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Single Mothers
Single Mothers
Price: $9.49

4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars "I'm not drowning, I'm just seeing how long I can stay down.", September 15, 2014
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This review is from: Single Mothers (MP3 Music)
Justin Towne's Earle's father, Steve Earle, made a career out of writing about hard-luck hillbillies, men who've come to a crossroads in their lives, politically and economically. Earle (Jr.) has followed a similar career path, except he tackles the emotional roadblocks faced by the pre-millennial generation.

All of his albums tend to focus around this theme; HARLEM RIVER BLUES remains his best (I'd rank it as one of the best overall albums of the past 20 years, but that's my opinion), but SINGLE MOTHERS is a welcome entry into his cannon. Per usual, Earle sings about the different spectrums of commitment, this time set against bluesy/rock melodies. All of the songs are strong, though some have a few weak points shining through ("Worried About the Weather," for example, revolves around a rather weak pun). Still, this is an album to listen to while you sit back, sip some cheap wine (or maybe an imported beer), and smoke a couple cigarettes. In other words: it's exactly what you expect from Justin Townes Earle. Solid songcraft, relatable and poetic lyrics, and a pervasive atmosphere that ultimately comes across as optimistic, no matter how sad it tries to seem.

Beautiful You: A Novel
Beautiful You: A Novel
by Chuck Palahniuk
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $16.41

4.0 out of 5 stars "A billion husbands are about to be replaced!", September 14, 2014
This review is from: Beautiful You: A Novel (Hardcover)
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Penny Harrigan is a nobody. She's not attractive; she's not ugly. She's not an intern at her law firm who's failed the Bar Exam twice, but she keeps finding herself retrieving coffee and chairs. One day, on a gopher task, she bumps into C. Linus Maxwell. You know him; he's only the richest, most popular man on the planet, with a long string of beautiful and satisfied starlets in his wake. Unexpectedly, Maxwell asks Penny out for dinner. Suddenly, Penny finds herself a tabloid sensation. But it's not quite a romance. She's actually a test subject for a new line of sex toys, devices so...uh, potent that they could possibly lead to Maxwell single-handedly controlling the most powerful economy and government in the world. Which, coincidentally, might just be his master plan.

I'm hit and miss on Palahniuk; I know people who swear up and down by him. Personally, I think he tends to get overrated; he's written one brilliant book (HAUNTED) and another pretty good book that spawned a far-better movie (FIGHT CLUB). His others, you can take or leave. BEAUTIFUL YOU is a stronger effort. It's quick, it's entertaining. It's gross and perverted and a straight jab to the underbelly of modern American society. It's meant to be something of a mockery of the 50 SHADES OF GREY phenomenon (dear God, casual readers, your taste is awful), but at times actually seems to sink down to that level. That's what has always bugged me about Palahniuk's work; often times, he becomes (if only momentarily) the thing he's trying to mock.

That said, BEAUTIFUL YOU is certainly a must for Palahniuk fans. If you haven't read him before, steer clear; I mean, by this late date, if you're at all into this kind of thing, you've at least perused a copy of FIGHT CLUB. Or maybe not, and you're just now broadening your tastes; in which case, I'd say start with HAUNTED, check out FIGHT CLUB 'cause you pretty much have to, and then give BEAUTIFUL YOU a shot. Is it great? No. But it's (mostly) smart, very entertaining, and in no small way disturbing.

Fallen Land: A Novel
Fallen Land: A Novel
by Patrick Flanery
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $20.17
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4.0 out of 5 stars In this beautifully wrought novel that spans generations, September 12, 2014
This review is from: Fallen Land: A Novel (Hardcover)
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In this beautifully wrought novel that spans generations, Patrick Flanery takes us inside the lives of Nathanial and Julia Noailles, a family moving from Boston, seeking a new future for themselves and their young son. They settle in an abandoned subdivision, done in by its troubled creator/designer, Paul Krovik. But the story of the land goes back even further, to the early twentieth century, and the gruesome crimes that occurred there.

In FALLEN LAND, Flanery's prose saves the day. He is a careful, meticulous writer, creating gothic overtones in this novel rooted firmly in America's heartland. It's slow, at times; almost abysmally slow, in fact, so much so that at moments I thought about giving up. But I held on, and I'm glad I did, because of Flanery's way with characterization. I'm not a big fan of novels with this much scope; I feel they have a tendency to focus on the bigger picture. Flanery keeps things intimate, almost claustrophobic, because his real character is the landscape, and the stories that spring forth from it. FALLEN LAND is definitely worth your time. It may take a bit of effort, but it's worth it.

Barricade [Blu-ray]
Barricade [Blu-ray]
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Price: $10.77
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3.0 out of 5 stars Effectively creepy, but slim on execution., September 7, 2014
This review is from: Barricade [Blu-ray] (Blu-ray)
Terrance, still grieving the death of his wife, decides to take his two children to the quiet mountain retreat his wife so dearly loved. However, when they get there, a storm sets in, and pretty soon the family becomes convinced there's something stalking them, some evil force that wants them out...or dead.

This is a psychological horror film by WWE Productions that has nothing to do with wrestling, starring Eric McCormack. I'm not sure how else to explain it. There is a ton of promise in BARRICADE; the acting all around (including the two child stars, Conner Dwelly and Ryan Grantham), is solid. McCormack injects a surprisingly welcome dose of humor into his role. And the story is plausible, with truly creepy moments and a pervading feeling of dread that lingers in every darkened corner.

And yet...the script can't quite keep up with itself. There are some great scenes, and then there is some truly awful dialogue. The ending kind of makes sense, but would have made better sense with better execution. (And there's a final coda that, what?) The problem is, BARRICADE is a slow-burner that never reaches its potential; instead of a brilliant flash, we get a sputter and then nothing. Lights out. Everything was here to make this a very good independent horror film; instead, it's a "could've been pretty good" independent horror film with some very good moments.

Summer House with Swimming Pool: A Novel
Summer House with Swimming Pool: A Novel
by Herman Koch
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $15.18
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3.0 out of 5 stars Not as great as its predecessor, but definitely still unsettling., September 2, 2014
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Marc Schlosser is a respected family practitioner, of a rare and dying breed, according to him. Yet, he manages to have several famous clients, including renowned stage actor Ralph Meir, who dies abruptly and tragically, with much of the scrutiny falling upon Schlosser. And yet, it all harkens back to the previous summer, when Marc, his wife Caroline, and their two daughters vacationed at Meier's summer home, in love with the idea of a beautiful pool, a little getaway, and the fascination they both had with Meier's unbridled desire for Caroline.

Herman Koch's THE DINNER was a revelation, a novel far more horrifying than most "horror" novels I've ever read; a novel without a single bit of gore, without any of the traditional genre elements, that managed to be humanly, realistically terrifying in its moral implications. I read it as a double-feature with Ellis's AMERICAN PSYCHO and had nightmares for weeks. SUMMER HOUSE WITH SWIMMING POOL continues DINNER's "questionable" narrator thread, except it's a little too blunt, a little too in-your-face. DINNER took its time building up its characters; Schlosser starts out as repulsive and only gets more so. Technically, that's the point, but it makes SUMMER HOUSE a little less enjoyable to read; the impact isn't as lasting, since it doesn't take as long to build.

Overall, SUMMER HOUSE WITH SWIMMING POOL is worth a read or two (I'll definitely be diving back in, to see if I just missed something); but if you haven't read THE DINNER, start there first, then see if you want to progress. If you have already read Koch's previous gem, then you should probably check this one out and judge for yourself. It's a little underwhelming, but it definitely continues the creepy, "I wonder how bad things are going to get" vibe of its predecessor.

The Shuddering
The Shuddering
by Ania Ahlborn
Edition: Paperback
Price: $7.48
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4.0 out of 5 stars A nice take on the "cabin in the woods" premise that will actually chill and unnerve you., August 18, 2014
This review is from: The Shuddering (Paperback)
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Ryan Adler, snowboarding expert, and his twin sister Jane are heading to their father's cabin to get in a few days of boarding, before Ryan moves to Switzerland. Coming along are Ryan's best friend (and Jane's former flame) Sawyer, his girlfriend April, Jane's best friend Lauren, and Ryan's husky Oona. It's going to be a slightly uncomfortable shindig, filled with fine dining and even finer snowboarding...until a blizzard comes, trapping them in the cabin. But they aren't alone. Strange, predatory beasts are moving ever closer, toying with them, waiting to pick them off one by one...

THE SHUDDERING starts slow; let's get that out of the way first. The first 150 pages or so kind of creep along. I get it; Ahlborn is trying to introduce us to the characters, let us get to know them. And it actually works (when the blood does start to spill, it's a bit shocking) to an extent; still, you can develop character without sacrificing pace, without having your characters do dumb things just for the sake of learning from their mistakes, or engage in pointless conversations that neither build upon who they are, or enhance the plot. It's realistic, yes (Ryan and Sawyer banter just like my friends do, when we pretend we're still 21), but it drags.

But. BUT. When the you-know-what hits the fan, it really hits. There are moments that stretch credulity; and it's hard to get a grasp on the creatures, though kudos to Ahlborn for never explaining anything like we're idiots. The violence is realistic and brutal; the author rarely flinches away. And there is a sense of realism that plays over the whole novel, despite those afore-mentioned moments that make you go, "Okay..." Ultimately, THE SHUDDERING (what a terrible title; I'm sorry, but it's awful) is a very nice contemporary horror novel, not as great as it perhaps could have been, and very slow in the beginning, but surely one of the finer outputs we've seen in a while.

An Untamed State
An Untamed State
by Roxane Gay
Edition: Paperback
Price: $10.12
73 used & new from $6.13

4.0 out of 5 stars "I killed myself to save myself.", August 14, 2014
This review is from: An Untamed State (Paperback)
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Mireille Jameson is the young, beautiful, privileged daughter of Sebastian Duval, a self-made Haitian proud of his heritage and accomplishments. When Mireille is kidnapped in broad daylight, in front of a street full of uncaring witnesses, her perceptions of life are thrust under a brutally sharp light, as she tries to cope with the fact she has no true understanding of the world she calls home.

AN UNTAMED STATE is an unflinching, brutally honest portrayal of wealth and politics, of the consequences of whistling past the graveyard. Gay's prose is as beautiful as it is harsh; at times, STATE is hard to read (for all the right reasons). It's a book of "issues," true, and takes itself a bit too seriously in spots, and comes with more than a few plot holes (Mireille can name dozens of people she knows who've been kidnapped, but never thinks about having security?). And yet, it's easy to get past these few small flaws, thanks to the prose and the novel's pace. It's a difficult read at times, but is almost always worth it.

Smoke Gets in Your Eyes: And Other Lessons from the Crematory
Smoke Gets in Your Eyes: And Other Lessons from the Crematory
by Caitlin Doughty
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $16.57
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20 of 21 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars "My fine layer of people dust.", August 7, 2014
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"A girl always remembers the first corpse she shaves."

With that marvelous non sequitur, Caitlin Doughty launches into her autobiographical foray into the industry--and culture--of death. A young woman with a useless degree in medieval history, she decides to indulge her admittedly off-kilter tastes by taking a job in a mortuary--not an easy business for a young woman to break into. SMOKE GETS IN YOUR EYES in a hilarious, often poignant exploration of death--primarily here in the States, but also from around the world. Doughty doesn't shy away from taboo topics such as cannibalism, and she isn't afraid to get sentimental when the mood is right. At times, the book doesn't quite know what it wants to be--essay or memoir--but for the most part, Doughty balances things well, giving us an insightful, somewhat disturbing glimpses into an aspect of culture our society tends to shun. It's difficult to read at moments (for all the right reasons), but that only furthers Doughty's point that death isn't something to fear but to accept and understand.

Noah (Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD)
Noah (Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD)
DVD ~ Russell Crowe
Price: $18.49
20 used & new from $10.48

2 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars "Mankind must end.", August 3, 2014
This isn't your grandmother's Noah. Get that out of the way first. In fact, if you don't know who writer/directer Darren Aronofsky is, then you probably have entirely wrong expectations of what you're getting with this movie. Also, keep in mind that the PG-13 rating is arbitrary; I would've rated this R, and a hard-R at spots. Think of the subject matters here: murder, rape, animal cruelty, cannibalism, etc. (all the good Biblical tidbits). In fact, some of the images (although brief) are harsh enough to give even desensitized adults pause.

Aronofsky's NOAH tells the tale of a beleaguered and battered Son of Seth, who (through visually stunning and truly disturbing visions) becomes convinced that The Creator is going to flood the world, and that he himself has been tasked to save all of the living creatures. Along with his family, and a group of angelic rebels trapped in the form of giant rock men (yeah), Noah creates his arc, all the while fending off jealous humans (led by Ray Winstone) and trying to keep his sons in line.

The plot, as with most Aronofsky films, falls by the wayside at some point. Aronofsky's fingerprints are all over this one: the brutal imagery; the morally ambiguous Noah (who admits God chose him not because he's a good man, but because he'll get the job done at all costs); the intentionally off-kilter CGI (the creatures all seem disturbingly unreal, and those rock men could've come from an 80s film); and the indulgent, "this is what I want and I don't care what the audience thinks" attitude that pervades the entire film. At times, NOAH flirts with brilliance; one of Noah's visions is among the most horrific things I've ever seen on film. The actors are all solid; Russell Crowe's portrayal of Noah is almost polarizing, which is the point, and Jennifer Connelly, Emma Watson, and Logan Lerman give solid, if underwhelming, performances. Anthony Hopkins is also in the mix, if you're a fan of his recent work.

Surprisingly, despite the fact that this film was a passion project, it truly feel like an Aronofsky film, which is its ultimate undermining. This is Aronofsky's "commercial" film, a big-budget, studio-approved piece that doesn't quite reach the level of sell-out, but makes you wonder how it would've gone if it'd had a smaller budget and more directorial control. NOAH is definitely a grab-bag of a film, even without the "religious" aspect that's caused all the controversy (which you should ignore; even if the film had been absolutely faithful, and not an interpretation, people still would've found a way to be offended). I'd say watch it and judge for yourself, but admittedly this is not a film for everyone, and if most of what was said above gives you pause, your best bet may be to pass it up.

Sometimes the Wolf: A Novel
Sometimes the Wolf: A Novel
by Urban Waite
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $17.86

4.0 out of 5 stars The sins of the father..., July 10, 2014
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Twelve years ago, Bobby Drake's father, the county Sheriff, went to prison for drug smuggling. When he went, two hundred thousand dollars disappeared. Now Patrick is getting out, under the careful supervision of his son, a deputy, and the DEA agent who captured him. But two other men are on the loose as well, two violent psychopaths who will kill anyone who gets in their way. They want Patrick. They want the money. And they're far more dangerous than the wolves that have begun to creep back into the forest...

Urban Waite's SOMETIMES THE WOLF is a haunting, violent, intimate thriller. It starts slow, but carefully builds on itself, and once the pace becomes relentless--and it does--you realize that you actually care about these characters. Waite is treading ground that others--Larry Brown, Cormac McCarthy--have traveled before; plot-wise, there aren't really any new twists. But it's Waite's mastery of suspense that helps this novel stand apart. It's a character study; it's rural noir; it's a haunting portrait of the Pacific Northwest, and the bloody ghosts that walk its forests.

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