Sunday, March 24, 2019

Review: The Elephant of Surprise

The Elephant of Surprise The Elephant of Surprise by Joe R. Lansdale
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

When Hap and Leonard run across a mutilated albino girl on a dark and stormy night, they soon have some unsavory characters on their asses like a dog on a pile of cat shit. Can Hap and Leonard save the day, even as LaBorde becomes a flooded ghost town?

The baddest mother fuckers in east Texas are back and balls deep in trouble, like always. I was actually on the fence about reading this one. The last couple Hap and Leonard books haven't been up to snuff, in my opinion. However, I'm pleased to say this one had a little more substance to it.

In The Elephant of Surprise, Hap and Leonard go up against the Dixie Mafia, a hurricane, and old age to protect Nikki, an albino girl who knows too much. Helping them is Manny, the take no shit lady cop minding the LaBorde PD while Marvin Hanson is out of town.

There's a sense of desperation in The Elephant of Surprise that has been lacking in Hap and Leonard's adventures lately. There aren't as many quips and the guys aren't as confident as they once were. A martial artist gets the better of them and Hap even misses some shots. While Hap and Leonard never pull a Danny Glover and say "I'm too old for this shit," the subtext is flashing like a neon sign. Without spoiling too much, there are a couple siege-like scenes that drive home the fact that while Hap and Leonard are still capable, they aren't the super heroes they once were.

Joe Lansdale's writing is as great as it ever was with colorful similes and great dialogue. While I've found some of his recent works not quite up to snuff, I've never felt that way about his writing. I'd read a cookbook if Joe wrote it.

The Elephant of Surprise was a notch better than the previous two or three Hap and Leonard books. I hope for the sake of the characters and the reputation of the series, this is the last one. 3.5 out of 5 stars.

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Thursday, February 14, 2019

Review: The Legend of Zelda: Art & Artifacts

The Legend of Zelda: Art & Artifacts The Legend of Zelda: Art & Artifacts by Nintendo
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

My wife and I both dismiss Valentine's Day as a commercial holiday. When I got home from work yesterday, she surprised me with this. Luckily I'd gotten her a t-shirt with that caterpillar from the Labyrinth on it so I wasn't caught empty-handed.

The Legend of Zelda series is my favorite video game series of all time and I have fond memories of gazing at the art in the manuals and promotional materials. This book is treasure trove of Zelda art. It's a weighty tome at over 400 pages and I bet there are less than 4000 words in the entire thing, all occurring in an interview with artists on the series at the very end of the book.

Every page is packed with art. There are concept sketches, promotional art, box art, art from the manuals, even pixel art from the games themselves. Every game, from the original Legend of Zelda to the most recent game, Breath of the Wild, is well-represented. I don't have the Zelda II manual anymore but I think some of the art for it came from issues of the Nintendo Fun Club Magazine, the precursor to Nintendo Power. Is Nintendo Power still being published? Anyway, every character, every enemy, and even every magical item is depicted. I can't imagine a better source of Zelda art than this book. Four out of five Triforces.

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Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Review: Recursion - SPOILERS

Recursion Recursion by Blake Crouch
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Your best bet is to go into this cold. I've marked it this entire reviews as having spoilers. If you read the review now, it's your own damn fault.

In a world where False Memory Syndrome is slowly becoming an outbreak, Detective Barry Sutton watches a woman kill herself, driven mad by her memories of another life. What horrible secrets will Barry uncover when he follows her back trail?

Blake Crouch has been a favorite of mine for a few years, first because of the Wayward Pines series, then Dark Matter. When I saw Recursion was up on Netgalley, it was a no-brainer.

One of my favorite late night topics when I was in college, still easily capable of staying up until the small hours on a daily basis, was whether or not time travel might be possible in an altered state of consciousness, going back to an earlier point in your own timeline. What would you do if you could go back in time and change a pivotal event in your life? We've all asked ourselves that question, sometimes multiple times a day. But how often do you ask yourself about the repercussions around you, the ripples spreading throughout the pond? That's the well Blake Crouch draws from in Recursion.

In the early goings, Detective Sutton lifts up rocks and sees the bugs scattering, revealing a vast enterprise built on accessing memories and shifting people back in time. Can the man himself be tempted by what time travel has to offer?

Duh, of course he is! While it seems great at first, the book quickly becomes race after race against time, trying to outrun and undo the consequences of unfettered time travel. I've given this an easy five but it's not quite a perfect sf thriller. My only gripe is that Helena and Barry fall in love too easily. Insta-love, as the kids used to call it. Also, it leans on an episode of The Outer Limits just a tad.

Anyway, apart from that, this one is balls to the wall. Once the memory chair plans are leaked, things quickly become a shit storm of ultimate proportions. Barry and Helena spend timeline after timeline trying to set things right, only to be disappointed, only to learn, finally, that the best way to save the world is to leave it alone.

Blake Crouch has made an art out of taking an interesting sci-fi hook and wrapping an engaging thriller around in. Recursion may be his best one yet. Five out of five stars.

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Saturday, February 2, 2019

Review: Fletch

Fletch Fletch by Gregory McDonald
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

When posing as a drug addict on the beach to find out the source of the beach's main dealer, Fletch is hired by a rich man dying of cancer to kill him. But does Alan Stanwyk really have cancer? That's what Fletch wants to find out...

I've watched both Fletch movies but not for a couple decades at least. When this popped up on one of my cheap-o ebook emails, I snapped it up.

Fletch the book is a pretty good dialogue-driven mystery. Fletch the character is a smooth talker, a man not afraid to tell bold faced lies to get the information he wants. While he shares the dry deliver of Chevy Chase from the movie Fletch, he's no Chevy Chase. There are no shots of Fletch falling down, no acting like an idiot, no Doctor Rosenpenis. The I.M. Fletchter of the book is a much darker character, a Vietnam vet who treats people like crap and throws cats out of seven story windows if the mood strikes him. He also shares a sleeping bag with a fifteen year old junkie on the beach.

Like the movie, the book is full of quotable dialogue. I eventually quit highlighting things and just tore through the book. It's very readable and probably 75% dialogue. It tipped to what was going on in both plot threads but I wasn't very far ahead of Fletch. I enjoyed it while I was reading it but not enough to grab another book in the series. Hell, the ending makes it seem like there shouldn't be any more books. I imagine McDonald caved to pressure to write more, though.

Fletch is a lot darker than the movie version but still an enjoyable read. 3.5 out of 5 stars.

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Thursday, January 31, 2019

Review: The Stranger Beside Me: Ted Bundy: The Shocking Inside Story

The Stranger Beside Me: Ted Bundy: The Shocking Inside Story The Stranger Beside Me: Ted Bundy: The Shocking Inside Story by Ann Rule
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Like half the planet, my wife and I watched the Ted Bundy series on Netflix. For some reason, I decided I wanted more so I picked this up. Even though I scared the shit out of myself as a kid watching 20/20, Unsolved Mystery, and Dateline, true crime books aren't normally my thing. This one was an easy, compelling read.

I find it fascinating that Ann Rule knew Ted Bundy and was writing a book about the Washington killings at the same time. Anyway, this book serves up a lot more information than the Netflix documentary series. It works a lot of gruesome details into the mix as well as eyewitness statements and elaborates on a lot of the points the documentary glosses over. It also mentions things that the documentary completely ignored, like some attacks Bundy perpetrated before the killing spree ever started, or the Idaho murders he confessed to.

The documentary is slanted a bit to make Ted Bundy look highly intelligent. In the book, it's pretty apparent that while he was smart, luck and the negligence of people around him were big factors to his getting away with things for so long. You know, maybe keep your eye on the accused murderer who has already escaped once? Or keep an eye on the hacksaws in your jail?

Ann Rule's perceptions of Ted Bundy effectively highlight his chameleon like abilities to snowball people and blend in anywhere. The details of the murders show what a cold blooded bastard he was. He's not a folk hero or a heart throb, people! Ted Bundy's trial is a damn circus. Yeah, we all know the mother fucker was guilty but it was a damn circus. It was like letting Charlie defend himself on an episode of It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia.

While I won't say I actually enjoyed it, The Stranger Beside Me was a gripping true crime book.
Four out of five stars.

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Sunday, January 27, 2019

Review: The Topless Tulip Caper

The Topless Tulip Caper The Topless Tulip Caper by Lawrence Block
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

When a stripper hires Leo Haig to find out who killed her fish, Chip Harrison finds himself at a strip club when another of the dancers is killed. Are the killings linked? Can Leo Haig find out who is behind them before Chip Harrison winds up in the soup?

The Topless Tulip Caper is from Lawrence Block's earlier, hornier period. I learned about it from his books about writing years ago and it has been under the back seat of my car for at least a couple years. Fortunately, I needed a book in a hurry and I was able to rescue it and read the first half in the waiting room while my wife was at her eye doctor appointment.

Leon Haig and Chip Harrison are Lawrence Block's homage to Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin, only Haig is into fish instead of orchids and Chip is a walking hard-on who sells their adventures to Gold Medal.

Chip is Leo's leg man and in this adventure, makes numerous visits to a strip club. Tulip Willing's fish die and her roommate and fellow dancer, Cherry Bounce, meets the reaper as well. Chip employs the classic GOYAKOD method: Get Off Your Ass and Knock On Doors. There's some humor, some smut, and lots of entertainment.

Even in the bygone age of 1975, Lawrence Block was a master of misdirection, more than capable of pulling the wool over my eyes 40+ years later. My wife and I were sitting in the living room and I said "I have no idea who killed this stripper's fish." I thought I had an inkling but had my theory shot down when that person didn't get invited to Leo Haig's big reveal party.

While it is by no means my favorite Lawrence Block book, The Topless Tulip Caper certainly made passing the time in the doctor's office go by faster and the rest was a great way to kill a couple hours on a gloomy Sunday afternoon. 3.5 out of 5 stars.

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Friday, January 25, 2019

Review: The Prey of Gods

The Prey of Gods The Prey of Gods by Nicky Drayden
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In a near future South Africa, an ancient goddess launches a plan to regain her lost glory by any means necessary...

The Prey of Gods isn't one of those books that is easy to sum up. My little teaser is the bare bones but it's a lot more than that. Told in five more or less parallel threads, it is a story about identity at the heart. Sure, it has awesome things like free-willed robots, goddesses, and a cross-dressing senator with some golden pipes, but it's about identity at its core.

This book gripped me from the first page. It's future South African setting leaped to life. I had no trouble believing in the characters or the world. Muzi struggles with his impending manhood ritual and his feeling for his best friend, Elkin. Nomvula struggles with her mother, a nearly catatonic woman who rarely speaks. Wallace Stoker struggles with his future in the government and his other identity, a golden-voiced diva named Felicity Lyons. And Riya Natrajan, pop idol, struggles with her secret past and secret illness. Oh, and there's the murderous goddess, awakened AI robots, a drug called godsend, and all those pesky dik-diks running amock. You know, run of the mill stuff like that...

The Prey of the Gods is one of those loaded books, like a baked potato with every imaginable topping in existence thrown on it - great concepts, interesting characters, and stellar writing. The pace is great and the twists kept me rapt. It was the best sf/fantasy novel I've read in a long time. 4.5 out of 5 stars.

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