Knock knock knock! Housekeeping! >> 4.06

how to get out of jury dutyA few items of business before we break for the weekend, people:

MOVING – As of Monday, BOOKGASM HQ will have moved from Oklahoma City to … well, 12 minutes away in Oklahoma City. If you’re an author or publicist and didn’t get the e-mail, drop me a line and I’ll gladly furnish you with the new information.

BOOK WHORE – Just curious: Anyone out there appreciate or get anything out of this weekly feature? Let me know, either via e-mail or commenting on this post.

COMMENTS – Speaking of comments, we sure wish you’d use them more. It’s fun to get discussions going and get your constructive feedback. That said, you can forget it if you’re a spammer trying to unload pharmaceuticals or entice visitors to your online casino. Comments are held in moderation, so all you spammers have been wasting your time, because you’re not getting through. And my time, because I’m getting about 30 a day from you jerks.

BOOKS 2 FILM – Next week, look for a new occasional feature called “BOOKS 2 FILM,” in which we review recent movies and/or DVD releases based on a book, and compare it to its source material. Fun! We’ll kick it off with a look at the Jennifer Aniston bomb DERAILED.

LINKS – Lastly, a little reminder to click those links. Buying anything at Amazon by entering their site through any link on our site helps support BOOKGASM and keep us moving right along. So if you shop there at all, please enter it through our humble home on the Internet. We thank you in advance.

If no one has anything further, I move to dismiss. Second? Great. Now can I catch a ride home?

Deadly Housewives

deadly housewives reviewDEADLY HOUSEWIVES is a themed anthology of 14 never-before-published mystery short stories, all revolving around the role of the housewife. While men should be comfortable in their masculinity before tackling this book, it is a nice surprise to see that not all the villains are men. An additional surprise is that the big name contributors really don’t have the best work here. For the sake of collectors, let’s run down the contents.

Julie Smith (“The One That Got Away”) has a great little tale of small-time crooks and the requisite twist is nicely played. Nevada Barr’s “GDMFSOB” is a short, slightly disappointing piece that doesn’t showcase her talent properly. Christine Matthews’ “The House of Deliverance” features a creepy, suspenseful vibe, but then fritters it away with an ending that seemed out of character. Matthews also edited the book and deserves kudos for marshalling a large and capable cast.

The first real bang comes from Carole Nelson Douglas’ brilliant “Lawn and Order,” about a disaffected senior citizen who deeply resents the change in her domestic arrangements. This is followed by equally strong efforts from Nancy Pickard (“Joy Ride”) and Elizabeth Massie (“The Next-Door Collector”) which are tight, lively stories – the type Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine used to publish – and the latter of which has a clever clue planted very early on that I missed until just now.

Sadly, Sara Paretsky’s “Acid Test” is just okay – a bit workmanlike, with characters that just didn’t sing to me. And Barbara Collins’ “Trailer Trashed” just tries too darn hard to be funny. But Denise Mina changes the ambience with a wonderfully nasty piece of work in “An Invisible Minus Sign,” and Vicki Hendricks continues the brutal chill with “Purrz, Baby” – two clear examples of why you should never trifle with a woman.

The book closes with S.J. Rozan’s “The Next Nice Day,” Marcia Muller’s “He Said…She Said” (the best of the big hitters), Suzann Ledbetter’s “How to Murder Your Mother-In-Law” and Eileen Dreyer’s “Vanquishing the Infidel,” which is absolutely hilarious from word one to the end. A real winner. Also included are some author bios, and neat little essays from each contributor that focus on domesticity or the genesis of their stories, and even some recipes are shared.

So what’s the overall verdict? Since these are all original stories and haven’t been published elsewhere, if you collect or even like any of the above authors, you should pick up the book. Even the stories that are less than perfect are readable, and there isn’t a bum tale in the bunch. Plus, stories like Dreyer’s and Douglas’ are what make an anthology worth the effort: They turn you on to writers you may have missed otherwise. This is an excellent purchase for any mystery lover, whether or not the theme has any special relevance for you. –Mark Rose

Buy it at Amazon.

Fun with Bookgasm (and lots of nekkid women)

kristin chenoweth bikini sexyIf April is the month for fools, where were all the usual wacky search terms that bring people to this site? In past months, it’s all been about “torture drawings” and the like. But this month? It was all about actual books. Oh, and actual breasts (mostly those of Kristin Chenoweth, star of the new film RV, which opens in theaters today [and closes Wednesday?]). Actual books and actual breasts: Those are two of my favorite things. Or does that count as three? I’m too mentally exhausted to “figure” it out.

Here now, April’s most popular search terms rundown:
67 bookgasm
50 evangeline lilly nude
46 uschi digard
34 kristin chenoweth nude
29 dean koontz frankenstein book three
25 evangeline lilly naked
23 mimi rogers
18 mimi rogers breasts
14 kristin chenoweth fhm
11 narnia movie
11 horror books
10 jessica biel nude
10 the dark tower
10 kristin chenoweth breasts
9 devil’s rejects
9 kristin chenoweth naked
9 narnia
8 witness to myself by seymour shubin
8 runaways
8 kristin chenoweth sexy

Firebirds Rising

firebirds rising reviewA few years ago, a new imprint called Firebird emerged to help sate the rising demand among young adults for quality fantasy and science fiction. As an introduction of sorts to the flavors it had to offer, Firebird editor Sharyn November assembled the anthology FIREBIRDS. Short story even shorter, it was good.

Now three years later, the YA genre market is even bigger than ever. Thus, FIREBIRDS RISING, the inevitable sequel. Though November’s introduction suggests otherwise, it is not as good as its big brother.

But it’s not so much bad as it is full of stories that don’t rise to the challenge of being different and wildly imaginative. Luckily, there are a few true gems that redeem the entire thing, making it worthy of a purchase. Tamora Pierce’s lead piece “Huntress” takes school cliques to an ultimate (and frighteningly plausible) extreme, that of menacing lesser peers in the park in the dark of night. (Pierce’s story is not the only one to deal with the cruelty of today’s students, as Kara Dalkey also delves into this dark corner, although – I would argue – not as effectively.)

I also enjoyed Francesca Lia Block’s brief “Blood Roses,” about two girls seeking a celebrity crush they’ll regret, and Nina Kiriki Hoffman’s “Unwrapping.” Every bit as concise as Block’s story, this also centers around two girls, but concentrates on their relationship and how it changes when one reveals a secret (and, no, it’s not that, you perv). But clearly the gold medal falls on the shoulders of “In the House of the Seven Librarians” by Ellen Klages, an utterly charming tale of a baby left behind in a library all but abandoned except for the handful of eccentric bibliophiles who inhabit its aisles. The girl grows up amongst the books, not knowing anything of the outside world except what she reads; the wonder she encounters is infectious as it floats directly off each page.

“Librarians” is reminiscent of the first anthology’s “The Baby in the Night Deposit Box” by Megan Whalen Turner, which was a highlight of that volume. But other standouts from the original fail to claim a counterpart in RISING, whether the overt update of a classic fairy tale or a comic by Charles Vess (since collected in his BOOK OF BALLADS). The absence of similar material in RISING is notable, and a detriment to its variety.

Instead, you’ll find stories about furry dinosaurs and orphans adopted by wizards, and odd rituals and an even odder boy entranced by two-dollar words. The contributors include such names as Alan Dean Foster, Tanith Lee, Carol Emshwiller and Kelly Link (who, for all the hype surrounding her in the past year, didn’t do anything for me). Being about double the age of the target market (okay, a hair above double), I suspect young adults will treasure this brick of a book more than I did. (Though I wonder if it’s entirely appropriate, given the number of F-bombs dropped.)

November promises a third anthology, and even seeks a title. I suggest, via logical progression, FIREBIRDS SOARING. If the material for that one steps up a notch, it’d be apt on two levels. –Rod Lott

Buy it at Amazon.

Pandora Drive

pandora drive reviewOne can only imagine a Realtor’s listing for a house on PANDORA DRIVE: “4 bed, 2.5 bath, 2 car garage, basement full of vomitous sludge, great view of monster cock.”

Tim Waggoner’s horror novel takes place in a most unusual neighborhood, where the twentysomething Damara still lives a hermit-like existence with her mother. Though not unattractive, Damara is terrified of going outside for fear her powers will wreak havoc on the general public. What powers, you ask? Those that make people’s greatest dreams and worst fears come to all-too-real life. Such forces already claimed the lives of her father and little brother, not to mention Damara’s own social life.

Meanwhile, the retired, henpecked husband across the street enjoys the newfound “twitches” in his manhood and sets out to do something about it, resulting in what must be the greatest, goriest oral sex scene in horror literature. I’m not sure what the point was, especially when his urges turn desperately brutal and overly homicidal.

I appreciated the first half of my stroll down PANDORA DRIVE. Getting to know its residents and rubbernecking at its odd events (and there are plenty) was enjoyable enough, but the last half felt like one scene stretched out past the breaking point. Waggoner’s book is not a bad one – just one where the immense curb appeal is somewhat lessened when you discover how gawdy the wallpaper inside is. –Rod Lott

Buy it at Amazon.

Winds of Change

winds of change reviewThough they are not connected, two of the three horror stories in Jason Brannon’s WINDS OF CHANGE effectively use isolation as a theme, and all introduce some form of ancient mythology into the present day.

In the opening number – both the title story and longest of the group – Brannon strands a handful of characters in a hardware store as chaos erupts outside. A trio of employees, headed by our narrator, begins rounding up the remaining customers as trouble escalates. The power has already gone out, and now the phone lines are dead. The backup generator has not kicked in, and it’s thought that someone has intentionally sabotaged it, considering the store’s managers are the only ones with keys to the room where it’s kept.

Immediately, theories begin circulating regarding the weird things going on outside the hardware store – namely, that anyone exposed to the air is turned into a pillar of salt. One employee immediately suspects terrorism, but it’s clear that something much more elaborate, perhaps even supernatural, is at work here. The employees’ first instinct is to usher everyone out of the store, but when Jesse Weaver – an infamous local legend Jim Croce might have been inspired to write a song or two about – refuses to leave with his wife and two boys (who are every bit as notorious for trouble as their old man), the plan changes. A newly married couple is introduced, and an old man who knows a little too much emerges from the shadows to round out the resourceful cast of characters.

Read more »

One Cold Night

one cold night reviewKate Pepper’s ONE COLD NIGHT is a book about the potential of loss, the very real fear that assaults a family when their child goes missing. The sometimes unbearable tension stems from this one fact, so if you can’t stand child-in-distress novels, then stay away. But if you love television shows like WITHOUT A TRACE, then this is the perfect book for you. Because Pepper walks us through the disappearance, providing a relevant timeline, and she allows her police force to do some very thorough detective work, all leading up to the confusing – and slightly unbelievable – climax. Just like the show.

The best part of this NIGHT is that the law enforcement officers act rationally. When Strauss, who is a Brooklyn detective, learns an unusual fact about the victim, he doesn’t hold it to his chest in fear that someone might think he’s crazy (an all-too-common device in mediocre mysteries), but he goes and tells the freakin’ cops because that’s what he should do! So that scene alone puts a positive spin on this tale.

And the rest of the positive spin comes from Pepper’s suspenseful writing style. You’re never exactly sure where things are going to go with the story, and she has a very creepy way of making you think the worst is about to happen. And sometimes, it does. But there’s also a level of hope and optimism in Pepper’s writing that places her above the tedious doom- and gloom-mongers.

The problem here is that the plot becomes slightly unwieldy. There are good moments and good scenes that Pepper does her best to explore, but the end result is one heck of a convoluted situation. Thankfully, the reader doesn’t care, because this really isn’t a whodunit, but a gottafindherquick. ONE COLD NIGHT is one of those fast-paced weekend reads, with some wonderful law enforcement characters (I’d rather see more of Lupe Ramos and Alexei Bruno than the main characters, the Strausses), a great common-man deconstruction of Nabokov’s LOLITA, and – at its core – a heart that cares about the people within its pages. –Mark Rose

Buy it at Amazon.

Best Short Novels 2005

best short novels 2005 reviewCulled from the vast universe of science fiction and fantasy magazines and small-press chapbooks, the 600-page BEST SHORT NOVELS 2005 is a fairly delightful collection, carrying both good news and bad news: The good news is that readers get meaty stories that fully explore the characters and premises, while the bad news is that you don’t want some of these excellent novellas to end so quickly.

The gems:
• “Shadow Twin” by Gardner Dozois, George R.R. Martin and Daniel Abraham, an expressionist exploration of self and other;
• The James Bond/H.P. Lovecraft adventure of Charles Stross’ “The Concrete Jungle”;
• The paranoid humanity-under-siege tale “The Fear Gun” by Judith Berman;
• The girls-only noir of James Patrick Kelly’s “Men Are Trouble”;
• And, wonderfully, Ian McDowell’s “Under the Flag of Night,” an awesome mix of history, magic and pirates that should be rated “Arrr!”

The rest are definitely a mixed bag:
• Furry fans can get their kicks from “Sergeant Chip” by Bradley Denton, a futuristic dog soldier’s take on life and loyalty, and Eleanor Arnason’s “The Garden,” a cross between STARSHIP TROOPERS, the Care Bears and BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN.
Stephen Baxter takes a side trip into his Xeelee universe with “Mayflower II,” chronicling the 10,000-year voyage of a generation starship as its inhabitants evolve as they travel between stars.
• The remainders – “The Gorgon in the Cupboard” by Patricia A. McKillip and “Arabian Wine” by Gregory Feeley – try their best to tell historical tales with vaguely fantastic flavoring, but just don’t connect. With Neal Stephenson and Susanna Clarke doing such amazing jobs with these kinds of tales, efforts that aren’t total barnstormers pale in comparison.

Strahan has done an admirable job compiling BEST SHORT NOVELS 2005. He’s managed to assemble a great collection of satisfying “tweener”-length genre fiction, and pull it off with aplomb. I, for one, can’t wait for next year’s volume. –Ryun Patterson

Buy it at SFBC.

BOOK WHORE >> 4.25.06

promise me reviewOur nation’s economy needs you! So PROMISE ME you’ll buy a new book this week. There’s a few out starting today like … oh, lessee, PROMISE ME. That’s Harlan Coben’s latest thriller featuring his former pro basketball character Myron Bolitar, here investigating the disappearance of a young girl or two.

If you like your thrillers a bit more techno, Dale Brown has EDGE OF BATTLE, a terrorist-oriented sequel to last year’s ACT OF WAR.

And new in paperback is James Rollins’ MAP OF BONES, which is certainly not the only novel of late to have the word “Vatican” figure into its plot. I like the idea of Rollins’ books more than I do reading them; in fact, I failed quite miserably at trying to finish his previous one.

O, BROTHER, where ODD thou?, asks Koontz

brother odd reviewThere’s something wrong with the world when a third book in Dean Koontz’s ODD THOMAS series is announced before a third book in his FRANKENSTEIN series. Not there’s anything wrong with Mr. Thomas and his supernatural adventures, but we’ve eagerly impatiently been waiting a year for the FRANKENSTEIN trilogy to wrap up, while Odd showed up a second time just this past fall.

Anyway, Koontz fans will have something to give thanks for this Thanksgiving when he releases BROTHER ODD, the next chapter in the ongoing series of fan-favorite Odd Thomas, the crime-solving virgin/fry cook who sees dead people. From the looks of the cover (and more on that in a sec), one can assume Odd’s celibacy remains intact as he becomes a monk. No other plot details exist at this time, but we feel safe in assuming that much.

You can pre-order BROTHER ODD now, and hope the colored-by-Skittles cover will be changed by the publication date. In the meantime, relive good times with our reviews of the original ODD THOMAS and its sequel, FOREVER ODD.

Buy it at Amazon.

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