Category Archives: Cool stuff

Movie Review – Kong: Skull Island

Yeah, yeah, I know. I’ve never previously reviewed a movie, but… KONG! Seriously. KONG! It’s been a while since I’ve been this excited over a movie, and when that final trailer dropped… oh, it’s a thing of beauty. It does everything a trailer should. Are you excited yet? You should be.

I’ll be the first to say it: I’m no aficionado when it comes to movies. I know what I like and what I don’t, and that pretty much covers it. As a writer and editor, it’s sometimes hard to remove those hats when screen-watching (and my husband hates that I can predict dialogue – ‘stop ruining movies for me!’). So there’s always that small part of me that worries over my excitement for seeing something and the possibility the trailer is the best part of what I’m about to see.

Not so here. Sure, there are small issues with plot, and the under-development of Tom Hiddleston’s character (ex-SAS soldier now tracker, James Conrad), and the over-act that now seems to be Samuel L Jackson’s (Preston Packard) go to, but Kong: Skull Island (Legendary Pictures and Warner Bros) hits all the right marks for a ‘monsterverse’ movie.

The studio was kind enough to release on my birthday, so off hubby and I went to the first showing. Yep, mid-morning, and we were the youngest people in the audience. No kidding. And just a very cool aside, when in the bathroom after the movie, one of the older ladies was waxing lyrical about how she’d seen every Kong movie on the big screen since she was a kid, and she’d loved this one. Now that is a fan of epic proportions, and puts a smile on my face every time I think of it. Be this Nanna!

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SPOILER WARNING. LIKE HUGE, KING-KONG SIZE SPOILER WARNING. READ ON AT YOUR OWN SPOILERY RISK.

Set in 1973 at the tail-end of the Vietnam War, this is a Kong origin story that will no doubt spawn future ‘Kong vs…’ movies. (Note: stay for the after-credits end-scene). And while some may boo-hoo this, I’m all for a re-emergence, re-imagining of the creature-feature universe. Done well, of course, but I’m fully aware you don’t always get what you want.

There’s no doubt the director/writers/producers wanted a particular feel for Kong: Skull Island, and there are clear cinematography-elements that draw on that ‘Apocalypse Now’ atmosphere (with the killer score to go with it), as well as the many Vietnam War movies of my youth (and for me, that’s never a bad thing) – the camaraderie of the soldiers is reminiscent of such, and works well.

There are factions within the crew sent to Skull Island: scientists, military, government agents, and a war correspondent (Brie Larson’s ‘Mason Weaver), each with their own agenda. Although to be fair, the soldiers just want go home, way before Kong makes his entrance. And it’s a hell of an entrance. Kong swats the helos out of the air with ease, a nod to the original Kong swatting planes from his spot atop the Empire State Building.

Now spread thin on the ground, each party must find their way to the exfil spot on the other side of the island, and battle monsters along the way. Yeah, it’s a pretty standard plot/theme for monster-military madness, but don’t be fooled into thinking this is anywhere near ‘standard’. The monsters, giants by any standard, and terrifyingly monstrous, definitely make this a survival of the fittest scenario. The fight and action scenes are jarring and gruesome and a hell of a lot of fun.

And that’s the thing with this movie, it knows what it is and it doesn’t take itself seriously. John C Reilly’s character (Captain Hank Marlow) provides the ‘comic relief’, but has more depth than you’d expect – his is a backstory that’s explored, where Hiddleston’s character is more hinted at than evolved (coulda done more with just a little, but I’ll give that a pass if it’s indulged in future movies). Reilly’s character top and tails this story – beginning with him being shot-down in WWII to his return to civilisation and the family he left behind. So in a way, you could say this is Marlow’s story, and he tells it well. Kong’s backstory is given via Reilly and the native inhabitants of the island (the Iwi people), who do not speak. Not really okay with that as it would have provided more depth.

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The one real issue I did have (as did my husband) was Jackson’s portrayal of Preston Packard. That shit needed to be underplayed, not overacted. Subtlety and nuance would have done the trick here – villain the writers may have wanted him to be, avenger for the deaths of his men a great motivator, but Jackson cocked it up (I’m looking at you, director and script-writers).

As with every Kong movie, there’s the female protagonist (I won’t say lead, as she’s not), and making Larson a war-correspondent/photographer gives her more play in the arena of death she’s used to seeing (but this in no way passes the Bechdel Test— Larson and the female scientist [Tian Jing’s ‘San’] barely speak two words to each other), and can hold her own in a firefight.

Oh, and monsters, there are aplenty! From Skull Crawlers awoken from the caverns beneath the ground (and their link to the demise of Kong’s family, and a grudge that ain’t going away any time soon), to a giant Kraken-like creature, big mofo of a spider, cannibal birds, giant bats, and the ever adorable moss-covered ox.

There’s a lot to like about this movie, and some things that could have been done better, but overall I loved it. It’s my kind of movie. A perfect storm of monsters, military, mayhem, and a killer score.

As my husband said, it’s not going to win an Academy Award, but it was a helluva lot of fun.

My rating: 8/10. You’ll want to see this on the big screen, and it’s definitely a movie I’ll be adding to my home collection.

Oh, and for readers out there, writer Tim Lebbon has written the movie novelisation of Kong: Skull Island. I’ve pre-ordered mine – you should too.

 

Festivus Book Pimping – Into the Mist by Lee Murray

Yes, yes, I’m cutting it fine with the Festivus Book Pimping, but remember, as much as I love a print book (oooh, they smell so good!), ebooks are also damn fine presents. So kicking off today’s Festivus pimping is mutli-award-winning New Zealand author, Lee Murray, with her book Into the Mist.

RAWR!

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As you can tell from the absolutely kick-arse cover , Into the Mist, is a military horror creature-feature tale, but this one is set in the wilds of New Zealand with a creature ripped straight from Māori legend. It was very cool to read not only Murray’s vivid descriptions of the NZ back-country, but to delve into the culture and rites of a strong and proud people.

Into the Mist (Cohesion Press), follows NZDF Sergeant Taine McKenna and his squad as they escort a group of civilian contractors into the Te Urewera National Park. Not usually a job for the army, McKenna’s other task (off the books) is to find any trace of squad that had vanished while trekking through the National Park.

From the back-cover blurb:

Militant Tūhoe separatists are active in the area, and with its cloying mist and steep ravines, the forest is a treacherous place in winter. Yet nothing has prepared Taine for the true danger that awaits them … a prehistoric creature intent on picking them off one by one.

From the outset, you’re thrust into the action, and the tension Murray weaves throughout the story never lets up. With sub-plots woven perfectly through the tale, the reader is given a glimpse of the rich Māori history, and the struggles to maintain their culture and their land against those intent to profit from it. It’s brutal, it’s gory, and when the chase is on, your gut will be clenching right along with the soldiers and the civilian charges.

And this beastie? Oh, it’s smart, and it’s stealthy, and it’s impervious to the squad’s guns. And shoot it a lot… and you know that only makes the monster mad… and vengeful. Murray is a mistress of tension, and she will make you dance to her tune. I was enamoured with this book, but I grew up on stories of Māori legend via my father (he’s Pākehā, not Māori), so this was a real delight. And it’s wonderful to see diversity in fiction; the world needs more of it.

There’s also a glossary of Māori and local terms for those unfamiliar with the country and its culture, but the way Murray tells the story, understanding is a given.

Read this book you must. Give it as a gift you also must. But I guarantee it will be one you can’t put down. You can read a review of Into the Mist here.

Recommended for lovers of horror, military horror, creature-feature, and balls-to-the-wall fear-mongering. Yeah, this book has it all.

Go, now, Festivus Into the Mist, you won’t be disappointed.

RAWR!

Festivus Author Pimping – Hank Schwaeble

Happy Festivus! Today I will be pimping author Hank Schwaeble. Yes, I did just read that sentence back but I’m gonna roll with it (minds and gutters, people). The reason for author over book pimping is there are two titles of Hank’s that I’ve read this year, and you need to be reading both of them.

It was American Nocturne where I was first introduced to Hank’s work – a collection of short stories that definitely sit on the dark side of fiction. Hell, it’s horror at its best, and I’d wondered why Hank’s writing hadn’t been on my reader earlier. I mean really, the man’s a two-time Bram Stoker award winner, so… mea culpa.

American Nocturne

Now before we delve further, both titles I’ll be discussing here are put out by Cohesion Press, of whom I’m the editor-in-chief, but as I’ve only managed to read eight books this year due to workload (I stopped counting when I hit four million words – that’s right, four million), there’s going to be some crossover between work and reading outside of work.

Okay, so now we have that out of the way – American Nocturne. There’s a definite noir feel to the stories in here, especially with the title story, which kicks off the collection. There’s so much to love about this collection, and while each story is so very different from the last, it’s Schwaeble’s voice, his storytelling that holds this collection together. Oh, and the twists he delivers with some of the stories are done with such a deft hand, it will have you rereading for an altogether different experience of the story (like two books for the price of one!). You can read a full review of American Nocturne over (here) over at review site Smash Dragons.

The next book of Hank’s is the novel The Angel of the Abyss, and if this cover doesn’t make you want to rush out and buy it, then you and I need to talk. Out the back. In a dark alley.

This is the third in the Jake Hatcher series, but can definitely be read as a standalone. I hadn’t read the previous two novels (Damnable and Diabolical), but I was immediately drawn into the tale of Jake Hatcher – military vet come demon hunter. But Hatcher is well on Hell’s radar, and as demons are wont to do, they mess with him every chance they get. And that’s half the fun, trying to sort the lies from truth while attempting to stop the one hell of a demon taking human form and walking the earth once more. As I’ve come to expect, the twists and turns in this book keep you guessing, they make you think, and there’s not much better than reading a book that involves you, that asks you to take the journey with the characters, because they know just as much as you do about what’s happening.  Hatcher is a brash, sarcastic, takes-no-shit character who despite his protestations, wants to do the right thing. He just happens to get thrown into the crapper a lot. There’s black magic, demons, cults, secret military installations… yeah, it’s a heap of fun!

angel-of-the-abyss

You can read reviews of The Angel of the Abyss here and here. But trust me when I say, you’re in for a hell of a ride with this book, and there are more stories due in the series… and it’s only going to get nasty… or nastier.

Both books are highly recommended for lovers of horror, military horror, supernatural, and thrillers.

(Both covers were created by the amazing Dean Samed of Neostock. Check out his work.)

Festivus Book Pimping – The Vengeance Trilogy by Devin Madson

It’s that time of year again, folks, and what better present is there to give someone than books. BOOKS, I TELLS YA! So in the lead up to Christmas, I’ll be pimping books and series that have impressed me, and would make great gifts and stocking stuffers. Support authors!

Now before we go any further, the path to Festivus is a shadowed one. On it you will find only those tales that sit on the darker side of genre fiction. Watch your step.

*claps hands* Alrighty then. Let’s get started.

First off the Festivus ranks is Devin Madson’s amazingly epic The Vengeance Trilogy.  Set within the pseudo-Japanese empire of Kisia, the series is told by Darius Laroth, Hana Otako, and Endymion as they’re embroiled in the fight for the Crimson Throne. While these three tell the story, it is also the tale of Katashi Otako (Hana’s cousin), Malice (Vice Master and Darius’s half-brother), and Emperor Kin – all want different things from the empire, and fight they must. Fight or die.

The first in the series – The Blood of Whisperersintroduces the reader to the players vying for control of Kisia. From the back-cover blurb:

They call him the Usurper. A man of common blood sits upon the throne. By his command the last emperor was executed, but now the empire is on the brink of war. Vengeance is coming.

BoW

The next in the trilogy is The Gods of Vice. Here, we delve more into the unique magic system Madson has created for this world, and where betrayal and political manoeuvrings mean no one is safe. From the back-cover blurb:

Two emperors. One empire. The war for the Crimson Throne has split Kisia. The storm is coming.

GoV

And the final in the trilogy has just been released. The Grave at Storm’s End is a powerful last book in the series, where none of the characters will ever be the same, and as a reader, you won’t either. From the back-cover blurb:

Vengeance has come. Katashi Otako walks with the Vices, burning everything in his path. Now the spirit of Vengeance, he will stop at nothing to destroy Emperor Kin and take the Crimson Throne. When gods fight, empires fall.

gse

 

There is no doubt in my mind that Madson is an author to keep an eye on. Her writing is beautifully crafted, and her imagery the stuff of wonder. The Vengeance Trilogy is one of the best fantasy series I’ve read in a really long time, and one that holds pride of place on my bookshelf. Oh, and those covers are just gorgeous.

All of the books are available from Madson’s website, and come perfectly wrapped for Christmas. You can’t go wrong as a gift.

Recommended for readers of fantasy, dark fantasy, epic fantasy, political intrigue, and characters that will stay with you long after you’ve closed the book.

 

 

It’s a Win!

Two days on from the Australian Shadows Awards, I’m still riding the high of the win. Yep, that’s right, The Road to Golgotha, won the inaugural award for ‘written works in a graphic novel/comic’. Excuse me while I Snoopy dance. (Look away now if you’d like to keep your food down…)

The ‘Shadows’ are the premier horror awards put together by the Australian Horror Writers Association. Judged by those who know and are passionate about the genre makes a win even more sweet – getting the nod from those within the industry, within the genre you love, that your work is top notch.

The Road to Golgotha

The Road to Golgotha is two stories within the one tome: His Own Personal Golgotha penned by GN Braun, and my story The Road. So I get to share this win with my mate Geoff. Not only that, I had the pleasure of telling him we’d won (he was making coffee at the time; can’t fault him that), and then a good five minutes convincing him it was true.

This is my second Australian Shadows Award win, having won for the short story category in 2011. What makes this win so amazing is the amount of work and effort that went into writing the comic. It was a totally new medium for me and Geoff, a damn steep learning curve, and I’m not ashamed to say it almost broke me. But… challenge accepted. I was determined to write the best damn comic I could, to take the reader to a very dark place and stride along with Riley as she owned every decision she made for what she wanted. To be rewarded with the Shadows Award… yeah, that’s pretty damn sweet.

And the cherry on the icing of an amazingly cool cake was the words from the judges:

“The Road to Golgotha provides an immediate escape into visual horror with the first turn of the page. Like a modern-day Dante’s Inferno, here we have two tales of two very distinct, yet similarly tortured characters on quests through unknown regions of the human soul. Expertly illustrated by Monty Borror, The Road to Golgotha is a gorgeous comic that left the judges spellbound and wanting more.”

road page 28    Golgotha

And the judges were on-point giving Monty Borror the kudos he deserves. ‘Expertly illustrated’ is right – Monty brought Geoff and my visions of the comic to extraordinary life, often seeing more in our scripts than we did. I can’t thank him enough for making Riley and her road and monsters exquisitely horrifying. (I’ll be scattering pages from the comics through this post, beware!)

This was also the first win of the night for Cohesion Press, with The Road to Golgotha being the inaugural imprint of Cohesion Comics. There were more to come. Next up was Alan Baxter’s In Vaulted Halls Entombed, which won the Paul Haine’s Award for long fiction. Alan’s story appeared in SNAFU: Survival of the Fittest, put out through Cohesion. This is a brilliant story, and deserved of the win.

The last in Cohesion’s trifecta was in the edited works category, with Blurring the Line (edited by Marty Young), taking out the win. This anthology is a superb showcase of horror that blurs the lines between what’s real and what’s not. And in the words of the judges: “There are some exceptional tales in this collection, gripping, compelling and haunting stories, the kind that stay with you for a good while afterwards.”

The wonderful thing about Aussie (and Kiwi) horror is that you’re bound to know pretty much all those in the industry down under. So I was chuffed to pieces that the short story category win went to amazing writer and my mentor, Kaaron Warren. If you haven’t read her work, you should. You really should.

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The collected works category was taken out by one of my favourite people in the world, Robert Hood. His gargantuan tome, Peripheral Visions (an 800-page collection of ghost stories and amazing artwork), showcases not only his remarkable work over decades in the genre, but Australian horror at its best.

So two days on, I really am still riding the high of winning the award, and being among some of the best writers in horror today. Huzzah! So if you’re looking for a horror graphic novel that pushes you past the comfortable, and takes you on a wild ride of monsters and oh-so terrible places, then The Road to Golgotha is just what you’re looking for. Trust me, I know the writers.

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Check out the list of winners below, and if you haven’t read their work, get thee to a bookstore! Or e-store! Or library!

Best Written Works in a Comic/Graphic Novel: The Road to Golgotha – GN Braun & Amanda J Spedding (Cohesion Comics)

Best Edited Works: Blurring the Line – Marty Young, ed. (Cohesion Press)

Paul Haines Award for Long Fiction: In Vaulted Halls Entombed – Alan Baxter (SNAFU: Survival of the Fittest, Cohesion Press)

Best Collected Works: Peripheral Visions: The Collected Ghost Stories – Robert Hood (IFWG Publishing)

Best Short Story: Mine Intercom – Kaaron Warren (Review of Australian Fiction)

Best Novel: The Catacombs – Jeremy Bates

Rocky Wood Award for Non-Fiction and Criticism: The Literary Gothic by Marija Elektra Ridriguez

Oh, and the trophy we’ll be getting? Yeah, it rocks!

AusShadows-trophy

Print, dammit!

Any one who knows me, knows that when it comes to reading for pleasure, my preference is print books. Always print. I have overflowing bookcases (which means I don’t have enough bookcases), a mountain of ‘to read’ books on my bedside table, stacked neatly on the floor… and anywhere else I can find room. And I tell ya, every time I see them I smile. I mean… BOOKS!

So a couple of years back when Alan Baxter put out the first of his Alex Caine trilogy, Bound, I waited until Supanova Sydney to grab myself a signed copy. The only thing better than a print book is a signed print book. It was a kick-arse story, and you can read my review of it here. Pumped as I was to read the next, I was told, rather sheepishly by Alan, that print copies for books 2 and 3 were still up in the air, but ebook was available.

I flinched. Ebook? But no! I want print! PRINT, dammit!

It’s taken almost two years, but they’re here! Well they will be in June. And the new covers are just brilliant – so much more evocative and in-line with the story within. Take a look.

Caine-Bound-book-page   Caine-Obsidian-book-page   Caine-Abduction-book-page

This does, of course, bring up one problem. Well, not a problem per se, more… well… I can’t have mismatched covers, okay? There. I said it. It’ll drive me nuts. Niggle at me. Like an earworm… constantly whispering: not the same, not the same, not the same.  So three new books it will be. All of which will be signed.

Check out the book blurb for Bound, then do yourself a favour and put these books on your wish list.

Alex Caine, a fighter by trade, is drawn into a world he never knew existed – a world he wishes he’d never found.

Alex Caine is a martial artist fighting in illegal cage matches. His powerful secret weapon is an unnatural vision that allows him to see his opponents’ moves before they know their intentions themselves.

After a fight one night, an enigmatic Englishman, Patrick Welby, claims to know Alex’s secret. Welby shows Alex how to unleash a breathtaking realm of magic and power, drawing him along a mind-bending trajectory beyond his control. And control is something Alex values above all else.

Book Pimping: The Eschatologist by Greg Chapman

Happy 2016 all!

I’ve been meaning to write a post boring you all with my goals for the year, instead I’ve decided to use my first 2016 post to promote the work of another – something that benefits us all. I firmly believe that putting forward authors whose work you enjoy benefits us all. What better way than to give readers the opportunity to discover new worlds?

the eschatologist

With this in mind, I’d like to pimpity-pimp Aussie author Greg Chapman‘s new novella The Eschatologist,  put out through Voodoo Press. Here’s a little taste from the back-cover blurb:

David Brewer is trying to keep his family alive in a world torn asunder by a Biblical apocalypse. Yet there is salvation, in the guise of a stranger who offers survivors sanctuary. All they have to do is declare their faith in God’s final – and bloody – plan.

He had me at apocalypse.

For those not familiar with Greg’s work, not only is he a wonderful writer but a kick-arse illustrator, too (hogging the talent pool much?). He’s the artist behind the Bram Stoker award-winning graphic novel, Witch Hunts: A Graphic History of the Burning Times, penned by Lisa Morton and the late (great) Rocky Wood. 

So if you’re looking for something new to read, check out The Eschatologist, Oh, and take a look at the book trailer – it rocks!