Monday, September 8, 2014

An Entertaining Tale with Two Very Quirky Charachters

Reviewed by James L. Thane
Four out of five stars

Precocious doesn’t begin to describe fourteen-and-a-half year-old Serendipity Dahlquist who’s wise well beyond her years. Neither of her parents is in the picture and so Serendipity, or Sarah, lives in L.A. with her grandmother, a famous day-time television soap opera star. Sarah’s treasured companion is her dog, Groucho, a bullterrier that was a gift from Sarah’s late father thirteen years earlier, before he went off to meet his fate in the Vietnam War.

Sarah is devastated when she returns home one afternoon to find the front door standing open and Groucho gone. She appeals to the police for help to no avail, but a police detective refers her to a P.I. named Leo “the Bloodhound” Bloodworth. Sarah straps on her roller balls and skates over to Bloodworth’s office, but Bloodworth has no tolerance for kids and even less interest in the case of the missing Groucho. When Sarah refuses to take no for an answer, Bloodworth’s office mate, a P.I. named Roy Kaspar, offers to help. He takes a retainer from Sarah, drives her home and looks over the scene. He then promises to report back in three days.

When Kaspar fails to report as promised, Sarah tracks down Bloodworth is a sleazy bar and informs him that she’s just been to his office which has been ransacked. After assessing the damage in the office, the two then go in search of Kaspar and find him murdered. Bloodworth didn’t like Kaspar very much, but Sarah insists that “When a man’s partner is killed, he’s supposed to do something about it. It doesn’t matter if he liked him or not, he’s supposed to do something about it.” The Bloodhound tells Sarah that she’s been watching too many old movies and that he’s perfectly content to let the cops handle the investigation.

In fairly short order, though, it turns out that Kaspar’s murder and the disappearance of Groucho are almost certainly related and for reasons way too complicated to explain, Sarah and Bloodworth wind up joined at the hip, on the road, and up to their necks in trouble with a particularly vicious band of Mexican criminals. It’s a very entertaining romp, principally because Lochte has created in Sarah and Bloodworth two unique, intriguing and very amusing characters. The dialogue between them is often hilarious.

The story is told through their alternating views so that the reader sees each development through the eyes of both Sarah and Bloodworth, and the end result is a great deal of fun. This book was first published in 1985, and was nominated for virtually all of the major crime fiction awards. The Independent Mystery Booksellers Association named it one of the 100 Favorite Mysteries of the Twentieth Century, but it has been out of print and largely unavailable for a number of years. Happily, it has just been re-released in a new trade paperback edition as well as in an e-book edition and so it’s now available to an entirely new audience of readers who are sure to enjoy it as much as the original audience did.

D&D Hilarity

Critical FailuresCritical Failures by Robert Bevan
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

In Critical Failures a group of friends meet for a little role playing, inviting a stranger to play with them. The stranger turns out to be strange indeed. Soon their fantasy game becomes very real.

This is almost the exact same premise as the '80s tv show Dungeons & Dragons, wherein some kids get swooped up into the game and must fend for their lives. More originality would've been nice, but as long as there's excitement and fun in the adventure that's all that matters. Oh, I suppose that since this is a comedy, it's also important that this be funny. Let's see how it pans out...

The Adventure
Critical Failures could've been a little more adventurous. The characters didn't get very far and spent much of their time jailed. Still, Bevan squeezed in some low-level fighting in keeping with the way a good old D&D game campaign usually begins. He also kept up the action about as much as he could. After all, wimpy beginners can't be slaying dragons and conquering hordes. There's lots of fun for old school gamers. I got a few nostalgic chuckles as Bevan walked me down memory lane. As a writer he smartly added in a couple characters who were new to it all, so that things could be explained and elementary mistakes could be made that might heighten the tension or hilarity, which brings me to...

The Humor
I'm a 12 year-old-boy trapped in a middle-aged man's body [insert "insert" jokes here], so I enjoyed the potty humor...well, at least to a point. I need variety too and there's too much reliance on "your mom" jokes to provide comic relief. It's no relief if it's repeated so often that the humor is drained out of it. But to be fair, this book is meant to be representative of some immature, socially abhorrent young men playing a role playing game. When I played D&D, this is pretty much what it was like. It weren't pretty.

Overall, Bevan did a decent job combining adventure and humor in this fantasy setting. Slaying things and making it funny can't be easy, so I give him props for that.

As a novel for fans of fantasy, who are non-role-players, well, I guess they'd find some enjoyment in Critical Failures. However, all others should steer clear of this one. It's not meant for you, and the author's awkward phrasings and occasionally stilted dialogue would only grate upon your brain, especially if it wasn't receiving the influx of pleasure the rest of us are getting from this otherwise admirable attempt at a mock up of the role playing experience.

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The Gateway Drug to Hardcore Fantasy Gaming

Dungeons and Dragons Basic RulesDungeons and Dragons Basic Rules by Tom Moldvay
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

*** HAPPY 40th BIRTHDAY D&D!!! ***
Glory! Glory! Hallelujah! I was given the "basic set" aka "the red box set" for my 9th birthday and I couldn't have been happier!

It was the early 80s and Dungeons and Dragons was the game everyone was talking about, for better or worse. My two older cousins, who I idolized, already owned it and had been talking up big-time this crazy new kind of game ("So it's not a board game? How does that work?" I remember asking) where you could be a wizard, warrior, elf, halfling ("What's a halfling?"..."A hobbit."..."Oh."), dwarf, thief, cleric ("What's a cleric?"..."It's like a priest."..."Oh," I said, still not really understanding why a priest would be called a cleric and why in their right minds anyone would waste their time playing one.) and once you created this character you then went adventuring off to some old ruined castle where you would find monsters in the dungeon which you'd kill and take their treasure. Brilliant! Sign me up!

Well, easier said than done. After the birthday party was over, I opened the box, admired the funny shaped dice, flipped through the pre-made accompanying adventure The Keep on the Borderlands and then I turned to the actual rulebook...and then over the next few hours I steadily turned from pink to blue to purple and red with rage and frustration that I couldn't make heads or tails of it. Soon after followed desperation as I feared I would never figure it out and thus would never be able to play the game.

The issue with novices learning how to play D&D back then was that the available version at the time did not walk you through a how-to play the game introduction. There were no step-by-step instructions like a board game has. No, when you flipped the Basic rulebook open it essentially said, this is what's in this book, now go create a character! I guess I was stubborn. I wanted a full explanation of the game from start to finish. Hahahaha! What I didn't realize was that creating a character was the start of the game and that - unless that character died - there was no end to the game. Honestly, I was too young and ignorant of many of the ideas and concepts one needed to understand D&D. Ah, but in swept mom (not dad, who has never understood fiction/fantasy in any form...well, except for maybe porn) to save the day! She got me over the hump on a few stumpers and off I went! Within a short while I was at my cousin's and we were killing goblins and wererats in "The Haunted Keep" mini-module (a pre-made adventure) that came with the rule book.

And thus began years worth of fun and celibacy through out my teens!

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