Thursday, March 27, 2008

'Deep Inside' by Polly Frost

ISBN: 0765315874
Format: Paperback, 272pp
Publisher: Doherty, Tom Associates, LLC
Pub. Date: May 2007
Price: $12.95

When I first came across Deep Inside I wasn’t sure what to think. Science Fiction Erotica? That had to mean there was going to be tentacle sex in there somewhere.

Now I’ve seen a lot of Japanese animation involving this idea, not all of it hentai, so it’s not like that idea is completely new. Okay, so maybe it’s strange but only as strange as that guy in the back of the bus wearing nothing but a trench coat and a pair of gym socks. Or your parent’s locked bedside table drawer.

But Deep Inside has more to offer than just tentacles. It also contains virgin sacrifice complete with Catholic School girls in uniform, a couple who experiments with piercing, serial killers and a dominatrix. What collection would be complete without one of those? If you are looking for your standard ‘tie me up, tie me down’ type of erotica this isn’t it. Nothing about Deep Inside is standard or what you have come to expect from the genre.

From “The Threshold” to “Deep Inside”, the title story of the collection, you meet virgins and voyeurs, addicts, masturbation masters, aliens with a hard on for humans, and anything you can think of in between. Frost builds each story, crafting backgrounds and character histories, and then punctuates them with sex. So while it is erotica, these stories actually have plot and Frost’s voice comes across the page strong and clear.

The ideas behind the stories contained within Deep Inside are over the edge. I can promise you will never look at alien abduction or piercing the same way again. This collection of stories pushes the boundaries of what you might find enticing, stimulating, or liberating and Polly Frost will take your unsuspecting mind into an unknown you might even enjoy.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

'Born Standing Up – A Comic’s Life' by Steve Martin

ISBN: 1416553649
Format: Hardcover, 224pp
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Adult Publishing Group
Pub. Date: November 2007
Price: $25.00

A friend of mine passed along her copy of Born Standing Up – A Comic’s Life with glowing praise and I sat down to read it with high expectations.

It’s hard not to be familiar with Steve Martin in some way, shape, or form. From his stand up, which made him famous and opened doors for him, to the books and movies he’s written and starred in, Steve Martin has a face that is instantly recognizable.

Born Standing Up isn’t about Steve Martin’s successful years as a stand up comedian. It’s about the years it took to get to that point, the time invested and material tested before he became the best. The final chapter almost comes as a shock, you go from reading about setbacks and small triumphs, until suddenly it all explodes and there stands Steve Martin, at the top.

In a voice that is precise yet fluid, Martin lays his past before the readers. His is an unemotional voice; these are the facts, beautifully written but not embellished. His life growing up, scenes with his father, his detachment from his family and reconnection in later years; all these things are gone through, but quickly and with no bitterness or regret.

Martin goes over his early years growing up, summers spent working in Disneyland in joke and magic shops. His fleeting crushes on pretty faces and the hopes that a smooth card trick might do the trick. It was wonderful to read and see how his passion and dedication grew as he aged, his desire to perform started so early and just intensified as the years passed.

Through his young adult years, awkward and filled with passing loves, into his adult years the passion for getting up in front of crowd never wavered. From dark and seedy bars, a stint at Knott’s Berry Farm, Playboy clubs, and eventually the big times Steve talks about his routine; how he worked on it, tightened it, and eventually turned it into what would make a crowd laugh hysterically for hours.

Born Standing Up – A Comic’s Life is a wonderful look into the life of a stand up comedian, but not just any comedian. Steve Martin has done it all, suffered through the worst of the worst and come out the other side as one of the most famous names in the business. It’s sharp and insightful, early on there are a few pages that tug at the heart, but mostly it’s just an engrossing look at what life is like when you’re born standing up.

Friday, March 14, 2008

'The Somnambulist' by Jonathan Barnes

ISBN: 0061375381
Format: Hardcover, 353pp
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Pub. Date: February 2008
Price: $23.95

Peopled with the odd and the outstanding, The Somnambulist by Jonathan Barnes is a macabre tale of crime told by an almost nameless narrator. We are warned from the beginning that this book contains no literary value and that we should not become attached to its characters. Of course the narrator does leave it up to us to decide and in the end you can’t help but be engrossed by the characters and tale that is spun like a web across the page.

Edward Moon is a man who once was the toast of this 19th century London; he is a conjuror, an illusionist of the highest order who also has a reputation for solving the unsolvable crimes that baffle the police. A constant companion to Moon is the Somnambulist, a man with no other name, who is completely silent, communicates via a chalk board and has a passion for milk.

But Moon has seen better times; he is past his prime, hair finally starting to thin and clothes which were once the height of fashion now worn. He belongs to an older time, an older London in which there were great criminal cases to occupy his mind and his theater was full every night as he performed his illusions with the Somnambulist. Those times have passed. A new century has begun and it seems as if Edward Moon will fade into the past, something he is loathe to do.

When there is a mysterious murder Detective Merryweather comes to Moon for help. Moon, desperate and bored, jumps at the chance to prove that he still has his edge and with the Somnambulist in tow he jumps into the investigation. But like any good 19th century sensation novel The Somnambulist is a twisty, curvy tale that leads you in many directions as once. While the answer in the end is constant the question throughout the book changes. The murder is just the tip of the iceberg and soon Moon is trying to uncover a conspiracy that could bring London to her knees.

The characters are unique and wonderful by turns as well as sick and depraved. My favorites are the deadly duo, those cheerful bringers of death and destruction, the Prefects. Yes, from the moment they stabbed someone in the heart with an umbrella and opened it they had my heart. These two men, one large and one small, are always dressed in school boy uniforms and both have permanently cheerful demeanors. You can’t do anything but love, or be slightly sickened by this very imaginative, murderous pair. There are also such standouts like The Fly, Mina a bearded prostitute, a man who lives his life backward, a vagrant that carries a sign which reads “Surely I Am Coming Soon. Revelation 22:20” and an albino civil servant with a penchant for arson.

In the final chapters the narrator is revealed and the story which up until this point was more of a period crime novel with elements of the fantastic becomes complete fantasy. It builds slowly so that once this change finally does happen it makes complete sense and you can’t imagine the story taking any other turn. The Somnambulist is a dark and slightly odd tale that is not to be missed whether you’re a fan of… well anything. This is simply a must read.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

'Seduction More Beautiful Than Love...' Vol. 1 by Lee Hyeon-Sook

Price: $9.99
ISBN: 142780608X
Format: Paperback, 192pp
Publisher: TOKYOPOP
Pub. Date: March 2008

If you’re looking for a romance with a bit of drama, then look no farther than Seduction More Beautiful Than Love by Lee Hyeon-Sook. SBL was first published in a discontinued manga magazine entitled White, but Hyeon-Sook has made some character changes and minor plot changes for the Tokyopop volumes. So if you’ve read this one before it’s worth taking another look.

Daoun is in her first year of teaching high school when she meets Ryumin, a very handsome senior, who is known as the school’s Prince Charming. Daoun can’t help but be attracted to mysterious Ryumin, who is more man than boy, and when the attraction appears to be mutual she isn’t sure what she’ll do.

Determined to remain coolly professional, Daoun puts her best teacher face forward. Ignoring Ryumin’s staring eyes and trying to forget his haunting words she goes on with her job. It pays off when she gets made a temporary homeroom teacher. Daoun is beyond ecstatic and determined to prove herself worthy.

Then out of the blue an old friend shows up, Hyunwoo was an old classmate and is now a new work colleague. Though Dauon hasn’t noticed he is more than just a little in love with her, he is head over heels. But Hyunwoo is shy and when he makes an effort to share the perfect day with Daoun it all goes wrong.

With tall, dark, and handsome but highly mysterious Ryumin pursuing Daoun and Hyunwoo trying his best to make her notice there is a steamy love triangle in the making. But Ryumin has a jealous girlfriend waiting in the wings and Daoun seems to be blind to both men’s attention as the drama at school escalates.

The artwork on this one is average. There are some scenes where the faces are left blank and I found that a bit jarring at first but as the story moved forward it ceased to bother me. The drama/romance picks up quickly and you just can’t help but turn pages as awkward situations are blown out of proportion or misconstrued. Seduction More Beautiful Than Love or SBL will keep any soap opera fan turning pages.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

'Blood Price' by Tanya Huff

Price: $6.99
ISBN: 0756405017
Format: Mass Market Paperback, 272pp
Publisher: Penguin Group (USA)

I was in my favorite used bookstore the other day when I ran across a copy of Blood Price by Tanya Huff. I’ve heard a ton of good things about the series and I picked it up because I’m a sucker for anything with a vampire in it. I wasn’t disappointed.

Blood Price is the first in the Blood series which centers around an ex-cop and a vampire. Vicki “Victory” Nelson was the best detective on the force in Toronto and she left at the top of her game. Now a year later she’s working as a private investigator but she’s bitter about the circumstances in which she left.

Coming home late one night on the subway she hears a scream and runs to investigate. Though she knows that it’s a stupid thing to do without back up, and without even a badge, Vicki rushes into an unknown situation just to prove to herself that she still has what it takes. She finds much more than she was counting on.

Across the city people are dying in a horrific way; their throats are being torn out and their bodies drained of all blood. Henry Fitzroy is furious when he sees the headlines in the paper, and knowing that it’s only a matter of time before the public starts screaming ‘Vampire’ - he decides to do something about it.

When Vicki and Henry’s paths finally cross each must make the decision to trust the other. Henry gets someone to confide his secret in, the fact that he is a vampire, and Vicki gets a supernatural edge on a case that just seems to get worse. Throw in detective Mike Celluci, Vicki’s ex-partner as well as lover, a demon terrorizing the city of Toronto and you’ve got a paranormal mystery that’s hard to beat.

Blood Price is a great book. You get such a feel for the characters, especially Vicki, and each one comes across solid and three dimensional. One of the things that makes the difference is the fact that each back story is so well thought out. Henry Fitzroy is made more real for each flashback and Vicki and Mike are perfect because of their tumultuous history. You become lost in the story, and trust me it’s easy to do, as the three try to find a killer that is less than human.

Another cool thing for those fans of Tanya Huff is that this series has been adapted into a television series, Blood Ties, on Lifetime. I might have to break down and get cable just so I can watch this series because if it’s even half as good as Blood Price then I’m already a fan.

Monday, March 10, 2008

'Stardust' by Neil Gaiman

Price: $13.95
ISBN: 0061142026
Format: Paperback, 250pp
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers

I bought a copy of Stardust a few months before the movie came out in 2007. I told myself firmly that I would not see the movie until after I had read the book. But there always seemed to be something else I needed to be reading or wanted to read so Stardust sat on my shelf as the release date for the movie came and went.

I listened to my friends gush and rave about the movie; how not since The Princess Bride had they loved a fairy tale so much. But as badly as I wanted to go and see it I resisted the temptation, standing firm by my choice to read the book first. In the end, I saw the movie first. I’m a firm believer that no matter what the book is always better. I don’t care what movie or book it is; I don’t care who wrote it or who is directing it. The book is better, hands down. In the case of Stardust I have to admit that they are both equally wonderful.

There are differences between the book and the movie, just enough that I felt as if the two don’t compete against each other for the number one spot in my heart. The movie stays true to the spirit of the book while adding a whole new element to this swashbuckling tale of adventure and true love. In my opinion there just aren’t enough stories like this one, of course if this kind of fairy tale were common place I might not love it as much as I do.

In the town of Wall, named for the wall by which it stands, a young man by the name of Tristran Thorn promises a fallen star to the town beauty in the hopes that it will capture her heart.

Of course the story really starts much earlier than that, with a fair on the borders of faerie where a man falls in love with a girl who is not quite human. The fair, held every nine years, is the only time in which the local villagers of Wall are allowed to cross the wall.

When Tristran wants to cross the wall years later he is permitted, though he does not realize why. Soon he is on his way across the magical lands of Faerie in search of the fallen star. Along the way he meets a strange little man who his father once did a good turn for; the stranger in turn helps Tristran along his way.

Once Tristran finally finds the star, who just happens to be a girl, it isn’t long before he loses her. Of course, he isn’t the only one after the star and in the end becomes the Star’s rescuer as he battles ancient witches and blood thirsty princes.

There are elements of the fantastic, the wonderful and bizarre, and Neil Gaiman touches on the fairy tales we grew up reading. Red caps are mentioned and a unicorn and lion battle it out for a crown; these are scenes from much earlier tales that trigger the part of your brain that truly believes that magic is real and happy endings do come true. As if we could ever really stop believing. Filled with talking trees, princes and princesses, magic and wonder, witches, and of course a wonderful love story, Stardust should not be missed.

There is also the element of humor, which to me smacks of Terry Pratchett who co-wrote Good Omens with Gaiman, but the humor, in the end, is purely Gaiman. An example of this is once the star has fallen to earth and he has spent the better part of a page describing the beautiful star falling, “And there was a voice, a high clear, female voice which said, “Ow,” and then, very quietly, it said “Fuck,” and then it said “Ow,” once more.” I just had to laugh as I read that, I don’t know how you couldn’t.

So read the book and see the movie, in which ever order you like. If you haven’t already read the book but loved the movie I hope it inspires you to dip into Gaiman’s unforgettable fairy tale. I’m not going to say it’s better but just as wonderful in another way.