Monday, December 22, 2014

Patrick Hoffman Delivers a Huge Load of Trouble in The White Van

Reviewed by James L. Thane
Four out of five stars

This is a very dark debut novel featuring druggies, loan sharks, Russian gangsters, bank robbers and crooked cops, all fighting desperately for turf on the very mean streets of contemporary San Francisco.

Emily Rosario is a lost soul who relies on booze and drugs to make it from one day to the next. One evening, she meets a Russian man in a seedy bar called the Kum Bak Club. After a few drinks, she accompanies him to a hotel for more booze and drugs, but once there, the Russian and his accomplices keep her drugged to the point of incoherence, paying her two hundred dollars a day for her help in what they insist will be an identity theft scheme.

Emily is so totally blitzed that she goes along for the ride, thinking of what she might do with her promised end of the money. Then one day she's loaded into a white van and sent into a bank, only to discover that she's been conned into what is really a bank robbery.

At that point, as it usually does in a noir novel like this, the excrement hits the proverbial fan and Emily finds herself on the run, trying to stay one step ahead of the Russians and the cops all of whom are searching for her desperately. In particular, a troubled cop who's deeply in debt named Leo Elias, sees a chance to grab the money from the bank for himself and solve all of his financial problems.

What results is a wild ride where anything can happen to anyone and everyone. Patrick Hoffman has created a number of interesting characters and placed them into motion against a very well-rendered depiction of San Francisco. There are any number of twists and turns that the reader will not see coming and in the end, it's a very satisfying book that fits brilliantly into the noir tradition.

Hatin' On Harry? Nah

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (Harry Potter, #5)Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J.K. Rowling
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Why won't I let myself give this more than 3 stars?! I want to, I really do, but my cursor-moving finger won't budge! Let's investigate the whys!

Length - This is the longest book in the series. I love the Harry Potter series, so I should want more of it, right? I don't know, sometimes a lot is too much. Rowling did her best to pack a lot into this one and it feels too bulgy. If this was carry-on luggage, TSA would make her check it for going over the size limit.

Dolores Umbridge - What a great evil character she is, isn't she? Quite the bitch. And the kicker is she's supposed to be on the good side! I like a well-crafted, dual-natured character as much as the next reader, but I do not like when characters are made to be so blind to what's going on that it's beyond belief. Umbridge's absolute unwillingness to believe in the return of Voldemort is trying to say the least. She's Hitler-esque at times. That's fine, a little over the top, but fine. But she cares sooo very much for the Ministry of Magic and Hogwarts, or at least in her position there, that one would expect her to do her due diligence in investigating any threat to her own power and interests.

Sirius Black - Now, this one's on me. I LOVE Sirius Black and I really wanted to see the development of a strong bond between he and Harry. Since book three I'd been waiting for some Black/Potter tag team action. I wanted to see them hanging out, doing Uncle/Nephew kind of things. That's not quite how it played out. Oh well... It's nobody's fault but mine that I let this missing aspect get me down. Still, a book review is subjective and so I must admit a personal bias that affected my overall enjoyment.

Harry's Yellow Fever - That's so racist! Okay, now that I've got that out of the way... I was disappointed when Harry's love affair with Cho Chang went south. I liked the relationship. It was complicated. It was difficult for him. It could have made for a fine romance. But no, Rowling had other ideas - very British ideas, like "keeping it in the family". Frankly, Harry's eventual attachment to Ginny Weasley felt too close. I mean, Harry and her feel almost like brother and sister. Plus she's a ginger. Eeeewww.

I could give Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix four or even five stars and there are reasons I might drop it as low as two. So, let's give it a very strong three and be done with it!

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Audiobook Virgin No More

So Far...So Far... by Kelsey Grammer
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Audiobooks have been a fantastic way for me to pass the time when stuck doing housework, yardwork and any other sort of long, dreary thing involving the word "work." They make it possible to muscle through a dry read and, because I'm able to get through so many more books than I otherwise would, audiobooks occasionally get me reading something outside of my comfort zone and I think that's a good thing.

The first audiobook I ever listened to was Kelsey Grammer's confessional So Far.... It was mom's and this was back in the mid '90s. It would be about 15 years before I picked up another audiobook, but that's on me, not this book's fault. Grammer's fans from his "Cheers" and "Fraiser" days who clamor for behind-the-scenes, personal details will find plenty. The man had drug problems. It wasn't pretty. But now you can read all about it!

In this, the Age of Rehab, So Far offers nothing new that hasn't been written a thousand times since. I gave it a good rating mainly because anyone willing to bare their faults to the world in such a revealing manner deserves a pat on the back, even if only out of pity.

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