The Undead: Flesh Feast

Funny how literature has done what film has not: keeping zombies fresh. The whole apocalypse and survivors-stuck-in-single-location thing has been done to, well, death. While recent zombie movies are content to tread this same path, the folks are Permuted Press know the trick in making the reanimated relevant lies in keeping readers on their toes. THE UNDEAD: FLESH FEAST is the third installment in the small press’ short-story franchise, and perhaps the most inventive yet.

For instance, in a twist on I AM LEGEND, Ryan C. Thomas’ “Spoiled Meat” features a man who can’t get zombies to bite him. He simply can’t bring his miserable, lonely life to an end, no matter how hard he tries. Have you ever read anything like that?

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Las Vegas Noir

If there ever were a town ready-made for the NOIR anthology series from Akashic Books, it’s Vegas. From the introduction of LAS VEGAS NOIR, editors Jarret Keene and Todd James Pierce nail it perfectly, bringing up that some of the true crime that happens there could fill a book of its own. We’re not just talking about the founding of the city, but some current high-profile cases. Like other books in the series, it’s spilt up into three categories with a running theme.

The first section, “Sin City,” collects five stories all dealing with people who have made Vegas their life, even if they don’t like it anymore. Starting out is John O’Brien’s “The Tik,” about a self-destructive couple on a night out on the strip. They seem to be playing their own game of preying upon people. O’Brien is probably best known for writing the book LEAVING LAS VEGAS; two days after being optioned for the Oscar-winning movie, he took his own life.

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Savage Night

Allan Guthrie’s new novel SAVAGE NIGHT opens with a page that dares you not to keep reading. I lost the dare and I’m glad I did. In prose almost ruthlessly simple, Guthrie tells us the tale of two Edinburgh small-time crime families who visit enough violence on each other to please Dick Cheney and all people named Scooter.

Former convict Andy Park needs money to to help his invalid wife. His daughter Effie (violent ward material for sure) suggests that they blackmail a sleazebag named Tommy Savage who helped kill her boyfriend’s father. Or something. They demand 50K from Mr. Savage and tell him how they want the money delivered. It is at the money drop that the relentless violence begins with Park’s family threatened. Park defends them with brutal cunning.

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SEARCH ME >> 5.08

Our monthly depressing look at the search terms that bring pervs to BOOKGASM!

Cat Eyed Boy: Volume One

Kazuo Umezu’s CAT EYED BOY ranks as among the most fun I’ve ever had reading horror comics. This is high praise, especially when you consider it’s manga — a format that generally agrees with me about as much as a Payday bar would to someone allergic to peanuts.

The title character fits his name: He’s a boy and he has eyes like a cat. Truth in advertising! He also has ears like a bat, and quite a gift for grotesque storytelling. Apparently there are 11 tales of terror split up between VOLUME ONE and VOLUME TWO, but my review copy amounted to half of the former, containing three stories.

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The Richard Matheson Companion

To name just a few of the novels: I AM LEGEND, THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING MAN, A STIR OF ECHOES, HELL HOUSE, WHAT DREAMS MAY COME. To name just a few of the movie and television projects: four Edgar Allan Poe films for Roger Corman, THE TWILIGHT ZONE scripts, THE NIGHT STALKER, DUEL, SOMEWHERE IN TIME. And a list of exemplary short stories that fills three pages.

The man’s name is Richard Matheson, of course, and I would argue that he has had a greater influence on popular culture than any other storyteller of our time. Not simply by the startling number of classics he’s written, but also by the how many writers and directors have been inspired by his work. I would also argue that he has written more enduring classics than anybody else in our time.

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QUICKGASM >> 5.29.08

quickgasmBecause time isn’t always kind: economic reviews in a world full of waste!

Deceptive is how to best describe Sigmund Brouwer’s BROKEN ANGEL, since it seems like some sort of near-future mystery, only to reveal itself as nothing more than Christian fiction. For some, that would appeal greatly, but the problem is that Brouwer liberally takes plot devices from some very well-known stories and books, lifting ideas from “The Lottery,” FAHRENHEIT 451 and LOGAN’S RUN of all things. It follows the adventures of a girl named Caitlin who is hiding a deep secret that, once made public, had me asking myself, “Am I reading the same book?” I’m not in the market for its message, and what starts out interesting just gets muddled in all the rhetoric. —Bruce Grossman

Here’s the skinny on something we all just take for granted: HOW THE STATES GOT THEIR SHAPES by Mark Stein. State by state (plus the District of Columbia), border by border, the screenwriter (HOUSESITTER, but we won’t hold that against him) gives the full details on how the lines were drawn. For those of us who grew up learning the states via wooden jigsaw puzzles, it’s interesting to read how these came to be. Even Hawaii has its own unique story, which you wouldn’t expect. HOW THE STATES can get repetitive, so it’s not one I’d digest in one sitting, but the map whore in me appreciates all the clean, nicely drawn illustrations that pepper the pages. Special kudos to XNR Productions for that, because they’re a necessity to show what Stein can only tell.

For more “huh, who’d a’thunk?” niche history lessons, a good companion piece to HOW THE STATES GOT THEIR SHAPES would be Jim Noles’ A POCKETFUL OF HISTORY: FOUR HUNDRED YEARS OF AMERICA — ONE STATE QUARTER AT A TIME. I think you’d have to be a true coin enthusiast — make that die-hard — to want to devour this whole, but at the very least, you’ll want to look up the story behind the silver of your home turf, following the U.S. Mint “50 State Quarters” Initiative. For instance, Oklahoma’s quarter — voted on by residents — finally recognizes the state’s Native American heritage; Noles then goes on to explain a brief history of tribal settlement.

I really wanted to like 100 GIRLS, a young-adult graphic novel written by Adam Gallardo and illustrated by Todd Demong. Its story settles on Sylvia, a cute, headstrong teenager with loving adoptive parents and MATRIX-like nightmares that may explain the source of her super-strength. Yes, she’s different from her classmates, because her peers aren’t readily tracked by shadowy goons or attacked by werewolf-like creatures. There’s a lot of action in this digest-sized adventure; but its plot points are not delineated clearly to hold our attention, but worse, Demong can’t draw faces. Every single person looks very, very ugly, yet he’s perfectly adept at penciling everything else. —Rod Lott

Buy it at Amazon.

Odd Hours

In ODD HOURS — the fourth book in his ODD THOMAS series — Dean Koontz does two things successfully. One is making me hungry, what with all its talk of fluffy pancakes and chocolate-pumpkin cookies. The other is maintaining a dogged insistence on retelling essentially the same story again, only with the law of diminishing returns in full effect.

By now, you know all about Odd Thomas, the fry cook who sees dead people. He’s just about the nicest guy you’ll ever meet, but boy, does he sure have a knack for planting himself in those wrong-place-wrong-time situations. When this novel opens, that place is a beach pier, where he meets a mysterious hottie named Annamarie, and then is almost killed by two men.

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Empty Ever After

If you thought you’ve read every conceivable way revenge can be acted out, EMPTY EVERY AFTER — the fifth title in the excellent Moe Prager series by Reed Farrel Coleman — is here to challenge that notion.

A former New York City cop, Moe Prager is paying dearly for the secrets he’s kept over the past 20 years. Back then, Moe located his wife Katy’s missing brother, Patrick Maloney. But Moe chose to keep Patrick’s whereabouts and homosexuality from Katy. Years later, following Patrick’s mysterious death, Katy learns of Moe’s secrets and leaves him.

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BULLETS, BROADS, BLACKMAIL & BOMBS >> Even Spies Start Small

bullets broads blackmail and bombsAs you know, a pretty big book comes out today, about some British secret agent named James Bond — you might be familiar with him. So I figured it was about time to tackle another series of 007 books that have got nothing but praise from most longtime fans: the YOUNG BOND series geared toward teens. From what I read, it seems the adults will love them also, even if they’re not written by Ian Fleming, but Charlie Higson. But I was more familiar with his other work.

SILVERFIN by Charlie Higson — Long before he was 007, James Bond was a school kid at Eton trying to make sense of the tradition and rules. These are the seeds that would mold Bond into the man he would later become. In this 2005 effort, Higson does an amazing job of not pandering to his readers. HARRY POTTER, this is not, folks. It might be aimed at kids, but trust me: It’s great adventure that will appeal to all.

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