Friday, May 31, 2013

Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal, by Mary Roach

(hb; 2013: science/nonfiction)

From the inside flap:

"The alimentary canal is classic Mary Roach terrain: the questions explored in Gulp are as taboo, in their way, as the cadavers in Stiff and every bit as surreal as the universe of zero gravity explored in Packing for Mars.  Why is crunchy food so appealing?  Why is it hard to find words for flavors and smells?  Why doesn't the stomach digest itself?  How much can you eat before your stomach bursts?  Can constipation kill you?  Did it kill Elvis?  In Gulp we meet scientists tackle the questions no one else thinks of - or has the courage to ask.  We go on location to a pet-food taste-test lab, a fecal transplant, and into a live stomach to observe the fate of a meal.  With Roach at our side, we travel the world, meeting murderers and mad scientists, Eskimos and exorcists (who have occasionally administered holy water rectally), rabbits and terrorists - who, it turns out, for practical reasons do not conceal bombs in their digestive tracts.

"Like all of Mary Roach's books, Gulp is as much about human beings as it is about human bodies."


Fun, informative and quirky: Roach delves into the world of the human digestive tract and beyond, chronicling unexpected -- sometimes disconcerting -- results and the often unintentionally hilarious situations that come about. Roach is scientific, yet her writing is approachable for those outside the medical/scientific community. Also, her wit is chuckle-worthy.

This is a memorable and informative read - worth owning.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

All My Sins Remembered, by Joe Haldeman

(pb; 1977)

From the back cover:

"No creature in the galaxy is deadlier than man.

"Otto McGavin, one of twelve Prime Operators in the universe, worked for the clandestine arm of the trans-space peacekeeping agency as a ruthless guardian of alien rights.  He traveled from planet to planet - his body encased in plastiflesh, his mind disguised by personality overlay - infiltrating bizarre alien cultures, surviving by raw instinct and violent assassination on exotic, bloodswept worlds.

"And always he returned to his original self - his conscience stabbed by the memory of all those he'd killed in the service of interstellar harmony."


Sins is an intriguing, episodic and full-of-action science fiction spy thriller, with a protagonist whose personal disintegration - as an individual - becomes more and more apparent as time goes by.  McGavin, as a character, is relatable and sympathetic (for this reader, anyway), making the waste-no-words Sins a good read by an excellent author.

While reading this, I kept thinking that, with the right director and writer, this would make an excellent cinematic vehicle for
Jason Statham, who has enough acting range to show believable emotional shifts, while maintaining his bad-assness.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Gustav Gloom and the Nightmare Vault, by Adam-Troy Castro

(hb; 2013: second book in the Gustav Gloom series. Cover and interior illustrations by Kristen Margiotta)

From the back cover:

"Gustav Gloom's neighbors think he is the unhappiest little boy in the world.  But what they don't know is that the strange, dark house Gustav lives in is filled with more wonders and mysteries than could ever be explained.  But explain is exactly what Gustav needs to do when Fernie What moves in across the street.  And that's when the adventure really begins. . .

"Fernie and Gustav find themselves battling a new, shadowy foe - the shadow eater.  He is after the Nightmare Vault, which will unleash terrifying and threatening shadows into the world.  As Fernie and Gustav race to stop him, Fernie discovers more strange rooms in the Gloom mansion, learns about Gustav's mysterious past, and finds out just what happened to his missing parents."


Like Gustav Gloom and the People Taker, the first book in this series, Vault is one of the most fun, imaginative and offbeat kid's books I've read in a long while, with something for both children and adults.

One of my favorite lines in the book: "[Mr. What] was a professional safety expert and made his living teaching people how to avoid deadly accidents.  Fried chicken was, in his view, so very dangerous that he'd written an entire book, The Deadliest Cluck, about the terrible catastrophes it could cause.  According to the book, choking on a swallowed bone was not even the worst.  Chapter 7 described one case where a woman had hiccupped at the wrong time and inhaled an entire chicken leg up her right nostril, then sneezed it out and shot her husband through the heart."

Sharp-eyed fans of
Tim Burton, Stephen KingRoald Dahl, Shirley JacksonHenry Selick and the film ParaNorman may especially enjoy this shadow-themed and ultimately heartwarming (sans sappiness) treat.

Wonderful and whimsical work, this, between the dark, kid-friendly charm of
Adam-Troy Castro 's story and characters, and Kristen Margiotta's perfect-for-the-book illustrations.

Followed by Gustav Gloom and the Four Terrors.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

The Missing Ink, by Karen E. Olson

(pb; 2009: first book in the Tattoo Shop Mystery series)

From the back cover:

"When a girl makes an appointment to get devotion ink with the name of her
fiancé embedded in a heart, Brett takes the job, but the girl never shows.  The next thing Brett knows, the police are looking for her mysterious client. . . and the name this woman wanted on the tattoo isn't her fiancé's.

"An alliance with an unlikely partner leads Brett to a dead body, a suave Englishman, and an Elvis karaoke bar.  And who is the tattooed stranger stalking her?  Brett draws lines between the clues, unwittingly putting herself in danger.  But she intends to see justice done, since death, like a tattoo, is permanent."


Entertaining read, with engaging characters and a plot that moves along at an smart pace.  I figured out most of the who-did-what elements of the book long before Olson reveals the bad guy(s) - I read a lot of mysteries - but I still enjoyed Missing, a promising start to what may be an interesting, subculture-based series.

Worth reading, this.

Followed by Pretty in Ink.

Monday, May 13, 2013

**Peter Baltensperger's Ethereal Differentiations was published in Pink Litter

Peter Baltensperger, whose Nocturnal Tableaux* graced the Microstory A Week site in October 2012, has had another story published: Ethereal Differentiations, in the fifth issue of Pink Litter.

It should be noted that this story, as well as this site, are for "mature readers" only - meaning: adults, eighteen years old and older.

Check this story out!


*Nocturnal Tableaux also appears in Baltensperger's story/vignette anthology Inside from the Outside.

Dead Ever After, by Charlaine Harris

(hb; 2013: fourteenth/"final" entry in the Sookie Stackhouse series)

From the inside flap:

"After the terrible events of the past weeks, both Sookie and Sam are finding it hard to concentrate on Merlotte's - and the bar is suffering for it.  But Sookie finds it easy to turn down the request of former barmaid Arlene when she wants her job back.  After all, Arlene tried to have Sookie killed.

"Sookie's relationship with Eric Northman is in limbo.  He and his vampires are keeping their distance. . . and a cold silence.  And when Sookie learns the reason why, she is devastated.

"Then Arlene is found murdered, and Sookie is arrested for the crime.

"But the evidence against her is weak, and Sookie makes bail.  Helped by her assortment of friends, living and undead, she must discover the truth about Arlene's death to clear herself of suspicion.  All she knows is that two mysterious men were somehow involved.  As to whom they might be - Sookie will soon learn that she has more than one enemy waiting to get vengeance for the past.

"Nothing is ever clear-cut in Bon Temps.  What passes for truth is only a convenient lie.  What passes for justice is more spilled blood.  And what passes for love is never enough."


Fun, blast-through, series-overview read - not a murder mystery, but, rather, an effective (if brisk) character and story wrap-up of Harris's Sookieverse that occasionally dips into Sookie-based melodrama, but otherwise made this reader chuckle and sometimes feel warm and fuzzy.

My expectations were relatively low for Harris's books (in comparison to those of many Sookie fans), so I was appreciative that Dead Ever After [DEA] is a solid read. Is it great? No, because the series has been hit-and-miss since All Together Dead, the seventh book, published in 2007. (That said, I've found something to enjoy in each of the books, no matter how much or little I recommended them.)

Borrow DEA from the library before buying it; this caveat goes for especially passionate fans of the Sookie novels. 

Saturday, May 11, 2013

NOS4A2, by Joe Hill

(hb; 2013)

From the inside flap:

"Victoria McQueen has an uncanny knack for finding things: a misplaced bracelet, a missing photograph, answers to unanswerable questions.  When she rides her bicycle over the rickety old covered bridge in the woods near her house, she always emerges in the places she needs to be.  Vic doesn't tell anyone about her unusual ability, because she knows no one will believe her.  She has trouble understanding it herself.

"Charles Talent Manx has a gift of his own.  He likes to take children for rides in his 1938 Roll-Royce Wraith with the vanity plate NOS4A2.  In the Wraith, he and his innocent guests can slip out of the everyday world and onto hidden roads that lead to an astonishing playground of amusements he calls Christmasland.  Mile by mile, the journey across the highway of Charlie's twisted imagination transforms his precious passengers, leaving them as terrifying and unstoppable as their benefactor.

"And then comes the day when Vic goes looking for trouble. . . and finds her way, inevitably, to Charlie. 

"That was a lifetime ago.  Now, the only kid ever to escape Charlie's unmitigated evil is all grown up and desperate to forget.

"But Charlie Manx hasn't stopped thinking about the exceptional Victoria McQueen.  On the road again, he won't slow down until he's taken his revenge.  He's after something very special - something Vic can never replace.

"As a life-and-death battle of wills builds - her magic pitted against his - Vic McQueen prepares to destroy Charlie once and for all. . . or die trying."


Excellent, fantastical and fun horror novel that gripped this reader from the get-go, and didn't let go until the last page.  The characters and the plot are engaging, the villains are fun and Ray Bradburyesque, the pacing is flawless and NOS4A2's tone is miniseries epic in its genre-based timeline. Yes, it's a long-ish book (700 pages), but it's a fast 700 pages.

Worth owning, this - one of the best horror/rural fantasy books I've read this year.

Wednesday, May 08, 2013

Best Sex Writing 2013: The State of Today's Sexual Culture, edited by Rachel Kramer Bussel

(pb; 2013: sex essay/nonfiction anthology.  Foreword by Carol Queen, PhD)

Overall review:

Best Sex Writing 2013 is a choice anthology of essays centered around the current vibe of our Western culture, carnal and (sometimes) beyond it.  This is one of my favorite anthologies Bussel has edited, as well as one of my all-time favorite sexual anthologies, for its scope and (mostly) bullstuff-free take on what's going on in our world.

Only one of the essays didn't grab me because it was long-winded (Jonathan Lethem's "Live Nude Models").  Lethem's verbiage was occasionally clever, but ultimately not worthy of his essay's supposed pay-offs.

Lethem's work aside, this is an exceptional collection of works  - one worth owning.

Standout essays:

1.)  "Sex By Numbers" - Rachel Swan:  Excellent piece about polyamorous relationships.

2.)  "Very Legal: Sex and Love in Retirement" - Alex Morris:  The title says it all.  Especially good read.

3.)  "Notes From a Unicorn" - Seth Fischer:  A bisexual man details his evolution as a person and a sexual being.  Emotionally engaging, exceptional essay.

4.)  "Rest Stop Confidential" - Conner Habib:  The mindset of rest stop cruising is explored.

5.)  "When on Fire Island. . . A Polyamorous Disaster" - Nicholas Garnett:  The joys and pitfalls of polyamory play out in affecting and tragic fashion.  One of the best entries in this collection.

6.)  "Cherry Picking" - Julia Serano:  Wonderful, thoughtful piece about a transgender woman and her series of sexualized "firsts".

7.)  "Baby Talk" - Rachel Kramer Bussel:  A lover's predilection for 'age play' leads the author to consider her own predilections, carnal and otherwise.

8.)  "Dear John" - Lori Selke:  A woman parts ways with the traditional power dynamics of leather culture.

9.)  "Christian Conservatives vs. Sex: The Long War Over Reproductive Freedom" - Rob Boston:  The author outlines the history of birth control and religious/political interference; more importantly, he tells why we, as advanced cultures, must fight to defend our reproductive rights.  Excellent, a must-read entry.

10.)  "Porn Defends the Money Shot" - Dennis Romero:  Another exemplary essay.  In a shifting world, porndom finds itself having to change - or else face a tumbledown in their revenue streams.

11.)  "Lost Boys" - Kristen Hinman:  Overblown governmental budgets, social denial, corruption and other factors - some of them surprising - contribute to the misreporting and exacerbation of underage prostitution across the United States.  Illuminating call-to-action, this - and easily one of the best entries in this anthology.

Other essays:

"The Original Blonde" - Neal Gabler;  "Happy Hookers" - Melissa Gira Grant;  "Ghosts: All My Men are Dead" - Carol Queen;  "Enhancing Masochism: How to Expand Limits and Increase Desire" - Patrick Califia;  "Sex By Any Other Name" - Insiya Ansari;  "Holy F**k: The Fourth-and-Long Virgin" - Jon Pressick;  "Can a Better Vibrator Inspire an Age of Great American Sex?" - Andy Isaacson;  "Submissive: A Personal Manifesto" - Madison Young

Monday, May 06, 2013

Black Friday Coming Down, by David Hunter

(pb; 1990, 1992: true crime)

From the back cover:

"Every day, cops encounter a world more bizarre, more dangerous and more outrageous than most people ever imagine.  In Black Friday Coming Down, David Hunter blasts away at the stereotypes - and exposes the real experience of being a cop. . . as only a real cop could tell it."


Hunter has a natural flair for telling level-headed, reads-like-real-life yet entertaining stories about what it's like to be a cop.  Sometimes sad, sometimes funny, sometimes scary and always interesting, this is one of the best true crime books I've read in a long while.

Worth owning, this.

<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...