010. You can read the review by clicking here, if you like. I received this courtesy of Adventures with Cecelia Bedelia in late '09 when she heard I was interested in it. Thanks, Celia!

Tonia Brown's Lucky Stiff - I won this through a giveaway hosted by vvb32reads. You can read my review of it by clicking here. Zombie erotica proved to be an interesting blend of genres. You can also pay a visit to Tonia's blog, if you like.

Brian Keene's The Rising and City of the Dead - These copies purchased in April of last year and were published by Dorchester's Leisure Books imprint. Click here to read why Brian Keene, as of yesterday, is asking everyone to boycott Dorchester. It sucks that he didn't get a penny from these two books when they were bought--PAY YOUR AUTHORS! Still, they're bought and paid for, and it's not like I'm gonna burn 'em in protest. I'd rather prevent sales to Dorchester by giving my copies of these books away to someone. I'm just gonna wait for a reputable publisher to re-release them, then buy them again. Incidentally, you can buy the audiobook formats of these two titles through Dark Realms Audio. In the meantime, BOYCOTT DORCHESTER!

... and an audiobook version of Jane Austen's & Seth Grahame-Smith's Pride & Prejudice & Zombies.

Here are the rules:
- The giveaway is open to anyone living in a country to which Book Depository delivers. Even though the five books listed above will be given from my own personal collection, there is a BONUS prize to keep in mind.

BONUS: If you follow my blog, you will also be eligible to win a sixth bonus zombie book of your choice available via Book Depository ($15 limit).
- If the winner of the five books is not a follower of my blog, I will draw a second name from the entrants who do follow my blog, and they will win that sixth bonus zombie book.
- To become a follower of my blog--and earn a shot at that sixth book--look to the sidebar on the right and follow using either Google Friend Connect or Networked Blogs. Or, you can even follow via Twitter.
- The giveaway will remain open until Friday, April 15th at 12:00 PM EST. I'll then pick at random one winner and announce who it is on the blog shortly thereafter.

Easy enough, right? So CLICK HERE TO FILL OUT THE ENTRY FORM! I've included a couple of extra questions that are not required, but simply to satisfy my own curiosity, like what your favorite zombie book is. GOOD LUCK!

March 24, 2011

On My Radar: #BoycottDorchester

Do you buy books from Dorchester Publishing?

If you do, you may want to reconsider. In what can only be described as shamefully unsettling news, several authors who were at one time or another associated with Dorchester, namely Leisure Books imprint, are not being paid for their work. And this has been going on for months on end.

I won't bother going into the details of it, but you can visit Brian Keene's blog where you will learn many disheartening facts over how he and other authors are being treated in a reprehensible fashion. CLICK HERE.

I haven't purchased a book from Dorchester since I learned of the whole debacle back in July of last year. But, I am now resolute in never purchasing another Leisure title until they have done the right thing and paid the authors what they are due, stop publishing books they no longer have the rights to, and start working towards restoring the reputation of a once heralded publisher of dark fiction.

I wrote a letter to Dorchester earlier today, as encouraged in a blog post by Robert Swartwood, and it looked something like this. If you're so inclined, I'd encourage you to contact them as well and voice your opinion--hopefully in a civil manner, too.

Perhaps this is merely an echo of sentiments already expressed towards Dorchester (and more specifically Leisure Books), but as a voracious reader who has purchased Leisure Books titles in the past, including those by Briane Keene, Ray Garton, Richard Laymon, and Jack Ketchum, the unsettling controversy between Dorchester and disgruntled authors provokes me to send this e-mail.

I have had opportunity to read and review multiple titles that have been released under the Leisure Books banner, but I can not in good conscience offer any further support--whether it be through purchasing books or reviewing them--if the issues expressed by Brian Keene and many others are not diligently addressed and resolved. If authors have been told that they would receive their rights back and/or paid what is owed them, yet actions by Dorchester speak to the contrary, something is seriously wrong and paints a very damaging light on a once heralded and well-respected publisher.

I find it disheartening that a publisher which, in the past, provided me a wellspring of great novels has become what essentially appears to be a blight on the writing world.

I certainly hope for a happy ending to this otherwise sad situation.


Gef Fox
I'm officially boycotting Dorchester Publishing. I don't normally hop on these boycott bandwagons, but in this case I'll make an exception.

Rabid Reads: "The Watcher" by John Brinling

The Watcher
by John Brinling

I'm not particularly well-versed in the psychological thriller genre, especially when it pertains to detectives as the protagonists. So, when John Brinling contacted me about reviewing one of his books, I chose The Watcher because it seemed like an interesting premise and I wanted to challenge myself with the genre again.

The book in one sense is very familiar. There's a serial killer on the loose that has to be stopped with a police lieutenant hellbent on his capture. The not-so-familiar part comes by way of the characters who are not detectives. The protagonist this time around is a paraplegic widow named Janet, who is suffering from horrific out of body experiences in which she witnesses the murderous actions of a serial killer--and he has become aware of her presence through these astral encounters. The detective investigating the murders, Eric, is skeptical of the whole paranormal element to her claims, but he wants to stop the killer at all costs. Plus, he's kind of taken a liking to her.

On the other side of the coin is the killer. Well, killers might be the more accurate way to go, since there are three men at play: Jim Dawson and his two sons, Bruce and Arlo. Any thriller story worth its salt has intriguing villains, and Brinling provides a unique unholy trinity with these guys. Jim is dying of AIDS and is maniacal in his pursuit of preserving his own life and taking the lives of those he blames for his disease. He accomplishes this through his two sons. Bruce, a doctor, is the one who discovers Janet's presence and seeks her out, while obeying his ailing father, and caring for him at the same time. While Arlo, mentally impaired and locked in the basement, is used by them as a kind of avatar through mind control to perform the murders. But, Arlo is also regaining his own mental faculties as a result of Bruce's manipulation, which complicates things down the road.

Honestly, I found the book hard to get into and even harder to finish. Characters like Bruce, Jim, and Arlo were certainly intriguing in their own right, but the story had a slow build in my view and needed something more immediate. I never really got hooked, and my own biases towards the genre didn't help. The last time I tried reading a thriller like this was a novel by Lisa Jackson, and I only made it fifty pages before I quit that one. At least The Watcher does offer a climactic ending that is satisfying on its own, but the road getting there felt too drawn out for my tastes. I guess the main problem for me was the hero end of the story. I never really got behind Janet or Eric, never really rooted for them, so didn't have an invested interest in them winning the day.

For fans of the thriller genre, I'd still recommend giving it a chance. I think the paranormal edge to it may even appeal to some horror fans. Just not this one.

March 23, 2011

Wish List Wednesday #91: Richard Matheson's "Other Kingdoms"

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

Do you have an auto-buy author? I heard that term for the first time this year, meaning you basically buy a particular author's book automatically--no questions asked. Well, if I was gonna have an auto-buy author, I figure it'd be Richard Matheson.

Tor Books is publishing a new novel from the iconic storyteller called Other Kingdoms. Honestly, that's all I need to know about the book to know I want it. But, here's a little write-up summary courtesy of Goodreads:

The year is 1918. Alex White, a young American soldier recently wounded in the Great War, comes to Gatford to escape his troubled past. The pastoral English village seems the perfect spot to heal his wounded body and soul, but the neighboring woods are said to be haunted by capricious, even malevolent, spirits. He is warned to steer clear of the woods, and the perilous faerie kingdom it borders, but Alex cannot help himself. Drawn to its verdant mysteries, he finds love, danger, and wonders that will forever change his view of the world.

Sold. So, are you a fan of Matheson? Figure you'd be interested in reading this book, too?

Moira Rogers' Bloodhounds Series Promotion: Enter to Win a Wi-Fi Kindle 3!

Wilder’s Mate Kindle Contest

Want to win a brand new Wi-Fi Kindle 3?

Lord knows I do, so if you're like me then you'll want to check out this new giveaway hosted by author Moira Rogers to help celebrate the release of her new Bloodhounds series. Here's the write-up on the first book, Wilder's Mate, via Amazon:
Wilder Harding is a bloodhound, created by the Guild to hunt down and kill vampires on America’s frontier. His enhanced abilities come with a high price: on the full moon, he becomes capable of savagery beyond telling, while the new moon brings a sexual hunger that borders on madness.

Rescuing a weapons inventor from undead kidnappers is just another assignment, though one with an added complication—keeping his hands off the man’s pretty young apprentice, who insists on tagging along.
At odds with polite society, Satira’s only constant has been the aging weapons inventor who treats her like a daughter. She isn’t going to trust Wilder with Nathaniel’s life, not when the Guild might decide the old man isn’t worth saving. Besides, if there’s one thing she’s learned, it’s that brains are more important than brawn.
As the search stretches far longer than Wilder planned, he finds himself fighting against time. If Satira is still at his side when the new moon comes, nothing will stop him from claiming her. Worse, she seems all too willing. If their passion unlocks the beast inside, no one will be safe. Not even the man they’re fighting to save.

Warning: This book contains a crude, gun-slinging, vampire-hunting hero who howls at the full moon and a smart, stubborn heroine who invents mad-scientist weapons. Also included: wild frontier adventures, brothels, danger, betrayal and a good dose of wicked loving in an alternate Wild West.

DETAILS: All you have to do to be eligible to win the Kindle is leave a comment on this post, and you can have your chance! For more chances to win, visit the main contest page. Every participating blog you visit gives you another chance to win!

This post is part of Moira Rogers’ Wild Web Adventure Promo. For full rules and disclaimers, or to hold your own kindle contest, visit the contest post. Winners will be chosen during the first week of April.

March 22, 2011

Rabid Rewind: After.Life

starring Christina Ricci, Liam Neeson, Justin Long
directed by Agnieszka Wojtowicz-Vosloo
screenplay by Agnieszka Wojtowicz-Vosloo, Paul Vosloo, & Jakub Korolczuk
Anchor Bay Films (2010)

It's frustrating when a movie with such a strong cast brings such a weak story. After.Life had the potential to be a creepy, suspenseful film about death, mourning, and questions of the afterlife. If this was a song instead of a film, it would have been sung just a bit off-key.

Anna (Ricci) is a teacher in a tumultuous relationship with her boyfriend Paul (Long). After an incendiary argument at a restaurant, she leaves and is subsequently killed in a car accident. She awakes, however, and finds herself in the mortuary of the same funeral parlor in which she attended the funeral of her high-school music teacher the day before. The mortician (Neeson) and her carry on a conversation, where he informs her she is in fact dead and he is preparing her for her own funeral.

Resistant to the idea of death, Anna believes she's been drugged and abducted by the mortician, and begins searching for a way to escape. In the meantime, her boyfriend is torn up over her death, the fact that Anna's mother blames him, the director's refusal to grant him visitation of her body prior to the funeral, and the disturbing dreams in which he sees her. Then, there is the bullied student who takes on an odd preoccupation with Anna's death, as he visits the funeral parlor and converses with the director.

There is the lingering question of whether Anna really is dead, though. The mortician tells her that he has a gift that he can talk with the dead, and only he can hear them. But, while Anna is at first paralyzed, she soon regains her ability to move and sets out to escape. Now, if she's dead, then how is it she can prance about the building in her red silk camisole--a sight which I would swear was the main motivation behind making this movie at all--and cause the mortician to worry someone will see her roaming about at night. Is she a zombie?

The movie has a look that is, frankly, great. For a story that takes place in a funeral parlor for the majority of the time, the place is depicted with a strong aura of isolation and dread. The costumes are really well done too, what with Ricci's red silk teddy and Neeson's prim and proper attire. Even some of the dialogue is very good, with good on screen chemistry between Ricci and Neeson. But when all of the ingredients are brought together, the movie kind of falls apart. I won't go so far as to say the movie is terrible, but it feels like someone really dropped the ball and there is a ton of wasted potential.

Meme, Myself, & I: What Five Books Would You Save?

If you had to leave your house in a hurry, and you could only grab five volumes off your shelf, which five would they be and why?

This question was posed to a lot of bloggers by John Ottinger, over at Grasping for the Wind, who recently had an ordeal involving a forest fire in his area. You can read my response, as well as those of several other bloggers, by clicking here--and even leave a comment with which five books you'd want to save from certain destruction.

Also, in light of the horrendous tragedies that have befallen on Japan, you can visit the Red Cross and make a donation if you so wish. I imagine every penny counts right now.

March 21, 2011

Getting Graphic: "Locke & Key Vol. 2: Head Games" by Joe Hill & Gabriel Rodriguez

Locke & Key Volume 2: Head Games
by Joe Hill
illustrated by Gabriel Rodriguez
IDW Publishing (2009)
ISBN 9781600104831

Head Games takes the strange, ghostly tale told in Welcome to Lovecraft and takes a hard left into even weirder territory. It's been six months or so since I read the first volume in the Locke & Key series, but it didn't take long at all to get sucked into the story and watch it pick up right where it left off.

The first volume introduced the three Locke children coming to terms with their father's murder at the hands of a disturbed teen, Sam Lesser, plus Sam hunting them down, and a menacing spirit named Dodge seeking escape from its prison at the bottom of a well. In this second volume, the serial killer (Sam Lesser) is dead, but Dodge is free and disguised as a new friend to the Locke children. An affable teen boy named Zach.

Zach's--or Dodge's--disguise isn't perfect, though. He's recognized by an elderly schoolteacher who knew the Locke kids' father and his best friend, Luke--a previous incarnation of Dodge. With me so far? Good, because sufficed to say the teacher doesn't live long enough to get the word out. In fact, most of this volume deals with Dodge playing a bit of cat and mouse with everyone who either clues in to him or at least suspects there is something amiss.

The youngest of the three Locke kids, Bodie, doesn't play quite so prominent a roll as he did in the first volume, aside from finally figuring out how the mysterious second key he found works. And when he finally figures out what the key opens ... well, minds are blown. To be more accurate, minds are opened. Literally. It's a pretty wild concept that changes the tone of the book entirely. Where Welcome to Lovecraft had a pretty damned dark current running throughout it, Head Games has a bit lighter, more fantastical approach.

The Locke kids are great characters to root for and the continuation of their stories works well, played against the development of Dodge as the villain. The incredibly brief look at their mother and her burgeoning drinking problem and detachment from everything felt like it should have been touched upon more. I guess that's prelude to the third volume and whatever consequences exist will come to bear then.

While the story doesn't lead to any huge confrontation at the end, it instead offers a lot of tiny revelations, which seems to all be buildup. More often than not, I'm disappointed by the middle part of a trilogy, but this time I just went with it and really walked away satisfied. I do, however, really want some crazy shit to go down in the third volume.

March 18, 2011

Rabid Reads: "The Dead Man: Face of Evil" by Lee Goldbert & William Rabkin

The Dead Man: Face of Evil (Book One)
by Lee Goldberg & William Rabkin
Adventures in Television, Inc. (2011)
The Dead Man blog

The new release is described as "... the first in an exciting new series of original short novels that blends the horror of Stephen King's THE GUNSLINGER with the action/adventure of Don Pendleton's MACK BOLAN: THE EXECUTIONER."

I have not read Pendleton's work, but I have read King's Dark Tower series. And while Face of Evil does carry an unrepentant amount of horror within its pages, though not to an imposing degree, the tone of the story is considerably different from The Gunslinger. It's far more grounded in our world with a protagonist far easier to relate to when reading. Perhaps this is where the Pendleton side of things comes into play.

On a cold February day, a body is discovered frozen under the snow at a ski resort. The body is that of Matthew Cahill, a man declared dead after he's lost in an avalanche three months prior--but he's not dead. Somehow, defying medical reasoning, Matthew survived. His ordeals, however, are just beginning as a malevolent force is waiting in the wings, ready to torment him and everyone he holds dear. What's worse, Matthew has crossed paths with this entity before and lost his wife in the process.

The book carries a blue-collar charm that provides a nice counter-balance to the more fantastical and gruesome elements of the story. Matthew is a sawmill worker, or was rather in the wake of layoffs, and is a precursor to his fateful encounter with the avalanche while on vacation with his new girlfriend, Rachel. Their budding and tragic romance provides a lot of the backbone to this story, as Matthew has to cope with the loss of his wife, the antics of his best friend, the loss of his job, and the subsequent resurrection from the ice and snow.

A lot for one guy to deal with, and it only gets heavier.

The book is a short novel, running probably closer to novella in length. And that's kind of a kick in the teeth, since the book only offers a small measure of closure in the time the story is told. This is the first book in a series, though. As such, it feels like the season premiere to a very promising show. Since it's a book, I'll have to wait a wee bit longer than a week for the next installment, but I'm a patient guy. Actually, the second installment is due to be released in a few weeks: The Dead Man #2: Hell in Heaven, which is again co-authored by Lee Goldberg and William Rabkin, with the series shaping up to include nine books in total.

I think this will end up being one to keep on eye on throughout the year.


March 17, 2011

Rabid Rewind: Buried

starring Ryan Reynolds
directed by Rodrigo Cortes
Lionsgate (2010)

What are the chances of being able to sit through a film that shows a man in a box for ninety minutes and nothing more? Prior to seeing this film, I would have told you there was no way in hell I'd sit through something so flagrantly foppish a display of film-making. Well, turns out I did--and I didn't have a boring time either.

Ryan Reynolds plays a truck driver, working in Iraq for a contractor, who wakes up in a coffin with nothing more than a lighter and his cellphone. The last thing he remembers is coming under enemy fire and seeing other drivers shot and killed in the firefight. So, he's buried alive and has little more than half a charge on his phone's battery. Time to panic. And that's the pull of the movie--trying to suck you into the experience and feel as isolated and helpless as him. It works to a better degree than if the director had opted to show a single scene outside the coffin. I'm pretty sure that if the cameras had been permitted to go anywhere outside that cramped space, the entire illusion of him being trapped and the feelings that go along with it would all have been lost.

The movie relies on a couple of things heavily. For one, Ryan Reynolds basically has to carry this entire movie on his back. Through the entire ordeal, all you see is either pitch black or small pockets of light that show his face. My television is crap for showing scenes that are in any kind of darkness, so I had to rely on the voice acting in the movie to carry me through quite a few scenes. This actually let me get up to cook supper and leave the movie running--didn't miss a whole lot beyond a few shots of Reynolds' panicked mug. The other thing the movie relies on is the artificial conspiracy theory floating around outside the box. Who put him there? What do they want? How are his employers and the government involved? Is anyone actually trying to rescue him?

The interplay between Reynolds and whichever actor is speaking to him on the phone comes off quite well, and a couple of the voices are pretty distinct. When he speaks to his employer later in the movie, try to tell me you don't know exactly who that is and are picturing him sitting in an office somewhere during that scene.

For a movie that is as claustrophobic as the setting in which it takes place, it works fairly well. It's not a movie I'll be rushing to watch a second time, though. It's more of a movie experience that a viewer just wants to be able to say they've seen. It's a small movie and can be thankful of Reynolds' performance and star power for giving it as much publicity as it did last fall.

March 16, 2011

Wish List Wednesday #90: Jack Ketchum's "The Woman"

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

During the Sundance Film Festival, one loud-mouthed audience member achieved more publicity for a horror film than just about any publicist in attendance, whil simultaneously demonstrating the futility of protesting a movie of which he disapproved.

The collaboration of Jack Ketchum and Lucky McKee may have struck a bit of gold with the latest adaptation of Ketchum's work, The Woman. But before I ever get a chance to see the movie, I want to get my hands on the book. It's out via Crossroad Press.

Here's the write-up:

The Woman is the powerful story of the last survivor of a feral tribe of cannibals who have terrorized the east coast from Maine into Canada for years now. Badly wounded in a battle with police, she takes refuge in a cave overlooking the sea. Christopher Cleek is a slick, amoral — and unstable — country lawyer who, out hunting one day, sees her bathing in a stream. Fascinated, he follows her to her cave. Cleek has many dark secrets and to these he’ll add another. He will capture her, lock her in his fruit cellar, tame her and civilize her. To this end he’ll enlist his long-suffering wife Belle, his teenage son and daughter Brian and Peg, and even his little girl Darlin’, to aid him. So the question becomes, who is more savage? The hunter or the game?

How about you? Any interest in reading this one too?

March 15, 2011

Getting Graphic: "Scott Pilgrim and the Infinite Sadness" by Bryan Lee O'Malley

Scott Pilgrim and the Infinite Sadness (Volume 3)
by Bryan Lee O'Malley
Oni Press (2006)
ISBN 193266422X

I was hoping to get through the entire series of Scott Pilgrim books before I saw the movie, but some things don't pan out the way you expect. Oh well.

So, at this point in Scott's story, he and his friends, including his new girlfriend, Romana Flowers, are at a concert. But who is performing? Why, none other than Scott's ex, the gal who broke his heart oh-so-many years ago, Envy Adams--just don't call her Natalie. In the movie, Envy Adams plays a pretty minor role, but this entire book is pretty much dedicated to her and the relationship she and Scott had. Oh the drama.

It's pretty much at this point in the series that you need to read from the beginning, because if you're not caught up on events and aren't familiar with the characters and their personalities, you are going to be lost as a reader. I say this because it had been several months since I last read the second book and had to do some mental tallying to remember how each character related to the next. At least seeing the movie provided a primer and helped, so that's something.

The big conflict in the book stems from the fact that Romana's ex-boyfriend, the next one in line that Scott must defeat, is the current boyfriend of Envy Adams. After a tense pow-wow in the green room backstage, the brawl ensues between the two boys, which basically has Scott getting his but handed to him by Todd, who is not only vegan but imbued with psychic powers from his self-righteous lifestyle choice. Before a winner is declared though, the fight stops and they schedule a rematch at a new location.

During the lulls and non-fighting segments of the story, we get flashbacks to Scott's and Envy's relationship in high school, and slowly discover why she is such a huge bitch, and why both she and Scott still carry such resentment towards each other. Meanwhile, Scott's other ex-girlfriend from the first two books, Knives Chau, keeps popping her head into the fray--still in love with Scott, but trying to move on in her own way.

The book carries a lot of the same charm that O'Malley put in the first two books, but carries more of an emo tone with Scott's dwelling on his relationship with Envy. Panels of him being all sad and confused and vulnerable. And with that, the humor takes a backseat more than it did in the two previous books. But when the humor is there, it's hitting on all cylinders.

Not sure when I will get a chance to read the fourth volume, but I'm looking forward to it.

March 14, 2011

An Interview with Camille Alexa, author of "Push of the Sky"

If you pay a visit to Skull Salad Reviews, you'll see I reviewed Camille Alexa's short story/poetry collection last month, Push of the Sky. As an added bonus, I had the opportunity to ask Camille a few questions regarding her writing and her love of storytelling.

Here's a quick bio:
When not on ten wooded acres near Austin, Texas, Camille Alexa lives in Portland, Oregon in an Edwardian home with very crooked windows. She graduated from the University of Toronto (not recently, she wishes to disclose) with degrees in Women’s Studies (interesting, but not very useful), Fine Art (useful and terribly interesting, and as lucrative as advertised), and English.

And now, onto the interview:

Q: You discovered writing almost by accident if I understand things correctly, only starting a few years or so ago after getting a laptop as a birthday gift. Do you think writing is something you would have been drawn to inevitably, or wonder how fated that gift and its effect on you might really be?

Camille: I don't believe in fate. My characters sometimes do, but they very often believe things I don't. When I started writing I'd just wound down this intensely fulfilling stint as a vintage shop owner in Austin, where I'd channeled all my creative energies for a decade. In college I'd been a visual artist -- had a couple shows, was serious about it -- and always felt a little wistful I hadn't continued along that path. But for me, the form in which creativity manifests is fluid. And you're absolutely correct: I stumbled into writing fiction purely by chance. Had a romance with it, in fact. Fell hard and was grateful and astounded to have discovered it.

Q: You're anti-genre, in that you aren't a big fan of labeling your work in any one such classification, especially since a fair number of the stories in Push of the Sky defy the borders of genre. But, do you by any chance have a favorite genre? One you find yourself returning to again and again? Or, do you purposefully avoid that sort of thing?

Camille: It's not just with my work; my favorite fiction always eludes rigid genre classifications. And of course I'm not anti-genre, in that the stuff I love best is often shelved as Fantasy, Science Fiction, Horror, Suspense, Romance, Western . . . It might be more accurate to say I recognize genre labels as marketing tools, and don't find them particularly useful to writers or even readers. It's shorthand for "if you like this, then buy this." But I think those too lazy or too frightened to read beyond labels and presorted categories do themselves an enormous disservice.

Having said all that, I admit I identify as a Science Fiction writer, though the longer I write, the less accurate that feels.

Q: "Writing by the headlights": This is how you described your inspiration and motivation when writing. Just start with an image or some other prompt and go. Is this strictly with short fiction, or has this been how you've come to create longer works as well? Do you do much prep work at all before diving into a story?

Camille: I rarely do prep work for a story, though I sometimes get distracted early on with research if I see a story taking shape. E.L. Doctorow said, "Writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way." So far, that's pretty much how I've written everything -- novels, short stories, poems. And I have found that with novels it makes sense for me to stop about 2/3 through and outline at that point, so I understand where the story is trying to lead me. More like making sure your airplane is lined up with the landing strip, I suppose. And some pieces take many passes to feather over the rough edges, tie all the flapping loose bits together, excise the ungainly growths and vestigial limbs some stories develop as they go along. . .

Q: For a guy who doesn't gravitate towards poetry, I was quite struck by "I Consider My Cadaver". Did your poetry come about the same time as you start into short fiction, or did one kind of manifest itself while working on the other?

Camille: I like that question. I'd been writing novels for about a year when someone sent me an open submissions call for theMachine of Death anthology. I wrote "Flaming Marshmallow and Other Deaths" and instantly fell for short fiction the way I had for writing in general the previous year. I crushed so hard on short fic! I was giddy with it. I spent a winter under eight feet of Vermont snow, writing fiction every day until my eyes ached. It was a serious rush, drafting a short story from start to finish in just a day. When I realized that level of intensity was unsustainable, I started writing poems, which I imagined as tiny stories. Not all poems have a narrative focus, but that's how they are for me: little shooting star stories, brief, but with meaning beyond the mere word-salad stuff I'd associated with modern poetry before I started paying attention to it. Strange Horizons, ChiZine (where "I Consider My Cadaver" first appeared), Goblin Fruit -- there's some amazing poetry available online.

The poems I love best all tell stories, even if they're composed of just a handful of words. In some ways poetry is the hardest form to write. It's less forgiving a medium, and bad poetry is far worse than bad fiction. All the fat is trimmed away, so everything's exposed. It's that very rawness which can make poetry so powerful.

Q: As a relatively new writer, how do you relate to the burgeoning digitization of literature? Do you find yourself wistful for what seems to be a bygone era, or are you eager--even excited--to see how the landscape looks within the next decade of writing and publishing?

Camille: I'm a self-taught typist and use just a couple fingers on each hand and lots of back-button, which must be incredibly slow by normal writing standards. But just the thought of writing with pen and paper makes me faintly nauseous with the sheer drudgery of it, as I'm sure the idea of banging out every letter on a keyboard will one day nauseate (or charm -- perhaps it will seem romantic? typing on a silvery keyboard by candlelight?) future writers. I've eschewed postal submissions as a general rule, and much of my work appears online or in audio rather than print -- that's simply the landscape in which I've always written. That's why it was so amazing to see all those stories brought together in PUSH OF THE SKY! Libraries! I heart them!

Q: Particular Friends is the most recent work of yours of which I am aware, which can be found at Red Penny Papers. What can readers expect next from you, assuming they've been smart enough to have already read that highly entertaining series?

Camille: A couple pieces have appeared since "Particular Friends" in places like Beneath Ceaseless Skies and Semaphore Magazine, but I'm in a holding pattern right now with short fiction, concentrating on writing novels. Some writers seem able to hop in and out of the headspace it takes to write different lengths and formats. That's not me. One of the reasons I have to write . . . well, not exactly quickly (start to end takes me an average length of time), but in a rush, with everything pouring out onto the virtual page later to be shaped and tweaked and honed . . . is that I need to occupy this interior landscape, live there for a while. Fiction feels like reporting, to me. Like I'm traveling to another reality and just writing down what I observe as a visitor.

So I'm currently visiting some landscapes I'm hoping will become novels. Watch this space.

I'd like to extend a sincere thanks to Camille for participating in this interview. If you'd like to learn more about Camille and her work, you can visit her website, or you can even send her an e-mail. And if you're interested in purchasing a copy of Push of the Sky for yourself, you can find it at and Powell's Books.

March 11, 2011

Rabid Reads: "The Repossession Mambo" by Eric Garcia

The Repossession Mambo
by Eric Garcia
HarperCollins (2009)
328 pages
ISBN 9780061802836

Imagine a world where artificial organ implants are as plentiful and easily installed as parts on a car. Now imagine the same scuzzball business practices, used in the automotive industry, employed in the medical field. Yeah, not exactly Utopia, is it?
Garcia's novel is written as a firsthand account from a Bio-Repo man as he's on the run from the very company who once employed him. The repo man tells his story via an old typewriter on whatever bits of paper he can find, as he hides out and hopes the noise doesn't alert anyone to his presence in an abandoned building within the city he used to work.
The way the story is laid out is a disjointed memoir of a man basically writing out all the mistakes he made in his life, all of which have contributed to where he finds himself now: on the run from his former employers with an artificial heart he never asked for and can't afford to pay for. But the majority of the story is about his life, particularly his formidable days in the army and his more contentious days in married life--with four ex-wives in his wake.
I became interested in this book when I saw the trailers for the film last year. But a movie trailer is a terrible way to gauge the potential of the book its based on. I went in expecting a rather high-octane cat-and-mouse chase between a skilled repo man and his former peers now out to get him. What I got was a meandering lament, albeit an engaging one, from a character that spent more time seemingly squirreled away in front of an antique typewriter, surrounded by advanced technology in a kind of juxtaposition there, than he did actively evading the authorities.
I did manage to quite enjoy this novel, despite my preconceptions being dashed within the first hundred pages. The sci-fi elements are plentiful and articulated well enough for a dullard like me not to feel overwhelmed by all the jargon, and the repo man's tone has enough of that sarcastic tone to make him sympathetic. It'd be really easy not to give a damn whether this character lived or died, but Garcia presents him in a way that made me root for him towards the end, and the ending itself does provide a measure of satisfaction. Not what I was expecting there either, but that turned out to be a good thing.
I'll be seeing the film adaptation, starring Jude Law and Forest Whitaker, soon enough. It'll be interesting to see what elements of the novel make it into the film, because I can't see it being strictly adhered to. Movie audiences probably wouldn't have gone for that at all. Readers, especially ones who like sci-fi, should find something to like with the book at least.


March 10, 2011

On My Radar: Michael West's "Cinema of Shadows"

Here's a press release I recently received from the fine folks at Seventh Star Press, which I thought I'd share with you.

Seventh Star Press Proudly Announces the Addition of Award-Winning Author Michael West in a Three Book Deal
Seventh Star Press is proud to announce the addition of award-winning horror author Michael West to its family of writers, with the acquisition of the novel Cinema of Shadows, and two more titles that will all have a thematic connection with the town of Harmony, Indiana.
Building upon the recent additions of Jackie Gamber, with her YA Fantasy Leland Dragon Series, and Steven Shrewsbury, with his dark-edged, heroic fantasy novel Thrall, Michael West’s Cinema of Shadows continues to demonstrate the range and quality of writing that is finding a home at Seventh Star Press.
“Seventh Star Press clearly loves its authors and has great respect for their work,” Michael said. “Not to mention the fact that they put out some of the most exciting and beautifully crafted books in the industry. I am thrilled to be a part of the family, and hope readers will be equally thrilled by what we have in store for them with these Harmony, Indiana novels.”
Cinema of Shadows welcomes readers to the Woodfield Movie Palace.
The night the Titanic sank, it opened for business...and its builder died in his chair. In the 1950s, there was a fire; a balcony full of people burned to death. And years later, when it became the scene of one of Harmony, Indiana's most notorious murders, it closed for good. Abandoned, sealed, locked up tight...until the present day.
One momentous night, Professor Geoffrey Burke and his Parapsychology students go to the Woodfield in search of evidence, hoping to find irrefutable proof of a haunting. Instead, they discover that, in this theater, the terrors are not confined to the screen.
Michael West is a fast rising force in the horror world. His work includes novels such as The Wide Game (Graveside Tales), and a single author collection, Skull Full of Kisses (Graveside Tales). He also has an array of short fiction published, spanning many magazines and anthologies, including appearances in Shroud Magazine, and the Apex Science Fiction and Horror Digest.
Amanda DeBord, who is also the editor of Stephen Zimmer’s epic urban fantasy Rising Dawn Saga, will be handling editing duties on Cinema of Shadows.
“I was so excited to learn that Michael was going to be a part of the Seventh Star family,” Amanda commented. “It's been about five years since I read my first Michael West story, but I haven't forgotten the name. He's a fellow Midwestern writer, and really captures the atmosphere of where I grew up. This book was creepy from the get-go, and I think everyone is going to love it."
The first edition of the book will feature cover art and additional illustrations from acclaimed fantasy/horror artist Matthew Perry.
The projected release date window for Cinema of Shadows is late summer of 2011, with versions released in hardcover, trade paperback, and several eBook formats, covering owners of the Kindle, the iPad, the Nook, Sony eReaders, and other compatible electronic reading devices.
The second novel, Spook House, is being planned for a summer release in 2012, with a third novel to be released in 2013. Both titles will involve the town of Harmony, Indiana, as the location grows to become synonymous with terror in the literary world.
Updates and additional information can be obtained at the official site for Seventh Star Press, at , or at the author's site at

March 9, 2011

Wish List Wednesday #89: Joe R. Lansdale's "Devil Red"

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

I recently had the chance to cross Savage Season off my wish list, the first "Hap & Leonard" novel by Joe R. Lansdale. You can expect a review of it sometime down the road. But, now that I have read it, I have an appetite for more. And wouldn't you know he has a new adventure with the two men out now.

In Devil Red, the two east Texas ruffians turned investigators take on a cold case of an unsolved murder. Turns out it deals with some kind of vampire cult and they soon end up fighting for their lives.

Now, this sounds like a much different book from Savage Season, but if it has the same great kinds of characters and pace that the first book had, then I think I'm going to really enjoy this one. It's the eighth book in the series though, and I wonder just how much I'm going to be missing out on if I skip the other six and go right to this one.