Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Battle Royale

Battle RoyaleBattle Royale by Koushun Takami
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A busload of Japanese teenagers is kidnapped and dumped off on an island, where they are forced to fight to the death until one student remains, all in the name of The Program. Which of the 42 students will survive?

I remember hearing about the film version of Battle Royale ages ago but never managed to watch it. Seeing that a lot of people compare The Hunger Games to Battle Royale, I figured I should give it a shot and I'm quite glad I did. Battle Royale is The Hunger Games with more gore and without the annoying love triangle.

Battle Royale takes place in an alternate present, where Japan is largely a totalitarian police state. Every year, a class is chosen for The Program, a free for all that makes Thunderdome look like an episode of The Care Bears. Each student is given a backpack and a weapon and turned loose one at a time. To make things interesting, there are forbidden zones on the island and anyone caught in one is killed instantly via the explosive collar they are all forced to wear. Sound good?

People are killed right off the bat and the book never lets up. I had a pretty good idea who would survive based on who got the most time on screen but the journey was well worth it. Kazuo and Mitsuko both needed their hash settled from the opening bell.

I mentioned gore earlier and this book has more than its share of gruesome killings. Hatchets to the face, many, many stabbings, gunshots galore, and lots of betrayal and deception on top of it.

The writing was also pretty good. Aside from a couple very minor hiccups, I would never guess it was a translation. In the afterword, Takami mentions Stephen King and Robert Parker as his big influences and I think it shows in the text. The explosive collars are straight out of the Running Man movie (not from the novel). The intro reminded me of the intro to Needful Things.

Since I'm only giving it a four, I guess I'll complain about a couple things. Shuya didn't have much personality enough though he was supposed to be the hero. Kazuo was overly powerful and seemed to have unlimited ammo. It was hard to keep track of who was who at times because of similar sounding names. However, all these were minor complaints and I found Battle Royale to be quite an enjoyable read. Four out of five stars.

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Friday, December 27, 2013

Kill Clock

Kill ClockKill Clock by Allan Guthrie
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

When some tosser almost runs over Pearce and his dog, Pearce lets his temper get the better of him and he soon finds himself looking for a way out of trouble. Only it's out of the frying pan and into the fire when his salvation turns out to be an ex-girlfriend who needs $20,000 by midnight...

This novella by Allan Guthrie runs at 88 miles per hour from beginning to end. Pearce finds himself deep in the soup with gangsters wanting their money and only his three-legged dog and two children on his side.

It's a pretty absurd crime tale. Where else would you read about a Scottish hoodlum reading a bedtime story to two children when he's got a loan shark to gun down in several preciously short hours?

The Kill Clock is a fun, fast read. Since it's currently free on the Kindle, you could do a lot worse.

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Sunday, December 22, 2013

"Uncle John's Bathroom Reader Attack of the Factoids: Bizarre Bites of Incredible Information

Uncle John's Bathroom Reader Attack of the Factoids: Bizarre Bites of Incredible InformationUncle John's Bathroom Reader Attack of the Factoids: Bizarre Bites of Incredible Information by Bathroom Readers' Institute
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Uncle John's Bathroom Reader Attack of the Factoids: Bizarre Bites of Incredible Information is a collection of one or two line bits of interesting facts or trivia.

This was a Netgalley find but I probably would have bought it anyway since I already have a substantial Bathroom Reader library.

Here is a brief sampling of the nuggets of knowledge within:
- Only female mosquitos suck blood
- The loganberry was accidentally created when a botanist had a raspberry plant too close to the blackberry plants he was trying to crossbreed.
- Tiger Woods' nickname in college was Urkel
- Beer was once promoted as a way to get kids to go to sleep
- Dan Castellenetta's contract with Fox expressly prohibits him from doing Homer Simpson's voice in public.
- Bubblewrap was accidentally created when two guys were trying to make plastic textured wallpaper with two shower curtains
- Alaska is the state with the most outhouses

Not only is Uncle John's Bathroom Reader Attack of the Factoids: Bizarre Bites of Incredible Information great for bathroom reading, it's also good for long car trips and when a friend or loved one is watching something you're not interested in on TV. Four out of five stars.

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Thursday, December 19, 2013

Hitman: My Real Life in the Cartoon World of Wrestling

Hitman: My Real Life in the Cartoon World of WrestlingHitman: My Real Life in the Cartoon World of Wrestling by Bret Hart
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Hitman: My Real Life in the Cartoon World of Wrestling is the autobiography of former wrestler Bret "Hitman" Hart.

For a great portion of my wrestling fandom, Bret Hart was my favorite wrestler. He wasn't very big or very flashy but his matches were always the most believable on the card. Surprisingly, it took me quite a few years to actually pick this up but I'm glad I did.

For a wrestling book, this is a pretty hefty tome at close to 600 pages. Heavy enough to bludgeon another wrestler to death when the referee's back is turned, in fact. It also covers over forty years of Bret Hart's life. It covers Bret's pre-wrestling career a little more than I'd ordinarily like but since Bret grew up in the wrestling business, it didn't feel out of place. It covers Bret's sometime brutal childhood as 1 of 15 kids, wearing hand me downs and being left to his own devices a lot of the time.

Once Bret gets into the wrestling business, things take off. Bret talks about working in tiny towns for no money, driving Andre the Giant around, learning his craft and meeting veterans who came to his father's territory, Stampede Wrestling. Bret wrestles in Puerto Rico, the south, and Japan, before finally making it to the big time, the WWF.

Since Bret spent most of his career in the WWF, that's where most of the events in the book occur. He talks about forming the Hart Foundation, having great matches with the British Bulldogs, and finally being allowed to shine on his own as a singles wrestler. He talks about who was easy to have matches with, who his friends were backstage, and who was hard to deal with. He's honest about his drug use and many affairs, and what it was like to work in the WWF during the big downturn in the business around the time Vince was indicted on steroid charges.

When Bret leaves for WCW, the book takes a dark turn, not surprising since his tenure in WCW sucked from the moment he walked through the door to the moment he got his career ending concussion. From there, the constant infighting of his siblings, his stroke, and the deaths of his parents made the last 20% difficult to read.

Bret's a very good writer, especially considering he's suffered a severe concussion and had a stroke in the last decade. The book had a lot of road stories and he didn't paint himself to be better than everyone else, though his ego was probably pretty healthy.

As far as wresting biographies go, it'll be hard to top this one. 4.5 out of 5 stars.

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Wednesday, December 18, 2013


ThinnerThinner by Stephen King
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Overweight lawyer William Halleck strikes and kills a gypsy woman who is crossing the street. He is acquitted but a relative of the woman touches Halleck's cheek and curses him. Now he's losing three pounds a day with no end in sight. Can he track down the gypsy man and get him to remove the curse or will he waste away to nothing?

What's so scary about a fat guy losing weight? A lot, it turns out. Never has getting a tug job in the car from your wife gotten someone into so much trouble. I felt for old William Halleck and his curse. I also shared his anger toward his wife because of her reaction to the whole thing.

As with most King/Bachman books from this era, the story is shorter than his later works, more killer and less filler. Bachman references Stephen King a couple times, weird since now everyone and their senile grandma knows the two are one and the same.

The more King I read, the more I realize he returns to the same concepts repeatedly, be it unprepared people going up against staggering odds, preaching against over-reliance on technology, or fascination with drifter/carnie culture and people getting shot in the hand with slingshots. Different parts of this book seemed like dry runs for parts of Wizard and Glass, Joyland, and Doctor Sleep.

If I had to pick out something to gripe about, it would be the involvement of Ginelli. It seemed like Halleck just stepped aside and let Ginelli do all the heavy lifting near the end. The ending more than made up for that, though.

Four out of five stars. I'm going to go eat something.

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Tuesday, December 17, 2013


Undisputed: How to Become the World Champion in 1,372 Easy StepsUndisputed: How to Become the World Champion in 1,372 Easy Steps by Chris Jericho
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Undisputed covers Chris Jericho's career from the time he made his WWF debut to the time he made his comeback two years later.

As you can see by the rating, I did not like this one nearly as much as the first volume. First, the good parts.

Chris Jericho covers his arrival in the WWF, which was surprisingly rocky, and his relationship with his new co-workers. He talks about working with the Rock and Chyna while other wrestlers were trying to poison the office against him. He also talks about how things went down when Benoit, Guerrero, Saturn, and Dean Malenko, some of his best friends in the business, came to the WWF, and how Hulk Hogan, Scott Hall, and Kevin Nash didn't run the show like they did in WCW. He also talks about the rise of John Cena, and the deaths of Eddie Guerrero and Chris Benoit.

All that was pretty good. What killed the book for me was how much of it was devoted to Fozzy, the mostly cover band he was in. I didn't care about his band at all and probably half the book was spent on it. While I'm sure there were people who followed his music career, I am not one of them.

I hate to give this thing a 2 since I enjoyed the first book so much but a 2 is as good as it's getting. The wrestling bits were as good, maybe even better than those. Too bad they were entangled in the Fozzy sargasso.

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A Lion's Tale

A Lion's Tale: Around the World in SpandexA Lion's Tale: Around the World in Spandex by Chris Jericho
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A Lion's Tale is the biography of wrestler Chris Jericho, going from childhood to his moments right before walking through the curtain in his WWF debut.

Right off, this is the most entertaining wrestling book I've ever read. More entertaining than Foley's two books, more entertaining even than Terry Funk's book. Chris Jericho isn't afraid to poke fun at himself or throw in pop culture references. I laughed out loud a few times at his wordplay.

The book itself is a quick read and should be used as the template for most wrestling books. The pre-wrestling stuff doesn't take up much room and the rest is packed with road stories. Chris's journey takes him from wrestling in front of a handful of people in tiny Canadian towns to Mexico, the Smokey mountains, Europe, Japan, ECW, and finally WCW.

Unlike a lot of wrestling books, Chris doesn't toot his own horn constantly. In fact, he's not afraid to reveal some things that make him look like kind of a dork. Like not losing his virginity until he was 20, saying dumb things when meeting other wrestlers, or soiling himself after drinking the water in Mexico. He also admits he's had his share of bad matches, like the Super Liger debacle.

Jericho spends as much time talking about what happens behind the curtain as he does about the matches, making for an entertaining book. He talks about going out drinking, the difficulties of adjusting to working Japan, and hanging with guys like Chris Benoit and Eddie Guerrero.

Once he gets to WCW, he focuses on what a disorganized mess the company was and who were jerks backstage, though after reading several other biographies from the same time period, I already knew who they were.

If you're a wrestling fan and only want to buy one wrestling book, you could do a lot worse than this one. 4.5 out of 5. Good thing I have Jericho's second book on deck.

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Saturday, December 14, 2013

The Hardcore Truth

The Hardcore Truth: The Bob Holly StoryThe Hardcore Truth: The Bob Holly Story by Bob Holly
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Hardcore Truth is the biography of recently-retired wrestler, Bob "Hardcore" Holly.

During my decades of wrestling fandom, Bob Holly was always in my periphery, never one of my favorites but always a wrestler I knew would deliver the goods in the ring. After reading this, I wish I would have watched Bob more closely.

Unlike a lot of wrestling books, Bob's in the ring by the 10% mark. While I thought his dirt poor upbringing, teenage fatherhood, and fighting in toughman boxing matches in was interesting, I'm glad he focused on what made me want to read the book in the first place.

Bob doesn't pull any punches in the book, as befits his hard-hitting style in the ring. He doesn't glamorize his early days in WOW working for Bob Sweetan, nor his short stint as a job guy in WCW. Unlike a lot of guys other than Mick Foley, Bob says Ric was kind of a dick backstage. From there, Bob went to Smokey Mountain Wrestling for Jim Cornette and wound up dropping out of wrestling for a couple years to be a welder during the week and race cars on the weekends.

Bob eventually got the call from the WWF and wound up working there for 15 years. Remember what I said earlier about Bob not pulling punches? Bob calls it like he sees it and covers pretty much every significant WWF/WWE event from those 15 years, like the Clique running things backstage, Jeff Jarrett gettings special treatment because of his father, HHH holding talent down, the deaths of Eddie Guerrero and Chris Benoit, and much, much more.

I can't stress enough how straight ahead Bob is in this book. He talks about drugs, how much people were getting paid, who he liked, who he hated, and what he thought the company did wrong and what they did right. It's a really entertaining read and certainly kept my attention on a snowy Saturday afternoon.

There's not a hell of a lot more I can say about it without spoiling it. If you're at all interested in professional wrestling, you'll want to read this. For years, I have been touting Pure Dynamite: The Price You Pay for Wrestling Stardom and Terry Funk: More Than Just Hardcore as the wrestling books to buy. Now I'll have to start recommending this one as well. 4.5 out of 5 stars.

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RoadworkRoadwork by Stephen King
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

A new stretch of interstate is being build and Bart Dawes' house is right in its path. He has until January 20th to find a new place for he and his wife to live and also a new location for the Blue Ribbon, the industrial laundry where he has been employed for twenty years. What will happen if he doesn't?

I wasn't very old when the original four Bachman books were released but I can't imagine this one did very well before King outted himself. It doesn't really have a lot going on. Bart Dawes is cracking as progress threatens to take his house and place of employment. For 320 pages.

Normally, my complaint with a lot of Stephen King books is that they're a lot of unnecessary crap and they could easily lose 300 pages. Roadwork is no different. This thing could easily be condensed into a 20 page short story. Your house and work are having to be relocated and the city is paying for it. I get it. Now use that Weatherby and plastique and start blowing things up if you can't handle it!

Even Rage was better than this. At least all the talking and stalling before the climax in Rage was somewhat interesting. Dawes started out mildly interesting and then just seemed pathetic and sad. By the end, I was ready to run the wrecking ball and destroy his house myself.

The fourth of the original four Bachman books is now closed. Now I can move on to a book I actually care about. 2 out of 5 stars.

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Wednesday, December 11, 2013


RageRage by Stephen King
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Charlie Decker takes a room full of his classmates hostage. Will any of them walk out alive?

In this Bachman book, Holden Caulfield takes the cast of the Breakfast Club hostage with a pistol. At least, that's what the book feels like to me.

Rage is a really quick read, short and to the point. It's also not that great. King can say he wanted it out of print because of all the school shootings in the last couple decades but I have to wonder if quality wasn't also a contributing factor.

Charlie Decker is a bit of a outcast and has a whole dresser drawer full of issues. His classmates, seemingly normal, aren't without problems themselves. John Hughes at gunpoint is a good way to describe most of what goes on in the book. If snipers were watching the windows of the library in the Breakfast Club, Rage is probably what the result would be like.

I don't have a lot to say about this one. The ending was unexpected. I'll give Bachman/King that. Other than that, I'm glad it was short. 2 stars. I hope this doesn't lead to Stephen King rejecting my friend request.

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Tuesday, December 10, 2013

The Running Man

The Running ManThe Running Man by Stephen King
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

When Ben Richard's daughter gets pneumonia, he turns to the Network for help and becomes a contestant on the deadliest of reality shows, The Running Man. Can Richards run long enough to earn the money for his daughter's medicine? And what will he learn as he runs for his life for the amusement of the public watching The Running Man?

This is the best book made into a movie starring Arnold Schwarzenegger I've ever read. Actually, apart from a couple character names, the dystopian setting, and the concept of a reality show where the contestants will likely die, it has very little resemblance to the Arnold flick.

Richard Bachman really liked his dystopias, didn't he? This one bears a startling resemblance to our current reality tv situation. Funny, Bachman predicting the rise of reality tv decades before it came to pass.

Ben Richards is an unemployed loser with a wife that occasionally turns tricks to make ends meet. In order to make some money, he winds up on The Running Man, running for his life in a polluted world that's falling apart.

The suspense in this thing builds and builds as Richards gets deeper into the game. Can he trust anyone? How is the Network tracking him? Will his daughter still be alive when the much needed money gets to her? Things start falling apart for him near the end and the tension is almost unbearable.

Richards is a much deeper character than the Arnold version. As his sense of desperation grows, one can't help but imagine him or herself in Richard's situation.

Like a lot of people, I think The Running Man is likely one of the parents of the Hunger Games, along with The Long Walk.

That's pretty much all I can say. It's a gripping, breezy read, far from the bloated gargantuas of Stephen King's Richard Bachman's later books. 3.5 out of 5 stars.

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Friday, December 6, 2013

Doctor Who: The Death Pit

Doctor Who: The Death Pit (Time Trips)Doctor Who: The Death Pit by A. L. Kennedy
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

When guests at a golf course start disappearing, Receptionist Bryony Mailer starts investigating. Fortunately for her, she is aided by a scarf-wearing man who thinks he should be in Chicago. Can he put a stop to whatever is happening to the guests? Of course, he can. He's The Doctor... Cue the Fourth Doctor version of the theme music!

This was a Netgalley find.

This somewhat goofy little tale reads like a lost episode from the Tom Baker era of Doctor Who. There's not a whole lot I can reveal of the plot without ruining things. Suffice to say, be careful of the bunker on the 13th hole.

The writing is good, lending a lot of Adams-esque humor to this Fourth Doctor tale. The menace was menacing enough and the characterization of The Doctor was spot on. Bryony and Patterson were both surprisingly well developed for characters in a media tie-in short story.

That's about all I have to say. It was a fun 56 pages and makes me want to watch some old Doctor Who episodes.

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Thursday, December 5, 2013

Eyes Closed Tight

Eyes Closed TightEyes Closed Tight by Peter Leonard
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Retired Detroit detective O'Clair runs a resort in Pompano Beach, Florida. When a woman turns up dead at his resort, the old instincts kick in and O'Clair begins investigating the killer, leading to a cold case of his from his Detroit days. When the killer hits close to home, O'Clair must solve the case at any cost...

This was a Netgalley find.

I saw this on Netgalley and since Peter Leonard is the son of Elmore Leonard, I snapped it up. Does the apple fall far from the tree? That's a tough question.

Eyes Closed Tight is well written and started off pretty good. Then something happened that ruined my suspension of disbelief and things started getting way too convolulted for me to enjoy myself.

Would the Florida PD welcome the "assistance" of a retired Detroit cop on an investigation into a body that was found on his property? Somehow, I doubt it. After that initial doubt, I started souring and picking out a lot of things that bugged me. For one thing, I didn't like the shifting viewpoints. I would have rather been kept guessing as to who the killer was rather than have it handed to me. The red herring was the reddest of the red and a little too unbelievable. By the 75% mark, I just wanted it to be over.

All that aside, I'd read another Peter Leonard book as long as the plot didn't revolve around a serial killer with a dubious desire for revenge. Two stars.

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Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Wrede on Writing

Wrede on Writing: Tips, Hints, and Opinions on WritingWrede on Writing: Tips, Hints, and Opinions on Writing by Patricia C. Wrede
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Wrede on Writing is a book on writing by Patricia C. Wrede.

This was a Netgalley find.

Normally, I look upon books about writing by writers I've never heard of in the same light as telephone psychics offering me the winning lottery numbers. If the writer in question is so good, why aren't they too busy cranking out best sellers to write a book about writing? From the opening page, Wrede had me hooked.

Maybe it was the relaxed tone. Maybe it was her clear grasp of what it takes to go into a novel. Or maybe it was the book's underlying philosophy of "There is no One Way. Figure out what works for you and do that."

Unlike a lot of other writing books, at no point did I feel like the writer was trying to force me into using his or her writing methods. It reads like a beloved aunt is guiding me through the novel writing process but giving me enough space to do what I want.

Not only does Wrede reveal what has and hasn't worked for her over the years, she also relates anecdotes from other writers. She also shares examples from her own writing and that of other authors to illustrate her points.

Wrede covers a pretty wide range of topics, like viewpoints, pace, worldbuilding, outlining, even verb tenses. She even goes into the business end of things, all the while reminding the reader that not all writers are the same and not all advice is going to work for every writer.

I guess the bottom line is get a good grasp of the English (or whichever) language, figure out what works for you, and do that. It should be obvious advice but it was really refreshing in a writing book.

Unless this book takes a nosedive in the little bit I have left, four out of five stars.

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Tuesday, December 3, 2013

The Secret Life of Sleep

The Secret Life of SleepThe Secret Life of Sleep by Kat Duff
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The Secret Life of Sleep is about sleep.

I got this from Netgalley. Thank you, Netgalley!

While I don't suffer from sleep problems myself, I know a lot of people who do so I'm curious about the subject. When this popped up on Netgalley, I snapped it up.

The Science of Sleep covers are pretty wide range of topics.
- Sleep aids
- Sleep deprivation
- The way people's sleep habits have changed over human history
- Sleep disorders
- Different cultural beliefs about sleep

It has a lot of informative tidbits in it, which I felt compelled to read out loud to my lady friend, who works three twelve-hour night shifts a week as a nurse. Sometimes, she'd nod in agreement. Other times, she'd ask what the hell I was reading and if the laundry was still in the dryer.

Some of the topics gave names to things we've all experienced, like sleep anxiety, that feeling of looking at the clock and fretting over how much time you have left to sleep if you fall asleep that moment. Others were interesting insights to things I already knew about, like sleep walking, sleep paralysis, or sleep deprivation. I also found it disturbing just how many different kinds of sleeping pills there were.

There weren't too many nits to pick about this one. I thought the book meandered a bit at times but sleep is a pretty broad topic so that's to be expected. Some of the religious discussions felt extraneous. Other than that, it was a pretty solid read and not a yawner. 3.5 out of 5 stars.

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Saturday, November 16, 2013

What it Was

What it WasWhat it Was by George Pelecanos
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When Derek Strange is hired to find a missing ring, he has no idea what he's getting into. Robert Jones, aka Red Fury, is on a crime spree, looking to make a name for himself, and Frank Vaughn is on the case. Will Strange find the ring he's looking for? Can Frank Vaughn prove he isn't too old and bring Red Fury in?

And now, I can add "Read the complete novels of George Pelecanos in 2013" to my resume.

I was hooked on What it Was from the first page. Derek Strange and his new partner, Nick Stefanos, are chatting in a bar when Derek starts telling a story. Much like the last Derek Strange book, What it Was is a tale of the past, when Derek Strange was young and just starting out.

As with all George Pelecanos books, What it Was paints a vivid picture of what life in Washington DC was like, this time in the mid-1970's. Derek Strange is fresh off the police force and looking to make a name for himself as a private investigator. Frank Vaughn, his former partner, is still on the force despite nearing retirement. And Red Fury doesn't care whose toes he steps on.

The McGuffin of the story, the ring Strange is hired to find, is an afterthought for most of the book, though it changes hands quite a few times. The real story is of Strange, Vaughn, and Fury, all with something to prove.

The writing is vintage Pelecanos, full of car and music references and painting a picture of DC life. While I knew Strange wouldn't die, since he was telling the story, there were some tense moments, plus some cameo appearances, like Nick Stefanos and Johnny McGiness working at Nutty Nathan's in the 1970's.

The suspense builds throughout as Strange and Vaughn get closer and closer to crossing paths with Red Fury. When the big moment happened, it didn't go down quite like I suspected but it was still pretty satisfying. Write more Derek Strange, Pelecanos!

What it Was is an easy four stars. If you haven't read a George Pelecanos book yet, you're really missing out.

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Friday, November 15, 2013

The Insect Cookbook

The Insect Cookbook: Food for a Sustainable PlanetThe Insect Cookbook: Food for a Sustainable Planet by Arnold Van Huis
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Insect Cookbook is what it claims to be: a cookbook with insects as the primary ingredient, since we'll be needing more and more sources of protein as the human population continues to grow.

The book starts with an overview of insects and has some interesting bug facts. Did you know that in the tropics, insects cost more pound for pound than meat and that in some parts of Mexico, popped ants have become the preferred snack at movie theaters? Fascinating stuff.

Insects as a food source are widely discussed, from Australians marketing grasshoppers as sky prawns, the Dutch calling them Land Shrimp, to weaver ants, termites, and yellowjackets being roasted and consumed. Spiders are given a mention despite being arachnids and not insects, though both are arthropods. Really, would eating tarantula legs be that much different than eating crab legs?

Many of the recipes in this book use either migratory locusts and two different types of mealworms, the insects most widely available to buy in the Netherlands, where the book was originally published. Others use termites and things of that nature. There are salads, soups, main courses, and desserts. Carmellized grasshopper, anyone?

This book does a great job at making the idea of eating insects more palatable. I've long thought that insects probably don't taste much different than shrimp or lobster. Aside from the box of chocolate covered insects someone at work gave me and that time I finished a bowl of cereal only to find there were weevils floating in my milk, my insect eating experience is minimal.

As I read this book, I found myself getting hungrier and hungrier. Thankfully, there is a list of insect suppliers in the back, right behind the chapter talking about how much less resources it would take to raise insects for food than it does cows or pigs.

Four out of five stars. I'm going to go scare up some grasshoppers to throw on my leftover pizza.

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Tuesday, November 12, 2013

10 Questions with Lawrence Block!

It's not every day a guy's favorite crime writer agrees to answer some questions for his blog.  Without further adieu, here's my interview with Lawrence Block!

What made you decide to revisit Bernie Rhodenbarr with The Burglar Who Counted the Spoons?
I’d wanted to write more about Bernie ever since THE BURGLAR ON THE PROWL nine years ago. I’ve always enjoyed writing in his voice and seeing the world through his eyes. But the several attempts I made over the years were discouraging, and just didn’t come together, and I wasn’t willing to force it, because the one thing I’m unwilling to do is write a bad book about him.

Then I reached a point where I was ready, and I got on a cruise ship on a Saturday in July, and Sunday morning I got up early and went to work. I wrote every day for the next five weeks, and when the ship docked I got off with a finished book.

How has your writing process changed since the first Burglar book, Burglars Can't Be Choosers?
I’m not sure it has, beyond my having made the transition twenty years ago from typewriter to computer.

You've struck me as one of the authors to really see the potential in reissuing out off print works as eBooks.  Do you have any ebooks coming down the pipe you think people should be aware of?
I’ve got two non-fiction titles in preparation, collections of pieces I’ve written over the years. One will center on the world of crime fiction, while the other will have essays and travel writing and, well, other stuff. But these will be originals, and you asked about out-of-print reissues.

Actually, I think I’ve reissued just about everything out there. Unless I manage to talk myself into discovering the merits of one or another pseudonymous work of midcentury erotica, and that’s always a possibility.

How did you get entangled with Hard Case Crime in the beginning?  It seems like a match made in heaven to me.
Charles Ardai, the guiding genius of Hard Case Crime, has been a fan and a friend for a long time. THE GIRL WITH THE LONG GREEN HEART was Hard Case’s first title, and he went on to publish several more of my paperback crime novels before hitting on a few originally pseudonymous works—like A DIET OF TREACLE and KILLING CASTRO—and, coming up in May, BORDERLINE.

Did you get to choose the stories for Catch & Release?
Yes, and it wasn’t difficult to choose; the book contains all my short fiction written too late to be included in ENOUGH ROPE.

What's the story behind Borderline?
I believe it was written in 1961, and originally published under the publisher’s rather lame title of BORDER LUST. The pen name was not one of mine, but “Don Holiday,” a pen name used by my friend Hal Dresner. If I remember correctly, I had an extra book that month, and it thus got published under his name. (Or it may simple have got jumbled at the publisher’s offices. Many things did.)

Do you have any more books with Hard Case in the works?
No, but Charles is looking at a couple of other early works. One’s unquestionably a crime story—it centers on a holdup—but on first reading he saw problems with it. He’s looking again to see if it’s something he can salvage.

How involved have you been in the production of A Walk Among the Tombstones?
Not at all, beyond having the great pleasure of visiting the set four or five times during filming. And I did have a cameo—I was Man in Bar #3, a role I spent much of my early years rehearsing—but that whole scene got cut, so my film debut will have to wait.

Might we see a new Matthew Scudder short story to coincide with the release of the movie?
There’s an interesting thought. I can’t rule it out, but neither can I make it happen by force of will. We’ll have to see.

What's next for Lawrence Block?

Saturday, November 9, 2013

The Wrong Quarry

The Wrong QuarryThe Wrong Quarry by Max Allan Collins
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Quarry's in Stockwell, Missouri, hoping to squeeze the target of a hit into paying him to kill the men paid to bump him off. But is Quarry working for the wrong man? And why is someone so sure Roger Vale killed Candy Stockwell?

I unexpectedly received this ARC from the fine folks at Hard Case Crime.

Quarry is back and still running the kill the killers game he's been running for a while now. Set in the Reagan years, Quarry digs at a sleepy Missouri vacation town's underbelly and gets a look at some human vermin.

The writing packs a punch, par for the course for Quarry books. Quarry's still a bastard but you end up liking him because the people he's after are as bad or worse. Or so he tells us. There may be a touch of the unreliable narrator in Quarry.

As usual, Quarry kills and fornicates his way through a detective caper. I have to admit I was out in the woods for most of the book in regard to what happened to Candy Stockwell. I think Quarry was too but that might be because he can't keep his penis to himself when there's an available vagina in the vicinity.

In a time when people are complaining about Hard Case printing books that don't fit the mold, it's nice to see the forefathers like Lawrence Block and Max Allan Collins back in the mix. Max Allan Collins' books are hit or miss for me but The Wrong Quarry is like a shot in the face from two feet away. Four out of five stars.

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Friday, November 8, 2013

Borderline by Lawrence Block

BorderlineBorderline by Lawrence Block
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When I finished the ARC of The Burglar Who Counted the Spoons, I hinted that I'd be willing to read any more Lawrence Block books that needed reviewing. Several days later, this arrived in my mailbox.

Borderline: Four drifters wind up in Juarez and find that some borders, once you cross them, cannot be uncrossed...

Borderline is the story of four drifters whose lives intersect once they reach the border towns of El Paso and Juarez. Marty is a gambler.
Meg is a divorcee looking for thrills. Lily is a hitchhiker looking to start a new life. And Weaver is a cold-blooded serial killer.

So yeah, Borderline is bit of dirty good fun, a lot of it taking place in a Juarez cathouse or points nearby. While there's nothing indicating it in the ARC I'm reading from, I suspect it was one of Block's porn books for the 1960's.

For a short book with a lot of sex in it, there's enough crime in it justify including it in the Hard Case line. Weaver supplies most of it but the other characters aren't angels. There's also a fair amount of suspense. I spent most of the book wondering how Weaver's tale was going to intersect with the rest of the cast, near misses upping the tension accordingly.

Like I said, dirty good fun.

The Burning Fury: A lonely lumberjack drinks in bar, trying to control his dark urges. Then a woman shows up...

This was a quick tale. I was pretty sure how it was going to go but it didn't make the ending any less brutal.

A Fire At Night: An arsonist appreciates the fire he started and watches firefighters try to stop it.

Again, another quickie with an ending I was pretty sure about but the ending was still chilling.

Stag Party Girl: A groom to be is getting death threats from an old flame and hires a PI named London to be his bodyguard. But what will happen when someone winds up dead at his bachelor party?

This one turned out to be a pretty good murder mystery. Ed London had to figure out which of the guys at the bachelor party shot the stipper after she popped out of the cake. It seemed Karen got around...

Lawrence Block kicked off the Hard Case Crime series and his entries never disappoint. Four stars, though this might have more smut than some Hard Case readers are comfortable with.

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Friday, November 1, 2013

Mr. Majestyk

Mr. MajestykMr. Majestyk by Elmore Leonard
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When someone tries to strongarm melon farmer Vincent Majestyk, he quickly ends up beaten and soon Majestyk is in jail. However, the prison bus is attacked and Majestyk finds himself on the run with Frank Renda, a hitman. That's when things get complicated. Will Majestyk be able to fix the situation and get his melon crop in on time?

This early Elmore Leonard book is a pretty smooth read, like all of his stuff. Vincent Majestyk, melon farmer and Vietnam vet, is one of Leonard's typical good guys, rough around the edges and not entirely law-abiding. The plot's not all that complicated. Majestyk wrongs a couple people and they want him dead. Too bad no one told them he was a ranger in Laos and earned a Silver Star...

Charles Bronson played Majestyk in the movie. I've never seen it but it was easy to picture Bronson in the lead role as I read. Majestyk is the take-no-shit kind of guy Bronson usually played. He's not John Rambo but he's definitely capable. He just wants to get his damn melon crop in on time!

The bad guys are pretty par for the Leonardine course: slick but not as slick as they think they are. Unlike some of old Dutch's villains, I didn't find any of them to be very likeable and it was very satisfying once Majestyk starts taking the law into his own hands. If they had any redeeming qualities, I might have felt bad for them.

The story is one long cat and mouse game and it starts feeling like a western close to the end, like a lot of Elmore Leonard tales. I guess what I'm saying is that while Mr. Majestyk feels like a lot of Elmore Leonard tales, it's definitely one of the better ones. It's a high three or a low four.

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Thursday, October 31, 2013

The Talented Mr. Ripley

The Talented Mr. RipleyThe Talented Mr. Ripley by Patricia Highsmith
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When Tom Ripley is offered a handsome reward to go to Italy to retrieve Dickie Greenleaf, he accepts and soon finds himself living the good life in Naples with Dickie. An obsession blooms and Tom finds himself wanting to be Dickie Greenleaf. But does he want to be Dickie Greenleaf enough to kill his new friend?

I was somewhat familiar with The Talented Mr. Ripley because I nearly took a girl to see the Matt Damon version in the theater back in the day. We opted to see Dogma instead. Anyway, I knew Highsmith wrote Strangers on a Train so I decided to take a crack at it.

The Talented Mr. Ripley is a tale of obsession, murder, lying, betrayal, and more lying. In short, it's a wholesome noir tale. Highsmith reads like a mannerly Jim Thompson, especially once things start going off the rails.

Tom Ripley is the protagonist but he's far from a hero. In fact, he's probably a sociopath. He doesn't seem to be comfortable in his own skin, preferring to live a lie than to be himself. He's a liar, thief, and eventually a murderer. Since there are more of these books, I'm guessing he continues his lying murdering impersonating ways.

The book is mostly the Tom Ripley show. Dickie and the rest of the supporting cast don't have much going on other than the way Ripley manipulates them. Actually, having never seen the movie, I was surprised at Dickie Greenleaf's fate considering I expected him and Tom start making out at any moment. Did the movie have this big of a closeted gay vibe?

Like I said before, this reads like a mannerly Jim Thompson book once things start coming unglued. It takes a lot of lying and killing to cover up a murder. I was a little surprised the body count wasn't higher once everything was said and done.

Still, I caught myself wanted Tom get away with it, kind of like Dexter Morgan or Walter White. I guess that means Patricia Highsmith knew a thing or two about writing. Four stars but I'm not in a tremendous hurry to read more about Tom Ripley.

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Wednesday, October 30, 2013

The Cormorant

The Cormorant (Miriam Black, #3)The Cormorant by Chuck Wendig
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Miriam Black is lured to Florida by a rich man wanting Miriam to reveal how he dies. This turns out to be a ruse concocted by someone who wants Miriam dead, someone who knows of her gift, and the only person she can turn to is her mother. Can the two angry Black women stop the killer or will they fall prey to the horrors Miriam saw in her vision?

I got this from NetGalley. Thank you, Netgalley!

In the third installment, Miriam Black goes down to Florida and tries to stop a hellish vision. Along the way, she goes through the meat grinder, runs afoul of the law, drinks the contents of a sizeable liquor store, and does some world class swearing. In short, she's still the Miriam we know and love, though she's transitioned from a thief profitting from her gift to someone who's not afraid to kill to prevent the glimpses of the future she's getting.

How do you stop someone who knows your ever move? That's the problem Miriam is up against for almost the entire book, making for a very chilling villain. To be honest, I was slightly disappointed with his identity but Wendig did a lot to make me forget about that. The ending was great and I'm hoping to see Miriam explore her abilities a little more in the next installment.

Wendig's writing is as polished as ever, both with the similes and the depictions of torturous violence. Thoughout the series, his love of the Chekov's gun principle is apparent, both with Evelyn Black finally making an appearance in this book and the plot device of the mysterious box that puts a nice cherry on top of the climax of this volume.

The framing sequence with Miriam being help captive by two rogue FBI agents was very nicely done. Since we're all aware Miriam is a series character, we know she'll live and letting her tell the story in her less than linear fashion did a lot to build tension. With all the collateral damage Wendig normally inflicts on the cast, Miriam was the only one we knew would survive, though she's got another batch of hospital bills that we taxpayers will be footing the bill for.

Brutal, hilarious, and a lot of fun. That pretty much sums it up. Four out of five stars!

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Monday, October 28, 2013

The Dead Zone

The Dead ZoneThe Dead Zone by Stephen King
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Johnny Smith wakes from a coma with the psychic ability to read a person when he touches them. Will he use this ability for good or for selfish reasons? And what's the deal with this Greg Stillson character that's swiftly becoming a heavy hitter in the political realm?

Sometime in early 2013, I resolved to read some of the Stephen King books I missed during my binge around the turn of the century. Along with The Shining and It, the Dead Zone is something I'm surprised I hadn't read years ago.

The Dead Zone has a simple enough premise: Johnny Smith returns from a coma with clairvoyance. What King does is turn it into a story of a man deciding how to use those abilities, whether or not to play God. And he does it fairly well.

Some of Stephen King's books are so overwritten that I think if I was in an elevator with Stephen King and asked him what time it was, he would tell me how to build a clock. Not so with the Dead Zone. This is King at his leanest and meanest, when he was still trying to be Richard Matheson and John D. MacDonald rather than the author no editor could tame. It reads more like a crime book than King's later works.

From reading On Writing, I thought this book would focus on Johnny Smith vs. Stillson, but that only happens in the last 20% of the book. It's not a trial version of 11/22/63 like I originally thought. Mostly, it's a man trying to play with the hand he's been dealt.

It's a pretty gripping read but it's not one of my favorite King books. I like the story but the only characters I felt any kind of attachment to were Johnny and his father. I was surprised by the ending, though, but I guess I shouldn't have. Stephen King was just getting started tearing the guts out of his readers at this point.

One thing I'm not sure if I liked or not: One of the characters references the book Carrie. In the context of the Dark Tower series, does this mean The Dead Zone takes place in the Keystone world where Stephen King is writing the saga? I think it does. On the other hand, it also mentions Castle Rock. Does Carrie not take place in the universe as most of King's other books? Things to ponder...

The Dead Zone is a good early Stephen King book and probably the best book I've ever read that was turned into a movie starring Christopher Walken. That's about all I have to say about that. 3.5 out of 5 stars.

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Sunday, October 27, 2013

Hive Monkey

Hive Monkey (Ack-Ack Macaque #2)Hive Monkey by Gareth L. Powell
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

After preventing a nuclear apocalypse in the previous book, Ack-Ack Macaque is piloting Valerie Valois' airship. When a writer-turned-fugitive boards the airship, Ack-Ack and his friends are drawn into a war that spans multiple worlds and the leader of the opposing army has a special fate in store for Ack-Ack...

I got this from Netgalley. Thank you, Netgalley!

You know how sequels are generally inferior to the original? Thankfully, Hive Monkey defies that unfortunate stereotype with two loaded Colts!

Hive Monkey picks up shortly where Ack-Ack Macaque left off. Ack-Ack is trying to adjust to whatever passes for normal life in an uplifted macaque when trouble shows up in the form of writer William Cole, whom people are inexplicably trying to kill. Meanwhile, the Gestault, a cybernetic hivemind cult, is trying to recruit Ack-Ack for some reason. And that's just the tip of the iceberg.

The writing is vastly superior to the first book. If I wasn't so engrossed in the story, I would have wrote a lot of them down. Ones I remember include "It takes 128 muscles to frown but only 52 to grab someone and bite their face off" and "It's Saturday night. I should be out drinking and puking."

Ack-Ack proves to have a lot more depth than originally expected but is still the baddest mother around, with his Spitfire and his two Colts. I loved the revelation about the Gestault and how it related to William Cole. It's like Gareth Powell mined my list of favorite sf concepts for this book. AI, parallel worlds, uplifted animals, nanotech, airships, cyborgs, etc.

Even though I knew it was likely Ack-Ack would save the day, Powell had me guessing a few times. The ending was pretty damn satisfying and also made me want to get the next book into my simian hands as soon as possible. Four out of Five stars!

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Friday, October 25, 2013

The Burglar Who Counted the Spoons

The Burglar Who Counted the SpoonsThe Burglar Who Counted the Spoons by Lawrence Block
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When the mysterious Mr. Smith hires Bernie Rhodenbarr to steal an early draft of Benjamin Button from a museum, Bernie pulls off the heist and winds up agreeing to steal a silver spoon depicting Button Gwinnett, one of the lesser known signees of the Declaration of Independence. But what does any of that have to do with Helen Osterheimer, a wealthy woman found dead in her apartment?

When your favorite living crime writer needs something done, be it driving a getaway car, hacksawing the limbs off of corpse, or reviewing a soon to be released book, you drop what you're doing and get to it. Thankfully, there was a minimal amount of sawing involved in reading this ARC.

First off, Bernie Rhodenbarr is not my favorite of Lawrence Block's series characters, running a distant third behind Keller and the big dog, Matthew Scudder. However, when this ARC fell into my lap, I decided to give Bernie another shot and was glad I did. I was hooked from the opening scene and devoured the book in two sittings.

The Burglar novels are lighter than the Scudder or Keller books, more like Dorothy Sayers or Rex Stout. This one, the Burglar Who Counted the Spoons, had me out in the snow for a great portion of it. Bernie managed to stay a few steps of everyone, including me. Lawrence Block is some kind of literary magician. When you think you've figured out where he's got the rabbit hidden, you turn around to find he's made the Statue of Liberty disappear while you weren't looking.

Bernie's profession is that of a burglar but he's often called upon to do his share of detecting. As he unravels Smith's identity and who killed Helen Osterheimer, I couldn't help but feel a little like Bernie and Block were taking me to school.

While it's a very entertaining mystery, Block also manages to throw down some serious historical trivia and hold my interest for pages at a time, much like he does in the Keller books when Keller goes off on tangents about stamps. I had no idea who Button Gwinnett was before I started reading and now I'm a little curious to learn more.

The supporting cast of Carolyn and Ray were like visiting old friends I hadn't realized I missed. I thought the various heists were believably done and weren't bogged down with unnecessary details. Like I said earlier, I was in the dark for most of the book, which is what I look for in a mystery.

I guess that's all I have to say. Bernie Rhodenbarr has moved up a few notches in my esteem and I guess I'll be filling in the gaps in my Burglar reading pretty soon. Four easy stars!

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It - Stephen King
In 1958, seven kids took it upon themselves to rid the town of Derry of a child killer that took the form of a killer clown. In 1985, the clown is back and the kids return to Derry to finish what they started...

Yeah, I'm a couple decades late to the party on this one. So what? Some friends were doing a group read and I decided it was time to tackle this kitten squisher.

While it's a horror story, it's also about growing up and forgetting what it's like to be a kid. Stephen King does a great job at reminding me what it was like to hear noises in the night and fearing some monster is coming for you. In fact, It is the third Stephen King novel I've dreamed about while reading it, right up there with The Tommyknockers and the Dark Tower.

The characters play well off each other and feel very real. It was all too easy to imagine playing in the barrens with the Losers or running from Henry Bowers and his gang.

Having seen the mediocre TV miniseries from 1990, I was surprised by everything that was lost in translation. Lots more Pennywise in this, for one thing, and there was a lot more to the ending. As I've said in other reviews, even though I knew how things were going to turn out, King still had me on edge during some of the tense moments.

In some ways, It felt like a trial run of some concepts that found their way into the Dark Tower. The kids were definitely a Ka-Tet and felt Gunslingerish. Also, the Turtle of amazing girth upon whose shell he holds the earth.

My only gripe with the book was that I felt like it could have lost about 20% of the length and not lost a whole lot of story. There was a lot of extraneous crap. While some of it fleshed out Derry and made it feel real, some of it felt like no one had the guts to tell Sai King to cut it. In short, some places felt as bloated as a phone book left out in the rain. Was this the book where Stephen King went from "Stephen King, very successful author" to "Stephen King, no editor shall dare command me!"?

This is either a high 3 or low 4. This King guy might have a future in this business.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

The Good, The Bad, and the Infernal

The Good the Bad and the InfernalThe Good the Bad and the Infernal by Guy Adams
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

The town of Wormwood appears once every 100 years and is said to be a gateway to Heaven. This time, it's scheduled to appear in the Midwest and several groups seek it, including a crooked preacher with a brain damaged "messiah," a freak show, and an aging gunfighter and his sidekick. Will any of them reach Wormwood alive? And what will they find when they get there?

I think I picked this book up at the wrong time because it definitely had all the winning Weird Western ingredients. Gunfighters with mysterious pasts, crazy inventors, crooked preachers, and creepy crawly creatures. I liked the Wormwood concept and the characters were a very interesting mix.

It may have been the shifting viewpoints that killed it for me. If it had stuck to one group of characters on the road to Wormwood, I probably would have found it much more gripping. It was one of those books that I enjoyed but wasn't compelled to forsake all other things to read it. I'm a pretty fast reader but it took me over a week to get through this.

That's not to say I hated it. I'm pretty sure it was a timing issue. Knowing there were two more books in the series may have also curbed my enthusiasm. I'll have to give it a re-read at some time in the future when I'm in the right mood for it.

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Thursday, October 3, 2013

The Black Beetle: No Way Out!

The Black Beetle in No Way OutThe Black Beetle in No Way Out by Francesco Francavilla
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Evildoers in Colt City beware! The city is under the protection of... The Black Beetle!

I got this from Netgalley. Thank you, Netgalley!

Without giving too much away, The Black Beetle is a throwback to the pulps of the 1930's and 40's. While visually he looks like a mix of Batman and Blue Beetle, The Black Beetle most resembles Norvell Page's The Spider in my mind. Or early Batman stories where he gunned people down fairly regularly. He goes out of the frying pan and into the fire so many times his flesh should be a charred mess.

The plot was actually my least favorite part of the book but it was still engaging, an action-packed detective tale. When The Black Beetle finally catches up with Labyrinto, it does not disappoint. The zero issue, the tale of a bunch of Nazi agents looking for a lizard amulet, did a great job of introducing the Black Beetle while not revealing too much.

The art was the star of the show for me. It reminded me of 1990's Mike Mignola, Guy Davis' Sandman Mystery Theatre run, and also Tim Sale's art on Batman: The Long Halloween. Francavilla used shadows very well and his art and panel arrangement gave The Black Beetle kind of a timeless quality, like it was something great I was remembering from years ago rather than something I was reading for the first time. You can see the love Francavilla has for the comic medium and for his Black Beetle character in every panel.

The Black Beetle himself has a very simple but iconic look, like some member of the Justice Society introduced in the 1940's that you forgot about. If a two-gun gadget-driven Batman type hero is your thing, give The Black Beetle a try. He's influenced by Batman, The Spider, and other masked mystery men without being a generic homage. 4.5 stars. I'm ready for more Black Beetle!

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Johnny Cash: The Life

Johnny Cash: The LifeJohnny Cash: The Life by Robert Hilburn
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Johnny Cash: The Life is a biography of Johnny Cash.

I've been a Johnny Cash fan for couple decades but most of what I knew of the man was from his music and Walk the Line and a couple VH1 specials so when I saw this come up on Netgalley, I thought I'd give it a read.

The Life is a well-written chronicle of Johnny Cash's life and career, starting from his childhood in Arkansas to his time in the army and his steady rise into a music icon to his death. Walk the Line was just the sanitized tip of the iceberg.

This is no white-washed account of things. Maybe because most of the principal people involved are dead, this book doesn't pull any punches. While I knew Cash had a drug problem, I had no idea how big it was. Fifteen Dexedrines a day for almost a decade is crazy. Did you know Johnny Cash once let a fire get out of control in a drunken and drugged haze that killed some endangered condors? Or that he had lots of affairs, not just with June Carter, while he was married to his first wife Vivian? Or that he cheated on June with her sister? Or that he wasn't too keen on Elvis?

There were a lot of good things as well, like donating money to people he read about in the paper, or getting Glen Sherley, the guy who wrote Greystone Chapel that Cash performed on the legendary Live at Folsom Prison album, paroled.

Cash's career had its share of ups and downs, stemming to his drug use, and later, alienating a portion of his audience by focusing on religious themed music, sliding into irrelevance with the dawn of Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, Merle Haggard, and other outlaw country acts that he inspired.

One person I feel bad for, aside from his family, is Marshall Grant. Not only did Marshall play base for Johnny for decades, he also kept the ship running smoothly and kept Johnny from dying on countless occasions. I wasn't surprised when Marshall later sued Cash. I would have sued the bastard, too.

Honestly, the book got sadder and sadder as it went. Everyone knew Cash's best days were behind him once 1980 hit except for him. By then, all the abuse he'd put his body through had caught up to him. Going from Columbia to Mercury didn't help much.

After a few surgeries, going bankrupt, and getting dropped by Mercury, things didn't get good for Cash until meeting Rick Rubin. From there, the American recordings, and the end of the trail for both June and John.

The story of Cash finishing American IV on sheer willpower reminds me of Warren Zevon, who died the same week as Cash, forcing himself to finish his final album before the curtain fell.

The Life was a very informative look into the life of Johnny Cash. And now, since I can't think of another way to wrap this up, my ten favorite Johnny Cash songs, in no particular order. Yes, I'm aware that a couple of them are only covers.

- Ring of Fire
- One Piece at a Time
- Orange Blossom Special
- Folsom Prison Blues
- A Boy Named Sue
- Long Black Veil
- Give my Love to Rose
- Cry, Cry, Cry
- Hurt
- When the Man Comes Around

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Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Doctor Sleep

Doctor Sleep (The Shining, #2)Doctor Sleep by Stephen King
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Dan Torrance grew up to be an alcoholic, just like his father. But now he's in recovery and working in a hospice where he uses his Shine to comfort people when they die. But what is his connection to a young girl named Abra Stone? And what does The True Knot, a traveling group of RV people, want with her?

After all the glimpses shown in NOS4A2, I knew I'd be reading this one hot off the presses. Was I disappointed? Well, I don't think it was a home run.

I loved the story of Dan Torrance, recovering from his experience at the Overlook with his parents in
The Shining, only to become an alcoholic just like his old man. His road to recovery was well done and I loved how the connection to Abra Stone unfolded. Dan's friends were well done and I found myself dreading which one of them would die at the bloody conclusion, as is the fate of many Stephen King supporting cast members.

There were some nice Easter eggs in Doctor Sleep. Charles Manx, Castle Rock, the Dark Tower, and probably a few others I've already forgotten.

Another thing I loved was the True Knot. I love the idea of a bunch of psychic vampires riding around in RVs, draining kids of their Shine to rejuvenate them. Rosie the Hat was pretty vile and her compatriots were almost as bad. I almost feared for Abra Stone's life.

Almost. My main problem with the book is that Abra was too damn powerful and I never thought for a moment that she wouldn't survive. When she outmaneuvers the bad guys at every turn, there's no sense of jeopardy. The ending was straight from the Nerf factory. I don't remember another Stephen King book where so many of the good guys survived the final encounter.

Still, it was a fun read and there were some tense moments. We'll call it a 3.5.

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Monday, September 30, 2013

Goodreads, The Universe, and Everything

It's been over a week now and I've already blogged about this situation here and here.  After five days, my import CSV file finally uploaded to Booklikes.  Out of 956, 948 reviews made the transition.  Aside from some links, everything seems to be fine.  However...

... Booklikes just isn't Goodreads.  Worse still, the things I love about Goodreads are noticeably absent.  There aren't any communities, you can't compare books, and the feed, God, the feed.  With less than 1/20th of the people I follow on Goodreads, the Booklikes feed is already nearly unreadable.  Reblogging is responsible for most it.  You can filter on reviews but when every post takes up the whole screen, it's kind of tough to get through everything.  Things get lost pretty easily.

The protests are just starting on Goodreads this week.  Judging by the small number of people involved compared to Goodreads' total number of users, it's probably not going to amount to much but I wish them well.  It would be great if Goodreads would apologize or at least admit it handled the situation poorly but I don't see that happening.  No amount of flagging reviews or writing protest reviews is going to suddenly make Otis and company say "We fucked up.  Let's switch everything back."

The funny thing, funny-strange, not funny-ha ha, is that all the changes people are requesting are things that Goodreads already does really well.  In keeping with my analogy from the previous blog entry, it's like trying to shape your new girlfriend into something resembling your old girlfriend. Either enjoy Booklikes for what it is or suck it up and try to make things work with Goodreads.

In other words,

This is just like when Facebook makes unannounced changes and people bitch about it for a couple weeks.  People talk like it's the greatest injustice in the history of the world and threaten to delete their accounts.  Then everyone gets over it and goes back to their normal Facebook habits.  This is very nearly the same scenario.  Either quit Goodreads cold turkey and stop jerking poor Booklikes around and make an honest effort with her or shut up and wait on Goodreads' doorstep with a bouquet of flowers and see if she'll take you back.

As for me, I'll be staying, as I said before.  I'm planning on keeping my head down, writing reviews, and making sarcastic remarks when appropriate, as per usual.  The sky isn't falling and Goodreads isn't the second coming of Hitler.  Every relationship has its rough patches and I'm confident Goodreads and I are going to make it through this one.  To paraphrase Walter White:

Thursday, September 26, 2013

More thoughts on the Goodreads situation

Like a lot of people, I've already blogged about this topic. Now I've had a few more days to think about it.

Goodreads stepped on their dicks on this issue. I think we can all agree on that. It seemed like they were trying to stop the feud between certain reviewers and whomever the authors behind the infamous bully stopping website are and went about it in the most wrong-headed way possible.

Does it suck? Yes. Does it violate our first amendment rights? No, that only applies to government as I understand it. Is it the end of free speech in America? No. It's just an asshole corporation doing asshole corporation things. Is Goodreads going to change anything no matter what we do? Probably not. The user base is so large Goodreads is now like a hydra. Even if all 13000 people in the feedback group deleted their accounts, more reviewers would just rise to take their places. I think Emily May's new profile pic is the most effective protest so far. Hard to ignore a cute girl with tape on her mouth.

Right now, a lot of us are at a crossroads. We're like that person in a bad relationship but isn't sure if they want to work things out or try something new.

Despite having this empty liquor bottle of an event hurled at me, I owe quite a bit to Goodreads. I wouldn't have met such great people, I wouldn't covet more books than I could read in a lifetime, and I wouldn't have my favorite living crime writer sending me ARCs every time he puts a new book out.

So I guess right now, I'm still seeing Goodreads but I'll continue looking Booklikes up and down like a piece of meat and occasionally sexting her. Until the next whisky bottle comes flying at my head...

Wednesday, September 25, 2013


HornsHorns by Joe Hill
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Ignatius Perrish's longtime girlfriend was murdered and the whole town thinks he did it but he's walking free because the evidence was destroyed. After an all night bender, he wakes up with horns sticking out of his head that allow him to hear the thoughts of others. When he learns the identity of Merrin's killer, things start spiraling out of control...

First off, the good points. Joe Hill's writing is a throwback to his father's early days, back when people had the guts to edit him and his still wrote like the bastard son of John D. McDonald and Richard Matheson. He paints an accurate picture of small town life and what it's like to lose the most important person in the world to you. Also, I found the sociopathic villain of the piece to be quite hate-worthy and couldn't wait for Ig to settle his account permanently.

And now, the rest. I don't know if it was the case of wrong book, wrong time for me but I felt like the book didn't know what it was trying to be. Is it a revenge story? Is it about how death can devastate a small town? I felt like the story kept wandering away from the parts I cared about. While I felt Ig's pain, I didn't think he was a very well developed character. Lee was the only character of any substance in the book.

Note that 2 stars does not mean I hated it. I felt it was okay but I couldn't help looking at the other unread books on my shelf and knowing I would enjoy a number of them more than this.

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Tuesday, September 24, 2013

My Thoughts on This Whole Goodreads Censorship Thing

Last Friday, Goodreads changed their policy regarding reviews that were about the author's behavior rather than the book and deleted some content from at least 21 users, igniting a shitstorm of mammoth proportions.

I've got some conflicting feelings on this issue.  I've had nothing but good interactions with Goodreads Authors but I know a lot of people have had some serious shit go down, like having authors call them and threaten them.

The loss of content without warning was a dick move on Goodreads' part but not that surprising since they started hiding author-centric reviews over the summer.  Also, some Goodreaders seem to be trouble magnets and stir the pot more than they should.

It does piss me off that nothing seems to have happened to the offending authors.  As I've said in the past, nothing good can come from an author coming down from his holy author mountain to take a reviewer to task.  Nothing.  What, is the reviewer going to change his opinion?  It just makes the author look like a bullying piece of shit.  Goodreads should not have catered to the demands of a lot of stalkery authors who repeatedly shit the bed and then claimed to have been bullied when it came time to pay the fiddler.

Most of the offending authors are self-published from what I've heard and therein lies the problem.  Instead of going through years of rejection, giving them the battle-hardened skin of a rhinoceros, they often get published the first time out and are a lot more sensitive to negative reviews.  Sorry, if your book has a shitty title and a shitty cover and is riddled with mistakes, I'm telling everyone.

Maybe part of the solution would to be to have a quality control system in place with POD publishers.  Won't happen but we could dream.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that if an author is a dick to you, don't buy or read any more of their books.  Problem solved.  No amount of back and forth is going to fix anything.  Vote with your pocket book and your reading time, people!

Saturday, September 21, 2013

The Turnaround

The TurnaroundThe Turnaround by George Pelecanos
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Way back in 1972, three white boys drove into the black part of town with an eye toward starting some trouble. One boy wound up dead and the lives of three boys were changed forever. Now it's forty years later and Charles Baker thinks someone owes him for the year he did in prison...

Once again, George Pelecanos serves up a tale of redemption and forgetting the past, set against his usual Washington DC backdrop. Of all the George Pelecanos books I've read, this one is the least like a crime novel, although it does have some crime elements, most of which have to do with Charles Baker.

Alex Pappas, diner owner, has a chance encounter with Raymond Monroe, one of the black boys involved in the incident in his past that left him scarred both emotionally and physically. Raymond's brother James is the one charged with the shooting of Pappas' best friend back in the 70's. Meanwhile, Charles Baker, friend of the Monroe boys, is a waste of skin who's living with the mother of an aspiring drug dealer and begins planning to take over the youth's drug business.

Like a lot of Pelecanos' novels, one of the themes in The Turnaround is that it's possible to rise above rough beginnings or let them drag you down. It's also about talking about cars, basketball, music, and the restaurant business.

There's not a lot I have to say about this novel. It's a character driven book, even more than most of Pelecanos' books, and there's not a whole lot that actually happens aside from Charles Baker trying to shake people down and getting out of his depth. That being said, I couldn't wait for someone to take Baker out.

I wasn't too excited about this one after reading the dust jacket and mostly read it to get it out of the way. It's more literary than most of Pelecanos' books and pretty well written. Three stars.

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Friday, September 20, 2013

The Way Home

The Way HomeThe Way Home by George Pelecanos
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Chris Flynn is a troubled youth from DC and after some brushes with the law, finds himself in reform school. Upon his release, he is walking the straight and narrow, working for his father, when he and a friend stumble upon a gym bag full of money on a carpet laying job. They don't take the money but it goes missing anyway and the owners come gunning for them. Can Chris stay on the right path or will he fall back into his old ways?

In The Way Home, Pelecanos revisits themes from some his earlier books: sons struggling to live up to the expectations of their fathers and how hard it is to not fall back into bad behavior patterns.

The book is split almost in half, the first half depicting Chris's life before and during reform school and the second portion details Chris's adult life, struggling to stay out of trouble. Cars, basketball, and music are the frequent topics of conversation, as per usual.

Chris Flynn, the lead, is a troubled man with a rocky relationship with his father. I think a lot of fathers want their sons to do better than they have but don't know how to go about encouraging them. I know mine didn't and neither did Chris's. I found myself relating a little too much to Chris, both before he went into reform school and the reformed outlook after he came out.

Like a lot of Pelecanos books, he takes a fairly standard crime plot, the found money, and uses it as a device to showcase his nuanced characters. Besides Chris, the rest of the cast is also a well realized group. Ali and Ben have become responsible since leaving reform school. Lawrence has not. Chris's father Thomas owns a carpet business and has a strained relationship with his son, both before and after reform school.

The villains of the piece were certainly vile but weren't that complicated and served more as plot devices than characters.

The ending reminded me of the ending of a few other Pelecanos books, most notably Drama City. In a lot of ways, The Way Home is Drama City 2.0. It had a very cinematic feel at times and I could easily picture it being made into a movie.

This one is right on the line of being a three or four. I guess I'm rounding up. I was tempted to drop it down to a 3 because it reminded me so much of Drama City but I still liked it quite a bit. 4 out of 5 stars.

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Thursday, September 19, 2013

The Night Gardener

The Night GardenerThe Night Gardener by George Pelecanos
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

In the bygone age of 1985, detective TC Cooke, with young cops Gus Ramone and Dan Holiday in tow, tried to save a string of murders dubbed the Palindrome Killer, aka the Night Gardener, and failed. Twenty years later, a murder with the same telltale characteristics occurs. Has the killer resurfaced? And can the three men, now in vastly different lives, crack the case?

The Night Gardener is a police procedural mystery set in Washington DC. At least, at first glance. It's really the tale of fathers and sons, secrets, and redemption. Gus Ramone, a veteran homicide cop, has his life shaken when a friend of his young son's turns up dead of a gunshot wound in a community garden. Since the young man's name is Asa and the situation is similar to the decades old Palindrome Killer crime, the police speculate there is a link. Retired cop TC Cooke and disgraced former cop Dan Holiday both get wind of it and launch an investigation of their own. Couple that with the story of some rival gangsters and a briefcase of stolen money and it's off to the races.

Much like the rest of George Pelecanos' novels, music, basketball, and car talk are often featured in the dialogue. Derek Strange's wife and dog make cameo appearances, as does Pelecanos himself as an unnamed passenger in a limo driven by Holiday. I kept waiting for one of the characters to get a drink at The Spot so would could check in with Nick Stefanos but it was not to be. Pelecanos revisits familiar themes like racism and what it's like to grow up black and poor in Washington DC.

As usual, his characters come right off the page. Ramone wants more than anything to keep his family safe. Holiday wants a chance at redemption. Cooke wants to solve the case that haunted the final days of his career. Even the bad guys were far from one dimensional. Several knew they were in over their heads and acted accordingly.

The revelation about Asa's death and what led him down that road were pretty hard hitting. The big gunfight was even more brutal than I thought it was going to be. The ending for the rest of the characters wasn't what I was expecting but was fitting.

Every time I return to the Washington DC of George Pelecanos, it's like I never left. As usual, Pelecanos kept me entertained for the duration. 3.5 out of 5 stars.

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