Friday, November 28, 2014

The Shotgun Rule

Charlie Huston
Ballantine Books
Reviewed by Nancy
4 out of 5 stars


The first stand-alone thriller by critically acclaimed author Charlie Huston, The Shotgun Rule is a raw tale of four teenage friends who go looking for a little trouble–and find it.

Blood spilled on the asphalt of this town long years gone has left a stain, and it’s spreading.

Not that a thing like that matters to teenagers like George, Hector, Paul, and Andy. It’s summer 1983 in a northern California suburb, and these working-class kids have been killing time the usual ways: ducking their parents, tinkering with their bikes, and racing around town getting high and boosting their neighbors’ meds. Just another typical summer break in the burbs. Till Andy’s bike is stolen by the town’s legendary petty hoods, the Arroyo brothers. When the boys break into the Arroyos’ place in search of the bike, they stumble across the brothers’ private industry: a crank lab. Being the kind of kids who rarely know better, they do what comes naturally: they take a stash of crank to sell for quick cash. But doing so they unleash hidden rivalries and crimes, and the dark and secret past of their town and their families.

The spreading stain is drawing local drug lords, crooked cops, hard-riding bikers, and the brutal history of the boys’ fathers in its wake.

My Review

Four suburban teenagers manage to find big trouble when they come across a meth lab while trying to retrieve Andy’s stolen bike. I’ve wanted to read Charlie Huston for a while and thought this stand-alone thriller would be a good place to start. I wasn’t disappointed. This was a brutal, dark and compelling slice of suburban life. The characters were very well-developed, the dialogue sharp, and the pace relentless. The story was raw, painful and a believable portrayal of troubled youths, dysfunctional families, and drug use. This was a story about kids who made mistakes and had bad things happen to them; it was about parents who wanted to make a better life and found they couldn’t escape their past. Intense, disturbing, and not for everyone.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

The Dog Stars by Peter Heller

The Dog StarsThe Dog Stars by Peter Heller
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

“Meager as it is. Nothing to lose as I have. Nothing is something somehow.”

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Hig doesn’t have much, but what he has is precious to him. He has his books of poetry. He has rivers to fish in. He has fuel to fly his plane. He has a furry co-pilot named Jasper. He has a garden. He has Bangley.

He used to have a wife. He used to have friends. He used to have the possibility of a long life full of happiness achieving all those things we are supposed to achieve.

He wasn’t supposed to be old at forty.

They say it was a weapons grade flu that got loose from a lab in England. Of course, they blamed it on India. The same way we call stickers in Kansas Texas Sandburs. If it ain’t good it had to come from somewhere else.

Nobody wants to be responsible for an apocalypse especially one that kills 99.6% of the population.

Hig doesn’t seem like the kind of guy that would survive the apocalypse, not because he doesn’t have skills or value, but because at his core he is a helluva nice guy. Too nice to do what needs to be done to stay alive.

Like kill people.

Bangley is a man who loves his guns and incendiary devices. The end of the world was a horror story for most people, but for Bangley it meant he could finally blossom into the man he always wanted to be. Don’t be fooled though, he has regrets as well.

They live up near the mountains. Hig lives in an old airplane hangar and Bangley lives in a house up on the hill with a good view of “the kill zone”. The house in front of the hanger is the bait. The place that people looking to score food, and weapons will attack first. They even leave an old dumpster out front to provide the attackers with a place to hide which actually just bunches them up so Bangley can pick them off like yellow ducks at a county fair.

Hig and Bangley disagree on tactics.

”Still we are divided, there are cracks in the union. Over principle. His: Guilty until--until nothing. Shoot first ask later. Guilty, then dead. Versus what? Mine: Let a visitor live a minute longer until they prove themselves to be human? Because they always do. What Bangley said in the beginning: Never ever negotiate. You are negotiating your own death.

What keeps them alive is their differences. It is one of those strange alliances that maybe doesn’t make sense when drawn out on a blueprint. Half the time they aren’t even sure they like each other, but the fact of the matter is Bangley is the relative you can’t hardly stand to break bread with, but you still... love... the stubborn SOB.

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Dogs are really something else. They are the only animal on the planet that absolutely loves humanity. They are loyal. They understand the hierarchy and consider their owner their King/Queen. They will kill and they will die for a human being.

I grew up with a pack of farmhouse mutts, but there is one dog that is a ghost in all my memories. He was part pointer and part who knows what. He was never trained as a bird dog, but he still would assume the stance of his ancestry whenever he would run across a quail or a pheasant. He was a lover, as many of our neighbors for miles around would remind us when they found themselves saddled with a bunch of black and white puppies. He had a groove along the top of his back where someone had shot him with a rifle. One time I found him on the edge of our property bloodied from a shotgun blast. I hauled him back in my red wagon to the house bawling my eyes out.

He recovered, scarred, but undeterred.

My best memory of Spot/Putz (He never was formally named, but should have had the name of a gladiator. Putz was short for puppy.) was one time when I was somewhere around ten. I was playing in the yard which was the size of a football field. Farm machinery surrounded the outer edges, but my dad had always kept the center open so he could hit my brother and I pop flies in the evening. Across the street lived this gigantic German Shepherd (I’m sure he was a normal sized shepherd, but when one is 10 years old a dog like that looks like ⅓ of Cererbus.) He was meaner than chicken shit (Not sure why we say that, but I will say that I have never fallen harder than the time I fell liberating eggs from a coop on a chicken shit slick floor.).

This German Shepherd saw me out in the yard and came racing across the street at me. I was caught in no man’s land. I was too far from any of the equipment to climb to safety or to get to the line of trees and lilac hedges that surrounded the house to hide.

I was about to become dog chow.

Out of the corner of my eye I saw this black and white blur. Putz was streaking from the line of hedges and he exploded through the Shepherd. I remember the meaty impact as he sent his chest through the legs of the Shepherd. The Shepherd cartwheeled into the air and landed on his side. Putz took off running for the hedge. I ran for a Combine (threshing machine for those not familiar with farm equipment terms).

A few days later Putz was chained in the yard for one of his many transgressions up in town. The Shepherd came to see him with a couple of Labs he liked to hang out with. He didn’t come by himself because he was a yellow bellied %*@^! The fight was a brawl, cage fighting at its worst. My Dad had to fire off a shotgun in the air to get the encroachers to leave, tails between their legs, limping.

So when Jasper dies, I understand how Hig felt. Jasper doesn’t get to go down fighting like a Valhalla inspired dream. He just passes in the night...from old age.

“You can't metabolize the loss. It is in the cells of your face, your chest, behind the eyes, in the twists of your gut. Muscle, sinew, bone. It is all of you. When you walk you propel it forward....Then it sits with you. The pain puts its arm over your shoulders. It is your closest friend, steadfast. And at night you can't bear to hear your own breath, unaccompanied by another. And underneath the big stillness like a score, is the roaring of the cataract of everything being and being torn away. Then, the pain is lying beside your side, close. Does not bother you with the sound even of breathing.”

We all have to have reasons for getting out of bed in the morning. Hig’s universe had shrunk down to the space that Jasper occupied. When he died the Dog Stars stopped orbiting. There was only one solution. Hig needed to expand out his universe beyond just the continued day to day survival with Bangley. If he had been in Australia he would have went on a walkabout, but since he was a pilot with a 1956 Cessna at his disposal he went on a flyabout.

The rest of the story can only be found between the pages of Peter Heller’s book. Although I would like to mention that the flutter a man feels at seeing a woman’s shape, those hips, the way they walk, even at a hundred yards brings out the pointer pup in all of us. :-)

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There is nothing that adds to my own enjoyment more than someone telling me how much they loved a book. Thank you Gloria! Your words expressing your joy for this book certainly enhanced my own. I also want to dedicate this review to a black and white mutt named Putz who gave me my first lessons in courage, boldness, and squeezing every drop out of life. I’ve been on a bit of an apocalyptic reading binge of late. For those that have followed me for a while you well know these binges do happen from time to time. I am not depressed as a worried friend recently asked me. I find well written apocalyptic novels strangely uplifting.

***4.25 stars out of 5***

The Menagerie of Apocalyptic Reviews.

On the Beach by Nevile Shute

No Blade of Grass by John Christopher

Earth Abides by George R. Stewart

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Tuesday, November 25, 2014

The Drop

The DropThe Drop by Dennis Lehane
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A couple days after Christmas, Bob, a lonely bartender finds a nearly dead puppy in a garbage can. When the bar he tends is robbed one night, Bob's life circles the drain. Suddenly, a cop named Torres is asking about a decade-old murder, the Chechens that own the bar want their 5,000 dollars back, and a lowlife named Eddie Deeds wants ten thousand dollars for the dog Bob found in the trash. What's a friendless bartender to do?

I've made no secret of the fact that I like my crime books lean and mean. The Drop is certainly that.

Dennis Lehane spins another yarn of Boston's less than sparkling neighborhoods. The Drop, named after Cousin Marv's drop bar, is a tale of secrets. Who killed Glory Days? Who robbed Cousin Marv's? Why does Bob never take communion at church?

Since The Drop started it's life as a short story, it a slim tale and a departure from most of Lehane's more recent work. It could easily be mistaken for an unearthed pulp tale from the days of yore, a slim volume with very little filler. Make no mistake, though, The Drop is pure Lehane. It's pretty amazing what he does to establish a neighborhood in so few pages.

Bob is a likeable loser and I instantly liked him when he pulled Rocco out of the trash. While I was enjoying the tale, I wasn't looking forward to having my psyche shattered if something happened to the dog over the course of the story. As for the humans other than Bob, I wasn't overly concerned if any of them should happen to meet his or her maker. For a short novel, Bob sure has a lot of wolves nipping at his heels. Torres, the Chechens, Deeds, possibly Marv, the poor guy has a lot on his plate.

While I didn't enjoy it as much as the Kenzie and Gennaro books, The Drop shows that Lehane still knows how to spin a crime yarn. Four out of five stars.

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Monday, November 24, 2014

A Classic Noir Novel from Vern E. Smith

Reviewed by James L. Thane
Four out of five stars

This dark, gritty novel is the only one ever written by Vern E. Smith, which is really too bad. If the guy was capable of writing books like this one, then fans of crime fiction are that much poorer for not having more of them.

Originally published in 1974, the book is set in the seedy underworld of Detroit where dope addicts struggle to find their next fix and the dealers jockey for position on the supply chain. The Jones Men are the heroin dealers and the current king of the hill is Willis McDaniel. But uneasy lies the head that wears the crown and all that sort of thing. There are always other ruthless and ambitious men ready to kick the king out of the way and wear the crown themselves.

At a party one night, McDaniel carelessly makes a remark about a big incoming shipment of dope that he's expecting. The word filters through the drug community to a kid named Lennie Jack who's fresh home from the war in Vietnam and looking to step up in the world.

Lennie Jack and a couple of buddies hit the exchange and make off with McDaneil's shipment. McDaniel, naturally, is furious both because of the dope he has lost and, even more important, because the robbery makes him look vulnerable in a world where the most dangerous thing that can happen to a drug kingpin is to look weak.

McDaniel launches an "investigation" into the theft and before long, the blood is flowing like a river. It's a brutal world where mercy, trust and security are unknown commodities, where today's ally may be tonight's enemy, and where it's every man for himself.

Smith writes a very compelling story set in a very believable world where, before the days of Escalades and Lincoln Navigators, the dealers drive tricked-out Cadillacs and dress like Super Fly. The Jones Men is a trip back in time that any fan of nourish crime fiction is almost certain to enjoy.

The Cutest Little Foul-Mouthed Beasties Ever

Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk: A Modest BestiarySquirrel Seeks Chipmunk: A Modest Bestiary by David Sedaris
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Awww, they think they're people! KAWAIII!!!

Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk is not your typical David Sedaris, self-confessional book. It's a collection of short stories in which animals have, for the most part, human conversations.

Fun, fairly light stuff with a bit of clever dashed in now and then as always found in a stew of David Sedaris stories. Light reading, yes, pleasant and positive? Not always...


What else could be expected from Sedaris? Dude's got a dark sense of humor. These stories might be fictional, they might not be self-referential, but they're pure Sedaris.

Listening to his previous books on cd and having seen him live has given me a taste for hearing his voice put to his words ( well as totally making us besties, even if he doesn't know it yet.) The way he narrates them adds a good deal of flavor. That flavor may be a bit sour or a tad reminiscent of bile even, but I find small portions of it absolutely delicious. Clearly I need to go eat.

Rating: 3.5

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Gamebook Geekdom

The Warlock of Firetop Mountain (Fighting Fantasy, #1)The Warlock of Firetop Mountain by Steve Jackson
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

"NERD!!!"...There. Now that we've gotten that out of the way, allow me to continue...

I bought this Dungeons & Dragons style game book years ago in a shop on (or maybe just off) the high street in St. Albans while on honeymoon in England. And to answer the obvious question that follows...yes, my wife is an unusually understanding woman.

The Warlock of Firetop Mountain is apparently a classic of the fantasy adventure gamebook sort. *shrugs* What did I know? When I picked it up I thought it was one of those old-school Choose Your Own Adventure kind of books. Alas no. This lays out a "dungeon crawl" (ancient gaming style in which adventurers enter a maze-like setting often underground in a tomb or highly fictionalized castle dungeon) in which the adventurer (created by you) journeys through in an attempt to pick up treasure and not get killed by monsters and traps.

With the physical book, you're suppose to write shit down, like maps, and keep track of "hit points" or items found in the dungeon, which I honestly wasn't interested in doing, so I only flipped through the book, read a few passages and never played it.

Fast-forward seven years to a technologically wondrous time known as the 2010s and low-and-behold what should I find but The Warlock of Firetop Mountain as a free ebook, an ebook which kept track of all the extraneous crap for you! "Wow," I think I might have shouted in my head as I moved on to more enriching reading material. Ah but it stuck in my craw, so I ended up getting it a few days later for my Kindle and finally played/read the damn thing.

The adventure is contrived to the extreme! Sure it's fun enough to tramp through the dungeon hoping you make the right choices as you come up against goblins and ghouls, but if you step back and think about it a moment, the whole premise is ridiculous, even for fantasy standards! Why would a super powerful and highly intelligent warlock create an incredibly convoluted, deadly maze and sit in it all day, everyday just waiting for some fool to stumble into it and die? Anyone in solitary confinement all that time would welcome visitors!

There's a number of other nonsensical encounters seemingly thrown into the game in order to add color to the story, like an old man calmly sitting in a rocking chair in a room set up like a cluttered cottage which is surrounded by deviously trapped rooms, orcs up the wazoo, a minotaur's labyrinth, deadly sandworms that pop out of the banks of a highly impassable Styx-like river, etc etc etc. How is the poor old man suppose to get his shopping done stuck in the middle of all this dangerous danger?!

As implausible as it all is, it's what fantasy is all about: fantasy. Suspend belief and enjoy the adventure!


Not all fantasy artwork is created equal. Some of it sucks ass. The illustrations in this one are actually pretty good. Check it out...


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Sunday, November 23, 2014

What's a Girl Gotta Do? Laugh.

What's a Girl Gotta Do?
Sparkle Hayter
2014 Open Road Media/ 1994 Penguin

reviewed by carol

Before there was Stephanie Plum and Isabel Spellman (a review of mine), there was Robin Hudson. I discovered Robin long before Plum came around, and for those who became disenchanted with Evanovich’s kooky series, there’s a lot more to love here. With her ingenious poison-ivy window defense system and her homemade personal defense system (“I still had two backup systems in my purse, a bottle of cheap spray cologne spiked with cayenne pepper to approximate Mace and a battery-operated Epilady, which I realized after one use was a better offensive weapon than feminine aid“), she’s ready for any eventuality.

Hudson works at a 24-hour news agency, the All News Network (ANN), but has recently been demoted to the Special Reports unit after a series of journalistic mishaps. Her misogynistic boss Jerry Spurdle has assigned her to an undercover sperm bank investigation and has decided to involve himself by acting as her husband.  Unfortunately, while she’s suffering to get back into management’s good graces, she’s also navigating a divorce from her reporter husband after his affair with a younger woman. When a blackmailer threatens her with highly personal information, she isn’t sure who to suspect. She offers to meet the blackmailer at ANN’s annual’ Halloween party and “as one of my New Year’s resolutions was to try and offend fewer people in the next decade and thereby escape from the century with my life. I decided to go as Ginny Foat, a prominent feminist tried for murder and acquitted in 1983.” When the blackmailer is found dead, everyone at ANN is on the suspect list.

New York City plays a enjoyable role as backdrop, with references that have more to do with local culture than landmarks. Hudson lives in a dicey section of the East Village, which justifies her safety-conscious routine: “The sidewalks beneath me were black and buckled and there were little groups of junkies on every corner. There must be a lot of good, cheap smack around, I thought, because the junkies were friendlier than usual.”  Besides having to navigate her physical safety, she has more than her share of misunderstandings with the other tenants, particularly one that is convinced Robin works as a prostitute.

There’s a definite late 80s feel to this one; given that Robin works in television journalism, many of her references and snide remarks reference major news stories and television in general: “I’m only thirty-seven, but that’s a lot in TV years, which are rather like dog years.” I found them amusing, but then again, I was old enough to live through them. In fact, it’s rather interesting reading this again after so many years because it is so period (I think I found the series in the early 90s). Hayter is often coy about her background, but I was able to dig up one interview where she admits her first book was taken from experiences at CNN.

I love Hayter’s writing; the pace snaps along, with a great balance of reflection, dialogue and action. Narrated in first person by Robin, her voice is highly entertaining. Robin is a smart, eccentric and funny woman–just the kind of person I’d love to call a friend: “Because living well is not the best revenge, Bob. The best revenge, in my opinion, is huge crates of Depend undergarments delivered to his apartment door.” 

The mystery is quite clever, with unexpected turns in how it effects Robin. A usual mystery trope is played out quickly, and I found myself surprised at the plotting. Despite quirky characters and events, Hayter is able to bring tension to the plotting, just enough for the reader to not be entirely sure Robin will be safe, elevating it above a madcap adventure. Shoot. My re-read has reminded me how much I enjoy Robin. I’m going to have to make time for my favorite in the series, The Chelsea Girl Murders.

Originally released in 1994, it’s being re-released in ebook in 2014. Although I have this one in hardcover, thanks to NetGalley and Open Road Integrated Media for providing an e-book to review and prompting a re-read of an old favorite.

Cross posted from:

Friday, November 21, 2014

The Incredible Shrinking Man

Richard Matheson
Tor Books
Reviewed by Nancy
5 out of 5 stars


Inch by inch, day by day, Scott Carey is getting smaller. Once an unremarkable husband and father, Scott finds himself shrinking with no end in sight. His wife and family turn into unreachable giants, the family cat becomes a predatory menace, and Scott must struggle to survive in a world that seems to be growing ever larger and more perilous--until he faces the ultimate limits of fear and existence.

My Review

After reading about white male privilege, racial oppression, and gender inequality, I found it interesting that I chose to read a book about a man who is losing his height at nearly an inch per week. Not only is he greatly inconvenienced because he can't reach high shelves, he is also losing his power and significance as a man and a human being and reduced to merely survival. It’s an adventure tale, and it has some horror and sci-fi elements. I like how the story didn’t feel dated, despite being written in the 50’s. Scott Carey was not always a likable character, but he was believable and I felt his anguish over every inch he lost and the changing relationship with his wife and daughter, his encounter with bullies, a child molester, and a predatory black widow spider. The ending is sad and surprisingly hopeful.

I enjoyed most of the other stories in this collection. Among my favorites were:

The Test - a story that explores how society deals with its aging population and one family’s moral quandary and emotional turmoil over an aging parent who must be tested to determine if he is fit to live. Sad, heartbreaking, and not entirely unrealistic.

Mantage was about a writer who, after watching a movie with his wife, wishes he could fast-forward through the drudgery and struggles of his life in order to achieve success faster.

Shoofly was about the battle between a harried businessman and the fly that lands in his office. There was so much tension in this story that I wasn’t sure who or what would die at the end. The ending was hilarious!

Highly recommended.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Dodgeball High

Dodgeball HighDodgeball High by Bradley Sands
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When Justin Lucas, owner of a marvelous mustache that puts Tom Selleck's to shame, changes schools in the middle of his senior year, he finds himself at Lungville High, where everything revolves around dodgeball...

Dodgeball High is the latest book from that bearded madman Bradley Sands and is his most accessible book to date. It's also a hilarious send-up of team movies and the exaggerated importance of high school sports.

With Justin Lucas, Bradley Sands does an accurate job of capturing the awkwardness and insecurities of being an asshole teenager. Will he get the girl? Will his team win the most important (and lethal) dodgeball game ever played? Will he ever stop saying "just kidding" after every damn one of his jokes?

Dodgeball High reminds of a John Hughes writing a teen movie set in the dystopian future of movies like Rollerball. Lungville High's brand of dodgeball features chainsaws, explosions, and assorted gore and mayhem. Even still, Justin Lucas and his clueless douchebaggery are what kept me most entertained.

Not only is Dodgeball High pretty damn hilarious, it's a good introduction to both Bradley Sands and the world of Bizarro literature. Four out of five stars.

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Monday, November 17, 2014

Fantastic Fantasy

Heraclix & PompHeraclix & Pomp by Forrest Aguirre
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Heraclix is a golem...golem...


No, not Gollum. A golem is more like one of these...


Pomp is a fairy...




Yes, that's what I meant.

Together Heraclix and Pomp make quite the couple, an odd couple to be sure, but definitely a dynamic duo that brings the heart and soul to this fantastical novel!

Heraclix & Pomp is the sort of fantasy I've always expected, but never received from the likes of Neil Gaiman. If Gaiman had written this, our main character would've had a modern, slacker's sensibility. Instead, Forrest Aguirre has molded a hero out of the finest clay.

Heraclix the golem is created by a particularly nasty sorcerer to be used for his most heinous desires. Heraclix soon discovers what he is and then spends the rest of the book trying to find out who he is. In the process he shows his true, heroic colors.

Pomp comes from the Northern European fanciful notion of the pixie, the sprite, the forest nymph. But Aguirre doesn't just use this trope, he damn near reinvents it! He breathes new life into the fairy by inhabiting its skin. Want to know what it might be like to smurf about in a fairy's mind? Aguirre bestows that gift upon his readers. Once established he forces the outside world on Pomp and she responds like a champ.

Now and again I was surprised by the places Aguirre was taking me. In his capable hands the reader is transported to lands both corporeal and ethereal. Scene descriptions absolutely sparkle. Fantasy fans will drool over the lavish descriptions of demons and magic. This is not to say H&P is cover-to-cover perfection. There is the occasional stiff phrasing or overly chatty character acting like an exposition machine, but those instances hardly tarnish the overall affect.

And, yes, this book is affecting! I seldom become attached to characters within a single book. It usually takes a series. However, there were times towards the end that I was seriously pulling for these guys.

Sure, this is a fairytale, but it's not for kids. This is for kids-at-heart, full grown-ass adults that long for a real world filled with magic and all the horrors and happiness it can bring.

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Another Great Read from Sam Reaves

Reviewed by James L. Thane
Four out of five stars

This is my favorite of Same Reaves' excellent series featuring the cab driving philosopher, Cooper MacLeish. In the first three books, driving a hack has found MacLeish getting into an awful lot of dangerous trouble and so he's now left the cab behind and taken what would appear to be a fairly safe and sensible job as the driver for a major Chicago real estate developer named Regis Swanson. This is a huge relief to Cooper's long-time girlfriend, Diana, who has suffered through his earlier troubles and stood by him when many other women might have bailed on the relationship.

Cooper and Diana are now newly married, but trouble seems to have a knack for finding MacLeish, no matter where he might be. A low-life scumbag sees a chance to rip off a group of drug dealers for a million dollars in cash. Naturally, the scumbag would prefer that the drug dealers not be hot on his trail, and so to throw them off the track, he frames Nate Swanson, the son of Regis, who owns a music club. The bad guys take the bait, track down Nate and kill him when he doesn't produce the money that he never had in the first place.

Regis Swanson is naturally devastated by the death of his son, and the bad guys now assume that Regis has their million dollars. This means that Regis and everyone around him, including Cooper MacLeish, are now in the line of fire. Much to Diana's consternation, her new husband refuses to just quit and walk away from the situation. He's determined to sort things out and provide some sort of justice, now matter how rough it might be. Naturally a lot of violence will ensue, and MacLeish may wind up risking everything, including his marriage and his life, before he can get things sorted out.

Again, Sam Reaves has created here a unique and very compelling protagonist, and he's built around him a very interesting and gripping story with lots of unexpected twists and turns. As always in these books, the city of Chicago plays a major role in the story and Reaves clearly loves the city and knows it very well. Crime fiction fans who have somehow failed to discover Sam Reaves should do themselves a great favor and hunt down all four of the books in this series. It's a winner from start to finish.

Cussler Throws In The Kitchen Sink And Still Bores The Pants Off This Reviewer

The Chase (Isaac Bell, #1)The Chase by Clive Cussler
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

At times I wondered if The Chase were written for a child. Info dumps trash up dialogue so stilted it often felt like I was reading narrative. And oh my head, the unnecessary repetition..."I don't believe it," Bronson blurted in utter disbelief....Good lord almighty!

The real crime, however, is that it wasn't as exciting as I expected for all the praise Cussler has received. It's part mystery, suspense, thriller, action, romance, historical fiction and detective story - an overflowing melting pot of genres - and none of them struck much of a chord in me. I'm not saying I was bored out of my mind, I did manage to finish the book after all, but by the end I must say I felt let down.

Cussler does have his fans though, and if you like technology, you'll find he adds in plenty of unnecessary, early 20th century details about the very specific cars, trains, motorcycles, guns that he drops into his novel. Maybe it works better in some of the other series he's done. Here he also wedges in as much west coast, period-appropriate history as he can, some of which works and some of which does not:

- The San Francisco earthquake and resulting fire of 1906 = Sure.

- Actor John Barrymore pops up as a young thespian = Ok, but a bit forced.

- Jack London reports on the scene = Out of left field on the necessity scale.

- An explanation of the Donner Party = Inserted as smoothly as a rectal exam.

Cussler's characters are somewhat wooden, though not terrible. However, in his world, stalwart women do not cry, while stalwart men do not show their anger. There is no cross-breeding of emotion. His main character, a detective working for a Pinkerton-esque company, is a cocky rich guy. I don't mind cockiness, at least not as much as the rich part. I mean, the man can buy whatever he wants or needs, and that makes things pretty darn easy for him. And that just might be the main issue I had with The Chase...The thrill is gone.

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Friday, November 14, 2014

Olive Kitteridge

Elizabeth Strout
Random House
Reviewed by Nancy
5 out of 5 stars


In a voice more powerful and compassionate than ever before, New York Times bestselling author Elizabeth Strout binds together thirteen rich, luminous narratives into a book with the heft of a novel, through the presence of one larger-than-life, unforgettable character: Olive Kitteridge.

At the edge of the continent, Crosby, Maine, may seem like nowhere, but seen through this brilliant writer’s eyes, it’s in essence the whole world, and the lives that are lived there are filled with all of the grand human drama–desire, despair, jealousy, hope, and love.

At times stern, at other times patient, at times perceptive, at other times in sad denial, Olive Kitteridge, a retired schoolteacher, deplores the changes in her little town and in the world at large, but she doesn’t always recognize the changes in those around her: a lounge musician haunted by a past romance: a former student who has lost the will to live: Olive’s own adult child, who feels tyrannized by her irrational sensitivities; and Henry, who finds his loyalty to his marriage both a blessing and a curse.

As the townspeople grapple with their problems, mild and dire, Olive is brought to a deeper understanding of herself and her life–sometimes painfully, but always with ruthless honesty. Olive Kitteridge offers profound insights into the human condition–its conflicts, its tragedies and joys, and the endurance it requires.

My Review

This is a collection of stories about a group of ordinary people living in a small town in Maine, their joys, sorrows, tragedies and grief, all centered around the main character, Olive Kitteridge. Normally, this is the kind of fiction I stay away from. I was afraid it would be an overwrought melodrama about provincial people living in a boring town. Yet, I was so absorbed by the lives of these people and had a difficult time putting the book down.

The characters were very well developed, the town vividly described, and the emotions raw. Olive Kitteridge left me feeling very unsettled. I admire her quiet strength, her forthrightness, her realistic views of life, and the fact that she controls her emotions. I hate her brusqueness, her self-centeredness, and her difficulty with accepting changes. She was a complex character, definitely not your stereotypical cranky old lady. Each story is presented from different viewpoints and shows Olive’s many sides as she interacts with family, neighbors and friends, as she experiences age, loneliness, grief and love. The characters are realistically drawn with such an emotional depth that I found I could easily identify with them and even see similarities to people I know. Olive Kitteridge makes me hate those qualities in myself that are like hers and makes me look at others with more patience and a less judgmental eye.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014


Let Me Be Frank With YouLet Me Be Frank With You by Richard Ford
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

”At some point you just need to leave the theater so the next crowd can see the movie.”

Frank Bascombe can no longer fool himself that he is even a mature middle age. He is, frankly, fully qualified now to claim his twilight years. There is a consistent pain emanating from his prostate, a reminder of a recent bout of cancer. His footing on a sandy beach or on an icy sidewalk is now something potentially treacherous. He is decommissioning words that he finds to be unnecessary or imprecise in expressing himself. He has decided that five friends is plenty and one of those five is himself.

He is trying to keep his life simple.

His ex-wife Ann has moved back to Haddam. All the gin joints in all the world and she decided to walk back into Frank’s. She is living in a high end assisted living facility. It seems one of her ex-husbands provided her with a substantial portfolio. Frank, out of some form of obligation that makes no sense even to himself, goes to see her once a month, muses about her fruit pictures that make him uncomfortable with visions of vaginas, and waits to see how many expertly thrust daggers she manages to squeeze between his ribs. She never goes for the kill, but like a cat wounds him enough that it is impossible for him to escape.

”What I’ve attempted in my visits, and will try once again tonight, is to offer Ann what I consider my ‘Default Self’; this, in the effort to give her what I believe she most wants from me---bedrock truth. I do this by portraying for her the self I’d like others to understand me to be, and at heart believe I am: a man who doesn’t lie (or rarely), who presumes nothing from the past, who takes the high, optimistic road (when available), who doesn’t envision the future, who streamlines his utterances (no embellishments), and in all instances acts nice. In my view, this self plausibly represents one-half of the charmed-union-of-good-souls every marriage promises to convene but mostly fails to---as was true of ours long ago.”

Frank is still counselling his old client base about the devastating effects of Hurricane Sandy. He used to sell real estate and now most of those high dollar beach homes that gave him a comfortable retirement, including one he owned, are now piles of expensive kindling. Real estate agents are being shot, as if they could anticipate a hurricane of the magnitude of Sandy devastating the coast, so a vengeful ex-client is one more thing for Frank to be worried about.

His wife Sally is counselling victims of the hurricane and finds her own state of mind is spiraling downward with the daily barrage of stories of loss. She isn’t sure that Frank is dealing with the devastation properly. It is always hard to know now, with TV dictating the proper responses to any social situation, whether one is being stoic enough or too stoic or too emotional or too cold to any given circumstance. Like everything else even our responses to tragedy have become homogenized. Frank has tried several different levels of response, but hasn’t been a good enough actor to convince Sally of any of them. It isn’t that he doesn’t care. It has more to do with living long enough to understand that unfortunate things...well...happen.

”History’s just somebody else’s War and Peace".

Sally thinks he needs to write a book, but he has been down that road before. Novelists are ”(the last outpost of a certain species of doomed optimist.) Frank doesn’t really want to do anything with his last remaining days on this planet, but he does want to enjoy them as best he can. He weighs the results of even spending time with his grown children. Can he afford the time? They are relatively self-sufficient after all. He wants to elude pain and suffering as best he can. He wants to avoid further time killing entanglements with the past or the future. He is firmly trying to stay planted in the present, but is beset on all sides with the pull of responsibility.

There are four Frank Bascombe books. The first is The Sportswriter, the second is Independence Day, the third is The Lay of the Land, and of course this book makes up the fourth. I hope this is not the last time I spend with Frank Bascombe. I would not suggest parachuting in and reading this one without reading the other books first. The books are the progression of a life. I don’t think a reader can fully appreciate the twilight years of Frank Bascombe without seeing the younger Frank who is still battling, losing, winning, and dreaming. We all wear different skins for different parts of our lives and to know Frank in one stage without knowing him for the others is like eating the core of an apple without the juicy benefits of tasting the fruit.

I must go back and read them all again because I read each of them while still decades younger than Frank. I enjoyed them none the less, but I have a feeling I will achieve a higher affinity with them by rereading them again. This series has been compared favorably to the John Updike Rabbit books, but the Rabbit books are my least favorite Updike books while the Frank Bascombe books routinely end up on my favorite books list. If you haven’t read Richard Ford give The Sportswriter a try. Please give Frank my regards and tell him I’ll stop by and visit with him again real soon.

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Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Charm City

Charm City (Tess Monaghan #2)Charm City by Laura Lippman
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

When someone at the Beacon-Light leaks an unfavorable story about the millionaire planning on bringing an NBA team to Baltimore, Tess Monaghan is hired to figure how who spilled the beans. At the same time, she's trying to figure out who put her uncle in the hospital and if it has anything to do with the greyhound in her possession.

Laura Lippman comes highly recommended but two books into her Tess Monaghan series, I'm just not feeling it.

First off, astute readers will notice my teaser differs from the official teaser on the back cover of the book. That's because the back cover gives away the first 30% of the book. Secondly, while the overall plot engaged me, the love triangle subplot annoyed me to no end. It seemed like a step back after the first book in the series where Tess showed no signs of thinking with her genitalia.

All that aside, I did like the book for the most part. Tess ran down leads like a champ and didn't do anything really stupid to advance the plot. The supporting cast was pretty well done and I didn't see the twist at the end coming. I liked Laura Lippman's depiction of Baltimore but it's not up to the level of George Pelecanos' DC or Lawrence Block's New York.

I'm trying to reveal less than the back cover on my edition so this is turning out to be a short review. I did find the revelations into Wink, the millionaire,'s background very interesting and much cleverer than I originally thought. Wink's wife and ex both seemed realistic despite their short time in the forefront.

While I liked Charm City overall, I didn't like it enough to rush out and get the next book in the series and I'm not sure Lippman and I will have a third outing. Three stars.

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Monday, November 10, 2014

A Taut New Thriller from Rachel Howzell Hall

Reviewed by James L. Thane
Four out of five stars

Twenty-five years ago, Elouise Norton's older sister, Tori, was caught stealing candy from a neighborhood store owned by a man named Napoleon Crase. In a panic, Elouise ran from the store and never saw her sister again. The police conducted a perfunctory investigation but never discovered what might have happened to Tori.

Perhaps the investigation was so slipshod because the cops were lazy or perhaps because they were overburdened. Perhaps it was because the victim, Tori, was a black teenager who did not have a sterling reputation to begin with. But whatever the case, a quarter of a century later, Elouise remains haunted by the loss of her sister and has become a homicide detective herself, having promised her mother that she would yet bring Tori home.

Elouise (Lou) and her newbie white male partner are called to the scene of a condominium construction site, where a seventeen-year-old girl named Monique Dawson has been found hanging in a closet. Lou's new partner, Colin Taggert, jumps to the conclusion that the dead girl was a suicide, but Lou quickly disabuses him of that notion and insists, correctly, that Monique is the victim of a homicide.

Interestingly, the condo development project is owned by Napoleon Crase who, in the years since Tori's disappearance, has pulled himself up by the bootstraps to become a millionaire developer, and the site of the project is very near the site of the store where Tori disappeared.

Inevitably, these coincidences will weigh on Lou, but will they compromise her ability to conduct a full and fair investigation into the death of Monique Dawson? And as if she doesn't have enough on her mind to begin with, Lou's husband, a game developer, is in Japan. He's calling Lou infrequently and is generally staying out of touch. Lou wonders if he's cheating; if so, it wouldn't be the first time. The last time Lou caught him, he "apologized" by buying her a $90,000 Porsche SUV, but that may not be enough if he's straying again.

Lou pursues the case, which takes a variety of twists and turns and involves some pretty sleazy characters. But she's a detective driven by the need to know the truth and she pursues it with a grim determination. She's a new and original character, and Rachel Howzell Hall introduces her in a very compelling story. Hall also creates a very convincing and intriguing setting in an area of south L.A. that's undergoing a black gentrification, and the end result is a book that will appeal to large numbers of crime fiction readers. I'm looking forward eagerly to Lou's next case.

Go To England, Visit St. Albans, Thank Me Later

The St. Albans MapguideThe St. Albans Mapguide by Michael Middleditch
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I am in love with these guidebooks and no one's going to stop me marrying them!

Michael Middleditch produced only a few of these very informative Mapguides and they were mostly of major destinations: London, NY, Paris, and Amsterdam; all except for this one. St. Albans.


Where the F is St. Albans?! You'll find it just north of London, about a 30 minute train ride, and thus it makes for a very manageable and delightful day trip out of London.

Why delightful? Well, for tourists it packs in, pound for pound per square mile, the most sights of interest you're likely to see outside of London. It's great for walking about in circular routes that will take you by the famed cathedral and historical pubs like...

Ye Olde Fighting Cocks (tee-hee!), one among a handful which are vying for the "oldest pub in England" title.
(I love that one of the top googled pics of this historic pub includes my brother [seated, center] and my mom [rightside, in blue top, facing away]) well as the not-to-be-missed Roman ruins (like a very mini Colosseum and better than anything I saw in London!) and their accompanying museum (informative for adults and kid friendly too).


If you go, try to include a walk along Fishpool Street with its dangerous-if-you're-drunk sidewalk, something to be wary of for visitors of excellent pubs like the Red Lion.

St. Albans is a marvelous little place that is more than just a postcardy photo-op. It's a living, working town that combines a bit of fun for vacationers who also want to see - maybe not the work-a-day world of Bedford, Bethnal Green or Slough - but something closer to a slice of England's reality beyond the holiday set. Middleditch's booklet does a bang up job of encapsulating the town's sense of community, what it has to offer and just overall illuminating this little patch of England.

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Friday, November 7, 2014

Garden Spells

Sarah Addison Allen
Bantam Books
Reviewed by Nancy
3 out of 5 stars


The women of the Waverley family -- whether they like it or not -- are heirs to an unusual legacy, one that grows in a fenced plot behind their Queen Anne home on Pendland Street in Bascom, North Carolina. There, an apple tree bearing fruit of magical properties looms over a garden filled with herbs and edible flowers that possess the power to affect in curious ways anyone who eats them.

For nearly a decade, 34-year-old Claire Waverley, at peace with her family inheritance, has lived in the house alone, embracing the spirit of the grandmother who raised her, ruing her mother's unfortunate destiny and seemingly unconcerned about the fate of her rebellious sister, Sydney, who freed herself long ago from their small town's constraints. Using her grandmother's mystical culinary traditions, Claire has built a successful catering business -- and a carefully controlled, utterly predictable life -- upon the family's peculiar gift for making life-altering delicacies: lilac jelly to engender humility, for instance, or rose geranium wine to call up fond memories. Garden Spells reveals what happens when Sydney returns to Bascom with her young daughter, turning Claire's routine existence upside down. With Sydney's homecoming, the magic that the quiet caterer has measured into recipes to shape the thoughts and moods of others begins to influence Claire's own emotions in terrifying and delightful ways.

As the sisters reconnect and learn to support one another, each finds romance where she least expects it, while Sydney's child, Bay, discovers both the safe home she has longed for and her own surprising gifts. With the help of their elderly cousin Evanelle, endowed with her own uncanny skills, the Waverley women redeem the past, embrace the present, and take a joyful leap into the future.

My Review

For generations, the Waverly family has made their home in Bascom, North Carolina. Each of the Waverly women possesses a unique magic which has made them a curiosity in the town, but their oddness also keeps others at a distance. Claire is a caterer who uses the enchanted herbs and flowers in her garden to prepare exquisite dishes that affect the eater's feelings. Claire’s aunt, Evanelle, gives odd and random gifts that she knows the recipient will need in the future. Her younger sister, Sydney, has a knack for creating just the right hairstyles for her clients. Even Sydney’s daughter, Bay, has a special talent for knowing just where something (or someone) belongs.

The fun starts when Sydney flees with her daughter from an abusive man and returns to the home she abandoned. Claire’s quiet life is suddenly thrown in turmoil, and both sisters are forced to deal with their past. Claire gradually succumbs to the charms of the man next door, and Sydney finds love with a childhood friend.

Garden Spells was a light, pleasant, and enchanting romance that was just a little too sweet, sentimental, and predictable for me. The men are too good to be true, the villains are stereotypes, and there’s very little conflict.

I loved the big and cantankerous apple tree with a mind of its own that throws apples at unsuspecting victims.

Not my cup of tea, but should please those readers who like magic, love, and happy endings.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014


The Woman in the FifthThe Woman in the Fifth by Douglas Kennedy
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

”I wanted to get it all down on paper; a record of what happened----just in case something did happen to me---- and to try and convince myself that I was not living in a state of permanent delusion. But why should you accept this story as given? It’s just a story----my story. And like all stories, it isn’t, in the pure sense of the word, true. It’s just my version of the truth. Which means it is----and isn’t----true at all.”

 photo dbd0d4d9-438e-436f-a853-5a320f71e2f3_zps45d5df4c.png
Ethan Hawke and Kristin Scott Thomas, two actors I enjoyed watching interact in the movie.

This all started, as do many things, with just a happenstance. I was home over lunch and was just skimming through the channels for something to watch while I munched down on the salad I’d so industriously chopped, when Kristin Scott Thomas filled the screen of the TV. She had just opened her door to let Ethan Hawke walk into her apartment and he was trying to kiss her. She leaned her face away from him, but we hear her unzip his trousers. We can only see their faces as she proceeds to give him a helping hand. (view spoiler). She never lets him touch her until he...uhh...well you know. I watched about twenty minutes of the movie before I had to return to work. I caught other slices of the movie at different times as it was rotating on HBO, SHOWTIME, or STARZ so I was starting to piece together the plot.

Instead of watching the movie as it was intended to be watched, from start to finish, I decided to read the book first.

Ok, so I knew the twist of the plot from my almost sacrilegious piece meal viewing of the movie. My apologies to the director. He deserved better from me, but if I hadn’t used a part of his movie as a mere diversion, as I masticated my salad, who knows when I would have finally gotten around to reading Douglas Kennedy.

Harry Ricks is a college professor at a small university in Ohio. He teaches film studies and what makes a teacher really good is when they are absolutely crazy about what they teach. He loves films and he uses that love to connect with his students. He soon achieves tenure just as his wife’s career starts to circle the drain. She is not happy with herself and she is certainly not happy with her husband.

Harry has jumped through all the hoops. He got married, had a kid, and had landed a reasonably high paying job. Just as he is reaching the reward part of his life, everything starts to unravel. We all contribute to our own demise and Harry is no exception.

He may have pulled the trigger, but others wired up the bomb.

In the aftermath, Harry finds himself the subject of a media witch hunt and the recipient of the full, scathing, condemnation of his colleagues. What hurts most of all is his own daughter telling him she doesn’t want to ever see him again. It isn’t a difficult decision to leave the smoldering, crumbling remains of his life behind and catch a plane to Paris.

 photo YvesKlein_zpsde023e49.jpg
Harry falls into a Yves Klein blue painting seeing the layers beyond blue paint.

A lifelong dream, reached under the wrong circumstances. He does not take enough money with him and soon he is on the verge of destitution. He is truly Down and Out in Paris. He is living in the part of town where only the most recent, most desperate immigrants live. He doesn’t have a work permit so his only avenue for sustaining himself is to take a night job watching a warehouse. It would allow him all the time in the world to work on his novel.

Five hundred words a day.

He knows he is working for criminals, but can justify it to himself by remaining ignorant about what actually goes on in the warehouse. Who are these people he buzzes into the building late at night? He puzzles on it, but does not let curiosity kill the cat.

Oh, and his neighbor Omar, the man who can’t go to the bathroom without leaving essence of Omar on every surface, is blackmailing him over…”And her smoky, raki-coated mouth tasted...well, smoky and raki-coated.”

**Sigh**, it is always hard to distinguish properly between what are self-destructive decisions and what are opportunities for illicit pleasure.

And then he meets Margit. ”The moonlight brought her into focus. She was a woman who had some years ago traversed that threshold marked middle age, but was still bien conservee. Of medium height with thick chestnut-brown hair that was well-cut and just touched her shoulders. She was slender to her waist, with just a hint of heft around her thighs. As the light crossed her face, I could see a long-healed scar across her throat.”

She lives in the Fifth arrondissement. She is strikingly handsome rather than beautiful with a sexuality that burns a man down to the essentials. She challenges the moral, uniquely American, complexities of his guilt. She provides a lifeboat in what is quickly becoming a cesspool of grasping hands trying to pull him under.

With this muse, this intellectually challenging muse, he begins to write a thousand words a day. He starts to feel like a man again. His creativity blossoms.

She limits how often he can see her. As each day passes between meetings, his anticipation becomes a thinner wire vibrating at a higher and higher frequency. The only way to release this tension is to touch her, to hear her voice, to for a few hours possess her.

People who threaten Harry, and there are way, way too many of those, start to have...well...unusual mishaps.

 photo Contempt_zps20d232e9.jpg
The movie Contempt starring the always lovely Brigitte Bardot and the always menacing Jack Palance was one of the movies that Harry went to see in Paris.

This is my first Douglas Kennedy, but it will most certainly not be my last. One of the interesting differences between the film and the book is that the movie does not convey the humor that is prevalent throughout the book. I actually snorted a few times while reading the book which happens whenever I’m surprised by unexpected humor. Kennedy also does a wonderful job of exploring and sharing Paris with us. He has written a few travel books and the talent for describing a place in a tantalizing fashion was most assuredly on display. Harry might be down and out, but the beauty of Paris certainly lessened each new catastrophe.

This book basically hit on all cylinders for me. I identified with the character and his circumstances. I’ve never had my career actually become a house burning to the foundation situation, but I’ve had some brushes with potential disaster. He makes bad decisions, but so do most people. Harry is simply colossally unlucky. His unwise decisions have the worst possible outcomes. He loves French films, an endearing trait, and spends every moment possible escaping from his life to the flickering screen of a movie theater. If I had been a tad more unlucky I could have found myself in Paris watching French cinema, rubbing shoulders with Turkish gangsters, and making love with a sexually explosive, alluring, Hungarian intellectual.

Wait...did I say unlucky?

Well, you’ll have to read the book to see just how unfortunate a windfall such as that can be. The twist is marvelous.

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Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Revenge of the Spellmans

Revenge of the Spellmans (The Spellmans, #3)Revenge of the Spellmans by Lisa Lutz
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Izzy Spellman is looking to get back into the detective game when a man hires her to see what his wife is up to. Meanwhile, what is with her brother David? Who is blackmailing Izzy? Why is her car never where she left it? And did Rae really cheat on the PSATs? All these questions and more will be answered in Revenge of the Spellmans!

Revenge of the Spellmans is the third book in the Spellman series and Lisa Lutz shows no signs of slowing down. Not only that, she's not afraid to shake things up. At the beginning of the book, Izzy is working for Milo as a bartender when she gets a chance to get back into the game. As with the previous two outings, Izzy's case is secondary to the infernal machinations of her family.

The overall plot moves forward quite a bit in this book. Izzy's dad wants her to take over the business when the Unit retire. David's up to something again. Rae's trying to drive a wedge between Henry and his new girlfriend. Morty and Milo are also facing tribulations of their own. Oh, and Izzy has to go to therapy, which is good for some laughs.

As with the previous two books, Revenge of the Spellmans is fun without overstaying its welcome. There were a few tender moments in between all the one-liners and casual familial surveillance. I'm glad Izzy got arrested a few less times in this book, though I was a little disappointed the way things (didn't) develop between her and Henry. I just want them to get together and make detective babies. Is that too much to ask?

I like that Lisa Lutz isn't keeping the Spellmans at static ages. Rae's sixteen and a half at the end of this book, for instance. I'm not looking forward to her going away to college in a book or two.

Once again, Lisa Lutz has navigated her quirky detective family through a minefield of deceit and distrust in the most hilarious way possible. Four out of five stars.

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Monday, November 3, 2014

A Fun Ride on the Low End to Nowhere

Reviewed by James L. Thane
Four out of five stars

This is a very entertaining, hard-boiled novel featuring a skip tracer/bounty hunter who goes by the name of Streeter. He's a former football player, bouncer and accountant with four ex-wives. He now lives and works out of a room in a former church in Denver and tries to maintain as low a profile as possible while working principally for a bail bondsman named Frank Dazzler who also has his home and office in the church.

As the book opens, Streeter is in pursuit of a very sexy woman named Story Moffatt. She's the hard-charging owner of an advertising agency, and she's claiming debilitating injuries suffered in an accident. She's hoping to cash in on a big insurance settlement, but her plans go down the tubes when Streeter snaps pictures of her playing a mean game of squash with no apparent difficulty at all.

Story is disappointed, of course, but she's also a realist. And she could use a man like Streeter. Her boyfriend, a realtor and drug dealer, has recently died in a car crash. His will left everything to Story and she knows that he had a huge stash of cash concealed somewhere. She's been unable to find it but figures that someone as resourceful as Streeter might be able to get the job done. She offers him a third of whatever he can find.

Streeter agrees. The problem is that he and Story are not the only ones looking for the missing loot. Also on the hunt are an impossibly sleazy lawyer, his scheming and sexy receptionist/girlfriend, the lawyer's thuggish "investigators," and a seriously bent cop.

It's a great cast of characters and Stone really puts them through their paces. The story moves along swiftly and there's plenty of action along with a fair bit of wry humor. This book should appeal to readers who enjoy authors like Elmore Leonard and Tom Kakonis--all in all, a very pleasant way to spend a long evening.

Removing the Veil Reveals a Beautiful Story

The Painted VeilThe Painted Veil by W. Somerset Maugham
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Maugham handles language beautifully, telling the nice, compact story of a vacuous socialite who doesn't take life serious enough and finds herself in a very serious situation.

His economy of word fails his purpose only once, but it is an important failure and mars The Painted Veil in a way that diminishes it enough to keep it from attaining the echelon of "masterpiece" status. Our heroine Kitty's transformation (view spoiler) happens way too fast to be believable. Waugham painted himself into a corner by forcing nature (view spoiler) into the story. It made him speed up the timeline to get it all in under the gun.

Still, this is a well-told, highly enjoyable tale revolving around some good, bad and ambivalent people - most of which are all three of those at once - and as a water-tester for whether or not I wanted to throw myself into Maugham's much deeper work, Of Human Bondage, The Painted Veil was a success. A worthy good read indeed!

The Less Said The Better

The Capture of Cerberus & The Incident of the Dog's BallThe Capture of Cerberus & The Incident of the Dog's Ball by Agatha Christie
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

The Racist Remark and the Cover Story by Agatha Christie.

These two quickies from Christie are not her best by a long shot. Sure, they provide a light diversion, but they're not satisfying in the least.

Of the two, The Incident of the Dog's Ball feels the most like a typical Agatha Christie story. Truncated as it may be, there is a mystery plot. It even comes replete with a red herring.

It also comes with an anti semitic remark. It's not overt. It probably wasn't even intentional or recognized as such by the writer. The time of publication being 1937, this sort of thing was fairly common everywhere. It is tantamount to a white person calling a black person a nigger in passing conversation prior to the '60s civil rights movement. The slur had become so common as to sometimes be used passively without serious malicious intent. Still, it is incredibly thoughtless and hurtful.

Then came Christie's The Capture of Cerberus, a story about a Nazi propagandist whose speeches inspire a nation. This is an odd one. There's only the light veil of a mystery. It is more of a platform for Christie to spout her wishes for peace and to let everyone know she is anti Nazi. It came out in a collection of short stories produced by Christie from 1939 to 1947. As a mystery, it is perhaps her weakest and reads like her own self-serving propaganda...or perhaps it's an apology?

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Saturday, November 1, 2014

Midnight Riot by Ben Aaronovitch

Ben Aaronovitch

Recommended for Urban Fantasy/Supernatural detective fans
Reviewed by Carol

★ ★ ★ ★  1/2
I enjoyed this book so much that I didn’t want to immediately review it because I wanted to remain immersed in Peter Grant’s London. It’s the urban fantasy take on the detective novel, a police procedural that gives a close-up view of a modern London with undercurrents of magic and magical beings. I love the tone of this book–wry and humorous, but doesn’t let the humor take over the scene.  It’s one thing to be ready with a quick line, another entirely to go through one’s entire life wisecracking, especially in times of great danger. Aaronovitch walks that delicate line like a pro.

Peter is a probationary constable who is about to be shifted into a paperwork division.  He and his co-probationary officer and friend are guarding the perimeter of a murder scene when he sees a ghost.  Peter is a very likeable hero, wry, intelligent, loyal, aware of class and race issues around him, and while he has family issues that include a heroin-dependent father, he doesn’t spend every moment agonizing and reliving the past.  We are told he did well in the sciences in school, just not well enough to get him to the next levels. It’s magic’s gain, as he sets his analytical skills to understanding the magical world, using his free time for experiments. I love those little experiments, because it breaks up the action and makes Peter’s experience seem all the more real–who wouldn’t be asking a lot of questions if they discover there are magical beings and magic in the world? Many people would be asking the ‘hows’ and ‘whys;’ Peter attempts to answer some of the questions himself through the scientific method, to the surprise of his technologically-challenged boss.

There are few wizards left, and I liked that Aaronovitch didn’t make magic easy. It takes Peter hours of study and practice to advance, and we get a sense of the effort and thought Peter puts into it. It isn’t until a third into the book when he finally raises his own werelight, and we are ready to cheer with him when he does:  “Fuck me, I thought. I can do magic.” It’s a refreshing change from the all-powerful heroes of other books.  Similarly, he’s aware that even though he has two years on the force, he still makes mistakes, such as when he and Leslie “obtrusively” piled out of the car during surveillance.

Aaronovitch has a gift for bringing life to his characters, even the most bit parts. Molly doesn’t talk at all, and we still get a very good sense of her, her dedication and her potential.  Seawoll, an initially scary superior, and Leslie’s immediate boss, gets imbued with humanity when Peter watches him question witnesses. We’re also given a good look at the subtleties of the police department, when Seawoll “interrogates” Peter after a shooting.  “Then we continued lying through our teeth while telling nothing but the truth.”  It’s a perfect tone that conveys so much about the officers’ loyalty, the bureaucracy of the department, and the unspoken understanding to follow the letter of the law without coming close to the spirit.

I loved it, and the re-read was even better than the first time through. There are a lot of British-isms, but most of them can be puzzled out from the surrounding sentence(s). A great read, and I’ll be looking for a hardcover to add to my own library.

Great lines:

I left in a hurry before he could change his mind, but I want to make it clear that at no point did I break into a skip.

Number two was a magical library where all the direct treatises on spells, forma and alchemy were kept, all of them written in Latin and so all Greek to me.

Four and half investigative stars.

Cross posted from my blog, along with many other reviews: