Friday, June 29, 2012

**Peter Baltensperger's Whispers was published in the Summer 2012 issue of Siren

Peter Baltensperger, whose Nocturnal Tableaux will grace the Microstory A Week site in January 2013, has had another story published: Whispers.

Whispers, an entrancing, tastefully erotic fever-dream of sorts, appears in the first issue of Siren, with other works worth noting, like Shanna Germain's warm, sweetly kink-ish F**k Knot (poem) and Vincent Francone's engaging Poem.

Deadlocked, by Charlaine Harris

(hb; 2012: thirteenth entry in the Sookie Stackhouse series)


From the inside flap:

"Growing up with telepathic abilities, Sookie Stackhouse realized early on that thre are things she'd rather not know. And now that she's an adult, she also realizes that some things she knows about, she'd rather not see - like Eric Northman feeding off another woman. A younger one.

"There's a thing or two she'd like to say about that, but she has to keep quiet - Felipe de Castro, the vampire King of Louisiana (and Arkansas and Nevada), is in town. It's the worst possible time for a human body to show up in Eric's front yard - especially the body of the woman whose blood he just drank.

"Now it's up to Sookie and Bill, the official Area Five investigator, to solve the murder. Sookie thinks that, at least this time, the dead girl's fate has nothing to do with her. But she is wrong. She has an enemy, one far more devious than she would ever suspect, who's set out to make Sookie's world crashing down."


Review:

Deadlocked is a good read - as usual, Harris balances her characters' tangled histories, their interactions and other plot elements into an entertaining book.

That said, while Deadlocked wraps up key/ongoing elements and characters (all the while opening up new ones), Harris should consider ending the series within the next few books - I understand the Sookieverse characters are beloved by many, but Harris' last few books have been generally flat, humor-wise, and the characters' dilemmas (along with Sookie's flash-temper) are beginning to wear thin, feel redundant and/or read like trifling affairs, despite Harris' consistently solid writing.

Deadlocked is worth checking out from the library, perhaps worth purchasing, if done so at a cut-rate price.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

A Dozen Black Roses, by Nancy A. Collins

(hb; 1996: fourth novel in the Sonja Blue series)


From the back cover:

"An urban quagmire greedily devouring lost souls, its bloodstained streets haunted by the living dead. In an ancient war between two gluttonous vampires, Deadtown is both battleground and buffet table.

"But all that's about to change. Into the carnage walks Sonja Blue, vampire and vampire hunter, hell-bent on sending Deadtown's ruling fiends to the graves they've eluded for centuries. And if the rest of Deadtown gets in her way, well. . . she'll make damn sure the place lives up to its name. . ."


Review:

Entertaining crossover novel that brings together the worlds of Sonja Blue and White Wolf's World of Darkness - Dozen's plot is a blend of those series, structured by a template that explicitly mixes Sergio Leone's A Fistful of Dollars and Edgar Allan Poe's "The Fall of the House of Usher".

Dozen feels like a write-for-paycheck assignment, but that's not necessarily a demerit, reading-wise: aside from its predictable plot (for those familiar with A Fistful of Dollars), Dozen is an engaging, bloody and violent vampire-adapted romp from the mind of one of my all-time favorite horror writers.

This is best read as a homage side tale within the Sonja Blue series. Like the first three Sonja Blue novels, it is worth owning.

Followed by Darkest Heart.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Fungus of the Heart, by Jeremy C. Shipp

(pb; 2010: horror/science fiction anthology)


Overall review:

This is one of the most unique and best microfiction collections that I've read in a long while.

Fungus isn't a "casual" read - every word counts, and each word can easily flip the meanings and tableaux presented in these wildly original stories, into even odder - though strangely relatable - works.

Worth owning, for microfiction readers who don't mind a bit of initial narrative disorientation/strangeness and mental puzzle-working in their reading experiences.



Standout stories:

1.) "The Haunted House": Distinctive take on the concept of being "haunted".


2.) "Fungus of the Heart": Intriguing fantasy tale about Nightingale, a Sentinel [warrior] who's on a mission of revenge and love.

Beautiful end-line to this one.


3.) "Boy in the Cabinet": In a world of monsters, Death Cats and other sources of cruelty, a Boy seeks a love that will transform, not trap him.

Striking and reader-hooking piece.


4.) "Just Another Vampire Story": A cheating boyfriend gets his strange, but well-deserved desserts.

Succinct, perfect, and relatively "normal"/mainstreamish story (for this collection).


5.) "The Escapist": A war between gnomes and goblins takes on diseased - possibly redemptive - aspects.


6.) "Ula Morales": A forest creature superhero struggles to live up to her mother's designs.


7.) "Spider House": A warsick being (Shanna), living with a simple-minded sprite (Roan) and a demon (Evening), considers the ghosts of their pasts. Ultimately tender-toned work, this.


8.) "Monkey Boy and the Monsters": Monkey Boy and Soapy, soldiers in the war mentioned in "Spider House," fight vampires (often disguised as boy bands), snotty teenagers, werewolves, the pretentious rich, and other monsters.

There are so many laugh-out-loud zinger lines in this, it's easily one of my favorite entries in this anthology.


9.) "Agape Walrus": Cleverly titled, genre-flipping piece about a zombie polar bear and a rare walrus.


10.) "Kingdom Come": The kidnapping of a man's son leads, in labyrinthine fashion, to the father's personal revelations.


Other stories:

"How to Make a Clown"; "The Sun Never Rises in the Big City"; "Ticketyboo"

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Stranger Than Fiction, by Chuck Palahniuk

(pb; 2004: non-fiction)


From the back cover:

"Chuck Palahniuk's world has always been, well, different from yours and mine. In his first collection of nonfiction, Chuck Palahniuk brings us into this world, and gives us a glimpse of what inspires his fiction.

"At the Rock Creek Lodge Testicle Festival in Missoula, Montana, average people perform public sex acts on an outdoor stage. In a mansion once occupied by the Rolling Stones, Marilyn Manson reads his own Tarot cards and talks sweetly to his beautiful actress [then-]girlfriend. Across the country, men build their own full-size castles and rocketships that will send them into space. Palahniuk experiments with steroids, works on an assembly line by day and as a hospice volunteer by night, and experiences the brutal murder of his father by a white supremacist. . ."


Overall review:

Exceptional collection of essays - charming, risible, sexual, alarming, touching and otherwise mood-effective, about, as Palahniuk notes in his introduction, lonely people "looking for some way to connect with other people."

Stranger is as incisive, subversive and insightful as his novels, and any reader familiar with Palahniuk's body of fictional work will likely see direct links between his nonfiction and fiction.

This is a book worth owning - not only that, it's a book that bears re-reading*, at a later time, especially for writers looking to hone their characterization, research efforts and overall appreciation for ink-craft.

[*For those not familiar with my reading bents, I rarely re-read books (except if it's for site review purposes, and even then, it's not that often).]


Standout essays:

1.) "Testy Festy": Public sex acts highlight a controversial get-together, the Rock Creek Lodge Testicle Festival, in an otherwise conservative state.


2.) "Where Meat Comes From": Amateur wrestling, and its life-changing scars and results, are explored. Interesting study in an "underappreciated" sport.


3.) "You Are Here": Amateur screenwriters meet Hollywood pros, hoping to effectively pitch their ideas.


4.) "Confessions in Stone": The lives of three dedicated castle builders are explored - their successes and their failures, as well as their strange-for-modern-times learning (and castle-necessary) learning curves. (Echoes of this essay's facts can be seen in Palahniuk's novel Diary.)


5.) "Frontiers": Palahniuk experiments with steroids, with mixed results.


6.) "The People Can": Life on a submarine, in all its subversive-for-that-group nuances, is detailed.


7.) "The Lady": Palahniuk hosts a debunk-spooky-ghosts-bulls**t party in a supposedly haunted house.


8.) "In Her Own Words": Charming hang-out session/interview with Juliette Lewis.


9.) "Not Chasing Amy": Palahniuk, then an unpublished novel writer, attends Tom Spanbauer's writing workshop, where Palahniuk's education in craftwork is kicked up a necessary notch. One of my favorite entries in this collection.


10.) "Reading Yourself": Palahniuk interviews Marilyn Manson.


11.) "Dear Mr. Levin,": An open letter to Ira Levin, author of Rosemary's Baby, The Stepford Wives and other entertaining, subversive works. This is another favorite entry in this collection.


12.) "Almost California": Palahniuk, visiting Los Angeles on book/movie business, has a small-scale, memorably disastrous day.


13.) "The Lip Enhancer": Palahniuk's lip plumping experiment goes wrong with amusing-in-hindsight results.


14.) "Monkey Think, Monkey Do": Subversive novels, Søren Kierkegaard's theories and man's propensity for destruction, self- and otherwise, are linked in an effective manner. Antoher one of my favorite entries here.


15.) "Now I Remember. . .": Hilarious, incisive take on memory, chihuauas and writing.


16.) "Consolation Prizes": Palahniuk writes about post-Fight Club popularity and ruminates about the sad and disturbing facts surrounding his father's murder.


Other essays:

"Demolition"; "My Life as a Dog"; "Why Isn't He Budging?"; "Bodhisattva"; "Human Error"; "Escort"; "Brinksmanship"

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Out of Sight, by Elmore Leonard

(hb; 1996)

From the inside flap:

"Deputy U.S. marshal Karen Sisco is just stopping off to serve a summons and complaint on Florida's Glade Prison. She's all decked out in her black Chanel suit and heels but ready with her pump-action shotgun when the breakout begins, minutes after she pulls into the prison parking lot. But she's not ready for Jack Foley, the celebrity con who disarms her, invites her to climb into the trunk of her own car, and then joins her as his pal Buddy guns the blue Caprice onto the highway, heading for freedom. Squeezed into a trunk littered with handcuffs and tactical gear, the escapee bank robber is a perfect gentleman who shares her passion for movies and wonders if it would be different if they'd met in a bar.

"Only this time she's part of the federal task force hunting the escapees. This time she's sitting in the bar of the Detroit Westin, nursing a sour mash and watching a blizzard outside. This time Foley finds her. First come cocktails and conversation, Then Time Out. In Karen's suite, 'You like taking risks,' she says 'So do I.'

"Next morning Foley's gone and Karen's out to get him. She cruises Detroit's mean streets and boxing hangouts looking for Foley, Buddy and a hard case named Maurice, one step behind them as they plot the biggest heist of their careers - and a double cross that will leave only one man holding the goods. . ."


Review:

Out of Sight features Leonard's trademark character-based quirkiness and wit, waste-no-words plotting, and slick dialogue and action, this time flavored with a curiously cinematic, warm and romantic tone.

Worth owning, this.

#

The resulting film was released stateside on June 26, 1998. Steven Soderbergh directed it. Scott Frank wrote the screenplay.

George Clooney played Jack Foley. Jennifer Lopez played Karen Sisco. Ving Rhames played Buddy Bragg. Don Cheadle played Maurice Miller. Steve Zahn played Glenn Michaels.

Dennis Farina played Marshall Sisco. Catherine Keener played Adele. Albert Brooks played Richard Ripley. Luis Guzmán played Chino. Isaiah Washington played Kenneth. Paul Calderon played Raymond Cruz. Nancy Allen played Midge.

An uncredited Samuel L. Jackson played Heijira Henry. An uncredited Michael Keaton played Ray Nicolette: this was the second time he played this character; the first time he played this character was in Quentin Tarantino's 1997 film Jackie Brown (which is based on Elmore Leonard's novel Rum Punch).

Monday, June 18, 2012

Ghost World, by Daniel Clowes

(pb; 1993 - 1998: graphic novel)

Review:

Darkly, drolly hilarious and sometimes melancholic collection of loosely connected episodic tales about two teenage girls, best friends and pranksters, who, in discovering who they are becoming, begin to drift from each other socially.

Clowes's artwork perfectly suits his geek-funny and -funky work, one of my all-time favorite graphic novels.

Worth owning, this.

#

The resulting film was released stateside on July 28, 2001.

Thora Birch played Enid Coleslaw (a.k.a. Enid Cohn). Scarlett Johansson played Rebecca Dopplemeyer. Steve Buscemi played Seymour. Bob Balaban played "Enid's Dad".

Brad Renfro played Josh. Illeana Douglas played Roberta Allsworth. Stacy Travis played Dana. T.J. Thyne played Todd. David Cross played "Gerrold, the Pushy Guy - Record Collector". Patrick Fischler, billed as Patrick Fishler, played "Masterpiece Video Clerk". Dave Sheridan played Doug.

An uncredited Teri Garr played Maxine.

Terry Zwigoff, who co-scripted the film with book author Daniel Clowes, also directed it.




Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Paint It Black, by Nancy A. Collins

(pb; 1995: third book in the Sonja Blue series)

Review:

This is the kind of sequel I love to read - one that seamlessly, intriguingly progresses the storylines and character evolutions of previous series works, while simultaneously wrapping up and shattering established storylines with organic, foreshadowed wild card elements.

Collins not only delivers on the promise of the first two Sonja Blue novels (Sunglasses After Dark, In the Blood), but raised my expectations for the milestone series even higher.

I can only hope that the bulk of my writing, sequel- and otherwise, matches the excellence Collins has displayed thus far with her published writing, which continues to amaze me.

Worth owning, of course.

Followed by A Dozen Black Roses.

#

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. (Part of its cover heads this review.)

Monday, June 11, 2012

13 Scary Ghost Stories, edited by Marianne Carus

(pb; 2000: children's book/horror anthology. Illustrations by Yongsheng Xuan. Previously published as That's Ghosts For You: 13 Scary Stories)


From the back cover:

"Do you believe in ghosts, werewolves, and skeletons that come back to life? Prepare to meet thirteen of them, in this spine-tingling collection of scary stories. In these tales no place is safe - a ghost could appear in a crowded swimming pool, a sunny beach, or right in your own backyard! So get under the covers, grab a flashlight, and prepare to meet spirits from all over the world. . ."


Overall review:

Solid children's horror anthology with some mood-effective, fun and creative scares. Most of the works grabbed me, except for two - Susan Price's "That's Ghosts For You: An English Story," which is solid until its perhaps-too-understated finish (considering its target audience), and Frank O. Dodge's "Bones," which is a great-from-the-start read until its midway point, where the author suddenly rushes the story toward a jarring (and lame) denouement, as if he suddenly realized he had to respect a word limit, but didn't want to properly set up for its hackwork second half.

Thankfully, as I wrote before, most of the stories here are worthwhile for a chuckle or a chill. 13 Scary Ghost Stories is worth checking out from the library.


Standout stories:

1.) "Bigger than Death" - Nancy Etchemendy: A dog's mysterious dietary habits are revealed to be part of a sweeter, more pressing issue.


2.) "The Airi: An Indian Ghost Story" - Deepa Agarwal: An angry female ghost haunts snowy roads, to the chagrin of a feckless traveler. Excellent, fairy tale-esque.


3.) "Mary Jo & the Hairy Man" - Eric A. Kimmel: Texas-toned, effective boogie man story.

4.) "A Game of Puckeen: An Irish Ghost Story" - Kathleen M. Muldoon: Exemplary tale about a castle, ghosts and justice.


5.) "The Glashtyn: A Ghost Story from the Isle of Mann" - Josepha Sherman: A stranger in need isn't all that he seems.


6.) "The Night of the Weeping Woman" - Mary Kay Morel: Juvenile car thieves encounter a riverside ghost.


7.) "The Man Who Sang to Ghosts: A Japanese Ghost Story" - Aaron Shepard: A blind bard entertains spirits who may mean him harm.


Other stories:

"The Haunting of the Pipes: A Scottish Ghost Story" - Gerry Armstong; "A Place of Haunts" - Robert Culp; "The Mysterious Girl at the Pool" - Juanita Havill; "Triple Anchovies" - Marion Dane Baxter

The Amazing Spider-Man: The Death of Gwen Stacy, by Stan Lee, Gil Kane, John Romita Sr. & Gerry Conway

(pb; 1971, 1973, 2001: graphic novel. Introduction by Ralph Macchio. This graphic novel collects The Amazing Spiderman issues #96-98 and 121-122.)

From the back cover:

"Gwen Stacy was Peter Parker's first true love. In her arms, he forgot the pain and responsibility of being Spider-Man. But now, pain is all he knows, and the responsibility weighs heavily on his shoulders - because Spider-Man wasn't there. . ."


Review:

This is one of my all-time favorite comic book reads. I remember collecting and re-reading the issues, all the while being affected in a holy-cow-that's-raw, emotional way - like few, if any - comic books had, or have, moved me (since).

Stacy is an excellent, pitch-perfect blend of emotional volatilty and super-hero/villain action.

Worth owning, of course.

#

The resulting film, titled Spider-Man, was released stateside on May 3, 2002.

Tobey Maguire played Peter Parker/Spiderman. Willem Dafoe played Norman Osborn/Green Goblin. Kirsten Dunst played Mary Jane Watson. James Franco played Harry Osborn.

Rosemary Harris played Aunt May. Cliff Robertson played Ben Parker. J.K. Simmons played J. Jonah Jameson. Bill Nunn played Joseph "Robbie" Robertson. Joe Manganiello played Flash Thompson. Stanley Anderson played General Slocum.

Ted Raimi, brother of film director Sam Raimi, played Hoffman. Bruce Campbell played "Ring Announcer". Elizabeth Banks played Betty Brant.

Lucy Lawless played "Punk Rock Girl". Scott Spiegel played "Marine Cop". Randy Savage played Bone Saw McGraw. Macy Gray played herself. Jim Norton played "Surly Truck Driver". An uncredited Stan Lee played "Man in Fair".

Sam Raimi directed the film, from a script by David Koepp.

Wednesday, June 06, 2012

Stately Speaking: Poems, by Thomas Michael McDade

(poetry chapbook; 2010 - published by Secession Press / smitherie@gmail.com)

Review:

McDade's loquacious but focused tale-poems (each one representing one of the fifty-one states) revolve around longtime friendships, military life/war, classic cars from the '50s and '60s, country music, bars, horse racing and baseball, and beautiful, spirited women.

His free-form verses demand, in a gruff-affectionate tone, that readers immerse themselves in his story-spinning words, something McDade makes easy to do, via mind-branding images, natural-sounding "voice" and references to American historical events that reveal not only a life fully realized with its shocking vagaries, but a country growing into a wildly different state of being, e.g., "A Railroad Night Like Robes":

It was nearly Christmas when boot camp was over,
1963 and Kennedy dead.
A song by a French nun, high on the charts,
piped through the coach often enough
to make you suspect Berlitz was lumped into the fare.
Dominique, nique, nique
S'en allait tout simplement
I chewed Dentyne in case a woman sat next to me,
wondered how long before my hair would grow back.
My face didn't feel like my own
from dry shaving peach fuzz
the Navy found as objectionable as a beard to the deck
Dominic, oh, Dominic
Over the land he plods along
sang a smartass with a hairdo like Elvis
into a cup that surely held more than java. . .

Like most poetry anthologies, this isn't a book you plow through - it's something you savor, steadily, over time, if the poets in question have done their job properly, and McDade has surely done that, with work that has given me new, loftier elements to shoot for when I write: mixing nostalgia, romanticism, hard experience and pragmatism into a delectable blend of excellent, gripping tales that not only define the poet, but his (or her) epochal - yet universal - experiences.

Worth owning, this.

And Nothing But the Truthiness: The Rise (and Further Rise of) Stephen Colbert, by Lisa Rogak

(hb; 2012: biography)

From the inside flap:

"No other comedian can generate headlines today the way Stephen Colbert can. With his appearance at a Congressional hearing, his rally in Washington, D.C., his bestselling book, his creation of the now-accepted word truthiness, and of course his popular TV show, nearly everyone (except the poor Congressional fools who agree to be interviewed on his show) has heard of him.

"Yet all of these things are part of a character also named Stephen Colbert. Who is he really?. . . Lisa Rogak. . . reveals the roots of his humor, growing up the youngest of eleven siblings, and the tragedy that forever altered his family. She charts his early years earning his chops first as a serious acting student and later a budding improv comic, especially his close connection with Amy Sedaris, which led to the cult TV show Strangers with Candy. And Rogak offers a look inside how The Daily Show works, and the exclusive bond that Colbert and Jon Stewart formed that would lead to Colbert's own rise to celebrity."


Review:

Fun, light and interesting read about a subject (Colbert) whose political/satirical persona entertains those who "get" Colbert's jokes, all the while promoting the humane and effective impulses of its creator.

Good read, not only for Colbert and Jon Stewart fans, but also those readers interested in the use of satire and improvisation.

Monday, June 04, 2012

In the Blood, by Nancy A. Collins

(pb; 1992, 2003: second book in the Sonja Blue series)

From the back cover:

"Love and an open vein.

"Sonja Blue, the leather-clad vampire-cum-vampire-hunter star of Sunglasses After Dark is back, taking out her rage on the demonic blood-drinkers who prey on the living. But her hunt has attracted attention from an unholy family Sonja barely knew she had. Morgan, the monster who remade her twenty years ago, wants to bring his beloved daughter to heel, and Sonja finds her existence entwined with that of Palmer, a mortal man. Part of her wants to love him, but when dealing with monsters where does love and slavery begin?"


Review:

Excellent sequel that delivers and expands on the gory, action-driven promise of its source novel, Sunglasses After Dark, while introducing new, equally intriguing characters and storylines.

Blood also reads like its own distinctive novel in that Collins has pushed light humor, based in genre, to its spine-snapping, edgier fore: mad scientists, haunted houses, legendary monsters, vampire and werecreature themes, et cetera - and the result is a novel that not only is a wonderful follow-up, but one that made this reader look forward to the next four Sonja Blue books, starting with the third one, Paint It Black.

Worth owning, this.

#

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.