Thursday, May 31, 2012

Cockfighter by Charles Willeford

(hb; 1972)

From the inside flap:

"Here is the fully realized portrait of the world of the cockfighter - the competitiveness, risk-taking, and brutality that surrounds him in his daily pursuits of the ultimate victory in the pit. Frank Mansfield is a dedicated professional cockfighter, a man whose destiny rides and falls on the crest of an ever-beckoning triumph, and who single-mindedly pursues it to the exclusion of all else.

"Cockfighter. . . details Frank's relationships with the women in his life - Mary Elizabeth, the lovely and ingenuous girl who loves him but hates his sport; and Bernice, the beautiful widow who tempts and attracts him, although both are only accessories in his obsessive and demanding existence; his family, who are neglected in favor of the game; and his friends, who admire him for his strength and his courage, but are ruthlessly eliminated from his life if their loyalty wavers."


Cockfighter is an intense and compelling novel, one that was not only a pleasure to read, but taught me a few new tricks as a writer (regarding characterization).

This is a perfect book - a hyper-focused, reader-hooking work, with its fast-track pacing and effective tone-mix of understated ruthlessness, tenderness and indifference.

Worth owning, this.


The resulting film was released stateside in August 1974.

Warren Oates played Frank Mansfield. Richard B. Shull played Omar Baradinsky. Harry Dean Stanton played Jack Burke.

Patricia Pearcy played Mary Elizabeth. Laurie Bird played Dodie White Burke. Troy Donahue played Randall Mansfield. Millie Perkins played Frances Mansfield.

Ed Begley Jr. played Tom Peeples. Tom Spratley played Mister Peeples. Steve Railsback played Junior.

Monte Hellman directed the film, from a script penned by Charles Willeford (who played Ed Middleton in the film).

Monday, May 28, 2012

Sunglasses After Dark, by Nancy A. Collins

(hb; 1989, 2012: first novel in the Sonja Blue series)

From the back cover:

"Erotic dreams, blood-soaked nightmares.

"She could lead a man to heaven or deliver him to hell. A beautiful vampire of consummate, immortal power. . . lust beyond the warmth of blood. . . revenge beyond desire. . . the world lay at her feet. The extraordinary power of unnatural life breathes behind Sunglasses After Dark."


All thriller, no filler take on the undead gig - damn near impossible to set down, this roughshod-toned, not-for-the-squeamish novel about a vamp-raped and -murdered vampire hunter (Sonja Blue) who ruthlessly exterminates the evil undead.

In Sunglasses, Sonja must kill a powerful televangelist named Catherine Wheele, a "Pretender" (supernatural being) who had Sonja sent to an insane asylum.

Loaded with wry humor, unrepentant gore and sexuality, character-intrinsic twists and so-crazy-it's-sometimes-funny violence, this is one of the best vampire books I've read - it blows away most fangster hunter-themed offerings, a landmark work.

Worth owning, this.

Followed by In The Blood.


The first three Sonja Blue novels (Sunglasses After Dark, In The Blood, Paint It Black) were republished in a paperback omnibus edition, titled Midnight Blue: The Sonja Blue Collection, in 1995.

Sunglasses was also recently republished in Kindle form, as well.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Choosing Death: The Improbable History of Death Metal & Grindcore, by Albert Mudrian

(pb; 2004: non-fiction. Introduction by John Peel.)

From the back cover:

"In 1986, it was unimaginable that death metal and grindcore would ever impact popular culture. Yet this barbaric amalgam of hardcore punk and heavy metal would define the musical threshold of extremity for years to come. Initially circulated through an underground tape-trading network by scraggly, angry young boys, death metal and grindcore spread faster than a plague of undead zombies as bands arose from every corner of the globe. By 1992, the genres' first legitimate label, Earache Records, had sold well over a million death metal and grindcore albums in the United States alone.

"Choosing Death: The Improbable History of Death Metal & Grindcore examines the rise, fall and resurrection of death metal and grindcore through the eyes and ringing ears of the artists, producers, and label owners who propelled the movements. 'I thought of death metal and grindcore as a return to extreme punk,' says John Peel. 'This music was another step in the outlaw territory beyond any aggressive music heard before.'"


Entertaining and informatory delineation of these "extreme" music scenes, which appeared in the mid-Eighties, and have continued, on and off the mainstream radar, to influence today's high-profile bands (e.g., Slipknot, who incorporate these elements in their genre miscible songs).

Bands like Master, Napalm Death, Arch Enemy, Carcass, Godflesh, Morbid Angel, Nile, Cannibal Corpse, Bolt Thrower, Dark Tranquility and others are part of this storied past and present, one the that has not-so-quietly mutated its way into the mainstream.

Worthwhile read for those interested in underground/extreme music, heavy metal or evolving subculture dynamics.

Monday, May 21, 2012

**Basil Rosa has had three poems published in the Spring-Fall 2012 issue of Umbrella magazine

Basil Rosa, whose He held on and she kept saying time to go graced the Microstory A Week site last October, has had three more poems published: Anomia Simplex, Crepiduia Fornicata and Mytilus Edulis, on the Umbrella site.

These poems, which make wonderfully restrained use of color, imagery, nature and emotion, achieve an effect/level most poets - including myself - can only hope for.

Check these poems out!

**Cath Barton's The Nun and I was published on the FlashFlood site

Cath Barton, whose Nothing to be afraid of graced the Microstory A Week site last October, has had another story published: The Nun and I, on the FlashFlood site.

The Nun and I is a humorous work about a nun in Doc Martens.

Check this story out!

I Know What You Did Last Summer, by Lois Duncan

(pb; 1973, 1978, 2010: YA horror novel)

From the back cover:

"They didn't mean it. They didn't mean to hit the boy. There was a party, and it was an accident. . . but they had futures to protect. So Barry, Julie, Helen, and Ray swore one another to secrecy. But now, a year later, someone knows. Julie receives a haunting, anonymous threat: 'I know what you did last summer.'

"The dark lie is unearthed, and before the four friends know it, they need to outsmart a killer. . . or they will be the next to die."


Above-average, suspenseful-for-young-adults read that, while it sports a few uses of (situation suitable) profanity ("sh*t") and casual references to smoking pot, resonates in a real-world and teen-friendly way.

Worth owning, this.


The more violent, loosely-based-on-the-book film was released stateside on October 17, 1997.

Jennifer Love Hewitt played Julie James. Sarah Michelle Gellar played Helen Shivers. Ryan Phillipe played Barry William Cox. Freddie Prinze Jr. played Ray Bronson.

Bridgette Wilson-Sampras played Elsa Shivers. Anne Heche played Melissa "Missy" Egan. Johnny Galecki played Max Neurick. Muse Watson played Benjamin Willis. Stuart Greer played Officer David Caporizo. Deborah Hobart played Mrs. James. Mary McMillan played Mrs. Cox. An uncredited Patti D'Arbanville played Mrs. Shivers.

Jim Gillespie directed the film, from a script by Kevin Williamson.


Two sequels, neither of them based on books, followed:

I Still Know What You Did Last Summer (1998), which featured actors from the original film - Jennifer Love Hewitt, Freddie Prinze Jr. and Muse Watson - as well as new-to-the-franchise actors like Jeffrey Combs;


the direct-to-video I'll Always Know What You Did Last Summer (2006), which didn't feature any of the original actors.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Whip Smart, by Melissa Febos

(hb; 2010: non-fiction)

From the inside flap:

"Melissa Febos came to New York City as a college freshman to attend the New School. And while she'd always been a bit of a non-conformist, she hadn't planned to find herself - two years later - juggling her 4.0 GPA with a job as a professional dominatrix in a Midtown dungeon.

"Whip Smart is the story of Melissa's journey into a shocking double life. And she spares no one; keen observations about the motivations of her clients, her coworkers, and, most important, herself offer a rare look inside a fascinating subculture. . ."


This is a solid, interesting read that deals with BDSM (Bondage Sadomasochism)/sex work, as well as the mindset of an intelligent, briefly self-destructive young woman, whose self-destructive traits had little or nothing to do with her job or BDSM.

Those looking for a salacious recounting are likely to be disappointed by Febos' cool, analytic (but not too analytic) style. While she describes "sessions" (BDSM scenes she dommed), as well as her personal reactions to these sessions, her writing isn't lascivious. Her recollections, written in the first person, are akin, tone-wise, to that of an anthropologist studying an alien culture - factual, with a few personal asides, perhaps, but nothing more.

Good, element-balancing work that manages to inform and entertain with its unemotional veracities: worth checking out, this.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Airplane Novel by Paul A. Toth

(pb; 2011)

From the back cover:

"You must use extraordinary measures to tell an extraordinary story. This book might be a novel and it might not be a novel. The characters might be real and they might be fictions. Many of the events described happened or they did not.

"Rules will be broken.

"Our narrator is not a person. It is a building; the South Tower of the World Trade Center, whose height and thousand of windows provide the first truly-panoramic view of 9/11.

"Sometimes the only way to learn the truth is through fiction."


What I liked about Airplane:

Toth's view-skewed take on 9/11 deftly avoids jingoistic simple-mindedness, which mars many 9/11 works. Also, the fact that Toth was willing to write an ambitious and experimental novel is to be applauded.

What I didn't like about Airplane:

Toth's narrator (South Tower, a.k.a. "Cary Grant") constantly - after every few paragraphs - either says "Wait" or reminds the reader what a newbie writer he is (e.g., "Am I sympathetic? I must know, since this story requires me to be the most sympathetic character of all. Yes, no, maybe? Have I held your interest and caused the appropriate rate of pages turned per minute? Can you hardly wait the end, yet want the book not to end?").

The first few times the narrator does this, it works, but these unrelenting interruptions (including South Tower's transmissions) break whatever spell Toth's writing might have on this reader.

Toth warns his readers that "rules will be broken," but when said rule breaking doesn't work, it's time to rethink that approach.

Borrow this wildly experimental and choppy work from the library before committing cash to it.

Monday, May 07, 2012

The Lorax, by Dr. Seuss

(hb; 1971: children's book)


When a young man visits the mysterious Once-ler, he hears a cautionary and timely tale about the Once-ler's past, and his role in the destruction of the cotton candy-like Truffula Trees.

Great children's verseworks read - fun, with a strong/positive and increasinglyly important message.  Worth owning, this, as are most Dr. Seuss books.


This book resulted in two movies.

The first, a twenty-five minute, animated television film short, aired stateside on February 14, 1972.

Eddie Albert voiced The Narrator.  Bob Holt voiced The Lorax and The Once-ler.  Athena Lorde voiced Mrs. Schmunsler.  Harlan Carraher voiced "The Boy".  An uncredited Thurl Ravenscroft voiced the "Bass Singer".

Hawley Pratt directed the short, from a teleplay by book author Dr. Seuss.


The second version, a CGI'd Dr. Seuss' The Lorax, was released stateside on March 2, 2012.

Danny DeVito voiced The Lorax.  Ed Helms voiced the Once-ler.  Zac Efron voiced Ted.  Taylor Swift voiced Audrey. 

Betty White voiced Grammy Norma.  Rob Riggle voiced Mr. O'Hare.  Jenny Slate voiced "Ted's Mom".  Stephen Tobolowsky voiced Uncle Ubb.

Joel Swetow voiced "1st Marketing Guy".  Michael Beattie voiced "2nd Marketing Guy".  Laraine Newman provided one of the "Additional Voices".

This second film was co-directed by Chris Renaud and Kyle Balda, from a script by Ken Daurio and Cinco Paul.

Shivers edited by Richard Chizmar

(pb; 2002: horror anthology)

Overall review:

Good horror anthology, worth owning. There's not a stinker in the bunch, though Kelly Laymon's "Throwing Caution to the Wind," while providing the anthology with an element of whimsical diversity, doesn't belong in this collection.

Standout stories:

1.) "Fodder" - Brian Keene & Tim Lebbon: American soldiers fight a more horrific and brutal enemy than they expected. Good, entertaining story, with a funny and ominous ending.

2.) "Whisper, When You Drown - Tom Piccirilli: Unsettling, clever tale about a storm, the restless dead and seduction.

3.) "Hermanos De El Noche" - Bentley Little: A man (Brock) sets out to rescue his wife (Marnie) from the mad, nude vampires who kidnapped her. Nasty, sexual and violent work, this.

4.) "Walking with the Ghosts of Pier 13" - Brian Freeman: Melancholic, mood-effective tale that recalls the feel of America in the days immediately following 9/11 (without the jingoistic bullsh*t that usally accompanies it).

5.) "265 and Heaven - Douglas Clegg: Excellent story about a tenement apartment whose filth-encrusted interior hides a deeper, more enduring and infinitely grimmer element.

6.) "The Sailor Home from the Sea" - John Pelan: In a pub, an ex-sailor gives voice to a familiar, yet intriguing personal tale about an angry woman and an avenging sea.

7.) "Always Traveling, Never Arriving" - Robert Morrish: The true nature of carnivals and how they're perceived by outsiders ("townies") is explored in entertaining and twisty fashion.

8.) "That Extra Mile" - David Niall Wilson & Brian A. Hopkins: A long distancee runner (Scott Danning) gets visions of roadside serial murders that appear to have real world consequences. Distinctive, fresh work.

9.) "The Green Face" - Al Sarrantonio: Concise, gripping work about a man (Lanois), whose dreams of strange killings compel him to necessary action.

10.) "Tender Tigers - Nancy A. Collins: Character- and action-interesting story about a monster-hunting vampire (Sonja Blue) tries to rescue a human family from an ogre who's taken over their family.

(Sonja Blue also appears in a multi-book series, starting with Sunglasses After Dark, also available in Kindle form.)

11.) "Portrait of a Sociopath" - Edward Lee: Short, sharp and occasionally gleefully sick (but believable) story, with an effective twist.

12.) "The Other Man" - Ray Garton: An extramarital affair takes on morbid and terrifying dimensions for a cuckolded husband. Excellent, distinctive read.

13.) "The Sympathy Society" - Graham Masterton: Haunting, wow-worthy story about a grieving suicidal widower who joins a cult-like support group to help him find a semblance of peace.

Tuesday, May 01, 2012

Vision and the Scarlet Witch, by Bill Mantlo, Rick Leonardi, Ian Akin & Brian Garvey

(pb; 1982: "A Marvel Comics Limited Series")

Plot descriptions, issue by issue:

Issue #1 ("Trick or Treat!"): A spirit (Samhain) breaks free of its bookbound prison, bedeviling ex-Avengers Wanda Maximoff (a.k.a. The Scarlet Witch), her android-with-human-emotions ("synthozoid") husband, Vision, and Jarvis (the Avengers' visiting butler) on All Hallow's Eve.

(Quick note - The Scarlet Witch and Vision don't appear in the aforementioned film version of The Avengers.)

Issue #2 ("Faith of Our Fathers"):  Robert Frank, adoptive father of the Scarlet Witch and her  brother Pietro Maximoff (a.k.a. Quicksilver, of the mutant superhero group The Inhumans) seeks their aid in regaining custody of his biological-gone-radioactive son, Nuklo, who's living in a containment lab.  It appears to be going swimmingly, when an old arch-enemy of Frank's shows up to wreck the proceedings.

Issue #3 ("Blood Brothers"):  Simon Williams, once known as the superhero Wonder Man, goes to the hospital to aid the comatose Vision.  (This is the result of Vision's battle with the villainous Isbisa in issue #2).  Trouble, again in the form of a family-based past, appears - this time it's The Grim Reaper, whose fraternal grief regarding Williams' Wonderman-to-Williams metamorphosis has reached a murderous pitch.

Issue #4 ("Revelations"): A not-so-mysterious "pilgrim" seeks his long-lost children, The Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver, inadvertantly creating a conflict on The Inhumans' homeworld.

Overall review:

This semi-episodic comic book miniseries, provides a fun, if plot-awkward, account of what initially happened to The Scarlet Witch and Vision after they left their (then) latest supergroup, The Avengers.  Vision's bordering-on-cheesy storyline may stem from its character-transitional nature, which despite its "choppy" feel, off-shoots its plots from previous events, seen in other comic books, specifically The Avengers and Captain America

Another element that helps ground the already tight writing is the writer's use of a familial theme, which is ably utilized in this rough, but entertaining work.

The four-issue Vision is worth checking out, worth owning if purchased for a modest price.  To the best of my knowledge, it is not available in graphic novel form.

<em>The Freak</em> by Eleanor Robinson

(pb; 1980 ─ a.k.a. The Silverleaf Syndrome ) From the back cover “He was born monstrously deformed, a freak of nature. Possessed of ...