Monday, July 30, 2012

Savages by Don Winslow

(hb; 2010; sequel to The Kings of Cool)

From the inside flap:

"Part-time environmentalist and philanthropist Ben and his ex-mercenary buddy Chon run a Laguna Beach-based marijuana operation, reaping significant profits from their loyal clientele. In the past when their turf was challenged, Chon took care of eliminating the threat. But now they may have come up against something that they can't handle - the Mexican Baja Cartel wants in, and sends them the message that a 'no' is unacceptable. When they refuse to back down, the cartel escalates its threat, kidnapping Ophelia, the boys' playmate and confidante. O's abduction sets off a dizzying array of ingenious negotiations and [violence]. . ."


I was immediately hooked by Savages's snappy writing and dialogue, interesting characters, as well as its gleeful blend of raunchy sex, character-based casual brutality and its off-beat, blink-and-miss-it asides.

I was so energized by this addictive, holy frak this rocks novel that I read it in one sitting, a rare event when I'm reading 300-page novels.

Savages isn't for prudish readers; it is for those enjoy the neo-noir works of Elmore Leonard, Charles Willeford, Jim Thompson and Will Viharo, which seamlessly blends (varying degrees of) deviant sex, twisted pathos and slick/real world consequences-intact violence.

Worth owning, this.

Followed by a prequel, The Kings of Cool.


Savages was released stateside as a film on July 6, 2012.

Oliver Stone directed the film, from a screenplay he co-authored with book author Don Winslow and Shane Salerno.

Taylor Kitsch played Chon. Aaron Johnson played Ben. Blake Lively played O. Benicio Del Toro played Lado. Salma Hayek played Elena. Diego Cataño played Esteban.

John Travolta played Dennis. Demián Bichir played Alex. Emile Hirsch played Spin. Sandra Echeverría played Magda. Joaquín Cosio played El Azul.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Cold Serial Murder, by Mark Abramson

(pb; 2009: second novel in the Beach Reading series)

From the back cover:

"Tim Snow expected to show his visiting Aunt Ruth the wonders of San Francisco, but never expected one of the sights of the city would be the body of his ex-lover. A killer is on the loose in the Castro district. Meanwhile, Tim cadre of quirky friends and neighbors makes life all the more interesting with their drama of weddings and lost (and found) loves. . . Can Tim and his aunt uncover who the killer is before it's too late?"


This city-centric, entertaining, character-robust follow-up to Beach Reading is a burn-through read, like its preceding novel. Don't expect much mystery on who the killer is, as a few too many mentions of the killer's qualities make it obvious who s/he is.

I mention Abramson's Premature Killer Reveal not as a criticism, but as a fact - for this reader, anyway (one person's mystery is another person's whatever). As a straightforward fiction read, Cold is a charming, chockful of San Francisco work that's worth reading.

Check it out.

Followed by Russian River Rat.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

The Gore, by Joseph A. Citro

(pb; 1990, 2000: originally published under the title The Unseen)

From the back cover:

"Ex-newspaperman Roger Newton's adventure begins when Claude Lavigne, a power company employee, sees something in the forests of 'the gore' - a tiny swatch of unclaimed land created by a surveyor's mistake. His sense of reality, unhinged, Lavigne commits suicide. When Lavigne's son, best friend, and an old black man risk an expedition into the gore, Newton, attempting to sto them, upsets a fragile balance and looses an ancient, nameless fear among the people of Vermont."


Excellent suspense novel with horroresque tones, effective twists and unexpected humaneness. This isn't your typical 'horror in the hills' read.

Fans of Jack Ketchum's earlier work (e.g., Off Season) or Clive Barker's Cabal (the source of the 1990 film Nightbreed) may enjoy this relatively gentle - compared to the savagery of Off Season - if occasionally gory and violent read.

The Gore is worth owning, for its quiet, masterful take on a familiar genre staple.


(Big thanks to Rick Hautala, for recommending this author.)

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

**Jeremy C. Shipp's story, Inside, was published in Cemetery Dance magazine, and more

Jeremy C. Shipp, author of the standout bizzaro horror anthology Fungus of the Heart, had one of his stories, the empathetic and disturbing "Inside," published in issue #66 of Cemetery Dance magazine.

Other exceptional pieces in this issue include Ed Gorman's column "Fine Points" (this particular piece celebrates the legacy of horror/noir film producer Val Lewton); and Michael Lohr's chat with horror writer Edward Lee ("Said the Joker to the Thief: The Edward Lee Interview").


Shipp had another story ("Neighbors") published on The Barcelona Review site.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Raylan, by Elmore Leonard

(hb; 2012: third book in the Raylan Givens series)

From the inside flap:

"With the closing of the Harlan County, Kentucky, coal mines, marijuana has become the biggest cash crop in the state. A hundred pounds of it can gross $300,000, but that's chump change compared to the quarter million a human body can get you - especially when it's sold off piece by piece.

"So when Dickie and Coover Crowe, dope-dealing brothers known for sampling their own supply, decide to branch out into the body business, it's up to U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens to stop them. But Raylan isn't your average marshal: he's the laconic, Stetson-wearing, fast-drawing lawman who juggles dozens of cases at a time and always shoots to kill. But by the time Raylan finds out who's making the cuts, he's lying naked in a bathtub, with Layla, the cool transplant nurse, about to go for his kidneys.

"The bad guys are mostly gals this time around: Layla, the nurse who collects kidneys and sells them for ten grand apiece; Carol Conlan, a hard-charging coal-mine executive not above ordering a cohort to shoot point-blank a man who's standing in her way; and Jackie Nevada, a beautiful sometimes college student who can outplay anyone at the poker table and who suddenly finds herself being tracked by a handsome U.S. marshal."


Fans of the cable show Justified will likely recognize the events of Raylan as those of Justified's second season.

That didn't take away from my enjoyment of this burn-through read; rather, my familiarity with the characters and their frenemie-eseque relationships and dealings deepened my appreciation of this novel - it's mostly because of Leonard's spot-on, reader-immersive and quotable writing, of course, which has earned him many accolades (and deservedly so).

Raylan is an excellent novel, worth owning.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Death: The Time of Your Life, by Neil Gaiman, Chris Bachalo, Mark Buckingham & Dave McKean

(pb; 1996: three-issue comic book mini-series. Sequel to Death: The High Cost of Living.)


Foxglove (whose girl-with-a-guitar concert Death attended in Death: The High Cost of Living) and her girlfriend, Hazel, are now financially well-off, thanks to Foxglove's record deal and pop star popularity - and they have a son (Alvie, a parting gift from Hazel's sperm donor ex). They should be on top of the world, but they're not.

Foxglove, on an international tour, is struggling to deal with fame issues; Hazel, at their L.A. house, is feeling distant from her lover - who has yet to "come out" about her relationship with Hazel. Not only that, Hazel misses New York state, where they hail from. Things are falling apart for them.

Enter Death - kind, no-nonsense, wise - who has come into their midsts for reasons not entirely clear to both of them. . .

Time is a melancholic masterpiece that not only builds on, but all-around deepens its mood palate of love, death, cleverness, loss, regret, and possibly redemption.

Like The High Cost of Living, Time is worth owning. It's also available in graphic novel form.


Death has appeared in other comics since Time. One of these comics - a single-shot issue - is Action Comics #894, published in December 2010. It is the fifth part of an ongoing storyline, "The Black Ring."The plot: Lex Luthor, hovering between life and death after an attack, is treated to a chastening visit by Death, who's doing her best to steer Luthor toward a peaceful resolution - a resolution he's fighting and manipulating every step of the way.

This segment of "The Black Ring" storyline is fun, but compared to the happenings, moods and characters of Time it feels like a trifle work, a crossover that brings together two interesting characters who don't quite mesh (and makes Luthor look doltish and disingenuous at key points).

Worth checking out, this - maybe owning for a dollar, if you're a Death completist, or a Lex Luthor fan.

Monday, July 16, 2012

**Peter Baltensperger's Through the Euphoria of Pain was published on the Danse Macabre site

Peter Baltensperger, whose Nocturnal Tableaux will grace the Microstory A Week site in January 2013, has had another story published: Through the Euphoria of Pain, in issue #59 of Danse Macabre.

Check this story out!

I Know I Am, But What Are You?, by Samantha Bee

(hb; 2010: nonfiction/humor book)

From the inside flap:

"Critics have called her 'sweet, adorable and vicious.' But there is so much more to be said about Samantha Bee. For one, she's Canadian. Whatever that means. And now, she opens up for the very first time about her checkered Canadian past. With charming candor, she admits to her Lennie from Of Mice and Men-style love of baby animals, her teenage crime spree as one half of a car-thieving couple (Bonnie and Clyde in Bermuda shorts and braces), and the fact that strangers seem compelled to show her their genitals. She also details her intriguing career history, which includes stints working in a frame store, at a penis clinic, and as a Japanese anime character in a touring children's show.

"Samantha delves into all these topics and many more, in this. . . unabashedly frank collection of personal essays. Whether detailing the creepiness that ensues when your mom is your lesbian lover, or recalling her girlhood crush on Jesus (who looked like Kris Kristofferson and sang like Kenny Loggins), Samantha turns the spotlight on her own imperfect yet highly entertaining life as relentlessly as she skewers hapless interview subjects on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. . ."


I laughed often and loud at her astute, warm observations and spot-on, quirky wisecracks, as well as her as relatable but strange life.

Excellent, comedic, n0-filler book - I Know is worth checking out, and blasting through in a sitting or three.

Friday, July 13, 2012

When the Women Come Out to Dance, by Elmore Leonard

(hb; 2002: story anthology)

Overall review:

Superlative, dialogue-snappy anthology that seamlessly blends humor, neo-noir, Western and general crime fiction, with characters that are often larger than life and generally memorable. There's not a lackluster piece in this collection, though some stand out more than others.

Worth checking out, this.

Standout stories:

1.) "Sparks": An arson investigator (Joe Canavan), working for an insurance company, interviews a noir-sexy claimant (Robin Harris).

2.) "Hanging Out at the Buena Vista": Two retirement village residents meet and banter with each other. Short, sharp, entertaining.

3.) "When the Women Come Out to Dance": Lourdes, a Colombian maid, take on new, more interesting duties when the wife of her employer reveals her marital unease.

4.) "Fire in the Hole": U.S. marshal Raylan Givens (last seen in the novels Pronto and Riding the Rap) is reassigned to duty in Harlan County, Kentucky - his hometown - and his first case involves bringing down a longtime friend-turned-criminal (Boyd Crowder).

This story is followed by the novel Raylan.

This story is also the basis for the first episode ("Fire in the Hole") of the cable show Justified, as well as good portion of that show's first season - "Fire in the Hole" originally aired on March 16, 2010.

Timothy Olyphant played Raylan Givens. Walton Goggins played Boyd Crowder. Joelle Carter played Ava Crowder. Nick Searcy played Chief Deputy Art Mullen. Jacob Pitts played Tim Gutterson.

Damon Herriman played Dewey Crowe. Doug E. Doug played Israel Fandi. Kevin Rankin played Devil. Ryan O'Nan played Jared Hale. Daniel Stewart Sherman played "Pork #1". Joel Garland, billed as Joel Marsh Garland, played "Pork #2".

Danny Wildman played "19 Year Old Raylan". David Michael Holmes played "19 Year Old Boyd".

Graham Yost wrote the episode's teleplay; Michael Dinner directed the episode.

5.) "Karen Makes Out": Karen Sisco (federal marshal, from the novel Out of Sight) discovers that her new boyfriend (Carl Tillman) might have a foolhardy - illegal - source of income.

6.) "Tenkiller": A rodeo cowboy-turned-Hollywood stuntman (Ben "Tenkiller" Webster) returns home to Okmulgee, Oklahoma, where criminals are living on his property, under false pretenses - a situation he seeks to remedy, via action and the law.

Other stories:

"Chickasaw Charlie Hoke"; "Hurrah for Capt. Early"; "The Tonto Woman"

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Death: The High Cost of Living, by Neil Gaiman, Chris Bachalo, Mark Buckingham & Dave McKean

(1993, 1994: graphic novel, originally published in single/three-issue magazine form under the same title. Prequel to Death: The Time of Your Life. Introduction by Tori Amos.)


Neil Gaiman's whimsical, dark and mood-shifting tale is brought to Old School comic book art life by Chris Bachalo, Mark Buckingham and Dave McKean's illustrations.

High Cost is worth owning, especially for fans of The Sandman series, whence Death sprang.

Followed by Death: The Time of Your Life.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

**Thomas Michael McDade's Casing the Spirit was published on The Feathered Flounder ezine

Thomas Michael McDade, whose anthology, Stately Speaking: Poems, was reviewed on this site in June 2012, has recently published another sensory- and action-intensive story: Casing the Spirit, on The Feathered Flounder site.

Can't get enough Thomas-penned excellence in your life? Check out his story, Weber-o-lantern, published on the Microstory A Week site in December 2011.

Beach Reading, by Mark Abramson

(pb; 2008: first novel in the Beach Reading series)

From the back cover:

"Gay tourists are arriving in San Francisco by the planeload for the 'party of the decade' at the Moscone Center, a tribute to the late disco star Sylvester. On the same night as the dance party, evangelist Arlo Montgomery is bringing his nationwide crusade against gay rights to the Civic Auditorium a few blocks away. And Tim Snow's activist friends are planning a protest. For Tim, the fun - and the intrigue - are just about to begin."


Fun, smart, political novel, with lively characters and City evocative storytelling whose structure and effervescent style can be directly linked to Armistead Maupin's Tales of the City series - a link that Abramson acknowledges with a Babycakes mention, late in the novel.

That said, Beach Reading is more than a tautly written update of Tales; Abramson's "voice" shines through Maupin's template, more frenetic and equally rich in living (character-wise) City history.

Worth checking out, this.

Followed by numerous sequels, the first of which is Cold Serial Murder.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Dead Roses for a Blue Lady, by Nancy A. Collins

(pb; 2003: horror anthology. Sixth book in the Sonja Blue series.)

From the back cover:

"Even the undead fear the Blue Woman.

"Collected for the first time in a trade edition, Dead Roses for a Blue Lady includes the complete Sonja Blue short fiction, with four hard-to-find stories and four others exclusive to this collection. 'Knifepoint' reveals the origin of Sonja's trademark silver switchblade and hints at the nature of her uniquely human and monstrous nature. In 'Tender Tigers' and 'The Nonesuch Horror' Sonja encounters two very different families in which human and monster coexist, and learns the price such cohabitation can impose. 'Person(s) Unknown' gives a glimpse of the pieces Sonja leaves behind."

Overall review:

Good, entertaining read that adds new wrinkles to and furthers the storylines of previous Sonja Blue works. The last story ("Hell Comes Sundown") has nothing to do with Sonja.

Like the rest of the series, this is worth owning.


1.) "Knifepoint": Erich Ghilardi, an "occult expert would later go on to tutor Sonja [Blue] in the fine art of vampire slaying," embarks on a dangerous journey to steal a supernatural blade.

2.) "Cold Turkey": Sonja meets an impulsive young man (Judd), who attracts the attention of a demon snitch (Malfeis).

This story appeared as Chapter 3 in Paint It Black (the third Sonja Blue book), and later, as a "Prologue" in Darkest Heart (the fifth Sonja Blue book).

3.) "Tender Tigers": Sonja tries to rescue a human family from an ogre who's taken over their family.

This story also appeared in another horror anthology - Shivers, edited by Richard Chizmar.

4.) "Vampire King of the Goth Chicks": Sonja tracks down a wanna-be vampire (Lord Rhymer) who holds a trio of Goth kids in thrall.

5.) "Variations on a Theme": This story echoes the feel and mythological elements of The Crow, with its melancholic take on revenge.

6.) "Some Velvet Morning": An ancient, atypical vampire - a strigoi, who has renamed herself "the Contessa"- tries to elude the "Blue Monster" (Sonja) who maimed her, years before.

7.) "The Nonesuch Horror": In an old Western town, a melting pot of humans and monsters - vampires, coyotero, an ogre and vargr - are shaken out of their quiet lives when a murderous, ghoul-making vampire on the lam invades their remote haven, followed by Sonja Blue (who's hunting the aforementioned vampire, Vasek).

This story reunites Sonja with the now-grown up siblings, Cissy (a human) and Cully (an ogre), who also appear in the story "Tender Tigers". ("The Nonesuch Horror" takes place ten year later.)

8.) "Person(s) Unknown": The police interview an eyewitness to one of Sonja's vampire fights in an alley.

9.) "Hell Comes Sundown": Sam Hell, an ex-Texas Ranger and vampire, and his companion, a squaw named Pretty Face, track a pestiferous conquistador bloodsucker (Sangre), who's traveling town to town and decimating them with his undead army.

(This story was also published in Collins's single-author anthology Dead Man's Hand.)

Friday, July 06, 2012

I Am a Pole (And So Can You!), by Stephen Colbert

(hb; 2012: humor/nonfiction picture book. Illustrations by Paul Hildebrand)

From the inside flap:

"Can't get enough of Pole? Look for these sequels:

"Pole Learns His ABCs

"Pole in Outer Space

"Pole Has a Bar Mitzvah

"Pole Goes to Bangkok

"Pole Meets Another Pole

"Pole Meets the Other Pole's New Boyfriend.

"Pole Does Something Else

"How the Pole Stole Christmas

"Pole Learns About Copyright Infringement

". . . and many, many more!"


Silly, satirical children's book that's not quite for children, filtered through Stephen Colbert's Right Wing pundit persona. I haven't chuckled this often at a book in a long time, because of stanza-gems like the following:

"I tried and failed at other things,
That I shouldn't talk about.
Like that summer with the phone poles,
Getting totally strung out."

Paul Hildrebrand's illustrations - children's book-true and clever - are the perfect accompaniment to Pole's verses, which I read several times all the way through - and chuckled at every time.

If you're a Stephen Colbert fan, this is worth owning. Adding to the joy of this quick read is Maurice Sendak's snarky faux-blurbs, and other contributions to the book. (Sendak, a friend of Colbert's, was on The Colbert Report shortly before he died on May 8, 2012.)

Darkest Heart, by Nancy A. Collins

(hb; 2002: fifth novel in the Sonja Blue series)

From the inside flap:

"Sonja Blue - known to vampires like herself and other inhuman Pretenders as the 'Blue Woman' - has gained quite a reputation. To avenge herself on the monster who turned her into the walking undead. Sonja haunts the shadows of the world's greatest cities to rid them of the vampires that stalk the unsuspecting human race. But she can never escape her truest enemy: the Other, the vile demon who has shared her mind since she was transformed twenty years ago.

"Sonja Blue knows what it's like to have loved and lost - those she loves are definitely lost - so she has grown accustomed to a hard and lonely life. Until she meets 'Harker,' a vampire hunter with an impressive list of kills. Harker's real name is Jack Estes, and as Sonja soon learns, he's lost everything - his parents, his childhood, and his life - to a thousand-year old, vicious vampire who might just have the darkest heart of all. Though she can't quite explain why, Sonja agrees to take Jack on as her apprentice. Now, as the pair hunt down this savage predator, murder and mayhem are the only things she can truly count on."


Darkest Heart, like its predecessor novels, is a blast-through read: lots of blood and action, with squick-effective elements, and writing that builds on - adds new twists to - its characters and their histories, as well as its storylines.

This novel is an excellent addition to this horror-with-a-capital-H, often-surprising series, which deftly sidesteps the usual undead tropes, and brings something fresh and exciting to the abbatoir.

Worth owning, this.

Followed by Dead Roses for a Blue Lady.

Tuesday, July 03, 2012

Tough Sh*t: Life Advice from a Fat, Lazy Slob Who Did Good, by Kevin Smith

(hb; 2012: nonfiction)

From the inside flap:

"Kevin Smith is full of sh*t.

"That Kevin Smith. The guy who did Clerks a million years ago? Didn't they bounce his fat ass off a plane once? What could you possibly learn from the director of Cop Out? How about this: He changed filmmaking forever when he was twenty-three, and since then he's done whatever the hell he wants. He makes movies, writes comics, owns a store, and now he's built a podcasting empire with his friends and family, including a wife who's way out of his league. So here's some tough sh*t: Kevin Smith has cracked the code. Or he's just cracked.

"Tough Sh*t is the dirty business that Kevin has been digesting for forty-one years, and now he's ready to put it in your hands. . . Kev takes you through some big moments in his life to help you live your days in as Gretzky a fashion as you can - going where your puck is gonna be. Read all about how a zero like Smith managed to make ten movies with no discernible talent and how when he had everything he though he'd ever want he decided to blow up his own career. Alog the way he shares stories about folks who inspired him (like George Carlin), folks who befuddled him (like Bruce Willis), and folks who let him jerk off onto their legs (like his beloved wife). . ."


Potty mouthed, funny, smart, self-deprecating (in a healthy, charming way), no-nonsense and often inspiring (for those like myself, who are geeky, creative and average-looking), this is an excellent, earthy read.

His life- and filmmaking-based lessons and observations are spot-on, and, as I mentioned before, often inspiring. And his stories about those who have inspired awe and respect in him - George Carlin, Quentin Tarantino, Michael Parks and Tracy Morgan - are also interesting, as is his chapter about working with Bruce Willis, whose job description is movie star, but who, on the film set of Cop Out, acted like a film director as well: a less than flattering but respectful and honest recounting.

"Tough Sh*t is worth owning, if you're a Kevin Smith (check), and buy film/pop culture books (I generally don't).

<em>Mother Night</em> by Kurt Vonnegut

(pb; 1961) From the back cover “ Mother Night is a daring challenge to our moral sense. American Howard W. Campbell, Jr., a spy du...