Wednesday, September 30, 2015


Einstein's Beach House: StoriesEinstein's Beach House: Stories by Jacob M. Appel
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

“I insert the bevel and draw back the plunger. I know that the syringe contains more than sodium chloride-that even as the toxic contents fill my father’s veins, he is sharing with me his final gift: the horror and thrill of saving lives.”

Reading this collection of stories reminded me that I don’t read enough short stories. I keep hearing that people are becoming more interested in short story collections because they fit so well with our abbreviated attention spans, busy schedules, and our tweet/text diminutive information needs.

Who has time to read a whole novel anyway?

Well, me for one.

Just because I make the time to read novels doesn’t mean that I should forgo the stepchild of publishing...the short story collection. After all, I’m not allowed to discriminate against short people why therefore should I be allowed to snub stubby stories.

I can’t tell you how many people, when they find out that I read, say, as if it is an original thought usually accompanied by a heavy sigh while violin music softly plays in the background: “I wish I had time to read.” I stifle a yawn and usually either ignore them or say:

“Everyone has time to read. You just choose to do other things.”

The impression that people have about reading is that it is something you do when you have ABSOLUTELY nothing else to do. I don’t know how many times, when I’m sitting at the auto dealership waiting on my car or on a plane or on a train or on a park bench reading, someone will start talking to me because obviously if I’ve resorted to reading I must be BORED OUT OF MY FRILLING MIND. So why not replace Fyodor Dostoevsky, Raymond Chandler, or Virginia Woolf with idle chit chat about the weather or their goiter issues or their granddaughter’s exploits on the soccer field.

The point I was leading up to is that now, instead of giving my typical snarky reply that just makes people even less interested in reading because who wants to be like the intellectual a$$hole who just made them feel like a dumba$$, I will pull out my phone and queue up Amazon and say order this damn book…YOU have time for this book.

The “I wish I had time to read” tax will now be the cost of this book. I will look at their wristwatch and their shoes and make a quick determination if they have to buy a brand new copy. If they are wearing a t-shirt that looks like it has been washed on stones in a river or shoes that are held together by twine or a sundial on their wrist, I might point out the fact that they can buy used ones for pennies.

There are eight stories in this collection, not even double digits, so again if TIME is an issue, you can have this book read easily within a week by just reading one story a day and two on Sunday ( this slender volume fits easily in the middle of a Bible or a hymnal). They are Cheeveresque with a little T. C. Boyle hot sauce added to the mix. I didn’t really pick up any Raymond Carver, but then it has been awhile since I’ve read Carver, so he might have been standing in the shadows between sentences, and I simply missed him. I do wonder if Jacob M. Appel has a time machine and set it to take him back to Iowa City, Iowa, in 1973 to have sex with Cheever, smoke weed with Boyle, and drink shots with Carver.

That M. in the middle of his name looks suspicious, like maybe it stands for Mathematical, Mechanical, or Machine.

The thing of it is books are time machines, so Appel didn’t have to build one. The pages of the books that Cheever, Boyle, and Carver all wrote will take all of us forwards and backwards in time without ever necessitating that we leave our armchairs. He didn’t need a DeLorean; he only needed a bus that could take him down to the nearest bookstore or public library.

These stories are about redemption, the first love that we are usually fortunate to escape, time shared turtles, illness withering the strength of a father, deaf-mute sex so as not to further disturb a disturbed hedgehog, of someone so happy at what IS instead of what could have been, a bit of scheming with Einstein, imaginary lovers, and a daughter caught in a whirlpool of her father’s madness.

All the stories are strong, but three of them are really something special. I was going to parcel these elite eight out over several days, but frankly I couldn’t leave them alone. I kept putting aside the novels that were bristling with bookmarks and post-it notes and indulged myself by reading another Appel story. I soon ran out of pages and was eyeing the empty white pages at the back of the book in much the same manner in which I peer into the empty bottle of a fine single malt scotch...satisfied, but looking for more. Highly Recommended!!

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Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Last DaysLast Days by Adam Nevill
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Last days by Adam Nevill is easily one of the best modern day horror novels I've read this year. This story will suck you in, devour your feelings of safety and comfort as you sit reading and nonchalantly spit you out with a wry evil grin, leaving you begging for more.

I haven't been gripped this tightly since the one occasion I was thrown out of a pub as a young man. Last Days will scare you shitless as Nevill pumps up the tension and terror in a clinical fashion that starts off shredding your nerves to confetti and never lets you recover.

Kyle Freeman is an independent film maker, his films include a canny cross into another of his stories The Ritual, Kyle is beset with financial strife when a job offer lands rather neatly on his table. Wealthy businessman Max Solomon approaches him to make a documentary about Sister Katherine and her cult the Temple of the Last Days. The cult met an infamous and bloody end in the desert of Arizona. Kyle, with Dan the cameraman have a strict predetermined itinerary of interviews with former members of the cult and arranged visitation to the Temples of the Last Days.

The emphasis of the film was to be on the paranormal aspect of the cult as dictated by the boss and the whole makeup of the Last Days was extremely sinister and riveting. Your average Cult usually has a charismatic leader, and ex-prostitute sister Katherine certainly fits the bill. She ran things through seven intermediaries, highly manipulative, she lived in comfort while everyone else lived in squalor. Using favouritism and attachment to keep everyone in line, even from afar, choosing which relationships could prosper, all for a reason of course.

The two filmmakers have 3 sites to visit, 3 people to interview, the first is Clarendon Road, London and the cult’s birth. The whole process and setup of the film felt real and certainly intensified the paranormal element, the first site bought terror to not just Kyle and Dan but damn, you can feel it all, your pulse races it's that well described. That however pales in comparison to the farmhouse in France, traps still in the long grass, used to stop the cult members fleeing and bodily apparitions blended into the walls. The bed of the cult leader still in place and something else, not a soul has been here since the cult vanished all those years ago and what they bought into this world, the 'old friends'.
Absolutely chilling.

The characters are both believable and well fleshed out, not so much depth but to be honest I really didn't feel it was necessary. The story is sensational, horror at its most terrifying, we jump through repeated loops of disturbing incidents from the interviews to the site explorations and the overwhelming fear that something is there. Something unthinkable and it slowly bleeds into the filmmakers lives until there's practically no escape.

The pacing is spot on, even the slight lull in proceedings as we explore the history of the paranormal aspect, the 'old friends', was absolutely fascinating. Intrigue and tension intensify almost immediately from the first interview, the history of the cult comes from both the old members and courtesy of the research already done as death starts to follow proceedings, and something it seems has awakened. I can honestly say that I hung on every word and would definitely put this down for a reread sometime in the future.


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The Library of the DeadThe Library of the Dead by Michael Bailey
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Library of the Dead is an anthology edited by Michael Bailey and containing one of the last stories written by the late JF Gonzalez. There are fifteen stories by various authors including Brian Keene, Kealan Patrick Burke, Michael McBride, Christopher Golden, Tim Lebbon, Gary Braunbeck and an afterword remembrance by Mary Sangiovanni with an introduction by Norman Partridge. There is also some fantastically dark and elaborate artwork by Gak.

The Chapel of the Chimes or the Library of the Dead stands in Oakland, California and is for all intents and purposes a mausoleum. The many golden tome like cinerarium urns contain the entombed ashes of many different and fascinating people. Thousands of golden books each with a story to tell and of course, our authors tell only the scariest and most disturbing of tales from the darkness of night and the deepest most distressing of dreams.

We start off with the story of a killer looking for fame and a bystander with something to prove, visions of heroism. Those Who Shall Never Be Named by Yvonne Navarro starts the anthology on a resounding high note and finds our hero following the killer to Mountain View Cemetery. Both prepared for a fatal confrontation but unbeknownst to killer and hero their futures already decided when they stepped into the Library.

Other highlights include The Last Things To Go by Mary Sangiovanni & Brian Keene, a story about a woman in mourning, but have desire and delusion clouded her memory and driven her crazy. Kealan Patrick Burke also explores insanity in I'm Not There, the story of a man who can't see his own reflection and JF Gonzalez tells of a nightmarish stalker in I'm Getting Closer.

Michael McBride tells a tale from the Chapel of the Chimes itself and an old man's funeral, where deceit, murder and a lie that started many years ago are finally laid bare. In Night Soliloqoy, Sydney Leigh's story is of the love Freddy had for his wife Fern and the strange tragedy that laid her in the Chapel, of a beautiful Artley Flute that he bought for her and the screams.

These stories come from hope, they come from forgiveness, from redemption and loss, and there is a Chapel for them all. What the Library of The Dead shows is the astounding power and emotion that can be created from a short story and why horror is it's perfect medium, every story is perfect and I couldn't think of one that didn't touch me in some way. Right up to the beautiful remembrance afterword for Jesus Gonzalez and I recommend The Library of The Dead, not just just for it's beautiful stories but also for the wonderful illustrations. Buy it, you won't be disappointed.

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Paul Interviews Barbie Wilde!

Welcome to the blog Barbie

I really enjoyed your short story collection Voices of the Damned, my favourite was the Cilicium trilogy closely followed by Valeska and Writers Block. Which was your favourite story and the one you had second thoughts about?

I think my favorite story has to be my first horror story, which was “Sister Cilice”. “Sister Cilice” was featured in the Hellbound Hearts anthology (edited by Paul Kane and Marie O’Regan) and all the stories had to take place in the universe that Clive Barker had created in his Hellbound Heart novella, which was the basis for the Hellraiser film franchise. Close second favorites are “Zulu Zombies” and “Gaia”.

If I’d had any second thoughts about a story, it wouldn’t have made it into the collection…(good point and here is Barbie showing off Voices of the Damned)

The artwork preceding each story is sensational and adds a unique dimension to what you're about to read, have you ever considered the world of graphic novels?

Absolutely! I’d love to see a graphic novel made from any of my stories, although “The Cilicium Trilogy” would be an obvious start.

Here's a taste of the artwork, an absolutely fantastic Zulu Zombie.

How is the Zulu Zombies screenplay going? There’s one scene from the story that will stick in my mind for some time and that's Trish getting the stomach churning acid orgasm, can that translate to film?

The Zulu Zombies screenplay is in the second draft stage. I’ve had to down tools while I’ve been putting Voices of the Damned together, but I plan to get back to it soon.

I think that everything can be done in film nowadays, you just have to have an imaginative and skilful director.

Favourite scene from your fiction & the one you deliberated over the most?

My favorite scene from The Venus Complex is the journal entry about the prostitute’s murder: it’s strangely tender, erotic and very disturbing. I wrote the scene under the influence of multiple Margaritas after watching the Eurovision Song Contest.

I’m the kind of writer that deliberates endlessly over their work, constantly editing and re-editing. To turn the question on its head, the story that I had the least trouble with and took me only a week to write was “Sister Cilice”.

The Bad Medicine film project looks an extremely interesting one and your sales pitch certainly pulled me in. It's pretty creepy; what attracted you to the project?

The script by Dave Jeffrey was fantastic and all the stories in the film were brilliant, including the wrap around story. (The film is a “portmanteau” style film in the mode of the Amicus films, like Dr Terror’s House of Horrors, starring Peter Cushing.)  Unfortunately, the funding never came through for the project, but I do hope that the filmmakers continue to try to get it made. It’s a wonderful idea. (real big shame that and here's a link to the video pitch - Here)

Looking forward to getting back in front of the camera?

Absolutely! I’ve always said that if the right part came along, I’d love to get back into acting and this part is fabulous.

So where is your focus at the moment and do you struggle with writing time?

My focus is on promoting Voices of the Damned. Sometimes it is difficult to find the time for creativity, but one just has to be disciplined.

Have you struggled to get inside any of the characters you’ve written about and are you prone to masses of research?

I really believe in research. I did a script-writing course with the legendary Robert McKee a while back and he said that when you suffer from writer’s block, one way out of it was to go back and do more research.

I think that having been an actress in my “previous life” means that I don’t consciously worry about getting inside of any of my characters. Although, after writing The Venus Complex, which is written from the viewpoint of a man, for a while I did find it tough to get inside of a female character!

The most difficult thing is to create a character that really lives. Once I do that, then I don’t find it that difficult to get into their heads.

I feel I should congratulate you on The Venus Complex getting banned, those are the books that immediately get noticed, was it good news publicity wise?

Yes, there was a spike in sales! Of course, it was just one library in Edmonton, Canada, that refused to stock it. Unfortunately, The Venus Complex wasn’t reviewed by Publisher’s Weekly because they rarely review independently published books. Libraries use PW as their measuring stick as to whether they will stock a book or not. As far as they’re concerned, reviews in Fangoria or similar publications don’t count. What I thought was funny was that they mentioned all the edgy literature that they already stocked and not one woman author (or Canadian author, for that matter) was mentioned. Bad Edmonton Public Library!

I’m pleased to report that Voices of the Damned has been selected for review by Publisher’s Weekly, which is very cool, since SST is an independent publisher.

I’ve just started TVC and I’m a big lover of first person narration, nothing gets you into a character more, what was your most enjoyable stage of the writing process and was there any parts you had serious second thoughts about?

I actually started to write the book in the third person, following the plucky female forensic psychologist on her hunt for a murderer, but I got bored. I wanted to do something different. I’ve always wondered why serial killer fiction seemed to skirt over the fact that serial killers, like most human beings on the planet, have sexual thoughts. So that’s what I decided to write about: the sexual mindscape of a man who decides to become a serial killer, from the male point of view.

The most enjoyable stage of the writing process is when it just flows. It’s like the character takes over and you just follow along for the ride. That’s really delicious.

I try very hard not to edit myself when I write and like I said above, if I have second thoughts about a passage or a chapter, then it doesn’t make it into the final version.

You have a fantastically interesting and vivid history, movie performances aside there's Sooty, the Morecambe and Wise Christmas special, TV presenting, all the Celebrity interviews and dance performances, too much to list. Which experience did you gain the most personal satisfaction from and which did you enjoy the most?

I loved performing live, so being a founding member of the music-dance-mime group SHOCK in the 80s was fantastic. We supported Gary Numan at Wembley and had some great times: touring the UK and bits of Europe, having a residency at the Ritz Club in New York City, and recording and releasing two singles on RCA Records.

Appearing in Hellbound was also a career highlight: I’m still friends with the folks that I met on the film. It’s great to see how Clive’s vision has reached out and touched people all over the world. And what a visceral, sexy and powerful vision it is…

However, the biggest satisfaction I’ve received has to be how people have reacted toThe Venus Complex and to my short stories. It’s wonderful to act in a movie, but it’s also wonderful to write and create something yourself and to have folks respond favourably to it.

It’s my view that a good author needs to be an exceptional study of people, do you notice things others don’t or does it all come from the imagination?

I think that it’s a mix of the two. I do love to observe people and I’m a big fan of people-watching. Add that to an over-active imagination and we’ve got something here!

If you were stuck on a desert island and could choose 2 books as companions. 1 to read again and again, and one, page by page to wipe your backside with. Which books would you choose?

Well, I haven’t read it, but I guess Fifty Shades of Grey would be a good choice for Number 2 -- literally! One book to read over and over again? It would have to be Colin Wilson’s A Criminal History of Mankind. It’s very long and extremely interesting!

You played the Female Cenobite in Hellbound: Hellraiser II and the female mugger in Death Wish 3. What are your best memories from each role?

Hellbound: my favorite memory is my first day filming on set, although it didn’t start very well, as my plane from Canada had been delayed for 24 hours and I had to take a cab directly from Heathrow to Pinewood. Four hours in the makeup chair, putting on the costume, waiting until 6 PM to get in front of the cameras – wow, I was exhausted. The scene was the first appearance of the Cenobites in the movie (that wasn’t a flashback) and as we file in, there’s poor little Tiffany playing with the Lament Configuration. Dry ice and smoke were billowing across the floor, the lighting effects were tremendous and the set was amazingly atmospheric. I almost didn’t feel like I was acting in a movie.

Death Wish 3: At the end of the film, Gavan O’Herlihy as Fraker gets blasted through the wall of the apartment building by Charles Bronson with his handy Law Rocket Launcher. Waiting outside the building, I had to react to the explosion by jumping up and screaming like a banshee. I was given one rehearsal and one take by director Michael Winner, so I was nervous as hell. But I did it; I gave “good scream”.  (Luckily, screaming on cue was never a problem for me as an actress.)

(And here is that Scream)

Who are your favourite characters both from what you’ve written and what you’ve read?

I love Professor Michael Friday, my serial killer from The Venus Complex. He’s funny, sardonic, complex and smart. I love Sister Cilice. I love Gaia. I love Miss Adendorff from “Zulu Zombies”.

A favorite character from a book I’ve read? There are millions of them! Off the top of my head: Tom Ripley from The Talented Mr Ripley. Peter Cushing in Stephen Volk’s brilliant Whitstable. Dracula. Sherlock Holmes. Sam Spade.

What’s the funniest thing that's ever happened to you? (The more embarrassing the better).

I can’t really think of the funniest thing, but the most ridiculous was this: back in the 1980s, I was hired to play a contestant in a game show for a German TV advert. After spending hours in makeup to look fabulous, I found out that my role in the advert was to stick my head out of a hole in a wall and get my face painted red with an enormous paintbrush by another contestant. There were five of us having to endure this. By the end of the afternoon, I was pretty fed up. I was released and I was stomping off set, thinking that this was the nadir of my acting career, when the producer ran up to me and said that she wanted me to do one more bit. I said that I was finished for the day. Then she said: “But we want you to be a contestant holding an enormous hammer and hitting people on the head.” WTF?

So I go back to the set and there are all these hapless actors sticking their heads up through holes in the floor. They give me a huge inflatable hammer and I set about bopping the other contestants on the head with gusto. I took out my revenge on my fellow thespians, which was a bit unfair, I suppose, but I enjoyed it tremendously. Schadenfreude a go-go! (Schadenfreude literally means "harm-joy" in German.) (brilliant stuff)

I love your website, all the pictures of big hair take me back to the days of Top of the Pops and Toyah Wilcox, what's the most memorable hairstyle that's been imposed on you and have you got a picture?

The most memorable photo of me from the 1980s has to be the one on the cover of AVANTGARDE HAIR magazine. (Only in the 80s could there be such a publication!)  Trevor Sorbie did my hair for the shoot and he must have used at least three cans of hair spray. Richard Sharah created and applied my makeup. They came together to do a very similar style for Toyah Wilcox for her “Thunder in the Mountains” pop video. Richard also did Bowie’s makeup for the seminal “Ashes to Ashes” video.

(Damn that really is spectacular)

Is there a particular book or author that made you want to start writing?

When I was a kid, I was obsessed with Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories. I was fascinated by Moriarty. I even made up a back story for him to make Moriarty more sympathetic.

Bram Stoker’s Dracula and other gothic tales were also very influential in my early years. I remember my English teacher in high school telling me that I had a very gothic mind. (I was very chuffed when I got an “A” in his Gothic Literature class.)

The world in my opinion needs a wild Barbie, horror and erotica are a heart thumping mixture, what's your favourite story in this genre and where do your influences lie.

My favorite horror story is probably The Hellbound Heart novella by Clive Barker: it’s smart, funny, erotic and beautifully written. I find writers like Clive, Shirley Jackson, Patricia Highsmith, Stephen Volk, Paul Kane, Ramsey Campbell all inspirational.

What’s next in the pipeline with the writing and can you give us some inside information? Just between me and you of course ;)

I’m planning a sequel to The Venus Complex and as mentioned before I’m writing the screenplay based on my short horror story, “Zulu Zombies”. I’d also like to get into the graphic novel world, so I’m working on that as well. (great stuff, looking forward to that)

Know any good jokes? For some reason I'm expecting a dirty one :)

Hahaha… Actually, I’m terrible at jokes. I like the short ones that are easy to remember, such as:
What do you call a man covered in leaves?

What do you call a woman who throws all the bills she gets in the post on the fire? Bernadette!

Yeah, yeah. I know: “Don’t call us. We’ll call you…”

What do you like to do in your spare time?

Watch movies, watch good TV shows, eat nice food, drink cocktails. And do vigorous bouts of exercise, of course!

I notice the one/two sentence flash fiction story is becoming more and more popular, and is in itself a powerful storytelling method, can you give it a go for us?

A journalist asked an author to write a two sentence flash fiction story. The author said: “talk to my agent”. :-)

Any issues close to you heart you’d like to share?

I really admire all the women that I’ve had the privilege of meeting lately who are out there, writing and making horror movies. A big shout out to: the Soska Sisters (Dead Hooker in a TrunkAmerican MaryVendetta), Jill Sixx (Call Girl), Izzy Lee (Innsmouth,Postpartum), Jovanka Vulkovich (The Captured BirdClive Barker’s Jacqueline Ess), Melanie Light (The Herd), Chelsey Burden (She) and more. It’s not easy being a woman in the film or book biz and I admire everyone who can go out there and make their wonderfully twisted and imaginative dreams come true.

Great stuff, Thanks for dropping by Barbie and I wish you every success in the future.

A little more about Barbie:


 If you do a google image search for Barbie there is literally a million pictures so I had to do some trawling to find one that wasn't actually her and this was one of the first.

Pretty sure that's not her, there's no nail through the nose.

Barbie Wilde is best known as the Female Cenobite in Clive Barker's classic cult horror movieHellbound: Hellraiser II. She has performed in cabaret in Bangkok, Thailand, robotically danced in the Bollywood blockbuster, Janbazz, played a vicious mugger in the vigilante thriller Death Wish 3and appeared as a drummer for an electronica band in the so-called "Holy Grail of unfinished and unreleased 80's horror" Grizzly II: The Predator, a.k.a, Grizzly II: The Concert, which starred a then unknown George Clooney. She was a founder member of the mime/dance/music group, SHOCK, which supported such artists as Gary Numan, Ultravox, Depeche Mode and Adam & the Ants in the 1980s.

Barbie presented and wrote eight different music and film review TV programs in the UK in the 1980s and 1990s. She interviewed such pop personalities as Cliff Richard, Iggy Pop, John Lydon (AKA the Sex Pistol's Johnny Rotten), The Sisters of Mercy, Roger Taylor of Queen, Pepsi & Shirley, The B52's, Lisa Stansfield, Jimmy Sommerville and Black, as well as actors Nicolas Cage and Hugh Grant.

In 2009, Barbie contributed a well-received short story, entitled 'Sister Cilice', to theHellbound Hearts Anthology, edited by Paul Kane and Marie O'Regan. The stories inHellbound Hearts were based on Clive Barker's mythology from his novella The Hellbound Heart, the basis for theHellraiser film franchise. (“Barbie Wilde’s ‘Sister Cilice’ is devastatingly haunting, piercingly erotic and is one of the true stand-out stories of the anthology.” - All Things Horror)

In 2011-14, Barbie contributed seven more short stories to different anthologies and publications: 'U for Uranophobia' for Phobophobia, 'American Mutant: Hands of Dominion' for Mutation Nation, 'Polyp' for The Mammoth Book of Body Horror(reprinted for The Unspoken anthology), 'A is for Alpdruck' for Demonologia Biblica, 'Z is for Zulu Zombies' for Bestiarum Vocabulum (reprinted in Gorezone #29), 'The Cilicium Pandoric' for Gorezone #30 and 'Botophobia' for Phobophobias.

Barbie's first dark crime novel, The Venus Complex, a fictionalized diary of a serial killer, was published by Comet Press at the end of 2012. America's biggest horror magazine, Fangoria, has called Wilde "one of the finest purveyors of erotically charged horror around." Rue Morgue called The Venus Complex "a transgressive tale that would make Patrick Bateman blush." Brutal as Hell said: "Imagine the hottest, horniest f**kbook in the Black Lace library spliced in with a Quantico serial killer profile report and you’ve got The Venus Complex."

Barbie is co-writing the book for a musical drama with composer-lyricist Georg Kajanus and screenwriter-playwright Roberto Trippini called Sailor, which contains a unique perspective on life, revenge, violence and love, set in the ruins of post-War II Marseille. Sailor is not only a romantic voyage – it also depicts the brutality of war and life on the fringes of society. Sailor has been conceived as both a stage and film musical.
Barbie is working with writer and designer Eric Gross on a project called The Cilicium Pandoric,which has been sanctioned by writer-director-artist and Hellraiser creator Clive Barker. She has also written a "further adventures" of Sister Cilice to accompany the Pandoric.

Barbie is also writing a screenplay based on her short story, 'Zulu Zombies':
“’Zulu Zombies’ is pure Barbie Wilde; eccentric, bizarre, dark and frightening but laced with a inimitable, irreverent punk rock exuberance. It was an honor to reprint the tale in the blood-stained pages of GOREZONE Magazine..."

- Chris Alexander, Editor-in-chief Fangoria Magazine
“Expect Zulu Zombie mayhem, undead rape, witch doctor rituals, vomiting and plenty of bloodshed. Cram it all into one hell of an adrenaline pumping read - and you've got a strange I Am Legend (1954) meets Zulu (1964) meets Horror Express (1972) maddening ride.”

- Chris Hall, DLS Reviews
Barbie will soon be returning to acting in a featured role in the horror movie,Bad Medicine, written by Amazon #1 horror author Dave Jeffery and helmed by Bram Stoker award-winning director, James Hart.

You can learn more about Barbie Wilde on her website 

Night Film

Night FilmNight Film by Marisha Pessl
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

When the daughter of a legendary reclusive film director commits suicide, disgraced investigative reporter Scott McGrath sees his chance for redemption, for he crossed paths with the director, Stanislas Cordova, years before, costing him his family and his career. What will McGrath find when he begins tugging at the strands of Cordova's web?

When I interviewed Edward Lorn for my book blog, he mentioned this among his favorite books. At the time, I saw that it had some post-modern aspects and dismissed it as hokum. Last week, I chanced upon it on the bargain table and decided to give it a shot.

Night Film is the tale of a man's obsession. Picture Moby Dick but with a film director in place of the white whale. Scott McGrath was once a rising star in the field of journalism but lost everything when he crossed Stanislas Cordova. When Ashley Cordova commits suicide, the hunt is on once again.

The book has the structure of a detective story, interspersed with articles and web postings about Stanislas Cordova and his family and associates. Normally, I would scoff and pronounce this gimmicky crap but it served the story very well.

McGrath descends deeper and deeper into the web of dark tales about Cordova, pulling his new friends Hopper and Nora, both touched by Ashley Cordova in the past, down with him. Is Cordova Satan himself? Some kind of witch or warlock? A child killer? A genius or a madman? Who the hell knows?

I'm not really doing the book justice. I think the creepiest thing about it was that none of it is outside the realm of possibility. By the time I passed the 66% mark, I was contemplating taking a day off work to finish it. It wound up being an even crazier tale than I ever expected when I first picked up the book.

The writing reminded me of Tana French a bit, literary but still suited to a detective tale. I'll have to track down Special Topics in Calamity Physics when I get a chance.

I see a lot of people having trouble with the ending. I was pretty sure it would end the way it did once the ambiguous endings of Cordova's films were revealed. I did love the fake-out ending at the nursing home, though.

If dark detective tales with a psychological component are your drug of choice, Night Film will be a great fix. Five out of five stars.

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2001: A Space Odyssey (Space Odyssey, #1)2001: A Space Odyssey by Arthur C. Clarke
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

An alien artifact teaches a man-ape to use tools. Heywood Floyd goes to the moon to investigate a mysterious situation. Dave Bowman and his crewmates, most of them in cryogenic sleep, head toward Saturn....

Let me get my two big gripes out of the way first.
1. Arthur C. Clarke's characters are cardboard cutouts and largely interchangeable with one another.
2. Arthur C. Clarke's prose doesn't bring all the boys to the yard.

Now that I've got that out of the way, I enjoyed this book very much. Some of it is a little dated, not surprising since Clarke wrote it around the time some man-ape discovered fire. A lot of it is spot-on, though, like Heywood Floyd's tablet by another name.

The first two threads do a great job of setting up the third. The man-ape thread was the least exciting but nicely set the stage. By the time Bowman's thread got going, the book was very hard to put down.

Unlike a lot of sf classics, I enjoyed both the story AND the concepts. Because of the enjoyment factor and because it's a classic of the genre, I bumped it from my original 3.5 to a full 4 out of 5.

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Monday, September 28, 2015

FBI Agent or Mobster?

Making Jack Falcone: An Undercover FBI Agent Takes Down a Mafia FamilyMaking Jack Falcone: An Undercover FBI Agent Takes Down a Mafia Family by Joaquin "Jack" Garcia
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Part of me wants to be a mobster. Part of me wants to be an undercover agent. Most of me is scared shitless to do either, so I'm happy to live vicariously through the exciting life of Joaquin "Jack Falcone" Garcia.

FBI Agent Garcia spent two and a half years undercover infiltrating the Gambino crime family, specifically targeting capo Greg DePalma, an old school mobster newly out of prison and on the rise within the regime.

Garcia relates his exploits in a conversational fashion that is jovial and engaging. You almost forget he's working alongside ruthless, violent criminals who would likely end him if they discovered the wire he wore to record their every word. However, the tension is often high and, as a reader looking for a thrill, I was happy to find my nerves rattled more than a few times.

The life of a mobster sounds not entirely unappealing at times, if you believe what Garcia has to say about it. He seemed to fit right in, as if he was made for the role. In fact, though it's never stated, one gets the sense that DePalma saw in "Jack" the son he wished he'd had, as witnessed by DePalma's desire to have "Jack" made. That is flat out amazing, to have an FBI agent not only be able to work incognito with the mob, but to fool them so thoroughly that they wish to make the agent one of them!

Garcia was clearly unhappy with the FBI. For its part, the FBI may have jerked Garcia around a bit because they felt he was enjoying his assignment a little too much. Whoever was in the right, the fact is that some readers may be turned off by the amount of sour grapes vented through out the book.

For me, that hardly dampened my enjoyment. I got the chance to learn about the modern day mob and it felt like I was getting to be a good fella for a couple hundred pages, and that to me is a good read I can't refuse.

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Light Laughs With And About Amy Poehler

Yes PleaseYes Please by Amy Poehler
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

An autobio from a funny lady I admire? Yes, please!

Of course I want to learn more about a woman who's made me laugh for a good long while. For a stretch of time there, Amy Poehler was the only funny thing SNL had going for it and then she created one of the more endearing characters in television on her hit show Parks & Rec. How can you not love a confident woman who makes you laugh?

Many have not loved her book, Yes Please. I blame the reader and high expectations. For one, readers, you shouldn't read a comedian's memoirs, you should listen to them via audiobook. Performance is their thing, so why would you think they'd translate perfectly through the written medium? Secondly, the high expectations of a book put out by a comedian on the top of their game leads the readers into thinking that whatever this person touches will turn to gold. Not always true, especially if said comedian didn't want to write the book in the first place.

...And Poehler definitely didn't want to write this book. In fact, she spends too much damn time at the beginning telling the reader how much she didn't want to write this book. That is a bad beginning. I'm often wary of memoirs that go meta. It tells me that the author is straining for things to write about and it also chimes a dissonant tone. Who wants to be involved in anything with an unwilling participant?

Once the rocky intro is out of the way, Yes Please gets down to the good stuff. Poehler gives her fans a smattering of her life's story, even divulging her occasional naughtiness. She's a middle class white girl from the New England 'burbs...very little drama there, but at least she's willing to dish a little dirt on herself, what little there seems to be. Honestly I don't read this for "the dirt". I'm more interested in their success story arc and how it all happened. Inevitably it comes down to hard work, but no matter how many times I read that, I find it reassuring.

I think that this is not a beginning to end tale of her life from birth to present has annoyed a few people. I didn't have a problem with that. I do however agree with the detractors who complain that the book goes off the rails once too often. For instance, long lists of not-so-funny alternative character names and the like could have been dispensed with. I would also add that not all of the celebrities called upon to contribute little bits and blurbs through out the audiobook were successful. My hero Carol Burnett, for instance, sounded sad and tired.

Still, I maintain that the audiobook is the best way to enjoy this. There's plenty of laughs that I just can't imagine being had without hearing them.

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Friday, September 25, 2015


Ellen Hopkins
Margaret K. McElderry Books
Reviewed by Nancy
3 out of 5 stars


Do twins begin in the womb?
Or in a better place?

Kaeleigh and Raeanne are identical down to the dimple. As daughters of a district-court judge father and a politician mother, they are an all-American family -- on the surface. Behind the facade each sister has her own dark secret, and that's where their differences begin.

For Kaeleigh, she's the misplaced focus of Daddy's love, intended for a mother whose presence on the campaign trail means absence at home. All that Raeanne sees is Daddy playing a game of favorites -- and she is losing. If she has to lose, she will do it on her own terms, so she chooses drugs, alcohol, and sex.

Secrets like the ones the twins are harboring are not meant to be kept -- from each other or anyone else. Pretty soon it's obvious that neither sister can handle it alone, and one sister must step up to save the other, but the question is -- who?

My Review

My grandfather was a prick. He was an alcoholic and a gambler. He had anger issues and extreme mood swings. He was liberal with his money at the race track and when he was out drinking with his buddies, but it was a big deal if my grandmother wanted a new dress or my mom needed a new pair of shoes. I always hated the way he treated my grandmother and my mother and hated the way they behaved when they were around him. I hated visiting my grandparents on Sundays after church and especially hated being left alone with my grandfather. He died peacefully in his sleep at the age of 86. It was too good for him.

Though I had no reservations about reading Tricks, some of the issues in Identical were a little too close to home for me, and I was afraid of triggering unwanted memories. My fear cast aside, I decided to borrow the unabridged audio version from the library. While my vague memories remained far in the past, I was able to feel a deep emotional connection with the characters. Ellen Hopkins must have teenagers of her own, or is very knowledgeable about the problems that can affect them. Her characters are solid, believable, and strong. As much as I enjoyed the narration, I find that the author's intimate writing style and loosely constructed free prose is meant to be read. After listening to the audio version, I borrowed the book just to see how the 16-year-old identical twins, Kaeleigh's and Raeanne's thoughts were shaped.

The story is told in alternating perspectives by the twins and covers myriad teenage problems, including father-daughter incest, eating disorders, drug abuse, mental illness, promiscuity, and cutting. While the characters were easy to get to know, I found the issues covered a bit too overwhelming and excessive foreshadowing revealed a plot twist that was not a big surprise to me by the book's conclusion.

Still, a mostly satisfying read and I look forward to Hopkins' other titles.

Thursday, September 24, 2015


All the Wrong PlacesAll the Wrong Places by Lisa Lieberman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I’ve been friends with Lisa Lieberman for about as long as I’ve been a member of Goodreads. Over the years she has frequently tipped me off to great movies and books. In particular, I’m grateful for her recommendation for me to watch Jean-Luc Godard’s amazing film Breathless. When I heard she had written a novel about Hollywood abroad in Europe during the 1950s, I dropped everything and devoted myself to reading it. I knew it would be well researched, intelligent, and brimming with all that wonderful information that I know is so beautifully arranged (unlike the clutter in my own) in her head. Instead of a traditional review, I thought it would be more interesting for me to ask Lisa a few questions about how this book evolved.  photo d946c068-16e4-4777-bd54-0c6054c8278e_zpsudfq8qns.png
Breathless directed by Jean-Luc Godard

Jeffrey Keeten: Previously, you've written some very serious books about tough subjects. I still see a writer concerned about the bigger issues even though your choice of expression has changed from history to fiction. I liked the way you weaved the history of the time period into the book. You took a book that could have been categorized as a Hollywood cozy and made it into a more profound book tackling contentious issues. For instance: McCarthyism, sexism, racism in London, and even the fate of children in Europe still facing harsh conditions left over from the war in the mid-1950s. As almost a counter balance, you worked in elements like Princess Grace's wedding and Queen Elizabeth's coronation. Were you drawn to the issues of the 1950s for a particular reason? What created the click in your head that said I need to write this book?

Lisa Lieberman: As a historian of postwar Europe, I’ve been inhabiting this period for a long time. My nonfiction addresses some pretty depressing issues, as you note: suicide, including those of Holocaust survivors; the German occupation of Paris; war crimes and the trials of French collaborators after the war; terrorism and torture in French Algeria; the crushing of the 1956 Hungarian revolution. Even as a nonfiction reader, I’m drawn to dark topics. My bookshelves could rival those of Woody Allen’s character in Annie Hall (Alvy’s books all had “death” in the title).

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But I’m actually a fun-loving person, and my taste in films reflects this. Musicals, mysteries, British comedy, French caper movies, satire, romance. It just so happens that the 1950s was a prime era for all of these genres, in addition to noir, which I also adore. So that’s where I tend to go, when I want an escape.

When my father was dying, in 2008, we watched a lot of old movies together, and after he passed away, I had a hard time getting back to my work. I found myself watching more movies, and gradually this story began to take shape in my mind.

Jeffrey Keeten:Cara is a nontraditional private eye, no trench coats, or gats, or worn shoe leather in this book. In fact, the mystery plot spends most of the book trapped in her subconscious. Did you set out to write a 1950s murder mystery or did you you want to write a book about 1950s Hollywood, and the mystery element evolved with the writing?

Lisa Lieberman:I was thinking about writing a mystery featuring blacklisted Hollywood people, and got the idea of having it narrated by a young girl who comes of age over the course of the story, only understanding the clues of the mystery that haunted her childhood as she gets out and about, lives a little. Noir, as a genre, has more psychological depth than, say, 30s melodrama, although I didn’t want to make my story too dark and convoluted (it’s more Hitchcock than noir, really; no accident that it ends up on the French Riviera, with the characters staying in the same hotel where Grace Kelly’s character stayed with her mother in To Catch a Thief.)

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Still, there was a good deal of serendipity involved. Some of the characters and plot developments were planned, others emerged in the process of writing. Who knew that there was a DP camp in Trani (which I picked randomly by looking at a map, to determine a good spot for the car to break down on the way to San Giovanni Rotondo) and that, to get to it from Reggio di Calabria, one passes through Valentino's home town? The journey was exhilarating, waking up each morning and not knowing quite where I'd be going that day. Looking at old issues of Vogue to outfit Cara for the film festival? Learning about the Roma in Italy? Reading trashy Hollywood bios to help flesh out a character? Lots more fun than frequenting the Bibliothèque Nationale or listening to Holocaust testimonies at the Fortunoff archive at Yale!

JK:Cara's brother, Gray, is a fascinating character, so fascinating in fact that he overshadows his sister in the early part of the book. Did you have anybody in particular in mind from real Hollywood that you based his character on?

LL:I was reading Charles Chaplin, Jr.’s bio of his father, Charlie Chaplin, and came upon this poignant passage. He and his brother were collateral damage in their parents’ divorce, and he said that he didn’t think anyone in the world loved him enough. “I want more out of this life. I want to achieve something worthwhile as an actor. And so, when things are low and tough, and it seems I’m getting no place in my career, when I have no answer if people ask, ‘What are you doing now, Charlie?,’ then is when I drink.”

JK I couldn't help noticing you slipped Cary Grant into the book. Any particular reason why the dashing, debonair Hitchcock favorite was given a cameo?

LL: Pure self-indulgence. I love Cary Grant (if you search my blog, you will find that I’ve reviewed a ridiculous number of his films — even some bad ones). Surely, I’m not alone in wishing I could have met him, if only fleetingly.

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JK: Rudolph Valentino died too young in 1926, but the specter of him still lingered over Hollywood for decades. I thought it was interesting how you found a way to place him in your plot. The question remains though, if you could have dinner with Valentino or Cary Grant which would you choose?

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LL: Dinner? Cary Grant. The way he traded insults with Rosalind Russell in His Girl Friday, the back-and-forth with Katherine Hepburn in The Philadelphia Story, his comic timing in Bringing Up Baby and Holiday, suggest he’d be a delightful table companion, even if we were only sharing a hotdog. Of course, I’d hope we went somewhere posh, so I’d get to see him in a tuxedo.

With Valentino, on the other hand, I imagine a more wordless encounter. We might begin by dancing a tango, with the evening evolving from there. . .

JK: I love this quote you put in the book from Valentino. ”I am merely the canvas upon which women paint their dreams.”

JK: As I was reading the book, I kept thinking the Director Luca was based on Roberto Rossellini. I still have issues with him over how he, in my opinion, took away too many key acting years from Ingrid Bergman. Am I on track or did you have someone else in mind?

LL: Bingo. I wanted Cara to come under the sway of an Italian neorealist director, and he fit the bill: serious, thoughtful, passionate about art and women, not as self-obsessed as Fellini. He was generous to a fault, stayed on good terms with all his ex-wives and mistresses. Ingrid Bergman’s autobiography provided tremendous insight into his character. She forgave him for the way he treated her, by the way.

JK:I read Donald Spoto’s bio of Bergman this year so my resentment towards Rossellini is still too fresh, but I’m sure I, too, will eventually forgive him. :-)

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JK: This is a natural book for a wonderful soundtrack. Music is layered into the plot. Did you listen to specific music as you wrote the book?

LL: I’ve always loved 50s jazz and the “gypsy jazz” of Django Reinhardt and Stephane Grappelli, but in the course of researching the time period, I learned that there was a Calypso craze in England at this time. Trinidadians came to London to help repair the war-damaged city and brought their music with them. The musicians gave themselves fabulous names: Lord Invader (he wrote “Rum and Coca Cola,” but wasn’t credited for it), Lord Kitchener (the basis for my character Dory). This wasn’t the clean Calypso later popularized by Harry Belafonte. Some of the lyrics were quite racy, and English audiences loved it — Princess Margaret included.

JK: You bring up Kahlil Gibran's book The Prophet (1923) in the plot. This book seems to have a resurgence about every twenty years or so. In the late 1980s when I was in the book biz, I sold copies like crazy. It was a big book of the 1960s counterculture in America. Does this book have special significance for you?

LL: No special significance for me, but the mid-50s was one of those fad periods you refer to, and Gray would have been exposed to it during his youth in the 30s, so it seemed like the perfect birthday present for him to give Cara.

JK: Cara Walden has a slightly sordid past by the tender age of 17. In fact, she has had a child already and has given it up for adoption. Hollywood is an adult world where child actors grow up fast. Cara is attracted to all the wrong men, but really to me it was the environment in which she was growing up. It seems natural for a romantic, attractive young girl to fall in love/lust with those handsome actors. There is a particularly brutal, embarrassing scene on one movie set with a man she thought she was in love with. How much control over her own body did a young woman have during this time period? Not only with giving a child up for adoption, but with recourse for an assault? Silence or no work?

LL: Yes, I think it is the environment that destroys actors, men and women, then and now. Too many tragedies to list, but just think of Judy Garland being put on diet pills and being “persuaded” to have an abortion when she was married to her first husband, because her image in those days was of a younger girl.

In the 50s, and even in the 70s, when I was a teenager, sexual assault was not talked about, not even at slumber parties when it was just girls. Victims kept quiet; nobody wanted to hear about it, for one thing., and there seemed to be something shameful about it. After she was raped in 1974, Connie Francis bravely spoke out, but every interview is prefaced with an account of what a good girl she was before it happened. (“I had a very traditional upbringing and a mother and father who loved me. I was a very disciplined performer. I didn't go to clubs after a show. I didn't drink or party. I'd go back to my room with my aunt or my mother and play Scrabble. I was never abused. My manager was very protective. I never saw agents directly. I never knew the old show business story about having to deal with the producer on his couch. I was a virgin until the day I married at the age of 25, didn't have affairs. When I fell in love, I got married. . .”)

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Connie Francis

Women who report sexual assault are still expected to prove their innocence, but it’s getting easier to come forward, I think.

JK: There is a hint on the front cover that states 'A Cara Walden Mystery' which would indicate to me that you are planning a series. Are you working on a follow-up? And will it be in the same time period?

LL: I’m just putting the finishing touches on the sequel, Burning Cold. This one is set in Budapest during the failed 1956 Hungarian revolution, taking off from the classic film directed by Carol Reed and starring Orson Welles, The Third Man. Graham Greene wrote the screenplay and I’m kind of channeling him for this one. After this, I’m be visiting the remnants of French colonial Vietnam, then we're off to Paris in time for de Gaulle’s return to power in May of 1958, followed by a jaunt to Cuba to meet Fidel Castro and witness the end of the Batista era. Never a dull moment.

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JK: The Third Man is a terrific movie and one of my favorite Welles movies along with Touch of Evil and The Lady from Shanghai. With Graham Greene added to the mix how could the movie be anything less than a masterpiece?

I want to thank Lisa for being such a good sport about answering my questions and for tipping this reader off to this intriguing, well researched book that is filled with references to great films, body swaying music, and inspiring literature. I felt right at home in the pages of this book and look forward to experiencing more 1950s Hollywood as Cara finds herself on location in Budapest.

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