Tuesday, October 29, 2013

David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and The Art of Battling Giants, by Malcolm Gladwell

(hb; 2013: nonfiction)

From the inside flap:

"Three thousand years ago on a battlefield in ancient Palenstine, a shepherd boy felled a mighty warrior with nothing more than a stone and a sling, and ever since then, the names David and Goliath have stood for battles between underdogs and giants.  David's victory was improbable and miraculous.  He shouldn't have won.

"Or should he have?

"In David and Goliath, Malcolm Gladwell challenges how we think about obstacles and disadvantages, offering a new interpretation of what it means to be discriminated against, or cope with a disability, or lose a parent, or attend a mediocre school, or suffer from any number of other apparent setbacks.

"Gladwell begins with the real story of what happened between the giant and the shepherd boy those many years ago.  From there, David and Goliath examines Northern Ireland's Troubles, the minds of cancer researchers and civil rights leaders, murder and the high cost of revenge, and the dynamics of successful and unsuccessful classrooms - all to demonstrate how much of what is beautiful and important in the world arises from what looks like suffering and adversity."


Good, informative and layman-friendly book that's as breeze-through and engaging as any of Gladwell's other books.  While David and Goliath is light-weight offering, more a furtherance - a reminder - of themes he's tackled in previous books, it still held my interest with its solid writing and a few surprising and makes-sense facts.

Check it out.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Let the Old Dreams Die, by John Ajvide Lindqvist

(hb; 2013: fiction/horror anthology.  Translated from the Swedish by Ebba Segerberg)

Overall review:

Dreams is a solid anthology - I liked six of the twelve stories a lot, enjoyed bits of four of the other ones, and disliked two, because of their odd writing ("To Put My Arms Around You, to Music" and "Paper Walls").  The stories that I was "meh" about sometimes ran too long ("Tindalos" and "Majken"), or were solid but forgettable trifles from a writer who regularly transcends this sort of tale-telling.

That said, Lindqvist does a solid job of indirectly linking the stories via mood, cultural references (e.g., The Smiths song "Shoplifters of the World Unite"; Fyodor Dostoyevsky's novel The Idiot; etc.) and mining his familiar themes of life and death, in their variable forms.

Worth owning, if you're a die-hard fan of Lindqvist, or if you buy it for a reduced price.  Or do what I did, and check it out from the library (if you're lucky enough to have one nearby).

Standout stories:

1.)  "The Border" - An inspections agent (Tina) discovers a major source of her emotional disconnection from her everyday life, as well as her sense of being "different".  Good, mood-effective read.

2.)   "Itsy Bitsy" - Effective fever dream about a photographer, his subjects and a Twilight Zone-esque mystery.  Interesting, excellent.

3.)   "The Substitute" - A middle-aged man's former classmate from thirty years prior shows up - just as strange he was back then - and unsettles the man anew.  Good, pop culture-referencing read.

4.)   "Eternal/Love" - Intriguing tale about a couple who test the bonds of death - or its lack - and love.  Excellent, dramatic read.

5.)   "Final Processing" -  Satisfactory and tone-consistent dénouement to Lindqvist's novel Handling the Undead, where a young man (Kalle Lilljewall) and his girlfriend (Flora) try to relieve the suffering of the government-kept undead.  Good read that pushes all the right emotional buttons.

6.)   "Let the Old Dreams Die" - This secondary character sequel to Let the Right One In (a.k.a. Let Me In) reveals the fate of Oskar Eriksson and his "kidnapper" Eli.  Solid, well-written (if indirectly told) follow-up to a stellar novel.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Under the Skin, by Michel Faber

(pb; 2004)

From the back cover:

" Isserley, a female driver, picks up hitchhikers with big muscles. She, herself, is tiny-like a kid peering up over the steering wheel.

"Scarred and awkward, yet strangely erotic and threatening, she listens to her hitchhikers as they open up to her, revealing clues about who might miss them if they should disappear. . ."


This melancholic, analytical, darkly funny and sometimes disturbing novel is underlined with class warfare, sexual tension and discontent, shifting social mores and other elements that made his outwardly dispassionate protagonist relatable, despite her alien, bizarre-to-humanity attributes.  Faber propels the action with an appropriate, mounting sense of impending disaster, while maintaining Isserley's aforementioned melancholy and anger.

Skin is a good, distinctive read.  Check it out.


The resulting film was released stateside on August 29, 2013.

Scarlett Johansson played Laura (cinematic stand-in for Isserley).  Paul Brannigan played Andrew.  Jessica Mance played [an] "Alien".  Krystof Hadek played "The Swimmer".  Michael Moreland played "The Quiet Man".  An uncredited Michael J. Goodwin played "Tearoom Customer".

Jonathan Glazer, who co-scripted the film with Walter Campbell, directed the film.

Child of God, by Cormac McCarthy

(pb; 1973: novella)

From the back cover:

". . . Falsely accused of rape, Lester Ballard - a violent, dispossessed man who haunts the hill country of East Tennessee - is released from jail and allowed to roam at will, preying on the population with his strange lusts. . ."


This stark, grim account of a cunning man's long-term depravity - which includes rape, murder, necrophilia, theft and other crimes - gripped me from its first word to its last, even as I mentally recoiled at some of his acts, as well as his amazing-but-believable luck.  There are no wasted words in this exemplary, sometimes gut-wrenching novella.

Child of God is one of the best books I've read this year.  Worth owning, this.


The resulting film was released stateside on September 29, 2013.  James Franco, who played the character Jerry, directed the film.  He co-scripted the film with Vince Jolivette, who played the character Ernest .

Scott Haze played Lester Ballard.  Tim Blake Nelson played Sheriff Fate.  Jim Parrack played Deputy Cotton. 

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Doctor Sleep, by Stephen King

(hb; 2013: sequel to The Shining)

From the inside flap:

"On highways across America, a tribe of people called the True Knot travel in search of sustenance.  They look harmless - mostly old, lots of polyester, and married to their RVs.  But as Dan Torrance knows, and spunky twelve-year-old Abra Stone learns, the True Knot are quasi-immortal, living off the steam that children with the shining produce when they are slowly tortured to death.

"Haunted by the inhabitants of the Overlook Hotel, where he spent one horrific childhood year, Dan has been drifting for decades, desperate to shed his father's legacy of despair, alcoholism, and violence.  Finally, he settles in a New Hampshire town, an AA community that sustains him, and a job at a nursing home where his remnant shining power provides the crucial final comfort to the dying.  Aided by a prescient cat, he becomes 'Doctor Sleep.'

"Then Dan meets the evanescent Abra Stone, and it is her spectacular gift, the brightest shining ever seen, that reignites Dan's own demons and summons him to a battle for Abra's soul and survival. . ."


Doctor Sleep is an entertaining, gentler and worthwhile - if sometimes rambling - sequel to The Shining.  For the most part, I haven't been a fan of King's work for the past two decades, but this is - in some parts - a return to King's earlier, better-edited writing (seen in the novels 'Salem's Lot, The Shining, Cujo, The Dead Zone and the expurgated version of The Stand) that often drew me in with its warmth, its character-based from-the-gut horror and its humor.  (Speaking of which, sharp-eyed fans of Joe Hill may appreciate King's references to Charlie Manx from Hill's novel NOS4A2.)

Good read.  Check it out.

Thursday, October 03, 2013

Dexter's Final Cut, by Jeff Lindsay

(hb; 2013: seventh book in the Dexter series)

From the inside flap:

"It starts with Hollywood.  A major police drama is set to be filmed in Miami - and blood spatter analyst Dexter Morgan is told he will be shadowed by Robert Chase, the brooding heart-throb actor who will star as. . . a Miami blood spatter analyst.  Life may imitate art, but Dexter is none too pleased by having someone scrutinize his job and his life. . . or be anywhere near his dark hobby.

"The mood around the production turns suddenly serious when the body of a brutally murdered woman is found in a Dumpster in the heart of the city.  As the police investigate and the Hollywood crew is aflutter with the excitement of a 'real' crime, Dexter gets a particularly sinister feeling about this killer, and what the act may signify.  Meanwhile, a curious thing happens: Dexter is spending time with his new Hollywood counterparts - observing the ease with which they fake the most basic human emotions - and he soon realizes he may have finally found His People.  He also gets closer to Jackie Forrest, the sexy star who is cast as the tough detective (and who is tailing his sister, Detective Deborah), and he's soon tempted by the luxury of the five-star life. . . and possibly Jackie herself.  Dexter is suddenly on a personal journey that leads toward the dark question of who he really is. . . and, more alarmingly, on a course that will alter his life forever."


This mostly light entry (for the Dexter series) is a Game Changer novel, between its fresh-to-Dexter surreal environs (a film set; the "five-star life"), its oh-so-nasty crimes and its finish, which promises to inflict some long-lasting repercussions on Dexter and those around him, should Lindsay write another sequel. . . Lindsay seems to be shaking things up in the Dexterverse, and it works as an entertaining and - as always - a darkly witty read.

If you like the other Dexter books, chances are that you'll want to read this one, as well.  Worth owning, this, if you don't mind Final Cut's relatively light tone.

Followed by Dexter is Dead.

<em>The Freak</em> by Eleanor Robinson

(pb; 1980 ─ a.k.a. The Silverleaf Syndrome ) From the back cover “He was born monstrously deformed, a freak of nature. Possessed of ...