Monday, December 15, 2014

Shark Skin Suite by Tom Dorsey

Review based on ARC.

This is my first Dorsey and, of course, my first Serge Storms. Serge Storms .... appears to be some kind of serial killer homicidal psychotic maniac ... but, ya know, over the course of 18 books, may have become "loveable" and "your favorite." While I don't adamantly disagree with that, I also don't agree. And I suspect that has something to do with the fact that I'm coming at this 18 books in. Although the actual plot in this book can stand alone, all the inside jokes and characteristics and personalities must have taken 17 books to develop, so I think I missed out there. SO my recommendation based on that is: Don't start this "series" with #18!

So, while my rating is based on my experience with this book (and *not* decreased because I felt like I was missing out), it is possible that it would have been *increased* if I happened to know more about the background of these characters and, e.g., what the point, exactly, was with some of them (Serge's best friend Coleman).

But the story. So Serge is this... vigilante, really. He's one of those bad guys w/ a heart of gold who seeks to "even the score." And in this book, he meets this young, bright-eyed, bushy-tailed girl and maybe that, combined with a late-night legal movie spree sets him on this mission to... well, become involved in the legal field. Not legally, of course. But aggressively. He insinuates himself in all manner of ways -- he becomes a "fixer" (as a lawyer, I must confess I've never heard of this...) -- someone who "fixes problems" behind-the-scenes (think Nancy Kerrigan and much much worse). In his true psychotic style. And working for the little good guys, he slowly works his way through each of the problems to the final climax of the book.

Think: if Grisham met Evanovich and they co-wrote a sort of Grisham parody really quickly. That's this book. It's fast, there are moments of humor, it doesn't take itself too seriously, it handles some legal issues not terribly accurately, it creates problems for its solutions, and it throws in some love and some scorn and vengeance in there.

If that sounds like your thing? This will not disappoint.
THREE AND A HALF of five stars

Sunday, November 30, 2014

I Am Sophie Tucker: A Fictional Memoir by Susan Ecker & Lloyd Ecker

Review based on ARC.

Sophie Tucker was undoubtably a fascinating person. She seemed to know anyone who was anyone... from Al Pacino to Arthur Conan Doyle to ... well, herself! And this fictional memoir seemed intriguing. I didn't know much about Tucker going into it -- more a recognition of the name than anything else. But I thought it sounded intriguing... a murder mystery, an insider's look at early Hollywood (or, at least, earlier...), the world of Vaudeville.... ok, sign me up!

And... it delivered. to some degree. So, fictional memoir. What was I expecting? I don't know, something more akin to Devil in the White City, I guess... a sort of novelization of real events. An adding of thoughts and emotions -- a researcher's best guess -- and maybe that's what this was. But it seemed a lot more fictional than that. It *felt* like someone was creating a whole persona for a real person. Which just felt weird. It felt like someone had decided THIS must be Sophie Tucker's *real* personality -- her behind-the-scenes personality.  And.... it was unsettling to me.

It felt surface. It felt false. It felt over-simplified. Like, rather two-dimensional. And,  I understand the authors did an inordinate amount of research, and had scrapbooks and many items of Sophie's own words to pull from... so perhaps Sophie was really just a two-dimensional person? Seems far-fetched. Much more far-fetched than the so-called "life and times of Sophie Tucker."

And that was my other complaint. Eyebrow-raising, inward gasping, behind-the-scenes reveals? meh. I get that this was a long time ago, and our standards are different now... but it still felt like this fictional character was going from "hey hey, listen to this CRaaaaay-zee story about me!" to yet another and another... nothing felt organic or ... well, real.

Buuut.... It was Interesting. It was somewhat satisfying to read about that time from a so-called insider's perspective. It was ok. I didn't love Sophie; I didn't hate her. I didn't really feel that particularly strongly about anyone except for her first husband.

As for the others... were they husbands? It felt like a lot was left out. How did she meet her 3rd husband? What happened? How did they break? What about the 2nd .... how did that become, er, formal? (did I just miss that altogether?) So yeah, it was the organization. The organization needed work. And as a result, the story suffered.

But it was ok. And if you're really interested in Sophie Tucker's life, from an arguably inside perspective... check it out.  The memoir is pretty consistent from beginning to end, so if you don't like the first few chapters, then you won't like it. If you do, you will.

Overall, three of five stars.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

The Magician's Lie by Greer Macallister

Review based on ARC.

It really wasn't what I was expecting.  The Amazing Arden is the most famous illusionist... illusionist. Right. I get that. But then that word "magic" kept appearing everywhere (reviews, descriptions). And it's not really that kind of book.  Not that there isn't a magic, per se, but this is no fantasy.

So what is it? It's a murder-mystery, a love story, a story about a woman learning about her strengths, and her weaknesses (and of both, she has many). It's a tale, and you (or, rather, Virgil Holt, small-town officer) must decide where there is truth, and where there is illusion.

It starts with murder. It begins with a spectacular show, where the Amazing Arden uses an Ax to cut a man in half. And then voila! He's whole again. It commences with a couple of police-friends enjoying the Amazing Arden's show and then some drinks afterwards.. something to help ease the pain.

And then, once the show is over, one officer is called to investigate the murder of the Amazing Arden's husband. And the other, tiny-town officer Virgil Hold, heads off toward home.

Stopping for a brief bite, Holt suddenly finds himself with the Amazing Arden in his hands---the prime suspect for the murder his pal was called to investigate. And she appears to be fleeing. So Holt takes her in to his office. It is now up to Holt to decide whether and to what extent Arden is innocent, and so the tale begins.

Arden insists on not skipping to the end. She insists on telling of her origin, her loves, her losses, her lessons. And as her tale unfolds, Holt must decide---is she telling the truth? How far does her illusion extend? What can she do for him? What must he do for her?

To say more is to give away too much. It reads quickly enough--dragging only a little toward the middle. Macallister has created at least one great character (Ray), a couple of pretty darn good characters (Miss Bates and Holt), and several additional characters to fill the pages and move the story along. While I didn't particularly like Clyde (though I imagine some will love him!), and I thought a few of the characters were rather two-dimensional, I don't think I *needed* to like Clyde or those other characters. They simply aren't the point.

And the magic? Well, perhaps there's magic. Or perhaps it's an illusion of magic. Or perhaps we'll never know...

FOUR of five stars.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

The Happiest People in the World by Brock Clarke

Review based on ARC.

I have been meaning to read anything by Brock Clarke for years! I'm so glad I won this ARC and was "forced" to read it now (sooner, rather than later). He IS funny and smart and dry and witty and thoughtful and enjoyable to read!

This book.... how to describe it. Jens is a newspaper-political cartoonist in Denmark. When an assignment goes horribly awry, an assassin tries to kill him, and the CIA must step in. He heads to the American northeast, to a small town in New York and poses as a high school guidance counselor. And.... that tells you kind of nothing about the book, but serves as a skeleton. And it's not worth anything because what is great about this story has nothing to do with its plot. Rather, it's the characterization and descriptions and humor and observations of an outsider looking in... and of insiders looking at an outsider that make this book so wonderful to read.

It's a quick read, it's funny, it's though-provoking... It presents political and social commentary without being preachy, and it's a story about chances and second chances. One of my favorite things about the book.... I couldn't possibly tell you because it's a spoiler.  But I will say (and I really don't think you should read this unless you've already read the book), I finished the book, laid my head down to sleep, then had a Eureka! moment, where I had to re-read the first chapter. Love what he did there. (highlight to see spoiler)

Highly recommend for people who are looking for a funny, dark, thoughtful commentary, or just an amusing tale about a Dane in New York....

FOUR of five stars.

Sanctum (Asylum #2) by Madeleine Roux

Sanctum is a fine sequel to Asylum.  Not amazing. Not terrible.  Like Asylum, Sanctum is a very quick read; like Asylum, Sanctum has many holes. But, if you read it quickly enough, you almost don't notice the holes and you almost don't mind the lack.

So, what's it about: Dan continues to have weird nightmares and day-mares relating back to the history of Brookline and its warden. His contact with Jordan and Abby has started to fade, and Dan is eager to resolve the issues he's having with both his friendships and his obsession with Brookline.  The three decide to return to New Hampshire College, pretending to be prospies, interested in actually going to college there.

So that's weird. Like, return to the place where you almost died? Sure, yeah, believable. And since it's not, the whole premise is weak. BUT, as I say, it's a quick read. We *quickly* run through all kinds of creepy experiences, hallucinations, and dreams. We meet a handful of new, suspicious characters.  We are introduced to a whole new society of people. And although it's all rather surface, it's enjoyable to read.  I read it in just a few hours, and I will definitely pick up the next one (yep, there's a next one).

I enjoy these. They're not amazing, but they're enjoyable quick reads.

Recommended to someone looking for a creepy escape on a dreary day...
THREE of five stars

Monday, November 3, 2014

Trick or Treat Murder by Leslie Meier

Ultimately, it was an OK murder mystery with some OK twists and turns and conclusions...
but there were some MAJOR flaws... and if those flaws had been, er, done away with... well, what I'm really trying to say is that I think the author actually has potential. Though I don't know if she'd ever realize it, since this formula makes her successful enough...

Major Flaw #1: it's a book called Trick or Treat Murder, yet the murder does NOT happen on Halloween or surrounding any Halloween-related activity. in any way. whatsoever. Rather, the murder happens in the days leading up to Halloween, so ya know, it's being investigated around Halloween time. Which I don't think is enough. But maybe even that could have been if there was more Halloween in this Halloween book. Instead, it's like, they're getting ready for this big Halloween party, and that's supposed to be enough? Where're all the descriptions of all the Halloween decorations all over the neighborhood, the candy being purchased, the costume-planning, the Halloween activities, buying pumpkins, carving them, etc. etc. etc. So, I thought that was a MAJOR let down.

Major Flaw #2: This is the first Leslie Meier book I've read, so maybe this is just what these books are about, but it's NOT about a detective lady, even an amateur detective lady, solving mysteries. It's about a housewife with a bunch of kids, too much time on her hands, and a busy-body attitude. She likes to "investigate" things with not only NO authority to do so, but while being told NOT to do so by the authorities AND while receiving threats. While she has kids. I mean, that's incredibly careless, dangerous, and frankly stupid. Plus, she's not terribly bright. She comes to weird sudden conclusions ... surely crafted to lead the reader astray, but they're not even convincing. Oh! He was having an affair? It MUST BE HIM. I mean, with no other evidence, it's such a WEAK conclusion to draw. All of the various theories are so weakly manufactured, that the reader is, instead of trying to solve a mystery, just waiting for the *right* clues to be "conveniently" dropped on her lap. This, while the main character runs around in circles like a chicken with her head cut off, making grand accusations and essentially ignoring death threats to her and her family. AND THEN? Yeah, this book is more about the trials and tribulations of a housewife with 4 kids, one of which is a brand new baby, than it is about solving a mystery. In particular, it's about nursing, working out, and making 12 dozen cupcakes. Which I can assure the author does NOT take an entire week. Not to mention that the cupcakes that were made earlier in the week would be nice and stale by the time they were eaten.

Major Flaw #3: You've GOT to be kidding me on the husband. He's ridiculously 2-dimensional, which would be fine if he wasn't such a major character with such a major role. From where I'm sitting, he seems like a bit of an arrogant, distant a$$, but for some reason, Lucy Stone ("detective") worships him. And there's quite a bit of hero-worship going on here, which was eye-rolling for me, but might be nice for some people who want to fantasize about... this kind of guy? I don't know. I feel like, he must have been written this way because some people find that attractive....

So yeah. Some major problems. BUT it was enjoyable enough and read quickly enough, once you got past page 125 or so...  It was nice to read a "Halloween themed" mystery at Halloween, even if it wasn't Halloween'y enough.  I'd recommend for people who don't mind the off-topic murder mystery and who don't find reading about a new mom's "milk falling" off-putting...

Two and a half stars... but 3 on cites w/o halves.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Autumn in the Abyss by John Claude Smith

Ok, my initial thoughts (from before): this book definitely needs some trigger warnings (rape victims). And it is probably the darkest book I've ever read (and I'm quite glad to have it done). Nevertheless, it is well written.

And my review:
**I received a free copy of this book in exchange for my honest review**

It's dark. For the majority of readers out there who don't think it gets *much* darker than Stephen King, I think it's important to stress that. It's darker than Stephen King. I haven't yet put my finger yet on what the difference is... I think it's like.. reading Stephen King is like reading a magazine, it's glossy. And reading this book was like reading a horrendous transcript of real life events, it's gritty.

Terrible people do terrible things to other people. BUT there's a sort-of moral response in each. In each? yes, it's a series (short series) of short stories.

Overall, the writing was really good, some of the ideas were great (the title story) and unique (though you don't know why until it's over), and some of the stories were deeply disturbing. The pacing was ok -- better in some place than in others. A little slow from time-to-time. But the short of it is this: if you are into reading books about the horrible, violent things that some people do to others, regardless of whether there are any repercussions, then this is probably the book for you. It is well done, in that. Conversely, if that doesn't appeal to you? This one won't sit well with you.  Also, as mentioned, TRIGGER WARNINGS should be apparent on this one. If you are triggered by discussions of/scenes of/insinuations of rape, particularly the violent kind, best to stay far away.

I also note that, although many seem to think only the 3 shorter stories are linked... to me, they are all quite linked (though not all feature Mr. Liu). Importantly, there is a common theme that runs through each of the stories, which becomes apparent when you finish and take a step back to consider.

All in all, FOUR of five stars because it is well written and, for those who don't mind the DARK stuff, it is probably quite good. For me, it was hard to read and I was glad to be done, but I can recognize the talent therein.

Individually:
Autumn in the Abyss is the best of the stories. It also does not have any trigger issues. To describe it, I think would spoil it. Just the most basic, then: The narrator is a several decade shut-in agoraphobe who has spent the past several decades eating, researching the poet Coronado, eating, not cleaning himself often, not cleaning his digs often, and eating. He is obsessed with the poet Coronado and how/why he disappeared, decades ago. Coronado was a poet in the time of the beat poets (Keroac), but with a dark style, completely his own. One day, his car is discovered on the side of the road, the driver's door open, and Coronado is never seen again. As the narrator delves deeper and deeper into the mystery, he starts to receive warnings and hear disturbing "creature" noises from on his roof.  To say more would be to spoil it, but I will say that this was interesting, unique, well done. Definitely the highlight piece.

Broken Teacup, La mia immortalita, and Where the Light Won't Find You are all clearly related, shorter pieces. In each, a Mr. Liu appears, rendering the experiences of the otherwise-protagonist(s) more unique. In Broken Teacup, it is two porn-movie makers who begin to make more and more disturbing and horrific films, when Mr. Liu appears. In La mia immortalita, it is an artist seeking immortality, who is historically cruel and indifferent to his lovers. And in Where the Light Won't Find You, it is your average, everyday Joe, just out for a movie on a free afternoon. Of the 3, I think La mia immortalita might be trigger-free (though I would not guarantee that), and Where the Light Won't Find you is pretty light, relatively speaking. However, Broken Teacup does describe in some detail some of the darker projects, and I would recommend staying away to anyone w/ trigger issues.

Finally, Becoming Human... This one is the most important one to note w/ a TRIGGER warning. It is a dark piece, from the perspective of a detective who has become obsessed in his life with finding and punishing this truly horrific serial murderer/ETC.'er and, as relevant to this story, his copycat. This one takes a very interesting turn and has a satisfying ending, but, again, to say more is to spoil. IF you like the darkest, sickest, most disturbing, this will be fine for you and perhaps even enjoyable -- esp. in consideration of the potential consequences for actions.... Otherwise, despite the good that is in this story, the detail renders is the most problematic, as far as triggers are concerned.