WOOFER'S LAIR

Welcome to Woofer's Lair. Curious as to what you will see here? Well, for the most part, you will find book reviews, maybe the occasional movie review, and if you are lucky, you might stumble across one of my own works in progress. If you like what you see or what read, and even if you don't, please feel free to leave your comments. As I am somewhat new to blogging, all of your constructive feedback is appreciated. Have fun and thanks for stopping by.

Wicked Seasons

Wicked Seasons
My short story, HUNGRY FOR MORE, is included

CURRENTLY READING

CURRENTLY READING
Koji Suzuki's Spiral

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

What's a Witch to Do?

When we last left Rachel Morgan, her dealings with demons and her reluctant use of black magic left her shunned by supernatural community known as The Hollows. However, the Coven of Ethical and Moral Standards isn't content to leave it at that. The Coven views Rachel as a threat, and they will do anything within their power to see that that threat is eradicated. In their attempts to bring Rachel in for a nonpublic trial of her "peers", they do not even consider the safety of innocent bystanders, which says something about the Coven of Moral and Ethical Standards. They have none. It becomes obvious that the Coven poses more of a threat to the safety of the community than Rachel does, from a public attack in supermarket to demon summoning to waging an all-out war against the church and threatening Rachel's family and friends.

And at the heart of it all is Nick, Rachel's lying, thieving, backstabbing ex-boyfriend. If it wasn't for Nick telling the Coven that she has the ability to twist demon magic, she wouldn't be in this predicament. But in order to survive the Coven's assault, she must put her trust in Nick. Coming face to face with Nick after all this time, Rachel must confront her feelings, not only for Nick, but for Pierce as well, and she must put her trust in the hands of those betrayed her in the past, namely Al and Trent. But is the help of her friends and partners enough to defeat the Coven, or must Rachel embrace that part of her she has tried to deny since finding out she was part demon?


Black Magic Sanction is the eighth book in Kim Harrison's The Hollows Series, and it is by far one of the best. All of the characters we have come to love [and love to hate are here (with the exception of David, and I still think Rachel and David would make a great couple)]. The action is nonstop, and Rachel's character, despite her emotional dilemmas she battles with regarding her love life, continues to grow as she begins to reluctantly accept that darker part of herself. Harrison has hinted in the past that there's something more to Rachel, and she comes right out and says it in this installment: Rachel isn't a witch, but at the same time, she's not a demon. So what is she? That remains to be seen.

As much as I loved this installment, I can't let it go without at least warning the reader that we do lose a much loved character as a result of the war against the Coven, which gives us just one more reason not to like them. I'm not going to say who, but just wanted to prepare you for it. With that said, I am eagerly looking forward to February and the release of Pale Demon, the next installment of Kim Harrison's Hollow's series. If you haven't read the series, I highly recommend it if you are a fan of urban fantasy. if you start now, you just might be caught up by the time Pale Demon becomes available.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Bells Will Ring, and the Blood is Gonna Flow. . .

The Red Church has been sitting on my shelf for awhile. At the time that I bought it, the author was unknown to me. As a result, it kept getting moved further down in my TBR pile in favor of books published by my favorite authors. That was a BIG mistake. Rarely does a book grab me from the very beginning. Scott Nicholson's The Red Church is one of those exceptions.

Every town has that one abandoned building around which mystery, rumor, and legend spring up. The town of Whispering Pines was no different, except the building which became the subject of kids' dares to friends was a church. Built in the 1860s, the Red Church was never your traditional church. Under the leadership of Wendell McFall, the reverend preached of God's second son, whose mission it was to accomplish on earth what Jesus failed to do. There were those who followed him faithfully, until the day he sacrificed a child to further his teachings. Outraged by this act, the congregation string him up outside the church using the rope from the bell tower. Since then, the church stands abandoned, inhabited only by the ghosts of the past. . . and the thing rumored to live in the bell tower.

When Ronnie Day and his kid brother, Tim, find a mutilated body in the graveyard beside the Red Church, they believe it is the work of the Bell Monster. Sheriff Frank Littlefield also believes the church is somehow responsible for the death. He didn't find the idea too much of a stretch because, as a kid, he lost his brother to something within the church. While people in the area claim not to have seen anything, they all claim to have heard the church bell ringing, which doesn't seem possible, as there hasn't been a bell rope in the church since Reverend McFall was hanged.

When the second body turns up, Frank gets wind of the fact that Archer McFall, son of Wendell McFall, has purchased the church and has plans of re-opening the church and starting up services again. He knows something isn't right when he finds the services are held at midnight. As Frank investigates McFall, Linda Day, Ronnie's mother, falls back under Archer's spell. So devoted is she to the church, she will promise McFall anything, including the lives of her children. Linda's estranged husband, David, sees the change in his wife and senses the kids are in danger; he will do anything to keep his sons safe, even murder.

It becomes a race against time when the third body is found. Will Frank discover McFall's secret before the final sacrifice is made and Hell is unleashed on earth? Will David be able to keep his kids safe from his wife and the church, or will they become the final sacrifice?

I'm ashamed to say that this is the first of Scott Nicholson's work that I have read, although I do have others on hand, and if this is a sample of what he has to deliver, it won't be the last. From the very first chapter, you are caught up in a fast paced story that draws you forward, propelled by believable characters you come to care about. I wouldn't say The Red Church is scary, and I'll be the first to admit that might just be because I'm jaded when it comes to horror fiction, but it is a non-stop thrill ride that will leave you not wanting to put the book down until you reach the end. As I was reading, I was thinking of it more as a psychological thriller that deals with the power of religion over the masses. Was the Bell Monster real? Was the spirit of the Hanged Preacher real? Or were they the result of a highly charismatic, mentally imbalanced preacher's influence over his flock? The question is answered, and if you want to know the answer, you'll have to pick it up. If you haven't read Nicholson before, this is a good one with which to get your feet wet. You won't be disappointed. I wasn't.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Captain's Log, Star date Z

Occasionally a title alone will make me buy that particular book without having heard or read anything about it. Night of the Living Trekkies is one of those books. I'm not much of a Star Trek fan, but I have hit the conventions from time to time, and the idea of zombies set loose on the geekdom was too good to pass up. Just like the BBC series Dead Set, in which the zombie apocalypse hits and the walking dead invade the set of a Big Brother-type reality show, I loved the idea. They (the book and the TV series) could be stinkers, but I didn't care. The fact that it was zombies was a big plus. As I mentioned in a previous review, I was never much of a zombies, but that is rapidly changing.

Night of the Living Trekkies opens with some cute dialogue:

"Space, the final frontier. . ."
"Shut up."
"These are the voyages of the starship Enterprise. . ."
"I said, shut up."
"Its five-year mission: to explore strange worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations. . ."
"You're pissing me off."

This had me laughing, and I knew I was hooked.

The premise of Trekkies is simple: A secret research facility located beneath Johnson Spaceflight Center in Houston, Texas, has been sabotaged. The subjects of the center have intentionally been set free, and not even a total nuking of the facility is enough to contain the outbreak. The zombies are loose and manage to find their way to the Botany Bay Hotel, where GulfCon is about to get underway.

The hero of our story is 23-year old Jim Pike, a bellhop at the hotel, and a "retired" US Army Officer. Jim has a sixth sense when it comes to enemy action, something that contributed to his early retirement from the military. Similar to Spiderman, he gets these sensations when trouble is near, a gift that repeatedly save his Unit. But when he wasn't there to save them and most of his unit was lost, the sense of responsibility became too much, and he wanted out. Now, at the Botany Bay, he has exactly what he wants -- a job with zero responsibility for others, which is why he can't understand why his "Spider sense" is tingling. He is slow to wake up to the danger, though, even when one guest complains about the poor TV reception, he discovers that the phones are out, and there's no cell phone signal. He only really begins to question when people who are supposed to be on duty go missing.

As the zombie population rapidly grows, Jim must once again shoulder the responsibility of leadership as he tries to lead a handful of survivors, which include his sister, a red-shirted (think Star Trek Engineering crew) young man named Willy Makit (Will he make it, get it? HAHA), Leia (and yes, she is dressed as slave girl Leia from Empire Strikes Back), and an overweight man who goes by the nickname Horta, to name a few, to safety. Who lives, who dies, and who joins the ranks of the walking dead? You'll have to pick up the book to find out.

Night of the Ling Trekkies is not a great book, not by any means, but it is a fun book. It is well written and the characters, while typical stock horror genre staples, are likable. There are enough nods to Star Trek, Star Wars, and Romero's zombie movies to keep the fan boys happy. And no, you don't have to be a fan boy or convention geek to enjoy the inside jokes. If you are in the mood for some light, campy, mindless fun for the weekend to relieve the stress and tension of the work week, then this book can't be recommended enough.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

SLIPPERY AS AN EEL

For those of you who have read my past reviews, you'll know that as a kid I had a thing for movies that dealt with giant critters—Night of the Lepus, THEM!, The Deadly Mantis, etc. For those of you who are new to this blog, well, now you know.

Stuart Neild's Giant Killer Eels is reminiscent of these old B movies that I loved so much. The setting is The Lake Districts of England, an area surrounded by mysterious disappearances and the home home of Old Slippery, a legendary giant eel. Like other mythic creatures, Nessie, Big Foot, and The Abominable Snowman, Old Slippery is elusive; however, unlike those who have claimed to see Nessie et al. and lived to tell about it, those who have seen Old Slippery never lived long enough to boast of the sighting.

Lured by the mystery of being the first to discover and photograph the giant eel, John and Mark, a couple of kids who feel they can succeed were seasoned divers have failed, have made "arrangements" to stay at the other's house, but instead of being true to their word, they sneak off to The Lake District in search of Old Slippery, and their parents are none the wiser. While investigating one of the rumored sighting areas, they encounter Yanick, a "crazy" eel enthusiast who claims to know all about Old Slippery and who also claims to have seen the giant eel twice.

Meanwhile, elsewhere withing The District, other people are having close encounters of the Slippery kind, and it isn't long before Mark, John, and crazy Yanick have their own encounter, but they have gotten more than they bargained for. There's not just Old Slippery they need to worry about. As the rains come down, the waters become alive with literally hundreds of. . . you guessed it. . . Giant Killer Eels.

All the trappings of those old B movies are here, from the kids in trouble, the rather eccentric enthusiast, to the military coming in to save the day. There's even a couple of damsels in distress. The characters are likable enough, but the emphasis of Neild's seems to be story progression, not character development. He doesn't disappoint with story, and pretty soon you find yourself forgetting about the unanswered questions that arise about the characters.

As much as I enjoyed the story, I did have some issues with the writing. It's not badly written, but I do feel the it would have benefited from having a proofreader or editor going through it before it was put out for public viewing, and that's purely for grammar and text flow. I found commas appearing in places that they shouldn't have been, which disrupted the flow of the sentences in which they appeared, and the wording of some phrases had me stumbling. If I had to give this a rating of between 1 and 5 stars, I would give it a 4, and that's only because of the problems I had with sentence structure and grammar.

Would I recommend this? You betcha. The thrill I got reliving the days of my childhood spent in front of the television while giant ants lay waste to a town far outweigh the minor technical issues I had with the story.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

No One Knows What Goes On Behind Closed Doors

I'm always on the lookout for the next BIG SCARE, more so since the market has been flooded with defanged vampires and domesticated werewolves that have even less bite than my mother's toothless pet poodle. So when I saw Adam Nevill's Apartment 16, I snatched it up with the hopes of getting drawn into a creepy haunted house-type story. I didn't get ghosts. What I got was far worse -- in a good way.

Set in the heart of London, Barrington House is a grand old apartment building with a sinister secret. When Apryl's great aunt passes away, all of her worldly possessions, including her apartment in Barrington House, are left to Apryl and her mother. It is Apryl's responsibility to come to England and settle her aunt's affairs, sell off the belongings and the apartment, and then return home. When Apryl arrives, she is quite taken with the affluence of the building and quite fancies herself living there. She soon finds, however, that the beautifully maintained lobby is only a facade. The apartments within Barrington house have certainly seen better days if her great aunt Lillian's place is representative of the other apartments. It's obvious to Apryl that everything she has heard since arriving at Barrington House is true — Great Aunt Lillian was not right in the head. It is obvious that the old woman was a hoarder, and she had an aversion to mirrors and pictures, as the walls are bare. There is evidence that mirrors and pictures had once adorned the walls as noted by the discolorations on the walls, but they have been taken down and put into storage. When Apryl discovers a series of journals written by her great aunt, it depicts Lillian's descent into madness, but there's more to it. Much more. And everything she learns leads her to Apartment 16.

Meanwhile, Seth, a porter who works at Barrington House is being haunted by a young boy who has seduced him into entering Apartment 16, an apartment that has stood empty for over 50 years, an apartment that the other residents of the building are convinced is haunted by its former resident, Felix Hessen, an artist who dabbled with the occult. What he finds within warps his mind and soul.

After reading the journals, Apryl is determined to find out exactly what happened to her great aunt, even if it means putting herself in harm's way. Will Apryl be able to discover Barrington House's secret and what happened within Apartment 16, or will she become just another victim?

Adam Neville weaves a tightly woven tale of mystery and the occult that is guaranteed to chill you. All the trappings of a typical haunted house tale are here, but Nevill warps it and takes it one step further, twisting it into something you don't expect. While I found some of it predictable, there was enough of a new twist to keep me reading. He has created characters that are believable in your typical horror story way in that you know the heroine isn't going to act in her best interest, but you fear for her anyway. Seth is a character you can sympathize with and hope that he can be redeemed before it's too late. Even the characters that you dislike on first meeting, the residents of Barrington House, become sympathetic as the story unfolds and you learn the horror they have lived with for the past 50 years.

As much as I liked Apartment 16, I did have two issues with the book. My first issue was with the pacing of the novel. The first half moved with excruciating slowness, but there were just enough questions raised to keep me moving forward. It's like that long climb on a roller coaster. Once you pass the halfway point, it's down hill at warp speed to a satisfying conclusion that made the first half well worth the journey.

My second issue was with Seth, as you never really know if an incident he keeps reliving in an event that actually happened to him when he was a child or if it is a memory planted by the powers of Barrington House. You get the impression it is an incident that he actually experienced, and if that is the case, he was destined for Barrington House from the time he was a child. It leaves you questioning long after you've put the book down.

If you are a patient reader, I would highly recommend Adam Nevill's Apartment 16. It's a creepy tale that will have you looking over your shoulder and jumping when you catch a glimpse of something out of the corner of your eye.

Monday, November 8, 2010

National Novel Writing Month

Well, as some of you may be aware, November is National Novel Writing Month. Fifty thousand words in thirty days. Sounds daunting, but it can be done. Anyway, I thought I would post an excerpt of the project I started this month in honor of NaNoWriMo. If I get the firs draft done in the 30 days, so be it. If not, I'll have gotten a chunk of it out of the way. Here it is, a project that is tentatively titled Devil's Bluff. Let me know what you think.

-----

The rising and falling wail of a banshee broke through the depths of Billy’s sleep and he awoke with a start. It was a running joke with dad that while Billy could sleep through the alarm clock on the night stand right next to his head, the siren from the firehouse could wake him from the sleep of the dead. Because of that, his father often said he would grow up to be an ambulance chasing lawyer. The television was still on. The Lucy marathon had ended while he slept, and an infomercial for some exercise equipment was running. He glanced at his watch. Four am. The sun wasn’t even up. Still dressed in the clothes he wore yesterday, he was on his feet and moving for the door before the second rising and falling wail sounded.

Outside, he grabbed his bike and started down the steps. The car would be faster, but without knowing where the emergency was, the bike was easier. He knew from past experience that other morbid curiosity seekers would be there, most of them with their cars, and he didn’t want to contribute further to the congestion. In the distance, the firehouse siren continued to wail. It was a shame really, but not surprising. The ambulance and firefighters were all volunteers. Billy often thought if the locals had had any sense, they would have a crew on call in the event of overnight emergencies. They didn’t though, which said something about the people in town. It also meant that whoever was in need of emergency care, be it the ambulance crew or the firefighters would have to wait until the response team was fully awake and dressed. That ten or so minutes could mean all the difference between life and death, but that didn’t seem to matter to those answering the calls.

Clouds had gathered during the night, blocking out the light of the full moon, which only deepened the darkness that laid claim to this end of town. Because DeVille House and the house his parents had purchased several years back were the only two properties this far out, the Town Council couldn’t justify the expense of extending the street lights to an area that they considered barely populated. The fact that the DeVille’s were not generally liked by the locals made the decision that much easier. He briefly reconsidered taking the car, though, after see just how dark it was. Even if the moon’s rays weren’t hindered but the cloud cover, once he got on his way, there was a large stretch of road that was covered by a canopy of trees. Even in the bright light of day, the road was in perpetual shadow. “Ah, screw it,” he mumbled to himself. He already had the bike off the porch, so what the hell.

Because of the darkness, Billy didn’t ride as fast he would have during the daylight hours. The road was a relatively straight run into town, with only a few snaking curves. As he rounded one of the bends in the road, he saw up ahead the blinking red taillights of a car pulled over on the side of the road. The headlights were on, backlighting the forms of two people huddled by the car. They looked young, and more than likely, being that they were in this neck of the woods, they were in their late teens out this way to fool around. Billy pulled his bike up behind the car and got off. They seemed oblivious to his presence, just staring out into the road as if expecting something to come out of the darkness on the other side. He laid his bike down on the grass on the side of the road and moved around the rear of the car. “Do you guys need any help?”

The coupled started at the sound of his voice. “N-no,” a female voice said, immediately followed by a male voice saying, “We’ve already called the sheriff’s office. Somebody should be here soon.”

Billy approached the couple. “What happened?”

The siren had finally fallen silent. If they had enough for a crew, they’d be here in ten or fifteen minutes.

The girl spoke, but it wasn’t in response to Billy’s question. “If my father finds out I’ve been out this way, he’s going to kill me.”

“He won’t find out,” the young man reassured her.

“But he’s one of the paramedics,” the girl whined.

Billy waited for their little drama to play out. While he waited, he looked around, but he couldn’t see more than a foot or so in front of him, even with the illumination from the headlights.

“If you’re that afraid he’s going to show, why don’t you wait in the car.”

Without waiting to be told again, the girl scurried to open the rear door of the car and climbed in, stretching out across the seat. She obviously wasn’t going to take any chance of being seen from the road by anybody. In the brief flash of light as the car door was opened, Billy got a glimpse of the couple. The guy was around eighteen years old, the girl a year or two younger. He had seen them both around town, but didn’t know them.

Once the car door was closed, the guy moved towards the front of the car, indicating that Billy should follow. In the glow from the headlights, Billy had a clearer view of the guy. He obviously thought he was some bad ass in his cuffed jeans, MC boots and leather jacket: a James Dean wannabe. Somebody should tell him that look hasn’t been cool since Happy Days went off the air. The guy was very nonchalant in his movement, seeming not to have a care in the world as he perched himself on the hood of the car. Whatever had happened, it couldn’t have been that serious.

“So what happened,” Billy asked again, coming stepping into the glow of the headlights.

The guy was in no rush to answer the question; he took a pack of cigarettes from the breast pocket of this t-shirt and lipped one before offering the pack to Billy. Billy wasn’t a smoker, not in the sense that he went out and bought his own packs, but he had bummed a smoke from his friends from time to time, accepted the offered cigarette and the light. The guy leaned back on the car, supporting himself with one arm while taking a deep drag. He blew the smoke out slowly, and there was something about his actions that had Billy wondering if maybe the guy wasn’t high.

“You live around here,” the guy asked.

"Yeah. Just up the road.”

“You’re Anders?”

“Yep.”

The guy looked around as if he didn’t want to be overheard. “I’ve seen your mom in town. She’s hot.”

Billy took a drag on the cigarette and choked on the smoke. Now he knew the guy was on something. That’s not something you say to a complete stranger. Recovering from his cough spasm, Billy asked, “And you are?”

“Doug. The bitch in the back seat is Amy.”

Ignoring the last, Billy asked for the third time, “So what happened?”

“Don’t know. Amy and me, we came out here to fuck around.”

Tell me something I don’t know, Billy said to himself.

“We was on our way home and there was this body on the side of the road.”

“What? Who is it?” Billy’s gazed shifted to the other side of the road, straining against the darkness to see where this body was.

“Don’t know. Looks like some old broad.”

“Is she okay?”

“Lousy lay. She just lays there, but the bitch knows how to polish a knob, though.”

Definitely high, Billy thought. He should have thought to bring a flashlight with him. He wasn’t that far from the house that couldn’t head back and get one, but the ambulance crew would more than likely be here and gone by the time he got back. Instead, he started across the road.

“Hey, Anders,” Doug called after him in a loud whisper, “you want her to do you? She will if I tell her to.”

“That’s okay.” He moved deeper into the darkness, needing to put some distance between himself and that asshole. He didn’t know Doug, but from what he learned during their brief interaction was enough to know that they wouldn’t be best buds anytime soon. It was obvious they weren’t a couple, as least Doug didn’t see it that way, and he wondered if Amy thought differently.

“Don’t know what you’re missing, man.”

Moving through the darkness, totally blind to what lay ahead of him, he tried to block out Doug’s badgering. Gradually his eyes adjusted to the lack of light and he could make out a vaguely human shape on the ground a few yards away. He quickened his pace, and when he stood before it, he dropped it a crouch. Not knowing how badly hurt the person was, he didn’t want to touch the person, but he did want whoever it was to know that somebody was there. “Are you okay?” When he didn’t get a response, he dropped all the way to his knees. The gravel bit through his jeans but he ignored the discomfort. “Help is on the way.” And it was. He could hear the ambulance now, the mournful wail growing louder as it approached. He thought he heard the person mumble something, but he couldn’t be certain, not with the asshole running his mouth. “It’s going to be okay.” He tried to be reassuring, comforting, but couldn’t help but feel totally helpless. He wondered what could have happened to this individual when he was hit with an ugly thought.

He lifted his head and stared across the road at Doug. The guy was definitely on something. Was it possible he hadn’t been paying attention to the road, maybe getting head while he drove, and ran the person down? Is that why Amy was so afraid of her father finding her here? Well, he knew if he had a daughter and had caught her with the likes of someone like Doug, he wouldn’t be at all happy with her. Somebody like Doug would be one to boast of his conquests, and probably wouldn’t be above exaggerating the details. Even if Amy hadn’t put out, Doug’s version of the story would have her sounding like a slut. The girl’s reputation would be ruined. With Amy in hiding, Doug was free to spin whatever tale he wanted as to why he was out this way. Billy shuddered at the idea of the creep getting away with running somebody down. If that was what had happened. It was also entirely possible that the guy was telling the truth. If Doug’s version of what had happened was indeed true, what was this person doing out in the middle of nowhere at this time of night. Considering what went on out this way, Billy could only arrive at one conclusion: this person was up to no good.

He gave an involuntary shiver now that that thought was firmly planted in his head. He was out here all by himself now that his family had gone home. Anything could happen to him and nobody would know. Well, his mother the worrier would suspect, but dad would talk her down. It would be days before they found out what had happened. One too many scenarios in his head to make a judgment. Innocent until proven guilty. Even at that, he suddenly wished he had never left the house, and he wanted nothing more than to be back inside in front of the television.
A flash of light caught his attention and he looked down the road. The ambulance was minutes away. He could see the flashing bubble lights now, and the steady twin eyes of the headlights drawing near. Turning his attention back to the wounded individual, he said, “Just a few more minutes. They’re almost here. Just hang on a few more minutes.”

A groan escaped the lips of the person lying on the ground. There was no mistaking it. It sounded male, but of that he couldn’t be certain. And then the lights from the ambulance and the sheriff’s car washed over him, revealing the identity of the person before him. He fell back, startled at seeing Old Lady DeVille, the Devil Woman herself, sprawled on the ground.

As much as the woman was despised in town, the ambulance crew wasted no time attending to the old woman. The entire time the paramedics worked on her, DeVille wouldn’t stop mumbling to herself in a voice so low that nobody could understand what she was saying. The paramedics had been determined that the woman was delirious, hallucinating maybe, because she wasn’t responding to requests to repeat herself or to speak up.

While Billy watched them work, he glanced occasionally across the way to where the sheriff was questioning Doug. They were too far away for him to hear what they were saying, but Billy could imagine. Amy was still hiding in the backseat, and Billy wondered if, when the sheriff came over to talk to him, he would give her up. Maybe the truth would come out if she was questioned by the law. Maybe Doug was telling the truth, but they wouldn’t know for sure until his story was corroborated. The sheriff would have to get her alone, though. There was no way she would tell her version of what happened as long as there was a potential threat from the man she was screwing.

By the time the old woman was stabilized and loaded into the ambulance, the sheriff was meandering over to Billy. When the man was close enough where he wouldn’t have to shout to be heard, he said, “Well, Bill. . . Or is it William?”

Flustered, Billy, said, “It’s Billy, sir.” He had never met the sheriff and was at a loss at how the man knew his name. He guessed if he was responsible for the safety of the town, he would make himself familiar with all the locals—and the outsiders. It hadn’t even crossed his mind that Doug might have mentioned him by name.

“Well, Billy. What brings you out this early in the morning?”

“I heard the alarm go off, sir.”

“You can relax, Billy.”

“Sir?”

“You can drop the ‘sir’.”

“Yes, sir.” Billy felt himself blush. Even though he hadn’t done anything wrong, he still felt nervous talking to the sheriff.

“Can you tell me what happened?”

“I’m not sure myself. The alarm woke me up. I was on my way to see what it was all about when I saw Doug parked by the side of the road.”

A frown creased the man’s face. “So you know Doug.”

“No, sir. I’ve seen him around town, but only just met him tonight.”

The sheriff picked up on something in Billy’s voice. “You don’t like him?”

“I don’t really know him, but from the few minutes we spent together, no, not at all, sir.”

“And what did he tell you?”

“That he was on his way home and saw her in the road. He told me he called your office and was waiting ‘til you arrived.”

“Hmmmm,” the sheriff said, mostly to himself. “That doesn’t sound like him at all.” Then to Billy, “Was he alone?”

The question caught Billy off guard. “Sir?”

“Was he by himself?”

Billy hesitated, not wanting to get on the wrong side of Doug. As he told the sheriff, he didn’t know the guy, but he had no doubt the guy could make his life a living hell.

“It’s rare for people to come out this way by themselves. You do know this area of town is the Bluff’s version of Lover’s Lane.”

Licking his lips nervously, Billy said. “I’ve heard that, sir, but never saw anything to make me believe it was true.”

“Are you covering for somebody, Billy?”

Billy shifted his weight from one foot to the other, trying to decide if he should say anything about Amy.

“If it will make things easier, we know he was with a girl. Dispatch said a girl called this in, but that she refused to give her name.”

Heaving an inward sigh of relief over the fact that Doug had screwed himself over and that he wouldn’t technically be squealing if he said anything, Billy said, “There was a girl.”

“Were they in separate cars?”

With a shake of the head, Billy said, “No.” He wasn’t going to say anything else unless the sheriff asked, and he knew the man would ask.

“Where did she go? Did she head into town on foot.”

“No, sir. She was hiding in the back seat.”

“Would you happen to know who she was and why she was hiding?”

“She was afraid of her father finding out that she was out here.”

“Do you know who she was?”

“I’ve seen her around town, but don’t know who she is.”

The sheriff accepted this and let it go. “Well, that’s about it for now. When will you and your family be heading out?”

“My parents already left, sir. I’m here by myself now.”

The sheriff raised his eyebrows.

“Classes start in two weeks. Dad said staying here would be cheaper than staying on campus.”

“I wouldn’t know about that. Well, I’ll let you get along home. If I have any other questions or think of something else, I’ll be in touch.”

“Good night, sir.” Billy went across the road to retrieve his bike, turned around, and pedaled back to the house.

Back inside, he turned off the television and went up the stairs to his bedroom, where he stripped off his clothes and crawled into bed. Sleep was slow in coming. His mind was working overtime, and for some reason he couldn’t fathom, his thoughts kept returning to the DeVille woman lying by the side of the road. Every time he saw her in his mind, he was seized by chills. When he was younger, his grandmother always said somebody was walking over her grave whenever she got the shivers, and why that thought would to him at this moment bothered him more than he could say. For the second time within twenty-four hours, Billy Anders wondered if staying in this house by himself wasn’t such a great idea afterall.

He tossed and turned, but sleep wouldn’t come. He kept seeing her face, eyes closed, lips moving silently, as if she was uttering a prayer. He tried reading, but found he couldn’t concentrate on the words. Why old lady DeVille being hit by a car preyed on his mind the way it was he couldn’t say, but he didn’t have a good feeling about it.

Eventually, he got out of bed and returned to the living room. He turned the TV on again, fluffed the pillows under his head, covered himself with the blankets, and tried to lose himself in a movie. He stared at the screen without really seeing the action unfolding there. His thoughts had moved on, leaving the old lady on the side of the road and turned towards the house on the bluff, where is sat like a bird of prey overlooking the town. The image of the darkened house looming over the land below scared the shit out of him worse than any horror movie he had ever seen. He saw himself walking up the road towards the house. It was like he was dreaming while he was awake, but it was more like a waking nightmare since he couldn’t shake the images. He approached the house. As he walked up to the door, it swung open on its own, revealing nothing but a threatening darkness beyond. Something was waiting for him. Something that terrified him. That knowledge alone should have had him running the other way, but he took a step forward and entered the house. As the door closed behind him, sleep finally claimed him. If he dreamed, he didn’t remember it.

Or he wasn’t being allowed to remember.

He didn’t know which, and wasn’t sure he wanted to.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

The Night Before Christmas

Here's the beginnings of a Christmas story I'm working on. It is as yet untitled.

***

Dozens of little bodies lay broken on the floor.

She wasn’t aware of what she had done as her attention was riveted to the television screen, where only moments before the Yule Log had been burning brightly and the sound of Bing Crosby dreaming of a white Christmas drifted from the speakers. Never in all her years, of which there were many, had the Yule Log broadcast been interrupted by a newscaster claiming to have breaking news. Until now, that is.

“We interrupt our regularly scheduled programming to bring you this Special Report.” The Network logo that had appeared on the screen was replaced by the view of a newsroom and a rather handsome anchorman. “Christmas Eve,” he said, obviously reading from a teleprompter, “and there’s violence in the streets. Reports are pouring in from all across the country that unprovoked acts of violence have been breaking out, leaving behind a bloody trail of mass murder.” Behind his blond head, a video screen came to life showing a real-time image of Times Square. It was pure chaos. Bodies and paper and plastic shopping bags littered the streets. Panic-stricken last-minute shoppers ran along the Avenue of the Americas, dodging slower-moving people who seemed to be disoriented and turning up side streets in an attempt to get away from. . .

It wasn’t exactly clear what they were running from at first, but then she saw a woman who refused to give up the bags she had fought the masses for take a tumble, tripped up by her day’s purchases. A shambling figure, obviously male, was on her in a heartbeat. At first, she thought the man was attempting to rape the woman he’d fallen on, but when he raised his head she could see the bloody wound at the woman’s neck. Even from the distance, she could see the spray of blood as it coated the sidewalk. The news anchor continued.

“This scene, broadcast live from Times Square in New York City, is being repeated all across the country. There is no known cause for this sudden outbreak of violence. The extent of the violence is so wide spread that the President has declared a state of emergency and has called out the National Guard. People are being advised to stay indoors. Do not, under any circumstance, venture out doors. I repeat, under no circumstance should you go outside. We will keep you apprised of the situation as developments occur. We now return you to our regularly scheduled program.”

The next instant, the Yule Log was burning merrily away again, a stark contrast to the mayhem and murder she had just witnessed, and for just one moment, she was too stunned to do anything but just stand there. Her complexion, normally joyfully ruddy, was pale. The shock of seeing a woman murdered on live television had drained the color from her rosy cheeks. Her hands started to tremble. She reached out for the counter to steady herself, trying to clear her head. Papa needed to know about this. It was too dangerous for him to venture out tonight. Wiping her hands on her apron, she hurried from the kitchen, crushing the broken bodies of the gingerbread men underfoot as she went.

Outside, the snow was starting to fall. It was a light fall, barely more than a flurry, with large flakes swirling gently around. Such was her hurry to inform Papa of the news, she forgot her shawl. Not that she needed it. She, like all of the others that lived and worked here, was immune to the freezing temperatures. The snow had been trampled by hundreds of tiny footprints, and here and there she could see evidence that the sleigh team had passed by the house. In the distance, through the veil of snow, she could see The Factory. The lights were on and smoke was billowing from the numerous chimneys. Even this close to departure time, it was still all a-bustle with activity. Whatever they didn’t complete in time for this year could always be counted towards next year.

She scurried across the snow, driven by the fear of what she had witnessed. Papa had to know what was going on. She reached the door and pushed it open without a moment’s hesitation. The sounds of Alvin and the Chipmunks singing All I Want for Christmas greeted her as she stepped inside, and she winced at the sound. Those little rodents always affected her like nails on a blackboard, but the elves worked best to any song by them, and on Christmas Eve, that particular song played all day long, and to add insult to injury, the elves always felt compelled to sing along. That was enough to drive anybody to commit suicide, but it wouldn’t do her any good. Her blessing – or curse – once she married Papa and moved to this magical land was immortality. If she could die, she knew what her Hell would be. She only had to stay in The Factory for an hour on Christmas Eve to have a small taste of it.
She started to climb the stairs, hoping against hope that Papa hadn’t started hitting the bottle yet because once Papa started drinking there was no talking him out of anything. If the children only knew the real reason for those rosy cheeks and that cherry-like nose, they’d be crestfallen.

There was still hours to go before his scheduled departure, but she kept her back to the wall as she made her way up the stairs to allow room for the elves as they made their way down the steps with sacks of toys to load into the sleigh. While not as big as Papa, her bulk was ample enough that if she wasn’t courteous, the elves would have had to wait until she reached the top. She could have taken the elevator, but that would mean having to make her way across the floor, and this close to departure time, it was a madhouse. Making her way through a minefield would have been less hazardous than trying to get through the over-industrious elves.

At the top of the stairs, she pushed her way through the wave of diminutive bodies flowing towards her and felt like a salmon swimming upstream. Her destination was the source of the swarming elves, an open set of double doors that led onto a gallery that overlooked the work floor. Once through the doors, she looked around, immediately locating her husband. He stood at the railing, supervising the activities below. He seemed oblivious to the events going on behind him, but he, like mothers, seemed to have eyes in the back of his head. Nothing slipped by him. Dressed in a wife-beater t-shirt, his red pants with white ermine trim, and black boots, he never failed to take her breath away. He was as handsome today as the day she married him, and just for one moment she completely forgot the urgency that drove her from the house. His moustache, shoulder-length hair, and beard that fell to mid chest were as white as the snow that covered the northern landscape. The love she felt for him rekindled the fear and she hurried forward.

He turned at her approach, a “Ho, ho, ho,” ready to greet her, but the expression on her face caused the laughter to dry up before it left his mouth. He crossed the floor and met her half way. “What is it, Mama?”

“You have to cancel Christmas, Papa. It’s too dangerous.”

This time the laughter did come out, deep belly laughs that really did make his belly shake like a bowl full of jelly. “Ho, ho, ho! Cancel Christmas? Not a chance.”

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Of Angels and Demons

When I found out Rob Thurman had a new series coming out, I grabbed it the minute I saw it. I love her Cal Leandros series and I was curious to see what else she would come up with. The book was published last year, but with any series, I always hold off until the second book is in hand before starting to read. Thus the reason for a delayed review. I also have to admit that, after seeing some of the reviews that were coming out, I was a bit hesitant to give Trick of the Light a chance.

Trick of the Light is set in the same universe as the Cal Leandros series, and a couple of the characters from the Leandros series, while not actually appearing, are mentioned. I had heard through the grapevine that this was the case, and that added another reason to hold off reading until I was totally caught up with the adventures of the Leandros brothers. I didn't want there to be any spoilers. There weren't, so if you are in the process of playing catch up with the Leandros books, you can sneak this in. It won't spoil anything.

The central character of Trick of the Light is Trixa Iktomi, a bar owner, a seller of information, and an occasional demon hunter. Sharing the responsibilities in the running of the bar is Leo, and joining her in her demon hunting are Zeke Hawkins and Griffin Reese, "brothers" in arms. As members of Eden House, a nationwide network of telepaths and empaths working for Heaven and supervised by Angels, Griffin and Zeke make it their mission to exterminate demons, so it's more like Trixa joins them in the demon hunts. For the boys, it's a job; for Trixa, it's personal. She has made it her life's mission to hunt down and destroy the demon who killed her brother.

It is during one of these hunts that Trixa learns of The Light, an ancient artifact that is being sough by both Heaven and Hell, as whoever possesses it will be invulnerable to attacks. While the minions of Above and Below are both looking for it, Trixa plans on being the one to find it, and once it is in her possession, she plans on using it as a bargaining chip to have her brother's murderer turned over to her. Whoever can deliver the demon can have The Light. With the race for The Light now on, both sides put it all on the line in order to be the one to whom Trixa turns over the artifact. The demons attempt to seduce her (there's no such thing as an ugly demon -- not in human form anyway), and the angels show their true colors, proving that they are just as vicious as the demons and are not above killing to get their holier-than-thou mitts on The Light. Playing both sides, will Trixa be able to achieve her goal before being found out?

While I enjoyed Trick of the Light, I was disappointed to find it was not of the same caliber as the Cal Leandros series. Trixa, the central character, for me was the weakest; Griffin and Zeke came across as the stronger characters, and they were the ones who carried the story along, which was interesting as the story is told in the first person from Trixa's point of view.

I also found the first half of the book was not as developed as the second half. There was quite a bit of repetition littered throughout the first half of the story. How many times do we have to be told that Trixa's favorite color is red, or that it was five years ago that Griffin and Zeke first showed up in her bar, running from social services because of something Zeke did. It felt like Thurman hadn't fleshed out Trixa completely in her mind before sitting down to write. The other possibility is that Thurman's weakness in her writing is female characters. Her male characters come across as stronger and more interesting, even the minor ones.

The story itself is interesting and contains a number of twists, some surprising, some not so. I had figured out some of them a quarter of the way through, and the finale kicks some major ass.

Despite what I consider to be obvious flaws, I enjoyed Trick of the Light and I will be reading the next installment, the just-released The Grimrose Path. I'm curious to see where the series is headed, and if there is going to be a Cal Leandros/Trickster crossover. I think it would be amazing to have Cal and Nik teamed up with Zeke and Griff. The mayhem that would ensue would be awesome!

Would I recommend Trick of the Light? Yes, but not if you are reading Rob Thurman for the first time. Consider picking up Nightlife, Book 1 of the Cal Leandros series, first to get a feel for what Thurman is capable of.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

The Qwillery: Werewolves and Shapeshifters and a Vlog

The Qwillery: Werewolves and Shapeshifters and a Vlog: "It's all explained in the vlog except the bits that aren't: What: 1 copy of Werewolves and Shapeshifters: Encounters with the Beasts Wit..."

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Darkness in the Hearts of Men

Every so often a book comes along that stirs up quite a buzz. You hear people talking about it just about everywhere you go. In many cases, it's a book by an established author who has a huge following and is being pushed by a major publisher as their latest cash cow. Other times the book is by an unknown backed by the money of a major publisher, their latest find, and sometimes it's by an independent author seeking to make a go of it on their own.

Once upon a time, independent authors were only known in small circles because the authors lacked the means and the funds to distribute and market their books. But since the birth of e-books and the self-publishing boom, thanks in part to Amazon's Kindle digital publishing platform, independent authors are beginning to make their mark. One such author is Andrew E. Kaufman, whose debut novel While the Savage Sleeps quickly rose to the Number One spot on Amazon's Kindle Best-Seller List. Among the Kindle forums, it was all that was being discussed. Granted, many self-published novels are lackluster and leave a lot to be desired, as they are either poorly written or in major need of a good editor. Kaufman's novel is not one of these.

Faith, New Mexico, is a sleepy, little town nestled in the valley of two mountains. It can be described as picture perfect, where mom and pop-type stores are in abundance and crime is virtually non-existent, which is why, when the body of Deputy Bradley Witherspoon is discovered, savagely mutilated and strung up like a side of beef, it sends shock waves through the community. And it's only the beginning.

While Sheriff Cameron Dawson races against time to stop the murderer before he/she can strike again, Doctor Kyle Bancroft, a prominent and "gifted" physician in Albuquerque, New Mexico, is being visited by mysterious visions of an old hospital and a little girl who delivers a dire warning: time is running out. As Kyle struggles to make sense of her visions, the body count in Faith continues to climb. Will Kyle be able to figure our the riddle of her visions in time to help Sheriff Dawson before the killer strikes again?

I'm normally not one to follow the herd, so to speak. I've never read a Grisham novel, as he tends to be consumed by the masses. A new one comes out, it's all you see on the train in the morning. I refuse to be one of those people. I read King, I read Koontz, but at the time I started reading them, I was young enough not to know who they were or just how popular they were with the masses. The fact that Kaufman's novel was being billed as a paranormal forensic thriller, I had my doubts. Forensic thrillers? Can't say I'm a fan. Paranormal? Okay, I admit it. Paranormal, supernatural, I'm so there. Numerous 5-star ratings on Amazon? Amazon ratings have burned me in the past, so it didn't really sway me. It's was the buzz online that finally swayed me. And let me tell you. . . I don't know what I was expecting, but what I wasn't expecting was a fast-paced, well-written mystery that I didn't want to put down.

Kaufman has a way of ending each chapter unfinished, prompting you to read on with an urgency, a need to know what happens next. There aren't many writers who can hook me in the first chapter and carry me all the way through to the end. In fact, the only author who has been able to do this to me in the past was early Dean Koontz, and even he seems to have lost something, as I have struggled with his more recent works.

Were there things about While the Savage Sleeps that I didn't like? Yes, but that can be said about every book I read. In recent years, only one book has blown me away so completely that there wasn't a bad thing I could say about it. While the Savage Sleeps comes close to that, and what I didn't like about it wasn't necessarily a bad thing; it just didn't work for me. There was a romance element that seemed out of place with the rest of the story. In my opinion, it didn't fit, but others I have heard from loved that aspect of it. It was the light in the darkness, as Kaufman's novel is dark.

All in all, While the Savage Sleeps is a breakout novel from a promising new author, and Andrew E. Kaufman is definitely a talent to watch out for, and I eagerly await his next novel. I highly recommend checking out While the Savage Sleeps.

Monday, September 20, 2010

The Bastardization of the Classics

A few days ago, I came across something on Twitter that rubbed me the wrong way. A well-known publisher had asked the following question: Which classic/popular literary work do you want to see overrun by zombie hordes? Add your opinion in the latest zombie survey.

When I first read about Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, I admit to being intrigued by the idea. I thought it was novel, taking a classic and "zombie-fying" it, and I was interested to see how the author would approach it. Little did I know -- and maybe I had just read the wrong reviews -- that it was going to be Jane Austen's novel word for word with additions and tweakings to include the zombie hordes. For me, while there was an originality of concept, there was zero artistic creativity. This was more about creative editing than it was about writing. So for the life of me I cannot understand why this book is receiving the rave reviews it has. I would have preferred to see the author rewrite Austen's story in his own words and include the new elements while maintaining the tone of the original work. This, to me, would have been worthy of the reviews it has been receiving.

Now, unfortunately, due to the commercial success of
Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, we are see a glut of copycats hit the shelves. There's The Undead World of Oz (which I have had the misfortune of reading), The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and Zombie Jim, Alice in Zombieland, and War of the Worlds Plus Blood, Guts and Zombies, to name a few. And it hasn't stopped with zombies. There's also Emma and the Werewolves, Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters, Android Karenina, and these are just the ones I've heard about. I'm sure there are others, and now a publisher is toying with the idea of adding more?! When is it going to end? Enough is enough. I would love to see these authors apply their creative energies to something original. Leave the classics alone and come up with something new.

Monday, August 2, 2010

WARNING: Being in Love With a Vampire Can Prove Hazardous to Your Health

In a world overrun with books about mortals falling in love with vampires, I was hesitant to chance Neil Benson's Unholy Embrace. I wasn't sure if I was going to encounter a fiasco like the Stephanie Meyer's Twilight tragedy, but taking a deep breath, I braced the waters. I figured it couldn't be any worse. What I got was a pleasant surprise.

Benson's Unholy Embrace is the story of Frank Thornton. When we first meet Frank, he is already firmly ensconced in his relationship with Nessa Harcanu, a centuries old vampire. They are on their way home from a night at the theater when they are attacked by werewolves. Being what she is, Nessa successfully fights them off. It is Frank's first encounter with werewolves, and even though he knows Nessa is a vampire, it is also the first time he has witnessed her vampiric nature surface. It leaves him shaken.

During a cab ride to Nessa's apartment, we are treated to a flashback of how Frank and Nessa first met only three weeks earlier. Their attraction is immediate and, according to Nessa, completely natural. She admits that while she does have to ability to influence a mortal's thoughts, what she and Frank share is free of any vampiric manipulation. Once they arrive at the apartment, Frank wants to know why they were attacked by werewolves. Nessa believes they were sent by a demon she has been hunting. Vampires, werewolves, and demons, oh my! Any normal man would be running for the hills, but Frank's love for Nessa keeps him by her side. Are we sure there are no vampire charms at work here? The thought does cross Frank's mind, but decides he is in this for the long haul. He pressures Nessa to reveal her past. She tells him part of it, enough to make him think about what he is getting himself into. Needing time to think, he leaves, but eventually returns, telling Nessa that he won't cross over to her life, but he can't live without her, but he doesn't want there to be any secrets between them. If being with her is going to be dangerous, he needs to know what he is getting himself into. With a little nudging, Nessa reveals the details of her undead life. While the majority of her life comes across as being non-eventful, one person stands out -- Narice, the bride of her vampire sire. She is out for revenge, wanting Nessa to pay for destroying her "husband."

The balance of the novel is the hunter and the hunted, as Nessa and Frank hunt down the demon preying on New York City, they are in turn hunted by Narice. Do Nessa and Frank survive the encounter with the demon, only to be cut down by Narice? Do they successfully dispatch Narice, only to be destroyed by the demon? You'll have to pick up the book and find out.

Unholy Embrace is Neil Benson's first novel. I enjoyed the tale, but I found it to be a little overly ambitious, which I think is a shame because there is promise here. There is too much going on here for one book: Frank and Nessa's meeting and the building of their relationship, the hunt for the demon, and the pursuit by Narice. In an effort to get this all in, detail is sacrificed for the sake of story. I could very easily have seen this as a trilogy (or more) in the grand scale of Anne Rice's Vampire Chronicles, and therein lies the problem with the book.

For me, Frank and Nessa's relationship is rushed. After only three weeks, they are already confessing their undying love for each other. Nessa is very secretive about her past, and the fact that Frank is ready to jump in with both feet without know that much about her makes me seriously doubt Nessa's sincerity when she says there are no vampire wiles involved when it comes to their feelings for each other. I would have preferred to see the relationship progress at a natural pace, with Nessa revealing the details of her life over time. As it stands now, when Nessa tells the story of her life, she glosses over the details like she is recounting a bedtime story. There is a missed opportunity here to bring the character to three-dimensional life, fill in her past with lush detail as if she were actually reliving it. The lack of detail in her account has everything blending together as if it were a matter of days, not centuries. There is no change in the manner in which people speak, and the lack of period details feels like a blank canvas upon which the story unfolds. There is no color or texture. Her years in Budapest blend fluidly to her years in Vienna and Paris and, finally, New York, and there is no sense of time passing. There is enough material here to flesh out a book, but the author did not take advantage of the opportunity.

The hunt for the demon is a story of its own. If the author had chosen to flesh out the details, this could very easily have been a second volume. It could have been hinted at in the first volume, a foreshadowing of things to come. A third volume could have been the hunt for Narice. Narice could have been the thread that tied the books together, an ever-present threatening shadow hanging over our couple. After years of being pursued, Nessa's decision to take the battle to her nemesis and the search for the elusive vampire could fill yet another book.

Taking all this into account, is Unholy Embrace a bad book? Absolutely not. Is it worth reading? Yes. The fact that I am saying that the story could be expanded and fleshed out is a clear indicator that I want to see more. He puts his own spin on the supernatural world, and it's a pleasure to see vampires that have their fangs back, even if she doesn't want Frank to see that side of her, and his werewolves aren't over-sized house pets that want to curl up in your lap. I applaud Neil Benson's efforts in his first novel and hope to see more from him.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Tale of a Body Thief

When last we saw Pepper Martin, Damon Curtis had just crossed over and poor Pepper was nursing a broken heart. Yes, she had fallen in love with her client, which isn't necessarily a bad thing, unless your clients happen to be dead. And that was the one thing all of Pepper's clients had in common. You see, for those of you who aren't familiar with Pepper Martin, she sees -- and hears -- dead people. The down side to this is the dead only show up when they need something, and they won't shut up until Pepper agrees to help them. Which usually means life-threatening situations for Pepper.

Besides mourning the loss of her ghostly boyfriend, she is also puzzled over the appearance of a picture postcard of Graceland Cemetery in Chicago. On the back, one word is written: HELP.

As Night of the Loving Dead opens, Pepper is trying to ease the pain of a broken heart by indulging in a night of passion with Quinn Harrison, one of the two semi-steady living men in her life. There has been some flirtation between her and the detective, and she has decided to take there relationship to the next level. As Quinn tries to arrange a second date, Pepper breaks the news to him that it will have to wait until she gets back. Her boss at the cemetery where she works as a tour guide is sending her to a cemetery conference in Chicago. Pepper is to give a presentation she is unable to give herself because of her daughters are all down with the flu.

From the moment she sets foot in Graceland Cemetery, she is drawn by a feeling of deja vu to one particular mausoleum. She remembers the postcard and pulls it out of her purse. The crypt depicted on the card is the very same one she is now standing before. As she tries to piece the puzzle together, she senses something behind her and turns just in time to see a dark shadow disappear into the trees. Its' presence unsettles her because, while she doesn't know what it was, she knew it wasn't a spirit. As she turns back to face the tomb, she comes face to face with a ghost. From the spirit's attire, she appears to have have been some kind of laboratory technician or some other medical personnel. Her name is -- was -- Madeline Tremayne, and, as it turns out, she is the one who sent the postcard to Pepper. Madeline is rude and insulting, which is a complete turn-off for Pepper. As the ghost is seeking her help, she thinks the spirit should be a little more polite. As she turns to leave, telling Madeline to find somebody else, the ghost drops the bombshell by mentioning Dan Callahan, the other semi-steady living man in Pepper's life. Like it or not, Pepper has to help Dan, who has unknowingly gotten himself involved in some illegal doings that involves the disappearance of homeless people. At the mention of the term homeless, shivers of disgust encase Pepper, as she still has not fully come to terms with the fact that she is now a working girl (not that kind) where she was once was quite wealthy (see Don of the Dead for the back story).

There's more going on than Pepper is being told, as Madeline is not giving her all the information, and as any investigator knows, you cannot launch a full-scale investigation without knowing all of the particulars. Madeline only reveals certain information on a Need-to-Know basis, which leads the reader to believe there is something not quite right with the ghost. While Pepper is charging in to save Dan, and by extension the homeless people, she is caught off guard by the mad Doctor Gerard, who has an obsession with trying to reach those who have passed from this earth. In short, he wants what Pepper's got. He tells Pepper that she will give him what he wants, even if he has to take it against her will. And what it is he wants? Her brain -- as it seems that is the key to Pepper's ability to commune with the dead.

As the book progresses, there are twists and turns and revelations that are guaranteed to thrill. While Pepper's usual fieriness is present, this book takes a darker turn than previous outings with our favorite Detective to the Dead. The dark shadow Pepper spied in the cemetery returns occasionally throughout the book, and we don't find out what it wants until the very end. There's even a point where Pepper falls victim to a body thief, where Pepper and a spirit trade places -- against Pepper's will, of course -- and you are left fearing for Pepper and wondering if this spells the end of our heroine. If she cannot get back into her body, she will fade away into nothingness.

The fact that I love this series surprises even me. I would classify it as chick lit, which I normally stay away from, but I can't get enough of Pepper. Casey Daniels has created in Pepper Martin an unlikely heroine, a spoiled rich girl who at first glance cares only for herself, but beneath her ample bosom beats a heart of gold. She is bold and brassy, a real spitfire who is guaranteed to warm your heart and and show you a thrilling time. Feeling bored? Pick the lady up, take her to your favorite coffee shop, and you will forget all about everything else.

While my favorite of the series so far is Tombs of Endearment, Night of the Loving Dead would be my second favorite if only for the darker turn the book takes. It makes it stand out from the previous books and makes me curious as to what future books in the series will be like. Should you decide to take a chance on the Pepper Martin mysteries, keep in mind that the current book picks up almost immediately after the last one left off, so they should be read in order. Pepper Martin makes her debut in Don of the Dead, in which we find out that high heels, tree roots, and uneven cemetery grounds do not make for a good mix. She trips and hits her head on the corner of a mausoleum and awakens with her Gift (Curse?). Her misadventures continue in The Chick and the Dead, in which she agrees to help a spirit prove that a critically acclaimed book was not written by the woman claiming to have written it; Tombs of Endearment, in which Damon Curtis, once the hottest thing on the music scene, wants Pepper to prove that his former band mate murdered him; Night of the Loving Dead; Dead Man Talking; and the newly released Tomb With a View.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Burning My Passport, Never to Return

The Traveling Vampire Show marked my third trip into Laymon Country, a trip I swore I would never make after my second venture, The Cellar, but I was urged to pick this up by a friend because it was unlike any of his others. Reluctantly, I agreed to give it a try. Having finished it, I have decided to burn my passport and not return.

When the novel opens, we are introduced to Dwight, the sixteen-year-old narrator of the story (or maybe he's seventeen -- the fact that I can't remember is a clear indicator of how much of an impression this book made on me), and his pals, the slightly overweight Rusty and tom-boy Slim. It becomes evident early on that Dwight has the hots for Slim, but he isn't confident enough to do anything about it. Based on his thoughts early on in the story, you can imagine he spends quite a bit of his time masturbating or taking cold showers, but I'll come back to this.

Now, where was I? Oh yes, Dwight is mowing the lawn and his pals persuade him to take a break. Rusty has something he wants him to see. He produces a flier for The Traveling Vampire Show, which boasts to have a real-live vampire in captivity. The show is open for one night only, with an age restriction of 18+. Knowing they will never be allowed in, they decided to sneak over to Janks Field with the hopes of catching the showing setting up for that night's performance. None of them truly believe the vampire is real, but she is described as gorgeous and beguiling, so Rusty is hoping to get to see her. It takes some doing to persuade Dwight, but he finally gives in and they head off on their adventure.

The trio arrive at Janks Field before the Traveling Vampire Show arrives, so they plan on hiding in the surrounding woods until they show up. Their plans are foiled when they are attacked by a stray dog. They tack shelter a-top an abandoned snack stand, where they discuss how they are going to get away from the dog. Dwight comes up with a plan, and hopes nobody holds it against him if he kills the dog. He plans on jumping from the roof onto the animal, thereby crushing it and making the grounds safe for his friends. He missed, and while his friends create a diversion, drawing the animal's attention away from Dwight, the teen hightails it out of there with the promise of coming back with help.

By the time he returns in the company of his sister-in-law, they find the show has arrived and the troupe is on the process of setting up. There is, however, no sign of his friends. He fears the worst, thinking they fell victim to foul play at the hands of the workmen setting up the show. His sister-in-law manages to snag four tickets for the show after some innocent flirtation with the boss man. With nothing left to go on, they return home to find Rusty waiting for them. He confesses that he and Slim left just as they show was arriving, and Slim went on home to change her clothes. When they head on over to Slim's house, they find she is not at home, and they automatically jump to the conclusion that members of The Traveling Vampire Show have kidnapped her. When she finally turns up, she tells them of the atrocity she witnessed -- the Vampire troupe killed the stray, stabbed it to death with long spears before placing it in the back of a hearse. This kind of puts a damper on their desire to see the show -- well, Rusty still wants to see the beautiful, beguiling vampire. Dwight and Slim? They really don't want to go, but they decided to let Lee, Dwight's sister-in-law, have the deciding vote after they tell her everything.

When they get to Lee's house, they find she is missing. Her car is still in the driveway, her purse still on the counter. The jump to the conclusion that the Traveling Vampire troupe kidnapped her. After all, she paid for the tickets with a check, and the check had her address on it.

The rest of the book is more of the same, with the kids letting their overactive imaginations run away, leading them to jump to the wrong conclusions. By they time they get to the show, the book is more than three-quarters done. The action that takes place at the show is decent, but not realistic. Granted, men wish to show off for their friends and girlfriends, but when the first person is carried out in a bloody mess, that should be enough to make them think twice before getting into the cage with the vampire. It's not even enough to stop Rusty, who is thinking with his little head. The minute he saw the vampire strip down to nothing in the cage, he just knew he was going to volunteer. He's hoping for a cheap thrill, a few quick gropes, maybe more.

Which leads me to one of the problems I had with this book, and the problem I have with Richard Laymon in general. His books seem to be targeted for a horny teen male audience. A chapter doesn't go by that Dwight isn't thinking about sex; every time he sees Slim, he needs to describe the clothes she is wearing, with emphasis on the black bathing suit top under her white t-shirt, or the absence of a top beneath the t-shirt, which gets him hard. In one scene, he has actually suffered a premature ejaculation because he and Slim kissed. By the time the book is over, you kind of feel sorry for the kid because you know he's just got to have a major case of blue balls. Even when driving with is sister-in-law, he knows he shouldn't, but he keeps trying to catch peeks of her breasts through the gap in her blouse. These are actions I expect from curious 10 and 11 year old kids, not 16 year olds. A preoccupation with sex seems to take priority over realistic responses to certain situations. Add to this they way they are always jumping to the wrong conclusions, I get the feeling I'm dealing with young kids, not teenagers.

The second problem I had with the book is the absence of The Traveling Vampire Show. We don't get to the show until the final quarter of the book, and by that point I don't care any more. The actions leading up to the show are drawn out and unrealistic. I know horror fiction in itself is unrealistic, and the ability to suspend your disbelief is crucial. This is the third Laymon book I have read, and in each instance, I didn't just suspend my disbelief, I crumpled it up like a used tissue and flushed it down the toilet. Half way through the book, I stopped caring what happened to the characters. Their stupidity had me hoping they would all meet some gruesome ending.

The sad thing is, reading the jacket copy, the books actually sound like they might be good. When I picked up The Cellar, I thought it was an awesome idea. And it was. It was just poorly executed to the point where I was tempted to put it down. When the woman is captured by the creatures, I actually smiled, much the way I smiled when Rusty met his fate.

I know Laymon has a following and there are readers out there who praise him to high heaven. I'm not one of them. People who criticize Laymon are often said to be missing the point by those who hold him up on a pedestal. Maybe I am missing the point, but that isn't enough to tempt me to venture into another Laymon novel in search of that revelation. As I close the book on The Traveling Vampire Show, I am burning my passport, never to return to Laymon Country

Sunday, June 20, 2010

To Sleep Per Chance to Dream. . .

Georgina Kincaid is in Hell.

You would think this wouldn't be such a bad place to be for the eternally damned, but not even the Arch Demons would be so cruel as to torment one of their own with the situation Georgina has found herself in with Richelle Mead's fifth outing into Supernatural Seattle, Succubus Shadows.

For those not familiar with Georgina Kincaid, she is a succubus, a female demon who sucks the life essence from the men she sleeps with. The purer the soul, the stronger the essence. She can shape-shift into any form she so desires, including her wardrobe, so you would think life wouldn't be bad, but after centuries of such existence, Georgina has become unhappy. She longs for love, she wants to settle down with one guy, get married, raise a family, what every red-blooded American girl should want. But by her very nature, this is impossible. Her immortality and fear for the safety of Seth Mortensen, the object of her affections, is one of contributing factors that lead to their breakup. For the full back story, you will need to check out Mead's previous novels.

When Succubus Shadows opens, Georgina is throwing a combination house-warming/Halloween party for her new apartment. After winning a drinking match with a coworker and still reeling from the effects of the alcohol, Georgina reluctantly agrees to help Maddie Sato, her best mortal friend and coworker, plan her wedding to Seth. Helping your best friend plan a wedding to the ex you still love would be enough to drive a mortal woman to slit her wrists, but being immortal, suicide is not an option for Georgina. Instead, she spirals into a depression, an almost constant state for her since breaking up with Seth.

As if that wasn't enough, a mysterious force is preying on Georgina, using her darkened mood to try to seduce her. It calls to her with a siren-like song, promising her freedom from the pain she is feeling, and while Roman, senses the presence of this otherworldly power, he is unable to recognize the signature, which troubles him. He warns Georgina not to listen to the tempting voice, but eventually, worn down by her own dark thoughts, she succumbs to the seduction and disappears off the supernatural radar. Jerome, the Arch Demon of Seattle and Georgina's boss, can no longer sense her. It's like she no longer exists, which means her supernatural signature is being masked, or she is no longer in this realm of existence. They know she is still alive because if somebody has succeeded in killing her, she would have shown up in Hell. The search is own. Jerome MUST find Georgina before word of her disappearance reaches the inner circles of Hell. Jerome is in enough trouble with the demonic Powers That Be because he had allowed himself summoned and held captive be a dark sorcerer. If word gets out that he has lost one of his charges, well. . . there would be hell to pay.

Meanwhile, Georgina finds herself being held captive by the Oneroi, twin creatures of the Dream Realm who are seeking revenge for Georgina's part in the re-capture and imprisonment of their mother by the Angels. As their captive, Georgina is forced to dream. Some of the dreams are true, some are false, and some are a combination of both, but the endless stream of images leaves her questioning what is and isn't true. With each dream, the Oneroi feed, weakening Georgina to the point where she fears for her sanity.

Can she manage to reserve enough energy to escape the Dream Realm, or must she pin her flagging hopes on her friends and their ability to find her? Does this spell the end for our favorite shape-shifting demon from Hell?

First off, let me say that I love this series. Yeah, it's Chick Lit, but I look forward to each installment with all the anxiety of an expectant father. Each book in the series gets progressively better, and Succubus Shadows is, in my opinion, the best so far. Granted, not much happens in the way of action, but we are given further insight into Georgina's character through the dreams the Oneroi force her to experience and we learn more about her past.

In my previous review of Succubus Heat, I discussed my feelings about Seth and Georgina's relationship, as well as her relationship with Roman. Both men are present in Succubus Shadows, and despite having tried to kill Georgina in the past, we see Roman's feelings for Georgina growing, and while Georgina reflects on their past relationship and wonders if there could be a future for her and Roman, she is still unable to let go of Seth. The more Seth and Georgina try to keep away from each other, the more they find themselves in situations that only strengthen their ties to each other. The idea behind the series is formulaic in that I have a feeling we are seeing a Boy meets Girl, Boy Loses Girl, Boy gets Girl situation, but it is a story that has lasted centuries. Through Georgina's dreams we have learned that in her lifetime, she has developed emotional bonds to a few men who were of strong moral fiber, only to lose them. I find myself wondering if these men are all the same man. I'm not implying that Seth is by any mean a supernatural creature, but certain revelations within Succubus Shadows have me wondering if Seth, as well as the other men that Georgina has fallen for during her long life, are the reincarnation of Kyriakos, the husband she had betrayed while in her mortal existence, who is trying to reconnect with his soul mate. The fact that Carter, an Angel who likes to pal around with the Demons, seems particularly interested in Georgina's relationship with Seth, adds to the intrigue. Is it possible that if Georgina is able to reconnect with her long-lost soul mate she might be able to be redeemed and regain her soul, thereby regaining her mortal existence? This may seem a predictable story line if this is the direction Richelle Mead is choosing to take, but the ride we are on getting there is one never to be forgotten.

If you have not yet made Georgina's acquaintance, I strongly urge you to pick up Succubus Blues, the first in the series, and introduce yourself. Guaranteed, won't be disappointed.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

CUT! That's a Wrap!

CUT! That's a Wrap!

What Alyssa wouldn't give to hear those words again. However, when her agent "unknowingly" sends her on an audition for a porno film, she realizes that while she may be desperate to get back into the film business, there are some things she just won't do. Sex is one of them. Murder, on the other hand. . .

Alyssa Peyton was once a reigning Scream Queen. With her Director husband, they were destined for great things. His horror films were highly successful, and she, being the star, was once a household name. But the husband and, by extension, the roles are gone. He has a new wife, and with her a new star. The roles that once fell into Alyssa's lap because her husband wouldn't do a film without her are now going to Jessica Palmer. As a result, Alyssa relies on horror conventions to relive her glory days.

This is where she meets Taryn, a 19-year old lesbian who is probably Alyssa's No.1 fan. The actress is also the subject of many a fantasy. When problems at home become unbearable and the teen walks out, she turns to the object of her affections, Alyssa, who willingly allows the troubled teen to stay with her. It is a codependent relationship -- Alyssa needs to be loved by her fans and Taryn needs to love Alyssa -- but it takes awhile for Alyssa to realize the extent of Taryn's love for her. Sound familiar? Famous celebrity and idolizing number one fan? It's not what you might think.

Another failed audition crushes Alyssa. To lose the role, a role she feels she was born to play, is bad enough, but to lose it to Jessica Palmer is more than Alyssa can take. The woman has stolen everything from her -- her husband, her place in his films, and now this. What's the point in going on? She turns to the only thing that she feels will free her from the pain -- pills and alcohol.

It seems she can't succeed in anything anymore, not even suicide. Taryn rescues her from the brink of death, but it is too late. During her hospitalization, Alyssa's descent into madness starts. She realizes that she was trying to cut out the pain, but she wasn't getting the pain at the root. The root of all her pain is Jessica Palmer and the man who betrayed her. With Taryn as an unwitting accomplice, Alyssa sets out to eradicate the source of her pain and those who have betrayed her.

Brandon Ford's Splattered Beauty is a thrill ride into the depths of madness. His depiction of the aging film star is one part Norma Desmond, one part Annie Wilkes, as she is her own number one fan. With the revelations of her abused childhood and abandonment issues that stem from her mother walking out when she was young, the slide down the slippery slope of sanity and over the edge is believable and heartbreaking. While you read open-mouthed at the atrocities she commits, you can't help but feel sorry for her as her life spins out of control. Taryn, as the devoted companion/love interest, is another story. While the old adage that love is blind might hold true for some things, to allow yourself to become an accessory to multiple murders is something I had a hard time believing. Having witnessed numerous instances of the older woman's instability, there were plenty of chances for her to beat a hasty retreat, but she chooses to stay. Her weak nature and her ability to be so easily manipulated often had me hoping that Alyssa would grow tired of the troubled teen and deliver to her a particularly gory death. You want the girl to run like hell and get away, and when she doesn't, you kind of hope she gets what stupidity gets you in most horror films and novels.

I mentioned in a review of Ford's Crystal Bay that the author was a new voice in horror who holds promise in the genre. I stand by this assessment. Splattered Beauty is a well-written, fast-paced joy ride that will have you glued to the edge of your seat. Don't miss it!

Saturday, May 29, 2010

When Nature Strikes Back. . .

Do you remember as a child being glued to the TV while a community fought for their lives against an invading army of giant ants? Or a giant tarantula? Or a giant preying mantis? I do. I remember being glued to my seat as the giant menace appeared on screen to lay waste to the town. Even now, although the special effects of some of those movies are so hokey now that they are laughable, I still enjoy watching The Deadly Mantis, THEM!, Empire of the Ants, etc., so when I saw William Meikle's Crustaceans, a tale of giant crabs loose in New York City, I jumped at the chance to read it.

When a dead whale washes up on a New England Beach, a small team of marine biologists are called in to determine the cause of death. As they prepare to take their samples, something with the belly of the beasts manages to rip its way out and proceeds to tear part the scientists. Meanwhile, Joe Porter, a New England fisherman, is out at sea pulling in his traps, hoping to bring in enough Blue Crab to keep him in smokes and booze. His catch is better than he could ever have hoped to imagine. Amongst his haul, he notices one crab that is larger than the others, and having spent more years on the sea than he cares to count, he knows this crab is no Blue. Besides the size, this one is more aggressive than the others. He succeeds in getting it into the net with the rest of his catch and watches in horror and disbelief at the one crab rips through the entire haul of Blues. Back on shore, rather than sell the remaining crab, Porter puts it in a tank, believing there's something special about the crab.

Wanting to know what killed the team of biologists, the Government calls on the expertise of Shona Menzies, a marine biologist who specializes in crabs. What she sees on a series of videos shown to her by the head of the operation, Colonel Stark, chills her to the bone. She realizes that her father was right in his assumptions and the giant crabs are back.

While studying the immediate area and trying to find evidence as to where the crabs might have gone, they receive a call that a small group of whales washed up on a beach in Long Island, and unlike the one they are studying, these one are still alive. While they are taking off to investigate the latest incident, Joe Porter has noticed that the crab in his possession has grown dramatically over the period of two weeks. Thinking he might be able to make a small fortune selling it to one of the zoos or aquariums, loads the tank into the back of his truck and makes for Central Park to negotiate with one of the curators what he thinks would be a fair price for the crab.

The military arrive on the scene in Long Island just as the crabs eat their way out of the bodies of the whales. While trying to clean up this mess, they receive a distress call regarding a ferry that is on a collision course for one of New York City's piers. While trying to prevent the collision, they discover that the shiver is crawling with the giant crabs. Even with their heavy artillery, they are unable to destroy all of the crabs. Most of them rip their way through the hull and make their way for the city, which contains a maze of sewers, active subway tunnels, and abandoned tunnels.

And the hunt is on. Will the military and one lone fisherman be able to find and put an end to the hundreds, maybe thousands, of giant, man-eating crabs that are now loose beneath the streets of New York City, or will the city fall under the onslaught of the killer crustaceans?

Reading Crustaceans, I was transported back to the days of my youth, and was thoroughly engrossed in Meikle's story. At one point in my reading, I had to pause and wonder if maybe I hadn't missed an earlier book, as there is a reference to a previous attack in years past, however, it wasn't enough to stop me from reading. In fact, I was completely immersed in the events as they unfolded that I didn't stop to question certain "holes" until after I was done. Given that there was previous contact with the crabs, and it was Shona's father who lead the investigation, in fact, he dedicated his life to pursuing these giant beasts, I was expecting more history. Where did they giant crabs come from? Are they they result of genetic experimentation gone wrong? Are they a species that mutated after being exposed to fallout from nuclear testing? Are they survivors of the prehistoric times that have been reawakened because the polar caps are melting? I was disappointed in that there was no attempt to explain where they came from.

I think part of my disappointment stems from the fact that I read a digital version of this book and was judging how much I had left to go by the percentage indicated at the bottom of the screen. When I hit 65-70% marker and came across THE END, I felt cheated (the remainder of the book was dedicated to a preview of a future work). I was like WTF? That's the end? That can't be the end. For me, that's a mark of a good story where I find myself wanting more and it isn't there. My only hope is that Meikle will pick up where he left off with this story and explore the origins of the great beasts.

I will be the first to admit that Crustaceans is not for everybody, but if you were (are?) a fan of movies like The Deadly Mantis, Food of the Gods, THEM!, then I would highly recommend it.