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Monthly Archives: April 2014

A Minor Interruption in Service

Just when the excuses-excuses tag had finally fallen off the most used tags list. I’ll be gone for a bit…not exactly sure of the duration. See you on the other side.


Blood Test (1986): Positive for Adrenaline

Jonathan Kellerman, Blood Test (Signet, 1986)

[originally posted 5Dec2001]

Splatters of blood frame a fingerprint on the book's cover.

The splatter always tells the tale.
photo credit: Amazon

I spent most of this book waiting for that proverbial other shoe. Kellerman, in my mind, has always been one of those Andrew Vachss-style one-trick ponies who blames all of the world’s problems on one narrow, and possibly specious, band of the psychotherapeutic spectrum. I hasten to add that I based that opinion on reviews and a cursory reading of Kellerman’s first Alex Delaware novel, When the Bough Breaks, a few years back (I read it in tandem with one of Vachss’ books, which may have further colored my thinking). Removed from both Vachss and the rather amateurish effort of Kellerman’s first novel, I picked up Blood Test more as a way to pad the numbers for 2001—skim fifty pages, dump it, chalk up another book in the it’s-been-read pile. Blood Test, however, surprised me.

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Burnt Island (2013): The Chapel of Ritual

Alice Thompson, Burnt Island (Salt Publishing, 2013)

A watercolor on the book's cover depicts the reader staring out to sea over a piece of driftwood.

The owl and the pussycat went to sea in a beautiful pea-green boat.
photo credit:

If you are a fan of books about writers and horror novels, you have probably read this setup a number of times before: a novelist suffering writer’s block is offered space and time to complete his new novel by another writer. Writer A gratefully accepts, finds his host to be charming if a little off, and then, over the next few days, comes to believe that writer B is putting him up in order to have him finish the book, kill him, and publish it under writer B’s name. It’s not an original premise, but few things are in the horror world these days, and so whether or not it works comes down to style. Burnt Island has got itself style in spades, and it draws inspiration, unless I miss my guess, from a place or two one doesn’t normally see in this sort of thing. The result is maybe a few steps short of greatness, but it is quite good.

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The Spirit Room (2001): A Drop in the Ocean

Michelle Branch, The Spirit Room (Maverick, 2001)

[originally posted 6Dec2001]

Branch stands, alone, looking over her shoulder at the camera on the album cover.

What I wouldn’t give to be that horizon.
photo credit: Wikipedia

Michelle Branch’s debut album, Broken Bracelet, was as stunning a piece of pop artistry as one could find almost anywhere. It attracted Madonna’s ear, and Branch was signed to Maverick. Now comes her first major-label release, and it’s (predictably) a trade-off. That said, it’s still the first great major-label pop album since Midge Ure’s Breathe in 1996.

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Paleo Slow Cooker (2013): Crockaeology

John Chatham, Paleo Slow Cooker: 75 Easy, Healthy, and Delicious Gluten-Free Paleo Slow-Cooker Recipes for a Paleo Diet (Rockridge University Press, 2013)

Not surprisingly, a food shot adorns the book's cover, but the title is large enough that I have no idea what it is.

This is not your mama’s set it and forget it.
photo credit: Barnes and Noble

I’ve seen a huge number of criticisms of this little tome in reviews, mostly from people who can only imagine a slow cooker a receptacle for raw, unprepared ingredients that get cooked while you are at work (none of whom, also, seem to have a “keep warm” setting on their slow cookers if they get caught in a traffic jam on the way home). If you start reading reviews of this book at random, you will quickly enough discern them. The best thing you can do once you have is ignore them; these are the kind of people, I think, who would complain if you decided to use your grill for something other than burgers and dogs. (Or if you put them on something other than white buns.) This is not to say there are not valid criticisms of the book, but “because it posits the ability to cook differently with a slow cooker” is a strength, not a weakness. You have a problem with the author recommending serving “paleo-friendly” breads or crackers with things? Don’t do it. They’re not part of the recipe, they’re serving suggestions.

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The Spoils of Poynton (1897): Wrong Tense, There

Henry James, The Spoils of Poynton (Dell, 1897)

[originally posted 6Dec2001]

Two women take tea on the book's cover.

Ye’ll find no pirates here, laddy.
photo credit:

The Spoils of Ponyton is the first novel James wrote in his “later style,” in other words, drawing-room satire that isn’t really about much of anything at all. For some odd reason, later-era James is what’s universally praised in lit classes around the globe, while the early stuff, which is actually worth reading, is largely ignored.

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Wake Wood (2010): Vet Sematary

Wake Wood (David Keating, 2011)

Ella Connolly, in a rain slicker and boots, stands in the woods gazing at the camera on the movie poster.

A walk in the woods.
photo credit:

David Keating has made just two feature films in his career to date, the 1996 dramedy Last of the High Kings and the 2010 supernatural thriller Wake Wood. You’re already spanning a whole lot of genre there (and that’s not counting the two documentaries he made between). He seems to handle everything with equal aplomb; while Wake Wood is not a little derivative of a couple of previous movies (more on that later), it’s stylish and fun, not to mention put on by as crack a team of players as one is likely to find in one place.

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Faith Killer (1991): No, It’s Not Christopher Hitchens

Josh Webster, Faith Killer (Zebra, 1991)

[originally posted 6Dec2001]

An image of the title page replaces the normal book cover here.

This book is now so obscure that this is the best cover image I could come up with.
photo credit: Google Books

The best thing about this book by a longshot is the title. If you pick it up, just stare at the cover for a while, then put it down and walk away. Because once you’re inside, you’ll find there’s nothing worth having.

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Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark (2010): The Teeth of a Clown

Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark (Troy Nixey, 2010)

Bailee Madision descends a massive spiral staircase on the movie poster.

Yesterday upon the stair, I met a man who wasn’t there.
photo credit: IMDB

Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark didn’t leave a huge impression on me, despite my having heard some pretty good things about it (and, of course, having Guillermo del Toro’s name attached as a producer didn’t hurt any). I certainly don’t mean to imply that it is in any way a bad movie; there are far, far worse ways one can choose to kill ninety minutes, and I have reviewed more of those over the past twenty-eight years than I care to think about. But it felt more than once as if there was a great deal more that could have been done with this movie and never quite surfaced—with the end result being I found myself wondering on a few occasions if this wouldn’t have been a better film if del Toro hadn’t stepped into the director’s chair. Talk about having your marketing backfire on you.

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The Fangs of the Morning (1994): Gallowwriters

Leslie H. Whitten, The Fangs of the Morning (BMI, 1994)

[originally posted 6Dec2001]

A pair of fangs unsurprisingly adorns the book cover.

Insert your favorite fangs pun here, I can’t decide between about half a dozen.
photo credit: Amazon

Picture this. You have one of those 2-novels-in-1 books with both novels from the same author. How bad does novel #1 have to be to make you not want to expend enough energy to read novel #2?

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