Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Sure Of You, by Armistead Maupin

(pb; 1989: Book Six in the Tales of the City series)

From the back cover:

"A fiercely ambitious TV talk show host finds she must choose between national stardom in New York and a husband and child in San Francisco. Caught in the middle is their longtime friend, a gay man whose own future is even more uncertain..."


Less slapstick than its preceding novel, Significant Others, Sure of You is a worthy, if more serious (and possibly overdue) entry in the Tales of the City series.

Mary Ann Singleton is one of my least favorite Tales characters. Her personality, from Book One, has been edged with unnecessarily b*tchy judgments, and in Sure Of You her passive-aggressiveness is given full expression. This novel's focus on her character made me want her to be gone, already!

On the plus side, Thack Sweeney (Alcatraz guide and Michael's lover), introduced in Significant Others, is present; so is Polly Berendt, spiky Plant Parenthood nurserywoman (also from Significant Others).

Sure Of You also marks the series return of Burke Andrew, who last appeared in Further Tales of the City. In Sure Of You, he's a visiting media personality. His plot-necessary parts are mercifully brief.

Somber, still-excellent novel.

Followed by Michael Tolliver Lives.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Raising The Dead, by Daniel Cohen

(hb; 1997: non-fiction)

From the inside flap:

"If you have ever sat through a Frankenstein movie and gasped when Boris Karloff as the monster comes to life, you are in for a treat.

"Wait until you find out about zombies, walking mummies, mad scientists trying to bring bodies back to life, and people who were alive long after they should have been dead and buried.

"Then there are the body snatchers, the grave robbers without whom no mad scientist cold really do his job.

"Are these stories true? Endless films have been made, numerous books have been written. But where did the original tales come from? Daniel Cohen sets forth all the facts as they are known today. None of Raising The Dead has been made up; all of it is based on extensive research.

"It is fascinating reading -- gruesomely fascinating -- all you ever wanted to know about the undead, and the unburied.

"A list of ten classic films having to do with raising the dead is included. All are available on videotapes."


Short, fun and interesting primer for those looking into the subjects described on the book's jacket flap. The writing and subject matter is broad enough to be approached by those new to the undead genre(s), but detailed and factual enough to likely include something for those, like myself, who are fairly well-versed in undead lore, history and media.

Check it out. This is a great "gateway" book for those who are looking to research (non-religious) death and resurrection history and horrors.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Significant Others, by Armistead Maupin

(pb; 1987: Book Five in the Tales of the City series)

From the back cover:

"Tranquility reigns in the ancient redwood forest until a women-only music festival sets up camp downriver from an all-male retreat for the ruling class. Among those entangled in the ensuing mayhem are a lovesick nurseryman, a panic-stricken philanderer, and the world's most beautiful fat woman..."


Familiar characters -- many of them old fictional friends, by now -- continued to amuse, thrill, vex and warm the heart of this reader. Maupin writes with a sure head for evolving characters, plot and feels-like-real-life themes, many of them ongoing (the social dynamics of AIDS, coupledom and friendship, the necessity of humor in everything, et cetera).

One of more slapstick entries in the Tales of the City series. Check it out.

Followed by Sure Of You.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Riding The Rap, by Elmore Leonard

(hb; 1995: second book in the Raylan Givens series)

From the inside flap:

"Raylan Givens, U.S. marshal, is working on Warrants, bringing in fugitive felons, when Harry Arno disappears again and Raylan feels obligated to find him. This time with misgivings. Raylan believes Harry has dropped out of sight to get attention and win back his former lover, Joyce, who had fallen into Raylan's arms, but now seems concerned only with Harry's welfare.

"The last person to see Harry is a nifty young psychic -- certified medium and spiritualist -- named Dawn Navarro. As soon as Raylan talks to her he senses that Harry has very likely been kidnapped and Dawn is involved. . ."


More colorful characters, slick writing and fast-paced action from Leonard. If you liked Pronto, chances are you'll like Riding The Rap.

Check it out.

Followed by the short story "Fire in the Hole," published in Leonard's anthology When the Women Come Out to Dance.


Riding The Rap is the basis for an episode of the cable show Justified ("Fixer", which aired stateside on March 30, 2010).

Timothy Olyphant played Raylan Givens. Nick Searcy played Art Mullen. Joelle Carter played Ava Crowder. Page Kennedy played Curtis Mims. Jacob Pitts played Tim Gutterson. Erica Tazel played Rachel Brooks.

(Raylan Givens is the only character that appeared in the novel. The other characters are television stand-ins for some of the other novel characters.)

Sunday, April 18, 2010

A Sudden, Fearful Death, by Anne Perry

(pb; 1993: fourth book in the William Monk series)

From the back cover:

"In a London hospital, Prudence Barrymore, a talented nurse who had once been one of Florence Nightingale's angels of mercy in the Crimean War, meets sudden death by strangulation. Private inquiry agent William Monk is engaged to investigate this horrific crime -- which intuition tells him was no random stroke of violence by a madman.

"Greatly helped by his unconventional friend Hester Latterly, another of Miss Nightingale's nurses, and barrister Oliver Rathbone, Monk assembles the portrait of a remarkable woman. Yet he also discerns the shadow of a tragic evil that darkens every level of society, and a frightening glimmer of his own eclipsed past."


Perry abandons the slow-build of Defend And Betray for a quicker, more immediately upsetting pace and plot this time out.

The result is a gripping, "waiting for the other shoe to drop" read, with a somber, novel- and character-centric denoument.

Another excellent offering from Perry. Check it out.

Followed by The Sins Of The Wolf.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

The Girl Who Played With Fire by Stieg Larsson

(hb; 2006, 2009: second book in the Millennium series. Translated from the Swedish by Reg Keeland.)

From the inside flap:

"Mikael Blomkvist, crusading journalist and publisher of the magazine Millennium, has decided to run a story that will expose an extensive sex trafficking operation between Eastern Europe and Sweden, implicating well-known and highly placed members of Swedish society, business and government.

"But he has no idea just how explosive the story will be, until, on the eve of publication, the two investigative reporters are murdered. And even more shocking for Blomkvist: the fingerprints found on the murder weapon belong to Lisbeth Salander -- the troubled, wise-beyond-her-years genius hacker who came to his aid in The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, and who now becomes the focus and fierce heart of The Girl Who Played With Fire.

"As Blomkvist, alone in his belief in Salander's innocence, plunges into an investigation of the slayings, Salander herself is drawn into a murderous hunt in which she is the prey, and which compels her to revisit her dark past in an effort to settle with it once and for all."


Played With Fire picks up a year after the events of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo.

A worthwhile sequel, this:  Played With Fire capitalizes on the many strengths of its prequel -- intriguing characters, fleet-footed plot and action, life-true character-based twists, and an ending that left this reader wanting more, now!

Not only that, but Larsson's first Dragon Tattoo sequel maintains the fresh plot-structural feel of the first book: both are non-formulaic (but familiar enough to be bestsellers) and character-true.

This, too, is worth purchasing.

Followed by The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet's Nest.


A Swedish film version of The Girl Who Played With Fire was released in Denmark and Sweden on September 18, 2009. The film graced stateside screens on October 13, 2010.

Michael Nyqvist played Michael Blomkvist. Noomi Rapace played Lisbeth Salander. Lena Endre played Erika Berger. Michalis Koutsogiannakis played Dragan Armanskij. Jacob Ericksson played Christer Malm.

Peter Andersson played "The Lawyer Nils Bjurnson". Per Oscarsson played Holger Palmgren. Yasmine Garbi played Miriam Wu. Paolo Roberto played himself.

Johan Kylén played Inspector Jan Bublanski. Tanja Lorentzon played Sonja Modig. Magnus Krepper played Hans Faste. Anders Ahlbom (billed as Anders Ahlbom Rosendahl) played Dr. Peter Teleborian. Niklas Hjulström played "Richard Ekström - Prosecutor".

Micke Spreitz, billed as Mikael Spreitz, played Ronald Niedermann. Georgi Staykov played Alexander Zalachenko.

Tehilla Blad played "Young Lisbeth Salander". Sofia Ledarp played Malin Erikson.

Daniel Alfredson directed the film, from a script by Jonas Frykberg.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Rape Me (a.k.a. Baise-moi) by Virginie Despentes

(pb; 1991, 1999: translated from the French by Bruce Benderson)

From the back cover

"Manu and Nadine have had all they can take. Manu has been brutally raped, and determines it's not worth leaving anything precious lying around vulnerable -- including her very self. She teams up with Nadine, a nihlist and prostitute who watches pornography incessantly, and they enact their own version of les vols et les viols (rape and pillage) -- they lure men and have sex without a second thought; they rob stores and kill anyone who gets in their way. Nadine and Manu are in search of ultimate, true freedom -- even if it means death."


Raw, chaotic-charactered, sexually explicit crime spree novel. Despentes' writing is spare, the characters -- even Manu and Nadine -- read like real people, and are (almost) sympathetic; the tone and headrush-pace are old-school violent and brash as mid-Seventies, f**k-everyone-and-everything punk.

Potent, nasty-kicks book, if you don't mind your reading choices spiked with unrepentant, self-destructive hedonists, equally crazy notions, and a couple of terrifying -- if brief -- rape scenes.


Rape Me, released cinematically under its original French-equivalent title (Baise-Moi), came out on in France on June 28, 2000. The film's stateside release date was June 1, 2001.

Karen Lancaume (billed as Karen Bach) played Nadine. Raffaëla Anderson played Manu. Ouassini Embarek played Radouan. Delphine McCarty played Severine. Hacène Beddrouh played Lakim. Patrick Eudeline played Francis.

Rape Me was co-directed and co-scripted by book author Virginie Despentes and Coralie.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

How To Train Your Dragon, by Cressida Cowell

(hb; 2003)


Solid, cute, sometimes clever and funny, tale about a geeky Viking kid, Hiccup Horrendous Haddock III, who's trying to train a selfish, lazy, runt dragon (whom Hiccup accurately names Toothless).

Worthwhile read; don't bother owning it, unless you have a small child who absolutely loves dragons and/or Vikings. (The resulting CGI movie, sans the 3-D money grab, is worth owning -- its reworked/streamlined story structure, and action- and humor-packed plot pacing improve on Cowell's humorous but comparatively static-paced book.)

This series includes other Hiccup Horrendous Haddock III-centered books, namely: How To Be A Pirate, How To Speak Dragonese and How To Cheat A Dragon's Curse.

The movie version was released stateside on March 26, 2010. Dean DeBlois and Chris Sanders co-directed and co-scripted the CGI film.

Jay Baruchel voiced Hiccup. Gerard Butler voiced Stoick. Craig Ferguson voiced Gobber. America Ferrara voiced Astrid. Jonah Hill voiced Snoutlout. Christopher Mintz-Plasse voiced Fishlegs. Kristen Wiig voiced Ruffnut. T.J. Miller voiced Tuffnut.

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Pronto, by Elmore Leonard

(hb; 1993: first book in the Raylan Givens series)

From the inside flap:

"For twenty years Harry Arno has operated a sports book in Miami Beach, taking bets on all the pro games. And for twenty years Harry has been skimming the profits, shortchanging his silent partners, the local wiseguys. Harry is ready to retire to a villa on the Italian Riviera with his girlfriend, Joyce -- maybe even marry her -- when he bcomes the fall guy in an FBI assault on organized crime and has to run for his life.

"A U.S. marshal named Raylan Givens happens to know what Harry did in Italy in '45, during the war, and why it draws Harry to return, so Raylan takes off after the bookmaker to bring him back. Years before, on their way to a grand jury hearing, Harry ducked out and Raylan looked downright dumb. It would seem he's not going to let it happen again. or is it that he follows Harry to protect him from the Zip [aka Tommy Bucks, birth name Tomasino Bitonti], a gangster in the classic style who has his own reason to see Harry dead?"


Slick writing, colorful characters, and fast-paced action -- all Leonard trademarks -- comprise this fun, solid, quick-read crime/neo-Western novel.

Worth reading, this.

Followed by Riding The Rap.

Sunday, April 04, 2010

Saving Souls, by Lucy Taylor

(pb; 2002)

From the back cover:

"Cass Lumetto's new boyfriend is behind bars.

"She's left her life in Manhattan to move to Canon City, Colorado, to be near him. To win his heart. To earn his trust.

"He was convicted of one murder. Now Cass wants to prove that he got away with another -- killing her college roommate. Cass thinks she's tough enough to handle it. Cass is dead wrong."


Less extreme and more succinct than Taylor's first novel, The Safety Of Unknown Cities, Saving Souls is solid genre work from a standout writer.

Canon City is heavily populated with socially-acquainted killers and stalkers, all equally sleazy and twisted in their varied motives and secret possible partnerships -- and at least one of them has focused his/her violent ill-will on Cass.

Fans of Jack Ketchum will likely enjoy this blackhearted, plot-screw-y read.

Worth owning, this.

Thursday, April 01, 2010

The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson

(hb; 2005, 2008: first book in the Millennium series. Translated from the Swedish by Reg Keeland.)

From the inside flap:

"A[n]. . . amalgam of murder mystery, family saga, love story, and financial intrigue.

"It's about the disappearance forty years ago of Harriet Vanger, a young scion of one of the wealthiest families in Sweden. . . and about her octogenarian uncle, determined to know the truth about what he believes was her murder.

"It's about Mikael Blomkvist, a crusading journalist recently at the wrong end of a libel case, hired to get to the bottom of Harriet's disappearance. . . and about Lisbeth Salander, a twenty-four-year-old pierced and tattooed genius hacker possessed of the hard-earned wisdom of someone twice her age -- and a terrifying capacity for ruthlessness to go with it -- who assists Blomkvist with the investigation. This unlikely team discovers a vein of nearly unfathomable iniquity running through the Vanger family, astonishing corruption in the highest echelons of Swedish industrialism -- and an unexpected connection between themselves. . ."


This is one of the best dark-family-history/conspiracy novels I've read in a long while.

Dragon Tattoo was unputdownable -- though I reluctantly did so, for social and writing schedule necessities.

The characters, the plot layers, reveals and twists (all skillfully interwoven) are often surprising, intelligent, relatable and reader-hooking, with an ending that left this reader aching for more.

Worth owning, this.

Followed by The Girl Who Played With Fire.


A Swedish film version of Dragon Tattoo was released in Denmark and Sweden on February 27, 2009. The film got a "wide" stateside release on March 19, 2010.

Michael Nyqvist played Michael Blomkvist. Noomi Rapace played Lisbeth Salander. Lena Endre played Erika Berger. Michalis Koutsogiannakis played Dragan Armanskij. Jacob Ericksson played Christer Malm.

Ingvar Hirdwall played Dirch Frode. Sven-Bertil Taube played Henrik Vanger.

Marika Lagercrantz played Cecilia Vanger. Peter Haber played Martin Vanger. Ewa Fröling played Harriet Vanger. Gösta Bredefeldt played Harald Vanger. Gunnel Lindblom played Isabella Vanger. Willie Andréason played Birger Vanger. Julia Sporre played "Young Harriet Vanger". An uncredited Linn Björland played "Young Anita Vanger".

Peter Andersson played "The Lawyer Nils Bjurnson". David Dencik played Janne Dahlman. Tomas Köhler played "Plague". Tehila Blad (billed as Teilla Blad) played "Young Lisbeth Salander".

Björn Granath played Gustav Morrell. Sofia Ledarp played Malin Erikson.

Niels Arden Oplev directed the film, from a script by Nicolaj Arcel and Rasmus Heisterberg.


An American remake was released stateside on December 21, 2011.

Rooney Mara played Lisbeth Salander. Daniel Craig played Mikael Bloomkvist. Robin Wright played Erika Berger. Joel Kinnaman played Christer Malm.

Stellan Skarsgård played Martin Vanger. Embeth Davidtz played Annika Vanger. Christopher Plummer played Henrik Vanger. Joely Richardson played Anita Vanger. Julian Sands played "Young Henrik Vanger". Geraldine James played Cecilia Vanger.

Goran Visnjic played Dragan Armansky. Steven Berkoff played Dirch Frode. Elodie Yung played Miriam Wu. Yorick van Wageningen played Nils Bjurman.

David Fincher directed the film, from a screenplay by Steven Zaillian.

<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]...