This is one entertaining volume, one I can refer back to time and time again. The writers give a very matter-of-fact account of the life and times of...moreThis is one entertaining volume, one I can refer back to time and time again. The writers give a very matter-of-fact account of the life and times of Vlad Tepes, occasionally laced with a bit of wry humor, and relate the legends that have grown around ye olde impaler. From there, they take us through Bram Stoker and his background, and on to the celluloid versions of Dracula, all without pausing for breath...and happily so. My favorite bits are the various legends about Prince Vlad told from several points of view, and how they compare with each other. Very revealing, and always entertaining. Great fun for vampire afficionados and "serious" devotees alike.(less)
In and of itself, S. E. Hinton's HAWKES HARBOR is not a bad book; as an entry in the DARK SHADOWS novel series, however, it would have flopped mightil...moreIn and of itself, S. E. Hinton's HAWKES HARBOR is not a bad book; as an entry in the DARK SHADOWS novel series, however, it would have flopped mightily.
I enjoyed Hinton's prose, and she developed a convincing background for Jamie (Willie Loomis) Sommers. It's easy to envision John Karlen in the role and Dennis Patrick playing Kellen (Jason McGuire) Quinn in flashback fashion, particularly in their travels around the world. Her delving deeply into Jamie's psyche -- particularly the devastation he feels being a victim of a vampire -- is masterful, and that rich character development is what keeps the novel going.
The other characters, however, are a complete bust. I have no idea how much she altered them to make HAWKES HARBOR a stand-alone novel, but the character of Grenville (Barnabas Collins) Hawkes is so far removed from anything Jonathan Frid would have portrayed that one has to forget the novel's origin as an entry in the DS series -- not so easy when you consider that Jamie Sommers and Willie Loomis are virtually interchangeable. Mind you, in some scenes, I can see Ben Cross (from the 1991 DARK SHADOWS revival series) delivering Grenville's lines, but even that becomes a stretch after a while. I honestly don't know if Hinton purposefully worked the dialogue so that there'd be no real resemblance to Barnabas or if it was due to a lack of understanding of the character; given her sharp portrayal of Jamie/Willie, the latter seems doubtful. Taken as a unique character, Grenville isn't terribly interesting, although the growth of his relationship with Jamie has its moments, especially at the novel's conclusion.
Louisa (Julia Hoffman) Kahne bears some slight resemblance to her television counterpart, though she tends to be more sharp-tongued and self-centered than the "real" Julia. While most of the other characters are recognizable as Collins family members and Collinsport townspeople, none of them are developed to any great extent. While both Grenville and Jamie are quite smitten with Katie (Maggie Evans) Roddendem, apart from an "unusual" sexual liaison with Jamie, she's almost a non-entity, generally in the background, occasionally intruding on the main characters' thoughts.
(And yes there is a blooper, much-discussed in DARK SHADOWS fan circles, in which Roger Collins and the Collins Shipping Co. are mentioned by name.)
Structurally, the book tends to be a little disjointed, due to scenes occurring in non-linear fashion, a plot device that can work when there's a point to it, but if there is one in this case, it's fairly muddled. Action and suspense there is none (with the possible exception of a few scattered moments during Jamie and Kellen's sea voyages). I think even fans who care more about DARK SHADOWS' colorful characters than its occasionally over-the-top action would be disappointed by HAWKES HARBOR's sedate pace and lack of adrenalin-inducing moments.
I give it a marginal recommendation as a novel of dark fiction, with a nod to Hinton's stylistic prowess.(less)
Beth Massie is known for writing a wide variety of types of fiction — from cutting-edge horror to historical drama to young adult adventure tales. In...moreBeth Massie is known for writing a wide variety of types of fiction — from cutting-edge horror to historical drama to young adult adventure tales. In general, Ms. Massie's horror fiction tends to be very dark and frequently centers around characters with severe warpage of the mind. It's almost a surprise to find that Homeplace is about as traditional as traditional gets — at least when you're talking about haunted houses, ghostly goings-on, long-dead witches, and small-town settings filled with small-town characters.
Very slight spoilage follows.
Her life in something of a meaningless rut, artist Charlene Myers retreats to her ancestral home, known as Homeplace, deep in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia, to restore herself. She has vague memories of unpleasantness there as a child, but once she settles in, that old perception takes on a new and disturbing vividness — particularly when she finds that a number of the locals believe that Homeplace was once home to a rather nasty witch and that Charlene must surely be following in those old witchy footsteps. A young lawyer named Andrew Marshall, himself a relatively recent transplant to the small town, befriends her and offers her emotional support as she experiences one inexplicable event after another — at least until Charlene herself begins to behave in such bizarre fashion that even he must doubt her sanity. Finally, however, the supernatural power in the old witch house sweeps up the both of them, and neither has the means to either combat or escape it.
I've always been a little put off by characters who talk to themselves. It's usually a cheap and too-obvious means for the author to explain the character's motivation or propel one scene to another. Charlene talks to herself quite a bit, and at first, it hit that sensitive annoyance nerve I have right behind my left ear; fortunately, it doesn't take long to realize that it's part of her psychological makeup, a symptom of her emotional and physical isolation. Charlene is a somewhat damaged character, but not so far gone that you either pity her or write her off as hopeless. She has occasional moments of sullenness that make one want to smack her around a bit, but most often, she redeems herself by facing the issues confronting her with reasonable pragmatism.
Andrew is a closet novelist, and not a very good one. There are numerous excerpts of his writing, which in abstract ways reflect his thoughts on the goings-on around him. The snippets are a little overdone at times, and I think Ms. Massie included them just to convince us readers that, yes, he really is trying to write, rather than expect us to take her word for it. I might have striven to find a happy medium, but it's really a small matter. As a character, he is both believable and sympathetic (despite his being a lawyer), and his perceptions of Charlene help to define her character as much as his own.
In classic fashion, Charlene goes up against the evil that inhabits Homeplace, and the showdown is part High Noon, part It, and the stakes are high for all involved. After a relatively slow pace since page 1, the supernatural big gundown comes on fast and hard, almost jarringly so. From there, events again play out a bit slower as we move toward the end. On the whole, it all works, showing that Ms. Massie is well-versed in plot-pacing and generating atmosphere. Given the events of the story as a whole, the resolution gives us exactly what we might expect. No silly contrivances, no boogies suddenly jumping out of shadows to clue us in that it's not really over. In that regard, it's a successful means of wrapping up the drama.
I enjoyed Homeplace a lot, in large part because the setting Ms. Massie builds is so close to places I've known and cared about in Virginia. (She and I have trodden a lot of the same ground over many years.) The characters are people we might meet on the street, some of whom we'd like and some we wouldn't. In the time it took to read the novel, I enjoyed myself quite a bit. Definitely time well spent.(less)
Three stars, but just barely. ZERO MINUS TEN has some intriguing moments, and the plot, in general, is actually pretty solid. It's a step up from John...moreThree stars, but just barely. ZERO MINUS TEN has some intriguing moments, and the plot, in general, is actually pretty solid. It's a step up from John Gardner's inane entries in the series, but this is still a far cry from Ian Fleming's Bond. 007 still has some rough edges, but what ostensibly passes for Bond having "gained wisdom from his experiences" reeks of political correctness. Beyond that, though, the writing often slips into long-winded details that don't naturally flow into the narrative; Fleming had mastered the art of merging minutiae with storytelling like few other writers; Benson isn't there yet. And worst of all, in the action-oriented scenes, Benson's prose becomes sloppy, chock-full of passive phrasing and superficial description. There's no passion or sense of urgency, especially when Bond's life is on the line; you're not -inside- the character... you're simply witnessing events from outside. Sadly, when Benson delves into Bond's psyche, the result is endless lines of internalized questioning--to the point of becoming ludicrous. Hardly the self-confident, arrogant, coldhearted professional who yet somehow remained human that Fleming delivered. The villain has adequate motivation to be believable but is otherwise colorless. The best character here is the Chinese Triad chief, Li Xu Nan, who comes across as a more Fleming-inspired personality, a la Marc Ange Draco. Give it a go if you're a Bond completist...(less)
For all its detail and focus on purely factual data, FLYING TIGERS is an exhilarating ride. Its clinical tone is tempered by an impressive amount of i...moreFor all its detail and focus on purely factual data, FLYING TIGERS is an exhilarating ride. Its clinical tone is tempered by an impressive amount of insight into the multitudes of personalities involved with the AVG--often including the Japanese perspective. It's a sprawling book, with mountains of information on every page. This could easily have been a ponderous, heavy-handed account by a detached historian; instead, Ford uses effective language to turn the individual stipples of the story into a fascinating, gradated canvas. It's rare to encounter a work of such vividness by an author whose view is from after the fact, rather than from amid the period of history concerned. Recommended.(less)
James Robert (Bob) Smith's novel, THE FLOCK, is a worthy first effort, beautifully produced in hardback by Gale/Five Star Books. The flock of the titl...moreJames Robert (Bob) Smith's novel, THE FLOCK, is a worthy first effort, beautifully produced in hardback by Gale/Five Star Books. The flock of the title is a group of prehistoric birds, known as Phorusrachids, which has survived in one of Florida's last remaining wilderness areas. They are impressive, predatory creatures whose survival is largely due to their near-human intelligence; however, their existence is now threatened by both developers and by an eccentric militiaman who owns a portion of the wilderness. A group of environmentalists, who wish to see the land preserved, pit themselves against the exploiters, and in the process discover the existence of the creatures. A complex game of intrigue ensues as the various parties square off, each with its own single-minded agenda.
Smith is a capable writer and has created a remarkably believable backstory for these dinosaur-like creatures. His human characters are mostly colorful — sometimes a little too colorful — but the drama never fails to be engaging. The birds themselves, though, are the stars of the story, and their unique characters enliven the book far more than if they were merely one-dimensional, predatory monsters.(less)
Bob Freeman's SHADOWS OVER SOMERSET is a contemporary horror/dark fantasy tale that chronicles the rather mysterious Cairnwood family and the individu...moreBob Freeman's SHADOWS OVER SOMERSET is a contemporary horror/dark fantasy tale that chronicles the rather mysterious Cairnwood family and the individuals/entities who come to be at odds with them. It's not always simple to tell who's protagging and who's antagging, though, as the Cairnwood family is something of a mess. They've got heroes, they've got werewolves, they've got vampires...they've just got all kinds living under the family name. Their homestead, Cairnwood Manor, situated in a dark corner of Indiana, is reminiscent of the classical mansion full of secrets, a la Collinwood from DARK SHADOWS; in this tale, however, the secrets are multiplied something like tenfold.
Freeman's storytelling is enjoyable, particularly during the action-packed scenes of character conflict. I did have a problem with the lack of breaks between paragraphs when scenes changed, though I'm not sure whether this was a copy-editing gaffe or something done intentionally. Whichever, it's cumbersome, and it brings the flow of the drama to a screeching halt on any number of occasions, particularly because there are so many characters to follow. Better structuring of the book's passages would have helped distinguish what's happening when and to whom. In fact, I would like to have seen better copy-editing in general, as there are numerous small problems that a second trained eye could have easily caught and fixed. KHP Publishing, take note.
Regardless of its problems, SHADOWS OVER SOMERSET is a generally entertaining novel, fast-paced, and vividly rendered. With its dark, gothic atmosphere and occasional moments of breakneck action, it's got a little something for fans of every dark persuasion.(less)
Ever since Shirley Jackson's The Haunting of Hill House scared the living hell out of me at age 11 (even if I didn't completely understand it all at t...moreEver since Shirley Jackson's The Haunting of Hill House scared the living hell out of me at age 11 (even if I didn't completely understand it all at the time), I've enjoyed stories that involve supernatural nasties. I love gloomy old houses, spooky woods, creaking noises at night, and all those things that hint at the existence of unseen entities lurking at the edge of the real world. Something about ghosties and ghoulies can still hit a few vital nerves that the most awful of real-world horrors do not. It's a stimulating sense of awe rather than disgust and depression over the evil that men do.
Since Dark Shadows alumnus Kathryn Leigh Scott formed Pomegranate Press in 1986, it has been known for producing superior quality volumes devoted to D...moreSince Dark Shadows alumnus Kathryn Leigh Scott formed Pomegranate Press in 1986, it has been known for producing superior quality volumes devoted to Dark Shadows, including My Scrapbook Memories of Dark Shadows, The Dark Shadows Almanac, The Dark Shadows Movie Book, Dark Shadows Resurrected, and more. Their latest release, Dark Shadows: Return to Collinwood, by Kathryn Leigh Scott and Jim Pierson, rates among the best of these, featuring a wealth of historical background, personal narratives, and photographs, ranging from the series' origin in 1966 to the Tim Burton theatrical film, due for release next month. Some of the contents are reprints from earlier Pomegranate Press titles, such as My Scrapbook Memories of Dark Shadows, but that doesn't lessen the value of having the older material presented with the new, all under one roof, so to speak.
The book opens with a brief foreword by Jonathan Frid, who passed away only a short couple of weeks ago. Immediately following is a timeline titled "Five Decades of Dark Shadows," which touches on the highlights of the franchise from its beginning to the present. In "Dark Shadows Reincarnated," Jim Pierson provides a brief overview of the upcoming Tim Burton Dark Shadows, including the characters, cast, and several photographs. Kathryn and Lara Parker follow up with intriguing personal chronicles of their journeys to England to appear in the film in cameo roles, along with fellow Dark Shadows series actors Jonathan Frid and David Selby. From these accounts, one can clearly see that, for Jonathan, this venture is a serious personal struggle, both physically and mentally. It's very sad that he will not have the chance to see the result of his final journey into the shadows, as it were. As for David, Kathryn, and Lara, one definitely gets a sense of their excitement on their journey, and I think they would agree it's a somewhat amusing irony for them to be the "outsiders" on the Dark Shadows set.
"Backstage Memories" offers a veritable catalog of Kathryn's personal reminiscences of her life as a Dark Shadows actress, illustrated with loads of photographs, some well-known stock pics, some from her personal collection. I enjoy the fact that, even though much of the actors' day-to-day experiences on the set are prosaic, her writing retains much of the youthful excitement in which she must have been caught up at the time. Lara provides an appropriate companion piece, "Angelique Looks Back," in which she reveals how deeply she delved into Angelique's character during the show's run and how, over time, through her own novels, she has developed a whole new understanding as well as literary portrayal of the character.
One of my favorite sections of the book, though brief, is "The Mansion on the Hill," which provides a more than tantalizing glimpse of Seaview Terrace, the mansion in Newport, Rhode Island, that stood in for Collinwood — at least for exterior scenes. While I've visited Lyndhurst, the gothic mansion in Tarrytown, New York, which was used as Collinwood in House of Dark Shadows and Night of Dark Shadows, many times and become quite familiar with its layout, grounds, and history, I've never had the opportunity to visit Seaview. To my chagrin, for several years during the 80s, I regularly attended Necon, in Bristol, RI, which is just a stone's throw from Newport. Had I known at the time I was so near the old "mansion on the hill," I would have buzzed down there in a heartbeat. Alas for me. I'm particularly fond of the photos of the house's interior in this section of the book, since very few interior shots ever found their way into the TV series.
Jim Pierson provides overviews of the 1991 NBC-TV Dark Shadows revival series (which is covered in far more detail in Pomegranate Press's Dark Shadows Resurrected) as well as WB's aborted 2004 attempt at bringing back the series. Despite it's myriad shortfalls, I've always had a great fondness for the 1991 series — it wasn't the original, of course, but it wasn't intended to be — but I've never seen the pilot for the 2004 version, which starred Alec Newman as Barnabas (who has now played Barnabas on Big Finish's audio drama series), Marley Shelton as Victoria Winters, and Ivana Milicevic as Angelique. By all accounts, I really didn't miss much, and the description of the pilot here certainly doesn't peak my interest much. For curiosity's sake, I wouldn't mind watching it, but it's hardly one of those burning desires I absolutely must fulfill before shuffling off this mortal coil.
Rounding out the volume is a wonderfully in-depth account of the making of House of Dark Shadows and Night of Dark Shadows, both of which I quite adore to this day. To me personally, so much of what makes these movies so memorable, apart from the characters themselves, is the excellent use of Lyndhurst as Collinwood — though, I must admit, as a kid, it was disconcerting to see a "different" place playing home to the Collins family on the big screen. In more recent years, having spent a fair amount of time at the Lyndhurst estate, I've marveled at how expertly Dan Curtis and crew used it (as well as the other locations) to heighten the visual appeal of both films. It's a real treat to have the background story, along with plenty of on-site photographs, included in this book.
As a long-time Dark Shadows fan and occasional contributor to the series as a writer, I love finding gems like Return to Collinwood, which — despite my more-than-passing familiarity with the series, its creators, and its cast members — manages to shine new light on what many might consider well-trodden ground. I also appreciate the excellent production of the book itself: a sturdy softcover with perfectly sized typesetting and excellent photo reproduction. Easily one of my many favorites from Pomegranate. (less)
It's a real treat to see the original scripts to both HOUSE and NIGHT OF DARK SHADOWS, since both (especially the latter) suffered significant cuts be...moreIt's a real treat to see the original scripts to both HOUSE and NIGHT OF DARK SHADOWS, since both (especially the latter) suffered significant cuts before audiences got to see them way back when. The behind-the-scenes articles by several of the stars are priceless, especially Kathryn Leigh Scott's ruminations on some of the other personalities involved in the production. Nice package with great photos. Definitely recommended to fans of the movies and the TV series.(less)
David Niall Wilson creates a new gospel (The Book of Judas), turns one of the pivotal characters in the Bible into a vampire, and puts an entirely new...moreDavid Niall Wilson creates a new gospel (The Book of Judas), turns one of the pivotal characters in the Bible into a vampire, and puts an entirely new spin on the life of Christ, all with a stylistic flair that leads one to believe that maybe the author knows something we don't, but that we should. With vampire tales being a dime a dozen, and few of them worth the dime, THIS IS MY BLOOD stands out as one of the most thoughtful and creative takes on the legend one might hope to find. I suspect that even devout Christians will hardly find much to quibble with in regard to Wilson's interpretation of Biblical history and the existing gospels. The book explores personal faith with real thoughtfulness, wrapped in a witty and exciting package. Highest recommendation.(less)