Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Barmy in Wonderland

Barmy in WonderlandBarmy in Wonderland by P.G. Wodehouse

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

In order to win the woman of his dreams, Cyril "Barmy" Fotheringay-Phipps invests ten thousand dollars into a stinker of a play to be close to her. Will he ever see any of his money back and win his woman's heart?

That P.G. Wodehouse is a sly one. Just as he managed to make golf interesting in The Clicking of Cutherbet, he managed to make me care about theater with Barmy in Wonderland.

Barmy in Wonderland features a few of the usual Wodehouse plot devices. You get the budding love between Barmy and Eileen "Dinty" Moore, the broken engagement between Mervyn Potter and his love, and hilarious drunken escapades featuring Potter and Phipps.

It's amazing how many interesting characters Wodehouse creates and then never uses again. To the best of my knowledge, Barmy, a member of the fabled Drones Club, is the only one who appears in other stories. It's a shame, too. Dinty Moore is strong female lead, like many of Wodehouse's women. Mervyn Potter, that hilarious drunken bastard, could have easily spawned stories on his own. I even enjoyed the two sleazy play producers, Lehman and McClure.

Oh, and I should mention my favorite line before I wrap this up: "She was so tight she could carry an armload of eels up five flights of stairs and not drop a single one."

As usual, everything works out in the end, as it normally does in Wodehouseland. The joy is in the journey, not the destination. While this one isn't my favorite Wodehouse, or even close, it's still hilarious and an easy three.

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Monday, December 26, 2011

Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs

Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs: A Low Culture ManifestoSex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs: A Low Culture Manifesto by Chuck Klosterman

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs: A Low Culture Manifesto is a collection of essays by Chuck Klosterman. It's also one of the rare books I'm not really sure how to review or even rate.

Chuck's essays cover such diverse topics as how the movies and TV are giving people unrealistic expectations about life and love, serial killers, the relationship between Reality Bites and The Empire Strikes Back, and that weird half season of Saved by the Bell that had that leather jacket wearing girl instead of Kelly and Jessie.

All of the essays within are peppered with Klosterman's insights and observations. Some of them are hilarious, like all women being in love with John Cusack and how the Lakers vs. The Celtics was really different social strata of Americans. Others feel a little too self-important to me, kind of like watching an interview with Quentin Tarantino and enjoying his movies slightly less the next time you watch them.

The back cover of my edition mentions Nick Hornby and Douglas Coupland, and I can understand the comparisons, but I've read a few books by comedians over the years and that's what this book reminds me of the most. Throw in a few "What is the deal with..."'s and you've got Seinlanguage.

That's about all I have to say. I liked it but if I was at the same party as Klosterman, I'd probably avoid him and hang out near the food and booze. I'll guess I'll give it a 3, the traditional safety rating.

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American Vampire Volume 1

American Vampire, Vol. 1American Vampire, Vol. 1 by Scott Snyder

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

American Vampire tells two tales: the origin and early days of American vampire Skinner Sweet in the dying days of the Old West, and the tragedy of aspiring actress Pearl Jones, who runs afoul of old world vampires in 1920's Los Angeles. How will their tales intersect?

Where do I start with this? I've never read Scott Snyder before but I loved his writing in this. Stephen King's was also really good, not surprising since he did write my favorite epic of all time, The Dark Tower. Rafael Albuquerque's artwork has come a long way since his days penciling Blue Beetle.

Scott Snyder is taking back vampires from the people who made them romantic fops. Vampires are murderous predators from beyond the grave and should be depicted as such! The vampires in American Vampire remind me of the vampires in I am Legend, Salem's Lot, and Garth Ennis's Preacher. They aren't pretty, don't fall in love with mortal girls, and love the taste of blood.

The two plots were both very interesting. While Skinner Sweet's story of carnage in the old west was good, I think I'd give the edge to the Snyder-penned tale of a Hollywood infested by vampires in the 1920's. I like the idea of different strains of vampirism based on genetics and such. It'll be interesting to see how this concept is explored in subsequent volumes.

I got American Vampire as a Christmas gift and it's pretty high in the Christmas gift ass-kicking hierarchy this year. It's an easy four stars if you like graphic novels and killer vampires.

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Thursday, December 22, 2011


Sacrifice (Burke, #6)Sacrifice by Andrew Vachss

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A gifted nine year old boy is a murderer that calls himself Satan's Child and it's up to Burke to find out how he got that way. Burke's also been tasked with finding a father and a missing baby. Can Burke find who he's looking for and set things right?

Right off the bat, Andrew Vachss is so bleak he makes James Ellroy look like Richard Simmons. The New York Burke lives in is a cesspool of pimps and pedophiles. Burke's a miserable loner but the men he goes up against make him look like a saint.

Sacrifice is one hell of a tale. Burke goes up against pedophiles, murderers, and gets into some heat with a voodoo cult. As usual, he's a survivor.

The thing that keeps me coming back to the Burke books is the setting and the supporting cast. New York is a member of the cast in Vachss's books and the supporting cast, Burke's family, are a well fleshed out bunch. I'm hoping Clarence and Belinda stick around for a few more books.

I don't really have any complaints. Vachss delivered the goods yet again. Now I'm going to go read something more uplifting.

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Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Ice in the Bedroom

Ice in the BedroomIce in the Bedroom by P.G. Wodehouse

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Freddie Widgeon needs money so he can invest in a coffee plantation and marry Sally Foster. Too bad Soapy Molloy swindled him out of his life savings. Soapy and his wife, Dolly, are looking to recover some jewelry they stole that's stashed in a country house, a country house currently occupied by Sally's employer, novelist Leila Yorke. Will Freddie be able to navigate the labyrinth of complications P.G. Wodehouse throws in his way and get the girl?

Ice in the Bedroom was written in P.G. Wodehouse's declining years but that doesn't mean it's not a great time. All the classic Wodehouse plot elements are here. We've got the jeopardized engagement between Freddie and Sally, imposters Soapy and Dolly Molloy, misunderstandings, lost loves, and a lot of dry British wit.

Leila Yorke, the novelist coming to idyllic Valley Fields to write a novel, is now one of my favorite Wodehouse characters, and I fear this is her only appearance. She's tough, ballsy, and isn't afraid to fire a shotgun. She also constantly says hilarious things, like "Pass me that champagne. Mustn't let it congeal." I'm also sad that Soapy and Dolly Molloy and their uneasy ally, seedy detective Chimp Twist, aren't in more of Wodehouse's books, although Chimp and the Molloys are in at least one other book whose name escapes me at the moment.

Freddie and Sally are the leading characters and are actually the characters I found the least interesting, since they are fairly typical for Wodehouse leads. He's not all that bright and she's a pretty tough cookie.

Like I said, there is a lot to like about Ice in the Bedroom. Wodehouse weaves a serpentine plot but everything comes together nicely at the end and it's a fun journey. I wouldn't start your Wodehouse experience with this book but it's definitely on par with a lot of his earlier works.

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Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Lepers and Mannequins

Lepers and MannequinsLepers and Mannequins by Eric Beeny

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The mannequins and the lepers are at war. It's too bad Quall, a leper, has fallen in love with Jaundice, a mannequin. Can their love conquer all or will they be destroyed?

Yeah, I may be risking my man card on this but my favorite bizarro stories seem to be the love stories. This one is a bizarro retelling of Romeo and Juliet. Only Romeo is a leper and Juliet is a mannequin.

Eric Beeny's writing is quite good, very good, in fact, considering this is his first novel. The story flowed very naturally and without any of those telltale first novel jitters.

Honestly, there isn't a lot more to tell. This is Capulets vs. Montagues all over again. You know, except for pieces falling off of the main characters. Well worth a couple hours reading.

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Merkabah Rider: Have Glyphs Will Travel

Merkabah Rider: Have Glyphs Will TravelMerkabah Rider: Have Glyphs Will Travel by Edward M. Erdelac

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Every reader eventually stumbles upon a book (or series) that feels like it was written with their particular tastes in mind. For me, one of those works is the Merkabah Rider series.

Volume three picks up where volume two left off, with The Rider, a Jewish mystic gunfighter in the old west, persuing Adon, his teacher and betrayer who means to bring about the end of the world.

The Long Sabbath: The Rider and Kabede ride into a remote camp with a horde of zombies on their trail, led by three rogue Sons of the Essenes. How can they survive when the soldiers throw them in jail on sight?

The Long Sabbath was a good reintroduction to the saga of the Merkabah Rider. The gore factor was high, both with the zombies and the other vile things, and more details of Adon's plans were revealed. One of the things that I love about the Rider is that he isn't a super hero and frequently takes quite a beating. Adon's renegades were formidable foes and I have a feeling we'll be seeing more of the same.

The War Shaman: Misquamacus is massing an Indian army to exterminate the Mexicans and white men and it's up to The Rider, Belden, and Kabade to stop him with the help of friends new and old. But can they stop Misquamacus from summoning one of the Great Old Ones?

The Rider didn't actually do that much in this one. It was more of an expository segment with the identity of Adam Belial revealed. Without giving anything away, I was not dissatisfied with the revelation in the least.

The Mules of Mazzikim: The Rider parts ways with Kabede and Belden to go to Yuma to find Nehema. But will he find her... or trouble?

Here we go! The Rider meets up with the succubus from then first book and chaos ensues. More details of the overall plot are revealed and the Rider winds up in a precarious predicament by the end.

The Man Called Other: The Rider winds up in the clink and meets up with...

Holy Sh!t! Revelations of a unbelievable magnitude are revealed when the Rider has a meeting that has been a long time coming. Much like the last stories in the previous volume, Erdelac turns everything on its ear. Man, the wait for the fourth and final volume is going to be torturous.

The Fire King Triumphant: The Rider and company return to Tombstone to get some answers...

There's not a lot I can reveal about this story without giving too much away. There are revelations, shocks, a cliffhanger, and Lovecraftian beasties.

In conclusion, Edward M. Erdelac consistently delivers the goods with this series. The Merkabah Rider should appeal to fans of Stephen King's Dark Tower, HP Lovecraft, Robert E. Howard, and similar works. If you like any of those things, you owe it to yourself to give the Merkabah Rider a try.

And now the agonizing wait for the fourth book begins...

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Thursday, December 8, 2011

Please Do Not Shoot Me in the Face

Please Do Not Shoot Me in the Face: a NovelPlease Do Not Shoot Me in the Face: a Novel by Bradley Sands

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Please Do Not Shoot Me in the Face is a collection of three novellas. Or is it a novel? That's what Bradley Sands has hired 7 year old detective Frankie Nougat to find out. As Nougat investigates the three stories within, will he find the theme of Please Do Not Shoot Me in the Face or die in the attempt?

Frankie Nougat and the Case of the Missing Heart: Frankie Nougat attempts to solve the case of why his parents are getting divorced. Grim hilarity ensues...

Yeah, Frankie Nougat goes through some emotional turmoil while trying to find out why his parents are getting divorced. Memorable moments including using his dog for a gun and meeting his mom's new chair, a man named Bill.

Cheesequake Smash-Up: In a battle for fast food dominance, McDonalds, Burger King, White Castle, and scores of other chains enter a building demolition derby. Gunning for a promotion, office worker Monty Catsin enters his employer, NGA, into the derby as well. Who will emerge as the sole provider of fast food in America?

Cheesequake Smashup is mother-whoopieing hilarious. Combine an absurd office, complete with an octogenerian sexpot, a giant goldfish, a gorilla, and lots of mobile buildings smashing into one another, and a heaping helping of absurd humor and you've got a winner on your hands. I'd say Cheesquake Smashup was worth the price of admission on its own.

Apocalypse Ninja: The worst ninja in the world tries to bring about the end of the world. Standing in his way are the worst pirates in the world.

The final tale in this collection (or the final section of this novel?) was by far the most enjoyable. The grins per page rating was very high and there was a lot of action. Also, there was a song that I couldn't help but hum along with to the tune of You're the Best from The Karate Kid.

So, is Please Do Not Shoot Me in the Face a novel or a collection of novellas? Who cares? If the epilogue is any indication, it's going to be bigger than The Bible one day!

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Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Spring Fever

Spring FeverSpring Fever by P.G. Wodehouse

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Lord Shorthands (aka Shorty) needs 200 pounds so he can marry his cook but he's competing with his own butler for her affections. Mike Cardinal wants to marry Teresa Cobbold, Shorty's daughter, but she thinks he's a player. Standwood Cobbold wants to marry the actress Eileen Stoker but his father won't hear of it. Throw in a valuable stamp, imposters, mistaken identity, and a domineering daughter and watch the chaos ensue...

I've been feeling crabby and directionless lately so I picked up a P.G. Wodehouse novel and started reading a couple days ago. While I'm still somewhat crabby and directionless, I'm also working a lot of 1930's British slang into my regular routine. The point is, I'd enjoy reading P.G. Wodehouse even if I was simultaneously hacksawing one of my own legs off.

Spring Fever was written during the apex of Wodehouse's career and it shows. Wodehouse maneuvers his characters through the story like a puppeteer. The plot twists are impeccably timed, hitting at the end of the chapters and making the book very nearly unputdownable.

Wodehouse is a writer firmly in the "if it ain't broke, don't fix it school." While he's worked from the same plot for nearly all of his books, it's always a pleasure to see what new wrinkles he adds to the old situations. I loved that Mike Cardinal's butler used to be a safecracker, that Shorty's butler has a gambling problem, and that Teresa Cobbold is a strong willed female cast from the same mold as a lot of other Wodehouse heroines.

The wordplay is a huge draw from me in Wodehouse books and this one was no exception, from the antiquated British slang to the insults to throwaway refences to the elder Cobbold's secretarie's shorthand resembling pneumonia germs, Spring Fever has a high grins per page rating.

While it's not a Jeeves or Blandings Castle book, Spring Fever is firmly a top shelf Wodehouse. If you want to see the master of the comedic novel at the top of his game, look no further.

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Sunday, December 4, 2011

A Hell of a Woman

A Hell of a WomanA Hell of a Woman by Jim Thompson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Down on his luck salesman Frank Dillon meets a girl named Mona who's being abused and practically put on the street corner by her elderly aunt. When Dillon finds out the aunt has over a hundred thousand dollars hidden in the house, he plans to kill her and run off with Mona. Unfortunately, this book was written by Jim Thompson...

Nobody writes noir tales about the wheels coming off an already shaky plan like old Mr. Cheerful himself, Jim Thompson. A Hell of a Woman is a tale very nearly from the James M. Cain mold. Man meets woman, bumps off someone in order to be with her, then quickly descends into madness.

Frank Dillon coming unglued is a testament to Jim Thompson's skill as a writer. As things start coming unraveled, Frank's cracking is very believable. The way his personality splits into two parts was very well done and quite jarring toward the end.

That's about all I can say without giving too much away. This is definitely an upper tier Jim Thompson book. It's an easy four stars.

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