Sunday, March 11, 2012

"11/22/63" by Stephen King

It's been a while since I've read a novel by Stephen King. The last one I read was "Under the Dome," and though I usually try to get back to some stretch of Roland's journey to the Dark Tower at least once a year, I've not been back recently.

It didn't take me long to realize I've been missing King once I started reading "11/22/63." As most of his Constant Readers know, King is one of those authors that makes you feel at ease while making you feel ill at ease. When you read him, you feel like he's right there in the room with you, relaying events and mind-trips while we lean forward, aptly devouring the story.

The story in this novel is pretty basic from all outward appearances: a man travels back in time to stop the Kennedy assassination. Easy enough, right? If you agree, then you've clearly never read a Stephen King novel.

Jake Epping is a divorced high-school English teacher, (surprise surprise! Someone should go through all of King's novels and count up how many of his protagonists have been English teachers...). The way Jake goes back in time is clever, and King doesn't get bogged down in the logistics of how to take the ultimate road trip. What could have been a pretty straight forward narrative gets turned around when we discover that Jake is an unwilling participant in the story from the get go. Certainly, his feelings concerning the assassination waver back and forth throughout, but his initial trepidation about stepping back in time make his character much more engaging.

Stopping the assassination is not the only mission Jake has in the past, a fact that fleshes out the book and makes it much more believable in the process. Something else that makes the book so believable is the ridiculous amount of research King put in to make every detail just right. You get to the point where you can smell the choking blue haze of cigarette smoke and hear the rumble of the big Ford Sunliner's engine.

In the end, "11/22/63" is one part history lesson, one part time-travel epic, and one part engaging love story. The result is a damn fine book.

5 out of 5 stars.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008


It’s been a long time since I’ve had time to sit down and really, really enjoy an art book. Being an artist myself—not to mention, modest—I usually gauge the quality of an art book on its inspirational value…

“Rough Works: Concept Art, Doodles, and Sketchbook Drawings by Frank Frazetta” is a different kind of art book, as you can tell by the title itself. If you’re a fan of fantasy art of any sort, chances are that you’re already very familiar with at least some of Frazetta’s incomparable paintings and illustrations. If you’re a true fanatic, then you’ve most likely read titles like “Frank Frazetta Icon” or “Frank Frazetta: Book I”, among others that comprehensively display Frazetta’s timeless work.

“Rough Works” shows you what happens between those major works.

As co-editor Arnie Fenner notes in the book’s introduction, Frank often did paintings and other works purely off of inspiration, but he also did sketches and comps to gather his ideas before putting a brush to the canvas.

And although Frank didn’t keep an organized file of those sketches, not all of them were mislaid… luckily for us. “Rough Works” shows us everything from mockups of now famous paintings to random sketches done on coffee-stained parchment. The book flows back through the years, exhibiting work done as far back as the early sixties. The content of the pictures is pure Frazetta. It’s all here, from the buxom beauties to the muscle toned barbarians, the tyrannosauruses to the great apes, and the vampires to the spaceships.

A ‘padded’ hardcover with extra heavy pages, “Rough Edges” is not only a feast for the eyes, but a small glimpse into the mind of a genius at work; it’s a brilliant collection that will inspire your mind to explore its darker corners and feed your imagination’s baser instincts.

At 127 pages, I only wish that it had been longer.

Rated: 5 out of 5

Sunday, February 24, 2008

"THE TOTEM" by David Morrell

In the introduction to "The Totem," David Morrell talks about how when the novel was originally published in 1979, the publisher made him change the manuscript considerably before it was released. This version (seen at left), published in 1995, is the complete, original version of Morrell's original manuscript.

The story takes place in the Wyoming ranching town of Potter's Field. The sheriff of the town, Slaughter, is a transplant from Detroit. An alcoholic reporter, Dunlap, arrives in town to do a 'then and now' piece on events surrounding a hippie commune that happened decades earlier... and then things start to get "hairy". The discovery of mutilated cattle and other, stranger, things lead Slaughter and Dunlap on a chase to find out exactly what's residing in the mountains surrounding the normally peaceful valley.

I really enjoy Morrell's style of writing; there's a minimalist quality to it that moves the story along very quickly, and yet injects the maximum amount of plot into the fewest words. I was a bit stunned right at the beginning of the story, when we're introduced to a veterinarian, a rancher, and his son, but no names are mentioned through the first twenty-five odd pages of the book. What was more odd about it, was that I actually 'cared' about what was happening to these characters, despite a lack of names. This unique technique - if that's what you want to call it - was refreshing to read.

In addition to a first rate horror-thriller story, Morrell's characters are great, too. Sheriff Slaughter is a character that develops slowly over the course of the book. Just when you think you've got a comfortable 'read' on him, new information surfaces to make you see him as bit differently. Dunlap, the reporter, was a lot of fun to read as well. As a fish out of water in more ways than one, the way he personally 'views' what's going on contrasts Slaughter's views perfectly.

Morrell is a legendary writer, a moniker that's well-deserved. If you haven't checked him out, make a point of it. I highly recommend "The Totem."

Rated: 4.5 out of 5

Sunday, January 20, 2008


Around the time the first, self-entitled Danzig album was released in 1988, I was a sophomore in high-school. I'd been hanging out with a bunch of older guys that really gave me my introduction to the type of music that would help to shape my belief system and give me an iron streak of independence.

When I first listened to Danzig on that old cassette tape, I was a bit wary. Certainly, the sexy harmonics combined with the southern crunch drew me in, and I knew from minute one that Glen Danzig's voice was cooler than cool, but it was the subject matter that I was a little hung up on. Brought up on a steady diet of moderate, yet God Fearing Methodist Christianity, songs like "Twist of Cain" and "Possession" held me a bit at bay, and yet, the more I listened to it, the more I realized that the music wasn't as much about Satanism as it was about hypocrisy, inner strength, and power of a personal sort.

Soon, I'd attended a few Danzig shows at the legendary First Ave. in Minneapolis, and I was thoroughly hooked. Danzig became a staple of my music library, and it didn't stop there. Through Danzig, I discovered The Misfits, (yes, I heard one before the other, I'm a pup - leave it alone) and Samhain.

I continued listening to and loving Danzig through his orchestral release, "Black Aria" - it was after this release that Glen lost me a bit. To be fair, by that point I was on to other things in my life, and perhaps the Blacker than Black music didn't speak to me as much as it used to, but at some point Danzig switched to a Nine Inch Nails, industrial sort of thing that I wasn't ready for. I'm sure that Glen was trying to spread his vampyric wings, both to stay current and to stay fresh, but I couldn't stay with it.

Fast forward to the end of 2007, almost 18 years after the initial Danzig release...

"The Lost Tracks of Danzig" is a remastering of 26 tracks that didn't quite make it on earlier Danzig albums for a variety of reasons. Usually when an artist puts out something like this, it means that they've exhausted their creativity and are looking for an easy way to get something else on the shelves. Thankfully, that's not the case with this project. There are several tunes on this album that not only rival, but in some cases top the tracks from the albums they might have been on. There are songs here that hearken back to those laid back harmonics, driving drums, killer crunch, and baritone growls that made tunes like "Am I Demon", "Her Black Wings", and "Long Way Back From Hell" such classics.

Some of the highlights for me on this collection include:

"Pain is Like an Animal" opens the project, and all of a sudden I'm fifteen again, listening to why I was drawn to Danzig so hard in the first place.

Glen's ability to measure out multiple tempos through a single overarching melody really shines through on "You Should be Dying". Lots of great guitar work in this one.

The note progression of "Satan's Crucifiction" reminds me of a slowed-down Misfits mentality. The over the top lyrics and killer 'down punched' chorus rhythm make the tune.

"The Mandrake's Cry" is one of my favorites on the album. Just a great rhythm and awesome lyrics.

"Come to Silver" is a stripped down 'man and his guitar' tune originally written for Cash. Unfortunately, the original Man in Black never got a chance to record it, but Glen does a great job with it here.

One of the tracks that was probably written later in Danzig's development, assumed by the lighter layering of the guitar and the nu-metal distortion, and yet completely and totally saved by Glen's vocals is "I Know Your Lie" - love it.

"Caught in my Eye" is one of the cover tunes on the collection. Originally a Germs tune, this cover works great, with a rattling guitar hiss at the ends of each of the major lick.

"Cat People" is David Bowie meets Glen Danzig... and it's fantastic. The all-encompassing opening gives over to an uber-metal finish.

"Soul Eater" is hands down the best tune on the collection, and possibly my favorite Danzig tune to date. I need, need, need, need to see this song live.

The above tracks are the ones that have really spoken to me after only a few listens to "The Lost Tracks of Danzig", but the collection as a whole is real treat to any fan of Danzig or straight up heavy rock.

Rated: 4.5 out of 5

Sunday, January 6, 2008

"FRAGILE THINGS" by Neil Gaiman

In the introduction to the story called "Sunbird", Neil writes about a R.A. Lafferty, describing Lafferty's stories as 'unclassifiable and odd and imitable'.
The same could - and should - be said about Neil Gaiman.
"Fragile Things" is Gaiman's second collection of short fiction. How do you describe these stories? Perhaps 'fantasy' would cover it all, but certainly not sufficiently. 'Speculative' is really the only label you can hang on each story and poem... and yet, each piece is so much more than just speculative. There's a heartbeat to Gaiman's work that for my money is unmatched in contemporary literature. There's an intimacy, especially with his short work, that seems to put the reader at ease even when the topic is unsettling. I believe I've written in the past about what I think of as Gaiman's 'conversational' prose - it sounds corny, but when you read stories like these, you honestly feel like he's right there next to you, making sure you hear every enunciation.

Some of the highlights of this collection for me, personally, were "Forbidden Brides of the Faceless Slaves in the Secret House of the Night of Dread Desire" (which you don't have to be a writer to appreciate but it certainly helps), "Closing Time" (because I frequented taverns like that in my younger years and it was all very familiar), "The Problem of Susan" (because I've always wondered what became of her as well), "Instructions" (I wish very much that I had written that...), "How do you Think it Feels?" (this one... I don't know. I'm not sure I want to get too comfortable with why I liked it), "My Life" (reminds me of a Tom Waits song... something about dancing lessons.... maybe?), "Feeders and Eaters" (creeped me out), "The Day the Saucers Came" (all that's good and whimsical), "The Monarch of the Glen" (more Shadow, more Mr. Smith, more Mr. Alice - yay).

Just good, great stuff. The introductions to each piece give you some insight as to why, how, and where they were written. They let you ride shotgun with Neil's imagination, and that's a mighty fine place to be. As an aside, I put off reading each introduction until after I'd read the story they pertained to. I guess I'm a bit of a freakozoid about avoiding spoilers... to an extent.

A whiz-bang of a book. Absolutely wonderful.

Check out Neil Gaiman's website here.

Rated: 5 out of 5

Wednesday, December 19, 2007


In the introduction to "The Rising: Selected Scenes from the End of the World", Brian Keene writes about how he was less than enthusiastic when approached to do this project. Brian had already written two wildly popular zombie novels, ("The Rising", and "City of the Dead"), and I think he was getting a bit sick of being labeled as "The Zombie Guy".

Going into this book, I must admit that there was a part of me that wondered just what else was left to examine in Keene's zombie (read: Siqqusim) mythos. However, after reading and very much enjoying Brian's other works, I gave him the benefit of the doubt.

I'm very glad I did.

Keene's own brand of zombies are here in all their glory. An otherworldly "sentience" - for lack of a better word - inhabit the recent dead. They bring with them a need to feed on human flesh, thereby making room for their Siqqusim brethren to inhabit the earth. Essentially, the book is a collection of 32 short stories that are in some cases extremely loosely connected to one another, or to "The Rising" or "City of the Dead". The only thing that they all have in common is that they all take place during - or very shortly after - the Siqqusim invasion.

Still with me?

Yes, as with "Tequila's Sunrise", it helps if you've already read Brian's other books, but it's not absolutely necessary. Within the first few stories you can easily get the gist of what's going on. Through the first four stories, you quickly understand that (A) the world is ending, and (B) Keene's zombies are everywhere.

However, it's in the fifth story, "Watching the World End", where this book starts to kick in to high gear. It's in this story where you realize that the stories aren't just about flesh eating zombies. It's in this story where you realize that Brian's going to take you deep into the minds of the momentary survivors, and really delve into the psychology of mankind when faced with such an epidemic.

There are stories of families, of lovers, of cannibalism, of insanity, of megalomania. There are stories that feature both the best and worst characteristics of human nature, all set to the tune of the end of the world, and they're a ton of fun to read.

The last few chapters take place after the events of "City of the Dead". They speak to what happens after the Siqqusim "stage" of the invasion is completed, and the subsequent invasions begin. For long time Keene readers, as with "Tequila's Sunrise", there's some great new Labyrinth tidbits here that'll have you thirsting for that next new Brian Keene book.

A fabulous collection that's a blast to read, whether you're well versed in the Keene mythos or not, I highly recommend it... if you can get your hands on it. Limited to 500 copies, this is a collectors piece, (of which I'm proud to own #337 - signed by The Zombie Guy himself). But if you can find one, snatch it up. You won't be disappointed.

You can find out more about Brian Keene at his official site.

Rated 5 out of 5

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

"THE TOMB" by F. Paul Wilson

Having just finished reading the first book in F. Paul Wilson's Repairman Jack series, The Tomb, I'm finding myself reflecting a bit over a few different interviews I've listened to with Paul as of late. In both interviews, he was asked why Jack is so damn popular. As an answer, Wilson talked about how Jack, as a sort of blue-collar do-it-yourself-er, is very accessible. He's an everyman, as opposed to a super duper secret agent. I'd certainly agree with that, but I believe there's another reason why Jack is so attractive...

The setup for Repairman Jack is such that Jack has to live "outside" society. He doesn't pay taxes. He doesn't have a valid ID. He has no credit cards, (at least in his name), etc. I think why it's so much fun to read about Jack is because Wilson does such a fantastic job of covering all the angles. He sees the loopholes a mile ahead of the reader, and makes damn sure that they're not only covered, but explored in detail. Yes, that' s just essentially good writing in terms of speculative fiction, but Wilson really, really hammers it home, and it's a ton of fun to read about.

The Tomb, as I said, is the first in the Repairman Jack series. This is the second one I've read, (I reviewed Harbinger a while back, and decided I should begin at the beginning). The cover shown above is not the cover of the paperback I happened upon, but for the life of me I couldn't find a jpeg of the Berkley Books pb version. According to, Paul has now renamed this first novel Rakoshi, (which makes sense since the Rakoshi are much more prevalent in the book than the tomb is...).

The book introduces the reader to some of the major players in Jack's world, and serves up a masterful tale of terror, intrigue, and intense suspense through the jungles of the Big Apple, and the wilds of India. I believe I heard that this one has been optioned as a film and is in development. As I was reading it, I could certainly see it as a fantastic movie, if it stays true to the novel in most respects.

Major fun for any fan of speculative fiction, and as the first of the series, the perfect intro to Repairman Jack.

Find out more about Jack and F. Paul Wilson at

Rated 5 out of 5

(Originally reviewed in "The Daily Cave" on December 3rd, 2007)

"TEQUILA'S SUNRISE" by Brian Keene

At only fifty-eight pages, Brian Keene's Tequila's Sunrise is not a novella, and barely a novellette. It is exactly what Keene calls it in the book's afterword: Tequila's Sunrise is a fable. I'll get to all that, but first I'd like to talk about the physicality of the book itself.

Bloodletting Press proves once again that they're one of the Good Guys. The book screams quality all the way from the 'keen' numbering scheme to the cover-matching marker ribbon. Beyond that, Alex McVey's killer cover and mood-inducing interior illustrations put a definitive collector's item stamp on the piece.

As to the story, if you haven't read any of Brian's other works, I won't say that you won't 'get' Tequila's Sunrise, but possessing at least a cursory knowledge of Keene's overall mythos will make this book much, much more enjoyable. Telling the tale of an Aztec boy's journey up a mountain, the story turns on its ear about midway through and gives you a healthy gulp of knowledge pertaining to how all of Keene's works interact.

In a delightfully insightful afterword, Brian writes of how he was inspired by Jack Ketchum and a bottle of Tequila to tell this tale. He talks about falling in love with fables again, and deciding to tell one of his own.

Like I said, this is a collector's piece. I believe that it's sold out, so if you want one you'll be buying it on ebay. I'm lucky enough to own number 457, signed by both Keene and McVey, and I know I'll treasure it for some time to come.

Rated 4 out of 5

(Originally reviewed in "The Daily Cave" on November 20th, 2007)

"GHOUL" by Brian Keene

You don't have to be 34 (as I am) to enjoy Brian Keene's "Ghoul" but it certainly helps.

In the summer of 1984, best friends, Timmy, Doug, and Barry are looking forward to a fabulous vacation, reading comics and girlie mags, watching cartoons and late night horror flicks, riding their bikes, trading pranks with their arch enemies, and hanging out in their dugout fort, which just happens to flank their local cemetery... a cemetery in which a rather nasty resident has woken from an ancient slumber.

"Ghoul" is a nostalgic novel. It's a look back at a time when - if you were eleven in 1984, as I was - you felt invincible and the summer seemed like it would never end. It's a look back at the things that made being a child in the mid-eighties particularly fantastic. The mention of things like Thundarr the Barbarian, Trapper Keepers, G.I. Joe, "Mad" magazine, Skeletor, "Hill Street Blues", Greedo, Spy Hunter, and "The Defenders" - to name a few - gave me a front row seat on a blissfull ride down memory lane.

Oh, and there's a horror story here, too. A good one.

The monsters in Keene's books - both the human and inhuman - have a genuine bite. The monster in this one is particularly diabolical, and I love how Keene never shrinks away from giving us an insight into his antagonist's point of view - as in it's not just a mindless threat. Oh, and there's a morality tale as well. I won't give away too much, but the book really, really takes an unflinching look at how the actions of adults can have penetrating effects on the impressionable psyches of children.

In short, the book made me want to be a better parent.

A great book by a first rate writer, "Ghoul" is highly recommended, (especially if you're 34). You can check out Brian Keene's website HERE.

BY THE WAY, if you have read the book, or after you do, there's a passage on page 214 of the Leisure Paperback that is one of best passages in a book I've read in recent memory. It starts out, "He believed in Bigfoot. He believed in Ghosts." and goes on through the next page. Excellence, my friends. Excellence.

Rated 5 out of 5

(Originally reviewed in "The Daily Cave" on September 4th, 2007)


Imagine if you will...

The greatest rock band in history decides to remake a city in its own image, a place where the freaks of the world won't be seen as outcasts, but celebrated as the norm, a place where a leather garbed, mohawk-sporting, pierced-laden outsider can call home.

Welcome to The Renegade City... utopia for the unwanted.

But as with most utopias, things aren't always as Rosy as they seem.

In Kim Lakin-Smith's debut novel, in the near-future, the city of Nottingham has been transformed into The Renegade City . The city has divided itself into several sub-classes, with classifications such as Castclan, Skinwalkers, Fae, Trawlers, DarkLed, Grallators, and Drathcor. The city is governed by the Management, overseen by Origin, a rock band of Epic proportions.

Right off the bat, however, things begin on a sour note. The lead singer of Origin, a Messiah of sorts named Roses, has died in a fire. Questions and suspicions are raised at the highest levels. Was Roses intentionally killed? By whom? By which sub-class? The investigation is on to find the answer to these questions, which in turn lead to new questions.

The concept is great in and of itself, but what really makes this book shine is Lakin-Smith's incredible writing; this novel is really a 237 page poem, with enough dazzling imagery and allusions to make your imagination perk up its ears and wag its tail. The language is brilliant, reminding me over and over again of the work of Arthur Machen. That, combined with an imagination expansive and deep enough to rival that of Clive Barker, makes it clear that Kim Lakin-Smith is a brand new breed of writer; one with the chops to describe the darkest side of the human experience in language so beautiful that you'll enjoy reading it.

I eagerly await the next Tale from the Renegade City, as I'm certain that the new Queen of the Futuristic Industrial Goth Movement won't disappoint.

This novel is highly, highly recommended.

You can check out Kim's website by going HERE.
Rated 5 out of 5
(Originally reviewed in "The Daily Cave" on August 27th, 2007)

"HARBINGERS" by F. Paul Wilson

For those out of the literary loop, Repariman Jack is a reoccurring character in no less than ten of Wilson's books. Jack specializes in "Fixits" - repairing situations that no one else seems able to. He's almost like a blue collar Bond, except that he's working for himself... sort of.

It's difficult to run down the specifics of the book without giving too much away, that is, I think it's too difficult... You see, the problem with reading the latest Repairman Jack book is that a lot has already happened in the previous books. A lot of that history is mentioned in Harbingers, and I'm not exactly sure what is new to this volume and what has already been explored. So, to avoid giving away what is new to the book is difficult to determine for someone who hasn't read the previous ones.

Still with me?

What I can tell you is this: on Paul's website, the books are described as Horror Thrillers. I like that description. So often, when Dark Fantasy is applied as a catch-all to things that are scary, but not quite full-blown horror, a lot get's lost in the translation. Horror Thriller works for Repairman Jack. Much of the book - and of the series, I'm guessing - is Jack utilizing his knowledge of weapons, explosives, hi-tech surveillance, and the like to execute "Fixits". Of course, then there's this "other" element - or should I say, "Otherness" element.

At any rate, Paul wrote at the beginning of my copy of Harbingers: "Jack's darkest hour (so far)" and that description is apt. There's some major things going on in Jack's life in this book, and most of it centers around Jack trying to assume a normal - or semi-normal in Jack's case - life. Of course, it ain't gonna be that easy. Elements beyond Jack's control, and often beyond his understanding - are conspiring against him.

I really, really dig Wilson's style of writing. Not only Jack, but all of the characters, are very well defined. In addition, the locales seem genuine, and I have no doubt that the author has been to and haunted many - if not all - the places we visit in the book himself. The result is a large amount of trust on the part of the reader for the author. Early on we learn that we don't have to doubt what we're being told, and that makes the ensuing, horrific and spectacular, events all the more so. The writing is clear, but not condescending. Descriptions of weapons and explosives exhibit extensive research, but don't go over the top technically.I'm not sure if Harbingers is the best place to start with the Repairman Jack novels or not, but it was as fantastic book. I had loads of fun reading it, and zoomed through the final half of the book in no time at all as I was searching out time to read it just because I was way pumped to see what was going to happen next.

Great. So now there are nine other books that I have to read asap.

You can find out all about F. Paul Wilson, the Repairman Jack novels, and the mountain of other titles he's written at his official site, aptly called
Rated 5 out of 5
(Originally reviewed in "The Daily Cave" on August 1st, 2007)

"TRANSFORMERS" directed by Michael Bay


I was born in 1973. Ergo, by the early eighties I was neck deep into Star Wars, He-Man, GI-Joe, and the Transformers. Maybe that explains some of my enthusiasm...

On Monday night I finally got to go see the "Transformers" movie, and I'm sure it won't be long before I go see it again. It was one gigantic, metal-crunching, summer popcorn fun fest. Decent acting and ridiculously fantastic special effects, this one was almost an A+. The only things that drew it down a bit were a few clunkers in the humor department and the lack of interaction between the Decepticons. A character like Starscream should have had a LOT more to say, but it was fun when Megatron briefly reprimanded him, ("You've failed me yet again, Starscream!"). However, I'm sure there'll be much more interaction in the ensuing, inevitable sequels. An extreme high point in the film: Peter Cullen reprises his role as Optimus Prime. I was so stoked over this. I don't think any other voice for Prime would have worked. Megatron's voice is different, but it's maniacal enough that it doesn't detract from the experience.

(It cracks me up that anyone who didn't grow up with the cartoons/toys won't have the slightest clue what the majority of the above paragraph meant... sucks for you! Hee!)
A powerhouse of a movie. Highly, highly recommended.

Rated 4.5 out of 5

(Originally reviewed in "The Daily Cave" on July 9th, 2007)

"BLUE DEVIL ISLAND" by Stephen Mark Rainey

Period pieces are often a crapshoot. Odds are that you're going to end up with an unauthentic-seeming story from an overenthusiastic writer, or an overly detailed era manual that lacks anything approaching an interesting story.

Then there are times when you get the best of both worlds.

Blue Devil Island by Stephen Mark Rainey takes place during World War II. The "Blue Devils," a Naval squadron of F65-3 Hellcat fighters, led by Lieutenant Commander Drew McLachlan, is sent to a small island in the South Pacific to run air patrols over naval missions in the area. They stage their attacks from a fairly impromptu marine base on what is known as Conquest Island. The story is told by McLachlan, who leads his courageous and talented pilots out on various missions to take on the enemy. However, between their missions, they come to realize that something far more sinister than any Japanese Zero may be inhabiting Conquest Island.

I'll tell you the truth: when I looked at the first page of this book and saw the roster for the Blue Devils, I was a little overwhelmed. The thought of having to keep track of the names of over two-dozen pilots had me more than a little wary right from the get-go.

But I pressed on.

When the pilots arrived on the island, and even more names were thrown out via the marines already stationed there, I was beginning to wonder if I'd need a note card with all the names on it to use as a bookmark. Soon, however, I realized that I had nothing to fear. As it turns out, there are about five or six "primary" Devils to keep track of, and only three or four marines... and Rainey makes it easy. His development of each of the men is nowhere near cookie cutter, and you soon come to know each of the main characters well enough to really care about what's happening to them. The lead, Drew McLachlan, is an everyman, and intensely likeable.

As to the dogfights, aircraft operations, and general military information: Rainey really, really knows what he's talking about... or, if he doesn't, then he sure fooled me. There was enough information to put me in the moment, but I wasn't overwhelmed by it. I never once doubted that the author knew exactly what he was writing about, and as such, I gave myself over to the story entirely.

The story itself is wonderful. I haven't had this much FUN reading a book in a long time. I was right there on the edge of my chair during the flight missions, ducking and juking along with the pilots, and I was biting my nails as the more sinister elements of the island itself came into play.

I'll say it again: "FUN!" This book was an intensely fun read that I can't recommend highly enough. Adventure. Great humor. Undercurrents of unsettling suspense and whallops of terror, this one had everything I wanted from it. And more.

Check this book out, and be sure to take a gander at Mark's official site HERE.

Rated 5 out of 5

(Originally reviewed in "The Daily Cave" on June 18th, 2007)

"THE LINK" by Richard Matheson

Thinking about a story in terms of how it can be told on television is a daunting task. Several years ago, myself and a friend of mine threw around a concept for a television show entitled Skewed. We started out with a concept, started sketching out what's know in the biz as a Series Bible, and began work on the script for the pilot. Before we'd wasted too much elbow grease on it, we fortunately realized that (a) the show was probably a bit too hi-brow, and (b) that production costs for the historic sets would be prohibitive. At any rate, the process gave me some insight into thinking about the pros and cons of writing something for television. With that in mind, I just finished reading Richard Matheson's The Link.

Matheson originally pitched the idea for the story to ABC in the seventies and was given a "go" to start up a treatment for a 20 hour-long mini-series. Somewhere along the way, ABC first wanted him to cut back the story to 7 hours, then wanted an entirely new storyline added to the project, before they finally lost interest.

Matheson then toyed with the idea of turning the entire project into a novel. When Part One of the story came in around 800 pages, his agent advised him to drop it as the entire book would end up at around 2,000 pages long, and as such be unsellable.

Fast forward a few decades when Gauntlet Press decides to publish not the novel, but the treatment for the mini-series, and you have The Link.

In a nutshell, (and considering the size of the story it's one heck of a nutshell) the book tells the story of Robert Allright, a man who's family has a psychic past. He's hired to help write a film about psi - parapscychology et al - with the help of two "technical advisors" from England. Throughout the book, Robert and his companions, Cathy and Peter, have an opportunity to delve into every aspect of psi through a wide ranging variety of experiences and setups. They work psychically on a crime with a police department. They investigate two separate hauntings. They travel to Russia to meet with people involved with everything from psychic healing, to remote vision, to telekinesis. They meet dozens of psychics who's abilities range from the mundane to the fantastic. The whole history of psi is discussed via flashbacks, (which led me to wonder if this entire project wasn't Matheson's impetus for Mediums Rare...) and a host of theories are brought in from both sides (pro and con) of psi that round out the story and make it not seem like a commercial for parapsychology.

So, that's the backdrop. Through all of this, Robert is trying to solve a family mystery that seems to become clearer through each of his experiences.

A mini-series?

After finishing this book I felt like I'd read the synopsis for a nine-season network drama. There really is enough material contained within The Link for something so much more... broad, for lack of a better word. How would it have worked as a television show? I'm not sure. There's a lot alluded to in the book that would have been difficult to convey on the screen without a lot of elaboration that wasn't. But it sure as hell would have been fun to watch.

The Link - novel or not - is a masterpiece. The story is sweeping, engaging, and written so well that you don't even realize how much you're learning while you're reading it.

You can purchase signed, limited, numbered copies of Richard Matheson's The Link from Gauntlet Press.

Rated 5 out of 5

(Orignally reviewed in "The Daily Cave" on April 15th, 2007)

"CURRENCY OF SOULS" by Kealan Patrick Burke


When I finished reading Kealan Patrick Burke's latest novel, Currency of Souls, this morning, that was the word that came first and foremost to my mind.


It takes some mighty large cajones to write a book like this. To take a large cast, give each and every one an uber-detailed, dark and dirty past, throw them in a cocktail shaker called Milestone, throw the contents onto the bar like a toss of the dice, and to have the balls to honestly record on the page whatever insane asylum train wreck comes up...

Good God!

What the hell is this book even about? Debt? The Devil? Revenge? Regret? Sixties lounge singers? Native American Mythology? Murder? Fathers and Sons? Husbands and Wives? It's like an unsettling feeling that you can't quite describe... or one you don't want to describe.

I know that the story moved me. I know that the story stretched my imagination to its limits to keep up with what it was being force-fed. Like a grisly car crash, I know that I couldn't look away once I caught a glimpse.

I know that it doesn't come close to falling into the contemporary genre categories.

I know that when I finished reading it I felt like I was privy to information that I never wanted to know, but that I now need to know.

I know that I loved every second of it.

As a reader, every once in a great while you get the opportunity to experience a story that doesn't just go against the grain, it scratches it up beyond comprehension leaving broken and bloody fingernails behind... and still succeeds as a brilliant story. Every once in a great while, you get to come across as story that questions everything you thought you knew about what the concept of story means. Burke has made me question everything about reading and writing, and for that, I thank him.

Check out Kealan's website here.

Rated 5 out of 5

(Originally reviewed in "The Daily Cave" on March 14th, 2007)

"WEED SPECIES" by Jack Ketchum

When I recently asked Ketchum to describe this novella to me, he said, "There's very few people in this one that you'd want to go to lunch with."

He was right.

I'm not a huge fan of realistic horror; for me, there usually has to be some element of the supernatural for me to enjoy it. Weed Species is real horror, and is actually based on events that happened in Canada. However, it's short enough, and well written enough, that it didn't turn me off. The bulk of the book centers around a man and his girlfriend that kidnap, rape, and occasionally murder girls. What's interesting about the book, and what sets it apart, is the underlying comment on the passiveness the main characters have about what they're doing. When someone becomes so detached from what others are feeling, or will feel, that's really the definition of real horror.

Definitely not for the faint of heart, Weed Species is a concise, disturbing novella that will curl your toes.

For more information on Jack and his books, check out his website:

Rated 4.5 out of 5

(Originally reviewed in "The Daily Cave" on March 11th, 2007)

"THE THIEF OF ALWAYS" by Clive Barker

To tell you the God's honest truth, I can't remember if I've read this before or not. If I did, it's been long enough ago that I'd forgotten all about it.

The Thief of Always is one of the few books by Clive Barker that I haven't (or possibly have) read. Like Abarat, there's something about Clive's books for young people that hit a nerve - whether you're an adult or a child... or anywhere in between.

Filled with the pseudo-psychotic-fantastique imagery that one comes to expect from Barker, the story is about a ten-year old boy who is slowly being devoured by that awful beast known as February. He's seemingly rescued from his doldrums by a man who's smile might be just a bit too large, and taken to a magical house where all the seasons transpire in a single day. Of course, the house isn't what it first appears to be, and the boy must soon learn what's important, and what's illusion.

A fabulous fairy tale that only Barker could tell, The Thief of Always is a classic that I may or may not have read before.

Rated 4 out of 5

(Originally reviewed in "The Daily Cave" on February 18th, 2007)


"Brian Keene is the next big thing in horror."

How many times have I heard that?

How many times have you heard that?

The Conqueror Worms is the third Keene book I've read. I enjoyed The Rising and City of the Dead. I thought they were both fun books that did some new things with the zombie genre. I thought Keene was a good writer, who showed a lot of promise.

Then came The Conqueror Worms.

The book is told for the most part by a mountain man who's lived long enough to see what amounts to the end of the world. You see, some forty-odd days ago, it started to rain worldwide, and it hasn't stopped since. Not once. The rain hasn't stopped and it's brought some terrible things with it. You know how earthworms surface after a hard rain? Well, pump that fact through Keene's fantastic imagination and you'll get The Conqueror Worms.

The story takes on a whole new facet about halfway through, when the narration switches to a former video store employee who's trying to survive in Baltimore. I won't spoil it for you, but let's just say that worms aren't the only thing that are surfacing...

I'll be entirely honest with you, this book was right up my alley. The perfect mix of horror and adventure-based science fiction, The Conqueror Worms made me a Keene Fan. I highly recommend it.

For more on Brian, check out his website.

Rated 5 out of 5

(Originally reviewed in "The Daily Cave" on February 17th, 2007)

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

"STRAIGHT ON 'TIL MORNING" by Christopher Golden

Part coming of age tale, part fairy tale, Chris Golden's Straight on 'til Morning made me laugh on some level - in a good way - and had me skipping words - in a good way - because I was so excited to find out what would happen next.

The book starts out as a very real look at childhood in the eighties. The descriptions of the kids are accurate. They're largely from broken homes, and trapped somewhere between the realm of cartoons, comic books, and tree forts, and the realm of beer and sex. They are part of tight-knit cliques, and their major concerns grow out of dating relationships.

That's the first part of the book.

The second part takes you away to a world where Golden's imagination is unleashed. No holds barred. A world - a Neverland - where death and magick are only a footstep away. It's funny, because though the two parts are probably of equal length, I'm sure that I read the last half in about a third of the length of time it took to read the first. The second half of the book is nonstop, fast paced fantastical adventure. Not that the first part of the book is bad, not by any means. Golden tells the story through the eyes of the kids, and is spot on with their observations... maybe too spot on. As I was reading the book, I found myself chiding some of the main characters for taking superfluous things far too seriously, and yet, after thinking about it, I was the exact same way at 13. You take everything far too seriously. Those 'tween years are some of the hardest, and Chris Golden made me remember why.

The edition that I read, pictured above, had an additional short story at the end entitled Runaway. The story is about an event that occurred in two of Straight on 'til Morning's main character's lives, preceding the main story. I found it interesting that the story could have easily been the prologue of the novel. A very good book.

For more on Christopher Golden check out his website:

Rated 4 out of 5

(Originally reviewed in "The Daily Cave" on January 30th, 2007)


It really sucks when the business end of the writing world interferes with the creative - like when restrictions are placed on writers telling them just how long a novel should be, or what type of narrative is acceptable. Oh, don't get me wrong, I understand full well why a publisher isn't overly willing to sign off on a two or three thousand page novel; I do know a little something about the law of economic return. But that doesn't make it any easier to swallow... from a writer's standpoint.

Case in point:

I guess I really ought to preface this by saying that Richard Matheson is flat-out my favorite writer. For me, reading Matheson is like inhaling a breath of fresh air. The combination of a genius-level imagination, an incredibly astute assessment of the way the real world works, and an astounding gift for the actual craft of the language, makes him a living legend in my mind. Matheson is one of those writers that I pride myself on collecting limiteds of.

So, I'm just saying up front, I dig Matheson.

Come Fygures Come Shadowes is the story of a teenage girl named Claire, in the early twentieth century. Her mother is a Medium - as in she communicates with the dead - and she's training Claire to cultivate her God Given gift - passed down proudly from her mother's side of the family - to take her own place as a medium. The mother is a shrill, bitter woman, (reminding me of Piper Laurie's fantastic turn as Sissy Spacek's mother in Carrie) who domineers everyone within reach. Claire is terrified to give herself over to trances as she conducts sittings for customers who come to the home to speak with their dearly departed.

The book escalates, with the perils - both physical and mental - becoming more and more strenuous for Claire.

And then the book ends.

You see, when Matheson originally started working on this manuscript, he showed what he had finished and what was yet to be completed to his publisher. The publisher in turn told him that the book would be over two-thousand pages long and impossible to sell. Being young and without a lot of confidence, (Matheson explains this in the book's afterword) he dropped the project Cold Turkey... and has regretted it ever since.

Come Fygures Come Shadowes is only a fraction of what the intended story was to be. Don't get me wrong, it really is a complete story in and of itself, however, at the end you do get a sense that there was more to the overall tale. Luckily, Matheson explains the story behind the work in the afterward, and is so nice as to tell you what he'd planned to unfold had the book been written.

Last year I read Matheson's Mediums Rare which is a nonfiction, chronological history of Mediums. Considering the references in Come Fygures Come Shadowes, I'm wondering if Mediums Rare didn't evolve out of research done for the novel.

So. When the business end infringes on the creative... well, that sucks.

Rated 4 out of 5

(Originally reviewed in "The Daily Cave" on January 19th, 2007)

"DUSK" by Tim Lebbon


Completely and unequivocably, wow.

Telling the story of several inhabitants of a world called Noreela, and the fulfillment of an ancient prophecy which will bring Magic back to the world, Dusk is one of the richest dark fantasies I've ever read. Lebbon's imagination is so involved that you have no idea what's going to come next in the story. While getting you caught up in the miniscule lives of those involved in a cataclysmic confrontation, he deals with interesting pseudo-political and semi-religious concepts - drawing interesting parallels with our own world without drawing attention to the fact that he's doing it, (it's so unintrusive, in fact, that you wonder if Lebbon even realized he was doing it).

One of the most interesting examples of this is an order called the Red Monks that are absolutely hellbent on destroying that which they love most - just so they won't lose it, an attribute that can be easily applied to any number of organizations... (including the United States Government?).

Known best for his horror, Tim Lebbon has birthed a dark fantasy that sits up there with the best of the best. An absolute Titan of a book, and certainly only the beginning of what will be a powerhouse of a series. The second book, Dawn, is due out in March, and word is that Tim has signed with Bantam Spectra for two more Noreela books - one of which apparently entitled Fallen, and the other called The Island.

If you have an interest in speculative fiction at all, I give this book my highest recommendation.

To find out more about Dusk and Noreela, check out To check out Tim Lebbon's site proper, go to

Rated 5 out of 5

(Originally reviewed in "The Daily Cave" on January 17th, 2007)

"WOLF'S TRAP" by W.D. Gagliani

Rarely is the werewolf thing done well. I was thinking about why and I guess what it comes down to is the transformation between man and wolf is so out there that it's difficult to maintain the thin bridge of suspension of disbelief while posing the supposition. In other words, it's hella farfetched in most people's minds.

I, myself, have only written one werewolf story - to the best of my recollection - and I found myself doubting it even as I was writing it. There's something so... Incredible Hulk-ish about the werewolf phenomenon that it's difficult to keep it authentically scary.

All right, all that said, the first book I've read in '07 is W.D. Gagliani's Wolf's Trap.
The basic synopsis is that Nick Lupo, a Milwaukee homicide detective, is also a werewolf. Through the story, Gagliani gives us the history of Nick, as well as the history of serial killer stalking Wisconsin's largest city. It turns out that the serial killer "knows" Nick, and is taunting him with his targeted murders.

The great thing about this book is that it's not just about werewolves. Gagliani fills the book with enough detective and psychological realism to keep you grounded in the real world - so that when the more fantastical stuff takes off, it seems all the more real.

I love how Gagliani understands his topic. The Incredible Hulk metaphor is actually used in the book when Lupo is desperately trying to get his clothes off before one of his transformations, so as not to look like the Hulk standing in a pair of shredded pants.

A great detective story that's slowly unveiled, layer after layer after layer, I highly recommend Wolf's Trap as a superb Horror Thriller that was a ton of fun.

To check out more about Gagliani and his work, take a look at his site:

Rated 4.5 out of 5

(Originally reviewed in "The Daily Cave" on January 8th, 2007)

"THE HARROWING" by Alexandra Sokoloff

My work has been steadily interrupted by "The Harrowing" - the debut novel by Alexandra Sokoloff - for the last two days.

In a word: "wow".

In several: The book tells the story of five students alone in a creepy old dormitory on the Baird campus over a four-day Thanksgiving weekend. Sounds like pretty standard fare, right? Wrong. This is the first book I've read in a long time, that I just couldn't put down. Sokoloff keeps the story tight and the pace lightning fast. Beyond that, on a personal level I had such a bonding with the characters that I found myself biting my nails with worry over what would happen to them.

I'm loathe to go into too much detail for fear of giving anything away. "The Harrowing" is a top notch example of what a horror/suspense novel can be, and should be. Absolutely fantastic.

Rated 5 out of 5

(Originally reviewed in "The Daily Cave" on September 27th, 2007)


"The Man in the High Castle" is set in a world where FDR was assassinated prior to WWII, and as a result Germany and Japan won the war. Now, nearly two decades after the close of the war, the United States has been divided into a Japanese-controlled Pacific Territory, the "Rocky Mountain States" and the Nazi-Controlled USA east of the Mississippi.

The book tells the story of several loosely-linked lives in this strange parallel reality. We see the lives of occupied Americans, Japanese businessmen, and German officials. The interesting viewpoint of the story is that nothing cataclysmic is happening throughout. The story really just shows us a snapshot of these people as they've come to terms with the way the world is. Jews change their names so as not to be identified as such, American businessmen try to cash in on the Japanese love of pre-war Americana "antiques" - such as Mickey Mouse watches and Civil War-era revolvers, and the Japanese struggle between their disgust of the Nazi war machine and their admiration for German technology. German consulate officals deal with the everyday inter-parteii politics as they man their posts in Japanese-controlled San Francisco.

I want to make two specific observations about this book. First of all, in his unflinching exploration of his supposition, Dick makes you realize just how much the reality of our world hinges on specific events. What if FDR had been assassinated and an inept president, a president unable to deal with the reality of a world war, was voted into power? This all made me think of the ubiquitous "chaos theory." Everything is interconnected, and chains of events are set in motion moment by moment. It's a daunting thought, and one that's plagued my mind throughout the reading of this novel... and will undoubtedly continue to for some time to come as a result.

Secondly, I'd like to comment on Dick's apparent mastery of language as a whole. Whether some of this was implied, or created out of accident, I have no idea. The speech patterns he gives his Japanese characters could be termed stereotypical, (the book was published in 1962) but what's interesting is he lends a slightly less obvious stereotypically Japanese speech pattern to those non-Japanese characters that have been under Japanese occupation - even amping up those patterns when particular characters are under a great deal of stress. I at first attributed this to Dick having these patterns so woven into his mind that he was just carrying them over a bit into other characters, however, the more I read, I realized that characters that weren't under Japanese control, those in the Rocky Mountain States, for example, weren't speaking with the 'accents'. That realization made, I began looking for the patterns, appreciating the complexity of the language in the prose.

"The Man in the High Castle" by Philip K. Dick is definitely a must-read for any fan of speculative fiction, and receives my highest recommendation.

Rated 5 out of 5

(Originally reviewed in "The Daily Cave" on September 13th, 2006)

"SLAYER: STIGMATA" by Karen Koehler

"Stigmata" is the third book of Karen Koehler's unique Slayer series.

Book one of the series, Slayer, introduced us to the dhampire (half human half vampire) Alek, and brought us to a pinnacle moment in his life when he questioned everything he'd been taught to believe.

Book two of the series, Slayer: Black Miracles, was actually two novellas in a single volume. Both of them allowed us to ride along with Alek in his present condition as the Rogue, a Slayer without a Coven, a dhampir hunted by all. The second book of the series was less brooding than the first, concentrating highly on Alek's ability and knowhow when it came to what he did best: eliminating vampires and vampire-like threats. The tone of both stories in Black Miracles was - in my opinion - much more fun than the first book. Black Miracles was more about Alek's procedure as a Slayer, and less about his inner conflict.

Stigmata covers the gambit. Let me first say that this is a monstrous book; it comes in around 560 pages, but that's deceiving. So much of the book is written as a reflection, with little dialogue, that its got to be around 250,000 words - but before you get discouraged, let me tell you that it's well worth it. What to compare it to? For lack of a better comparison, Stigmata is to the Slayer series is what Wizard and Glass was to King's Dark Tower series; it's a reflection of things past. But whereas King keeps to the past in book four of his epic, Koehler ties in the past with a major event in the present. We look through "someone's" eyes (I'm not going to tell you who, because that would spoil the surprise) into the past, into the very creation of the Coven System at the Vatican. We see the evolution of the Coven over time, we see how it came to the new world, and why. Koehler's descriptions of these places and times are perfect. I found myself unflinchingly believing every word I read, and had no doubt of its authenticity. Interspersed with these reflections, we read about Alek and the latest (and possibly greatest) challenge placed in his path in the form of a young girl name Damia. As usual with Alek, things quickly turn violent and fast paced. In this way, Koehler moves us back and forth between a rich, engaging look at the origins of the coven, and a slice-em-up storyline that keeps you on the edge of your seat. The novel culminates with a spine tingling narrative that involves Alek venturing into the heart of the lion's den... and doesn't stop there.

Koehler expands upon what is possible in her Slayer universe without ever breaking the suspension of belief she's strung out of your mind in the previous two books. I read the last seventy or so pages of this book in a single sitting, as I couldn't wait to see what would unfold next. Karen Koehler's Slayer: Stigmata is the masterpiece of the Slayer series to date, (rumor has it that we are supposed to see Slayer: Armageddon, eventually, so we'll see if she can top herself). I've rarely read a more engaging and entertainaing book, and I can't give it a high enough recommendation, though I recommend reading the previous two Slayer books first, to get the full effect. Slayer: Stigmata is published by Black Death Books.

Rated 4.5 out of 5

(Originally reviewed in "The Daily Cave" on June 19th, 2006)