Friday, April 29, 2016

Review: The Man from Primrose Lane

The Man from Primrose Lane The Man from Primrose Lane by James Renner
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Widowed writer David Neff is at rock bottom when his agent drops the tale of The Man From Primrose Lane into his lap. Will a new book to work on bring him out of the funk he's been in since his wife's death or will his obsession kill him?

Before I get down to business, let's all be honest with one another. Most of the books we read are of average or less quality and are just an entertaining way to pass the time. This book is not one of those. This one grabs you by the genitals and infects your thoughts while you aren't reading it.

The Man From Primrose Lane is one hell of a crazy read. The titular character is a local eccentric who was known as The Man with a Thousand Mittens to the cop who found his corpse, complete with fingers in a blender. In life, he was always seen wearing mittens and had a closet full of them when he died? Interested yet? What if I told you the MFPL had a painting of David's dead wife in his basement? Or that he has a notebook about another woman's daily habits that just happens to resemble David's wife?

This is one of those books that I cannot divulge the plot of without ruining it. Suffice to say, it is a cleverly written mind bender. Part detective story, part bat shit crazy. Your brain might fold in on itself like a black hole before it's finished.

What the hell else can I say without spoiling things? I like how Renner uses David going through the withdrawals for his depression meds as a good way to reveal his back story using flashbacks. I had a feeling who The Man From Primrose Lane was about 30% into the story but I had no idea how complex things really were.

That's about all I'm prepared to reveal at this time. If you like genre-bending, thought provoking reads, you could do a lot worse than this. This is in the top two or three books I've read so far in 2016. Perfect score.

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Sunday, April 24, 2016

Review: Accepted: How the First Gay Superstar Changed WWE

Accepted: How the First Gay Superstar Changed WWE Accepted: How the First Gay Superstar Changed WWE by Pat Patterson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Accepted is the autobiography of former wrestler Pat Patterson, possibly the first openly gay pro-wrestler.

Accepted was a quick read. Pat fulfilled the first requirement of what makes a good wrestling book, in my opinion. The non-wrestling part of his life was done by the 10% mark.

Pat relates his story, starting from his dirt poor roots in Montreal to becoming a wrestler to moving to the united states. Pat covers his trips from Canada to Boston to San Francisco to Florida and all points in between.

I'm not sure what I expected but the story Pat told wasn't it. Pat and his longtime partner Louie didn't seem to suffer much in the way of discrimination behind the scenes. Good for them. There also weren't a ton of road stories, although the Ray Stevens chapter was damn good and the bit with Terry Funk was quality as well.

The book shifted gears when Pat retired and started working for the WWF(E) backstage in the mid-1980's. I knew he usually booked the Royal Rumble back in the day but I never knew it was idea. I also never knew he championed the smaller guys like Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels in the 1990s. Gears shifted again once Pat retired for the final time.

Accepted had some really good moments but I wanted more. It was a pretty short book, which seems weird considering Pat wrestled for decades. More road stories, more backstage machinations, generally more everything, would have been nice. Still, it was a decent read. 3 out of 5 stars.

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Thursday, April 21, 2016

Review: The Architect of Sleep

The Architect of Sleep The Architect of Sleep by Steven R. Boyett
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

After a near mishap while exploring a cave, Jim Bentley emerges to find a humanoid raccoon using a fishing pole. What strange world has he stumbled into? And will he ever find his way home?

Since we're both dorks, my lady friend and I have had multiple conversations about which animals would be likely to evolve once humanity is dust in the wind. Raccoons are said to be one of the most adaptable species so they get my vote. When this book, complete with humanoid raccoon cover, popped up on my Goodreads feed, it was a no brainer.

The Architect of Sleep is told in alternating chapters, ones from the point of view of Jim Bentley and ones from the point of view of the intelligent raccoon he has nicknamed Truck. Bentley is a fish out of water, learning the sign language of the raccoons while he explores the world in Truck's company. Truck has her own reasons for wandering...

The world Steven R. Boyett has created is well thought out. If primates stay in the trees and raccoons step up, lots of things change. The raccoons ride llamas, for instance. They have pre-Renaissance level technology and have carved up what would have been the United States into their own territories, each with a spiritual leader called The Architect of Dreams.

Lots of time was put into the crafting of the culture of this world, raising it above the sword and raygun adventure it easily could have been. The plot turned out to be pretty intricate.

The only complaints I have are that the writing was a little dry and, much more major, the book just ends and the second half was never published! What the hell happens to Jim, Zorba, and Fagin? And does Truck get her throne back? Son of a damn bitch!

3 stars. Just don't expect any sort of closure.

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Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Review: The Heavenly Table

The Heavenly Table The Heavenly Table by Donald Ray Pollock
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When their father dies, the Jewett brothers are left without guidance until they decide to emulate their hero, a dime-novel hero called Bloody Bill Bucket. Their bloody trail crosses the paths of a farmer named Ellsworth Fiddler and a hobo named Sugar. Will the brothers make it to Canada alive to live out their days in peace?

I got this from Netgalley.

The Heavenly Table is the tale of the three Jewett brothers and the people they encounter after striking out on their own after their father Pearl dies. Dirt poor and ignorant of the ways of the world, Cane, Cob, and Chimney take up robbing banks in the manner of their dime-novel hero, Bloody Bill Bucket.

The tale Donald Ray Pollock crafts here is full of violence and dark humor. There's drinking, killing, whoring, and even a trained chimpanzee. The five plot threads repeatedly intersect until almost everyone is dead. Pollard the bartender, Sugar the bum, Jasper the sanitation inspector, Ellsworth Fiddler, the farmer with terrible luck, and Bovard, the secretly gay army officer, all flitter around the edges of the Jewetts' tale, periodically intersecting with them. Jasper, the outhouse inspector with a wang like the size of a baguette, was my favorite of the supporting players.

The Jewett brothers were an interesting mix. Cane, the oldest and smartest, was the leader. Cob, the simpleton, stayed with the others out of loyalty, and Chimney, the hothead, was lucky he survived childhood. Much like Knockemstiff, the setting was a vivid part of the story. The town of Meade felt so real I could almost smell it at times.

When things finally came together at the end, it was one bloody encounter after the next. I was glad the people who lived through it lived through it. The dark humor was unquestionably my favorite part of the story. I repeatedly interrupted my lady friend's Harry Potter reading with talk of going to the Whore Barn and other questionable things.

With the Heavenly Table, Donald Ray Pollock serves up another heaping helping of country noir. Four out of five stars.

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Sunday, April 10, 2016

Review: Ms. Marvel, Vol. 1: No Normal

Ms. Marvel, Vol. 1: No Normal Ms. Marvel, Vol. 1: No Normal by G. Willow Wilson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

One night, Kamala Khan walks through a cloud of mysterious mist and comes out a super hero. Can she juggle the secret life of a super hero and her home life?

Ms. Marvel is a throwback to the early days of Spider-man, a super heroine learning the ropes and trying not to expose her secret identity to her family. I wasn't crazy about the art at first but it fit the story and Kamala's super powers very well.

You wouldn't think a guy staring at 40 on the horizon would have much in common with a teenage Pakistani girl living in New Jersey but Kamala is a lot like most comic book fans would be like if they lived in the Marvel Universe and suddenly awoke with super powers. She's unsure of herself and making things up as she goes along, following what she's seen her heroes do in the past.

The Inhuman connection was interesting. It's sad that it took Marvel distancing itself from the X-Men movie franchise to better utilize the Attilians. It's also refreshing to have heroes that aren't mutants, actually.

No Normal has a lot of good things going for it. The stage is set for future Ms. Marvel adventures and it looks like Marvel is committed to the character for the long haul seeing as how she's in one of the 147 Avenger books they put out every month. I don't know that I'll continue with Kamala's adventures but I'm glad I read this one. Four out of five stars.

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Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Review: Doctor Strange, Doctor Doom: Triumph and Torment

Doctor Strange, Doctor Doom: Triumph and Torment Doctor Strange, Doctor Doom: Triumph and Torment by Roger Stern
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Every Midsummer's Eve, Doctor Doom tries to rescue his mother's soul from hell and every year he fails. This time, he has Doctor Strange in tow. Will the two of them be successful? Let's find out!

Back in the day, I read a Fantastic Four annual in which Doctor Doom tried to use Franklin Richards against Mephisto to free the soul of his mother. When I found out about the existence of this graphic novel, I became intrigued... then forgot about it until a couple weeks ago.

The story starts out promisingly. Doctor Strange is summoned to the Temple of the Three where he battles other sorcerers for the title of Sorcerer Supreme and winds up forced to give Doctor Doom a boon. Strange instructs Doom in the magic arts for a few weeks and they head down to hell.

I'm happy to say that this graphic novel by Roger Stern and Mike Mignola does a great job standing the test of time. Stern's writing is way ahead of the curve for the time period and Mignola was heading down the artistic trail that would lead him to creating Hellboy years later. Mignola's hellish vistas resemble Steve Ditko's without being an outright copy and his depiction of Mephisto in his true form knocks the ball out of the park.

Triumph and Torment also had enough twists to keep it interesting, far from the two guys punching each other it could have easily devolved into.

Also contained in this volume were two stories containing seeds for this tale. One was from an issue of Astonishing Tales that depicted one of Doom's failed attempts to rescue his mother. The other was a Doctor Strange tale where Doctor Doom considered filling the vacancy left by Clea and becoming Strange's disciple. Neither were essential but gave the plot of the main story a little more depth. As opposed to the two Namor tales in the collection that had little to do with the story other than being drawn by Mignola.

Since I suspect a lot of people will be giving Doctor Strange a shot based on the upcoming Cumberbatch-fest, this would be a good tale to read to see Strange in his element. Four out of five stars.

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Monday, April 4, 2016

Review: Radiance

Radiance Radiance by Catherynne M. Valente
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Documentary filmmaker Severin Unck never returned from her last project on Venus. Thus begins the meta-fictional odyssey into Severin Unck's life and fate.

Radiance is the story of Severin Unck's life (and death?), told by Severin and the people who knew her in the form of articles, journal entries, scripts, and films, most notably Severin's own. I was apprehensive at first, since this sounds like a first class ticket to fancy-pants town, like a lot of books that use meta-fictional devices. However, Catherynne Valente can get into my fancy pants any day.

Told in a non-linear fashion, Radiance tells the story of Severin Unck through interviews and films of the people who knew her, from her father, Percival Unck and his seven ex-wives, to Erasmo St. John, her last lover, to Anchises St. John, the little boy who was the only survivor of the Adonis colony on Venus. Unlike a lot of literature that uses meta-fiction to tell the tale, the techniques are actually relevant to the story.

The setting is an enjoyable one, one where space travel was mastered decades earlier and every planet and moon in the solar system is habitable. Colonization is depended on monstrous Venusian beasts called callowwhales. Because of the tyranny of the Edisons, everyone is still making silent movies, making for a very unique setting indeed.

There's not a whole lot more I want to say about the plot. Catherynne Valente shows her writing chops in this outing, going from sf to screenplay to soap opera to noir, and all points beyond, without missing a beat. I'd read a library of Madame Mortimer mysteries.

4.5 out of 5 stars. This one is not to be missed.

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