Amy Fleury, Beautiful Trouble (Southern Illinois University Press, 2004)
I wasn't quite sure what to make of Beautiful Trouble, the 2004 Crab Orchard FAmy Fleury, Beautiful Trouble (Southern Illinois University Press, 2004)
I wasn't quite sure what to make of Beautiful Trouble, the 2004 Crab Orchard First Book Award winner, for the first few pages. Once I got into the rhythm of Amy Fleury's poetry, however, it was like a wire tripped in my head, and I devoured the rest of the book in one sitting. Fleury is at her best in the last section of the book, where her triple obsessions of sensuality, rural life, and time all converge:
“Once again we stumble out of sheet tangle and the dross of dreams. Daylight comes in little sips over the lip of the bitter cup. It is enough to sustain us. It is enough to know that we will go out again with all our failings and loose change, dazzled and hopeful in the splendor of the sun.” (“Aubade”)
Solid stuff, worth reading, with a real honesty to it: this is unvarnished in the best of ways, like a bare floor capable of giving you splinters, but still attractive enough that you refuse to carpet it. *** ½ ...more
Gary Fincke, The Almanac for Desire (BkMk Press, 2000)
Ah, Gary Fincke, how I do love your poetry. And of the books of Fincke's poetry I've read over tGary Fincke, The Almanac for Desire (BkMk Press, 2000)
Ah, Gary Fincke, how I do love your poetry. And of the books of Fincke's poetry I've read over the last couple of years, The Almanac for Desire is probably the strongest of them. Introspective, filled with a gentle, self-deprecating humor, poetic without being academic (in the sense of “erudite beyond the vocabularies of normal readers”), Fincke's poetry has the kind of straightforward beauty one might expect from a more sensitive James Dickey or a less nature-obsessed Hayden Carruth.
“Here, this morning, I'm shown the sealed drawers of the monument where a part of my family lies hidden an inch from the sun, avoiding the grave and the slab of the mausoleum.
A dozen names, not ours, fill three sides of the squared base, all of them etched like the memories of those who record everything the know on floppy discs for the repository of transcribed souls. (“The Repository of Transcribed Souls”)
Fantastic book that's flirting with inclusion in my Best Reads of the Year list. If you're not familiar with Fincke, this is a great place to start (or, if you're poetry-phobic, pick up his “musical memoir” Amp'd: A Father's Backstage Pass). **** ½
While I have to say that I found Lost in a Good Book to be far more readable, on every level, than ThJasper Fforde, Lost in a Good Book (Viking, 2002)
While I have to say that I found Lost in a Good Book to be far more readable, on every level, than The Eyre Affair, I still had what I call the put-down problem: it was all well and good when I was actually reading it, but when I put it down to go off and do something else (for, when one is reading a four-hundred-page book, one must do things like eat and sleep, usually), I really felt no compulsion whatever to pick it up again—which is why, according to the book spreadsheet, Lost in a Good Book took me exactly one hundred eighty days to finish. Darned close to half a year. I'd read a couple of chapters, put it down, and then not touch it for three or four weeks. Not because it's a bad book per se, but because pretty much every book I picked up between September fourteenth of last year and March thirteenth of this year were, if not better-written, more compelling, better paced, wittier, or possessed of some other factor (or combination of same) that made them more interesting than this. But, again, that doesn't make this a bad book at all; I did end up finishing it (unlike the last book I attempted with put-down problems, which I struggled with for years before abandoning), and when all was said and done I quite enjoyed it. The question, however, is whether I want to continue with the series, and I find myself in the same quandary. It isn't like it was after I finished The Eyre Affair, where I pretty much had to force myself to pick this up, but there's that same sense of apathy making me ask myself why. I guess only time will tell whether I do or not. But, again, despite the book's rather aggressive mediocrity, I did enjoy it. *** ½
James Ellroy, The Black Dahlia (Mysteriouis Press, 1987)
The most depressing thing about the new edition of James Ellroy's classic The Black Dahlia isJames Ellroy, The Black Dahlia (Mysteriouis Press, 1987)
The most depressing thing about the new edition of James Ellroy's classic The Black Dahlia is its afterword, in which Ellroy has nothing but praise for Brian DePalma's cruelly bad film adaptation. That said, the book itself is still just as good as it was twenty years ago, and if you're in the mood for a bang-up historical mystery novel, you can't go wrong with anything that's got James Ellroy's name on the cover (this is the guy who also wrote L. A. Confidential, which is if anything even better than this one).
Bucky Bleichert is an ex-boxer turned beat cop whose career is going nowhere until a DA is appointed who has a thing for boxers. Bleichert and his new partner, Lee Blanchard, have the luck (or lack of same) to be the first officers on the scene when the body of Elizabeth Short-- the Black Dahlia-- is discovered in Hollywood. Through Bleichert's eyes, we watch as Blanchard becomes obsessed with the case (Bleichert does as well, though obviously he's less capable of seeing the beam in his own eye) and begins to lose his sanity and his girlfriend. Bleichert, meanwhile, finds himself falling for an heiress who bears a striking resemblance to Short, while wondering if perhaps the actress was actually not the killer's real target.
There's much more to it, of course; Ellroy's novels are about as complex as mystery novels get these days (some would say overly so, and there's a valid case to be made for such an argument; an Ellroy novel reads more like House of Leaves than Raymond Chandler more often than not). As long as you're a fan of labyrinthine plots capped with labyrinthine subplots, there's a great deal to dig into here. To add to the intrigue, Ellroy creates deep, memorable characters who seem capable of jumping off the page at any time. All the more reason to wonder how Brian DePalma messed up so badly.
One does not, however, have to think long and hard about the symbolism, the characterization, the stuff that makes Ellroy's novel so “deep” in order to enjoy it; on its surface, this is nothing more than a good old-fashioned detective yarn, and it can certainly be enjoyed as nothing more than that. One way or the other, though, you're pretty likely to enjoy it if you pick it up. ****
Eric Drooker, Blood Song: A Silent Ballad (Harcourt, 2002)
I knew this book was going to annoy me while reading Joe Sacco's introduction (which, by theEric Drooker, Blood Song: A Silent Ballad (Harcourt, 2002)
I knew this book was going to annoy me while reading Joe Sacco's introduction (which, by the way, is excellent); he introduces Drooker as “hard-left” and goes on to explore the themes found here in light of that. And, as I expected after reading that-- I had no idea what the book was actually about when I grabbed it off the library shelf-- yeah, I found it intensely annoying. So why does a book that drove me bats get four stars?
Because it's not the tale, it's the way you tell the tale. Had I not first read Sacco's introduction, I might not have glommed onto everything Drooker was on about here, and thus, it wouldn't have annoyed me. Because Drooker knows how to tell a tale and let the politics bleed through. Which I find amazing, not because he did so, but because this is the second book I'm reviewing this week where a message writer actually gets it right (the other being China Mieville's Un Lun Dun).
Drooker's book-- which other than a Melville epigram on the opening page is entirely wordless-- concerns a young woman who lives in a small village somewhere. The first few pages show us a day in the life; a father catches fish and takes it home to the family, where it is cooked and eaten, and everyone goes to sleep. Normal stuff. The next morning, the girl goes off to get water. When she gets back to the village-- well, this is why I didn't know what was coming. The back matter doesn't spoil the story, so I'm not going to. I'll just say that things are not at all what they seem in this world. From there, the girl finds her way to a much larger city, and the latter half of the book concerns what happens to her there.
Drooker's genius lies in his ability to make a very muted palette of colors (with a few notable exceptions; there's a yellow butterfly who recurs throughout the story, for example) convey so much information, with no words involved. The girl is walking back through the forest with the water, and her trusty canine companion is chasing that yellow butterfly. Then, suddenly, both dog and butterfly stop at the edge of the woods. It seems like such a small thing, but subtle differences in the dog's posture, the sudden closing of the gap between them, hint at something momentous. That's good stuff right there. Very effective storytelling. Drooker also has a wonderful eye for pace (and reflecting the pace in the characters, such as the closing of the gap between the dog and the butterfly), and that, more than the wordlessness of the book, makes the pages fly by, for you will stop at regular intervals just to appreciate what it is Drooker is doing with the way his characters are portrayed. This is not to say Drooker doesn't get heavy-handed now and then (the framing pages of starting with the Milky Way, then drilling down to the scene, and going back up at the end), and my perverse conservative imp wants to intentionally misinterpret the final scene before that last pullout, but despite my distaste for the story itself-- which is manipulative and predictable-- when I closed the book, I knew I'd been in the presence of someone who does, surely know how to tell a story, and tell it well. ****
Roman Dirge, Lenore, the Cute Little Dead Girl: Cooties (SLG Publishing, 2006)
Really, the only thing I can say about Cooties is "even funnier than NooRoman Dirge, Lenore, the Cute Little Dead Girl: Cooties (SLG Publishing, 2006)
Really, the only thing I can say about Cooties is "even funnier than Noogies." But I have to fill up a paragraph somehow, so I'll praise Dirge's continuing to experiment with longer storylines (in fact, Cooties is one storyline to itself, except for the extra bits you find in any ish of Lenore-- one of which is truly side-splittingly funny. I had to stuff my intestines back in) and the fantastic new character who pops up here; I'll let you discover him in all his glory and not spoil the surprise for you. This is great stuff. **** ...more
Guiliana DePandi, Think Like a Guy: How to Get a Guy by Thinking Like One (St. Martin's, 2006)
I put this on hold online, and so didn't have to check tGuiliana DePandi, Think Like a Guy: How to Get a Guy by Thinking Like One (St. Martin's, 2006)
I put this on hold online, and so didn't have to check the aisles to find out where it was. Can someone please tell me that this book is classified as humor instead of self-help? Because while it's not funny, it's certainly a better fit for the humor section, in its ham-handed, idiotic sort of way. As a self-help book, I can't imagine a worse failure. Not just for the way it portrays women—as money-grubbing servile wenches who would do just about anything to land the best (or, really, any passing) man—but in general, as well. And while DePandi starts off trying to pull her punches a bit—she initially cautions women to be “evasive” in dating (though, to correct her hunting analogy a bit, after the hunter has missed the deer nine or ten times, what's he going to do? He's going to go look for another deer), it doesn't take her long to take off the gloves and tell the hapless reader what she's really advocating. When she says, “Here's the quick fix: lie.” on page 31, it's not the first time she's advocated lying in order to land a guy. Take a tip from one: when he finds out you did, he'll dump you like someone who read Giuliana DePandi's dating advice. (zero)
Going into this book and knowing it was “Christian fiction”, I really have to admit I didn't expect a great deaTed Dekker, Thr3e (Thomas Nelson, 2003)
Going into this book and knowing it was “Christian fiction”, I really have to admit I didn't expect a great deal (read: anything) from it. There are really, really good Christian writers, but in general, they are writers who happen to be Christian (Madeleine L'Engle is an obvious example, as is Francois Mauriac); as with every other type of message, the really good ones just kind of let the message come through subconsciously and don't beat the reader over the head with it. I haven't encountered someone who does that consistently, and well, in quite a while, and so I wasn't expecting much from Ted Dekker.
More fool me, because no matter how awful its film adaptation may have been (as, unfortunately, all adaptations of Dekker novels seem to be), but as a thriller, Thr3e is the real deal.
Kevin Parson is a seminary student who's on his way home from class one day when he gets a call on his new cell phone from someone who calls himself Slater. Slater tells him he has three minutes to confess his sin to the world or his car will explode. He doesn't. It does. Kevin, who was smart enough to get out of the car before it blew, has to both figure out who Slater is and what the sin is that he's supposed to confess. Assuming the sin is from his childhood and he's somehow vlocked the memory of it, he calls his childhood friend Samantha Sheer, who comes to town to help him. Also aiding him is FBI agent Jennifer Peters, whose brother may have been Slater's last victim-- all the signs from slater's call and Kevin's car bomb point to this being the work of the same maniac. The question is, can the three of them solve the puzzle before Slater kills Kevin-- or all three of them?
Once the situation is laid out, you should have the Big Reveal in the back of your mind, and when Dekker goes exactly that way, there's probably going to be a bit of disappointment along with the self-satisfaction you'll feel for figuring it out early, but don't get too complacent-- Dekker still has some traps to spring, and the last few pages of the book blindsided me. I was very impressed at how well Dekker had set things up here, and as I intimated at the beginning of this review, the spiritual aspects of the work are there, but they're never jumping up and down on your spleen screaming “RECOGNIZE ME!”. Which, of course, always makes for a more pleasant reading experience. Dekker's characters are well-thought-out and well-presented, and the plotting here is pretty durned close to genius (I'm always reminded of the test mine two of the trainees put together in Robb White's Up Periscope that nails the sergeant when I come across plotting like this). What a pleasant surprise Thr3e was, and I'm looking forward to reading more of Mr. Dekker's work. **** ...more
John Dean, House of Evil: The Indiana Torture Slaying (St. Martin's, 2008)
I've spent a few years trying to track down the original Beeline Press releaJohn Dean, House of Evil: The Indiana Torture Slaying (St. Martin's, 2008)
I've spent a few years trying to track down the original Beeline Press release of John Dean's The Indiana Torture Slaying, so I was thrilled when I heard St. Martin's was going to re-release the book in 2008 thanks to the interested generated by the films An American Crime and The Girl Next Door. The Indiana Torture Slaying, now retitled House of Evil, has long been touted as the definitive book on the Likens case; not having read it gave me the idea I was missing a great deal. Turns out I was right.
Dean, a newspaper reporter at the time of the crime, covered the court case from right there in the courtroom. As to be expected from true crime books these days, only the first half of the book is actually dedicated to the crime itself; the last half deals with the trial. (Old hat now, but pretty newfangled back then. Dean mentions in his preface that his Beeline editor took one look at his first draft and told him to rewrite the whole thing after reading In Cold Blood. He did.) Details that got left out of other reports, or were deliberately occluded (or excluded) from adaptations, are here in all their glory, and the end result is that the Likens case is a lot muddier in real life than it is in fictional adaptations. Why, exactly, this surprises me I have no idea, but it does.
In case you've been living in a cave for the last forty years, House of Evil: The Indiana Torture Slaying tells the story of, arguably, the single most horrific crime ever committed on American soil: the slow death of Sylvia Likens at the hands of almost a dozen torturers—only one of whom was over the age of eighteen. Thirty-seven-year-old Gertrude Baniszewski (Ban-i-SHEFF-sky—everyone has trouble with it), the mother of half the kids involved, was basically the ringleader, but things got out of hand pretty quick. What makes the crime so shocking is not that a mother got her kids involved in crime; as distressing as that thought is, it does happen on a fairly regular basis—but that neighbor kids got involved, too. Richard Hobbs, often considered the most intriguing character in the case (he was the loose base for the lead character in Ketchum's The Girl Next Door) claimed for the rest of his life that he tortured Sylvia Likens simply because Gertrude Baniszewski told him to. The question is not what happened to Sylvia Likens in that house. We know that. The question is what happened to all the other kids involved. That's a question no one has ever satisfactorily answered, though a number of people have tried.
If you're interested in the Likens case, House of Evil is about as close to primary source as you're going to get without going into newspaper morgues. If you're just interested in true crime in general, it's still worth reading; few books released recently in the genre are as well-written and readable as this one. Definitely recommended. ****
MaryJanice Davidson, Undead and Unworthy (Berkley, 2008)
The seventh book in Davidson's Queen Betsy series is an obvious attempt at a makeover-- just lMaryJanice Davidson, Undead and Unworthy (Berkley, 2008)
The seventh book in Davidson's Queen Betsy series is an obvious attempt at a makeover-- just look at the cover, which is far less the chick-lit pastels of the earlier books and far more the cool, competent thriller-heroine. Berkley seems to have said “with the old plotline over, it's time to move MaryJanice Davidson away from the world of chick lit and into the world of the 'women's mystery novel'.” I mean, really, that cover begs, “Put me on a Kathy Reichs book.”
Davidson, thankfully, doesn't seem to have gotten the memo. While this book is more mystery-focused than the previous novels in the series, Betsy herself is just as charmingly ditzy as ever, and romance is still just as much in the air as it ever was. It's almost impossible to go into the plot without giving anything away, so I'll just say that the two packs Betsy has managed to get herself involved with both find themselves unhappy with her at the same time. When it rains, it pours. It doesn't help matters that the two aren't fond of one another, either...
A lot of people had a lot of problems with this entry in the series, and I can see why. This is an ending you're either going to love or hate, and a lot of people hated it. I'm not one of them; I won't say it seemed inevitable, but it did certainly fit with everything that's going on in the book. As always, Davidson is readable and witty, though she does still overuse curse words like a sixth-grader. I know a lot of folks disagree with me, but I think it's still a fun series. **** ...more