Friday, December 26, 2014

Count Agranoff's Top Ten Movies of 2014

Top ten movies of 2014

10. Horns

This is a very weird bizarro horror film faithfully based on Joe Hill’s novel. Daniel Radcliffe is fantastic and coming from French director Alexander Aja (High Tension) everyone involved was stretching into fresh ground. Movie was funnier than I expected.

9. Captain America: Winter Soldier

I love that this film felt like Captain America in a 70’s political thriller. Not much else to say.

8. Cold in July

Not much to this bare bones crime thriller but it was a faithful adaptation of a novel I really love. So it made me happy.

7. Interstellar

I know Nolan wanted this to be his 2001, but it lacked the mystery of that film. That said it was a blockbuster that’s plot was dependent on the physics of time dilation. I think Danny Boyle’s Sunshine is a better entry in the hard sci-fi genre. None the less I think it was Nolan’s best since Memento.

6. The Babadook

This emotional intense, heartbreaking boogeyman movie is the best descent into madness put on film since Requiem for a Dream.

5. Guardians of the Galaxy

I don’t need to convince you right? This movie was almost perfect.

4. Young Detective Dee: Rise of the Sea Dragon

So combine Crouching Tiger style kungfu fantasy with young Sherlock Holmes, then add a Lovecraftian style sea creature. All put together in amazing 3D visuals by visionary director Tsui Hark. I need to watch this one again actually.

3. The Raid 2

The difference between my #2 and #1 movies could not be more different. The Raid 2 has more story than the first film and that is not exactly a positive. That said The raid 2 is a epic action movie. Amazing ride, and awesome theater experience.

2. The Rover

This Australian apocalypse movie is brutal and powerful. Made all the more amazing by powerful performances from Guy Pierce and Robert Pattinson.

1. Boyhood

Yeah this is a one of a kind movie. It will never happen again. Huge gamble and if Richard Linkletter doesn’t win best director something is wrong.

Honorable mentions: Snowpiercer, Lucy, Edge of Tomorrow, The Monkey King.

Ones I wanted to see:

Only Lovers Left Alive, Fist of the Dragon, Journey to the West,Once upon a time in Vietnam, Die Fighting, Nightcrawler, Over Your Dead Body, Jordorowsky’s Dune, The Chemist, Calvary, 71,Blue Ruin.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Book Review: Gideon by Alex Gordon

Gideon by Alex Gordon

Trade paperback/ E-book 432 pages

Harper Voyager

Release date: Jan. 2015 Gideon is a supernatural thriller that roots itself in the Midwest much like Ray Bradbury’s classic Something Wicked this Way Comes. That is a tightly woven short novel that uses the fall setting in Illinois to create a vibe and feeling of fear that I didn’t find in this novel. When I read the back cover description I was hoping for something in that vein. I am sure that is not fair to the author but that is what the back cover sold me.

Gordon is talented and at times creates moments that I enjoyed. I wanted to like this novel but in the end I didn’t. The novel is the story of Lauren Reardon who lives in Seattle, when her father dies she discovers that there is a dark history in his past. That history connects her to a town in Illinois called Gideon. This town has a history that involves witchcraft, murder and various secrets that make the fictional town interesting.

I can tell Gordon researched the hell out of this book, but the problem for me came in the structure. I was concerned that my problems were “inside basball” problems that only bothered me because of my writer’s sensibility. Howver, those rules exist for the readers too.

The structure to the novel didn’t make sense to me as a reader. The first 7 chapters were basically a 63 page prologue of Gideon back story, part taking place in 1836, and part in 1841. That is a lot of story before we meet Lauren and the actual story begins. I am not sure I would have made it that far if I was not reading a review copy. Those chapters worked but I thought they should have been weaved into the novel as part of Lauren’s path of discovery.

After that the novel gets more interesting , but I never felt the vibe I was looking for. Gordon has a lot of talent and lots of good moments. The problem for me is they happened too far into the text. Those first 63 pages felt like they should have been a 10 page prologue or spread out in the story. I felt the need to connect to Lauren sooner, as a character we can relate too.

I have a hard time giving low marks to first time authors who has shown obvious passion on each page of a book. Certainly in self-published cases I think to myself if only they had the help of a good editor. In the case of Alex Gordon’s Gideon she is published by a major publisher. The acknowledgments list three editors and it is clear this author did her research. So perhaps readers disagree with me. I think in the end this book should get a chance in libraries, because the concept is enough to hook readers who may have different taste from mine.

Book Review: Halo Broken Circle by John Shirley

Halo Broken Circle by John Shirley

Paperback, 352 pages

Published November 4th 2014 by Gallery Books

I know I have no business reviewing a video game novel but here is the deal. The most modern video I have played is Galaga. John Shirley is my favorite author currently calling planet earth home, so I just looked at this as a space opera by an author who doesn’t normally write in that genre. Shirley has written Video game tie-ins before, he is a gamer after all. I read his Borderlands and Bioshock novels as well. (on a side note Brian Evenson has deadspace novel I’d like to read too.)

Of the three franchises his Bioshock novel worked the best as a stand alone novel. That said I did enjoy this novel despite my total ignorance of the Halo universe. The first half of the novel takes place 1,000 years before the events of the game. The second shoot ahead A thousand years and I had the feeling this was the part of the book that tied to the game.

Mostly the first half was about the building of the last forerunner shield world, which seems directly influenced by Larry Niven’s classic Ringworld. Interesting aspect is the fact that the novel lacks a single human character. I pretty sure that is a first for Shirley. This has a much more space fantasy feel than anything he has ever written before.

Shirley does a strong job of building up the factions and breathing life into the characters. It has excellently realized action and it has made me a little more interested in the Halo universe. Must read for Halo fans and Shirley die-hards like me.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Book Review:On Her Majesty's Behalf: The Great Undead War: Book II by Joseph Nassie

On Her Majesty's Behalf: The Great Undead War: Book II (The Great Undead War #2)
by Joseph Nassise

Paperback, 336 pages

Published December 2nd 2014 by Harper Voyager

First things first let me get this out of the way this is the second book in a series and normally I would never start a story in the middle but I jumped at a review copy of this novel because I have been interested in Joesph Nassie's work. I met him briefly during his time as president of the horror writers association and knew his work was well regarded.

It would be easy to dismiss this novel as fitting several genre publishing trends at once. Yes, It is a alternate history zombie steampunk novel. That sounds like it could be super cheezy but it is not. Nassie pulls it off.

I consider this novel to be a great crossover between a Alistair MacLean (Guns of Navarone) novel meets zombie apocalypse. Set against the great war (WW I to us) this novel finds under seige from zombie hordes created by German chemical weapons.

Madman Major Burke is our hero and he is given the job of getting into zombie occupied London to rescue the royal family. There are two styles of zombies Shamblers and Shredders.

This short novel is rare case where I could have handled another hundred pages. The pace is great, the action fast and the vibe feels like a War mission novel when it needs to, and a horror novel when it needs to feel like that. It is well written and seems well researched.

I recommend this series to readers who like adventure fantasy and libraries should have this available for younger readers. They will love it. I intended to go back and read the first book and will be in line when the next one comes out.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Book Review: Stinger by Robert R. McCammon

Stinger By Robert McCammon

538 pages

Pocket books

Robert McCammon is one of the few writers I can say has not delivered a stinker yet. Now I have not read every book he has written but I trust the man to deliver. Stinger was a novel I had held off on because I had not heard as much good stuff as some of RRM's classics like say Boy's Life or Swan Song. But Mine is an overlooked novel in his back catalog I love that one so at some point I was going to read it.

I am glad I did. First things first this is a very different novel from RRM's early work. It is a Crossover of Science Fiction and horror. I think I expected a creature feature but it's foundation is a much more solid Science Fiction base than I was expecting.

Of course RRM novels move fast (even when they are long) and normally have very strong characters. The characters are as strong as always but I would say that this novel is not quite as well paced as most of his novels. This is the first time where I found myself thinking (this could be a little bit shorter.)

Set in a isolated bordertown between Texas and Mexico the setting is vivid and draws you in. Two towns in rural part of Texas along the Rio Grande becomes the battle ground between alien forces. I went into this novel totally cold on the plot so I would suggest that here, but if you need to know more...

An alien ship crashes in the desert and we learn it is an alien rebel on the run from monstrous bounty hunter that she calls Stinger. I say she because the rebel Alien assumes the body of a young girl.

I am sure some of these plot elements with the rivial gangs are a little out of date now as this was written in the 80's. If there is a weakness to the novel, besides being a tad long is that the dynamic of Daufin body snatching the body of the child is not as explored as I hope hoped. That could be me projecting as I just finished watching BBC America's The Intruders which did that masterfully.

Horror Fiction for the Holidays 2014

Of course I would like you to buy and read my novels for the holidays I mean what says Hanakah more than Chinese vampires and werewolf skinheads right? Nothing says Christmas like The Vegan Revolution...with Zombies! However I do not just want to suggest my own work. I mean I believe in giving back to the Book-a-shere as it were. Maybe you are not horror fan but someone in your circle of friends and family loves a good scary or a super bizarre novel.

Books are a great gift, they give hours of entertainment, they look neat on the shelf and in these cases they tell good stories you are not finding in Movies and TV. So I am going to end this with a pitch for my newest novel but before that here are some horror novels/ collections I think are worth getting.

Jeremy Robert Johnson:
The book I am most looking forward to next year is JRJ’s Skullcrack City coming out from Lazy Facist press towards the end of winter. In the meantime Check out his last short story collection “We Live Inside You” We Live Inside you is dark bizarro horror literature at it's sharpest point, sharp enough to enter through the temple and worm deep into your brain. JRJ comes from the same scene but doesn't rely on dildo jokes or B-movie tropes like a lot of bizarro writers do. The insane ideas are still there, but it's like crème filling in a fancy donut. At the same time it's hard for me to advise anyone to take a bite of a book written by a guy who keeps a list of parasites above his desk, but this book is a must for lovers of all literature that is weird and dark.

Sarah Pinborough:
A Matter of Blood by Sarah Pinbrough. This British novel is one of the favorites of recent years, the first of trilogy. This trilogy was released in England under the title Dog Faced Gods, but published here in America in April under the title Forgotten Gods. (I love the cover on the British edition) This is a brutal mystery with a weird crime backbone. The world that Pinborough has created here is filled with very dark shades of grey with almost zero characters worth rooting for. Oh you’ll be interested in them; you’ll want to keep turning pages.

On top of all those elements this novel also has a powerful plot line about a serial killer, including one of the creepiest killers I have read about since Brite’s Exquisite Corpse, but at the same time were talking about a novel with a subtle social conscience. The other two books in the trilogy rule as well.

Cody Goodfellow:
A Perfect Union is a weird masterpiece. Influences ranging from Cronenberg body horror, Evil Dead style gore comedy to a fascinating political dissection of Marx and Thoreau make this a genius horror novel destined to be misunderstand by the masses but loved by the readers ready to get in the ring with Cody. #9 on my all time horror novels list. Dark Bizarro masterpiece.

F.Paul Wilson:
The Tomb is a great novel that is a part of two separate series. Both the 1st book of the Repairman Jack series and the third book of the Adversary Cycle. Repairman Jack is 15 books and Adversary is 6 books. F.Paul Wilson is a plotting Yoda, Master he is. Book 15 of Repairman Jack is also book six of Adversary. The thing is he wrote it over two decades and it works perfectly. Each book is fun and different in its own ways. Harbingers is book 11 of Repairman Jack and one of my favorite books ever. But it all starts with The Tomb so that is where you should begin. You’ll be begging for a Jack TV show like the rest of us. The Tomb is a great action horror novel which combines monsters, suspense, mystery and interesting characters. It is an excellent introduction to the world of Repairman Jack.

John Shirley:
My Favorite author and biggest influence is John Shirley who was a punk rock pioneer in late 70’s Portland and moonlit as a Science Fiction author. He has a Science Fiction Masterpiece (City Come A Walkin’) and a Horror Masterpiece (Wetbones) but I think Demons is where you should start. Demons is a great end of the world novel that highlights aspects of Shirley’s entire catalog. Its high concept, socio-political, funny and all around weird.

World War Cthulu:
This one is on my wishlist. I have not read it yet but I have heard three of the authors read stories from it live and from author list alone I want it. “This book chronicles these desperate battles from across the ages, including Roman Britain, The American Civil War, World War Two, The Vietnam Conflict, and even into the far future.” This collection features stories by John Shirley, Cody Goodfellow and a fantastic tale by my Flesh Trade co-author Edward R. Morris. Amazing illustrations too.

Lisa Morton:
Netherworld by Lisa Morton. Lisa is out of Los Angeles is one of my favorite writers working today. In the last decade Morton separated herself from the pack with several amazing short stories in major anthologies often being the best story along side names like Clive Barker, Dennis Ecthison or Gary Braunbeck. This novel is a swashbuckling supernatural horror crossover with a historical vibe, big thumbs up from me.

Some of the Horror/ Bizarro Publishers I think rock:

Eraserhead press, Lazy Fascist, Deadite, Broken River books, Dark Regions Press.


A Necessary End by F.Paul Wilson and Sarah Pinbrough

Malediction by Lisa Morton

Rumors of my Death by Gina Ranali

Deep Like a River by Tim Waggoner

Long Lost Dog of It by Michael Kazepis

The Last Projector by David James Keaton

Hunter from the Woods by Robert R. MaCammon

In the End, Only Darkness by Monica O’Rourke

So many…actually I will just stop there. Even though I can think of 15 more easily.

OK now that that I finished promoting others work. How about my latest novel from Deadite press. Boot Boys of the Wolf Reich…

"Agranoff writes about what he knows and does it with knowledge and compassion. Most of his older readers, like me, will probably have the common misconception of punks and skinheads in the late 80s as racially bigoted. I had to look up the definition of “SHARP” and “Straight Edge”. But the author is not necessarily writing to us. He is writing for his generation which already knows this…This is an exceptional short novel that delivers on its promise of horror but delves into bigger issues by someone who understand the generation it speaks to. I recommend this book to all lovers of horror fiction regardless of age. The hardcore horror reader will not be disappointed. But I would also advise the prospective reader to come for the Nazi werewolves but stay for the social and family themes. Thoughtful horror fiction like this is getting increasingly difficult to come by." - Hellnotes

"I enjoyed this book. The street menace of the first half is palpable, with one tense scene using a dead-end alleyway to superb effect. I suspect that some of this is semi-autobiographical, which lends credibility to the action...David Agranoff is largely an invisible storyteller and pleasingly succinct. He paints a vivid picture, whether in a concentration camp, ska gig or back street, and transports us there through sharp characterization and drama." - Matthew Fryer /The HellForge

"Boot Boys of the Wolf Reich, by David Agranoff, is a coming of age tale done well...Both the SHARPs and Neo-Nazi crews are portrayed in a realistic and life-like way that envelops the reader. It is a testament to Agranoff’s writing style and his own personal experiences in the subculture."

"Despite some dark subject matter, it’s an entertaining read, and well worth checking out." The Books of Blood blog

Agranoff combines anti-racist skinheads and Nazi werewolves for the perfect punk rock coming of age story you never knew you needed – Dread Media Podcast

"Boot Boys of the Wolf Reich is one of those rare novels that truly erases genre labels. Part punk, coming of age story; part social commentary; part straight-up, old school werewolf horror, Boot Boys delivers on all fronts. David Agranoff takes readers street level into a time, place, and culture depicted with the kind of rich and raw details only one who lived it can know. A blend of beautiful prose and brutal honesty. A powerful, passionate, must-read book.” –James Chambers, Three Chords of Chaos

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Bloodbath (My new Death metal favorite)

The band I am have been listening to alot lately is Bloodbath: Martin Axenrot (Opeth), Anders Nyström (Katatonia), Jonas Renkse (Katatonia), Nick Holmes (Paradise Lost), and Per Eriksson Check them out. Full concert.

Book Review: Netherworld (The Chronicles of Diana Furnaval #1) by Lisa Morton

Netherworld (The Chronicles of Diana Furnaval #1)

by Lisa Morton

Paperback, 282 pages


It should be no shock to anyone who follows my blog, or my reviews that Lisa Morton out of Los Angeles is one of my favorite writers working today. In the last decade Morton separated herself from the pack with several amazing short stories in major anthologies often being the best story along side names like Clive Barker, Dennis Ecthison or Gary Braunbeck. These stories earned her several Bram Stoker awards and when she unleashed her first novel The Castle of Los Angles I was excited by the ghost story which was a personal spin that was totally Lisa Morton.

That is what I look for in a horror novel. It has all been done a hundred times, so what does a writer bring to a story that no one else can bring? This novel is very much a Lisa Morton story and I am not sure I see anyone else pulling it off.

Netherworld is the story of Diana Furnaval who just inherited the fortune of her husband's wealth and responsibility. Passed on in the form of journal that contains of maps to various gateways between our world and the netherworld. The family had become guardians who use magi from the journals to close the gateways. Through these gateways 80 or so of them around the come various monsters that make up the local mythology.

Diana is good hero, a woman who is progressive for her time. Haunted by the loss of her husband and wanting to complete his mission. This set-up is perfect a long running series (I believe a trilogy is planned) which has potential to send Diana on many swashbuckling adventures fighting various local monsters around the globe. Diana has two sidekicks a cat who senses the gateways named Mina and a Chinese martial artist Yi-kin.

Once Diana and crew start globe trotting we are treated to adventures in India, china and the old west. If there is a weakness to me these chapters could have been entire novels and I would have been happy. The China segment finally gives Morton ( a Hong Kong film-a-phile and Tsui Hark expert) a chance to write her Wuxia story complete hopping vampires.

The writing is simple but effective, the prose does a great job of creating a vivid setting. The 19th century setting is used create mood and I enjoyed spending time there. The characters are strong Diana is a good hero, and much like Kato in Green Hornet Yi-kin is a great hero that risks stealing the show.

Ready for more. I’ll be picking up book two for sure. This novel is a swashbuckling supernatural horror crossover with a historical vibe, big thumbs up from me.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Horror Nerds Check Out Mick Garris Interviews on Youtube

So one of the best ways I learned about writing Genre fiction in the early days was reading and re-reading interviews with the greats. Mick Garris is compiling years of interviews some old some new with the greats in the horror genre. Check it out. Also if you search my blog you'll find a review of his excellent book Development hell.

Book Review: The Specimen by Pete Kahle

The Specimen by Pete Kahle

489 pages Self-published

This review doesn’t make me feel great, I have only met the author through the internet but Pete and I have talked a few times and I think he is a cool cat. I was really looking forward to reading this because I like Pete’s taste in novels and film and thought the concept was cool.

The Specimen is a science fiction horror novel about a very SLOW alien invasion that has happened against the back drop of human history. For thousands of years these body snatcher like aliens referred to as Riders have been influencing our history and infiltrating our species. Most of the narrative takes place in modern New England after group of urban explorers find a jar with an alien rider intact in a closed insane asylum . The Asylum has a history that ties back to the ancient conflict that goes back to events that are explained in interludes.

There are moments of good writing and the story is very cool one. I loved the concept and think there is a good epic here. I give Kahle credit for being ambitious, but I don’t think this book ultimately does its job of telling the story. I finished reading it, but had I not been given a review copy I doubt I would have lasted past the first 150 pages.

The first warning sign should have been three page list of characters at the front of the book. I referred to it often because the characters blended together for me. I kept thinking of The Stand I don’t remember no matter how characters were introduced needing a list.

Many of the characters get their own narrative thread, infact that was an issue I had. This book never built up narrative steam for two reasons. New characters were added constantly and when it did swing around it was broken up with “articles”, journal entries or Classified files. It told the story sure but each non-narrative device (like articles or files) forced the reader out of the story momentum. The disjointed story in that sense never was able to grab my interest.

This review hurt me to write because Kahle’s dedication to telling this story bleeds off the page. I am sure this style works for some. It could be argued that the master Stephen King used this style in Carrie, but that was a shorter book and tactic was used much more sparingly.

There is sequel in the works, I think Kahle has a cool concept to work with but I personally didn’t like the style of writing. When He tells a straight story I enjoyed it. I could see the talent and ability. A more straight narrative in the sequel and the concept is cool enough I will give it a shot.

New At The Gates Album!

AT THE GATES - From Swedan is easily one of my favorite metal bands of all time. Broken up for almost a decade and they have a new album. While it is not Slaughter of the Soul (how could it match one of the best albums ever), At War with Reality is a solid Gates Record. The video is for the song that liked the best too.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Book Review: Three Chords of Chaos by James Chambers

Three Chords of Chaos by James Chambers
The Bad-Ass Faerie Tale Series

Paperback, 154 pages

Published May 24th 2013 by Dark Quest (first published April 21st 2013)

A few years back I went to the borderlands writer’s boot camp. I met several fantastic and talented young writers but the one who impressed me the most was James Chambers. I made sure I got his short story collection Ressurection House from Dark Regions. I was really excited to read this short book in the Bad-Ass Faerie series which I believe started in an anthology which these characters first appeared.

3COC is the story of Gorge who is a wizard thrown out from another realm called the Kingdom. He gathers magic by playing in rock/punk bands and taking energy from the audience. Other bands want to him to jam with them, record labels want to sign him. Using the tropes of classic Faerie tales Chambers does a fantastic job of spinning them in punk setting. I of course enjoyed his take.

The writing is evocative and does a good job getting the feeling of a live show. Chambers uses the structure of a song to plot this book. It is a neat gimmick that works perfectly. It has a couple cool bonuses like lyrics to the songs, a playlist and cool afterword. One of the reasons I write punk fiction myself is because punk is hardly ever depicted even close to realistic. Thankfully not a problem here.

Big thumbs up. It’s short but powerfully written and a fun read that is weird and like nothing else I have ever read.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Interview: John Shirley on his new historical western!

John Shirley is the author of several of my favorite novels and Collections, including Demons; Crawlers; City Come A-Walkin’; Really, Really, Really, Really, Weird Stories; and the classic cyberpunk trilogy A Song Called Youth: Eclipse, Eclipse Penumbra, and Eclipse Corona. He is the recipient of the Horror Writers Association’s Bram Stoker Award and won the International Horror Guild Award for his collection Black Butterflies. Shirley has fronted punk bands and written lyrics for his own music, as well as for Blue Oyster Cult and other groups. A principal screenwriter for The Crow, Shirley now devotes most of his time to writing for television and film.

This interview done 9/29/14 over e-mail.

David Agranoff: John, can you give us the idea behind this novel?

John Shirley: Besides being a novel intending to capture something of what the frontier, the Wild West, might really have been like, it's also about providing a balanced view of Wyatt Earp.

People tend to vilify or deify him. He's either a villain or a hero. Recently Larry McMurtry published a novel that vilified him, based on very 1960s style prejudices. I am setting the record as straight as fiction can set it. I did a lot of research. He was a man with a dark side but he was always trying to work for the community--in his way. Except when he lost his way. We all lose our way. He was brave as any man in the old west, and as Bat Masterson said, "If you want to know the true story of the West, ask Wyatt Earp. But he's not telling."

DA: Have you always wanted to write a western? What was it about this real life historical figure that inspired you to tell his story? JS: I grew up with westerns. They are romances for males, in a sense. They tend to depict idealized maleness. I wanted to be more ideal than I was! But also Earp's steely eyed determination has its own strange poetry to it. And that drew me...And the people around him! Bat Masterson, Doc Holliday, the Earp Brothers. And others I reveal in this novel--colorful characters few know had connections with Earp...

DA: How did your ideas of the man change from doing the research?

JS: Earp lost whatever sainthood I might have cherished for him, but I also saw him as courageous, resourceful, always willing to start anew, never giving up, a true frontiersman who, as he matured, learned that *community* was worth fighting for. But he was a man who was, to cold fury and the desire for a reckoning, as a lightning rod is for lightning. And that is something that drew me. For there is little justice in the world.

DA: Did getting into the head of the man in writing further influence your thinking on the man?

JS: Of course. I thought of him as a human being, with a need for love, and acceptance, and with a desire for success, and a love of family--and above all, a man who knew regret. He regretted his early association with the prostitution industry. He also had issues with addiction--to drink and gambling. So he gave up drink. But never quite gambling.

DA: “The Land didn’t need Laws but the people did.” A line from the novel I liked can you tell me what this statement says about the period?

JS: It would have seemed obvious to people in the East but in the west, where laws were weakly enforced, it mattered more. It came galloping up in relevance! People are unaware of their true selves, barely in control of themselves--they need laws until they have an inner compass. Few do.

DA: The western style action is well done and adds to the tone can you tell us about how you approached it?

JS: I researched it --read a good many books about the wild west, joined the Wild West history association, researched guns at the time, read accounts by Bat Masterson--who was there!--and then used my imagination to try to sense how it would be in real life. DA: I remember You saying when you wrote your Batman novel it was like dressing up and playing batman as kids do. Did this feel similar despite the serious tone of a lot of the novel?

JS: No this is more serious than the Batman novel. I was more serious with the Batman novel than you imply really, but Wyatt in Wichita is trying to capture something real. The sweat, blood, determination, heat, cold, the fall of the cards, the staggering of the drunks--the wild west. Serious stuff to me.

DA: There is a lot of elements of weather and environment – something I think is important to Westerns what did you achieve the feeling of the old west?

JS: I live in the new west, have traveled through the midwest, have been to Tombstone, but most of all--research. Reading accounts of pioneers, newspaper descriptions, biographies of Earp and many others. Masterson and Wild Bill Hickok and many others. You get a feel for it. Also remember--they did not have air conditioning, or electric fans, or central heating or cars, or trucks. They had a few planks and a potbellied stove at best, on a winter's night; they had little shade and intemperate weather. But they felt the exhilaration of freedom...

DA: This is a less famous moment in the man’s life, what was it that inspired you to work on this period of his life?

JS: Because it hadn't been done before! And because it was the making of Earp the man, as opposed to Earp the reluctant gunfighter of Tombstone...Wyatt in Wichita is in a period that's closer to the origins of his character.

DA: Any chance you’ll write a purely fictional Western?

JS: This one is partly fictional--the murder mystery is fiction. I would love to write a western straight out of my imagination. If this one sells--that'll make it possible.

DA: What is up next for you?

JS: I'm planning a near future science fiction novel called STORMLAND. I've written part of it--an early version of which appeared in Interzone magazine late last year. But I'd love to write another historical fiction. I'm at least as interested in historical drama as I am in the future.

Book Review: Wyatt in Wichita by John Shirley

Wyatt in Wichita: A Historical Novel

by John Shirley

Paperback, 320 pages

Published August 5th 2014 by Skyhorse Publishing

Wyatt in Wichita is a novel I have been reading buzz about for a long time. Being that one of my all time favorite authors was spending years working on passion project western, I had of course been intrigued. I really hate to think of authors ever as totally genre exclusive, I mean in this case John Shirley while know as both a Horror and Science Fiction writer transcends the genres everytime he writes a novel marketed in either genre.

Authors known for genre fiction have a history of writing historical novels that they consider some of their best work, and often they end up pleading with their readers to pay attention to these books. David Morrell a thriller writer known as the father of Rambo had this experience with the Last Reveille and F.Paul Wilson with Black Wind (However The Wilson novel fits into his mythos and doesn't feel like a departure to me). Each are excellent novels, and WIW clear deserves equal praise.

While it is a historical western on the surface it doesn;t seems like a departure for the writer who stories were once called Lollipops of Pain, Shirley was up to his old tricks. He delivered an intense view of the world just set in this period.

Focused on a less famous part of the legendary life of Wyatt Earp's life this novel follows a fictionalized murder case. This is a tool to explore the life of the famous sometimes Lawman sometimes gambler. While sometimes the legend paints a hero, or villain the strength of this novel is shades of grey Shirley paints with. This novel has plenty of action but it is above all a character study.

I recently read/reviewed a horror western that I thought lacked many elements needed for a successful Western I was pleased that they were all here. Period accurate action, engulfing natural landscapes that jumped off the page and characters that made me a little uncomfortable. That is a western in a nut shell.

I found myself dog earing some pages and marking some quotes that I really liked. Many of things quotes will show off the tiny details that set the western tone such as…

“It was largely a land without Borders - something that attracted him and disturbed him both. The land didn't need laws. But the people did."

“The room was quiet, for a moment, but for their breathing. Santilli waited for the order to commence shooting.”

“It was a hot day, though scarely past midmorning. When the weather turned in the Dakotas, Swinnington reflected, it turned like a marching solider doing a left face.”

Read it! Up next an interview with John Shirley about this novel...

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Interview: Award winning artist and author Alan M. Clark

One of the people I miss after moving away fro Oregon is Alan Clark. I always enjoyed talking to him at Lovecraft film fest and Bizarro con. Last spring in one of my last Eugene hang outs Alan hosting myself and few friends at his house. We spent hours looking at paintings and talking horror with someone I consider a master of the dark arts. I was a super magical experience.

So after reading Alan's most recent novel Say Anything But Your Prayers I wanted to explore the book further and Alan agreed to this interview.

David Agranoff: How did you get into dark fiction and how far back does this love go?

Alan M. Clark: My father, a neurologist, liked dark, creepy things, and we had that in common as well as a love for art of all sorts, so he was a big influence on me. The house I grew up in had a lot of medical books, remnants of my grandfather’s medical research (he was head of the anatomy department at Vanderbilt University), a lot of human bones, Indian relics, two attics and a large, damp basement full of stuff from earlier generations. Skeletons (perhaps dead from the siege known as the Battle of Nashville) were exposed in their shallow graves across the street from my home when the creek eroded away the soil that covered them. Of course I liked horror films. We had The Big Show in the afternoon on the black and white Zenith when I got home from school. With literature, I had a slower start. I didn’t read well as a child. I found it difficult. I’m still a slow reader. My father, a life-long voracious reader, was disappointed that I didn’t read much for fun. Finally, in my early teens I got better at reading and discovered Lovecraft’s work, which about that time, 1970, were being published and distributed in paperbacks. Well, that spilled out into reading all kinds of horror, science fiction, fantasy. I tended to always seek darker stuff, whatever the genre.

DA: So I just finished reading Say anything but Your Prayers. It is the second in a series. On the surface it seems like they are books about Jack the Ripper, but they are not about Jack. They are about the Ripper's victims can you give us the idea behind the entire series?

AMC: The Jack the Ripper Victims Series is about the lives of the canonical victims of the murderer—those Scotland Yard have canonized as definite victims of the same killer. There are five of them. I’ve written novels about three of them so far. Two have been released by Lazy Fascist Press, OF THIMBLE AND THREAT and SAY ANYTHING BUT YOUR PRAYERS. Hopefully, A BRUTAL CHILL IN AUGUST will come out next year. Back in the early ‘90s, I was studying up on the Whitechapel Murderer while trying to write a short story for a Ripper anthology when I discovered transcripts of the inquests of the victims and the police reports that spoke of the crime scenes, the mutilations, and the possessions found on the dead. The more I looked at what we knew about the women, the lives they led within the extreme environment of Victorian London of the time, the more interested I became in what existence was like for them emotionally and the less interested I became in who the killer was. The more I find out about London of the period, the more fantastical the place becomes in my imagination. As a real world environment in which to stage drama, especially dark fiction, it is almost beyond belief. The rapid growth of British society during the industrial revolution, the disease, the poverty, the crime, the the hazards of unfettered industry, the abusive employment practices, the amount of labor required by most just to live a meager existence, and the endurance of countless simple human beings—these are great elements for story-telling. Researching the lives of the victims is like exploration to me. I’m endlessly fascinated and frequently surprised by what I find.

DA: What is it about the victims that inspired you to think about them?

AMC: They are ordinary women of their time who in their middle-age years became single and found themselves fending for themselves within an environment in which they were considered to have little worth. Their lives didn’t start out that way, but they seemed to have outlived their welcome in their world. The novels are the stories of how they started out in life and how they struggled to remain standing as their fortunes shifted suddenly beneath their feet. The drama involved is the stuff of life. It reveals human beings for what they are, creatures simultaneously indefatigable of spirit, generosity and worthy aspirations, and dishonorable, petty and small-minded.

DA: What about the victim of Thimble and Threat and Say anything that made them different for you?

AMC: They certainly led different lives. Stride was from Sweden and spent half of her life there. She grew up on a farm and then became a prostitute in Gothenburg. We know she was given to lying. When she got to England, she had some success in life with her husband in running a coffee shop, but they lost everything and both spent time in the workhouse. After he died, she was a sometime prostitute and beggar.

Eddowes liked to sing and was a friendly woman, but had a temper. She and her husband wrote gallows ballads that they printed up and sold at public executions. She had children and tried to make a good home, but eventually broke up with her husband. Poverty and alcoholism won out and she ended on the streets.

They’re just ordinary people of their time, but they have the same emotions that we do, so we can relate to them if their characters are developed. The trick is to get at that emotion in the story and show how that drove their choices—often choices born of desperation that had something to do with what happened to them.

DA: Do you see the first completed novels as compliments to each other or totally separate?

AMC: The novels are connected—I won’t say how—but they’re also able to stand on their own. To read more than one of them is to understand the environment better, but the lives of the victims were largely different except for the ends.

DA: The title Say Anything but Your Prayers is a line of dialogue in the book but what is the story of this phrase and/or title?

AMC: As you say, it is a line of dialogue from the novel. The police had from a witness an account of seeing Stride with a man shortly before her death. The witness heard the man say to her “You would say anything but your prayers. “ Her response was to laugh. It fit nicely with the theme of her difficulty with the truth.

DA: Tells us about the research process?

AMC: There are a lot of books about Jack the Ripper. There are online resources, like the Casebook: Jack the Ripper Forum. Much of what you find there is speculation, but often well-informed speculation. There are countless Google books of the time period available. Also, because the British people were so upset about the poverty and the fast pace of change during the period, the Government had to look like they were doing something about it. They commissioned countess reports on everything: such as the cost of living, the average cost of goods, wages for all types of work, employment, treatment of laborers, nutrition, how people ate, how they cooked, clothing, housing, rents, building practices, manufacturing practices, the impoverished, types of the poor, how they scavenged, types of beggars, health issues, etc. Lots of busy work, and much of it is available for research.

DA: What do you think of the revelation of The Ripper's identity? Do you buy it? And will that information affect future books in the series?

AMC: The idea that Aaron Kosminski was the Ripper isn’t new. It’s reasonable. If you look at his history, you’ll find ample cause for alarm in what must have been his emotional development. Until a peer reviewed journal of the science used in these recent “discoveries” is published, we won’t know the truth. If we gain this information only from a book someone is trying to sell us and articles about the book, then why should we believe? For the stories I’m telling, I don’t think it matters who the killer was.

DA: I know most horror folks think of you as painter and cover artist, but as a fan of your writing what is next?

AMC: Cameron Pierce, Kirsten Alene Pierce, and I are talking about writing a group of novellas set within the Pain Doctors Facility. It’s an environment that I’ve helped develop with several other writers, and has been the focus of numerous creepy medical paintings I’ve done over the years. Previous projects involving that environment are the books, THE PAIN DOCTORS OF SUTURE SELF GENERAL and PAIN AND OTHER PETTY PLOTS TO KEEP YOU IN STITCHES. They’re sort of The Adams Family meet ER. Thanks for the interview.

On 5 panels at Conjecture here in San Diego Oct.10th-12

I Just found out what panels I am doing at Conjecture Sci-fi con in October.

5 panels...

1.The End Is Near - Will Civilization collaspe?

2.Body Count - Are We Getting Immune?

3. After Twilight, Will Vampires Ever Be Scary Again?

4.Oh Doctor, My Doctor! Doctor Who

5. GMOs and The Future of Food

Details on the Con:

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Book Review: Say Anything But Your Prayers by Alan M. Clark

Say Anything But Your Prayers by Alan M. Clark
Paperback, 224 pages

Published August 1st 2014 by Lazy Fascist Press

Alan M. Clark is better known for his beautiful award winning covers and illustrations that have been in the interior and the covers of works from authors ranging from Stephen King to Cody Goodfellow. His art is amazing but many forget that he was also nominated for a Bram Stoker award for co-writing Siren Promised with Jeremy Robert Johnson. Alan of course has his artists eye for detail and has written historical horror before.

This book is the second in a groundbreaking series that explores the Jack the Ripper history from an angle never before seen in over century of non-fiction and fiction inspired by the serial killer. This second book follows the life and demise of Elizabeth Stride the fourth victim. Each book in the series follows the life of the killer’s victim.

I admit I knew very little about Elizabeth Stride before reading this book. Any one looking for a cover to cover horror experience needs to look elsewhere. I would consider this novel to be horror but the historical elements are what make this piece so interesting. You can’t escape the main character’s fate as you go through her life, tension builds because you know how she will meet her end.

Clark includes a few key Illustrations, but the strength comes from the attention to detail and the humanizing of Elizabeth Stride. This book is a must for people with a interest in the Ripper and I hope that libraries will carry it.

Book Review: Church of TV as God by Daniel Valasty

The Church of TV as God by Daniel Valasty
Paperback, 94 pages

Published October 20th 2013 by Eraserhead Press

New Bizarro Author Series

For those of you who are not familar with the new bizarro author series let me first explain what it is exactly. A few years back Eraserhead press suffering from the inability to publish every young hungry bizaro writer started this program. Short novellas length bizarro books meant to give voice to a new fresh faced author. This series has premeired several writers that I like alot of that have made a name for themselves. To name a few…Nicole Cushing, Vince Kramer, Tamara Romero, David W. Barbee and Patrick Wensink (who had an amazon bestseller) all got their start in this series.

It is a good thing because many of these authors and books would never stand a chance. How else would a first time author with a book about monsters who spit wolves geta chance right?

So enter Daniel Valasty and then Church of TV as God. This is a surreal social commentary that seems a tightly packed. I think this concept and story could have been twice as long under the skill of a writer like Valasty.

For a series that is supposed to highlight beginning writers Valasty seems to have full control of the construction of the plot, arc and Prose. The only negative is I think and know Valasty can go way weirder and more edgy. Keep your eye on this one he is strong in the force.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Book Review: The Ravine by William Meikle

The Ravine by William Meikle

Paperback, 218 pages Published November 19th 2013 by Dark Regions Press

I have seen Meikle’s name around before. I knew he was a Scottish born writer who writes both science fiction and horror often blending both. When I saw that he had a horror western released by Dark Regions Press I thought it was a great place to sample his work.

There is quite a bit to like here, I know at times this review will sound negative but I think Meikle did enough to interest me in his other books. At 212 pages The Ravine is a short novel but to me that is the BEST length for horror novel is around 200 pages. This novel is written with lean no nonsense style with short chapters that reminded me of David Morrell. A few lines of dialogue made me laugh like “What’s the plan?” “Don’t get dead.”

Good plan.

The story of an old west town laid siege by a plague and a spiritual war between angels and demons. My favorite character was the town saloon bouncer a badass named Issac. The novel has a few strong characters like the town Doc but I didn’t really find any of the characters stood out as a hero. There are lots of good moments of suspense,and as a monster novel there are plenty of moments I enjoyed.

So what didn’t like? Well this is a western but several of my favorite elements of the western are MIA in this novel. To me a western fits into the history or tapestry of the period and the environment. This novel failed to connect me as a reader with either element. I am not exactly sure when this takes place, maybe after the civil war as there is a group of Cavalry after all. I am not sure where we are because nothing really gives this story a sense of place.

The atmosphere of the old west is something missing from this novel. At no point did I get a sense of what season it was. Was the ground muddy? Were the characters swatting away flies? Zane Grey was the best at this in the western novel but I felt it was lacking here.

I think libraries should carry this book in their collection and I am sold on reading more of William Meikle’s work. I think this worked more as a horror novel than it did a western. It could have been set anywhere or in any period. I just wish it was more grounded in the west.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Book review: Man Made Boy by Jon Skovron

Man Made Boy by Jon Skovron
Hardcover, 361 pages Published October 3rd 2013 by Viking Penguin

When I requested this book my editor at Monster Librarian pointed out “David you do know this is a YA novel.” Granted I don’t read a lot of YA stuff but have from time to time and I am not against such things. I tend to enjoy a harder, darker horror in general but I thought the concept I read online sounded interesting.

It is indeed an interesting book filled with fun ideas. Man Made Boy is the story of Boy, the son of the Frankestein monster and the Bride who lives in a NYC refuge for monsters. Hidden in plain sight from the public as a part of a freak show the monsters live in a labyrinth behind/under a theater in the city. I LOVED this concept. The set-up is beautifully done and creatures a wonderful environment that is both gothic and surreal.

Boy is a teenager and this for sure a road trip coming of age novel. Boy decides he wants to leave the show and live in the outside world. Which is not the easiest thing to do when you are made up of re-animated body parts, but he gets out there and gets a job. Once he travels he meets other monsters, falls in love and has adventures.

Where it gets muddied is a secondary plot about Boy’s love for hacking. He creates a villain named Vi. A sentient computer virus, which in effect makes Boy like Doctor Frankenstein.

The theme is not subtle, it is about responsibility. I thought the novel was fun overall and would be perfect for young teens. I should point out there is some strong language and suggestion of sexuality entirely off camera. The book says for 12 and up, that in my mind is fair but I was reading adult horror novels at that age so take that with a grain of salt.

I think YA collections should have this book, kids looking for a light hearted fantasy will enjoy it.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

CD Review: Dreams in the Witch House Rock Opera

Dreams in the Witch House (Lovecraftian Rock Opera) CD

Running Time: One Hour and five minutes

Presented by The H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society

Adapting Lovecraft into other media has not always been the easiest thing for writers, directors and producers. It is one of the many reasons Lovecraftians have such interest and dread thinking about Del Toro $150 million (projected) epic take on At the mountains of Madness. One can hardly think of Re-animator as faith and often films like The Thing ( based on a John W. Campbell story) or Alien are often considered more Lovecraft than the films credited to the Lovecraft stories. Certainly a John Carpenter movie like At the Mouth of Madness feel more Lovecraftian than say Karloff’s Die Monster Die which was loosely based on Colour out of space.

In my opinion Stuart Gordan’s best Lovecraft film is Dagon ( based on the Shadow Over Innsmouth) but he also did a pretty solid while not entirely faithful version of Dreams in the Witch House. However I have now discovered a much more faithful adaptation of Dreams of the Witch House, but the most Lovecraft feeling media I have consumed since the Silent film of Call of Cthulhu.

Executive producer Mike Dalager has completed a project so wide in scope it is amazing that it was finished at all. With over a dozen voice actors and six member band that lived in various countries. Writing a rock opera based on a beloved story is challenge enough. Then organize members to record in LA, Sweden and Denmark. Get guest guitar performances from famous members of metal bands like Douglas Blair Lucek of WASP and then pay for it all when certainly no record label is backing you.

The audacity of this project is my favorite thing about it. I personally prefer a heavier brand of metal but a few of the songs are metal with excellent guitar leads. For a preexisting band like say Iron Maiden to choose to write and record a rock opera is one thing. They have an infrastructure in place. To say I am impressed by this project is an understatement. I think every library with HP Lovecraft books should have this in their collection and connected to his name in their database. I am serious about that.

The music is very well performed, some were a little more traditional rock for my taste, but it is all very, very well done. The songs range from operatic metal to straight rock, some with 90’s feeling. The most impressive part is all the songs tell the story of Dreams in the Witch House better than Stuart Gordan’s Master of horror episode. It is the story of Miskatonic University student, Walter Gilman who starts having nightmares while staying in Arkham's infamous Witch House. Brown Jenkin ( played here by Chris Laney) is a hybrid humanoid rat-like creature who torments the sleeping Mathematics genius as he unlocks the secrets of universe and opens up travel to other planes of reality.

Big thumbs up.

Check out this video for my favorite song on the record: Or this song featuring guitar leads by WASP’s Douglas Blair Lucek

Friday, August 22, 2014

Book Review: One By Conrad Williams

One By Conrad Williams

Paperback, 363 pages

Published June 1st 2009 by Virgin Books (first published April 2nd 2009) ISBN13: 9780753518106

British Fantasy Award for Best Novel (2010)

My favorite sub-genre of horror novel is Post-apocalypse. I love the classics like Alas Babylon and On the beach as well as more modern classics like Swan Song, The Road and the Stand. I had this one on the shelf for a long time and I’m sorry it took me so long to get to it. I know this will sound like hyperbole but One is much darker than any of those other novels even McCarthy’s the Road. Much like my experience reading Swan Song my heart hurt for the character’s experiencing the events of the novel. It doesn’t have the epic scope of Swan Song but in all the good ways this was a British Swan Song. That folks is my second favorite novel of all time so keep that in mind.

I went into this novel cold. I didn’t read much about the plot and for that I was glad I didn’t. If you trust me and you are a fan of post apocalypse novels then stop right here and order the book.

So in many ways ONE is a masterpiece of the subgenre. Ironically considering the title it is like two books starting off like a straight forward end of the world novel and then in the second half becoming an excellent supernatural horror novel that is really the novel I wanted Simon Clark’s Blood Crazy to be.

Jane, who is a father and deep sea diver is deep off the coast of Britian when the majority of the human race is cooked by a massive solar flame. The first half of the novel is a painful hike across the ash cover remains of a Scotland and England burnt to a crisp. Jane needs to make it back to London in an attempt to find his son, who in his heart he admits is likely dead.

Like the McCarthy’s The Road this novel explores the nature of the relationship between Father and son. ONE however does this through a series of beautifully written letters/journals Jane keeps for his son as he survives. In the second half of the novel Williams takes the story 5 years into the future. A disease that no one can understand is carried in the layer of ash that has coated the earth. It could be argued that the infected feral cannibal humans running around London know as Skinners in the novel are zombies. Not exactly and that sells Conrad Williams skill short. I never felt like I was reading a zombie novel, but something similar and more original.

This is my first novel by Conrad Williams but I am so impressed I plan to read everything as soon as I can get my hands on them. Best novel I have read all year and probably my second favorite reading experience behind Cody Goodfellow’s Repo Shark.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Book Review: The Bottoms by Joe R. Lansdale

The Bottoms by Joe R. Lansdale

Paperback, 336 pages

Published September 1st 2001 by Mysterious Press (first published January 1st 2000) ISBN13: 9780446677929

Macavity Award Nominee for Best Mystery Novel (2001), Anthony Award Nominee for Best Novel (2001), Hammett Prize Nominee (2000), Edgar Award for Best Novel (2001)

The Bottoms is one of those novels I have been saving for the right time. Joe R. Lansdale is one of my favorite writers best known for his series Hap and Leonard and the Movie Bubba-Ho-Tep based on his short story. If you are not familiar with Lansdale he is a master story-teller who grew up in east texas. He writes some southern gothic, some horror but really Lansdale is just Lansdale an effective story teller who normally makes me laugh a lot in the time I am reading his work.

The reason I decided now was the time to read this novel was the news that a film of the Bottoms was on the way. Not only that but it will be written and directed by the team that made Frailty. That movie was the best horror movie of the year it came out and also a serial Killer story set in Texas.

The Bottoms is less horror and more mystery than Frailty but I see now this is a perfect fit. The novel has it’s horror elements including the legend of the Goat Man who provides many moments for Lansdale to show his horror chops. That said this a mystery set against the rural poverty of east Texas in the depression.

I am not a fan of first person narrative, but Lansdale being a master pulls it off to the point of being invisible most of the book. You forget at times this is a story being told by a man in an old folks home. The story works on many levels, as a mystery, an exploration of racism, A coming of age story and the unintended truths uncovered by a mystery.

Is it the most fun I have had reading Lansdale? Probably not I laugh a lot reading Hap and Leonard novels but this is the best Lansdale I’ve read. This is modern classic and a must read novel.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Book Review: Luther - The Calling by Neil Cross

Luther: The Calling by Neil Cross

Hardcover, 336 pages

Published September 4th 2012 by Touchstone (first published 2011)

ISBN13: 9781451673098

Ngaio Marsh Award for Best Crime Novel (2012) In the last few years my viewing habits have switched from movies to TV more and more. This is mostly a result of TV networks and producers finally realizing the thing they have that movies don’t is the ability expand a story like novelist would. That is also why True Detective was such an effective crime show – written by a novelist it has a fine ability to tell a slow burn mystery.

Luther as a show is a bit closer to the traditional police procedural set in modern London. Cross who has written several fantastic novels (I reviewed Burials here on the blog) and two of my favorite episodes of Doctor Who does an amazing job. For my money I think Luther is a pretty well written show over-all. Effective drama, horror and mystery written an amazing detail to plotting. All three series of Luther blew me away and quickly it became one of my favorite shows. I often point as trendy as True Detective is I think Luther is a better cop show over all.

There are not a ton of episodes, but each and every one of them is written by Neil Cross who wanted to fill in the back ground of his main character in this novel –prequel.

DCI John Luther is a well intentioned cop, but he is not exactly good cop. He breaks the rules constantly because of the stress of the major homicides and kidnappings that he deals with. East London is a character in show as much as his partners and wife are. In the show he is divorced, trying to deal with the loss of his wife, here we watch the marriage fall apart and the novel sets up the events that take place in the first series.

I think this novel is fantastic and captures the feeling of the show. The story of a killer who murders pregnant women and steals their babies is as horrible as it sounds. The novel has many cringe worthy moments. It doesn’t feel like a tie-in but an extension of the story. I was glad to know this part of Luther’s story. The mystery is effective, scares delivery and none of it sacrifices character development. I think it is better to start with the Series and then read the novel. But I suppose it doesn’t ruin the show.

Oh yes you need to read this novel, and watch the show both are top notch crime fiction.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Book Review: The Detainee by Peter Liney

The Detainee by Peter Liney

Hardcover, 352 pages Published March 11th 2014 by Jo Fletcher Books

I am a sucker for a good Dystopia. I mean me of all people, I often complain about end of the world stories that do not have enough gloom. So what went wrong here? Plenty of other people liked this novel. It is doing well on good reads for ranking. I am not going to say this is a horrible novel, because there are few elements of good here, but I have to admit it didn't connect with me.

This first person narrative was the first strike against novel for me, certain novels lend themselves to this kind of storytelling. The Shawshank Redemption, A Simple Plan or American Psycho are stories that are told, but I felt this was a story that needed to be happening. 70 pages in I, as the reader had no idea who the main character was. He was an amorphous I. The book went on at length about his setting, and a few of the unfortunate events he had to deal with but I didn't learn his name until I looked it up in an online review of novel. That is a bad sign.

I mention this because my habit as a reviewer at this point is to say "This novel is the story of..." but I never got a strong sense of who the narrator was. Now I know he is Clancy, some people call him "Big Guy" that he is considered unproductive and has been exiled to a giant trash heap of an island. This is where this hyper-capitlist future sends the "unproductive." Thus the island population contains many people of an advanced age thus making it kind of an opposite to Logan’s Run. It is a great concept; I like the point of view and the message. As a concept it has potential to be a fantastic dystopia warning novel, my favorite kind of science fiction- Horror crossover really. Basically a warning of what could happen if the right wing’s stance against social programs and welfare were taken to an extreme.

This is not an essay it is a novel, and no matter how interested I am in seeing a dystopia make this point it has to function as a novel or story. I admit I found myself skipping entire paragraphs, I know lots of people read this way but I do not. I was bored most of the time I had this book in front of me.

When I looked at online reviews I was surprised how many people liked the book. This book has been promoted as Hunger Games for adults and certainly many responded to the book’s take on ageism. I think libraries should collect this book and make it available despite my personal dislike for it. Certainly the themes are worthy.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Book Review: Repo Shark by Cody Goodfellow

Repo Shark by Cody Goodfellow

300 pages

Broken River books

Broken River is a new bizarro publisher focused mostly but I don't believe exclusively on weird crime novels. This imprint is the brain child of J David Osbourne the author of "By the Time We Leave Here We'll be Friends" a novel surreal novel published by Swallowdown and one of the best books I read the year it came out. Swallowdown to me had put out a chain of books that I considered instant classics. So I was excited when Osbourne put out a novel by fellow Swallowdown alum and diabolical genius Cody Goodfellow fresh off his Wonderland award for All Monster Action.

The novel in question is the most straight bizarro of Goodfellow's novels. Every single one of his novels are on the bizarro side of horror. It is not to say that this novel lacks horror elements, in fact it has more horror elements than I expected. However this is a bizarro crime novel. Goodfellow himself described it as “It’s about a repo man who goes to Honolulu to repossess a classic Harley from a were-shark. If you’ve ever enjoyed the quirky detective novels of Charles Willeford, Joe Gores or Elmore Leonard while flying on mushrooms, then this will come as a sensible value. Zef DeGroot is a tarnished White Knight private eye in the classic Spade-Marlowe tradition, but with black belts in karaoke and auto-fellatio.”

The story of vegas based repo-ninja named Zef. He has just taken a job to re-claim a Harley Davidson sold to gambler on a roll in Vegas. Before the sellers realized this Hawaiian man named Donny Punani whose money was not good for it the classic bike was on it's way back to the islands. Punani is serious criminal but he is also the ghost-god son of the King of All Sharks.

As Zef navigates the island he has to sift through the criminal underworld and deal with the possible legends. I laughed through-out the novel, but enjoyed the story and setting as well. Zef is the kinda hapless hero. As weird as it is Goodfellow doesn’t skimp on the quality story-telling and razor sharp prose. It ends with a finale as disgusting as anything in the World Horror convention’s annual Gross-out contest, but it was not forced. It was perfectly weaved in the story and had me laughing and marveling at its genius.

The best thing about this novel? It is like nothing this author did before. I hope you buy it and read it. You’ll enjoy it and then we should all get more weird as hell crime novels from Cody Goodfellow.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Book Review: When Gravity Fails by George Alec Effinger

When Gravity Fails by George Alec Effinger

Paperback, 288 pages

Orb Books (first published 1987) Hugo Award Nominee for Best Novel (1988), Nebula Award Nominee for Best Novel (1988)

As a going away gift from my homey Bru-dawg this cyberpunk classic was right up my alley. Taking place in a middle east (a setting I have yet to see in sci-fi) where the Islamic world is the dominate seat of power in this future. Automatically this makes for a very different and intesnse environment that makes this a special read.

The main character is Marid Audren a detective working the mean streets of Budayeen. This city has a violent underground run by a two-hundred year old godfather named Friedlander Bey. In this ghetto you’ll find people wired to be hyper intelligent who also download personalities and avatars that include James Bond and a vicious killer named Khan. Audren is trying to find the person behind the murder of a prostitute that he was friends with.

This is a fantastic Cyberpunk novel, perhaps one of the best I have ever read. The setting is fully realized and the characters are dynamic. The power of the setting is highlight but also Effinger also has a great wit that slices through a key moments.

That helps as this is a brutal setting, that makes blade runner’s LA look a little Disney. This was a quick read for me despite reading it at a busy time. I liked Effinger’s style and found the inventiveness of his world compelling and gonzo. If you like weird sci-fi then you can’t miss this one.

Wuxia film you should see! Young Detective Dee and the Rise of the Sea Dragon

Hong Kong master director Tusi Hark is back with a prequel that is even better than his last Dee movie!

Book review: The Exploded Heart by John Shirley

The Exploded Heart by John Shirley

309 pages Eyeball books (Out of Print)

Every time I review a book by John Shirley I have to kinda preface it. John Shirley is my favorite living author. It is impossible for me to list all the works that I consider classics in the novel category from Science Fiction like City come a Walkin to horror like Wetbones. As accomplished of novelist as he is John is equally as strong if not stronger of a short fiction author. With more than half a dozen collections of his fiction in print and stories in anthologies appearances all over the place the collections are easy to find. That said it took me almost 10 years of looking before I found a copy of this collection at Powell’s books in Portland.

The Exploded Heart is a punk rock themed collection of science fiction works written over the first 30 years of John’s career. Many are very old school stories even some that are from John’s workshop stories at the early 70’s Clarion workshop. The book also contains fragments of unfinished novels and stories that feature characters that ended up in Shirley’s Song Called Youth trilogy. Some of my favorites include “The Prince.” and the title story which is a fragment of a unfinished novel.

As for as story collections go this is not the place to start with Shirley short fiction. In my opinion Living Shadows is the best collection with a wide range of stories in it. Black Butterflies won both the Bram Stoker award and International horror Guild award for best collection. That is not to say that Exploded heart is not an important read, but less for the fiction and more for the autobiographical notes that appear before the stories. It will have you wishing for Shirley autobiography that feature hilarious stories of the young artist who proclaimed being allergic to work, told stories of starting fights while performing with his old band to stories of annoying Harlan Ellison at Clarion. Easily the best part of the book. It is the reason you should want to read this collection.

The stories show the sensibility and political understanding as it evolves. The highlight of the fiction is a story about a near future where department stores hire people to be mannequins inside stores. This story is great example how Shirley uses sci-fi and bizarro elements to express a poltical point of view, explore classism and still tell compelling story no matter what your political feelings are.

After you have read Living Shadows and Black Butterflies it is time to check out the Exploded Heart.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Book Review:Wolf Creek: Origins by Greg Mclean and Aaron Sterns

Wolf Creek Origin by Greg McLean and Aaron Sterns

Penguin Australia 287 pages

Co-author Aaron Sterns was at World Horror Con and I saw him speaking on a panel about Extreme horror. I enjoyed meeting him so I decided to bump this prequel up to the top of my TO BE READ pile. If you have not seen the film Wolf Creek I would suggest starting there. It is a great horror film without a shred of supernatural in it. It is a slow-burn that many impatient horror fans complain is to slow. Too bad, it is too me one of the best horror films of it’s decade.

At its heart is an absolutely horrifying character named Mick. Out in the wilderness of the aussie outback Mick hunts down lost tourists from the big city. Quentin Tarantino was such a fan of Mick he wanted to cast the actor in Death Proof (he got a cameo in Django). So my attraction to the book was getting Mick’s back story.

We certainly get that in this book, it also has a similar slow burn to the film. Like the film I have seen internet chatters commenting that some readers were bored. What? I for one was interested throughout. McLean and Sterns do a fantastic job of creating a deep and affecting atmosphere. I was interested in the outback setting in the film but it works even better in the book.

There is a little bit of Mick’s childhood and father, but more about Mick learning about how the outback can be used as perfect backdrop for killing. Mick doesn’t set out to be a killer and indeed the best scene involves Mick confronting a hippie who he helps repairs a truck for.

Does this book add depth to the film? It does, but I don’t think you NEED to read it to get the power of the story. Fans of the film will enjoy the added depth. I knew Mclean was a good filmmaker, and Sterns is solid writer. I look forward to reading stuff he has written out of the Wolf Creek verse.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Book Review: Starship Grifters by Robert Kroese

Starship Grifters by Robert Kroese

Paperback, 242 pages

Published May 6th 2014 by 47north

From the look of the book the publishers are selling the idea of an old school 50’s or 60’s chezy pulp science fiction novel. Sounds good to me, I am a good choice to review this novel as I am a huge fan of weird old school Science fiction and I like sci-fi satire. This book is funny, very review, or promo material for this book will tell you how funny it is it would be easy to dismiss this as hyperbole. I am happy to say it is indeed funny. I laughed a lot reading it.

This is a bizarro science fiction that does get a lot of it laughs from high concept ideas and clever jokes based on long standing genre clichés. One of my favorites was APPLE (A Planet Perpelxingly Like Earth). Funny concept that is a great satire of silly sci-fi stuff.

I am generally not a fan of first person narrative for entire novels but it works here as the story is told the point of view of the main character’s robot sidekick SASHA ( It stands for something I can’t remember). The non-hero is Rex Nihilo. He is a total loser who wins a planet and a boatload of debt in a card game. In order to save his skin, he manipulates both sides of a war, and various conflicts.

I enjoyed this book but it was far from perfect. As I started to read I assumed this was a first time author, but he actually has published a series before. I was instantly turned off as the author violated one of the golden rules of sci-fi writing in the first three pages. The novel starts with a massive info-dump and takes pages to actually get to the story. It was a review copy so I read on but had I picked up the book in the bookstore I may never have read it.

Info dumps read like encyclopedia entries and are a “what not to do” Example for poor world building. Thankfully I kept reading. For the most part I enjoyed this novel even after what I consider a rough start. That may sound nitpicky or harsh but the quality of the rest of novel is what makes the rocky start stand out.

Read it. I promise those looking for a creative bizarro laugh riot will be pleased.

Book Review Katja from the Punk Band

Katja From the Punk Band

Paperback, 278 pages

Published March 30th 2010 by Chizine Publications

Fireball Award (Best Opening Line) (2010), Spinetingler Magazine Top Ten Thrillers/Crime (2010), Spinetingler Magazine Best New Voice Nominee

The idea behind this punk rock surreal/ bizarro noir crime novel is top notch high concept stuff. I was attracted to it because it’s obvious punk look. I didn’t read the plot and went in cold. The setting is a surreal “work” island. We open on a violent scene, Katja has killed someone. She rushes back her job where she is given a Vial, that is real valuable. There is a lot of violence involved with getting that vial back.

The novel has a non-liner timeline and is all over the place. It is well written but for some reason my mind wondered a lot while reading it. Katja is a great character, the setting is pretty strong but for some reason I can’t put my finger on the book struggled to keep my attention.

The back cover of the book describes it as Jackie Brown meets the Sex Pistols. As punk rock as the cover makes it sound I thought the setting could have been more punk. I wished Logan used more Punk references and images though out. It is certainly suggested but I felt too much was left up to our imagination.

Still I think it is worth a read. Logan is a heck of writer and I probably will check out the sequel.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

100 Top Vegan Foods I ate in PDX 2007-14

100 best things I ate in Vegan Portland.


1. The Homegrown smoker macnocheeto

2. Vita Café Sloppy Biscuit sandwich: fried tofu, faux turkey, vegan cheese and gravy between a vegan biscuit served with potatoes

3. Sweet Pea Bakery - All you can eat Bunch (best vegan Biscuits and Gravy ever!)

4. Blossoming Lotus – Vegan four cheese Lasagna

5. Hungry Tiger - Rueben Sammy

6. DC Veg - Philly Cheese Steak

7-8. Back to Eden Sundaes (The Rocky Butte Soft Serve, Walnuts, Dandies Marshmallows & House-made Caramel Sauce or The Mt. Hood Soft Serve, Ginger Cookies, White Chocolate Chips & House-made Caramel Sauce)

9. Kitchen Dances Try Vegan Week bunch special (Reigning Vegan Iron Chef at the time made a full brunch with various options available for 10 bucks)

10. Paradox Café - Tofu Benedict

11. Petunias - Salted Caramel Cookie Bar

12. Blossoming Lotus - Lotus Benedict split biscuit topped with tofu scramble, sausage patties, sliced tomato, wilted spinach, and chipotle hollandaise, served with roasted potatoes and Steamed greens.

13. It’s a Beautiful pizza – Pesto with teese (RIP)

14. Portabello – Pumpkin Ravioli

15. Paradox – Sweet surrender dark chocolate pancakes

16. Hungry Tiger – Totchos for a $2 upgrade you could order the massive Nacho plate with Tater tots instead. (rumor is they won’t do this anymore)

17. Vita café – Vegan “fish” & chips

18. Dave’s Killer Bread – Sin Dawg

19. Sip - Ginger Berry smoothie

20. Blossoming Lotus – Live Pasta (basically an amazing salad w/Cashew cheese & Pesto)

21. Nature Bake Chocolate chip cookies

22. Hungry Tiger .40 Tofu wings/ $1.00 Vegan Corn Dogs (I know the prices have gone up but 1.50 CDs not on my list)

23. Sudra – Pakora plate ( New all vegan fancy foodie Indian food)

24. Van Hanh - Lemongrass Stick (This huge chunk of deep fried tofu is no longer on the menu, too bad it was amazing.)

24. Hungry Tiger – Ginormous Pancakes/ Tofu n’ Waffles

26. Proper Eats – Happy hour Nachos

27. Vege Thai - Veggie Wrap

28. Fuijan – Grilled Eggplant (AKA Mock ear – RIP)

29. Daily Grind – Vegan Pizza Rolls (RIP)

30. Queen of Sheba - Vegan Platter

31. Daily Grind – 3 scones for a buck. (RIP)

32. Petunias Pecan Sticky Buns

33. Dovetail chocolate Peanut butter whoopee pie

34. Back to Eden Lavender Snickerdoodle.

35. Native Bowl - Alberta Bowl

36. Homegrown Smoker - Crunch McFU: Cajun battered, frito breaded smoked tofu on a grilled bun with tomato, pickle, Buff sauce, garden greens and creamy ranch.

37. Homegrown Smoker – coconut battered deep fried Oreos

38. East Side Deli - Field Roast sub w/ Avocado.

39. Los Gorditoes – Soy Curl fajita burrito

40. Sizzle Pie – Breakfast Tofu scramble hash pizza

41. Voodoo Donut – Portland Crème pie.

42. Laughing Planet – Hempseed cookie

43. Voodoo Donut- Massive apple fritter

44. Dots - Fries with Spicy dipping sauce.

45. Fat Kitty Falafel Sammy

46. El Nutri Taco – enchiladas

47. Mighty- O French Toast donut (Hollywood Whole Foods)

48. Wolf and Bears Falafel and eggplant Sandwich.

49. Gonzo Falafel’s Vegan Swarma fries

50. Sushi Ichiban - in general

51. Laughing Planet – Che Burrito w/Vegan cheese.

52. Mississippi Pizza - Pesto pizza

53. Hot Lips pizza - Cilatro pesto slice

54. Sweet Pea Bakery – Carrot Cake

55. Sweet Pea Bakery – Peanut butter Chocolate cheesecake

56. Food Fight’s nacho cheese pump (RIP)

57. Potato Champion - Vegan Pountine with Teese

58. Black Sheep Bakery – Pumpkin Crumble Bar

59. Loving Hut - Lemon “Chicken”

60. Higher Taste - Golden Slice Sammy

61. Fat Straw Coco-mango smoothie (Coconut milk)

62. Veggie Grill - Onion Rings.

63. Straight from New York pizza Vegan slices

64. Nicolas - Vegan mezza plate.

65. Paradox - French Toast

66. Back space - Vegan philly cheese steak

67. Red and Black - Dragon Bowl (w/ Noodles or Quinoa)

68. Hungry Tiger Hawaii 5-0 veggie burger

69. Sip - Cookies and Cream shake

70. Laughing planet – Snickerdoodle

71. Vege Thai - Pad Thai w/ Soy Chicken.

72. Van Hanh – Kung po combo.

73. Los Gorditoes – Tofu enchiladas

74. Bye and Bye – Mayan bowl

75. Bye and Bye – Chili dog special.

76. Sizzle Pie - Breadsticks w/ Creamy cashew and pesto dip.

77. Veganopolis - Rueben

78. Rudy’s gourmet Pizza – Vegan deep dish

79.Van Hanh – BBQ Steamed bun (stuffed w/ Tofu)

80. Vita Café - $5 Wednesday night “Fish”wich.

81. Vita Café – Thai corncakes (cornmeal pancakes with coconut milk syrup)

82. Hoodas - Zataar Bread

83. Homegrown Smoker – Hush puppies

84. Red and Black – Tempeh Cheesesteak.

85. Vita Café – Tempeh country fried steak.

86. Paradox café – Massive Corn dog

87. Harlow - Live pasta

88. Papa G’s – Salad bar

89. Kale salad – Veggie Grill

90. Native Foods - Oklahoma ‘bacon’ double Cheeseburger

91. Hemp burger – White Owl

92. Indian food carts downtown - $5 five course Indian

93. Hungry Tiger – Nachos

94. Heidi Ho cheese plate

95. Higher taste - BBQ sandwich

96. Tube – Vegan Ham and Cheese Sandwich

97. Sip – Chocolate Peanut butter shake

98. Baghdad - $2 happy hour Cajun tots

99. Sip Green smoothie Greensicle (Kale, spinach, banana and apple) 100. Homegrown Smoker – Mac and no-cheese.