Monday, September 30, 2013

Goodreads, The Universe, and Everything

It's been over a week now and I've already blogged about this situation here and here.  After five days, my import CSV file finally uploaded to Booklikes.  Out of 956, 948 reviews made the transition.  Aside from some links, everything seems to be fine.  However...

... Booklikes just isn't Goodreads.  Worse still, the things I love about Goodreads are noticeably absent.  There aren't any communities, you can't compare books, and the feed, God, the feed.  With less than 1/20th of the people I follow on Goodreads, the Booklikes feed is already nearly unreadable.  Reblogging is responsible for most it.  You can filter on reviews but when every post takes up the whole screen, it's kind of tough to get through everything.  Things get lost pretty easily.

The protests are just starting on Goodreads this week.  Judging by the small number of people involved compared to Goodreads' total number of users, it's probably not going to amount to much but I wish them well.  It would be great if Goodreads would apologize or at least admit it handled the situation poorly but I don't see that happening.  No amount of flagging reviews or writing protest reviews is going to suddenly make Otis and company say "We fucked up.  Let's switch everything back."

The funny thing, funny-strange, not funny-ha ha, is that all the changes people are requesting are things that Goodreads already does really well.  In keeping with my analogy from the previous blog entry, it's like trying to shape your new girlfriend into something resembling your old girlfriend. Either enjoy Booklikes for what it is or suck it up and try to make things work with Goodreads.

In other words,

This is just like when Facebook makes unannounced changes and people bitch about it for a couple weeks.  People talk like it's the greatest injustice in the history of the world and threaten to delete their accounts.  Then everyone gets over it and goes back to their normal Facebook habits.  This is very nearly the same scenario.  Either quit Goodreads cold turkey and stop jerking poor Booklikes around and make an honest effort with her or shut up and wait on Goodreads' doorstep with a bouquet of flowers and see if she'll take you back.

As for me, I'll be staying, as I said before.  I'm planning on keeping my head down, writing reviews, and making sarcastic remarks when appropriate, as per usual.  The sky isn't falling and Goodreads isn't the second coming of Hitler.  Every relationship has its rough patches and I'm confident Goodreads and I are going to make it through this one.  To paraphrase Walter White:

Thursday, September 26, 2013

More thoughts on the Goodreads situation

Like a lot of people, I've already blogged about this topic. Now I've had a few more days to think about it.

Goodreads stepped on their dicks on this issue. I think we can all agree on that. It seemed like they were trying to stop the feud between certain reviewers and whomever the authors behind the infamous bully stopping website are and went about it in the most wrong-headed way possible.

Does it suck? Yes. Does it violate our first amendment rights? No, that only applies to government as I understand it. Is it the end of free speech in America? No. It's just an asshole corporation doing asshole corporation things. Is Goodreads going to change anything no matter what we do? Probably not. The user base is so large Goodreads is now like a hydra. Even if all 13000 people in the feedback group deleted their accounts, more reviewers would just rise to take their places. I think Emily May's new profile pic is the most effective protest so far. Hard to ignore a cute girl with tape on her mouth.

Right now, a lot of us are at a crossroads. We're like that person in a bad relationship but isn't sure if they want to work things out or try something new.

Despite having this empty liquor bottle of an event hurled at me, I owe quite a bit to Goodreads. I wouldn't have met such great people, I wouldn't covet more books than I could read in a lifetime, and I wouldn't have my favorite living crime writer sending me ARCs every time he puts a new book out.

So I guess right now, I'm still seeing Goodreads but I'll continue looking Booklikes up and down like a piece of meat and occasionally sexting her. Until the next whisky bottle comes flying at my head...

Wednesday, September 25, 2013


HornsHorns by Joe Hill
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Ignatius Perrish's longtime girlfriend was murdered and the whole town thinks he did it but he's walking free because the evidence was destroyed. After an all night bender, he wakes up with horns sticking out of his head that allow him to hear the thoughts of others. When he learns the identity of Merrin's killer, things start spiraling out of control...

First off, the good points. Joe Hill's writing is a throwback to his father's early days, back when people had the guts to edit him and his still wrote like the bastard son of John D. McDonald and Richard Matheson. He paints an accurate picture of small town life and what it's like to lose the most important person in the world to you. Also, I found the sociopathic villain of the piece to be quite hate-worthy and couldn't wait for Ig to settle his account permanently.

And now, the rest. I don't know if it was the case of wrong book, wrong time for me but I felt like the book didn't know what it was trying to be. Is it a revenge story? Is it about how death can devastate a small town? I felt like the story kept wandering away from the parts I cared about. While I felt Ig's pain, I didn't think he was a very well developed character. Lee was the only character of any substance in the book.

Note that 2 stars does not mean I hated it. I felt it was okay but I couldn't help looking at the other unread books on my shelf and knowing I would enjoy a number of them more than this.

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Tuesday, September 24, 2013

My Thoughts on This Whole Goodreads Censorship Thing

Last Friday, Goodreads changed their policy regarding reviews that were about the author's behavior rather than the book and deleted some content from at least 21 users, igniting a shitstorm of mammoth proportions.

I've got some conflicting feelings on this issue.  I've had nothing but good interactions with Goodreads Authors but I know a lot of people have had some serious shit go down, like having authors call them and threaten them.

The loss of content without warning was a dick move on Goodreads' part but not that surprising since they started hiding author-centric reviews over the summer.  Also, some Goodreaders seem to be trouble magnets and stir the pot more than they should.

It does piss me off that nothing seems to have happened to the offending authors.  As I've said in the past, nothing good can come from an author coming down from his holy author mountain to take a reviewer to task.  Nothing.  What, is the reviewer going to change his opinion?  It just makes the author look like a bullying piece of shit.  Goodreads should not have catered to the demands of a lot of stalkery authors who repeatedly shit the bed and then claimed to have been bullied when it came time to pay the fiddler.

Most of the offending authors are self-published from what I've heard and therein lies the problem.  Instead of going through years of rejection, giving them the battle-hardened skin of a rhinoceros, they often get published the first time out and are a lot more sensitive to negative reviews.  Sorry, if your book has a shitty title and a shitty cover and is riddled with mistakes, I'm telling everyone.

Maybe part of the solution would to be to have a quality control system in place with POD publishers.  Won't happen but we could dream.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that if an author is a dick to you, don't buy or read any more of their books.  Problem solved.  No amount of back and forth is going to fix anything.  Vote with your pocket book and your reading time, people!

Saturday, September 21, 2013

The Turnaround

The TurnaroundThe Turnaround by George Pelecanos
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Way back in 1972, three white boys drove into the black part of town with an eye toward starting some trouble. One boy wound up dead and the lives of three boys were changed forever. Now it's forty years later and Charles Baker thinks someone owes him for the year he did in prison...

Once again, George Pelecanos serves up a tale of redemption and forgetting the past, set against his usual Washington DC backdrop. Of all the George Pelecanos books I've read, this one is the least like a crime novel, although it does have some crime elements, most of which have to do with Charles Baker.

Alex Pappas, diner owner, has a chance encounter with Raymond Monroe, one of the black boys involved in the incident in his past that left him scarred both emotionally and physically. Raymond's brother James is the one charged with the shooting of Pappas' best friend back in the 70's. Meanwhile, Charles Baker, friend of the Monroe boys, is a waste of skin who's living with the mother of an aspiring drug dealer and begins planning to take over the youth's drug business.

Like a lot of Pelecanos' novels, one of the themes in The Turnaround is that it's possible to rise above rough beginnings or let them drag you down. It's also about talking about cars, basketball, music, and the restaurant business.

There's not a lot I have to say about this novel. It's a character driven book, even more than most of Pelecanos' books, and there's not a whole lot that actually happens aside from Charles Baker trying to shake people down and getting out of his depth. That being said, I couldn't wait for someone to take Baker out.

I wasn't too excited about this one after reading the dust jacket and mostly read it to get it out of the way. It's more literary than most of Pelecanos' books and pretty well written. Three stars.

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Friday, September 20, 2013

The Way Home

The Way HomeThe Way Home by George Pelecanos
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Chris Flynn is a troubled youth from DC and after some brushes with the law, finds himself in reform school. Upon his release, he is walking the straight and narrow, working for his father, when he and a friend stumble upon a gym bag full of money on a carpet laying job. They don't take the money but it goes missing anyway and the owners come gunning for them. Can Chris stay on the right path or will he fall back into his old ways?

In The Way Home, Pelecanos revisits themes from some his earlier books: sons struggling to live up to the expectations of their fathers and how hard it is to not fall back into bad behavior patterns.

The book is split almost in half, the first half depicting Chris's life before and during reform school and the second portion details Chris's adult life, struggling to stay out of trouble. Cars, basketball, and music are the frequent topics of conversation, as per usual.

Chris Flynn, the lead, is a troubled man with a rocky relationship with his father. I think a lot of fathers want their sons to do better than they have but don't know how to go about encouraging them. I know mine didn't and neither did Chris's. I found myself relating a little too much to Chris, both before he went into reform school and the reformed outlook after he came out.

Like a lot of Pelecanos books, he takes a fairly standard crime plot, the found money, and uses it as a device to showcase his nuanced characters. Besides Chris, the rest of the cast is also a well realized group. Ali and Ben have become responsible since leaving reform school. Lawrence has not. Chris's father Thomas owns a carpet business and has a strained relationship with his son, both before and after reform school.

The villains of the piece were certainly vile but weren't that complicated and served more as plot devices than characters.

The ending reminded me of the ending of a few other Pelecanos books, most notably Drama City. In a lot of ways, The Way Home is Drama City 2.0. It had a very cinematic feel at times and I could easily picture it being made into a movie.

This one is right on the line of being a three or four. I guess I'm rounding up. I was tempted to drop it down to a 3 because it reminded me so much of Drama City but I still liked it quite a bit. 4 out of 5 stars.

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Thursday, September 19, 2013

The Night Gardener

The Night GardenerThe Night Gardener by George Pelecanos
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

In the bygone age of 1985, detective TC Cooke, with young cops Gus Ramone and Dan Holiday in tow, tried to save a string of murders dubbed the Palindrome Killer, aka the Night Gardener, and failed. Twenty years later, a murder with the same telltale characteristics occurs. Has the killer resurfaced? And can the three men, now in vastly different lives, crack the case?

The Night Gardener is a police procedural mystery set in Washington DC. At least, at first glance. It's really the tale of fathers and sons, secrets, and redemption. Gus Ramone, a veteran homicide cop, has his life shaken when a friend of his young son's turns up dead of a gunshot wound in a community garden. Since the young man's name is Asa and the situation is similar to the decades old Palindrome Killer crime, the police speculate there is a link. Retired cop TC Cooke and disgraced former cop Dan Holiday both get wind of it and launch an investigation of their own. Couple that with the story of some rival gangsters and a briefcase of stolen money and it's off to the races.

Much like the rest of George Pelecanos' novels, music, basketball, and car talk are often featured in the dialogue. Derek Strange's wife and dog make cameo appearances, as does Pelecanos himself as an unnamed passenger in a limo driven by Holiday. I kept waiting for one of the characters to get a drink at The Spot so would could check in with Nick Stefanos but it was not to be. Pelecanos revisits familiar themes like racism and what it's like to grow up black and poor in Washington DC.

As usual, his characters come right off the page. Ramone wants more than anything to keep his family safe. Holiday wants a chance at redemption. Cooke wants to solve the case that haunted the final days of his career. Even the bad guys were far from one dimensional. Several knew they were in over their heads and acted accordingly.

The revelation about Asa's death and what led him down that road were pretty hard hitting. The big gunfight was even more brutal than I thought it was going to be. The ending for the rest of the characters wasn't what I was expecting but was fitting.

Every time I return to the Washington DC of George Pelecanos, it's like I never left. As usual, Pelecanos kept me entertained for the duration. 3.5 out of 5 stars.

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Saturday, September 14, 2013

Deadman's Road

Deadman's RoadDeadman's Road by Joe R. Lansdale
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Deadman's Road is a collection of the tales starring Reverend Jebidiah Mercer, a gun-totting preacher in the Old Weird West. I think I've read most of the stories before in Dead in the West and The Shadows, Kith and Kin but since I don't remember much, it was like a brand new read.

Dead in the West: The Reverend rides into a town that's in the grips of a curse that makes the dead walk and crave the flesh of the living.

This is the story Lansdale used to introduce his Weird Western character, Jebidiah Mercer. Mercer is a conflicted preacher and is like a western version of Robert E. Howard's Solomon Kane. He's also quite a bit like Edward Eredlac's Merkabah Rider and Manly Wade Wellman's Silver John and I'm getting a nerd chubby thinking about the team up possibilities.

The story is a zombie splatterfest and if I was going to rate the entire book based on the first story, it would be an easy four. The pace is rip-roaring and the writing is pure Lansdale.

Deadman's Road: On the road to Nacogdoches, Mercer falls in with a deputy and his prisoner and runs afoul of an undead murderer with a beehive in his chest...

This is short story, more like a bump in the road for the Reverend. It relies on mood more than action and gore, through the gore is well written when it splatters on the page. I did notice that the Reverend is wielding two converted .44's instead of his old converted .36 from Dead in the West.

The Gentleman's Hotel: In a hotel full of ghosts, The Reverend and a young working woman named Mary prepare for a pack of werewolves to set upon them once it gets dark...

Mercer takes on Lansdale's version of werewolves. There were some nice touches, like oak hurting them, and the one ghost that was able to talk to the Reverend and Mary. It's becoming readily apparent that it's dangerous to be a friend of Reverend Mercer.

Crawling Sky: Mercer wanders into a town and finds a half-wit in a cage being pelted by rocks. Mercer frees the man and the two of them go to investigate the haint that killed the man's wife.

This was the creepiest story of the book. An ancient evil someone summoned and trapped escapes and starts eating people. I love the connections to HPL in the Mercer stories. Also, in addition to it being life threatening to be Mercer's friend, being his horse wouldn't be a safe occupation either.

The Dark Down There: A mining camp is terrorized by Kobolds and the Reverend aims to put a stop to them.

The final story in the book is a creepy bloodbath, kind of like a Dungeons and Dragons dungeon crawl with guns. Since it actually ends on a positive note, it was a good way to end the collection.

Closing remarks: Deadman's Road is a fun pulpy collection and Lansdale fans and weird western fans won't want to miss it. Four easy stars.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Catch and Release

Catch and ReleaseCatch and Release by Lawrence Block
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Catch and Release is a collection of Lawrence Block's short stories. As usual, I'll attempt to comment on them as I go.

A Burglar's Eye View of Greed: Bernie Rhodenbarr gives his thoughts on greed. It's a nice little window into his personality and makes me want to resume reading the Burglar series.

A Chance to Get Even: This is the story of a poker player who doesn't know how to bet more than he can afford to lose and keeps trying to climb out of the hole he's dug for himself.

A Vision in White: A man develops a fixation on a young beautiful tennis player.

Catch and Release: A former serial killer explains his catch and release philosophy, thinking of himself like a fisherman. Best short story of the collection. Chilling and creepy.

Clean Slate: This was a story that eventually grew and became Getting Off: A Novel of Sex and Violence, Kit Tolliver's systematic killing of every man she's ever slept with to restore her spiritual virginity.

Dolly's Trash and Treasures: This is a sad and creepy story about county workers trying to help a hoarder whose family has run out on her.

How Far: This is a one act play about a woman who wants to get her ex to stop bothering her. It's all dialog and all Block so it's pretty slick.

Mick Ballou Looks at a Blank Screen: Mick and Matthew Scudder talk about what happens after death and the Sopranos finale.

One Last Night at Grogan's: Mick Ballou closes Grogan's and invites Matt and Elaine to spend one last evening with him there. Still as touching as the first time I read it.

Part of the Job: A man searches for another man who's jumped to the competition with an important set of plans. This one was all about the ending, which I will not spoil here. The story behind the story is that someone gave Block a magazine with the story published in it and Block never remembered selling it.

Scenarios: Scenarios is an interesting tale of what might happen when a man meets a woman in a bar.

See the Woman: An elderly former cop recounts the tale of an abusive drunk and the wife that kept making excuses for him.

Speaking of Greed: A group of poker players swap stories about greed in this novella.

Speaking of Lust: A group of poker players swap stories about lust in this novella.

Welcome to the Real World: A retiree's routine is disrupted when another man suggests he play golf instead of just practicing at the driving range. As with P.G. Wodehouse, stories about golf are more interesting to me than actually watching it on TV.

Who Knows Where It Goes: An unemployed man tries a different line of work and thinks about how things change. Without spoiling too much, this could have been a very early Keller story.

Without a Body: This is the story of a murder and the aftermath from the victim's point of view.

The afterword tells the stories behind the stories; what Block had in mind while he was writing it, who he wrote it for, etc.

I'd say Catch and Release, the titular tale, was the best of the bunch but I didn't think any of them were duds. Unlike some Hard Case reprints, this one had the Hard Case feel throughout. Another winning Hard Case from Lawrence Block! Four stars!

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Sunday, September 8, 2013

Blogger Spotlight: Jazmen from ThisGirlReadsALot

I'm the featured blogger in the Blogger Spotlight at This Girl Reads a Lot today.  Since I answered Jazmen's questions, she was honor-bound to answer mine.

How did you discover Goodreads?
Honestly, I really don't remember it was more likely than not through a google search. I'm a google queen.

What have been your most memorable book reviewing experiences?
My most memorable reviewing experiences really only started happening when I began blogging. Authors have been
approaching me wanting me to review their books. I've been able to connect when authors through my more recent reviews and I find that pretty exciting!

Name one book blogger that more people should be aware of.
If I had to choose one I would probably chose Pam from Ya Escape Reality she's a consistent follower and commenter and I always appreciate that especially since I'm fairly new at this blogging thing.

How many books do you own?
Ha that's hysterical. How much time do you have? I couldn't put a number on it but definitely more than 100.

Who is your favorite author?
My favorite author right now is Anne Eliot. I have so many but I just recently discovered her and I think her work is pretty
darn fantastic!

What is your favorite book of all time?
Hmm...When I was Puerto Rican by Esmeralda Santiago.

What are your thoughts on ebooks?
I was dead set on hating them but I've come around and I now find them useful and I welcome them.

What are your thoughts on self-publishing?
It's something I stand behind. Just because a major publishing company doesn't believe in what you wrote or whatever the reason doesn't mean you should give up. You do what you have to do to get your work out there. Some of the best books I've read this year have been self published.

Any literary aspirations?
I've always wanted to be a writer. Always. I just recently buckeled down and starting writing my first book. I happen to think it's going to be great! :P

Monday, September 2, 2013

Batman: Death of the Family

Batman, Vol. 3: Death of the FamilyBatman, Vol. 3: Death of the Family by Scott Snyder
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

After disappearing for a year, the Joker returns with a vengeance, striking at Batman where it hurts the most: his family! Can Batman stop the Joker from murdering his friends and family without killing him?

I got this from Netgalley. Thank you, Netgalley!

Here we are again, another phenomenal Batman tale from Scott Snyder. This time, he utilizes an old Bat-foe, The Joker, and sets him against the Bat-family. How does he do?

Snyder passes with flying colors. Death of the Family is the best Joker story since The Killing Joke. The Joker hits Batman where he lives, taking out Commissioner Gordon and Alfred with relative ease and sowing the seeds of mistrust within the Bat-family.

Snyder did his homework on this one, referencing some early Batman tales and bringing in A-list Batman villains to help, namely Penguin, Two-Face, and the Riddler. I was hoping he'd bring in Catwoman and we'd get an homage to the 60's Batman movie where he had a shark hanging from his leg but we can't have everything.

The Joker was a very chilling villain in this volume, capable of taking out members of the GCPD in the police station without seeming like a super hero. There's a fair amount of psychological horror in this one and at the end, it's hard to shake the feeling that the Joker did what he set out to do, to sow discord between Batman and his extended family.

The art and writing were superb. Capullo has come a long way since X-Force days and Snyder is still the lone comic writer on my must read list. Four out of five stars. Bat-fans will not want to miss.

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Dinocoalypse Now

Dinocalypse Now (Dinocalypse Trilogy, #1)Dinocalypse Now by Chuck Wendig
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

After receiving a tip that FDR is going to be assassinated, the Century Club spring into action, only to find they've been led into a trap! Psychic dinosaurs invade the world from seven dimensional portals, led by Khan, the Conqueror Ape, and his simian horde! But who is pulling Khan's strings? And can his son, Professor Khan of the Century Club, help his friends defeat his father and avert the Dinocalypse?

Psychic dinosaurs, talking apes, yes, this book is that much fun. Set in the world of Evil Hat's Spirit of the Century RPG, the real kind, not the video game kind, Dinocaypse Now is a tribute to the pulp magazines of the 1930's, from it's relentless action to it's intentionally purple prose.

The characters are an interesting mix. There's Sally Slick, a smart inventor who resembles Rosie the Riveter, Mack Silver, the pilot/Doc Savage type, Jet Black, the stand-in for The Rocketeer, Benjamin Hu, mystic detective, Professor Khan, the talking gorilla who's also a teacher at Oxford, and Amelia Stone, lady Indiana Jones.

The plot is pretty simple. Super-villains, supposedly led by Khan the Conqueror, are capturing members of the Century Club and subjugating the world with psychic dinosaurs. However, there's someone lurking in the shadows with a much more sinister plan.

Like I said, it's a lot of fun and didn't have much chance of being otherwise with all the dinosaurs and talking apes in it. Wendig works some modern sensibilities in as well. Sally Slick is no shrinking violet, that's for sure. I was really glad the love triangle between her, Silver, and Jet Black didn't become the focal point of the story. Professor Khan wound up being my favorite characters, his jungle instincts conflicting with his academic nature.

If I had to complain about something, it would be that a lot of characters seemed like archetypes rather than characters. However, since this is a pulp homage, that's the nature of the beast. Speaking of beasts, I already have one of the subsequent books, Khan of Mars, heading my way.

Dincalypse Now is a non-stop fun read. 3.5 out of 5 stars.

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Sunday, September 1, 2013

Drama City

Drama CityDrama City by George Pelecanos
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Lorenzo Brown, dog catcher and ex-con, struggles to keep from falling back into his old ways, while his parole officer, Rachel Lopez, has some problems of her own. What will happen when two drug factions get into a dispute and Brown and Lopez find themselves caught in the crossfire?

Drama City is a throwback to George Pelecanos DC Quartet. While it's a crime book, it's also a story of life in Washington, DC. In this case, it's the story of a black man trying not to fall back into a life of dealing drugs and a parole officer trying not to let her life go up in flames due to her addictions to sex and booze.

Brown and Lopez are both deeply conflicted characters. It could be that Brown's love of animals and feels toward the young woman and her little girl that he sees every day while walking his dog are all the keeps him from his old life of violence. Lopez has never been in an equal relationship and the idea of one scares her.

Brown's friend from his youth, Nigel Johnson, is a fairly powerful drug dealer. After a minor turf dispute with a rival dealer's thugs, things begin building and Lorenzo is pulled in when he breaks up a dog fighting ring. Melvin Lee, one of the thugs he runs across, shares his parole officer.

Father figures and growing up without a father play important roles in Drama City. Rico Miller, psychopath that he is, sees Melvin as a father figure, and therein is the source of much of the drama that happens in the story. Nigel Johnson sees himself as a father figure to Michael Butler, and when Michael winds up dead, things quickly escalate.

There isn't a lot of action in Drama City. Most of the events are of the emotional sort, but when the violence comes, it is brutal. I love the twist at the end with Nigel and Lorenzo.

Most of Pelecanos' books have a cinematic feel but Drama City felt the most like a movie to me so far. Like something that would probably be nominated but not win an Academy Award.

As with all Pelecanos books, there are a lot of music references and a fair amount of car talk. Derek Strange and his dog make an uncredited cameo appearance early on. Well, Greco is named but not Strange. One thing I noticed is that Pelecanos doesn't often point out skin color to describe characters so you might not realize someone is or isn't white right away.

Like I said earlier, Drama City feels like a throwback to the DC Quartet to me. Four out of five stars.

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