Wednesday, October 26, 2016

SHADOWED SOULS - Q&A with Kerrie L. Hughes!

The Dresden Files is probably one of my favorite series out there, and was quite conceivably my proper introduction to Urban Fantasy.  Thinking back, I know I read fantasy within contemporary and urban settings, but this grumpy, sarcastic, and too stubborn for his own good wizard caught my attention.

And then this collection comes across my radar.  With not just a new Dresden Files story, but stories by some of my favorite authors.

Shadowed Souls is an excellent collection of dark and urban fantasy, and a decent introduction to the genre for the curious.  If you're already a fan of urban fantasy but don't recognize the authors... pick up this collection, you've been missing out.

And editor Kerrie L. Hughes gave us some of her time to answer questions about working on anthologies!  Read on!

Hello!  Thank you for your time, both in answering these questions and the time invested in such a great anthology.

How do you get started with an anthology project?

This varies from project to project. In the case of Shadowed Souls, I had assembled a number of paranormal authors with the understanding that the finished project would change as needed in order to sell the project. The title can change, and in this case did once I got Jim on board. We came up with the title together, based on what I liked best about what he writes. On many levels it’s harder to put together an anthology than it is to write a book, so you have to love what you do. In the case of Shadowed Souls, I started the concept in 2012, sold it in 2014, and finished it in 2015 for publishing in 2016.

When putting together an anthology, how do you decide who to invite, what to include, what not to include?

First, I look at title ideas and make lists, lots and lots of lists. I know so many authors who want to be an anthology that I could put together a new one every month. For every idea I have, at least two others have failed for one reason or another. Anthologies are a tricky business. You have to find the right idea and get it to the right publisher with the right authors without missing deadlines or having authors drop out. It’s a lot like herding cats.

How does the process change when working with different co-editors?
It depends on the co-editor. Some want to be more involved than others. Some intend to be more involved, but then their own deadlines on other projects get in the way. The main reason a star author has a co-editor is so the co-editor can manage the project and work around them while making them look good. When I’m doing my job well I’m a combination of accountant, counselor, manager, and muse.

Is there an anthology concept you'd love to do that you haven't yet? What would your ultimate anthology contain?

Good question. I have numerous ideas. I’m always interested in doing anthologies in the paranormal realm. Witches are my favorite. Lately I’ve been obsessed with lost histories that tell the stories of people we aren’t necessarily aware existed unless we go looking for them. I also wouldn’t mind doing a collection of future dystopias based on current historical timelines. I’m basically a history nerd in addition to being a paranormal aficionado and an art geek. Ooh, can you imagine an anthology based on works of art? I’m going to write that down and make a list.

Do you have a favorite anthology that you like to recommend to readers (one of your own or someone else's)?

I love every anthology I’ve ever done, and I recommend all of them. I started out doing anthologies for DAW with Maiden Matron Crone, and caught anthology fever. I ended up doing a total of nine for them. Children of Magic, Fellowship Fantastic, The Dimension Next Door, Gamer Fantastic, Zombie Raccoons and Killer Bunnies, Girls Guide To Guns and Monsters, Love and Rockets, and then finally Westward Weird. All of these were done when working for Martin H. Greenberg, who was the largest producer of anthologies in North America. I also wrote a number of short stories for other anthologists, and did some small press anthologies here and there. Hex In the City and Alchemy and Steam were particularly fun. Until Shadowed Souls came along, Chicks Kick Butt, co-edited with Rachel Caine, was my biggest one, and I still think it’s great.

Edited by: Jim Butcher and Kerrie L. Hughes
Roc Trade Paperback Original
$17.00 / 352 pages
November 1, 2016

In this dark and gritty collection—featuring short stories from Jim Butcher, Seanan McGuire, Kevin J. Anderson, and Rob Thurman—nothing is as simple as black and white, light and dark, good and evil..

Unfortunately, that’s exactly what makes it so easy to cross the line.

In #1 New York Times bestselling author Jim Butcher’s Cold Case, Molly Carpenter—Harry Dresden’s apprentice-turned-Winter Lady—must collect a tribute from a remote Fae colony and discovers that even if you’re a good girl, sometimes you have to be bad…

New York Times bestselling author Seanan McGuire’s Sleepover finds half-succubus Elsie Harrington kidnapped by a group of desperate teenage boys. Not for anything “weird.” They just need her to rescue a little girl from the boogeyman. No biggie.

In New York Times bestselling Kevin J. Anderson’s Eye of Newt, Zombie P.I. Dan Shamble’s latest client is a panicky lizard missing an eye who thinks someone wants him dead. But the truth is that someone only wants him for a very special dinner…

And New York Times bestselling author Rob Thurman’s infernally heroic Caliban Leandros takes a trip down memory lane as he deals wih some overdue—and nightmarish—vengeance involving some quite nastyImpossible Monsters.


Tanya Huff * Kat Richardson * Jim C. Hines * Anton Strout * Lucy A. Snyder * Kristine Kathryn Rusch * Erik Scott de Bie *

A martial arts enthusiast whose résumé includes a long list of skills rendered obsolete at least two hundred years ago, #1 New York Times bestselling author Jim Butcher turned to writing as a career because anything else probably would have driven him insane. He lives mostly inside his own head so that he can write down the conversation of his imaginary friends, but his head can generally be found in Independence, Missouri.

Kerrie L. Hughes has edited thirteen anthologies in addition to Shadowed Souls, including Maiden Matron Crone, Children of Magic, Fellowship Fantastic, and Dimension Next Door.

Advance Reader Copy courtesy of Roc (Penguin RandomHouse) in exchange for an honest review; changes may exist between galley and the final edition.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

[Book Review] Slave Hunt (Subs Club)

Slave Hunt (The Subs Club #5) / J. A. Rock

Previously reviewed:
I removed the disclaimer for the review on this book that I've included on the first four.  It's not as necessary beyond informing the reader that this is a kinky erotic novella.  It's light, fun, and hot, but is a group story and lacks the almost painful depth of intimacy that the first four books bring out.  The relationships are established, now it's time to play.  However, I do recommend not starting with this book, as it is built on the story grown over the previous four books.

In Slave Hunt, the Subs Club (and their partners) gear up for a game day put on by Riddle.  Tops hunting bottoms with paintball guns, with prizes for most caught, staying free, and of course the enticement of play time with caught bottoms.  The story gives us the tops' voices for the first time, and even lets Maya have some time as a narrator.  Juggling ten narrators is usually overwhelming, but the tightness of the stories and the growth off of the previously established relationships works well here.  There's a surprising amount of tenderness and expression, mixed in with the expected humor and sexy times.

Advance Reader Copies courtesy of Riptide Publishing via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review; changes may exist between galley and the final edition.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Lord of the Rings : The Towering Read - Book 4, Chapter 6

I don't have much to say about this chapter, and in many ways it stands as a last calm before the storm.  There's conflict, but as far as conflict goes, a rather minor one, and one that results in Frodo gaining free passage through Gondor.

Beyond the location within a secret cave, I don't get the inviolate nature of the pool that Gollum fishes in.  But that's the way it is, and Gollum becomes the elephant in the room.  While Frodo saved his life, this whole encounter probably marks the sharpest change in Gollum's overall attitude towards the hobbits.  When Frodo comes upon him, Gollum is muttering about how he was left behind as the Master went off with new friends, then only to be tricked by the Master and taken captive by men.

Things are a bit more serious and weighty in the film, with Frodo caught flat out in a lie, rather than just omission.  This forbidden pool is right out in the open, so I'm pretty sure all sorts of beings end up in it.  The betrayal of Smeagol comes across with more brutality, a harsher breaking of trust, and the playing out of the Gollum/Smeagol personalities makes the injury and turn even more stark.

This Faramir is less... nobly pure as the one in the text.  But it severs the mood of this scene well.  He does not take the Ring, but he knows it's power and in this case follows the law by insisting the Ring goes to Gondor.  In the scope of the movie though, it really just seems like an excuse to show another battle scene... and maybe to give Frodo a creepy child moment of "they're here."  Actually, I take that back, Jackson has cut things so we have two parallel fights against the forces of darkness going on.  Cinematically it gives a balance, but drags things out a bit.

Lord of the Rings : The Towering Read - Book 4, Chapter 5

There's a lot that goes on in this chapter, with the interview of Frodo, the accidental test of Faramir's character, the history lesson, and the revelations.

I have to be honest, I'm pretty team Samwise at this point.  To me he's the real hero of the story and the reason the Ring isn't lost a dozen times over.  Frodo has more polish... and that often referred to "light" or "Elvish air," but he's of limited effectiveness.  Frodo changes over the course of the story, is forced to change, but never really grows.  Sam, on the other hand becomes far more than just a gardner.

This chapter really brings to light how things might have gone differently had Faramir gone to Rivendell, not Boromir.  Faramir has far more respect for the history of Middle Earth, the rise and decline of the Numenorans, the lessons to be drawn from it, and even holds the grace of Lothlorien sacred.  He knows of Isildur's Bane and desires it not, both as an abstract and when presented it directly.  It says something to me that when presented with the Ring Faramir laughs.  He also has respect for Mithrandir, deliberately seeking out knowledge he knows Gandalf himself researched.  Boromir on the other hand had pride and a desire for power even as a young boy, expressing frustration that his line were but stewards of Gondor, not kings.  He bears more similarity in personality and temperament to Aragorn than to his brother.

Much of the news Faramir shares comes as a shock to the hobbits, particularly the death of Boromir and what peril that implies for the rest of the Fellowship.  I can't blame Faramir for his suspicions of treachery.  And there was treachery, just not in a way that could be protected against.  Likewise, the hobbits bring Faramir knews to fill in some gaps in his knowledge (even if the loss of Gandalf wasn't quite correct).

I clearly don't know enough about the Rangers, as it stuck me as odd that Faramir refers to "this Aragorn" with doubt.  I had the impression that the Rangers are not large in number, so one such as Aragorn should be at least known of.  I'm also left wondering exactly what sort of squirrels they're used to...

The movie pares this whole chapter down to the essential events without the world building or insight on character history.  Faramir talking strategy with another Ranger.  The hobbits are hooded, but without context beyond their captivity.  The suspicions of the hobbits as orcish spies.  Frodo is a shit liar, and really should have stuck with something closer to the version told in the book.  But going right into the Fellowship membership does cut down on a bit of back and forth.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

[Book Review] Wrong Place, Right Time

Wrong Place, Right Time (The Bourbon Street Boys, Book 2) / Elle Casey (Powell's Books)

Previously reviewed:
Life as a single parent is a challenge, and with her children's well-being a priority Jenn isn't looking for adventure or any more uncertainty.  Her sister working for a private security firm is more danger than she wants in her life.  Then she's offered a generous payment for a one-time consulting gig for the Bourbon Street Boys, with auntie babysitting thrown in to sweeten the deal.  Things go well... until someone crashes into the building and she's pulled into a security lock down room with the veritable giant Dev.

Stability and security rules in her life, and it feels like that's all slipping away.  Her job may not appreciate her, but it's steady unlike going freelance.  Nothing about the Bourbon Street Boys seems safe, especially falling for one of them.

When I read Wrong Number, Right Guy I said I'd definitely read more in the series, and that definitely still holds true.  I connect with Jenn more than I did May, she's a more believable character.  The series is written with fleshed out characters who have lives and responsibilities, and the story is imbued with a wonderful sense of humor.  The relationship and attraction builds over the story with a healthy level of spice.  Definitely recommend this series.

Advanced Reader Copy copy courtesy of Montlake Romance via NetGalley; differences may exist between uncorrected galley text and the final edition.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016


It's National Coming Out Day.

It's been an interesting year.  In 2015 we celebrated the legalization of same-sex marriage; this year we've seen floods of anti-queer legislation, shootings at gay clubs, and continued violence in rhetoric.

So fuck it.  I'll talk about my orientation, my gender, and my "coming out."

I literally cannot remember a time when I was not attracted to both men and women.  The first crushes I can remember having were on Princess Leia, Han Solo, Luke Skywalker, and Dr. Beverly Crusher.  I was maybe five years old.  Did I understand it as a nascent sexual attraction?  No, I didn't have the concepts for that to even occur to me then.  I knew I wanted to be Han or Luke because they got Princess Leia (in my defense, the whole sibling thing didn't register for some time, even if Return of the Jedi was my favorite of the three).  Of course, Leia had her pick of those two as well as both rocking that bikini and kicking butt.

I remember my mom telling me, before I had even heard any of the common slander against gays and lesbians, that these lies existed and they were not only false but by and large nonsensical.  I didn't even understand the meaning of some of the lies, I was young, lacking world context and experience, and it didn't occur to me that there was anything to be considered weird that a family unit consisted of two women instead of a man and a woman (side note: the town I spent my childhood in is amazing).

On the cusp of puberty I heard about the death of Matthew Shepherd, about Brandon Teena when Boy's Don't Cry came out.  I started to understand the insults people threw at each other,  the defamation preached in the church services my dad took me to.  I was taught by everything around me that relationships were between a man and a woman, and that my label was female.  I took it as a 'whatever' and went on with my life, it didn't seem to honestly matter to me if I was male or female but if the label makes people happy, sure.  I've had numerous friendships where my gender has effectively been forgotten, except for moments of startled remembrance on their part.  But when it came down to it, I was myself, and most days I didn't suffer from gender-related dysphoria or the feeling that parts of my body were profoundly wrong or missing.

I'm not the greatest with labels.  "For girls" and "for boys" never really seemed to apply to me in my head, beyond this weird idea my dad had that I would like dolls and should wear dresses to church (confession, I did like horses).  It's taken me years to discover that dresses are actually awesome, because it means I'm not wearing pants.  They were just this horribly restrictive garment that got me in trouble when I climbed trees.  My default was androgyny, unless I was dressing up for play, in which case I dove into divergent gendered presentations.  To quote Ru Paul, "we're all born naked, and the rest is drag."  When I bothered to wear a dress to my senior prom people who knew me reacted with confusion, it literally felt wrong to them.  The discovery of drag was an epiphany for me.

During middle school, my mom and my stepdad rented The Rocky Horror Picture Show, handing it to me with a "You'll like this."  They were right.  A few years later my helped me buy pieces to create a Frank'n'furter costume for a shadowcast production at a local college.  Hedwig and the Angry Inch came out in DVD in all it's technicolor glory and I was fascinated all over again.  There was something in these chaotic musical fuck yous to gender and normality that called to me.

Puberty happened, and along with it the growth and understanding of sexual attraction and desire.  I remained clueless for awhile of my queerness.  It happens.  See above where I talk about being sort of shitty when it comes to labels and how they apply to myself.  Also the whole joy of puberty (and the development of depression cycles I still fight with today).  Then my best friend started dating another girl and I discovered I was upset because I wanted to date her, which led to the whole realization of "holy crap, I'm into ladies."  Clearly I'm all on top of that self-awareness shit.

These days I'm married to a man that I love, have dresses that I love to wear (they have pockets, btw), and sometimes even put on make up.  I am attracted women and men and non-binary individuals, but struggle with the fact that I "pass as straight."  I struggle in some areas of my life with the assumption of my orientation and the feeling that I'm not queer enough to count.  Other areas I rely on the assumptions of about me, using them as a protection.  The world doesn't need to know about my desires, for all that I'm talking about them to some extent in a public blog post.  I work in public service for a small town, and I worry about appearing "too queer" for the community.  At the same time I look back at my work history and notice distinctly periods of higher sexual harassment by patrons overlapping with the times when I presented more femme and enjoy the slight protection that I find within a butch appearance.

Professionally I do what I can to contribute to a well-rounded collection, but need assurance before I go forward with a Pride display or feel the need to justify my recommendation for a GLBT book, no matter how supportive my higher-ups.  I'm blessed with living within the sphere of a significant liberal academic community and just outside of a city known GLBT community center and destination.  But even within that people have told me that I'm "confused," "disgusting," or somehow damned.  I cherish the safe spaces I find, because they're not assumed.

Saturday, October 8, 2016

[Book Review] Dawn

Dawn (Xenogenesis #1) / Octavia Butler

Octavia Butler always makes for an interesting and possibly uncomfortable read.  I've wanted to do something by her for Virtual Speculation, but I was torn between choosing something new or rereading Fledgling.  Dawn comes up often as a good place to start with Butler, so I went for it for the August read.

Lilith awakes alone in captivity, yet another awakening in an uncertain amount of time.  But this time, her captors introduce themselves.  It's been 250 years since humans nearly destroyed the Earth and themselves.  The humans that remain have spent much of the time since in stasis, rescued by the alien Oankali.  But everything has a price. The Oankali survive through the exchange of genetic information, not just among themselves to reproduce, but with other species.  Humanity has been changed on a physical and genetic level, changes made from an Oankali understanding of what is best.

Discussion Fodder:
  • How does the book discuss bodily autonomy and consent?  How many different ways is it addressed or violated?
  • The Oankali have a different sex/gender structure than the humans, with three sexes.  What do you think about to human interpretations of additional gendering of the aliens?
  • In what ways do the aliens correctly or incorrectly interpret human psychology?  What are the dangers of being different?
  • In an effort to allow the humans to start anew, develop differently, the Oankali destroyed much of human cultural history.  Was this a good idea, or misguided?  How much of who we are is shaped by what came before?
  • Lilith says "It's wrong to inflict suffering just because your victim can endure it."  How are the Oankali harming (or at least wronging) the humans in their captivity, how are they (actually) helping them, and what is a mix of both?
  • What symbolism comes with Lilith's name?  How does it feed into the story itself?

Friday, October 7, 2016

2016 Mass Book Awards!

For those of you who heard me make allusion to a book award that I was involved with, I can finally actually talk about it!  The winners for the 2016 Mass Book Awards have been announced!

2016 Winners: A Head Full of Ghosts by Paul Tremblay, Rosemary:The Hidden Kennedy Daughter by Kate Clifford Larson, Immortality by Alan Feldman, The Thing About Jellyfish and Ketzel by Ali Benjamin, the Cat who Composed by Leslea Newman

This was loads of fun, if a bit chaotic.  I read a lot, but I read for several book clubs as well as review copies furnished by publishers... on top of any personal reading I want to do.  Shoehorning in a box of 12 books to read over about two months was plausible but required me to actually schedule reading.  Also, since I can't have one crazy thing in my life this also overlapped almost perfectly with the two month period from putting in an offer on a house to closing, as well as moving from part-time to full-time at my library.

I took part along with several others as judges for Adult Fiction, with the purpose of whittling down the long list (the 12 finalists) to one Winner and three Honors.  Some of the books were very easy to eliminate from the running, others took some dithering.  The winner stood out to all of us.

I do want to stress that just because I don't think highly of a book doesn't mean it's bad, just not for me.  Every book on the list already made it through a screening and narrowing down process, and we had to pull apart and rate them.  They all have their merits.

And now, the books and some thoughts from me on them.  Please note that all opinions are my own (unless specifically referenced), I am not speaking on behalf of the other judges nor for the Mass Center for the Book.

A Head Full of Ghosts / Paul Tremblay (WINNER)
I didn't think I was going to like this book.  All three of us went into it with some trepidation, none of us were particularly into Horror, and everything about this book from the cover, to the synopsis, to the praise from other authors, said we were holding a horror novel in our hands.

And we loved it.

A Head Full of Ghosts isn't a book where the horror is a monster that goes bump in the night or a murderous villain in the dark.  Rather we get a self-aware book that exposes the horror genre while revealing itself.  The horror here is in misunderstanding and maltreatment of mental illness and in the exploitation of celebrity culture.  Don't go in with preconceptions of what the story is, let it show you.

Only the Strong / Jabari Asim (Honors)
I only fell in love with two books out of the twelve, and this was one of them.  Asim delivers masterful use of language and flawless shifting between narratives and narrators as the story comes full circle.  Read this book.

Honey From the Lion / Matthew Neill Null (Honors)
This book didn't work for me as a novel, but it definitely worked for the other to judges.  And even if I couldn't get into the book doesn't mean that it can't appreciate the craft of it.  Historical fiction tangled up in post-Civil War economics and environmentalism.

The Muralist / B. A. Shapiro (Honors)
Eminently readable and excellent as a book club pick.  The Muralist searches for the life of an artist in the center of the Abstract Expressionism movement.  A descendant seeking proof of a family legend and a young woman seeking to save her family from the Holocaust.  The story treats famous figures with a balance of respect and familiarity, and is very relateable to the ongoing discussions around immigration and refugees.

The Secret Chord / Geraldine Brooks (Long List)
Very close to making the Honors list.  Brooks is undeniably a skilled writer and she rose to the challenge of taking on historical figures of legend as the central story.  This book posed a challenge to me due to a general skittishness of anything I connect with my escaped childhood within the Church, and to due to my general skepticism when approaching novels about such significant figures.

The Rumor / Elin Hilderbrand (Long List)
I have discovered that I'm not a fan of Hilderbrand's writing.  I understand that her novels are incredibly popular beach reads, but they're just not for me.  This book is made up of characters who desperately need hobbies.  If I wanted this level of drama I'd read Sweet Valley High.

A Marriage of Opposites / Alice Hoffman (Long List)
Well written, but after deep investment in one character it jarringly switches half-way through to a different one.  In many ways your standard Hoffman novel, including possibly magical romance.

Bird / Noy Holland (Long List)
I still can't decide if I like or really dislike this one.  I could see what it was working towards, and there's a level of brilliance in the writing, but at the same time I was left wondering what I was reading.

On Hurricane Island / Ellen Meeropol (Long List)
Very timely novel, but suffers from too many individual story lines and perhaps not enough editing. 

It started out with a good rating, but that dropped a bit as I read.  I personally feel that a "civillian Gitmo" off the coast of Maine misses the whole point of Guantanamo being off US soil, and various other plot wholes just niggled at me too much.  The main villain was a mustache away from being Snidely Whiplash, and the sexual assault he perpetrated (as well as his extended daydreaming about it) was really hard for me to stomach (which is partially the point, but I also have issues with how sexual assault and rape is generally written about).

Complaints aside, it was well worth the read.

The Last Bookaneer / Matthew Pearl (Long List)
Pre-copyright book pirates sounds like an amazing premise to me.  Conceptually a great novel, but it failed to deliver on the action and adventure we hoped for.  Neat read, but drawn out.

Honeydew / Edith Pearlman (Long List)
Short story collections are hard.  As Helen Ellis says, "'For a collection of short stories' is the 'For your age' of the book world."  Overall this collection to me was made up of slice-of-life stories that failed at their hoped for intimacy.

Find Me / Laura Van Den Berg (Long List)
This book delivers a fresh take on the pandemic story line, told with a deliberately wandering and confused narrative.  Perhaps bordering on YA in tone, but a solid read.

Monday, October 3, 2016

Lord of the Rings : The Towering Read - Book 4, Chapter 4

A brief respite for the hobbits, traveling in lands less touched by Mordor.

Sam is ever pragmatic starts thinking about food, and the necessity of more to even reach their destination, let alone maybe make it home.  Maybe they have a chance?  Sam more than anyone is incredibly pragmatic.  After all, even if they are on an impossible quest, food is necessary until althe bitter end.  Asking Gollum to hunt them a rabbit reflects on that pragmatism, his love for Frodo, and the direness of the situation.
"I does ask. And if that isn't nice enough, I begs."
The relationship between Sam and Frodo has always been an interesting one.  Technically, Frodo is Sam's master, but there's always been more between them.  There's more to Frodo than when they started with everything that has touched him, and the nature of their relationships shifts along with it all.  A few quotes to think about things:
"He was reminded suddenly of Frodo as he had lain, asleep in the house of Elrond, after his deadly wound.  Then as he had kept watch Sam had noticed that at times a light seemed to be shining faintly within; but now the light was even clearer and stronger."
"I love him.  He's like that, and sometimes it shines through, somehow.  But I love him, whether or no."
And lastly:
"Gollum returned quietly and peered over Sam's shoulder.  Looking at Frodo, he shut his eyes and crawled away without a sound."
I'm not sure exactly what they're seeing.  Perhaps it's akin to the glow the elves possess, or a blessing of some sort?  We know Gollum finds things such as the elven rope painful to touch, so perhaps there's a similar agency touching Frodo.

Of course hobbits are generally skilled in the art of cooking, food is so important to their lives.  A small detail that might not stand out to most readers is that Tolkien understands the importance of salt.
"And hidden at the bottom of the pack in a flat wooden box a dwindling treasure, some salt."
It's not just a seasoning, though needed less with meat than with other foods, salt is necessary for survival and in the pre-industrial fantasy world of Middle Earth, a very expensive and precious commodity.  For context, the words "soldier" and "salary" originally derive from the same root from when the Romans paid their fighters in salt.  Salt is serious business (I recommend reading Salt : a world history).  Rabbit is actually probably the worst game meat they could be eating due to how lean it is, but Sam knows his craft and does what he can to make it a proper meal instead of just rabbit alone.

He is cruel to Gollum.  I'm not sure if he is overly cruel or if due to their mutual antagonism that was the only way to get what was needed?  I do think Sam's is wise to avoid leaving Frodo with Gollum alone.

In the end, Sam's fire leads Faramir and his men to them.  Faramir knows of Boromir's dream, of the answers that he sought in Rivendell.  Not only that, but these men are Dunedain, Rangers.

The focus here in the film remains on the antagonism and disgust between Sam and Gollum, rather than the more complex relationship in the book.  A few of the key dialog interactions are kept, but instead we see Gollum courting Frodo's favor, the grounds for his more overt attempts to replace Sam.  The Gollum of the films is perhaps a bit crazier, but also more cunning than the one in the books.  Yes, he is a bit too fond of raw meat for hobbit tastes, but exerting an effort on his own volition to hunt down food specifically for Frodo stands out as a very significant action.  And then Sam goes and 'ruins' the present.

The Faramir and the Rangers pull off their ambush before the hobbits are discovered (and taken into custody).  The decision to end the scene there and cut to Gimli chatting (and possibly flirting) with Eowyn makes for fantastic conflict of tensions, which is why I'm assuming they mixed up the order.  But man, it's a long time before we come back to our hobbits.  They're caught by (or run into) Rangers in Scene 23.  Scene 32 we go back to Faramir over maps making battle plans, then eventually get to the hobbits who are accused of being orcish spies, and a general blending of the next two chapters into this one.  I'm not sure why Frodo flat out lies about Gollum, his answer in the book was significantly stronger and was at least half true.  Maybe the influence of the Ring?