What a book!

August 27, 2010

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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July 26, 2010

Review: Blood Oath

Blood Oath (The President's Vampire, #1)Blood Oath by Christopher Farnsworth
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I know there’s a lot of vampire fiction out there, so despite not wanting to take one of those books on, I read this one anyway. Boy, am I glad I did.

I liked the idea of President Andrew Johnson actually having done something other than come up for impeachment, and enlisting a vampire in the service of the United States sounded like fun. And it was. Farnsworth starts the book off with the old set piece that reveals our hero/anti-hero without being connected to the story, a la James Bond, in Kosovo with the U.S. military, and then takes the story from there, incorporating terrorism, the war in the Middle East and plenty of trotting around the U.S.

Also refreshing, not too many gouts of blood and gore, but nary a pale face or loads of hair product in sight for this vampire. Nathaniel Cade is badass, a little funny and has his own flaws and quirks (like despising blasphemy for some reason, which I have never seen in a vampire). Yes, there’s angst, but not the annoying kind.

I should also mention that by Page 19, you’ve not only had as much action as a Bond film, but you’ve also had references to such diverse fantasy literature as H.P. Lovecraft, Edward S. Ellis, Frank Aubrey, Edgar Allan Poe and W.W. Jacobs. If that’s not enough, a page later you get a Batman reference.

The villain is a bit disturbing, but he is a villain after all. The characters that get introduced weren’t quite as fully developed as I’d like, but it’s clearly the first book in a series, so there’ll be time for that.

If you like: Secret agent thrillers, spy thrillers and books about Washington intrigue, particularly ones by Brad Meltzer with weenie little 20-something protagonists who do a lot of growing up fast, you might like this. Also, vampire books about real vampires.

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July 13, 2010

Review: Fever Dream

Fever Dream (Pendergast, #10)Fever Dream by Douglas Preston
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I gave this an extra star because I thought Agent Pendergast had about run his course in the Diogenes trilogy of this series of books and even in the last one, ‘Cemetery Dance.’

However, even in those books of theirs where my interest wanes, Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child write stories that you can’t help but keep turning the page, reading just one more chapter. Any of these books are just plain fun to read, and people tend to forget that sometimes, reading just needs to be fun.

So, on to this book. Like I said, I thought Pendergast had run his course, when Preston/Child bring out … his wife! His late wife, to be exact, killed on a safari 12 years ago. But it turns out, it was actually murder most foul. And complicated. Like cheesy Bond villain/Dr. Evil needlessly complicated (although it’s a lion, not ill-tempered sharks with frickin’ lasers).

So Pendergast enlists Vincent D’Agosta (of course) at the drop of a hat to help him solve his wife’s murder. (Mild spoiler coming) And when D’Agosta can no longer, um, assist in the case, D’Agosta’s girlfriend, NYPD Capt. Laura Hayward. is drafted to help.

Like I said, this book is full of all kinds of ridiculousness, not the least of which is Pendergast’s bad-assery coupled with how trouble seems to blow away with a couple sentences or fight moves. But again, these books are just plain fun. Do yourself a favor and read them all.

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May 24, 2010

A Volatile Concoction that Goes Down Smooth

Filed under: Dennis Lehane,Hard-Boiled,Thriller — WB Kelso @ 7:52 pm
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With a week’s vacation to burn up, and after a quick trip to The Tattered Book, I decided to break in a new author that had been recommended to me on many fronts. And after reading Dennis Lehane’s A Drink Before the War — his first Patrick Kenzie and Angie Gennaro adventure — the only question left to answer was — What in the hell took me so long to try this guy?

Set in the racially turbulent Burroughs of Boston, detective Kenzie and his partner, Gennaro — both street-wise and wise-asses, and both burdened by family skeletons that are still leaving bruises and scars — are hired by the local political machine to track down and return some compromising documents allegedly pilfered by a maid, who has since fallen off the face of the earth.  Of course, as it usually is in these kinds of things, this missing persons job winds up being not quite that simple as the partners are soon embroiled in a bitter gang-war, with both sides wanting them dead and those documents kept out of the others’ hands.  Leaving our protagonists, who are only trying to do the right thing with what they’ve found, on the run, dodging bullets, and playing all three sides against the other to save their own skins.

Yeah, after only one book the team of Kenzie and Gennaro have easily rocketed into my top ten of favorite literary characters. They aren’t perfect and are intriguingly flawed, with Kenzie acerbically trying to come to grips with the ghost of his abusive father, the “Hero,” and Gennerao’s tragic refusal to leave her abusive husband, the “Asshole,” which only adds another layer of tension between the two, whom we, as a reader, want to see get together but know it would never work.  And with this couple of hard-boiled throwbacks, Lehane’s dialogue is witty and cynical and absolutely crackles on the page. So, take my advice and don’t wait as long as I did and check out this book as soon as possible.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I gotta go finish Darkness take My Hand so I can read Sacred; and then Gone Baby Gone, and then …

May 8, 2010

C.S.I. New York — Circa 1896

Filed under: Crime,Fiction,Mystery,Thriller — WB Kelso @ 1:21 am
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When the severally mutilated body of a murdered prostitute is posed and left for a gruesome public display, newly appointed New York City police commissioner Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt decides to forgo normal procedure and brings in an alienist — Dr. Laszlo Kreizler, an expert in the burgeoning field of psychology and abnormal behavior — to apply his trade and help solve this bizarre homicide. Together, facing both danger, doubt, and ridicule at every turn, these two crusaders gather a small team of experts on the local criminal elements (on both sides of the law) and the most advanced forensic techniques, and then start poking and prodding at the dark underbelly of the city, trying to figure out what makes the killer tick and flush him out before this butcher strikes again.

Truthfully, author Caleb Carr’s The Alienist is about 50/50 split between psychological thriller and history lesson. And speaking truthfully again, whichever way you come at it — as a mystery lover or history buff — you’ve stumbled right into a goldmine. Carr paints a fascinating and minutely detailed canvas of turn of the century New York and its colorful denizens, which, contrary to what you might think, does nothing to distract from the plot as our protagonists methodically piece together clues and draw conclusions from the killer’s actions but serves, instead, to enhance the proceedings. Sure, some authors can bring a reader into their books as a casual observer from a safe distance, but Carr has a knack for putting you into the scene with all the sights and sounds and smells found therein — none of them all that pleasant.

It’s real. It’s happening. It’s a whole new spin on the phrase “social studies.” And, my friends, you’re along for a wild and rewarding ride if you just crack it open and take a look.

April 20, 2010

The Road Less Taken

Filed under: Fiction,Science fiction,Thriller — WB Kelso @ 1:31 am
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bleak (blk) adj. bleak·er, bleak·est

1. Gloomy and somber

2. Providing no encouragement; depressing: no prospects.

3. Cold and cutting; raw.

4. Exposed to the elements; unsheltered and barren.
Yeah, that pretty much sums up Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. In a clinical sense, mind you.
Quick and Dirty: Through some unexplained global catastrophe, the world has burned and been reduced to nothing but ash. The sky is clogged with it, the sun barely breaking through, and night brings absolute darkness, meaning nothing more will grow. And once the vegetation went, all the animals soon followed, with those not poisoned consumed to extinction. Now, there are only a few bands of humans roaming this lunar-scape and dilapidated husks of civilization, looking and scrabbling for any kind of sustenance, and avoiding each other to make whatever rations found last a little longer, and yes, to keep yourself off someone else’s dinner plate. Among them, a father and son, making their way along our titular road in a desperate journey toward the sea, hoping against hope that things will better over the horizon.
Now, I’ve read a lot of post-apocalyptic literature in my time but none were more sobering, disheartening and dire than what was represented in these pages. The author hints at some pretty awful things to show how far mankind has fallen, with roving bands of hooligans gone cannibal, which is bad enough, but when you also realize there is only one sustainable and replenishable food source left on the planet, and a lot of these bands consist of women in various stages of pregnancy — yeah, when that was finally and explicitly laid out for me, I had to put the book down for awhile. But, if you’re still with me, here, in these very same pages is a solid and reaffirming story of  familial love, a lasting bond, that survives some astronomical odds.
It took me about 50 pages before the stark and offbeat cadence of McCarthy’s prose gelled properly; prose that is as raw and clipped and emaciated as our weary travelers. (The recent film adaptation stars Viggo Mortenson, and it’s easy to hear him in your mind’s ear narrating the whole thing.) But once you get the beat of it, it works wonderfully as he conjures up such a gloomy and queasy picture — however, this also really helps to punctuate the novels few bright spots, where things actually go well for our troupe. However, those of us who’ve been corrupted by watching too many George Romero flicks know these reprieves won’t last long, and I often found myself at unease, and encouraging them to get moving again before things inevitably go haywire and all is lost. And on the same stroke, to contrast this obviously hopeless journey, the author welds the bond between the man and the boy that helps disperse the darkness.
At least for a little while…

March 27, 2010

Murder Has a Good Beat

Filed under: Crime,Mystery,Thriller,Uncategorized — WB Kelso @ 12:44 pm
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When his twin brother, a homicide detective for the Denver P.D., commits suicide after being unable to solve a particularly grisly murder that he’d been obsessing over, Jack McEvoy, a violent crime-beat reporter for The Rocky Mountain News, deals with his grief and the five stages of denial the best way he knows how. But while tracking down his brother’s last few days for his next story, when things don’t quite add up, the reporter comes to the conclusion that it wasn’t a suicide after all but a carefully staged murder. And then, when his research into police suicides nationwide turns up a disturbing pattern of an unsolvable murder, followed by the lead detective’s suicide, complete with a cryptic suicide note consisting of a quote from Edgar Allen Poe, McEvoy realizes his brother was the latest victim of a serial killer.

Probably better known for his crime novels featuring LAPD detective Harry Bosh, regardless, I jumped into author Michael Connelly’s “pool” with The Scarecrow, the second novel featuring his other reoccurring character, reporter Jack McEvoy, which quickly sent me searching for his inaugural adventure, The Poet. McEvoy is very good at his job, perhaps a little too good, meaning some clues he digs up or patterns he sees are so damned obvious that nobody else has seen them is a bit of a stretch. However, find the patterns he does, and that turns out to be the easy part as now he has to convince his boss, the police, and eventually, the F.B.I. that a deranged killer, or possibly two deranged killers, is moving across the country and leaving a lot of bodies in his/their wake. And convincing that last group brings him to the attention of Special Agent Rachel Walling for a little joint-investigating and the prerequisite boot-knocking.

To tell his story, Connelly splits time between McEvoy and the killer. Fairly blunt and straight forward with his plot, from what I’ve read so far, the author likes to keep things simple as the mystery methodically unravels and saves the big twist for the end. And in the case of The Poet, it’s a pretty big one. If I have one major beef with the plot it’s the whole body in the locked room scenario for the suicide victims, who leave the quotes from Poe in their own handwriting. Here, the author kind of paints himself into a corner, and how he gets out of it will give the credulity muscle in your brain a good stretch. And for those of you who like the squickier side of these serial mysteries with the accompanying blood and guts may want to look elsewhere as we’re mostly dealing with the murders after the fact. Still, if you like puzzles and authors that reward you with pieces as you go along,  you’ll probably like the final picture Connelly provides for you.

March 14, 2010

Impact by Douglas Preston

All right, last Douglas Preston book (since it’s his latest and I’m now caught up).

Remember what I said about thrillers being silly? This one can be silly. Once again, just shut up, read and enjoy the ride.

That ride started out a little slowly for my taste. In fact, the image book, which once again features former CIA operative/monk Wyman Ford, is divided in two parts, and the setup part, Part I, seemed to go a little slow, even introducing some characters that I didn’t see too much point for having, while not developing other characters who eventually figured prominently in Part II.

Speaking of Part II, the book picks up considerably, with the last 150 pages or so written so you’ll be pushing lights out at night, repeating “Just one more chapter, just one more chapter.”

As usual, Preston mixes action with science and even ventures into sci-fi territory. But like I said, just relax and enjoy the ride.

I’m still not sold on Wyman Ford as a main character yet. He still seems kind of thinly drawn after three novels, two of which belong to him. Perhaps that’s the intention, as he’s a CIA guy, designed to blend in and play any role.

Also in this book, the final reveal of who the actual villain seemed a little too last minute and tidy, kind of a villanus ex machina, I guess.

But that said, this is still a fun read. Also interesting is the story of a trip he took to Cambodia for National Geographic that helped inspire this story.

Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child’s website.

March 11, 2010

“Shutter Island” by Dennis Lehane

Filed under: Dennis Lehane,Fiction,Thriller — marloneus @ 12:02 pm
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What a fantastic mystery.  Very difficult to put it down.  Two men take a ferry to the infamous Shutter Island.  They find a missing patient,  insanity, secret codes, nightmares, doctors, a hurricane and a mystery patient-#67 that isn’t on the island…or is (s)he?.   Astute readers who enjoy solving mysteries may pick up on the clues as they start in the beginning and are peppered throughout this fast paced, exciting, novel.  A definite read.  I can’t wait to see the movie.  I did not figure it out until the end, but that is normal for me.  5 out of 5 stars.  I highly recommend this to anyone who enjoys a mystery!

March 9, 2010

“Coronado” by Dennis Lehane

Filed under: Dennis Lehane,Fiction,Thriller,Uncategorized — marloneus @ 10:33 am
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A collection of short storied by Dennis Lehane.  These short stories give you a great look into this author’s mind.  LOVED IT>

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