Monday, August 30, 2010

She Wakes, by Jack Ketchum

(pb; 1984, 1989, 2003, 2004)

From the back cover:

"Greece. Ancient land of mystery, legend and myth. It is here that businessman Jordan Chase visits an historic tomb, only to experience a dark vision of the future. And it is here, amidst the beauty of the landscape, that Lelia, a gorgeous but dangerous woman befriends a group of tourists. . . to lure them into a nightmare of pain and terror. She lives to seduce and destroy, to feed off her human prey. Lelia is more than myth, more than superstition. Lelia is deadly."


Decent horror novel from an excellent writer. Ketchum's pull-no-punches violence and sex is in place, the locale is spooky, and the villainess (Lelia Narkisos, aka "the Goddess with Three Aspects") is hiss-worthy.

The problem is, Ketchum's most powerful work is crime-based (murder, rape, etc.), and his outrage at these crimes is what gives his writing such disturbing resonance. She Wakes lacks that resonance because it's supernatural fiction; the vivid description and the repulsion is there, but it's not Ketchum usual gut-level writing, it's head-level writing -- writing that tickles the brain, but little else.

Worth checking out from the library. First-time Ketchum readers should go with one of his other, better books before reading this.

Friday, August 27, 2010

The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet's Nest by Stieg Larsson

(hb; 2007, 2009: third book in the Millennium series. Translated from the Swedish by Reg Keeland.)

From the inside flap:

"Lisbeth Salander -- the heart of Larsson's two previous novels -- lies in critical condition, a bullet wound to her head, in the intensive care unit of a Swedish city hospital. She's fighting for her life in more ways than one: if and when she recovers, she'll be taken back to Stockholm to stand trial for three murders. With the help of her frind, journalist Mikael Blomkvist, she will not only have to prove her innocence, but also identify and denounce those in authority who have allowed the vulnerable, like herself, to suffer abuse and violence. And, on her own, she will plot revenge -- against the man who tried to kill her, and the corrupt government institutions that very nearly destroyed her life.

"Once upon a time, she was a victim. Now Salander is fighting back."


Hornet's Nest sports all the charms of its two predecessors: intriguing characters, (mostly) fleet-footed plot and action, and life-true character-based twists.

Where Hornet's Nest differs from its prequels is that the pace slows down midway through the novel, when the history and internecinic political manueverings of the "Zalachenko Club" are given full expression. While this is necessary, up to a point, to logically link the characters and their motives, it does run a bit deep and long; during this chapter I thought I was reading a John le Carré novel, not a Stieg Larsson novel.

This doesn't ruin Hornet's Nest, but it does provide a short pause in the action.

The ending echoes those of Dragon Tattoo and Played With Fire while satisfactorily wrapping up the events and characters of Larsson's amazing trilogy.

Worth owning, like the first two Millennium books.


A Swedish film version was released in Denmark and Sweden on November 27, 2009. A stateside release date of October 29, 2010 has been announced.

Michael Nyqvist played Michael Blomkvist. Noomi Rapace played Lisbeth Salander. Lena Endre played Erika Berger. Annika Halin played Annika Giannini.

Jacob Ericksson played Christer Malm. Sofia Ledarp played Malin Erikson. Tomas Köhler resumed his role of Plague (from The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo).

Michalis Koutsogiannakis played Dragan Armanskij. Mirja Turestedt played Monica Figuerola. Johan Kylén played Inspector Jan Bublanski. Tanja Lorentzon played Sonja Modig. An uncredited Per Oscarsson played Holger Palmgren. Tehilla Blad played "Young Lisbeth Salander".

Georgi Staykov played Alexander Zalachenko. Micke Spreitz, billed as Mikael Spreitz, played Ronald Niedermann. Niklas Falk played Edklinth. Hans Alfredson played Evert Gullberg. Lennart Hjulström played Fredrik Clinton.

Anders Ahlbom (billed as Anders Ahlbom Rosendahl) played Dr. Peter Teleborian. Magnus Krepper played Hans Faste. Niklas Hjulström played "Richard Ekström - Prosecutor".

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

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Vampire$, by John Steakley

(pb; 1990)

From the back cover:

"Suppose there really were vampires.

"Dark. Stalking. Destroying.

"They'd have to be killed, wouldn't they?

"Of course they would.

"But what kind of fools would try to make a living at it?"


Vampire$ is a grim, snarling, tightly-written gem of a back-to-basics horror novel that manages, in its simply stated and wild-violent way, to be a landmark work in bloodsucker fiction. Emotional, tender and brutal as a war novel, with complex, desperate characters, this.

The film version was released stateside on October 30, 1998.

James Woods played Jack Crow. Daniel Baldwin played Anthony Montoya. Sheryl Lee played Katrina. Thomas Ian Griffith played Jan Valek. Maximilian Schell played Cardinal Alba. Mark Boone Junior played Catlin. Frank Darabont played "Man With Buick". An uncredited Lex Lang narrated the film.

John Carpenter directed the film, from a screenplay by Don Jakoby.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

I Am Ozzy, by Ozzy Osbourne with Chris Ayres

(hb; 2010: autobiography)

From the inside flap:

" 'They've said some crazy things about me over the years. I mean, okay: 'He bit the head off a bat.' Yes. 'He bit the head off a dove.' Yes. But then you hear things like 'Ozzy went to the show last night, but he wouldn't perform until he'd killed fifteen puppies. . .' Now me, kill fifteen puppies? I love puppies. I've got eighteen of the f*cking things at home. I've killed a few cows in my time, mind you. And the chickens. I shot the chickens in my house that night.

"It haunts me, all this crazy stuff. Every day of my life has been an event. I took lethal combinations of booze and drugs for thirty f*cking years. I survived a direct hit by a plane, suicidal overdoses, STDs. I've been accused of murder. Then I almost died while riding over a bump on quad bike at f*cking two miles per hour.

"People ask me how come I'm still alive, and I don't know what to say. When I was growing up, if you'd have put me against a wall with the other kids from my street and asked me which one of us was gonna make it to the age of sixty, which one of us would end up with five kids and four grandkids and houses in Buckinghamshire and Beverly Hills, I wouldn't have put money on me, no f*cking way. But here I am: ready to tell my story, in my own words, for the first time.

"A lot of it ain't gonna be pretty. I've done some bad things in my time. I've always been drawn to the dark side, me. But I ain't the devil. I'm just John Osbourne: a working-class kid from Aston, who quit his job in the factory and went looking for a good time."


Entertaining autobiography whose often funny, word-deft pace both respects and fast-tracks the surreal depths and vertexes of Osbourne's small town/rock n' roll life and demons (self-doubt, booze, drugs, infidelity, etc.).

This is a darkly hilarious, relatable and unflinchingly honest rock n' roll history lesson and caveat.

Check this out.

Friday, August 13, 2010

The Island, by Peter Benchley

(hb; 1979)

From the inside flap:

"How could hundreds of boats, carrying more than two thousand people, simply disappear? Why does no one know, or care to know? Blair Maynard, an editor at a weekly news magazine, becomes obsessed with finding out what's going on. . .

"With his twelve-year-old son, Maynard pursues the story to remote archipelago southeast of the Bahamas. There, on the deceptively inviting waters of the tropics, Maynard and his son sail into as sinister a drama as has ever been played out on the sea. For the island harbors a violent and shocking secret -- and by discovering it, Maynard and his son are plunged into a nightmare struggle to survive."


Gripping, mysterious, informative, blast-through-it suspense novel.

More intense than The Deep, this too, reads like an island camp fireside-scary but thrilling caveat tale about the enchanting, treacherous ocean - as well as the sometimes treacherous and malleable nature of people.

Much of what makes The Island resound with me is Maynard's intent, in the latter part of the book: he's trying to save his son, who seems to have gone violently native with these brutish, Christian-based(!) savages who have kidnapped them. (In The Deep, it was also a life-or-death situation for its protagonists, but the child in peril element of The Island raises the bizarre stakes.)

Check this out.


The film version was released stateside on June 13, 1980. Michael Ritchie directed the film, from book author Peter Benchley's screenplay.

Michael Caine played Blair Maynard. Jeffrey Frank played Justin Maynard. David Warner played John David Nau. Frank Middlemass played Windsor. Colin Jeavons played Hizzoner. Angela Punch MacGregor played Beth.

Monday, August 09, 2010

Artemis Fowl: The Atlantis Complex, by Eoin Colfer

(hb; 2010: seventh book in the Artemis Fowl series)

From the inside flap:

"Artemis Fowl has lost his mind. . . just when the world needs him most.

"Artemis has committed his entire fortune to a project he believes will save the planet and its inhabitants, both human and fairy. Can it be true? Has goodness taken a hold of the world's greatest teenage criminal mastermind?

"Captain Holly Short is unconvinced, and discovers that Artemis is suffering from Atlantis Complex, a psychosis common in guilt-ridden fairies, not humans, and most likely triggered in Artemis by his dabbling in fairy magic. Symptoms include obsessive-compulsive behavior, paranoia, multiple personality disorder, and, in extreme cases, embarassing professions of love to a certain feisty LEPrecon fairy.

"Unfortunately, Atlantis Complex has struck at the worst possible time. A deadly foe from Holly's past is intent on destroying the actual city of Atlantis. Can Artemis escape the confines of his mind -- and the grips of a giant squid -- in time to save the underwater metropolis and its fairy inhabitants?"


The Atlantis Complex furthers the mad dash adventure, plot twists, laugh-out-loud humor and semi-quirky characters of the previous six Artemis Fowl novels. If you liked those books, chances are you'll like this one, too.

Check it out.

Followed by Artemis Fowl: The Last Guardian.

Saturday, August 07, 2010

Imperial Bedrooms, by Bret Easton Ellis

(hb; 2010: sequel to Less Than Zero)

From the inside flap:

"Clay, a successful screenwriter, has returned from New York to Los Angeles to help cast his new movie, and he's soon drifting through a long-familiar circle. Blair, his former girlfriend, is married to Trent, an influential manager who's still a bisexual philanderer, and their Beverly Hills parties attract various levels of fame, fortune and power. Then there's Clay childhood friend Julian, a recovering addict, and their old dealer, Rip, face-lifted beyond recognition and seemingly more sinister than in his notorious past.

"But Clay's own demons emerge once he meets a gorgeous young actress determined to win a role in his movie. And when his life careens completely out of control, he has no choice but to plumb the darkest recesses of his character to come to terms with his proclivity for betrayal."


Ellis uses the same structural and thematic template in Imperial Bedrooms that he used in Less Than Zero, shuffling around the scenes and power dynamics -- Clay, Blair, Rip, Julian and others have not so much aged gracefully, as become more cruel and vain, generally ruling their tiny fiefdoms with the subtlety of snuff film thugs with knives and baseball bats.

Clay, once a somewhat sympathetic character in Less Than Zero (and, again, the narrator of Imperial Bedrooms), has turned into a cold control freak sadist whose sickness is becoming evident, even to himself: near the end, his dark appetites take on Patrick Bateman-esque (American Psycho) qualities. Clay's disintegration acelerates when he gets hooked on an aspiring actress-whore, Rain Turner, who's been all over Los Angeles, in oh so many ways.

Ellis, to his credit, successfully reworks that Less Than Zero template, in terms of recalling events, themes and signs ("Disappear Here"), and even mocking the real-life results of that source novel with self-referential wit. Also, the pacing and narrative is less frenetic and strung-out, at least until near the end; Clay and his reluctant clique are older, and business (in its varying meanings) has largely replaced drugs and pop culture as a topic of conversation -- these conversations are as empty as they were in Less Than Zero, but as society has changed, so has the vocabulary of Clay and his long-ago friends. The sex, some of horribly reminiscent of Less Than Zero, has been kept intact.

What doesn't work in Imperial Bedrooms is that these characters are repellent and craven, especially Clay (which stands to reason, as the tale is told by him). I didn't feel any sympathy for anybody in the novel, making this a grit-your-teeth read, despite Ellis's otherwise excellent writing and cleverness. Thankfully, this is a short read, even shorter than its source novel, so that's another point in its favor, as is the ending, which is character-true and neatly ties up Clay's twisted tale.

Worth reading, if you don't mind reading about completely unlikeable and disturbing characters.

Thursday, August 05, 2010

Less Than Zero, by Bret Easton Ellis

(pb; 1985: prequel to Imperial Bedrooms)

From the inside flap:

"Set in affluent Los Angeles, it is a raw and powerful portrayal of a generation of young people who have experienced sex, drugs, and dissatisfaction at too early an age. Its narrator, Clay, comes home to Los Angeles for Christmas vacation, following his first trimester at an Eastern college. Trying to make sense of the life left behind, he renews his ties to his old girlfriend, Blair; to Trent, a male model; to Rip, his dealer; and, most tragically, to Julian, Clay's best friend from high school, who has got into trouble with drugs. Clay's holiday turns into a dizzying spiral of desperation that takes him through the rich suburban homes, the relentless parties, the seedy bars, the glitzy rock clubs, and the seamy underworld of pornography and homosexual prostitution. . ."


Clay's stream-of-consciousness narration is a party-till-you-drop nightmare; his first-person present tense POV spans a month, seen through his melancholic, it-all-runs-together senses.

Clay, at eighteen, is at crossroads, like many of his friends -- whom he's felt distant from for years. He's directionless, caught between his deeply-embedded L.A. ennui/self-absorption and his emerging maturity, which has yet to reveal what direction or form it will take for him: between the glitzy boredom of soulless sexual encounters, constant drugs, rotting social bonds, and the blasé reactions of his friends (to daily, small scale horrors and tragedies around them), he's f**ked up.

Ellis's tightly-edited writing immediately immersed this reader into the shallow-life, frazzled mindset of his protagonist. Ellis sprinkles his narrative with shocking amorality and blink-and-you-miss-it cleverness, burying these smart-minded elements in a river of banality (usually conversations) and soundtracking it with an often provocative, takes-you-back Eighties soundtrack.

Check it out.

The film version was released stateside on November 6, 1987.

Andrew McCarthy played Clay. Jami Gertz played Blair. Robert Downey Jr. played Julian. James Spader played Rip.

Anthony Kiedis, lead vocalist of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, played "Musician #3" -- he's billed as Cole Dammett. Flea and Jack Irons, Kiedis' bandmates, played "Musician #1" and "Musician #4".

An uncredited Brad Pitt played "Partygoer / Preppy Kid at Fight".

Marek Kanievska directed, from a script by Harley Peyton.

<em>Mother Night</em> by Kurt Vonnegut

(pb; 1961) From the back cover “ Mother Night is a daring challenge to our moral sense. American Howard W. Campbell, Jr., a spy du...