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
Hunter Shea's Loch Ness Revenge

Friday, January 28, 2011

No Safety in This Asylum

When browsing the shelves of the bookstores (physical and digital) for the next book to read, I am always on the lookout for promising new authors. One of my recent discoveries is Mark Allan Gunnells. I first met Mark on Facebook, and I was anxious to read something he had written. At the time, there had only been one publication, and copies were no longer available. When he announced the release of Asylum, I snatched it up and put it at the top of my TBR pile. The fact that it was a zombie was a plus. As I mentioned in a previous review, zombies were never my thing, but since my first sale was also a zombie piece, they are fast becoming a favorite.

Asylum is a gay club owned and run by a matronly drag queen, Madam Diva. When the story opens, Curtis is hanging around the outside of the club while his friend Jimmy is giving some guy a blow job in the front seat of a car. The poor guy doesn't have a chance to climax before he is pulled from the car by a gang of what is first thought to be fag bashers -- that is, until Curtis and Jimmy see that the guy is literally being eaten by his attackers. In a panic, the friends race back to the club with the zombies in hot pursuit. Safely inside, they relate to the few stragglers still in the club what they witnessed outside. They are able to get through to the police, but the police are being inundated with calls from all around the city and it will be awhile before anybody can get to the club, so they just need to sit tight. It now becomes a waiting game. . . Will the police arrive before the zombies break in? Or will the zombies break in first? And will they be able to keep it together long enough to be rescued?

Mark Allan Gunnells is a remarkably gifted writer. In 90 pages (yes, Asylum is a novella), he has accomplished what it has taken other more noted authors twice as long to do, and that is create a realistic setting and introduce a cast of fully fleshed out, believable characters that you truly come to care about (my personal favorite was Madame Diva). While the story structure is straight out of Romero's Night of the Living Dead in that it's a group of strangers finding themselves trapped in an unbelievable situation, it is Gunnell's characters that breath new life into what could have been a tired rehash of an old story. The narrative moves along at a smooth, even pace, and the switches in point of view are natural and seamless.

My only complaint with Asylum is that it was too short, but if this is a sample of what Gunnells can do with a short form narrative, I can't wait to see what he can do with a full-length novel. Gunnells is definitely a writer to watch, as I have a feeling he has a future ahead of him. So if you happen to find yourself bored one afternoon with nothing to do, I suggest you pick up a copy of Asylum. I don't think you'll be disappointed. I know I wasn't.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Trapped in the Snowglobe from Hell


When I hear Stephen King has a new book coming out, I can't help but cringe, which is part of the reason why I put off reading Under the Dome for so long. I like King, I really do, but I prefer his older works. His newer stuff seems to be lacking something, that punch that used to chill me to the bone. His later stuff had just left me cold. In fact, I haven't enjoyed a King novel since Bag of Bones, Delores Claiborne before that, and Misery before that. And I wanted so much to like Under the Dome, I really did, but it's another novel that left me feeling cold.

The premise behind Under the Dome is simple: A small Maine town had been cut off from the rest of the world by an invisible force field. It had become a picturesque snow globe, without the snow. Or maybe a better image would be a goldfish bowl, neglected by its owner for so long that algae builds up on the inside, creating a toxic pool that will kill its inhabitants if something isn't done soon to clean it up.

One of the fish in the bowl is Dale Barbara, or Barbie to his friends. A retired, decorated officer of the US Army turned drifter, Barbie has the misfortune of temporarily putting down roots in the town of Chester's Mill. Chester's Mill, like most small towns, does not look too kindly on outsiders, which is why Barbie finds himself in trouble with the law through no fault of his own. Cleared of the charges, Barbie decides to put Chester's Mill behind him, but he's about 10 minutes too slow—the dome has come down and while he has escaped one prison sentence, he has still become a prisoner. Standing on the edge of town, he bears witness to a midair collision as a plane crashes into the invisible barrier and a pulp truck becomes an accordion when it smashes into the same barrier. With nothing else to do, he returns to town, but not before reaching out to an old army buddy, who needs to look into what's going on in the town of Chester's Mill.

At first glance, the town is quite picturesque. It's like a Rockwell painting populated by old-fashioned "Mom and Pop" stores. Modern civilization has passed it by. There is not one major chain store present in this quaint little community. But looks can be deceiving. Like all communities, there is a dark side, and in the case of Chester's Mill, the town's dark side manifests itself in the form of Second Selectman Jim Rennie, a used car salesman and a two-bit politician with delusions of grandeur. And, because of the little tiff that almost landed Barbie in the town lock-up, he is not one of Dale Barbara's biggest fans, as that little tiff was instigated by Junior Rennie (Big Jim's son) and his friends.

As Dale Barbara tries to rally the town and, with the help of the military, figure out a way to lift the Dome, Rennie sees the Dome as a means to furthering his political agenda. But not everybody stands behind Rennie; there's a small band that backs Barbie, and Big Jim targets this group and plans to use it as a means of turning the town against Barbie, but can he do it before all of his dirty secrets are discovered and exposed and before the Dome is lifted?

I'm not going to deny the fact that King is a masterful story teller, but I had some major problems with Under the Dome. First and foremost, the characters. I know you need a bad guy, but this book seemed to be overrun with them. There's a handful of characters that you genuinely like; other than that, you hate everybody else. Each time I put the book aside, I dreaded picking it up because I did not want to be soiled by the characters that populated this town. I know it can be argued that this is a sign of a successful writer, where he has created a character that you really don't want to be associated with, but you can't alienate your reader either, which I think King has done here. The characters are black and white; there are no gray characters. You either like them or you don't. And even with your worst character, there has to be something within him or her that draws the reader to them, a vulnerability, one element that speaks to you, telling you this character isn't all bad, that maybe there's a chance of redemption. You don't get that in Under the Dome. Even when something as tragic as one of the characters being diagnosed with a brain tumor, you don't feel sorry for them. You get this satisfied feeling, and that's not a good way to feel about somebody who is going to die. It makes you feel like a bad person.

Another problem I had was the size of the book. I'm not intimidated by lengthy novels; in fact, I tend to look for books with a high page count because it means I can lose myself in the author's world for that much longer. However, I feel this story could have been told in less than a 1,000+ pages. The novel takes place during the course of one week, and during that week, we see how quickly a community stricken by fear can devolve into a more primitive, every-man-for-himself state. King himself has tackled this theme before on a smaller scale with The Mist. And more recently, Brian Keene set out to tell a similar story of a town cut off from the outside world by a wall of darkness in Darkness on the Edge of Town. Keene was equally successful in showing the rapid decay of civilization when faced with the unknown, and he did it in under 300 pages. King's use of throw-away characters is what prolonged this novel, characters that appear once and are never seen or heard from again. Were they really necessary?

My other problem was the ending. It felt like It all over again. I really can't go too much into this without giving too much away, but after the BIG concluding event, the story seems to drag out as he tries to wrap things up, and it is the ending that really blew it for me.

Despite its drawbacks, the book did move at a brisk pace, for which I was thankful, before coming to an abrupt stop that left me with a case of whiplash, and then crawling at a snail's pace to an unsatisfactory conclusion.

Would I recommend Under the Dome? If you are a die-hard King fan who just HAS to read everything he has written, then yes, you need to read this. As for me, as I said before, I like King, but I haven't read everything he's written, nor do I intend to. After a string of misses, Under the Dome was the deciding factor for me. In the future, I will wait for mass market release before shelling out the big bucks on a hardcover. Or better yet, I'll wait for a reasonably e-book edition. If you choose to read Under the Dome, I would highly recommend having plenty of soap on hand. You'll need it to wash off the feeling left behind once you've rubbed elbows with the characters residing in this book.

Friday, January 14, 2011

In the Beginning. . .

In the beginning, God created Adam and Eve, right? That's what we've been raised to believe, but in William Meikle's Eldren: The Book of the Dark, we will learn otherwise.

When Jim Kerr and his wife win a week-long vacation anywhere within Britain, Jim is hesitant to accept the prize. It needs to be claimed and used within the month and his wife is expecting their first child. Surprisingly, it's his wife who urges him to accept, because once the baby is born, there won't be any time for themselves. Where they eventually find themselves is in an isolated cottage on the shores of Scotland. Located near the cottage is a burial mound, at the top of which is a large iron cross. The inhabitants of a neighboring village claim it is a war memorial and it's nothing to worry about. Beyond that, they refused to talk about it. A windstorm that night blows their laundry all over the place, and Jim, in his attempt to retrieve an article of clothing from the T of the cross ends up dislodging it, awakening the inhabitant within. His wife is bitten and loses quite a bit of blood before Jim dispatches the creature. He rushes his wife to the doctor, but she cannot be saved. Worse for Jim, neither can his son. And so begin Jim's nightmare.

Jump 15 years, and two boys venture into the local haunted house. In the basement is some sort of military shelter, and beneath that, another two levels of secret rooms. While exploring, the stumble upon a coffin containing skeletal remains impaled on a gleaming sword. One of the boys, thinking the sword might be worth something, removes it, allowing the coffin's inhabitant to awaken. One of the boys is killed, the other runs like hell, but not before snagging an old leather-bound book that he found within the coffin.

Tony keeps quiet about the death of his friend. After all, who would believe him if he said the other boy was killed by a vampire. Even with the book as evidence, he probably still wouldn't be believed. The book, it seems, is some sort of bible, but unlike any bible Tony has ever seen. It reveals the first creations, Yoriah and Eriah. They were the first, and God told them not to eat of the flesh of the Garden. The serpent tempted them, however, saying that while they could not eat of the flesh, God never said anything about the drinking of their blood. And so the first vampires were born. And one of them was now loose on the town.

Joining forces with Brian Baillie, Margaret Brodie, both teachers from the local school, and an escaped psychotic killer, the band of strange allies attempt to bring down the vampire, but they don't realize until it is too late just how wide spread the problem has become. Who will be the victor in this battle between good and evil? Can the small band of humans defeat the growing vampire horde, or will the vampires triumph in their attempts to slowly wipe the Sons of Adam from the face of the earth?

After reading ad nauseam about sparkly, angst-ridden teen vampires looking for love and romanticized Fabio inspired blood suckers, it was a pleasure to read something that gave the bite back to the vampire. What I enjoyed most about Eldren: The Book of the Dark is Meikle's attempt to create his own origin of the vampire. Their origin isn't questionable, and they aren't corpses possessed by demons. They are God's children who have fallen out of favor because of acts that were performed that went against what the Creator had set forth.

I have read a few other works by William Meikle (although not as many as I would like to, but I am slowly remedying that -- so many books, so little time), and this book stands out when compared to the others I have read in that he takes the time to develop the characters, fleshing them out so you can sympathize with and root for them as they go up against overwhelming odds. I went into this expecting a light read that concentrated more on story than on character, and was pleasantly surprised to see that careful attention was paid to both.

The story itself is similar to most tales of vampires prior to this recent move to romanticize the undead, that of man versus vampire. But more than good versus evil, there's an underlying theme of redemption that runs throughout the book. Because of that, there are some unlikely allies that emerge as the story progresses.

I enjoyed Eldren: The Book of the Dark, and if you are looking for a return to a more traditional type of vampire tale, but one that still has a unique ring to it, then I would highly recommend .

Monday, January 3, 2011

There's a New Witch in Town

Linda Robertson's Vicious Circle was recommended to me by a friend who knows my fondness for werewolves. Seeing it was another urban fantasy series, I kind of rolled my eyes. I've been reading way too my UF recently, and I really wanted to concentrate my energies on my true love — horror. I was tempted to pass, but then I noticed that Book 4 of the series was scheduled for publication, so I figured there might be something worth looking into. It had, after all, made it to Book 4. I wasn't disappointed.

Persephone Alcmedi's simple life is about to get a whole lot more complicated. She's a witch living alone in an isolated farmhouse; she writes a syndicated newspaper column on supernatural awareness, and once a month on the night of the full moon she kennels a small pack of werewolves so they won't bring harm to innocents. Her sanctuary has been invaded by her strong-willed grandmother, who has been kicked out of the nursing home and has nowhere else to go. She finds out that Johnny, the "leader" of the pack of werewolves she kennels and lead singer of a goth-metal band, has a MAJOR crush on her. Her grandmother, who has always believed weres and witches should not mingle, encourages a "fling" with Johnny, which doesn't set well with Persephone. Yeah, he's hot, but he also intimidates her. As if that wasn't bad enough, her friend, Lorrie, a werewolf who had at one time kenneled at her house, is brutally murdered. The High Priestess of a local coven reaches out to Persephone and wants to hire her to avenge Lorrie's death. She neglects to mention, however, that the party responsible for Lorrie's death is a powerful vampire in service to the local Master Vampire. In over her head, Persephone must enlist the aid of her grandmother and her werewolf friends if she is to have any chance of getting out of this alive.

Vicious Circle, like many (if not all) urban fantasy novels, is set in the modern world, but where the ghoulies and ghosties and things that go bump in the night are real and people are aware that they exist. As this is the first novel of a series, Robertson wisely limits the locales where the action takes place, which allows her to introduce in depth all of the key players that will carry through most of the other books [yes, once I decided I was hooked on this series, I cheated and looked ahead to see who stays and who goes (more importantly, who stays)]. Her characters are not superheroes; they are regular Joes who happen to be supernatural creatures. Persephone is a witch who entertains self-doubt when it comes to her powers. When push comes to shove, she often hesitates, questioning whether or not she is strong enough to do what needs to be done. Johnny, drop-dead gorgeous and can have any woman he wants, only has eyes for Persephone and sometimes lets jealousy rule his actions, which leads to potentially dangerous results. Grandma (we LOVE Grandma) has the potential to be a power to be reckoned with, as she is very blunt, says what she means, is sometimes cryptic the way grandparents can be, but recognizes her own failures where her granddaughter is concerned. Her spunkiness reminds me of Helen Hayes, and if allowed to let her hair down (which I hope does happen, as I think it would be a hoot), I could see her being a slightly softer version of Sophia from Golden Girls.

The plot is relatively straight forward as well, with minimal twists (some of them predictable), but I can easily overlook this in the first book of a series, as it allows the reader to become familiar with the characters, their strengths, their weakness, and their quirks. Robertson wisely leaves some questions unanswered, successfully (in my case, as I will be reading the rest of the series) spurring the reader to continue the journey with these characters.

The only drawback to the book was, in my opinion, the werewolves. Like so many urban fantasy novels that features werewolves, the transformation from man to beast results in an actual wolf. Just once I wold love to find an urban fantasy series that uses the traditional man/beast lycanthrope, a half man/half beast hybrid like the wolfman. However, since this currently seems to be the norm, I guess I'll just have to accept it.

All in all, Linda Robertson's Vicious Circle was an enjoyable first outing with characters I hope to see more of for a long time to come. If you are a fan of urban fantasy and have not yet checked out this series, I would highly recommend it.