New Literary Superhero

11323841Domestic Violets by Matthew Norman
My Rating: 5/5 Stars

Tom Violet is my new literary superhero. This man is fan-fucking-tastic. He’s a god among the rest of us mere mortals with his smartass attitude, literary pedigree (his dad is Curtis Violet, the greatest writer of the modern era, at least according to himself), ability to attract women more than ten years his junior, obsession with great exit lines, and he’s capable of more one-liners than a basket full of fortune cookies. His dad may have a bit of a drinking problem, but he’s a Pulitzer prize-winning author, who ends up being handed literary awards the way children are passed ice cream cones. And his old man seeks out love with a passion better reserved for one woman, yet he’s constantly trying to one-up himself in the love department.

Despite being in his sixties, his old man’s latest discard (stepmother Ashley) could be next month’s Playboy centerfold with a killer body and an attitude and freakish personality to match, even going so far as to stalk Curtis in a skintight black tracksuit and faking her own death. She’s the human equivalent of plutonium, but she’s just one in a laundry list of characters strong enough to celebrate her own novel, yet relegated to the confines of secondary character status.

As for Tom, since DOMESTIC VIOLETS is really his nirvana, he keeps a file of Gregory’s HR complaints in his desk drawer and reads them when he’s bored or needs a little pick-me-up, which at least for him, is apparently better than Red Bull. He also manages to please himself and confuse his insurance company by name-dropping a different rock star’s real name with his doctor’s secretary before each visit. Last time he was Gordon Sumner (Sting); this time he transformed into Paul Hewson (Bono). And this is just one of many gems contained in this dastardly funny read that had me laughing so hard I was glad I wasn’t drinking at the time.

I really wanted to get wowed by a book and then this little beauty came along. It knocked me on my ass, kicked me in the crotch, and then stole my lunch money. If I ever meet Matthew Norman in real life, I’d probably attempt to hug him, at which point the men covered in riot gear and dark sunglasses would tackle me to the ground, tase me, and after I’m done twitching like a dying cockroach, I’d be handcuffed and shoved in the back of a police cruiser.

The novel introduced me to new words and phrases like the anti-boner, morning missile, cock with narcolepsy, Cubeland, douche-baggery, flash fantasy, tractor beam of sucking, corporate communications turd, and probably my personal favorite: Darth Gregory.

He may have a mild case of erectile dysfunction, but at least he can consume a little blue pill and still manage to keep his sense of humor about the situation: “My normal, average-as-can-be penis has been replaced with something cartoonish and chemically altered, like a penis from the future.”

This probably tells you all you need to know about his mother: “When I was fourteen she tried to tell me about condoms and I nearly choked to death on a Nilla Wafer.”

His rivalry with Darth Gregory is the stuff of legends and during an otherwise productive lunch, he manages to toss Greg’s love of buzzwords back in his face: “Everything at lunch was going well until I said that I was going to leverage a strategy that could create a synergy between my chicken sandwich and my iced tea.”

A professor’s thoughts on capitalism that I found entirely entertaining: “According to him, there are only a handful of jobs that actually fuel the American economy and the rest are wholly orchestrated boondoggles designed to keep people in offices all day or in malls buying shit on weekends and not rioting in the streets.”

Describing his stepmother’s (Ashley) emotional range: “She’s a complex bomb in a movie about terrorists, ticking steadily toward zero in a crowded train station full of children and nuns.”

His exit line: *BEGIN SPOILER* “On my way out, not quite handcuffed, but definitely escorted, I invited everyone within earshot to the Front Page Bar and Grill a few blocks away for a happy hour.” *END SPOILER*

If you like to read, I’d say you should buy or beg for a copy of this emotionally charged laugh parade, but my view may be slightly tainted by my own euphoria.

Preponderance Of Nephilims

17365139The Angel Stone by Juliet Dark
My Rating: 4/5 Stars

I’ll be honest with you. I haven’t read the first two books in this trilogy. I approached this particular conundrum as a scientific experiment to see if I could follow along with enough of the story that I didn’t feel as though I had wandered around in the woods late at night without my shoes or socks. Since my wife reads all of my reviews before I post them, she’s probably shaking her head at this point, and I’m sure I’ll hear about it later. But I was able to follow along, and I did enjoy myself, although there was a bit of a learning curve. I did miss a few inside jokes, and I did scratch my head at times when I probably should have laughed. But I laugh more than enough as it is anyway. The challenge suited me, just as the unconventional often does as well.

THE ANGEL STONE, however, took unconventionality to new heights and then proceeded to aim for the direction of Jupiter while bypassing the moon entirely. Had I read THE DEMON WITCH and THE WATER LOVER, I still would have been overwhelmed by the preponderance of nephilims and fairies and witches and the angel stone and tartan cloaks and gnomes and owls and brownies (not the edible kind) and winged monsters and pirates and trows and gargoyles and folklore and romance and Tam Lin and Luckenbooth brooches and vampires and Fairy Queens and Kings and All Hallow’s Eve and enchanted woods and the incubus.

But once my body purged those half a dozen brain cells, I actually started to enjoy my life minus that IQ point that I lost. This novel blended fantasy and historical fiction and romance with ease, and the cast of characters proved both interesting and entertaining. After all, this is a college campus, and as such, fair women are taken advantage of through spells and enchantments and imbued beverages, and men are often prone to act like shitheads, especially when alcoholic cocktails and exorbitant amounts of testosterone are involved.

But the real heart of this tale is Cailleach (half-witch/half-fey) who proves strong and admirable and quite desirable and who jumps back in time to restore the balance to fair Fairwick, NY. And in the process, she discovers a manifestation of the love that got away.

I received this book for free through NetGalley.

Spins An Enjoyable Yarn

16148382Spinning Out by David Stahler Jr.
My Rating: 4/5 Stars

If I were a high school stoner, who wandered the halls aimlessly, managed to somehow get high every five minutes, pulled every prank imaginable in a pertinent effort to stick it to the man, the principal, and the school board, I would have considered this the crème de la crème, as I laughed giddily for nearly an hour, and then had a serious case of the munchies. But I was a massive nerd in high school, who held a certain amount of respect for the man and authority, probably didn’t even truly comprehend the concept of acting out, actually wanted to excel in my classes because I understood that it would affect my future, and tried real hard not to stand out in a bad way, already grasping that I was a bit different than the majority of my classmates and that I didn’t need to further emphasize the point.

Either way, or even if you fall somewhere in between these two extremes, this novel spins an enjoyable yarn and provides lifelike characters with profuse problems better suited for linoleum floors and locker-lined walls. And it works, all of it. The struggle for an identity, the friend turned love interest, and the rebels trying to sing a different tune could have felt forced in less capable hands, instead these all felt real to me, and I was transported back to simpler times, minus the copious amounts of weed.

SPINNING OUT filled my head with a hazy fog and had me twirling in a multitude of directions, happily soaking up the pages the way a beach bum might soak up the sun’s rays. Despite this read lacking volume, instead becoming easily consumable like Pop-Tarts, it packed plenty of sentiment and brought to mind the phrase stoners with heart. Stewart and Frenchy may have out smoked Cheech & Chong, but these two knuckleheads decided on a plan to leave more of a legacy than a few roaches and a men’s bathroom filled with the lingering effects of the sweet-smelling smoke.

But every dynamic duo needs a Kaela. She was adorable, accomplished, admirable, available, articulate, attentive, adept, approachable, apt, addictive, awesome, and amazing. And if I were to describe this compelling novel, I could use many of the same terms. If you want a deep, thought-provoking, look-up-every-other-word-in-the-dictionary type of read, you may want to look elsewhere. But if you’re looking for amusement and the opportunity to get high for a few hours, and I mean that both literally and figuratively, you may just find yourself having a smokin’ good time.

Rebop And Daddy-O

12835696Brown’s Requiem by James Ellroy
My Rating: 4/5 Stars

I love hard-boiled voices. Why? You might ask. Because I like seeing a dickhead get punched in the gullet and knocked on his keister. I take an absurdly sick pleasure in this scenario. Again, you might ask why. Well…because I have literally been an underdog my entire life. I might as well have a t-shirt with the mantra “Constantly Underestimated.” If it were a theme song, I’d sing the chorus, pound the drums, and lead the backup vocals. But I don’t mind. In fact, it’s great when the bar is set low enough that I can practically crawl over it, and I set my goals as high as a CEO, and somewhere in the middle, I come crashing through like a hurricane, to the point that I might as well have stunned my opponent with a Taser, stapled his head to the carpet, put a metal plate in his head, and fired up the microwave.

And that’s what a good hard-boiled novel does for me. I down a bottle of Jack, fire my Beretta at my flat screen, and then wait for the fuzz to show up at my door, so I can show those coppers a thing or two. And Fritz Brown certainly uses his .38 when the situation warrants it. The voice was hard enough that I might as well have been picking grit and grim out of my teeth with a chainsaw. I savored every minute of the journey. I was transported to a time where rebop and Daddy-O were common lingo, although both were used a bit too frequently for my liking. That’s the downside to slang: It doesn’t normally age well.

But that was a small price to pay for a story that had me digging my fingers into the sofa cushions and was filled with enough beautiful broads and dames to start a backup band. My personal favorites were Jane Baker and Kallie and Dori, all of whom packed more than enough feminine wiles to start a drunken riot with the right rowdy crowd. The men—Omar Gonzalez and Walter Curran and Richard Ralston—proved just as interesting and even more intimidating.

Every PI needs the right mode of transportation, and the Camaro served Fritz’s purposes well. Its heft and muscle popped off the pages and into my living room, the engine roaring louder than a mountain lion. Even brief interactions—Brothers Mark and Randy and Kevin and Bob and Sisters Julie and Carol—proved a nice respite from the heart of the action, and had me salivating at the fire pit, although the thought of gamey grilled dog nearly flipped my stomach.

If hard-boiled PIs and time warps are your forte, and you don’t mind early Ellroy where he’s still refining his craft, then you might find yourself enjoying the ride. Just make sure you hold on tight and occasionally squeeze your eyes shut.

I’d like to end with a monologue that has absolutely no relevance whatsoever to BROWN’S REQUIEM, that I stole off of Wikipedia, which they stole from The Evening Class. Other than being entirely entertaining, it serves no orthopedic function. James Ellroy often starts public appearances with a version of the following: Good evening peepers, prowlers, pederasts, panty-sniffers, punks and pimps. I’m James Ellroy, the demon dog, the foul owl with the death growl, the white knight of the far right, and the slick trick with the donkey dick. I’m the author of 16 books, masterpieces all; they precede all my future masterpieces. These books will leave you reamed, steamed and drycleaned [sic], tie-dyed, swept to the side, true-blued, tattooed and bah fongooed [sic]. These are books for the whole fuckin’ family, if the name of your family is Manson.”

Meet Charlie Hardie

11828769Fun & Games by Duane Swierczynski
My Rating: 4/5 Stars

Meet Charlie Hardie, former cop, resident badass, coming to housesit in a neighborhood near you. He gets drunk and watches old movies as often as Congress runs a budget deficit, before he meets Lane Madden, a chick with more attitude and gumption and fighting ability than the top UFC contender, and gets tossed in the middle of the ring with a group of coldblooded killers. Lane’s tough, and she’s not about to take attitude from anyone, including a group of hit men and one woman who want nothing more than to see her dead.

If I had to pick a favorite character (and this is nothing short of a difficult task), I’d have to say Mann topped the charts. She focuses on the score, and she has a body and an attitude that just won’t quit. Despite being maimed and mauled (and her thing against guns), she’s going to see her assignment through all the way to end, as long as she still has a breath or two left in her. She focuses on her script, and she sets out to direct her masterpiece, even if she has to improvise her plan multiple times.

If FUN AND GAMES had been set anywhere other than LA, the high speed chases on narrow mountain passes, the tan, shaved woman sunbathing on her deck in the nude in broad daylight, the impalement of Charlie by a beautiful woman in a t-shirt and bikini underwear wielding a microphone stand like it’s a machete, and the house that goes up in flames faster than a hayfield after a lightning strike, the antics might have strained my believability factor, even though I have a high tolerance for suspending disbelief. But I figured this was LA and all bets are off, literally, and I thought absolutely nothing of the shenanigans, as I pushed the car close to ninety in the middle of the freeway, flipping page after high-octane page, and enjoying the ride with every smooth turn.

All The Way Cuckoo

12837725Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
My Rating: 5/5 Stars

I think I might have met someone that is certifiably insane. Not just a little insane but all the way cuckoo. So crazy that I want to get out of her head right now, rinse myself off, and then down some sort of medication to ease the pain that is building up like a ball of wax.

And just when I thought I had everything figured out, I found myself traveling on a different elevator, headed to a different destination, and in the opposite direction. I realized I knew nothing. Possibly even less than nothing. It’s like a light switch was suddenly flipped on, and I discovered I was standing in a bedroom when I thought I was standing in the living room, and in my underwear, no less.

Without saying too much, I wouldn’t read this book if I planned on getting married. Ever. And since I’m already married, I might start sleeping with the nightlight on, even though I’ve never been a nightlight kind of guy. It’s that good. Literally.

Gillian Flynn has human psyche nailed to perfection: those dark places that no one ever wants to talk about or visit, those demons that are stuffed in a closet, duct taped from head to toe, and then tied to a chair. It freaked me out, because it felt so real, and was as real as any piece of fiction I’ve ever read.

If you like dark, psychological fiction, then you’ll want to snap this book up faster than a piece of Ghirardelli chocolate. Just make sure to leave the lights on while reading.

Unreliable Narrator

10323019Before I Go To Sleep by S.J. Watson
My Rating: 3/5 Stars

Christine proves rather reliable in her unreliability as a narrator. But it’s not exactly breaking character since she can’t remember shit. I’ve had traumatic experiences in my life, and I can’t remember that particular time period. My mind is blank. It’s like that particular event didn’t happen, except I remember the before and the after and there’s a crumpled car to prove to me that I’m not just making shit up in my head. And if your entire world revolves around your husband Ben and you suddenly see three words in your diary—DON’T TRUST BEN—I can understand how that might be terrifying and traumatic for you. I’d equate it to building a million dollar mansion on quicksand.

The structure worked for me. It added suspense. Had BEFORE I GO TO SLEEP been structured any other way, it would have crumbled in on itself like an origami bird. But I didn’t like the ending. It felt a bit like cheating to me. *BEGIN SPOILER* Christine suddenly has her memory back or large chunks of it at least, because the supposed traumatic event is over, and Mike has been expunged from existence. It seemed a tad convenient for me. S.J. Watson may, or may not, have consumed an illegal substance during this period, and there’s a decent chance he may have inhaled. *END SPOILER*

But otherwise the story worked. It had a different feel to it, and I was turned on enough to want to know what happened, but I did have a sinking suspicion I had the ending figured out before it arrived.

For those of you who don’t like tangents, you’ll probably want to skip right on over this part. Let’s get one thing straight: There are no original plotlines. The well of lost plots has been used up, drying faster than the Nevada desert. Sure, it’s easy enough to make the argument that this story is similar to Memento, but so what? We might as well take every romance and mystery off the shelves…and sit around and wait for someone to come up with something “original.” I’ll save you the suspense: You probably have a better chance of meeting a little green alien, having him tickle your forehead, and then receiving a wet smack to the lips. Guess what? The Fast & The Furious is essentially the same as Point Break, only there’re cars and car racing instead of surfing. And the director of The Fast & The Furious is in preproduction on a remake of Point Break. You’re welcome.

But let’s get to the good news: Even without an endless number of plots, there are an endless number of ideas and experiences and opportunities and characters that writers can bring to the table, bringing an essential “uniqueness” to the creative drawing board. The Fast & The Furious feels different from Point Break because the characters are different. End tangent.

More Mississippi Than Massachusetts

17259190A Crack In Everything by Angela Gerst
My Rating: 1/5 Stars

Poisoned Pen Press let me down. I don’t blame the author, although I suppose I could. But the author and I didn’t have a history, an established relationship, a rapport if you will, and from my perspective it was going really well. Poisoned Pen Press published good novels, and I like to purchase and read good novels, so it was what amounted to a beautiful friendship.

I’d met a few of their authors, along with one of their founders and editor-in-chief Barbara Peters, and I’d even been fortunate enough to have two of their authors blurb my debut mystery novel, so if this were a batting cage, I’d be knocking every single ball out of the park. I ended up lost in worlds created by Jon Talton, Frederick Ramsay, Tammy Kaehler, Rachel Brady, and Dana Stabenow, clipping along at a nice, even pace, and then this disaster slammed me into a brick wall, the airbag deployed, and I ended up with a rather severe case of whiplash.

If I had to sum up how I felt while reading A CRACK IN EVERYTHING, I’d say it was similar to being audited by the IRS. Not that I’ve been audited before (and if any IRS employees are Goodreads members, I’d really appreciate your continued support in keeping me off of the naughty list).

So what caused this mother of all letdowns? Like any major car accident, it wasn’t a particular incident that pushed me over the edge, but several little instances that caused the ensuing explosion. The biggest offense (and I thought of my wife as I read this, since she lived in the Boston area by choice and New Mexico by accident) was that it didn’t feel like Boston. Sure, Angela Gerst name-dropped Waltham and Moody Street and Harvard Square and the North End and Charlestown and Newton and Brookline and Chestnut Hill Mall and Copley Place and I believe there might have even been a T reference, as well as other hotspots around the city, but it felt more Mississippi than Massachusetts. This isn’t Robert B. Parker’s Boston, that’s for darn sure. The novel lacked even a basic grit that’s normally present in the Boston area, and certainly nowhere near the caliber of Dennis Lehane, who really lets his love for the city shine through on every single page of his novels. This brings me to another point. Ms. Gerst is originally from New York, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it’s the mother of all sins to a Boston native. She would have been better off just flat-out lying about that part in her bio (and saying she was from Iraq or Iran), or just eliminating it altogether. This is a feud so hot and heavy that a David Ortiz jersey buried at the new Yankee Stadium made The New York Times.

Let me stop for a moment here. I realize Susan Callisto is from California and so she’s a transplant (as was I for over two years), but she should have adapted to her surroundings. I also realize the novel is written in first person, so she’s not going to use words like idear, or pahking the cah, lobstah, or chowdah. But the people who were natives of the city should have spoken in Boston accents more than one time in the whole novel. Just dropping a word here and there would have added an underlying realism that just didn’t seem to be there. Dunkin’ Donuts, the business of choice for many a Massachusetts resident, didn’t receive a single mention. With over 80 stores in the Boston city limits alone, it was the equivalent of discovering some sort of alternate universe. And maybe that’s what this novel attempted to do all along. If so, it has certainly succeeded. But if it really was supposed to be set in reality, I have included the link to The Wicked Good Guide to Boston English, along with a few choice words and phrases (stolen from aforementioned site), since Boston does indeed have its own language.

Av – an avenue with a long name, for example, Massachusetts Avenue becomes Mass-av; Commonwealth Avenue, Comm-av.

Bubbla – that’s a water fountain to you, bub.

Chowdahead – stupid person. The phrase has spread westa Wihsta, but it’s definitely of local origins.

Dunkie’s – the donut shop on the corner.

Frappe – a milkshake or malted elsewhere, it’s basically ice cream, milk and chocolate syrup blended together. The ‘e’ is silent.

Frickin’ – the F-word as an adjective in polite company. “Often paired with ‘wicked,’ creating the sublime poetry of ‘The Ozzy cawncert wuz frickin’ wicked!'”

Jimmies – those little chocolate thingees you ask the guy at the ice-cream store to put on top of your cone.

The Pike – the Massachusetts Turnpike. Also, the world’s longest parking lot, at least out by Sturbridge on the day before Thanksgiving.

Rotary – a traffic circle. One of Massachusetts’ two main contributions to the art of traffic regulation (the other being the red-and-yellow pedestrian-crossing light).

Wicked – a general intensifier: “He’s wicked nuts!”

Here’s a link to the full site: The Wicked Good Guide To Boston English

Update – If you need a good laugh, you should check out the love that this same review has received on Amazon. To view the affection, click here. Oh, and in case you’re wondering, I still stand behind my original review, possibly even a bit taller than I did before. And I will say I’m a bit disappointed if this is the best they’ve got.

High School Voice

8606706The Perks Of Being A Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
My Rating: 5/5 Stars

If my high school voice ever appeared in novel form, there’s a good chance it’d resemble Charlie. He’s naïve and precocious and childish and odd and enlightening and invisible and seen and I could have tried pot brownies and would have had no idea I was stoned unless someone told me and I would have wanted a milkshake and I can’t dance but I can do the sway and I could have witnessed a rape and had no idea what had happened because I was in middle school a kid. I could have confided to my teacher about a tragic event that happened at home and I avoided beer like it was the second coming of Satan and I could have written letters to an anonymous pen pal and I did chores to earn my allowance and I wrote poems in high school college and I went out with a girl who had what could be described as low self-esteem and I was totally infatuated with her for a period of time and I like unconventionally beautiful women. I love music and books and I overanalyze and outthink myself on a fairly regular basis and speculate and contemplate and can probably be considered a deep thinker in a world that doesn’t seem to plan or speculate or think too deeply and I can keep secrets and my mom tells me she loves my stories and I type on a typewriter computer and I hate goodbyes and I had a teacher that thought I was special, albeit it was the third grade and sometimes I feel so much that my body has to physically shut itself down otherwise I’d start frying brain cells. I think too fast.

But I didn’t smoke copious amounts of weed and cigarettes or eat pot brownies or trip on LSD and *BEGIN SPOILER* I wasn’t sexually molested and I didn’t spend time with a psychiatrist or spend two months in a hospital because I had a mental breakdown *END SPOILER*.

But I did love THE PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER with my whole being and I don’t feel as though it will cause me any mental breaks to feel this much and to be totally caught up in Charlie’s world and to feel fortunate for Charlie because he has friends like Patrick and Sam and Mary Elizabeth and that he was able to mail letters to his anonymous friend to help him through his first year of high school and that he was able to go to parties where he kissed girls and spent time at the Big Boy and *BEGIN SPOILER* he was able to stand on the back of the pickup truck with Patrick blaring the music as he went through the tunnel with the city and all of its lights peeking out on the other side *END SPOILER*.

Happy Pills

15831621Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple
My Rating: 4/5 Stars

Bernadette Fox might just be the craziest person I have never met. If she consumed enough “happy” pills to actually become a fully-functioning member of society, she’d end up comatose from an overdose and spend the next six years of her life breathing through a respirator. Calling her eccentric gives Randy Quaid, Charlie Sheen, and Courtney Love a bad name. Or to put it another way, Bernadette Fox makes Adrian Monk look like Tom Brady.

Audrey Griffin needs to be treated with electric shock therapy until she ejaculates her back teeth. And her son Kyle (he’s 15), at the age of 21, will be in prison for the rest of his natural life or his body parts will be tossed into storm gutters and unmarked graves. Oh, and Mrs. Griffin probably should experience a form of hell. In her case, she should be forced to sit in front of a TV with headphones on and have her highlight reel played for her on repeat until her ears and eyes bleed.

Holy fuckballs! This may be the most insane novel I’ve ever read. It’s hard for me to ascertain its exact level of brilliance because I feel like I need to be in a straitjacket, hooked up to an electric chair, while wearing a metal helmet and a metal diaper.

Composed entirely of emails, report cards, receipts, random musings, rants, raves, Bee’s voice, Bernadette’s history, and the preparations for a family trip to Antarctica that are being conducted by an Indian named Manjula Kapoor via the Internet, the first several parts had me entertained and enthralled and nearly hypnotized with delusions of madness and mayhem. There’s a dog named Ice Cream, a friend named Kennedy, a husband named Elgie, the astute services of Delhi Virtual Assistants International, a giant mud sliding billboard, traumatized kindergartners (with possible PTSD), psychotic breaks, selfish and self-pitying delusions of grandeur, and the former home of the Straight Gate School for Girls (the Fox/Branch residence) that probably should have been condemned sometime in the past decade.

Like the rest of WHERE’D YOU GO, BERNADETTE, the ending proved zany and whacky and maybe a bit farfetched. But I didn’t like it. In fact, I hated it with a passion, and wanted to beat it with a baseball bat, and then wait till it stood up, and then proceed to whack it again. *BEGIN SPOILER* You fled to Antarctica and then the only communication with your fifteen year-old daughter is a letter that she never received, and then to dump the entire contents of your life onto her via a large unmarked envelope. And then to place sole blame for all of your marital problems on your husband, while you sleepwalked through an entire marriage. Seriously? *END SPOILER*

So if you like Seinfeld and Arrested Development (and if you don’t, I feel sorry for your loss, and you probably deserve a hug), then you might just find yourself enjoying this novel.