Thursday, September 18, 2014

Looking Forward to Season 2 of "Sleepy Hollow"

This Monday marks the premiere of Season 2 of Sleepy Hollow on Fox. Last year, I became quite taken with the show (you can read my post here), and I'm looking forward to the upcoming season, especially after the huge twists at the end of last year. Here's a quick look at the trailer for Season 2.

At the end of last season, everything had literally gone to Hell. After discovering the map to Purgatory in George Washington's bible, Abbie ends up stuck in a Tim Burtonesque dollhouse in Evil Land, while Ichabod and his witchy wife Katrina learn that their ally, Henry Parrish (the so-called "Sin Eater"), is actually the second Horseman of the Apocalypse. And, in the biggest twist of the show, Henry turns out to be Ichabod and Katrina's long-dead son, resurrected by the alpha-demon Moloch. By the season's end, the Headless Horseman has captured Katrina and Henry has stuffed Ichabod in a coffin, leaving him for dead. After all this, it's hard to imagine how Season 2 will begin. But we'll know the answer soon enough on Monday night!

Ichabod and Abbie in happier times – with George Washington's map to Purgatory!*
If you're a fan of Sleepy Hollow, let me know what you think - how will Ichabod and Abbie escape this nightmare?

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Loss and Light

I’ve had no time this week to dream up a good blog. This has been a hard summer for my family, on my father’s side particularly. I lost a dear aunt and cousin to illness, two souls who left earth before their time. And it is days like this in which I seek solace.

For many it is scripture and religion, and for me that is true to some extent. But it is also the lessons taught in life, and part of my life is literature. In times of loss, my sanctuary of late, outside of my family and church, has been a single work by Richard Matheson, one of the legends of speculative fiction—his novel, What Dreams May Come. After I saw the 1998 film with Robin Williams (also a loss to all, R.I.P.), I read the book and it is the one novel I feel everyone should read who has suffered a loss.

The 1978 novel is a masterpiece about the afterlife. The story is based on a manuscript communicated by the narrator’s deceased brother, who provides his account of the great beyond. Matheson considered this book the most important he had ever written. It is the most thought-provoking, spiritually satisfying, and comforting novel I have ever read about death, the afterlife, and, as the title states, “What dreams may come.” I recommend this book to everyone. Here is my favorite passage from its final chapter:

Life on earth is only a panorama of vivid observations which seem real to you.
Why should afterlife seem less real?
Let me not confuse you though.
It will seem real enough to you.
And, please, my brother, do not fear it.
Death is not the king of terrors.
Death is a friend.
Consider it this way. Do you fear to sleep at night? Of course not. Because you know that you will wake again.
Think of death the same way. As a sleep from which, inevitably, you will awaken.
True life is a process of becoming. Death is a stage in this progression. Life is not followed by un-life.
There is only a single continuity of being.
We are part of a plan, never doubt that. A plan to bring each one of us to the highest level of which we are capable. The way will be dark at times but it leads, assuredly, to light.
– Richard Matheson, What Dreams May Come

Thursday, September 4, 2014

5 Reasons "Guardians of the Galaxy" is the Best Science Fiction & Fantasy Movie in Years

This past weekend, my daughter and I watched Marvel Studio’s Guardians of the Galaxy for the second time. It’s the number one movie in America, which didn't surprise me after the first viewing. But after seeing it twice, I'm convinced it’s one of the best science fiction/fantasy films in years. Here are five reasons why.


1.  The Most Fun Since Star Wars – Seriously

To truly understand this point, you just have to see the film. But in a word, it’s fun. Really fun. The movie’s loaded with humor, and I’ve even seen it referred to as a comedy, but that may be a stretch. Yet like Star Wars, and few things since, there are laugh-out-load moments, tons of action, and witty banter between the leads that harkens back to Han and Leah, and R2 and C3PO at their best. Take any of the good SF&F movies of late, including the first Star Trek reboot, and Guardians of the Galaxy surpasses them in terms of pure fun. This is something many of the Marvel Studios films like Iron Man and The Avengers have done very well, but never as well as it’s done in Guardians of the Galaxy.


2.  Awesome Mix Vol. 1

Speaking of fun, the soundtrack to this movie is phenomenal. It’s based on a cassette tape called Awesome Mix Vol. 1 that the protagonist’s mother gave him when he was an adolescent before she became terminally ill. The protagonist, Peter Quill (aka Star Lord), is never without his Sony Walkman playing 70’s tunes from the cassette, and the songs flow through the movie with incredible energy. The musical link to our world also helps keep the story feeling real and grounded despite its uber-fantastic plot. It’s no wonder this is the #1 movie soundtrack in the US right now. And, I’ll confess, I often play part of it before starting my writing routine every morning.

3.  The Characters Rock

Chris Pratt as Peter Quill puts on one of the most charismatic performances since Harrison Ford told Chewbacca to “laugh it up fuzzball.” The beautiful Zoe Saldana of Avatar fame (who also plays Uhura in the new Star Trek movies) puts on, in my view, her best performance in a sci fi film as Gamora. She’s green in this one, and much more fun than her blue-hued heroine in Avatar. Throw in Bradley Cooper as the sharp-tongued, gun toting Rocket (a genetically-engineered raccoon), as well as the ultra-literal Drax the Destroyer played by wrestler Dave Bautista, and Groot, a humanoid tree creature played by Vin Diesel, and this movie becomes a hard act to follow. Again, not since Star Wars have we seen a cast of characters this memorable – and this fun.

4.  Great World Building

The galaxy these folks are guarding is one fascinating place. Not only is it connected to our own world, called Terra in the film (after all, that’s where Peter came from before he was abducted by interstellar pirates), but there’s an entire planet made out of the severed head of some ancient celestial being, an earthlike world ruled by a very cool Glen Close, a prison ship which provides one of the craziest scenes in the film, and an abandoned planet with an ancient temple that reminded me of the opening scene from Raiders of the Lost Ark – except to the tune of Redbone’s “Come and Get Your Love.” I can’t wait for the sequel to explore this galaxy some more.


5.  “We Are Groot”

You have to see the movie to know what I mean. But it’s the whole point of the film. The big theme, if you will – love between friends and family conquering all – and it’s the most touching scene in the movie. It will make you want to dance to the Jackson 5’s “I Want You Back.” I promise.

** Images courtesy of Marvel Studios - Guardians of the Galaxy.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Thieftaker: Historical Fantasy in Colonial Boston!

Thieftaker by D.B. Jackson was on my summer reading list, and boy am I glad it was! Between this and the novels by Clifford Beal, I’m starting to enjoy great historical fantasy set outside the Middle Ages—in the case of Theiftaker, 1765 in good ‘ole Boston MA.
Great cover art - and a great scene in the book!
Ethan Kaille, loyal subject of the Crown, is a near-middle-aged theiftaker—someone who, for a price, retrieves stolen goods and makes the thieves disappear (being the moral type, Kaille encourages them to leave town, though other thieftakers aren’t so kind). But there’s a twist: Kaille is also a conjurer, who can use magic, usually by drawing his own blood and summoning the power of his spectral guardian, an old medieval ghost he calls Uncle Reg. In this sense, the world of Thieftaker is a bit like an adult version of Harry Potter set in the eighteenth century. There are muggles and “spellers,” and Kaille is just one of many spellers living secretly in Boston.

The story begins when Kaille is hired to retrieve a brooch stolen from a merchant’s daughter who died mysteriously during the Stamp Act riots that proceeded the American Revolution. It turns out the murder and thief is a conjurer, which makes Kaille the perfect man for the job. But the conjurer is more powerful than any Kaille has ever encountered, and I spent much of the novel wondering how he would possibly survive his battles with this dangerous foe.

At its heart, Thieftaker is a well-crafted murder mystery that combines an intriguing magic system with a wonderful historical setting. I’ve been to Boston many times, but I more than enjoyed visiting this city in its pre-revolutionary days and being introduced to a few real historical characters, including Samuel Adams, along the way. And speaking of characters, the author has developed a host of memorable ones, from the rival thieftaker Sephira Pryce to Kannice Lester, the pretty barkeep who serves as Kaille’s love interest in the tale.

All in all, I put the world that D.B. Jackson has created among my recent favorites in historical fantasy fiction. I also loved the fact that Kaille is not a young man, which I found refreshing, especially with so many YA books flooding the fantasy sections these days. Needless to say, I’m pleased there are at least two more books in the series—Thieves’ Quarry and A Plunder of Souls—as I am eager to explore more of colonial Boston with Ethan Kaille!

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

How Important Is a Title to a Book or Film?

This week, a number of articles discussed how the title for the most recent Tom Cruise movie, Edge of Tomorrow, helped sink the film at the box office. (You can read them here and here and here.) Despite getting really good reviews, the movie underperformed, so for the Blu-Ray release the studio changed the title to Live Die Repeat. Even more, they’ve relegated the original title to the fine print at the bottom of the Blue-Ray cover. All of this led me to wonder: How important is a title?

"Edge of Tomorrow"? - look at the red print.
Last month, I wrote a post about the book John Carter and the Gods of Hollywood, which documented the marketing debacle that led to the box office failure of Disney’s John Carter, based on Edgar Rice Burroughs' classic A Princess of Mars. Among the many marketing mishaps was the removal of the words “of Mars” from the title, leaving it the highly generic "John Carter."

He's Jimmy Carter's brother? No, you say, he's from Mars?
I feel strongly that the change from “John Carter of Mars” to “John Carter” was a disaster. I haven't thought much about the Edge of Tomorrow, but in reading these articles, I realized I barely knew the movie was out. I don't know if this was because of the title or some other marketing misfire. But I suppose now I’ll catch it on Netflix, whatever it is called by then.

If you have an opinion, I'm curious to know: How important is the title to a book or film?

Thursday, August 14, 2014

“The Raven’s Banquet” – A Fitting Prequel to “Gideon’s Angel”

Last year I reviewed Gideon’s Angel by Clifford Beal, an example of historical fantasy at its best, set in the seventeenth century during the English Civil War. This year, Clifford Beal released the prequel to Gideon’s Angel titled The Raven’s Banquet. The prequel sheds light on the early backstory of Richard Treadwell, the series’ heroic protagonist, in another tale that wonderfully blends historical detail with the supernatural.
Love the shout-out from fantasy legend Michael Moorcock!

The story begins during the English Civil War, after Colonel Richard Treadwell has been captured by Parliamentary soldiers, accused of treason against England (Treadwell supports King Charles Stuart, who fares badly during the war and the forces of Oliver Cromwell). This is not too soon before the beginning of Gideon’s Angel. But then the story flashes back to Treadwell’s youth, when he was a young noble’s son seeking fame and fortune in Germany during the war between the Protestants and the Catholic Hapsburg Empire. While portions of the story return to the older Treadwell’s imprisonment in the Tower of London, the bulk of the novel concerns Treadwell’s origins, if you will, and it’s here where all the story’s action takes place.

As we learned in Gideon’s Angel, Treadwell has “a skill for finding the Underworld like a pig finds truffles.” In the Raven’s Banquet we discover that Treadwell, as a child, could see and speak to the souls of the dead, and that accursed skill returns in earnest once Treadwell joins up with a Danish army opposing the papists. The twenty-one-year-old Richard Treadwell is travelling with Samuel Stone, one of his father’s servants, who harbors a dark secret about Richard’s father and a boatload of resentment too.

Historical fantasy at its best!

Richard eventually meets a gypsy girl named Anya who gives him a talisman that supposedly protects him from harm. Anya makes a brief appearance in Gideon’s Angel, so I was expecting her to play a larger role in the prequel. Instead, her appearance in this story is equally brief, which makes me believe there is more to her and Richard’s tale to be told. The remainder of the first half of the novel focuses on Richard’s unscrupulous brothers-at-arms, as well as the aforementioned Samuel Stone, and the moral dilemmas for Richard that ensue.

The core of the story takes place after a battle in the German woods ends badly for Richard’s company, and he and one of his dangerous and unruly companions named Christoph are saved by a mysterious group of bow-wielding women. No men live among them, and soon Richard discovers he’s among a coven of witches. Richard’s relationship with one of the women, named Rosemunde, is central to the tale, while a particular dead soul begins to warn Richard of the growing danger surrounding him.

Overall, The Raven’s Banquet (at just 235 pages) turned out to be a fun, quick read. Richard Treadwell is a likeable and complex character, and I enjoyed spending this time with his adventures, even if the story’s plot is simpler and less spectacular than Gideon’s Angel. I believe there is room for a sequel to The Raven’s Banquet and yet another prequel to Gideon’s Angel to bridge the wide gap between the two books. But whatever Clifford Beal chooses to do, I’m sure it will be a worthwhile read.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

A BookBub Recommendation for Enoch’s Device!

Today, Enoch’s Device is being featured on BookBub, the premier online service that connects readers to books. BookBub is a bit picky about what it features, and editorially evaluates a book before choosing it for a promotion. I’m very excited that Enoch’s Device was chosen, and the Kindle version will be on sale from today through August 15th! You can purchase it here.

Nearly a thousand years after the birth of Christ, when all Europe fears that the world will soon end, an Irish monk, Brother Ciarán, discovers an ominous warning hidden in the illuminations of a religious tome. The cryptic prophecy speaks of Enoch’s device, an angelic weapon with the power to prevent the coming apocalypse.
Pursued by Frankish soldiers and supernatural forces, Ciarán and his freethinking mentor, Brother Dónall, journey to the heart of France in search of the device. There, they rescue the Lady Alais from a heretic-hunting bishop who insists mankind must suffer for its sins. Together the trio races across Europe to locate the device, which has left clues of its passage through history. But time is running out, and if they don’t find it soon, all that they love could perish at the End of Days.
Enoch’s Device is a fast-paced medieval adventure steeped in history, mythology, and mysteries from a dark and magical past.
Stephen Reynolds of SPR called “Enoch's Device is a wonderfully imagined, vividly described, alternately lyrical and violent romp of a novel that should give lovers of historical fantasy just the kind of fix they're looking for.”
Marty Shaw of Reader Views wrote: “If you enjoy tales of magic and adventure that are perfectly blended with reality and history, ‘Enoch’s Device’ by Joseph Finley will be an exciting read for you.”

And Cate Peace of Indie Books R Us summed it up: "All in all, a refreshing twist on the religious thriller, and one that will have you turning pages from cover to cover as fast as you can."

Now is a great time to pick up a copy – and if you’ve already read it and enjoyed it, please tell a friend!