Tuesday, December 1, 2015

The Grifters

The GriftersThe Grifters by Jim Thompson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Salesman Roy Dillon has a secret life as a top shelf grifter. When he has the opportunity to go legit, how will the women in his life take it? Will his downfall be at the hands of his girlfriend Moira Langtry, or his mother, Lilly?

Here we are, another noir tale of self-destruction by Mr. Happy, Jim Thompson.

"Don't trust anyone ever" seems to be the moral of The Grifters. Not surprising since most of the main characters are shady croooks and grifters to some degree. Roy runs short cons. Moira Langtry pays her way through life with her body. Lilly Dillon is mixed up with some shady gamblers. Not one of them should be left unsupervised.

Roy's a little more sympathetic than most Jim Thompson leads. He's conflicted about his grifting lifestyle and just seems tired. Not only that, he's got serious mommy issues, nicely illustrated by the resemblance between his girlfriend and his mother.

The Grifters is a slow burn and the ending is pretty spectacular, cold, violent, and more than a little creepy. I've seen similar endings written since but I don't think any of them were as effective.

This is a top shelf Jim Thompson book, belonging on the same tier as The Killer Inside Me and Pop. 1280. Four out of five stars.

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Monday, November 30, 2015

Choose Your Own Relationship Fail

Love Is Not Constantly Wondering If You Are Making the Biggest Mistake of Your LifeLove Is Not Constantly Wondering If You Are Making the Biggest Mistake of Your Life by Anonymous
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Thrills and chills! ZOOMIDDY ZOOOOM!!! Space chases! BLAMMO!!! Laser blasts! All this excitement and more is promised on the back of this book:

"You are an ace starfighter pilot in the Galactic Space Force. Shot down over a mysterious planet, you have been taken captive by a race of giant, super intelligent ants."

But soon enough you discover Love Is Not Constantly Wondering if You Are Making the Biggest Mistake of Your Life "...is actually about your relationship with a young woman named Anne, and your struggles to cope with her alcoholism." Wow. That's not your usual Choose Your Own Adventure (CYOA) book, where via second person narration you most often play the hero of some great adventure or mystery.

The text has nothing to do with sci-fi. It's about the relationship. The illustrations and your choices are written as if you were reading the sci-fi aspect of the story, but it's only a metaphor for the struggles of the main character author. It stays like that until the end when fiction and reality intermingle in a surreal nightmare.

Those of you who've been following my reviews (and I thank you for that) know that I'm a fan of the CYOA books. Have been since I was a kid and I still love going back to revisit the old books now and again. But I'm just as excited when I find a new CYOA [Who Killed John F. Kennedy? (Lose Your Own Adventure #1)], even if it's a parody or not exactly in keeping with the old school style.

This one uses the CYOA style, and seems to have a level of reverence for it, while not adhering to it entirely. Let me explain. With this one there are no page numbers, just dates upon which incidents happened...

You are bored so you decide to give Anne a call. She answers. You ask her what she is doing. She replies, "My roommate."

"Hey, wake up!"
And that was the moment Anne dropped the snake on your face.

It is three in the morning when the phone rings, and you answer to the sound of Anne sobbing hysterically. You can hear the sounds of a car. She says they are coming. She was at a party, and they are coming, and she is sorry. The line goes dead.

Unlike other CYOAs, reading this straight through from beginning to end is perfectly a-okay. Actually, it's probably the smart move if you want to understand the story in a linear fashion. Besides, half the time you're not given an action choice, but rather told to turn to such-and-such a date. When there is a choice given, quite often it is done to underline a point or express a darkly-humored truism as relates to the cyclical nature of the abusive relationship. Yes, believe it or not, humor does play a hand in this, perhaps as laughter is used in therapy.

There is more give-and-take to the relationship than the examples I gave above, creating a very telling memoir that does not show the author in the best of lights at all times. The writing is accomplished, providing a smooth read on an engrossing subject that draws the reader in, making you pull for these fucked up kids. Will they survive the dangerous rollercoaster ride or will it all go off the rails?

Right up until this very minute, I've been unsure whether to give this 4 or 5 stars. While it's not perfect, it did evoke a lot of emotion in me. Sure, that emotion came in the form of sadness, pity and disgust, but it was all very visceral. And it kept me on the edge of my seat, because disaster was around every corner. Yes, I was glorying in horrible accidents and intentional horribleness. Is that so wrong?

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This Is No Three Hour Tour

The RaftThe Raft by Robert Trumbull
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Three naval airmen from a downed plane spend over a month in an open raft upon the South Pacific Seas with no food, water or cover from the sun and live to tell the tale. Wow. I need to stop bitching when I get a little sunburn or miss lunch.

This memoir was put together by Robert Trumbull in 1942 soon after Harold Dixon, Gene Aldrich, and Tony Pastula underwent their trying ordeal. It's told from Dixon's perspective. He was the pilot and senior to the other two. He gives his opinions relatively freely. His descriptions of their journey are novel-worthy, making for one heck of a nail-biting read.

Some of the details, like what they were doing and where it took place, had to be left sketchy because the war was still ongoing. But that doesn't detract from the essence of their story. I've read a few sea survival biographies and this ranks right up there with its storms, sharks, deprivation, hope and despair. Heck, this even includes an encounter with natives, like it was some kind of fanciful 18th century adventure tall tale. At times I felt like I was reading of Captain Bligh's post-mutiny survival voyage or a better version of Robinson Crusoe.

If reading The Raft doesn't sound like your thing, perhaps you might watch it? It was recently made into a movie, Against the Sun, starring Malfoy... description

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Friday, November 27, 2015

Spare Some Change

Gamal Hennessy
Nightlife Publishing
Reviewed by Nancy
4 out of 5 stars


Martin is young, arrogant and drunk when he decides to harass a homeless man on the train. But he doesn't realize the power that the old man wields in the tunnels. He can't escape from the wrath of the deranged torturers who want to punish him for the sins of everyone who has ever abused them. Will he be able to live through their brutality and see the outside world again?

My Review

I’ve had this book on my Kindle for ages and can’t remember if the author provided me with the copy, or if I snagged it when it was free.

Even though I now live in a small town and am relatively insulated from the problem of homelessness, I work in the city. Going back and forth to work every day, I see the haunted eyes of people begging for change, sleeping in doorways and park benches, and riding the buses and subway. This poses a dilemma for me, as I am constantly reminded of my relative wealth. Even if I spend nearly 4 hours a day commuting to work and have a significant amount of debt, at least I have 3 meals a day and a roof over my head. Do I walk on by, or do I carry a stack of singles that I can periodically hand out to those who appear the neediest. I have learned that not all beggars are homeless. There are those with disabilities, or those struggling at minimum wage jobs and dealing with huge medical expenses. I recently met a man begging on the corner right next to the Starbucks I frequent. He had a friendly greeting for everyone who passed by and talked about his recent layoff and various medical problems to those who stopped to listen. One day, I gave him a dollar. Another day, I gave him two. Another day, I gave him five and bought him a coffee. A few weeks later he was gone. Somehow, I don’t think he collected enough to have the knee surgery he needed or buy necessary medications. He could have been a fraud, but I don’t want to believe he was.

So ignore the sloppy editing and read this short and terrifying story about what happens to a very drunk, but privileged man who mistreats the wrong homeless person. It will be that much easier to dig deep into your pocket and show your generosity in time for the holidays.

Thursday, November 26, 2015


Legend (Drenai Saga, #1)Legend by David Gemmell
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

An unfathomably numerous Nadir army heads to the mighty stronghold of Dros Delnoch to either accept surrender or slaughter their defenders. The old legendary warrior Druss known by many names such as Captain of the Ax, the Axman, Deathwalker, and the Silver Slayer comes to Delnoch in search of a worthy fighting death. When he arrives he realizes he can't just fight because the warriors of Dros Delnoch need him to lead.

Much of the tale of Legend seems to revolve around dying well. There are a lot of deaths and the ones that occur in battle are honored above all others. Since the story revolves around outnumbered protagonists taking part in a siege it makes sense. With that being said the story is quite bittersweet with a mostly realistic view of the depravity and destruction of war.

A part of the story I didn't like was the quick blazing love between Rek and Virae. I get that their is only so many pages to tell a story, but everyone knows if you are going to have a meet cute and want to speed up two characters falling in love then you need a montage. I guess it doesn't work the same in books as it does in 80s movies. Needless to say at this point I didn't buy Rek and Virae falling instantly in love for no real reason. That being said their relationship and devotion to one another was really well done after they fell in love.

I also didn't like the continual shifting from one point of view character to the next without a transition or even a line break to signal a different point of view. I found it a bit frustrating, but not to the extent it kept me from reading the book.

I really enjoyed the arthritic legend Druss. He really lived up to the legend despite being weary because of age. He is a warrior through and through and I enjoyed reading about him. For a man who insisted he was just a warrior and no leader he lead the men of Dros Delnoch admirably.

It's time for a Now You Know Moment. Did you know that the recurring term in Legend, baresark, is the Scandinavian term for berserker? Well now you know.

Overall I am generally dismayed to rate classic books because quite often the authors of today have borrowed from the classics and the plot points which were once uniquely spectacular now seem commonplace. I fear this was partially the case for me with Legend. Much of the story felt familiar and what made it special is unfortunately lost on me reading it 31 years later.

2.5 out of 5 stars

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Wednesday, November 25, 2015


ThinnerThinner by Richard Bachman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

“Some guys-- a lot of guys---don't believe what they are seeing, especially if it gets in the way of what they eat or drink or think or believe. Me, I don't believe in God. But if I saw him, I would. I wouldn't just go around saying 'Jesus, that was a great special effect.' The definition of an asshole is a guy who doesn't believe what he's seeing. And you can quote me.”
Richie “The Hammer” Ginelli

 photo Thinner20Movie_zpsvr8ydode.jpg

William Halleck is a damn fine lawyer, a rising star in his firm, and well liked by judges and police officers. His life was coming together nicely and without too much extrapolation he could probably anticipate the continuing arc of his success. There was really only one thing that he was fighting against on a daily basis...his weight. The scales were not his friend. He was a stress eater, a man who would rather have two Big Macs peeking out of their wrappers than the goosepimple naked Coors Twins cooing his name.

He is 6’4” and weighs 251 pounds, which isn’t exactly fat if you are a professional football player bristling with heavy musculature, but if you are a white collar worker who doesn’t exercise and eats high calorie, high carb meals from breakfast until bed, the weight gain is going to settle right around your bread basket. I’m 6’4” and weigh 200-205. If I were to put on 50 pounds, I would be obese according to all the BMI charts. Given the fact that I’m retired from any form of athletics except shooting a few hoops in the driveway and going for walks, that 50 pounds would be the worst kind of weight gain, and I would be looking for new pants several sizes larger. Some reviewers/readers have questioned whether Halleck at 6’4” and 251 pounds was actually obese, which might say something about the current state of the American waistline. A nation floating down the river deNILE.

Halleck was a chubby checker, unable to see his feet when he was standing upright on a scale. Pissing was simply an act of faith because for Halleck to see willie perform, he would need to put mirrored tiles on his bathroom floor and walls.

Libido is usually the first to go when people become overweight. Their desires and lusts are exchanged for french fries, strawberry pie, and milkshakes, but Halleck didn’t have that problem. In fact, at the moment that his life was about to go off course, he was almost ready to cross off a bucket list item right up until the time he…

hit a woman with his car.

His wife, Heidi, out of the wild blue decides to be spontaneous. She’s not a prude, but she has never given any indication that she was uninhibited enough to go searching for Billy’s fishing tackle while he was steering a moving vehicle.

Now, he didn’t just hit any woman. Oh no, to completely screw up your life you have to hit a gypsy with a vengeful father. Taduz Lemke is a gypsy patriarch who might be anywhere between 106-120 years old. He knows things that the rest of the world has forgotten.

 photo Stephen_King_s_Thinner_zpspitkpfru.jpg
Robert John Burke stars in the 1996 film version.

When he touches Halleck’s cheek and whispers the word…thinner, William starts to lose weight at an alarming rate.

He has been cursed, not just cursed, but gypsy cursed.

“You were starting to sound a little like a Stephen King novel for a while there.”

Wait, what was that about Stephen King?

Back in the late 1970s and through the mid-1980s, Stephen King was writing more books than could be published. In those days publishers believed that an author could only publish one book a year successfully. King decided to create a pseudonym as Richard Bachman so he could publish more than just one book a year. He was also having doubts about his own success. Had he just gotten lucky? Could he produce a best selling book without Stephen King emblazoned on the cover? The Bachman books were doing ok, but they did a lot better after a bookseller named Steve Brown in Washington D.C. thought the style shown by Bachman was very similar to the writing style of Stephen King.

 photo RichardBachman_zpsug4hlvps.jpg
Meet Mr. Richard Bachman. The actual subject of the photo is Richard Manuel, the insurance agent of Kirby McCauley, who was King's literary agent.

The truth was out, and Thinner became a bestseller. Brown showed a lot of class. He went to the publisher first to show what he had discovered and asked what he should do. King called him and asked him if he would like to do an interview to tell the world how he made his discovery. For those interested, here is a link to Brown’s discussion of the discovery: http://www.liljas-library.com/bachman...

So the reference to himself that he put in Thinner was a tongue in cheek, knee slapping moment of poking fun at himself.

 photo Stephen20King20and20Tom20Holland_zpseo1wbutv.jpg
Stephen King and Tom Holland (director of the film) on the set. King had a cameo role as Dr. Banger.

Halleck is now losing two to three pounds a day, and that is with eating as much food as he can stuff into his stomach. He is desperately searching for the gypsy caravan so he can convince the prehistoric gypsy to take the curse off, but the flame of vengeance still burns in the heart and soul of Taduz Lemke.

He is going to need some convincing.

Halleck knows just the guy.

Richie “The Hammer” Ginelli, an Italian mobster whom Halleck helped defend in court, is a man with a code regarding helping friends in need. Out of all the people Halleck has tried to explain his situation to Ginelli is the only one who believes him.

Ginelli is a terrific character. He is certainly someone you will not forget. I thought that Stephen King, erhh Richard Bachman, put real flesh on the bones of all the characters. The plot is taut like a quarter bouncing off a nubile bottom and crackles like a corn crib on fire. In my opinion, one of the best Stephen King, erhhh Richard Bachman, books I’ve ever read.

If you wish to see more of my most recent book and movie reviews, visit http://www.jeffreykeeten.com
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Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Sour Candy by Kealan Patrick Burke

Sour CandySour Candy by Kealan Patrick Burke
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

In Sour Candy, Kealan Patrick Burke weaves a dread inducing psychological horror novella that seriously wreaks mayhem with your sanity.

Phil Pendleton was more than willing to pay a visit to Wal-Mart to restock on chocolate sex rewards, the memory of Lori in pink silk undies (with leather paddle and ball gag, fun times) and hot shagging fresh in his mind. When the kid screamed like a banshee and shattered his love lust euphoria.

An unsettling scream queen style screech from a boy no less and something strange is about to take place. A mind fuck of phantasmagoric and inexplicable proportion starts in the Sour Candy section. This isn't the last time Phil will see this young boy but he'll wish it was, with every ounce of his soul.

Next up Phil is involved in a car accident and the driver of the other car, yep it's the boy’s Mother.

'Marsh studied him as one might a particularly exotic species of insect. “I’m asking you all of this, Mr. Pendleton, because when the officers went to your house, the child you just described seeing with Mrs. Bennings is the one who opened the door.”

A true Woah! WTF moment and Phil, well Phil's life is suddenly changed and me, I'm tripping. Kealan Patrick Burke never disappoints and just to reassure you, there is definitely no horror of the ball gag variety, Sour Candy is one of the best psychical horror novellas I've read and KPB is pretty fucking awesome.

A 4.5* rating and also posted at http://paulnelson.booklikes.com/post/...

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Snowblind II: The Killing Grounds by Michael McBride

Snowblind II: The Killing GroundsSnowblind II: The Killing Grounds by Michael McBride
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Michael McBride takes us back to the Rockies and once more we're blind in the snow, we're in the killing grounds, the panic is mounting and the tensiometer is pinging like a metal detector in a shipping container.

Seven years ago John Avery's girlfriend went on a skiing trip with friends, none of them were ever seen again and he's searched for them, relentlessly, he was even a suspect.

Sheriff Wayne Dayton once shot a man who staggered into a diner carrying a severed head, a tortuous ending to a harrowing journey that is not easily forgotten. A conservation biologist searching for a missing bighorn sheep finds a video camera hidden in a tree and evidence of the missing party is finally discovered.

'A scream from the television cut him off. It was loud and clear and filled with so much raw terror that the hackles rose along his shoulders and neck.'

Sheriff Dayton investigates, resulting in a group setting out to ascertain exactly what happened all those years ago. Darkness and a freak blizzard put them in the killing grounds of a predator even Arnie would struggle to get away from.

There's a cabin hidden in the snow and the trees, on a wall inside is scrawled the names of those unfortunate enough to realise that there's definitely no hiding place, not here. And a warning 'They come at night'.

Snowblind 2: The Killing Grounds is another exemplary suspense filled horror from McB, in a perfect setting for terror, the pace and trepidation rise exponentially until it's just unbearable. Will there be any survivors in the most extreme of conditions and if there are, can the U.S. law department take them out (kill them that is, not for lunch). Well worth finding out and I do recommend the two Snowblind novellas, heavy on terror, light on humour and there’s a good deal of pronounced nail-biting and heart pounding tension going down.

Also posted at http://paulnelson.booklikes.com/post/...

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The Prophet

The ProphetThe Prophet by Michael Koryta
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Austin brothers haven't spoken in years, not since high school when their sister was abducted and murdered when one of them should have been driving her home. Now, Kent is a football coach and Adam is a hard-drinking bail bondsman. When Adam unwittingly sends another girl to her doom, the two brothers must work together to find her killer...

Holy. Shit. This was one hell of a book.

The Prophet, while appearing initially to be a crime book, is really about what happens to families after a tragedy. In this case, it's about how Marie Austin's death sent her brothers in opposite directions and how another girl's death eventually brought them back together.

Adam Austin can't seem to get past his sister's death and hides from it with alcohol and a simmering capacity for violence. Kent Austin threw himself into his career as a high school football coach and the church. It would have been easy for Koryta to make either of them a stereotype but they are both well-rounded characters. It's a testament to Koryta's skill that he made me care about Kent's high school football team's winning season, which takes up a large part of the book.

I can't say enough good things about this book. Koryta had me guessing up until the end. It knew it wouldn't be a happily ever after ending but it still hit me like a shotgun blast to the chest. I may have let a man tear escape before the final page was turned.

The Prophet looks like a fairly standard crime book on the surface. A psychopath is on the loose and police can't seem to catch him. A certain wise man likened The Prophet to Mystic River, which I think is very accurate. The Prophet is one of those books that transcends genre and proceeds to kick ass on several levels. Five out of five stars.

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Monday, November 23, 2015


A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian TrailA Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail by Bill Bryson
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail pressed all my favorite buttons: Humor. Adventure. Danger. Storytelling. Nature. Local/personal interest. Et cetera.

I even liked that the author Bill Bryson is a American-Brit ex-pat/transplant and thus an outsider giving his opinion as a stranger in a strange land. Bryson's humorous, well-researched, yet relaxed writing is what I always hope for when embarking upon a book like this.

A trek upon the Appalachian Trail is supposed to be relaxing, if strenuous, and if a bit of history and humor get mixed in then all the better. For those like myself who grew up in New England, the lure and legend of the trail was spoon-fed us from an early age, right along with Johnny Appleseed and the ride of Paul Revere. Those of us too lazy to make the actual hike can sit back and read Bryson's book while thinking about how swell a jaunt would be.


While I enjoyed hearing about the local spots I'm familiar with like Mt. Washington in New Hampshire (a hiker from Pepperell, MA the tiny town my mom is from is even mentioned, woohoo!), it's Bryson's relationship with his friend Katz, a larger-than-life character who joined him periodically on the trail, that really ties this whole book together. The hijinks are raised when Katz enters the scene, making a normal hike in the woods into an adventure, perhaps more than it needed to be, but I'm grateful either way!

Bryson's writing and the personality that comes through made more palatable his occasional soapbox tangents. The guy loves nature preservation and he's not happy when man fucks with it, so every once in a while the reader must wade through a lecture on why the trail is essentially lucky to be alive. For all that, I loved this book just about in its entirety and look forward to reading more by Bill Bryson, a writer who I've taken an immediate shine to, a reader-writer bond strengthened by my own private pleasure at discovering we share December 8th as a birthday.

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