Monday, May 23, 2016

Rumble Tumble by Joe R. Lansdale

(hb; 1998: fifth book in the Hap and Leonard series)

From the back cover:

"Hap Collins is hitting the hard edge of a midlife crisis. By night, he's bouncing at a local club. By day, he's living by the grace of his best friend -- black, gay Vietnam vet Leonard Pine -- and his good woman, former Sweet Potato Queen Brett Sawyer. Hap may be down, but he's a long throw from out.

"That's the good news. He'll need it for the bad news.

"Brett's daughter, Tillie, who is turning tricks and taking drugs, stands in need of a quick and merciful rescue. It will be no easy chore, starting with a hard trek from mosquito-ridden but familiar LaBorde, Texas, to the fleshpots and hardasses of Hootie Hoot, Oklahoma.

"On the road the trio picks up new friends, like a hulking Pentecostal preacher and retired hitman, as well as fresh enemies, including a redheaded midget with a giant chip on his shoulder and an army of bikers turned vice profiteers and cold-blooded killers."


Review:

Rumble is one of my favorite Hap and Leonard novels thus far. Like previous books, it is an excellent, entertaining pulp stew of action, cinematic-worthy and humorous dialogue, bigger-than-life characters and bloody action. At the heart of Rumble, as with other Hap and Leonard works, the core of the book is the titular characters' banter-punctuated sense of brotherhood.

This is worth owning, as are the previous novels in this series -- Rumble is followed by Veil's Visit: a Taste of Hap and Leonard (a side-story anthology, an expensive collector's item) and Vanilla Ride.

Friday, May 13, 2016

Preacher: Gone To Texas by Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon

(pb; 1995, 1996: graphic novel, collecting issues of Preacher #1 - 7. "Foreword" by Joe R. Lansdale. First entry in the Preacher graphic novel series.)

From the back cover:

"Jesse Custer is a small-town minister slowly losing his faith. . . until he merges with a half-angelic, half-demonic being called Genesis. Together with Tulip, Jesse's trigger-happy ex-lover, and Cassidy, a hard-drinking Irish vampire, Jesse sets out on a bizarre road trip from the heart of Texas to the bitter soul of New York City."


Review:

Preacher is a hyper-violent, more-Texas-than-Texas, blasphemous and darkly hilarious graphic novel series whose character interactions and supernatural storyline elements come together into a wild-ride, distinctive and entertaining read. This is one of my all-time favorite comic book/graphic novel series, not for the easily offended (religious) and faint of heart.

Followed by Preacher: Until the End of the World.

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The television series version, created by Sam Catlin, Evan Goldberg and Seth Rogen, is scheduled to debut on the AMC channel on May 22, 2016.

Dominic Cooper plays Jesse Custer. Joseph Gilgun plays Cassidy. Ruth Negga plays Tulip O'Hare. W. Earl Brown plays Hugo Root. Jackie Earle Haley plays Odin Quincannon.

Ian Colletti plays Arseface. Lucy Griffiths plays Emily. Tom Brooke plays Fiore. Anatol Yusef plays DeBlanc.

Sunday, May 08, 2016

The Voice and Other Stories by Seicho Matsumoto

(pb; 1989, 1995: story anthology. Translated from Japanese to English by Adam Kabat.)

From the back cover:

"Six of the best detective stories from Japan's foremost master of mystery. The puzzle in these intriguing tales lies not so much in 'who dunnit' but rather in how it was done."


Overall review:

Voice is an anthology that is worth owning -- its stories, published between 1959 and 1965, are clever and intriguing reads, even with their 'crime doesn't pay' finishes (perhaps this is due to editorial and/or multicultural leanings). Matsumoto once again shows himself for the exemplary author that he is, even when the outcome follows a traditional, moralistic pattern.


Stories:

1.)  "The Accomplice": A successful businessman (Hikosuke Uchiboro), fearing reprisal stemming from a past crime, seeks a way to nullify that reprisal (which, of course, hastens his potential downfall). Good, tightly-written read.


2.) "The Face": Another successful man -- this one an up-and-coming actor (Riichi Umetani) -- tries to erase all evidence from a past crime. Like Uchiboro in "The Accomplice," Umetani's actions only serve to further endanger himself. Good, tightly-written read, an interesting variation on "Accomplice".


3.)  "The Serial": Intriguing, clever tale about a woman (Yoshiko Shioda), whose expressed interest in an author's work opens her life to an unwanted investigation. One of my favorite stories in this collection, it shares many (reworked) plot elements with Matsumoto's later novel Points and Lines.


4.)  "Beyond All Suspicion": A man (Tadao Kuroi) makes a long-term plan to murder the man who sullied his murdered sister's honor. A solid storyline and otherwise excellent writing make this worth reading.


5.)  "The Voice": Another intriguing and clever tale (for the most part), about a telephone operator (Tomoko Takahashi) who hears and remembers a murderer's voice -- a well-publicized remembrance that may get her killed.

When reading key parts of this story, a modern reader may think, 'Wow, that woman makes some bad choices -- why is she so stupid?' I initially thought this at one point, until I took into account cultural and time period differences: in Japan, losing face is sometimes deemed more important than survival, so what Americans like myself may consider stupidity may have seemed like acceptable risks in Japan in 1959. Bearing this in mind, this is another excellent story, despite a few questionable elements and choices.


6.)  "The Woman Who Wrote Haiku": When a regular contributor stops sending in her poetry, the editors of a magazine grow concerned and investigate. What they discover is a devious plot and other odd circumstances. This is an all-around superb story, one of my favorites in this anthology.

Thursday, May 05, 2016

Kill Your Friends by John Niven

(pb; 2008)

From the back cover:

"Meet Steven Stelfox.

"London 1997: New Labour is sweeping into power and Britpop is at its zenith. Twenty-seven-year-old A&R man Stelfox is slashing and burning his way through the music industry, a world where 'no one knows anything' and where careers are made and broken by chance and the fickle tastes of the general public - 'Yeah, those animals'.

"Fuelled by greed and inhuman quantities of cocaine Stelfox blithely criss-crosses the globe ('New York, Cologne, Texas, Miami, Cannes: you shout at waiters and sign credit card slips and all that really changes is the quality of the porn') searching for the next hit record amid a relentless orgy of self-gratification.

"But as the hits dry up and the industry begins to change, Stelfox must take the notion of cutthroat business practices to murderous new levels in a desperate attempt to salvage his career."



Review:

This satiric, horrific-as-a-rape-revenge-flick, American Psycho-esque take on the 1990s Britpop scene is a good, entertaining and quip-quotable novel. Kill is a more cohesive read that flows better than Bret Easton Ellis's failed-experiment American Psycho, even if it does run a bit long around the middle of the story -- worth reading, this. possibly worth owning (if you do not mind the extended middle section).

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The resulting film was released stateside on April 1, 2016. Owen Harris directed the film.

Nicholas Hoult played Steven Stelfox. James Corden played Roger Waters. Georgia King played Rebecca. Craig Roberts played Darren. Jim Piddick played Derek Sommers. Bronson Webb played Rob Hasting. Rosanna Hoult, real-life sister of Nicholas Hoult, played Katy.





Sunday, May 01, 2016

Bad Chili by Joe R. Lansdale

(hb; 1997: fourth book in the Hap and Leonard series)

From the inside flap:

"Fresh from a stint on an offshore oil rig Hap arrives home in LaBorde, Texas, to find his best friend Leonard brooding over the break-up with his lover, Raul. Things get worse when Raul's new lover is found murdered and Leonard is the prime suspect. Hap sets out to clear his friends name, but there are complications in the form of a nurse with an abusive husband, a tornado, and threatening behavior from LaBorde's Chili King - not to mention more dead bodies than you can shake a stock at."


Review:

Bad is another excellent, fun entry in the Hap and Leonard series. It has all the elements that made the preceding books so enjoyable: a mix of quip-sharp banter (usually involving Hap and Leonard); sadistic, twisted bad guys; sudden and raw violence, punctuated by effective warmth and humor; and, most effectively, the rapport between the titular characters, whose bond makes Lansdale's entertaining, addictive-read writing shine even more.

Like the other books in this series, this is worth owning. Followed by Rumble Tumble.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

I Can Barely Take Care of Myself: Tales of a Happy Life Without Kids by Jen Kirkman

(hb; 2013: nonfiction, humor)

From the back cover:

" 'You'll change your mind.' 

"That's what everyone says to Jen Kirkman—and countless women like her—when she confesses she doesn't plan to have children. But you know what? It's hard enough to be an adult. You have to dress yourself and pay bills and remember to buy birthday gifts. You have to drive and get annual physicals and tip for good service. Some adults take on the added burden of caring for a tiny human being with no language skills or bladder control. Parenthood can be very rewarding, but let's face it, so are margaritas at the adults-only pool.

"Jen's stand-up routine includes lots of jokes about not having kids (and some about masturbation and Johnny Depp), after which complete strangers constantly approach her and ask, "But who will take care of you when you're old?" (Servants!) Some insist, "You'd be such a great mom!" (Really? You know me so well!)

"Whether living rent-free in her childhood bedroom while trying to break into comedy (the best free birth control around, she says), or taking the stage at major clubs and joining a hit TV show—and along the way getting married, divorced, and attending excruciating afternoon birthday parties for her parent friends—Jen is completely happy and fulfilled by her decision not to procreate."



Review:

Barely is a smart, funny (in a dark-ish, underlying-serious way) book that entertains even as it, with Kirkman's well-articulated arguments and autobiographical bits, lists many of the reasons why she -- like many of us who decide not to have kids -- have made that decision. Her humor and points, sharp and not intended for children and the thin-skinned, are empathetic to those who are parents -- further showing Kirkman's humanity, even when she is making jokes and going against the stated grain.

This is a good read, worth owning for those inclined toward Kirkman's logic and wry, dark-ish sense of humor.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Tower of the Medusa by Lin Carter

(pb; 1969)

Review:

Carter packages Tower's science fiction elements with pulp-vivid aplomb. Its action-packed plot involves a master thief (Kirin), who is hired by the rich, portly Doctor Temujin to steal a legendary jewel -- the well-guarded Heart of Kom Yazoth, a demon associated with widespread destruction. Kirin and Temujin are en route to enact the dangerous theft, when they are taken prisoner by Azeera the Witch Queen, who also wants the jewel, with which she will rule the known universe. 

Other characters in this fast-paced, exciting mix include: Caola, an Amazonian War Maid of Nar, whose wits and physical prowess may prove valuable to Kirin and Temujin; evil wizards of varying power, Pangoy the Nexian and his magickal master (Zarlak), who also commands the vicious Death Dwarves, whose job it is to guard the Iron Tower, where the jewel -- also called the Medusa -- lies beyond a series of elaborate traps.

There is not much in this story that will surprise readers familiar with science fiction-pulp tropes, but Carter's well-sketched characters, lean-and-mean storytelling and cinematic-friendly writing keeps Tower fun and thrilling: worth owning, this.

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Tower of the Medusa was packaged as a reverse-bound "Ace Double" novel, which means that if readers flip the book upside down and over, there was another science fiction novel, penned by another author, on the other side. (Considering that these books sold for 75 cents a pop, this seems like a great deal, even back in the Sixties.)

In this case, the flipside novel is George H. Smith's Kar Kaballa.