Marvin's Bookish Blog

Another darn place to list my reviews and to obsess about books.

Creating Jazz Counterpoint: New Orleans, Barbershop Harmony, and the Blues

You would think the origins of jazz is a cut and dry case. After all it was just 100 years ago. Things were pretty modern relatively speaking. But the generation of Justin Beiber may be surprised to know that the recording era was barely in its infancy at the turn of the 19th and 20th century. The knowledge of the precise evolution of a music based more on improvisation than composition is rather difficult without the luxury of a recording device. Oral histories only goes so far and, as this book attests to, can be very unreliable. Much of the musical influences were regional, with urban and rural styles having melded together as musicians and listener spread the music. New Orleans is often called the birthplace of jazz. However, the modern music was probably being incubated in many areas. New Orleans' reputation in strengthened in usually infamous ways due to the advent of the vice and prostitution district of Storyville where many visitors, not least military personnel and sailors, would hear the music and spread the word. Add onto that the many musician who came there and added their own notes, so to speak.

Who originated jazz, if anyone can be called the one of two individual that invented it: the idea in itself being probably faulty,, will always be a source of interest to scholars. Creating Jazz Counterpoint: New Orleans, Barbershop, and the Blues by Vic Hobson appears to be a doctorate study on this topic and also pushed the notion that the black barbershop quartets were a decisive influence in the creation of jazz counterpoint and harmonies. Going trom scholarly study to book, even a textbook, can be fraught with problems. Not the least, is readability. Creating Jazz Counterpoint can be very dry even when your focus are on very colorful personalities like Bunk Johnson and Buddy Bolden. Buddy Bolden was a trumpeter often credited with being the first jazz player yet he made no recordings while trumpeter Bunk's recordings were made in the 30s way after his heydays. Add to that, Bunk's remembrances were notoriously contradictory. Hobson relies on documents which included interviews with Johnson and others plus city and historical records,then tries to decipher the 1890s and 1900s musical environment as well as he can. Ehich is quite impressive. Yet he doesn't really add that much we didn't already know. Some parts, like pages on the actual birth date for Bunk Johnson seems trivial to the utmost. As for Buddy Bolden, the best book on this enigmatic musician is still In Search Of Buddy Bolden: First Man Of Jazz by Donald M. Marquis. It is also one of the best books on New Orleans of the turn of the century.

Yet Hobson does open a little new ground here. He examines the influence of barbershop quartets on the beginning of jazz. This is a new idea to me. The barbershop quartets I am familiar with sound as far from jazz as possible. Yet Marquis makes a good case. Bolden and Johnson appears to have participated in these quartets and the black quartets were more apt to borrow from other sources including the ragtime and the blues. It's a interesting idea. I just wish his writing style made it a more intriguing hypothesis. But in the end, whatever influenced barbershop quartets had, it still must be said that jazz had many musical parents including ragtime, gospel, the marching bands like James Europe's, and the blues. As intriguing an idea, barbershop quartet music sounds more like a distant cousin.

Suffer the Children

Suffer the Children by Graig DeLouie is an interesting combination of apocalyptic epidemic tale and a vampire novel. But it made me think more of P. D. James' The Children of Men than any vampire book, especially in the first half. One day all the children in the world who haven't reached puberty falls dead. The phenomena is named The Herod"s Syndrome after King Herod who murdered all the children in order to kill the Jewish messiah. Two days after the mass dying, the children come back to life. At first there seems little outward change and much celebration from the families. But soon, they begin to have a yearning for blood. If not quenched, they begin to die again.

DeLouie centers his tale around basically three group of people. A blue-collar couple with two children, a wealthier single mother with one somewhat over-protected son, and a pediatrician and his wife who recently lost their son before the syndrome. It is a good setup and through the eyes of these families, we also see the devastation of society after an event that may mean their extinction. Yet I'm not really sure what kind of novel the author intended this to be. For the first half, it is a good apocalyptic novel like the previously mentioned Children of God where no children were being born into the world. Suffer the Children does a better job at focusing on the individual loss while Children of God is more of a socio-philosophical commentary. The first half was both sad and enthralling. Yet when the children rise again, the book seems to be turning into a monster tale. The world is still disintegrating and families are forced to do terrible things to survive. However switching from Children of Men toDracula is simply too much of a change in gears. At the end, the monster portion of the story comes into clearer focus but it was way too late for this reader. The author also tried to explain what the Herod Syndrome is but it is just too much of a out of nowhere explanation let my mind suspend belief. The open endedness typical of a author hungry for a sequel doesn't help my opinion either.

So while this is a well written tale that held much promise, However, I didn't think it held together well enough for what the author was trying to do. It would have made a great post-apocalypical story or a promising revision of vampires. But both? Not this time.

The Chapman Books

The Chapman Books has an intriguing premise. A group of photographs, newspaper clippings and manuscripts are found in a house of Lewis Adams' deceased aunt. The three manuscripts keep referring to a Chapman family in the late 19th century. The papers tells strange stories about this family often referring to the patriarchal Harold Chapman and includes many references to scandals, mysterious deaths and occult incidences. The manuscripts, "well, he called them manuscripts, but more accurately they were diaries of a kind", were also quite conflictual in dates, regions, and even whether there were more than one Harold Chapman. Adams, with the help of Aaron J. French, and Erik T. Johnson took each manuscript and styled them into 3 separate tales. On talking with Aaron J. French, he implied that this part about the newly discovered manuscripts was true. Having read the stories allegedly based on them, I am more than a little skeptical of that claim. But that is a moot point because the three stories that comprise The Chapman Books make for a very strange and eerie read and a spookingly pleasurable look at one of the strangest families, fictional or otherwise, to creep out 19th century America.

Aaron J. French wrote the first story titled "The Stain" and it is my favorite of the three. It appears to take place shortly after WWI. Dr. Stetson is called from his home in South Carolina to Manhattan to treat the family of a woman he hasn't seen since she was a little girl. The eeriness started quickly as the doctor is interrupted on the journey by a pig-faced man who shows him a card saying "You are going to die".

"The Stain" is an imaginative take on the demon possession story as we meet the Chapmans, or at least this version of the Chapmans, and learn their secrets. The author wastes no time in setting the environment and is quite good at giving more than a few literary scares. It has a decidedly Gothic feel and catches the feel of the early 20th century quite well. While he has good and solid characterizations, it is the pigman that stays in the mind. It will be a nice addition to your nightmares.

The second story, "The Delirium" is very different from the first and third which is a problem. Erik T. Johnson has a very unique style. It's a little like a weird cross between R. A. Lafferty and Robert Anton Wilson. He is fond of strange names, surrealistic and fragmented descriptions, and puns that are often sexually loaded. Some are thrown in so haphazardly that it interrupts the flow of the story. For instance, I am still not sure a term like "Cuntdescending" is an intentional pun or a typo. It is a style of writing I can usually get absorbed in simply for the feel of the wordplay on my tongue and mind but having been set between two shorter and different tales, it is jarring. The time frame of the story is in the 1860s and 1880s. The plot is quite fascinating. It involves an orphan, an ethically challenged doctor also named Harold Chapman, and a medicine called Etceracaine that comes in handy considering the author's somewhat psychedelic meanderings. Yet it does become a little difficult to follow due to the author's unique style. It is a fascinating bit of storytelling but it is also, in my opinion, the weaker of the three.

Adam P. Lewis's "The Remains" returns to a more conventional form of narrative. We are again introduced to The Chapman Family with the names of the family members being the same as in "The Stain." Yet this is a somewhat different family that doesn't quite mesh with the first story. This brings up an interesting conceit in this book. These are stories that do not totally gel together and are intentionally conflictual. The three writers clearly did not want to have a comfortable "everything fits together" experience but instead have created a "Chapman Mystique" that entertainingly baffles instead of explain. The Chapmans are not referred to so much as one family but as "variants" on which the authors place their own interpretations. Each author brings those interpretation to the family irregardless of continuity. It an unusual approach and in this case a successful one. In Lewis' story, a Dr. Myerburg is called to the Chapman household on a medical emergency and is confronted with a entity called a "torturing pestilence". I will leave the rest for you to experience but this is possibly the most straight-forward horror tale of the three and, if I liked the first story the best, "The Remains" is a very close second.

So overall, I really liked the stories by French and Lewis but was somewhat perplexed by Johnson's contribution. Yet the book should be rated by its ability to meld these three tales into a satisfying telling of the Chapman Saga, complete with its contradictions. By that and its successful attempt to scare and entertain, it deserves a solid four stars.

The Rising Trilogy

The Rising Trilogy (The Rising, City of the Dead, and The Rising: Selected Scenes from the End of the World)

By Brian Keene

I recently attended the 2014 World Horror Convention in Portland, Oregon. That was an vastly enjoyable event that I could write a huge article about and just might at a later time. The Grand Master was Brian Keene and in the introduction at the opening ceremony, the presenter referred to Keene’s book The Rising as, along with Robert Kirkman’s Walking Dead franchise, the main catalyst for the modern zombie craze. To which Keene shouted out, “Sorry about that!”

Brian Keene in his wry way has a point. Zombies have been turned in to a bit of a literary plague. You can’t walk through the book store without bumping into a zombie book. Netflix Streaming is inundated with B through Z movies featuring zombies. Yet Keene has nothing to be ashamed of . The Rising breathed new life into old zombies, giving them a wicked little twist. It’s a twist presented at the beginning of the story and pretty much drives and dooms everything to come. But most of all it gives some interesting protagonists a fresh terror to fight their way through, turning this horror novel into a terrifying post-apocalyptic adventure.

The Rising’s slant on the zombie genre is that Keene’s zombies aren’t really true zombies. At least not the “Arrgh Urrgh” type that mindlessly limp and crawl to get to your brain. The monsters of The Rising are actually corpses possessed by an ancient demonic race called the Siqqusim. This race was exiled into The Void millenniums ago and due to a scientific experiment gone wrong (of course) have returned to Earth to possess all dead bodies and to destroy all animal life form. Keene’s zombies are actually repossessed bodies that love to torture, eat and destroy. They are quite agile, hampered only by the damage to the corpse and quite intellenigent. When the zombie body is destroyed, by the traditional means of a head shot, the Siqqusim simply leap into another dead living form. No animal is immune. Some of the more ghoulishly humorist moments involve attacks by zombie rabbits and zombie goldfish. The author’s zombie invasion is not just a zombie apocalypse but the end of the universe as we know it which is hinted at then explained in more detail by the second volume.

Keene’s cast of survivors tend to be fairly stereotypical but likeable and worthy of the reader’s support. Jim is caught up early into the zombie apocal-mess and after his brief period of disbelief and shock, his primary goal is to return to New Jersey to save his son Danny. He is joined by a variety of interesting characters including ex-junkie Frankie and conflicted preacher Martin. There are also a few human villains they need to tackle but the emphasis is on the undead variety. The leader of the Siqqusim is Ob and he is the source of our information of this ancient demonic race. The author has borrowed extensively from ancient myths and legends and have created a mythos that has a similar feeling of dread and hopelessness that Lovecraft created with his Chtulhu Mythos. But I will deal more with this when I discuss the second book.

Overall, Keene has created a realistic horror fantasy world that will entertain the most jaded horror fan. This was his first novel and it shows especially in the characters’ narrow dimensions. Yet there is a strong level of dynamic tension that goes into making a tense edge-of-your-seat horror adventure. Then there is that ending. Without giving it away, it is very open-ended. The author, in his introduction, claims he did not mean for it to be that way but it appears that his interpretation for the ending did not quite translate to the reader in print. As he explains in the introduction, this led his readers to demand a sequel and eventually he wrote City of the Dead.


City of the Dead starts exactly where The Rising ended. Jim have retrieved Danny, who has managed to survive his own nightmare of possessed corpses. Jim, Danny, Martin, and Frankie now have to battle a zombie horde and find shelter in a basically shelterless environment. But in New York City, one tower is well lit and may be the last bastion for humankind. Not only are our heroes headed there but so is Ob and his demon possessed zombie army of which its soldiers are astute enough to have tanks and WDMs galore not to mention an air force of zombie birds. The plot goes full apocalypse leading to a final battle. The author also writes well about the various human factors which is full of well-meaning and not-so-well-meaning humans and at least a couple downright wicked and perverse participants.

This takes us to an important theme not only in this book but in a variety of Keene’s other works. Referred to as the Labyrinth Mythos, Keene incorporates overlapping ideas into what he calls a meta-epic. Through subtle hints in both books we realize this end of the world scenario is taking place on Earth but not our Earth. The author is seeding his books with an idea of parallel Earths, each one of them threatened by some kind of Apocalyptic horror and most, if not all, having to do with ancient horrors of Lovecraftian proportions being unleashed. This pulls his novels together. While this was only hinted to in The Rising, City of the Dead brings out the inevitability of destruction to its awful and logical conclusion. Intentionally or not, it makes one think about the uncertainty of our own existence on our own earth. Maybe not zombies but what about meteors, super volcanoes, and our own man-made contribution, Nuclear Winter? I bet the dinosaurs thought they would be here forever too.

The third and last book is titled The Rising: Selected Scenes From the End of the World and it is basically just that. There are 33 very short tales taking place during the time of the first two books. A few have characters from the previous novels and gives us a little more insight but most are fast terror-takes: action, camera, fade-out. They are quite intriguing to read and Keene has some really memorable bits of writing in some of these stories. Yet they really do not add much to the first two books. “Pocket Apostle” does give us an insightful look at a minor character from The Rising and I really likes the idea of trapping a zombie and reading a book to him as described in “Spoilers“. Yet overall, this is a book is a light dessert. You will want to have the main courses first.

So altogether, The Rising Trilogy makes for a epic battle of man vs. zombie and is an essential read for those who want to prepare themselves for the next zombie holocaust. Let’s face it. The Zombie novel is here to stay and the influence of Brian Keene’s The Rising trilogy will be a formidable one.

Lost in Cat Brain Land


I have read two novels by Cameron Pierce before this short fiction collection titled Lost in Cat Brain Land. Cameron Pierce's talent as a writer was instantly noticeable yet his two novels, Ass Goblins of Auschwitz (2 stars) and Gargoyle Girls of Spider Island (4 stars) were so purposefully shocking that it tended to disguise the immense talent he has. That may have been an unfair assessment but it was the first feeling I had upon tackling these two Bizarro novels. Yet they left me wanting to read more by this author and that is always a good sign.

Lost in Cat Brain Land is still often over-the-top weird and it is certainly a solid contender in the strange world of Bizarro Lit as one of the most Bizarro-ness. Yet it is also one of the best short fiction collections I have ever read and solidifies Cameron Pierce reputation, in my mind at least, as one of the most innovative writers out there. Short fiction is the perfect media for Pierce. It allows him to let it surrealistically all hang out yet keeps the story focused enough to tell you there is something odd and beautiful going on here. Some of these works are flash fiction being only a page or two long. They are little snacks of words that leave you wanting more. My favorite is "Flowers". It is so short that I almost just added the entire story to this review, but I think there might be some legal issues in doing that. So you will just have to read it elsewhere than here. Others are longer but so strange you wonder "WTF!" even as you enjoy it like "The Dead Monkey Exhibit" and "I am Meat, I am in Day Care". Every tale here is strange but in the best, such as the title story and "Tea for a Mysterious Creature" seems to have an overlying theme that centers it and keeps it precariously "down to earth". I don't think it is a coincidence that both of the mentioned stories feature a person who is basically being dumped and that may be a connecting note for the reader; something we can all connect with at one time or another.

Yet the best story in the collection is also the longest. It is at once the most horrifying and the most darkly humorous. "Drain Angel" is the story of a "cherub faced earwig" that crawls out of a shower drain and begins growing rapidly. The childless and emotionally neglected Joy accepts as her child and become oblivious to its repulsiveness and violence. The tale takes the saying "a face only mother could love" to its most horrifying extreme.

The story also exhibits Cameron Pierce' biggest strength. He is not afraid of extremes. Extremes simply open up vaster possibilities for his talent to tell a story and to play with our emotions. This collection, and his novels for that matter, are certainly not for everyone. But they are excellent examples of how a fearless writer can open up new doors. And if we are not careful we may turn around, discover that the door is locked, and there is no going back. What a delicious feeling!

Blood Kin

Blood Kin by Steve Rasnic Tem has a nice Appalachian authenticity in style, atmosphere and dialog. The dialog sings and descriptions like "A smile like that surely'd kill a baby" speaks to its Southern Gothic roots. Yet all the authenticity in the world will not save a poor plot. Fortunately, that is not an issue here. Steve Rasnic Tem has devised a plot that grabs you from the beginning and keeps you interested through a technique of alternating time frames. This is one of those book that elevate the art of storytelling in that the art of storytelling becomes part of the plot. Michael is caring for his grandmother Sadie . He has returned home to do this carrying an ambivalence about his family and his roots. Every night his grandmother clings precariously to life and tells stories about her childhood in the 1930s. It becomes clear that she is telling him these stories for a purpose, perhaps to fill a destiny.

Blood Kin has backwoods magic, snake handling preachers, and a mixed race group that has the burden of special gifts. There's a box in the kudzu that holds lingering menace and this tale is loaded with...did I mention snakes? The Southern Gothic influences of Flannery Connors and David Grubbs are noticeable. References to Faulkner shows up a few times in the writing. One character has a fondness for The Sound and the Fury. I also detect a nod to Manley Wellman's Silver John tales. Yet this story has a darker supernatural tint in it than Wellman's and becomes downright creepy at times. It is a delicious edge-of-your-seat form of creepy with enough atmosphere to let you escape into its literary creepiness. This is a novel that will not only appeal to horror fans but also will please lovers of regional fiction.

Shining Star: Braving the Elements of Earth, Wind & Fire


Earth, Wind & Fire has always been one of my favorite 70s groups. They had a distinct R&B sound that blended with a 60s quality of "love, peace and understanding". Incorporating all kinds of rhythms, visual effects, and high quality musicianship, EWF also managed to maintain an universal audience that went beyond ethnic groups and black and white. In some ways, they were a family friendly mix of Sly and The Family Stone and James Brown. If sometimes I felt they were a little too commercial for my taste, Maurice White and Phillip Bailey always won me over, not to mention that kick-ass horn section.

Philip Bailey is most distinctive for his great falsetto voice and he probably contributed more to EWF than he admits. One thing you discover in reading this memoir of life with EWF is that Bailey is a gentle, thoughtful and humble man. It's a refreshing tone after reading so many pop music autobiographies by egomaniacs. But he is probably right when he says that EWF was primarily Maurice White's show. Maurice White developed what was known as "The Concept" and rarely deviated from it. For Maurice, EWF was more than a music group. It was an experience, a statement, a spectacular and foremost a concept. The idea of universal harmony is never too far away in any EWF song. White's insistence on control is one of the main reason EWF worked so well and, as inevitable with most music endeavors, the main reason it fell apart.

Shining Star: Braving the Elements of Earth, Wind & Fire is written by Philip Bailey with assistance from Keith & Kent Zimmerman. It is sometimes a bit pedestrian yet sincere account of his life with emphasis on his time with EWF. I can't help but like the Philip Bailey that comes through on paper. Growing up in Denver, he seems to have avoided a lot of the pitfalls of West or East Coast urban life. He never got into drugs and, despite some forays into adultery, he never went to the party-til-you-die excesses we expect with music stars. He credits much of that to his religious background and he eventually converted to born-again Christianity. This is also a refreshing turn since most rock star conversions stories are hit-bottom types with all the horror stories. Bailey write about it as a part of growing up and a natural progression in his life. What Bailey lacks in backstage horror stories is well compensated by his description of living the musician' life and how EWF went from a vague concept to a fully developed phenomenon. He makes it clear that this was hard work for White, himself, and all the members of the band. It is that insight in the creation of a band that is the strength of this book and why I would recommend it.

Bailey continues his memoirs after the break-up into his own solo career culminating with the Phil Collins collaboration of "Easy Lover" and then to the reunion of EWF. In many ways Shining Star is a typical music biography but in other ways it is quite irresistible in its casualness. Bailey comes across as real. He tries to tell the truth the best he can but is never mean. He may criticize some aspects of Maurice White's style and decisions but he also clearly admires who "Reese" is and what he accomplished. And most important, Bailey doesn't just write about music, he writes about the cost of making his own decisions, accepting responsibility and the importance of his family. Bailey stays real which is more than I can say for most over-hyped rock autobiographies.


Cold in July

Note: I first wrote this review in 2009 when I first started reviewing books at Goodreads. It was a brief review simply for the fact I read the novel in the late 90s and the details were not as vivid at the time. Now, thanks to the release of the film in 2014 and the re-release of Cold in July by Tachyon Publications, I was encouraged to read it again. The first part of this review are my first thoughts in 2010 followed by my new assessment.

This hard-nosed thriller by Joe R. Lansdale is easy to dismiss as a pulp fiction suspense novel and nothing more. Yet the author is actually writing a haunting character study about fatherhood and all the problems it entail. This is the genius of Lansdale. He writes thrillers that can be read for pure entertainment yet at the end you are thinking twice about what you read and what it means. And, as usual, he never pulls punches. While not as riveting as the Hap and Leonard novels, Cold in July is still very memorable. (written in 2009)


With the movie Cold in July coming out in May of 2014, I decided to reread this suspense novel written by Joe R. Lansdale. It didn't hurt my decision when Tachyon Publications, through Netgalley, offered me a review copy as their release of the book coincides with the release of the film. It's been over 15 years since I read it and my original review (above) for Goodreads was on spot but without much detail. On the second read, I must say it was as good as I remembered and better. But I may have been flippant when I referred to it as pulp fiction. Cold in July is certainly within the tradition of pulp mysteries and, more precisely, crime fiction. It is also firmly in Lansdale's typical East Texas setting full of blue collar families and characters from the more dubious sides of life. Yet Lansdale has hit a literary note in this novel as he uses the plot and themes to explore father-son relationships. In that way, this novel may be one of his most subtle and maybe even more personal.

Considering Lansdale's novels are full of tough and eccentric characters, Richard Dane is fairly mundane. He lives with his wife and son in a small Texas town and owns a picture framing shop. One night he hears an intrusion into his home and ends up shooting the burglar in self defense. He is uncomfortable about the notoriety he receives and feels guilty despite the fact it was self defense. Soon Russel, the father of the man he killed, has just got out of prison only to find his boy is dead. He places himself into Richard's life in the most sinister way. "A life for a life" as he puts it.

So now we have a typical story about a man placed in a dangerous situation and protecting his family. But Lansdale is never typical. As the story developed, Richard discovers something have makes him and Russel uncomfortable allies. It's a beautiful if suspenseful buildup to this point and Lansdale makes it work. One of those reasons is that Russel is old enough to be Richard's father and Richard's actual father killed himself when he was young. That made sound strange saying that there exist emotional connections between Richard and the man who wants to kill his family but it's that sort of thing that makes this such a emotionally satisfying book. The loss of a son. The loss of a father. The fear of losing youe child in death or sometimes in other ways than death. These are the themes that drive this excellent story. And no one tells a story better than Lansdale.

Lansdale's grit and wits is evident throughout. Halfway through we meet a private investigator that is one of the more colorful characters the author has created and, of course, has some of the best lines. Richard's wife lends a different kind of protective spirit to the book. She in realistic and provides a bit of grounding to Richard's odd quest which she fears will destroy the family. It's that quest that becomes the only weak, if minor, link in this novel. Even with Russel's background, it is hard to accept he would make the decision he does and even harder that Richard would go along with it. Yet Lansdale have built up the delicate rapport each has with the other so well that it does not become an insurmountable leap and certainly does not slow down this exquisite thriller.

So I have to say I enjoyed this book more on the second read and, maybe because of my own older age, felt closer for the relationship and the emotions of these men. I originally gave this book four stars but now I would increase it to five. It's a crime fiction classic.

Close Reach


Close Reach by Jonathan Moore is what might be called a mini-surprise. It's a brief 200 pages that start out as a chase thriller staged over the Antarctic seas. I expected to be entertained but I didn't expect such a visceral edge-of--the-seat roller coaster ride. Kelly Pratihari-Reid and her husband are in their hi-tech yacht off the Antarctic coast south of Chile. Kelly receives a distress call from a terrified British woman. "They're Coming!". Who "They" are is not yet known but in an isolated area where satellite radios and all other communication devices are being jammed, they don't want to know. A thrilling chase begins, At first I was a little disoriented with the sea faring terms and maneuvers. I'm a certified land hugger. Yet that was not enough to thwart the excitement of the chase in which the author piles on enough scare and surprises that you are rethinking that idea of taking a relaxing ocean cruise.  Soon the story becomes a tale of harrowing survival on and off the sea. The author creates a group of unmerciful sociopathic villains with a terrifying motive and our luckless couple soon find out that this is not just a case of piracy. In the second half, there are some very brutal scenes that may scare off the more squeamish yet nothing in this book could be called gratuitous. It is brutal but necessary to elicit the overall sense of terror and urgency. Frankly, if I was a film maker I would be banging on the author's door demanding the rights to this very visual and visceral tale of adventure. This is a nautical adventure tale that will give you a sleepless night or two.

The Evolution of Mann: Herbie Mann and the Flute in Jazz




Herbie Mann is unarguably the most famous jazz flautist of all time. He is also said to be the first jazz musician to specialize in this instrument although it can be argued that the distinction should go to Sam Most. It can also be argued that Herbie Mann's popularity is not really based on his jazz work or even his technical expertise on the flute but on Mann's talented tendency to pick commercial trends and follow them. And lastly it can be argued that Mann's singular gift is not based on him being the best flautist in pop music or jazz but the one most able to greet listeners at the lowest denominator.

The Evolution of Mann: Herbie Mann and the Flute in Jazz is part of a "series of jazz biographies by Cary Ginell published by Hal Leonard Books". It is on the short side at under 200 pages and therefore tends to cause any musical analysis by Grinell tio be a bit thin. That is unfortunate because the author does seem to have a nice grasp of the music and the musician's role in developing our understanding of jazz. However he is primarily regulated to a straightforward description of Mann's history and discography. He does seem to lightly touch upon the issues I mentioned in the first paragraph. He is quite aware of Mann's lean toward commercialism. He quotes Sam Most talking about Herbie Mann as saying,

"One time I told Herbie, "Wow, I wish I could be as successful as you. "I was working in L.A. at that time. And Herbie said "One of us has to be the artist and one of us has to be the business."

..but he is also aware that Mann did have a innovative style in that he searched for music that was not only appealing to the public but was something new to be heard. Mann was one of the first musicians to experiment seriously with Brazilian and third world musics in jazz and if his experiments seem a little tame to today's standard, he did open the world to a better understanding of third world music.

One of the things I thought was interesting is that Mann did not start out as a Flautist. He wanted to be a tenor saxophonist. Part of his reason for picking up the flute seem to be that as a saxophonist he was out manned...

When I went into the Army, I wanted to be Lester Young. That's all I thought of. When I got out, I found Stan Getz, Al Cohn, Zoot Sims, Brew Moore and Allen Eager had beaten me to it."

Mann's decision to specialize in the flute was an important move for jazz. He started as a pure jazz player but became intrigued with the use of the flute in Latin orchestras and eventually found his own vote mixing jazz with Latin, Brazilian, and African rhythms. But as Ginell notes...

As with everything Herbie did, there was a business angle to accompany the creative decision. At the end of his contract with Verve, he put these ideas to work in a project that would change his life as well as the direction of jazz.

Mann liked to say he wanted to be like Benny Goodman, a distinct musician and popularizer of his instrument (in Goodman's case, the clarinet). I think Mann accomplished that with the caveat that Goodman remained a jazz musician while Mann swerved into easy-listening. I say with only a bit of sarcasm that Herbie Mann is one of the reasons we hear so many flute solos in elevators.

The author does a good job following Mann's changes of direction and writes a nice biography, giving the title Evolution of Mann a very appropriate turn. Yet aside from a few pages at the beginning about the limited use of the flute in American Music before the 50s, he doesn't say that much about the evolution of the flute after that. Yes, Herbie Mann may of been the most popular but he wasn't necessarily the best or the most innovative. To my ears, Sam Most is a much more accomplished flautist and the first to play the flute regularly as a jazz musician. While Herbie Mann was busy become the Kenny G of the 60s and 70s, Hubert Laws took the mantle of most popular jazz flautist and while still concerned with a cross-over style, spoke more to the modern jazz of the time. But while this was all going on, other seminal musicians less beholden to commercial interest such as Julius Hemphill, Eric Dolphy, and Yusef Lateef were stretching the boundaries of jazz and the flute. In fact, on a list of 100 innovative flautists, Mann was listed second to Eric Dolphy.

So Ginell's biography may be good for a basic history of Herbie Mann and even a must read for the avid Mann Fan, it doesn't really help us learn much about jazz and the role of the flute. For this reason, it becomes a disappointing read despite the author's distinct to-the-point style which I find refreshing. It still remains to see if Herbie Mann takes a front row seat in jazz history. The recent environment seems to be against him. But I do appreciate Grinell's biography for reminding us that Herbie Mann did play a brief role in the development of jazz even if Mann himself decided to turn against that role later in his life.

Ancient Enemy


Ancient Enemy uses a historical mystery that have always fascinated me: The disappearance of the Anasazi Indians in the American Southwest. This mystery has been used before, most notably in The Haunted Mesa by Louis L'Amour. Yet very rarely did the ideas pan out in novels. Michael McBride uses the mystery of the Anasazi to set up his novel Ancient Enemy and ends up with a scary and tense horror tale full of Native-American mythology, Navajo traditions and one scary monster.

Sani Natonaba is a young Navajo-Ute man who takes care of his ailing grand-father and his alcoholic mother at his isolated ranch. He can barely eke out a living on their Navajo farmland. His sheep are being slaughtered by a creature or creatures that can go undetected by Sani's normal hunting skills. His grand-father may know what they are but due to his illness, Sani cannot communicate with him, at least not easily. What entails is a harrowing search and journey that puts Sani in touch with not only ancient mythology but with his own family's secret and tragic past.

This is a well written novel that is not only a literary horror story and a impressive use of history and legend but is also a skilled character study of a boy that is isolated from others and raised with deep conflicts in his tribal beliefs. It is no coincidence that the author made him half Navajo and half Ute. Those two tribes have a violent history of conflict with each other and any boy with that lineage would have to deal with issues of alienation and displacement. Sani is not only placed in a life or death struggle for him and his family but also in a test of his own identity. It cannot be stressed enough how well McBride sets up Sani's feeling of aloneness. He cannot even communicate with his own family as his grand-father cannot speak and his mother is so deep in her alcoholism that she might as well not be able to speak. Ancient Enemy is narrated in first-person and the book has no dialog to speak of. So we are confronted with only Sani's viewpoint and observations. This makes the reader feel strongly for him and adds to the sense of aloneness.

But of course it is good to have an effective monster when writing a horror tale. McBride's creature is sufficiently terrifying and the discovery of the creature's history helps that sense of terror. Especially effective is Sani's journey into Lovecraftian styled caves and corridors as he investigates what is killing his herds and threatening his family. Yet I keep coming back to the character of Sani. This is the main strength of this novel and what makes this novel rise among many other books like it. Recommended.

The Furies

The Furies first starts out like it may be supernatural but quickly corrects the reader's assumption and reveals itself to be science fiction. It reminds me of Arthur C. Clarke's famous adage that says "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." Yet to call it science fiction may be a stretch too. After all the author Mark Alpert makes it clear on the cover that this is primarily a thriller and that is how it should be read.

That's a good thing because it isn't a very good science fiction novel. As a thriller, it is enjoyable and holds it own. John Rogers is a troubled young man who meets Ariel in a "chance" encounter and hopefully a one night stand for our usually luckless hero. Of course, it doesn't work out that way and soon guns are blazing and John inexplicably is following Ariel into almost sure death instead of running for his life which any sane man would do, raging hormones or not. We find that Ariel isn't who she appears to be but is a member of a long standing and mysterious group who have plenty of secrets of their own. In fact, the best thing about this novel is how the author describes and builds Ariel's community and the secrets it holds. The Furies have all the ingredients of an exciting thriller and, aside from the creation of an interesting "cult", some nice bio-technical voodoo for the sci-fi freaks. But it never really gels together and eventually gets overrun by the predictable trappings of a mainstream thriller. Part of the problem is that I found the dialogue rather stilted and on the melodramatic side. But overall, Alpert's cast of characters just never came to life for me. They felt pat and pasted into unbelievable situations and actions. Most importantly, I never quite understood John's instant devotion to Ariel except that it must of been one hell of a one night stand. The best I can say for The Furies is that it is enjoyable in a generic thriller way and it show some promise for its intriguing scenario. However I doubt that it will stand out in my mind a few hours after I post this review.

Lovecraft's Monsters


Collections of short fiction based on the Cthulhu Mythos never get old but they can be predictable. Editor Ellen Datlow attempts to spice up the idea by featuring stories based on the monsters of H. P. Lovecraft's weird and twisted mind. Even the ardent Lovecraft fan may go mad trying to place some of the creatures, so Datlow added a neat Monster Index to keep you up on the creepies you will meet. The fiction itself tends to be uneven but there are enough gems to keep you reading. Neil Gaiman's "Only the End of the World Again" starts the collection and has the achievement of shining above most of the stories. It's hard to not like a story that brings Larry Talbot and Lovecraft's Cthulhu Mythos together. If you don't know who Larry Talbot is, you are not much of a horror fan. Another good mash-up, "Black as the Pit, from Pole to Pole by Howard Waldrop and Steven Utley, brings Mary Shelly and Lovecraft together with the hollow world theory. I haven't seen one of Howard Waldrop's speculative mini-masterpieces for ages. It isn't "The Ugly Chickens" but it is still really entertaining. The third "don't miss" story is by the always dependable Joe R. Lansdale who gives "The Bleeding Shadows" a bluesy East Texas drawl. Steve Rasnic Tem's "Waiting at the Crossroads Motel" qualifies as one of the creepiest of the bunch. The rest range from very good to passable but none are out of place in this Lovecraft Tribute. A strong three and a half stars.

In the Course of Human Events

<i>In The Course of Human Events</i> is more of a character study than a novel that follows a steady plot. Not that it doesn't have a linear plot, it has a very good one. It follows the life of Clyde Twitty who has been engulfed by the ass end of the Great Recession. He lost his job. one that wasn't very promising to begin with, and sees no real future for himself. He falls under the influence of a charismatic martial art expert who strives on conspiracy theories and  the kind of racial hatred that might attract someone like Clyde who feels he is forgotten and powerful in modern society. He becomes attracted to the ideas of Jay, which is egged on by more than a little interest in Jay's strong minded teen daughter Tina. Clyde becomes so immersed in Jay's true believer of a family that he is willing to endure abuse, give up his own family, and perhaps even commit himself to act of violence and racial hatred himself.

It is this intimate look at Clyde and how he becomes so entrenched in what most of us would call a self-destructive life style that makes this book so interesting. I would like to say Clyde is a far-fetched fictional set-up but I've seen too many young men and women dragged into this type of bigotry and extremism to know Mike Harvkey's terrifying and fascinatingly depressive novel is not that far from reality. Clyde's soon-to-be mentor is also a grim but realistic description of a man who own beliefs are destructive to himself and all who follows him. I enjoyed this novel as a study in extremism and a primer on how a bright but alienated young man can easily be led into fanaticism and bigotry.

What I really like about this novel though is how Clyde comes to life  in the author's capable hands. Even while becoming brain-washed into Jay's cultish family, Clyde has connections with the outside world that could help him gain balance: His old school buddy Troy, his uncle, a would be girl friend, and most importantly, a Mexican co-worker who, with all his faults, give Clyde questions about his assumptions of others who are not like him. While I find the ideas that Clyde is embracing repugnant, Clyde himself remains sympathetic. We want to think Clyde can escape Jay's control. Yet Clyde is falling deep into the socio-political rabbit hole that Jay has led him to and the results are what makes this book a tense page-turner. For those who like their reads realistic and not afraid of down-beat themes, I would give this a high recommendation.

Muerte Con Carne

If I'm going to review Muerte con Carne by horror writer Shane McKenzie, I'm going to have to start by offering some major disclaimers...

1) I am currently a Kickstarter backer for Luchagore Production's El Gigante , a short film based on the first chapter of Muerte con Carne.


2) I've always had a soft spot for Luchador horror movies, those Mexican wrestlers films which usually had wrestlers in masks, ever since I first saw the first Sampson (El Santo) movies and Wrestling Women vs. The Aztec Mummy back when I was a kid. You could say that it is one of my many guilty pleasures. So any book that features a masked wrestler is certainly going to get my attention.



3. How can you not like a writer who tries to look all Ernest Hemingway macho while wearing a pink princess back pack.?

But even with all those disclaimers, I can honestly state that Muerte con Carne is a edge-of-your-seat riot, steeped in the literary tradition of Jack Ketchum's Off Season, drenched in the scares and gore of movie influences like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and permeated with the odors of human flesh tacos. The novel is set on the border of the United States and Mexico. A family is regularly kidnapping people who are attempting to come into the United States illegally and, when they are taken to the abductors' home, are pitted against a huge wrestler named El Gigante who mangles and slaughters them. The corpses are then cut up and eaten by the family who then takes the left-overs and uses them in tacos which are sold on the street. Yum! Tastes just like chicken! In the first chapter we are introduced to this family who are the most grotesque bunch of monsters since the Westboro Baptist Church. At least the WBC aren't far as we know.

Enter Felix and Marta who have arrived in a small border town to make a documentary of the border patrol's abuse of people crossing the border. Also arriving to this reading, is my only real issue with the book. Felix is a bit of a wimp and emotionally abused by his girlfriend while Marta is a bit borderline...and I'm not talking about her documentary. Frankly, she's that word my mother said I should never call women and it is hard to understand what Felix sees in her despite a bit of back story existing to explain her actions. She also makes really stupid choices which are the horror movie equivalent of going into a haunted house and splitting up. Yet I liked Felix and it is to the author's credit that he manages to elicit enough understanding for both protagonists to allow the reader to care for them. On the other hand, caring for any one character in a mega-gore fest like this can be a slippery bowl of menudos.

Yet this book is mainly about action and horror. It works mostly because the author created a very scary and very menacing set of villains. From the wrestler to the matriarch to a very weird and disgusting kid, these are the type of characters that both revolt and fascinate. There's some nice build-up as Felix meets a few of them early on but it really takes off when we get to see the monsters up close and personal. The novel is an excellent example of horror and pulp fiction taken to its highest, if still visceral, levels.

There is one other thing that impress me even if it was a bit understated. Early one, McKenzie sets up the environment of the border town and that of the plight of undocumented entries into the US. This issue is nicely handled by the author and shows a certain level of concern and caring that is especially placed in focus by our normally selfish Marta. There's a reason for this and it adds another dimension to this novel. I understand that Shane McKenzie will be writing at least one sequel and I am hoping he adds on to this aspect of this story.

Now for the inevitable warning: Those who regularly read my reviews know that no tonly do I have eclectic tastes but I also tend to lean toward the extreme often. These is one of those extremes to the max. If you are at all squeamish or put off by gore, violence, and/or cannibalism you will want to avoid this book. However if you are the kind of person who eats Habanero peppers by the handful and complain they are not spicy enough, you will probably love this book. You get my drift?

The Word Exchange

The Word Exchange is about a future in which the printed media is practically obsolete. Everyone communicates by a device called a meme, which is not really explained until about a third of the way through the book. In this world, people was being affected by something called a "word flu" in which the inflicted loses the meaning of words, automatically substituting nonsense words. The incubation time needed for this flu to arrive seems be the duration of 50% of the book. Eventually this virus leads to death and threatens chaos. The one man who may know the answer has disappeared, leaving his daughter Anana aka Ana, aka Alice (beware of gratuitous Alice in Wonderland references) to seek him out and figure out what is really going on. In between we get some melodrama, some endless moping, a few lengthy discourses on Hegel, some suspenseful moments in linguistic philosophy in which I expected a cameo appearance by Wittgenstein but was sorely disappointed, and some unbelievable conspiracies eventually leading to a letdown of a climax. The end.

As you can surmise, I was not impressed. In fact, "Not impressed" may be a semantic understatement all of its own. I must admit the premise was promising. However, this is one of those science fiction novels where the speculative themes appear to be a gimmick for literary pretentiousness. While author Alena Graedon, in her debut novel, has an impressive talent for singular prose, she seems to be lacking in the plot structuring department. Loosely structured comes to mind as well as sloppy. There is more than one narrative as we struggle with the tale and they seem to trip over each other as the tale progresses. The narrative becomes tedious to follow to the point that I was starting to skim at the 70 percent mark of this overlong novel anxious to just finish it up...never a good sign. If any book needed an editor with a red pen and a pair of scissors, this is the book. There's a talented writer lurking in Ms. Graedon but she doesn't show up for this literary sci-fi muddle. Two very generous stars.