Wednesday, November 14, 2018

The Freak by Eleanor Robinson

(pb; 1980 ─ a.k.a. The Silverleaf Syndrome)

From the back cover

“He was born monstrously deformed, a freak of nature. Possessed of supernatural strength, he committed his first murder at the age of five and escaped from the institution to which his mother had abandoned him.

“Terror swept through the town of Silverleaf, as the citizens scoured the countryside in a desperate search for the missing child, hoping to capture him before he killed again─and again.

“But he had retreated to the swamp, the place of his birth, where amid the mire and the reeds lay a secret so astonishing, that it could well change the ultimate destiny of the human race.”


Freak is a solid, hybrid-genre novel with relatable, worthwhile characters and fun, sometimes-effective mini-twists. Its back cover description makes Freak seem like a monster-stalking-people-in-the-swamp story, but it is more of a science fiction-ish, man-wrongly-accused-of-murder tale─one that entertains, for the most part. My only nit about Freak is the unrealistic, plot-convenient the way two of the characters fall in love. Aside from that, this is a fun, fast read, worth your time, or purchase for a few dollars.

Wednesday, November 07, 2018

The Late Show by Michael Connelly

(pb; 2017: first book in the Detective Renée Ballard series)

From the back cover

“Renée Ballard works the midnight shift in Hollywood, beginning many investigations but finishing few as each morning she turns everything over to the daytime units. It’s a frustrating assignment for a once up-and-coming detective, but it’s no accident. She’s been given this beat as punishment after filing a sexual harassment suit complaint against a supervisor.

“But one night Ballard catches two assignments she doesn’t want to part with. First, a prostitute is beaten and left for dead in a parking lot. All signs point to someone with big evil on his mind. Then she sees a young waitress breathe her last after being caught in a nightclub shooting. Against orders, Ballard works both cases by day while maintaining her shift by night.

“As the investigations entwine, Ballard is forced to face her own demons and confront a danger she could never have imagined. To find justice for these victims who can’t speak for themselves, she must put not only her career but her life on the line.”


Late is a beach read of a police procedural novel, an occasionally dark, otherwise lightweight offering for its genre. Connelly has written a cinematic-vivid, predictable and chatty tale here, something that is not great or memorable, but─like I said─something to pass the time with, if you want something relatively light and entertaining. This is best borrowed from your local library or purchased for a few bucks.

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Before the Chop III: LA Weekly Articles, 2014–2016 by Henry Rollins

(pb; 2017: nonfiction)


Like previous Chop collections, the articles in this third volume read like tightly edited versions of Rollins’s spoken word shows: blunt, provocative, smart, self-effacing, humorous and enthusiastic about stuff he likes (listening to music on vinyl; acting and media gigs; traveling the world as often as possible; etc.). Underlining Rollins’s recollections and observations is a sense of upbeat wisdom regarding restraint and knowing one’s place in the world, even as we try to improve it.

This is an excellent collection, one worth owning.

The House With a Clock in Its Walls by John Bellairs

(pb; 1973. First book in the  Lewis Barnavelt mysteries. Illustrations by Edward Gorey.)

From the back cover

“When Lewis Barnavelt, an orphan, comes to stay with his uncle Jonathan, he expects to meet an ordinary person. But he is wrong. Uncle Jonathan and his next-door neighbor, Mrs Zimmerman, are both witches! Lewis is thrilled. At first, watching magic is enough. Then Lewis experiments with magic himself, and unknowingly resurrects the terrifying former owner of the house, a woman name Serenna Izard. It seems that Serenna and her husband built a timepiece into the walls─a clock that could obliterate humankind. And only the Barnavelts can stop it!”


House is a fun, fast-moving tale of magic, spookiness and familial warmth, along with a bad guys worth hissing at: great, atmospheric children’s book, this, one worth owning.

Followed by The Figure in the Shadows.


The resulting film was released stateside on September 21, 2018. Eli Roth directed it (he also played Comrade Ivan). Eric Kripke wrote the screenplay.

Owen Viccaro played Lewis Barnavelt. Jack Black played Jonathan Barnavelt. Cate Blanchett played Florence Zimmerman.

Kyle MacLachlan played Isaac Izard. Renée Elise Goldsberry played Selena Izard. Colleen Camp played Mrs. Hanchett.

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Dead Heat with the Reaper by William E. Wallace

(pb; 2015: two-novella pulp collection)

Overall review

Dead Heat is a masterful collection of East Bay, California stories that are structured along the same idea with two different results, both of them equally engaging, straightforward, pulpy and memorable. Both have protagonists who are tough, older guys who─at their cores─have not sacrificed their finer instincts to the cruel idiocies of the world. One of my favorite reads this year, this is a brief collection worth owning, and re-reading at a later date.


Legacy”: Frank Trask, a gruff and well-liked alcoholic, is dying within ninety days. He spends his remaining time righting a neighborhood wrong, revisiting memories related to his murdered sister, and discovering small, pleasant truths about his life. This is a perfect of blend of waste-no-words tough-guy prose and warm humanity.

The Creep”: Alan Baldocchi is horribly-scarred war vet living in a ghetto apartment, when he and his pretty downstairs neighbor [Susan Carnes] strike up a friendship. A local thug targets Susan, setting off a terrible, sad and violent chain of events. “Creep” is an ideal counterpart work to “Legacy,” for its equally short, sharp and tone-variable take on the tough guy protecting people from thugs theme.

Fear: Trump in the White House by Bob Woodward

(pb; 2018: nonfiction)

From the inside flap

“With its authoritative reporting honed through eight presidencies from Nixon to Obama, author Bob Woodward reveals in unprecedented detail the harrowing life inside President Donald trump’s White House and precisely how he makes decisions on major foreign and domestic policies.

“Woodward draws from hundreds of hours of interviews with firsthand sources, meeting notes, personal diaries, files and documents. Often with day-to-day details, dialogue and documentation, Fear tracks key foreign issues from North Korea, Afghanistan, Iran, the Middle East, NATO, China and Russia. It reports in depth on Trump’s key domestic issues, particularly trade and tariff disputes, immigration, tax legislation, the Paris Climate Accord and the racial violence in Charlottesville in 2017.

Fear presents vivid details of the negotiations between Trump’s attorneys and Robert Mueller, the special counsel in the Russia investigation, laying out for the first time the meeting-by-meeting discussions and strategies. It discloses how senior Trump White House officials joined together to steal draft orders from the president’s Oval Office desk so he would not issue directives that would jeopardize critical intelligence operations.

“ ‘It was no less than an admiration coup d’etat,’ Woodward writes. “ ‘a nervous breakdown of the executive power of the most powerful country in the world.’”


Fear is a fast-moving, easy-to-follow and fair (in its journalistic objective and source-true way) read about the controversial US president’s first year or so in office. Its last few pages may prove to be a tough assessment for oversensitive Trump supporters, but its fact-based conclusion (further implicated by one of Trump’s allies and ex-lawyers, John Dowd). Excellent, balanced and should-read nonfiction for those who are interested in Trump’s off-the-cuff politics and actions.

Mutants by Gordon Dickson

(pb; 1973: science fiction story anthology)

Overall review

Mutants is a solid, sometimes chatty and overlong science fiction story anthology revolving around the theme of aliens and their interactions with humans. Even the lesser tales have something interesting about them to recommend them, even if they ultimately fall short of greatness (e.g., “Idiot Solvant,” “The Immortal,” “Home From the Shore,” “Rehabilitated,” “Of the People”). This is a book worth picking up for a few bucks or borrowing from the library.

Standout stories

1.)   Warrior”: An alien soldier seeks justice for the unnecessary deaths of his fellow troops. Good read, with its science-fiction-mixed-with-a-revenge-pulp storyline.

2.)   Danger─Human!”: Eldridge Timothy Parker, a human kidnapped and gently studied by aliens, seeks to escape his captors. Will he succeed? This is one of the best tales in this collection, for its imaginative, superb writing and exciting finish.

3.)   Listen”: A four-year-old boy’s companion─a tentacle, trilling and amiable creature─schools the boy in the notions of a larger good. Excellent read, this one sporting a nuanced and horrifying ending.

4.)   Roofs of Silver”: Science fiction Western about a murderer (Jabe) whose reluctant actions stem from an official government report condemning his family to death─another favorite offering in this anthology.

5.)  By New Hearth Fires”: The world’s last dog is dying─though an experiment may save him and others. Tender-hearted, futuristic and memorable read.

6.)  Miss Prinks”: Lydia Prinks, a woman with lady-like principles, changes─just a little─after an encounter with distorted time. Fun, character-true read.

Odds Against Tomorrow by William P. McGivern

(hb; 1957)

From the inside flap

“. . .two men, strangers but inevitable enemies, meet in the planning of a crime. They violate the laws of society deliberately and gravely; a bank is broken into, a man is killed and two protagonists are driven to ground in a lonely farmhouse.

“One of them is bitter and inarticulate, tormented by his inadequacies and failures. His accomplice, a Negro, is clever but in panic at the thought of death. Do they dare trust one another?”


Odds─for the most part─is another compelling, taut and unflinching McGivern crime tale, this one taking on the ugly theme of racism. When a heist goes sideways, one of the henchmens’ overt racism further complicates the crooks’ increasingly intense flight while the cops close in on them. The action takes surprising, unlikely turns near the end, leavening the work for readers who want a kumbaya and uncharacteristic-for-McGivern ending. For those of us who prefer more realistic and potentially grimmer fare, the 1959 film version fixes the novel’s forced turns. Despite that, the book version of Odds is an excellent, bristling and timely story.


The resulting film was released stateside in November 1959. Robert Wise directed the film, from a screenplay by Abraham Polonsky, billed as John O. Killens, and Nelson Gidding. (Polonsky was on blacklisted by HUAC.)

Harry Belafonte played Johnny Ingram. Kim Hamilton played Ruth Ingram. Robert Ryan played Earle Slater (“Earl Slater” in the book). Shelley Winters played Lorry ("Lory" in the book). Gloria Grahame played Helen.

Ed Begley played Dave Burke. Wayne Rogers played “Soldier in bar”.

Friday, October 12, 2018

The Crooked Letter: Books of the Cataclysm, One by Sean Williams

(pb; 2006: prequel to The Blood Debt: Books of the Cataclysm, Two)


Crooked is a cinematic, if way-chatty and overlong mishmash of spiritual and fantasy themes better written about by Clive Barker and Neil Gaiman, if said themes and  were filtered through a PG-13 lens. It is not terrible, but most of its characters─including its “mirror twins”─are generic and the book would read better if its length was cut by a third. Borrow this from the library before committing cash to it.

Star Wars: Thrawn─Alliance by Timothy Zahn

(hb; 2018: sequel to Star Wars:Thrawn)


This direct follow-up to Star Wars: Thrawn is both a sequel and prequel. Thrawn and Vader are sent by Emperor Palpatine back to a star system where they first met, when Vader was Anakin Skywalker. Palpatine has felt a disturbance in the Force, something secret related to Thrawn’s people, the Chiss. The interplay of uncertainty and grudging trust between the crush-the-enemy Vader and the more flexible, charming and future-leaning Thrawn makes Alliance a worthwhile read─so does some of the better action sequences. (Padmé, Anakin’s now-dead mother of his children, makes an appearance in the flashbacks, as well.)

I did not like Alliance as much as I liked its prequel: for me, Anakin Skywalker is one of the most rigid and whiny characters in the Star Wars franchise. His flashbacks were a chore to get through sometimes, despite Zahn’s interesting characters and overall entertaining writing.

Friday, September 14, 2018

Vic Valentine: Lounge Lizard for Hire by Will Viharo

(pb; 2018: eighth book in the Vic Valentine series)

From the back cover

“My Voodoo Valentine? Vic Valentine has finally retired from the private eye racket. And since his beautiful, new bi-sexual, black belt-burlesque-dancer bride, Ava Margarita Valentina Valdez Valentine, who may also be a witch or a vampire or both, has a mysterious and possibly nefarious source of seemingly endless wealth, he no longer walks dogs for income, either. Vic is finally living the life of his wildest dreams! Until the Universe sucker-punches him yet again, and it suddenly melts into a noir nightmare. . .

“First a Yakuza hitman from Mrs.Valentine’s past shows up in Seattle with a score to settle. She conjures demons from another dimension to not only protect them, but to spice up their sex life (or hers, anyway). The ghost of Vic’s dead friend Doc Schlock still haunts him, literally. His old pal Ivar the sailor statue starts talking, and walking. And then there’s the doppelganger of a young Vic suddenly popping up here and there around town, setting Vic up for a showdown with his younger self.

“But no matter what happens next, the show must go on.”


Fans of David Lynch, werewolves, Mexican wrestling films, vampires, yakuza flicks, actor Christian Slater and hypersexual violence may find themselves reveling in this surrealistic tale, where one reality swirls into another what-the-FRELL alternate reality, sucking readers further into Vic’s headworlds, imagined or real.

This is an excellent, gory, sexually explicit neo-psychedelic pulp novel, much like its predecessor, Vic Valentine: International Man of Misery, although Lounge ups the crazy what-is-real ante to the triple nth degree. While this works as a standalone story, readers familiar with previous Vic Valentine works (starting with Love Stories Are Too Violent For Me) might enjoy Lounge more, as Viharo spin-cycles through a lot of the characters, elements, storylines and themes that formed the first seven books in this series and other books penned by this distinctive, consistently fascinating author. 

<em>The Freak</em> by Eleanor Robinson

(pb; 1980 ─ a.k.a. The Silverleaf Syndrome ) From the back cover “He was born monstrously deformed, a freak of nature. Possessed of ...