Book Reviews: Cruise, Como, FBI Actress

Federico Garcia Lorca
GIRL, THE MEN MUST GIVE US
PLEASURE. THEY MUST UNDO OUR
PLAITS AND LET US DRINK WATER
FROM THEIR MOUTH. THAT’S WHAT
KEEPS THE WORLD GOING ROUND.

Holiday Cruise
Ever read those pick-your-own-adventure books as a kid? Where the chapter ends on a cliffhanger and you get to decide the outcome? Then it tells you which page to go to, depending on your decision.
This is such a story, but definitely not for kids. The main character, as is common for many women in fiction, is coming off a rough breakup, so her female friends and gay male friends take her on a short cruise. The first half has her choose between her first lesbian encounter and a spanking, while in the second she goes to have her photo taken and chooses either the guy who runs the business or the hunk who plays Santa.
There’s a lot of fun secondary characters here, but you won’t get the full measure unless you go back and read the other branch as soon as you’re finished with one. The sex scenes were rather pedestrian—the one with the first guy seemed a lot more hot and realistic than the Santa one—but the dialog flows beautifully and is the best part.
3.5/5

Fascinating Lake Como
Not so much a travel book as a promo tool, this tome tries to share the wonders of this famous region of Northern Italy. According to the info at the end the author moved to Italy, so English might be her first language, but some of the wording and phrases make it seem otherwise.
A lot of the sightseeing suggestions are churches, almost as many as scenic places. Plenty of travel stuff listings, including markets and internet cafés; there’s even some business card-like graphics for such things as auto repair. Even the selected photos do little to impart the grandeur of the area. Plenty of history, not much of it interesting. Perhaps because I’ve spent time in this area having a lot more fun than the book leads one to believe, I was not impressed.
A generous 3/5

Money, Family, Murder
In all honesty I almost gave up on this book after a few pages. I had trouble liking any of the characters, even the murder and frame victim, and the writing style, while not bad, was nothing to write home about. Problem was, I couldn’t really figure out why I wasn’t liking it, other than the characters. But I kept going and enjoyed it more as it went along, though I was never fully in happy mode with it. The general plot was okay, though there were some parts that were a little shaky, especially with the main character doing some pretty stupid moves that would have saved him a lot of trouble, especially in Dakota and Florida. There’s a good aside about how the internet reacts to scandal—not the TV show—that I thought was excellently written and is the highlight of the novel.
But for me the worst part came at the end. One of my pet peeves—I think it was Larry Niven who said it—“The reader is entitled to a chance to outwit the author.” This did not happen here, there being absolutely no clue as to whodoneit before the revelation. It’s one thing to know that the main character didn’t do it—therefore we root for him and want to see how he gets out of it—and of course there’s gonna be at least one red herring, but it’s only fair to weave in some touches which might seem incidental but eventually make the reader think, “Oh yeah, how’d I miss that?” That wasn’t done here.
2.5 upgraded to 3/5

Random Elements
Second in a series, this is a story of an actress in love with an FBI agent, who has to juggle strange relationships with her director/auteur/muse recipient, her co-stars, and most of all a stalker who goes from being poetic fanboy to all-out flasher in her house. Due to the fact in the first book—I imagine—she helped the FBI agent solve a crime, she’s going from action heroine to the real thing with the series cancelled. . . only to have it uncancelled, while her new boyfriend goes away on an undercover assignment.
Billed as a romance, but even though there’s the big relationship it feels like the romance took place in the previous book. So this one comes across as more of a mystery/thriller, which of course makes me happier. There haven’t been many times when I’ve enjoyed a book so much I want to instantly read the previous one, but the writing and characterization here is excellent; if I had to choose one thing I love more than anything else, it would be the sense of humor and humanity of the lead character. And like everyone who meets her (them?) I’m in love with both Annika (the TV character) and Nikki (the actress).
As a bonus you can go to the author’s website to view samples of what she thinks the TV show would be like; I imagine it’s on cable, for there’s a lot of cussing.
5/5

;o)

Book Reviews: Heinlein comic, Serial Killers, and Capri

She sighed. “I will never understand the male obsession with sports.”
“And I’ll never understand nails and hair and makeup and clothes and accessories and especially high heels. You really want to get into this?”
“So, how’d your Bruins do today?”

Citizen of the Galaxy
This is a graphic novel of the Heinlein classic, which I haven’t read in decades, but the story was told so well here that my memory was quickly jogged. To make this simple, this is how adaptations should be done, though it’s interesting to note just how much could be left out of the original while still telling the complete story. The artwork is superior to most of the graphic novels I’ve reviewed—admittedly few—and I was amused to note how much better the female characters were rendered (she’s not bad, she’s just drawn that way). If you liked the original you’ll love this, and if you never read it you won’t feel like you’re missing anything with this version.
5/5

Blown
First in a new series by Chuck Barrett, this involves a covert intelligence agent/government assassin in the wrong place at the right time, saving a man from a hit squad in a restaurant and making a promise to his Marshals’ bodyguard to deliver him to safety. From there everyone—good, bad, and indifferent—is after him and his charge, who isn’t as meek as he comes across. So at its simplest it’s a chase story, though as it goes on there are other elements added to the plot.
I can’t stand watching most fight sequences in movies because they’re so unrealistic, so it’s refreshing to see them here over so quickly, as would happen in real life, especially when one of those involved is a trained assassin. The description of the dam near the beginning is also well done, as well as the various safe houses and the Italian restaurant. However, there were other settings I had problems picturing, especially the big fights in the warehouse/shipping yard, the private island, and the terrorist’s villa; this is what most likely kept me from giving the book a 5.
The characters, on the other hand, are well drawn, the secondaries as well as the mains. The author has a relatively fluid writing style that makes the reading easy, though I could have done with less reminders of how he’d sworn to the dying deputy marshal that he’d get his charge to safety. When we are first introduced to the killer-for-hire, the writer goes out of his way to be gender-neutral, enough so that I guessed it was a woman; think he could have been more subtle there. And the storming of the warehouse annoyed me, as both men should have known better than to attack a much bigger force alone, only saved by a ridiculous deux ex machina that was never hinted at; not fair.
But despite all that, there’s still much to enjoy. There’s also plenty of backstory for future novels, including threads about a woman from his past that he was on his way to hunt down when he was rudely interrupted, and a female Mossad agent he had a fling with. At first I didn’t remember the prologue, which involved a covert mission in Lebanon, but it comes full circle in the end.
4/5

A Fortress Defiled
Lately there’s been an upsurge in serial killer novels and the psychology of such, but that’s okay because for the most part they’re well-written. That’s the case here as well, in a story told in mostly first person by the cop chasing the killer, though there are occasional forays into her dreams, as well as the killer’s first person and the occasional third person omni, all in present tense.
The serial killer is relatively simplistic; though he drinks blood—more like sips it—he’s not exactly Dracula. His father taught him to hate the government, which is an important part of his psychology. More importantly, he hears the voices of the dead, probably due to his fucked up childhood. He kills animals too, just to up his serial killer cred. {What, no arson?}
Though well written with a lot of intriguing secondary characters—love the daughter—all the dream and reincarnation babble could have easily been left out to make a tighter story.
3.5 pushed to 4/5

Summer of Fire
It’s always a bit annoying for me to jump into a series somewhere other than the beginning; it turns out this is the third in a series. In this case it took a few chapters to realize there really wasn’t one main character, some of them so obviously well-established that I figured they were in the previous books, others not so much, like the Norwegian princess—not a cruise ship—that had me thinking this might be a take on Roman Holiday.
Said Norwegian princess is in love with a man quite older than her, who is one of the previously characters. The others are an archaeologist and an oceanographer, though the main scientific thrust of the story is volcanoes. The settings are well-written, and I heartily endorse the belief that Herculaneum beats Pompeii. Also loved the mention of the Royal Geographical Society, since I spent a week there a few years ago and met a lot of interesting and semi-crazy—in a good way—people. Paris, London, Iceland, and Sicily are also featured.
But the most important locale in this book is the fabled island of Capri, basically Naples’ version of Catalina Island, except for having a far longer history. It helps me tremendously to enjoy a book when it’s set in a place I’ve been to; having visited armed with books on Tiberius and The Story of San Michele—even my writing idol Harry Harrison lived there—I can say this novel will be with me on my next visit. . . though I tend to spend more time in inexpensive hotels than the fancy villas described here.
At first I was afraid there would be too many characters to keep track, but despite all the names the personalities are diverse enough that I had no problem telling them apart. I especially love how the volcanos, both in Iceland and Sicily, are just as much characters as the humans. . . and how the ditzy-seeming princess turned out to be anything but.
4.5 pushed to 5/5

;o)

Latest Coffee Gallery photos

From last Wednesday. Bunch of new people, only a few I’d seen before. As in the past, Julia Marshall’s “Sublime” was the best song of the night.

Danny Barnes

Danny Barnes

Pat Bryant

Pat Bryant

Donna

Donna

Paul Rasmusson's brother

Paul Rasmusson’s brother

Paul Rasmusson

Paul Rasmusson

Paul Rasmusson's bass player

Paul Rasmusson’s bass player

Bill Cagle

Bill Cagle

Samantha Elin

Samantha Elin

Julia Marshall

Julia Marshall

Rob Lovejoy

Rob Lovejoy

Kati Caliber

Kati Caliber

Melissa Thatcher

Melissa Thatcher

Margot Lane

Margot Lane

Avi Kay

Avi Kay

Kathy Sanders

Kathy Sanders

Marina

Marina

Paul McCarty

Paul McCarty

Main Main Jimi Yamagishi

Main Main Jimi Yamagishi

 

‘o)

Book Reviews: Modern Women, Actors, and Movies

“Good job.”
“Bad job.”
“Oddjob.”
“Goldfinger!”
The fact she understood a James Bond reference means she’s a keeper.

The Teller
In this present tense story—I can still hear Harlan Ellison in my mind grousing, “I LOATHE present tense stories!”—a naïve redheaded bank teller in Brooklyn steals the check of a man who was just run over on the street, over a million bucks. For around half the story it’s about her guilt, but then things turn much more sinister as she’s threatened by gangsters and then kidnapped into white slavery.
The best thing here is the characters, especially the teller and the white knight detective she improbably pairs with to settle things. It isn’t till near the end that we learn who the true antagonist is, and then there’s a psychological tug-of-war to see who comes out on top, with the lead changing hands often. Perhaps a little too much plot there, but overall a satisfying conclusion.
4/5

Woman Without Fear
A neurotic self-conscious woman is drinking in a bar the night before her big software presentation when a very confident chemist wants to try his experimental happy pills on her. Also a present tense story, though not first person, because you need to get the snail’s point of view. . . yep, you read that right; I learned a lot more about snails than I ever expected to, or wanted.
At around the halfway mark I couldn’t help but wonder what was going to happen: would she become addicted, or were they placebos? The fact that I was invested enough to speculate tells me how much I was enjoying this.
Despite her crippling anxiety and her love for snails the protagonist comes off as very likable, especially when she strikes up a friendship with the hotel maid, though I think the only reason this is part of the story is so the maid can take a pill and show it works for her too. But the writing style and setting—you never really leave the hotel—were a little below what I desire, though I would have still happily given this a 4. . .
Except for the ending: it’s incredibly ambiguous, and in conjunction with the relative shortness of pages makes me think the story was cut in half, thus setting up a sequel. There were many possibilities as to what really happened, which is fine for a next-to-last chapter, but readers expect the story to be neatly tied up at the end. I felt cheated, and will probably not be reading the sequel; this drops my grade to
3/5.

Character Kings 2: Hollywood’s Familiar Faces Discuss the Art & Business of Acting
This is basically a series of interviews with a few of what are called “character” actors, those whose name you don’t know but as soon as you see their photo you think, “Hey, it’s that guy from that thing!” (BTW, I saw a documentary on Netflix with that title on the same subject, but there was no overlap in the actors chosen; perhaps they were in Character Kings 1, which I have not read.)
Though there’s plenty of great acting and Hollywood notes, I did get tired of the author asking the same questions over and over. It mostly consisted of “How did you get started in acting?” and “How did you get that movie?” which showed a lot of times it’s more about who you know than how good you are. I was surprised by how many different answers there were to “How do you audition?” with some being contradictory to the previous, but then I suppose you have to go with what works for you. There are tons of photos—how much does each photo weigh?—as well as a selected filmography, though it mostly consists of the films discussed, leaving off some I would have liked to have seen included.
3.5/5

We Don’t Need Roads
While I’m not a fan of Back to the Future the way I am, say, of Star Wars or Twin Peaks—since I’ve reviewed similar books here—I liked it well enough to give this a try. On the other hand, because I haven’t seen them over and over, there’s too many things I don’t remember, but that’s not the book’s fault. I don’t know if it’s common knowledge amongst the fandom, for example, that another actor shot about half of the movie before it was decided he wasn’t working out and was replaced by Mr. Fox. Probably even less known is the accident while filming a hoverboard sequence, which nearly cost a stuntwoman her life, but then it’s said that the studio tried to cover it up.
There’s plenty of photos here, but the best part is the interviews, especially Lea Thompson and Christopher Lloyd, who according to this doesn’t do much publicity. Of particular note is the times Spielberg would go to the studio hierarchy to fight for something he believed in, not knowing the movie had an almost-blank check. Definitely a lot of fun even if you’re not a fan of the series.
4/5

;o)

Poetry Tuesday: Two by Martial

AKA Marcus Valerius Martialis, AD40-104. (Old for a poet, especially a Roman.)

You are a stool pigeon and
A slanderer, a pimp and,
A cheat, a pederast, and
A troublemaker. I can’t
Understand, Vacerra, why
You don’t have more money.

 

 

You sold a slave just yesterday
for 1200 sesterces, Cal;
at last the lavish dinner you’ve
long dreamed about is in the pan.
Tonight! Fresh mullet, four full pounds!

You know I’ll not complain, old pal,
about the food. But that’s no fish
we’ll eat tonight; that was a man.

;o)

Book Reviews: Nancy Drew Ain’t Got Nuthin’ On You

“The only thing that would make this kiss better is if you promised me you don’t have cooties.”
That’s why they call me the Romance Ninja. . .

Cold Moon
I don’t think anyone would have thought this series would continue from where the last left off, with one of the leads in jail. But rather than painting herself into a corner, Ms. Sokoloff had a plan, no doubt thanks to diligent research into California law.
So there are more killings while Cara is in jail; is it a copycat, or a devious plan to make her look innocent? Considering the attitude of her defense attorney, I certainly thought the latter was happening. But once Cara is set free she’s back to her old tricks, and Roarke and his gang are on her trail again, as well as that of the other killer.
I admit to a little surprise at the Singh/Epps hookup, since throughout the last book and this one we see him getting angrier and angrier, which you wouldn’t think would be an attraction to a brainiac like Singh. I’m sure he treats her well, just wondering what she saw in him the first time.
Basically if you read the first two and liked them, you’ll like this one just as much, possibly more. There are some fascinating psychological insights; when I reviewed the previous books in the series I made a point of comparing them to Criminal Minds, and this one even more so, with multiple killers this time. And though San Fran is still the main locus, in this one there are trips to the East Bay and Santa Cruz, which brought back a lot of memories for me.
4/5

Miracles and Conundrums of the Secondary Planets
As one would expect, the title had nothing to do with anything in this short-story collection, though there’s plenty of what might be called science-fiction here: in the first story an alien posing as a Latvian restaurateur falls in love with a college pro-life activist; later there’s a world in danger of global cooling; another deals with the resurrection of millions. But I’m thinking this tome falls into the “literary” category, mostly because a majority of these stories do not have what would be considered endings, or a better word for it is conclusions. So if you like having everything wrapped up at the end, avoid this. The story ideas themselves are the most powerful, and the writing is well-done, but there isn’t much plot or character development—remember, short stories—here.
3/5

Joss Whedon’s Names
This book has an incredibly long subtitle, mentioning every film and TV series—and whatever Dr. Horrible falls under—Joss Whedon has done, which seems a little silly. This writer’s previous works deal with Hunger Games, Game of Thrones, Doctor Who, and Sherlock, so she’s definitely a genre writer, and in her blurb it says she used to teach college.
This wasn’t what I was expecting, and unfortunately it wasn’t a pleasant surprise. Came into this hoping for some insight as to why Joss chose these names, rather than just the meanings, something you can find in any baby book on the internet. There were valiant attempts to link the name origins to the characters, but it was all guesswork; maybe Joss simply liked the name or chose it because that was what his best friend as a kid was called. Since it is nothing but guesswork, there’s absolutely no insight, nothing new to be learned here. Ultimately a disappointment.
2/5

Nancy Drew: The Bungalow Mystery
Okay, this requires an explanation from the 46-year-old guy, right? Well, I couldn’t read any new Hardy Boys because I did all that as a kid. I’d read some Nancy at the same time, but as a five-year-old boy it was much harder to relate. So why now? No particular reason other than needing a silly escape after trying to soldier through a book on why teens and twenties don’t want to go into politics, and ultimately giving up on it.
I have to say, Nancy’s been hit on the head so much that I wonder why she’s not a redhead, with all the blood. And can still walk, considering she’s had more concussions than a helmetless football player.
So as to this particular tome, there wasn’t anything all that special about it. Having devoured this type of story as a kid, it was easy to figure out the guardians weren’t whom they claimed to be. As always Nancy is nice to everyone and can’t conceive of anyone being mean unless they’re a bad guy; not even one shade of grey here. But considering I read the whole thing in less than an hour, in which time I didn’t think of anything else, it did its job of escaping me from the real world.
3.5/5

;o)