Thursday, December 29, 2016

recent read; HEAD GAMES

Head Games by Craig McDonald

Well, I saved the best for last. This was my favorite read of the year. Well, my favorite listen, anyway. Hector Lassiter is a pulp crime writer, a novelist and a screenwriter (who tends to get more anonymous "script doctor" duty than screen credit.) He lives the pulp life - too many cigarettes, too much booze, too many women and Mexican whores. And he gets embroiled in capers and crimes. This time, he's caught up in a shell game of skulls - one of which was on the shoulders of Pancho Villa. The skull is worth money, if delivery can be made running the gauntlet of FBI, CIA, Skull & Bones society frat boys and Mexican bandits. Beyond that, the skull might be the key to a lost treasure hoard of the Mexican Revolution, putting desperate, violent men on Lassiter's tail.

Lassiter is a fictional construct who McDonald weaves through real history and personalities. Old Mexican Revolutionaries, old mercenaries, Hollywood greats. Maybe the audio narration helped, but Lassiter has a very real, gruff voice. This novel just zips along. The veracity balances the outlandish every step of the way.

Noir. Road trip. Crime caper. Black comedy. Western.

It's all that and more. The whole definitely exceeds the sum of its parts.

I will be reading more entries from the Hector Lassiter series.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

recent read; Borderline

Borderline by Lawrence Block

Well, I've wanted to read Block and I wanted to read a title from the Hard Case Crime line.

Here's a lesson for you - you might want to research these titles before you dive in.

Why? Because this isn't a Lawrence Block novel. Oh, he wrote it. But he wrote it under a pen name, "Don Holliday" when it was published Border Lust.

"Lust" as in sex and old "nightstand" pulp novels for men.

Borderline?  Yes, borderline porn.

The novel features four main characters washed up in El Paso; a gambling man, a wanton divorcee, a drifting prostitute and a serial killer. The serial killer is really the only crime thread happening. The rest of the stories are sex tales in various forms. The divorcee and the gambler hookup up, spend a wild night on the town in Juarez, Mexico, which just makes the divorcee hot for wilder stuff. Meanwhile the creepy guy with the razor is attacking women on both sides of the border.

Now, I'm not a prude. I wouldn't say this stuff was triple-X but it probably would be considered X-rated.

If anything, it felt like I was reading a Russ Meyer movie.

Anyway, I was looking for more crime and less sex (as fun as the sexy covers might be.) I am still going to delve into the Hard Case Crime line, but I'll be a little more careful about double-checking the origins of any given title before I start.

Monday, November 28, 2016


The past four Sundays of November, eight other writers and I attended the River City Writers' WRITE BETTER FICTION Workshop. River City Writers is a new endeavor by Christopher Golden and James A. Moore to offer various lessons to writers who want to leverage Chris & Jim's combined expertise as published, working writers.  (see their website for more information)
Chris & Jim requested we bring new story ideas we hadn't yet worked on. That would free us from any attachment to previous efforts. I had an idea kicking around, so I went in very cold. I decided on getting at least two takeaways - 1.) How to build out longer (novella/novel) stories. I've been limited to short stuff. 2.) How to "pants" (write by "seat of your pants") rather than outlining. I prefer outlining. Not "David Drake, 10K word outlines," but a bit more structure than nothing at all.

The atmosphere was fun, comfortable, and respectful. We had a good mix of writers with various experience and skill. A lot of us knew each other from past cons and coffeehouses but we also had people who were new to the crowd. I believe they felt as welcome as the rest of us.

Topics covered included; establishing strong openings and setting, theme, plotting (even from a pantsing point-of-view,) characterization, looking forward plot-wise toward twists, turns, and climaxes of the work. Also, Jim & Chris hit us with the red-ink to get our grammar knocked into shape.

Indeed, I came out with a good feel for making my story--a contemporary horror tale--reach novel length. I pantsed my way through 8200 words* and it felt more solid than I'd imagined pantsing would feel. I also picked up on grammar weaknesses I tend to repeat. It is a useful skill to spot when I am doing that now and correct myself as I go.

The River City Writers will be offering more workshops, retreats and events covering everything from writing, to publishing, to book sales/signing events. I am looking forward to seeing what they offer. I will more than likely be participating in many of their events and workshops as I can manage!

Thanks, Chris & Jim!

(* = The wordcount wasn't the goal. The workshop was not about writing a novel in a month. It was about being more thoughtful writers and establishing solid bases from which to launch our stories.)

Monday, November 21, 2016

recent read; This Is Halloween

This Is Halloween by James A. Moore

James A. Moore serves up ten chilling tales dripping with Halloween atmosphere. Monsters, ghosts, malevolent haunted houses, deep dark woods. They are all here - waiting for you.

Jim pulled together a collection of previously published tales. Many take place on Halloween. If not exactly on Halloween, some of the other tales are still perfect reads for the season. Some of the stories are loosely connected by location. The Bedlam Woods are a dangerous place and many tales can be told about that dark forest. The town of Wellman, Georgia--featured in Moore & Rutledge's novels Blind Shadows and Congregations of the Dead--also makes an appearance in one story.

The scent of candle-singed jack-o-lanterns will stay with you long after you close the cover!

p.s. - Look at that gorgeous cover art by Dan Brereton!

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

recent read; The Dracula Tape

THE DRACULA TAPE by Fred Saberhagen

I am a traditionalist. I like my good guys good and my bad guys bad. But, in the hands of Fred Saberhagen, the flipping of traditional roles in THE DRACULA TAPE, I was still entertained. You see, Dracula isn't all bad. Yes, he's a vampire and he's no saint. But Bram Stoker's novel was a bit of a smear campaign built on misunderstanding. Van Helsing was a bumbling fool.

Saberhagen did a great job of following the original novel and inverting everything a reader thinks they know. Saberhagen drops wonderful bits of history along the way. Some of the deconstruction of the Dracula myth goes beyond mere misinterpretations. Crucifixes? Vlad fought the Muslim hordes! Why would the cross bother him?

I enjoyed the first half of this novel which is very clever indeed with turning all the elements of DRACULA 180 degrees. I did feel, though, that as the book progressed, and Saberhagen created scenes and conversations completely outside the realm of the original novel, the effort lost steam.

And his conceit on how Dracula survived his staking missed some salient points of Stoker's folklore, in my opinion.

Fun, worth a read. You do need to have read DRACULA to fully appreciate what Saberhagen was doing. Looking forward to more entries in Saberhagen's Dracula series now that the beginning has been established.

p.s. - I listened to the audiobook via Audible, and the narration by Robin Bloodworth is excellent.

Monday, October 17, 2016

recent read; Best New Horror: Volume 25 edited by Stephen Jones

It's hard to go wrong with any of these The Mammoth Book of Best New Horror anthologies from Stephen Jones.

This volume came out in 2014, and contains stories from 2013. It also includes a dense "Introduction: Horror in 2013" which informs about all manner of publications in the horror field for 2013. The only drawback is that titles are embedded in the prose. You'll need to distill your own list, if you are interested in following up on any of the mentioned books.

The stories are all quality, I don't need to review each one. A few weren't to my taste, which is nearly always a given with any anthology. Some of my favorites were "Click-clack the Rattlebag" by Neil Gaiman, "The Middle Park" by Michael Chislett, "Into The Water" by Simon Kurt Unsworth (an Innsmouthian tale,) and "The Sixteenth Step" by Robert Shearman.

The volume also includes the entire novella, "Whitstable" by Stephen Volk, featuring a fictionalized account of Peter Cushing's off-screen life as he deals with a real life monster. Well done and worth the read.

The thick volume ends with "Necrology: 2013," which, sadly, is an "in memoriam" essay. Many people were lost to the horror field in 2013.

As I said at the top, you can't really go wrong with any of these. Worth having. Worth reading.

p.s.; Jones has been republishing earlier volumes through PS Publishing for e-book editions. New ones are e-book and hardcover. (Dropping the The Mammoth Book Of... moniker.) They have new EC Comic style covers, too.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Vlad and Bran Mak Morn

For this October, I am listening to Fred Saberhagen's THE DRACULA TAPE. It is a retelling of DRACULA from Vlad's point-of-view. Parts of the original novel are quoted/re-used. This morning I listened to Dracula's speech of his race. Re-reading the original speech (from DRACULA online at I find the speech would fit into a Robert E. Howard story.

“We Szekelys have a right to be proud, for in our veins flows the blood of many brave races who fought as the lion fights, for lordship. Here, in the whirlpool of European races, the Ugric tribe bore down from Iceland the fighting spirit which Thor and Wodin gave them, which their Berserkers displayed to such fell intent on the seaboards of Europe, ay, and of Asia and Africa too, till the peoples thought that the were-wolves themselves had come. Here, too, when they came, they found the Huns, whose warlike fury had swept the earth like a living flame, till the dying peoples held that in their veins ran the blood of those old witches, who, expelled from Scythia had mated with the devils in the desert. Fools, fools! What devil or what witch was ever so great as Attila, whose blood is in these veins?” He held up his arms. “Is it a wonder that we were a conquering race; that we were proud; that when the Magyar, the Lombard, the Avar, the Bulgar, or the Turk poured his thousands on our frontiers, we drove them back? Is it strange that when Arpad and his legions swept through the Hungarian fatherland he found us here when he reached the frontier; that the Honfoglalas was completed there? And when the Hungarian flood swept eastward, the Szekelys were claimed as kindred by the victorious Magyars, and to us for centuries was trusted the guarding of the frontier of Turkey-land; ay, and more than that, endless duty of the frontier guard, for, as the Turks say, ‘water sleeps, and enemy is sleepless.’ Who more gladly than we throughout the Four Nations received the ‘bloody sword,’ or at its warlike call flocked quicker to the standard of the King? When was redeemed that great shame of my nation, the shame of Cassova, when the flags of the Wallach and the Magyar went down beneath the Crescent? Who was it but one of my own race who as Voivode crossed the Danube and beat the Turk on his own ground? This was a Dracula indeed! Woe was it that his own unworthy brother, when he had fallen, sold his people to the Turk and brought the shame of slavery on them! Was it not this Dracula, indeed, who inspired that other of his race who in a later age again and again brought his forces over the great river into Turkey-land; who, when he was beaten back, came again, and again, and again, though he had to come alone from the bloody field where his troops were being slaughtered, since he knew that he alone could ultimately triumph! They said that he thought only of himself. Bah! what good are peasants without a leader? Where ends the war without a brain and heart to conduct it? Again, when, after the battle of Mohács, we threw off the Hungarian yoke, we of the Dracula blood were amongst their leaders, for our spirit would not brook that we were not free. Ah, young sir, the Szekelys—and the Dracula as their heart’s blood, their brains, and their swords—can boast a record that mushroom growths like the Hapsburgs and the Romanoffs can never reach. The warlike days are over. Blood is too precious a thing in these days of dishonourable peace; and the glories of the great races are as a tale that is told.”

I don't think this speech is too far afield from something Bran Mak Morn might say - lamenting his proud race (the Picts) and their achievements that have been eroded by history and the passing of time.

EDIT: Deuce Richardson tipped me off to this addendum to my observation, too;

Friday, September 30, 2016

recent listen; SNOWBLIND by Christopher Golden

It would be hard to review this one without using words that might be mistaken as puns. But, make no mistake, this is a chilling novel. It is chilling in the horror, the suspense and the absolute veracity Golden brings to his descriptions of howling blizzards.

In the city of Coventry, Massachusetts, a blizzard arrives. This storm comes with more than snow, wind and cold. Creatures exist in the storm. They are strange, ephemeral and deadly. By the time the storm winds down, multiple mysterious deaths from the storm rock the community.

Twelve years later, another storm threatens, and the dead do not rest easy. They know what the storm is bringing. They are scared. And if the ghosts are scared, what horrors await the living?

Golden does a great job of putting the cold of this story into your bones. He establishes a solid cast of characters. They are believable, and distinct. The tension really ratchets up as the book heads toward its conclusion.

Highly recommended.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Reading all over the map

Summer isn't quite done, but I'm anxious for autumn. Mostly, I want to get in the right (write) mood for drafting horror and ghost stories. Sure, I can do it anytime, but atmosphere helps.

I signed up (i.e.; spent money) and joined Audible, so any full novel 'reads' I do for a while will be in that manner. I've already been through James A. Moore's THE SILENT ARMY, the first Sherlock Holmes, A STUDY IN SCARLET and I just finished THE BEASTS OF TARZAN.

For real reading, I'm jumping around various anthologies and collections, mostly horror. Algernon Blackwood's ANCIENT SORCERIES. THE BEST OF NEW HORROR Vol. 25.  Reading my co-authors in CARNACKI: THE LOST CASES.

Plus some comics. Got in the mood for Iron Man last night, so started on IRON MAN, ESSENTIAL VOL 2.

Oh, and going back to my Weird New England roots - also reading about THE GREAT NEW ENGLAND SEA SERPENT. (blame that one on the whale watch we went on last week)

Monday, August 22, 2016

Cold War memories

Last night, we had heavy weather in our county. Rain thunder and wind. Potential for tornadoes. Some places had damage, fortunately we did not.

Some of my friends reported their smartphone weather apps squawking in the middle of the night.

But for me, it was a little different.

We leave our daughter’s radio on the classical station overnight. I was awoken at 3:30AM by the emergency broadcast signal. The old-fashioned way.

I thought about it this morning and realized that is the first time in my life I’ve heard that signal for real and not just as a test. I can remember having afternoon cartoons interrupted by that squeal for testing. For someone who grew up in New England, hearing that signal for real was a little weird. In the midwest or South or areas more prone to tornadoes or other bad weather, you might have heard the signal otherwise.

This heightened weather awareness in our local media came a few years ago when a tornado touched down and there were fatalities. Tornadoes are still a very rare phenomena around these parts, though we get our share of wind microbursts. But now we get reports and weather notices and live hype, of course.

Pondering it a little more, I probably rarely thought of that signal as weather-related. Growing up under the Cold War, if we were ever to hear that signal for real - it was more likely that the missiles would be flying, and we would be screwed.

Friday, August 12, 2016

recent read; Honourkeeper by Nick Kyme

For a while, Black Library kept intriguing me with back cover synopses and I was buying them like crazy. I made myself stop, but I still have a shelf full. It occurred to me it had been a long time since I read a Warhammer, so I picked one.

Irascible dwarfs almost always get my attention in fantasy works. I went with Nick Kyme's Honourkeeper, the third title in a loose trilogy concerning dwarfs in the world of Warhammer.

In the ancient days of the Old World, long before the time of men, the dwarfs and elves are at the height of their prosperity. As King Bagrik of the dwarfs and Prince Ithalred of the elves forge a trade pact, a vast horde of northmen attacks the elf settlement. When King Bagrik's son is slain, the dwarfs join forces with the elves, eager for vengeance. Can the dwarfs and the elves put aside their differences long enough to prevail over foe?

Much like its predecessor, Oathbreaker, this novel delivers on the sweeping battlefields, amazing dwarf halls, aloof elves, bloody Northmen of Chaos. I really liked the dwarf queen. There is also drama and intrigue between the two races - elves and dwarfs. They are attempting for forge a trade alliance, but they get along about as well as oil and water from the start.

I enjoyed this one.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016


Eh, not much new but I haven't posted since mid-July.

I've had some fun reads, I've signed up for Audible - trying to shift some 'reading' time to my new, longer commute to leave me more writing time at home.

Attended NECON which was a hoot (and sold out) as always. A bunch of us have already registered for next summer's NECON 37. I'm really riding the post-NECON bump this time and committing even more effort to my writing.

Hopefully, I'll have more interesting things to post in the near future.


Saturday, July 16, 2016

Warriors of the Wild Lands Kickstarter is live.

I just backed this Kickstarter; WARRIORS OF THE WILD LANDS: TRUE TALES OF THE FRONTIER PARTISANS. If you're a history buff, you should get in on this - or at least check out Jim's blog - Frontier Partisans.

If you believe history is a boring discussion for college rooms, you should think again. There are rousing tales to be told.

And I feel this book arrives at a good time. Too many people are insisting on an "us or them / black or white" world. There are few times in human history when that has truly been the case. History is full of grey. Perhaps, no darker shades than on the frontiers and the men (and women) who lived & walked the trails there.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

A Lonely And Curious Country (Kindle edition)

Ulthar Press have been busy!

In addition to the newest tome, CARNACKI: THE LOST CASES, last year's Lovecraftian anthology, A LONELY AND CURIOUS COUNTRY has been given the Kindle treatment. If that is your preferred ebook platform $4 gets it on your device. Includes my story, "Down By The Highway Side."

Monday, June 27, 2016

Carnacki: The Lost Cases, now available from Amazon

Carnacki: The Lost Cases

This anthology is now available. I'm excited to be in this one. Instead of inventing new tales from scratch, editor Sam Gafford asked us to use pre-existing titles of  'cases/adventures' specifically mentioned by Carnacki in the original stories while he was investigating other cases.These are tales William Hope Hodgson - creator of Carnacki - himself never got around to writing.

It was a good challenge to write within the framework of Carnacki's world and the given title.

Here is the announced table-of-contents;


(Kindle edition is also listed for pre-order)

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

recent read; The Redeemed Captive

A few weekends ago we spent the weekend in western Massachusetts - "western" being the Pioneer Valley of the Connecticut River, not quite so west as the Berkshire mountains.

I took a very brief stop in historic Deerfield and got the bug to read about the raid of 1704. During Queen Anne's War, one cold winter morning, a combined force of native forces and French soldiers attacked the English settlement, carrying off over one hundred prisoners and marching them to Canada (New France.)

The gift/bookshop didn't have any very short reads about the raid. I forewent any thick history books and tried to go to a source - the narrative of John Williams - minister of Deerfield who was taken in the raid and spent three years in Canada until he was finally "redeemed" (prisoner exchange/ransomed) back to Boston.

I grabbed the Kindle edition. As it turns out, Williams's own narrative is hard to come by. The common edition available is a book written by one of his descendants decades after (1833.) The descendant gives highlights and excerpts from the original narrative.

Not having the original, I don't know how it was presented. But this later rehash is concerned with the details of the raid and the march to Canada for only about 20% of the volume. The other 80% describes all of Williams's hardships while living among the heathens (Indians) and idolaters (the French Catholics.)

What you get is much more The Temptation of Williams in the wilderness instead of Last of the Mohicans. He is tortured, beaten, roughly handled, debated by Jesuits on all sides. But he refuses to convert to evil Popery. I don't know if the original narrative has such an imbalance. But given that Williams was a Protestant (Anglican) minister, and so was his descendant, this is the track the book takes.

One thing I did find revealing was the French alliances with the Natives. It is clear - between the lines - that the French were in no way all-powerful in matters with their native allies. They were outnumbered and cautious. There are constant references to various French agents negotiating on Williams behalf - both with Natives and Jesuits priests who worked among the natives. The French could not simply order the Natives to comply.

Interesting read for a while but by the end I was skimming large portions.

p.s.- While searching for a cover image, I came across this nice, short article about the place of the execution of Williams's wife, Eunice. Great photographs.

The Ghost of Eunice Williams

Monday, June 20, 2016

recent read; Red Equinox

Red Equinox by Douglas Wynne

When some people ask or wonder if Lovecraftian fiction is played out and is not applicable to modern times, we now have an excellent example of where an author can take the genre.

Becca Philips is an adventurous photographer who explores urban decay of Boston when she is not combating her seasonal depression. One day, strange images appear through the lens of her camera. Soon, she is the epicenter of a coming apocalypse, hunted by both Starry Wisdom cultists and a government shadow police, SPECTRA. And, her own family ties back to Arkham might have far more to do with her involvement than she ever realized.

Douglas Wynne's Red Equinox is firmly set in the now, with well-done moments of updating the tropes - and here in this story they are the tropes, not the cliches. Wynne understands the alien blend of sorcery and technology at the heart of the horror in Lovecraft and does wonderful, twisted things with it. Wynne also hits many touchstones of Lovecraftian fiction. These "Easter eggs" should bring a grin to any Lovecraft Mythos fan as you come across them in the novel.

Wynne does well presenting real modern characters. Photographers, artists. Agent Brooks - a "cop" with a gambling problem - is the secondary major protagonist of the story and I enjoyed his character.

This story also drips with Boston locations which give the tale a strong veracity. Maybe if you're from out-of-town it might not work as well - or maybe, hopefully, it gives you a real feel for the city, further anchoring the novel along with its characters.

Red Equinox is a solid Lovecraftian novel for the early 21st century. If you are on the hunt for such a read, give this one a look.

Monday, June 6, 2016

recent read; The Wind Caller

In addition to cramming guest-of-honor reads in time for NECON this July, I'm also trying to read stuff by people attending - not just the headliners.

This one caught my eye for a song at the used book store a few months ago.

There is much conflict in the air of Richland, Arizona — the longstanding conflict between the "white" and the "red," the very modern conflict between landowners and a real estate developer, and even a conflict of trust between Native American schoolteacher Sky Berlander and her lover, Sam. But these all pale in comparison to what brews between Sky and her estranged grandfathers, as a feud which has divided their family will finally come to a head over an ancient and terrifying birthright — the power to control the wind itself.

I really enjoyed this one. I think it is my favorite NECON prep read for this year so far. The little blurb really tells it all. Gideon is a nasty, cantankerous old man who controls the wind for his own selfish means - hunting and worse. When his land is encroached, the winds blow harder. Arrayed against him are his granddaughter, and old Joseph - a good man who should have control over the wind but was too afraid of the power and responsibility.

This one delivers. It was a fast read, wind demons and folklore and solid characters pulled me right in. Maybe I'm partial to it because I've been keen on Ithaqua/Wendigo tales. Must have been all that windy weather we had the past half-year.

The Wind Caller is available as a ebook, too.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Tragedy for The Tragically Hip

I wish that blog post title was a witty play on a song title or an album title, but it is not.

Shocking news out of Canada yesterday. Gordon Downie, lead singer of The Tragically Hip, is suffering from terminal brain cancer. You can read the band's official statement here.

I listened to this band, heavily, during the late 1980s and early 1990s. One of my favorite live shows was a Tragically Hip concert.

The core four of their early albums were (are) great rock music. I still list them in my top lists of favorite music. The band fell off my radar after those albums. I felt like some of the punch went out. Those were the years between CDs and digital music. I didn't want to keep paying for an entire CD that disappointed me.

The band never quite had the traction in the US that they should have. Maybe it was their lyrical density. Their lyrics weren't often easy to catch on - often intentionally so, to let the audience paint their own pictures and to blend multiple ideas and/or images in one song.

How many rock bands name-check Shakespeare's Falstaff? Or discuss the sinking of the Bismarck? European conquest of North America?

Also, I learned only recently, being Canadian they were often writing about Canadian issues and news-stories. They were, as I read somewhere once on the web, "Canadian as fuck."

Those four early albums should be in any rock/hard-rock listener's collection.


If I was stuck on the proverbial desert island, I'd go with ROAD APPLES.

My favorite song from ROAD APPLES?  "Born in the Water"

An explanation of the lyrics. It seems the US does not have a monopoly on attempted ostracization by way of "official language" declarations.

My favorite song from the Hip?  "Fifty Mission Cap"

An explanation of the lyrics.  A blending of the fifty mission requirement from Catch-22 with a plane crash search and a professional hockey player.

Both, lyrically, yes ... Canadian as fuck.

They will be going out "with their boots on."
So after 30-some years together as The Tragically Hip, thousands of shows, and hundreds of tours…

We’ve decided to do another one.

This feels like the right thing to do now, for Gord, and for all of us.
So after 30-some years together as The Tragically Hip, thousands of shows, and hundreds of tours…
We’ve decided to do another one.
This feels like the right thing to do now, for Gord, and for all of us.
- See more at: So after 30-some years together as The Tragically Hip, thousands of shows, and hundreds of tours…
So after 30-some years together as The Tragically Hip, thousands of shows, and hundreds of tours…
We’ve decided to do another one.
This feels like the right thing to do now, for Gord, and for all of us.
- See more at:

Monday, May 23, 2016

recent read; The Violent Land

"From the great Brazilian author, an exotic tale of greed, madness, and a dispute between two powerful families over land on the cocoa-rich coast of Bahia

The siren song of the lush, cocoa-growing forests of Bahia lures them all—the adventurers, the assassins, the gamblers, the brave and beautiful women. It is not a gentle song, but a song of greed, madness, and blood. It is a song that promises riches untold, or death for the price of a swig of rum . . . a song most cannot resist—until it is too late..."

Not what I was expecting. I'm not saying it was bad, but I went in with different expectations. I thought I would get a rough & tumble Western set in Brazilian cocoa land.

But it reads more like a prime time soap opera like DALLAS.

Lots of players, movers. A lot of how the cocoa land corrupts the soul and the flesh.  Although the introduction hinted there might be cocoa/coco industry parallels, the cocoa production doesn't reach the US by the end of the novel.

It is more akin to stories about boom oil or gold rushes.

It's very nice writing, some good passages. Surprisingly open about sex and prostitutes. But written south-of-the-border, that's not too surprising. Though, if it reached the US when it was written (1947) I bet it would have been a firestorm.

The real bummer is how much of the gun fighting takes place off page. Far too much telling, not enough showing.

Anyway. Again - not bad - but not what I expected.

Your mileage may vary.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

recent read; The Wolves of London

The Wolves of London by Mark Morris

With NECON fast approaching (and sold out,) I've started some reads for the occasion, works from both guests of honor and other attendees.

Mark Morris is one guest of honor, who will be coming all the way from the UK to attend. The Wolves of London popped up at HamiltonBook for a song, so I gave it a try.

Morris writes and edits horror, as I understand. This book is a bit more of a urban fantasy vein, I guess. It comes close to defying categorization - which is good.

This story starts off as a crime drama. A reformed convict, Alex Locke, finds himself drawn back into the criminal underworld - first to save his older daughter from hoodlums and then in a desperate race to find his kidnapped younger daughter. Coerced into stealing "the Obsidian heart," Alex soon encounters strange happenings that could be sorcery or science or supernatural. Things spiral further and further out of control and get stranger as the story unfolds. Is it all happenstance, or has Alex been getting setup by strange forces for a very long time?

This story had unpredictable twists, which I enjoyed. Once the plot enters the supernatural territory, Morris brings his horror chops to bear. If this is "urban fantasy" it is not of the "vampires, elves and werewolf races" sort. There are some real monsters here. Creepy and original.

In the old days, I'd just bop into a bookstore. I had no Internet pre-knowledge of upcoming releases or past releases I felt I needed to read. I'd buy what grabbed me from the shelf. I can safely say, The Wolves of London would have been such a book.

While I'm not rushing onto the next book (and the third in the trilogy is due out later this year,) I did find it interesting and enjoyable enough. I just have a really large list of things I want to read. I am curious about the third book which (minor spoiler) takes place in Word War I, thanks to time travel. I'll probably finish out the trilogy at some point in the future.

Monday, April 4, 2016

recent reads; Superman Triple Play

Superman: Brainiac

In this stand alone story, Superman finally goes up against his foe, Brainiac. He has dealt with various probes and forms of Brainiac in the past, but here Superman decides on a showdown with the real, original Brainiac. This features great art, has some wonderful moments with Kents and the story is a good examination of Brainiac and his motivations.

I love that the countenance of Superman in this comic is based on Christopher Reeve.

This book was adapted as a direct-to-disc animated movie, SUPERMAN UNBOUND. (Though, the animation didn't carryover the Reeve image.)

Superman: Whatever Happened To The Man of Tomorrow?

"Whatever Happened To The Man of Tomorrow?" was a swan song story written by Alan Moore. In 1985, the DC line was rebooting. This is their "last" story of Superman up to 1985.

After quiet years, Superman's remaining super-villains try one last all-out assault on the Man of Steel. After his identity is compromised, Superman flies his family and friends to the Fortress of Solitude where he makes his last stand.

This collection also includes a Superman & Swamp Thing story, which is surprisingly good.

The book is rounded out by "For The Man Who Has Everything," now considered a classic Superman tale that was adapted for both the animated JUSTICE LEAGUE television series, as well as recently being adapted for an episode of the new live action SUPERGIRL series. A parasitic alien plant gives Superman a comatose dream of life on Krypton. His friends struggle to free him from the parasite and save themselves from the alien warlord, Mongul.

Superman / Tarzan: Sons of the Jungle

What if John Clayton had not been orphaned in the African jungle? What if Superman's rocketship had delivered the baby Kryptonian to the great apes, instead?

I must admit that I am only halfway through this one. I am enjoying this story. But the cartoony style illustration leaves me cold. I'd prefered a more direct approach to the art.

Friday, March 25, 2016

recent read; Dark Melody of Madness

Dark Melody of Madness by Cornell Woolrich

Woolrich is known for his mystery, crime and noir stories. In this collection of four novellas, we see a side not often shown - Woolrich working in the supernatural & horror milieu.

"Graves for the Living" tells an updated (for the 1930s) tale of Poe-esque obsession with premature burial. After his father is buried alive, a boy becomes obsessed with protecting himself from premature burial. As an adult, the man stumbles on a graveyard cult where people are temporarily buried alive to overcome their fear.  He is left with a choice of joining the cult or being executed by the cult to protect their secret activities. He chooses membership. Of course, things go wrong when his girlfriend gets involved. Technically, there is nothing supernatural in this story, but the story fits better under a horror banner or a "tale of terror" banner than any other classification.

"Dark Melody of Madness" brings us a step closer to the the supernatural. The main plot element, from a high level, isn't that far removed from "Graves for the Living" - a musician gets caught in a cult and chooses to join rather than die. This time around, however, the cult is a voodoo cult. And the musician steals their ceremonial song. The song becomes his signature hit on the nightclub circuit of New Orleans. The voodoo priest, Papa Benjamin, puts a curse on the man. Or is it all in the protagonist's mind? This story was adapted for the television series THRILLER under the title "Papa Benjamin" and has sometimes been reprinted under that title.

"I'm Dangerous Tonight" is the most plot ambitious of this collection. And it has the most direct supernatural element. One night in Paris, a demonic entity visits a fashion designer and leaves its cape behind. The seamstress uses the cape's material in a new dress. But contact with the demonic material causes evil thoughts of murder and mayhem, some of which are acted upon by hapless wearers of the dress. The plot then follows the dress, and an American detective whose path keeps crossing the dress as he tries to take down an international narcotics smuggler. Murder, mayhem, demons, drug gangsters, trans-Atlantic ship voyage, night clubs. I also thought some of the violent imagery - imagined and acted on - were quite shocking for something from 1937.

This is a case where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Anyone else trying to weave all these plot elements together probably would be left with a jumbled mess. Under Woolrich's pen, it all feels seamless. This was my favorite of these four novellas.

"Jane Brown's Body" was another surprise. This time, Woolrich tackled the "Weird Menace" genre. The tropes are all here - a mad scientist, an isolated lair in the deep woods, and beauty in distress, and our happy-go-lucky, rakish pilot of fortune, (Bad) Penny O'Shaughnessy.

This collection also starts off with a good introduction by crime writer and editor, Bill Pronzini.

I liked these stories a lot. Woolrich definitely puts his own stamp on this territory. He imparts frenetic, frantic desperation of panicked protagonists in a way that sweeps a reader along for the ride.

Monday, March 21, 2016

recent reads: weekend superheroing

Justice League: Gods and Monsters

This collection serves as a prequel to the animated movie of the same name.

Each character - Superman, Wonder Woman, Batman - had their own prequel issue and then they joined forces in the 3-issue story arc.

The story involves a scientist who is creating super-humans. Do the Justice League see a potential threat to humanity, or are they merely jealous and want to keep their position of superiority?

For the most part, I enjoyed this book and I think it weaves nicely with the movie.

On the down side, the artwork sometimes confused me about action that was happening. The strong start of the story felt like it was going off the rails by the end. Personally, I wanted to know more about Luthor and how he ended up like he was in the movie, but this story wasn't about that. Maybe they can do another comic or movie.

The Hernan Guerra, son of Zod, Superman is growing on me. I liked him quite a bit after the movie and I like him, mostly, here. He is a character that has to grow on you. He has an abrasive side, for sure.

I even like the Kirk Langstrom vampiric Batman a bit more after reading this. In the movie his character didn't move me very much but he plays better in this story, I think.

Team-ups of the Brave and the Bold

A thin book but some interesting team-up choices. Straczynski can write stories, and these are all solid, fun and some have poignant moments. We get Batman and Dial-H for Hero, Flash and the Blackhawks in the Battle of the Bulge, Batman and a really obscure hero from the 1960s, Brother Power. The Atom doesn't exactly team-up with the Joker but their story heavily involves both both of them. Wonder Woman, Zatanna and Batgirl have a night on the town.

Perhaps the most fun of the bunch is Aquaman teaming up with the Demon to stop an underwater interdimensional invasion. Mutated fish, resurrected drowned men, and a ruined city with angles that are all wrong. Yeah, they went there. And it was cool.

Monday, March 7, 2016

recent reads; Lansdale binge

Coinciding with the premiere episode of HAP AND LEONARD, two Hap & Leonard ebooks were on sale last week. The first novel, SAVAGE SEASON and the story collection, HAP AND LEONARD RIDE AGAIN.

I bought them both.

I read them both.

I enjoyed the hell outta them. HAP AND LEONARD RIDE AGAIN also contains some great essays on the characters (including an 'interview' of Hap and Leonard by Joe Lansdale,) and about Joe Lansdale's writing.

Yes. I read two books within mere days of purchasing them. Will wonders never cease?

I also watched the premiere episode of the television show. It is a strong adaptation of the book. The characters are spot-on.

You can bet I'll be reading more Hap and Leonard. And Joe has some weird Westerns I want to read, too.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

recent read; The King's Gold (Captain Alatriste, #4)

Someone was just discussing shorter, series novels. You know - ones you could consume in a day and enjoy.

The Captain Alatriste novels - while not quite in the ballpark - are very close. They are historical action adventure and aren't too thick. They're enjoyable, and present enough characters and history without bogging you down. Arturo Perez-Reverte writes these with a deft pen.

This time around, in The King's Gold, Diego Alatriste and his faithful protege, Inigo Balboa have returned to Spain from combat in the Netherlands. Soon Alatriste is contracted to pull together a Dirty Dozen style of Spanish rogues to save the King's gold from embezzlement. Intrigue, sword fights, dark alleys soon follow. As one man says to Alatriste, he might have been in danger fighting in Flanders, but he is in far more danger in Seville.

Looking back over my review of The Sun Over Breda, I did note the many historical asides were padding and slowing that story. In The King's Gold, such interruptions were minimal. The only bit I found padded was a journey up a river. It could have been tighter, but word counts are word counts. This is still a shorter novel read.

This one really was a fun, quick read with a hint of foreshadowed tragedy. (We are told where Alatriste will make his last stand, as Inigo - as an old man -  is the narrator of these novels.) I missed these stories, I need to get to the next one sooner.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Of bald eagles and used books

This weekend we went to the Pioneer Valley area of western Massachusetts. My mother now lives with my sister. My sister and her husband needed to be away for the weekend. So, we packed up and went to stay with Gram and the dogs.

Man, I needed that.

We've visited, of course, many times, but it has been years since I stayed out there for a weekend. When I was single, I dog sat for them quite often. It was really nice to be out in the country - my sister's house is nicknamed "The Shire" for good reason.

Saturday morning started off just right. I was headed to the town market and a bald eagle came cruising along at treetop level - down the middle of the road in the center of town, and over the car.

Aside from reading, games, dogs, television, playing, and visiting, my brother-in-law also got to stop by for a few hours. I took advantage of that and took a short loop to explore used book stores.

First stop was the Montague Book Mill - a quaint spot. It's housed in an old saw mill converted into used book store, artist gallery, cd/DVD/vinyl store & restaurant.

What a spot for a book store.
Then, 15 minutes north to Greenfield for Federal Street Books, which has books coming out its pores. Lots of shelves to peruse. I ran out of time. I hadn't planned enough time and I didn't pump the street meter enough. I came out with books but I had to leave more on the shelves.

Other bird sightings included a pair of pileated woodpeckers and red-tailed hawks.

Drove through Deerfield enough that I should find a good book on the 1704 raid.

Waiting for someone to get home soon!
After the chaos and disorder in the workplace the past few weeks, the getaway was a welcome distraction.

My kids want to do it again, and so do I.

Banks of the Connecticut River

Thursday, February 18, 2016

recent read: Locke & Key (Vol1: Welcome To Lovecraft)

Joe Hill will be a guest at NECON this July, and it is time to start reading some NECON writers.

I have NOS4A2 on my Kindle, but it's a doorstop, even as an ebook. I do plan on reading that one. But, I grabbed the entire Locke & Key run on digital sale awhile ago. Thought I'd start on that.

This is a nifty horror comic. After a high school guidance counselor is murdered by juvenile delinquents, his wife & children move from CA to Lovecraft, MA. The ancestral house they return to is magical. Or, at least, it is magical if you are a kid. There are keys and doors. This arc focuses on a door that makes you a ghost. There is also a malevolent spirit trapped in a well. And with demonic aid, one of the murdering punks escapes prison and heads toward Lovecraft.

Suspenseful stuff. Disturbing sometimes because of real cases where teenagers have done such horrid things.

But, what I also liked about this story were the reveals. It is very much setup as an onion. Backstory is revealed as the story moves, giving aspects to the story that weren't obvious at first.

I will be continuing on with the next arc. I hope to read the entire thing by summer. It shouldn't be too hard, it is a fairly quick read. Though, I am sure you might miss stuff if you read too fast. I know Hill said something at the end of the run about having it all setup at the beginning, the reader just needs to pay attention.

Monday, February 15, 2016

recent read; The Gurkhas

It's been a really long time since I sat down and read some history for fun. Most of my history reading has been fiction research these past many years.

The Gurkhas by Byron Farwell was one of my father's books. I might have even given it to him. I don't remember.

They are one of those fighting elite groups you hear about, and I knew next to nothing about them.

Farwell's book in an excellent learning tool. He provides enough stories, facts, anecdotes and history to provide a solid foundation. The chapters were easily digestible; just the right length with enough action and stories to keep the academic drudgery at bay. These hardy soldiers from Nepal are a wonder to read about.

I learned a lot. In this post 20th century, post Cold War, where mercenaries are scorned, it is interesting to note that technically that's exactly what the Gurkhas are. But they've been so ingrained with British service, (and later India, too,) the general public doesn't think of them that way. I knew nothing about the chaos and horrible slaughter that followed India's independence and the partition of Pakistan and India. It was a blood bath the Gurkhas policed and much of the world never heard about.

This book was written in 1984, and runs right up through the Falkland Islands War. It is interesting that it ends discussing the future of the Gurkhas - stationed and operating then out of Hong Kong. Of course, all of that probably changed in 1997. I'll need to followup sometime.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

recent read; The Seeds of Nightmares

The Seeds of Nightmares by Tony Tremblay

Tony Tremblay has had horror stories published in various venues, and here he collects them together with a few previously unpublished offerings to round out the book. (Some of those tales were published under his penname, T. T. Zuma, for those keeping track.)

Tony shows variety and knows how to punch with a strong ending. His strongest strength is luring a reader into the story with grounded reality and characters, supplemented with a setting of quiet horror, before he unleashes the big horror, gore and/or darkly fantastical elements.

There are thirteen stories in this collection. I'll highlight a few of my favorites.

Things start off with a bang in "The Strange Saga of Mattie Dyer" - a Weird West tale, with plenty of weird to go around. "The Old Man" delivers straight ahead noir. "The Burial Board" is another tale of old times, featuring the gruesome practice of leaving a dead family member on a wooden board during winter until the spring thaw allows burial.

"Husband of Kellie" offers a zombie tale packed with emotional punch.

"The Pawnshop", from Wicked Tales, appears here, too. I really enjoyed its blend of noir meets Twilight Zone oddness.

"Chiyoung and Dongsun's Song" features the strangest twisted folk tale romance I've ever read.

The other stories are solid, too and all worth a read.

Another fun aspect of this collection are the author's notes that preface each tale. I enjoy author notes. For some reason, I enjoy them even more for short stories collections and anthologies.

Tony Tremblay is an author in the horror realm whose work is worth keeping an eye on - and more importantly - to enjoy reading.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

A Cold Corner of Forgotten History

I had originally written this article as part of the short-lived revival of Rogue Blades Entertainment's blog/website. Recent actions of the Frontier Partisans made me decide to dig it out and post it here.

“Never have any of our soldiers been on American soil, but your soldiers were on Russian soil.  These are the facts.”

When Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev made that statement during a tour of the United States in 1959, he sent people scurrying to their history books.

Lost to American history, but never forgotten by the Soviets, the Allied incursion into Russia in late 1918 set the tone of future East-West relations throughout the Cold War. Perhaps it was an embarrassment of ineffectualness – if not outright failure – that caused the American Russia expeditionary forces to be largely forgotten by American history. Or, perhaps other theaters of the Great War overshadowed and overwhelmed their actions. But memories of Allied interference in the dawn of the Red revolution fueled the Soviets’ Iron Curtain paranoia.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Where The Wild Things Are

In our town, there are some raptor cages at the back of the high school. My son attends a preschool at the high school. So, in the mornings when it's not too cold, the birds are out in the enclosures. There is a permanent resident, a Kestrel named Hayley. And, they usually rotate a larger raptor with other wildlife rehabilitators. This year we have a barred owl named Scout.

We had an exciting moment last week. As we drove around the corner, we spotted a wild Cooper's hawk, perched atop the kestrel enclosure. I joked about "cousin Coop" coming for a visit. But, I knew in reality the larger hawk was looking for a meal. Technically, Cooper's hawks are falcons - short wings, long tail and they primarily prey on other birds and even bats, sometimes. It didn't surprise me that they would go after a kestrel.

I did not want to spook away the Cooper's hawk by opening the car door, so I put down the passenger window and took an awkward photo with my cell phone.

I only had a brief glimpse but I did not see the kestrel flying around in a panic and I didn't hear any distress, though I wasn't close, either.

But hey  - neat photo and the kestrel was safe in her enclosure.

I posted this photo to the Science Center Facebook page, thinking they would enjoy it. They asked me for my phone number to ask some questions.

I got the call this morning.

Hayley the kestrel was found dead in her pen on Sunday. *sad face*

She was a healthy little bird, and now they think the hawk might have harassed her into fatally harming herself in the pen. Autopsy pending.

Before this, the only suspect was a house cat that comes around and might have induced the bird into a similar panic.

Sad, but I'm glad I could shed light on their mystery.

Monday, February 1, 2016

recent reads; The Pulp Feast of Philip Jose Farmer

Well, I went there. Yes, I did. I'd heard and read all the warnings about the graphic content, and that the sequel novels were more pulp action and probably more to my liking. But, I felt I needed to start at the start. Yes, I read Philip Jose Farmer's A Feast Unknown.

Lord Grandrith (Farmer's Tarzan pastiche with extra bits added) faces off against Doc Caliban (Farmer's Doc Savage pastiche with extra bits added) as they battle across Africa. It turns out these men are immortal, servants of "the Nine" - a world-ruling cabal. Eventually the two men learn the Nine have been orchestrating most of their lives, including the setup to kill each other.

Admittedly, predictably not my cup of tea. The sexual graphic stuff I was all right with. Other stuff I could do without. Some of it borders on "body horror" when you think about it. I felt the tone shifted from weird to snide to outright farce by the end. Pretty much rated X, for real.

Titan edition
I enjoyed Lord of the Trees more, as Farmer gave us more of a straight forward pastiche of Tarzan with his Lord Grandrith character. Seeking revenge on the Nine, Grandrith again fights his way across Africa. In some ways it felt like a re-tread of the first portion of A Feast Unknown, with the graphic content dropped. Much more of a PG-13 tone. Or even PG.

I did feel the action was repetitive, though, in and of itself. It felt like one of those novellas stretched to a short novel. I probably won't give it a re-read. I have too many original ERB Tarzan stories to read, and perhaps even Farmer's authorized pastiches of Tarzan.

Original ACE Double cover, backed with THE MAD GOBLIN
The Mad Goblin follows along the same lines. The action takes place in a German castle and village. The action occurs simultaneously with the events of Lord of the Trees, as Doc Caliban hunts down one of the Nine who has defected and is at war with both the Nine and Doc Caliban & Lord Grandrith.

The action felt more varied, here, though it also felt a touch repetitive and stretched beyond its natural length.
Original ACE Double cover
I've not read much Doc Savage, so I didn't bring any baggage to The Mad Goblin. Maybe that's why I enjoyed it the most of the three novels.

Titan reprint
Like Tarzan, I am far behind on reading original Doc Savage stories. I'd prefer that to re-reading The Mad Goblin

You could probably read Lord of the Trees & The Mad Goblin without first reading A Feast Unknown. You might be missing the backstory but that wouldn't take away from the adventure.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

more comic collecting; Marvel's TARZAN

This weekend, I scoured the 50 cent bins at a local comic shop. I am now two issues away from owning a complete set of Roy Thomas's & Ernie Colon's ARAK, Son of Thunder. I don't have a lot in mint, but they are all serviceable.

I've been reading the Marvel omnibus of the 1970s run of JOHN CARTER, Warlord of Mars. At the same time that was happening, Roy Thomas was working on Marvel's TARZAN, Lord of the Jungle. There were only 29 issues and 3 annuals, and they have yet to be collected in trades or an omnibus.

I picked up Annual #2 and Annual #3 this weekend. They were enough fun that I think I might just aim to collect the Marvel TARZAN run, too. Hopefully I can find them in the cheap bins, too.

Monday, January 18, 2016

recent read; Caped

Caped, edited by Ian Thomas Healy

Caped is an anthology of superhero stories. They range in tone from serious to humorous. I found every story had something to offer, and as a whole the anthology works very well. There are 18 stories. I won't go through every one (Amazon page has synopses for every story, if you're wondering.) I'll highlight some of my favorites from the bunch.

"Pinning Portugal" by Elliotte Rusty Harold
Sueprvillains learn that you can develop superweapons for fun and profit.

"Damn the Dark, Damn the Light" by K. H. Vaughan
Good story about a league of superheroes who start fraying at the edges. Some interesting supervillains in this one, too.

"Dax and the Red Eyes" by Adrienne Dellwo
This is the darkest tale of the set. A disabled child is the only one who can see the evil of his sibling.

"And Introducing the Scarlet Scrapper" by Leonard Apa
A radio actor must step up and play the real hero off-stage. Nice tribute to Golden Age radio shows.

"Dum Dum" by Leod D. Fitz
This was a delight. A bit of a block-headed, superstrong villain sits down for a prison interview. Wonderful ending.

"Heart of the Matter" by Robert J. Mendenhall
A Superman-like hero has an inoperable heart condition. Is it time to retire or go out fighting?

"Capacity Crowds" by Paul McMahon
What happens when everyone is so enamored of your heroics that no one wants to be your supervillain? Nice twist here that I don't want to give away.

"The Faces of the Wind" by Laura Lamoreaux
After World War II, superheroes are repressed by the government and searching for purpose. Think of it as The Incredibles with a serious twist for the Golden Age heroes.

"Sovereign's Last Hurrah" by David Court
The superheroes and supervillains of the past find a common goal - making their life in the nursing home bearable. Not as humorous as it sounds, it's actually a poignant tale.

Caped is a fun anthology. I enjoyed it.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

recent viewing; Justice League: Gods and Monsters

Justice League: Gods and Monsters was the latest release in the DC Universe Animated Original movies. It has brought Bruce Timm back into the fold after he took some time off from the franchise.

This is not your father's Justice League. It is Bruce Timm's League. One of the things that pulled him back was the opportunity to do something different. Very different. This goes beyond the usual "Elseworlds" or alternate universe ideas that have come before. We don't get skewed Bruce Waynes or alternate Clark Kents here. We get a clean slate.

Superman is the son of Zod, not the son of Jor El. He is raised in a harsh life of Mexican migrant workers, and he is Hernan Guerra, not Clark Kent. Batman is Kirk Langstrom - known in main DC continuity as the Man-Bat. Here, he is a biologically created vampire. Wonder Woman is Bekka, a lesser known New Gods character, who has exiled herself to Earth.

The Justice League operate outside of the law, with compliance from the US government. But as a mystery unfolds and the League are framed for multiple murders, the government and League alliance breaks down. The League races to find the true villain, before the violence escalates out of control.