Brandon Adams, Broke: A Poker Novel (iUniverse, 2006)
You may not recognize Brandon Adams' name if your only exposure to poker is the World Series, but...moreBrandon Adams, Broke: A Poker Novel (iUniverse, 2006)
You may not recognize Brandon Adams' name if your only exposure to poker is the World Series, but if you watch any of the cash game programs that show up once in a while, he's quite familiar. Poker books are enjoying the best market share ever as well, so I was wondering why a novel with poker as its focus written by a recognizable poker pro would have been passed up by the major publishers. Then I read it.
First off, poker novel? Using the quick-and-dirty method of word counting (average umber of words from three random lines on a random page multiplied by number of lines per page multiplied by number of pages), Broke clocks in at just over twenty-seven thousand words, which barely makes it a poker novella. Not that this is a bad thing in itself, but one would expect a bit more meat. Secondly, when you're trying to tell a full novel-length story in that amount of time, something has to be sacrificed (and, as I'll get to later, far more than one thing fell by the wayside here). Thirdly, it seemed oftentimes as if some experts who write sports-based novels aimed at players of the game (Thoroughbred writer Mark Cramer, whose nonfiction books are fantastic, is also guilty of this in his novels) seem more as if they're writing how-to books and slapping a fictionalized veneer on top. I didn't get that sense all the way through this book, but it definitely reared its ugly head a few times.
As I said, a novel that runs only ninety-one pages sets the reader up for knowing that something is going to fall by the wayside. The first thing that's absent is character development. Adams does try to get some development across in each of his three main characters, but we never get to know them enough to know whether they're actually progressing here or whether these are just a series of events happening to them. This may have something to do with Adams' thoughts on gambling addiction (assuming they're the same as his main character's); the cyclical nature of addiction that he describes may well preclude the type of character development we (and he) expect from these characters. To be sure, one of them has different behavioral patterns by the end of the story, but the other two just serve to make us wonder how long it will be until he, too, is right back where they are.
Also, while the book does have some semblance of a plot, there's not much that ties the events in each (very short) chapter together (seventeen chapters in ninety-one pages), which adds fuel to the “object-lesson” model I mentioned before. There were a lot of things about the way the book is structured that put me in mind of Mark Cramer's Scared Money, but while I wasn't at all fond of Cramer's cook either, he has a much better sense of how to put a novel together than Adams. In other words, Cramer's book might have been a good novel had he been able to stop teaching long enough to allow the story to get his lessons across. Adams' novel doesn't have that; the underpinnings aren't there for it to hold up without the object lessons. The object lessons themselves contain some good stuff, and you may find the book worth your time because of a few particular situations Adams takes us through towards the end of the book—when he's talking hands, taking you through his thought processes, that's when everything falls into place and the words really start flowing. Unfortunately, there's too little of that. * (less)
Vivian LaRue, The Creeping Danger (Harper Festival, 2008)
So Neopets have started book lines? Why not? They've got just about every other kind of merch...moreVivian LaRue, The Creeping Danger (Harper Festival, 2008)
So Neopets have started book lines? Why not? They've got just about every other kind of merchandising going. They kick off their fantasy-novels-for-young-readers line with two trilogies, both authored by Vivian LaRue. After reading volume one of each, it's pretty obvious they're sexed; the Ghoul Catchers trilogy, of which this is the first book, is the series for boys, while the Grey Faerie Chronicles (see below) is the series for girls. (One wonders about having the same author write both, but hey, whatever works.)
If you've read a few fantasy or horror novels (or played Dungeons and Dragons), you've got a good idea of what the general definition of a ghoul is. In the happy-bunny-fluffy-kitty world of Neopets, however, ghouls are an entirely different sort of beast; they're essentially evil sorcerors who plan to take over Neopia by paralyzing the living and draining their life essence (not permanently, natch) to power their spells. Some years ago, the ghouls were banished to a kind of in-between plane of existence, but now they've returned and are ready to get back to the whole takeover gig. But they were stopped last time, right? This time, it's up to Liva, an adventurous Wocky, and her best friend Sarn, a reserved Kacheek. The two stumble upon the ghouls' conspiracy during a hike in the Haunted Woods after meeting a ghostly Eyrie named Kyrok, and find themselves the reluctant saviors of the planet. That is, if they can prevent the ghouls from paralyzing them...
As you can expect from a hundred twenty-eight-page book set in sixteen-point type, this isn't exactly a masterpiece of complex plotting, but it's readable, its characters are engaging, and it should keep the kiddies entertained. Not bad. ***
As I said in my review of The Creeping Danger, this is the Neopets fantasy trilogy for girls. There'...moreVivian LaRue, Nomi's Quest (Harper Festival, 2008)
As I said in my review of The Creeping Danger, this is the Neopets fantasy trilogy for girls. There's still adventure and the like, but it's like the difference between hardboiled and cozy mysteries; this one lacks the same sense of immediate danger. That doesn't mean it's any less exciting; in fact, I liked this one better than I liked The Creeping Danger.
Nomi is a Faerieland faerie, with all that entails, but she has a problem—she has some problems mastering magic. And with the big Faerieland festival coming up, she's got to find some way to come up with an act that will win her the Faerie Queen's peridot crown. But every other faerie apprentice is better at magic than she is. One day, she overhears two other apprentices talking about Edna, the Haunted Woods witch, and how she can help faeries increase their power. Problem solved! Except that everything Edna does comes with a price...
LaRue has a better handle on plotting in this book than in The Creeping Danger, and there's actually a hint of subtlety to what's going on here, as opposed to the straightforwardness of the other book. It feels more accomplished, even in roughly the same real estate. It's good stuff, much better than I was expecting (even as a fan of Neopets). A must-read for Neopians, and might bring a few non-fans into the fold. *** ½
James Turner, Rex Libris: I, Librarian (SLG, 2007)
The first volume in Turner's much-ballyhooed series Rex Libris has finally landed on my doorstep, an...moreJames Turner, Rex Libris: I, Librarian (SLG, 2007)
The first volume in Turner's much-ballyhooed series Rex Libris has finally landed on my doorstep, and I have to say, I'm not entirely sure what all the fuss is about. It's possible I read it way too soon after reading Jason Shiga's excellent Bookhunter, which covers much the same territory in a wittier way. Still, it's got a certain visual appeal, being completely computer-generated (this may be happening with increasing frequency--Dave Sim hints at such in his introduction-- but I don't think I've run across it yet), and the characters are engaging, and the plot is so far out of left field that one can't help being amused. I'll be looking for vol. 2. ***
Yoshihiro Togashi, Yuyu Hakusho: Standoff at the Eleventh Hour (ViZ, 1993)
The Demon Rift is almost open, but Yusuke and the gang are hot on the heels...moreYoshihiro Togashi, Yuyu Hakusho: Standoff at the Eleventh Hour (ViZ, 1993)
The Demon Rift is almost open, but Yusuke and the gang are hot on the heels of the demons trying to open it. Problem is, their guide hasn't been to the hideout in a while, and there's something new waiting there... I've been away from Yuyu Hakusho for a while (my library had to replace a couple of missing books), and it's always great to get back to this series. Lots of action, memorable characters, and strong plotting make this a good read every time. *** ½
David Lee, Driving and Drinking (Copper Canyon, 1982)
Driving and Drinking, a long poem comprising the whole of David Lee's second book, hits one of th...moreDavid Lee, Driving and Drinking (Copper Canyon, 1982)
Driving and Drinking, a long poem comprising the whole of David Lee's second book, hits one of those buttons that absolutely grates on my nerves: the misspelling of the word “thought” as “thot”. This in a sea of other dialect-style spelling, which generally drives me up the wall, but “thot” is one of those that has always gotten farther under my skin than most, and so I can't claim objectivity here; the fact that this rubs me the wrong way may have no effect whatsoever on your reading of it, so take the following with as much salt as necessary. That said, here's a representative example of the diction to be found here:
“I run a fish boat for years on the river it was a good way to make a little money back then during the depression it got so bad to where one time the auction only offered us a dollar apiece for top hogs then charged 20 cents to handle so's we had to take over a hundred head out and shoot them cause it wasn't worth it but I could make enough to get by poaching fish...” (19-20)
That's one of the sections where most everything is spelled the way you're used to seeing it, but that lack of punctuation is common here, as well. Now that I think about it, actually, maybe it really is time for David Lee to come back into vogue; the rambling, punctuation-less, tangential one-sided conversation is a hallmark of the Instant Messaging generation. It should go brilliantly.
What it reminded me of, however, is the opening monologue from Jon Jost's Last Chants for a Slow Dance, and the narrator here has that same sort of creepy/pathetic vibe about him that Tom does in that film. Lee's pig farmer is a lot funnier, however, and one certainly can't say that Driving and Drinking isn't readable in any way; unlike a lot of work, both poetry and prose, written in the kind of heavy dialect Lee employs here, he has a fine enough touch with it that it rolls off the tongue easily, and few words are far enough away from their usual spellings for the reader to need to pause and reread a lone a few times to figure out what that word's supposed to be. (There is one, however, that took me until a second use to figure out. No, I won't tell you what, you'll have to find it yourself.)
Fainter-hearted readers should probably be warned that the subject matter here might distress them at times, and our narrator has never even heard the term “political correctness” (and had he'd probably equate it to supporting Barry Goldwater in some election somewhere), and so you may run into some terms you find offensive. None of which should stop you from actually reading the thing, should you stumble across it. Me, I thot it was fun. ***
Barbara Livingston, Saratoga: Images from the Heart (Eclipse Press, 2005)
I have to say that Barbara Livingston's photographs do not occupy the space t...moreBarbara Livingston, Saratoga: Images from the Heart (Eclipse Press, 2005)
I have to say that Barbara Livingston's photographs do not occupy the space that usually works for me in photography; I can't compare Livingston to, say, Joel-Peter Witkin or Sally Mann. I'd probably have never heard of her were I not such a big horse racing fan; if you follow the ponies, it's hard not to come across Livingston sooner or later. When it comes to horse racing photography, there's no one in the business who does it better than Barbara Livingston. It turns out that Livingston's photographic talents do not just extend to our mutual four-legged friends; Saratoga is not just a book about the fabled racecourse that resides in Saratoga Springs, NY, but about the entire town (including Yaddo, the famed artists' retreat, which until reading this book I had no idea was so close to Saratoga Springs; two of my spiritual centers sitting right next to one another and I've still never been there?). It is a book of beautiful things, beautifully photographed, and sometimes that's enough. There's a little something here for everyone; gardens, architecture, history, and, yes, a whole lot of horses. It' well worth checking out. ****
Ross Watson and Jen Teti, Chip Tricks: Look Like a Poker Pro (Lyle Stuart, 2008)
Pretty much exactly what it says it is; how can you “review” a how-to...moreRoss Watson and Jen Teti, Chip Tricks: Look Like a Poker Pro (Lyle Stuart, 2008)
Pretty much exactly what it says it is; how can you “review” a how-to book other than saying that (which, given some how-to books I've read, is actually a pretty high compliment)? Definitely one you'll want in your collection rather than getting it from the library, as you'll be spending a good deal of quality time with this one. Probably not the best subject for a book, come to think of it (and one notes, when doing an Amazon search, everything else that comes up is a DVD), but as long as you're capable of following along with the pictures, which isn't always an easy task, you should be fine. *** ½
Dare Wright, Look at a Kitten (Random House, 1975)
Of all the Dare Wright books I've come across, which have held the unspoken promise of being books o...moreDare Wright, Look at a Kitten (Random House, 1975)
Of all the Dare Wright books I've come across, which have held the unspoken promise of being books of photography that are slim excuses for a heavy dose of death by cuteness, Look at a Kitten is the first one that actually delivers on that promise. Wright's narration is about as heavy-handed as ever, but the pictures are straight-up cute overload. Kittens, kittens, and more kittens, doing what kittens do best-- be cute. This is one that definitely deserves to be rescued from out-of-print oblivion and brought back, with the current popularity of such websites as stuff on my cat and babyanimals. **** (less)
Mary Weems, White (Kent State University Press, 1997)
I've been suffering some serious cognitive dissonance with this book, as I could swear on a stack...moreMary Weems, White (Kent State University Press, 1997)
I've been suffering some serious cognitive dissonance with this book, as I could swear on a stack of Bibles, or more appropriately a stack of copies of white, which won the Wick chapbook award in 1997, that I've met Mary Weems a few times at readings around the Cleveland area. It seems, however, that I have not, as a bit of research shows me that the woman who wrote this book looks nothing at all like the person I thought she was. Which has nothing at all to do with the book, of course, but is still confusing the tar out of me. (It also caused me to revise my rating upward a tad, as a few things I'd been very confused about made a lot more sense.) One way or the other, however, white is a little book that's full of the fire of someone who really gets it when it comes to poetry:
“I've rode this road so long my face is tire tracks, road grit sleeps in my eyes, watched red splotches my clothes.” (“Road-to-Work”)
Mary Weems gets it indeed: lay out the stuff that makes the images spark in the reader's mind and let the reader do the rest. This is not to say that the murky world of value judgment doesn't slip into a poem here or there, as it often does with even the best of us, but it's kept to quite a manageable level here. These poems are a pleasure to read, even when they're not supposed to be: “Disgusted, God stands in the bus shelter behind Jesus/who's talking in tongues.” (“Church Service”)
Another Wick winner; grab a copy when you see it. ****
John Porcellino, Diary of a Mosquito Abatement Man (La Mano, 2005)
Over the past few years, Diary of a Mosquito Abatement Man had become something of a...moreJohn Porcellino, Diary of a Mosquito Abatement Man (La Mano, 2005)
Over the past few years, Diary of a Mosquito Abatement Man had become something of a graphic novel holy grail for me; library after library had listed it in their catalogs (presumably having it on order rather than in stock), and then had it mysteriously disappear. Finding a copy was downright impossible, and the book sat at the top of my list of stuff I wanted to read for over three years before Interlibrary Loan were finally able to track down what I'm starting to think is the only extant copy of the book in existence. (For the record, I extend my undying gratitude to the folks at the Salt Lake City Public Library.) I knew, somewhere in the back of my head, I was probably setting myself up for disaster; when you look forward to something for this absurd amount of time, the reality almost never matches the anticipation. And yet Diary of a Mosquito Abatement Man almost did. Almost. I knew I was going to be in trouble when I read the preface, though, so I was prepared when I got to the last pages and Porcellino's conversion (not a spoiler, since, obviously, it's mentioned in the preface). Still, I found myself liking the earlier stuff better, despite it being far more primitive and crude (in every sense of the word) than the later work. But my problems with the later work are all philosophical, rather than with the work itself; don't let my reservation stop you from seeking this one out. ***
David kicks off a new, and very intriguing series, with an introduction from Harlan Ellison. Yeah, that Harlan Ell...morePeter David, Fallen Angel (DC, 2004)
David kicks off a new, and very intriguing series, with an introduction from Harlan Ellison. Yeah, that Harlan Ellison, the old version of Mikey in the Life commercial-- the guy who hates everything. Curmudgeon though he may be, Ellison has some high praise for Peter David and his new series. I am certainly not more than a pale shadow of Harlan Ellison; I could spend the rest of my life working on my writing and I'd never get anywhere near that good. So all I can say is, well, the man is right.
Fallen Angel is probably the closest thing I've read in the past twenty years (save a few one-offs like Gaiman's Eternals) to a traditional superhero comic, but like Watchmen, this ain't your momma's superhero. Lee, the fallen angel of the title (we do not yet know if the title is literal or not), has come to the small Louisiana town of Bete Noire and set up shop to help the hopeless and downtrodden. There are, of course, a host of bad guys, though as things go in comics these days, once we meet them, we have to wonder if they're all bad, and the henchmen, of course, are varying shades of grey (usually in direct relation to their intelligence). Everyone's playing everyone against everyone else.
There's a grittiness to the language that reminds me of 100 Bullets without the dialect, though David grabs ahold of his story arc from the get-go (unlike Azzarello, who took four or five volumes to unload everything on us), and it does make for some fine reading. The action is fast, David has thought well ahead into his seemingly minor characters, and the artwork fits the story like a glove. This is quite a beginning. Can't wait to see where he goes from here. ****
Robert Inman, The Torturer's Horse (Bobbs-Merrill, 1965)
Justly obscure sixties novel about a love triangle in the army. Subordinate wants CO's wife. C...moreRobert Inman, The Torturer's Horse (Bobbs-Merrill, 1965)
Justly obscure sixties novel about a love triangle in the army. Subordinate wants CO's wife. CO's wife isn't sure what she wants. Subordinate's friend wants subordinate. You get the drill. Some good descriptions of the Austrian landscape, but the landscape stands out more than the characters do, and the situations aren't that much more memorable. You've seen it many times before, you'll see it many times again. A good way to kill an afternoon or two, perhaps, if you've nothing better to do. ** ½ (less)