Thursday, October 29, 2015

Consumed by David Cronenberg

by David Cronenberg
2 stars - started off fine, deteriorated as it went
ALR Green - thank goodness

Naomi and Nathan. Two photo-journalists who thrive on their pursuit of sensation and depravity. Naomi is off to discover the truth behind the murder and partial consumption of Celestine Arosteguy by her husband, Aristide. Nathan is documenting questionable surgeries by Zoltan Molnar, whose record includes human organ trafficking. 

Nathan has sex with one of Molnar's patients and contracts a rare STD called Roiphe's disease. That leads him to track down Dr. Roiphe himself, both for a cure and to see if there's a story. There is. Turns out Dr. Roiphe is a bit, well, odd, and his resident daughter is totally coo coo nutty.

OK, friends, this is David Cronenberg. That means the reader is going to expect some squirmy, icky stuff and there is plenty of that. The first 175 pages were great. Four star stuff. Like his movies, the setup and scenes danced along the edge of too disturbing to continue. Lots of "he isn't going to... OMG, he is!" situations. 

Gross and mesmerizing.

And then, boom, off the cliff he goes. Because the narrative changes from third person observations of Naomi and Nathan to a first person account by the still very much alive and on the run Aristide Arosteguy of the circumstances leading up to his wife's demise. Everything changes. 

For 60 pages the reader is subjected to a dense narrative that is too convoluted, too philosophical, and too breast obsessed for this reader. By the time Mr. Cronenberg resumed his previous writing style, I was just about done. I struggled through the last 70 pages, but he'd lost me. I no longer cared about anybody, about their weird obsessions, about much of anything. Splat.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

The Boy from Reactor 4 by Orest Stelmach

The Boy from Reactor 4
by Orest Stelmach
3 stars - intense
ALR Green - some animals mentioned, briefly sad, nothing to worry about

Nadia Tesla has a cool name. Hey, that's a hook for me.

Anyway, she decides to make some inquiries into her father's past. Dad immigrated from Eastern Europe and, well, maybe his life prior to coming to the US wasn't all that wholesome. Pretty soon she's in trouble with the local branch of the Ukrainian mafia and on a mission to Chernobyl to rescue her teenage cousin, along with a secret that could possibly change the course of the world. Wow! 

The book focuses primarily on Nadia's desperate flight through Ukraine and Russia both in search of her cousin and then to get him away. Her Ukrainian enemies hook up temporarily with the local gang and pursue her relentlessly.

It's fast and it isn't pretty. Everybody who Nadia comes in contact with is at risk as the mob follows her trail and presses people for information. While I understand a map would have given too much away, it still would have been useful. I quickly lost track of where she was (and was too lazy to consult the Internet). 

Don't be fooled by the short chapters and do pay attention. There aren't that many characters, but I still got a little confused regarding who was who and what their motivations were. No worries. Things happen fast and I got the gist.

I'm just giving three stars because even though this book really drew me in, there wasn't much to it at the end of the day. Yes, some things to think about regarding the state of Eastern Europe, but not much investment in the characters for this reader. Still, I've popped the sequel into my queue because I see potential with this author and am keen to learn more about Nadia's adventures.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

The Sekhmet Bed by Libbie Hawker

The Sekhmet Bed
by Libbie Hawker
3 stars - dodgy writing offset by an interesting story

Thirteen year old Ahmose is the second daughter of Egypt's current Pharaoh. She's fine with life in the women's quarters and figures some day she'll be a priestess, given her ability to read dreams.

No such luck. When her father dies suddenly, a soldier named Thutmose is named as his successor, and Ahmose, along with her elder sister, Mutnofret, are named wives #1 and #2. Mutnofret is appropriately PO'd that her little sister got the #1 slot. Ahmose is also not entirely pleased. Not only does she suffer from the jealous manipulations of her older sister, but she's not even going to let her husband consummate the marriage as she's pretty sure she'll die in childbirth.

Years pass, Mutnofret is producing sons, then, at the age of seventeen, Ahmose has a vision regarding her yet to be born progeny and things get totally mixed up.

The story was interesting and I appreciated Ms. Hawker's information about day to day life in the Egyptian royal family. 

Sadly, the writing just isn't all that good. The characters are flat and I was never fully drawn in to the scenes or actions. Almost there, but not quite. Given the story, though, I filled in the blanks on my own and I will be adding the second book in the series to my reading queue.

I liked the book better after I read Ms. Hawker's notes at the end. Her remarks about the book, her readers, and ancient Egypt showed an enthusiasm that is hard to resist. 

Monday, October 12, 2015

The Chocolate Cat Caper by JoAnna Carl

The Chocolate Cat Caper
by JoAnna Carl
3 stars - super cozy
ALR Green - a grumpy cat jumps on people and prowls around

Nothing like a predictable cozy to cleanse the reading pallet after a few false starts.

Lee McKinney, newly divorced, has moved to a small town in Michigan to live with her Aunt. Aunt Nettie runs the local hand crafted chocolate shop and Lee is recruited to help out in the shop by keeping the books and running errands.

One such errand is to deliver chocolates to rich and loathsome defense attorney, Clementine Ripley. Nobody likes her. She makes her living by defending the most heinous of bad guys. Plus she bought up some lakefront property and built and totally ugly mansion. 

When Ripley drops dead later that day, well, there are plenty of suspects, but the presence of cyanide in one of the chocolates points the investigation towards Lee and Auntie. Uh oh.

The book roles out in typical cozy fashion. Lots of personalities, a few clues, a bit of danger, and all wrapped up in the end by our heroine. Just what I needed. 

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Girlchild by Tupelo Hassman

by Tupelo Hassman
1 star - not enough forward motion in the story

Girlchild is a first person narrative of a child growing up in poverty. She's being raised by a single mother who had her first child in her teens and is the daughter of a woman who was also a teen mom. They live in Nevada in a trailer. The narrator, Rory, experiences molestation at the hands of a neighbor when she is quite young. 

The story is told in fits and starts through memories of a child. For that, the narrative is well done in that it echos the vignettes that form one's childhood memories. What caused me to set the book aside without finishing is that ultimately it just didn't go anywhere. It seemed to spin around and around on the same topics endlessly with no forward motion.

Another recommended book that was a disappointment. 

Thursday, October 8, 2015

The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan

The Narrow Road to the Deep North
by Richard Flanagan
2 stars - I just couldn't finish it, but the author gets an extra star for writing style
ALR Green - nice little terrier in the portion of the book I read

Well, that was frustrating.

The Narrow Road to the Deep North is the story of Dorrigo Evans. He's a soldier in the Australian army who is captured by the Japanese during World War II and becomes part of a POW effort to build a railway in Japan.

One of the most frustrating reading experiences I've ever had. Mr. Flannagan's novel is structured in an exquisite fashion. He flops around between times much the way one's own brain is in the past, present, and future at any point in the day. He's got tons of short, meaningful sentences, such as, "A happy man has no past, while an unhappy man has nothing else." 

The main character, Dorrigo Evans, isn't all that likable. That didn't bother me. Even unlikeable people have interesting experiences and thoughts. What caused me to ultimately toss the book aside after just over 80 pages was the love story. Evans has an affair with his Uncle's wife. I tried to ignore the flat, trite characterization of both the affair and the woman, Amy, but it became too much for me. Yuck. 

In fact all the women in the book (again, at least the part that I read), are given no character whatsoever. The author treats the reader to scenes with men other than Evans which tell us something about them and make them real. The women? They are dull as dishwater. Spiritless characters who only exist through the observations of the men around them. 


Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Ravels by James V. Viscosi

by James V. Viscosi
4 stars - delightful and engrossing
ALR Green - some monster animals and a cranky cat thing

Ravels concludes the adventures of Mercy and Bernard. Two teenagers, swept into the magical world of a video game in the book Shards

As the Ravels opens, there is trouble brewing in the land of adventure. Fierce storms are targeting cities and individuals, wiping them from the face of the Earth. Bernard is trapped in some sort of underground habitat of an unknown menace, along with a couple of other escapees from the line of doom. Meanwhile, Mercy is facing reanimated statues that are determined to seal her in a stone coffin. Uh oh.

The story progresses from one adventure to the next as Bernard, Mercy, and a ragtag crew try to discover the cause of disruption in the world and bring things back into line. 

Not easy for this reviewer to tell much more without inserting spoilers. Let's just say, there are monsters, events of nature, magic, elves, a dwarf, other odd humanoid creatures, and plenty of puzzles to solve. 

So let's do good news / bad news.

Good news.

  1. The characters. Magnificent. Mr. Viscosi treats his readers with multi-faceted, flawed characters at every turn. At times heroic, but mostly just trying to get things done. You might not like all the characters, but you certainly get to know them, their motivations, their quirks.
  2. The scenes. Rich and evocative. I could see every setting. The scenes drew me in to the world of the book completely. Lush descriptions.
  3. The language. Mr. Viscosi has a rich vocabulary and isn't afraid to use it. Plus there are delightful utterances scattered throughout. " 'Madness, but no more than I should expect from you three, I suppose, let alone from you.' This last was directed at Cynidece, a hooligan so dire she required separate denunciation." Delightful!
  4. The science, what there is of it, is plausible and described in technical terms. Keep up or don't, but things aren't dumbed down.
  5. Surprises. Yup, several big surprises for this reader, but they never felt contrived.
Bad news.
  1. The format of the book. You might not think it's a big deal, but the pinched margins, parsimonious white space, and bulky paragraphs often left this reader feeling a bit claustrophobic. 
  2. Not enough "previously on." Having taken a break of several months between the first book and the second, I was lost at times during the first 100 pages. 
  3. The names. I gave up trying to pronounce the names of the characters. Kaderleh, Kihantroh, Cynidece, whatever. I just made some sounds in my head for each character.
  4. Not enough dwarfs. Surely the dwarfs merited best supporting character awards in the first book, but with only one rather mild mannered dwarf in this volume, I felt a bit cheated.
Overall, big thumbs up. The prose, the world, enveloped me completely. If you want to get lost in a story, The Strings Duology of Shards and Ravels is the way to go.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

The Lady and the Unicorn by Tracy Chevalier

The Lady and the Unicorn
by Tracy Chevalier
3 stars - a good enough story with some interesting history lessons
ALR Green - brief appearances by pet dogs

In late 15th century Paris, a French nobleman commissions an ambitious set of six tapestries. Nicolas des Innocents, painter and rogue, is hired to create the paintings from which the tapestries will be created. The story follows the tapestries from conception to completion along with the lives of Nicolas, the nobleman's family, and the weavers. 

The story and the characters were a bit dull. None of the characters caught my fancy. However, the narrative style was different and fun. As the story moves along, it is narrated by different characters. That was cool. There is plenty of information about the art of weaving tapestries. Also cool.

Overall, a quick, entertaining read.

The Stuntman

The Stuntman
directed by Richard Rush
starring Peter O'Toole, Steve Railsback, and Barbara Hershey
5 stars - one of my favorite movies
ALR Green - cameo by a grumpy dog during the opening credits

Steve Railsback as Cameron is on the lam. He escapes the clutches of local law enforcement only to stumble upon a movie in process. Eli Cross (Peter O-Toole), the movie's director, takes him on as a stuntman. Why? That's part of the story. No spoilers, right?

I loved this movie when it first came out and am no longer sure how many times I've watched it, but I watched it again last night, so here are my remarks.

First and foremost, Peter O'Toole. Wow. He dominates the film with his larger than life on screen presence. His character of Eli Cross is full of ego, artistry, and deceit. Poor Cameron doesn't stand a chance. 

Combine that with wonderful stunts, great music, and plenty of surprises, and it's a delightful package. Nominated for three academy awards, but winner of none, due to some stiff competition that year (Raging Bull and Ordinary People took best actor and best director respectively).

Sure, some of the acting is a bit forced (Barbara Hershey), but who cares?

A nod to Charles Bail (professional stuntman) for his supporting actor performance as the stunt coordinator.

Note - Despite being a great movie, it hasn't had a Hollywood do-over. Subsequently, there are no subtitles and the soundtrack is a bit muddy. That didn't bother me, but for my husband, who hadn't seen the movie before, I had to interpret some of the dialog.