But What If We're Wrong?

posted by: October 24, 2016 - 7:00am

Cover art for But What If We're Wrong?When we talk about the distant future, we almost always look at it from how our current perspectives will change — what new technologies will emerge, what catastrophes may occur, what discoveries will be made, etcetera. But often we also assume that what we know as true today will still be true in the future.


But what happens if it turns out that what we believe now is proven false in some far-off future?


Chuck Klosterman plays devil’s advocate with that notion in his book But What If We’re Wrong? Thinking About the Present As If It Were the Past by examining the idea that what we believe as infallible now will be proven invalid in 100 or 200 or 500 years’ time. Just because we believe it now may not necessarily mean it’s really true. After all, people used to believe that the sun went around the world, among other things. Then the Scientific Revolution happened and our understanding changed. So, Klosterman argues, what’s to say that won’t happen again?


This book is a delightful mind trip, equal parts thought-provoking and entertaining. Klosterman works interviews with various notable scientists, writers and philosophers into the text, posing such questions as “are we right about gravity?” and “do we understand what time is?” as well as “will the NFL and other sports leagues still exist?” and “which artist will define rock’n’roll music for future generations?”. His style of writing and use of humor keep the book from getting too esoteric; Klosterman is just as funny and approachable here as he is in his other works. Just don’t expect any definite answers — But What If We’re Wrong? is largely an exercise in conjecture and speculation.


Because after all, who knows what the future holds?



Horror Comics Roundup!

posted by: October 20, 2016 - 7:00am

Cover art for American VampireCover art for BaltimoreCover art for Batman: The Doom that Came to GothamDust off your Ouija board, draw a salt circle and prepare to get spooked. The creepiest season of all is upon us, and what better way to celebrate than with six ghastly graphic novels sure to keep you creeped out all month long?


American Vampire follows the often macabre adventures of the immortal bloodsucker Skinner Sweet throughout American history. Look no further for an inventive and twisted take on traditional vampire lore with an ever changing backdrop.


Baltimore is a long-running series that follows the titular character from the horrors of the trenches in WWI to the nightmarish dwelling places of ancient evils, and everywhere in between. This is a masterfully-paced suspense story that just keeps getting better.


Batman: The Doom that Came to Gotham is the only superhero book you’ll find on this list, but its quirky combination of classic Batman characters and the otherworldly horrors of H.P. Lovecraft make for a spooky and surreal read.


The Beauty is a new series that imagines conventional physical perfection as a sexually transmitted disease with horrifying side effects. Dealing equally in body horror and suspense, this is an unsettling story that explores the disturbing lengths to which people will go in the name of beauty.


Colder is the story of Declan Thomas, a man with the incredible ability to cure mental illness in others. What Declan doesn’t realize is that his newfound power draws the attention of unsavory entities that seek to undo his work. Feel free to judge these books by their covers, because the frightening artwork that graces them perfectly suits the stories inside.


Grindhouse: Doors Open at Midnight is a double feature that pays homage to the outlandish B-movies of years long past. “Bee Vixens from Mars” and “Prison Ship Antares” channel the over-the-top absurdity and low budget charm of grindhouse cinema, even down to the fake posters paired with each story.



A Natural History of Hell

posted by: October 18, 2016 - 7:00am

Cover art for A Natural History of HellIn Jeffrey Ford’s new collection A Natural History of Hell, there is such a variety of creepiness and at such different comfort levels that I feel I should offer a travel guide to whoever reads this book. Something like:


  1. Here lie straight creeps.

  2. Here’s one night’s lost sleep.

  3. If you read this story you’ll only be able to eat bananas, rice and applesauce for a week.

But for those with an appetite and a broad palate for horror, there’s not likely to be a better book this year.

Many of these stories take place sometime in a Nathaniel Hawthorne-esque past, or other liminal areas where bizarre traditions overtake common sense. The opening story “The Blameless” sets the table, with a couple receiving an invitation to a neighborhood girl’s exorcism. Surprisingly, the couple finds their neighbors celebrating the supposed banishing of a demon with the small-portioned enthusiasm of a bat mitzvah.
Elsewhere, Ford ably glides between genre lines. Some of his stories don’t seem like horror at all until he drops the floor out from under you. For instance, in “The Angel Seems,” an angel comes to a small village offering protection. For a while, the story resembles Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s “A Very Old Man With Enormous Wings,” and then it turns and you realize it’s been re-written by Clive Barker.

There are also ghost stories, fantasies with dark wizards and even a story about gun control if monsters aren’t scary enough for you. Ford’s use of imagery and violence is implemented masterfully and tastefully throughout, creating an experience that is less like a horror movie than a nightmare weighted with meaning. Have fun!




Elizabeth and Michael

posted by: October 13, 2016 - 7:00am

Cover Art for Elizabeth and MichaelElizabeth Taylor and Michael Jackson… a love story? Really? You may change your mind after reading Donald Bogle’s compelling bio Elizabeth and Michael: The Queen of Hollywood and the King of Pop — A Love Story. Using interviews and diaries from close friends, employees and family members, he delivers an honest, realistic portrait of these two entertainment icons.


To understand Taylor and Jackson’s 20 plus year relationship, Bogle begins by recounting their early years as child stars and breadwinners for their families. Both had mothers with strong religious convictions. Both knew how to be a “star.” Taylor was groomed by MGM studios while Jackson was taught by Motown founder Berry Gordy. But most importantly, both missed out on being a kid, which deeply affected their adult lives and relationships.


How Jackson courted Taylor to win her friendship is hilarious. He invited her to his concert, but the seats were not up to her standards, so she left. Eventually, they did meet and formed an unbreakable bond. With no fear of being exposed, they shared confidences freely — something rarely done with those outside their families. Such was Jackson’s devotion that he showered Taylor with expensive jewelry. The joke was that if he wanted her to attend an event, he presented a diamond and she would show. So he did — more than once! Tales of each other’s extravagance will amaze you — who gives someone an elephant? Elizabeth Taylor does, that’s who! But you will be most impressed with Taylor’s loyalty and devotion to Jackson. Never once did she waver in her support for Jackson, publicly denouncing the molestation accusations levelled against him as ridiculous.


Bogle’s bio is informative and entertaining, allowing us to go behind the curtain of these two Hollywood icons. Resisting the urge to be tawdry, he gives Taylor and Jackson the respect they deserve. Fans of Taylor, Jackson and Hollywood stories must put this book on their want-to-read list. Finally, was their relationship a love story? Check out a copy today and decide for yourself!


Samia Yusuf Omar

posted by: October 12, 2016 - 7:00am

Cover Art for Don't Tell Me You're AfraidCover Art for An Olympic DreamIn the summer of 2008, a Somali sprinter finished last in her heat in Beijing. Almost four years later in the spring of 2012, she drowned in the Mediterranean Sea trying to reach Italy. Her name was Samia Yusuf Omar.


Giuseppe Catozzella lends his voice to Samia's story, going back to a young 8-year-old girl who longs to be an athlete in Don't Tell Me You're Afraid. Catozzella focuses on the friendship between Samia and her coach, who also happens to be a child and a Darod, named Ali. In order to train, the children go out under the cover of darkness to practice in a bullet ridden stadium. To reach the stadium, Samia and Ali must evade Al-Shabaab's twitchy child soldiers enslaved by a drug named khat. Their efforts pay off, and eventually Samia achieves a national victory. Meanwhile, the city of Mogadishu crumbles and her coach is forced out of town due to his Darod ancestry. Upon her return from Beijing, Samia is faced with the reality that without a proper diet and training she may never become the athlete she was born to become. Then Al-Shabaab strikes. Catozzella deftly conveys the energy and longing that propelled Samia to Beijing and indignity and anguish she endured on the journey.


Reinhard Kleist introduces us to Samia, as she fails in her quest to be one of the greatest sprinters on earth in Beijing, with his stunning illustrations in An Olympic Dream: The Story of Samia Yusuf Omar. Kleist conveys the deep disillusionment on Samia’s face as she realizes she must leave Somali not only to achieve her Olympic Dream but for her own safety. Fans of Kleist’s work will also enjoy his earlier graphic novel The Boxer: The True Story of Holocaust Survivor Harry Haft.


Readers suffering from Olympic withdrawal can explore the lives of past Olympians by checking out Today We Die a Little!: The Inimitable Emil Zátopek by Richard Askwith or Triumph: The Untold Story of Jesse Owens and Hitler’s Olympics by Jeremy Schapp.


Cover art for The Girl on the TrainThe Girl on the Train is in theatres now, and audiences are rediscovering the magic of Paula Hawkins’ novel. For those seeking a similar blend of mystery and suspense, our bloggers recommend these titles.


Linda: Like The Girl on the Train, Siracusa by Delia Ephron combines high-stakes suspense with a jaundiced look at relationships. Two married couples travel to an ancient city in Sicily in hopes of reviving their marriages — or finishing them off for good. One couple brings along their preteen daughter to add a truly unpredictable element to the unfolding disaster. As in The Girl on the Train, an assortment of secretive, self-absorbed narrators gradually unfolds this tale of a Mediterranean vacation gone horribly awry.


Lori: In Try Not to Breathe by Holly Seddon, former superstar London reporter Alex Dale is on the fast track to liver failure — her inability to ban the bottle is making a shambles of her personal and professional lives. Alex stumbles into investigating the unsolved crime of a girl who, 15 years ago, was brutally assaulted and has been living in a nursing home in a coma ever since. Can Alex bring a vicious rapist to justice while battling her own addiction?

Christine: Who would you trust if your memory vanished every time you went to sleep? Your husband? Your doctor? Your journal? A fast-paced thriller, Before I Go to Sleep by S. J. Watson will engross you to the very last word. As Christine Lucas attempts to figure out the truth about her accident, her son, her marriage, you will be overwhelmed as you feel her frustration and fear as she tries to figure out who wants to harm her. But is she correct? Be prepared to feverishly read this story, stopping only when you have read the last word!


I Am Providence

posted by: October 5, 2016 - 7:00am

Cover art for I Am Providence Nick Mamatas manages the rare feat of making the reader feel utter disgust and laugh hysterically without having to turn a page in I Am Providence. Mamatas alternates between two narrators, an unsuccessful curmudgeon author and his platonic green-haired vegan roommate at a hotel in Providence, Rhode Island — one of whom tells their tale from the beyond after they are murdered and their face is removed. This particular disfigurement happens after it is revealed that the victim had been hired to act as a go-between in the sale of a book bound in human skin.  


If you are curious as to why unsuccessful authors, book dealers, green-haired vegans, a face-removing murderer and a variety of other characters are all staying in a Rhode Island hotel, the obvious answer is notorious racist and occasional horror author H.P. Lovecraft. The Summer Tentacle is an annual con of sorts for fans of the Rhode Island native and his short story "The Call of Cthulhu." To keep things interesting, wine and social anxiety fuel this crowd, best summed up when Mamatas quipped; “The crowd drank with an intensity that only comes with the combination of free alcohol, unsuccessful writers and high stress.”


To those out there that have never heard of Cthulhu or find Lovecraft’s work to not your taste, don’t fret about not being able to enjoy Mamatas’ tale of murderous social commentary.


The Books of Luke Cage

posted by: October 4, 2016 - 7:00am

Cover art for Little GreenIn the homogenous world of superhero film and television, everyone expected Netflix’s Luke Cage to be exceptional, but no one could have predicted the pure unadulterated joy that is Luke’s barbershop book club discussions with Pop. Luke is the well-read hero we deserve.


In the comics, Luke has been a leader of the Avengers, Heroes for Hire and even married Jessica Jones, but what he hasn’t been for 30 plus years is a solo act. So to craft a show around Luke that doesn’t involve Spider-Man, Iron Fist or Jessica Jones dropping by, the creators took inspiration from the world of detective fiction. Here are some of the many books and authors referenced in the new Netflix series.


“Donald Goines was a street poet."


Pop’s favorite detective hero is Donald Goines’ character Kenyatta, “the best black hero this side of Shaft” who fights to rid the streets of drug dealers and racist cops. Criminal Partners is the first book in the series.


“So you’re saying Kenyatta is better than Easy Rawlins?”


Easy Rawlins is the humble Vietnam vet who prefers to keep a low profile and get paid under the table while solving crimes in his community. He’s the best detective novel hero period, and I’m proud to claim him as a fellow Houstonian. Little Green by Walter Mosley is the book Luke is seen reading in episode two.


“George Pelecanos? Boom.”


Pelecanos was a writer for The Wire, a show that Luke Cage shares more than a few similarities (and actors) with. Right as Rain is the first book in his Derek Strange and Terry Quinn detective series, following two detectives fighting systemic racism in the police force.


Elsewhere, Chester Himes, Harry Bosch and Dennis Lehane get shout outs. Which books did you spot? Let us know in the comments.



The Last Days of Night

posted by: October 3, 2016 - 12:00pm

Cover art for The Last Days of NightAs far as patent disputes go, this was a doozy. Graham Moore’s excellent new historical legal thriller, The Last Days of Night, plops us right into the hotbed of technological innovation that was in situ in late 19th century America. Readers are rewarded with the wonders of invention, dubious plots, a smidgen of romance and a peek into the wiring of the greatest minds of the day set amid Gilded Age New York.


So who really invented the light bulb? Neophyte attorney Paul Cravath finds himself embroiled in the legal wrangling between the inventor Thomas Edison and industrialist George Westinghouse. Cravath is hired to defend Westinghouse against a patent lawsuit filed by Edison. Edison says he holds the right to electrify a country still aglow with gas lamps. There is also the dilemma of alternating current (Westinghouse) versus direct current (Edison), with the winner transforming the world. Cravath is over his head and knows it in this highly readable retelling of the War of the Electric Currents that actually took place between 1888 and 1896.


Moore, author of The Sherlockian and the Academy Award-winning screenwriter of The Imitation Game, actually recreates the time period from 1888 to 1890. Along the way, we are introduced to familiar names, like J.P. Morgan, Alexander Bell and Viktor Tesla, as well as the birth and controversy of the modern electric chair. Cravath’s love interest, the singer Agnes Huntington, develops into a surprising multi-hued personality that adds the merest trifle of melodrama.

With a calibrated dose of legal and technical jargon, Moore’s fast-moving narrative is certain to carry broad appeal for readers wanting to get inside the heads of brilliant and visionary giants. For those wanting the real story, try the excellent Empires of Light: Edison, Tesla, George Westinghouse and the Race to Electrify the World by historian Jill Jonnes. A film adaption of The Last Days of Night is also in the works, starring actor Eddie Redmayne as Paul Cravath.


The Humorless Ladies of Border Control

posted by: September 29, 2016 - 12:00pm

Cover art for The Humorless Ladies of Border ControlYou don’t have to delve particularly deeply into musician Franz Nicolay’s solo discography before you start to notice a couple of trends. First, Nicolay likes telling stories, and he’s good at telling them. Second, he has a deep and abiding passion for words. The lyrics of the eponymous track of 2012’s “Do the Struggle” (one of the songs that he references early in The Humorless Ladies of Border Control: Touring the Punk Underground from Belgrade to Ulaanbaatar) reads more like a Kerouacian beat poem than a folk-punk song. By the same token, the finished product of The Humorless Ladies of Border Control: Touring the Punk Underground from Belgrade to Ulaanbaatar can hardly be described as predictable.


More of a travel memoir than anything else, Nicolay takes great pains to avoid talking about his own music in the book, even going so far as to proclaim early on: “I’ll describe [the shows] once, then you can mentally copy and paste this into the hole I gloss over toward the end of each day.” Instead, he delivers exactly what the title of the book promises, a tour of the punk underground. There’s so little narcissism in this book that it could have just as easily been written by one of the oft-referenced communist revolutionaries rather than a Brooklyn-based songwriter. Throughout the book, Nicolay’s focus is squarely on the countryside, the cities and the people of Eastern Europe. Just as often as he references himself, he also shares the spotlight with his travelling companions and famous authors — from his ethnomusicologist/wife Maria to Dostoyevsky to the Marquis de Custine, a 19th-century French aristocrat who seems particularly close to Nicolay’s heart.


But amidst the (surprising) conversations with young Russian and Ukrainian punks about underground American punk bands like RVIVR or Bridge and Tunnel, and the monotonous nightly shows in unfinished basements, Nicolay and his wife find themselves passing back through Ukraine only months after Vladimir Putin’s invasion and occupation. What follows are not only some of the most touching first-hand accounts of the effects the occupation had on the people of Ukraine, but also some incredibly moving moments of self-discovery for Nicolay himself. This book doesn’t so much progress slowly as it takes its time getting to its destination, and the reader is never left wishing Nicolay would pick up the pace; he’s too good of a storyteller for that. Like his music, The Humorless Ladies of Border Control ultimately draws its strength from Nicolay’s words and rhythm. Even standing on their own merits, the facts of his adventure are almost as epic and expansive as the appendices in the back of the book. As far as travelogues go, I’ve never read better. Nicolay’s music can be found here, RVIVR and Bridge and Tunnel here and here.



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