August 29, 2017

"Waiting On" Wednesday: Paperbacks from Hell: The Twisted History of '70s and '80s Horror Fiction

Paperbacks from Hell I enjoyed Grady Hendrix's HORRORSTÖR, a haunted-house story with a touch of satire. I am totally unsurprised that Hendrix is a fan of cheesy 70's and 80's horror paperbacks.

I remember checking those books out from the library as a kid, fascinated by the covers.

PAPERBACKS FROM HELL looks like a fun, informative read, and I can't wait to pick up a copy when it comes out on September 19th.

Take a tour through the horror paperback novels of the 1970s and ’80s . . . if you dare. Page through dozens and dozens of amazing book covers featuring well-dressed skeletons, evil dolls, and knife-wielding killer crabs! Read shocking plot summaries that invoke devil worship, satanic children, and haunted real estate! Horror author and vintage paperback book collector Grady Hendrix offers killer commentary and witty insight on these trashy thrillers that tried so hard to be the next Exorcist or Rosemary’s Baby. It’s an affectionate, nostalgic, and unflinchingly funny celebration of the horror fiction boom of two iconic decades, complete with story summaries and artist and author profiles. You’ll find familiar authors, like V. C. Andrews and R. L. Stine, and many more who’ve faded into obscurity. Plus recommendations for which of these forgotten treasures are well worth your reading time and which should stay buried.

August 28, 2017

Hurricane Harvey: KidLit Cares and Disaster Relief for Libraries

Hurricane Harvey hit much harder than expected. South Texas, especially Rockport, has experience untold damage and Houston is still flooding.

I've sheltered in place and am still holding strong with plenty of food and water and no power outages, but many others haven't been as lucky.

Kate Messner is assembling another KidLit Cares auction, as she did after Superstorm Sandy. She's gathered auction items and will soon have them all listed on the linked page. The auction should run about a week, and proceeds will benefit the American Red Cross. Everyone who donates $10 to the American Red Cross will be entered into a giveaway.

In addition, the Texas Library Association has posted how you can help libraries in affected areas. You can buy coloring books or donate directly to the TLA's Disaster Relief Fund.

Thank you for helping those in need!

August 7, 2017

Movie Monday: The Dark Tower

One of my favorite book series is Stephen King's The Dark Tower. It isn't a perfect series. There are innumerable continuity errors and the last three books were clearly rushed. But they're weird in the most wonderful way, and I love every one of the main characters: Roland, Eddie, Susannah, Jake, (and Oy).

Thus, the movie adaptation of The Dark Tower had a lot to live up to. It had great source material, a built-in excuse for why things weren't the same as the book, and excellent casting.

Reviews had me worried and lowered my expectations. I think that might've helped the movie. It is a nice breezy length, explaining the basics and getting down to business. In this turn of the wheel, Jake (Tom Taylor) is a troubled young man in modern New York who dreams of kids being used to power a machine attacking the Dark Tower. He follows the clues in his dreams to find a gate to Mid-World, where he finds the gunslinger Roland (Idris Elba). Roland is the man he needs to fight the Man in Black (Matthew McConaughey); however, Roland is more interested in revenge than protecting the Dark Tower.

McConaughey is a delight as the menacing Man in Black and I thought he captured the spirit of the character well. I think Elba is brilliant casting for Roland, but he felt somewhat lacking in the intensity needed. At the same time, he is playing a less obsessive (in some ways) version of Roland. Taylor holds his own against them quite well and honestly impressed me. Jake's character changes the most, but I was sold on this kid as haunted and driven. I only wish we'd gotten more of him learning to be a gunslinger, especially as he ends up a 'damsel' in distress several times.

The Dark Tower is a fun fantasy movie with a few cool action scenes and a touching father-son relationship that develops through the course of the film. The movie misses some obvious chances for references to the book, but manages to weave in events from the first three books as well as a wealth of Easter Eggs. It's not everything I hoped and dreamed for, but neither is it a disaster. It's a start. If they do continue it with a TV series, I can't wait to see Eddie and Susannah and I hope this Roland and Jake return.

June 1, 2017

Review: The View from the Cheap Seats: Selected Nonfiction

View From the Cheap Seats By Neil Gaiman
Available now from William Morrow (HarperCollins)
Review copy

I can't quite remember if I was in junior high or high school when I first read a Neil Gaiman novel. I remember instantly searching through the library for more, because I was hooked. I remember, on a school trip in eleventh grade, barely beating out a good friend for a signed copy of ANANSI BOYS. I saw it on the bookshelf first and grabbed it with alacrity; my then boyfriend paid for it. I let my friend read it once I was done (and another friend besides); I have never believed in collecting things that I won't actually use. I've since bought a more practical ebook for rereading, but I rest more easily knowing my signed copy has been loved.

As a long time fan, I know that Gaiman has experience with nonfiction, having worked as a reporter. The pieces in THE VIEW FROM THE CHEAP SEATS are not reportage, but a collection of speeches, articles, essays, and introductions. They're taken from throughout his career and organized loosely within subjects, not chronologically. I personally found myself hopping from subject to subject, looking though the table of contents for which titles appealed most to me. I have only ever been a sporadic reader of nonfiction, and I tended to wander away from THE VIEW FROM THE CHEAP SEATS if I read too much on one topic at once.

Many fans will be familiar with several of the pieces in THE VIEW FROM THE CHEAP SEATS. Even non-fans are likely familiar with "Make Good Art," which is also available for purchase on its own. But there was certainly plenty I'd never read, from conferences I'd never attended and publications I'd never purchased and things that were simply written before that nebulous year that I first picked up a Neil Gaiman novel. I appreciated that there was context included for each piece, although the details available varied. The who and when a piece was written for are important, and I wish those snippets of context were at the beginning of each piece instead of the end, but I did like that they were included at all.

Gaiman has an easy manner to his nonfiction. There are some lovely turns of phrase, but it is approachable and friendly. It's a tone that feels thoughtful but not pretentious. (Not that a little pretension doesn't slip in here and there. I think any author has those slips of pretension, however.) I also loved coming across with gems in old material such as, "[The novel] has a working title of American Gods (which is not what the book will be called, but what it is about." 19 years later we know that not only did the novel stay titled AMERICAN GODS, but it is now a TV show by the same name as well. Sometimes the working title sticks, even though that wasn't the plan. There's no special attention brought to the line, since there is no commentary, but it still leapt out to me. Such lines are insights into Gaiman's process that go beyond the intentional.

THE VIEW FROM THE CHEAP SEATS is an entertaining read for Gaiman fans. Non-fans might find some pieces interesting, especially the ones about Gaiman's relationships with other authors. Mostly, though, I think this is a book for the fans. But it is not a cheap cash in on their interest. There's good material, not all of it readily available, presented well. I enjoyed reading it.


May 16, 2017

Review: Signs and Seasons: An Astrology Cookbook

Signs & Seasons By Amy Zerner and Monte Farber with Chef John Okas
Available now from HarperElixir (HarperCollins)
Review copy

SIGNS & SEASONS is a cookbook arranged around astrology signs and the astronomical seasons. There's a foreword explaining how these two things work together; a section on how each sign relates to eating, cooking, and entertaining; and each seasonal recipe section contains more astrological explanation. I ignored most of this, because I consider astrology ridiculous.

The first words in the cookbook are: Are you looking to find epicurean as well as spiritual satisfaction? Do you want to make meals not only a time of communion with family and friends but also an opportunity to deepen your understanding of your appetite and how it connects you to the cycle of the seasons and thus to nature and the very universe itself?

This is obviously tosh of the highest order. But there's plenty of sensible nuggets throughout, like this note on entertaining: Food allergies and sensitivities can affect anyone. Astrology aside, if you entertain, proper etiquette dictates that there be something on the table for everyone to enjoy. Asking your dinner guests beforehand about what they do and do not eat is the most reliable way to do this. This is excellent advice. As the authors did not ask me what I do and do not eat, three of the eight Pisces recipes are not to my taste.

The general Pisces description named several foods I love, especially flounder, spinach, and sweet potato. And I will admit to being sentimental. They also hit it dead on with Spaghetti alla Carbonara for my pasta. Cheese, cured meat, and black pepper are all far more to my taste than tomato. I was quite satisfied with this version of the classic.

I wanted to try SIGNS & SEASONS because I enjoy cookbooks divided based on the foods that are  in season. It's wonderful that we can grow many crops year round now, but out-of-season crops rarely taste the same. Each season is divided into starters, seafood, salads, meat, pasta, sides, vegetarian, and desserts with a recipe of each type for each of the three star signs found in that season.

This suited my purposes well, but astrology fans might find it disappointed. For example, there is no guide to cooking for a Taurus year round (except for the general advisory in front); the only focus is in the spring. Seasonal food fans can skip over the hookum, but astrology fans can't will additional content into existence.

SIGNS & SEASONS is a beautiful cookbook. There are borders and sign illustrations throughout, and each seasonal section begins with a four-color insert with a beautiful astrological and seasonal-inspired illustrations and pictures of each recipe. The recipes themselves focus on Greco-Roman food, to tie in to the astrological theme. It's a good choice for narrowing the focus but still providing a broad range of foods. (I am definitely making Sriracha Salmon Cakes and Coconut-Peach Crisp.)

I think the astrological aspect of SIGNS & SEASONS silly, but it has entertainment value and there are many it will appeal too. This cookbook would make a good gift for any astrology fan. What matters is that SIGNS & SEASONS delivers where it counts: solid recipes for the home cook. These recipes call for fresh ingredients, which can be intimidating, but the instructions are simple and delivered in clear language. Combined with the seasonal organization, this is a practical cookbook to have in one's kitchen.


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