Cover for King’s CELL revealed

stephen king cell reviewFrom the looks of the cover, Stephen King’s upcoming novel CELL marks a return to pure horror. After all, there’s lots and lots of blood on it – maybe even more than that of his story collection EVERYTHING’S EVENTUAL – so what else could it be? The plot has something to do with cellular technology turning people into zombies; beyond that, we’ll just have to wait to find out.

CELL will be released Jan. 24, which isn’t too far off, but you can pre-order it now.

It’s Superman!

it\'s superman tom de haven reviewThrough comics, TV, movies and good ol’ word of mouth, we as Americans know the origin story of Superman by heart. So why have it told to us again?

Because IT’S SUPERMAN! – the new novel by Tom De Haven – tells the story like you absolutely, positively have never heard it before. If you thought BATMAN BEGINS was a revisionist take on a well-known pop-culture legend, you’re about to have your definition rewritten.

Covering a three-year period in the life of Clark Kent, IT’S SUPERMAN! is set in the Depression era. Portrayed as socially inept, hick-accented and just a hair shy of being dumb, the teenaged Clark leads an uneasy existence in the racist farm community of Smallville. As the novel opens, Clark has survived being shot by a gangster for defending a black man; the police are baffled when the bad guy ends up dead via an unexplained ricochet and Clark sports nary a scratch. Even Clark isn’t sure what’s going on, with his fist firmly closed for hours to hide a spent bullet.

Not knowing what his powers mean or are for can damage an already crippled adolescence, so Clark ties his belongings in a rag, hobo-style, and jumps the train from Kansas to Oklahoma, and eventually to California, where he finds work as a motion picture stuntman. Eventually, his travels take him to New York City (not Metropolis), where he meets and annoys intrepid Daily Planet reporter Lois Lane and runs afoul of politician Alexander Luthor, who has eyes for world domination using his new line of robot assassins. Along the way, Clark seeks work as a journalist, even though he’s weak in both spelling and getting the facts straight.

Doesn’t sound like the confident, cocksure Superman we know? That’s entirely the point of De Haven’s KAVALIER & CLAY-esque treatment of arguably the world’s most iconic superhero. No mere tie-in quickie, this is a fully developed, emotionally rich novel containing a strong dose of fantastic sensibilities, yet grounded by gravitas. With more realism than not, it’s a literary take on a pulp idea, with one eye cast toward the historical, as real-life figures as varied as Joseph Kennedy and Alfred Hitchcock wander in and out of the story to lend the period setting more credibility (not that it needed it).

IT’S SUPERMAN! may not pack the heartbreaking wallop of KAVALIER’s epic, generations-spanning scope, but Clark’s plight will at least provoke a tinge of ache in the ticker. This is a nice surprise, easily one of 2005’s top discoveries. Exciting enough to merit its title’s exclamation point, the book’s thrills emerge more through De Haven’s writing than any wham-bam action sequences. And the Chris Ware cover depicting the Man of Steel leaping the Empire State Building in a single bound doesn’t hurt, either.

Love Sick: A Smoldering Look at Love, Lust and Marriage

love sick michael j. nelson reviewI am in love! In little more than two months, following the kitschy, monster-themed GOTH-ICKY and the cutesy, animal-lovin’ HAPPY KITTY BUNNY PONY, the good people at PopInk are back with LOVE SICK: A SMOLDERING LOOK AT LOVE, LUST, AND MARRIAGE, a collection of Pop Art pieces dealing with all the typical aspects of romance and revulsion, all with that patented genius commentary from MYSTERY SCIENCE THEATER 3000’s Mike Nelson, who once again makes this book so worth your 15 bucks.

Never a stereotypical view on the subject, LOVE SICK manages to make love such a beautifully twisted thing that you can’t help but wish these were made into Valentine’s Day cards. Diamond rings with names like “disgraced princess cut” and “mall cut” intermingle with badly cross-dressed men and gold-digging women with an elderly gentleman on her arm. And when you add Nelson’s commentary – “Some guys were just not meant for drag. However, one way to give yourself a fighting chance is to lose the giant cookie-duster of a moustache” – it just gets even better.

If you haven’t picked up any books in this series yet, do so immediately. They not only beautify your coffee table, they make hilarious light reading, whether or not you’re in love, lust or otherwise.

BOOK WHORE >> 11.29.05

forever odd koontz review• The week’s biggest new title is FOREVER ODD, Dean Koontz’s sequel to his 2003 fan-favorite ODD THOMAS, about a fry cook who communicates with the dead. That book managed to be funny, scary, thrilling, heartbreaking and practically pitch-perfect, so here’s hoping the sequel is every bit its equal. We’ll let you know just as soon as we finish it.

• Tor reissues Christopher Priest’s 1996 novel THE PRESTIGE, about warring magicians during turn-of-the-century London (shades of JONATHAN STRANGE!). This is particularly noteworthy since Christian Bale and Hugh Jackman will be filling the roles for director Christopher Nolan’s follow-up to BATMAN BEGINS.

• Another title seeing reissue is GRANDMASTER, 1985’s Edgar Award-winning collaboration between DESTROYER creator Warren Murphy and DESTROYER ghostwriter Molly Cochran. It has something to do with an American CIA agent, an evil Russian and a plot of good ol’ assassinations and spies. This is the last book under the “Otto Penzler Presents” series, which has sought to spotlight the very best of modern mysteries. Look for our review soon.

• And then there’s TALES BEFORE TOLKIEN: THE ROOTS OF MODERN FANTASY, a Douglas A. Anderson-edited anthology of classic short stories in the fantasy vein that influenced (either directly or supposedly) J.R.R. Tolkien as he set to write something called THE LORD OF THE RINGS. Perhaps you’ve heard of it? Now in mass-market paperback, this collection features works from L. Frank Baum, Arthur Machen and H. Rider Haggard, among many, many others. We plan to read it soon, despite our LOTR allergy.

Kitty and the Midnight Hour

kitty midnight hour reviewI just wasted three days reading KITTY AND THE MIDNIGHT HOUR, pretty much one of the lamest, stupidest books I have ever read in my life. I normally wouldn’t, of my own volition, pay to read book like this, but since someone was nice enough to send it to me, I thought I’d give it a try.

I wanted to like it – it’s horror, with werewolves and vampires. It’s set in Denver and name-checks plenty of places I’m familiar with. And like me, its main character, Kitty Norville, works for a public radio station. Too bad it’s written by, I think, a 14-year-old Hot Topic wannabe girl who’s read one too many Poppy Z. Brite novels. It’s at that level.

You see, Kitty is a werewolf – albeit a spunky, hipster, late-night DJ werewolf – who happens to set the talk-radio world afire with her Art Bell-style show, “The Midnight Hour.” In between broadcasts, she has to deal with Carl, the leader of her werewolf pack who casually rapes Kitty as a form of discipline; Arturo, head of the Denver vampire family; and – ahem – Cormac, the local vampire hunter.

Somehow, a killer rogue werewolf figures into the plot, but at the halfway point, I started skimming more and more just to finish the damn thing. Horribly written, uninvolving and just damned stupid. There’s no other way to put it. In the end, there’s a preview chapter of the upcoming sequel, KITTY GOES TO WASHINGTON. No, thanks.

Hard Case uncovers lost novels from Dodge, Crichton

plunder of the sun david dodge reviewHard Case Crime already has issued one novel from TO CATCH A THIEF author David Dodge, the adventure PLUNDER OF THE SUN. Now it’s set to do another, but this time with one that’s never been published before.

According to Hard Case editor Charles Ardai, THE LAST MATCH is “a terrific, sprawling international adventure,” and he’s working with Dodge’s daughter to copy-edit the completed draft the late author left behind following his death in 1974. “This is a major discovery for fans of classic paperback crime fiction and we’re very proud to be publishing what amounts to a new David Dodge novel for the first time in more than 30 years!” he said.

In other Hard Case news, the company is set to resurrect the work of John Lange, whose work in suspense fiction hasn’t seen print in almost three decades. In the 1960s, he authored the thrillers ODDS ON, ZERO COOL, THE VENOM BUSINESS and GRAVE DESCEND, the latter of which Hard Case will be publishing. Upon its original publication, GRAVE was nominated for an Edgar Award. Oh, and Lange is a pseudonym employed by none other than superstar writer Michael Crichton.

Solomon vs. Lord

solomon vs lord paul levine reviewHere’s the bad news: SOLOMON VS. LORD is a long cliché. Here’s the good news: It’s still entertaining.

But you’ve seen this before. Stephen Solomon is a small-time Miami lawyer known for his rebellious ways, his willingness to bend the law, his contempt for authority and his general, happy-go-lucky, impetuous style. Oh, and of course, he’s a wisecracker. Now he meets rookie lawyer Victoria Lord, who is prim, proper, respectable, comes from old money, would never break the law and is the type of person who makes plans for her life far into the future. They are complete opposites. They argue and bicker with each other, displaying rapier (well, maybe letter-opener) wit. They are working together, but they would prefer to work alone. Lord hates Solomon. You know full well they will end up in love with each other.

This type of artificial conflict is an absolute staple on television. It shouldn’t be surprising we also see it here since author Paul Levine has written for TV, most notably for Stephen J. Cannell Studios and the show JAG. The scrappy, spitting, dual protagonists must somehow find a way to respect each other. Once they make this step, love and babies aren’t far behind. The method that is used here to unite Solomon and Lord is an old one: a child. Namely Bobby, the semi-autistic, 11-year-old nephew of Solomon, who has rescued the boy from a cult (awww) and who is scared of strangers (awww) and who, of course, is brilliant in so many ways and helps to crack the case. Thankfully, Levine doesn’t pepper the plot with identical twins or a subplot about having scheduled two prom dates at once.

Read more »

The Gutter and the Grave

the gutter and the grave review ed mcbainYou have to love a novel that begins with the lines, “The name is Cordell. I’m a drunk.” There are no two ways about it; you have to.

That novel is THE GUTTER AND THE GRAVE, Ed McBain’s all-but-lost 1958 noir detective yarn, now lovingly rescued from obscurity by Hard Case Crime. Its hero, Matt Cordell, was a successful private investigator until he caught his wife in the arms of one of his employees. Now he’s just a homeless, alcoholic bum who panhandles simply to keep the booze flowing through his veins.

He’s reluctantly lured back into his old line of work when Johnny Bridges, a friend he hasn’t seen in 10 years, finds him in a park and asks him to look into a perceived cash register shortage at Bridges’ tailor shop. When they arrive at the shop, they find Bridges’ partner shot dead, with Bridges’ initials written on the wall in blood. Thus begins a complex plot (but simply written, of course) of murder, revenge and mistaken identity, with a cast that includes three femme fatales, untold shots of hooch and an equal number of old wounds.

McBain (who passed away this past July) was an old pro when it came to crime stories and GUTTER is early proof, a real electrifying read. The plotting is characteristically tight, but his dialogue is so crisp, it crackles. Through the direct, first-person narration, he makes you care about Cordell – no small feat given an apparent absence of redeeming qualities – leaving you no choice but to be utterly wrapped up in the tangled web that is his investigation. For pure, flawed-hero detective fiction, this is the real deal. Of the handful of Hard Case Crime books I’ve read so far, this one easily shares the top spot with Lawrence Block’s THE GIRL WITH THE LONG GREEN HEART. Both illustrate that they don’t make ’em like they used to, but GUTTER is more bittersweet since McBain is no longer around to make any at all.

And THE X LIST winner is…

x list sex movies reviewMy prodding (no pun intended) worked, and we had a couple of last-minute entries in our contest to win THE X LIST: THE NATIONAL SOCIETY OF FILM CRITICS’ GUIDE TO THE MOVIES THAT TURN US ON. Using the Official BOOKGASM Randomizer – a 20-sided Dungeons & Dragons die we borrowed from the kid next door – our winner has been selected: Jeff Carroll.

Congratulations, Jeff! Check your e-mail for a plea to send us your address, and THE X LIST will be on its way to you. Thanks for playing, everybody!

Happy Turkey Day from BOOKGASM

thanksgiving turkeyYour fellow literate pals at BOOKGASM wish all our readers a very happy and safe Thanksgiving weekend.

By the way, if you’re wondering who won our contest for THE X LIST book, the answer is … me! No one who qualified entered, so I win by not having to spend the postage to ship it to you. I’ll extend the contest through Monday, Nov. 28, anticipating you may have some downtime over the long break and wish to share your cinematic sexual preferences with the world. See you then with more news and reviews!

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