A solid, original take on the murder mystery genre, where the protagonist, in many ways, is as bad as the villian. A great concept which is delivered...moreA solid, original take on the murder mystery genre, where the protagonist, in many ways, is as bad as the villian. A great concept which is delivered with a lot of heart and more than a few winks from author Jeff Lindsay. The only downside to this book is if you've already seen the series. For me personally, a lot of the fun was taking out of the book since all the characters had already been established in my mind by their TV counterparts. But that shouldn't stop you from enjoying this otherwise good book.(less)
I never read a book that could so well be considered "Timeless." Written in the late 70s, "Women" translates seamlessly to go in sync with the modern...moreI never read a book that could so well be considered "Timeless." Written in the late 70s, "Women" translates seamlessly to go in sync with the modern man's thought pattern. A stream-of-consciousness style of writing limits an actual plot and make the story seem more like a thread of anecdotes, but taken as a whole "Women" provides some insight into the mind of a self-proclaimed "Dirty Old Man.'(less)
A near perfect story about Jonathan A., a "fictional" character that clearly represents the book's author, Jonathon Ames. The story is equal parts sil...moreA near perfect story about Jonathan A., a "fictional" character that clearly represents the book's author, Jonathon Ames. The story is equal parts silly and sad, focusing not so much on Jonathon's inconsistent battle with alcohol, but mostly the reasons for it. The story is just as up-and-down as the main character's life. At some points, the story is tragic while avoiding tear-jerking cliches, at others it's sweet as soda without the saccharine aftertaste. The art is beautiful as well. You're going to be hard pressed to find a better story that stays so true to what life really is about.(less)
The good thing about Victor Gischler books is that they're full of fun, clean narrative and lots of action. The bad thing, as I'm starting to realize,...moreThe good thing about Victor Gischler books is that they're full of fun, clean narrative and lots of action. The bad thing, as I'm starting to realize, is that if you've read one of them, you've read most of them.
Dont mistake me--Suicide Squeeze is a fun book with a fairly inventive story. Conner Samson, your typical down-on-his-luck type, gets mixed up with local mobsters, the Yakuza and trigger happy former NSA agents over a...baseball card? See? Inventive, right? And a lot of fun as well. Gischler's strength evenly lies in his ability to make a story both complex and accessible at the same time. His books read like Hollywood blockbusters, which in my opinion, tastes almost like a delicacy in a world of stuffy, hyper-literate, dust-collecting "instant classics" that the New York Times insists should be on your reading schedule.
As mentioned, Gischler's near-trademark storytelling and the smirk you can tell he's cracking while crafting these fun tales work against him as readers become more acquainted with his work. On their own, Gischler's books are the epitome of a fun read, however, when compared to his other works, more than a few common threads begin to connect (and almost tire) both his stories' themes and their characters.
If this is your first time hearing the name "Gischler," by all means, read Suicide Squeeze! But if you're familiar with some of his other works (also worth checking out for their own merits), be warned that you may have seen this story before.(less)
When I first finished The Mystic Art of Erasing All Signs of Death--the first Charlie Huston book I ever read--the first thing I did was check out the...moreWhen I first finished The Mystic Art of Erasing All Signs of Death--the first Charlie Huston book I ever read--the first thing I did was check out the Amazon reviews. Upon closing the book, I knew this was going to be one of those tomes that would divide both casual and hardcore readers alike. The reason for this isn't necessarily the content or the plot--a fun, foul-mouthed story about a disgruntled slacker with a past who finds himself working for a cleaning company that specializes in post-mortem pick-up--but the way the story is told.
The story of Huston's main character, a slacker/mooch by the name of Webb, starts off essentially in the middle of the novel, a common yet effective technique that this story takes full advantage of. Immediately, readers get a crash course about Webb through his terse, humorous and, most importantly, realistic way of speaking. We also get a feel for the nature of the story, as the mouthy yet malleable main character is being forced into a situation he doesn't understand that leaves him awkward and out of place. From the get go, readers will realize that they just began a fairly standard "anti-hero who's accidentally gotten himself in way over his head" kind of story that is packaged in profanity-filled newspaper as opposed to shiny wrapping paper. It's in the beginning chapter, readers will notice, that the narrative takes an interesting and unique approach: much of the story is told through the exchange of dialogue. While Webb offers up some first-person narrative throughout the story, much of the action is picked up between lines of dialog, a technique that, to me, seemed equal parts clever and gimmicky.
This brings me back to my main point: I have a feeling that Huston's very storytelling may alienate some readers. It certainly had me a little annoyed at first, and I am by no means a "conservative" reader. Readers will notice a complete lack of quotation marks in the dialog--something it seems Huston does as a way of transforming the conversations into narrative--and may be put off. Accordingly, some readers may find themselves missing out on some of the more traditional storytelling methods--I, for one, felt a slightly short changed by Huston taking short cuts around giving more visceral descriptions of what his characters were feeling and seeing.
All that said, does this unique storytelling hurt the story? Not necessarily. While jarring, I found this method to work with Webb, who himself is no stranger to talking his way out of traditional situations. So for this particular story and this particular character, Huston's method works, although I'd be curious to see how it'd translate to other characters.
As for the story itself, Huston shows off a mastery of developing oddball yet somehow realistic situations and characters. As mentioned earlier, Webb finds himself forced to work for "The Clean Team" a company that cleans up after murder scenes. During this time, Webb gets caught up in turf wars between not only rival cleaning crews, but also redneck mobsters and wannabe Hollywood producers. Already dealing with wounds from a past tragedy, Webb jerks his way through these tribulations, trying to use his warped brain to think his way out of the situations his big mouth essentially started for him. The supporting cast consist of characters every bit as vivid and realistic as Webb, each one taking a minute or two to shine in their own way throughout the book. The story itself is fun, brisk and humorous, but also delivers enough meat to satisfy most readers.
Overall, I highly recommend The Mystic Art of Erasing All Signs of Death. Despite the unconventional approach to telling the story, Huston has created an entertaining work of fiction that stands proudly on it's own set of standards and merits--something most mainstream fiction writers couldn't do with an instruction manual.
Michael P. Ferrari Author, Assault on the Senses (less)
Stories exploring the myriad possibilities of time travel are nothing new, however, time travel stories that explore their direct effects on a person’...moreStories exploring the myriad possibilities of time travel are nothing new, however, time travel stories that explore their direct effects on a person’s core character are a rarity. That said, Ken Grimwood’s “Replay” offers a story, strength and experience that has the rarity and luster of a fist-sized diamond.
“Reply” begins by showing ubiquitous, 40-something everyman Jeff Winston dying of a seemingly random heart attack in October of 1988. Upon dying, Jeff instantly wakes up 25 years earlier as the 18-year-old version of himself, replete with all his memories and knowledge from the life he just left. Jeff, essentially, has the opportunity to live his life anew knowing what the future has in store for him. The possibilities, obviously, prove endless. Knowing the outcome of every major sporting event in the next 25 years, Jeff becomes a gambling phenom who is able to build a fortune unavailable to him in his previous life. Aside from providing himself with vast new riches, Jeff now has the opportunity to live his life to a different degree. This opportunity, of course, poses plenty of possibilities, all stemming from the same question: if you could do it all over again, would you? The obvious answer, and the one Jeff picks, is a resounding “No,” and Grimwood brings his reader along for the ride while exploring what Jeff does differently.
“Replay” works on a number of levels. Grimwood is fully aware of the obvious choices anyone would make in Jeff’s shoes (i.e. would I marry the same women? Would I follow the same career path? Would I take that one big risk I always regretted not taking, etc.), and clearly touches upon those choices in appropriate measures. Where the book thrives, however, is Grimwood’s exploration of the less-than-obvious choices: Would I try to save JFK? Would I try to prevent Gaddafi’s rise to power? Would I try to change the world for the better? It’s in these facets and more that Grimwood gives the reader a chance to sit in Jeff’s mind while he wonders if his repercussions could benefit humanity or endanger it.
On a wider scale, “Replay” offers the reader a chance to ponder our own individual impact on the world around us. While Jeff “replays” his life not just once, but several times over, he constantly ponders his lot in life. He often wonders why he was offered this opportunity and how he could best use it. These questions come up while he also sets out to discover if he is the only one experiencing these replays of if there are others like him. Grimwood takes these seemingly singular ideas and threads them into some of the more grandiose questions we often find ourselves asking, primarily, “Why am I here?”
Along with offering his readers plenty of meaty, hypothetical bones to chew on, Grimwood also tells a damn fine story. His prose are cleanly structured but still emote a subtle, subliminal pathos that, much of the time, may better convey what the reader is feeling from Jeff’s story than they could explain themselves. Grimwood does a masterful job of pacing a story that could have easily been told in 20 volumes into a hearty 300 pages. It’s very rare that a book of speculative fiction can offer something for literally everybody, but Grimwood’s ultimate “What if…?” story truly does contain something that is capable of evoking an emotion out of any reader. Highly recommended. (less)
“Billy Pilgrim has become unhinged in time.” It’s the classic line that starts off the classic story of what is considered to be Kurt Vonnegut’s opus,...more“Billy Pilgrim has become unhinged in time.” It’s the classic line that starts off the classic story of what is considered to be Kurt Vonnegut’s opus, Slaughterhouse Five. For those who didn’t have to read this seminal tale in their college literature classes, Slaughterhouse Five is considered by many to be the ultimate anti-war satire, a story that scolds the meaning of all war (via examining the fire bombing of Dresden during WWII) through fairly anti-jingo themes and a bumbling optometrist (Billy Pilgrim) who claims to have learned the meaning (or rather, meaninglessness) of life from a troupe of extraterrestrials that locked him in an intergalactic zoo towards the end of his time-traveling adventures.
Re-reading that last sentence will give you a fair idea of the nature of Slaughterhouse Five: it conveys it’s painfully serious message through absurd and hilarious means—a text-book technique in the world of satire and a more basic tenant of sarcasm. Slaughterhouse Five—which most likely gained much of its prominence as an anti-war tome released on the cusp of the Vietnam Era—offers the reader a narrative that periodically sets up check points that challenge the reader into looking beneath the surface of the prose and to figure out the inherent symbolism Vonnegut is trying so desperately to display. And on that level, the book succeeds. We’re constantly introduced to a cadre of oddball avatars that could represent just about any solider involved in any war in a foreign land, and we immediately learn how they die before we learn how the war effected them, how they in turn effected the war, and the indelible mark they’ve left on the world by being just another individual in the never-ending line of individuals that make up human existence. It’s in this message—that even the most random and common life matters, no matter how inconsequential and expendable it may seem—that the book soars. Unfortunately, it’s in its relevance where the book sinks.
While the book is exceptionally well written, with Vonnegut providing innocent yet lush descriptions and verbiage, Slaughterhouse Five will easily collapse under its own “classic” status for some readers. Despite what the late Vonnegut (and, most likely, your college professor) probably wanted, this book won’t resonate with everyone. There’s the obvious risk that some just wont get the message of the book—whether it’s the message conveyed above or another, maybe more personal, message entirely—and take it’s lofty tale too seriously, while those who will get the subtext just won’t care. However, that’s the unfortunate price that comes from being considered a classic work of art. That said, the book is regarded as a classic for a reason, and active readers would be doing themselves a favor to find out why. (less)
Despite your take on the “sport,” Mick Foley may be one of the best things to ever happen to professional wrestling. This opinion isn’t derived from F...moreDespite your take on the “sport,” Mick Foley may be one of the best things to ever happen to professional wrestling. This opinion isn’t derived from Foley’s legendary prowess in the ring, but rather from the fact that if a man as intelligent and articulate as Foley sees value in such a thing, than surely there is something to be said about pro wrestling. The kind of poignancy someone like Foley adds to the spectacle of professional wrestling isn’t necessarily foreign—especially with films like “The Wrestler” and newly minted Disney icon Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson drawing so much positive attention to the ring—but it is a nice, sweet cherry on the top of an American establishment that is celebrated in the same way as the traveling carnival.
All that said, I hope that no preconceived notions of professional wrestling—positive or negative—alter readers take on “Tietam Brown,” Foley’s beautifully spun fiction debut. The story, in short, is about 17-year-old Antietam “Andy” Brown, a teenage who has been tossed between foster homes for most of his life. Andy is taken in by his previously estranged father, the titular Tietam, a heavy drinker who does little more with his life than sleep with married women (whom he brags about to Andy) and exercise naked in his living room. Andy--who suffers from not only a gimped hand but also heavily restrained anguish caused by his turbulent upbringing—has little choice but to go along with his fathers antics in an attempt to find some normalcy in his life for once. Making that task more difficult are standard-issue high school bullies, an angrily ‘roided-up teacher/coach who (probably not coincidentally) resembles the Ultimate Warrior, and the parents of Andy’s angelic love interest who would rather see nothing more than for their daughter to be isolated from the pauper-like protagonist.
The story, for the most part, reads like many other coming-of-age stories. And, like most books in its genre, it shares the unfortunate fate of being superficially compared to “Catcher in the Rye,” and rightfully so. Despite that, Foley’s strength is demonstrated by taking a lot of the standard “coming-of-age” faire that we’re all used to and tilting it just sideways, bringing with it a similar “extreme” mentality not uncommon in Foley’s performance as “Mankind,” his WWE counterpart. A perfect example of this lies in the stories titular character, Tietam Brown. Foley could have very easily played it by the books and still made a compelling yet tormenting father figure for Andy, however, Foley instead opts to go for a darker approach, adding a viciousness that lies just beneath the surface Tietam’s jokey antics. As far as narrative goes, Foley excels. Andy’s first-person point of view is nothing groundbreaking in the world of storytelling, however, Foley gives him a strong sense of optimism despite the character’s shortcomings and tragic past. Much of the book is told with a sweetness to it that makes the reader simultaneously root for and mourn Andy. Foley’s delicate handling of Andy’s personality works like sugar to make the darker parts of the book go down much more easily. Highly recommended. (less)
I only read the first book of ten. Pretty fun read, but is better suited for the YA crowd. Plus, the book--written in 1972--hasn't aged well. Still, f...moreI only read the first book of ten. Pretty fun read, but is better suited for the YA crowd. Plus, the book--written in 1972--hasn't aged well. Still, for an ambitious pre-teen reader, this book could be a lot of fun.(less)