Thursday, August 30, 2012

The Girl Who Would Be Death, by Caitlín R. Kiernan and Dean Ormston








(pb; 1998-1999: four-issue comic book series. Loosely connected spin-off story from Death: The High Cost of Living and Death: The Time of Your Life.)


The plot: Plath and Evangeline, a voodoo-practicing New Orleans couple, purchase an expensive, ancient and supernatural book (The Magdalene Grimoire) from a sleazoid antiques dealer (Ashaira), in order to resurrect their dead friend, Billy.


When a sigil - an ankh, which Plath immediately recognizes as Death's (as in: the perky, cute Goth girl incarnation of Her) - falls out of the Grimoire, it sets into motion a chain reaction of death, undeath and other calamities, not the least of which is Death's dispatch of her bouncer-big, motorcycle riding servant (Eblis O'Shaughnessy), so that he may retrieve Her ankh.


Girl is an excellent spin-off series - it not only references many key characters and elements of The Endless (Death, and Her equally important and diverse kin), but also Kiernan's trademark components (neologisms; character/emotional resonance; Goth edgy sensibilities; literary references; toying with, then reworking, clichés into something entirely new.)


Ormston's artwork is the perfect complement to the dark, disturbing, and often grisly and melancholic story.


Worth owning, this.


(Quick note: I checked Amazon for a graphic novel edition of this four-magazine series, but didn't find one.)

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

The Matarese Countdown, by Robert Ludlum

(hb; 1997: sequel to The Matarese Circle)


From the inside flap:

"The Matarese Circle. . . introduced a treacherous international cabal of powerbrokers and their hired assassins. More than twenty years ago, the top CIA and KGB agents joined together to ensure that, in an explosive act, the Matarese conspiracy went up in flames. . . but like a phoenix from the ashes, the terror has returned.

"Secret deals are in the making, massive mysterious transactions steeped in corruption and murder. The players stand at the highest pinnacles of global finance and government. It is an unprecedented consolidation of money, power and ruthlessness. Their ultimate aim: worldwide economic domination and all it entails. . . by whatever means necessary.

"The Matarese dynasty is back in all its glory and evil. And the one man with enough knowledge to stop it, case officer Cameron Pryce, may not have enough time. The Matarese countdown has begun and Pryce's only chance to cut it off is to follow the trail of blood money and stone-cold killers to the heart of this deadly conspiracy.

"From the Hamptons to Monte Carlo to London's Belgrave Square, Matarese assassins have already struck with brutal efficiency, eliminating all who stand in their way. But on Spain's Costa del Sol, one victim survived enough to breathe these dying words: 'Find Beowulf Agate' - words that reverberate all the way to CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia. Beowulf Agate is the code name for legendary retired agent Brandon Scofield, the only man ever to penetrate the Matarese and survive. . ."



Review:

Countdown is initially lighter in tone - after all, Brandon Scofield has been retired and happily married for twenty years on an island paradise - but the action, rapidly rising body count (shown for the horror that it is) and plot twists start on page one and don't let up until the last page, in true Ludlumesque fashion.

Other elements that leaven Countdown (compared to Circle) are the increases instances of snappy but often friendly banter between many of the characters, a good number of whom took part in the events of the first novel.

This is a good follow-up to Circle; timely, too, considering our current global financial crises, though I would like to think that the Matarese had nothing to that.

Check it out.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Legs, by Sam Kieth

(pb; 1999: one-shot comic book, published by Image Comics)


Review:

Plot: A tween boy discovers a mutant vehicle creature in a ghost town, a car engine-eseque animal whose personal limitations, mysterious diet and personality are the heart of this auto-minded coming of age tale.

Sam Kieth has once again penned and illustrated a distinctive work that merges the familiar and the Kiethesque odd. The moral/life lessons of this comic are straightforward, the artwork is stunning, and the tale is heartfelt without becoming bathetic.

Legs's denouement may be too 'non-Hollywood ending' for some readers whose sensibilities have been overlaid by the cinematic Dream Factory, but I appreciated its organic and tale-appropriate finish, which is wise and gentle.

Worth owning, this - as is any work Kieth creates: this man is one of the most original writers/artists I've read.









Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Haunted, by James Herbert

(hb; 1988: first novel in the David Ash series)


From the inside flap:

"David Ash, a talented, skeptical investigator of the supernatural, works for the Psychical Research Institute in London. He is a troubled but driven man - driven to disprove the existence of things he cannot afford to believe. It is this very obsession that leads him to a house called Edbrook, and to a terrifying confrontation with his own buried past.

"Peculiar things happen at Edbrook, the Mariell family residence: rooms suddenly freeze while corridors are choked by the heat of unseen fires, and the whole house shudders with the chilling sounds of a child's distant laughter.

"Robert, Simon and Christina Mariell are the surviving heirs of this once noble family, whose history contains some unspoken horror. They believe their home is haunted and challenge Ash to prove otherwise. Ash moves into the mansion and struggles to maintain his pragmatic perspective, but even he cannot explain the shockingly real vision of a familiar pale girl whose irresistible embrace pulls Ash beneath the weeds of the garden pond and nearly traps him there forever."


Review:

Haunted, an old-fashioned ghost story with its spooky mood and solid, traumatized characters, is a hard to set down read.

I spotted one of the main plot twists early on, but Herbert's streamlined writing, aforementioned mood and characters (and their murky motivations) made for an enjoyable book.

Promising start of a series, this: worth checking out.

Followed by The Ghosts of Sleath.

#

The resulting film was released in the UK on October 27, 1995. It was released stateside on June 18, 1996.

Aidan Quinn played Prof. David Ash. Kate Beckinsale played Christina Mariell. Anthony Andrews played Robert Mariell. Alex Lowe played Simon Mariell. Anna Massey played Nanny Tess Webb. John Gielgud played Doctor Doyle.

Geraldine Somerville played Kate. Victoria Shalet played Juliet Ash.

Lewis Gilbert directed the film, from a script he co-authored with Timothy Prager and Bob Kellett.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

The Ultimate Guide to Kink: BDSM, Role Play and the Erotic Edge, edited by Tristan Taormino

(pb; 2012: non-fiction/how-to BDSM sex guide)


From the back cover:

"Award-winning author, filmmaker and sex educator Tristan Taormino presents this bold and sexy treasury that runs the gamut from expert tutorials on kinky erotic practices to thought-provoking essays that delve into complex questions about desire, power and pleasure. The Ultimate Guide to Kink features the expertise of renown educators writing passionately on their favorite subjects, including Patrick Califia, Midori, Laura Antoniou, Barbara Carrellas, Lee Harrington, Jack Rinella, Lolita Wolfe, Madison Young, Hardy Haberman, Felice Shays, Ignacio Rivera, Sarah Sloane, Mollena Williams, FifthAngel and Edge. This comprehensive volume includes:

"• techniques and creative ideas for bondage, spanking, flogging, sensation play, rough sex and more, illustrated by Katie Diamond.

"• lessons on how to eroticize power, cultivate deeper connections and incorporate kink into your sex life

"• role-playing fantasies from the popular to the taboo

"• provocative and personal manifestos on dominance, submission, sadism and masochism."


Review:

As an erotica/grindhouse writer and someone who's interested in psychology, this wide-ranging guide is indispensible to my 'mature genre' writing and lifelong learning. It should also be considered indispensable for anybody who's curious about or into BDSM.

Whether or not you're into role play, weaponsex, whips or other discipline-oriented endeavors, it's an interesting, educational and often entertaining read: it's also a one-of-a-kind book, given the smart-minded loving scope of sexual bents it addresses.

In my reading experience, Ultimate Guide to Kink is only matched by one other BDSM book for its mix of pragmatic, real-world application(s) and honest, if often controversial, mindset(s): Patrick Califia's psychologically-intense story anthology Macho Sluts.

I don't own many books - I generally read and get rid of them - but Ultimate Guide to Kink, like Macho Sluts, will no doubt be a valuable research resource for years to come.

Own this, already, if you're so inclined!

Monday, August 13, 2012

Invisible Monsters Remix, by Chuck Palahniuk

(hb; 1991, 1999, 2012)


From the inside flap:

"It's time to hit the road again with our veiled narrator, pill-popping Brandy Alexander, and their charming and handsome male sidekick.

"Originally inspired as a work that would echo the Vogues he read while going to the laundromat, Chuck Palahniuk had wanted the chapters in Invisible Monsters to break the normally straight line of fiction and bounce around, as did the articles in fashion magazines. He wanted the novel 'to be a little unknowable.' As a new author, he ultimately gave the book a linear structure. Published as his third novel, it was written first.

"In this revised edition, with a new introduction, the reader is invited to jump throughout the book to read the chapters in different arrangements. Intertwined are new chapters: some featuring characters in the book, others recounting events in the author's life. As Palahniuk knows, sometimes truth is stranger than fiction.

"The story remains daringly unpredictable. A fashion model has just about everything: a boyfriend, a career, a loyal best friend. One day she's driving along the freeway when a sudden 'accident' leaves her disfigured and without the ability to speak. From being the beautiful center of attention she becomes an invisible monster, so hideous that no one will acknowledge she exists.

"Enter Brandy Alexander, Queen Supreme, one operation away from becoming a real woman. Brandy will teach her that reinventing yourself means erasing the past and making up something better, that loving and being loved are not mutually exclusive, and that nothing is ever quite what it seems."


Review:

Chatty but mostly entertaining and distinctive novel - not only for its structuring, but for its ideas and "voice" - about the vagaries of love, identity, sexual fluidity, divinity and social norms.

As I noted before, Invisible Monsters Remix runs a bit long in some parts, but it is worth reading, not only for the above elements, but for its dark, deliciously savage humor, borne out by Palahniukian's detail-oriented, trademark writing.

Check this out.

Better Haunted Homes and Gardens, by Jennifer Barnes and Kristen Margiotta

(pb; 2009: children's picture book)


Review:

When Ivy Spookerton goes looking for a new place to live, she has specific requirements for her new home: it must be haunted, in a way pleasing to her macabre mindset and her bugs.

This charming, quirky picture book (reminiscent of The Addams Family) made me smile, as did Margiotta's mood- and color-appropriate artwork, which is what alerted me to the existence of this book.

Here's an excerpt - two of my favorite pages from Better Haunted Homes:

"Ivy Spookerton was up to her ears in creepy crawlies. Renting an attic room from Old Mrs. Wrinklechin had been great for a time but Ivy's bug collection had doubled since she'd first moved in.

"Ivy needed a place where she and her critters would have some space to stretch out.

"When the spiders started to make nests in her hair Ivy knew it was finally time to go house hunting. Haunted house hunting to be precise!

"Ivy had always wanted to live in a haunted house and would settle for nothing less than the most haunted house in all of Pumpkinville."

Better Haunted Homes is worth reading, for those without kids who enjoy G-rated silliness and spookiness; it's worth owning for those who have children, whose sensibilities may appreciate the above elements.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

The Matarese Circle, by Robert Ludlum

(hb; 1979: prequel to The Matarese Countdown)


From the inside flap:

"Brandon Scofield, a ranking intelligence officer in America's clandestine services, is a veteran of twenty-two years - a lifetime of secrecy and violence. He has seen more of the world than he cares to remember. He is a tired man, but he remains the best in the field.

"Vasili Taleniekov, master strategist, KGB, the Soviet Union's most brilliant tactician, is both executioner and negotiator, hunter and quarry. He has spent twenty-five years in ruthless pursuit of Moscow's enemies. He, too, is tired, weary of the futility, but there is no one better in all Russia.

"Scofield and Taleniekov - professionals to the core - are also deadly enemies who have vowed to kill one another if ever they should meet. Their motives: Taleniekov was responsible for the death of Scofield's wife; Scofield engineered the murder of the Russian's brother.

"The deaths took place a decade ago. Now, both men have aged and are at the end of their careers. The tensions of the years have taken their toll; both are mistrusted by their own governments, both slated for termination. Or more final methods to ensure their silences.

"But Taleniekov has come upon one of the most frightening secrets of our time. He has discovered an organization called The Matarese that has been financing terrorist groups around the world. No one really knows the aim of The Matarese - only that it must be stopped. And the only men who can stop it are Brandon Scofield and Vasili Taleniekov - working together."


Review:

This is one of my favorite Ludlum books, if not my all-time favorite by the author. The lead characters are compelling and relatable - not only Scofield and Taleniekov, but Antonia Gravet, the Corsican woman whose mysterious ties with terrorists have toughened her cicatricial resolve to bring down those who murdered her kin.

The action and plot-twists are complex and believeable in accordance their shifting milieus; they resonate with the characters' motivations and personalities - while much of Circle's structuring and cinematic displays of carnage may be familiar to Ludlum's regular readers, it's the emotional components that made Circle stand out for me, particularly the evolving dynamics between Taleniekov and Scofield.

Excellent read, worth owning.

Followed by The Matarese Countdown.

#

A film, based on this novel, is in the works.

Here's the details (according to comingsoon.net): David Cronenberg is set to direct the film, from a script by Michael Brandt and Derek Haas.

Tom Cruise and Denzel Washington are set to star. Lazy casting choices to be sure, but whatever.

I'll update the film information when I get it (I haven't had much time to poke around the 'Net for information related to this project).

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

Killing Mr. Griffin, by Lois Duncan

(pb; 1978)


From the back cover:

"They only planned to scare their English teacher.

"They didn't mean to kill him.

"But sometimes even the best laid plans go wrong."


Review:

Good, tightly plotted, for-older-teens* crime novel that pulls no punches, is willing to take a few chances within its genre, and has an ending with that shows real-life consequences for the kids' actions.

Check this out.

[*for-older-teens = a few instances/mentions of profanity and drug use - e.g., marijuana]

#

The resulting television film aired stateside on April 7, 1997.

Amy Jo Johnson played Susan McConnell. Scott Bairstow played Mark Kinney. Mario López played Dave Ruggles. Chris Young played Jeff.

Jay Thomas played John Griffin. Cordelia Richards played Kathy Griffin. Michelle Williams played Maya. Rhonda Dotson played Dolly Luna.

Jack Bender directed the telepic, from a teleplay by Michael Angeli and Kathleen Rowell.

<em>Phantom</em> by Jo Nesbø

(hb;  2011, 2012: ninth novel in the Inspector Harry Hole series. Translated from the Norwegian by Don Bartlett .) From the back cover...