Monday, 7 November 2011

Christine, by Stephen King:

Ever wondered about those guys who say: “I love my car”, and look like they really mean it? Have you ever sympathized with wives and girlfriends who had a pained expression on their face as they complained: “He loves that car more than me”?
Christine is a 1958 Plymouth Fury, as red as the blood spilt during every term of ownership, in one of author Stephen King’s best horror stories about man’s abiding passion for cars, the need for speed, a greedy jealous love, and an obsession that turns into possession.
Arnie Cunningham is a lonely dork, bullied and rejected at school because of his looks and demeanor, in a plot thread reminiscent of King’s earlier book, Carrie, with the tormented being pushed to breaking point and taking bloody revenge on their tormentors. In Christine, the bullies are rebel Buddy Repperton and his gang, who torture weaker kids whenever they get the chance. Arnie’s only friend is football playing jock, Dennis Guilder, who narrates the story as a witness to the unfolding horror and ensuing tragedy. Arnie’s talent and passion is for auto-mechanics and he yearns for his own set of wheels. When he sees Christine, rusting and rotting away, in caustic old timer Roland D. Lebay’s driveway, it’s love at first sight.
Unknown to Arnie, Christine is possessed by a malign evil force that at first seduces and then destroys every owner.
Arnie’s attitude changes with his taste in clothes. His mood becomes darker and belligerent as he fixes up Christine, wins the most lusted-after girl in school, Leigh Cabot, and then alienates both his parents and Dennis.
For a while, Christine becomes the only good thing in Arnie’s life. She makes him feel invincible. But, like some bad people in society; the narcissistic, the sociopathic, those with no conscience who use, discard when there’s nothing left, then move on to the next victim, Christine is spiteful, seductively evil and relentless in her quest to take her owners on a fast ride straight to hell.It was filmed and directed by John Carpenter in 1983 and still stands as one of the most memorable movies of that decade, with an effective soundtrack and some great moments, particularly in the scene where the car rebuilds itself as Arnie watches on, and other scenes where the car communicates via the lyrics of rock ‘n’ roll songs from the era it was built.
Like Arnie points out: the thing about love … it eats … it has a voracious, all-consuming appetite, leaving no room for anything or anyone else.How far will you go for your love?

When you look at that prized possession in your life, that which Stephen King might have referred to in another of his stories as a “needful thing”, ask yourself a question:
do you own it, or does it own you?

Megan’s Way, by Melissa Foster:

Beginning in Cape Cod, 1988, Megan and Holly are teenagers and best friends enjoying the lights and laughter of a carnival. Acting on impulse, they find themselves inside the tent of an old psychic woman who delivers them a cryptic and chilling premonition. Spooked by what they hear, the two girls flee from the carnival.
Time then skips forward to 2009. Megan is now 38-years-old and a single mother earning a living as a freelance artist, as she raises her 14-year-old daughter, Olivia. Megan is gravely ill. The cancer she had once beaten has returned with a vengeance and she knows instinctively that her time is short. Faced with her own imminent mortality, and the prospect of the end coming sooner than she wanted, she must deal with the problem of who is to be Olivia’s guardian after her death.
Author Melissa Foster is a fearless writer who has produced a highly-charged emotional roller-coaster that will break readers’ hearts, as they progress through the story, and are made aware of the best and worst of human emotions and behavior. The author tackles controversial and sadly only too real issues, particularly in the part when Megan has to rescue Olivia from the clutches of a predatory rapist who has stalked her via an internet chat-room. This is an important issue: to raise parents’ awareness of the potential dangers of children being allowed to surf the internet, and the need to protect them from deviants who prowl cyberspace and hide behind avatars and aliases.
This is also a story of pain on duel levels: with one focus being on the physical and emotional agony that terminal illness brings, not only for the victim, but also the anguish experienced by close family and friends. This is coupled with the drama of the guilt the characters have over decisions they have made in the past, and the consequential stress of whether they should reveal these secrets to each other.
There are many themes for discussion: the many stages of life, those we meet and fall in love with along the way, the complexities of human relationships, the pain of illness, the mystery of death … including the transition of the soul after.
The overall message is that love overcomes all pain, and that death, no matter how agonizing and lingering, is only a temporary separation from those who have passed before and are waiting for us to follow them to that ultimately better place.
Nothing in this world lasts forever. Sooner or later, death takes all those we are closest to. It’s how we choose to come to terms and deal with that period of temporary loss and separation that is important.
The story includes an interview with the author, and a list of eight questions that make this story an excellent choice for post-reading discussions in book clubs.

The Abomination Assignment (The Bowin Novels), by Lee Holz:

Covert government assassin, Dr Thomas Bowin, is also a reputed neuroscientist in his official “day job”. He’s unassuming and unremarkable to those who see him and don’t know him. However, that’s often how his would-be killers underestimate him. When the heat of the moment demands deadly force, Tom Bowin is fast and lethal. He leads a double-life, and is cold, exacting and patient in his work when sanctioned to find and kill terrorists, calculating all the risks to himself in order to get the job done as swift and clean as possible and then slip away undetected. He’s good at what he does, too. A real professional, deadly with weapons and at hand-to-hand combat, he makes his first murder in this story look like just another fatal mugging that could happen anywhere – a robbery gone bad.
What I enjoyed about this story was that it made me ask myself how many of these agents and operatives could be living among us, leading double-lives just like Tom Bowin, as they move through society, some of them working mundane jobs, the unassuming man next door who no one really gives a second look. Also, as Thomas Bowin – the contract killer of this story – justifies his actions to himself, what effect does it have on him as a human being as he leads a solitary existence, reflecting on his propose and loneliness? It seems to me that they are detached because that’s exactly the way they need to be in order to do what they have to do.
I have read many books of the same genre, but The Abomination Assignment had me engrossed and unable to anticipate the ended.
The story is told with a good, even pace and kept me engrossed from start to finish.
James Bond is for adolescents. Those stories are fine in a fun, lightweight way, but thrillers like The Abomination Assignment offer readers a realistic, gritty view of the world where detached and ruthless men are needed in the fight against terrorism, in order to stop fanatics who are prepared to slaughter countless innocent lives.
Recommended to readers who enjoy a detailed and intriguing adventure thriller.

The Honeymoon Assignment (The Bowin Novels), by Lee Holz:

Well-written sequel that is solid enough to stand alone from the first story and loses nothing of the punch of the original, as the reader follows covert government agent and assassin, Tom Bowin, accompanied by his wife, Alice, on a new mission.
I’ve thoroughly enjoyed reading these intricately-plotted, cut-to-the-chase thrillers that put the reader right into the heat of the action from the very start of the story.

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Halloween … an appropriate night to revisit my favorite hotel.

Many people say that movies, not matter how great, lose something every time we watch them. That may be true of many movies, but not all. In 2010, one of my all-time favorite movies, The Shining (1980), turned 30-years-old. Like everyone, at some time during their life, I asked myself where all that time went – (into the past, I’m reliably informed) – and why it all had to go by so quickly – (because I got busy with stuff, I am also reliably informed). A lot has happened in three decades; good, bad, ugly, tragic, joyful … just like it has all through history, as it will no doubt follow with each year that still comes to pass; a mix of sadness and delight for everyone.
I remember one Saturday afternoon back in 1980 so clearly. I was 12-years-old, an avid reader, and already bitten by the writing bug, sitting on the couch reading the arts and cultural section in the middle of the newspaper because it covered the latest book and movie releases. That particular weekend there was a two-page spread on the release of the latest Stanley Kubrick movie. The release of one of Kubrick's movies always seemed like a major cinematic event in itself. That year it was The Shining, adapted from the novel by Stephen King, starring Jack Nicholson, Shelley Duvall, Danny Lloyd and ‘Scatman’ Crothers. The news report didn’t give too much of the plot away, but just enough to hook my interest, and I had to know what was behind that now-famous maniacal grin that Jack Nicholson pulls so effectively, when he presses his face into the splinter gap in the door and says: “Heeeeere’s Johnny!”
The tagline on the poster repeated in my mind: “The tide of terror that swept America IS HERE”. In the weeks that followed, I saw a short “teaser trailer” on TV, a series of flash images: Jack running through the snow, hefting an axe, a young kid peddling a trike through narrow corridors, a woman holding a knife and running for her life through other corridors … I was hooked even before I’d seen the movie in full. I had to know what this story was about! In those days, 18-rated movies were given an “X” certificate. Back then, I was not even a teenager and there was no way I’d get to see it on the giant cinema screen. VCRs had been on the market for a while by then, but it would still be at least another year before the movie would be released on video cassette for rental, so I knew I had to wait.

In the meantime, I went out and bought the new edition of Stephen King’s source novel and read it before seeing the movie.

My first copy of the novel was the movie tie-in edition, with a yellow jacket and cover art from another version of the movie poster.
In the center of the book was eight pages of black and white stills from the movie.

Sadly, that copy fell apart decades ago because paperbacks will only stand so much re-reading before they disintegrate.
I would later buy a replacement copy of that particular edition and I keep it stored away because it’s now collectable.

These days, when I feel like rereading the novel, I have a cool hardback copy with a cover art image reminiscent of jolly Jack Nicholson’s grinning face from the movie.
The story is one of the best I’ve ever read: Jack Torrence is an ex-school teacher, a wannabe writer, and recovering alcoholic. On the edge of bankruptcy and losing his family, Jack is desperate for work. His friend, Al Shockley, puts in a good word for him and helps him to secure the job of winter caretaker at the Overlook hotel, which is isolated in the mountains and cut off during the months of heavy snow. At first, it seems the perfect solution to all their problems: for the months they are residing at the hotel, they have no rent to pay, plenty of food stored in the hotel pantry and freezer, they are being paid to stay there, once the snow cuts them off Jack will not be tempted to frequent a local bar, and there is no alcohol on the premises either. It is a time of quiet, almost monastic, solitude in which he and his wife, Wendy, and their young son, Danny, can recover from their troubles while Jack finishes his play.
The Shining of the title is the psychic ability Danny is born with, a gift shared by the hotel cook, Halloran. Danny experiences terrifying and prophetic flashes, but he is too young to properly interpret the visions. Jack also experiences similar visions, which suggests that Danny inherited the power from him.
From the back-story we learn how the marriage is in trouble, made worse when Jack lost his previous teaching position because of an alcohol-related incident. He also has a violent temper. However, they remain optimistic about their future … until they are shut in for the winter, the snow cuts them off from the outside world, the hotel begins to come to life and supernatural forces start to work against them.
They each occupy themselves as best they can through the following days and weeks, as the snow gets deeper, the wind howls, and time seems to stand still: Danny plays on his tricycle, using the long, deserted hotel corridors as a grand prix circuit, and plays with his cars and fire engine. Wendy cooks for the family, watches TV and attends to the daily routine of the hotel heating system.

Jack settles in the cavernous Colorado Lounge and makes it his own study as he tries to work on his book.

Jack’s gradual mental disintegration is frightening to watch. “Cabin Fever” is a real condition and frustration, isolation and boredom can have a debilitating effect on the human psyche. The eerie winding hotel corridors move in tighter as the evil force turns the family against each other.
There are several differences between the novel and movie, particularly with the endings, but both work in their own right.
Stanley Kubrick’s direction gives the story a suitably chilling atmosphere. The camera work is flawless, particularly the breathtaking fly-over of Wild Goose Island at St Mary Lake, Glacier National Park, Montana, in the scene that opens the movie. This is followed by the aerial shots over the beginning titles, with the camera following Jack in his VW car as he follows the winding mountain roads, which lead him to The Overlook Hotel. The exterior of the hotel was shot at The Timberline Lodge, Mount Hood, Oregon.
This is far more than the average brainless stalk-n-slash story. The build up to the horror is slow and deliberate. As in real life, these things can be the result of a gradual build up of events.
However, The Shining is, at its core, a ghost story, with the ending of the movie version even hinting at … ah, but that would be telling.
To those who haven’t yet seen Jack Nicholson swing that fire axe and breaking through those doors with practised expertise, a skill acquired from his real-life time in the fire department, along with all the eerie pleasure and superb photography this movie has to offer, all I can say is save a dark evening, keep the lights off, turn up the volume on this one and enjoy a truly great movie.
I took this photo for posterity and the purpose of this blog, because wherever I go, the opportunity to watch and enjoy the movie always comes up. I was able to pass some time of a plane flight, with the screen on the back of the seat in front of me. It was a long flight and I was able to pass the hours with The Shining, followed by Stanley Kubrick’s 1963 black comedy masterpiece, Dr. Strangelove. Or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1963), and Ridley Scott’s swords and sandals epic, Gladiator (2000).

I spent a night in a hotel and, as I was relaxing on the bed watching the weather report on the TV news, propped up with pillows behind me, a scene from The Shining flashed into my mind. Here I was, reliving a scene from that movie: the part where Scatman Crothers, as Halloran, is relaxing in his hotel room, also watching the weather report on the TV news.
When I returned home, I re-watched the movie … again! It was partly to check my photo with the scene, which I could have done by using the scene selection and jumping to that particular section of the movie. But I didn’t. I watched the whole movie again, pausing when I reached that scene to compare my picture with it.
There was no portrait of a beautiful and voluptuous woman above the TV in my hotel room, or lamps on either side of the TV, or pillow beneath my feet ... but still - pretty close!
The Shining, both novel and movie have never lost anything for me over the years since 1980. Reading a favorite book and seeing a favorite movie can be like being visited by an old friend. It takes me back to other times in my life when I have either reread the book or watched the movie again. During the late 1980s, I was lucky enough to see it on the big cinema screen, a repeat screening, double-billed with The Border, a crime drama Jack Nicholson made in 1982, co-starring Harvey Keitel, Valerie Perrine and Warren Oates, another under-rated classic.
I wonder when I will watch The Shining again, where I will be in my life when I take another walk through those fictional hallways, what other goals I will have achieved by then, what news I will have from my friends, and what will be new in the world.
It was a great Halloween … an appropriate night to revisit The Overlook, my favorite hotel … not that I need an excuse to revisit that particular hotel any time.

Shine on everyone!

Friday, 28 October 2011

Contagion (2011):

It's a bad day to be a rhesus monkey.
– Jude Law, as Alan Krumwiede.

A woman arrives back in America, returning home from a business trip to Hong Kong. She talks to her husband on a cell phone, clearly running a fever and coughing as she speaks. Others who were present at the same restaurant and casino also travel to their different destinations and unwittingly infect those along the way.
What at first seems like an outbreak of a flu virus, quickly escalates into a world-wide pandemic of a new, virulent and deadly disease.
Experts at the United States Center for Disease Control race to first discover exactly what the disease is before they can then develop a cure, as society crumbles and some struggling to survive take to looting and murder.
This is a vastly superior movie to others in the disease outbreak and mass-panic-ensues genre. Far better than the trashy Outbreak (1995), and reminiscent in places of The Andromeda Strain – a classic from 1970 that remains chilling in its clinical realism, Contagion is another extremely well-made and bleakly realistic thriller from director Steven Soderbergh, who also made Solaris, The Informant!, Ocean’s Eleven, Traffic and Erin Brockovich … among many others.
The main cast: Gwyneth Paltrow, Matt Damon, Jude Law, Laurence Fishburne, Marion Cotillard, John Hawkes, Kate Winslet, Elliott Gould, Jennifer Ehle, Chin Han, all give restrained and excellent performances. There is tension, emotion, drama, death, and tragedy on show, but it is acted sincerely without plunging into melodrama and over-sentimentality. The main plot and sub-plots of the different characters and situations are intricately weaved without leaving any loose plot threads.
After the end credits have rolled, the viewer is left with the feeling as if they have sat through a documentary retold as a drama, making what they have just seen all the more frighteningly credible … which it is!
I watched this movie in a packed cinema auditorium, filled with popcorn-munchers, drink-slurpers, seat-shufflers, all of which I could tolerate during the running time. But what got me during this particular screening was my heightened awareness to those who were coughing … !!!
Don’t be surprised if you find yourself thinking twice before you plunge your hand into that free bowl of peanuts at the side of the bar, or getting OCD about washing your hands after this one!
To those who may experience coughs, shivers, sweats, sneezes, et al … please … please … PLEASE!!! … cover your mouth and nose and wash your hands! How hard can it be? Better still, stay inside, wrap up warm, drink plenty of water, and stay put until you’re well again.

Saturday, 8 October 2011

Inception (2010):

The majority of movies just come and go. We watch many of them and we’ve forgotten about them less than thirty minutes after the end credits have rolled.
Others, like Inception, are a true cinematic experience. Written and directed by Christopher Nolan, Inception is a brilliant, action-packed head-trip sci-fi adventure. The special effects, performances and soundtrack all come together seamlessly to give a feast for the eyes and ears.
The best way to watch any movie for the first time is not to know anything about it. That way you are as open to the mystery the story offers as the characters within. This is particularly true of past movies like: Shutter Island (2010), Moon (2009), Silent Hill (2006), Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004), Vanilla Sky (2001), Memento (2000) and Jacob’s Ladder (1990).
On a trivia note, the song that is repeated in the story is Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien (No, I Regret Nothing), written and composed in 1956 by Charles Dumont and Michel Vaucaire. It was sang most famously by Édith Piaf. Marion Cotillard played Édith Piaf in the 2007 biopic La Vie en Rose (Life in Pink).
When reviewing movies I have often given some details of the plot, but this time all I’m going to say is watch it. The same goes with many of the best movies that make going to a cinema such a special event. Pay your money at the box office … sit down in front of the big screen … take a leap of faith … dare to dream … and then go a step further … dare to dream within a dream. It's one of the main reasons cinema was invented.

War of the Worlds (2005):

This is Steven Spielberg doing what he does best: the action blockbuster.

What makes Spielberg’s movies stand out from the usual predictable dross is the attention to detail, and the high quality of the performances and script.

Against the backdrop of an alien invasion we see a dysfunctional family finally pull together and work out their differences in the face of adversity.
Almost all of us have a favourite book from our childhood. Mine is The War of the Worlds, by H. G. Wells. I loved Jeff Wayne’s version on double-album vinyl (now audio CD), liked the 1953 movie adaptation, even though the tripods became flying machines and there were many important book plot points missing from the simplified movie script. A gem of a movie is The Night That Panicked America (1975), Joseph Sargent’s TV movie, based on the true story of Orson Welles’ live radio broadcast, on October 30, 1938.

Welles recreated the story of War of the Worlds so convincingly that many believed the martians had indeed landed, resulting in a nationwide panic.

Welles is brilliantly played by Paul Shenar. To date this movie has been overlooked for a DVD release, to the chagrin of many fans.

Spielberg’s adaptation has excellent performances from all the cast: Tom Cruise as dock worker, Ray Ferrier, an “everyman” struggling to keep strained relations with his ex-wife Mary Anne (Miranda Otto), his son Robbie (Justin Chatwin), and daughter, Rachel (Dakota Fanning). Tim Robbins plays Harlan Ogilvy, a deranged survivalist who gives Ray and Rachel shelter in his basement.
There are also notable cameos by Lisa Ann Walter, as Cheryl, and Gene Barry and Ann Robinson, as the grandparents who appear briefly at end of the movie and were both the stars of the 1953 movie.

Despite the story being updated, it’s still a more faithful adaptation of the book, including in this version the “red weed”, a fast-growing organism the Martians let loose to spread across the surface of the earth, fertilized by human blood, in order to make the surface of our world resemble their own planet.

Just as many sci-fi stories, particularly of the 1950’s, were symbolic of the paranoia of Communism, in this movie there are visual and spoken references to 9/11 and our fears of terrorism. In the middle of a bright, seemingly-ordinary day, the world is changed forever by an attack that has come with no warning and has devastating results. Victims are reduced to dust, incinerated by the Martian’s “heat ray”.

The atmosphere is suitably ominous throughout and some of the images, like the initial attack, seem to strike from nowhere, particularly the scenes in which dead bodies float by on the lake and a runaway train thunders by with every carriage ablaze.
This is a more superior and intelligent modern sci-fi movie than many that have come and gone over recent years, with superb special effects, and a story that concentrates more on the dynamic of human relationships.
There are some nice touches: the dockside crane that Ray operates at his job is remarkably similar to the tripods; the earth and its micro-organisms defeat the Martians after mankind has been defeated, pushing out the alien invaders in much the same way that Rachel informs Ray that her hand will push out the splinter and, as Ogilvy points out: “Occupations always fail.”

Also recommended:
The Day That Panicked America The H.G. Wells' War of the Worlds Scandal (2005), a documentary covering Orson Welles radio broadcast and its aftermath. Included with the DVD is a CD with the original audio broadcast.

Friday, 7 October 2011

Bug (2006):

Seems all we ever talk about is bugs. But I guess I’d rather talk with you about bugs than nothing with nobody.

– Ashley Judd, as Aggy, In Bug (2006).

Horror that deals with the psychological breakdown of the mind is more cutting than any of the creature-features simply because mental illness is real and it can happen to any of us. Like the paranoia and bugs that are the themes of this story, mental illness can be insidious; it can creep up on us slowly and eat away at our reason and sense of reality.
Bug, based on Tracy Letts’ play (who also wrote the screenplay) and directed by William Friedkin (The Exorcist, The French Connection), is a powerful and stylish horror that improves with each viewing. The cast give perfect performances and the tension builds from a relaxed opening to a nightmare climax.
Ashley Judd plays Aggy, a waitress leading a lonely existence in a rundown Oklahoma motel room. She’s also a cocaine addict, plagued by a ringing telephone, and her violent ex-con ex-husband, Jerry (Harry Conick Jr.), while grieving over the abduction of her six-year-old son.
Desperate for love and companionship, Aggy latches on to Peter (Michael Shannon), a nervous drifter who confides in her that he’s on the run from the army after they had experimented on him by implanting hybrid bugs into his body and pumping him full of drugs.
Aggy rejects the attempts of her only true friend, R.C. (Lynn Collins), and the mysterious Dr. Sweet’s (Brian F. O'Byrne) attempts to “rescue” them from their destructive situation. He describes Peter as “a delusional paranoid with schizophrenic tendancies”.
Now closed off from the world, Aggy and Peter hole up in the motel room and wage war against the infestation.
The power of this story is in its ability to raise questions in the viewer’s mind. What is really going in with Aggy? Are the bugs and Peter’s conspiracy theories real or shared delusions that Aggy comes to accept as her sanity crumbles? Is it a case that it’s not really paranoia if (they) are really watching you? Are the titular bugs really insect or in fact a new form of surveillance? Are Aggy and Peter the subject of a cruel experiment? Could it simply be that Aggy and Peter, fuelled by cocaine, paranoia and irrational fears, are both mentally ill and they drag each other down into the abyss? Are Peter and Dr. Sweet real or just Aggy’s hallucination?
It’s a telling detail near the climax of the movie, at the moment when Jerry attempts to break into the motel room. From the inside we hear the thunderous roar of a helicopter, the room shakes violently, and powerful search lights shine in through the windows. However, outside the door, from Jerry’s perspective, there are no helicopters.
Madness breeds madness.

Plunkett & Macleane (1999):

Jonny Lee Miller and Robert Carlyle, as Will Plunkett and Captain James Macleane, who find their calling as highwaymen in the 18th century England.

With strong support from a great cast including Liv Tyler, Michael Gambon and Ken Stott.
Those looking for deep, historical drama will not find it here.

Instead, this is just a thoroughly enjoyable, laugh-a-minute, adventure.

And there’s nothing wrong with that.

My favorite part, when Jonny Lee Miller brandishes his guns, still riding high on the thrill of their last robbery, and exalts:

“Still, I was fabulous, and it was a bloody good laugh!”

Thursday, 6 October 2011

Quatermass, by Nigel Kneale:

Back in 1979, I was a horror and science fiction hungry pre-teenager when I saw the serialized adaptation of this book on TV. The series (back in its day) was great. I haven’t seen it since and I can guess at just how dated it would be now on a second viewing. However, it stayed with me over the years and inspired me to read the source novel. This is a very different and absorbing “alien invasion” story in that we never see the aliens. Instead, as society crumbles, fuel and food shortages have driven the populations to desperation and violence, anarchy reigns on the urban streets in a nightmarish near-future, the young people around the planet have become like hippy, new-age wanderers. Calling themselves the Planet People, they are being hypnotically lured to various locations where they are “harvested” on mass, leaving only the old behind to face extinction. Are the Planet People, as they believe, being magically transported to a heavenly other-world, or is a malevolent alien race blasting the planet surface with a laser and slaughtering them? Professor Quatermass sets out in a race against time to save both his missing granddaughter and the rest of mankind from annihilation. You’ll never look at a stone circle structure such as Stonehenge or a hippy the same way again!

Skeleton Crew, by Stephen King:

Short story compilations are almost always hit-and-miss, but this well-written and enjoyable collection from Stephen King who, credit where it’s due, has mastered the short story along with the full-length novel, offers readers 22 tales to tantalize the imagination. Two of my favorites are included in this book: The Mist, which is long enough to be classed as a stand-alone novella, and The Raft, a gore-fest in which two young couples become prey to a hungry creature in a secluded lake that at first resembles an oil slick.
How many of these stories appeal depends wholly on the reader, but with tales ranging in depth, style and subject as these there is bound to be something within the pages for all fans of the genre to enjoy.

The 101 Most Influential People Who Never Lived ...

How much you are likely to enjoy this book largely depends on how you feel about the characters listed within. Whether you agree with the writers on just how influential the characters are is open to debate. Readers may well think of other characters not listed they wish had been included in the book.
With several books already written on real life influential people, it’s an interesting question to raise and debate as to why we should need fictional characters as role models at all, including how and why they become so celebrated and valued in modern pop culture.
It’s a light read, entertaining, enjoyable for the most part and humorous in places.
Ideal for taking along on a journey when there won’t be much time to read and short articles are preferable.
It has a good take on my favorite character: Batman. To quote directly from the text: “Giants still walk the earth”.

Schindler's List, by Thomas Keneally:

At first, Oskar Schindler seems an unlikely hero: egotistical, hedonistic and adulterous. As an industrialist, the outbreak of World War II appears to him as mostly an opportunity for commerce and financial gain by whatever means. He’s a member of the Nazi party, but only because it opens doors for him to make further contacts and exploit them.
In this we see the best qualities emerging from what at first seems a mercenary and selfish man whose primary motivation is money and profit.
This novel weaves fiction to tie together facts given from the testimonies of the Schindler juden (Schindler's Jews).
At first Schindler has but one aim: to make more money than any one man can spend in a lifetime. And, by ways of slave labor and profiteering, he succeeds. But witnessing first-hand the horror and atrocities of the SS, under the command of the murderous Amon Goeth, he is forced to search his conscience and he finds himself at a moral crossroads: he can take his fortune and go as far away from everything as he can get, or he can use his talents and assets to help others. In the midst of evil and aided by his factory manager and accountant, Itzhak Stern, Schindler sets on a mission: to save the Jewish employees in his factory.
Originally titled Schindler’s Ark, this historical novel is one of the most thorough and comprehensive retellings of a specific and profound event during the Holocaust, one of the darkest periods in mankind’s history.
Stephen Spielberg’s 1993 movie adaptation is a devastating experience.
Like the diary of Anne Frank and The Girl in the Red Coat, by Roma Ligocka, this is a book everyone should read at least once.
As Itzak Stern said: “Whoever saves one life, saves the world entire.”

Also recommended:

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, by Ken Kesey:

R.P. McMurphy, an insubordinate, anti-authoritarian non-conformist makes the mistake of “acting” crazy to duck out of life on a penal work farm, believing he can sit out the remaining weeks of his sentence in the supposed ease of a mental asylum. His real problems begin when he is faced with Nurse Ratched, a smug and uncompromising matriarch who enjoys cutting men down to insecure children she can control. The entire story is told by first person narration, from the point of view of Chief Bromden, who sees authority as an all-powerful and ruthless combine. Bromden pretends that he is deaf and dumb in order to hide away from the world, content to simply be ignored by everyone around him. That is before the battle of wills between McMurphy and Nurse Ratched ensues and stirs up an atmosphere of rebellion among the other patients on the ward. Who is sane in this world? What issues does Nurse Ratched have that drive her to being a cruel, vindictive tyrant?
By turns hilarious, frightening and tragic, this is one of the greatest books ever written that shines a light on the concepts of sanity, freedom, dignity and the pressures of life and society on the individual.

The 1975 movie, starring Jack Nicholson as McMurphy, is one of the best movie adaptations.
On a trivia note, Christian Slater, who also bears a striking resemblance to Jack Nicholson, played the role of McMurphy in theatres and received great reviews.

Lambs of Men, by Charles Dodd White:

Hiram Tobit is a complex and unsympathetic character: a Marine Sergeant, damaged by war, working as a District Recruiter for the Marine Corp, plagued by nightmares of war-time horrors, haunted by the shameful circumstances of his brother’s untimely death, his mother’s suicide, and unresolved conflict with his father.
Returning to his childhood home he finds that time has moved on, but old pain and resentments are still present. A crime rocks the community, forcing Hiram to reluctantly set out on horseback with his father to hunt down the perpetrator. Violence simmers below the surface all the way through.
This is a compelling, well-crafted mix of murder, manhunt and love story, in the style of a modern-day western, with a military backdrop, effectively set in the mountain ranges of North Carolina.
Lambs Of Men is a subtle story of war and the effect that it has on men.
A state of war can exist within families and communities, just as it does on the battlefield.

The River Runes, by Ken Lindsey:

Enter the fantasy world of Caithiir, a woodland kingdom inhabited by magicians and their apprentices as they work on the Runes, protectors of the magic that hold their world together. There are also hunting parties, gate keepers, faeries and their rulers. Learn about the clan wars, nomads, the River Room, the community of the Great Hall and the Third Chapel district.
Will swords and magic be enough to save the trees and their forest home?
Who will win the inevitable battle?
A neatly written and heart-warming family tale about love, the value of equality, the conflict between different cultures, reconciliation and new beginnings. It also highlights well the dangers of separatism and the importance of acceptance and tolerance in any society.
Go down for a trip through these woods and you may well be in for a big surprise.

I Shudder at Your Touch: Twenty-two Tales of Sex and Horror, edited by Michele B. Slung:

An eerie and erotic collection of 22 short stories, drawing on the themes of sex, death and insanity. One of the best in this anthology is Keeping House, by Michael Blumlein, describing a housewife’s mental breakdown as she loses her grip on reality and descends into violence and insanity. A mermaid, vampire, werewolf and more are within these pages. Dark, gothic, seductive, for adults only and not for the faint of heart.

God Hates Us All, by Hank Moody:

A fictional novel that has now become real thanks to the success of Showtime’s brilliantly wry TV comedy-drama series, Californication. For me, this show has come like a breath of fresh air after the multitude of lame, tame, politically correct, sanitized garbage they churn out every year. In the series, the hard-drinking, chain-smoking, substance-abusing, hedonistic, Hank Moody, played by David Duchovny, wrote God Hates Us All. He laments at the movie studios churning it out as yet-another vacuous, soul-less, FUBAR rom-com entitled: A Crazy Little Thing Called Love. It’s easy to imagine Hank Moody as the narrator, recalling as fiction how he dropped out of college and into drug dealing, a decision that leads him floundering through a similar misadventure that might have befallen Hank Moody, particularly during his encounters with his drug-addicted and unstable ex-girlfriend. They yearn for a supposed nirvana modelling the self-destructive relationship of punk rock’s version of Romeo & Juliet: Sid Vicious and Nancy Spungen , making several references to the movie Sid & Nancy as it’s the only title they have in their collection to watch. The characters are fighting a losing battle as they struggle to remain in that care-free life-style, knowing deep down they’ll ultimately lose and be forced to conform and face growing old like everyone else. An unusual book to read as it’s been based on fiction within fiction. Nowhere near as funny or well-written as the series script, but still a fast and enjoyable read if you’re a fan of the show.

The Far Arena, by Richard Ben Sapir:

One of the best sci-fi/fantasy adventure novels that would make a great movie, especially after the success of Ridley Scott’s Gladiator, but sadly (to the date I write this) The Far Arena has never been picked up for film.
An intriguing story about a Gladiator – the greatest in his time – exiled after defying the Emperor, enraging the mob and offending the gods of Rome. Cast naked over the ice with a sword and shield to fight the cold, he expects nothing but death. Instead, he is awakened centuries out of his time.

Discovered by accident by an oil drilling team, he is dug out of the ice, thawed out and brought back to life. This opens another intriguing strand of the story and a problem for the characters who are caring for him and hiding him from the world: what to do with him? And how can he come to terms with his predicament, the knowledge that his own world is long gone and everyone he knew and loved are dead and untraceable?
Brilliantly written and entertaining as the narrative jumps from the 20th century to ancient Rome.

Bigger Than Hitler: Better Than Christ, by Rik Mayall:

Rik Mayall's anarchic sense of humor has always appealed to me and I've been a fan of his work since first seeing him on TV in the early '80s, when he was acting as the character of "investigative report" Kevin Turvey.

This book is hilarious.
A laugh riot from start to finish.

Eleven Days, by Donald Harstad:

The author is a former sheriff and it shows in the writing.
I loved the dry, cynical wit that ran through the narrative and snappy dialogue.

You get a real sense of the cops going through the routine of their job as they uncover evidence, chase up leads and question witnesses/suspects.

The Girl Next Door, by Jack Ketchum:

This is one story you will never forget. I include Jack Ketchum’s book and the 2007 movie adaptation here. Inspired by the true murder case of Sylvia Likens, sadistically tortured by her guardian, Gertrude Baniszewski, her sons and a group of the neighbourhood kids. Sylvia Likens finally died of brain swelling and shock, aged just 16, in 1965. It’s a heart-breaking read. Not a book to be enjoyed, but one that I hope provokes discussion on the root causes of bullying, “pack behavior” among people who target an individual for persecution, and the problem of psychopaths and sociopaths in society who act with no sense of conscience for the suffering they cause others. In this case, these factors ran to the extreme. There are no happy endings. No “white knight” saving the day. Only insanity, cruelty, tragedy and death.

Totally American, by Dan Smee & Shoba Sreenivasan:

Both authors give personal testimonies, recounting their separate lives, experiences of growing up, maturing into adults, lessons they’ve learned through life, their work, loss, achievements, and those they’ve come to know along with way. They offer an easy to read self-help guide to the rewards of developing and exercising morals, core values, a positive “can do” attitude, in order to obtain our life goals. Some of the themes covered are: achieving fulfilment and success, changing a negative attitude into a positive one, defeating fear, stress and other disparaging thoughts and emotions, tackling the “hard knocks” of life as and when they come, self-reflection on life from civilian, military, and philosophical perspectives.
In these difficult times, with so much despondency around us, it’s refreshing to read such an optimistic, constructive and inspirational guide.

The Sword and the Dragon (The Wardstone Trilogy), by M.R. Mathias:

Fans of Tolkien and C.S. Lewis will find much to enjoy to enjoy in M.R. Mathias’ debut fantasy novel, The Sword and the Dragon (Book 1 of a trilogy). Starting with a mountain-side harvest of hawk eggs, the reader is then taken on an epic adventure through the Mainland Kingdom, encountering on the trek clansmen, a Lion Lord, lizards, serpents, elves, witches, a giant called Borg, a giantess called Berda, a bald-headed wizard called Pael, monsters and magic, kings and queens, lords and ladies, and many others, along with a great mix of campfire legends, swords and sorcery, and exhilarating battles.
This is a big book on a grand scale. Don’t let the fact that it’s a long story put you off. It is also a fast read with a steady flow throughout. Read this book, take up your sword and get ready for a hugely enjoyably adventure.

Cacoethes, by M. Scott Craig:

This anthology of short stories and poetry, by author M. Scott Craig, pushes the medium with a fresh and innovative approach.
The title, by definition, means an irresistible compulsion to indulge in something, often to the point of mania, even to the point where it is detrimental.
The compositions range in theme from intense passion in the wilds of Africa, affirmation of identity, fantasies of what might and could be, proposal at a party, cosmic romance, the agony of longing, friendship, love and lust. Many read like soliloquies, others like love letters, with the overall emphasis in this collection on the joy, struggle and pain of life, love, passion and relationships.
The writing is stylized and refreshingly avant-garde. One section abandons the rules of conventional sentence, paragraph and punctuation structure and gives us an erotic story with the words joined, offering the reader an almost encrypted series amid the other pieces.
Like many of the best anthologies, this would make an excellent travel book for those who spend time every day commuting and love to read challenging and compulsive fiction.
A hugely enjoyable and unique collection of reflections on human emotions and the way passion and love can drive us irresistibly beyond the constraints of reason.

Wolves, by Candace Savage:

This is one that I read as part of character research for my new road thriller, Backlash.
It's a book you can read in a day with good information on these beautiful animals. Superb photographs included throughout.

Who Would Have Thought? by Trenice Carter:

Written with language as deliberate, raw and explicit as the steamy sex acts it describes, author Trenice Carter tells the story of three pleasure-seeking, financially successful and seemingly gifted in every way men, dubbed the ‘Men of Adonis’ by those who come to know them. They have been friends since their childhood and the bond they share is as strong as if they were blood relatives. They are brothers by choice, not through luck of genetics. We learn about their lives, loves, weaknesses, intrigues and the compelling bond of true friendship and unyielding allegiance where this trio share everything and stand by each other through any dangerous situation. Will the three friends survive as a group and continue a free and hedonistic play-boy lifestyle, or will one or all succumb and be tamed by the all-conquering love for the women in their lives?
Moving from Blaine, Minnesota, to the darkly seductive glitz and bright lights of Las Vegas, this is a steamily erotic thriller, combining lusty encounters with the drama of rocky relationships and intertwining lives.
An entertaining story with fast action, violence, and sub-plots that hold the reader’s interest.
True love wins over all.