Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Review: Death of the Mallory Queen

Death of the Mallory Queen Death of the Mallory Queen by Lawrence Block
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When Mavis Mallory, owner and operator of Mallory Mystery Magazine shows up at the home/office of Leo Haig, she has one odd task in mind for the detective and his young assistant, Chip Harrison: find out who murdered her.

I was looking for a way to avoid coworkers while eating my lunch and found this Lawrence Block short on my kindle. It was a very enjoyable way to avoid human contact.

First off, Leo Haig and Chip Harrison are Lawrence Block's homage to Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin. Haig is obsessed with tropical fish instead of gardening and Chip Harrison is obsessed with chasing skirts.

Death of the Mallory Queen is a satirical throwback to the mysteries they don't publish many of these days. Mavis knows she is going to be killed and wants to make sure whomever does the deed gets punished. The story's primary setting is a mystery convention and all of the suspects are modeled after real people in the mystery genre, like Mickey Spillane, Otto Penzler, and others.

The conclusion was as outlandish as those in the mystery novels it parodies. The case was okay but I really enjoyed the interplay between Leo Haig and Chip Harrison. I'll have to pick up more of their adventures at some point. Four out of five stars.

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Monday, July 25, 2016

Review: Lion's Pride: The Turbulent History of New Japan Pro Wrestling

Lion's Pride: The Turbulent History of New Japan Pro Wrestling Lion's Pride: The Turbulent History of New Japan Pro Wrestling by Chris Charlton
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Lion's Pride is the story of New Japan Pro Wrestling.

As with a lot of guys my age who were wrestling fans during the 1980s and 1990s, Japanese wrestling always held some mystique. I didn't see a single Japanese wrestling match until the dawn of the internet made it much easier to get tapes and such. Lion's Pride lifts the veil and reveals the inner workings of one of Japan's biggest wrestling organizations.

As with all talk of Japanese wrestling, the book starts with Rikidozan and the Japanese Wrestling Association. From there, it follows the career of Antonio Inoki and his formation of New Japan. The many exoduses of talent are covered and New Japans ups and downs are many. Antonio Inoki, like many owner-wrestlers, booked himself over the rest of the talent time and time again. It's a wonder New Japan survived long enough for him to retire.

The book talked a lot of the creation of stars like Tatsumi Fujinami and Riki Choshu in the 1980s, Keiji Muto, Masa Chono, and Shinya Hashimoto in the 1990s, and Tanahashi and others for the new millennium. The book concludes in 2015, with the rise of Bullet Club and the launch of New Japan's streaming service.

Lion's Pride was really informative, highlighting some backstage stuff I wasn't privy to and expanding on a lot of things I'd only read about on Wikipedia. The writing was pretty good for a book of this type. I did think the organization was a little weird, deviating from the main narrative to talk about completely unrelated things. For the most part, however, the book did what it set out to do. Three out of five stars.

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Sunday, July 24, 2016

Review: Night of the Living Trekkies

Night of the Living Trekkies Night of the Living Trekkies by Kevin David Anderson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

When a zombie outbreak hits a Star Trek convention, it's up to Jim Pike, hotel manager, to get his sister and her friends out alive...

This showed up in my ebook deals a couple days ago. I'm a Star Trek fan and I liked zombies before the concept was run into the ground so this promised to be some brain-chomping good fun.

And it was. There are plenty of Star Trek references for the Trekkers and lots of zombie goodness for the fans of the reanimated. When you've got Klingons, a woman dressed like Princess Leia in the bikini from Return of the Jedi, and a red shirt named Willy Makit, you can't help but have a good time. While the Star Trek piece supplies the humor of the book, it doesn't go to a ridiculous level and the zombies still feel like a viable threat.

Jim Pike, a veteran of Afghanistan, denies the depths of his Star Trek fandom until it counts, and he steps into his Captain's tunic admirably. The book wound up feeling like Die Hard with zombies more than anything else.

Night of the Living Trekkies is a fun diversionary read. 3.5 out of 5 stars.

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Friday, July 22, 2016

Review: Labyrinth

Labyrinth Labyrinth by Yoshinori Shimizu
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

An amnesiac is given an experimental treatment by a specialist, reading various accounts of a violent sex crime, in order to regain his memories. But is he the killer? And is the treatment for something more sinister? Who is the specialist?

I got this from Netgalley

I'm not really sure about this one. I got it from Netgalley because it sounded bizarre and it was. I'm not precisely sure how to describe it.

Labyrinth starts in a hospital with a patient being given an experimental treatment in order to restore his memories. The bulk of the book is told in newspaper articles, interviews with people who knew the victim and the killer, statements to police, and even fictionalized accounts of a gruesome murder/mutilation.

I'm not sure if the identity of the patient is supposed to be a mystery since pretty much everyone will guess who he is in the first ten pages. The identity of the specialist wasn't overly mysterious either.

Maybe something was lost in translation, it was translated from Japanese, but I'm not sure what this book was trying to be. It seemed to be about identity and the senselessness of some crimes but I felt more confused by it than anything else. 2.5 out of 5 stars.

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Thursday, July 21, 2016

Time out of Joint

Time Out of JointTime Out of Joint by Philip K. Dick
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

While the rest of the world toils at their jobs, Ragle Gumm stays at home, his sole source of income a daily newspaper contest called "Where will the little green man appear next?" When odd things start happening, Ragle thinks he may be having a nervous breakdown. Is he or is it something much more sinister?

Of course it is something more sinister. This is a Philip K. Dick novel.

A Dickhead at work has been after me for years to read this. After mindbending reads like The Great Forgetting, Dark Matter, and The Mirage, the road I was on was leading to Dick anyway so I gave this a shot.

First off, the things I didn't care for: The prose was really bland and the pace was a little slow for a 250 page book with huge type. As for the rest of it, I liked it quite a bit. I wish the Goodreads summary and the back cover blurb hadn't spoiled the big twist, though.

Time out of Joint reads like an exceptionally paranoid Twilight Zone episode. Most aspects of Ragle Gumm's life are staged in order to keep him pacified and focused on "Where will the little green man appear next?" It's a conspiracy of massive proportions that safeguards America at the cost of Ragle Gum's day to day life.

When I picked up the book, I had no idea it would wind up being about a war between Earth and its colonies on the moon. Ragle Gum gradually pieces together what's really going on and tries to get the hell out of town. A lot of reviewers mention the Truman Show and it is about like that, only much crazier.

While I didn't think it was awesome, I did enjoy Time out of Joint. It's a literary ancestor to books like The Great Forgetting and Pines. Three out of five stars.

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The Q&A That Melted Everything: Ten Questions with Tiffany McDaniel

Today's guest is Tiffany McDaniel, author of The Summer that Melted Everything.

The Summer That Melted Everything reads like a lost classic, not a first novel.  Where the hell did you come from?
First off, thanks for the “lost classic” compliment.  I’m not deserving of that at all.  But I should say that while The Summer that Melted Everything is my debut being my first published novel, it’s actually the fifth or sixth novel I’ve written.   Truth is I have the ‘struggling to get published’ narrative that so many authors have.  I wrote my first novel when I was eighteen-years-old.  I wouldn’t get a publishing contract until I was twenty-nine.  It was eleven years of rejection and despair.  I lived in the abyss that is home to so many unpublished authors.  The genre I write, which is literary fiction, is not a genre publishers are happy to take a risk on. Literary fiction isn’t seen as being as lucrative as commercial fiction is.  It was even more difficult for them to take a risk on me, because my writing tends to be of the darker variety.  Dark literary fiction is not an easy sell to publishers, even though time and time again readers have proven to publishers that they have an appetite for this type of fiction.  I will say that with all the rejection, I began to fear I’d never be published.  I know I’m very fortunate to be in the position I am now about to see one of my novels on the shelf for the first time.  Publishing moves at a snail’s pace unfortunately, so the novel has been moving through the publishing house for the past two years getting its cover, blurbs, the whole publisher wheel turning.  I’m thirty-one now, so with all the years added up I’ve been waiting thirteen long years to see a book on the shelf.  So to answer your question of where the hell I’ve come from.  Well… I’ve finally come in from the dark.

Who are your biggest influences?
I read the literary heavyweights late in life, having spent my childhood and adolescence reading R.L. Stine.  I was a kid of the 90s so I grew up on his Goosebumps and Fear Street series.  Furthermore, I’ve been writing since I was a kid, so I can’t say any one author or book influenced me.  But I will say I’ve always had a bit of a cemetery gaze and have always been drawn to that southern gothic literature with its crooked crickets in the steamy field atmosphere.  Flannery O’Connor, Shirley Jackson, that old-soul myth telling of Ray Bradbury.  Nathaniel Hawthorne, Edgar Allan Poe, and even Harper Lee.  You know, all those authors and stories I think the crow would carry on its wings to a dilapidated mansion on the banks of a swamp.  All these authors I’ve mentioned, they are the true masters of the craft.  I’m a rambling fool with a broken tambourine compared to these authors.  How can we all not learn something from them?  On the whole, they’re the power lines that fuel the light I write by.

Have you experienced a horrible heat wave at some point?  The atmosphere was dead on.
The novel actually came about the summer I was twenty-eight.  It was one of those Ohio summers that I just felt like I was melting.  All my flesh and bone just liquefying and dropping to the ground, not even my soul able to escape the melt.  So that was how the title was born.  I’ll say I had a lot of fun writing about the heat.  As an author, I was challenged to write about sweat in different ways.  To describe perspiration and heat so it didn’t get repetitive.  Perhaps one of the reasons I could describe the heat was because I grew up in an older house without air conditioning.  We just couldn’t afford it, so we stayed cool by opening windows and using fans.  I’ve only had central air for the past two years or so.  Because I grew up with the heat, I still prefer opening a window instead of turning the air on.  Once you’ve known the heat, you kind of miss it when it’s not around.
Are you a plotter, pantser, or something in between?
I’m a pantser for sure.  I curse outlines.  For me, writing the idea down beforehand causes that idea to rot.  Instead I just sit at the laptop and type.  Each new word and page evolves the story.  I never know the direction the story is going to take or who the characters will be or do until I write that very last line.  I surprise myself throughout writing the story.  I don’t like to tame my story, and sometimes when you plan everything out you are taming the story in a way.  I don’t want a domesticated house cat for a novel.  I want a wild tiger I can feast on the jungle with.    

How long did it take you to write The Summer That Melted Everything?
I wrote it in a month.  On average it takes me a month to write a novel.  I’ve written one novel, Because of the Indians, in eight days.  Still not sure how that happened.  The thing about me is I like to get the story out as quick as I can.  I don’t like it waiting for too long.  I like to get the beginning, middle, and end down on the page and then spend more time polishing the language later.

If money was no object, who would you cast in the movie version?
I’d like to see Kate Winslet as Stella.  I think she has the ability to capture Stella’s emotional ache.  But also maybe Cate Blanchett.  Autopsy is a tall man, intelligent, elegant and I still haven’t really concreted who I think would be best.  For older Fielding perhaps Anthony Hopkins, Jeff Bridges, Sam Shepherd, even Jack Nicholson who I’ve loved since his turn as Jack Torrance (The Shining).  I think the younger characters will have to be filled by newcomers based on their age range of 13-18 years old.  For Fedelia perhaps Meryl Streep or Dame Judi Dench.  I feel as I’m naming these actors off that they don’t sound like they fit, but I think that’s true with any character in any book.  We all have those images in our heads of what the characters look like.  It’s difficult to line up an actor right away.  I will say I do hope the novel is translated to the screen.  I love film, and I write screenplays, so to me film just adds another layer to the story.  

I caught the Stephen King references.  What's your favorite King book?
I know it’s terrible to say being as I am an author, but I love the films based on King’s books more than the books themselves.  One of my favorite films of all is Stanley Kubrick’s version of The Shining.  I love Misery as well.  Shawshank Redemption, Delores Claiborne, The Secret Window.  I was a kid drawn to horror and spider webs, and remember watching Creepshow if only to pine over the skeleton image on the VHS’s cover.  Creepshow is of course mentioned in my novel, as is Cujo.  I felt like the references to King in my novel fit so well because of the 1980s setting and the fact that when I was a kid King was one of those authors that the adults in my life always said I was too young for.          

What are some of your favorite books? 
I want to be buried with Dandelion Wine so I can take an old friend with me into the next life, or at the very least so my ghost has something great to read.  I love all of Bradbury’s writing, but Dandelion Wine is my favorite of his.  I love Shirley Jackson’s entire collection as well.  She’s a piano in a storm, that one.  The first Jackson novel I read was We Have Always Lived in the Castle and that has remained a novel that is still my favorite of hers today.  I really like The Secret History by Donna Tartt and Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro.  A Good Man is Hard to Find by Flannery O’Connor who is the true gothic and the true southern.  I read Agatha Christie, especially when I’m looking for a reliable author.  I also really love James Wright’s Collected Poetry, Above the River.  Wright was a poet from my land of Ohio.  Eternity isn’t long enough to love his poetry.  Eternity isn’t long enough to love any of these authors and their words.      
What are you reading now?
Let Me Tell You: New Stories, Essays, and Other Writings by Shirley Jackson.

What's next on your plate?
I have eight completed novels.  The novel I’m hoping to follow The Summer that Melted Everything up with is When Lions Stood as Men.  It’s about a Jewish brother and sister who escape Nazi Germany, flee across the Atlantic, and end up in my land of Ohio.  While here they create their own camp of judgment where they serve as both the guards and the prisoners.  It’s a story about surviving guilt, love, and in essence the sins we create together.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Review: The Summer That Melted Everything

The Summer That Melted Everything The Summer That Melted Everything by Tiffany McDaniel
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

During a heat wave in the summer of 1984, Fielding Bliss's father invites the devil to town. When a 13 year old boy shows up claiming to be the devil, the Ohio town of Breathed will never be the same again...

I passed on this when I originally saw it on Netgalley, mostly because of Autopsy Bliss's name. Seriously? Autopsy? Anyway, Tiffany McDaniel emailed me a review request, mentioning how hard it was for first time authors to get reviews, and I caved in after my Grinch-like heart grew two sizes.

I honestly had no idea what to expect with this but I knew I'd struck gold right away. I read a lot of books where the prose is nothing spectacular. I could tell this one was special from the first paragraph or so.

The Summer That Melted Everything is Paradise Lost written by Flannery O'Connor, a southern Gothic tale with the power of a hurricane. It's a tale of families, racism, religion, small town mob mentalities, the evil that people hold in their hearts, and a lot of other serious themes.

The Summer That Melted Everything is Fielding Bliss' fall from grace, from being an optimistic 13 year old to be a broken adult decades later. The devil's arrival, Sal's arrival, turns his life upside town.

The Bliss family and their relationship with Sal fuels the narrative. Fielding Bliss and Sal are fast friends. Sal, devil or not, is wise beyond his years. Father Autopsy is a lawyer and mother Stella is a homemaker who is afraid to go outside. Brother Grand is good at everything, seemingly the boy every girl wants to be with. Sal's arrival changes all of them irrevocably.

There is a lot of emotional packed into this book and it sure dredged up some emotions in me. The part with the dog was just the tip of the emotional iceberg. It's thought provoking and has some serious weight to it. As I wrote earlier, it reads a lot like Flannery O'Connor and I felt wrung out after reading it.

The building hysteria of the townsfolk toward Sal reminds me of Needful Things a bit. I had no idea how the book would end but I knew it would be comparable to the destruction of Castle Rock. And it was. The last 20% was like watching the end of Old Yeller four or five times.

The Summer that Melted Everything is a first novel that reads like a lost classic. A bleak, emotional classic. Five out of Five stars.

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