Thursday, September 11, 2014

Go Home, Oaxaca. You're Drunk.

Go Home, Oaxaca. You're Drunk.Go Home, Oaxaca. You're Drunk. by Jason R. Koivu
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Remember you were in college and one of your friends was in a band that you were afraid sucked so you avoided seeing them at all cost? That's how it is when one of your Goodreads chums writes a book. However, my fears were unfounded. Not only is Jason Koivu a funny guy and gentle lover, he's actually a darn good writer.

Go Home, Oaxaca. You're Drunk is a travel journal about Jason and his wife living like entitled college kids in Oaxaca, Mexico, for a month and a half. Supposedly, they are there to work, but it seems like they're living the high life to me. Aside from an unfortunate bout of the grizzly shits, Jason makes it sound like an amazing place to visit.

Normally, I find travel books as uninteresting as listening to someone describing a dream they had but Jason Koivu, Esquire, has a way with words, as smooth as a Tequila shot first thing in the morning. I had no trouble staying engaged while he described Mexican plumbing, hunting for a laundromat, and sharing the travel tip of throwing away your clothes before returning home. I found myself getting sad along with him as the Koivu clan's time in Mexico ran out.

Four out of five stars. I'm deducting points since they didn't eat any roasted grasshoppers or attend a donkey show on the trip.

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Wednesday, September 10, 2014

The Spellman Files

The Spellman Files (The Spellmans #1)The Spellman Files by Lisa Lutz
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Spellmans are a dysfunctional family of detectives. When Rae, the youngest, goes missing, her sister Izzy drops what she's doing and goes looking for her while delving into the Spellman family's past. Who kidnapped Rae Spellman? And does it have something to do with a cold case Izzy is working on?

The Spellman Files reads like Sara Gran on mood elevators. The writing style reminds me of a more humorous version of the Claire DeWitt books. As for the Spellmans themselves, they remind me of The Royal Tannenbaums if the Tannenbaums were a family of dysfunctional detectives instead of quirky for the sake of being quirky Wes Anderson characters.

I'll be honest. Usually, humorous crime/mystery books aren't my bag. Hell, Lawrence Block and Donald Westlake are two of my favorite authors but their humorous works are largely untouched by me. I'm proud to say that the Spellman Files made me reconsider my stance on mixing mysteries and mirth.

The Spellman Files is one entertaining book and came highly recommended by Amanda and Carol, two ladies who I've learned not to doubt during my tenure at Goodreads. As the kidnapping plot slowly unfolds, Izzy reveals what got the Spellman family to that point, a hilarious tale of mistrust, familial surveillance, and lies.

Mysteries, especially those purported to be humorous, aren't generally known for their well-drawn characters but the Spellmans and those unfortunate enough to get pulled into their orbits all seemed like real people to me. Even though a family of detectives isn't the most likely of protagonists, I had no trouble believing in the way they constantly violated one another's privacy in the name of love.

Izzy reminded me of Sara Gran's Claire DeWitt quite a bit, as if Claire had been raised by a family of detectives and quick doing every drug known to man once she left high school. Her dialogue and thought processes won me over in the first 10-15 pages. I love how she said things like "He was destined to be ex-boyfriend #9" when meeting Daniel while on a job. Izzy's battles against her family's constant surveillance manage to be hilariously outlandish while still being in the realm of possibility.

I think this book worked for me while other "humor" mysteries failed is the way it was structured, mostly being an exploration of the Spellman family rather than a straightforward mystery. Also, the tone was consistent. It didn't try to juxtapose comedy with grim violence or anything like that. It was a mystery that happened to have comedic elements, not a comedy with a lame mystery shoehorned into it.

With The Spellman Files, Lisa Lutz and her dysfunctional detective family have earned a place in my hearts and a future void in my wallet. Five out of five stars.

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Saturday, September 6, 2014

Murder is the Deal of the Day

Murder Is the Deal of the DayMurder Is the Deal of the Day by Robert J. Randisi
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

When two women are found dead, smothered on their couches with tapes of Claire Hunt and her Home Mall shopping show playing in their VCRs, Claire and her husband Gil decide to play detective and find the killer themselves...

I really wanted to like this. After a so-so experience with another Randisi novel, I had the chance to take part in a phone interview with Randisi and his wife, the co-author of this piece, Christine Matthews, and they were hilarious. Too bad the book wasn't great. I didn't precisely hate it but it was not good. Is that clear enough?

The book went back and forth between illogical and just annoying. First off, the police treat Claire like a suspect because a video of her was playing on the victim's TVs. What the hell kind of sense does that make? Beyond that, the police are just set dressing while Gil and Claire coo over one another and run around Saint Louis tracking down leads.

The blurb on the back compares Gil and Claire to Nick and Nora Charles of The Thin Man. Yeah, they're a married couple but they lack the alcohol and sense of humor that makes Nick and Nora so entertaining. They're much more like Spenser and Susan Silverman, except less competent or interesting. They were like that annoying couple you're friends with on Facebook who are constantly updating their status with crap like "I love my wonderful husband!" Getting reminded how perfect their relationship is on every other page got old really fast.

The writing was really bland. Randisi has a reputation for being one of the last pulp writers but I don't think they mean that in the Chandler-Hammett sense, more in the sense of how Walter Gibson could churn out 2 or 3 Shadow novels a month back in the day. Of course, when you're busting out one or more of those Gunsmith dirty westerns every month under a pen name, you don't have time for similes, metaphors, or colorful adjectives, I guess.

I enjoyed the St. Louis references and the fact that Gil owned a bookstore but that was pretty much it. I guess the story was engaging but when there are only two suspects and one of them has cutaway scenes, you pretty much know who's doing the killing. It wasn't total crap so I'm giving it a two. It's definitely not recommended, though. I think I'm done with Randisi unless I pick up one of his Gunsmith books for comedy reasons.

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Friday, September 5, 2014

Doctor Who: The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Time Traveller

The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Time TravellerThe Loneliness of the Long-Distance Time Traveller by Joanne Harris
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

While dying of radiation poisoning, the Doctor finds himself at The Village, a strange place where every day is April 8th and everyone must pretend to be happy or the Princess will strike them down...

I got this from Netgalley.

The latest Doctor Who Time Trip sees the Third Doctor find himself in The Village, a small town that resembles Oxfordshire that no one can leave. Doc Pertwee is portrayed true to form, complete with bow tie and frilly velvet coat. It's actually surprisingly deep for a Doctor Who short story.

The tone is somber, not surprising since the Doctor is heading back to earth to die and regenerate into Tom Baker.

Since it's a short story, that's all I'm prepared to reveal at this time. Unlike a lot of the Time Trips, this one feels authentic and is a very worthwhile addition to Who-lore. 3.5 out of 5 stars.

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The Deep

The DeepThe Deep by Nick Cutter
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

While a disease called The 'Gets ravages the surface world, a substance that may be the cure is being researched at an installation on the floor of the Marianas Trench. When one of the scientists requests his brother's help just before the communication system dies, Luke has no choice but to descend to the unknown depths and confront horrors he cannot imagine...

I got this from Netgalley.

That was one harrowing read. I thought Nick Cutter couldn't top The Troop. I was wrong. Not only did he top The Troop, he sunk it's feet in cement and dropped it in the deepest part of the ocean.

The Deep taps into man's fear of the unknown, fear of the dark, and fear of being alone. When Luke Ronnick descends to the ocean's bottom in a submersible, he's also slowly descending into madness.

I'm almost at a loss as to how to describe this book. It's a claustrophobic nightmare of one man's sanity unraveling when confronted with an alien horror eight miles below the ocean's surface. It took me forever to get through because I could only handle so much at a time. It reminds me of two John Carpenter films, The Thing and The Abyss, with some Stephen King thrown in.

I don't know what was worse: the creepy ass flashbacks, Luke's brother Clayton, or the alien horror that lurks in the deep.

Nick Cutter cuts very deep. 4.5 out of 5 stars.

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Saturday, August 30, 2014

In the Shadow of the Arch

In the Shadow of the Arch (Joe Keough Mysteries)In the Shadow of the Arch by Robert J. Randisi
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

After his police career in New York is ruined, Joe Keough moves to Saint Louis, Missouri, and gets a job with the Richmond Heights PD. An hour into his first day, a three year old boy walks into the police station, leaving a trail of bloody footprints. But he connected to the string of murder-kidnappings all over St. Louis count?

I had this book pushed on me several minutes after I was told Randisi would be a guest on The Review Board in coming weeks. So far, not impressed.

In the Shadow of the Arch had a lot of strikes against it going in. First off, I wasn't really keen on reading it. Secondly, it features a serial killer. These facts didn't consciously influence my opinion of the book but they probably didn't help.

Looks like I'm going to attempt the compliment sandwich approach to this review to lessen the blow. I loved a lot of the St. Louis details worked into the story. To me, New York is the city of skyscrapers I see on TV and two airports I've spent some time in. St. Louis is nearly my back yard so I was thrilled with the authenticity of cops calling the The West County Mall "The Bird Mall," and it was twelve kinds of awesome when Keough and Steinbach ate at Gingham's, the greasy spoon I used to eat at all hours of the night after seeing bands in dive bars.

Unfortunately, getting St. Louis cultural references was most of my enjoyment. First off, while the book was first published in 1998, the internet and cellphones are nonexistent. Not only that, wives are constantly deferring to their husbands, making this book feel like it took place in the late 1950's. Some of the St. Louis references also seemed a little off but the good far outweighed the bad on that score.

Those gripes, however, paled in comparison to Keough and the various St. Louis police departments. Apparently, despite St. Louis being nicknamed Murder City because of the crime rate, the STLPD ran around like a bunch of monkeys trying to fuck a football until supercop Keough took charge. Jackson makes incredible leaps of logic to figure out who the killer was before even Keough but he is killed before we ever get to find out how he did it! Keough was kind of an asshole but it didn't annoy me as much as his "New York Attitude" mentioned once every other page.

I said I was doing the compliment sandwich so I guess the other piece of bread will be it was a pretty engaging read despite the annoyances. I'll give Randisi the benefit of the doubt and not completely write him off just yet. Two out of five stars.

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Friday, August 29, 2014

Mucho Mojo

Mucho Mojo (Hap Collins and Leonard Pine, #2)Mucho Mojo by Joe R. Lansdale
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

When Leonard's Uncle Chester dies and leaves him a house, Hap and Leonard move in in order to fix it up and find a child's skeleton wrapped in a porno mag. Was Uncle Chester a child predator or was someone else the killer? And does it have anything to do with the crackhouse next door?

2014 Reread

Here we are, the second book in Joe Lansdale's redneck noir adventures of Hap Collins and Leonard Pine. While I had vague recollections of reading this sometime around the turn of the century, it was mostly a new book.

Leonard's Uncle Chester dies so the boys pack up and head to LaBorde to settle his affairs. While repairing his house, they stumble upon a child's skeleton and uncover a wasp's nest of religious-themed serial killing that has been going on for decades.

While the first book wasn't quite firing on all cylinders, this one roared down the track like one of those crazy tractors with four or five engines on it. Hap and Leonard's investigations come from the Spenser school of walking around, pissing people off, and eventually having the case come together in the midst of some bloodshed.

Some longtime supporting cast members were introduced in this volume, like Marvin Hanson and Florida. Marvin is also the star of Act of Love, a Lansdale that I still have yet to read but own at least two copies of. Like most of the early Hap and Leonard's, Hap and Leonard do a lot of philosophizing when they're not cracking wise or cracking skulls. This may account for the brevity of later volumes when Hap isn't such a bleeding heart. Also, this is the first time Leonard burns down a crackhouse, something that happens at least two more times in the series if I remember correctly.

The mystery is fairly intricate. I guessed part of it, both the first time and this time but forgot some of the wrinkles. I guess I'm lucky I remembered the details that I did considering it's probably been over a decade since I first read it. In fact, if the girlfriend I'd let borrow this book sometime years ago hadn't left a couple post-its in the book with notes on them, I probably would have been a little further afield than I was when all the shit went down.

Funny thing, I completely forgot about one character's death and was surprised when another one lived. Like I've said before, old books magically become new books once enough time passes.

Lansdale's really shows his chops in this one, writing like a backwoods Elmore Leonard. When the killers are revealed, their motives make a certain amount of sense, to me and Hap, at least. Leonard's not as kind was we are. The contrasting personalities of Hap and Leonard set them a cut above other buddy teams for my money.

Mucho Mojo is one of the best books of one of my favorite series. Five out of five stars.

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