Book Reviews: X Files, Sherlock, and Serial Killers

In honor of absolutely nothing, there will be no opening joke in this review. You’re welcome.

The Complete X-Files : Revised and Updated Edition
No doubt done just after the nick of time of the series’ return, this retrospective is a nice trip down memory lane, but not much more than that.
It starts out with tons of photos, and carries on throughout. They don’t look all that great in digital, but they get the job done. The best part is that every episode gets at least a paragraph, though nothing in-depth. There’s really nothing wrong with this book, but it pales in comparison to similar ones on Twin Peaks, Back to the Future, and so on that I’ve read recently.
3.5/5

The Whole Art of Detection
This book is a series of short stories set in the Sherlock Holmes universe, and trying very hard to read like Arthur Conan Doyle.
Holmes and Watson take turns in the first two chapters telling each other stories to get them out of the doldrums; the buddy vibe is well done. At other times this writer overdoes it, putting in extra stuff not needed; doesn’t have the economy of Doyle. Most were good mysteries, but the one about the twin brother was woefully obvious. The last one had Sherlock narrating, and just like Doyle’s version, it’s the weakest.
3.5/5

Outsider
In this sequel to Insider—as you might guess from the title—the Exodus End tour continues, this time with the emphasis on Reagan, the new rhythm guitarist, and her relationship between not one but two men: the guy who plays rhythm for the opening act and her bodyguard.
Enjoyed the first one so much I was looking forward to this one, and was so glad to find Toni, the main character from the first, is in this one too. This story takes place concurrently with the other, particularly the big plot twist involving Toni.
This one is slower to get going, as the start is all long talks and three-way sex; nothing wrong with that, just wished there was more to it. Eventually it does pick up, with scandals and misunderstandings and families and a lot of soul-searching between the three. It is an unusual romance, with unusual sex scenes, but like the first its draws are the humor and the behind the scenes look at a rock tour. Don’t think it was quite as good as the first one, but still enjoyed it a lot. And as before, eagerly awaiting the next one.
4/5

Bitter Moon
The fourth in the series featuring FBI profiler Roarke and serial avenger Cara, though this one is quite different from the previous three. It almost felt like an interlude in the main plot, with Cara’s origin story featured and better explained, showing how she became a protector, or revenger.
As with the previous books, it switches chapters between the two protagonists, in this case between Cara as a teen—suspected of more murder—and Roarke looking into that cold case. So with that there’s a lot of new characters, the most intriguing being the nun; never thought I would like a religious Batman dresser, but this is no ordinary bride of Christ.
At the end of each book I wonder where the next one is going to go, and I’m always surprised when I read it, doubly so in this case, as adult Cara doesn’t show up at all. Neither does Roarke’s team, though that’s to be expected, as he’s on leave. There’s a few calls to Singh and the techie, but that’s it.
4/5

;o)

Book Reviews: Texas Island, Sci-fi Sex, East German Life

It’s okay that I thought “You’re a thirty thirty girl” when she told me it was her 30th birthday, but didn’t say it out loud. . . right?

Destined for Trouble
An FBI analyst—no one believes her when she says she’s not an agent and doesn’t carry a gun—goes through a breakup and decides to come home to a Texas island to rest and rethink life; good luck with that, considering her mom, an ex, and the requisite crazy girl from high school.
A local restaurateur is poisoned at her welcome-home party, but it isn’t till the reading of the will that things go crazy. The man leaves the restaurant to his favorite worker, who happens to be the main character’s bestie; the widow is furious, so motive, anyone? Not to these idiot hillbilly cops like the chief, who seems to be descended from a long line of such all the way back to Dogberry in Much Ado About Nothing. The deputy chief happens to be the aforementioned ex, the one cop who might be on her side, but as usual he wants her to keep her nose out of it. So of course she never tells him about the other suspects she’s uncovered. . . sheesh!
At what I thought was the ending I made a note: “Gotta say I’m a bit disappointed,” only to find there was one more twist left, which made things a little better, but it was kinda too little too late.
3/5

Star Trek Sex
Okay, that’s an intriguing enough title, especially for Trekkies. Yes, let’s enjoy an analysis of all the times Kirk, and once in a while the other crewmembers, enjoyed some happy bed time with fellow humans and/or aliens.
Sadly, that’s not close to what happens here. Instead we get a very lazy writer who figures he can sell this just from the title, which unhappily might be true.
Basically it’s a small list of episodes which feature some sort of physical coming together—and not always that—which allows him to pontificate on some tiny barely-related issue. Some of these are a stretch: mentioning that tribbles are born pregnant might fit in a very general sense, but come on.
The worst part is how uneven it is. Far too many episodes are completely ignored, the most egregious being “Shore Leave,” which was most likely the genesis of the Next Generation’s holodeck. Kirk rekindled a romance there, even if she wasn’t completely real, and McCoy was big-time flirting with a yeoman, so why isn’t this in the book? And speaking of those left out, what about Miramanee, Kirk’s only real relationship? She was pregnant when she got killed, so. . . yeah! How ‘bout the crazy Shakespearian actress?
He goes on to mention some actresses and characters from the other series, and while it took him long enough to get to Dax, he made absolutely no mention of 7 of 9. Huh?
The author must love cars; in a book entitled Star Trek Sex he includes a chapter on sexiest starships.
This was really disappointing. I would advise fans to stay away.
1/5

One More Chance
For most of the book I enjoyed both the writing and the characters, especially main heroine Ashley; I could see her as the type of girl I’d have a crush on in high school. She’s almost raped by the football hero cliché, only to be saved by the brooding musician hero cliché, who then makes a great impression on her taciturn dad until he finds out the guy’s name, at which point she is never to see him again.
By the time we get to the second half, fifteen years later, two more clichés of romance novels—misunderstandings and psycho chicks—have reared their ugly, heavily-made-up faces.
For me the best laugh was the auction scene that had the brothers discussing Disney princesses—although the whole thing started with Jessica Rabbit—but after Gabe pontificates on Elsa I felt outraged that Merida wasn’t included.
On the other hand, the worst moment came right out of the Writing Romances formula: everything is great, the happy couple is together. . . and then the writer makes circumstances that fuck everything up with another girl innocently where she shouldn’t be. WHY? WHY? Because it’s in the formula. And maybe the book wouldn’t have been long enough otherwise. That dropped my rating of a novel that features really good writing but less so on plot.
3/5

Wall Flower
Wow, was this ever difficult to read! And not just because I’m not a Hegel fan.
According to the translator, “She presents herself as a flower on the (Berlin) Wall. . .”  So there’s your title. A woman from West Berlin finds herself on the wrong side of the wall when it goes up and has to live in the DDR. For all those readers who grew up on the west side of the world, so to speak, this is where we all say, “Damn, that sucks. Too bad.” But she doesn’t quite see it that way.
At the start she’s a kid with a huge imagination for games, learning piano without having one around while she deals with a brutal father and apathetic mother, who tricks her into being in the east sector when the wall goes up, so she can no longer be with her singer grandmother in the west. She escapes so deeply into the music she goes crazy, so her parents say. After her release from the psych ward she won’t go back to her family, so she wanders around doing odd jobs; in the GDR it was apparently illegal to be homeless or jobless. Though she works nights at a light bulb factory, and takes a job at a butcher’s because she loves meat, she makes more money by being a thief.
When the rebellion inside her peters out she manages to get into the University of Liepzig to study philosophy, where I had a good laugh to find she liked the same stuff in symbolic logic that I did. Eventually she learns to play the system: when she sees the more pages written the better, she double spaces and makes more chapters. When she notices they count how many books you borrow from the library—the more the better—she takes suitcases of books home and earns the reputation she wants. Using her low blood pressure as an excuse, she pretends to faint and gets out of military training. She even marries a gay friend for a year, which worked out well for both of them; then they got divorced, and she marries the guy she’s been living with.
More importantly, she learned how to make people leave her alone. But by the end you can see that she learned to play the game at the cost of her soul. This comes into stark relief with her third marriage, an upright citizen who comes from a famous family, though she didn’t know that—or even met them!—before the wedding. She forces herself to become the dutiful politically correct wife, but eventually she realizes, “I had tried out the cynic’s way of life and could not endure it. . . ultimately I understood that I could not outwit the circumstances, even using the cunning of reason.” Yep, that’s how she thinks, and writes.
There’s a lot of funny quotes in her descriptions of the people around her and even herself. About her third husband she says, “His political standpoint did not matter to me, so long as he did not force it on me.” Of herself she mentions, “The role of political ‘dummy’ had its advantages.” In a moment of very dark humor she calls the Stasi the “Institute for Opinion Research.” And as for the people she was forced to hang around with, “The majority of socialist intellectuals found it distasteful that East Germans desired bananas, shower gel, and cars and not the complete works of Nietzsche or Trotsky.” Also “The great majority of East German intellectuals have totally disappeared, and hardly anyone misses them.” And as for the country itself, “For me East Germany had become a place to which, in the future, I wanted to return after my trips to the West in order to write in peace.”
She does have an interesting take on the Communist collapse: after saying that artists and writers had a lot of the same privileges as the politicians, she adds that the citizens were okay with that, because they loved their artists. “Only once they demanded for themselves what the artists had long been allowed. . . that the privileges be open to everyone equally, did the GDR collapse.”
And of course there can’t be a book on the Communist world without some mention of Pablo Neruda, who is introduced to her by her lover during her third husband; yep, girl got around. Even for an autobiographical piece, this just feels so self-indulgent; when I look back, I can’t help but think I should have enjoyed this more. There were too many philosophical ramblings, and judgments she made from them, that I didn’t understand, mostly because despite all this writing I couldn’t really get inside her head. Even the translator in his intro was kinda rambling.
3/5

;o)

Book Reviews: Mysteries and Comics, Some German

Arturo Toscanini
When I was young, I kissed my first woman and smoked my first cigarette on the same day. I have never had time for tobacco since.

 

Dead Woods
I’ve mentioned before that the Germans have taken over for the Swedes when it comes to the mystery genre’s European contingent, but I have to say that, compared to their Scandinavian almost-neighbors, these read a lot more like American. And just like in the last German mystery, something from the past relates heavily to this crime.
This story takes place in Hamburg, though in the suburbs, with very few forays into the city, so you don’t need to imagine much here, except at the end. Also easy to imagine are the detectives, who are not typical cops at all, with Lina barely five feet even sporting a punk haircut, and Max much more usual in look but not demeanor. Both are very likable, much more than the others in the department, who are more typical.
Other than one plot point about another murder which I found rather obvious, I enjoyed both the story and the dialogue, though at times it felt a little padded. The ending is a sea chase in heavy rain, which felt a little overdramatic but didn’t hurt the story.
4/5

The Fuse Volume 2: Gridlock
This graphic novel starts with a race between sci-fi snowmobiles in space around a floating station, televised though illegal. When they come across a dead racer, the plot takes off.
Despite this being second in a series, the world-building, or rather the description of such, is excellent; don’t feel like I need to see the first to get it. Also interesting was watching a crime scene investigation, now so usual on TV, in micro-grav. And despite the sci-fi setting we’ve got typical police detectives, with the typical hard-bitten banter, though with a German accent; funnily enough, one of the narc cops is obviously French. Lawyers, corporations, and slums also feature, just like Earth. And there’s regular shuttle service, so it’s not too far away; Mars is also mentioned a few times as possibly the Australia of its time, as in prison.
The plot flows from murder to drugs to terrorism and back. I don’t know if each issue has different writers, but at the beginning there was a lots of clichés in the dialogue. It also annoyed me that it took me a while to realize why the lead detective called her black male partner “Marlene,” but that’s just me. A blurb called the artwork “stark,” and that’s a good description, except from me that’s not a compliment. Still, overall it’s a fun read, a well-done mystery for a graphic novel.
3.5/5

Spiraled
As seems common now, I’m coming into a series other than at the start, this one being the third about a female FBI agent in the Pacific Northwest. This entry starts with a literal blast, an active shooter in a mall, with the agent cowering weaponless, trying to protect a friend who was shot, and coming face to face with the shooter, who doesn’t find her worth shooting.
There’s a major plot point that if I mention will be a big-time spoiler, so I’m finding it hard to write about the story. So I’ll instead talk about the characters, which are well-drawn, especially the lead and her lover, and the dialogue, which was serviceable but not a big deal. There’s a curious scene where the agent is having problems and cures a coming nervous breakdown with sex. The worst move done by the otherwise smart FBI agent is going to check the stakeout, where she’s seen by the bad guy, which not only confirms the trap but allows him to follow her.
The story ends with a chase scene in a hardware store. I’m not all that familiar with those places, but I do remember some aisles are built up, usually with heavy machinery, with various levels and such. I would have hidden up there; like Khan in the second Star Trek movie, this bad guy wouldn’t have likely thought in three dimensions.
4/5

Star Trek/Planet of the Apes crossover graphic novel
This is officially called “The Primate Directive,” which got a surprised snort out of me; nice play on words. The original Enterprise crew finds out the Klingons—original Klingons too, not Worf-like—are conquering another dimension and go there, which turns out to be the Planet of the Apes, of course, Earth in the future. Even Spock is surprised by the talking simians. Of course they run into Colonel Taylor, who still wants to wipe out all those damned dirty apes, but Kirk’s applying the Prime Directive, so he gets mad and beams up to the Enterprise, running amok on the ship. For the Klingons we get that brilliant bastard Kor as the puppetmaster.
As I prefer it, the faces are faithfully drawn, even the simians. There’s a lot of backgrounds with gorgeously drawn crew women in miniskirt uniform, which I have no doubt Kirk appreciates, and Cornelius and Scotty get along famously.
A pleasant enough diversion, especially if you’re a fan of both, or even one.
4/5

;o)

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)