Thursday, December 31, 2009

The Hunger by Whitley Strieber

(hb; 1981: first book in the Vampire Life series)

From the inside flap

"Miriam Blaylock, rich and beautiful, lives life to the fullest -- a house in Manhattan's exclusive Sutton Place, a husband she adores, priceless antiques, magnificent roses. But then John Blaylock, like all Miriam's past lovers, suddenly begins to age. Almost overnight, his body reveals the truth: he is nearly two hundred years old!

"Fearing the terrible isolation of eternity, Miriam stalks a new lover. She is Sarah Roberts, a brilliant young sleep researcher who has discovered the blood factor that controls aging and thus may possess the secret of immortality. Miriam desperately wants Sarah, for herself and for her knowledge. But to win her, Miriam must destroy Sarah's love for Dr. Tom Haver, who learns that his enemy is like no other woman who has ever lived. . . now or forever."


Melancholy, romantic, cynical, classic vampire novel, with characters whose time-salted wounds, secret or evident, infuse their present -- often irrational -- actions. Even cool-headed, predatory Miriam is not immune from occasional irrationality, justified as experience-based logic.

The Hunger is a hard to put down, atmospheric, emotionally-restrained and -explosive read that ably mingles the sweet and the rot: it could, very likely, prove to be a stylistic, cornerstone read for readers with tragic-Goth(ic) leanings.

Check it out. Followed by The Last Vampire.


The Hunger, the film, was released stateside on April 29, 1983.

Catherine Deneuve played Miriam. David Bowie played John. Susan Sarandon played Sarah Roberts. Cliff De Young played Tom Haver. Dan Hedaya played Lieutenant Alleggrezza. Ann Magnuson played "Young Woman from Disco". Willem Dafoe played ""2nd Phone Booth Youth". Beth Ehlers played Alice Cavender. Rufus Collins played Charlie Humphries. Suzanne Bertish played Phyllis.

Goth band Bauhaus played "Disco Group" (performing "Bela Lugosi Is Dead").

Tony Scott directed, from a script by James Costigan, Ivan Davison and Michael Thomas.

A cable series, loosely linked to the film, began airing on July 19, 1987. It ran two seasons, its final episode airing on March 5, 2000.

David Bowie appeared in nine episodes (1999-2000). Terence Stamp hosted five episodes (1997-1998).

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

All She Was Worth, by Miyuki Miyabe

(hb; 1992, 1996: translated by Alfred Birmbaum)

From the inside flap:

"Police detective Shunsuke Honma should be at the peak of his career, but can't stop the world from closing in around him. Alone with his small son, he's on an extended leave of absence since a car accident killed his wife and a stray bullet left him with a limp. His self-imposed exile is interrupted by a visit from a young nephew. It seems a routine credit card application turned up a bankruptcy in his fiancée's past, and she disappeared without a word.

"Honma visits the office where she last worked and checks into her resumé, only to find that all the previous employers listed are invented and that she owes massive debts to loan sharks. How well had his nephew ever known her?

"What would it take to cut through the elaborate red tape Japan uses to keep tabs on its citizens and become a different person? Maybe murder?"


Plotwise, this is more routine than The Devil's Whisper and Crossfire -- as in: no supernatural or subliminal elements are woven into the storyline.

Characterwise, it's masterfully complex, plot-twisty and character-true, with each character -- even the elusive Shoko Sekine -- shown as a realistic being with good and bad points. The characters are a big part of the glue that holds this quietly intriguing story together.

That is not to say that the storyline is staid; Miyabe subtly increases the tension, character by character, clue by clue, to an emotionally-charged open ending that reminded me of John le Carré's novel, Smiley's People (one of my all-time favorite book finishes).

Another entertaining, excellent novel from Miyabe, a bestselling author in Japan -- and rightfully so, judging by the three books I've read by her.

Worth owning, this, if you have space for a large personal library and must own what you love; worth checking out from the library, and recommending, if you're like me -- as in: you prefer a compacted "all-time favorites" book collection, and have little space to store books.

Either way, Miyabe's consistently distinctive works are worth your time and money.

Friday, December 25, 2009

The Fog, by James Herbert

(pb; 1975)

From the back cover:

"In an exclusive school, students sexually assaulted and mutilated their teachers, then savagely turned on one another. . . in a great seaside resort, thousands of people joined in a monstrous act of self-destruction. . . in a lonely room, an old lady was shredded and eaten by her beloved pet cats. . . in the streets of the city, mass copulation and insane slaying spread from block to block.

"From the depths of the earth the fog had come -- to poison the deepest recesses of the human mind and soul. And as a group of scientists in an insulated underground laboratory worked around the clock to find out what this fog was and how to stop it, time was running out for mankind. . ."


Don't let the above, overly-familiar scenario turn you off from this brisk, exciting novel.

Herbert's writing is straightforward and solid, his characters are believable, and the scenario (as timely today as it was when the book was published), is intense.

The ending, simple and laugh-out-loud funny, maintains the sharp, intelligent feel of the rest of the novel.

Fun, hard to put down work: I read this in less than a day. Normally it takes me several days to read a book, given my schedule.

Check it out.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Little Birds, by Anaïs Nin

(pb; 1979: erotica anthology)

Overall review:

This is one of my all-time favorite erotic anthologies. I've read this three times, but I don't recall reviewing it.

Nin's influence on my own story writing is immeasurable.

Nin favors mood and character exploration over overt plots, which, when I subconsciously conjure up her influence in my writing, helps -- has helped -- me balance my preference for penning quick-minded plots/action over character development/mood.

Organically erotic and sometimes disturbing, even her slighter stories are written in an assured and consistently reader-hooking manner; in this collection, only a couple of so-so stories are on display: "The Chanchiquito" (which is flat-out strange); "Two Sisters" (which reads like a flitting, if restrained, soap opera early on).

Standout stories:

"Little Birds": A married man (Manuel) who enjoys watching school girls at innocent public play builds an exotic birdhouse to fascinate them, bring them into viewing range. Disturbing, sharp, with a sublime exit line (despite its repellant subject).

"The Woman on the Dunes": Steamy entry about a young man (Louis) who is seduced by a mysterious woman; the woman tells him about a recent, macabre -- and joyous -- sexual encounter. One of the most memorable 'life in the midst of death'-themed short works I've ever read.

"Sirocco": A woman recounts a scandalous travel experience to a houseguest. Like "The Woman on the Dunes," this expertly-spun tale effortlessly seduces the reader.

"Saffron": Fay, a poor New Orleans woman, marries a wealthy older man (Albert) whose reticence to end her virginity cloaks a darker truth. Sad, harsh, this story.

"Runaway": Jeanette, a sixteen-year old runaway, becomes -- at different times -- the lover of two roommates (Jean and Pierre), who take different approaches in dealing with her. This story's theme-centric exit line, clichéd in the hands of a lesser writer, is rendered deceptively simple and sublime in Nin's.

Other stories:

"Lina" (a jealous homophobe visits her sexually adventurous female friend in Paris);

"Two Sisters" (longer piece about a group of people around two women, Edna and Dorothy, who are done and undone by repression, passion, deception and infidelity);

"The Maja" (a bourgeois Catholic wife slowly comes to an understanding of her painter husband, and her own sensuality);

"A Model" (one of the longer stories in the collection - a young virgin model engages in international travel and learns about physical love vicariously through others);

"The Queen" (a painter rhapsodizes about his favorite artistic and sexual subject, a "cold" whore named Bijou).

"Hilda and Rango" (a woman, used to the particular sexual demands of one lover, adapts to the varied demands of a new lover).

"The Chanchiquito" (strange entry about a woman [Laura], a legendary pig-like creature, and an amorous painter).

"Mandra" (a bisexual woman New York woman has sexual encounters with a quick succession of upper class lovers. Fleet-footed, blurring-memoried tale, whose plot keeps pace with daily city life).

Sunday, December 20, 2009

The Mystic Arts of Erasing All Signs of Death, by Charlie Huston

(hb; 2009)

From the inside flap:

"The fact is, whether it's a dog hit by a train or an old lady who had a heart attack on the can, someone has to clean up the nasty mess. And that someone is Webster Fillmore Goodhue, who just may be the least likely person in Los Angeles County to hold down such a gig. With his teaching career derailed by tragedy, Web hasn't done much for the last year except some heavy slacking. But when his only friend in the world lets him know that his freeloading days are over, and he tires of taking cash from his spaced-out mom and refuses to take any more from his embittered father, Web joins Clean Team -- and soon finds himself sponging a Malibu suicide's brains from a bathroom mirror and flirting with the man's bereaved and beautiful daughter.

"Then things get weird: The dead man's daughter asks a favor. Her brother's in need of somebody who can clean up a mess. Every cell in Web's brain tells him to turn her down, but something else makes him hit the Harbor Freeway at midnight to help her however he can. Is it her laugh? Her desperate tone of voice? The chance that this might be history's strangest booty call? Whatever it is, soon enough it's Web who needs the help when gun-toting California cowboys start showing up on his doorstep. What's the deal? Is it something to do with what he cleaned up in that motel room in Carson? Or is it about the brewing war between rival trauma cleaners? Web doesn't have a clue, but he'll need to get one if he's going to keep from getting his face kicked in. Again. And again. And again."


Quickfire on-the-mark dialogue, twisty memorable characters and plot screws, and cinematic, truly "f**ked-up" situations make this a impossible-to-set-down read.

Laugh-out-loud funny, macabre neo-noir for readers who don't squirm easily, this.

Own this, already!

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Crossfire, by Miyuki Miyabe

(hb; 1998, 2005: prequel to Shadow Family. Translated by Deborah Stuhr Iwabuchi and Anna Husson Isozaki)

From the inside flap:

"Young, pretty Junko Aoki has the extraordinary ability to start fires using just willpower. Furthermore, she believes it to be her duty to use her pyrokinetic powers to punish violent criminals who have evaded justice.

"A chance encounter one night sends Junko on a mission to rescue a young woman abducted by a vicious gang of youths. The trail of bodies she leaves across Tokyo attracts the attention of two very different groups: a secretive vigilante group that tries to recruit her, and the arson squad of the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department.

"Hardly able to keep up with Junko's killing spree, Detective Chikako Ishizu finds herself drawn deeper into a case that defies belief.

"Although on opposite sides of the law, both Junko and Chikako are committed to fighting evil, and both find their deeply held beliefs challenged. While Junko is increasingly disturbed by the innocent lives lost in the crossfire, Chikako is gradually forced to accept the possible existence of paranormal powers."


Insightful police procedural, made memorable by intriguing story elements, deft writing, and complex, relatable characters.

Excellent, entertaining novel: worth your time.

Crossfire, along with another Miyabe novel (Hatobue-gusa), became the basis for a film, Pyrokinesis (aka Kurosufaia).

Pyrokinesis was released in Japan on June 10, 2000.

Akiko Yada played Junko Aoki. Kaori Momoi played "Chikako Ishizu, the Detective". Hideaki Ito played Tada Kazuki. Ryuuji Harada played Yasuaki Makihara. Masami Nagasawa played Kaori Kurata. Hisashi Yoshizawa (billed as Yû Yoshizawa) played Kouichi Kido. Hidenori Tokuyama played Masaki Kogure.

Shisuke Kaneko directed and co-scripted Pyrokinesis. Kota Yamada and Masahiro Yokotani also co-scripted.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Earthbound, by Richard Matheson

(pb; 1989)

From the back cover:

"David and Ellen came to the lonely beachside cottage in hopes of rekindling their troubled marriage. Yet they are not alone on their second honeymoon. Marianna, a beautiful and enigmatic stranger, comes to visit when Ellen is away. But who is Marianna, and where is she from?

"Even as he succumbs to her seductive charms, David realizes that Marianna is far more than a threat to his marriage, for her secrets lie deep in the past and beyond the grave. And her unholy desires endanger the lives and souls of everyone she touches."


This is one of Matheson's lesser novels. Even Matheson's sharp prose fails to elevate this predictable ghost story above its clichés.

If there's a bright spot in this novel (aside from Matheson's crisp writing), it's the philosophical musings of his protagonist, David, who ponders the shapes marriage takes over time. These sections are wonderful, touching, and wise, and made up for my boredom during the other parts. (Fortunately, Earthbound is relatively short, less than three hundred pages.)

Not entirely bad, I'd hesitate to recommend this one. Better to read Matheson's earlier, short fiction if you want a Matheson fix.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

The Partly Cloudy Patriot, by Sarah Vowell

(hb; 2002: non-fiction)

From the inside flap:

". . . [Sarah] Vowell. . .ponders a number of curious questions: Why is she happiest when visiting the sites of bloody struggles like Salem or Gettysburg? Why do people always inappropriately compare themselves to Rosa Parks? Why is a bad life in sunny California so much worse than a bad life anywhere else? What is it about the Zen of foul shots? And, in the title piece, why must doubt and internal arguments haunt the sleepless nights of the true patriot?

"Her essays confront a wide range of subjects, themes, icons and historical moments: Ike, Teddy Roosevelt, and Bill Clinton; Canadian Mounties and German filmmakers; Tom Cruise and Buffy The Vampire Slayer; twins and nerds; the Gettysburg Address, the State of the Union, and George W. Bush's inauguration."


This is an earlier, slightly better book than Vowell's Assassination Vacation.

Partly, shorter, more focalized and laugh-out-loud funny, is darkly snarky like Assassination Vacation. Its emotionally-resonant, logical points about why she feels the way she does, again, are often dead-on with constantly-hilarious asides.

Stand-out chapters: "The First Thanksgiving"; "God Will Give You Blood to Drink in a Souvenir Shot Glass"; "The New German Cinema"; "The Nerd Voice"; "Tom Cruise Makes Me Nervous"; "Cowboys v. Mounties"; "The Partly Cloudy Patriot".

Partly is worth your time, this, if your humor runs dark, sardonic and politically liberal.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Prizzi's Glory, by Richard Condon

(hb; 1988: third book in the Prizzi quadrilogy)

From the inside flap:

"The Prizzis have long proved that with good planning, a Mafia chief can take his family from the humblest beginnings to a billion-dollar base in America. And the acquisition of such large amounts of money automatically commands respectability -- success demands it, money buys it. After all, those old robber barons, the Mellons, the Astors, achieved the ultimate in respectability, so why not the Prizzis? And in Prizzi's Glory, they go for it!

"Franchising their multifarious operations, the members of the Environment will turn their attention to mainstream America where the Game of Politics is played. Helping old Don Corrado Prizzi, capo di tutti capi, achieve his last wish, his granddaughter Maerose -- interior decorator de luxe -- sees to it that the word goes out: the gambling, narcotics, extortion, murder, pornography, loan-sharking, prostitution -- all their old lines of work -- will be franchised to other up-and-comers, while the Prizzis will use the profits for a new kind of plunder: national political power."


Another sharp-eyed, politically smart and plot twisty skewering of the American Dream from Condon, whose Prizzi family -- along with Charley Partanna and other players -- experience a Life makeover, the likes that few people have fully imagined or realized.

I love reading about these characters. Reading about the Prizzis, the Partannas, and the other characters is like visiting passionate, romantic, calculating, and blackly funny family: you feel what they feel, see what they see, etc., whether you admire their craftiness, or groan at their disingenuous reasonings.

Check this series out.

Followed by Prizzi's Money.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

The Chrysalids, by John Wyndham

(pb; 1955: introduction by Christopher Priest)

From the back cover:

"The Chrysalids is set in the future after a devastating global nuclear war. David, the young hero of the novel, lives in a tight-knit community of religious and genetic fundamentalists, always on the alert for any deviation from the norm of God's creation. Abnormal plants are publicly burned, with much singing of hymns. Abnormal humans (who are not really humans) are also condemned to destruction -- unless they succeed in fleeing to the Fringes, that Wild Country where, as the authorities say, nothing is reliable and the devil does his work. David grows up ringed by admonitions: KEEP PURE THE STOCK OF THE LORD; WATCH THOU FOR THE MUTANT.

"At first he does not question. Then, however, he realizes that he too is out of the ordinary, in possession of a power that could doom him to death or introduce him to a new, hitherto unimagined world of freedom."


Classic, quirky, compact science fiction novel from a great writer.

This would make a wonderful English class novel, for the above reasons -- not only that, it's rich with many of the themes that Wyndam has ably mined, albeit more thoroughly, in some of his other books: apocalyptic societies, religious and social repression (and other dynamics),and mutations/genetics.

Short, provocative, fleet-paced work -- worth owning.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

'T' is for Trespass, by Sue Grafton

(hb; 2007: twentieth book in the Kinsey Millhone mysteries)

From the inside flap:

"Beginning slowly with the day-to-day of a private eye, Grafton suddenly shifts from the voice of Kinsey Millhone to that of Solana Rojas, introducing readers to a chilling sociopath. Rojas is not her birth name. It is an identity she cunningly stole, an identity that gives her access to private caregiving jobs. The true horror of this novel builds with excruciating tension as the reader foresees the awfulness that lies ahead. The wrenching suspense lies in whether Kinsey Millhone will realize what is happening in time to intervene.

"'T' is for Trespass,dealing with issues of identity theft, elder abuse, betrayal of trust, and the breakdown in the institutions charged with caring for the weak and the dependent, could not be more timely. It targets an all-to-real rip in the social fabric."


Suspenseful, compelling read that constantly had this reader muttering, "Ooh,'Solana Rojas' is creepy and infuriating!"

Rojas, as a devious character, is a worthy, if petty and vindictive, adversary for Millhone. That said, don't expect Rojas to read like a timeless villain, like, say, Sherlock Holmes's Moriarty, or Doctor Who's The Master.

Excellent novel from a writer who constantly delivers greatness. Check this series out.

Followed by 'U' is for Undertow.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

SuperFreakonomics, by Steven D.Levitt & Stephen J. Dubner

(hb; 2009: non-fiction.  Follow-up work to Freakonomics; precedent work to Think Like a Freak: The Authors of Freakonomics Offer to Retrain Your Brain)

From the inside flap:

"Four years in the making, SuperFreakonomics asks not only the tough questions, but the unexpected ones: What's more dangerous, driving drunk or walking drunk? Why is chemotherapy prescribed so often if it's so ineffective? Can a sex change boost your salary?

"SuperFreakonomics challenges the way we think all over again, exploring the hidden side of everything with such questions as:

"How is a street prostitute like a department-store Santa?

"Why are doctors so bad at washing their hands?

"What's the best way to catch a terrorist?

"Did TV cause a rise in crime?

"What do hurricanes, heart attacks, and highway deaths have in common?

"Are people hardwired for altruism or selfishness?

"Can eating kangaroo save the planet?

"Who adds more value: a pimp or a realtor?

"Levitt and Dubner mix smart thinking and great storytelling. . . whether investigating a solution to global warming or explaining why the price of oral sex has fallen so drastically. By examining how people respond to incentives, they show the world for what it is -- good, bad, ugly, and in the final analysis, superfreaky."


Another off-beat, real-world smart, logical and compelling read from Dubner and Levitt.

As in Freakonomics, the authors back up their eye-catching chapter titles with solid, economist-minded reasoning -- much of controversial on multiple levels -- that makes practical sense.

Own this, if you're willing to set aside your preconceptions of how people, society, morality, etc., work, and entertain a cooler (as in: more rational) view of how things work.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

The Devil's Whisper, by Miyuki Miyabe

(hb; 1989, 2007: translated by Deborah Stuhr Iwabuchi)

From the inside flap:

"The three deaths come in quick succession: one girl jumps from the roof of a six-story building; another falls in front of a train; and the third is hit by a late-night taxi. But how are they related? And are they accidents, suicides or murders?

"Slowly, the answers are uncovered by sixteen-year-old Mamoru, the nephew of the taxi driver currently being held by the police on charges of manslaughter for the death of the third victim.

"Determined to help his uncle, Mamoru discovers that the girl killed by his uncle's taxi had participated in a devious scam to separate vulnerable men from their money, and that three of the four girls involved in the ploy are now dead.

"A powerful businessman comes forward with new evidence in favor of Mamoru's uncle and also to reveal the truth about Mamoru's long-lost father, who disappeared when the boy was only four.

"But in the meantime, Mamoru must go out if he is to save the last of the four girls being targeted by the real killer.

"And then the killer contacts him. . ."


Masterful, sublime, plot-twisty and tightly-executed work, with occasional touches of humor to lighten the suspenseful proceedings. The denouement is character-true, off-kilter and curiously humane, its tone distinctly Japanese (keeping with the down-played tone of the Japanese novels I've read in the past few months).

Perfect, this: worth purchasing and keeping.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Freakonomics, by Steven D. Levitt & Stephen J. Dubner

(hb; 2005: non-fiction; precedent work to SuperFreakonomics)

From the inside flap:

"What is more dangerous, a gun or a swimming pool? What do schoolteachers and sumo wrestlers have in common? Why do drug dealers still live with their moms? How much do parents eally matter? What kind of impact did Roe v. Wade have on violent crime?

"These may not sound like typical questions for an economist to ask. But Steven D. Levitt is not a typical economist. He is a much heralded scholar who studies the stuff and riddles of everyday life -- from cheating and crime to sports and child rearing -- and whose conclusions regularly turn the conventional wisdom on its head. He usually begins with a mountain of data and a simple, unasked question. Some of these questions concern life-and-death issues; others have an admittedly freakish quality. Thus the new field of study contained in this book: freakonomics.

" . . What unites all these stories is a belief that the modern world, despite a surfeit of obfuscation, complication, and downright deceit, is not impenetrable, is not unknowable, and -- if the right questions are asked -- is even more intriguing than we think. All it takes is a new way of looking. Steven Levitt, through devilishly clever and clear-eyed thinking, shows how to see through all the clutter."


Entertaining, off-beat, real-world smart, logical and compelling read, with eye-catching chapter titles: "What Do Schoolteachers and Sumo Wrestlers Have in Common?"; "How Is The Klu Klux Klan Like a Group of Real Estate Agents?"; "Why Do Drug Dealers Still Live with Their Moms?", etc.

The authors back up their flashy chapter titles with solid, economist-minded reasoning -- some of controversial on multiple levels -- that, for this reader, ultimately rings true, and has made this already-wary reader even more wary (but not in a negative way)... even the darkest truths contained in Freakonomics are presented with a skilled, deft hand.

Own this, if you're willing to set aside your preconceptions of how people, society, morality, etc., work, and entertain a cooler (as in: more rational) view of how things work.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

**NON-REVIEW** TreSart L. Sioux interviewed on Logical Lust's Blog

My funny, talented erotica writer-friend TreSart L. Sioux was interviewed on Logical Lust's Blog, in May 2009.

Here's the link!

It's worth checking out if you're open-minded about writing, erotica, have a realistic sense of humor, and want to hear a great writer talk.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

'S' is for Silence, by Sue Grafton

(pb; 2005: nineteenth book in the Kinsey Millhone mysteries)

From the inside flap:

"Cases don't get much colder than that of Violet Sullvian, who disappeared from her rural California town in 1953, leaving behind an abusive husband and a seven-year old named Daisy. But PI Kinsey Millhone has promised Daisy she'll try her best to locate Violet, dead or alive. All signs point to a runaway wife -- the clothes that disappeared; the secret stash of money Violet bragged about; the brazen flirtations she indulged in with local men, including some married ones. Kinsey tries to pick up the trail by speaking to those who remember Violet -- and perhaps were more involved in her life than they let on. But the trail could lead her somewhere very dangerous. Because the case may have gone cold, but some people's feelings about Violet Sullivan still run as hot as ever."


Grafton nails the suspense/PI genre again, with this tension-steadily-mounting, insanely suspenseful end-burn novel. This one is especially dark, as it deals with small town folk, and their long-held secrets and feelings.

Check this series out.

Followed by 'T' is for Trespass.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Doomsman, by Harlan Ellison

(pb; 1958: novella)

From the back cover:

"The man Eskalyo was a threat to the America State system.

"The youth Montoya was abducted by the Seekers and taken to the School for Assassins. What better person could they find to kill Eskalyo than his own son?

"The man Montoya began to doubt. . . doubt the system. . . doubt the School. . . But he had been trained -- brain-programmed to kill! Could Montoya strike the bloody blow that would kill the father he barely remembered?"


Spare, action-oriented writing, spiced wtih science-fiction neologisms, highlights this exciting work. The scenario is familiar, but Ellison's barebones, earnest take on the "man driven to hunt another man" plot is effective and involving. The ending, while not surprising, is equally sharp and sound.

This is one of Ellison's finer, more direct efforts. The Doomsman doesn't sport some of his wilder visions, but Ellison is not going for spectacle here: he's going for brutal simplicity (which he achieves).

All zing, no filler, this. Check it out.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

The Lovely Bones, by Alice Sebold

(hb; 2002)

From the inside flap:

"When we first meet Susie Salmon, she is already in heaven. As she looks down from this strange new place, she tells us, in the fresh and spirited voice of a fourteen-year old girl, a tale that is both haunting and full of hope.

"In the weeks following her death, Susie watches life continuing without her -- her school friends trading rumors about her disappearance, her family holding out hope that she'll be found, her killer trying to cover his tracks. As months pass without leads, Susie sees her parents' marriage being contorted by loss, her sister hardening herself in an effort to stay strong, and her little brother trying to grasp the meaning of the word gone.

"And she explores the place called heaven. It looks a lot like her school playground, with the good kind of swing sets. There are counselors to help newcomers adjust and friends to room with. Everything she ever wanted appears as soon as she thinks of it -- except the thing she wants most: to be with the people she loved on Earth.

"With compassion, longing, and a growing understanding, Susie sees her loved ones pass through grief and begin to mend. Her father embarks on a risky quest to ensnare her killer. Her sister undertakes a feat of remarkable daring. And the boy Susie cared for moves on, only to find himself at the center of a miraculous event."


The novel, considering its horrible subject matter (child murder), is sensitive and balanced. While Sebold shows the dreadful oh-no moments leading up to Susie's murder, she doesn't show much of the actual murder. At the same time, she doesn't spare the reader, focusing on Susie's sensations during the aforementioned event.

Sebold's heaven is mainstream -- God is barely mentioned -- and Susie's "voice" is realistic: while touches of pubescent moodiness appear here and there, death has graced Susie with a certain maturity.

Sebold subtly illustrates the emotive, mutable patterns of grief and anger -- which strike at unexpected moments, triggered by seemingly inconsequential things.

Solid read, worth your time.


The resulting film is scheduled for a January 15, 2010 stateside release.

Peter Jackson directed the film, from a script he co-authored wtih Fran Walsh and Philipa Boyens.

Saoirse Ronan played Susie Salmon. Mark Wahlberg played Jack Salmon. Rachel Weisz played Abigail Salmon. Susan Sarandon played Grandma Lyn. Stanley Tucci played George Harvey. Thomas McCarthy played Principal Caden.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The Man In The High Castle, by Philip K. Dick

(pb; 1962)

From the back cover:

"It's America in 1962. Slavery is legal once again. The few Jews who still survive hide under assumed names. In San Francisco the I Ching is as common as the Yellow Pages. All because some twenty years earlier the United States lost a war -- and now is jointly occupied by Nazi Germany and Japan. This harrowing, Hugo Award-winning novel is the work that established Dick as an innovator in science fiction while breaking the barrier between science fiction and the serious novel of ideas. . ."


Dick's surreal swirl of a first novel is a stunner. In it, marijuana is packaged like cigarettes. The Nazis, still engaged in political internecenic warfare, keep things running, but only barely when the current head of government, Bormann (yes, that Bormann), dies. (Hitler, suffering from syphilis of the brrain, has been institutionalized.)

The Japanese, who hold sovereignty in other, more humane parts of the United States, are wary of their Teutonic counterparts, with good reason -- another war may be imminent, brought about by Nazi intrigue.

Not only that, there's a popular author, Hawthorne Abendsen, who's written a novel, The Grasshopper Lies Heavy, which imagines what might've happened, had the Allies won World War II: a call for revolution? Some of his readers think so.

The multi-viewpoint writing is straightforward, with little -- if any -- filler, each new sentence drawing responses that run the gamut of human emotion. (In particular, the sections about Abendsen's "imagined future" inspire disturbing and comforting bouts of laughter -- in this reader, at least.)

Satirical and unpredictable, this excellent first novel only hints at the genius of Dick's later novels.

Monday, November 16, 2009

'R' is for Ricochet, by Sue Grafton

(pb; 2004: eighteenth book in the Kinsey Millhone mysteries)

From the inside flap:

"Reba Lafferty was a daughter of privilege, the only child of an adoring father. Nord Lafferty was already in his fifties when Reba was born, and he could deny her nothing. Over the years, he quietly settled her many scrapes with the law, but wasn't there for her when she was convicted of embezzlement and sent to the California Institution for Women. Now, at thirty-two, she is about to be paroled, having served twenty-two months of a four-year sentence. Nord Lafferty wants to be sure she stays straight, stays at home and away from the drugs, the booze, the gamblers.

"It seems a straightforward assignment for Kinsey: babysit Reba until she settles in, make sure she follows all the rules of her parole. Maybe all of a week's work. Nothing untoward -- the woman seems remorseful and friendly. And the money is good.

"But life is never that simple, and Reba is out of prison less than twenty-four hours when one of her old crowd comes circling around. . ."


Suspenseful, character-progressive, hard-to-put down read -- like all of Grafton's "alphabet mystery"/Kinsey Millhone novels.

Check this series out.

Followed by 'S' is for Silence.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Psycho II by Robert Bloch

(pb; 1982: second book in the original Psycho trilogy)

From the back cover

"You remember Norman Bates -- the shy motel manager with the fatal mother fixation. Now, years after his bout of butchery that horrified the world, Norman is at large again, breaking free from the psycho ward, cutting a shocking swath of blood all the way to Hollywood -- where, it so happens, they are making a movie about Norman's life and crimes.

"A movie that suddenly and terrifyingly becomes a lot like real life."


The first portion of the book, viewed from Norman's point of view (POV) -- he knows who he is, and he's pissed at his dead Mother -- is exhilarating, delightfully bloody and shocking, and deeply disturbing: it seems Norman has picked up a few sexual kinks in the years since he was institutionalized. This is Bloch at the height of his powers, writing a worthy sequel to Psycho.

When the POV switches to that of other characters, notably Dr. Claiborne, the plot and writing becomes less potent, removed from the intimate, almost-unbearable intensity that is Norman's psychosis.

Seen through the other characters' eyes, Norman is an active bogeyman -- a cautionary tale to scare people, nothing more. That's not to say that there aren't plenty of pulpish thrills in this. Bloch's macabre wit punctuates the prose, and his jabs at Hollywood and its denizens are dead-on. As a murder mystery Psycho II works. It has lots of twists (some of them forced; pulp-writing relies heavily on constant shocks), dark humor and alarming content.
As a Psycho sequel, this failed, though the first section -- seen through Norman's eyes -- is great.In short: good novel from a spectacular writer.

Followed by Psycho House.


A film, sharing the same title and main character, but otherwise unrelated to Bloch's second Psycho novel, lit up stateside silver screens on June 3, 1983.

Richard Franklin directed the film, in which Anthony Perkins reprised his role of Norman Bates. Vera Miles reprised her role of Lila Loomis (previously named Lila Craine). Meg Tilly played Mary Loomis. Robert Loggia played Dr. Bill Raymond. Dennis Franz played Warren Toomey. Tom Holland, who scripted the film, played Deputy Norris. Oz Perkins (son of Anthony Perkins and Berry Berenson, and elder brother of musician Elvis Perkins) played "Young Norman" (he was billed as "Osgood Perkins").

An uncredited Virginia Gregg reprised her voice-role of Norma Bates, Norman's mother.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Now You're One Of Us, by Asa Nonami

(pb; 1993, 2007: translated by Michael Volek & Mitsuko Votek)

From the back cover:

"The Shitos: eight people, four generations, one household, with young newlywed Noriko joining the clan to make nine. Her husband Kazuhito adores her to distraction and her in-laws seem to be the most good-natured people imaginable. the family owns a thriving business and lives on a sprawling estate in the suburbs of Tokyo where they've created a floral paradise. Once a series of strange events and inconsistencies trigger Noriko's suspicions, however, reality becomes inseparable from her own dark imaginings."


Okay read from a potentially-great writer.

The pluses:

Now You're One Of Us flows better than Nonami's translation-stilted The Hunter. Nonami is in her element here, with strong characters and a pace (for the most part) that wastes no time establishing the initially low-key creepiness necessary for this kind of novel.

The minuses:

Now You're One Of Us is predictable.

Anyone who's read Ira Levin's Rosemary's Baby, or seen the resulting film, will spot the lame end-"twist" early on. In this day and age, at least in the United States, that twist is Clichéd, with a capital "C".

While reading Now, I kept hoping that Nonami was playing the clichéd set-up to spring some mind-f*ck/paradigm-shift on the reader. Sadly, this is not the case.

Another deal-killer on this 239-page novel is that it's seventy-five to a hundred pages too long. The last quarter of Now would've been fine if the storyline wasn't so predictable: yes, folks, another case of style over increasingly-thin substance.

Also, in order to support the flagging storyline, Now's characters start acting dumb, really dumb. Not 'cinematic-teenagers-in-a-haunted-house' dumb, but close.

With a less common set-up, and a lot of end-section trimming, this novel-that-should've-been-a-novella is disappointing, at best.

As far as I know of, The Hunter and Now You're One Of Us are the only Nonami English-translated novels available stateside. I hope more come this way soon, because I'd like to read a nailed-it work by this potentially-wondrous author.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Charnel House by Graham Masterton

(pb; 1978)

From the back cover:

"When Seymour Willis told people his house was breathing, they thought he was crazy -- until they heard it for themselves. . . The sound was terrifying -- like a human heartbeat, pounding within the walls.

"Led by John Hyatt, San Francisco Sanitation Department Exterminator, the disbelievers investigated. Their only lead was an ancient Indian legend. Centuries ago a demon coyote had been banished from that very spot. Now the creature lived again -- and killed again -- grotesquely murdering one of the searchers.

"By then it was too late to stop the fiendish force from rejoining the land of the living -- wreaking vengeance on those who had denied his very existence."


Compact, fast-moving, suspenseful, deftly-characterized entry in the horror genre.

A couple of the scenes in Charnel House threatened to crash this reader's suspension of disbelief, but Masterton, aware of how the workings of ancient Indian magic must seem to a non-believer, isn't above cracking darkly-comical jokes, or explaining why characters do the things they do, and why certain scenes play out the way they do.

Solid, and chock full of cinematic money shots, this is a B-flick worthy novel that echoes an earlier novel of Masterton's, The Manitou.

Charnel House sufficiently differs from The Manitou, making Charnel House an original, interlinked work. (The Gitche Manitou, a heavily-mentioned element/character in the Manitou series, gets a mention in Charnel House.)

In some ways, because of its deeper characterizations, its colorful locale (San Francisco), and its fuller explanations of Indian magic, Charnel House is a superior, more fully realized work than The Manitou.

Both novels -- and the Manitou series -- are worth reading, but if you're looking for a fun, horrific afternoon read, check out Charnel House first, then start the Manitou series.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Strange Blood, by Lindsay Jayne Ashford

(hb; 2005: second book in the Megan Rhys Mystery series)

From the inside flap:

". . . forensic psychologist Dr. Megan Rhys is called in to help the police investigate what they believe to be a ritual killing. But as more women die, and as the press, the police, her boss, and even her own family turn on her, Megan stakes everything on finding the killer."


Excellent, tightly-plotted and -characterized read, this. Its tone is warmer, emotionally-broadened, compared to its also-excellent prequel, Frozen, and it was near-impossible to put down (which I did, reluctantly, because I have my own stories to write).

If you're a fan of police or forensics procedurals, you owe it to yourself to check out this series.

Followed by Death Studies.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Psycho by Robert Bloch

(pb; 1959: first book in the original Psycho trilogy)

From the back cover

"When the Bates Motel loomed up out of the storm, Mary Craine thought it was her salvation. The rooms were musty but clean, and the manager, Norman Bates, seemed like a nice enough fellow, if a little strange. . .

"Then Mary met Norman's mother. And the butcher knife.

"The nightmare had just begun. . ."


Pulp-style writing, crisp prose, succinct characterizations, macabre puns and shocking violence form this familiar landmark work. This, easily, is one of the best pulp novels I've ever read.

Own it!

Followed by Psycho II.


Psycho resulted in two film versions.

The first version was released stateside on August 25, 1960. Helmed and produced by Alfred Hitchcock and scripted by Joseph Stefano, it starred Anthony Perkins in his career-defining role of Norman Bates.

Janet Leigh played Marion Crane (cinematic stand-in for Mary Craine). Vera Miles played Lila Craine. John Gavin played Sam Loomis. Martin Balsam played Milton Arbogast. Simon Oakland played Dr. Fred Richmond. Patricia "Pat" Hitchcock (daughter of Alfred Hitchcock and Alma Reville) played Caroline.

An uncredited Virginia Gregg played the voice-role of Norma Bates, Norman's mother.


The second version, directed and produced by Gus Van Sant, was released stateside on December 4, 1998. Joseph Stefano's screenplay for the original version was used for this almost shot-for-shot remake.

Vince Vaughn played Norman Bates. Anne Heche played Marion Crane. Julianne Moore played Lila Crane. Viggo Mortensen played Samuel "Sam" Loomis. William H. Macy played Milton Arbogast. Robert Forster played Dr. Fred Richmond. Phillip Baker Hall played Sheriff Al Chambers. James Remar played "Patrolman". Rita Wilson played Caroline. James LeGros played "Charlie the Car Dealer".

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Dahlia Season, by Myriam Gurba

(pb; 2007: story/novella anthology)

From the back cover:

"Chicana. Goth. Dykling. Desiree Garcia knows she's weird and a weirdo magnet. To extinguish her strangeness, her parents ship her to Saint Michael's Catholic High School, then to Mexico, but neurology can't be snuffed out so easily: screwy brain chemistry holds the key to Desiree's madness. As fellow crazies sense a kinship with her, Desiree attracts a coterie of both wanted and unwanted admirers, including a pair of racist deathrock sisters, a pretty Hispanic girl who did time in California's most infamous mental asylum, and a transnational stalker with a pronounced limp.

". . . Dahlia Season contains not only the title novella, but also several of Gurba's acclaimed short stories."

Overall review:

Beneath the distinctive blend-veneer of literary fringe-work -- read: Mexican-American/dyke/BDSM/goth -- elements lies a level-headed, sweet-natured, true-to-the-author's-roots anthology that celebrates borderline-spiritual diversity, be it dark, innocent, or both.

This is an assured, measured, sometimes-intense, tri-lingual work that flows hard, fast and true. Worth owning, this.

Descriptions, piece by piece:

"Cruising": A cross-dressing woman cruises gay guys on the Long Beach boardwalk.

"Just Drift": A high school junior (Roberto Cassidy Moran) has a memorably bad day. Dramatic, vivid finish to this one.

"White Girl": A Mexican-American goth girl fall in love for the first time, with another goth girl.

"Primera Communión": Esperanza (aka Angel Malo), a take-it-easy homegirl, finds a way to exit her childhood barrio, via an unexpected source.

"Dahlia Season"(novella): See the back cover description.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Day of the Guns, by Mickey Spillane

(pb; 1964: first book of the Tiger Mann Thriller series)

From the inside flap:

". . . counterspy Tiger Mann. . . smashes into a Communist conspiracy involving UN delegates; CIA agents; ex-Nazi spies; a bold-bosomed, no-good beauty who's so kissable and so killable. . ."


Standard, moves-so-fast-it-dizzies-the-reader effort from Spillane; it's fun, it's fast, it's Spillane by-the-numbers -- not a bad thing, necessarily, just not one of his better efforts.

Mann, as a character, is a stand-in for Mike Hammer: they're essentially the same hard-hitting characters, but with a slight, novel-flawing difference -- Mann speechifies more than Hammer does (though Hammer was understandably nationalistic in the post-9/11 novel, The Goliath Bone).

Mann's occasional blusterings stalled, distracted this reader from, the novel's adrenalized, slight storyline.

Also: the supposed "twist" at the end of the novel is obvious from the get-go.

Worth reading, if you're a Spillane fan. Just don't expect a lot from this one.

Followed by Bloody Sunrise.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

The Hunter, by Asa Nonami

(hb; 1996, 2006: translated by Juliet Winters Carpenter. First book in the Detective Takako Otomichi Mystery series)

From the inside flap:

"When Takako Otomichi chooses the career of detective, her family disapproves and her male colleagues refuse to take her seriously, especially hard-bitten old gumshoe Sergeant Tamotsu Takizawa, her reluctant partner on the hunt for a mysterious murderer whose grisly trademark is to rip out the throats of his victims.

"The pair must put their differences aside as their search for the killer takes them into Tokyo's seedy underworld of drugs, nightclubs, and teenage prostitution, and to the terrifying realization that the murderer is some kind of wild animal on the loose in the city streets. Before long, Takako is hot on the trail of her dangerous yet highly intelligent prey in a hair-raising journey that will bring her face-to-face with the killer and face-to-face with herself."


I don't know if it's a translation issue -- no disrespect toward Carpenter's translating abilities -- or an inherent element of Nonami's writing, but the first quarter of The Hunter is an awkward, stilted affair. Perhaps it's appropriate, given how awkward and hostile Otomichi and Takizawa are towards each other, as they slowly learn to work together as partners.

This series set-up novel gets better in the second quarter, as Otomichi and Takizawa's personal details, as well as the plot, begin to gel. Both of the lead characters, as well as a couple of the background characters, are interesting. The plot, occasionally flashy and twistless, is police procedural-standard at best, aside from the case's two wild-card elements.

Nonami has crafted an uneven but attention-getting work: a series kick-off that, with its interesting lead characters and strange hook-elements, makes me curious about her next Takako Otomichi Mystery (if it gets published stateside). A second entry could easily improve upon the first, if The Hunter is any indication; Nonami has it in her to be a stand-out writer.

Check it out, just don't expect too much.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Further Tales of the City, by Armistead Maupin

(pb; 1982: Book Three in the Tales of the City series)

From the back cover:

"The calamity-prone residents of 28 Barbary Lane are at it again in this deliciously dark novel of romance and betrayal. While Anna Madrigal imprisons an anchorwoman in her basement, Michael Tolliver looks for love at the National Gay Rodeo, DeDe Halcyon Day and Mary Ann Singleton track a charismatic psychopath across Alaska, and society columnist Prue Giroux loses her heart to a derelict living in a San Francisco park."


Another reader-charming entry in the warm, wild and briefly morbid Tales of the City series: worthwhile follow-up to Tales of the City and More Tales of the City.

Followed by Babycakes.

Further Tales of the City, the television mini-series, aired stateside on May 6, 2001. It was scripted by James Lecesne and book author Armistead Maupin (who also has a non-speaking cameo as "Man exiting Glory Holes").

Pierre Gang, who directed More Tales of the City, directed this.

Olympia Dukakis reprised her role of Anna Madrigal. Laura Linney reprised her role of Mary Ann Singleton. Whip Hubley reprised his role of Brian Hawkins (from More Tales of the City). Paul Hopkins reprised his role of Michael "Mouse" Tolliver (from More Tales of the City). Bill Campbell reprised his role of Jon Fielding.

Barbara Garrick reprised her role of DeDe Day Halcyon. Françoise Robertson reprised her role of D'orothea/Dorothy Williams (from More Tales of the City).

Mary Kay Place reprised her role of Prue Giroux (from Tales of the City).

Jackie Burroughs played Mona "Mother Mucca" Ramsey (whose character is absent from the book version of Further Tales of the City).

Sandra Oh played Bambi Kanetaka. In 2006, Oh played Anna, the grown-up version of DeDe Day Halcyon's daughter, in The Night Listener. (Anna's relationship to DeDe isn't mentioned in the movie version of The Night Listener, but it is in the book version of it.)

Joel Grey plays Guido. Parker Posey reprised her role of Connie Bradshaw Fetzner.

Monday, October 26, 2009

'Q' Is For Quarry, by Sue Grafton

(pb; 2002: seventeenth book in the Kinsey Millhone mysteries)

From the inside flap:

"Back in 1969, a lot of young people were hitting the road and disappearing. More than one of them wound up dead -- including the girl in daisy-patterned pants who was found in a quarry off Highway 1 in Lompoc, the victim of multiple stab wounds. Eighteen years later, she's still a Jane Doe -- and the cops who found her are still haunted by the case. Anxious to solve it, but no longer in their prime, they turn to Kinsey Millhone for help. If nothing else, they'd just like to identify the body. But this ice-cold case heats up more quickly than they expect. And for Kinsey, it will lead to a lot of dangerous discoveries -- including some about her past."


Con Dolan, retired police lieutenant and Kinsey's friend, requests her help in helping solve an eighteen-year old Jane Doe case he and his deathly-ill ex-cop partner (Stacy Oliphant) were unable to close the file on.

This request brings Dolan, Oliphant and Kinsey into contact with a variety of small-town suspects, many of whom are afraid, and/or have something to hide.

Suspenseful, character-progressive, hard-to-put down read -- like all of Grafton's "alphabet mystery"/Kinsey Millhone novels.

Check this series out.

Side-note: this is loosely based on a real-life cold case (readers should check out the "Author's Note" that follows the novel, complete with a facial reconstruction photo).

Followed by 'R' is for Ricochet.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Star Wars: Death Troopers, by Joe Schreiber

(hb; 2009)

From the inside flap:

"When the Imperial prison barge Purge -- temporary home to five hundred of the galaxy's most ruthless killers, rebels, scoundrels and thieves -- breaks down in a distant, uninhabited part of space, its only hope appears to lie with a Star Destroyer found drifting derelict, and seemingly abandoned. But when a boarding party from the Purge is sent to scavenge for parts, only half of them come back -- bringing with them a horrific disease so lethal that within hours nearly all aboard the Purge die in ways too hideous to imagine.

"And death is only the beginning.

"The Purge's half-dozen survivors -- two teenage brothers, a sadistic captain of the guards, a couple of rogue smugglers, and the chief medical officer, the lone woman on board -- will do whatever it takes to stay alive. But nothing can prepare them for what lies waiting aboard the Star Destroyer amid its vast creaking emptiness that isn't really empty at all. For the dead are rising: soulless, unstoppable, and unspeakable hungry."


Solid melding of the Star Wars, Alien and Night of the Living Dead franchises.

Schreiber, an entertaining and fast-paced writer, doesn't bring much that most readers haven't seen before, but his writing has a spooky and classic-cinematic sense of dread, resulting in some B-flick-worthy, memorably scary-gory moments.

Good read; eye-catching book cover -- both are edgy for a Star Wars novel. Worth your time, but not your money (at least not in book form).

Check it out.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Fire in the Blood, by Irène Némirovsky

(hb; 1941, 2007: translated by Sandra Smith)

From the inside flap:

"Written in 1941, the manuscript for Fire in the Blood was entrusted in pieces to family and a friend when the author was sent to her death in Auschwitz. The novel -- only now assembled in its entirety -- teems with the intertwined lives of an insular French village in the years before the war, when 'peace' was less important as a political state than as a coveted personal condition: the untroubled pinnacle of happiness.

"At the center of the tale is Silvio: in his younger years he fled the boredom of the village and made a life of travel and adventure. Now he's returned, living in a farmer's hovel in the middle of the woods, and, much to his family's chagrin, perfectly content with his solitude.

"But when he attends the wedding of his favorite young cousin -- 'she has the thing that, when I was young, I used to value most in women: she has fire' -- Silvio begins to be drawn back into the complicated life of this small town. As his narration unfolds, we are given an intimate picture of the loves and infidelities, the scandals, the youthful ardor and regrets of age that tie Silvio to the long-unguarded secrets of the past."


Nuanced, intimate work, narrated by an old man (Silvio), whose youthful wandering ways still haunt him, even as decades-old secrets begin surfacing amongst his fellow villagers.

Excellent read, worth owning, perfect.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

More Tales of the City, by Armistead Maupin

(pb; 1980: Book Two in the Tales of the City series)

From the back cover:

"The divinely human comedy that began with Tales of the City rolls recklessly along as Michael Tolliver pursues his favorite gynecologist, Mona Ramsey uncovers her roots in a desert whorehouse, and Mary Ann Singleton finds love at sea with the amnesiac of her dreams."


All the warmth, wit, bawdiness, and often-surprising twists that made Tales of the City such a joy to read are seamlessly recreated, with several of the first book's bizarre mysteries and hanging plotlines concluded in its follow-up -- even as new ones are tantalizingly offered to readers.

Vivacious, organic (as in: it reads like real-life) sequel to a landmark San Francisco-centric read.

Worth owning, this.

Followed by Further Tales of the City.

More Tales of the City, the television mini-series, aired stateside on June 7, 1998. It was scripted by Nicholas Wright, and directed by Pierre Gang.

Laura Linney reprised her role of Mary Ann Singleton. Olympia Dukakis reprised her role of Anna Madrigal. Nina Siemaszko replaced Chloe Webb in the role of Mona Ramsey. Jackie Burroughs played Mona "Mother Mucca" Ramsey. Paul Hopkins replaced Marcus D'Amico in the role of Michael "Mouse" Tolliver. Bill Campbell (billed as "William Campbell") reprised his role of Jon Fielding. Whip Hubley replaced Paul Gross in the role of Brian Hawkins. Colin Ferguson played Burke Christopher Andrew.

Barbara Garrick reprised her role of DeDe Day Halcyon. Françoise Robertson replaced Cynda Williams in the role of D'orothea/Dorothy Williams. Thomas Gibson reprised his role of Beauchamp Day.

Ian McKellen reprised his role of Archibald Anson Gidde. Paul Bartel reprised his role of Charles Hillary Lord. Parker Posey reprised her role of Connie Bradshaw. Suzanne Girard played [Brian's mysterious] "Woman at Blinds".

Book author Armistead Maupin played a "Priest".

Sunday, October 18, 2009

A Dish Taken Cold, by Anne Perry

(hb; 2000: novella)

From the inside flap:

"It is 1792 in the terror-ridden Paris. . . In the three years since the storming of the Bastille, the economy has failed and the power of the monarchy has withered into utter ineffectuality. Chaos reigns in the steamy summer streets. The city is hungry -- for justice, for vengeance, for bread. So is Celie.

"Employed in the household of the celebrated Madame de Staël, the young, unwed Celie daily leaves her baby in the care of a friend, Amandine. One day, grievously, Celie's infant suffers an accidental, inexplicable death, which apparently occurred, so Celie learns later, while Amandine lay in the arms of her lover, Georges. Her woe flaring into rage, Celie plots a sure but horrific revenge among revolutionaries ready to put to death any woman or man named traitor."


Well-written, straightforward work whose characters and prose vividly convey the terror, fervor and chaos of a revolution-torn country, in this case France, specifically Paris. The character-based end-twist is obvious early on, but it's a decent read from an excellent writer.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Promenade Of The Gods, by Koji Suzuki

(hb; 2003, 2008: translated by Takami Nieda)


Caveat - (possible) spoilers in this review.

Shirow Murakami, a thirty-something slacker-ish teacher, begins investigating the disappearance of his close boyhood friend (Kunio Matsuoka), with help from Kunio's wife, Miyuki.

Shirow and Miyuki soon find out that others -- including Ryoko Kano, a television actress -- have also disappeared, in much the same manner. More than that, Ryoko and Kunio may be somehow linked to an obscure polytheistic religion ("Halo of Heaven and Earth") whose roots began in the later years of World War II, before going underground after 1986. . .

What have the cult members really been doing these past nine years? (It's 1995.) And why are they, seemingly dormant all these years, suddenly back in the Halo fold?

Promenade, like Suzuki's other stateside-published works, is tightly plotted, character-focused, with surreality peppering the clever plot.

Despite these promising elements, this is a disappointing, style-over-substance read from Suzuki. It's ordinary, not distinctive like Suzuki's other works.

Not only that, the mystery surrounding the cult -- not much to begin with -- will probably be figured by most readers long before the novel's dramatic-but-ultimately-limp finish.

This is for hardcore Suzuki fans only. If you don't fall into that category, skip this one.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Assassination Vacation, by Sarah Vowell

(hb; 2005: non-fiction)

From the back cover:

"Sarah Vowell exposes the glorious conundrums of American history and culture with wit, probity, and an irreverent sense of humor. With Assassination Vacation, she takes us on a road trip like no other -- a journey to the pit stops of American political murder, and through the myriad ways they have been used for fun and profit, for political and cultural advantage.

"From Buffalo to Alaska, Washington to Dry Tortugas, Vowell visits locations immortalized and influenced by the spilling of politically important blood, reporting as she goes with her trademark blend of wisecracking humor, remarkable honesty, and thought-provoking criticism. We learn about the jinx that was Robert Todd Lincoln (present at the assassinations of Presidents Lincoln, Garfield, and McKinley) and witness the politicking that went into the making of the Lincoln Memorial. The resulting narrative is much more than an entertaining and informative travelogue -- it is the disturbing and fascinating story of how American death has been manipulated by popular culture, including literature, architecture, sculpture, and -- the author's favorite -- historical tourism. Though the themes of loss and violence are explored and we make detours to see how the Republican Party became the Republican Party, there are all kinds of lighter diversions along the way into the lives of the three presidents and their assassins, including mummies, show tunes, mean-spirited totem poles, and a nineteenth-century biblical sex cult."


This chuckle-worthy, humorously macabre read is focused, even with Vowell's many sidebar observations, sometimes-ironically linked events and people, and various past and modern-day facts.

Vowell makes no secret of her dislike of the then-current U.S. President (George W. Bush, whose name she can barely utter) and what the current crop of Republicans are doing, but she's fair in her presentation of how, in small ways, the Republican Party came to its current state. Vowell's listing of these events is not exhaustive nor complete - it's simply another subtheme sidebar, in a parade of odd links, characters, and an honest look at old-time politicking (even Abraham Lincoln is not spared).

Worth your time, this, if your humor runs dark, snarky and politically liberal.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Hit Hard, by Joey Kramer with William Patrick & Keith Garde

(hb; 2009: memoir/autobiography. Introduction by Nikki Sixx)

From the inside flap:

"In 1997, amid Aerosmith's sold-out world tour and number one album release, word about Joey's troubles was reported in the press. Despite the advice he had received to play it down, Joey revealed in an interview his ongoing struggles with depression. The response from fans and people battling those same internal demons was overwhelming. Joey -- who has been the drummer in Aerosmith since it was founded in 1970 and is the first member of the band to release his own book -- now tells the complete story: the early days of the band, glamorous drug-addled events leading up to their eventual sobriety, battles within his family and among bandmates, and the explosive internal dynamics in Aerosmith that continue to unleash a fury of endless creativity.

"This is not just another rock n' roll memoir. In addition to the never-before-told Aerosmith war stories that abound in the book, Hit Hard unpacks the history of a rock star who was both fragile and tough, who, after years of insane wildness, became willing to accept help and finally kick a serious alcohol and drug addiction, only to find that the real terrors and hard work were still ahead. It's the story of an average kid from an average American suburb who went through physical and emotional trauma. It's about years of depression and the nervous breakdown at the height of the band's comeback success. Ultimately, Hit Hard is about how Joey recognized his confusion between love and abuse, awakening to the kind of self-acceptance and compassion that make relationships possible in the 'real world' as a member of the biggest band in American history."


Straightforward, no-frills memoir/autobiography.

Kramer, Patrick and Garde write about: Kramer's Bronx childhood in the Fifties, born to a tough, emotionally-stilted father and strict mother; how, early on, he discovered rock n' roll, and later, r&b and other styles of drumming; about how he and rock drummer/singer Steven Tallarico (later named Steven Tyler) grew up in nearby neighborhoods, and met at key moments in both their lives; and how Kramer, over the course of thirty-plus years, overcame a cycle of depression and emotional abuse (at the hands of his father, Steven Tyler, and ex-wife April) to finally become a stronger, sober musician and man.

Kramer and his co-authors don't skimp on the main selling point of the book (Aerosmith's media-fabled chemical and musical decadence), nor do they make these already-chronicled years the main point of the book, which sets this apart from other rock/drug-addiction memoirs.

The closest memoir I've read of this sort is Nikki Sixx's The Heroin Diaries; fittingly, Sixx provides a thoughtful, punkish Introduction to the book. As Sixx writes in his Introduction: "Joey had the balls to see what's underneath the hood, and fix it. Being a rock star was easy compared to that."

Solid, don't-rush-to-read memoir about one man's emotional maturation, from youth to middle age. Any readers seeking salacious and scandalous books about Aerosmith might want to check other tell-alls about the band.

Friday, October 09, 2009

A Touch of Dead, by Charlaine Harris

(hb; 2009: story anthology. Tenth/side entry in The Sookie Stackhouse Novels)

From the inside flap:

"In 'Fairy Dust,' Sookie finds her mind-reading talents in demand when a fairy from a set of triplets gets dusted.

" 'Dracula Night' may be the commemoration of the Prince of Darkness's birth, but it's Sookie who gets a tasty-looking present.

"Learning that her cousin is dead is shocking enough for Sookie. Learning that her cousin was a vampire who got staked leaves her speechless in 'One Word Answer.'

"When Sookie teams up with her witchy friend Amelia to discover who has it out for Bon Temps's most successful insurance agent, they get 'Lucky.'

"A solo Sookie has the holiday blues in 'Gift Wrap,' until she has an unexpected encounter with someone who has bigger problems than loneliness."

Overall review:

Caveat: (possible) spoilers in this review.

Fun, non-essential Sookie read.

These stories fill in certain event-blanks between the Sookie novels, but, for regular Sookie readers, there's an element of ok-get-to-the-#$%-point impatience to these pieces. The reason for this: Harris does a lot of necessary novel plot-/character-recapping in these stories, recaps that may bore those who have read the novels.

These pieces aren't bad, but, like I said before, they're non-essential.

One of the nice things Harris does, in her Introduction, is tell readers where these stories lie in the Sookie timeline (e.g., "The action in 'Fairy Dust' takes place after the events in Dead To The World.").

Not wondering when these stories happened eliminates any unncessary distractions for Sookie readers like myself, who read (and write) according to the timelines of the serial books we read (and write).

Also, Lisa Desimini's interior art imbues the pieces with additional warmth and much-needed quirkiness (there's not a lot of quirk in these stories).

"Gift Wrap" was my least favorite story. Its plot, barely saved by a character-based twist at the end, was otherwise pure Paranormal Harlequin romance.

Standout stories: "Dracula Night" (I liked seeing Eric get geek-fanboy about something), and "Lucky" (the most interesting, least-predictable story in this mix).

Decent read, unnecessary for ongoing Sookie-book fans.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Bukowski And The Beats, by Jean-François Duval

(pb; 1998, 2002: non-fiction)

From the back cover:

"There are several reasons for this book. The principle one is pleasure -- the pure joy of returning to Charles Bukowski and to the Beats, by dipping into their legend -- particularly since the Beat movement is now enjoying a lively revival of attention through new editions, appearances of previously unpublished material, exhibitions, and other events.

"There is also the pleasure of rediscovering Charles Bukowski, cult author whose reputation continues to grow steadily all over the world. The full drama of his humor, fits of anger, memories, frustrations, and distinctive grace come to life during Dvual's long interview with Buk -- An Evening at Buk's Place. In February 1986, drinks in hand, the two hit it off with unusual rapport, providing a dialogue that is an essential part of Bukowski's canon.

"The pleasure also consists of having a close look at the links and contradictions between Bukowski and the Beat constellation -- a subject on which the enfant terribles of American literature have variously reacted with hatred, resentment, and, at times, actual admiration.

"Jean-François Duval, novelist, essayist and journalist, gives us an inspired commentary, plus a bibliography, a Who's Who, some never-before-seen photos, and much more."


Entertaining, informative read about Charles "Buk" Bukowski's relationship with the Beat writers and the rest of the world, on and off the page.

First, an abbreviated Beat-related history.

According to Duval:

"Originally 'Beat' was an imprecise term created in Times Square, New York by the poet and thief Herbert Hunke. Kerouac took the term and gave it it content. At the beginning the expression was quite meaningless -- 'Man, I'm beat,' Hunke would say. He hadn't a cent to his name, he slept in the Underground, it didn't really bother him that nothing ever went right. Straight away, seeing the light in Hunke's eyes, the light that radiated from him, Kerouac understood that 'beat' didn't simply mean worn out, but also blessed -- blessed because he was worn out. This light contradicted the apparent state of degeneration that the expression entailed.

"In 1948, John Clellon Holmes (future chronicler of the movement) asked how Kerouac would characterize the term, and conscious of Hunke's words [Kerouac] replied: 'I guess you might say we're a beat generation.' Holmes used the expression for the first time in a famous article in The Sunday Times on November 16, 1952, and also in his novel Go in which he used Kerouac's material. . . [Kerouac's] On The Road appeared only five years afterwards in 1957."
(p. 38)

In the year prior to On The Road's publication, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, founder of the publishing house City Lights (now City Lights Bookstore in San Francisco), had published Allen Ginsberg's politically provocative poem Howl. Publication of this poem cemented Ginsberg's celebrity in the literary world, and earned Ferlinghetti a court conviction: when he published the poem, Ferlinghetti had violated obscenity laws.

These two events started a literary firestorm that inflamed society -- especially pop culture.

According to Duval, "soon it was everywhere, the new look, the 'twisted' slouchy look; finally it began to appear in movies (James Dean) and on television. . . the bop visions became common property. . . carried over to the new rock n' roll youth via Montgomery Clift (leather jacket), Marlon Brando (T-shirt) and Elvis Presley (long sideburns). . ." (p. 48)

Bukowski began getting published in the mid-Fifties, and his raw (a word usually associated with Bukowski), crude-language style inevitably got him compared to the Beats, who, in their own distinctive ways, eschewed the narrative rules: Kerouac loved his rambly, poetic, nostalgic descriptions; William S. Burroughs was hygenically stark and/or hallucinogenic, depending on which novel you read; Ginsberg was political, provocative, with his crazy word flights; Ken Kesey's love of psilocybine, mescaline and LSD impelled him to write the novel One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest; there are others, but I don't want to belabor the point.

The truth of it was that Bukowski (born Henry Bukowski) didn't get on with most of the Beat writers -- e.g., the cold, "disturbing" (Duval's word) Burroughs had no interest in meeting Bukowski (the feeling was mutual); Ginsberg was too "silly" (Bukowski's word) and shrill in his political posturings, on and off the page; Kerouac was off on his own trip, as was Bukowski.

And so it goes.

Given the scope of these authors' popularity, an inevitable cross-pollination of influence seeped into some of these writers' works and lives (sometimes, years later, as was the case with Bukowski).

However, for the most part, Bukowski and the Beats were separate entities, born of similar societal and literary dynamics.

This excellent, reader-friendly study is, appropriately, published with Duval's February 1986 interview with Bukowski. Titled "An Evening At Buk's," Bukowski's grace, humor and warmth, usually glimpsed between the lines of his sex- and booze-drenched works, shines through.

At heart, Bukowski comes off as a honest guy who understands all too well that everyone has their own store of bullsh*t that they have to sort through, and that one's walk should gibe with his talk. For the most part, Bukowski seems to accomplish the latter, as well.

Exemplary, fascinating book, this. Check it out. For Bukowski fans, it's (probably) worth owning.

<em>The Letter, the Witch and the Ring</em> by John Bellairs

(pb; 1976: third book in the Lewis Barnavelt mysteries . Drawings by Richard Egielski .) From the back cover “Rose Rita [Pottinger]...