Friday, October 17, 2014

Angel of the Abyss

Angel of the AbyssAngel of the Abyss by Ed Kurtz
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

When a reel from a legendary lost film is discovered, Graham Woodard flies out to LA to help restore it. However, complications arise when the film goes missing and the owner gets herself murdered. But what does all that have to do with Woodard's ex-wife?

I got this from DarkFuse via Netgalley.

Angel of the Abyss is a short novel. "Modern Hollywood Noir" would be a handy label to slap on it. The timeline shifts from the past, when Gracie Baron was making The Angel of the Abyss, to the present, when Graham Woodard is hired to restore the legendary lost silent film.

First off, I have to admit that this book probably arrived at the wrong time for me. Consequently, it felt like I was reading it forever. There was nothing wrong with the book but it was definitely not a "drop everything" kind of read. It was more like a "I'll read this during the Cardinal game and maybe while I'm trying to fall asleep" kind of read.

Anyway, the shifting viewpoints keep the tension mounting. While I've never heard of Ed Kurtz prior to this, he knows how to use his noir conventions. He surprised me with quite a few of his twists and I should have seen the ending coming but he still got me. While the modern era plot thread was my favorite, I loved Ed's Hollywood noir dialogue during the Gracie chapters. There was a lot of action and both plot threads kept me interested when I made time to read.

Like I said earlier, I'm pretty sure this was a case of wrong book, wrong time for me. Since it's a DarkFuse release, I was expecting horror rather than noir. I still enjoyed it, though. Three out of five stars.



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Thursday, October 9, 2014

Facial

FacialFacial by Jeff Strand
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Once the hitman he hired to kill his wife's lover finishes the job, Greg kills the hitman in his office. Fortunately, his brother is suddenly in need of a fresh corpse after finding a dead lion in his basement. Then things get a little strange...

I got this from DarkFuse via Netgalley.

I'm a big fan of both Jeff Strand and DarkFuse so this one was a no-brainer when it showed up on Netgalley. It was neither my favorite Jeff Strand book nor my favorite DarkFuse publication but it was still entertaining.

So, what would you do if you went into your basement and found a lion carcass with a talking face beneath it? Yeah, we've all had that problem a few times but Jeff Strand is the first one to write about it. Strand is the Christoper Moore of horror. He can take things like serial-killing and make them hilarious. I kept chuckling when Greg and Carlton were discussing killing and such. Felicia was also pretty hilarious. There were a ton of funny one-liners in this little novella.

I'm a fan of bizarro fiction but this one was almost too weird for even me. The face was part of the floor and every time it ate another head, another face appeared on the floor. Interesting but I was expecting a lot more in the way of explanation when the tale wrapped. Still, it was a pretty entertaining read. Three out of five stars.

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Friday, October 3, 2014

Brisco

BRISCO: The Life and Times of National Collegiate and World Heavyweight Wrestling Champion JACK BRISCOBRISCO: The Life and Times of National Collegiate and World Heavyweight Wrestling Champion JACK BRISCO by Jack Brisco
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Brisco is the biography of professional wrestler Jack Brisco.

I was interested in this book for a long time but wasn't in a hurry to read it. I've had a mixed experience with Crowbar Press's wrestling books in the past. I almost quit reading it since it was almost 20% of the way through before Jack transitioned from amateur wrestling in his college days to the professional ranks.

However, I'm glad I stuck with it because it wasn't too bad. It was better written than most of Crowbar's offerings. Another strong selling point for me was that at the time it was written, Jack Brisco had been out of the wrestling business for something like 30 years and didn't have to worry about burning any bridges since he was doing fine financially.

Brisco covers Freddie Joe Brisco's rise from dirt poor roots in Oklahoma to NCAA wrestling national champion, and to his breaking into professional wrestling. Too much time was spent in his college days for my taste but I persevered.

Once Jack goes pro, things take off. He talks about being brought into the Funk's territory of Amarillo just to make Terry Funk and Dory Funk Jr. look good. His time with Eddie Graham in the Florida territory is given the most coverage, both in ring and out. He also mentions who screwed him out of pay, noteably Fritz Von Erich, The Sheik, Jim Barnett and even the head of the Florida territory, Eddie Graham.

Brisco seemed like he was still trying to protect the business a bit, like a lot of old timers, but still covers a lot of the backstage stuff, like how he got $25,000 dollars plus $8k a day working for a week in Japan and dropping the title to Giant Baba, only to win it back before the tour was over. He also mentions taping all that money, in cash, to his body to sneak it through customs.

His stories cover a lot of the wrestlers from his hay-day, like the Funks, Rick Steamboat, Jay Youngblood, Wahoo McDaniel, who broke Jack's nose with a headbutt. Jack's days as part owner of the Florida and Georgia territories and eventually selling out to Vince McMahon are pretty much how his career ends. I love his retirement story and don't want to spoil it.

My usual gripes about wrestling books, Crowbar's in particular, apply to this one as well. There was too much pre-wrestling and not enough road stories, although I liked the one about Terry Funk wrecking two cars in one night and the one about Don Muraco not being able to find his car in the airport parking lot because it had two feet of snow on it.

Three out of five stars, although your mileage may vary.


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Thursday, September 11, 2014

Go Home, Oaxaca. You're Drunk.

Go Home, Oaxaca. You're Drunk.Go Home, Oaxaca. You're Drunk. by Jason R. Koivu
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Remember you were in college and one of your friends was in a band that you were afraid sucked so you avoided seeing them at all cost? That's how it is when one of your Goodreads chums writes a book. However, my fears were unfounded. Not only is Jason Koivu a funny guy and gentle lover, he's actually a darn good writer.

Go Home, Oaxaca. You're Drunk is a travel journal about Jason and his wife living like entitled college kids in Oaxaca, Mexico, for a month and a half. Supposedly, they are there to work, but it seems like they're living the high life to me. Aside from an unfortunate bout of the grizzly shits, Jason makes it sound like an amazing place to visit.

Normally, I find travel books as uninteresting as listening to someone describing a dream they had but Jason Koivu, Esquire, has a way with words, as smooth as a Tequila shot first thing in the morning. I had no trouble staying engaged while he described Mexican plumbing, hunting for a laundromat, and sharing the travel tip of throwing away your clothes before returning home. I found myself getting sad along with him as the Koivu clan's time in Mexico ran out.

Four out of five stars. I'm deducting points since they didn't eat any roasted grasshoppers or attend a donkey show on the trip.



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Wednesday, September 10, 2014

The Spellman Files

The Spellman Files (The Spellmans #1)The Spellman Files by Lisa Lutz
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Spellmans are a dysfunctional family of detectives. When Rae, the youngest, goes missing, her sister Izzy drops what she's doing and goes looking for her while delving into the Spellman family's past. Who kidnapped Rae Spellman? And does it have something to do with a cold case Izzy is working on?

The Spellman Files reads like Sara Gran on mood elevators. The writing style reminds me of a more humorous version of the Claire DeWitt books. As for the Spellmans themselves, they remind me of The Royal Tannenbaums if the Tannenbaums were a family of dysfunctional detectives instead of quirky for the sake of being quirky Wes Anderson characters.

I'll be honest. Usually, humorous crime/mystery books aren't my bag. Hell, Lawrence Block and Donald Westlake are two of my favorite authors but their humorous works are largely untouched by me. I'm proud to say that the Spellman Files made me reconsider my stance on mixing mysteries and mirth.

The Spellman Files is one entertaining book and came highly recommended by Amanda and Carol, two ladies who I've learned not to doubt during my tenure at Goodreads. As the kidnapping plot slowly unfolds, Izzy reveals what got the Spellman family to that point, a hilarious tale of mistrust, familial surveillance, and lies.

Mysteries, especially those purported to be humorous, aren't generally known for their well-drawn characters but the Spellmans and those unfortunate enough to get pulled into their orbits all seemed like real people to me. Even though a family of detectives isn't the most likely of protagonists, I had no trouble believing in the way they constantly violated one another's privacy in the name of love.

Izzy reminded me of Sara Gran's Claire DeWitt quite a bit, as if Claire had been raised by a family of detectives and quick doing every drug known to man once she left high school. Her dialogue and thought processes won me over in the first 10-15 pages. I love how she said things like "He was destined to be ex-boyfriend #9" when meeting Daniel while on a job. Izzy's battles against her family's constant surveillance manage to be hilariously outlandish while still being in the realm of possibility.

I think this book worked for me while other "humor" mysteries failed is the way it was structured, mostly being an exploration of the Spellman family rather than a straightforward mystery. Also, the tone was consistent. It didn't try to juxtapose comedy with grim violence or anything like that. It was a mystery that happened to have comedic elements, not a comedy with a lame mystery shoehorned into it.

With The Spellman Files, Lisa Lutz and her dysfunctional detective family have earned a place in my hearts and a future void in my wallet. Five out of five stars.



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Saturday, September 6, 2014

Murder is the Deal of the Day

Murder Is the Deal of the DayMurder Is the Deal of the Day by Robert J. Randisi
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

When two women are found dead, smothered on their couches with tapes of Claire Hunt and her Home Mall shopping show playing in their VCRs, Claire and her husband Gil decide to play detective and find the killer themselves...

I really wanted to like this. After a so-so experience with another Randisi novel, I had the chance to take part in a phone interview with Randisi and his wife, the co-author of this piece, Christine Matthews, and they were hilarious. Too bad the book wasn't great. I didn't precisely hate it but it was not good. Is that clear enough?

The book went back and forth between illogical and just annoying. First off, the police treat Claire like a suspect because a video of her was playing on the victim's TVs. What the hell kind of sense does that make? Beyond that, the police are just set dressing while Gil and Claire coo over one another and run around Saint Louis tracking down leads.

The blurb on the back compares Gil and Claire to Nick and Nora Charles of The Thin Man. Yeah, they're a married couple but they lack the alcohol and sense of humor that makes Nick and Nora so entertaining. They're much more like Spenser and Susan Silverman, except less competent or interesting. They were like that annoying couple you're friends with on Facebook who are constantly updating their status with crap like "I love my wonderful husband!" Getting reminded how perfect their relationship is on every other page got old really fast.

The writing was really bland. Randisi has a reputation for being one of the last pulp writers but I don't think they mean that in the Chandler-Hammett sense, more in the sense of how Walter Gibson could churn out 2 or 3 Shadow novels a month back in the day. Of course, when you're busting out one or more of those Gunsmith dirty westerns every month under a pen name, you don't have time for similes, metaphors, or colorful adjectives, I guess.

I enjoyed the St. Louis references and the fact that Gil owned a bookstore but that was pretty much it. I guess the story was engaging but when there are only two suspects and one of them has cutaway scenes, you pretty much know who's doing the killing. It wasn't total crap so I'm giving it a two. It's definitely not recommended, though. I think I'm done with Randisi unless I pick up one of his Gunsmith books for comedy reasons.




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Friday, September 5, 2014

Doctor Who: The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Time Traveller

The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Time TravellerThe Loneliness of the Long-Distance Time Traveller by Joanne Harris
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

While dying of radiation poisoning, the Doctor finds himself at The Village, a strange place where every day is April 8th and everyone must pretend to be happy or the Princess will strike them down...

I got this from Netgalley.

The latest Doctor Who Time Trip sees the Third Doctor find himself in The Village, a small town that resembles Oxfordshire that no one can leave. Doc Pertwee is portrayed true to form, complete with bow tie and frilly velvet coat. It's actually surprisingly deep for a Doctor Who short story.

The tone is somber, not surprising since the Doctor is heading back to earth to die and regenerate into Tom Baker.

Since it's a short story, that's all I'm prepared to reveal at this time. Unlike a lot of the Time Trips, this one feels authentic and is a very worthwhile addition to Who-lore. 3.5 out of 5 stars.

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