Thursday, June 26, 2014

Carsick, by John Waters

(hb; 2014: fiction/nonfiction)


From the inside flap:

"John Waters is putting his life on the line. Armed with wit, a pencil-thin mustache, and a cardboard sign that reads 'I’m Not Psycho', he hitchhikes across America from Baltimore to San Francisco, braving lonely roads and treacherous drivers. But who should we be more worried about, the delicate film director with genteel manners or the unsuspecting travelers transporting the Pope of Trash?

"Along the way, Waters fantasises about the best and worst possible scenarios: a friendly drug dealer hands over piles of cash to finance films with no questions asked, a demolition-derby driver makes a filthy sexual request in the middle of a race, a gun-toting drunk terrorizes and holds him hostage, and a Kansas vice squad entraps and throws him in jail. So what really happens when this cult legend sticks out his thumb and faces the open road?"



Review:

Carsick is hilarious, horrifying, raunchy, pop culture savvy, smart and everything you would expect from a John Waters book.  If you're a fan of Waters, this is worth owning.  If you're not, check this out from the library or buy a used copy instead of purchasing it at its full price.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

The Score, by Richard Stark

(pb; 1964, 2009: fifth novel in the Parker series.  Later published under the title KilltownForeword by John Banville.)


From the back cover:

"It was an impossible crime: knock off an entire North Dakota town called Copper Canyon - clean out the plant payroll, both banks, and all the stores in one night.  Parker called it 'science fiction,' but with the right men (a score of them), he could figure it all out to the last detail.  It could work.  If the men behaved like pros, cool and smart; if they didn't get impatient, start chasing skirts, or decide to take the opportunity to settle old scores. . . they just might pull it off."


Review:

Parker works - with eleven other professionals - his most audacious theft yet, a town-wide multiple target job.  As in previous Parker novels, Stark's prose is blunt, cool-toned and streamlined, with no wasted words.  As always, there are character-based complications, all of which make the writing more entertaining.  Worth owning, this.

Followed by The Jugger.

#

The resulting film, Pillaged, was released stateside on November 15, 1967.  Alain Cavalier directed and co-scripted the film.  Claude Sautet was his co-screenwriter.

Daniel Ivernel played Edgar.  Michel Constantin played Georges.  Paul Le Person played StéphaneFranco Interlenghi played Maurice.  Phillipe Moreau played Paulus.  Julien Verdier played Lebuisson.  Phillipe Ogouz played Wiss.  Simone Landry played Madame Lancret.  Irène Tunc played “La standardiste Marie-Ange”.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

It Came From Hangar 18, by Scott Fulks and Will Viharo


(pb; 2011)


From the back cover:

"It Came From Hangar 18 is the most action-packed, erotic science fiction epic since The Bible - but with even more sex and violence!  It mixes hardcore sex with hard science, conspiracy theories with conspicuous satire, mythological monsters with mutated mobsters, flesh-eating feminists with voyeuristic vampires, and creates a potent literary Tiki cocktail pulsating with pulp, planets, pulchitrude, politics, and a plethora of other "p" words.  This is essential end-of-the-world desert-island flashlight-under-the-covers reading, the ultimate B movie in literary form, and the most tantalizing textbook in the annals of anarchic academia."


Review:

Hangar is an ambitious, giddy mega-riff on films (especially Fifties B-movies), vampires, tiki culture, werewolves, zombies, East Bay (Northern California) locales, politics, gory cartoonish violence, explicit (sometimes icky) sex and pretty much anything else you can probably imagine.  Its characters and its pacing are often manic, its scope and tone flirts with epical, cheesy notions, making this one of the most id-tastic, action-packed rollercoaster works I've read this year.  Did I mention that this is not a kid-friendly book?

I have one nit about this 514-page, self-referential novel, and it's relatively minor: whenever Radon and Adam Brayne have their "hard science" conversations, they run way too long, almost bring the story to a screeching halt (even Brayne complains about the down-the-rabbit-hole feel of these exchanges).  While I admire the authors' ambition of updating - providing fresh wrinkles - to this Fifties B-movie novel and I understand how cerebral Radon can be, his exchanges with Brayne ramble for pages when a relatively few, concise lines would suffice.  Yes, some of these conversations, a mixing of nerd-tastic science and smutty sex comparisons, are funny, but early on they take on a filler-not-thriller feel.

As I noted before, this is a minor nit in a work that's one of the most gleeful, imaginative, bordering-on-epic novels I've read this year.  Hangar expands the notion of a "genre blender," takes it to new, heady heights.  If you can get past the rambling sections - seventy-five pages could have easily been cut - this is the book you should be buying right now.

Monday, June 16, 2014

The Mourner, by Richard Stark

(pb; 1963, 2009: fourth novel in the Parker series.  Foreward by John Banville.)



Review:

Parker and his sometimes-partner-in-crime Handy McKay are in the middle of a job, stealing a priceless statuette for Bett Harrow (last seen in The Outfit), who has blackmailed Parker into doing so, when - naturally - unforeseen (and possibly fatal) complications arise.  In true Parker fashion, he and Handy work these complications into opportunities - opportunities that ensure that not everyone who crosses them will be left standing.

Stark keeps the writing lean, entertaining and character-focused (as he has in previous Parker novels), making this another reader-engaging crime novel.  Worth owning, this.

Followed by The Score.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Rum Punch, by Elmore Leonard

(hb; 1992: sequel to The Switch)


From the inside flap:

"Jackie Burke's future looks grim.  She's been a flight attendant for twenty years and she's down to working for an island-hopping airline the day she lands at Palm Beach International with fifty grand and is taken into custody.  The Feds know Jackie works for a man who sells machine guns to bad guys, but they don't know his name.  Jackie looks at her options.  She can tell what she knows about Robbie Ordell, the gun dealer, and get off - except that if Ordell suspects you're talking about him, you're dead.  Or she can keep her mouth shut and do five years.  Then she meets Max Cherry - late fifties, recently separated, and just starting to think that maybe there's more to life than being a bail bondsman - and sees she has more option than she thought. . ."


Review:

Thirteen years after the events of The Switch, Ordell, Louis and Melanie are still doing their crime thing, though this time they aren't the only game in town.  As he did in that previous novel, Leonard uses his trademark waste-no-words plotting, character-based twists, and slick dialogue and action to create a sequel that furthers its source novel's excellence.  Worth owning, this.

#

The resulting film, Jackie Brown, was released stateside on December 25, 1997.  Quentin Tarantino scripted and directed it. 

Pam Grier played Jackie Brown (cinematic stand-in for Jackie Burke).  Samuel L. Jackson played Ordell Robbie.  Robert Forster played Max Cherry.  Robert DeNiro played Louis Gara.  Bridget Fonda played Melanie Ralston.  Michael Keaton played Ray Nicolette (a role he reprised in the 1998 film Out of Sight).

Tommy "Tiny" Lister (billed as Tim "Tiny" Lister) played Winston.  Chris Tucker played Beaumont Livingston.  LisaGay Hamilton played Sheronda.  Sid Haig played a "Judge".  An uncredited Denise Crosby played a "Public Defender".  An uncredited Quentin Tarantino provided an "Answering Machine Voice".

Thursday, June 12, 2014

The Switch, by Elmore Leonard

(hb; 1978: prequel to Rum Punch)


From the back cover:

"Black Ordell Robbie and white Louis Gara have lots in common - time in the same slammer, convictions for grand theft auto, and a plan for the big score.  They're going to snatch the wife of a Detroit developer and collect some easy ransom money.  They don't figure on a bum of a husband who has a secret mistress and no desire to get his wife back.  Or on his crazy, beautiful broad of a housewife who's going to join Ordell and Louis in the slickest, savviest crime of all."


Review:

Leonard's trademark waste-no-words plotting, character-based twists, and slick dialogue and action make Switch a perfect for the crime genre novel.  This is an excellent read.

#

The resulting film, Life of Crime, is scheduled for a stateside theatrical release on August 29, 2014.  Daniel Schechter wrote the screenplay for and directed the film. 

Mos Def, billed as Yasiin Bey, played Ordell Robbie.  John Hawkes played Louis Gara.  Mark Boone Junior played Richard.  Jennifer Aniston played Mickey Dawson.  Tim Robbins played Frank Dawson.  Isla Fisher played Melanie Ralston.

Will Forte played Marshall Taylor.  Alex Ladove played Pamela Taylor.



Wednesday, June 11, 2014

For the Night is Dark edited by Ross Warren


(eBook; 2013: horror anthology)


Overall review:

Night has some notably good work in it (see the "Standout stories" below) and is a solid anthology.  I didn't like four of the stories (I'm not a fan of stories written entirely in the present tense, and I loathe "GOTCHA!" works*), but most of the twenty pieces included here hew closely to established (and effectively penned) Old School horror structures and themes.  Don't expect any groundbreaking storytelling here, just expect mostly solid writing.

[*A "GOTCHA!" story is one where its author(s) set up one scenario - often in a punny and I'm-so-clever manner - but later reveal "it's all a dream" or "it's all in one of the characters' heads," often at the end.  Another variation of a "GOTCHA!" story is the double-entendre approach where an author pretends to be writing about one thing, but - sans honest foreshadowing - Big Reveals that s/he's really talking about another (e.g., sex talk/action = talking about/making dinner).]


Standout stories:

1.)   "His Own Personal Golgotha" - G.N. Braun:  Sensory vivid, mood-effective dread piece about a man's hellish reckoning or redemption. 


2.)  "21 Brooklands: next to Old Western, opposite the burnt out Red Lion" - Carol Johnstone:  Poverty, variable forms of familial and sexual abuse and a terrifying blackout are highlighted in this grimy, effective tale.


3.)   "Til Death" - Joe Mynhardt:  A man (Derek) tries to protect himself and his daughter (Meghan) from a psychotropic and supernatural home invasion.  Interesting (in a good way), eerie piece.


4.)   "Father Figure" - Tracie McBride:  Excellent, memorable work about a man (Andy) whose marriage to the notably younger Mia harbors a secret that will likely destroy them and their children.  One of my favorite stories in this collection.


5.)   "Room to Thrive" - Stephen Bacon: A group of post-party friends go on a late night spookhouse expedition, hoping to score 'shrooms.  Of course, they get something far more horrible than they bargain for.  While the characters and the story are familiar, the worthwhile writing and the story's brevity keep it notably entertaining.


6.)   "Hungry is the Dark" - Benedict J. Jones:  Excellent, blunt story that mixes pulp crime action, gore and shadowy horror.  In Soho, a recently released ex-con (Harry Sands) tries to rescue his fourteen year-old granddaughter (Rhian) from a familiar, child-pimping enemy (Howard Kinski).  This is one of my favorite entries in this anthology


7.)   "Lost and Found" - Tonia Brown:  A hospital employee (Renee), while filing some old films in the basement, encounters someone who may or may not be an employee legend, a ghost named Gertrude.  This is an especially interesting, well-written work, with a welcome touch of quirkiness.


8.)   "How the Dark Bleeds" - Jasper Bark:  Another hospital story, this one about an Anglo-Saxon blood creature (a Heolfor), a  traumatized nurse (Stephanie) and her terrible future.  Interesting pagan history stuff makes this one stand out.


9.)  "Don't let the dark stop you shining" -  William Meikle:  A woman, also haunted by a song, tries to join her dead family.  The story is familiar, but the writing is tightly-plotted and worthwhile.

Monday, June 09, 2014

The Outfit, by Richard Stark

(pb; 1963: third book in the Parker series)


From the back cover:

"When the Outfit tries to kill him, Parker declares war. Ripping off the syndicate is easy, but going one-on-one with Bronson, the Outfit's big boss, is the hard part. Hard for anyone but Parker, because the entire underworld understands that whatever Parker does -- he does for keep."


Review:

Outfit, which takes place three months after the events of The Man with the Getaway Face, is as word-lean, intense, entertaining and character-intrinsic as its preceding novels, achieving that last warm-familiar effect by featuring characters from them, namely: Handy McKay (from Getaway) and Bronson and Fairfax (from The Hunter).

Outfit's ending is a direct, promising lead-in to the next Parker novel, The Mourner.

This series is worth owning thus far.

#

The resulting film was released stateside in October 1973.  John Flynn, who directed the film, also wrote the screenplay for it.

Robert Duvall played Earl Macklin (cinematic stand-in for Parker).  Karen Black played Bett Harrow.  Timothy Carey played Jake Menner. 

Joe Don Baker played Jack Cody.  Robert Ryan played Mailer.  Joanna Cassidy played Rita Mailer.  Robert Jaeckel played Kimmie Cherney.  Bill McKinney played Buck Cherney.

Marie Windsor played Madge Coyle.  Elisha Cook Jr. (billed as Elisha Cook) played Carl.  Jane Greer played Alma Macklin. 

Sheree North played "Buck's Wife".  Henry Jones played a "Doctor".  Tom Reese played a "Hit Man".   An uncredited Lee De Broux played Walter Kinney.  Army Archerd played Butler.  Roy Jensen played Al.

Thursday, June 05, 2014

Think Like a Freak: The Authors of Freakonomics Offer to Retrain Your Brain, by Steven D. Levitt & Stephen J. Dubner

(hb; 2014: nonfiction.  Follow-up work to Freakonomics and Superfreakonomics)


From the inside flap:

"Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner single-handedly showed the world that applying counter-intuitive approaches to everyday problems can bear surprising results.

"Think Like A Freak will take readers further inside this special thought process, revealing a new way of approaching the decisions we make, the plans we create, and the morals we choose. It answers the question on the lips of everyone who’s read the previous books: How can I apply these ideas to my life? How do I make smarter, harder, and better decisions? How can I truly think like a freak?

"With short, highly entertaining insights running the gamut from 'The Upside of Quitting' to 'How to Succeed-With No Talent,' Think Like A Freak is poised to radically alter the way we think about all aspects of life on this planet."



Review:

Like Freakonomics and Superfreakonomics, Think illustrates and celebrates the art of looking at things (whether it's a hot dog eating contest or more meaningful life experiences) in different, intuitive and fact-based ways to arrive at fresh results and outlooks, whether they're successful or don't-do-that learning experiences (what some would call "failure").

What differentiates Think from those first two books is that it expressly shows how readers, with a few simple steps, can break out of everyday acceptance of "common sense" thinking that often limits what we (can) do, collectively and individually.  Levitt and Dubner don't offer easy solutions to anything, but Think, with its entertaining examples and its re-examinations of experiments mentioned in their previous books, does offer an intriguing read, as well as actions we can take to make this a better, gentler and more productive world.

Even if you find yourself disagreeing with Dubner and Levitt's suggestions, Think will (likely) compel you to (more) consciously consider your decision-making processes and worldview, as well as those of the people around you.

This is book, out of the many books I've read, is one of the few that I plan to not only own*, but re-read in a few years (to refresh my memory).  Check it out.


[*In my reviews I often say certain books are "worth owning" - and they are, at least in my estimation.  This, however, doesn't necessarily mean that I actually own all of them, as I have limited space to keep them. ]

Wednesday, June 04, 2014

Earthstrings, by John Rackham

 
(pb; 1972)


From the front cover:

"Its prize space-colony had grown silent - and Earth wanted to know why."


Review:

Plot:  When the beacon signal from Beta Hydri, a human "space colony" on Mars, goes dead for forty hours - indicating almost near-certain disaster - and a notorious author (Kit Carew) goes missing there as well, reporter Jeremy White is sent there to investigate what happened.  Accompanying him is a motley crew with mixed, possibly dangerous motives: Liss Landis, a flirty fellow reporter; Abigail Crane, Carew's secret sister and head of the Triple-C Corporation, whose financial ties to  Beta Hydri are complex; Fanny Allen, a promiscuous, petulant socialite and Carew's sugar mama; and Miguel Santana, a playboy with hidden talents - and possibly another identity.

Earthstrings reads like an high-spirited Swingin' Sixties science fiction parody - there's plenty of science fictionish-sounding devices, the characters wear different colored skin suits which highlight their curves (particularly the women's), there's a strong element of mystery and lots of twists, and the women act like "Bond girls," in the sense that they fall over themselves to get with the mission-focused, sometimes taciturn Jeremy White. 

This is a fast blast, wildly entertaining pot boiler, one worth owning.

#

Earthstrings was packaged as a reverse-bound "Ace Double" novel, which means that if readers flip the book upside down and over, there was another science fiction novel, penned by another author, on the other side. (Considering that these books sold for 95 cents a pop, this seems like a great deal, even back in that less-expensive, Seventies economy.)

In this case, the flipside novel is Kenneth Bulmer's The Chariots of Ra.

Tuesday, June 03, 2014

Tales From the Lake, Vol. 1 edited by Joe Mynhardt


(eBook; 2014: horror anthology)


Overall review:

Good, Old School horror anthology that will appeal to those who especially enjoyed Eighties-era chills and thrills.  Out of the sixteen stories, there were only two that I didn't like (due to personal preferences), but that's to be expected in any fiction collection with this many works.

Worth owning, this.



Standout stories:

1.)  "Don't Look at Me" - Elizabeth Massie:  A living, shoplifted garden gnome (Pointy) helps a young girl (Connie) deal with her mentally abusive mother.  The ending isn't surprising, but the story is fun, with an especially effective end-line.


2.)  "Dead Pull" - Taylor Grant:  Good, interesting morality tale about a cruel pet store employee (Brennan) whose control over his work environment and his animal charges is broken by the arrival of an animal-friendly new employee (Billy Mackey).  This story has the feel of Stephen King's "Graveyard Shift,"* structurally and tone-wise, so fans of King's may especially appreciate this work.

[*Published in King's 1978 story anthology Night Shift]



3.)  "The Reunion" - Joan De La Hayes:  During a fierce storm, the owner of a failing bed-&-breakfast inn  (Frank) gets two sets of guests: a drunk, horny newlyweds, and four weapon-bearing, bloodthirsty men who have a troubling - and seemingly deadly - history with the inn.

This is an excellent, memorable story until the ending, which feels truncated and jarring, as if the author had a great set-up, but lacked a finish (albeit one that is logical in regards to its characters) that matched the seamless flow of what preceded it.  Despite this let-down of an ending, it's still a worthwhile tale.


4.)   "Devil's Night" - Tim Curran:  Intriguing story about two prison-sprung cons trying to survive a fiery, demonic apocalypse.  Curran keeps his horror cinematic, his themes and characters' histories tightly interwoven with the action and the pace gripping.


5.)   "The Fine Art of Wrecking" - Jennifer Loring:  Two oceanside human scavengers (Jack and Christopher) murder and steal to stay alive, aware that retribution is almost a certainty.  Especially well-written, not too long, not too short.


6.)   "Saint Paddy's Night at The Crown" - Blaze Rob:  Fun, limerick-style verses about Irish blood, killing, sex and drinking.


7.)  "The Lady of Lost Lake" - Bev Vincent:  Fun story about a relaxing lakeside weekend gone supernaturally awry.  There's little in this work that you haven't read before, but it's entertaining anyway.


8.)   "Junksick" - G.N. Braun:  A junkie scumbag details his habit even as his world begins to change.  Love the end-line in this one.


9.)   "Witch-Compass" - Graham Masterton:  Interesting morality story about a desperate and financially bankrupt businessman who tries to get back his lost wealth. Especially good finish to this one, as well.