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.

View all my reviews

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!

View all my reviews

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.

View all my reviews

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!

View all my reviews

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!

View all my reviews


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.

View all my reviews

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!

View all my reviews

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

View all my reviews

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.

View all my reviews