Archive for the 'Book Review' Category

Review: “We’re All Infected” – Essays on AMC’s The Walking Dead and the Fate of the Human

Thursday, August 7th, 2014

infectedI am a huge Walking Dead fan and I was really looking to reading the essays in We’re All Infected: Essays on AMC’s the Walking Dead and the Fate of the Human. I have spent hours debating with friends, discussing the meaning of key points on the show, discussing what zombies have to say about our culture, what causes some supernatural entity – whether it’s zombies or vampires or werewolves – to become suddenly in vogue. Lots of great topics there and I was hoping for a great series of interesting essays.

This is a dense bit of reading. It’s less like reading an essay and more like reading someone’s dissertation. I knew as soon as I started coming across passages like this one in the second essay, “Burying the Living with the Dead: Security, Survival and the Sanction of Violence” by Steven Pokornowski, that this would not be easy to plow through:

Second, I propose that a multidisciplinary perspective informed by biopolitical, posthumanist, and critical race theories can offer a way to resist this representational problematic at the levels of both consumption and production – can offer, in fact, a political and ethical critique that takes into account the role of the social constructions of humanity and race in maintaining sovereignty.

I don’t even know what that means, and it certainly doesn’t sound like the sort of fun and engaging discussion I was looking for.

There are a couple of high points. I particularly enjoyed P. Ivan Young’s essay, “Walking Tall or Walking Dead? The American Cowboy in the Zombie Apocalypse.” It goes into great detail comparing the tv show “The Walking Dead” to the 1953 film, Shane. I’ve never seen the film, but Young calls out instance after instance where the two Shanes (and Rick, as well) face similar circumstances and react in similar ways. There are too many similarities to be simple coincidence.

I also enjoyed “Zombie Time: Temporality and Living Death” by Gwyneth Peaty. It discusses the concept of time in the series – the ways in which time seems to have stopped, and just how important it is for civilized people to have a sense to time, to feel like they are moving forward. Various points in the series – Andrea planning to celebrate her sister’s birthday, the watch that Hershel gives to Glenn (and its later appearance in the opening montage), the big digital countdown clock at the CDC – all talk in their own way about the effect of time on the living characters. For the walkers, there is no time. Their death, which should mark the end of time for them, instead marks just a change of form. Although their time should be up, they keep on going, with no end in sight.

I have to say that overall, this was a disappointment. Someone with a more scholarly bent might appreciate it more, but I found most of the essays a real slog. There are many great ideas in this series to discuss and I have read some terrific articles on the various themes of the zombie apocalypse, but these are so weighted down with jargon and obscure references (do I think it is significant that Dale drove a Winnebago and Shane drove a Jeep Cherokee, both cars named after Indian tribes that are not native to the region? No, I do not) that I couldn’t really enjoy them.

My copy of We’re All Infected: Essays on AMC’s the Walking Dead and the Fate of the Human, edited by Dawn Keetley, was an Advanced Reader Copy, provided free of charge.

Review: The Kill Call by Stephen Booth

Monday, August 4th, 2014

kill callThe Kill Call by Stephen Booth is the first book I’ve read in the Cooper and Fry series. I’m not sure this is a series I’ll keep reading, for reasons I’ll get to later, but it’s a pretty good mystery.  The story starts on a rainy moor – Sean has come up to one of his favorite quiet, deserted spot, where he goes when he needs to get away from everything. Today, something feels different. There’s a smell. And a corpse.

It’s an interesting mystery, with a couple of storylines to follow, and quite British, tied up in the odd world of fox hunting. The body was discovered during the annual Eden Valley Hunt, which is hotly protested by animal rights activists. The area was crowded with hunters and the folks who handle the horses, as well as the protesters (referred to as “sabs” or saboteurs by the police) and a host of police officers there to keep them from killing each other. The “kill call” of the title refers to the long, wavering notes on the horn that the hunters blow to call in the hounds to kill the fox. Only in this case, it wasn’t a fox.

Detective Constable Diane Fry is in charge of the case and totally out of her depth, although she would never admit it. She’s a city girl in a country police district and she has tremendous disdain for the citizens there. She quite clearly turns up her nose at the country life – from the quiet towns to the smell of horses in the barn. She’s supposed to be a great detective, but she can’t seem to see anything beyond her own nose. Even when she recognizes that she is putting people off, she can’t seem to change it. She clearly sees Detective Constable Ben Cooper as a rival, even though he not only helps with the case but tries to offer some personal support. She is so unlikable in this that I can’t see wanting to continue with the series. I may have missed some of her character’s development, and I know that some people enjoy a story with unlikable characters, but that really isn’t for me. If someone has read more of these, I would love to hear about them.

Even with those caveats, it was quite a good read. I enjoyed the various twists and turns of the story, I find Ben Cooper a very interesting character, and I am curious about what happens to Diane Fry – she seems to be at a turning point, trying to get her career back on track and resolve some personal issues. I’m just not sure that I am curious enough to put up with more of her abrasive behavior.

My copy of The Kill Call was a digital ARC provided free of charge.

Review: Nothin’ to Lose: The Making of KISS (1972-1975) by Ken Sharp with Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons

Monday, July 28th, 2014

kisslosebookI was a Kiss fan as a teenager, so I was really looking forward to reading Nothin’ to Lose: The Making of KISS (1972-1975). Author Ken Sharpe has pulled together an amazing series of interviews with former band members, roadies, industry and media people. In addition, there are a host of more recognizable names: Joe Perry (Aerosmith), Iggy Pop, Ted Nugent, Alice Cooper, Eric Bloom (Blue Oyster Cult), Neal Schon (Journey), Bob Seger, and Dee Dee, Joey, Johnny, Marky and Tommy Ramone. There are a lot of great quotes and interviews in the book – perhaps too many.

There are a number of things about this book that I loved. First, the interviews – it was fascinating to read the quotes from other musicians, people that liked Kiss and those who didn’t, bands who were more popular and those who were just starting out. Hearing what these bands had to say about Kiss, good and bad, gives you some context. Kiss was doing something very new and different, with the makeup and the theatrics. Some of their contemporaries embraced it, while others hated it; some were amused and others may have been a little jealous. But hearing them talk about the band – particularly those who said it was a gimmick and they would never make it – is definitely interesting.

The interviews with friends and industry people are a real look at what goes into launching a band. How difficult it is to get a label’s attention and then, once you have it, how to keep it. Getting signed certainly doesn’t guarantee success, and it is clear from each section of the book that if Kiss hadn’t had a few people who really believed in them, they’d have been doomed. Neil Bogart (Casablanca Records) and Bill Aucoin (their manager) did everything from manage, produce and promote the band to paying for their tours on their personal credit cards. Considering that they didn’t get a lot of radio airplay and they often had difficulty getting signed on as an opening act, they would never have gotten off the ground without their unflagging support. It was truly amazing to read just how much people invested in the band, and I don’t mean just the money involved to get an act like this rolling.

It’s also clear that Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons shared a dream for their band and were willing to work very hard to make it  reality. There is a sort of single-minded devotion to the band and a refusal to believe that they would be anything other than huge stars that is, by turns, endearing and annoying.

For me, the downside of Nothin’ to Lose is that it sometimes got a little tedious. There is a definite “us against the world” vibe to the book, and it can get a little tiresome. Perhaps it’s accurate – perhaps there really were almost no supporters for the band in the early days – but it is reiterated so often that it seems like overkill.

I was also disappointed that the book really glosses over the departures of Peter Criss and Ace Frehley. I was interested in reading about that, perhaps even getting some of the story right from the departed band members (a timely topic, considering the controversy surrounding the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductions). Unfortunately, their departures are covered only briefly on the last two pages of the book. Still, the book is an amazing look at a young band, on its way to stardom and all the ups and downs of that journey. There are some great stories here for anyone who was a member of the Kiss Army, and anyone interested in a slice of rock and roll history.

My copy of Nothin’ to Lose: The Making of KISS (1972-1975) was an Advanced Reader Copy, provided free of charge.

How to Read Blurb

Saturday, July 12th, 2014

Okay, this made me laugh out loud. If you have ever read the publisher blurbs after reading a book and thought “What were they thinking? What book did they read?” this will appeal to you, as well:

how-to-speak-publisher-page00011

Review: Live by Night by Dennis Lehane

Friday, July 11th, 2014

live by nightThere’s a bit of a story behind my reading of Live by Night: I picked up the audiobook from the library months ago – probably closer to a year ago. I sped through the first 9 cds and then…lost it. I brought it in from the car, set it aside, and it disappeared. I was furious! Ransacked the house, went through all my suitcases, the car, called the hotel I’d stayed at. No luck. Cut to this past week: I spent my vacation doing a thorough cleaning and decluttering of my spare bedroom, and guess what I found? Yep. I was finally able to finish!

Live by Night tells the story of Joe Coughlin, and it is a big story. Joe starts out the son of a law-and-order police captain in Boston. He abandons his father’s teachings to be an outlaw, to live outside the law, first as a petty thief, and later as a gangster. What I loved most about the novel was the range of stories: Joe as a petty thief who falls for a pretty girl he meets during a robbery; Joe as a tough guy in prison, standing up to the made guy inside; Joe as the King of Ybor City, using a lot of native smarts, cunning and ruthlessness to corner the rum trade; and Joe as a gangster, family man and gentlemen farmer in Havana, Cuba, building a baseball field for the boys who work in his tobacco fields. They are big stories and even though Joe is a very bad man, you can’t help but root for him – not to get back on the straight and narrow or give up his outlaw nature. No, you find yourself hoping that his latest criminal scheme will work out, that he can keep his employees safe, that he doesn’t end up in a pair of cement shoes.

In part, the story is propelled by Joe’s love of two different women. Emma is the pretty girl he meets during a heist, the kind of woman that men will do anything for. She makes Joe take crazy chances, chances that end badly for Joe. Later, Joe meets Graciela, a head-strong Cuban woman who helps him build an empire in Prohibition-era Florida.

When I first picked up this audiobook, I raced through the first 9 cds, before that little interruption I mentioned. When I had it back in my hands, I popped in disk 10 and I was right back in the story; I didn’t even need to go back for a refresher. Do you have any idea how unusual that is? I have stacks of books that I’ve read, reviewed, and a week later I can’t remember the name of the main character. Live by Night engaged me in a way that few books have recently. The stories and characters stayed fresh in my mind months later. I wish every book I read was so compelling.

My one complaint is that the book seemed to end very abruptly. I kept running back through the CD tracks, thinking it must have skipped a track. But looking back, the abrupt end made sense, in the context of Joe’s life.

What balances that complaint is that I can look forward to seeing the book on the big screen. Ben Affleck will directing and is apparently working on the screenplay. I’m not sure I picture Ben as Joe, but I have confidence that he can do a great job with it. Sadly, we’ll have to wait until 2016.

My copy of Live by Night came from the Kent Free Library, and I think they will be very happy to finally have it back!

 

Review: William Shakespeare’s The Empire Striketh Back by Ian Doescher

Tuesday, July 8th, 2014

empire striketh backIf you read my review of William Shakespeare’s Star Wars, then you know what to expect from William Shakespeare’s The Empire Striketh Back by Ian Doescher. They are fun little tidbits, translating Star Wars into something The Bard would have been proud of.

Luke Skywalker, on his battle with the Imperial Walkers:

A hit! A very palpable hit. Wait,
Although my shots have found their mark, their blasts
Have no effect, It is their armor, fie!
Our blasters are too weak to penetrate
The strength of their robust exteriors.
Rogue group, use thy harpoons and cables, too.
Let us go for their legs and trip them up -
Perhaps they can be bested from beneath.
Dack, art thou with me?

 

Leia, after Han is frozen in carbonite:

Full fathom five my lover lies
Within an icy tomb,
They say he lives, but my heart dies,
Sing wroshyr, wroshyr, wroshyr.

Fun, but to be honest, it gets tiring for me after a while.

I would love to give these to a bunch of eighth graders — I think they would make a great introduction to Shakespeare, a way of showing that Shakespeare’s language isn’t impenetrable and difficult, just different. Other than that, I think you need to be a real Star Wars geek to truly appreciate these.

My copy of William Shakespeare’s The Empire Striketh Back was an Advance Reader Copy, provided free of charge.

 

Review: The Wilde Passions of Dorian Gray by Mitzi Szereto

Tuesday, July 1st, 2014

dorian grayWilde Passions of Dorian Gray by Mitzi Szereto is purported to follow the adventures of an iconic character, but I think this novel suffered from a bit of misrepresentation. It was presented as a follow-up to The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde, so cleverly alluded to in the title, and that’s a workable idea for a novel. I would be interested in what happened to Dorian – what happened to Dorian? What happened to the portrait? What would you do if you were assured that you would never grow old and never have to pay for those sins? But this is really soft-core porn. Not that there is anything wrong with that – I like a bit of raunch now and then. It just wasn’t what I was expecting when I agreed to review it.

Basically, this book follows Dorian Gray as he leaves England in search of new “sensations.” First, he goes to Paris where he frequents brothels and stages elaborate orgies in his apartments. But Paris is a little too close to England and he begins to run into reminders of his past. He travels to Marrakesh and dabbles in a bit of brutality – on the receiving end. Eventually, he has to dispose of his lover and find a new playground.

That’s really the gist of the book – Dorian travels from city to city, fucking and killing people. (More of the former than the latter.) Eventually, he lands in New Orleans and takes up with some vampire wannabes. It’s a pleasant enough erotic romp, but it doesn’t really work for me. This kind of novel, with its Victorian language, is not explicit enough to really be erotic for me, but isn’t meaty enough from a literature standpoint to really satisfy my reading appetite. An amuse-bouche, perhaps, but definitely not a main course.

My copy of Wilde Passions of Dorian Gray was an Advanced Reader Copy, provided free of charge. If this sounds like your sort of book, I suggest you check out the author’s website for similar works – she’s got quite a variety!

Review: Face Off, edited by David Baldacci

Sunday, June 29th, 2014

faceoffNow, this is a book that had me hooked from the very first pitch!

Ever wonder who would win in a fight if the most popular thriller characters were paired against their most worthy opponents? Would you bet on Lee Child’s Jack Reacher or Joseph Finder’s Nick Heller, or even Dennis Lehane’s Patrick Kenzie over Michael Connelly’s Harry Bosch?

Oh yeah! If you love your detectives the way I do, I know that you have daydreamed about pairing them up. FaceOff is less about these characters fighting it out, it’s more about them teaming up and working together. And that is worth the price of admission.

It certainly says something about the quality of work that Simon & Schuster puts out that they have so many great characters to pair up. And I will warn you, Readers: you are going to get hooked on new series. You might as well know that going in. Unless you have a lot more spare time than I do, there are going to be characters here that are unfamiliar to you, and I guarantee these stories are going to make you want to run right out and pick up a few of their adventures. (You know the great thing about a Kindle Fire? No matter how many books you put on it, it never gets any heavier.) Smart thinking, S&S.

Now, the stories! I don’t even know where to begin. The weirdest and creepiest of the bunch was Special Agent Pendergast (Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child) vs. Slappy the Ventriloquist Dummy (R.L. Stine) – it sounds bizarre, but it works. Now, I am not a Pendergast fan – on paper, it seems like the sort of thing I should love, but I don’t) and I haven’t read any of Slappy’s…adventures, but that didn’t matter. The story is great and I can’t think of a better way to pair up this odd couple.

The first of my absolute favorites was Lincoln Rhyme (Jeffery Deaver) vs. Lucas Davenport (John Sanford). I have many of the Prey novels (several of them autographed, after meeting Sanford several years ago at a book signing) and I’ve read several of the Lincoln Rhyme novels, so I knew this was going to be good. The characters are so different and they butt heads ion such interesting ways. In addition, you’ve got their trusty sidekicks – Amelia Sachs and Lily Rothenburg – to spice things up. Really fabulous – I would love a full-length novel of this pairing!

But really: Nick Heller (Joseph Finder) and Jack Reacher (Lee Child). I can’t say “versus” there, because they really end up working together. I’m familiar with Jack Reacher, read a few of the books, and I’ve already ordered a couple of Heller novels. This one was so much fun – from the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry, to the fact that some poor Boston accountant got more help, for free, than he could have possibly paid for and he didn’t even know it! Great, great story.

So, thanks to my friends at Simon & Schuster and Meryl L. Moss Media Relations for providing this free Advanced Reader Copy of FaceOff. The rest of you – hit your local bookstores and libraries for it. And start saving your pennies, because I guarantee this book will spawn a shopping spree!

Review: The Abduction by Jonathan Holt

Friday, June 27th, 2014

abductionI was thrilled to receive a copy of The Abduction by Jonathan Holt, the second book in the Carnivia trilogy. It wasn’t long ago that I reviewed The Abomination, which I thought was a terrific mystery, so I was eager to see where the story went next.

The Abduction focuses again on the unlikely trio of detectives: Venetian police captain Kat Tapo, Second Lieutenant Holly Boland, and reclusive genius Daniele Barbo. Tapo has filed a sexual harassment suite against her former lover, Colonel Aldo Piola – and good for her, because the resolution of their affair was really unfair for her. There is tension between Tapo and Boland, as well as an entirely different sort of tension between Boland and Barbo. These characters are so very different and it is really interesting to see the way they interact.

The novel starts with an erotic swingers event at an upscale nightclub, which is a great way to begin a story! A young woman is abducted – a teenager who should definitely not have been at this party. Her name is Mia and she is the daughter of a US Army officer. There is no ransom demand, but there is a video – a very strange video – and eventually, the kidnappers’ plans become clear. It’s a chilling plan and since the kidnappers are online, it is going viral all over the globe.

And then, just like the storyline in The Abomination, the story veers off into entirely new territory. There are interesting tendrils – a secret society, hacked email, disturbing documents found in the Vatican archives. This is what I love the most about this series! No matter where the story starts, it take you places you had no idea were even on the map. It’s such a refreshing change from plodding procedurals and predictable detective stories and I have been recommending this one to everyone. I am really looking forward to reading the third book in the trilogy – but I am not looking forward to the end of their stories!

My copy of  The Abduction is an Advanced Reader Copy, provided free of charge.

Not really a review…

Wednesday, June 11th, 2014

wonder bread summerEver start a book – even a book you were really interested in – and find that you just can’t get into it? I really tried to get into The Wonder Bread Summer by Jessica Anya Blau, but I gave up about 30 pages in. That’s really early, even for me. We start off with Allie, working her job at the dress shop. Well, working might be a stretch. She’s in the fitting room with her boss, snorting coke and showing him her tits. You see, she hasn’t gotten a paycheck yet, and her boss really wants to see her naked, so maybe? In another 10 or 12 pages she still hasn’t gotten her paycheck, but she has absconded with the Wonder Bread bag full of cocaine that her boss had stashed in the fitting room, and she’s trying to use some of it to pay for gas to fill up her car.

I can suspend disbelief with the best of them, but just a few pages in and I already hated Allie. At my worst, I can’t imagine behaving the way Allie did, and I don’t really want to read a book about a character I think is an idiot. Maybe this would speak to someone of a younger generation, but it really didn’t do much for me.