Friday, April 24, 2009

Mirrormask - Neil Gaiman

I love Gaiman's works, Corilane was one of my favorite children's books. I had high hopes for Mirrormask, we own the movie, and though it's a bit dark for the younger children, it's still a very creative and visually stunning film.

After reading the book I'm glad that the movie was visually stunning. For some reason the book does not flow, or hold together well. Had I not seen the movie I would be completely lost in attempting to follow this book. The concept of standing on the books to cross the gorge, or the giants locked together, or the darkness and what it is doing - is all lost. Now you can say that it was for the simplicity of making it a children's book - but I don't buy it. The concepts involve possible death, a brain tumor, and an evil girl willing to sacrifice the entire world she lives in to try something new (not our main character - the bad guy).

The book follows a young girl who has grown up in a circus, she want's to live a normal life and gets in a argument with her mother about it. Her mother then collapses and is hospitalized with a brain tumor. Feeling quilty, Helena withdraws into a world of her strange artwork. That night she wakes up to find herself drawn into a world of her own creation - someone has stolen the mirrormask and traded places with her. Now she has to travel through a strange and hostile world ruled by a Queen of Light and a Queen of Darkness, to find the only way home - the stolen mirrormask.

The artwork was good and the concept is great - but to read it without having seen the movie will leave the reader a bit perplexed. If reading to children, go with one of Gaiman's other works before this one.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Of Mice and Men - John Steinbeck

I have hated Steinbeck since the tender age of 15 when I was forced to choke down Grapes of Wrath. I was then forced to sit through the movie version of Grapes of Wrath, and was re-assigned to book to read by a crazy teacher I had at the age of 17. I liked it no better on the second go round, however at least by then I was able to pick out the "Christ Figure" that my teachers had always babbled about.

Because of this terrible set of experiences I had sworn off of Steinbeck for the rest of my life. If you see a copy of Grapes of Wrath on fire, you know that I'm probably near by. So when I started reading the list "1001 books to read before you die" I was glad that I could already check off Grapes of Wrath and not touch it again - but to my dismay, there were other books by Steinbeck on the list. I admit I panicked... there was no WAY I was going to torture myself like that again. Every word of that last attempt had been a struggle.

Then I noticed that one of the books was "Of Mice and Men." I had seen the play several times and the movie, and to be honest - they weren't that bad. So during a car ride to ATL under questionable circumstances, I read this 107 page book from beginning to end.

Now I'm sure there was a Christ figure in there somewhere, and I know that there was a lot of "deep meaning" and "symbolism enough to choke a badger" but I happily ignored all of it. I am excited to say that I read through the book - found it didn't change me, my thought process, or my lifestyle, and was able to move on.

Short Summary - George and his retarded pal Lenny are day workers who travel from farm to farm trying to earn a living. Lenny is huge, with the mind of a child, and George is small and quick witted. George keeps Lenny entertained with stories about how one day they will of their own land and work it themselves. George has told the story enough that even he's starting to believe it. Things go bad at their current job when a trampy woman hits on Lenny. That's about it.

Lots of themes, racism, tragedy, the way men treat one another, the lifestyle of the migrant worker in the 30's, the treatment of the mentally handicapped, etc. In the end, Steinbeck does a better job of not bashing the reader over the skull with his themes, and he managed to contain his desire to describe every grain of sand. I figure most people can make it through 107 pages of Steinbeck.

The Illiad - Homer

I'll be honest by stating that I have no idea which version I read - I read this online and it was translated into prose rather than verse.

Homer's Epic tale of the fall of the Trojans is more about the warrior Achilles and his battle within himself. True the tale begins with the great insult and ends with the funeral of Hector, but the story really revolves around Achilles.

Even through it was translated into English, I can't help but feel that there was something lost - perhaps it is the shifting from verse to prose, whatever it may be, there is a feeling of distance the reader has from the story. The tale itself is brilliant, brutal, heartbreaking, and epic, but the words in the version I read really didn't grab and pull me in as I had hoped. I spent much of the time I was reading this struggling to keep going. Specifically when the gods began their bickering.

I was also confused in this translation in that the God's names were changed to the Roman names rather than the Greek ones (I do own a copy of this in Verse and I recall the names being in Greek - I just hate reading verse so I thought I'd try it in prose first). I had to pull up a wiki to get the Roman to Greek name translations for some of the lesser known gods.

I have to admit that after watching and loving the movie Troy (which is based off of the Illiad) I was disappointed that Hector was less likable in the original tale then he was in the movie. Also Paris was only briefly mentioned.

I would recommend that everyone read at least some version of this story - it's such an incredible tale. Just make sure you check out the translation before buying it.

Maybe Yes, Maybe No, Maybe Maybe - Susan Patron

Life as the middle sister can be tough, especially when your big sister is pretty and very very smart. It's even tougher when your Mom is a waitress and you have to teach everything you know to your little sister - even the things you don't know.

PK is the middle sister, between Megan and Rabbit. Even though Megan is now "almost-a-teenager" and Rabbit is starting Kindergarten, everything seems to be going fine - until their Mom decides that they need to move into a bigger apartment. Suddenly everything PK knows and relies on is going to be left behind. The Big Blue Chair that they loved as if it were a family pet is too big to fit into the new apartment with the new sleeper sofa, and the built in hamper where all of PK's magical stories come from - can't come with them either. How can a new wicker basket hold all of the stories? It's full of holes and all the stories would fall out!

"Maybe Yes, Maybe No, Maybe Maybe" is a sweet story about three little girls having to move and make what they consider a major life change. Told through the eyes of PK, we see how the girls learn not only to accept change, but also to learn how each of them is special in their own way. Though the voice of the story is young and the tale is geared toward 9-11 year olds, there are some large words that may require a lot of sounding out and some parental help defining. I don't know of many young children who know what "repast" is. Even though they may have some difficulty with some of the words, I believe that most children will be able to identify with the characters and enjoy the book. This book will appeal mainly to girls, though if they are able to look past the three sisters as the main characters, boys may enjoy it as well since PK is a bit of a tomboy.

There is some talk of hormones and mention of a uterus as a female body part and it's having to do with "becoming a woman" - though it is not fully explained. If you are against your child reading about that then you have been warned. There is nothing explicit nor will your child come away with any additional knowledge on that topic, but it may illicit questions that you will want to have answers for before they get to that point.

This is a sweet book that many kids can identify with and will enjoy reading.

Maybe Yes, Maybe No, Maybe Maybe - Susan Patron

Life as the middle sister can be tough, especially when your big sister is pretty and very very smart. It's even tougher when your Mom is a waitress and you have to teach everything you know to your little sister - even the things you don't know.

PK is the middle sister, between Megan and Rabbit. Even though Megan is now "almost-a-teenager" and Rabbit is starting Kindergarten, everything seems to be going fine - until their Mom decides that they need to move into a bigger apartment. Suddenly everything PK knows and relies on is going to be left behind. The Big Blue Chair that they loved as if it were a family pet is too big to fit into the new apartment with the new sleeper sofa, and the built in hamper where all of PK's magical stories come from - can't come with them either. How can a new wicker basket hold all of the stories? It's full of holes and all the stories would fall out!

"Maybe Yes, Maybe No, Maybe Maybe" is a sweet story about three little girls having to move and make what they consider a major life change. Told through the eyes of PK, we see how the girls learn not only to accept change, but also to learn how each of them is special in their own way. Though the voice of the story is young and the tale is geared toward 9-11 year olds, there are some large words that may require a lot of sounding out and some parental help defining. I don't know of many young children who know what "repast" is. Even though they may have some difficulty with some of the words, I believe that most children will be able to identify with the characters and enjoy the book. This book will appeal mainly to girls, though if they are able to look past the three sisters as the main characters, boys may enjoy it as well since PK is a bit of a tomboy.

There is some talk of hormones and mention of a uterus as a female body part and it's having to do with "becoming a woman" - though it is not fully explained. If you are against your child reading about that then you have been warned. There is nothing explicit nor will your child come away with any additional knowledge on that topic, but it may illicit questions that you will want to have answers for before they get to that point.

This is a sweet book that many kids can identify with and will enjoy reading.

Glimpses of the Moon - Edith Wharton

When reading Wharton you never have the safety net of knowing that things will end happily. In fact - most of her books are tragedies in the most profound sense of the word. This is the first of her books that I have read in which the focus is primarily on a romance. Now I'm not much of a romance reader so when I realized that this would be a romance novel, I was a bit concerned. Lucky for me there was nothing sappy about this book.

Suzy and Nick enjoy each other's company, however neither of them has a fortune of their own. They live their lives sponging off of their wealthy friends because they are considered "interesting" by the wealthy. Even though the two of them have not a penny between them, they decide to marry and use their honeymoon to sponge living in vacation houses off of all of their acquaintances. Since neither of them had previously considered marriage - they make a deal that neither of them will stand in the way of the other, should a better or wealthier prospect arise.

Suddenly, much to their dismay, not only do they discover interested prospects with mountains of riches - but they also have fallen in love with one another. Pride, stubbornness, miscommunication, and their unwillingness to admit to any of the above leads them in to a year long series of events that open their eyes to the reality of their hearts, minds and situation. The only way for them to afford the lifestyle to which they are accustomed is to split and remarry wealthy suitors. The only way for them to stay together in their love is to give it all up and live a life of poverty. With a Wharton novel you never know where the ending will take you, so it can easily be expected that things will not go as your standard romance novel would. The reader follows Nick and Suzy, hoping desperately for them to end up together, to find a way to make things work, and to grow beyond the materialism that off of society deems a necessary part of life. Will they give in to the materialistic pleasures of high society and throw off their chance at love? Or will they cast off societies burdens and live a life of true passionate love?

Silas Marner - George Elliot

Strange that so many people complained about this book after having been forced to read it in High School. I had never heard of this particular Elliot book until I acquired the list of "1001 books to read before you die." I can see where the language in this book would be troublesome to many young students, particularly if they have little to no experience reading anything from the time, much less anything written in phonetic slang. But the theme should be universal.

Short Synopsis - we follow to individuals through the tale, the title character - Silas Marner, a weaver who has had a long run of bad luck in dealing with people who has then holed himself away from society and fills his days with weaving and counting his slowly growing stack of gold. The other is Godfry Cass, a wealthy son of a land owner who's poor in morals and scruples. Through a series of events triggered by Godfry and his brother, Silas is thrust into various situations of both grief and joy. Always Silas maintains his high moral standard and simple way of life and is thusly rewarded for it.

As is standard in the literature of the time - the good get what they deserve and the morally lacking get their just ends. The interesting part that Elliot weaves in to the tale is that the unfortunate events that happen to Silas, all end up leading him to true happiness. Now I don't want to give the story away as many others have, but I will say that once you get past the first third or so (where the reader will find themselves wondering if ANYTHING is ever going to happen) the book picks up and becomes very enjoyable.

The language may be tough for some, but once you get about 20-30 pages in, you shouldn't have much trouble reading it. If all else fails, read it out loud. On the whole this is a very enjoyable book, though not my favorite - the story is fun and happy and leaves the reader feeling rather warm and fuzzy.

Pain Killers - Jerry Stahl

This is probably not a book that I would have selected on my own - having hated the movie "Permanent Midnight." In the end it was an enjoyable read - if not a bit preposterous.

The Good Guy - Manny Rupert: an Ex-cop, on again off again junkie with a bad liver, who married a woman he met after she killed her husband and he responded to the police call. He's down on his luck, and not doing himself much good - then a strange old Jewish man shows up in his house, beats him with a walker and hires him to go undercover in San Quentin

The Good Girl - Manny's ex-wife, soon to be ex-ex-wife he hopes, is a neurotic bulimic on again off again junkie/prostitute/opportunist. Her morality is questionable but somewhere under all that sex and junk - there's a heart of gold (at least we're told)

The Bad Guys - Oh there are so many of them, but to keep from giving too much away I'll only list our target, the 90 year old blond German man in San Quentin who swears that he's Dr. Joseph Mengele (Nazi Death Camp Doctor at Auschwitz).

So, crazy Jewish man with walker hires Rupert to go undercover as a drug councilor at San Quentin to determine if the crazy old German actually IS Mengele. Things go bad quickly as Rupert's ex-wife shows up with an Aryan Brotherhood leader who also happens to be Jewish. The people on Rupert's side might actually be more dangerous then the convicts.

The writing is verbally simplistic, a lot of people rant and rave about how grotesque this is - but as a horror fan, I've got to say - it's not that bad. Most of the disgusting parts are simply people recounting what Mengele had done - which IS gross, but it's not extremely explicit in that respect. There is a lot of sex, drugs, racial slurs, anti-government garbage, and a whole lot of the German guy arguing about the good he did in the death camps - like slaughtering babies to cure cancer... that part gets old fast.

To be honest, this isn't the best or worse book I've read. The characters are all fairly despicable in one way or another and the plot only holds together loosely. At times you will find yourself shaking your head trying to figure out just how you're supposed to buy all of what's being sold to you here. If you are looking for something comparable - try Tim Dorsey- ADHD writing, spastic plot, and a lot of material to make your average reader cringe.

The Saga of Beowulf - R. Scot Johns

I have now had this book FOREVER! And finally made it through all 600+ pages. Did it take me this long because it was slow or boring? Not at all! It took me that long because it was simply too big to fit in my purse.

Beowulf has long been one of my favorite stories of all time. In eighth grade we had to read the original poem in old English. Even though the language made me want to cry, I still loved the story. I have read and re-read various translations, and stylizations of the tale over the years. There is nothing more thrilling to me then following Beowulf and his men as they face the beast Grendel, then have to do battle with the Sea Witch and finally at the end of his life, to do battle with the Dragon. But in this book there is so much more to the story, so many little gaps filled in, more back story and so much more life to it.

This book, though huge and daunting to look at - is FANTASTIC. If you have ever wanted to read Beowulf, but hated the idea of ancient English verse - THIS is the book you need to read. Honest to the source material, and simple to read and comprehend without a translation key. Even if you love the tale in verse, you should still pick up a copy of this book and re-read it, the story and the character are given a whole new life. Beowulf becomes what we imagined he was between the lines of the old poem.

I have one complaint - and it should give you an idea of how much I love this book - The cover does not do it justice. This book should at least have a faux-leather cover, an epic tale like this deserves better then the 1980's Dungeons and Dragons looking cover it currently has. I highly recommend this book to everyone!

Monday, April 6, 2009

Avery Dick Walks Small - George Larson/Avery Dick

Often times it is fun to watch as an author progresses in their craft – but then again sometimes when you enjoy an author and go back to read one of their earlier works, you are glad they have come as far as they have. “Avery Dick Walks Small” is one of the first novels following our illustrious intelligence agent, and sadly it does not have the polish or punch that the later novel has. The writing style is good enough, with interesting characters – however the reader gets bogged down with bad puns and wordplay that moves the story nowhere. Readers of “Secret Agent” novels generally like suspense, action, and a quickly paced plot. In this particular novel the plot involves the kidnapping of two young women who just happen to be the daughters of some very high ranking political figures. This should play out as a very exciting save the girl type caper – however with the book only being 176 pages long, it is almost a crime in itself that very little happens until page 85. The book bogs down in its own wordplay and “setup.” When we finally get to the excitement, though it is well written, it is sparse and too little payoff for the amount of buildup. Perhaps it is simply the main character, who chooses to downplay the experience, but in the end the reader doesn’t get the excitement they so desperately crave – the tense nail biting shootouts, the extended chase scenes where someone with a baby buggy unwittingly walks out of an alley and allows the bad guy to get away so that the giant coup-de-gras ending can occur, the big showdown. Sadly that never happens and the reader is simply left with a novel of wordplay, unbelievable sexual situations, and a feeling that what they read was just a big inside joke that they will never be given the punch-line to.

As negative as all of this sounds – this is only the second novel by this author and he is progressing quickly in his craft. I would keep my eye on him as his follow up to this one “Dick Goes to the Bank” is a much stronger entry in the cannon.

Rated R for profanity and sex.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Dick Goes to the Bank - By Avery Dick/George Larson

Avery Dick is a retired special agent who specializes in getting the bad guy and speaking in puns. He smokes, drinks and attempts to womanize... he speaks in bad puns and thinks in repetitive sentences. However he has a job to do, he has been enlisted by the World Bank to head off to Romania - land of vampires and witches - to determine the cause of a sudden epidemic that is killing the locals. Why does the World Bank care about a few Romanian peasants? Because they recently sent them a gift of grain and seed - and the superstitious peasants are blaming the bank for the sudden plague.

What starts out as fairly straight forward ends up a rather dangerous mission for Mr. Dick. Though he never seems overly concerned with his safety, and some of his decision making leaves a little to be desired. This is a short book, only 150 or so pages and can be read in a single sitting. On the whole it is well written, but it is written for a specific type of audience, though it is not laugh out loud funny, I imagine fans of "Ace Ventura" or "The Jerk" would enjoy this book. Not that the book is meant to be silly, it is sort of short attention span - light hearted with a dash of heroics thrown in for good measure. We don't spend a lot of time on description or intense action, the book is first person with Mr. Dick's mind speaking directly to the reader. If bad puns make you groan, steer clear... if you hate repetition - this in not the book for you, as the author ends each of the short chapters with a variation of the same line.

Final summary - read before giving this to the kiddies, as there is murder, profanity and some sexual innuendo. Those looking for a fast, straightforward read that won't take too much out of them or require a whole lot of effort - this is a great relaxing book to pick up. Only a few minor typos and a simple, but clean layout make this a fairly attractive book.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Eden by Tony Monchinski

If you are looking for a down and dirty Zombie novel, then look no farther. Provided of course that you can wade your way through multiple typos. The author has created almost the stereotypical archetype of a zombie book. Masses of undead, survivors banding together, total government breakdown, slow zombies, fast zombies, loud zombies, good survivors and bad survivors - it's all here.

The timeline leaps back and forth starting from within the walls of Eden, a sanctuary from the undead back to prior to the outbreak, then through various scenes of the pandemonium that followed. Some may dislike this format, I personally didn't mind it. The characters are very real, human, and flawed. Some are tortured by the loss of loved ones, others must deal with what they had to do to survive. The zombies in this book are what many zombie lovers would consider "old school" mindless shambling hoards of the undead.

What is interesting is that even though there isn't a single aspect of this novel that has not been done or seen before, this book reads as an all new story. I would consider this a must have for your zombie library. When I previously referred to typos, and there are plenty of them they mainly involve a lack of spaces between words at times, and at other times the leaving off of the last letter of a word, example the word "took" turning into "too." If you don't mind that then I highly recommend this book to the 15+ zombie fans.

Rated R for gore, violence, language both profane and racist, no sex is shown but it is very strongly eluded to.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Crimson by Gord Rollo

Gord Rollo's Second novel is in my humble oppinion, far superior to his first. Where Jigsaw Man was an interesting new take on the Mad Scientist tale, Crimson is much closer to the "small band of kids take on monster who lives in their small town" tale that so many horror writers eventually touch on. Stephen King's being the most notable IT then we have Dan Simmons with Summer of Night and even fellow Leisure Author Brian Keene with Ghoul.

Though Crimson starts out much as all of the others, we quickly take a different turn. The opening scene of this book is a real kick in the gut and will thrill the most avid of gore hounds. From there we travel to about 20 years later. The small farmhouse where our opening scene took place has sat abandoned for all of those years, quietly awaiting new blood to move in. When an unaware single mother and her young son move into the house, there is a stirring in the well out back. Soon four young friends end up playing at the house and discovering an ancient evil trapped away. The four boys fight for their lives as their worst nightmares come to pass.

Crimson follows these kids from the time they unleash the monster through their lives as it revisits them, bringing all new terrors with them each time it shows back up.

The writing in this book is very strong and the book is extremely interesting. I only had three minor annoyances that I was able to forget and still enjoy the book. The first being that there were too many characters who's name started with "D" I don't know why that bothered me, but for some reason it did. The second was that the characters age significantly from the beginnning of the book through the end, but they never seem to grow mentally to match their ages. And the third was that towards the end of the book there is a large bit of exposition that sort of explained everything that had been going on... I would have preferred for some of it to have been left to the imagination and other bits of it to have been figured out throughout the tale rather than having it all explained at once. Still that was not enough to keep me from really enjoying this read. I recommend it to anyone looking for a good fun scare.

Recommended reading ages - 15 and up depending on maturity

Thursday, February 19, 2009

The Case of Charles Dexter Ward - HP Lovecraft

Lovecraft is a special writer, capable of twisting the mind of the reader in ways that all of the visual horror we are forever shown in this day and age can never accomplish.

What WAS the thing at the bottom of the pit? What was it that the good Doctor saw? So many open questions to let our minds fill in the blanks with the things that horrify us above all else.

The Case of Charles Dexter Ward is Lovecraft's longest work (at least that I've encountered) and there is so much in the meager 120 or so pages that it's amazing. We follow the Doctor as he relates the tale of his patient Charles Dexter Ward and his supposed decent into madness. In doing so we learn of an ancient relative who may have gone beyond dabbling in the black arts. Though the case revolves around Mr. Ward... the true story is that of his ancient relative.

Lovecraft has a grasp of the language that is beyond beautiful. He is eloquent, descriptive, engaging and thought provoking without ever coming across as pompous or arrogant. His description is effective without being obnoxious (Unlike J Fenimore Cooper), his dialog is realistic and meaningful (not like Jane Austin)and his plot is engaging, grabbing the reader from beginning to end (unlike "The House of the Seven Gables"). Highly recommended for those who like either the writing style of the time, or simple horror fans.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

The Sirens – William Meilke

Poor cover art may turn many away from this book… a poor synopsis on the back will discourage many more. In fact, the synopsis on the back is completely irrelevant to the book – the phone call mentioned does occur… however it has no bearing on the actual story what so ever.

A true synopsis – After their previous case involving an amulet (which I assume is the first in the series) our PI, Derek Adams and his agoraphobic sidekick are hired for what should be a simple case. An old woman wants Derek to head north to a small town and retrieve her son so that he can attend his father’s funeral. What follows delves deeply into the ancient Norse mythology including sirens, Odin, Loki, a shape shifter and some not-so-friendly locals.

Although this is classified as horror, and it does contain a monster… this book is more of an irreverent supernatural crime thriller. If it weren’t for the heavy use of profanity, I would recommend this as a young adult novel. For adults, they may have a tough time buying into everything that occurs. However, even though it lacks gore and is really never frightening, it is a fun book. The characters do all have similar voices and there is very little physical description of the different characters. It would have been easier to keep them mentally separate if the author hadn’t suffered from a penchant for names starting with the letter “D” or if they had each been given a distinctive voice. The character who stands out the most is the elderly chain-smoking widow, and even she is a dichotomy in that her personality shifts as the story needs it to.

The plot itself is quite wild though the author does manage to keep a handle on it, keeping it as restrained as anything containing this much magic in modern day times can be. It is enough to keep your attention from beginning to end, and to be honest I’m still not entirely sure where the ending came from, but I’ll buy it.

If you are looking for a light read that never takes itself too seriously then this can be quite an enjoyable time. The gore is light, and there is sexual contact told in the past tense (and the men have the wounds to prove it). The book does contain heavy profanity from a specific character, adult subjects such as suicide, and gore. If this were a movie and they cut the profanity down this would be a heavy PG-13 rating.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austin

This is a classic.
It deserves to be a classic.
That does not make it exciting.

Perhaps it was my mood while reading... or perhaps I've just read too many books from the time period in too short a span... but I had a difficult time digging into this one.

If I were doing a study on manners, protocol, and society from that time period, this book would be my reference guide. As far as a fun filled story... I struggled at times to keep going. The opening was rather boring, very little occured to draw the reader in other than some interesting conversation. Then in the middle, the intrigue just didn't intrigue me. I'd never seen the movie but I can spot a liar in both book and film pretty quickly... so all of the drama around poor Mr. Darcy was more irritating to me than anything else. I mean, the poor guy, he deserved way better than he ended up with.

I guess my difficulty with this book begins with the fact that I'm a non-romantic woman. I'm also incredibly self reliant and even though I've read tons of books from this time period... I still can't figure out what these people did with their lives to make a living, I assume it's just land ownership but none of them seems to contribute anything! So you take that and apply my opinion that each of the girls in this book needed a severe reality check and a firm slap out of their rose petal glasses and maybe I was just a big angsty while reading. The men were complete mysteries who you never really got to know other than through the perceptions of the sisters... and since they seemed so warped to me, the men were alien.

I just felt bad for Mr. Darcy. I really wanted him to run off and find a decent woman. True the book picks up a bit in the middle and then through the ending, where everyone rides off into the sunset on their white horses to their fairyland castles full of rainbows and unicorns and everyone lives happily ever after and they all eat marshmellow fluff and candy corn for every meal

Soultaker - Bryan Smith

This is the second book by this author that I have read, and I have to admit… that he really doesn’t draw me in. Sure the writing was fine, there is sex, violence and little green scaly critters romping about… but I have the hardest time investing myself emotionally in his books.

So we’re in a small town, and some goth girl turns out to be Lamia, an ancient half snake deity who needs a jump start of souls… so she’s possessed the women of a small town and turned them into psycho witch-like priestess hoes. So we’ve got a pack of male teens and an older brother who are trying to stop it all.

I had a hard time determining whether or not our author is deeply terrified of women… the women in this book are evil, corrupt, vengeful, lustful and extremely dangerous to the men… except of course for the lesbian. There are some really strange psychological ideas you could take from the author.

I did like the idea of his use of one of the more rarely mentioned mythological monsters rather than simply going with the standard vampire/werewolf/alien/zombie fare. I really wish I had been able to get into this book more. As it was, I had a hard time keeping my mind on it and struggled to get to the end. I’m not sure why either… the writing was fine, the concept was fine… perhaps it was the characters, I didn’t really care for any of them… and we never really had the opportunity to know any of the women prior to their possession so we couldn’t really regret their transformation. The men were just SO weak that they were hard to root for, granted we wanted someone to stop what was happening… but it’s hard to root for a bunch of guys who think like pervs.

Moral of the story: men – Keep it in your pants

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Not a book! The Kindle 2 is coming out

Ladies and Gentlemen - the new Kindle has been announce, and I have to admit, it's much spiffier looking than the last one. Since I don't own either - I can't make a real comparison. But I'm told that if you really enjoy reading new or self published authors that this thing is the way to go. Be sure to check it out, even if it's way out of your price range - you can add it to your wishlist like me and dream.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Traumatized by Alexander S. Brown

Traumatized is a short story book containing 15 tales of horror, and nothing else. The reader is saved from reading an introduction, any sales pitch for additional books, or even author information. The tales contained within the book range from thrillingly creepy and horrific to mediocre. There are stories of serial killers, demons, vengeful spirits, psychotic cults, voodoo curses, and even a bigfoot creature. Where Brown really shines is in his haunted house stories. The opening tale – “Bloodlines” is one of the two strongest in the book. A tale of four people called for a “treasure hunt” in a mysterious house learn that there is far more to the treasure than what they bargained for. Tied for my favorite is the story “It’s all True” another haunted house tale that ends is a terrifying and gruesome way. Brown is in his element when writing about haunted houses. I found his murderer tales to be the weakest in the book, specifically “April” which seems to have been written long before the author really hit his writing stride. It comes across as forced and stilted with problematic dialogue and unbelievable characters. The final tale in the book “Zoe’s Swan Song” is both gruesome and familiar, one knows how the tale of someone offering to show a vindictive person their “inner beauty” will turn out. Other than the haunted house tales, “The God Complex” was very interesting.

On the whole this was a collection of horror stories that is well worth the purchase. The percentage of excellent versus weak stories is in the reader’s favor with there being far more good than not. Any collection will have stories that are stronger than others. This is an excellent short story collection that I recommend to horror fans.

Rating is defiantly an “R” with profanity, gore, sex, rape and murder.

Original Review for

The Chair - Graphic Novel

I'll admit that I own no graphic novels other than the spawn compilations, so when they sent me a copy of "The Chair" to review, I was rather excited. The cover is well drawn, although the printing on my copy seems to be shifted to the left, cutting the last letter of each of the authors/illustrators names half off. A quick flip through reveals that the entire book is in black and white, nice touch.

Now our story follows a man on death row, surrounded by the criminally insane of the worst types, awaiting his final trip down the hallway. Quickly we determine that the prison is not all that it seems, the body count is too high with out anyone making a trip to the room containing the chair. Reality twists and churns as our perceptions of what is really happening bubbles in the foam.

The concept of this novel is excellent... unfortunately the execution leaves something to be desired. The background artwork is fantastic, unfortunately the artwork of the people in the story is weak, they are improperly proportioned and sadly all look too similar to distinguish anyone other than our main character... and that's only because he has a beard and is almost always sitting. Another negative is the Dialogue, which is cryptic and bland. Sure the reader gets the gist of what is going on, but having more fluid and specific dialogue would have greatly added to the reader's enjoyment. Though this is not the worst graphic novel I have read, it certainly does not rank among the best.

Kiddie rating for this book is PG 13 possibly R for profanity, violence and adult subject matter along the lines of child murder/rape/serial killers.

Originally reviewed for

Monday, January 26, 2009

Coraline - Neil Gaiman

I had ordered this book long ago when on a whim I was determined to get all of Gaiman's books. I noticed that it was a childrens book so I mentally filed it away. When I saw the advertisements for the movie... I knew that with a 7 year old I would have to watch the film and ripped the book off the shelf to make sure I'd read it before watching the film.

How weird it all is... I read it in just about a half an hour or so... and it was creepy. Little Coraline is bored... both of her parents work at home, but they are always busy with work and rarely have time to play with her. She wanders about their house (a flat converted from a much larger house) and visits with the neigbors. Even when she is visiting with the neighbors, they don't seem to really notice her, everyone talks at Coraline rather than to her. She enjoys exploring and eventually comes across a door in her flat that opens to a brick wall. Her mother explaines that it used to be a door that went into the neighboring flat, but now it's bricked up in case they rent it out.

Suddenly strange things crawl through the night, and a door that once lead to a wall of bricks, opens to a long dark hallway... to a world disturbingly similar to the one she just left... only with frightening and sinister undertones. Coraline shows her strength, intelligence, cunning and determination to find not only her parents, but also to get back home.

As an adult I thought to myself - this book will scare the crapola out of little ones! In the back Gaiman states that the book was frightening to adults and an exciting adventure to children. Perplexed, I handed it off to my 7 year old... expecting it to look as though it had been through a chipper shredder when handed back to me. Much to my surprise... not only did he read it, but there were no nightmares... he was thrilled with it and can't wait for the movie. I'm still perplexed as to how this book brings out such completely different emotions in children and adults. I don't know that the movie will be able to pull it off... I have a hunch that the movie might encourage leaving the light in the hallway on at night.

Still... if you are an adult, don't let that stop you from reading this wonderful book. I wouldn't compair it to Narnia other than a door opens into another world. Think of it more like Alice in Wonderland... and not the Disney version either... or The Wizard of Oz, focused on the scenes with the flying monkeys and the witch.

Highly recommended, excellent novel.

Friday, January 23, 2009

War and Peace - Leo Tolstoy

Reviewing classics is always a touchy thing to do… but I’m so freakin proud of myself for reading this book that I had to document it some way. How did I do it? Simple, I read it online with little bits being sent to my email each day… that way I never knew how many millions of pages I had left, and believed that I was making progress.

I have had this book mentioned to me, and quoted to me for years, but I have never met anyone who has actually read it. True the size is daunting… but then again… so is the material. To be honest I didn’t have the first clue what this book was going to be about. It turns out that the reader follows several people, of nobility through the Napoleonic invasion of Russia. When I say several, I mean it… you’ll want to keep a list, and leave lots of room because each person has several variations of their names that are used interchangeably. We follow about 12 main characters and a few other extraneous ones from before the invasion through the end of the conflict. Most of them are nobility and they go through all kinds of soap opera drama, generally self inflicted. Guy A is in love with Girl A but she’s poor, so he marries Girl B who’s really in love with her brother (Guy B I guess) who loves Guy A’s sister (Girl C?), but she tries to run off with Guy C who was just screwing with her head, so now she’s tainted and no one wants to marry Girl C. But Girl C is best of friends with Girl A so they hang out and throw little pity parties for themselves. Meanwhile Guy D is everyone’s pal, who’s married to Girl D who’s really a bit of a hoe, so he wanders about joining clubs and thinking to himself. Then Guy D figures out that he’s in love with Girl C, but she’s still in love with Guy B. Then the war breaks out and all of the guys other than Guy D go to war, and the Girls whine and cry about it… oh, and they move around a lot… seems like they are always packing up and moving… not that they do any of the packing… that’s what servants are for!

So just when we think we are getting a handle on who is who, who they are in love with at the moment, and what the heck is going on… we have a cut scene to – history class… Tolstoy will rant and rave for a bit about war in general, Napoleon, or the idiocy of both Historians and the Russian Military leaders. Okay you think, I can deal with a bit of sarcastic Russian historical education, but just as soon as you get your mind in gear for that – BAM you are knee deep in fighting and trying to remember just who the German guy was and how he was related to all of the people you were reading about before the cut scene.

This book ends up feeling like 3 books mixed into one – a satirical historical text, a family drama, and a wartime epic. Now each in its own is a very interesting tale, but when mashed up together, they can be rather jarring to the mind. I do have to agree with the others that the battle scenes are very well written, and I did enjoy Tolstoy’s commentary on the Russian leadership during the war… and after a while I liked some of his characters. But don’t get too attached to them… Tolstoy has no problem killing off the people you like, and when you get to the end, and are expecting a huge revelation, or some sort of major explosive dynamic finale… the curtain closes without even a spark.

Still, this is a brilliant work… I’m glad I read it, and I wish I knew someone else who had because it would be interesting to discuss it with someone. It will never go down as one of my favorite novels, but it will go down as one of my lifelong accomplishments. Tolstoy’s writing appears excellent (remember, we’re reading a translation so we have to give them credit too) and he has a brilliant wit and handle on his subject matter. I don’t agree with much of his philosophy but it is certainly an interesting topic to read on. If you can make it through 1300 pages of one book, I recommend at least giving this a try.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

A Clockwork Orange - Anthony Burgess

I had “viddied” this “sinny” many times at a young age “Oh my brothers” and it was real “horrorshow” but I had never read the book. Let me tell ya… the language takes a bit to sink in. Even at the end of the book there were bits and peaces that I had to mentally translate to myself. Burgess wrote this from the POV of Alex, a nasty little 14 year old who enjoys theft, burglary, assault and battery, rape and then the dabbles into manslaughter. I say manslaughter because I don’t believe that Alex and his friends intended to kill anyone, they just laid on the beat down a bit too hard.

Oh, and Alex speaks directly to us… the readers, who he refers to as “my brothers” but Alex speaks in a slang that I hear is a mish-mash of Eurasian languages, particularly a lot of Russian thrown in. It takes a while for your brain to process this language. It’s not hard to figure out through context what each of the words means, but it will certainly slow down your reading. The version I read was 149 pages (the original European publishing that DID include the final chapter) and it took me close to a week to finish it. Now I had been told that this was an ultraviolent book… and at the time it may have been… but I didn’t find it to be any more violent than “In Cold Blood” or some other classics that I was encouraged to read. However, the book keeps referring to the goings on as “ultra-violence.” True there are several beatings, a knife fight, a few rapes, drug use, etc… but with the mental translation it took to figure out exactly what was occurring… sure I knew it was wrong, but it didn’t “horrify” me. Then again I grew up in an age where this kind of thing actually does happen. I believe that when this was written, they had a belief that the world was a better place than those of us from later generations believe.

The underlying theme is the question of – if you could force someone to be good… force them to only be capable of doing the right thing… is that good? Or is it better to allow them the option to do evil, provided they have options. What is the “Christian” thing to do in this case? Would God be pleased to see his creations only doing good when they have no choice but to do it? There are other themes running amok through this book, childhood, growing up, the violence inherent in the system, and the futility of rehabilitating prisoners when our prisons are overcrowded and unmanageable to name just a few. There is a lot of meaning in this book, if one can manage their way through it. Some will be turned off by the difficulty of reading the made up language, others will be turned off by the violence… but those who make it through certainly are left with quite a few tidbits to mull over in their minds. I would suggest reading this with someone, or a group, because I assume that the most enjoyment can be reached by really discussing this book with someone. Good luck, enjoy and know that this is a very interesting, vile, yet purposeful book.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

The House of the Seven Gables - Nathanial Hawthorne

So far this is my favorite Hawthorn novel, although to say that is deceiving. I have only read “The House of the Seven Gables” and “The Scarlet Letter” which I loathed… even seeing the cover of the “Scarlet Letter” brings on waves of nausea which only large quantities of sunshine and a good dose of trashy horror novels can cure. But that was long ago, and I am a much more mature reader now, besides, people call this a horror novel.

They Lie.

This is not a horror novel… It’s some sort of family drama/morality tale with a smattering of bad romance thrown in. So is it terrible? No, Hawthorn does have a way with words… but I also believe that he thinks his readers have the short term memory of a melon, therefore he has a tendency to continually bash the reader over the head with an idea until he is absolutely positive that even a mouth breathing troglodyte will not only understand, but also have it burned into the interior of their skull.

Short Summary: Loooong ago a maniacal Puritan leader by the name of Pyncheon falsely executed a local by the name of Matthew Maule by claiming he was a wizard and in league with the devil. As he was hung, Maule uttered a curse on both Pyncheon and his descendents. Pyncheon then takes over Maule’s land, plows his house under and builds his own enormous dwelling on top of it – a house with Seven Gables. Flash forward to the 19th century and we have the descendants of Pyncheon, still living in the house and suffering as their family’s wealth, status and sanity have dwindled to almost nothing. The elderly Hepzibah Pyncheon(that’s a female name by the way) is forced to open a penny shop to try to bring food in. Enter Pheobe Pyncheon, a niece who has come to stay with Hepzibah and is full of life and vitality. They run the shop, do some gardening and entertain Clifford (Hepzibah’s brother) all the while living in fear of their cousin Judge Jaffrey Pyncheon who seems to want something from them.

There were some parts of this book I enjoyed, and the over all concept was interesting… the sins of the father shall be paid for by the sons, but there is a lot that is left unexplained. And the reader is never sure if there truly is a curse or if the fear of a curse is what has kept the Pyncheon family down for all of these generations. Their sense of pride is almost a physical character in the book. In truth there is only one likeable character in the book, and that’s Pheobe… and Hawthorn is so determined to make us like her that he goes on and on about everything she does, how she looks, how bloody cheerful she is, how everything is better as long as Pheobe is around… to the point that the reader hopes a ghost either gets her so that we don’t have to read any more about her or grabs the rest of the household so that she can live in peace.

I understand the historical significance of Hawthorn’s works, and his mastery of the language. However this particular book becomes almost as suffocating as the house itself, dreary, stifling, repetitious and sadly… the reader may find themselves searching for a way to escape (much as Clifford does)… lucky for us the escape is much easier than it is for the characters. There are other classics that I would recommend before digging into this one. It’s not a difficult read, after the first 15 pages or so the language clicks and you can read it quite easily… it’s just not an overly exciting read, nor is it an overly rewarding read.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Drop Dead Gorgeous - Wayne Simmons

When I read the first page I got a little worried... Oh NO... It's in Irish Slang! But it turns out that it wasn't that bad (nothing like Irving Welsh or James Joyce!) Though there were a few sayings that I wasn't exactly sure what they meant... I knew that they were profanities of some sort and that's enough.

Short Summary: One day most of the world drops dead... kaput! A small number of people are left standing among the corpses, absolutely befuddled and terrified. Several try to band together, some for support, others to try to rebuild some sort of society. Just when we think they may have a handle on it... some of the corpses aren't decomposing the way they should... and may not stay where they are for long.

First of all, this is not a complete novel, this is the beginning of a series, so don't go into this looking for a neat, tidy ending. To be honest this is one of the most well written zombie novels I've encountered. The characters are interesting, human and deeply flawed. There are some we like and some we detest, but they all evoke emotion of some sort or another. My only complaint about the whole novel is that the character that the author seems most infatuated with... is one of the ones I care the least about. Still, there are plenty of people in this novel for me to root for and against. This is also a very attractive novel, the cover art is great, the feel of the book is nice and weighty without the obnoxiousness of being a hardback.

This novel grabbed me from the beginning and pulled me along like a hooked fish through the bloody messy ending. Excellent novel. Blood, gore, zombies, psycho militants, alcoholics, rapists, crashing helicopters and dead people everywhere... what else could you ask for in a book?

Rated R for sure, with no doubt - for language, violence, sex and zombies

The Epic of Gilgamesh - Anonymous

I'd heard of the Epic of Gilgamesh over and over again from history classes, to the use of it to confirm events in the Bible, but had never bothered to read it before. Perhaps it is the word "Epic" in the title that had conjured up mental images of a giant tome written in verse that deep down I knew I would never comprehend. Then suddenly one day I decided that I needed to at least OWN a copy, even if I never managed to read it. When I opened up my amazon box, imagine my surprise when I pulled out a thin little book of only 128 pages. The introduction is well worth the read, and actually makes up the majority of the book. For people like myself who had no prior knowledge of what the Epic of Gilgamesh really was, this intro is invaluable. It gives not only the history of the tablets, but also goes into the meaning of the tale, and tons of historical information that really added to my enjoyment of the story. The actual Epic goes from page 61-119 and is very interesting to those who have read other mythologies. The characters are very human though I won't say that in today's frame of mind that they are entirely likeable. The story follows King Gilgamesh who is 1/3 human and 2/3 god though the discovery of his brother, their quest to fight Humbaba, their battle with the Bull of the Heavens, and Gilgamesh's search for immortality. To be honest, I wouldn't say that this is a "must read" but it is certainly a very interesting read, simple to follow (at least in this translation) and a real eye opener to the beliefs and customs of the time. I highly recommend this version to those that are reading it outside of a classroom or discussion setting, because the intro was a lifesaver with the background and historical context that it gave. The version I read was the Penguin Classics translated by N. K. Sandar

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Broken Angel - Sigmund Brouwer

So the world has split between the religious fanatics and the non-religious science driven atheists. Separated by a large electrified wall and an even larger moral gap... there is no crossing between Appalachia and "the Outside." Those who live within the confines of the walls are told terrible tales about what goes on "Outside" and anyone who attempts to get there must pass through the land of "The Clan" a group who lives on the border and ascribes to neither side.

But within Appalachia resides Jordan and his daughter Caitlyn... originally from the "Outside" Jordan is hiding many secrets, even from his daughter whom he adores above all else. Caitlyn meanwhile suffers from a disfigurement of the body that no medicine can cure... and something about it has grabbed the attention of both the governments of the Outside and of Appalachia, and now they have sent a merciless group of bounty hunters after her. In a world where everyone is tracked, video cameras are on ever corner and even the horses are GPS monitored... where can she run, and why is it that they all seem to want her so badly?

Though "Broken Angel" takes place in a dystopian future, the focus is not really on that world so much as the relationship between Jordan and Caitlyn, and everyone else's reactions to them. I would have liked to have seen a broader picture of the world that Brouwer created, or more depth and info. Instead what we really have is an extended chase scene from beginning to end with some nice scenery and some interesting concepts that go whizzing by as we continue the chase. The themes and concepts of the book are very simple to pick out - the degeneration of the Church into a corrupt governing body, the thought that a true relationship with God requires no church, the effect of greed and power, the effect of mindless following of faith, Government fear tactics, the government limiting education to increase control... there are plenty more and they are all right out there in the open.

This book is a very simple and fast read... there are a few points of violence that may make some cringe, but as I'm a hardened horror fan they didn't faze me. I wanted to warn you of that since many are touting this as a Christian Adventure novel... which I can sort of see, but DO expect deaths, threats of torture, violence etc. I don't recall any profanity, and the concept of sex is only implied through conversations and looks. On the whole this is a fairly good book and I wouldn't mind reading more from the author.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Jake's Wake - John Skipp and Cody Goodfellow

So I started and finished my first book of 2009, and it looks like this is going to be a good year. Jake's Wake is a fun filled horror fest of zombie-riffic magnitude.

Short Synopsis - Jake is a Jerk... see how close the words are? Jake is scum of the most terrible sort, womanizing, abusing, just plain evil nasty guy. But he's got charisma... and he decides to throw his rock band plans to the wayside and use this charisma to run a church, being a psychotic television evangelist and massing quite a few fervent followers. Then Jake's penchant for womanizing gets the best of him and he ends up dead... but not for long! Those who were closest to him, and thrilled to be finally out of his evil clutches will have an evening to remember when Jake comes home from his own wake... even nastier than before.

This book is hard to put down, it's so out there and yet so engrossing all at the same time. There is plenty of sex and gore in this book to keep those who worship the red stuff happy. As I said... Jake was not a nice guy before he died. We follow three of the women in his life and their new men as they find themselves trapped in Jake's old house with his living and not quite breathing corpse. And Jake has plans for them.

At first the characters are so aloof and filled with hatred that I wasn't sure there was going to be anyone for us to root for, but as the evening plays on several of them begin to shine and give us hope. There are even one or two that the reader will become attached to. We don't get much background on anyone other than Jake, Gray, and the three women, but it's the ones that we don't get the background on that we end up caring the most for.

There are very strong religious themes in this book that might irritate those who hate reading anything along those lines. The book never approaches "preachy" but it's hard not to get into religion when the main baddie was a fake evangelist. There is a lot of subtext here on people who are searching for hope being easily lead, and charismatic leaders who preach the right words being able to control them. The book never degenerates into Christian bashing, nor does it wave the Christian recruiter flag, it is more a commentary of the Jim and Tammy Fay Bakers in the world. But never fear... this book really doesn't rise much beyond a fun filled horror novel, no real thought required.

I have to admit that the ending was unexpected, not all of it, but a chunk of it was out there... strangely if you had told me that the book would end like that, I probably would have said "No, that's a terrible ending!" but as I said, I didn't expect it... and it worked for me. On the whole this is a very strong book with a lot of enjoyable parts and a satisfying ending.