Sunday, October 23, 2011

Book Review: The Pumpkin Man by John Everson

Title: The Pumpkin Man
Author: John Everson
Publisher: DP
Release Date: 09/15/2011
ISBN: 1428512128

If you're familiar with the pulp horror books of the 80s and 90s, you'll be well prepared for this book. If you're not, then the best I can equate them to are the equally campy-yet-fun movies of that era. (Think 976-EVIL style camp.)

After her father’s gruesome murder, Jenn needed a place to get away from it all with some friends, to take her mind off her grief. The empty seaside cottage she inherited seemed perfect. Jenn didn’t know that the cottage held arcane secrets, mysteries long hidden and best left alone. She didn’t realize until it was too late that the old books and Ouija board she found there really do hold great power. And it was only after her friend’s headless body was discovered that she knew the legend of the local bogeyman was no mere legend at all. An evil has been unleashed, a terrifying figure previously only spoken of in whispers. But now the whispers will become screams. Beware…THE PUMPKIN MAN

As someone who cut her horror lit teeth on various pulps carried by the local libraries, I was pretty excited to dive into this book. The premise of this takes me back to an era where horror didn't have to be slick and put huge new spins on everything, it just had to entertain. Everson manages to capture the feeling and general intent of these books for the most part.

The story's beginning was pretty strong and managed to keep my interest. I'll admit that the characters are woefully underdeveloped but I wasn't really expecting a lot of depth here, so that's OK. There's a lot of great shock and titillation scenes that made up for this.

Where the book stumbled was in the last half of the book where things just seem to fall apart. Everson tries to shift the plot somewhat and as a result it just loses some of the momentum that made the earlier part of the book so much fun. We're given revelations and introductions that just seem a little out of left field. I can't help but think that if we were introduced to these specific characters earlier, the plot twists they brought about would have been a little more gasp-worthy and held the plot together better.

Overall this isn't a bad read and I'd heavily recommend it to fans of camp horror. It's the book equivalent of watching a horror movie along the lines of Night of the Demons, so it's perfect for the Halloween season. As long as you don't expect too much from it you'll enjoy the ride. I just wish that it'd been a little more polished than it ended up being. Either way, I'm going to check out some of Everson's other works.

3.5 out of 5 stars

(ARC provided by Netgalley)

Comic Preview: House of Night #1

Title: House of Night #1
Author: P.C. Cast
Artist: Joƫlle Jones,Karl Kerschl
Publisher: Dark Horse

Release Date: 11/9/2011

(Note: This review only covers a 6 page preview of the comic.)

Until recently, Zoey Redbird was an average high-school student worrying about grades, boys, and breakouts. But priorities have a way of changing when you are marked as a
vampyre, enroll in the vampyre academy House of Night, and have to figure out a whole new social hierarchy, affinities for elementa

l magic, and physiological changes that make you crave blood.
I wish I could recommend this higher, but I have to say that this preview left me lukewarm. The entire comic just seemed to be a jumbled mess and I can't quite say if this is because I only got a brief preview of the book or if it's because the comic itself is just lacking the addictive quality that the series holds.

First off, I'm highly disappointed with the artwork. When I first looked this series up via Netgalley there was this absolutely gorgeous cover artwork that had me drooling over the prospect of reading this preview. It didn't hurt that the other covers I found were equally awesome. With covers like these, the artwork inside has got to be pretty cool, right? Unfortunately that assumption was sort of wrong. The artwork as a whole is nice but occasionally there's things that just looked really off putting, such as the bodily proportions of some of the characters. As an example I've included the picture of Zoey and Aphrodite. Zoey has this weird popsicle stick body and this huge head that looks like it's threatening to fall right off her shoulders. It really draws you out of the story, putting it mildly. This is just really jarring to see when the artwork is otherwise nicely done.

Story-wise it's ok. Not great, but not awful either. I'll admit that it's been a while since I've picked up the books but I remember most of what went on and this just sort of confused me since I thought it was supposed to be the start of the series. I got the impression (since none of this was in the books) that this is supposed to be a side-story, but it's going to be a little hard for newbies to pick up and read without having previous read the books.

If you're curious, Dark Horse has a 10 page preview up on their website (click here) to peruse. I'm not going to completely dismiss this comic since it has the starts of something good, but some fans will probably want to wait for the inevitable volume collection to hit their library or bookstore shelves.

2.5 out of 5 stars

(Preview provided by Netgalley)

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Book Review: The Corn Maiden and Other Nightmares by Joyce Carol Oates

Title: The Corn Maiden and Other Nightmares
Author: Joyce Carol Oates
Publisher: Grove/Atlantic Inc
Release Date: 0802126022
ISBN: 0802126022

I'll admit outright that I'm not overly a fan of Oates' writing style, but dangit... she knows how to write. Even as I asked myself why I'm reading the stories since I wasn't really digging them, I couldn't help but admire how well she managed to keep me turning the pages despite that.

"The Corn Maiden" is the gut-wrenching story of Marissa, a beautiful and sweet, but somewhat slow, eleven-year-old girl with hair the color of corn silk. Her single mother comes home one night to find her missing and panics, frantically knocking on the doors of her neighbors. She finally calls the police, who want to know why she left her young daughter alone until 8:00 o’clock.

Suspicion falls on a computer teacher at her school with no alibi for the time of the abduction. Obvious clues—perhaps too obvious—point directly to him. Unsuspected is Judah (born Judith), an older girl from the same school who has told two friends in her thrall of the Indian legend of the Corn Maiden, a girl sacrificed to ensure a good crop.

The trusting Marissa happily went to a secluded basement with the older girls, pleased to be included, and is convinced that the world has ended and that they are the last survivors. Remaining an unaware hostage for days, she grows weaker on a sparse diet as Judah prepares her for sacrifice.

The seemingly inevitable fate of Marissa becomes ever more terrifying as Judah relishes her power, leading to unbearable tension with a shocking conclusion.

“Helping Hands,” published here for the first time, begins with an apparently optimistic line: “He came into her life when it had seemed to her that her life was finished.”

A lonely woman meets a man in the unlikely clutter of a dingy charity shop and extends friendliness, which soon turns to quiet and unacknowledged desire. With the mind-set of a victim, struggling to overcome her shyness and fears, she has no idea what kinds of doors she may be opening.

The powerful stories in this extraordinary collection further enhance Joyce Carol Oates’s standing as one of the world’s greatest writers of suspense.

First off, I just have to repeat the statement that Joyce Carol Oates knows how to keep someone reading. I really didn't like the writing style that the first story was written in but I just had to keep reading purely because I had to, no needed to know how it all ended. The titular story (Corn Maiden) is just one of many stories in this book, all of which delivered that same "gotta know how it ends" tension and suspense.

Out of all of the stories, I have to say that Helping Hands grabbed me the most. Some of the stories, such as Beersheba, piqued my curiousity and kept me thinking, but it was Helping Hands that really made me keep reading. All of the stories here deal with a very human and realistic evil, but HH was the far more realistic of all of them, which I liked. The "evil" in this story was all the more heartbreaking for the situations all of the characters were in.

While I do have to give JCO props for drawing me in, some of the stories seemed a little too much at times. Either they were drawn out a little longer than they should have been or they just didn't grab me like their counterparts did. I know that there are some here that I'll want to re-read but there's just as many that I don't really care to pick up again.

This was a good Halloween read and one that JCO's fans will want to grab as soon as the books hit the shelves, but for the rest of us I recommend it as a library read. This is one of the books I would recommend reading regardless of your personal tastes, but it might be a good idea to check it out at the library instead. In the end it's JCO's ability to keep me reading that makes me give it as many stars as I have.

4 out of 5 stars

(ARC provided by Netgalley)

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

I love Rich Koslowski!

(sighs) I'm currently in the process of moving to a new location, so that means that I've been having to pack up my huge bookshelf. It's bad since I'm going to have to decide which of my comics and books go into storage and I hate the idea of not having any of them within arm's reach, but good since I've been able to go through and re-discover some of my most favorite series and authors, one of which is The 3 Geeks series by Rich Koslowski. (Click on his smiling face to go to his website!)

While I've so far only read Koslowski's 3 Geeks series, I have to say that he's one of my favorite indie comic artists out there. Not only does he write one heck of an entertaining series, but Koslowski does a great job of depicting many of the comic book fans that are out there. I can easily see parts of myself in both Keith and Allen (some of my die-hard fangirl notions are more similar to Allen's nature than I'd like to admit sometimes). It's also pretty easy to look at some of my fellow comic fans and see how they compare to their inky counterparts. I've seen the general good natured "Keith" types of fans who love to share (and sometimes over-share) their love for comic books, the nerdy and socially inept "Allen" types that can occasionally blur the lines between fantasy and reality, as well as the Jim types who love to proclaim their love for all things drawn and violent. My point for mentioning this is that even if you only occasionally flirt with the comics world, odds are you've seen or experienced much of the actions that go on in this series.

Even if you haven't you would still enjoy this series. In between the biggest and most epic points of a comic book fan's life such as going to your first big comic convention or trying to draw your own comic book, there's tons of average adventures as well. I think that most of us can all remember the first time we realized that we had to get a job to afford whatever it was that we wanted (mine was washing dishes in order to afford my huge library fines). Many of us can also remember trying to figure out the opposite gender and trying to decide what it was that they wanted of us and how to attract their attention. All of that is here and hilariously captured for our amusement, so there's tons of appeal here for a wide audience.

The series is pretty easy to pick up regardless of which volume you decide to get, although I will say that the first volume is Going to the Con. You can still get all of the series at Koslowski's website as well as picking up the final volume of the series, The Geeksville Years. (Although there was a three part series put out a few years ago that takes place before the events in TGY.) Not only will you be able to get your comics directly from the man himself, but he'll also sign your stuff for you.

I think I can safely say that none of his stuff will be going into storage. 'Nuff said.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Book Review: Obsessed by Fiona Dodwell

Title: Obsessed
Author: Fiona Dodwell
Publisher: Damnation Books LLC
Release Date: 08/31/2011

I have to admit that I held off on reading this book for a while because I wanted it to be the first horror book I read in October. Fiona Dodwell has a deliciously twisted writing style that is chock full of chills and thrills, so what could start off the Halloween season better than a book like this?

Sometimes the past just won't stay dead and buried…

James Barker is a happily married man. He thinks he has it all–until one morning when he witnesses a gruesome suicide. Haunted by the death, James embarks on a journey. Who was this man? Why did he kill himself?

Now haunted by visions of the dead man in his home and in his nightmares, James begins to wonder if he is losing his mind. Surely the dead can't return?

As James uncovers the terrifying truth of the stranger who died at his own hands, he realizes his own life is in danger–and the lives of those he loves.

Obsessed is Dodwell's second book and it's awesome. While her first book (The Banishing) showed us that she definitely has the skills to deliver a spine chilling tale, this book shows us that she's definitely improving and gearing up to bring us even more than that. This is a wonderfully creepy story that kept me turning the pages and wondering what would happen next. What I really liked about this book was that the title so aptly described our main characters in the book. Jeff Jones (the seemingly dead guy) is obsessed with tormenting James. James is obsessed with Jeff's death and the reasons behind Jeff's actions.

I do have to say that I felt that the book was a little too short- I couldn't help but wonder what happened next and more about our characters. (I suppose that if you're going to get criticism, reading that the reader wanted more is one of the best ones to receive.) I love novellas, but if Dodwell wanted she could easily expand this world. (And I'd be right there standing in line to read it!)

I know this all sounds like a fangirl gush, but I have to say that I'm unashamedly claiming my fan status. Just like so many of her peers at Damnation Books, Fiona Dodwell is one of the undiscovered jewels of the indie lit crowd. This should definitely be on your "to read" lists this Halloween.

5 out of 5 stars

(Reader copy provided by author)

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Comic Review: Orchid #1

Title: Orchid #1
Author: Tom Morello
Artist: Scott Hepburn
Publisher: Dark Horse Comics
Release Date: 10/12/2011

(Note: This review only covers the first 4 pages of the comic.)

From the mind of musician Tom Morello (Rage Against the Machine, Audioslave, The Nightwatchman) with art by Scott Hepburn (Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic), Orchid is the tale of a teenage prostitute who learns that she is more than the role society has imposed upon her. When the seas rose, genetic codes were smashed. Human settlements are ringed by a dense wilderness from which ferocious new animal species prey on the helpless. The high ground belongs to the rich and powerful that overlook swampland shantytowns from their fortress-like cities. Iron-fisted rule ensures order and allows the wealthy to harvest the poor as slaves. Welcome to the world of Orchid.

I have to say that for only four pages of material where I didn't even get to meet our title character, I was pretty engrossed from the start. The artwork here is really nice and the writing/art team does a great job of setting the scene.

I love comics that are set in a post-apocalyptic world, so this comic is really up my alley. (It speaks to the girl in me who would read Battlefield Earth at least once a year during middle school.) The artwork is really cool and I liked the causes of some of the devastation. See that underwater city? It was swallowed up by a huge trash vortex, which definitely isn't something you've really seen in comics before. What makes it that much more interesting is that trash vortexes are a very real thing and can actually be pretty dangerous. (See this link for more information. If you're curious as to what a trash vortex looks like, click here.)

The only thing I'm a little leery of is that the underwater city in this picture is Japan, which might be a little too soon for some readers. Japan was hit earlier this year by a huge tsunami that crippled the nation, so some will be a little sensitive at seeing Japan underwater. If you're one of these people, you might want to hold off on Orchid for a little while. The preview is pretty cool and it's likely that this comic was in production long before the tsunami hit, but I know that for some of you this will just be too soon.

Other than that, I really enjoyed this preview and I'm fairly certain that anyone who loves a good apocalyptic comic will absolutely love this comic and want to pick it up.

Want to see this comic for yourself? Luckily for you Dark Horse has a preview set up on their website where you can get a glimpse of the action for yourself. (Click here for the link.)

(Preview provided through Netgalley)

Hush, Hush Backgrounds!

I had to share this with everyone. Becca Fitzpatrick and SeaLion Books have some pretty awesome wallpapers that are Hush, Hush themed.

All I know is that they're gorgeous and I know what's going on my computer as soon as I get home.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Comic Review: Doctor Who: A Fairytale Life

Title: Doctor Who:A Fairytale Life
Author: Matthew Sturges
Publisher: IDW Publishing
Release Date: 11/22/2011
ISBN: 1613770227

(Note: This review only covers the first issue of the entire volume.)

I've only really watched the first season of Doctor Who and almost all of Torchwood, so all things considered I'm pretty much a newbie. However, one of the great things about the show is that as long as you know the very basics of the show, you can pick up the series just about anywhere and this comic is no exception.

What's better: an ugly reality or beautiful fantasy? This is the question the Doctor is forced to confront in a medieval fantasy world where Amy Pond finds herself reluctantly cast as a damsel in distress. Matthew Sturges, Eisner Award-nominated writer of Jack of Fables, spins this yarn, featuring covers by Mark Buckingham of Miracleman and Fables fame.

The story idea for this is pretty interesting, with Doctor Who and Amy traveling to a world where it's every Ren Faire addict's greatest fantasy. It's a world designed to resemble the idealized Middle Ages, complete with magic and fantasy. When you figure that we've got several of the geniuses behind Fables writing and illustrating the story, you would think that this would be an explosion of awesomeness. It's cool, just not as much as I was hoping it would be.

I loved that I could jump right into this without having to know any major details about the series so far, which will undoubtedly help bring in new audiences who (like me) are only really familiar with the basic premise of Doctor Who. However the story just seemed a little underdeveloped so far. It's intriguing enough to where I would want to keep reading, but not enough to where I'd run out and buy the volume straight away. I can only hope that the story improves later on in the volume.

As far as the artwork goes, I liked it. The artwork is nice and playful, which suits the initial feeling of the comic. Yates did an excellent job, although I don't know how well it would fit if the tone of the volume gets darker. I also adored the covers- Buckingham is a great artist and it makes sense to have him contribute to this in some form. I can only hope that later in the volume they had him do a little of the issues' artwork as well.

Overall this was entertaining but I just can't help but think that it's not quite the best that the world of Doctor Who has to offer as far as graphic novels go. Fans of the series will probably want to read this and keep their collection up to date and for newbies this will be a good jumping in point, although they'd probably be better off getting it as a library read.

3 out of 5 stars

(ARC provided by Netgalley)

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Do Want: Kindle Fire

I've occasionally been tempted to get a kindle, but never really had anything that would truly draw me to the unit. Not until now, anyway.

I could tell you about how you can watch videos on it or the internet browser, but what really intrigues me is that Amazon has finally created a kindle that is capable of reading different book formats. Previously you could email the books to your kindle, but that was pretty time consuming because you had to wait for the email to send and get received. This isn't including the irritation that came from sending a document and then discovering that the text is sort of skewed from the formatting. (My coworkers consider me an ebook guru for some reason, so I've been asked to help email everything from books they got elsewhere to homework to their kindles.)

I'm going to assume that you can either side load these books and/or have them emailed to the Kindle Fire without it having to be changed into kindle format. Either way, I'm glad that Amazon finally gave in and allowed different formats to be read on their units. I know I'm not the only one who held out because of this reason. Now if Amazon would only put a memory slot in this unit, I'd be in heaven. I know that there's a ton of memory on this thing and the Fire will also have usage of the Cloud network, but I'm fond of my memory cards.

I have to admit, I'm pretty tempted to queue up like everyone else and preorder one.