What a book!

October 4, 2011

Review: Sharp Teeth

Filed under: Crime,Fiction,Noir,Poetry — mike @ 5:34 am

Sharp Teeth
Sharp Teeth by Toby Barlow
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

There are an awful lot of awful and irritating supernatural books out now so you may be leery about this one, as it’s ostensibly about werewolves. But you should read this anyway.

If you had to make your way through The Odyssey and Beowulf in high school (I enjoyed the former then and did not appreciate the latter until much later), you are of course familiar with the writing of stories in verse, which more or less made its way out of the oral tradition of telling stories, I guess. This story is told in verse, but it doesn’t feel like someone looking for a hook for an MFA project to appear all high-minded. Rather, this is what would come out if Homer read Dashiell Hammett and pitched a new epic poem to Steven Spielberg. “Sharp Teeth” would be darn good story that comes out of it.

The story is basically a noir LA gang story, and the gang members all happen to be werewolves. And that trait is presented as straightforwardly as any other quality, like height or hair color. Other, non-were, characters include a dogcatcher (lots of dark little humor in this, as well as bigger laughs) who wonders about some dogs acting strangely, and a cop who’s tracking a series of strange, savage murders of dogcatchers.

And thanks to the cleanness and spareness of the verse, this story moves along quickly so you want to keep turning pages, long after your eyes begin to droop, as you can almost hear the author muttering the tale out of the side of his mouth in a fluorescent-lit, whiskey-soaked, smoky agora.

If you like noir, read this book. If you like some supernatural fiction, read this book. If you’re Team Jacob, or wish you were one of the meth-crazed hillbilly wolves in ‘True Blood,’ it may not be wolfie enough for you, but read it anyway to broaden your horizons.

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September 18, 2011

Review: The Brothers of Baker Street

Filed under: Fiction,Mystery,Uncategorized — mike @ 5:43 pm

The Brothers of Baker Street
The Brothers of Baker Street by Michael Robertson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The second in a series of books about two lawyer brothers who have offices at 221 B Baker Street in London, famed address of Sherlock Holmes. As I mentioned in the review of the first book, the author is a Boilermaker, so I am “reading local” or whatever you want to call it.

I enjoyed this one more than the first. Like the first, I don’t think the chain of events would stand up to the way the law really works, but still, reading these is like watching a fun detective show on television. They are quick reads and I heartily recommend them as good books-to-read-when-you’re-in-between-books reads.

This installment finds the Heath brothers back in London, with Reggie going back into criminal law to defend a cab driver accused of murder. All the while, he is still getting letters addressed to Sherlock Holmes (because he’s at the address), with one coming from a vengeful “descendent” of Professor Moriarty.

One note, I was hoping to find that the name of a character would be an anagram of a famous Holmes character, and it comes so close, but not quite. It would have been a nice touch.

The narration is by the terrific Simon Vance, which I credit a good portion of my enjoyment of this book to. You really can’t go wrong with an audio book narrated by Vance.

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September 8, 2011

Review: The Baker Street Letters

Filed under: Fiction,Mystery — mike @ 6:21 pm
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The Baker Street Letters
The Baker Street Letters by Michael Robertson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Not bad for a mystery. I ran across the audio version of the second book in this series and grabbed this one to catch up. I’ll be honest, I only read it because the author is a Boilermaker, like me. But, whatever gets somebody to read, right?

That said, I normally steer clear of Sherlock Holmes pastiches. What a pleasant surprise to discover this is not a Holmes pastiche. The premise is that this barrister moves his office into 221B Baker Street and as a result, people write letters to Sherlock Holmes asking him to solve cases, among other things. And then the rest is more or less straightforward mystery.

I’m not a huge mystery fan, but I like the occasional one, and this one was an entertaining and fun, light read. A found a few situations a little unrealistic, I just didn’t see some of the characters, or any person of the intelligence of the people in this book, actually making some of the decisions they end up making. But it’s a minor complaint.

This is a fun, quick, book-to-read-between-books read. And it was engaging enough to continue with the second book, “The Brothers of Baker Street,” which I am so far enjoying even more.

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January 16, 2011

Review: The Red Pyramid

The Red Pyramid (Kane Chronicles, #1)The Red Pyramid by Rick Riordan
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The Percy Jackson books were OK for me (my son and daughter both really like those) and this was described to me as “Percy Jackson but with Egyptian myth.” And it kind of is, but I liked this one a little better.

I did not care so much for the device of alternating chapters between the Kane siblings, Carter and Sadie, recording the events of the story for you to “listen” too, as the narrative unfolds in such a way that you wouldn’t tell it that way if you were recording it, but I don’t think a kid’s really going to notice or care. That said, that did allow Riordan to develop two main characters really well. Carter and Sadie are both quite distinctive, with both having important roles in the story and not being in the shadow of the other (eg, neither cliche of Sadie being overshadowed by her big brother or Carter is outdone by Girl Power of little sis is present here). Each needs the other’s special skills and abilities.

Overall, this will be a great read for kids and a nice “in between books” read for adults (actually, it’s much better than a lot of adult level books you could read). And while it may look thick, the chapters move quickly and the final battle (there’s always a final battle) will keep you turning pages.

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January 8, 2011

Review: Towers of Midnight

Towers of Midnight (Wheel of Time, #13; Memory of Light, #2)Towers of Midnight by Robert Jordan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Wheel of Time series is back and has shaken off the sloggy funk it was in from Winter’s Heart clear through to Knife of Dreams. Gone are many of the entire physical descriptions (hips and bosoms for women, mustachios for men) and life histories of characters whose only role was to utter one line and then exit the story. Now there are battles and skirmishes and political machinations and plots that actually seem to advance the story. And the Last Battle is no longer the talked-about thing it’s been for the past 13 books, it is here.

Some people I know liked The Gathering Storm, the last book, more than this one, but, while I enjoyed Gathering Storm, I enjoyed this one much better. I found myself anxiously waiting to either go to work or leave for home at the end of the day so I could hear what happened next (obviously, I had the audio version).

As promised by the supernatural effect of ta’veren Rand,, Mat and Perrin, all the storylines and characters are coming together, so this penultimate book in the epic series is a satisfying setup to the finale, A Memory of Light, which, I have read, is due out next year.

Michael Kramer and Kate Reading once again read the audio version, switching off based on the character being followed by the narrative. Each gives an excellent, un-self-conscious performance (and let’s be honest, nerds, reading fantasy out loud can easily make you feel self-conscious) and I marvel at how they have managed to, over 13 books, keep true to the accents of the different nationalities, races and creatures they introduced in the first book.

If you dropped the series for the same reasons I was thinking of dropping it, force yourself through the sloggy bits so you can get to the end. You’ll be glad you did.

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September 15, 2010

Love on the Docks

Filed under: Fiction,Hard-Boiled — WB Kelso @ 11:58 pm
Tags: ,

It was by pure accident that I found myself reading John D. MacDonald’s The Beach Girls. Inadvertently finding itself into a basket at the local broken spine while a certain non-observant buyer was picking out some Ross MacDonald mysteries off the shelves — because who doesn’t love Lew Archer, am I right?,  I didn’t discover it until long after it was paid for and tossed into the massive to read pile. This accident proved fortuitous, however, and I can now add another author to the must read list.

Despite the salacious cover — standard fare on these old Gold Medal pulps — the grist of this story is a sociological and anthropological study of the hard-drinking and hard-fighting denizens of a a rundown harbor in South Florida; the charter captains, the deck hands, and the women they leave behind, and what all these people do when the sun goes down, the moon comes out and the tide dictates who shacks up with who on a nightly basis. There’s some added intrigue when one of the less popular tenant’s shady past, involving bilking money from many a jilted lover … some alive, some dead, finally catches up to him in the form of one of his victim’s estranged husbands, whose come gunning for him, and outside economic forces are forcing the owner of the harbor to sell out to the mob who want to build a resort on the land.

But, frankly, none of that really matters as MacDonald’s strength is his well defined and drawn out characters; and there’s a lot of them, but each is given a chapter to introduce themselves and advance the plot from their own perspective. I found this approach to be a unique and a refreshing change of pace, and even though the ending wraps up a little too neatly for all involved, I found myself having enjoyed the ride so much I really didn’t care.

August 27, 2010

Review: Pushing Ice

Pushing IcePushing Ice by Alastair Reynolds
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I’ll be honest, I was sucked in by the cover. This just looked cool.

How refreshing to find it was hard SF too, which I have been neglecting of late. So what happens is this ship full of comet miners is sent to intercept Saturn’s moon Janus, which has suddenly left its orbit and is flying through space, directly for the star Spica, shedding ice as it goes to reveal a metallic surface. What is it? Who made it? The crew of the Rockhopper are sent to find out. But things go wrong, as they always do in novels, and this first-contact story takes some twists that you don’t always see.

The story, to me, was more about two strong people, who suddenly find themselves on opposite sides of an issue and what happens as a result. This novel could have easily been set in frontier America, Victorian England, modern Texas, anywhere really. But it’s the freeing from present-day restraints that science fiction allows that really makes a story like this engaging (see ‘The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress’ by Robert A. Heinlein) as it explores its ideas.

About the hard SF part: Reynolds is an astrophysicist, which keeps the science and even the geopolitical parts of the story fairly well grounded in some kind of plausibility. Character-wise, well, I would have liked to have seen a little bit more from some of the characters, but I will say there is no confusing characters in this book. Each is distinctive.

Some people may find the fact that some basic questions a reader might ask aren’t answered. But I think that’s part of the point. The Earthlings who are finding their way in this book don’t have all the answers, and they find them, some of them anyway, at the same speed as the rest of us.

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Review: The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo

Filed under: Fiction,Mystery,Uncategorized — mike @ 5:52 pm
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The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (Millennium, #1)The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I’ll admit, I read (well, listened) to this book because of hype and peer pressure. I generally don’t like too many mysteries, but I am glad I at least read this one.

It starts out way boring enough though. The however many pages about a libel case and the background story about how it came about is just numbing. Which is weird, because Larsson was a journalist; he should have known his lede needed to be trimmed.

But once Lisbeth Salander is introduced, the story picks up and she certainly lives up to all the hype. She’s one of the more refreshing characters (heroine? anti-heroine?) in mysteries because she’s not as cliche as so many seem to be.

The violence toward women in this book can be a little repellent, but the point is, well, I hope the point is, that it is a serious problem anywhere, even places that are held up as perfect in the U.S. (eg, Sweden, France, wherever).

I guess if I knew more about Swedish society and current issues, some of this book would have made more sense to me, as I have read that Larsson’s whole Millennium trilogy is meant to be a criticism of Swedish society. But once you see who has what skeletons in their closets, you kind of figure out who Larsson’s targets are. They aren’t much different than those in U.S. novels and movies.

A note on the audio edition: The excellent Simon Vance is the narrator and rather than fight, and lose, with bad Swedish accents, he simply uses different British accents for his characters. That works fine, although I have recently listened to his narrations of the Dune and James Bond novels. So for a disc or two, Mikhael Blomkvist sounded like Duncan Idaho and Henrik Vanger sounded like M. But that’s not a complaint, it’s just funny.

The upshot: Read this before the movie comes out, so you won’t look like you’re behind the bandwagon, but you can still chat about it around the watercooler.

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Review: Blockade Billy

Blockade BillyBlockade Billy by Stephen King
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

An enjoyable non-horror-ish novella from Stephen King.

King is a baseball nut, but he doesn’t bog down the story in too much baseball detail. If you aren’t into the sport, you might feel a little disinterested, but, as usual, King drops enough juicy tidbits to keep you reading. And, as usual, King drops enough vulgar colloquialisms to keep you laughing throughout. You feel like you’re really listening to an old baseball codger in a rest home eager to talk to somebody about something, anything, as long as he doesn’t have to join the virtual bowling group.

I listened to this as an in-between-books book. It was short, light and fun. Craig Wasson is a great reader, although I felt his voice sounded a little too young for the character who was narrating. But it’s a minor quibble. He does a terrific job otherwise.

I did not listen to the other story in this edition, ‘Morality’, as I had read it when it was originally published in Esquire. I didn’t like it as much then and so was ready to move on to my next audio book.

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August 13, 2010

Many reads, King’s Reacher, Loving Nook

Filed under: Authors,Fiction,Nook — jacksheard @ 7:58 am
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I’ve been floored, but I haven’t stopped reading.

So many books by my favorites, and I seem to just bounce from one to the next.

I finished off a few old Michael Palmers, as well as his newest, “The Last Surgeon”.

I hit a cold spell, with  a few fantastic books:

“Storm Prey” by John Sandford; “Ice Cold” by Tess Gerritson; and “61 Hours” by Lee Child.

I’m missing something else I read in there, too, I’m sure.

Now I’m flying through the 1,000-page epic “Under the Dome” by Stephen King. Wow, it is awesome! I don’t like to talk much about a book I’m only a third the way through, but Barbie seems a lot like Jack Reacher, from the aformentioned Lee Child. Which, of course, is awesome.

Reviews to come. I’ll even try to get my son to review “Tom Sawyer”, the latest classic he tackled.

A question, though: How did I fall in love so quickly with a Nook? I didn’t expect to like it. Now I don’t know if I can hold a hard cover book again, without longing for my light, thin and lovely little Nook.

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