Tuesday, August 27, 2013

The Cuckoo's Calling, by Robert Galbraith, a.k.a. J.K. Rowling

(hb; 2013: first book in the Cormoran Strike series)


From the inside flap:

"After losing his leg to a land mine in Afghanistan, Cormoran Strike is barely scraping by as a private investigator.  Strike is down to one client, and creditors are calling.  He has also just broken up with his longtime girlfriend and living in his office.

"Then John Bristow walks through his door with an amazing story: His sister, the legendary supermodel Lula Landry, known to her friends as the Cuckoo, famously fell to her death a few months earlier.  The police ruled it a suicide, but John refuses to believe that.  The case plunges Strike into the world of multimillionaire beauties, rock-star boyfriends, and desperate designers, and it introduces him to every variety of pleasure, enticement, seduction, and delusion known to man."


Review:

Cuckoo's Calling is a solid detective novel with cinematic sensibilities - it emphasizes noiresque undercurrents and glitz in equal measure.  The element that kept me reading this novel, though, was its fully engaging, complex characters; its 'mystery' element was an okay-whatever affair for me, because I figured out who did what to whom early on (this isn't a knock on Rowling or her writing, but rather a symptom of me reading too many mysteries in as many years).

Solid, genre-familiar read, worth checking out from the library.

Followed by a future sequel whose title I don't know yet.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Gustav Gloom and the Four Terrors. by Adam-Troy Castro

(hb; 2013: third 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.

"When Gustav decides to rescue his father from the Dark Country, he needs Fernie's help.  He convinces Fernie's father to enter the Gloom mansion with Fernie and Pearlie, assuring him that nothing bad will happen.  When the Four Terrors escape from the Hall of Shadow Criminals, all kinds of bad - horribly bad - things start to happen.  Soon it's up to Fernie to save her family and Gustav before it's too late."


Review:

Like its predecessors, Gustav Gloom and the People Taker and Gustav Gloom and the Nightmare Vault,  Terrors is an adventurous, imaginative and offbeat kid's book, with something for both children and adults.  On a character-specific note, I especially enjoyed the presence of Hives, the Terrible Butler and Fluffy the. . . well, you'll see if you read this book.

Charming and immediately immersive 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. 

Also, like its prequels, this is a book worth owning.

Followed by another sequel, whose title I don't know yet.  According to the author, there are six books in the series, all of them completed and the last three awaiting publication.


Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Inside from the Outside: A Journey in Sudden Fiction, by Peter Baltensperger

(pb; 2013: microstory anthology)


From the back cover:

"Dealing with the basic elements that make us human, the short stories contained in Inside from the Outside represent explorations of various aspects of human nature in all its complexity and variety.  Author Peter Baltensperger has incorporated elements of experimental, surrealistic, and bizarre short fiction in the development of his themes."


Overall review:

Inside is not an anthology for mainstream genre readers looking for easy and obvious thrills; such readers may be disappointed  - underwhelmed or overwhelmed - by the sixty-four stand-alone, cerebral and symbol-laden vignettes and microstories in this collection.  The reason for this is that Baltensperger favors a psychologically-intense approach that loosely links these elements: the works Carl Jung and Sǿren Kierkegaard; nature appreciation; mirrors; circuses and parades; romance and sexuality; and (often) quiet reflective realizations.  

Normally, I wouldn't read such work - I'm largely a fiction-genre (crime, horror, etc.) junkie.  But Baltensperger's intriguing word pairings, his sublime and often poetic language and images, and skillful juggling of the aforementioned themes made Inside a wow-worthy anthology that stands out from others' mood-linked volumes that strive for such sublimations/realizations, but so often fall short.

Of course, not every piece in this sixty-four tale book completely thrilled me - a relative few felt superfluous, due to their too-similar elements which did little or nothing to further the concepts and emotions of preceding tales.  The occasional "lapse" tale is a given, of course (at least for this reader), in a collection with this many pieces, so it's a minor nit at worst.

Beyond that inevitable complaint, I found something - a character, a mating of choice words, an image - to enjoy in almost all of the mood stories represented here.  I should also note that this is a slow burn, read-a-few-tales-a-day work, a compilation to be read, analyzed and savored over a prolonged period of time.  (It took me two months to read this - a worthwhile endeavor, in my estimation.)

Worth owning, this - if you're looking for a romantic, cerebral and mood-suffusive anthology.


Standout stories:

1.)  "Through Disarticulations": Surreal, beautiful and romantic nature- and music-based piece.  Excellent.


2.)  "Snippets in a Hot Afternoon":  I especially enjoyed the effective, full-circle finish of this microstory.


3.)  "Equine Afternoons":  Dream-like microtale about a "woman with beautiful breasts", horses and squirrels.


4.)  "Dilemma for Rain":  Especially striking imagery in this one (e.g., "a herd of snails").


5.)  "Fusions and Diffusions":  A woman and an artist hook up.  Romantic, effective - I love the line: "Hunter took her to his apartment and painted a fragmented sentence for her, flashing colors splashed over a large canvass. . ."


6.)  "Under Uncertain Skies":  A storm brings together two carnival performers (a wolfman and a bearded lady).  Sweet work.


7.)  "Blind Eyes in a Dark Jungle":  Timely vignette about a shopping mall-traumatized woman.


8.)  "Rain Games":  Two temperamentally different brothers attend a party.  Effective, stripped-down tale of familial vengeance, in its various forms.


9.)  "By Fractured Continuations":  Effective mood piece about a woman wrestling with her sense of time and being.


10.)  "Whispers from the Rain":  Nighttime precipitation holds a special allure for a curious woman.  Sweet-toned offering.


11.)  "Spring Thaw":  Wintry thoughts negate a possible love match.


12.)  "Points of Diffusion":  A couple come together between corporate meetings and a placid lakeside.


13.)  "What Is and Can Be":  A man and woman conquer winter and  a mountain.


14.)  "For a Crescendo":  Music, insects and desire bring lovers together.


15.)  "Anatomy of a Treadmill Runner":  A runner goes through his circular routines.  The story structure reflects this.


16.)  "Inside a Puzzle":  An artist struggles to hold onto joyous moments.


17.)  "Parenthesis for a Liberation":  I love the images of this microtale, in which a fanciful woman exercises while her thoughts may or may not run wild.


18.)  "Tremolando for Rain":  Two lovers meet and celebrate during a rainstorm.  One of my favorite works in this collection.


19.)  "Performance Art in a Meadow":  A circus troupe perform and live their oddly relatable lives on a rainy day.


20.)  "Through Viscous Hours":  Gregory Bergman, a night-restless man, encounters a personalized source of terror while walking his dog.


21.)  "Going By Rivers":  Two lovers join each other on a river.  Romantic-effective work.


22.)  "Notes on a Journey":  A man revisits his hometown. Effective dovetail finish to this one.


23.)  "Dilemmas of Empty Spaces":  A woman ponders her strange sense of fulfillment, while nature works its own animalistic magic.

The Adventurous Couple's Guide to Sex Toys, by Violet Blue

(pb; 2006, 2013: sexual nonfiction / sex guide.  "Foreword" by Charles Glickman, PhD)


From the back cover:

"Violet Blue is one of the top sex educators in the world and whether she is schooling Oprah Winfrey on porn or at Google headquarters talking about sex and technology, millions are listening and learning.  With a practical, sex-positive approach to pleasure, Blue leads readers through the maze of toys for adults in [this book].  She explains the many options now available, how to use lubricant to enhance your experiences, care and cleaning, where to find reputable shops - and how to send your sensuality quotient soaring with the right tools to bring you and your partner closer than ever.  Nothing says 'sexy' like giving a sex toy to your lover."


Review:

Adventurous lives up to its back cover description.  It's an excellent, no-frills-all-informative-thrills and friendly manual that's indispensable for readers new to sex toys; beyond those readers, it looks to be a worthwhile read/update for those who are already familiar with those instruments but may be looking to expand the contents of their buzz bins.

Worth owning, this.

Friday, August 16, 2013

A Feast For Crows, by George R. R. Martin

(pb; 2005: Book Four of A Song of Fire and Ice)


From the back cover:

"After centuries of bitter strife, the seven powers dividing the land have beaten one another into an uneasy truce.  But it's not long before the survivors, outlaws, renegades, and carrion eaters of the Seven Kingdoms gather.  Now, as the human crows assemble over a banquet of ashes, daring new plots and dangerous alliances are formed while surprising faces - some familiar, others only just appearing - emerge from an omnivorous twilight of past struggles and chaos to take up the challenges of the terrible times ahead.  Nobles and commoners, soldiers and sorcerers, assassins and sages, are coming together to stake their fortunes. . . and their lives.  For at a feast for crows, many are the guests - but only a few are the survivors."


Review:

It would be difficult for Martin to top the character-familiar plot corkscrews and karmic resolutions of the third book, A Storm of Swords, which was a near-operatic culmination of two books' worth of personal machinations, often grim and rape-fixated actions and bloody conflicts whose survivors who found themselves with the taste of ashes and bitterness in their mouths. 

I bore this in mind as I read Feast.  I'm glad I did, because  while I wasn't as emotionally invested in this fourth Song novel, I enjoyed it a lot.  Getting to know new characters, a few of whom aren't chapter titled by their names, was initially a bit of a chore after my familiarity with the characters in the previous books - but, ultimately, it was worth it, between Martin's fast and furious plotwork and writing, as well as the equally familiar grim and bloody actions of its characters; because of these elements, Feast proved to be a worthwhile sequel to its predecessors.

Of course, I missed certain characters - e.g., Tyrion Lannister, aka "the Imp" - whose stories weren't told in Feast, but given the narrative flow of this novel I understand why Martin chose to save their stories for later.

This is worth reading if you don't mind being introduced to new characters, and don't expect the easy familiarity of characters from the first three books.  Feast is clearly setting up a new round of love, lust and war, and I look forward to seeing how it plays out.

Followed by A Dance with Dragons.