Saturday, February 26, 2011

Shaken by J.A. Konrath (Jacqueline "Jack" Daniels mystery series)

Author J.A. Konrath has become quite well known of late as a vocal proponent of self-publishing in the electronic age, having sold multi-thousands of e-books for the Amazon Kindle (among other formats) with what seems like very little effort. His most famous works are his series of novels starring Jacqueline "Jack" Daniels, of which Shaken is the seventh.

Many opinions have been posed of the reasons for his terrific success, but reading this novel has given me the truth: Konrath writes a damned good mainstream thriller. Shaken covers four periods in the life of Daniels, all landmark events presented concurrently in alternating chapters.

This method makes things a little messy at first as each period gels in the mind. But once that happens, it's quite easy and effective to hop back and forth as the suspense builds in different eras.

The present period finds Jack bound and gagged in a self-storage facility as she realizes she's the latest captive of the infamous Mr. K., a serial killer she's been tracking for over 20 years. Konrath skillfully keeps his time periods connected with some overlapping events and keeps the pages turning — literally this time, as Shaken is being released in a print edition by AmazonEncore — with cliffhanger endings.

He combines mystery, horror, suspense, and humor in an engagingly dark carnival ride that can be enjoyed piece by piece or all at once. The ending of Shaken opens the door for the proposed sequel (Stirred, co-authored with Blake Crouch) while tying up all its own loose ends. Sometimes it seems like people become popular from little merit, but Konrath's success is one bandwagon it's safe to jump on.

Friday, February 25, 2011

2011 Audie Award nominations announced

As a huge fan of audiobooks, we here at Somebody Dies would like to congratulate all the finalists for the 2011 Audie Awards. We'd particularly like to call attention to a couple of nominees that crossed our doorstep this year.

Nominated in the "Original Work" category:
And nominated in the "Science Fiction/Fantasy" category:
  • Feed, by Mira Grant, narrated by Paula Christensen and Jesse Bernstein, Hachette Audio

Best of luck to these two, and a big thanks to the Audio Publishers Association for sponsoring "the only awards program in the United States devoted entirely to honoring spoken word entertainment." It's a medium that is slowly growing in appreciation but that still has a long way to go.

For more information, visit the website of the Audio Publishers Association.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Will you win a copy of Living After Midnight: Hard and Heavy Stories?

As it's Oscar season, it seems like a good time for a contest centered around my favorite Oscar-trivia question. It's my favorite because I thought I was the only person who'd ever been interested in the answer enough to ask the question. But this idea was proven untrue with a little Googling.

Either way, I'm sure some of you already know it, or are savvy enough to look it up. And I'm prepared to reward you for this meager effort with a copy of the e-book–only horror and dark-fantasy anthology Living After Midnight: Hard and Heavy Stories. (For more information and reviews, click to visit the Amazon page.)

Here goes:

As you may have realized, when actors cross over into directing, they are more likely to be awarded by the Academy for their directing than for their acting in the same film. Some examples include such Best Director winners as Kevin Costner for Dances with Wolves, Mel Gibson for Braveheart, and Clint Eastwood for both Unforgiven and Million Dollar Baby.

(On a side note, the same is true for actor/writers. Witness Oscars given to Emma Thompson for Sense and Sensibility, Billy Bob Thornton for Sling Blade, and Matt Damon and Ben Affleck for Good Will Hunting.)

In fact, only two actor/directors have directed movies that won them Best Actor Oscars. Your job is to name them and the film for which each won.

E-mail your four-part answer to craig [dot] clarke [at] yahoo [dot] com, with the subject line "LAM Oscar Contest," by March 1, 2011, to be considered.

The prizes are as follows:

Anyone who gets all four parts of the answer correct will receive a free copy of Living After Midnight in your e-book format of choice and free copies of Acid Grave Press's next two releases. (The first due out later this year and the second due early next year.)

Anyone who gets at least two parts of the answer correct will receive a free copy of Living After Midnight in your e-book format of choice and a free copy of Acid Grave Press's next release (due out later this year).

Anyone who submits an answer will get a copy of Living After Midnight.

Thanks in advance for playing, and good luck.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

No One Will Hear You by Max Allan Collins and Matthew Clemens (serial killer thriller)

This second in the new series from authors Max Allan Collins and Matthew Clemens starts much better than the first, which I wasn't all that impressed with. Nevertheless, I held out hope for the follow-up since other Collins series have only improved as they went along.

No One Will Hear You delivers on that promise with a fantastic opener that delivers thrills and introduces a killer's motives: reality show stardom. He's filming his kills so they'll be broadcast on J.C. Harrow's hit show, Crime Seen. Harrow's family was murdered the night he saved the President from assassination, and he subsequently launched Crime Seen to catch other criminals.

But now that his family's killer has been taken down — with the help of Harrow's hand-picked Killer TV crew — what is left? Even as he helps conquer a money-laundering meth lab, Harrow notes his lack of personal satisfaction — and that his team is not sure they want to go forward into a third season. Meanwhile, they're on the search of a serial killer the cops dubbed "Billy Shears" (a pun on the sharp instruments used to emasculate the male victims) even before the first victim has been identified.

No One Will Hear You is a considerable improvement over its predecessor, You Can't Stop Me, with more of what's expected from a serial-killer novel: the serial killer — either two sharing an M.O. of sharp implements and Rohypnol, or a single, bisexual murderer perpetrating both series of murders.

The truth turns out to be far more interesting in this fascinating new side to Max Allan Collins that will hopefully gain him even more new readers. No One Will Hear You contains instantly memorable chapters from a killer's point of view that are comparable to classic serial-killer novels like Shane Stevens's By Reason of Insanity, Thomas Harris's Red Dragon, and Michael Slade's Headhunter.

Early on, I was able to pause and savor both the style and substance of the book, but as events headed toward the unguessable conclusion, I grabbed every available moment to turn even just one more page in the excitement of the journey. Far exceeding my expectations, Collins and Clemens expand on the potential of their first J.C. Harrow book and produce what may become a classic of the serial-killer genre, continuing plot threads begun in You Can't Stop Me while solidly standing on alone in its cleverness and originality.

Collins has really been showing his range lately, from the light cozy series with his wife as Barbara Allan to finishing the posthumous works of Mickey Spillane in true hardboiled mode to touching on horror with the Harrow books written with longtime collaborator Matthew Clemens.

These co-writers allow Collins to produce even more work than usual, making 2011, the 40th anniversary of his first sale, a bang-up year with no less than 8 new books seeing publication (including the postponed Quarry's Ex). I'm really looking forward to it.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Black Hills by Dan Simmons (unabridged audio book read by Erik Davies and Michael McConnohie)

Sometimes a book is simply so good that it exceeds my ability to write about it. Everything I write sounds dumb because it's just superlative, superlative, superlative, and it all gets redundant after a while. And often the best books are hard to summarize because so much happens in them that trying to outline it with any semblance of thoroughness is likely to give away surprises.

As you've probably guessed by now, Black Hills is one of those books. Dan Simmons is one of the most interesting authors writing today. You just never know what to expect from him, and his three most recent novels show this most admirably. They display the potentials of historical fiction in a way usually unseen in the work of a single author.

The Terror was pure horror about a stranded ship and the mysterious creature that stalks it, and Drood was a thriller concerning Wilkie Collins and Charles Dickens. Both were distinctly British.

Then came the last thing I expected: a Western. But Black Hills is really only part Western, with a twist. The opening is instantly engaging. As Paha Sapa, an 11-year-old Lakota whose name means "Black Hills" (a rare event as Lakota are almost never named after sacred locations), "counts coup" on the dying George Armstrong Custer at the Battle of Little Bighorn in the summer of 1876, the ghost of the infamous commander invades the young Sioux.

Almost instantly, his head is soon filled by Custer's remembrances of his sexual dalliances with his beloved wife Libby. Custer's spirit fills Paha Sapa's nights with recitations (in the unfamiliar language of the whites) of all his memories. (If you ever wanted to hear a poetic play-by-play of Custer's dalliances with his wife, this is the book for you.) Paha Sapa will hear Custer's voice in his head for most of the rest of his life.

Black Hills jumps around in Paha Sapa's life, covering his name-change to Billy Slow Horse and Billy Slovak, his courtship with the beautiful Rain, his strife to solely destroy the three faces on Mount Rushmore before the fourth can be placed, his time in Buffalo Bill Cody's Wild West Show, and so many other events that they begin to run together.

Simmons is so interested in giving the listener the full scope of Paha Sapa's life that his writing sometimes gets in the way of his storytelling — much as his need to present all the facts often supersedes the development of his fiction. But in combining the two — in creating a wholly believable world wherein the grounded, the spiritual, and the made-up coexist seamlessly — Simmons produces in Black Hills a shining example of what historical fiction can achieve when approached with verisimilitude.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Friday's Forgotten Book: Terrible Thrills by C. Dennis Moore (horror short stories)

For more of Friday's Forgotten Books, this week visit Sweet Freedom.

The best thing about electronic publishing is the opportunity for authors to get their out-of-print work available once again to readers in a way that gets royalties flowing in their direction. I am very happy to see that C. Dennis Moore's short-story collection Terrible Thrills is available as an ebook. Here's the review I wrote back when the print version came out in 2005....

Author C. Dennis Moore definitely knows his way around a short story. His mastery of the form is especially evident in the two dozen examples comprising his debut collection, Terrible Thrills (as in "...'When worlds collide,' said George Pal to his bride, 'I'm going to give you some....'").

Conciseness is key in Terrible Thrills. Moore has selected only his shortest stores for inclusion: most are around eight pages, with a handful of flash pieces covering only half a page. It is difficult to decide which is more effective.

The flash fiction works like a sucker punch to the eye, but the longer stories — given Moore's economy with words — allow him to drag us through quite a range of terrors. For example, the title story is really two in one, connected by the premise of a Halloween CD with two troublemaking tracks entitled "Murder" and "Mayhem." It feels much longer, but only because so much happens.

Despite this choice of shorter fiction for Terrible Thrills, Moore does offer a glimpse of his facility with longer works. Two presumably unconnected stories, "The Strange Thing that Happened at the SpinCycle Laundry" and "The Salvation of Victor," come together within a third, "The Flesh-Method and Myriad." The ending of the latter makes me eager to read the expansion of these stories, Revelations.

As good as this whole collection is, some stories stand out about all the rest. "The Legend of Mr. Cairo" is one. It's not the most original selection in Terrible Thrills, but that's part of its charm. Its familiarity makes it memorable, the way Moore fulfills our expectations, instead of subverting them, and feels comfortable doing it. I like surprises, but in "Cairo"'s case, predictability works best.

A few more highlights include the personification of the seasons is "Winter's Reign." "Luck of the Draw" combines Shirley Jackson, the Grimm Brothers, and M. Night Shyamalan in a creatively derivative tale with a few surprises. "The Son of Man" dramatically illustrates a New Testament prophecy of the Second Coming (Luke 21:27, to be precise): "And they shall see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with great power and glory." For three friends (who just happen to share their names with saints), it is doubtful whether their "redemption is near," or they're just in deep trouble of the worst kind.

Bodies that cannot be depended upon are the subjects of "Plaything" and "Parliament of Jim." While neither has a truly satisfactory ending, they were both thrilling reads and I especially enjoyed Moore's use of different fonts to represent different points of view. The aftermath of Mr. Seagle's wife Astrid's death from lung cancer also plays out in two very different ways in "Preparations" and "Astrid Like a Candle" — one darkly humorous, the other disturbingly scary.

But if there is a perfect story in Terrible Thrills, it is "Working for the Fat Man," which takes a universally familiar concept and gives it a hard twist while remaining faithful to the original feeling of the source. It combines the best parts of "unpredictable" and "not surprising," resulting in a feeling of inevitability, an utter "rightness" to all the events. Look for it to be anthologized for years to come.

The one thread that ties all the stories together is Moore's wonderfully skewed imagination. From the first paragraph, I was drawn in. Moore writes with a voice I know, his phrasings feel similar to my own, and this put me instantly at ease. The more he shocked me, the more I wanted to be shocked. I was ready to go wherever he wanted to take me — even to Enlil (and "Bob's Leg" will tell you all you need to know about that place). In short, reading Terrible Thrills is like being tortured by a good friend.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Author Patrick D'Orazio reviews Living After Midnight

Patrick D'Orazio is the author of two novels (Comes the Dark and Into the Dark), with a third coming to complete his Dark trilogy. He has also written several short stories.

About Living After Midnight, he had to say:

"Each of these stories had their own magic to them, and given the theme, it allowed each other to tinker around and come up with something different at each turn. Demons and devils and angels and mythological creatures abound, along with good old fashion monsters. This is a good variety pack of scary stories for someone looking for just that — a wide assortment of horror with a supernatural bent, which almost all these tales have. I plowed through this book inside of a few hours — it was an easy read, and a satisfying one as well."

Read the rest of the review at his blog.
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