Friday, September 30, 2016

Review: A Man Lies Dreaming

A Man Lies Dreaming A Man Lies Dreaming by Lavie Tidhar
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In the Auschwitz concentration camp, a former pulp writer named Shomer imagines a world where the Nazis never came to power and a certain dictator is a down and out private investigator named Wolf. Wolf is hired to find a woman named Judith Rubinstein, who may have been smuggled out of communist Germany. Can Wolf find Judith and figure out who is pulling the strings of his former allies?

I stumbled upon this book during my brief alternate history binge during what 2.0 called my Summer of Love. Since I dug The Bookman and HebrewPunk, I gave it a shot.

Grown from the same literary roots as The Man in the High Castle, A Man Lies Dreaming is a tale of what might have been, if the communists had risen to power in Germany in the 1930s instead of the Nazis.

Using Shomer as a framing device, Lavie Tidhar shows who Hitler might have become without power, a fearful, hateful, pathetic man with little direction. Parts of the tale are darkly funny, which makes sense since Shomer is dreaming the tale to forget about the horrors of Auschwitz.

I'm not sure why Wolf being a loser private detective in London works so well but it does. Wolf takes a more blows to the head than Lew Archer as he tries to track down Judith Rubinstein, making a lot of enemies in the process. Wolf is a slightly sympathetic lead until you remember how things went in real life. It's pretty satisfying to read the ass-kickings he takes and to see his impotent rage. Not to mention the kinky sex...

The books ends a little differently than I thought it would but it was still satisfying. Tidhar's copius research is apparent in the afterword, which I normally don't read. Thankfully, he doesn't suffer from the "work all research into the book" syndrome a lot of authors suffer from.

Lavie Tidhar has come a long way in the short time I've been aware of his work. A Man Lies Dreaming is both a great alternate history detective tale and a commentary on racism and the way we treat immigrants, something that sadly never goes out of style. Four out of five stars.

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Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Review: Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking by Susan Cain
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking is about being an introvert in today's society.

Confession time: I'm a tremendous introvert. I know you're all thinking something along the lines of "What? A guy who reads constantly and writes over a hundred book reviews a year is an introvert?" Shocking but true. I could easily go days without human contact. At parties, I'm the guy hanging out near the food or snooping through the host's books or medicine cabinet. I could go into more detail but since I have a feeling most Goodreaders are also introverts, I'll skip it.

Basically, the book is a flashing neon sign that says it's okay to be an introvert. Susan Cain chronicles her own struggles as an introvert, as well as showing how America went from being about character to about personality, right around the time movies and TV started getting popular. It covers introverts in all areas, like corporate America, and how introverts are treated in other societies. There's a lengthy section on raising introvert kids, which a lot of parents could use instead of shoving their kids into the shark-infested extrovert waters.

Honestly, I could have used this book as a teenager, when people were constantly badgering me to go out more. Scientific discoveries and works of art are rarely made by people who are constantly talking. Cain covers topics like being an introvert in the business world, where people who talk the loudest get their way more often than not, something I see every day in cubeland.

Actually, the book gave me insight into the behavior of some of my family. Until he retired, my dad was crabbier than Red Foreman all the time. I used to think he was just an angry asshole but now I think he was an introvert with nowhere to unwind. Now that he's retired, I see how much alike we are. He's actually pretty friendly as long as the visits don't go too long.

Susan Cain's writing style is engaging. I felt the repeated examples may have padded the book a bit.
While I felt validated by reading it, sometimes it felt like a book a kid named Matthew, who happened to be missing a finger, wrote about how nine-fingered Matthews are the best at everything. I liked it but most of what Cain says seemed pretty obvious. There are no mind-blowing revelations for introverts within. I do recommend extroverts read it, however. 3.5 out of 5 stars.

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Sunday, September 25, 2016

Review: The Case of the Bleeding Wall

The Case of the Bleeding Wall The Case of the Bleeding Wall by Joe R. Lansdale
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

When supernormal investigator Dana Robertson invites her to Italy to work on a case, Jana immediately accepts. Now she just has to avoid being killed in The Case of the Bleeding Wall...

I got some interesting goodies in the 2016 Subterranean Press Grab-Bag and this one was one of the more compelling ones. Mister Mojo and his daughter collaborating on novella?

It's a pretty seamless collaboration as it turns out. Dana Robertson's prim and proper nature contrasts nicely with Jana, her Watson, a Texas country girl. The Lansdale humor is in full effect, with gems such as "It's hotter than a goat's ass in a pepper batch."

The case seemed pretty straightforward at first. Dana's ex has a mansion that incorporates some ancient ruins and happens to be haunted. Isn't that always the case? Anyway, things weren't on the up and up and Dana and Jana have to do some magic to save the day. Even though I was certain neither of the leads would die, things got pretty tense.

The Case of the Bleeding Wall was a fun novella to read on a gloomy Sunday morning. I wouldn't mind reading more of Dana Robertson's supernormal adventures. 3 out of 5 stars.

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Thursday, September 22, 2016

Review: The Animal Factory

The Animal Factory The Animal Factory by Edward Bunker
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When Ron Decker is convicted of selling narcotics, he winds up in San Quentin. Earl Copen, a long-time resident, takes him under his wing. As friendship buds between the men, can Ron stay alive long enough to get paroled?

Prison life has always held a strange fascination for me. By most accounts, The Animal Factory is one of the better prison novels.

Written during one of his prison stints, Edward Bunker crafts a tale of two men trying to get by in San Quentin. Not surprisingly, it carries an air of authenticity. There's an undercurrent of despair and desperation beneath Earl Copen's bluster. In Ron Decker, he sees hope that he long abandoned for himself.

Prison life in The Animal Factory is navigating a maze of violence, drugs, and death. Earl teaches Ron to survive in prison and what it is to be a man and a friend. It's a little deeper than I thought it would be going in.

The ending was a good one, one of self sacrifice and showed that a glimmer of goodness resides within prison walls. All things considered The Animal Factory was damn good. Edward Bunker's depiction of prison life in the 1970's is stark and brutal and I can't imagine that prisons have gotten better since then. Kids, stay out of jail! Four out of five stars.

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Friday, September 16, 2016

Review: Eat the Night

Eat the Night Eat the Night by Tim Waggoner
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Even before discovering a secret basement in the house she shares with her husband, Joan Lantz was troubled by dreams of a mass-suicide in the jungles of Suriname years before. But what do those things have to do with Mark Maegarr, the long-dead leader of the death cult, and Kevin Benecke, agent of The Agency?

I got this from Netgally via DarkFuse.

Eat the Night was another crazy tale from Tim Waggoner, teller of crazy tales. It had some Lovecraftian overtones without directly using the mythos. A universe careening toward entropy with various beasties helping it along and an Agency bent on pulling the parking brake? Cool premise!

It seemed like a haunted house tale at first. I hate to admit it but I would explore the shit out of a previously unknown room of my house. Joan avoids thinking about her crazy dreams and crazier past as both come up to bite her in the ass. The Agency was a nice touch. I like that instead of a government agency with huge funds, The Agency is short on man-power and resources AND is the only thing standing between the human race and entropy.

Maegarr and his rock and roll death cult made chilling foils. Inspired by the Jonestown Massacre, the death cult was all too plausible.

Overall, Eat the Night was a fun gory read. If I had to bitch about some things, I'd say that the ending felt a little rushed and the tone of the ending didn't really match the rest of the book. 3.5 out of 5 stars. Flavor for the feast!

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Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Review: Adam Copeland on Edge

Adam Copeland on Edge Adam Copeland on Edge by Adam Copeland
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Adam Copeland on Edge is the story of WWE wrestler Edge.

I was never that into Edge when I was a wrestling fan but I needed something to read at my desk during slow times. Yeah, I'm a sucker for $3.99 wrestling biographies.

Adam Copeland on Edge was a little slow in the early goings. Call me heartless but I don't really care enough about a wrestler's life pre-wrestling to spend 20% of a biography reading about it. Anyway, young Adam won an essay contest and got his wrestling training for free.

From there, things picked up. Edge had some great road stories from his early days, like driving across frozen lakes to get to the next town in remote parts of the Canadian wilderness, and waking up with Rhyno spooning him on one occasion. After some ill-advised bookings, he finally got noticed by the WWE.

His WWE career up to that point was given the bulk of the attention. His many injuries were talked about, as well as his many ladder matches with the Hardy Boys and/or the Dudleys. It was interesting but not fantastic. I actually thought his indy career stories were more interesting. The book ended kind of abruptly, right around the time of his comeback in 2004.

The writing was notches above the usual fare for a wrestling book, especially one written by an actual wrestler. I think my main gripe with it is that he wrote it so early in his career. There just wasn't enough interesting material to fill a whole book. Ten, or even five, years later and the book would have been that much richer.

All things considered, it's a slightly above average wrestling book. Three out of five stars. I think I'm done with cheap wrestling books for a while.

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Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Review: White Jazz

White Jazz White Jazz by James Ellroy
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When Dave Klein, the dirtiest cop in town, catches a burglary, he quickly becomes entangled in a web of drugs, prostitution, and murder...

James Ellroy's four volume treatise on family values and the integrity of the Los Angeles police department comes to a conclusion in White Jazz. White Jazz ties up some nagging lose ends leftover from the previous three volumes. Gone is the "trinity of sin" structure of The Big Nowhere and L.A. Confidential, replaced by a first person narrator, a throwback to The Black Dahlia.

Ellroy's machine gun style is ratcheted up to an insane degree in this one, the short choppy sentences hitting like the needle of a sewing machine. Honestly, it got a little hard to follow what was happening at times. However, the crazy style added something to the book, giving it a frantic, paranoid feel.

The story itself continued in the vein of the previous two; the corpse of the integrity of the LAPD was exhumed, violated in every orifice, and buried again. What starts as a burglary investigation tears the scab off of the gaping wound of the LAPD's narcotics division and exposes the infection beneath, namely their longtime relationship with the Kafesjian family. Dave Klein, a cop, lawyer, and mob enforcer, finds himself navigating a maze of filth to figure out just what the hell is going on, caught in a power struggle between two of the most powerful men on the force.

After finishing LA Confidential, I mentioned that I thought Dudley Smith was James Ellroy's Randall Flagg. After reading this book, I stand by that. The master manipulator was in fine form in White Jazz, doing his puppeteer act from the sidelines for most of the book. Once all the cards were on the table, the book got so frantic I thought I might have an anxiety attack.

As with the previous books, the dialogue and relationships between the characters threw a lot of gas on the fire. Klein's complicated relationships with his sister and Glenda, as well as Junior and the rest, made him another of Ellroy's shitbird characters that you couldn't help but root for, especially since all the other shitbirds had a lot more blood on their hands.

While I didn't like White Jazz quite as much as the other two books in the LA Quartet, it did a great job wrapping things up. Hell, when the three previous books are of such high caliber, they're hard to follow. Four out of five stars.

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Monday, September 12, 2016

Review: Ted DiBiase: The Million Dollar Man

Ted DiBiase: The Million Dollar Man Ted DiBiase: The Million Dollar Man by Ted DiBiase
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Ted DiBiase: The Million Dollar Man is the story of the former pro-wrestler of the same name.

Yeah, even at $3.99, this one was a dud.

Ted DiBiase, the Million Dollar Man, was one of the top heels of the late 1980's and early 1990's. Before that, he was one of the wrestlers in line for the NWA belt and a star in Georgia, the Mid-South, All-Japan, and points in between. This should have been a really interesting book, full of road stories and behind the scenes skullduggery.

It was not. It took 30% of the book for Ted to step into the ring. Instead, it focused on his early life and his college footman career. Strike one!

There wasn't a hell of a lot of depth given to his pre WWF-career. Just a few pages each were given to the various territories he worked in. His WWF career was given maybe 20 pages. Nothing new was revealed about his WCW stint. Yeah, we all know it was disorganized behind the scenes by now. His stint as a producer behind the scenes in the WWE after his wrestling days were over were given more time than some of his stints in wrestling territories.

I hate to shit all over this book since it wasn't terrible. I liked what little road stories he gave us and the quotes from various wrestlers and wrestling personalities interspersed in the text were a nice touch. I think the book started on the wrong foot and didn't give me enough interesting stories to bring me back around.

The Million Dollar Man used to say "Every man has his price." In my case, it's apparently $3.99. I wouldn't mind having my $3.99 back. Two out of five stars.

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Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Review: L.A. Confidential

L.A. Confidential L.A. Confidential by James Ellroy
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

In the aftermath of the Bloody Christmas, the lives of three cops are forever entwined; Ed Exley, the by the book cop who is forever in his father's shadow, glory hound Jack Vincennes, and Bud White, the man forever avenging his dead mother. After six people are killed in the Nite Owl Massacre, can the three men co-exist working the same case or will they all go down in flames?

L.A. Confidential is an epic crime tale spanning nearly a decade, a tale of corruption, greed, drugs, pornography, and murder upon murder upon murder. In many ways, it's The Big Nowhere 2.0. Ellroy once again uses the hell's trinity of three cops with varying degrees of dirtiness to explore Hollywood's filthy and infected underbelly.

The story started simply enough. A bunch of cops got tanked at a Christmas party and beat the shit out of some prisoners. Ed Exley snitched, setting the tone for most of the rest of his role in the book, that of an overgrown kiss ass hall monitor. Well, that's unfair, I guess. He's a pretty good detective for a daddy's boy rat. As with previous Ellroy affairs, two of the cops are pretty dirty. Jack Vincennes sells dirt to tabloids and Bud White's a heavy handed guy with a never ending beef with wifebeaters.

Once the Nite Owl Massacre hits and the smut magazines rear their creepy masked heads, Ellroy shows just how dirty cops can be, with lots of withholding evidence and backstabbing. The three leads prove themselves to be multi-faceted characters, all three with likeable and deplorable traits. Structurally, it's very similar to The Big Nowhere, only richer, more nuanced, and grimier. James Ellroy's Los Angeles is a cesspool with a thousand decaying corpses bobbing just beneath the surface.

I had a feeling who the mastermind was but was in the dark about a lot of the rest of the dirty deed doers until the trinity finally got on the same page just before the pages were torn out for good. For most of the book, I was happy to be on Ellroy's sightseeing tour of Hollywood hell. His punchy use of language was something to behold, a machine gun of poetic yet brutal short sentences.

The ending was pretty hard. I knew the ending would be rough, considering the previous two books in the LA Quartet, but this one was a bloody train wreck. There were some great character moments in the final pages and it's left me ravenous for White Jazz.

I guess I can finally join the nearly 20 year old party and see the movie now. Five out of five stars.

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Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Review: Walking a Golden Mile

Walking a Golden Mile Walking a Golden Mile by William Regal
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Walking a Golden Mile is the story of the rise, fall, and redemption of professional wrestler William Regal.

Secret hint for wrestling fans: Every week, the price on a few WWE wrestling books drops to $3.99 for a few days.

As I've said in earlier reviews, I used to watch wrestling religiously. I don't have time for it these days but I still follow it and occasionally read the books.

Anyway, William Regal, Lord Steven Regal in his WCW days, is one of those performers that always stood out for me, mostly because of his British wrestling style and upper class Englishman character. Walking a Golden mile covers his career, starting from his carnival days in the 1970's.
Walking a Golden Mile passed the first of my wrestling book gauntlet easily: Regal spends less than 3% on his time prior to wrestling.

Regal worked primarily in Europe before the English wrestling market nearly died in the early nineties. Fortunately, he got a job with WCW and soon won the Television title. Regal's road stories from that era are hilarious. Unfortunately, that's also where his decline into drug and alcohol abuse started.

Regal pulls no punches, talking about drinking a gallon of wine a day and downing countless pills, eventually getting himself fired for urinating on a refreshments cart and a stewardess on a plane, landing him in the clink in Alaska. Still, that wasn't even rock bottom...

For a WWE-published book, there is some dark shit in this, even darker than Eddie Guerrero's book. Regal got hooked on GHB during his first brief stint in the WWE and it took years for him to finally get his life back on track, only to nearly die from congestive heart failure. Like I said, this one is pretty dark at times. Finally, Regal got his life back in order and rocketed to a fairly high position in the WWE.

Walking a Golden Mile was a lot funnier than most wrestling books and pretty damn dark. Regal doesn't gloss over the wreck he let his personal life become but doesn't forget his friends either. All things considered, it's one of the better WWE-published wrestling biographies. 3.5 out of 5 stars.

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