June 30, 2011

And the Winner Is ...

Okay, I threw the names in a little spreadsheet, asked Random.org to give me a number. Bingo, bango, we have a winner!

So congratulations to YzhaBella! You just won a copy of MJ Rose's The Hypnotist, courtesy of MJ and TLC Blog Tours. I'll send an e-mail your way right now.

Thanks to everyone who entered. Thanks to TLC Blog Tours for inviting me to take part in the blog tour. And a big THANKS to MJ Rose for being kind enough to include a guest post for her stop at my blog last week.

June 29, 2011

Rabid Rewind: Black Swan

Black Swan
starring Natalie Portman, Mila Kunis, Vincent Cassel, Winona Ryder, & Barbara Hershey
directed by Darren Aronofsky
written by Mark Heyman, Andres Heinz, & John McLaughlin
20 Century Fox (2010)
Purchase via: Amazon

Black Swan may be the least subtle of subtle films I've ever seen. For all of its beauty, drama, brilliant performances, and indelible style from director, Darren Aronofsky, the film really is as subtle as a cinder block.

Nina (Portman) is an introverted ballerina, pushing herself beyond her limits so she might win the lead role of her company's version of Swan Lake. The pressure she puts on herself is only amplified by her domineering, obsessive mother (Hershey) and her arrogant, relentless director (Cassel). Then, as she finally--almost inexplicably--gets her chance, enter a gregarious and fearless dance rival (Kunis).

A drama like this set in the backdrop of a ballet company sounds about as appealing to me as actually going to the ballet. I have endured sitting through a ballet--mercifully in the comfort of my own home as a child on a Sunday night--and it just didn't take. If that makes me a brute, so be it. Still, I was utterly swept up in the story told in this film. Just as Aronofsky's The Wrestler provided a tragic and riveting look at a performer's life in the world of professional wrestling, Black Swan managed to offer an even darker and more frightening portrayal of a desperate and tragic performer, this time in the world of ballet.

While the characters are familiar archetypes and behave in ways audiences might find predictable, the intensity and sincerity of the performances brought something electric to the screen. It becomes pretty easy to see why Natalie Portman walked away with an Oscar this year. As for Mila Kunis, it is downright amazing to see how the girl from That 70s Show (and the abominable American Psycho 2) has turned into a well-rounded and captivating actress.

A surprising treat about the movie comes from the sound. Moments when Nina is at her most fragile, and experiences that can only be described as lapses in reality, are amplified by a great score and unsettling sound effects. One particularly intimate scene between Portman and Kunis features some sinister sounds as the wings tattooed on Kunis' back seem to take on a life of their own. Very cool stuff.

If I'm forced to say something bad about this movie, I guess I'll go with the final act, where Nina's tenuous hold on reality seems to slip right off the precipice. The twists and turns of the performance and her embracing of the Black Swan character reach a point of losing believability, but I avoided cynicism and stepped away from the film thoroughly entertained--and a wee bit haunted.

If you haven't seen this movie yet, what are you waiting for?

June 28, 2011

Rabid Reads: "The Caretaker of Lorne Field" by Dave Zeltserman

The Caretaker of Lorne Field
by Dave Zeltserman
237 pages
ISBN 9781590203033
Purchase via: Amazon / Book Depository

Some small towns, particularly the ones with a long history, tend to have some lingering traditions and legends that border on the bizarre. In Dave Zeltserman's The Caretaker of Lorne Field, a groundskeeper tends a field in the middle of the woods, pulling what appear to be weeds, from the spring thaw until the first frost--every single day. His name is Jack Durkin, the Caretaker of Lorne Field, a hallowed position in town that was his birthright and has been the responsibility of every eldest son in the Durkin clan.

Why tend a derelict field of weeds? Because, if he doesn't, those weeds will grow into monsters that will ravage the earth of every living thing. The creatures are called Aukowies, beastly, ravenous creatures with a malevolence unmatched by anything known to man. The trouble is that the present generation in the town passes off the legend as superstition, and consider Jack Durkin a fool for espousing such malarkey. Even Jack's wife and two sons don't believe him when he says he's saving the world everyday.

The story is a terrific tug-of-war between Jack Durkin and nearly the entire town, particularly his wife, over the existence of the Aukowies and the Contract that binds the Durkin family to Lorne Field. Jack tends the field, wearing the scars of war and the ravages of time, making a modest salary for his deeds. It's a thankless job. Meanwhile, his wife, Lydia, is resentful and doesn't believe the Aukowies are anything more than a silly tradition that should have been abandoned decades ago. She lives in poverty and wants something more before she too is withered to the bone.

The book was a little difficult to get sucked into at first, because Jack and Lydia are both utterly unlikable characters in the beginning. Hard-bitten, caustic, and verbally abusive, neither of them really present themselves as sympathetic characters, rather a bitter, old married couple reaching the end of their rope. As the story develops though, and the two sons come into play--the eldest highly resistant to becoming the next Caretaker--and Jack's relationships with certain townsfolk become clear, it becomes a hard book to put down.

The generation gaps are widely apparent and exploited to great effect. And the growing question of Jack's sanity becomes very taut, as his wife and others in town conspire to undermine his duties in Lorne Field so he will be forced to give up what they consider an insane tradition that needs to be erased. Zeltserman presents opposing points of view that keep you guessing until the final chapter whether Jack Durkin is right or simply insane.

Some of the dialogue in the beginning of the novel between Jack and Lydia feels very tinny, and created a bit of a stumbling block for me as I tried to get into it. Once I got about a third of the way through, that kind of fell away and I realized that two people who have lived such a limited existence, stuck in a small house together under trying circumstances for decades, are bound to speak in repetitive and grating tones.

I'd definitely recommend this book for folks looking for something off the beaten path in their horror and speculative fiction. There's a hint of The Twilight Zone to the story, with the small town playing host to an extraordinary legend. And there's a hint of Alfred Hitchcock too, with the mounting tension inside the Durkin family. A couple of the little twists in the story are telegraphed to the point you can see exactly how the next scene will play out, but the story still works.

Zeltserman's bread and butter is apparently with crime and mystery fiction, but he's got the chops when it comes to horror, too.


June 27, 2011

Getting Graphic: "The Sandman Vol. 5: A Game of You" by Neil Gaiman

The Sandman Vol. 5: A Game of You
written by Neil Gaiman
illustrated by Shawn McManus, Colleen Doran, Bryant Talbot, George Pratt, Stan Woch, and Dick Giordano
DC Comics/Vertigo (1993)
ISBN 1563890895

Where previous volumes in the Sandman series have walked along a dark path, A Game of You takes a bit more of an adventurous approach through the eyes of a troubled young woman named Barbie, while Morpheus is a minor character who only makes a cameo appearance. The story still has its share of dark elements, but where previous volumes had a clearer horror tinge to them, this volume reminded me more of Alice in Wonderland and The Wizard of Oz.

Barbie's a bit of a washout cover girl reduced to living in a New York City slum with an eclectic band of neighbors, including her transvestite best friend, Wanda. She hasn't dreamed in a long time, and now--years later--her dreams have come looking for her. So, while a hurricane looms off the coast in her world, Barbie dreams for the first time in ages, back in the same landscape she knew as a little girl. There's a sinister force called the Cuckoo, however, that wants her destroyed so it can escape the dreamworld and infect Barbie's world and many others. This leads to a few of Barbie's friends following into her dream to save her, while Wanda stays behind and guards Barbie's sleeping self from harm.

This story, while a bit understated compared to other stories with the Sandman, really exemplified Gaiman's ability to take disparate and seemingly unrelated pieces and bringing them together in such a way that it makes total sense at the end. As for the artwork, it seemed to really carry that early 90s vibe, though don't press me to explain that. I just remember reading a few comics from that time and seeing some of the frames in this book brought that all back. So, I guess there's a good nostalgia trip for anyone who read comics back in those days.

The characters, for the most part, were incredibly well defined as the story progressed. Thessaly, one of Barbie's neighbors with a knack for witchcraft, had to be my favorite from the book. Just imagine a mousy brunette in glasses with no compunction towards snapping the neck of anyone who assaults her. The dreamland characters were a tad annoying, and the one I liked the most even wound up getting killed first--how do ya like that.

A Game of You is basically just one more clear example of how damned good Neil Gaiman is at storytelling. I just hope there's more of Dream in the sixth volume--or Death. She's cool too.


June 24, 2011

Dark Regions Press Offers Up Lovecraftian Chills

On June 14th, Dark Regions Press officially released a new collection of Lovecraftian novellas by James Chambers entitled The Engines of Sacrifice. Here's the product description courtesy of DRP:

In hidden places, they sleep and dream, and through their dreams they touch humanity--but their touch brings only the stains of horror, death, and madness...until the day the Old Ones return.

In The Engines of Sacrifice, acclaimed writer James Chambers delivers four nightmare novellas inspired by the Mythos of H. P. Lovecraft.

Investigation 37: In the late years of the Vietnam War, Lavender May runs away from home to search for freedom and peace in New York City, but instead, she finds only a world of magic, witchcraft, and lies.

The Ugly Birds: Only one thing could save Carmine Darabont's comics magazine from going under: publishing the next chapter of the hit series "The Otherworlders." But what dark secret drives its creator--Carmine's ex-fiancé--to refuse to deliver it?

The Hidden Room: At the height of the Cold War, Doctor Calvin Lenox is a member of the Nuclear Emergency Search Team. With his life spiraling into despair, he confronts the mystery of a runaway Soviet defector and the death of three men, only to find himself at the mercy of...the Faceless God.

The Engines of Sacrifice: What is the power of words? Can they control the fabric of reality? In a horrifying new world, underground author Rowley Cray struggles against a totalitarian government gone insane and the possibility that he can control the souls of the dead.

Praise for James Chambers:

"Chambers is adept at striking the perfect balance of darkness and light...." --Dark Wisdom

"...Chambers acknowledges the internal monsters of the psyche. He also adroitly addresses the external evils; those terrors that are kept at bay for the sense of sanity." --Hellnotes

"...for those who like their horror straight up and to the point..." --Horror Fiction Review

"Chambers has a skill for evoking the emotions that are needed in the horror field."  --David Agranoff, Postcards from a Dying World 

 "Chambers writes stories that are paced fast enough to friction burn a reader's eyeballs." --Horror Reader.com

June 22, 2011

Guest Post and Giveaway with MJ Rose, author of "The Hypnotist"

Today, I'm taking part in the TLC Book Tour for MJ Rose's novel, The Hypnotist, which was just reviewed on the blog this morning. As part of the blog tour, MJ offered up a guest post and a book giveaway.

What Inspired The Hypnotist – by M. J. Rose

Growing up, I didn't want to be a writer; I wanted to be an artist. We lived a block away from the Metropolitan Museum of Art and I started taking Saturday morning art classes there when I was just seven years old.

I've often felt art is my religion and that museums in general, but the Met specifically, are my temples of choice. That's where I go to be renewed, refreshed and inspired. I don't think I've ever gone longer than a month without visiting there.

So its not all that surprising that sooner or later I'd write a novel with a museum as one of my main characters and that I'd pick the museum that was in my backyard when I was a kid.

But how I got idea for The Hypnotist is surprising, at least to me. Sometimes I find it reassuring. Other times frightening. See what you think.

One day about three and a half years ago, on one of my regular pilgrimages to the Met, I headed straight for one of my favorite spots. The Mastaba Tomb of Perneb is a tiny bit of Fifth Dynasty Egypt transplanted to Manhattan, a gift from Edward S. Harkness to the museum in 1913.

You can enter the limestone tomb from the left or the right. One doorway leads to the main offering chapel. I took the other, which leads to a second ritual chamber. The space is very small and only three or four people can fit at the same time. I was lucky to be in the intimate ritual chamber alone and looking through the slot in the wall at a wooden statue of Perneb in the room beyond known as a serdab. In ancient times this passageway allowed for family and priests to offer up incense and chants to the deceased.

I heard footsteps. A little girl about seven or eight had entered and came up beside me to look through the slot. She had long blonde hair and was wearing a school uniform. I watched her examine the space, giving every section careful attention.

"It hasn't changed much at all," she said finally in a wistful voice.

I asked her what she meant.

"Since the last time I was here," she said.

Something about the way she said it made me curious. "When was that?" I asked.

"When I lived in Egypt."

"You know this tomb has been on display in this museum since 1916." I said.

"I lived in Egypt way before that," she said and smiled. She was about to say something else when from outside the chamber an older woman's voice called out.

"Veronica, it's time to go. Now. Please."

The little girl ran off, quickly, without looking back, without giving me a chance to ask her anything else.
Even though I write about reincarnation, I haven't had any meaningful reincarnation episodes of my own. I don't get visitations. I've never seen a ghost. But I'm not sure what happened that afternoon.

I can picture Veronica in her navy jumper and white blouse that had a dark smudge on the collar. She had a one-inch scratch on her left hand. Her hair was pulled off her face with a silver barrette. A lot of curls had escaped. She had a child's voice but it was so charged with adult emotion.

It was that emotion which sparked the idea for my novel, The Hypnotist. And the paintings and sculpture at the Metropolitan Museum that fueled it.

If you go the Met, please go visit Perneb's tomb. And if you see a little girl there with long blonde hair and a blue school uniform... ask her if her name is Veronica... and if it is, thank her for me

A big thanks to MJ for the contribution and for this giveaway:
To enter your name for a chance to win a tradepaperback or digital edition of The Hypnotist, all you have to do is leave a comment on this post with your e-mail address like so: username [at]webmail [dot]com, or something to that effect. That's it. No complicated rules, and you don't even have to be a follower of the blog.

The trade paperback edition is only eligible to those living in the U.S. and Canada, but anyone in the world can enter for a digital PDF copy of the book.

I'll let the contest run through until June 29th, then I'll announce a winner on June 30th.

Good luck everyone!

And if you'd like to keep track of MJ's blog tour through TLC, just click on the following link: http://tlcbooktours.com/2011/04/m-j-rose-author-of-the-hypnotist-on-tour-june-2011/

Rabid Reads: "The Hypnotist" by M.J. Rose

The Hypnotist (Reincarnationist #3)
by M.J. Rose
Mira Books (2010)
ISBN-13: 9780778329206
Available via: Amazon / Book Depository

When it comes to the thriller genre, I'm not often entertained. I've tried reading a couple of Dan Brown novels and couldn't get beyond the first fifty pages or so. And while I finished a Robert Ludlum novel a few years back, anything in it that didn't involve a gun fight or brawl disappointed me to no end. I did manage to find enjoyment recently in Layton Green's The Summoner, which offered a little bit of supernatural atmosphere into the plot, so when approached to review this thriller/mystery with an exploration into the past lives phenomenon, I figured I'd give it a chance.

The book is the third in a series, so I was at a bit of a disadvantage as a reader, but the necessary bits of backstory were laid out pretty well through the novel so I didn't feel lost at all as I read along.

Lucian Glass is an FBI agent and member of the Art Crimes unit, called in to investigate the theft and subsequent destruction of a Matisse painting, an act followed by a threat that more priceless--and stolen--paintings will be destroyed unless a coveted sculpture is given up by the Metropolitan Museum of Art. From this point, Lucian is swept up in a sweeping mystery that has him trying to find the culprits behind the blackmail, thefts, and threat of terrorist action, as the massive sculpture of Hypnos is coveted by multiple parties. On top of that, Lucian is haunted by a slain lover from years past, whom he sees in the eyes of another, a woman who may be the reincarnation of his lover, or a simply using Lucian's past as a way to manipulate him for her own gains.

The book had a good flow going through it, despite a plethora of characters and shifting points of view in chapters so short I barely had to turn a page before a new one began. Short chapters do well to give the feeling of a taut pace, but points of view shifted so suddenly at times, it felt a bit jarring. The characters are well crafted and most come off in believable fashion as they maneuver through an unbelievable plot. The end gradually ramps up and finishes off with a satisfying end, but as a reader who hadn't read those first two books, despite each one being a stand alone novel, I felt a bit out of place when the dust had settled because any ground rules established in the first two books were a bit foreign to me.

It's one of the better thrillers of this nature that I've read yet, and anyone who has walked away disappointed by the biggest names in the genre before may want to check this one out, especially since the past lives aspects of the novel fit more seamlessly into the novel than other fantastical contrivances I've seen in similar books. I can't say it's a favorite of mine, but this book has helped me to seeing that I should give more of MJ Rose's work a chance down the line.


June 21, 2011

Getting Graphic: "Baltimore Vol. 1: The Plague Ships" by Mike Mignola & Christopher Golden

Baltimore Volume 1: The Plague Ships
written by Mike Mignola and Christopher Golden
illustrated by Ben Stenbeck
Dark Horse Books (2011)
ISBN 9781595826732
Available via: Amazon

I am a fan of the Hellboy movies, Mike Mignola wrote the comic books. I'm also a fan of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Christopher Golden has written a few novels based in that universe I've read and enjoyed. So for these two storytellers to collaborate on a historical action/horror comic, set in Europe after the Great War, littered with vampires and zombies no less, I figured I ought to check it out.

Lord Henry Baltimore is a soldier with more scars than any man should have to bear. Not only is he battle-worn from his time in World War 1, but he watched his fellow soldiers ambushed on the battlefield or devoured by giant bats, had his leg amputated and replaced by a mechanical peg leg, lost his family, and found himself in a personal war and on the manhunt for a vampire who may be responsible for all of it.

Mignola and Golden have tapped into a swashbuckling adventure steeped in European history and myth, with plenty of horror and suspense on each page. Stenbeck's illustrations offer a slightly different style from what I'm used to seeing in more conventional comic books, namely the superhero genre. There is a storybook quality to many of the pages that offer a sense of antiquity, which seems well suited to the time period of the story. The dialogue comes off a bit grandiose at times, but I didn't find it too much of a deterrent.

My main criticism would have to be the lack of empathy I felt towards Baltimore's companion in this ordeal with the Plague Ships. Vanessa Kalderas, the daughter of a witch, who escapes a ravaged village for a chance at a better life is rather compelling in the beginning of the novel. But as the story progressed, she seemed to become less an actual character than a sounding board to Baltimore's reminiscences. Had it gone on much longer than it had, I'd have become annoyed with the book as a whole, but a great set piece towards the end of the book involving zombies, a strange fungus, and a seaside graveyard of battleships, felt quite rewarding.

There was even a hint of steampunk, with an airship in the first act, and some cool looking submariners in the third act.

It's some pretty good stuff, and despite some trouble for me to really rally behind Lord Baltimore at certain points in the book, I think this could be a good place to go for comic book fans looking for something that doesn't involve a caped crusader of some kind.


June 20, 2011

Are You More Likely to Read a Stoker Award Winning Book?

Last weekend marked the 2010 Bram Stoker Awards ceremony. I only started paying attention to literary awards a few years ago. Since then, I've had pretty good luck using the lists of nominees as recommended reading. Heck, it was how I discovered Lisa Mannetti's The Gentling Box, the 2008 winner for Superior Acheivement in a First Novel, which I consider an amazing piece of writing.

So what about you? Do these kinds of awards encourage you to seek out winning books, or do you dismiss the whole notion as arbitrary, rigged, or plain uninteresting? Me, I look at them as good reference material when searching out new authors and prospective book purchases.

Let's have a gander at this year's winners:

Superior Achievement in a Novel
Rot and Run by Jonathan Maberry
Dead Love by Linda Watanabe McFerrin
Apocalypse of the Dead by Joe McKinney
Dweller by Jeff Strand
A Dark Matter by Peter Straub (WINNER)

Straub's novel is sitting on my shelf waiting to be read. Thoroughly entertained by Ghost Story and Shadowland, I figured it was about time I took a crack at one of his recent works. Funny though, as I've read some contentious blogger comments about how the novel is over-rated and Straub only won because of name recognition. Perhaps, or perhaps it was the best of the bunch. Maybe this year I should read all five and judge for myself.

Superior Achievement in a First Novel
Black and Orange by Benjamin Kane Ethridge (WINNER)

A Books of Tongues by Gemma Files
Castle of Los Angeles by Lisa Morton (WINNER)
Spellbent by Lucy Snyder

A tie, wouldn't you know? And here's the funniest bit for me: Of the four nominated books, those are the two I don't own. Go figure. Well, I have Ethridge's Black and Orange on my wish list, so I guess I'll just have to add Lisa Morton's novel as well.

Superior Achievement in Long Fiction
Invisible Fences by Norman Prentiss
The Painted Darkness by Brian James Freeman
Dissolution by Lisa Mannetti
Monsters Among Us by Kirstyn McDermott
The Samhanach
by Lisa Morton

Of the novellas listed here, I've only read The Painted Darkness and Dissolution. I was rooting for Mannetti's Dissolution, but it was not to be. Oh well. I get the feeling the other three novellas, winner included, are stories to watch out for.

Some of the other winners of the night include: Haunted Legends by Ellen Datlow and Nick Mamatas for Superior Achievement in an Anthology; Full Dark, No Stars by Stephen King for Superior Achievement in a Collection; and "The Falling Man" by Joe R. Lansdale for Superior Achievement in Short Fiction.

Random Thoughts:

I'm actually reading Ellen Datlow's anthology, Supernatural Noir, right now and wouldn't be surprised to see that wind up on next year's short list.

I periodically hear people bemon the state of the horror genre, but I gotta say that 2010 turned out to be a pretty great year for finding some entertaining and rivoting stuff, and 2011 is shaping up to be just as good.

What I find interesting is how the self-publishing craze is offering quite a few gems as well. And you simply will not see any self-published work getting a nomination.

While I keep an eye on the short lists for several awards, I am very much behind in reading those books--especially outside the horror genre.

Anyway, congratulations to all of the Stoker Award winners, and kudos to all the authors fortunate enough to be shortlisted. Keep up the good works.

June 17, 2011

Seventh Star Press Announces New UF Series by Blalock, Limited Edition Hardcover by West

Seventh Star Press recently announced a new urban fantasy series, authored by H. David Blalock. Here's the write-up:

Seventh Star Press is proud to announce the acquisition of The Angelkiller Triad, a provocative new urban fantasy series, as H. David Blalock becomes  a member of the publishing company's growing family of authors.

The acquisition comes right on the heels of the  addition of D.A Adams' fantasy series, The Brotherhood of Dwarves, and follows a strong run of releases that has seen titles such as Jackie Gamber's Redheart (YA
fantasy) and Steven Shrewsbury's Thrall (heroic fantasy) meet with a very warm reception from reviewers and readers alike.  It is yet another strong testament to Seventh Star Press's commitment to releasing quality titles exhibiting many facets of speculative fiction.

H. David Blalock commented on his recent partnership with SSP.  "I am excited about doing the Angelkiller series with Seventh Star, and honored to be in such talented company. I just hope I can keep up with this high-energy group!"

The first book introduces Jonah Mason, the oldest, and most experienced of the Angelkillers, an elite force in the Army of Light.  They are fighting an ancient war, one in which the Darkness achieved a great triumph long ago that has had profound influence on the fabric of life as we know it. It is the simple answer as to why bad things happen to good people. The great battle may have been lost, but the war continues in a modern age, pitting Jonah against the Enemy in a way even he had never faced.  A provocative mixture of the supernatural and technological, Angelkiller is a very special, thought-provoking tale, one that shines forth in the upper realms of urban fantasy literature.

Based out of the Memphis area, H. David Blalock has an impressive writing  career of 35 years and counting that has achieved numerous publishing credits in print and online mediums.  He is most known for his fantasy novel Ascendant (Sam's Dot Publishing), which was the basis for a twenty minute short film produced in 2010 that featured former WWE wrestler Al Snow.  The sequel to Ascendant, Emperor (Sam's Dot Publishing), was released in March of 2011.  David is also the founder of Imagicopter, an author-driven organization that creates an array of event opportunities for small press authors and artists, while also publishing the highly-regarded Imagyro magazine.

“I was a fan of H. David Blalock since I read Ascendant, which is one of the true gems in fantasy out of the small press world,” fellow Seventh Star Press author Stephen Zimmer commented.  “Angelkiller represents something that is  compelling, thought-provoking, and highly relevant. With David's mastery of narrative and character, this series is going to be a force to be reckoned with in urban fantasy.”

The projected release date window for Angelkiller is fall of 2011, in limited hardcover, trade paperback, and several eBook formats, for readers with the Kindle, the iPad, the Nook, Sony eReaders, and other electronic reading devices.

Book 2, Traitor Angel, and Book 3, Doom Angel, will be released over the
course of 2012 and early 2013.

Updates and additional information can be obtained at the official site for Seventh Star Press, at www.seventhstarpress.com , or at the author's site at www.thrankeep.com

On top of that, they also have a limited edition hardcover set to come out for Michael West's Cinema of Shadows. Here's the write-up on that title:

Michael West's Cinema of Shadows Cover Art Unveiled with Limited Edition Hardcover Offer!

Seventh Star Press is proud to unveil the brand new cover art by Matthew Perry created for Michael West's Cinema of Shadows, which will make Harmony, Indiana a household name with horror readers everywhere.

A pre-ordering window is now open for readers interested in a limited edition hardcover of Cinema of Shadows, which features a Matthew Perry illustration not included in the regular editon.  Only 75 numbered copies of the limited edition will be issued, at a price of just $34.95.

There is also a special pre-order offer for the regular trade paperback edition.  Both of the pre-order offers include an array of Cinema of Shadows collectibles, including a beautiful 14X20 poster of one of the interior illustrations (also by Matthew Perry), a set of 5X7 glossy art cards, bookmarks, a pair of buttons, and a magnet.  Copies can be pre-ordered in the online store at www.seventhstarpress.com and will be shipped August 1st, to ensure arrival before the book's August 7th street date.

Cinema of Shadows welcomes you 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 now.

Tonight, Professor Geoffrey Burke and his Parapsychology students have come to the Woodfield in search of evidence, hoping to find irrefutable proof of a haunting.  Instead, they will discover that, in this theater, the terrors are not confined to the screen.

Cinema of Shadows will ultimately be available in trade paperback, hardcover, and a variety of eBook editions.

Spook House, the next Harmony, Indiana novel from Michael West, is slated for 2012 release, with another title coming in 2013.

Updates and additional information can be obtained at the official site for Seventh Star Press, at www.seventhstarpress.com , or at the author's site at www.bymichaelwest.com

June 16, 2011

Rabid Rewind: Due Date

Due Date
starring Robert Downey Jr., Zach Galifianakis, Michelle Monaghan, Juliette Lewis, Jamie Foxx, and Danny McBride
directed by Todd Phillips
screenplay by Alan R. Cohen, Alan Freedland
Warner Bros. (2010)

I would not have pegged Robert Downey Jr. and Zach Galifianakis as an effective comedy duo, but this movie demonstrated that they have an interesting chemistry on screen together. Go figure.

Downey stars as Peter, a self-absorbed architect on his way from Atlanta to L.A. in order to rejoin his pregnant wife and witness the birth of his first child. Through a series of unfortunate events, upon meeting Ethan Tremblay (Galifianakis), Peter is kicked off his flight, put on a no-fly list, and must find a way to make it cross-country without his wallet or luggage. Ethan to the rescue--but not really, since Ethan is responsible for Peter getting kicked off the plane in the first place through his eccentric and grating nature.

With no other options, Peter joins Ethan on a cross-country road trip that has them encountering a plethora of oddball characters including an ass-kicking paraplegic (Danny McBride) and a drug-dealing mother (Juliette Lewis). It's a combination of dark comedy and slapstick in what winds up being kind of an uneven film, compared to that other beloved Todd Phillips film, The Hangover.

Downey and Galifianakis are great to watch as they play off each other in assorted scenes, and even play the smattering of serious moments with a sincere tone that actually works, but the relationship between the characters becomes less and less believable as their antics become more and more zany. And when the inevitable blow-up occurs, the end results are simply too far-fetched to be believed. A happy end just didn't feel right for a movie like this, but I suppose audiences would have rejected a more genuine ending.

It's a funny enough film to rent some weekend, but it falls well short of the better slapstick comedies to hit theaters in the last few years, which is a shame because there was a ton of potential here.

June 15, 2011

Chasing Tale in June (Digital Edition): Joseph Garraty, Tom Piccirilli, Paul G. Tremblay ...

The ol' to-be-read pile exploded in the last couple months with review requests from various authors, agents, and the like. With the amount of reading on my plate through this summer, I was unable to offer everyone an actual time line on when to expect a review, but I will be working my way through each book.

The majority of them are e-books, since it's such a relief on the purse strings when an author doesn't have to pay shipping on one more physical book through the mail. I still prefer an actual book in my hands over the digital editions, but I am becoming more accustomed to reading e-books on my laptop. And, maybe one of these days I'll actually get an e-reader, but that's only likely if I either win a giveaway or one of them drops down to the $75 mark or so.

In any event, here are the latest e-books to get added to my reading list:

The Gift of Illusion by Richard Brown - This is a paranormal thriller with a detective as the protagonist. Now, I'm still trying to warm up to novels that have detectives as their main characters. Years of police procedural TV shows have dulled my enjoyment of the genre. Still, the plot summary for this one shows potential.

The Rift by R.J. Clark - "The Rift reads like a Tarantino script on steroids." That's a blurb from artist, Jeroen Ten Berge, who did the artwork for this book's cover too. That's worth giving it a chance, I think. Set in New Orleans with an inter-dimensional gateway to Hell? As if they didn't have enough bulls--- to deal with.

The Dogs of War by Bradley Convissar - I couldn't resist giving this potentially brutal ghost story a chance. Why? Because it involves a dachshund. Yeah, you read that right. If an author can work a wiener dog into a scary story, I'm in.

Voice by Joseph Garraty - Stories about selling your soul are pretty common, and among them the rock star as the one doing the selling is fairly common in and of itself. Still, there's always room for a new twist, so that's what I'll be looking for from this book.

The Dead Woman (Dead Man #4) by David McAfee - I have the latest iteration in the Dead Man novella series, which I'll be reading and reviewing fairly soon. Actually, by the time I have this out, the fifth book in the series will probably set for release. It's been a really good series thus far, and I have a sneaking suspicion this book will be no expection.

The Bad Wolf by Tim McGregor - Another detective novel, but it sounds like it's straight up horror as two disparate detectives go after a serial killer and his pack of feral dogs. The killer thinks he's a werewolf--and he's probably right. This could be quite good.

Nightjack by Tom Piccirilli - It's Piccirilli, so I do I really need to explain myself? I've got Every Shallow Cut sitting on my bookshelf, but when I grabbed this one from Crossroad Press, I figured I had to read it first.

Hallowed Ground by Steven Savile and David N. Wilson - This is another book I downloaded via Crossroad Press' Online Store. After reading Gemma File's A Book of Tongues, I got put in the mood for another weird western, and this might fit the bill. If you visit the store, there's also a new hardbound edition on sale.

Arcane: Penny Dreadfuls for the 21st Century - My appetite for short fiction is insatiable. Despite not reviewing as much of it on this blog as the longer works, I still read a lot of it, and I thought I'd do up a review for this one this summer.

In the Mean Time by Paul G. Tremblay - As we approached the Apocalypse on May 21st, Chizine had a little Twitter contest asking folks to offer their predictions on how the world might really end. I wound up winning with a satirical little theory, and received a digital copy of Tremblay's short story collection as the prize.

Top Suspense: 13 Classic Stories by 12 Masters of the Genre - I've been seeing this one promoted on Twitter for a while now. And since the table of contents has an impressive list of authors, and the thing was only gonna cost me 99 cents, I snagged myself a copy.

Well, these are the e-books that are going to be taking up the better part of my summer. Man, if I had the coin I'd splurge on one of those fandangled Kindles, but until they drop the price some more, I'll settle for reading these on my jalopy of a laptop.

Have you hopped on the digital bandwagon yet? If not, what's holding you back?

June 14, 2011

Rabid Reads: "The Dead Woman" by David McAfee (The Dead Man #4)

The Dead Woman (The Dead Man #4)
by David McAfee
Adventures in Television, Inc. (June 2011)
Available via: Amazon

Things are really starting to take shape in The Dead Man series. After reading the first three books (Face of Evil, Ring of Knives, and Hell in Heaven), The Dead Woman feels like the point where the rules of this world have been firmly established and now its time to throw a change-up. We know Matthew Cahill, the man with the ax who came back from the dead with the ability to see the evil festering in people, and we know he's after Mr. Dark, the menacing entity tormenting him and outmaneuvering Matthew in each encounter. But, a series like this can't last long if that's all it is. Enter the dead woman.

Matthew Cahill winds up in the small town of Crawford, Tennessee, which I believe is the furthest he's gone from his former home in California so far, where this whole series began. He's tracking Mr. Dark and figures he's on the right track when, almost as soon as he arrives and goes to the local McDonald's, he hears news of a serial killer terrorizes the area. He's basically broke though, so before he can move on, he takes a job helping an attractive antique shop owner named Abbey in need of a brawny assistant. That leads him to meeting an ill-tempered cop named Dale, who has a past with Abbey.

It's actually Abbey's past that plays a focal point in this novella. She's the dead woman. A person, just like Matt, able to see the rot and decay on the faces of those under the spell of Mr. Dark. And she's had that ability ever since she herself died, decades ago. She looks good for her age though--really good. So Matt gets lucky with Abbey, very unlucky with Dale, and even unluckier with the Blake County Killer.

I really liked this episode in Cahill's journey, but the relationship he has with his grandfather's trusty ax feels now like Thor's hammer. When he doesn't have it, and there comes a point in this story when he's forced to contend with the Blake County Killer without it, he is a mere mortal. That aspect might be a bit too cheesy for some, and I'm probably playing it up more than it actually is, but I think it works for the episodic nature of this series. Part of the ending comes off a bit pat, but there are a couple of good teasers for future encounters in upcoming Dead Man stories that I'm looking forward to reading.

I think The Dead Woman marks the point in the series that new readers will need to go back and read the series from the beginning. If the series creators, Lee Goldberg and William Rabkin, are figuring to put together an omnibus of this series down the line, it'll be a prime product for readers late to jump on the bandwagon.

June 13, 2011

Getting Graphic: "Scott Pilgrim Gets It Together" (Vol. 4) by Bryan Lee O'Malley

Scott Pilgrim Gets It Together (Vol. 4)
by Bryan Lee O'Malley
Oni Press (2007)
ISBN-13: 9781932664492
ISBN-10: 1932664491

Here I go again with another Scott Pilgrim adventure, but now I'm reading the graphic novels after having seen the movie. So now, I'll be reading the rest of the series with that whole saw-the-movie-first attitude, which can be a bit of a dampener. Did it dampen my reading experience with this book, though?

Firstly, the book starts with a few color pages, which I don't recall seeing in the first three graphic novels I read. I'm so used to the homey monochromatic feel of the books, it was actually a little jarring. But I gotta say that Scott Pilgrim looks great as a color comic book--too bad it only lasts a few pages.

Scott is still with Ramona and things are going fine relationship wise. Sure, he's still on edge about the rest of the evil exes he has to defeat, but he's rolling with the punches ... literally. Things aren't rosy for long, as Wallace informs him they have to contend with their landlord, the band Sex Bob-omb must work on its first record, Scott gets his first job, some guy with a samurai sword is trying to slice Scott in half, and he reunites with an old friend from high school, Lisa Miller, who ... complicates things with Ramona.

I thought this book played out a bit more episodically than the first three, with situations cropping up chapter by chapter as if each was a sitcom episode. At any rate, the humor remained intact, and the kick-ass fight scenes too, replete with snarky one-liners.

My favorite part of the book is still Scott, though. Why? I think it's the fact that he is a good person at heart, but he's self-possessed and clueless as hell. He reminds me of me.

O'Malley brings more of the same goodness with his artwork, shining through especially with scenes like Ramona's fight with one of her exes, Scott's close call with Lisa, and the group discussions at Sneaky Dee's.

The seeds were planted for the last two books, as well, so I'm looking forward to finishing off the series this summer. If you haven't read this series of books before, you'll really ought to give it a chance because it is just too charming to ignore.


June 10, 2011

Follow Friday for June 10th, 2011

Follow Friday is a weekly meme hosted by Parajunkee. Click here to see the original post. This week's question is:

Q. The magic book fairy pops out of your cereal box and says "you and your favorite character (from a book of course) can switch places!" Who are you going to switch with?

A. First of all, I knew there was a reason I didn't eat breakfast cereal that much any more.

Secondly, I read a lot of horror literature, which doesn't exactly offer many characters with whom I'd care to trade places. I'll go in a different direction and trade places with Scott Pilgrim. He's about as clueless as me, but he's in a band, his girlfriend works for Amazon (maybe snag some free books, despite Scott's aversion to reading), and he's almost a superhero with his fighting skills. The whole "defeat my evil exes" thing might put me in some peril, but it beats trading places with that kid from The Shining.

June 9, 2011

Getting Graphic: "The Losers" (Book One) by Andy Diggle and Jock

The Losers (Book One)
by Andy Diggle
illustrated by Jock
DC Comics/Vertigo (2010)
ISBN 9781401227333 (second printing)

Even before The Losers movie came out, even before I got back into reading comics, I had heard about this series and thought it sounded promising. It took nearly seven years to get around to reading it, but I finally did. After seeing the movie first though, which left a bit of a sour taste in my mouth as evidenced in my Rabid Rewind review, I wondered if the graphic novel would hold up as well as I first thought.

In a word: yes.

It's pretty simple for an action story, I suppose, though it gets a little thick around the middle as the story progresses. A team of military roughnecks called the Losers--an actual "A" Team--supposedly killed in action back in '98, have resurfaced to track down the CIA operative who betrayed them and nearly got them killed. Max. But, they don't know who Max is or even what he looks like, which is kind of a problem, since they need him so they can clear their names and get their lives back. So, they set out to sabotage the global drug running operations and other criminal activities that Max is overseeing, while collecting evidence against him and clues about his identity--and all while the world either thinks they're dead or gone rogue against American interests.

Each character has his quirks and mannerisms, even to the point of being a bit of a cliche, but the camaraderie works and makes for a gang of gun-toting bad-asses that you root for. Clay is the grizzled leader with a no-nonsense attitude, Pooch is the wheel man and the middle-age family man who just wants to get back to his family, Roque is the hard-as-nails prick, Jensen is the wise-cracking techno geek, Cougar is the sniper and man of few words, and the newcomer to the group is Aisha, a CIA agent with a huge chip on her shoulder and an unearthly talent with blades.

I dig heists, gun fights, and cool motherfuckers spouting one-liners. Some of the movies that come out these days just don't hold that same magic from the movies of the seventies and eighties. But, Diggle and Jock brought some of that good stuff into the 21st century and up-rezzed it for today's audience. And the illustrations offer up the kind of gritty visual you might expect from a story like this. The pacing is great, but it's easy to see how the film adaptation needed to parse a few key items rather than offer an expansive look at this graphic novel. There's a lot more meat on the bone and Diggle plays it for all it's worth.

It's an impressive start to the series and I really did wind up wanting more once I hit the final page. Definitely interested to see what the second volume has in store.

June 8, 2011

Rabid Reads: "The Damned Busters" by Matthew Hughes

The Damned Busters (To Hell and Back Book #1)
Angry Robot Books (2011)
ISBN (US): 9780857661036
ISBN (Digital): 9780857661043
Available via: Amazon / Book Depository

Have you always dreamt of being a superhero? Sure you have. What? You haven't. Well, screw it, go with me on this anyway.

Chesney Armstruther is an actuary for a large insurance firm (if you're a layman like me, that means "statistician") whose life is in a rut. Heck, maybe his life is the rut. Rigidly devoted to numbers and the odds, while at the expense of a social life, Chesney finds poker with a few of the boys to be his best bet at gaining a few friends. But, before he can host his first game in his small, dreary apartment, he accidentally summons a demon from the pits of Hell after hitting his thumb with a hammer and uttering some nonsensical profanities. The demon insists Chesney sign over his soul in payment for summoning it, but Chesney refuses, pointing out he didn't actually summon anyone. This snafu leads to Hell's minions going on strike because of the contractual dispute, which in turn leads to Satan negotiating a settlement with Chesney in order to get things moving again. What is Chesney's end of the settlement?

Chesney Armstruther is going to become a superhero.

The absurdity of this fantastical premise was too good to pass up when I heard about it. The book, however, is not what I expected and I wound up reading what was more of a metaphysical satire than a hero satire, with a tone that came off as a bit uneven the longer it went. The book starts off strong, and Chesney's rather dry and dispassionate demeanor plays well in his protagonist role. The villains, as they were, also worked nicely, with the Devil and Chesney's unscrupulous boss either working against him or manipulating him as he tries to figure out how to be a superhero--two hours at a time each day.

As the novel progressed though, I found my affinity towards certain characters diminishing, Chesney included, or never liking them in the first place, like his love interests, Poppy Paxton and Melda McCann. The most comically endearing character was, without question to me, Chesney's endenture sidekick Xaphan, a wisecracking hellion with a penchant for rum, cigars, and 1920s gangster lingo.

Xaphan, in a lot of ways, acted as an animated deus ex machina, and several of the scenes where he helps Chesney muddle through his powers, responsibilities, and tough decisions were the best part of this book. And because of that, the divergence from a story about a wannabe superhero to a story about a pawn in a tug-of-war between Heaven and Hell was more palatable than it I thought it had any right to be.

I guess my criticism boils down to my preconceptions as a reader simply not being met. It's a good book and offers an interesting story, but it doesn't feel like the book gets to the heart of the matter until well past the halfway mark. If you enjoy a good dose of humor in your action novels, this is a pretty good book to consider, but don't trick yourself into thinking it's a superhero novel, as it only flirts with that premise long enough to go where it seems the rest of the series is headed.

June 7, 2011

Chasing Tale in May: China Mieville, Tom Piccirilli, Kalayna Price ...

About a week ago I highlighted the e-books I'd acquired in May. Those weren't the only books I got, though. I ended up receiving a bunch of paperbacks that are now on my to-be-read pile. Maybe I should preface this blog post with a voice-over like: This week on Hoarders. Ah well, I make no apologies. I mean, whoever heard of such a thing as too many books. And it's terribly easy on the wallet when the books come courtesy of giveaways and markdowns. The economy ain't out of the woods yet, so cheap books are more than welcome.

Serial by Jack Kilborn & Blake Crouch - This is a signed limited edition chapbook in won in a giveaway through The Man Eating Bookworm, courtesy of Peter Leonard's Blake Crouch Week event. It even came with four pieces of artwork by Jeroen ten Berge associated with the book, which was an added treat.
Available via: Amazon

The Beardless Warriors by Richard Matheson - I won a book giveaway courtesy of the Lucky Ladybug a few weeks back, where I got won $10 worth of books via Book Depository. The book I chose was a preorder, and I had a little over four bucks left, so I went fishing for familiar names and found a couple of Matheson titles published by Tor. I dug the idea of this revamped edition of an early novel, which had apparently been edited terribly back in the day, and this was a renewed edition. If nothing else, it's still Matheson.
Available via: Amazon / Book Depository

Kraken by China Mieville - What's a good hook for a novel? How about a giant squid? I mentioned in Wish List Wednesday #70 how I wanted to read this book, based almost entirely on that fact alone. It also helps that I've read and heard nothing but praise for Mieville's novels, so I'm quite interested to see how this book shapes up. Thanks to Melinda at Single Country Gal for mailing this one out to me, as well for sending me ...
Available via: Amazon / Book Depository

Every Shallow Cut by Tom Piccirilli - The second book I received from Melinda is this heavily touted novella from Chizine Publications, which I mentioned in Wish List Wednesday #97. One draw is that it's Piccirilli. Another is that the protagonist has a pet bulldog named Churchill. I love dogs. 'Nuff said.
Available via: Amazon / Book Depository

Grave Witch by Kalayna Price - It was only a month ago that I had mentioned this novel in Wish List Wednesday #96, so it might be record time that I add this book to my shelf. I'm not sure what other horror aficionados think of the urban fantasy genre, but I kind of dig it. Jaye Wells and Nancy Holzner have entertained me with their UF tales, so I'm interested to see what Kalayna Price brings to the dance.
Available via: Amazon / Book Depository

The Psychopath Test by Jon Ronson - I reviewed Ronson's The Men Who Stare at Goats last year and found it to be a funny and surprisingly in-depth read. Now, he has a new book out this year, and Celia over at Adventureswith Cecelia Bedelia was kind enough to send me her advance review copy--thanks, Celia! If he tackles psychopaths the way he did psi-ops training in the military, this should be really good.
Available via: Amazon / Book Depository

And that's what's on my shelf. What cool reads have you snatched up lately?