Book Reviews: Stolen Books, Storms, Living Dolls, and Medusa

As I walked out with the gorgeous blonde, I said, “If you guys don’t hear from me by tomorrow. . . tell everyone on Facebook and Twitter.”

A Murderous Storm
This is a murder mystery in the northern part of Germany—wasn’t sure if it was Deutchland or Dutchland for a while—told in first person, where in the first scene the three fishermen are listening to and talking about Johnny Cash; that was pretty jarring. To make it more strange, the three shrimpers are a retired doctor, a retired lawyer, and one guy who might actually be a fisherman, or just typical muscle. Anyhoo, they pull a body up in the fishing net, and the cops don’t want to do the work, simply calling it an accident, which offends the first person lawyer, especially when the victim’s sister asks for help and she’s too hot to say no to. This leads to a conspiracy involving a huge corporation and a big-time merger, and a dirty corporate guy who can’t handle his war-criminal “bodyguards.”
The story had some entertaining moments, though how some of these characters survived is beyond me. I think the author might have made the cops TOO stupid, unless of course they’re actually that corrupt. The main character’s daughter shows up, which will be good for some plot points later, but basically shows just how stubbornly stupid one person can be, though the acorn was too lazy to roll too far away from the tree, considering just when you think it’s all over the protagonist gets into trouble again. My favorite character was actually the dog; I think it was the smartest living thing in the story.
The best part of this novel was the settings; though I’ve been all over Germany, even relatively close to where this takes place, the starkness of the landscape described here is not something my camera has photographed. It’s different on the resort island, which is one of those places like Mackinac where motorized vehicles aren’t allowed. But most of all, the portrayal of the storm, and finding the victim in the middle of it, was the highlight.

Slush Pile Brigade
An Australian novelist, said to be second most popular author in the world, steals a manuscript from the slush pile in his agent’s office when he has writer’s block. He picks the right book, because he turns it into a best seller, but more importantly he picks the wrong book, because three years later the writer who was plagiarized comes looking for an apology, setting into motion a chain of events that brings death and destruction to everyone’s world, especially the agent’s.
The protagonist loses his job and girlfriend–she actually brings a new guy to same restaurant he always took her to–not cool, girl. He snaps and is forced to run from the police to Noo Yawk, where he plans to confront the agent, and the author who happens to be in town. Before it’s over his deep-CIA father, a Russian mobster, his three best buds, and the girl from his past that got away are sucked into the conflict as well.
Though Noo Yawk is one of my least favorite cities, the author showcases it lovingly, citing some old famous buildings as well as plenty of Central Park; my favorite was the walk through the dinosaur area in the museum, which fit the conversation perfectly. Big twists abound, like when he find out his father’s involved in the whole mess. The first half is more comedic than anything else, and it’s fun to read the shenanigans, in a butt monkey kinda way. But then it gets serious spy in a hurry, with people dying or being maimed, and some maybe dying or maybe not.
There was one part that annoyed the hell out of me. Not wanting to spoiler—is that a real verb?—suffice to say that the protagonist finds himself in trouble that wasn’t foreseen, but ends up surviving it differently than we were led to believe. Perhaps the author merely wrote in the wrong body part that exploded, but how he survived wasn’t explained, and as you can see I’m still irritated about it.
Some of the dialogue by the lesser members of the brigade is somewhat over-the-top, but mostly it’s well-written, with some descriptions shining, like, “But it wasn’t really like laughter at all. . . more like Kodiak bears groaning while shitting.” I do hate the author for that last twist, though. . .

This graphic novel starts with an inept mailman, who gets himself into all kinds of trouble, actually being the scout for a group of home-invasion thieves. The actual first page tells you the story of Los Angeles’s full name—too bad I already knew it—but sets the tone nicely. One of their targets turns out to be the house of a not-stable Hollywood prop master and monster maker, except not everything is a prop. . .
What I thought would blow up into a monster story turned out to be much more psychological, with an evil Frankenstein twist. The three male thieves are pretty dumb; of course it’s the girl with all the brains. I did enjoy how the story delved into everyone’s fucked-up origin stories, which made what they did all the more understandable. No one is more fucked up than the monster maker, though, and the story treats him well enough that you feel some sympathy for him even while he’s tormenting his adversaries and sacrificing women for his true love.
Bruce Campbell makes an appearance!. . . almost. The artwork is good, but nothing special, except for maybe the hot chick with the Kermit tattoo. There’s some well-included extras at the end, giving a cute background on how the story was thought up—originally set in London, which would have necessitated a different opener—and containing plenty of unused drawings, even a recipe from the bad guy’s “girl.” Some genuinely funny moments keep this from sinking into too much despair, but it’s still as dark and horrifying as expected from the genre.

Turned to Stone
An art history mystery—rhyme!—taking place throughout Spain and Italy, this story delves into the provenance and magical powers of a statue of the Greek myth of Medusa, and how some people will do anything to possess it.
Oddly enough I found myself enjoying it early on despite not caring for the protagonist; Jaime’s too much of a jerk to be likeable. Of course that changes later as his character develops, but I never really got to the point where I liked him, and liked Paloma less for the fact she was infatuated by him. His best friend, on the other hand, is a hoot, a former photographer now a security guard who doesn’t find anything weird in dressing up like Batman in order to get the job done. There’s plenty of other characters, most of them just serving a purpose, though some of them coming back at the end to show they’re not at all as expected. I was a bit miffed that the author drew such a fascinating character as the new art expert—gorgeous blonde, of course—and then quickly killed her off.
The bad guys were well-drawn, although Rosa—or whatever her name happened to be that day—seemed to slide back, being a complete badass at the beginning and ending up rather useless by the end. There’s also the henchman who just won’t die no matter how much you best him or beat him up, always showing up at the worst possible time. We also get the evil genius behind the curtain, and how he’s destroyed his family in his quest for money and revenge, which almost makes me sorry for Rosa but not quite.
The reveal of why the piece is so important, about two-thirds of the way through, was fascinating and well done, the best moment art-wise in the book. But it’s the hilarious image of three people struggling not to fall off a motorcycle that will remain with me forever. . .


Book Reviews: Temptation, Art Mice, and Old Comedians

This weekend I spent 3 hours at a models’ gathering and 2 hours watching volleyball. Photos of models: 3. Photos of players: 600+

Temptation Resorts (Marnie)
This is a short choose-your-own-adventure erotic story that takes place in what I might term a sex resort. Having been drunk when she filled out the questionnaire, Marnie isn’t ready for all the BDSM play that’s been programmed for her visit, but since she’d paid a lot to come here and no one but her travel buddy Jess knows her. . .
Books like these don’t really need plots, of course, just put the main character in a situation and have her react from there. And of course the point is you can choose which way she goes, playing it safe or going for it. The choices here, however, left me wanting more, and the erotica, while okay, wasn’t all that satisfying. There were moments when I thought the spanking and such went too far, especially for someone who was doing it for the first time, double especially for someone who wasn’t sure she wanted to do it in the first place. Thankfully there were a lot of good moments, some funny dialogue, but I think it could have been better.

Temptation Resorts (Jess)
Like its predecessor, this is a short choose-your-own-adventure erotic story that takes place in what can be termed a sex resort.
I don’t want to compare it to the first in the series, other than to say I liked this a little better. For one thing, this has a better set-up, involving Jess’s boss and how she got the idea to go there. Because she ran into people she knew, it wasn’t as easy to let go of all her inhibitions, afraid or ashamed of what might happen back in the real world.
The dialogue was better than the erotica, though; the situations were ripe for some good sex scenes, but I didn’t feel the heat.

The Adventures of Artemous
This is a delightful little book about a mouse that works as an art restorer, able to climb into the paintings to make his job easier. . . so basically he’s the Gumby of the visual arts. Obviously a way to get small children into the appreciation of art, it succeeds magnificently. It also pushes the “You can be anything you want to be” notion by having Artemous not just be a restorer, but also enjoying plenty of pastimes in the paintings, such as playing a musical instrument, dancing ballet, going to the opera, even helping a royal child with her dress, all done in a fun matter that kids should enjoy greatly. At the end there’s a list of the examples used, a selection that includes modern art as well as famous works throughout the history of painting. Just delightful in every way.

Roll Against Discovery
A shy woman goes to an anime/sci-fi/comic book convention-type thing, where the last thing she expects is to fall in love, or end up in bed with not one but two guys. I love that setting—anything so out of the ordinary is always welcome—but sadly it wasn’t used all that much.
This is the third in a series, but stands alone well. What I most liked is that while this book falls into the erotica and romance genres—the latter one unconventionally—at its heart is a coming of age story for our plucky heroine. It was a bit of a stretch to see her lose her inhibitions so quickly, but I suppose it was easier to do it in that environment, where no one but her brother and his friends knew her. As in all examples of this genre, there’s misunderstandings and strong silent men who don’t want to air their feelings, leading to sadness before they earn their happy ending, but the spunkiness of the formerly shy protagonist made her so endearing I was rooting for her all the way.
So, with gay marriage legal, is polygamy next?

Off and Running
A journalist gets a big break, chosen to help write the autobiography of a famous comedian from the past, only to have the man suffer a stroke, leaving everyone at the mercy of the comedian’s not-very-stable son.
Right away there’s the mention of Y2K coming in a few months, which shows this is an old book. It can be broken into sections, going from the interviews for the book to going on the run to being hunted by seemingly everyone in California, from Mt. Whitney to Death Valley. As one might expect, the protagonist is a deeply flawed individual who basically gets through this with sheer stubbornness. The occasionally grouchy comedian has his moments, but the most memorable character has to be the son, who is seriously one of the most fucked-up villains ever. There’s plenty of digs at the news media, both subtle and not, plus the way network TV works, but the most scorn is heaped on the publishing world, where even a somewhat honorable author feels it’s okay to make stuff up in what’s supposed to be a biography.


Book reviews: Profiling, Hollywood, and Baby Animals

“Did you just call them chicks?”
“Yep, that’s how they act. In contrast to you, who’s a woman.”
“You should teach classes!”
“Then I wouldn’t be special.”

Terminal Consent
An interesting and original premise to this dark mystery: why would a woman let herself be used over and over, despite pain and humiliation?
The protagonist is a former Special Forces operator who was falsely convicted of a crime and just released from jail. Heading to his old hometown, where he tries to drink himself to death, he gets a job as a bouncer at a sex club, where he surprisingly runs into his former cellmate, an elite hacker who wants revenge for a beating he assumed the main character ordered. Instead they team up to help one of the club’s female workers, which leads them to places they could have never imagined.
Despite the setting being an S&M club—which could have led to some hilarious moments—there’s hardly anything there, though in fairness there’s a few plot points that hinge on it. The plot gets a little convoluted, but never so bad you can’t follow along. It’s the writing that’s the best part, the way the characters are drawn, mostly through their interactions. Everyone develops quite nicely once the erroneous conclusions are corrected. I was hoping for more from the club owner, but it’s very possible she’ll get further screen time—so to speak—if there’s any sequels, which I figure there will be. The legacy of O Henry makes an appearance to resolve the plot, a well-crafted turn that brings everything, especially my question at the beginning, into perfect relief.

The Ripper Gene
It’s a treat when someone who is at the top of their field, particularly in the sciences, writes a piece of fiction set in their world of expertise. In this case it’s both neuroscience, particularly DNA, and profiling, leading to an entertaining story of the hunt for a serial killer in Louisiana and Mississippi.
Of course a lot of the main character is taken from the author himself, but this is no Marty Sue; his flaws and tragedies keep it from being a simple paean of self-adulation. In the bio he speaks about an incident on Halloween as a kid that, while nothing happened in real life, is used to launch the story here. There are small touches that tell me this is a first-time novelist, but nothing serious, and by midway they’re gone, so it’s pretty smooth reading except for the occasional uber-scientific ramble. At times the descriptions are a little lacking—the run through the high school football stadium is my prime example—but the interplay between the two lead profilers is scintillating, as well as giving me yet another strong tough female character to fall in love with. Minor characters abound, especially in the FBI office, and while their specialties are fascinating, I can’t help but wonder if the actual personas are based on real people, and whether some of them will be. . . let’s say annoyed by the portrayal.
Now if only Stephen Hawking would write a sci-fi novel. . .

Picture Perfect
This is one of those novels with two storylines, one in the present and the other in the past, where the point for the reader is to figure out how they’re gonna meet before you get to the end. . . while enjoying the story, of course.
In the prologue a teen sells her baby. Then we move to present-day Hollywood, where an agent to the stars wants to move into the producing field, specifically filming a book that she claims changed her life. Her best friend is a famous actress who’s getting a little too old for major roles, to her chagrin, and is tasked with author-sitting the guy who wrote the book in question, not an easy job with any writer but even more so here.
And then something startling happens: in addition to the movie business and the flashbacks, this turns into a love story, or rather three of them. I thought this book would be all Hollywood, but there are plenty of touching and sweet moments. The characters are fantastic, especially the two ladies who have had each other’s backs for years. The younger woman who enters their lives is also fun, though her moments of crippling self-doubt are a bit painful to muddle through. And of course there has to be at least one bad guy—any superstar Aussies come to mind?—though in the end he gets his character development and reconciles with his son. And who doesn’t love a dog who pines for his master, even after death?
As often happens in books set in Los Angeles, I tend to squee at the smallest coincidences; it might be a subway ride or a restaurant I love, but in this case it’s a mention of the UCLA library, which I was in the day I read that section. As for the writing, once in a while a Britishism comes out and makes things a little jarring, especially with the Suthin’ characters in Hollywood, but other than that there’s plenty to like here. Everybody gets a happy ending and we’ve got an obvious setup for a sequel, but as the cliché goes, it’s the journey, not the destination.

Cute Continent Cuddle
I kinda object to this being called a book; even with the fact that most of the pages are taken up by photos, it’s still incredibly short, possibly too little to even call a novella. Even when reading it to kids, which is no doubt the audience this was intended for, I suspect it would take no more than ten minutes, as it is nothing more than rhyming couplets—some painfully forced—with photos of baby animals. Of course a kid, the younger the better, wouldn’t care about the words and would simply stare in delight at the cuteness overload, there’s no way I can put myself in that frame of mind for the review, so as an adult I have to say this could have been better, as well as longer.


Poetry Tuesday: The Forsaken Maiden

By Eduard Mörike (German, 1804–1875)

EARLY when cocks still crow,
Ere the stars retire,
I to the stove must go
To start the fire.

Beautiful gleams the blaze,
Sparks gaily glow,
And so I gaze and gaze,
All lost in woe.

Then it comes over me,
Thou faithless lad:
Last night I dreamed of thee,
All dreams I had.

Tear upon tear must run
Wildly anon:
Thus is the day begun—
Would it were gone!


Book Review: Field Marshal

In this biography the author tears down the Rommel mystique while also confirming it.
In case you didn’t catch that, this is the story of the man called the Desert Fox, the general who led Germany’s Afrika Korps in World War Two. There’s over 600 pages here, if you include the notes, biblio, and index, but it’s a surprisingly easy read. 82 pages in it feels like I’ve just started. Made a note to the same effect after 450 pages: the writing is so smooth and easy to read. I remember books of this size on World War 2 taking me a month to muddle through; I finished this in just over a week.
As one would expect this covers all of his life, though surprisingly the focus isn’t simply on his most famous role. There’s plenty on his exploits in WW1, from leading the charge into France to the mountains of Romania and Italy, as well as the beginning of the second, where he again led the blitzkrieg west. But the largest part of this book tells about his time in Northern Africa, where he became the legend, though a lot of that was thanks to him being Hitler’s golden boy and a media—propaganda—darling.
There are plenty of small stories that succinctly explain why certain battles turned out the way they did, showing how sometimes Rommel was just plain lucky and other times unlucky. For instance, Mussolini decided it was a good idea to invade Greece; it wasn’t. Hitler had to send troops to help out his buddy, which meant the British had to send their own troops to fight them, and the nearest available soldiers were those in Africa tasked with stopping Rommel, so less opposition for him. Another story mentions an early battle where Rommel forgot the first rule of war: logistics. Something as simple as forgetting to tell the fuel people he would be going on attack meant his tanks ran out of gas before the battle could be won.
There’s also small moments that humanize him, my favorite of which is when they landed in Africa and he had a military parade in Tripoli. To make the Allied spies think he had a lot more firepower than he actually did, he had his tanks race around to get back to the start and go through again. There’s also a note about him and his officers sightseeing at one of my favorite archaeological sites, Leptis Magna, where he laughs as a photo of Lt. von Harftdegen is taken while he’s asleep between statues of nude females.
The author mentions that Ultra (cracking of the top-secret German Enigma code) and the Manhattan Project were the two best kept secrets of WW2, which sounds right. This meant the Brits were reading Rommel’s orders from HQ, allowing them to react accordingly. . . only to find Rommel disobeying orders and winning the battle anyway. Which is not to say this kind of intel was worthless; one of the reasons Rommel was constantly running out of fuel was because Ultra told the Allied subs where the Italian tankers were, making it an easy job to sink them.
But it doesn’t take long for the author to give a very telling description that shatters the Rommel aura: “The Easter attacks on Tobruk revealed Rommel at his worst. Short-tempered, impetuous, and imperious, he refused to listen to the advice or council of his subordinates, underestimated his opponent even as he overestimated his own skills, all the while committing the worse offense possible by any commanding officer: he demanded more of his soldiers than they were able to give him.” So here’s Rommel painted as a vengeful petty little man. . . which makes him just a man, not the superhero he’d been glorified as over the years. But he was also brilliant at what he did, and what made him one of the few Germans of that era to respect is told in these three quotes:
“Rommel’s sin was his integrity.”
“Rommel had to die because he chose to tell the truth to Adolf Hitler.”
“A true German’s loyalty was always given to Germany, not to any particular governmental form or leader.”
This last one is further expanded here: “Rommel would have willingly sacrificed his army—and himself—if fighting to the last man and last round was required for the defense of Germany; he was not prepared, however, by inclination or temperament, to make such sacrifices merely to serve what he now understood were Hitler’s delusions of grandeur.”
This book also confirms what I’ve said for years: Churchill and Montgomery were idiots. The author uses deadpan snarkery to full advantage when he writes, “Apparently Montgomery believed that Rommel was obliged to stay put until such time as Eight Army and its commander were fully prepared, then dutifully remain in place when the attack finally began.”
After Africa he was sent to France to shore up the coastal defenses against Allied invasion, but D-Day caught him with his pants down, and soon after a strafing run by a British fighter sent him into the windshield of his car, fracturing his skull in three places and basically destroying the left side of his face before being tossed onto the road. For those of us who love counterfactuals, one has to wonder what might have been had that not happened, though by that time Germany had pretty much already lost the war.
So my takeaway from this book is that, despite his faults, Rommel was a “decent human being.” Never looked the other way, never took Hitler’s bribes, never used the excuse “I was just following orders.” He didn’t see Hitler for what he was at the beginning, perhaps wanted to believe, but once he saw it, he made no excuses. As for the book, this is an astonishingly entertaining and easy-to-read tome on one of the truly great characters in the history of warmongering.
Now I need to take a refresher on the difference between tactical and strategic. . .
4.5 pumped up to 5/5


Book Reviews: Warrior Women, Vampires, and Foxes

“It’s your job in life to screw me up, huh?”
She blinked phlegmatically. “Huh?”
“Never mind. Just practicing in case we ever get married.”

His Captive Mortal
There really wasn’t much to this story, and I’m not referring to the relative shortness of pages. Basically a vampire cursed by a gypsy so that he can’t have sex—or at least it hurts when he does—tries to break said curse with the help of an “I didn’t know I was a magical creature” girl. She’s independent and stubborn, but she still falls for his alpha male ways.
There’s a brief mention as to why he didn’t just come out and ask for her help rather than emotionally and physically dominating her, but I didn’t find it convincing. There’s some character development, albeit more from him than her, and the dialogue has fun moments, but there really wasn’t anything here that showed me why this story stands out from all the rest in this genre. . . is that its own genre now? Paranormal romance? Probably.

Set Up
First and foremost, this is not a new novel, rather a reissue; originally written in 1991, there’s a few anachronisms that let you know you’re not in the present anymore. The PI does have a cell phone, though; hard to remember when those things first came around.
The only thing special here is that there aren’t any more murders, though some came close. The female PI drives around Orange County in her van looking for the killer of a woman she put in jail, putting her friends and assistants in harm’s way throughout. A lot of the peripheral characters no doubt appeared in previous books, which makes it difficult at times. As expected, there’s plenty of red herrings until she gets caught and almost killed, so that she doesn’t actually solve the case as much as luck out in not also dying at the hands of the killer.
A serviceable story, but really no big deal.

This book takes place well into a series about a former female government assassin, which makes things a little difficult at first, especially taking the author’s word at what a badass she’s supposed to be. She now works for an organization intent on stopping white slavery, and when there’s a personal connection she immediately takes off to Bangkok, where things go bad and she and the victim end up in Africa.
From there it’s getting from one scrape to another with a supposedly reformed hunter on the run from the same people she’s after. From the big African city to the animal-filled countryside, they try to stop the big bad, his minions, a rebel army, and rich asshole Americans, while she worries about her daughter being captured in what turned out to be a pointless plotline.
After reading about the elephant massacre I didn’t want to continue this. Good people are also getting killed and kidnapped throughout, making it quite depressing. At a certain point I wondered if, even if everything turns out okay in the end, was it worth all the crap the characters had to go through to get there, or for that matter reading about it all the way to the end?

Love Volume 2: The Fox
This graphic novel takes place in the Arctic, and at the beginning showed some vivid colors rarely seen in these kinds of works. The other rare part about this is that, because it only involves animals, there’s no dialogue—not even the orcas and humpbacks—so I had to keep telling myself to go slower and take it all in.
Though there’s a lot of small animal subplots throughout, this is basically the story of the sly fox from the title—that’s actually missing an eye—going about its daily business of finding something to eat. When it grabs a rabbit it runs right into a muskox, as in nose to nose, which makes it slink away, almost guiltily. The first part is much more about hunting and eating than love.
After a long-running battle between a pod of orcas and a humpback whale family, a volcano explodes. Most of the animals freak out, but the fox doesn’t notice as it hunts; it actually has a mouse in its jaws when it becomes aware of the catastrophe, so surprised that its jaw gapes and the mouse escapes.
A polar bear is trapped on an iceberg that is quickly warmed and breaking apart due to the lava. As it wonders what to do, an orca leaps out and scares him, as though letting him know that as soon as it’s in the water. . . the polar bear heads for land, with orcas just missing him numerous times; so much for being the apex predator, huh? His arrival scares the seals, which hop into the water to get away from him and right into the jaws of the angry orcas. Snack time!
After a fight with another bear the polar version chases after the fox, who hides underground, right into a den of rabbits. . . and leaves them alone, instead racing back out into the lava rather than eating them. Is this the moral of our anthropomorphized story?
Maybe, but more likely it’s about family and the love mentioned in the title as the fox keeps searching the burrows and finally finds its offspring, which it grabs by the scruff and dashes off, trying to get it to safety.
So was it fighting its instinct to kill those rabbits and made a conscious choice to let them live? Or was its sole purpose wrapped up in finding and saving its kid?
At the end there’s a glossary of the animals featured—with their Latin scientific names—which shows this work was well researched. At times the artwork was fascinating, though that’s tempered by the thought that one doesn’t often see nature portrayed to such an extreme in graphic novels. This would be good for kids old enough to know about animals eating smaller cuter animals, more so than just singing along to the Lion King.


Poetry Tuesday: Long-Felt Desires

Louise Labe (French, 1525-1566)

Long-felt desires, hopes as long as vain–
sad sighs–slow tears accustomed to run sad
into as many rivers as two eyes could add,
pouring like fountains, endless as the rain–
cruelty beyond humanity, a pain
so hard it makes compassionate stars go mad
with pity: these are the first passions I’ve had.
Do you think love could root in my soul again?
If it arched the great bow back again at me,
licked me again with fire, and stabbed me deep
with the violent worst, as awful as before,
the wounds that cut me everwhere would keep
me shielded, so there would be no place free
for love. It covers me. It can pierce no more.