Saturday, February 28, 2015

The Green Kangaroos by Jessica McHugh

(eBook; 2014)

From the back cover:

"Perry Samson loves drugs. He’ll take what he can get, but raw atlys is his passion. Shot hard and fast into his testicles, atlys helps him forget that he lives in an abandoned Baltimore school, that his roommate exchanges lumps of flesh for drugs at the Kum Den Smokehouse, and that every day is a moldering motley of whores, c*ntcutters, and disease. Unfortunately, atlys never helps Perry forget that, even though his older brother died from an atlys overdose, he will never stop being the tortured middle child.

"Set in 2099, The Green Kangaroos explores the disgusting world of Perry’s addiction to atlys and the Samson family’s addiction to his sobriety."



Review:

Kangaroos is a surreal, erotic and plot-twisty novel that brings to mind the cyberpunkiness of William Gibson's writing (albeit in a more mainstream way), as well as the bleak circumstances and humor that are often infused in William S. Burroughs's vivid-slippery worlds-within-worlds works. Its characters become more interesting as the novel progresses, and the ending is hopeful and realistic about the nature of addiction, making this engrossing, entertaining book even more worthwhile -- excellent read, worth owning.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

**Three of my poems were republished in the anthology Poems To F*ck To

 
Three of my older romantic poems -- Invited; action, as well as It comes down to this, every time and Salvation (previously published as Oh, Emma) -- were republished in the anthology Poems To F*ck To (editors: Jason Brain and Chelsea Cohen).

Poems also contains Rick Lupert's travel- and verseworks-clever piece England, one of my favorite poems in this anthology.

This sexy, playful and loving collection, put out by Poetry In Motion Publishing House, can be purchased at Createspace and Amazon.
 

Saturday, February 21, 2015

The Black House by Patricia Highsmith


(pb; 1981: story anthology)

From the back cover:

"Eleven sinister stories reveal Patricia Highsmith's characters breaking the social laws (often unconsciously) and paying the price.

"They are victims trying to behave like protagonists -- and the results are often fatal."


Review:

One of the things that makes Highsmith's work so compelling is her ability to underline even the most mundane situations with mounting unease, with her crisp, chilly and clever writing -- writing that is on display in most, if not all, of the stories in this collection. What's missing, in most of Black's stories, is the zinger finishes she often attaches to her better works.

None of these stories are bad. Most of them are good, if not excellent. However, the bulk of their endings are too low-key, flat and (often) predictable, when compared to the effective, increasing-tension set-ups that precede them: in short, if you are a reader who puts as much stock in tale finishes as their set-ups, purchase Black used and at low cost or check it out from the library. If you are a reader who forgives meh endings as long as everything else in the story works, this collection may appeal to you.

While I was disappointed by this anthology, I don't feel like I wasted my time reading it, as I am a fan of Highsmith's work.  Her output is interesting, even when it's deeply flawed, largely the case with Black.



Stand-out stories:

1.)  "I Despise Your Life": A party-it-up, twenty-year old musician (Ralph Duncan) desperately tries to bridge the gap between himself and his disapproving father (Steve), only to make matters worse. Great story, with a great end-line.


2.)  "The Dream of the Emma C": The at-sea rescue of a beautiful woman (Natalie Anderson) sets an all-male boat crew on violent edge. Good, intense read.


3.)  "Old Folks at Home": Relations quickly sour between a demanding elderly couple (Mamie and Albert Forster) and their well-meaning, if unrealistic, caretakers (Herbert and Lois McIntyre, whose house the Forsters live in). Darkly, hellishly funny story, with an honest-about-human-nature finish.


4.)  "The Black House": In Canfield, New York, a young man's innocent curiosity about a local landmark endangers him. This is my favorite story in the bunch, one that brings together nostalgia, effective symbolism, youth (and the generational gaps it inspires) and the dangerous emptiness of clique talk. I especially love that the bar -- where much of said talk takes place -- is called the White Horse Tavern, in contrast with the titular abode. Excellent, masterful work.


Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Girl on the Loose by G.G. Fickling*

(oversized pb; 1958, 2012: second novel in the Honey West series)

Review:

Another fun, sometimes dark-in-tone and action-frantic novel from Fickling*, this time featuring kidnapped babies, look-alike blondes, Las Vegas gangsters, ticked-off cops (particularly Lieutenant Mark Storm, Honey's could-be romantic interest) and other fast-'n'-furious twists that are tightly, wildly plotted and sometimes hard to keep up with. This is a good (if borderline Fifties character-sexist) afternoon-beach read, one that's worth your time if you purchase it as an inexpensive omnibus volume (like I did) or borrow it from the library.

Followed by A Gun for Honey.

[*G.G. Fickling is actually a husband-and-wife writing team: Forrest and Gloria Fickling. "G.G." refers to the wife's first and middle name: Gloria Gautraud. They used these initials to keep the gender of the author(s) vague.]

Friday, February 13, 2015

Dog Men by Alana Noël Voth


(eBook; 2014: erotic story anthology)


Overall review:

Dog Men is one of the best anthologies -- erotic and otherwise -- I have read in a long time. Its stories transcend the usual genre bullcrap and cut to the often dark, emotional core of its characters and their disturbing circumstances, while maintaining the necessary sexual heat that keep it erotic.

Own this in-your-face, cinema- and music-savvy collection, already. Dog Men can be purchased here.


Standout stories:

1.) "Dog Men": Two friends (Tally and Amber) head into the deep woods with two hot-looking brothers (Cannon and Justin) whose house holds secrets which may prove fatal to the young women.

This is an excellent, entertaining work, with its initially-sexy-now-dread-inducing foreshadowing, waste-no-words-effective pacing and its relatable, hope-they-get-out-okay lead characters (Tally and Amber).


2.) "Benediction": A gay teenager (Brent Johnson), in love with his heterosexual best friend (Ron McDermott), wrestles with his awkward desires, as well as the small town bigotry surrounding him. Relatable (for its 'wanting what you can't have' theme), vivid and otherwise superb tale.


3.) "Boxy Temples": A vain, beautiful and wealthy young man ( Hyacinth "Hancy" Jackson) gets a brutal comeuppance when he hooks up with Phillip Wheeler, a man who's more leech than lover. Emotionally raw, hard-hitting and moral piece.


4.)  "My Name is Brighton":  A date rape victim-turned-zombie seeks out one of the men (Paul) who used her - without being aware that he had done so.

Excellent, sympathetic and character-veracious horror-sex tale, this.  (Brighton was also published in the erotic story anthology Coming Together: Hungry for Love, edited by Sommer Marsden.)


5.) "Marcelle": In Portland, Oregon, a young man (Ronan) with guilt issues and a bent for masochistic sex gets involved with a domme (Marcelle), who pushes him -- and herself -- toward dark, kinktastic salvation. Like the rest of this sometimes disturbing love story, the end-line is a stunner that not only sums up the BDSM lifestyle, but resonated with me on an emotional level. One of my favorite stories in this collection.


6.) "Resevoir B*tch": Two "trailer trash" teenagers -- Rand, and his ultra-tomboy friend, Spike (a.k.a. Marie) -- experience an afternoon where their bond deepens in a way that neither of them expect, a bonding that may violently cure at least one of their obsessions.

Voth imbues this plot-mini-twisty tale with a dark, erotic tension, sympathetic characters and an ending (specifically end-line) that's stunning. Great story, this -- another favorite in this anthology.


7.) "Genuflection": A half-Mexican, half-Caucasian porn clerk (Manny) in East Colfax falls for a beautiful, dangerous hustler (Carlos). When Manny and Carlos meet to hook up for a trick, it sets Manny down an unexpected and even darker path. Excellent, intense  story.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Everville by Clive Barker

 
(hb; 1994: second Book of the Art; sequel to The Great and Secret Show)

From the inside flap:

"On a mountain peak, high above the city of Everville, a door stands open: a door that lets onto the shores of the dream-sea Quiddity. And there's not a soul below who'll not be changed by the fact. . .

"Phoebe Cobb, once a doctor's receptionist, is about to forget her old life and go looking for her lost lover, Joe Flicker, in the world on the other side of that door, a strange sensual wonderland. . .

"Tesla Bombeck, who knows what horrors lurk on the far side of Quiddity, must solve the mysteries of the city's past if she is to keep those horrors from crossing the threshold.

"Harry D'Amour, who has tracked the ultimate evil across America, will find it conjuring atrocities in the sunlit streets of Everville. . ."


Review:

Everville is an excellent follow-up to The Great and Secret Show, progressing Great's character- and theme-focused epicity (love; the Art; cyclic creation, evolution and destruction) while deepening -- in cinematic-fantastic fashion -- the mythology of the first novel's Cosm- and Metacosm-based horrors and beauty.

This sequel's strong connection to Great is further maintained by many of its key characters, returning from the first book: Tesla Bombeck and Raul, the latter a dramatically evolved monkey, who share Tesla's headspace; Harry D'Amour, the supernatural detective, whose world-weary Christian understanding of the Cosm is continually being challenged; Jo-Beth McGuire and Howie Katz, whose war-resistant love has resulted in a daughter, Amy; Tommy "Death-Boy" McGuire, Jo-Beth's psychotic and incestuous brother, who still desires his sibling; Kissoon, whose sick and violent childhood may dramatically alter this second attempt at Iad Uroborous-aided apocalypse; and Grillo, whose database of weirdness, the Reef, may provide some of the previous characters understandings they might not have otherwise had.

Like Great, Everville is a novel waiting to be made into a cable miniseries, and a work worth owning.

#

In Everville, extensive mention is made about a painting, created by a friend of D'Amour's (Ted Dusseldorf), called D'Amour in Wyckoff Street. Readers curious about the events that inspired this work of art -- as well as the multipersonalitied hellspawn (Lazy Susan/The Nomad/etc.) stalking D'Amour -- should read Barker's story "Lost Souls," which has been extensively published. (It was originally published in Time Out magazine in December 1985. It most recently was republished in the story anthology Mammoth Book of Angels and Demons, edited by Paula Guran.)



Sunday, February 08, 2015

Young Avengers: Family Matters by Allan Heinberg and Jim Cheung

(oversized pb; 2005: graphic novel, collecting issues #7-12 of the original series, as well as Young Avengers Special #1. Second entry in the original Young Avengers graphic novel series.)

From the back cover:

"The newly formed Young Avengers take on super-powered sadist Mister Hyde, the extraterrestrial Super-Skrull and a full-scale alien invasion, juggling their parents and their private lives at the same time. Meanwhile, some of the super-teens discover they have unexpected family ties to the original Avengers."


Review:

Immediately after the events of Young Avengers: Sidekicks, the  adolescent superheroes wrestle not only with whether or not to continue with their group activities, knowing that the Avengers -- namely Captain America and Iron Man -- don't approve of their activities (and are willing to "out" them to their disapproving guardians), but how to deal with all the baggage of being in such a high-powered and volatile collective. Things get even more intense and violent when the Super-Skrull (Kl'rt) shows up to kidnap the Hulkling (a.k.a. Teddy Altman), and, in doing so, starts killing those close to Teddy. Not long after that, the enemies of the Skrulls, the Kree (from whom Captain Marvel originates), also show up with similar designs.

Of course, with a Kree-Skrull war exploding in their city, the Avengers -- Captain America, Iron Man, Spiderman, Wolverine and Spider-Woman -- also find themselves in the thick of intergalactic combat, with the young superheroes caught in the middle. Even as these battles rage, so does confusion among the Young Avengers. Will Patriot, grandson of the original Captain America (Isaiah Bradley), forgive himself for deceiving his former teammates, and rejoin them? Why are the Skrulls and the Kree so keen on taking Teddy? Why does their most recent recruit, Thomas Shepherd, a speedster who can "destabilize atomic matter" by running, so strongly resemble  Asgardian (now called Wiccan)?

All of these matters and questions are resolved in a climax that feels familiar and fresh. This is a great set-up for future Young Avengers works -- of which there are a couple, penned by Heinberg and Cheung: worth owning, this.

Thursday, February 05, 2015

This Girl For Hire by G.G. Fickling*

 
 
(oversized pb; 1957, 2012: first novel in the Honey West series)

Review:

Fun, sometimes dark-in-tone story about a P.I. (Honey West) who is investigating the brutal killing of a beloved Hollywood has-been (Herb Nelson) during the filming of the television show Nelson was fired from, for reasons unknown.

There are plenty of suspects, dark motives and secrets, and twists in this fast-moving, well thought-out work. Readers may want to remember that this was written and published in the late Fifties, so there's a flagrant level of sexism (by today's standards) on the part of the men Honey encounters, even Mark Storm, the police detective whose gruff exchanges with her mask a strong attraction between Honey and Mark).

Worthwhile beach read P.I. mystery, this. Followed by Girl on the Loose.

[*G.G. Fickling is actually a husband-and-wife writing team: Forrest and Gloria Fickling. "G.G." refers to the wife's first and middle name: Gloria Gautraud. They used these initials to keep the gender of the author(s) vague.]

#

A television series, Honey West, also resulted from this eleven-book series. It ran for one season, from September 17, 1965 to April 8, 1966 -- thirty episodes in all. 

Anne Francis played Honey West. John Ericson played Sam Bolt, the show's stand-in for Mark Storm.



 

Tuesday, February 03, 2015

Young Avengers: Sidekicks by Allan Heinberg and Jim Cheung

(oversized pb; 2005: graphic novel, collecting issues #1- 6 of the original series. First entry in the original Young Avengers graphic novel series.)

From the inside flap:

"In the wake of Avengers Disassembled, a mysterious new group of teen super heroes appears with powers and names resembling classic Avengers Captain America, Iron Man, Thor and the Hulk. But who are they? Where did they came from? And what right do they have to call themselves the Young Avengers?

"When the Young Avengers' public actions draw the attention of Captain America and Iron Man, the old Avengers set out to learn the truth about their teenaged namesakes. Caught between a maniacal super-villain and their heroic idols, will the Young Avengers' first fight be their last stand?"


Review:

Sidekicks is a tightly plotted, tale-twisty series that recalls the past glories and characters of the Avengers-related Marvel Universe and promises to be an exciting update of familiar characters. When an "Avengers Failsafe Program" (set up by the now-dead Vision) inspires a new generation of superheroes who are somehow related to past Avengers -- the Ant-Man, Captain Marvel and others -- this fledgling group, grappling with their heroic identities (which are largely hidden from their families), must not only face down Captain America and Iron Man, but the villainous, time-traveling Kang the Conqueror, who has a personal interest in how the Young Avengers drama plays out.

In this first volume, the Young Avengers are: Hulkling, a.k.a. Teddy Altman, a shape-shifter whose Hulk-like powers hint at so much more; Patriot, a.k.a. Eli Bradley, whose domino mask and military suit recalls that of Bucky, one-time (and long-dead) sidekick to Captain America; Asgardian, a.k.a. Billy Caplan, whose resemblance to Thor and use of a lightning-blast staff often prove effective in battle; Iron Lad, whose Iron Man-ish, neuro-kinetic suit covers a deeper, tale-trenchant mystery; Cassie Lang, size-shifting daughter of the most recent (and recently killed) Ant-Man, Scott Lang; and Kate Bishop, whose physical prowess and abilities with a bow and arrow echoes those of a former Avenger, Hawkeye.

This is a fun, action-explosive and blast-through read, one worth owning. The ending, which closes out the first story arc of their origin storyline, is a not-quite-a-cliff-hanger one, so make sure you have the follow-up volume, Young Avengers: Family Matters, on hand while reading Sidekicks.


Sunday, February 01, 2015

The Great and Secret Show by Clive Barker


(hb; 1993: first Book of the Art; prequel to Everville)

From the inside flap:

"Memory, prophecy and fantasy -- the past, the present, the future, and the dreaming moment between -- are all one country, living one immortal day. To know that is Wisdom. To use it is the Art. . .

"Armageddon begins with a murder in the Dead Letter Office in Omaha, Nebraska.

"A lake that has never existed falls from the clouds over Palomo Grove, California.

"Young passion blossoms, as the world withers with war.

"The Great and Secret Show has begun on the stage of the world.

"And soon, the final curtain must fall."


Review:

This excellent novel is epic in tone, with all its distinctly human perversities, beauty and everything in between shown in full cinematic, metaphysical and myth-constructive glory. Its wide array of characters, from enemy entities Fletcher and the Jaff, to Kissoon (the perverse shaman in the mystical, time-ticking Loop) to paranormal investigator Harry D'Amour (also seen in the stories "The Last Illusion," in Barker's Cabal anthology, and "Lost Souls," in various publications) embody that range of humanity -- though some of that humanity has transcended what was previous perceived and realized, with sometimes catastrophic results. Its locales range from America to various mystical realms (Quiddity, a dream sea; the Ephemeris, islands in the Quiddity; the dark Metacosm where a cold and merciless foe waits to cross Quiddity and devour our collective consciousness, as well as our world, also called the Cosm).

Great is one of the best realized and ambitious-in-its-mythmaking works I've read. It is vivid, disturbing, uplifting and everything else that a novel with this scope needs to be, with its humanity and inhumanity driving its fast-moving and character-variable storyline. Worth owning, this.

Followed by Everville.




<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...