Saturday, April 28, 2012

The Dark Tower: The Wind Through the Keyhole

The Wind Through the Keyhole (The Dark Tower, #8)The Wind Through the Keyhole by Stephen King
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

While taking shelter from a storm along the Path of the Beam, Roland tells his ka-tet a story from his youth, about going up against a skin-man with Jamie DeCurry, in which he tells a frightened youth yet another story to bolster his courage...

First off, it pains me to give a Dark Tower book less than four stars but I thought this one was on par with Wizard and Glass.

The Wind Through the Keyhole is really three tales nested within one another. One features our beloved ka-tet, somewhere between the green city from the end of Wizard and Glass and Wolves of the Calla, the second a tale from Roland's youth, and a third a fable from Roland's world. Since The Dark Tower is one of my all time favorite works, my expectations were extremely high and this book didn't live up to them.

It isn't a bad book, though. Roland and the ka-tet are true to form. It didn't feel forced or tacked on. Rather, the stories felt natural and fleshed out both Roland's background and the mythology of Mid-World. I liked the Covenant Man quite a bit and the tale of the skin-man held my interest. If they weren't part of The Dark Tower, I probably would have rated them higher. Tim's tale reminded me of Eyes of the Dragon, one of Stephen King's more underrated works.

I guess my main gripe was that there wasn't much in the way of gunslinging action. Sure, Roland got to strut his stuff a bit but I was hoping for something to explain the ka-tet's transformation between books four and five.

Despite my gripes, I did enjoy The Wind Through the Keyhole and I was quite pleased that King left the ending open enough that he could stick another book or two in before the gang gets to the Calla. That'll have to satisfy my Dark Tower jones for now.

View all my reviews

Thursday, April 26, 2012

The Monster of Florence

The Monster of FlorenceThe Monster of Florence by Douglas Preston
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Thriller writer Douglas Preston moved to Italy, only to find out the nearby olive grove was the scene of a ghasty double murder. Preston and the journalist originally covering the investigation, Mario Spezi, dig into the case of the Monster of Florence, even winding up being investigated themselves...

I know I made the synopsis sound like a thriller but this is non-fiction, the account of an Italiatian serial killer and his murders. It's a facinating journey into a reign of terror that lasted decades and into the psychology of the killer, the Italian press and justice system.

Preston writes the tale in an engaging way, making me forget I was reading nonfiction at times. The Monster of Florence's crimes were brutal and the descriptions of the murders can be somewhat graphic. Each of the suspects almost seemed tailor-made for a book of this type. Spezi's, and later Preston's, frustration was almost tangible. (view spoiler)[The one thing that reminded me that I wasn't reading fiction is that the Monster of Florence was never caught! (hide spoiler)]

Fun fact: The Monster of Florence, the man, not the book, was a partial inspiration for parts of Hannibal by Thomas Harris.

That's about all I can say without revealing too much. Read it yourself and get drawn into the web of deceit, murder, mutilation, vengeance, and corruption. And you'd be well served to never get suspected of a crime in Italy.

View all my reviews

The White Wolf's Son

The White Wolf's Son: The Albino Underground (Elric & Oona Von Bek, #3)The White Wolf's Son: The Albino Underground by Michael Moorcock
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

During a strange earthquake, Oonaugh von Bek falls down a chasm into the subterranean world of Off-Moo. Pursuing her are Gaynor the Damned and Klosterheim, bent on capturing her and draining her blood, along with that of Onric, the son of Elric and the Dreamthief. Meanwhile, Elric, aka Monsieur Zodiac, searches for Oonagh, as do a group called the League of Temporal Adventurers, as well as Oonagh's grandmother, Oona. Can Elric save Oonagh before the cosmic balance is destroyed?

The White Wolf's Son is a satisfying conclusion to the Eternal Champion saga, at least until Moorcock writes another one. The whole story takes place during a dreamquest Elric undergoes to summon Stormbringer while hanging crucified from the mast of the Theocrat's ship about halfway through Stormbringer.

By focusing on Oonaugh and Onric, Moorcock gives us a fresh look at the Elric Saga. Oonaugh's an interesting addtion to the Elric mythos, as is young Onric. A lot of the tale had an Indiana Jones feel, what with the underground cities and Nazis. Once again, Middle March proved to be an interesting setting.

Klosterheim and Gaynor are utter bastards, as are the men of Granbreton. I always thought Hawkmoon's reality had a lot of untapped potential. Now I can consider it well-tapped.

The White Wolf's Son is a good read for any Moorcock fan but it's not one of his best, and it's pretty tied to the previous two books, The Dreamthief's Daughter and The Skrayling Tree. Still, a good read for when you're craving Moorcock. Wink.

View all my reviews

Monday, April 23, 2012

Tentacle Death Trip

Tentacle Death TripTentacle Death Trip by Jordan Krall
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

2025 - The last millionaire in the country recruits five of the best race drivers to compete in a deadly race across New Jersey with the fate of the world hanging in the balance. The prize: the winner will be allowed to live in the recently risen city of R'lyeh for the rest of his days...

I say this every time but this may be my favorite Jordan Krall book yet. While a Cthulhu-laden homage to Deathrace 2000 at first glance, Tentacle Death Trip rises above its roots and delivers one hell of a ride.

Krall crafts a larger cast of characters than he normally works with and does it well. You have Samson, the loner with a tragic past, Junko, the cross-dressing former sex slave, Gabby, the cold hearted mall girl, Mamma Hell, the Christian with a shawl of human skin, and Drac, the man with the tentacled car. All of the racers have distinct personalities and Krall does a great job playing them off of each other.

The denizens of the post-nuclear wasteland of New Jersey are an interesting menagerie. You get a tornado of human teeth, mutants, cannibals, a giant marionette, and assorted other beasties.

Another thing I liked was the way Jordan Krall was able to incorporate flashbacks into the narrative without stopping the momentum of the story.

The only bad marks I can give this book are because of the ending, but that's a matter of taste. I shouldn't have expected it end much differently considering R'lyeh was the prize.

Four easy stars. Jordan Krall is an author to watch!

View all my reviews

Monday, April 16, 2012

Blood on the MinkBlood on the Mink by Robert Silverberg
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A secret agent takes the place of hoodlum Vic Lowney and hits Philadelphia with one goal: taking down a counterfeiting ring. It would be dangerous enough without the counterfeiter's mistress making him a proposition of her own...

I have a confession to make. While I am a sf/fantasy fan from way back, I have somehow managed to avoid reading Robert Silverberg until now. If his usual fare is as good as the detective stories he wrote to pay the bills when the sf market was tanking, I'll have to give him a shot.

On the surface, Blood on the Mink isn't anything out of the ordinary for the Hard Case line. In fact, at first glance, it was one of the books that made me question Hard Case's selection policies. "I've got this author I like that I just found out wrote some crappy pulp novels" or "I really like this author. What book can we get the rights for for cheap?" Fortunately, it quickly laid my fears to rest.

Blood on the Mink is an endless web of double-dealing and double-crosses. You've got the two counterfeit operations, Ricky Chavez, the engraver's daughter, and Klaus's mistress, all with their own agendas. Even though the main story is only 157 pages, Silverberg drags the reader through a miles long obstacle course of plot twists. By the end, I had no idea what was going to go down.

The characters are fairly standard archetypes. Greedy hoods, for the most part. The women in noir novels are either whores or virgins. Carol Champlain and Elena fill those roles to the letter. The only variable is Nick, aka Vic Lowney. He reminds me of Roger Zelazny's man with no name in My Name is Legion more than anything else.

The writing does its job. There were a few quotable lines but Silverberg's noir prose isn't going to make anyone forget about Raymond Chandler. Like I said, it got the job done.

While I wouldn't want this to be anyone's first Hard Case, it's a worthy addition to the line. It would probably also appeal to Silverberg's longtime readers. Whether or not that value would go beyond curiosity remains to be seen. I'll give it a 3.

View all my reviews

Friday, April 13, 2012


Unwind (Unwind, #1)Unwind by Neal Shusterman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

In a dystopian near future, teenagers Connor and Risa are sentenced to be unwound. When their paths cross with a tithe named Lev, they flee the world they know and become fugitives. But how long can they run before the past catches up with them...?

Imagine a world where abortion is illegal but it's perfectly acceptable to have disagreeable children unwound, that is, disassembled and their organs given to waiting recipients, when they are between the ages of 13 and 18? That's the basic premise behind Unwound and it's not as farfetched as I want it to be. Is forced organ donation really that far outside of what happens today?

Unwind is a fast-paced YA novel dealing with the ethics of what happens to unwanted children and the consequences. Shusterman introduce such concepts as unwinding, storking (abandoning unwanted children on doorsteps), and tithing (people raised specifically to be unwound.) Chillings, yes?

The characters drive the story forward at a cheetah's pace. Connor, the lead, gets most of the time, as does Roland, his bullying nemesis. Lev and Risa, while important, don't shine as much as the approaching conflict between Connor and Roland. While I thought I knew how things would turn out, there were quite a few unexpected wrinkles along the way, like CyFy, the Graveyard, the Admiral, and the Clappers.

I don't really want to get into specifics for fear of revealing to much of what happens. Suffice to say, I found Shusterman's writing very suited to the tale he was telling and the worldbuilding was superb. Much like The Handmaid's Tale, the world seemed alien at first glance but really isn't that far removed from our own, making it all the more chilling. It's a five star read, the only complaint I can think of is that I wanted it to be longer.

View all my reviews

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Jeeves in the Morning

Jeeves in the MorningJeeves in the Morning by P.G. Wodehouse
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The 2012 re-read:
Bertie Wooster, with Jeeves in tow, is dragooned into visiting Steeple Bumpleigh, home of Aunt Agatha and her husband, Lord Worplesdon. Bertie soon walks into a web of broken engagements, arson, and delightfully horrible misunderstandings, including an engagement to Florence Craye. Can Jeeves extricate Wooster from what will be known as The Steeple Bumpleigh Horror?

Of course he can. See how Jeeves' head bulges out in the back? That's where his extra brain power comes from.

This book is a great example of how Wodehouse mines rich veins of comedic gold from the same old formula in almost every book. Nobby Hopwood, Worplesdon's ward, is engaged to Bertie's friend Boko Fiddleworth. Stilton Cheesewright, the local constable and an old classmate of Bertie's, is betrothed to Bertie's former fiancee Florence Craye. Lord Worplesdon is in the process of a merger between his shipping company and that of J. Chichester Clam, an American shipping magnate. Throw in a boyscout named Edwin whose hash everyone is dying to see settled and there you are. All the pieces are in place and Bertie is tossed into the mix. You know everything will turn out okay but it's a lot of fun getting there.

As always, Wodehouse weaves a web of whit along the way to the happy resolution. I'm partial to “When a girl uses six derogatory adjectives in her attempt to paint the portrait of the loved one, it means something. One may indicate a merely temporary tiff. Six is big stuff.” and “It is true of course, that I have a will of iron, but it can be switched off if the circumstances seem to demand it.”

Any complaints? Only that this was a re-read and I wasn't experiencing this comedic gem for the first time. While I didn't remember every wrinkle of the story, I did remember most of the pivotal ones. Still, you can't go wrong with Jeeves when you want some dry whit.

View all my reviews

Friday, April 6, 2012

The Last Confession

The Last ConfessionThe Last Confession by Justin Stanisic
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Small town waitress Mary Lowry is struggling just to get by when she meets a priest looking for his sister 20 years missing. Mary takes pity on him and goes looking for her and uncovers much more than she bargained for, even as her personal life disintegrates around her...

Getting a free book from an author is a mixed bag. Sometimes, it's wonderful and doesn't feel like a chore to read at all. Other times, you just want to pretend it got lost in the mail. This one falls somewhere in the middle.

The Last Confession is a noirish mystery set in a small town. Mary, the protagonist, is a fairly unique character as far as my mystery reading goes. I don't often read noir tales starting a 40-something chain-smoking waitress with a loser boyfriend and college age daughter. I liked Mary, even though her grammar grated on me after a few chapters. Too many "ain't"s for my taste. I also hated that it took her so long to kick Ziggy, her live-in boyfirend, to the curb.

The plot was suitably serpentine: Father Robert McCullen's tale was more twisted than I suspected when I read the back cover. I should have tipped to the end but I didn't put together the clues. I'd say it was a solveable mystery, though not by much. I thought the plot meandered a bit but, overall, it was pretty good.

Stanisic's writing was pretty good, especially for a first book. There were some good lines I would have read out loud if I thought if I thought my dog would appreciate them. Alas, all she appreciates are meals and being walked.

Lastly, for a self-published book, this had very tight editing and none of the weird fonts or formatting that usually bug the crap out of me when I read self-published books. The interior is a very professional-looking job. Since most self-published books aren't, I thought I'd mention that.

Three stars. It didn't make me forget about Richard Stark or Lawrence Block, but I'd be willing to give Stanisic another shot in the future.

View all my reviews

Thursday, April 5, 2012

I Am The Messenger

I am the MessengerI am the Messenger by Markus Zusak
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Nineteen year old cab driver Ed Kennedy foils a bank robbery and soon finds himself receiving cryptic messages in the mail written on playing cards. Each card bears hints toward three people Ed must help in some way. Will Ed ever find out who is behind is mysterious messages?

Apart from books by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett, this is my first foray into young adult literature and I enjoyed it immensely.

I think the first thing that pulled me in was that Ed is a lot like I was at nineteen. I like to think I had a little more confidence but I had no idea what I wanted to do either and I'm reasonably sure I was secretly in love with a girl who was only interested in being friends at the time as well. And hell, I'm damn sure I would have taken up the messenger role like Ed did had I gotten playing cards in the mail.

The supporting cast was very well done, from Ed's friends Marv, Ritchie, and Audrey, to the people he bore messages to, like Sophie, Milla, and the spoilerific rest of them.

The writing was superb. I liked Ed's self-deprecating sense of humor and found a lot of parts very touching. I even shed some silent man tears when Marv met his daughter for the first time. The ending wasn't anything I predicted but it ended well.

I had a lot more to say about this while I was reading it but got caught up in the story and forgot most of what I'd planned. Kind of like waking from a dream and resolving to write it down in the morning, then not being able to remember anything at all. It reminded me of G.K. Chesterton's The Man Who Was Thursday for a few brief moments but I'm not sure why.

Five easy stars. I'll be reading more YA and Markus Zusak in the future.

View all my reviews

Monday, April 2, 2012

Blood Meridian

Blood MeridianBlood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In the old west, a young man falls in with a bad crowd, scalphunters, and the worst of them all, the judge.

It's not often when I can't figure out how to summarize a book. Not only does Blood Meridian fall into this category, I'm also struggling with trying to formulate my thoughts about it. I'm sure it's one of those big important books that has themes and things of that nature. It seems apocalyptic at times, with the judge showing the kid the horrors of the world, kind of like the devil and Jesus in the desert.

Cormac McCarthy's prose is simple but powerful. It also feels really smooth, like he barely had to work at it at all to get it on the page. It has an almost Biblical feel to it. Once the kid hooks up with the judge and the Glantons, things get worse and worse, like getting kicked in the crotch by progressively more spiky shoes.

There were a lot of times during my read of Blood Meridian where I had to stop and digest what I just read. It had a dreamlike, or nightmarish, quality a lot of the time. The judge is by far the most memorable character in the piece.

The book really doesn't have much of a plot, just scene after scene of brutal violence. I read a lot of detective stuff but this was one of the most violent books I've ever read. I could only read it for 30-45 minutes at a time before I had to stop and digest.

Lastly, what's with the lack of quotation marks? Was McCarthy sexually assaulted by question marks while he was a boy scout?

Four stars, but not for the squeamish. If you have any amount of squeam in you, you'll be squeaming all over the place in no time.

View all my reviews