Dwarfsploitation

Immediately upon learning that DWARFSPLOITATION was, indeed, truly a book all about movies featuring midgets — pardon me, I mean “little people” — I thought that it had better discuss the seminal scene of Billy Barty cutting off Carrie Fisher’s dress with a sword in UNDER THE RAINBOW, or the guide wouldn’t be worth a pint of anything.

As they said in those spaghetti sauce commercials of the ’80s, it’s in there. Co-authors Brad Paulson and Chris Watson, both regular-sized humans, have compiled reviews on quite a wide selection of films. I didn’t count how many, but there are 320 pages’ worth, from THE ADVENTURES OF BARON MUNCHAUSEN to THE WONDERFUL WORLD OF THE BROTHERS GRIMM, with more Weng Weng titles than I’ve been able to locate in between.

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The Thirteen Hallows

Michael Scott and Colette Freedman’s THE THIRTEEN HALLOWS is a gripping contemporary fantasy, tinged with ancient folklore, and drenched in blood and gore. It stands as an excellent one-off (at least, it doesn’t seem like a series would work here) — a chunky book that happens to be delicately paced with a surprisingly satisfying ending.

The “hallows” in question are relatively mundane objects, but they were used by a mage who had the power of the gods to seal a portal from the realm of the demons into the realm of the humans. Each of the hallows has a power of its own but if brought all together, they can be used to unlock the portal. This would mean the ultimate destruction of mankind.

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The Coyote Tracker

With THE COYOTE TRACKER, the latest entry in the Josiah Wolfe series has arrived. This entry is a bit different than the ones preceding it, because it seems author Larry D. Sweazy might have been reading some Erle Stanley Gardner, since the bulk of the story revolves around an upcoming court case. And the city of Austin, Texas, is the central location to the whole plot.

Now, it’s still a Western — just a bit of a variation is all. The story deals with the murder of a prostitute, and the only suspect is a fellow Texas Ranger Scrap Elliot. It’s up to Josiah to clear his friends name, knowing full well that there is no way he could have been the culprit.

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A Covert Affair

Jennet Conant’s A COVERT AFFAIR has a most unruly cover line, reading, “When Julia and Paul Child joined the OSS they had no way of knowing that their adventures with the spy service would lead them to a world of intrigue and, because of one idealistic but reckless colleague, a terrifying FBI investigation.” The clue to what the book is really about lies there. For the book seems to involve Julia Child (the noted French Chef of the PBS series and a hero of mine) and her husband, Paul Child, only peripherally.

The book begins with the ordeal of Paul being investigated by the FBI, because of his work association with one Jane Foster. They were colleagues in the OSS (Office of Strategic Services, the wartime precursor to the CIA) working in the Far East, and this is where Paul initially met Julia, who was to become his wife.

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Devil Said Bang

I hate Richard Kadrey. More on that in a minute.         

James Stark — aka “the monster who kills monsters,” aka my favorite antihero — is back in Richard Kadrey’s DEVIL SAID BANG, the fourth installment in his SANDMAN SLIM series.

When last we saw Stark, he had traveled back to Hell to settle a score with an old enemy, and stop a war from erupting that could possibly have caused the end of the universe and all life as we know it. You know: just another work day in the life of Sandman Slim.

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Jerusalem: Chronicles from the Holy City

Because of his wife’s work with Doctors Without Borders, illustrator Guy Delisle has been essentially leading readers on a tour of Countries Where People Are Dicks to Each Other. His first (and greatest) book was 2005’s PYONGYANG: A JOURNEY IN NORTH KOREA, a peek into the mundanities of totalitarianism.

He followed with the enjoyable but less fulfilling SHENZEN: A TRAVELOGUE FROM CHINA and BURMA CHRONICLES, and is now back on the new releases wall with JERUSALEM: CHRONICLES FROM THE HOLY CITY. And it’s a fine piece of work.

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A Vine in the Blood

Leighton Gage and his series starring Chief Inspector Mario Silva is an absolute revelation to me. In A VINE IN THE BLOOD, the fifth book in the series, we see Silva and all his surrounding characters at their best: whipcrack-smart and cynically funny to boot, all in a novel that can be read in an afternoon.

It’s his pacing and the insistence on telling the story largely through dialogue that speeds the reader along, but you don’t feel cheated by the experience, and that’s a remarkable accomplishment.

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The Second World War: A Military History

You wouldn’t think we’d have needed another single-volume history of World War II. By most accounts, John Keegan’s THE SECOND WORLD WAR fits the bill, but if not, there are literally hundreds of other works available, and thousands (tens of? hundreds of?) other books that recount aspects of this global conflict.

But Gordon Corrigan’s THE SECOND WORLD WAR: A MILITARY HISTORY takes a slightly different tack. As the subtitle indicates, this book mostly dispenses with politics and culture (except for a late chapter on the war at home), and concentrates on military actions and operations.

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Wolf’s Trap

In the horror genre, we get so few good werewolf novels, much less true ones. W.D. Gagliani’s WOLF’S TRAP is not one of them. Sadly, it’s one of the worst offerings I’ve ever had the displeasure to read. Originally published in a small-press edition and then from Leisure Horror a few years ago before this new Samhain edition, WOLF’S TRAP is not without its fans, but I found it unforgivably plodding and padded.

What makes it worse is that it begins with promise, a pastiche of crime and horror — with more emphasis on the former — as cop Nick Lupo investigates a string of hooker murders by a serial killer with a disturbing lipstick fetish (he views the tubes as “tiny penises”).

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The Croning

Laird Barron has built a respectable reputation in horror fiction exclusively from his finely crafted short stories. Not surprisingly, he is often featured on the cover of many recent year’s-best horror collections. THE CRONING is his first novel-length work. It’s wonderfully nightmare-provoking and impressively mature for a debut novel, but not without its sometimes baffling, ultimately fascinating challenges.

The protagonist, Donald Miller, a geologist and academic, is nearly 80 years old. He and his wife, Michelle, a noted and widely published anthropologist, live in their home in Olympia, Wash., and await the arrival of their grown twin children. Donald should be enjoying his twilight years, but instead is bothered by huge gaps in his memory as he reflects back on his life.

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