Monday, January 26, 2015

That Hoodoo, Voodoo That You Do review


    Ritualism is an important part of the occult. We've all seen genre movies or television shows where robes cultists are going to summon the whatever or offer a human sacrifice to something or other. It's an important part of real-life, too, with almost everyone having some form of routine which they slavishly adhere to. The television show Dexter had an important subplot about how it was less important that the titular serial killer murder people than do it in a very specific way.

    THVTYD is a somewhat misnamed title since it probably should have been called Rituals, Occultism, and Magic or something a bit more indicative of the contents. There are a couple of Voodoo-related stories in the anthology, including an opening one I quite liked, but the religion doesn't play a role in most. On the other hand, I will say the cover is absolutely to die for. You can't go wrong with a Voodoo-themed Zatanna.

    The stories are relatively short and follow the theme of ordinary human beings attempting to meddle with forces beyond their reality. In some stories, the individuals known what they're doing like Sa fe Iontan by Sarah Hans. There, a Voodoo priestess is attempting to save a girl from a dreadful condition and relies on her canny mind to appease powerful gods.

    In others, like Late Payment, the ritual performers have no idea what the hell they're doing or who they're dealing with. I'm especially fond of the latter story because that deals with a pair of teenaged Satanists who the Devil is absolutely sick of but is bound to answer.

    Eventually.

    Sometimes, the ritual is performed by accident rather than design like in Gingerbread Man by Rose Trickman. I think that story could have used some fine-tuning due to the presence of the name Tomald Trump  but deals with a rather cute tale of a woman scorned.

    Not to put too fine a point, but quite of the few protagonists in this anthology are complete ********.  They're psychopaths or maladjusted losers who think magic is the key to turning around their painfully awkward lives. My favorite of these stories is Thy Just Punishments by Edward M. Erdelac, which details a fallen Catholic priest who has turned to the Tuatha De Daanan in order to cover up his larcenous habits.

    It's one of the rare cases where the supernatural proves to be a benevolent force or, in this case, is less than pleased when you use their church to work black magic. AJ. Brown also deserves credit for an updating of the classic "Ragman" story to modern days.

    Another stand-out story is The Seeds by N.X. Sharps. This deals with a Scientology-esque cult which has stumbled on the ancient rites of Moloch. Its protagonist is, in simple words, a asshat who was fine with sacrificing children right up until the point it was his going to the altar.

    Do I have any complaints? Eh, not really. There's a strong undercurrent of the fact many of the rituals come from older cultures and deal with evil forces but in the majority of cases, it's clear it's because the people using them are bad rather than the forces themselves.

    Another objection I have is an annoying number of these stories involve some jackass attempting to kill prostitutes. They're extremely vulnerable in real-life to serial killers due to the fact prostitutes are willing to go some place isolated with their attackers but I wish the book didn't have quite so many stories which dealt with them.

    In conclusion, this is a great occult horror anthology. There's no bad stories in the bunch and while there's a few middling-to-average ones, the quality is far higher here than usual. I would definitely recommend this to horror aficionados.    

8/10

Sunday, January 25, 2015

John Wick review


    I didn't go into this movie expecting much. I love Keanu Reeves, I do, but it's kind of a long-standing relationship where I'm aware of the man's many faults even as I enjoy his work. He loves much of the stuff I do like anime and martial arts but he's not always right for the role. It's great he got Constantine made, for instance, but a robot would have emoted more. So, when I heard he was going to a Hong Kong-style action movie set in America, I was skeptical.

    So what's my reaction?

    This is an awesome movie as long as you completely ignore the plot, which, thankfully, the movie does. It's kind of like the infamous video game Bad Dudes, where the plot consists of the words, "Ninjas have kidnapped the President. Are you bad enough to get him back?" That is John Wick in a nutshell. Russian gangsters have killed John's dog (and stolen his car), he's going to kill them all.

My name is John Wick. You killed my dog, prepare to die.
    First of all, I have to give them props for avoiding a tired cliche. A lesser movie would have had John's wife or child or lover or something. Speaking as a dog-owner, though, if I was a retired hitman then you better believe I'd be killing the guys who killed my dog. The fact said poochie is the last gift John's dead-by-natural-causes wife gave him is only icing on the cake. Plus, the car is a classic Mustang so there's that too.

    In fact, the more you think about it, the more the seemingly flimsy plot hangs together. Characters react to John coming to murder them all because of his dead dog with a mixture of both disbelief as well as fear. Both because it's a bizarre situation and awareness that, yes, this is a person who is capable of killing them all.

    In fact, I rather like the way the main character is treated. The mobsters don't express skepticism one man could kill entire New York branch of the Russian mafia. No, they treat him like Darth Revan from Star Wars: The Old Republic. I.e. An invincible badass who will is going to mow them down like grass.

    "Throw everyone at him. They won't stop him but they'll slow him down."

John will kill as many guys as his clip has bullets. Maybe half as many as he shoots them again to make sure they're dead.
    Despite the fact it starts with the premise John is the Boogeyman of the criminal underworld (bizarrely, they use Russian witch Baba Yaga as an example), they also inject a copious amount of authenticity into the John Woo-style action scenes.

    John Wick's Tactics: John wields one gun, conserves his ammo, reloads constantly, uses headshots because everyone is wearing a vest, double-taps enemies on the ground in case they're just wounded, and uses tactical movement. He's basically what Equilibrium said the Grammaton Clerics were supposed to be as opposed to how they were shown--guys who are mathematically perfect gunslingers.

    This is not a deep movie despite a number of heart-tugging scenes with John's wife, his dog, and his mourning of both. John wants revenge for the death of his dog, so he goes out and gets it. However, it surprises me by being deeper than it has to be. There's a scene where the head Russian mobster is offered a chance to end this by turning over his son (involved in the dog-slaying) to preserve his empire. Instead of cold-heartedly selling his son down the river or refusing outright, we see the emotional devastation the man goes through as he contemplates doing so as well as the consequences of his choice.

Ms. Perkins is without any redeeming qualities but she is snarky and nice to look at.
    The world-building is good, too, as this doesn't take place in anything resembling the Real WorldTM and it doesn't attempt to. There's a secret luxury hotel for criminals in New York City, which is the kind of place vampires would hang out if this world had them, and the guests pay in gold coins. There's all manner of unspoken rules and codes of honor which, being criminals, people throw out all the time but get murdered for in delightfully efficient ways.

    I even like the secondary characters with Alfie Alden's Iosef being sympathetic despite his murderous loser status. He's awoken the Devil and there's nothing which can save him. I also liked Adrianne Palicki's Ms. Perkins who is a subversion of most female assassins in fiction. Despite being ridiculously beautiful, she's asexual to John and ruthlessly efficient. William Dafoe's Marcus is a character without much relevance to the plot but is a nicely underplayed piece of cinema.

    In conclusion, really, this movie is better than it has any right to be.

9.5/10

Thursday, January 22, 2015

The Eye of the World review


    Because I don't have enough lengthy series to review, I'm going to take a crack at reading and reviewing Robert Jordan's unfinished (by him) magnum opus. I last tried to read these books when I was ten years old and the first had just come out, which may have been a bit much for my developing mind to handle. I didn't get through half of it before I decided they just weren't for me. As a more mature reader, I'm hoping they will prove to be more engrossing.

    Having just finished the first book, I have no doubt I'm going to finish the series now but it is going to be a serious commitment of time and effort. Not so much it's going to interfere with other projects, reviews, or works but enough it requires effort. The first book in the series is dense and I don't mean in size. No, in fact, it's a book which is filled from top-to-bottom with detail which you need to fully engross yourself in.

    J.R.R. Tolkien was able to fit massive amounts of detail into relatively few words. So much so that many readers, myself included, would swear to you they know the Shire or other locations as well as their hometown. This, despite the fact Tolkien only so many pages on them. Robert Jordan isn't that good but is able to achieve the same effect with many more words devoted to fleshing out his locations. By the end of the first book, I could tell you a massive amount of detail about Two-Rivers, Cairhien, and the Borderlands. This comes, at times, at the expense of anything happening for chapters.

    This isn't to say the book is ever boring. Quite the contrary, I was able to immerse myself in the setting's details and atmosphere. If I were to draw a comparison, it was a bit like hanging around with friends and discussing nothing in particular hours at a time. The Eye of the World was a treat for me as a fan of world-building but its differently paced from the vast majority of fantasy out there today. Ironic, given The Wheel of Time was so influential to present-day classics like George R.R. Martin's Westeros.

    The premise is Rand al'Thor, Mat, and Perrin are dragooned by a mysterious woman named Lady Moiraine into coming with her to Par Valon, the home of the Bene Gesserit-meets-White Council Aes Sedai. They are joined by her companion Lan, Rand's kinda-sorta girlfriend Egwene, a traveling performer named Thom Merrilin, and later their too-young-for-her-position wise woman Nynaeve.

    I'm skipping over a massive amount of stuff here but bear with me. One of these individuals, or all of them, is extremely important to the war against the Dark One and may be related to the prophecy of the Dragon Reborn. It's not really a secret which one of these characters is the Dragon Reborn, any more than Rosebud is a sled or the Matrix is a giant computer simulation but I'll respect the author's intent this is supposed to be a spoiler.

    The book is a classic "Chosen One will save the world" storyline, which isn't bad and Jordan shows why the trope is there in the first place. Jordan spices things up with the fact the Dragon Reborn is also cursed with madness. Not just quirky madness but, "kill everyone I know and love before blowing a giant-sized hole in the world" crazy. Seeing how this develops kept me going along with all the hints this is an eternally recurring pattern of Monster, Hero, and Insanity. You know, wheel of time.

    One thing I like about the book is the amount of estrogen is a good deal higher than your typical fantasy fair. Lady Moiraine is a great Gandalf/Obi Wan Kenobi substitute and I adore Nynaeve. There are a great number of well-realized female characters, many of which are in positions of authority. Robert Jordan isn't breaking any long-standing taboos but it's rare enough to deserve remarking on.

    Much of the book will feel familiar to people who have read The Lord of Rings in-depth. Doorstopper fantasy wasn't yet a thing when Jordan wrote this book so he was trying to lure in his readers with the trappings of the familiar. While some things are a little too familiar, he starts veering away around the halfway point to his own thing. I also like how he subverts several common storytelling tropes throughout the book which, given the otherwise standardized plot, come from left field.

    Readers should understand this is a classic story of good versus evil, romanticized past, and possibly romanticized future. It's pretty much the opposite of my usual fantasy leanings but done so well I'm willing to make the fourteen-book commitment necessary to see this through. I'll keep you abreast of my progress as we carry through.

    It's going to be awhile.

9/10

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

An exclusive interview with Lincoln Crisler

Hey folks,

We've got a special treat for you! An interview with Skinjumper author Lincoln Crisler!

Check out our review here!

Rose Bennett, a young, recently-widowed mother, comes face to face with a newly-minted murderer and learns that there are much scarier things than raising a child alone in an unfamiliar town. Terry Miller has discovered three things in a very short amount of time: his high school sweetheart's been cheating on him with his father, killing is fun, and if he does it just right, he can switch bodies with his victims.

Let's start our interview off!

1. So, could you describe what separates Skinjumper from other horror novels out there?  
Well, for one, it's the only one you can currently buy written by me! But more to the point, I tried to strike a delicate balance with Skinjumper in the amount of supernatural to realism I used. Obviously, there's a mystical element, but I tried to front-load that as early as possible and move on to telling a human story.
 
2. What made you decide to go with body-jumping as a horror story basis? 

I found it to be a solid, terrifying idea. It's one thing to be in danger from someone you don't know, but to possibly be in fear for your life because the people you think you know might not be who you know...that's an entirely different ballgame. 

3. Terry is about as far from the "sharp as a razor" genius killers like Hannibal Lecter as you can get. Why did you decide to go with a relatively dumb and mean killer rather than someone more eloquent?  

Horror, book- and movie-wise, is full of uber-competent bad guys and chronically dumb victims. I wanted to write an average-guy killer, and I'd like to think that the book is more interesting because of it.

4. How would you describe Terry to the audience?  

He's a bottom-rung guy who ended up with the ability to jump into the bodies of people he chokes out. He just narrowly missed out on the sort of blissful ignorance so many people we know, enjoy. If he hadn't participated in a ritual and accidentally been given a dark gift, he might have freaked out and killed his father and girlfriend and ended up in prison. If he'd not gone home that particular weekend to surprise his girlfriend, he may not have found out she was sleeping with his father. It was a 'perfect storm' of events that could have happened to anyone, and instead of happening to a cunning, genius of a sociopath, it happened to a guy that would otherwise have ended up as a low-level office worker for the rest of his life. 

5. Is Rose Bennet the co-star of this book or is this Terry's show, in your opinion? 

Terry's the star, but it wouldn't be the same book without Rose. I made an effort to make every character in Skinjumper more than just someone who was there to be killed, and I don't think it would be the same story without the intersection between Terry's actions and the resulting roller-coaster that takes place in Rose's life.
 
6. Much of the book takes place in the suburbs. Why did you choose that particular location for your horror-adventure? 

I wanted a setting that most readers could relate to, and didn't want to craft a generic city. Suburbs are, for the most part, generic by nature. Most of the people who pick up Skinjumper probably live in, or know someone who lives in, a place just like the book's setting. 

7. Skinjumper is as much black comedy as horror novel. How does the humor relate to the horror? What do you find funny about Terry's situation?  

I didn't write it with the intent of being humorous, and it's not something a lot of readers have mentioned to me, but I do find it rather humorous that this gift landed on someone who, for whatever reason, doesn't use it to make his life better. We see it all the time in real life. Stars who get big breaks and waste their fame and fortune on stupid twerking videos. Teens with shots at full-ride scholarships who get their girlfriend knocked up (or get knocked up themselves) and have to drop out of school. And in this instance, a guy who had a chance at sweet revenge and the perfect crime just blowing everything because he got obsessed and made some poor decisions.
 
 8. Who are your favorite characters in Skinjumper and why? 

I like the bikers in the subplot involving the lead detective's partner. I'm slowly building a mythos where many of my works are connected to each other by little threads, and that biker gang shows up in the project I'm working on now. There's a band playing in a bar scene about halfway through the novel, and an alternate-reality version of them appears in a short story from a now out-of-print collection of mine from 2008. Events from Skinjumper may very well be referenced in future stories of mine.
 
9. What's the key to a successful horror story, in your opinion?  

Characters readers can care about. One way or another--they may want them to succeed, or they may be rooting for them to be brutally murdered, but if the reader doesn't have some sort of feeling about the characters, you've got a flat story. I'd like to think that even the characters I only spent a few hundred or thousand words on got some kind of reaction from readers when I bumped them off.
 
10. What can we expect of you in the future? 

In five days, my third anthology as editor, That Hoodoo, Voodoo That You Do, will be released by Angelic Knight Press, Ragnarok Publishing's newly-acquired horror imprint. In the next couple months, they should also be releasing a new version of my dark-superhero anthology from 2012, Corrupts Absolutely? I'm hard at work on a new novel, about a non-supernatural serial killer. And finally, I'm working on the second part of an urban fantasy serial novel that folks can read on Wattpad for free (http://www.wattpad.com/myworks/29538815-guns-sex-lies-%26-money).

Thanks, Lincoln! Can't wait to read your future stuff!

Bad Mojo review



    Bad Mojo by Shane Berryhill is an urban fantasy novel which exists halfway between The Southern Vampire Mysteries and the kind of violent adult content HBO should have gone for with True Blood. It also takes place in Chattanooga, TN, former home of my wife, so I will make no secret of the fact I'll be biased toward it. The book captures all of the things I disliked about that city and adds monsters, so what's not to like?

    Hehe.

    The book follows the adventures of Ashley Owens, a former United States Army officer who was affected with lycanthropy in Afghanistan. The book plays very coy with what kind it is, specifically, but we get a real sense of how it impacts both his behavior as well as attitude. Forced out of the military and into supernatural organized crime, he's since cleaned himself up and now works for a Voodoo sorceress named Zora Banks.

    Despite it being the Zora Banks seires, Bad Mojo is entirely Ashley's book. He's a fascinating character to get inside the head of, even if he's not a particularly likable person. Having grown up in the South, I've met plenty of jackasses like Ashley and make no mistake--he is a jackass.

    While professing (to himself) to be desperately in love with Zora, he spends much of the book getting into the pants of half the female cast. He's just enough mixture of dangerous, jerkass, and swagger I can buy it. It helps most of the women aren't looking for anything more than Ashley is offering, either. You wouldn't want to be friends with Ashley, though, as his ostensible best friend finds out when the former sleeps with the latter's fairy wife.

    Like so many other urban fantasy protagonists, Ashley is basically a present-day urban mercenary doing whatever jobs he's paid to do for clients who can shell out his fees. He's quite not a hit man but he's sure as hell not afraid to drop bodies in the course of his jobs either.

    In this book, an evangelical Congressman and Chattanooga's former mayor hire him to find the former's vampire drug-addicted wife. She's been taken in a kidnapping plot, or so it seems, and they want the problem to go away. Shane manages to create such a sleazy atmosphere, it's clear they wouldn't mind it happening in a rather permanent way but Ashley chooses to interpret it as a rescue mission.

    The depiction of urban Tennessee is remarkably true-to-life, even with open supernaturals. There's still the remnant of Southern gentility but it covers up the nasty undercurrent of sleaze, drugs, racism, murder, and Jerry Springer-style antics. The fact Ashley is in love with a black woman is a problem for several of his associates as well as her business, even though she's the best sorceress in town. Conversely, she's part white is probably just as much a problem with the other side of her heritage, though we don't get to see that part from Ashley's perspective.

    We get a good sense of Chattanooga's superrnatural underworld in this book, the power players, and who is going to be the main antagonists for the book. I, especially, liked the depiction of vampires this time around. They're descended from the Serpent of Eden and have snake-like qualities that make them different from most of the undead I've seen in fiction. The fact they're the bottom feeders of the supernatural world is also a welcome change from where they're the beautiful elite.

    Bad Mojo is a very good book but it's not going to be for everyone, especially those who have any remaining illusions about the Mid-South. Ashley has a bunch of bad qualities and genuine flaws. This makes him interesting, though. The characters are colorful, the world-building excellent, and the plot interesting. About the only part I don't care for is Zora Banks herself, who is as dull as a wet dishtowel. Thankfully, she's only featured in the latter half of the book.

9/10

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Press Release: Genesse's The Golden Cord receives cinematic treatment

The Fantasy Adventure Gets a Book Trailer Worthy of Its Epic Scope

 
South Jordan, Utah, January 19, 2015The standard for book trailers has just been set to a new level.

Epic fantasy author Paul Genesse is pleased to announce the new book trailer for his novel, The Golden Cord. But this isnt just your average run-of-the-mill book trailer with still images and floating text. The Golden Cord has what is called a cinematic book trailer, which closely resembles that of a movie.

The company Cinema Book Trailers (www.cinemabooktrailers.com) has already received quite a bit of attention for their unofficial trailer of James Dashners bestselling young adult novel, The Maze Runner. The trailer to date has received almost 180,000 views on YouTube. When award-winning director Brandon Wade Ho, producer Spencer Scanlon, and producer/special effects artist Corey Roberson approached Paul Genesse and showed him their work, he was blown away. The trailer is full of special effects and professional performances from actors. It came out long before the motion picture adapted from the novel did, and could easily pass for a trailer made for a Hollywood movie.

The belief of Cinema Book Trailers is simple: book trailers should be more than a slideshow of still images and blocks of text. According to director Brandon Wade Ho, Books today compete with movies, video games, and a thousand other diversions for the audiences time and money. If publishers and authors want to reach out beyond their core readers, they need to accept this and rise to the competitions level. Showing your story in a visual format is going to capture your readers attention and will also inform movie studios and producers that your story has visual flare they can market and sell.

Genesse is the author of the Iron Dragon novels, the first of which, The Golden Cord, became the bestselling fantasy novel Five Star Books ever published. With his energetic personality and gift for drawing people into his world of words, its no wonder he attracted the attention of Cinema Book Trailers.

The film shoot for The Golden Cord cinematic book trailer was one of the most incredible experiences Ive ever had. Watching the scenes come to life that Id had in my head for fifteen years was mind-blowing, Genesse says. Im very pleased with the final product. It captures the flavor and the look of the world. The book trailer came out great because of the tireless work done by the cast and crew. Cinema Book Trailers was wonderful to work with and Ill be forever grateful for what they created.

The cinematic book trailer for The Golden Cord is now available on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pn8cFAAJ_yQ and on Genesses website, www.paulgenesse.com. Readers can follow him on Facebook and Twitter @Paul_Genesse

About The Golden Cord:

A hunter must leave behind the woman he loves and give up all hope of survival as he is forced to guide his most hated enemies on a suicidal journey to the lair of the dragon king.

This is a story thats worth your time. Its almost like going back to that first fantasy novel that totally captivated you and you read it over and over again. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED. Russell Davis, author, editor, and President of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America.


About Paul Genesse:
Paul Genesse is the author of The Golden Cord, which is the bestselling fantasy novel Five Star Books has ever had. He is also the author of The Dragon Hunters and The Secret Empire in his Iron Dragon Series. He loves writing short fiction and has sold over a dozen, which appear in various DAW anthologies, and elsewhere. He is also the editor of the five volumes in the demon-themed Crimson Pact shared multiverse anthology series. He lives with his very supportive wife, Tammy, and a large collection of fantasy art, which Paul keeps in his basement gallery. He wants to become the nerd Jimmy Fallon and loves interviewing movie and TV stars at large media conventions.

The Walking Dead Vol. 4: Heart's Desire review


    The Walking Dead is a series I'm greatly fond of but I am forced to take in small doses. I am a great fan of bleakness and uncompromising narrative, but I have to spread out my appreciation of such. That's my excuse for why I haven't reviewed a trade since July of 2014 and I'm sticking to it. Totally not me getting caught up in other things.

    Hehe.

    I liked this volume because it's a follow up to Safety Behind Bars. The book begins when Rick Grimes takes his first step down the road to Hell by murdering a fellow human being in order to keep the prison for the group. Said human being was trying to force them out but "the greater good" is a very flimsy justification for doing so, especially when they'd just accused him of murdering two girls for no real reason.

    Much of this book deals with the fallout from Rick's choice, culminating in the group losing faith in his leadership. Rick doesn't really want to be the sole leader, anyway, but is outraged at the idea he's losing it. Rick needs the reassurance everything he's doing is for the greater good and having the group question that is far more hurtful than the idea he's the leader. Rick wants less to be the leader than to be "right."

    We also get the arrivel of series staple Michonne. Said character arrives with her pair of chained up zombies, a katana, and almost no past. Michonne is an interesting character because she seems to come from a different genre than the otherwise realistic survivors. Several months in and Michonne has adapted to becoming a superhero-esque zombie-slayer.

    Michonne's presence is both a blessing and a curse for the group. She brings a considerable boon to the group's security but she also seduces Tyreese within hours of her arrival. This disrupts the group's dynamic as Tyreese was in a relationship with Carol. It's not like on the outside where a break-up is a bad thing but people get over it. Everyone's hope for the future is hanging by a thread.

    One of the most memorable moments in the entire series, iconic even, ends this volume as it also reveals one of the fundamentals of the comic's "rules" for zombies. I'm not a suicidal man by nature but, I've got to tell you, this revelation would have me contemplating taking a bullet over continuing.

    I think the best part of this volume is the fact it manages to find the sweet spot between gritty depression as well as humanist hope. There's deaths in this book but they're not so overwhelming or bleak we lose hope for the survivors. Instead, it's an almost cerebral meditation on the basic questions of how much our survivors want to give up of the old world in order to survive in the new.

    In conclusion, this is one of my favorite volumes in The Walking Dead. The focus is on the characters and the situations which arise as a result of the apocalypse. It's a rather slow volume but it's entertaining, believable, and full of hints for what is to come. I'm also a fan of the Michonne character as her out-of-genreness works with the fact everyone reacts to her like she's a crazy yet awesome person.

10/10