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Robert Beveridge "xterminal" (Brunswick, OH)

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Bumper Crop
Bumper Crop
by Joe R. Lansdale
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 57.16
15 used & new from CDN$ 26.15

4.0 out of 5 stars The good old stuff, part 2, June 17 2004
This review is from: Bumper Crop (Hardcover)
Joe R. Lansdale, Bumper Crop (Golden Gryphon Press, 2004)
For the majority of its all-too-short time on this mudball, I was a devoted reader of Rod Serling's The Twilight Zone magazine. I was lucky enough to stumble upon the first issue by chance on a newsstand, and after that I subscribed until the bitter end. Many of the authors I still revere today I first found in the pages of TZ, including Joyce Carol Oates ("The Rose Wall," reprinted in her collection Raven's Wing, was the strongest story in that first issue) and Dan Simmons (whose first published story, "The River Styx Runs Upstream," was the winner of TZ's first fiction contest). But through all those years, I didn't remember seeing Joe Lansdale's name a single time. So when I checked the pub credits page and saw TZ's name by a number of stories, I got to wondering. Then I read the preface, and Lansdale says these stories stick with you. I got to wondering more. Then I read "The Dump,"and the second I saw the name Otto, I bowed to Lansdale's superior firepower. Note, "The Dump" is a story I haven't read in over twenty years, and within the first few words, I remembered it. "Memorable" is an understatement.
Bumper Crop, the second (following High Cotton) volume in Lansdale's personally-selected "Best-Of" collections of his short fiction, is, in short, a whole lot of fun. The stories here, most of which are exceptionally short, run through the early part of his career like a vein of adamantite in a mountain of pure silver. It's all great stuff, but this is just that little bit more rare, more coveted, and harder. "Chompers," "The Fat Man," and, well, just about everything here will leave its mark on you. Two stories will be recognizable to those who have read The Nightrunners (Lansdale, during the seven years between the book's completion and its purchase, took pieces out of it and revised them into stories a number of times). One of them, "God of the Razor," is one of the strongest pieces here, and very highly recommended.
If the book has a weak point, it is "Master of Misery," the last story. It sounds too much like... something. But I can't for the life of me remember what. But, jeez, don't let that stop you. This is great stuff. ****

by Koji Suzuki
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 14.73
42 used & new from CDN$ 8.80

5.0 out of 5 stars Whoa..., June 17 2004
This review is from: Ring (Paperback)
Koji Suzuki, Ring (Vertical, 1991)
So you've seen The Ring. Or, better yet, the Japanese film Ringu. Or both. (You should watch both. See Ringu first.) Or you haven't. It doesn't matter. You must read Ring.
The story is relatively similar, but both Nakata and Verbinski took very large liberties with the original text (for example, both made Asakawa's character female-- which allowed the world to get weak-kneed at seeing Nanako Matsushima and Naomi Watts gracing screens again, but was otherwise seemingly gratuitous), including some major messing with the backstory. So if you've seen the films, the book will be familiar, but will still end up being a whole new experience.
Asakawa is a reporter. He was disgraced a couple of years ago during a sudden, unexplained outburst of popularity of stories about the occult in Japan (though you don't find out exactly how early on). One night, on the way home, he catches a cab, and he and the driver strike up a conversation about an event that happened a month previously to the cabdriver: a kid on a motorbike died of sudden heart failure. The death is eerily similar to that of Asakawa's niece on the same night. And from that coincidence, Asakawa starts to research the connection between the two deaths, which turns out to be far more than he bargained for.
What made for a creepily effective thriller on screen actually reads more like a hardboiled detective thriller (those familiar with the premise will note the obvious similarity to certain crime films of the past, notably D. O. A.). Suzuki keeps the horrors even farther offscreen than did Nakata (and the difference in the "revelation" at the end will surely startle those who are expecting the same kind of special-effects extravaganza Nakata used as a payoff), focusing on the mystery and the bond between Asakawa and his best friend, Ryuji, who gets involved in the investigation with him.
The book's flaws are minor, and conducive to mystery writing. Asakawa's edtor is a dead ringer for Tony Vincenzo (the editor in "Kolchak: The Night Stalker"), and a few of the other minor characters are about as shallow. Still, there are less obvious "kill me" characters running around, and the minor characters aren't really given enough screen time to make it an issue.
Compelling, well-written, expertly translated, and full of twists, even for those who have seen the movie. Highly recommended, and a shoo-in for this year's ten-best list. **** ½

Road To Hell
Road To Hell
by Julian and MARSDEN, William SHER
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
Offered by Bytown Bookery Z
Price: CDN$ 15.25
12 used & new from CDN$ 1.62

1.0 out of 5 stars Unreadable., June 17 2004
Gerard Houarner, Road to Hell (Leisure, 1999)
I struggled through the first fifty pages of Road to Hell, then considered tossing it to the dustbunnies. But then I read a number of reviews that said "it gets better." So I struggled with it while not reading other things for another four months. It may get better, but I finally came to the conclusion that I wasn't willing to put in the time to get there. I quit at about page 130.
Road to Hell is a confused mess, to put it bluntly. It looks as if an editor took certain sections of the book, tossed the pages into the air, and started swinging with a meat cleaver. Sometimes the book will stay in the same moment for twenty pages, at other times it goes through weeks in the space of a page, with no delimiters of any kind to tell you time has gone forward. Suddenly, you're in a different setting, wondering "how on earth did I get here?" The characters are flat and uninspired (casualties of "tell, don't show" syndrome). The action is confusing most of the time, and when it isn't it feels as if it were written by someone who was scientifically observing, rather than actually feeling it. Simply put, I couldn't find a single redeeming quality about the book that made me want to read any farther. And with so many books sitting and waiting for me to get to them, I decided it wasn't worth the trouble. (zero)

Comfort of a Man
Comfort of a Man
by Adrianne Byrd
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
18 used & new from CDN$ 0.74

4.0 out of 5 stars Me? Recommend a romance? Say it ain't so..., June 7 2004
Adrianne Byrd, Comfort of a Man (Arabesque, 2003)
I'm not a big reader of romances. (In fact, this will be only my fourth romance review since I started documenting such things in 1999.) Adrianne Byrd is a regular on a forum I used to frequent, so when she announced the publication of this one, I figured I should check it out. But feel free to take all that follows with a grain of salt; for all I know, this is identical to other romances in the same vein. All I know is, it ain't like any romance I've read before. Or much of anything else I've read before, for that matter.
Comfort of a Man, despite being burdened with something of a cumbersome title, is one heck of a good ride. It's smart, funny, incisive, well-paced. Oh, yeah, and sexy. Sexy as all get-out. The story revolves around Brooklyn Douglas, a real-estate broker from Atlanta, and Isaiah Washington, a sales and marketing rep from Austin. They meet during a trip to New York (Isaiah's for business, Brooklyn's for pleasure) and, through the various machinations of Brooklyn's friends and an optimistic bartender, end up having a one-night stand. (The process of getting from meeting to bed could have been lifted from a Bunuel film. Byrd knows how to keep the tension high by throwing in all sorts of ludicrous, but realistic, delays.) Due to (imagine big roll of thunder here) a series of coincidences, the two find themselves thrown together again the next summer, and from there, well, you know the drill. If it doesn't have a lot of getting together, pushing away, and ultimately a happy ending, it ain't a romance, is it?
Where Byrd differs from the Steels, Cartlands, Blakes, et al. Of the world is in two very important places: her characters and her realism. The characters to be found in Comfort of a Man are not your usual cardboard cutouts, but real, multidimensional characters that a reader can identify with, instead of the paper constructs one has to stretch to even empathize with. Also, while the coincidences require suspension of disbelief (oh, my, do they ever), the situations Brooklyn and Isaiah find themselves in once the coincidences are past are realistic. Uncomfortably so, at times, for someone who's been there, done that, and bought the (ripped!) shirt.
The book's flaws are few, and the majority of them can probably be attributed to an editorial staff who weren't quite diligent enough. A few cliches here and there, some typos and grammatical flaws. Nothing, though, that really stops the book's flow. A few of the minor characters border on the cardboard (especially Brooklyn's son, Jaleel), but they only get a few pages of screen time. (In horror novels, they'd be the folks walking around with "KILL ME" signs.)
I really never thought I would so unapologetically recommend... a romance novel. But there it is. *** ½

The Magdalene Sisters (Bilingual) [Import]
The Magdalene Sisters (Bilingual) [Import]
DVD ~ Eileen Walsh
Offered by thebookcommunity_ca
Price: CDN$ 109.77
7 used & new from CDN$ 21.20

3.0 out of 5 stars Skewering the sacred cow., June 7 2004
The Magdalene Sisters (Peter Mullan, 2002)
Mullan, whose turns in front of the camera lend greatness to such films as Session 9, My Name Is Joe, and Young Adam, here delivers his first directorial effort in five years. While the movie falls short in a number of areas, it certainly achieves its intended effect: inciting an almost murderous rage in its viewers.
The story centers around a particular Magdalene asylum (which one is never stated) to which, in 1964, three girls are sent for various things. They are Bernadette (Nor-Jane Noone of Ella Enchanted in her big screen debut), Margaret (Anne Marie Duff, recently in Enigma), and Rose (fellow first-timer Dorothy Duffy). The three of them try to survive as best they can. Among their fellow prisoners are the somewhat mentally challenged Crispina (Eileen Walsh, the title character in the recent Janice Beard: 45 Words a Minute), who ends up with as much screen time as any of the main characters. As the title suggests, though, the real main focus of the film is the sisters, led by the dictatorial Sister Bridget (Geraldine McEwan, portrayer of Lucia in "Mapp and Lucia"), and how they relentlessly brutalize the women under their purview.
Mullan obviously has an axe to grind against Mother Church. While this is usually a bad thing, he steps back and refrains from editorializing, leaving the stories to speak for themselves; the film is refreshingly free of overbearing claptrap one expects to find in anti-religious movies. That said, the horror of what the girls endure is more than enough to put one off one's feed for a week or two. (Those who have attempted to dismiss the film as exaggerated balderdash managed to miss the DVD version, which contains the documentary Sex in a Cold Climate [review below]; it is quite obvious the stories of these three girls are based completely on three of the subjects of the documentary.)
Here, however, is the film's main failing; it depicts these horrors without terribly much context. The storyline is full of gaping holes in both plot and temporality; various scenes are set up and executed, then never referenced again, despite being things that would change a person's life. In other words, in short, the movie suffers somewhat from sitcom syndrome; you can do anything you want to your characters, but not terribly much changes. The characters are well drawn, and the actresses play the parts very well, but they're not given terribly much for the characters to do. You can empathize with them, but there's not much for bonding purposes.
The end result is more a catalogue of brutality than it is a watchable film. It is, to say the least, a document of deep importance. It needs to be seen, and those responsible need to be punished. The problem is, it's not really all that watchable. ** ½

Stone Reader [Import]
Stone Reader [Import]
DVD ~ Carl Brandt
Offered by Mikani Collectables
Price: CDN$ 17.99
9 used & new from CDN$ 17.96

0 of 2 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Where's the beef?, June 7 2004
This review is from: Stone Reader [Import] (DVD)
Stone Reader (Mark Moskowitz, 2002)
It seems like a documentary that would be tailor-made for a bibliophile. Mark Moskowitz, book lover, pulls out a book he tried to read years ago and didn't like. This time around, he finds it brilliant, and decides to buy everything else the author wrote. He can't find any other books by the author, and thus becomes obsessed with finding him. Along the way, he talks to teachers, scholars, other bibliophiles, and the like. It's all about the books.
All of which is great, in theory. In practice, well, the end result is boredom. Moskowitz himself is not much of a charismatic individual, and much of his delivery is stilted. Once he gets to talking books, he loosens up, but those he's talking with range from the presentable-at-best to the should-never-be-on-camera. The conversations themselves are sometimes intriguing, but are usually made frustrating by a subpar sound mix in places and a lack of subtitles (which, given the abominable sound quality to be found on most DVDs and videos as a seemingly inescapable consequence of the mixing process, are necessary for any film that goes from big screen to DVD/video). By three-quarters of the way through the film, you find yourself not caring whether he finds his author or not.
Much of the film's problems could have been eliminated, or at least mitigated, if the twenty or so minutes of shots of nothing had been eliminated. (One gets the feeling they are filler to draw the length of the film out to two hours.) Long, immobile takes of Moskowitz cleaning his pond. Moskowitz driving. Moskowitz on a ferris wheel. No narrative. Just that guitar line, which gets really annoying after two hours.
In more capable hands (one thinks, fondly, of Amy Kofman's wisdom in calling Kirby Dick in to do some professional work on her documentary on Jacques Derrida; Dick's intervention saved the film, and made it watchable), Stone Reader could have been something great. As it stands now, it's rather like reading the diary of a twelve-year-old book lover. **

Year At The Races
Year At The Races
10 used & new from CDN$ 59.35

3.0 out of 5 stars Good photography, anemic writing, June 7 2004
This review is from: Year At The Races (Hardcover)
Robert B. Parker, Joan H. Parker, and William Strode, A Year at the Races (Morrow, 1990)
Spenser author Robert Parker and his wife Joan met horse trainer Cot Campbell through some friends, and Campbell invited them to see the sights. They took along Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer William Strode and someone from the publicity office. This book documents what they experienced.
From a racing standpoint, Parker couldn't have had this opportunity at a better time; the year Parker spent with them spanned the yearling and two-year-old season of the best horse Campbell ever trained, Summer Squall. Yet the statement with which Parker opens the book, "I know nothing about racing," rings loud and deep here, and reverberates throughout. At the end of the year, Parker still knows nothing about racing, and it shows. The most interesting thing about the text is how much Parker describing Joan sounds like Spenser describing Susan. But I should have expected that.
The value of this book lies in the fact that the Parkers brought William Strode along for the ride. Strode's photography here is dazzling, often amusing or thought-provoking, never boring. Strode does know something about racing, and about racing culture, and his many wonderful pictures here are testament to that.
So in other words, buy it for the pictures. ***

Left Behind
Left Behind
by Tim LaHaye
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 19.99
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars No stupid puns on the title in this review. I promise!, June 7 2004
This review is from: Left Behind (Paperback)
Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins, Left Behind (Tyndale, 1995)
So I figured after nine years, it was time for me to get around to reading the first book in the bestselling Christian fiction series in history, Left Behind. I had always avoided it, not because of the subject matter, but by and large books that break records tend to be writ large by those with the wit, talent, and grammatical skill of overly enthusiastic six-year-olds. Dame Barbara Cartland, Danielle Steel, Tom Clancy, John Grisham, Sandra Brown, you get the idea. Why should Christian fiction be any different?, I wondered. But despite all that, I dove into it.
Expecting the worst may not have been enough. To call the book naïve would be, perhaps, too kind. It uses the conventions of satire without being in any way satiric, treats its readership like total idiots, has all the spelling and grammar mistakes one could possibly want from a mass-produced piece of claptrap, and various other things, all of which I will attempt to make sound as tactful as possible below. But the bottom line, for those who would rather stop reading now, is this: plot's not bad, but execution is some of the worst I have seen outside self-publishing. Ever.
Without getting into the theological aspects of the book, it is impossible to write a comprehensive review of Left Behind without at least glossing over some of the more interesting (and less Biblical) assertions made by the authors, the most notable being the Rapturing (for lack of a better term) of everyone under the age of puberty. Hmmmmm. Including the ones in juvenile detention for murder? Okay, we'll drop the point. After all, our society is based (wrongly) on the idea that people can't make up their minds until they reach the magic age of eighteen. At least LaHaye and Jenkins dropped the magic age to twelve, for which they must get grudging respect.
But little niggling theological concerns are perhaps less galling than LaHaye and Jenkins' complete and utter inability to ascribe a mote of intelligence to any of their characters, and by inference any of their audience. Not being a Christian and a regular attendee at church, I can't say for certain what the average joe learns about the end times. But even without regular church attendance for the last number of years, I remember enough of the Revelation of St. John from Bible study back in the day to have seen all the major twists coming at least a hundred pages before they actually do. And yet his characters, including the wife and daughter of a fundamentalist, are completely oblivious. Writing a book like this as a mystery/thriller, it seems, was not the way to go. Or if it were, perhaps adding a couple of extras who might have looked like they, too, could be the Antichrist might have helped with the suspense angle. (They do attempt a move exactly like this, but way too late and way too ineffectively.)
I spent at least a hundred fifty pages of this book wondering, "where's the satire?" It was, of course, absent; LaHaye and Jenkins are deadly serious about approaching this series as novels mirroring the born-again Christian take on the end times. And yet despite their seriousness, they embrace the conventions of satire with open arms. Their businesses are thinly-disguised actual corporations with names that, in other circumstances, might be considered clever digs at those companies; their characters' names are ludicrous without being prophetic, a favorite mechanism of Dickens and Pynchon; the characters are often overwrought (and, really, it takes a good deal of mastery of the dime novel to make characters overact ON PAPER!); the aforementioned predictability in the mystery; you name it. It's all got the surface makings of great satire. Which makes me wonder how cool it would actually be if, after the series is finished, LaHaye and Jenkins called a press conference and yelled "April fools!" But I don't see that happening, and neither do you.
Fully addressing the spelling and grammatical horrors in this book would take a book-length review, so we'll just note their existence, sneer at them, and move on to the stilted dialogue, the characters (who are cardboard cutouts of the thinnest stripe) and their inability to relate to one another (aside from, one assumes, snickering at the silliness of each others' names in the background), the constant use of cliché, the stopping of the plot every once in a while to throw in some gratuitous moralization (but this being right-wing Christian fiction, I expected a three-hundred-page altar call; I was not disappointed), and all the other little pieces of amateurism that add up to this book being of such horrible architecture that its popularity is really worth weeping over for the lover of the English language. It is obvious, here more than anywhere, that people are more than willing to overlook fatal flaws in the language as long as they can understand the book's message. St. McLuhan has lost the battle once and for all, and sixty-two million copies of the Left Behind novels speak with the public's booming voice: the message is the medium.
It's enough to make a body want to give up reading. * ½

Book of Gods and Devils
Book of Gods and Devils
by Charles Simic
Edition: Hardcover
8 used & new from CDN$ 40.30

4.0 out of 5 stars Another great piece of Simic., June 7 2004
Charles Simic, The Book of Gods and Devils (Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1990)
Another fine piece of work from Mr. Simic, but this one seems the smallest of cuts below his best efforts (The World Doesn't End, Return to a Place Lit by a Glass of Milk, et al). Hard to explain why this is; I want to say it's more in the confessional mode than most of his work, but if this is the case, it's by an infinitesimal amount and would not otherwise be worth noting. Problem is, I can't put my finger on anything else.
Still, when Simic is in the zone, his writing eclipses most others who have worked in the medium in the twentieth century. Take, for example, pieces from the brilliant "The Great War":
"...You never saw anything as beautiful
As those clay regiments; I used to lie on the floor
For hours, staring them in the eyes.
I remember them staring back at me in wonder.
How strange they must have felt
Standing stiffly at attention
Before a large, incomprehending creature
With a moustache made of milk...."
Definitely another worthwhile contribution to the canon, but there are better places for the neophyte to begin. ****

Brothers, I Loved You All: Poems, 1969-1977
Brothers, I Loved You All: Poems, 1969-1977
by Hayden Carruth
Edition: Paperback

5.0 out of 5 stars Perhaps Carruth's finest work., June 7 2004
Hayden Carruth, Brothers, I Loved You All (Faculty Press, 1978)
Why must it be such a truism that the best books of any relatively prolific poet must be published by small, out-of-the-way presses with no distribution? Bukowski's Poems Written Before Jumping Out of an 8 Story Window, for example, or Lifshin's A New Film in Love with the Dead. Simic's Nine Poems, Cronshey's Afternoon in the Museum of Late Things. The whole catalog of Liz Willis. It's all brilliant and all impossibly hard to find.
Add Carruth's "wow"-inducing Brothers, I Loved You All, published by Faculty Press, to the list. Now almost impossible to find (though most of it can be found in Collected Shorter and Collected Longer, published in the early nineties by Copper Canyon and must-haves for any poetry fan), Brothers is one of the rarest birds to be found in all of poetry.
Poetry has long been considered a dying art form, and there are valid arguments to be made to that effect. Song has taken the province that poetry trod before it, and in all honesty does much of it better. But the solid image is still, for the most part, the exclusive province of poetry, save for a few surrealist novels and a handful of consistently amazing songwriters. The niche for poetry, since the time of Eliot and Williams, has been the image. (Would that more would-be poets understood this and stopped penning second-rate song lyrics. But I digress.) The poet who persists in formal poetry, or poetry that strays outside the bounds of image, is wading in a pool of hip-deep slime from which ninety-nine percent of poets fail to emerge at all. (Your current author is very much included in this, when he chooses to venture into such dangerous waters.) Of those who do, they may manage a few short pieces that manage to both take the narrative quality of earlier works and add to it the polish necessary to captivate today's reader of poetry, unutterably jaded after years of having schoolroom elephant dung shoved down their throats. A handful of poets are consistently fantastic at this. But very, very few after World War II would ever have even considered trying to do it with the long poem. Hayden Carruth has tried a number of times, usually with less than stellar results compared to his finest short work; in "Vermont," the centerpiece of Brothers, he has succeeded in such a way that, had he never written a single other word in his career that will be remembered, he has etched himself in the canon of American writers.
"Vermont" is an astounding piece of work that traverses history, politics, quirky personalities, the gradual paving of the state, and everything in between, the whole mess. Carruth switches voices as effortlessly as Rich Little roasting Mel Blanc, with subtle changes in diction to bring the whole thing off. Part formal, part free, "Vermont" is, quite simply, must reading for poets, aspiring poets, and poetry fans.
"...Why, hell, I knew a man
living in Coos Junction who wouldn't take
a twenty-dollar bill; he couldn't stand
to carry Andrew Jackson in his back pocket.
'Gimme two tens,' he said. 'Ain't it just like
them fathead red-tape artists? They design
the twenty for a red, then put a great man
like Hamilton on the tens...."
I have no illusions that reading "Vermont" will suddenly turn a nation with millions of wannabes for every real working poet into a nation of Carruths; most people are simply too dull, or too unschooled, to pick up the subtle differences between the brilliance that Carruth displays here and the random, unpoetic barkings of the "socially conscious" poets that never fail to land with such a dull thud. (I know. I've already tried to get them to read Carolyn Forche.) But at least they will have been exposed to such great brilliance. **** ½

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