Points For Style

19547767The City: A Novel by Dean Koontz
My Rating: 2/5 Stars

If points were awarded for style and having his way with the English language, then Dean Koontz deserves a solid 8.5 for THE CITY, where the prose sings soprano, and hits all of the high notes. But if you want to award an author for his plot and filling a novel with substance, instead of flowery language comprised of mums and daffodils and rhododendrons and roses, then he gets -7 in this arena, and that may even be a tad generous. I mean, this is the same man who takes the mundane and turns it into one machete-wielding bastard. Forget Freddy and Jason, and all the other hacks, this man takes a father figure, stuffs him full of crazy, and sets him loose on society. If that shit doesn’t freak you out, then you’re probably not thinking hard enough.

If names were any indication of a person’s destiny, then it’s no surprise that Jonah Ellington Basie Hines Eldridge Wilson Hampton Armstrong Kirk is a musical prodigy and can recreate a song after listening to it. Sure, he’s one brilliant son of a gun, and this novel shows plenty of brilliance, but it gets caught up in the mundane. And I found myself asking the question about when the train might pull up to the station and take me away from this universe with verse left to spare on some unsuspecting ne’er-do-well.

There’s a cutting fiend who takes up residence on the sixth floor, just above our nine year-old hero in Apartment 5-C who wields a knife at his throat, and leaves a few trinkets behind for the residents to remember her by. But it seemed like more of an artificial way to ratchet up suspense, instead of grounded in a more concrete foundation. Where this story really failed, though, is it never went anywhere. Similar to a hitchhiker who gallivants across the country, stopping in Nashville and Columbus and Chicago and Denver and Albuquerque and LA and then Las Vegas before finally settling in Lincoln, it just seemed all over the place.

I received this book for free through NetGalley.

Shithead Of The Year

7061684Sandman Slim by Richard Kadrey
My Rating: 4/5 Stars

If our personalities are derived from the characters and novels we tend to enjoy (in my case both reading and writing), then I’d make a strong candidate for Shithead of the Year. Hell, I don’t even need a running mate. I suppose I could leave it at that, and just walk away, probably leaving more than a few of you scratching your heads. But I might as well expound upon my point, because once you start shoveling shit you might as well keep going.

You see, James Stark is a character I’m not supposed to like. In fact, he burns jackets, kills people (bad ones), and even manages to piss off a few angels just for fun. He’s the kind of guy you’re better off pretending you don’t know. If he does happen to come around, you barricade your front door, and then you call the fuzz. If the cops can’t keep him at bay, then you leave LA (it’s filled with people more fucked up than Stark anyway), and head somewhere safer like Mexico or Colombia.

Despite all of that, though, I actually liked the bastard. I rooted for him to rein hell-on-earth and kick the shit out of evil, and ruin a few more coats. I could almost feel his hatred coursing through my veins, and rather than be turned off, I was actually a little turned on. To be fair, it wasn’t all fireflies and sparklers, and I did manage to cringe once or twice, based on yet another terrible path he took. But if I didn’t see at least a fault or two, I’d probably be in more trouble than I already am. So maybe there’s the slimmest of slim chances I’m not completely fucked up.

In the spirit of Stark smashing a few faces, SANDMAN SLIM smashed together more than one genre, and made it work. The plot and dialogue raced forward (other than enough editing errors that I couldn’t help but notice); all the characters were filled with warm and gooey goodness (smirks); the action made it seem as though I was driving on two-wheels down Wilshire Boulevard (without traffic); and I even discovered another reason to hate a junkie or two (when you read it, you’ll see what I mean).

Like this novel so aptly proves time and again: What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.

I received this book for free at Left Coast Crime.

Suck My Soul

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My Rating: 4/5 Stars

If you’re packing a pair of DDs beneath your peek-a-boo blouse, you may want to keep the following in mind: “With great breasts comes great responsibility.” Or so says a t-shirt. That I briefly considered acquiring simply for the amusement factor alone. Maybe I could get my wife to wear it. Although there’s a more than good chance she probably won’t find it nearly amusing as I did. Just as I’m convinced some of you (and I can’t imagine why) won’t find SECOND GRAVE ON THE LEFT nearly as amusing as I did. And if you don’t—let’s get this out of the way right now—I’m sorry but I can’t help you. Because this is some highly entertaining shit. I mean, the voice and zingers and main character are more than worth the price of admission, and I just happen to have a stack of ones at the ready.

When I die and float up to the big house in the sky, I want to pass through Charley Davidson, the hottest grim reaper in seven continents. She has a mouth on her, doesn’t like mornings, is as stubborn as a loan shark chasing after a man with a gambling addiction, and may, or may not, have somewhat questionable taste in men, but she’s got a juicy ass and a seriously enlarged chest area. If you’re a guy, it kind of makes you want to cry (in a good way). At least if you’re into that sort of thing. Which for the record, I’m going to go ahead and say it right now “I like curves, damn it!”

It’s really hard to say if I liked the story as much as the first one. If I were to hazard a guess, I’d say probably not. It just seemed a bit too contrived to me, but crap on a cracker, Charley’s welcome in my world anytime she wants to stop by for a visit. Given the right temptation, I’d probably even let her suck my soul from my body with a straw.  Who knows? I may not even need it anyway. And if I do, I can tell the big boss “Woo-eee, I had one hell of a ride!”

And that, my friends, is probably the best way I could ever possibly sum up this novel. I can’t wait to come on back for the third installment. I’m thinking I’ll need a fix again real soon.

The Past Attacked

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My Rating: 3/5 Stars

While Kit and Grif still had plenty of appeal and charm and various other pleasantries, I found myself a bit lost with this particular read. Sure, the hard-boiledness still captured and held my attention, and sure, the story moved along at a rather reasonable clip, but I found my mind drifting toward the nether regions, and my heart didn’t miss a single beat. A nurse may have visited me while I was counting ceiling tiles, and I may, or may not, have had an IV injected in my arm, somehow improving my overall well-being.

The past may have attacked my faded blue jeans, and my hat may have been tilted just a bit to the side, as I tipped it in the direction of the skirts and blue-eyed wonders that happened to cross my path. THE LOST left me a bit red in the face, and more than once I was forced to consult the map on my passenger seat. I probably missed a turn or two, but I was certainly happy when I reached my final destination.

The mystery certainly intrigued me, but it wasn’t a perfect logical leap from the first tale, and it wavered a bit during various increments along the way. I found my attention vacillating and my car swaying as I took more than a few turns too sharply. Blinking a bit too rapidly, I propelled myself into a ditch, since I didn’t have Griffin Shaw to show me the way.

Kit came alive in this novel after a bit of a slumber in the first go round, but it wasn’t enough for me to rate this novel higher. Maybe it was my place in the universe, or my sense of self, or I might have gotten just a bit spoiled after I first dipped my toes in the swimming pool, but I’m a bit sad to admit I didn’t like this one better. A part of me feels as though I’ve somehow failed this book, but with the curveball headed my way, I’ll probably take one more last swing for the fences and hope I don’t spin myself around and tumble to the ground.

Overhyped, Undeserving

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My Rating: 1/5 Stars

Where’s the payoff? I’ll tell you: It doesn’t exist. For three books, I followed and even bought into the relationship between Bella and Edward. All the heavy petting, French kissing, and whispers of you’re the one filled the pages to the point of seeping out of its edges, and yet I continued to read, because I believed there was a prize at the end of the rainbow. A prize worth consuming four books, countless hours, and pouring over nearly 2500 pages worth of teenage angst. And what happened? Nothing. There was a buildup to “the moment” about as large as a tidal wave ready to take out Charleston, SC, but when the moment was finally upon the two young lovers, the door slammed so hard in my face that it rattled the walls. And then there were more “moments” and on each occasion, the door slammed so hard that the foundation nearly cracked in half. Sure, Stephenie Meyer described the sex that took place after the fact, but I felt like I was on the outer edges of the horizon waiting to break through the atmosphere.

After the first lack of production, I nearly tossed my Android out my window. And the other scenes, or lack thereof, only led to more disheartenment. Was I a bit overzealous? Possibly a bit too overeager? Probably. But I bring you back to that number again: 2500. Did Stephenie Meyer need to go into pornographic detail? Absolutely not. But if this was a relationship that changed both Bella and Edward and their entire families, and a relationship worth confronting the Volturi over, then I wanted more than a bit of French kissing, longing glances, and heavy petting: I wanted a peek inside the walls of the bedroom. In fact, I feel like I deserved more, so BREAKING DAWN ended up being one giant letdown for me. I’d even go so far to say it was the mother of all letdowns.

But what scares me even more than that is that this is a book (and a series) marketed toward teenagers. What kind of a message does it send when your baby eats you from the inside out? What kind of a message does it send when Bella was meant to be a vampire? She literally transforms from an awkward, uncoordinated teenager to a perfect vampire with grace, precision, and poise in a matter of days, completely capable of controlling her thoughts and thirst. Every other vampire and every other vampire series places much more emphasis on the control factor (control of thirst and desires), and that it is never really under the vampire’s complete control, and yet here we are with Bella, the perfect vampire. It’s almost laughable in its utter simplicity.

But yet why did I have such a hard time buying it? People and society aren’t perfect, so this whole concept seems a little too perfect for me. What message does this really send? That if you just become a vampire you can have it all: you can walk out in the sunlight (as long as it’s cloudy outside), you can have the perfect daughter, you can be more graceful and controlled than you ever thought possible, and you can have gifts that you couldn’t have in human form. Let’s sign up right now because I want in on this shit.

I mean, it’s gotta be better than the imperfect life that I’m leading right now. As for all those teenage readers that have consumed this series, let’s face it, being a teenager is a rather imperfect life. All those awkward moments, awkward situations, and that never-ending series of first times…these four novels say let’s skip right to being a vampire, because that’s where the promise land is baby. And that’s one promise I’m not really buying into.

Dichotomy Dilemma

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My Rating: 2/5 Stars

When I finished ECLIPSE, I felt empty inside, like I was a seashell sitting on the beach, trying to become one with the waves. Sure, I had been entertained by the story itself and by the surrounding beachcombers, pedestrians, and dogs playing on the shoreline, or in this case, the vampires and werewolves and otherwise normal individuals who constitute the pages of Stephenie Meyer’s tale. But I felt less than fulfilled as I flipped the pages at a furious, breakneck pace.

It’s hard for me to explain the dichotomy because I don’t really understand it myself. The pace of the novel never really slows, but at the same time there’s not a whole lot that has happened in ECLIPSE or the two previous installments. Again, I really have no doubt that there is talent at work here: talent at world invention, character creation, and a unique approach to a rather traditional storyline. This novel, like the others, is filled with a certain amount of promise. But at the same time, this promise seems to go unfulfilled.

But do I want to keep reading? Absolutely. However, I do think the empty feeling will continue all the way to the end. And it’s hard not to feel a bit disappointed by this result. So the dance continues Stephenie Meyer, as I both admire and loathe you in equal parts, and if I ever figure out the answer to my dichotomy dilemma, I will have solved one of the great mysteries of the universe.

Mountain Of Empty Calories

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My Rating: 2/5 Stars

After reading NEW MOON, I feel like I ate a mountain of empty calories without any real payoff at the end. Sure, it was an enjoyable read, written for a particular audience, and done very well in that regard; sure, it had a steady pace like a racehorse destined for some sort of glory; and sure, there was no point where I wanted to put the book down, toss it across the room, or throw it in a garbage can. But I feel like Stephenie Meyer could have offered us so much more.

The basic plotline is this: Edward leaves, Bella stays, and then Edward returns. As a teenager myself, once, I like to believe I offered the world slightly more depth than what this particular story entailed. Of course, maybe that is just wishful thinking on my part. But it doesn’t mean I will stop this particular saga in midstream, nor will I postpone the third book.

Since TWILIGHT offered the reader a bit more than this one did, I suppose I had set slightly higher expectations for this one. Not grand expectations, mind you, but I did hope to be dazzled a bit more than I was, especially since there is talent at work here.

I am curious to see what happens to these two ill-fated lovers, but I hope the next two novels prove a bit more interesting than this one did. If you thoroughly enjoyed the first book, or even if you’re just curious to see what everyone is talking about, or if you happen to connect with these particular relationships on some level, as I did, or you’re using this series as a marketing study, you probably won’t want to miss this one. Otherwise, you may feel a little disappointed at the end.

Flapjack Connoisseur

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My Rating: 3/5 Stars

So what can I say about TWILIGHT that hasn’t already been said? Honestly, probably not a whole hell of a lot. But has that ever stopped me? No way. But I realize I’m coming to the party after the house has already burned down, the cops have shown up, and they’re proceeding to take witness statements from a bunch of half-stunned, half-drunk teenagers. On the other hand, that’s not so bad either. Reviews are all about honest opinions, and I certainly have one of those.

Let’s get this out of the way upfront: Like many folks by now, I have friends that love the series, friends that tolerate it, friends that hate it, and friends that will never read it. But with any book worth its mashed potatoes and gravy, it will have devoted fans, passionate enemies, and folks that politically resemble Switzerland and Canada. When it comes to books that have reached a broad audience, it’s the circle of life. And for the amount of money Stephenie Meyer now has shoved down the front of her jeans, she’s probably not going to complain too hard.

So what’s my take on the series? I did my best to reserve judgment until after I’d read TWILIGHT, which by the way wasn’t easy, since it has only managed to spawn four novels and five movies, the first four of which have grossed a little over a billion dollars domestic. And I’ll give you the bottom line, in case you want to stop reading sooner rather than later: I wouldn’t call it a well-written series, but I was absorbed in Bella’s world from the very beginning, and I found myself flipping pages like a flapjack connoisseur at the local Denny’s. I really wanted to know where Stephenie Meyer would take me, and I was more than willing to hop on board and go along for the ride.

So why does the series work? We can spend all day analyzing it from a multitude of different angles, but here’s the one undisputable point: She connected with a large group of readers who had either experienced a teenage crush firsthand or knew someone who had. Depending on how you look at it, I was fortunate (or unfortunate) enough to have an all-consuming, all-encompassing relationship a number of years ago. Am I a better person for it? It’s really hard to say, but I ended up learning a hell of a lot from that relationship, and I wouldn’t be where I am now had that relationship continued on its sea bound voyage. So in the end, I could relate to Bella and Edward, and the devoted Twihard fanbase.

As for the rating, I feel like I should provide a slight explanation. I debated hard about giving it more than three stars, but in the end I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. It’s a good novel, and a rather light read, but there was nothing great about it. Nothing that really made it stand out for me. Now I know there are probably quite a few people who will disagree with me wholeheartedly about my previous statement, and like Ms. Meyer, I’m okay with that.

Took Me For A Ride

15702848The Taken by
My Rating: 4/5 Stars

It wasn’t love at first sight. No, it was more like casual curiosity in a sea of strangers where one stood out a little more than all the rest, wearing a tailored suit and an upturned do whereas the other women wore red dresses and spiked heels. But I was intrigued enough to continue the flirtatious glances, and she was inviting enough to offer up those baby blues and batted eyelashes and slight smiles when I least expected them, and before either of us realized it, the glances led to a conversation and the conversation led to dancing, and ultimately to a night neither of us would ever forget.

And it would be easy to classify Grif and Kit in a similar fashion, as their relationship started off rockier than a wooden rollercoaster in the middle of a windstorm. But there was a spark, a flare, and a need inside of them that had more pull than an undertow. Grif’s hard-boiled voice carried this story to new heights, while Kit proved every bit as tough as her pencil skirts and sharp tongue, and her milky skin was as pure as a fresh snowfall.

THE TAKEN took me for a ride I won’t soon forget, and I’m more than a little intrigued to discover what happens next for Grif and Kit. In a sea of books that sometimes strive to be more alike than they are different, I’m always delighted when I find a fresh voice, a fresh twist, or a combination of factors that individually aren’t any different than what I’ve already discovered so far, but when combined create a brand new element.

This novel offered me a glimpse behind a curtain, and I want to peel back the rest of the red velvet and discover what other joys wait for me on the other side.

A Dude With Breasts

9732753First Grave On The Right by Darynda Jones
My Rating: 4/5 Stars

Charlotte “Charley” Jean Davidson reminded me of a dude with breasts, a Meatloaf if you will, but with a rockin’ bod. Sorry Meatloaf. She has more attitude than a trust fund baby tooling around Albuquerque in a Lamborghini, stolen police siren, and Jimmy Choos. She even manages to name her womanly parts, and as far as I know, most women don’t bother. When you’re a guy, though, you can just name your penis Spike and be done with it. But coming up with four names certainly proves more of a challenge. If you’re curious, her breasts are Danger and Will Robinson, and her ovaries are Beam Me Up and Scotty. And if you don’t find that funny, or even slightly amusing, you probably won’t enjoy this novel.

Her voice sucked me in faster than you can say hoo-hah, as I rumbled along for one epic ride. I love great beginnings, and this novel certainly meets the criteria. FIRST GRAVE ON THE RIGHT opens with these two lines: “I’d been having the same dream for the past month—the one where a dark stranger materialized out of smoke and shadows to play doctor with me. I was starting to wonder if repetitive exposure to nightly hallucinations resulting in earth-shattering climaxes could have any long-term side effects.”

Maybe being pulled out of a dream like the one above helps explain why she doesn’t like mornings, and I couldn’t do a better job of describing her complete and utter dislike of daybreak than Charley: “While I normally weighed around 125…ish, for some unexplainable reason, between the hours of partially awake and fully awake, I weighed a solid 470.”

Other than the voice, though, this novel managed to keep me entertained with antidotes accompanying the beginning of each chapter grabbing my attention. Whether a personal quote, bumper sticker, or t-shirt, with references to the dead and ADD and bright, shiny objects, it certainly added a little extra to the amusing tone confined within the constraints of this novel. Oh, and I can’t forget about the names and character nicknames that pop up over the course of this comical tale there’s Strawberry Shortcake and Bobby Socks and Patty Cakes Strip Clubs and Cookie Kowalski and Ubie and a car named Misery.

The mystery may not have overwhelmed me with its complexity, but with Charley by my side, I thoroughly enjoyed the ride. While I had never contemplated having sex with a spirit before, were such a thing possible, I might have to reevaluate my Fantasy Sex Wish List. All in all, though, this particular concept sounds more intriguing to me than getting it on with vampires or werewolves.

Charley’s voice carried me above the usual fray and made my mystery/fantasy jaunt worth the journey.