Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Battle Royale

Battle RoyaleBattle Royale by Koushun Takami
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A busload of Japanese teenagers is kidnapped and dumped off on an island, where they are forced to fight to the death until one student remains, all in the name of The Program. Which of the 42 students will survive?

I remember hearing about the film version of Battle Royale ages ago but never managed to watch it. Seeing that a lot of people compare The Hunger Games to Battle Royale, I figured I should give it a shot and I'm quite glad I did. Battle Royale is The Hunger Games with more gore and without the annoying love triangle.

Battle Royale takes place in an alternate present, where Japan is largely a totalitarian police state. Every year, a class is chosen for The Program, a free for all that makes Thunderdome look like an episode of The Care Bears. Each student is given a backpack and a weapon and turned loose one at a time. To make things interesting, there are forbidden zones on the island and anyone caught in one is killed instantly via the explosive collar they are all forced to wear. Sound good?

People are killed right off the bat and the book never lets up. I had a pretty good idea who would survive based on who got the most time on screen but the journey was well worth it. Kazuo and Mitsuko both needed their hash settled from the opening bell.

I mentioned gore earlier and this book has more than its share of gruesome killings. Hatchets to the face, many, many stabbings, gunshots galore, and lots of betrayal and deception on top of it.

The writing was also pretty good. Aside from a couple very minor hiccups, I would never guess it was a translation. In the afterword, Takami mentions Stephen King and Robert Parker as his big influences and I think it shows in the text. The explosive collars are straight out of the Running Man movie (not from the novel). The intro reminded me of the intro to Needful Things.

Since I'm only giving it a four, I guess I'll complain about a couple things. Shuya didn't have much personality enough though he was supposed to be the hero. Kazuo was overly powerful and seemed to have unlimited ammo. It was hard to keep track of who was who at times because of similar sounding names. However, all these were minor complaints and I found Battle Royale to be quite an enjoyable read. Four out of five stars.

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Friday, December 27, 2013

Kill Clock

Kill ClockKill Clock by Allan Guthrie
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

When some tosser almost runs over Pearce and his dog, Pearce lets his temper get the better of him and he soon finds himself looking for a way out of trouble. Only it's out of the frying pan and into the fire when his salvation turns out to be an ex-girlfriend who needs $20,000 by midnight...

This novella by Allan Guthrie runs at 88 miles per hour from beginning to end. Pearce finds himself deep in the soup with gangsters wanting their money and only his three-legged dog and two children on his side.

It's a pretty absurd crime tale. Where else would you read about a Scottish hoodlum reading a bedtime story to two children when he's got a loan shark to gun down in several preciously short hours?

The Kill Clock is a fun, fast read. Since it's currently free on the Kindle, you could do a lot worse.

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Sunday, December 22, 2013

"Uncle John's Bathroom Reader Attack of the Factoids: Bizarre Bites of Incredible Information

Uncle John's Bathroom Reader Attack of the Factoids: Bizarre Bites of Incredible InformationUncle John's Bathroom Reader Attack of the Factoids: Bizarre Bites of Incredible Information by Bathroom Readers' Institute
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Uncle John's Bathroom Reader Attack of the Factoids: Bizarre Bites of Incredible Information is a collection of one or two line bits of interesting facts or trivia.

This was a Netgalley find but I probably would have bought it anyway since I already have a substantial Bathroom Reader library.

Here is a brief sampling of the nuggets of knowledge within:
- Only female mosquitos suck blood
- The loganberry was accidentally created when a botanist had a raspberry plant too close to the blackberry plants he was trying to crossbreed.
- Tiger Woods' nickname in college was Urkel
- Beer was once promoted as a way to get kids to go to sleep
- Dan Castellenetta's contract with Fox expressly prohibits him from doing Homer Simpson's voice in public.
- Bubblewrap was accidentally created when two guys were trying to make plastic textured wallpaper with two shower curtains
- Alaska is the state with the most outhouses

Not only is Uncle John's Bathroom Reader Attack of the Factoids: Bizarre Bites of Incredible Information great for bathroom reading, it's also good for long car trips and when a friend or loved one is watching something you're not interested in on TV. Four out of five stars.

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Thursday, December 19, 2013

Hitman: My Real Life in the Cartoon World of Wrestling

Hitman: My Real Life in the Cartoon World of WrestlingHitman: My Real Life in the Cartoon World of Wrestling by Bret Hart
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Hitman: My Real Life in the Cartoon World of Wrestling is the autobiography of former wrestler Bret "Hitman" Hart.

For a great portion of my wrestling fandom, Bret Hart was my favorite wrestler. He wasn't very big or very flashy but his matches were always the most believable on the card. Surprisingly, it took me quite a few years to actually pick this up but I'm glad I did.

For a wrestling book, this is a pretty hefty tome at close to 600 pages. Heavy enough to bludgeon another wrestler to death when the referee's back is turned, in fact. It also covers over forty years of Bret Hart's life. It covers Bret's pre-wrestling career a little more than I'd ordinarily like but since Bret grew up in the wrestling business, it didn't feel out of place. It covers Bret's sometime brutal childhood as 1 of 15 kids, wearing hand me downs and being left to his own devices a lot of the time.

Once Bret gets into the wrestling business, things take off. Bret talks about working in tiny towns for no money, driving Andre the Giant around, learning his craft and meeting veterans who came to his father's territory, Stampede Wrestling. Bret wrestles in Puerto Rico, the south, and Japan, before finally making it to the big time, the WWF.

Since Bret spent most of his career in the WWF, that's where most of the events in the book occur. He talks about forming the Hart Foundation, having great matches with the British Bulldogs, and finally being allowed to shine on his own as a singles wrestler. He talks about who was easy to have matches with, who his friends were backstage, and who was hard to deal with. He's honest about his drug use and many affairs, and what it was like to work in the WWF during the big downturn in the business around the time Vince was indicted on steroid charges.

When Bret leaves for WCW, the book takes a dark turn, not surprising since his tenure in WCW sucked from the moment he walked through the door to the moment he got his career ending concussion. From there, the constant infighting of his siblings, his stroke, and the deaths of his parents made the last 20% difficult to read.

Bret's a very good writer, especially considering he's suffered a severe concussion and had a stroke in the last decade. The book had a lot of road stories and he didn't paint himself to be better than everyone else, though his ego was probably pretty healthy.

As far as wresting biographies go, it'll be hard to top this one. 4.5 out of 5 stars.

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Wednesday, December 18, 2013


ThinnerThinner by Stephen King
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Overweight lawyer William Halleck strikes and kills a gypsy woman who is crossing the street. He is acquitted but a relative of the woman touches Halleck's cheek and curses him. Now he's losing three pounds a day with no end in sight. Can he track down the gypsy man and get him to remove the curse or will he waste away to nothing?

What's so scary about a fat guy losing weight? A lot, it turns out. Never has getting a tug job in the car from your wife gotten someone into so much trouble. I felt for old William Halleck and his curse. I also shared his anger toward his wife because of her reaction to the whole thing.

As with most King/Bachman books from this era, the story is shorter than his later works, more killer and less filler. Bachman references Stephen King a couple times, weird since now everyone and their senile grandma knows the two are one and the same.

The more King I read, the more I realize he returns to the same concepts repeatedly, be it unprepared people going up against staggering odds, preaching against over-reliance on technology, or fascination with drifter/carnie culture and people getting shot in the hand with slingshots. Different parts of this book seemed like dry runs for parts of Wizard and Glass, Joyland, and Doctor Sleep.

If I had to pick out something to gripe about, it would be the involvement of Ginelli. It seemed like Halleck just stepped aside and let Ginelli do all the heavy lifting near the end. The ending more than made up for that, though.

Four out of five stars. I'm going to go eat something.

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Tuesday, December 17, 2013


Undisputed: How to Become the World Champion in 1,372 Easy StepsUndisputed: How to Become the World Champion in 1,372 Easy Steps by Chris Jericho
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Undisputed covers Chris Jericho's career from the time he made his WWF debut to the time he made his comeback two years later.

As you can see by the rating, I did not like this one nearly as much as the first volume. First, the good parts.

Chris Jericho covers his arrival in the WWF, which was surprisingly rocky, and his relationship with his new co-workers. He talks about working with the Rock and Chyna while other wrestlers were trying to poison the office against him. He also talks about how things went down when Benoit, Guerrero, Saturn, and Dean Malenko, some of his best friends in the business, came to the WWF, and how Hulk Hogan, Scott Hall, and Kevin Nash didn't run the show like they did in WCW. He also talks about the rise of John Cena, and the deaths of Eddie Guerrero and Chris Benoit.

All that was pretty good. What killed the book for me was how much of it was devoted to Fozzy, the mostly cover band he was in. I didn't care about his band at all and probably half the book was spent on it. While I'm sure there were people who followed his music career, I am not one of them.

I hate to give this thing a 2 since I enjoyed the first book so much but a 2 is as good as it's getting. The wrestling bits were as good, maybe even better than those. Too bad they were entangled in the Fozzy sargasso.

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A Lion's Tale

A Lion's Tale: Around the World in SpandexA Lion's Tale: Around the World in Spandex by Chris Jericho
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A Lion's Tale is the biography of wrestler Chris Jericho, going from childhood to his moments right before walking through the curtain in his WWF debut.

Right off, this is the most entertaining wrestling book I've ever read. More entertaining than Foley's two books, more entertaining even than Terry Funk's book. Chris Jericho isn't afraid to poke fun at himself or throw in pop culture references. I laughed out loud a few times at his wordplay.

The book itself is a quick read and should be used as the template for most wrestling books. The pre-wrestling stuff doesn't take up much room and the rest is packed with road stories. Chris's journey takes him from wrestling in front of a handful of people in tiny Canadian towns to Mexico, the Smokey mountains, Europe, Japan, ECW, and finally WCW.

Unlike a lot of wrestling books, Chris doesn't toot his own horn constantly. In fact, he's not afraid to reveal some things that make him look like kind of a dork. Like not losing his virginity until he was 20, saying dumb things when meeting other wrestlers, or soiling himself after drinking the water in Mexico. He also admits he's had his share of bad matches, like the Super Liger debacle.

Jericho spends as much time talking about what happens behind the curtain as he does about the matches, making for an entertaining book. He talks about going out drinking, the difficulties of adjusting to working Japan, and hanging with guys like Chris Benoit and Eddie Guerrero.

Once he gets to WCW, he focuses on what a disorganized mess the company was and who were jerks backstage, though after reading several other biographies from the same time period, I already knew who they were.

If you're a wrestling fan and only want to buy one wrestling book, you could do a lot worse than this one. 4.5 out of 5. Good thing I have Jericho's second book on deck.

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Saturday, December 14, 2013

The Hardcore Truth

The Hardcore Truth: The Bob Holly StoryThe Hardcore Truth: The Bob Holly Story by Bob Holly
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Hardcore Truth is the biography of recently-retired wrestler, Bob "Hardcore" Holly.

During my decades of wrestling fandom, Bob Holly was always in my periphery, never one of my favorites but always a wrestler I knew would deliver the goods in the ring. After reading this, I wish I would have watched Bob more closely.

Unlike a lot of wrestling books, Bob's in the ring by the 10% mark. While I thought his dirt poor upbringing, teenage fatherhood, and fighting in toughman boxing matches in was interesting, I'm glad he focused on what made me want to read the book in the first place.

Bob doesn't pull any punches in the book, as befits his hard-hitting style in the ring. He doesn't glamorize his early days in WOW working for Bob Sweetan, nor his short stint as a job guy in WCW. Unlike a lot of guys other than Mick Foley, Bob says Ric was kind of a dick backstage. From there, Bob went to Smokey Mountain Wrestling for Jim Cornette and wound up dropping out of wrestling for a couple years to be a welder during the week and race cars on the weekends.

Bob eventually got the call from the WWF and wound up working there for 15 years. Remember what I said earlier about Bob not pulling punches? Bob calls it like he sees it and covers pretty much every significant WWF/WWE event from those 15 years, like the Clique running things backstage, Jeff Jarrett gettings special treatment because of his father, HHH holding talent down, the deaths of Eddie Guerrero and Chris Benoit, and much, much more.

I can't stress enough how straight ahead Bob is in this book. He talks about drugs, how much people were getting paid, who he liked, who he hated, and what he thought the company did wrong and what they did right. It's a really entertaining read and certainly kept my attention on a snowy Saturday afternoon.

There's not a hell of a lot more I can say about it without spoiling it. If you're at all interested in professional wrestling, you'll want to read this. For years, I have been touting Pure Dynamite: The Price You Pay for Wrestling Stardom and Terry Funk: More Than Just Hardcore as the wrestling books to buy. Now I'll have to start recommending this one as well. 4.5 out of 5 stars.

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RoadworkRoadwork by Stephen King
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

A new stretch of interstate is being build and Bart Dawes' house is right in its path. He has until January 20th to find a new place for he and his wife to live and also a new location for the Blue Ribbon, the industrial laundry where he has been employed for twenty years. What will happen if he doesn't?

I wasn't very old when the original four Bachman books were released but I can't imagine this one did very well before King outted himself. It doesn't really have a lot going on. Bart Dawes is cracking as progress threatens to take his house and place of employment. For 320 pages.

Normally, my complaint with a lot of Stephen King books is that they're a lot of unnecessary crap and they could easily lose 300 pages. Roadwork is no different. This thing could easily be condensed into a 20 page short story. Your house and work are having to be relocated and the city is paying for it. I get it. Now use that Weatherby and plastique and start blowing things up if you can't handle it!

Even Rage was better than this. At least all the talking and stalling before the climax in Rage was somewhat interesting. Dawes started out mildly interesting and then just seemed pathetic and sad. By the end, I was ready to run the wrecking ball and destroy his house myself.

The fourth of the original four Bachman books is now closed. Now I can move on to a book I actually care about. 2 out of 5 stars.

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Wednesday, December 11, 2013


RageRage by Stephen King
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Charlie Decker takes a room full of his classmates hostage. Will any of them walk out alive?

In this Bachman book, Holden Caulfield takes the cast of the Breakfast Club hostage with a pistol. At least, that's what the book feels like to me.

Rage is a really quick read, short and to the point. It's also not that great. King can say he wanted it out of print because of all the school shootings in the last couple decades but I have to wonder if quality wasn't also a contributing factor.

Charlie Decker is a bit of a outcast and has a whole dresser drawer full of issues. His classmates, seemingly normal, aren't without problems themselves. John Hughes at gunpoint is a good way to describe most of what goes on in the book. If snipers were watching the windows of the library in the Breakfast Club, Rage is probably what the result would be like.

I don't have a lot to say about this one. The ending was unexpected. I'll give Bachman/King that. Other than that, I'm glad it was short. 2 stars. I hope this doesn't lead to Stephen King rejecting my friend request.

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Tuesday, December 10, 2013

The Running Man

The Running ManThe Running Man by Stephen King
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

When Ben Richard's daughter gets pneumonia, he turns to the Network for help and becomes a contestant on the deadliest of reality shows, The Running Man. Can Richards run long enough to earn the money for his daughter's medicine? And what will he learn as he runs for his life for the amusement of the public watching The Running Man?

This is the best book made into a movie starring Arnold Schwarzenegger I've ever read. Actually, apart from a couple character names, the dystopian setting, and the concept of a reality show where the contestants will likely die, it has very little resemblance to the Arnold flick.

Richard Bachman really liked his dystopias, didn't he? This one bears a startling resemblance to our current reality tv situation. Funny, Bachman predicting the rise of reality tv decades before it came to pass.

Ben Richards is an unemployed loser with a wife that occasionally turns tricks to make ends meet. In order to make some money, he winds up on The Running Man, running for his life in a polluted world that's falling apart.

The suspense in this thing builds and builds as Richards gets deeper into the game. Can he trust anyone? How is the Network tracking him? Will his daughter still be alive when the much needed money gets to her? Things start falling apart for him near the end and the tension is almost unbearable.

Richards is a much deeper character than the Arnold version. As his sense of desperation grows, one can't help but imagine him or herself in Richard's situation.

Like a lot of people, I think The Running Man is likely one of the parents of the Hunger Games, along with The Long Walk.

That's pretty much all I can say. It's a gripping, breezy read, far from the bloated gargantuas of Stephen King's Richard Bachman's later books. 3.5 out of 5 stars.

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Friday, December 6, 2013

Doctor Who: The Death Pit

Doctor Who: The Death Pit (Time Trips)Doctor Who: The Death Pit by A. L. Kennedy
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

When guests at a golf course start disappearing, Receptionist Bryony Mailer starts investigating. Fortunately for her, she is aided by a scarf-wearing man who thinks he should be in Chicago. Can he put a stop to whatever is happening to the guests? Of course, he can. He's The Doctor... Cue the Fourth Doctor version of the theme music!

This was a Netgalley find.

This somewhat goofy little tale reads like a lost episode from the Tom Baker era of Doctor Who. There's not a whole lot I can reveal of the plot without ruining things. Suffice to say, be careful of the bunker on the 13th hole.

The writing is good, lending a lot of Adams-esque humor to this Fourth Doctor tale. The menace was menacing enough and the characterization of The Doctor was spot on. Bryony and Patterson were both surprisingly well developed for characters in a media tie-in short story.

That's about all I have to say. It was a fun 56 pages and makes me want to watch some old Doctor Who episodes.

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Thursday, December 5, 2013

Eyes Closed Tight

Eyes Closed TightEyes Closed Tight by Peter Leonard
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Retired Detroit detective O'Clair runs a resort in Pompano Beach, Florida. When a woman turns up dead at his resort, the old instincts kick in and O'Clair begins investigating the killer, leading to a cold case of his from his Detroit days. When the killer hits close to home, O'Clair must solve the case at any cost...

This was a Netgalley find.

I saw this on Netgalley and since Peter Leonard is the son of Elmore Leonard, I snapped it up. Does the apple fall far from the tree? That's a tough question.

Eyes Closed Tight is well written and started off pretty good. Then something happened that ruined my suspension of disbelief and things started getting way too convolulted for me to enjoy myself.

Would the Florida PD welcome the "assistance" of a retired Detroit cop on an investigation into a body that was found on his property? Somehow, I doubt it. After that initial doubt, I started souring and picking out a lot of things that bugged me. For one thing, I didn't like the shifting viewpoints. I would have rather been kept guessing as to who the killer was rather than have it handed to me. The red herring was the reddest of the red and a little too unbelievable. By the 75% mark, I just wanted it to be over.

All that aside, I'd read another Peter Leonard book as long as the plot didn't revolve around a serial killer with a dubious desire for revenge. Two stars.

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Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Wrede on Writing

Wrede on Writing: Tips, Hints, and Opinions on WritingWrede on Writing: Tips, Hints, and Opinions on Writing by Patricia C. Wrede
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Wrede on Writing is a book on writing by Patricia C. Wrede.

This was a Netgalley find.

Normally, I look upon books about writing by writers I've never heard of in the same light as telephone psychics offering me the winning lottery numbers. If the writer in question is so good, why aren't they too busy cranking out best sellers to write a book about writing? From the opening page, Wrede had me hooked.

Maybe it was the relaxed tone. Maybe it was her clear grasp of what it takes to go into a novel. Or maybe it was the book's underlying philosophy of "There is no One Way. Figure out what works for you and do that."

Unlike a lot of other writing books, at no point did I feel like the writer was trying to force me into using his or her writing methods. It reads like a beloved aunt is guiding me through the novel writing process but giving me enough space to do what I want.

Not only does Wrede reveal what has and hasn't worked for her over the years, she also relates anecdotes from other writers. She also shares examples from her own writing and that of other authors to illustrate her points.

Wrede covers a pretty wide range of topics, like viewpoints, pace, worldbuilding, outlining, even verb tenses. She even goes into the business end of things, all the while reminding the reader that not all writers are the same and not all advice is going to work for every writer.

I guess the bottom line is get a good grasp of the English (or whichever) language, figure out what works for you, and do that. It should be obvious advice but it was really refreshing in a writing book.

Unless this book takes a nosedive in the little bit I have left, four out of five stars.

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Tuesday, December 3, 2013

The Secret Life of Sleep

The Secret Life of SleepThe Secret Life of Sleep by Kat Duff
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The Secret Life of Sleep is about sleep.

I got this from Netgalley. Thank you, Netgalley!

While I don't suffer from sleep problems myself, I know a lot of people who do so I'm curious about the subject. When this popped up on Netgalley, I snapped it up.

The Science of Sleep covers are pretty wide range of topics.
- Sleep aids
- Sleep deprivation
- The way people's sleep habits have changed over human history
- Sleep disorders
- Different cultural beliefs about sleep

It has a lot of informative tidbits in it, which I felt compelled to read out loud to my lady friend, who works three twelve-hour night shifts a week as a nurse. Sometimes, she'd nod in agreement. Other times, she'd ask what the hell I was reading and if the laundry was still in the dryer.

Some of the topics gave names to things we've all experienced, like sleep anxiety, that feeling of looking at the clock and fretting over how much time you have left to sleep if you fall asleep that moment. Others were interesting insights to things I already knew about, like sleep walking, sleep paralysis, or sleep deprivation. I also found it disturbing just how many different kinds of sleeping pills there were.

There weren't too many nits to pick about this one. I thought the book meandered a bit at times but sleep is a pretty broad topic so that's to be expected. Some of the religious discussions felt extraneous. Other than that, it was a pretty solid read and not a yawner. 3.5 out of 5 stars.

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