Sunday, June 29, 2014

Stranded by Dani Pettrey

Stranded (Alaskan Courage Series #3) Stranded is the third entry in Dani Pettrey’s Alaskan Courage series.  Like its predecessors it is a romance thriller with a heavy dose of Christianity mixed in.  The couple at the center of this book are Darcy and Gage.

Darcy was an investigative journalist.  She gave it up when all the lying and misdirects inherent in going undercover began to trouble her conscience.  She decided to shift her reporting focus to the sports world instead.  Darcy and Gage meet in the last book, Shattered, when Darcy reported on the story surrounding the murder charges against Gage’s professional athlete of a younger brother.  When the two met it was instant attraction and instant dislike.  On Gage’s end, the dislike extended from his distrust of reporters and Darcy in return didn’t appreciate Gage doubting her integrity.

Stranded takes place five months after the events of Shattered have taken place.  Although she had given investigative journalism, when an old college friend/reporting buddy asks her to help with a story and then disappears Darcy puts her reporter’s hat back on and heads for the Alaskan cruise ship where her friend was last seen.  As it so happens Gage and his family, who run an adventure company in Alaska, have recently been hired to run excursions on the exact same cruise ship.  What a coincidence.  Now Gage and Darcy have a chance to see if there will be more attraction and less distrust the second time around.  As for the thriller portion of the story, it centers around women disappearing in Alaska.

The romance in Stranded was predictable but somewhat satisfying.  The two main characters started off liking each other but swearing it could never work, until it does.  The thriller storyline was slightly less satisfying.  I like mysteries with clues laid out.  I don’t have to be able to solve the mystery but I want to be able to look back when it’s done and see how all the clues I missed fit together.  Stranded didn’t quite have the quality to it.  Darcy may be a reporter but she's no detective.

The best moment of the story for me was when Gage’s sister Kayden is finally made to realize how wrong she has been about Jake, a guy who has been nothing but nice and helpful to her family.  I wrote about how much she irked me in the last book here.  The fourth book in the series centers around Kayden and Jake.  That ought to be interesting.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Sherlock Holmes: The Will of the Dead by George Mann

Sherlock Holmes: The Will of the Dead  In The Will of the Dead Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson are called on to determine if the sudden demise of Sir Theobald Maugham, who other than being elderly was in fairly good health, was a natural one or a murderous one.  It was well known that Sir Maugham had prepared a will that left his estate to be equally divided among four nieces and nephews, but the will cannot be found.  What's worse, a long lost relative shows up claiming to be the deceased gentleman's rightful heir.  Watson and Holmes must also figure out how to stop the mysterious mechanical steam-powered men who have been robbing people in their homes.  Nothing seems to stop them, not even bullets. 

The Will of the Dead is a Sherlock Holmes story but it is not by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.  It was written by George Mann, published by Titan Books and includes a steampunk element.  Despite these changes The Will of the Dead still felt more or less like a Sherlock Holmes story.  It was fun and had me guessing at who was behind the various crimes.  If I could change anything it would be to up the steampunk element.  The mechanical men plot line was a B story that felt like an afterthought. 

I don't know much about this new series of Sherlock Holmes stories from Titan Books but I will definitely be checking more of them out.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

One More Thing: Stories and Other Stories by B.J. Novak

One More Thing: Stories and Other Stories  One More Thing: Stories and Other Stories is a collection of short stories and jokes.  Some of the stories were familiar - I think I heard them performed on NPR or on a podcast.  It was a fun collection.  It was easy to imagine the stories as short films.  I know that Novak works in television or film and that comes through in his writing.

My favorite stories were: (1) No One Goes to Heaven to See Dan Fogelberg where a grandson discovers that his grandmother's life involves more than simply being his grandmother, (2) Kellogg's (or: The Last Wholesome Fantasy of the Middle-School Boy) where a boy's joy at winning a cereal box prize is tempered by the possibility that the prize could destroy his family, and (3) Closure where a scorned woman finds the ultimate (and scary) way to vent her frustration over an ex-boyfriend.

One More Thing was light and entertaining, but a ultimately a forgettable read.  I enjoyed it while reading it but knew that as soon as I finished the last page it wouldn't stay with me.  It is definitely worth a trip to the library but not to the bookstore.

Saga (Volumes Two & Three) by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples

Saga, Volume 2  Saga, Volume 3 

The frustrating thing about reading graphic novels/comics is that  they come in drips and drabs.  It is difficult to write a review when the full story is not yet completed.  It is especially  annoying when a graphic novel/comic is really good because you just want to know how it all ends.  I suppose this is what Charles Dickens’s first readers felt like when his work was published in serial form.  Not that I’m comparing Saga to Dickens’s work, just the experience of having to wait.

This is a long way of saying that I am loving Saga so far, having read volumes one through three, which encompasses chapters 1 through 18.  It is an amazing story about among other things, war, and the people trying to survive it.  There are so many random good, interesting things that happen in Saga, too many to mention so I’ll just name a couple.

There is an interesting commentary on gender politics.  Actually commentary might not be the right word as that implies a definitive statement.  Saga doesn't so much make statements as raise questions.  Take Marco’s parents for instance.  Marco, Alana, and their baby Hazel are still fleeing for their lives.  Marko’s parents end up catching up with the young family.  Of the two, Marko’s mother is the aggressive, warmonger who truly believes in the war.  She is not happy that her horned son has married the winged Alana.  Marko’s father is more accepting and sews new outfits for Alana and Hazel.  After having spent some time with her son and his family she tells Alana, who has readily embraced the role of new mother and wife, that the role of a new mother is out in the workforce earning a living to support her family not acting as some sort of domestic goddess.  Alana finds her mother-in-law’s comments simultaneously progressive and offensive, feeling that no one should get to tell her what kind of mother she has to be. 

The slave girl introduced in volume one gets a name other than "slave girl".  She feels dirty for what she was made to do on planet Sextillion.  There is a cat who can detect lies who tells the newly named girl that she is lying when she says she is dirty.  This was one of my favorite scenes.

Volume two of Saga contains a lot of the backstory of how Marko and Alana met, and about Marko’s childhood.  Volume three continues the story with lots of violence but also with hope that the family will survive.  I hope volume four comes out soon.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

The Husband's Secret by Liane Moriarty

The Husband's SecretThe Husband's Secret centers around three women.  Tess has fled Melbourne with her young son to her mother's house in Sydney after her husband and cousin/best friend make an unwelcome surprise announcement.  Rachel prepares to mark the anniversary of the death of a daughter who was strangled to death several years earlier.  The daughter's murder remains unsolved.  And then there is Cecilia, whose husband, John-Paul has a secret that has the potential to rip his family apart.

Cecelia stumbles upon the secret by accident.  She is looking for something in the attic and finds a random letter stuffed in with old tax records.  The letter is addressed to Cecilia from her husband with the instructions to be opened in the event of his death.  Cecilia, a mother of three children, local Tupperware queen, and all around most organized, dependable go-to person, can pretty much handle anything.  Or so she thinks until confronted with the possibility that her husband isn't quite who she thought he was.

The Husband's Secret was a mixed bag.  On the one hand, it was a quick and easy read that flew by.  Cecelia's story line was the most interesting.  Once she learns first that her husband has been keeping a secret from her and then, what that secret is, the question is what to do with that information.  Is it always to best to tell the truth, especially when  the truth could help some people but hurt others?  On the outside looking in this might be an easy "Yes", but for Cecelia who now has the burden of knowing this secret, it is a lot harder to answer that question.  Moriarty did a good job of putting the reader in Cecelia's shoes.

Mixed with Cecelia's compelling story is Tess's far less compelling one.  Her storyline was fairly conventional and really had very little to do with the other two women.  It could have been a book on its own.  There is also all this stuff about the Berlin Wall which also has very little to do with anything.  Then there is the epilogue.  Oh why, was that tacked on?  The main story is about a secret and its effect on several of the main characters, and then comes a dialogue about the million different ways a life could have gone.  So unnecessary.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Saga (Volume One) by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples

Saga, Volume 1 I do not think I can adequately describe the plot of Saga (as I know it so far, having read only volume one thus far) or how great it is, but I will give it a shot.  It is a fantasy story told in graphic novel format involving a war between a planet called Landfill and its moon, which is known as Wreath.  Due to the fact that the destruction of either orb would send the other orb spiraling out of control in space, the beings of Landfill and Wreath decided to outsource their war, forcing species from other celestial orbs to pick a side and fight while the inhabitants of Landfill and Wreath enjoyed a degree of peace.

Alana, who is from Landfill, and Marko, who is from Wreath, are soldiers in this never ending war.  Marko has horns like a ram and ears like a deer.  Alana has green wings growing out of her back, suggesting a Tinkerbell relative, but she is no gentle wish-granting fairy.  Alana and Marko meet, fall in love, decide to opt out of the war, get married and have a baby.  Most everyone else is of the opinion that a coupling between these two is an abomination and seeks to kill them.  

Multiple people recommended this to me and I am so grateful they did.  The artwork is amazing.  I wonder how it worked – if the author had an exact idea of the creatures and world he wanted to create and commissioned the artist to do exactly that or if the artist came up with the artwork after reading the script.  In any case, it looks really good.  The drawings are really sharp.  Admittedly I cannot draw at all and am no art critic, so this may make sense to no one but me, but in some comics I've come across the artwork has lots of shading and indistinct lines such that it takes an effort to figure out what I’m looking at.  I suppose this is a matter of preference and technique.  In any case, I really appreciated the crispness and clearness of the artwork in Saga.  Added to the crispness of the drawings are the colors.  Together they really brought the story into focus for me.

As for the story, it is a mix of fantasy, action-adventure, with a surprising degree of romance.  Alana and Marko are in love and they fight like it, yelling at each other one minute and  making up the next.  There are also ghosts, magic, and all sorts of fantastical creatures.  Reading this back it sounds kind of crazy and out there but it all works.  I bought into the story immediately.  Speaking of immediately, I loved the opening scene where Alana is giving birth – it is better than it sounds.  Alana can't tell if she's about to deliver a baby or go to the bathroom.  Marko is overwhelmed to the point of tears when he first sees his newborn daughter.  It is funny and sweet.  But then, just when you are lulled into the romantic cuteness of it all, soldiers break into the birth room in an attempt to capture the couple and their newborn baby.  From their the story jumps back and forth from funny and romantic, to violent and bloody, with a few trips to the utter absurd.  Case in point: The character known as The Will visits planet Sextillion where he is greeted by two beings whose entire body consists of a head atop a pair of legs clad in fishnet stockings.  

Fair warning, this is truly a graphic novel, as in graphic sex and violence.  That wasn’t all that surprising, but it also touches of uncomfortable issues like slavery and child prostitution.  I don't know where this is going yet but one thing I like so far is that this is not a story about a hero coming to win the war for one side or the other, but about two people trying to escape a war that may be important to the political leaders but really doesn't matter to them.  (The war has been going on so long it isn't even clear anymore what the two sides are fighting about.)
I wisely bought the first three volumes of Saga and so have the next two to look forward to.  It started on a high note.  Here’s hoping the next two volumes are as good or better.

I will be reading these next:
Saga, Volume 2   Saga, Volume 3

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

The Man in the Rockefeller Suit by Mark Seal

The Man in the Rockefeller Suit: The Astonishing Rise and Spectacular Fall of a Serial Impostor  A year or more ago I saw a Lifetime movie called Who is Clark Rockefeller?  It was your typical ripped-from-the-headlines, movie-of-the-week type of fare.  It was brimming with over-the-top personalities and characters and situations that seemed too odd to exist in the real world.  Usually I prefer the schmaltzy romance of a Hallmark movie but the Lifetime movie starred Eric McCormack of Will & Grace fame so I figured it would be better than usual.  And it kind of was.  It was a crazy story about a man who emigrated from Germany, talked his way into high profile jobs in the finance industry despite having no actual experience or education in finance, and duped a lot of people including his incredibly accomplished and intelligent ex-wife into thinking he was a member of the storied Rockefeller clan.  Clark's carefully constructed set of lies fell apart after he kidnapped his young daughter after a bitter divorce ended in his ex-wife being awarded full custody.  The craziest part of it all was that the movie was based on real events.

In The Man in the Rockefeller Suit Mark Seal attempts to trace the rise and fall of Christian Karl Gerhartsreiter, aka Clark Rockefeller, aka Chip Smith, aka Christopher Chichester, aka Christopher Crowe, aka a bunch of other aliases.  He was the consummate pretender who successfully fooled and manipulated people into giving him things and doing his bidding for thirty or so years.  Even his wife of twelve years did not realize her husband wasn’t who he said he was until she tried to divorce him and her lawyers were unable to verify Clark's identify.   

Seal’s book was a quick and fascinating read.  If left me wondering how a person could perpetrate such an elaborate ruse for so long and the toll it takes on a person’s psyche.  If a person is constantly pretending to be something and someone else at some point does there cease to be a distinction between one's real identity and the character?  I wanted to get inside of Gerhartsreiter’s head and understand how and why Gerhartsreiter did what he did, and how he could have maintained such an elaborate charade for so long.  Seal’s book hints at this but didn’t quite delve as deep as I wanted.  This isn’t a criticism; I don’t think Seal could have found out much more than he did.   From what I understand Gerhartsreiter continues to stay in character such that we will probably never know the entire story about Gerhartsreiter. 

Sunday, June 8, 2014

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo and Philosophy: Everything Is Fire, edited by Eric Bronson

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and Philosophy: Everything Is Fire  The books in the Blackwell Philosophy and Pop Culture Series explore television, movies, and books and other exemplars of pop culture through the lens of philosophy.  Despite the name, and perhaps not surprisingly, the books tend to lean more toward pop culture than toward the philosophical end of the spectrum.  For those truly interested in philosophy, this is probably not the right series for you.  However, for those interested in a given show, movie, book, etcetera, this series can be fun a trip down the rabbit hole of fandom.

I’ve read and enjoyed a few entries in this series, including ones exploring the philosophical questions presented by The Game of Thrones, True Blood, and Batman.  Given that I have read the first two books in Stieg Larsson’s trilogy and seen all the movies (Swedish and American) The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo and Philosophy seemed like a good choice for my next trip into this series.  Plus Larsson's books would seem ripe for philosophical exploration, what with their complicated political, criminal and societal plots of murder and corruption.  Unfortunately I was a tad disappointed in this entry in the Blackwell series.  Too many of the essays did not even attempt to discuss philosophy.  Why Journalists and Geniuses Love Coffee for instance, focuses largely on the history of European coffee houses and their role in fostering intellectual curiosity and debate.  While this essay was sort of interesting it was nothing new and not exactly about philosophy.  Maybe it is just that I over The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.  I mean, I haven’t even made it to the third book yet and don’t expect to anytime soon.

I recently discovered three other books in the Blackwell series I want to get my hands on: Hunger Games and Philosophy, The Sons of Anarchy and Philosophy, and Veronica Mars and Philosophy.  Being a huge fan of Veronica Mars I am especially eager to read that one.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Debbie Doesn't Do It Anymore by Walter Mosley

Debbie Doesn't Do It AnymoreThere is a Goodreads thread that asks whether the title or the cover of a book is more important in terms of grabbing attention.  In other words, which is more likely to get you to pick it up and consider it?  For me it is usually the cover that grabs my attention first, with the title a close second.  I like to walk through the aisles of a bookstore from A to Z and pick up interesting looking things along the way.  A good cover can stop me in my tracks.  Not that a good title isn't important.  It is, but when I walking through the aisles I do not necessarily read the titles that closely unless looking for something specific.  With Mosley's book both the cover and title grabbed me. Debbie Doesn't Do It Anymore sounds like a punchline to a joke.  It is familiar sounding and provocative.  Then there is the cover.  It is a head shot of a Black woman, the Debbie of the title, with white blond hair, blue contact lenses over her naturally brown eyes, a fake white dot of a tattoo under her left eye, and red lips.  It is odd and intriguing; I immediately picked up.  The marketing department did will with this one.

The Debbie of the title is Debbie Dare whose signature look makes her a standout in the adult entertainment business.  As the book open she is about to have a surprisingly mind blowing orgasm.  It is a surprise because after having sex so often with so many random people in front of a camera and an audience for so many years, she rarely has them anymore.  The orgasm seems to portend something.  Sure enough when she arrives home from work that evening she finds that her husband, who also made a career in the adult entertainment films, has died.  He was filming a scene between himself and a sixteen-year-old girl in a bathtub when the camera fell in the bath and electrocuted them both. 

Debbie is surprisingly calm when the police explain what happened.  Between the orgasm and the deaths, Debbie's life changes overnight.  She decides to quit doing porn.  There is no regret or judgment, only a simple decision to change course.  She considers her relationships with her family, her friends, and her husband's family.  She contemplates suicide while at the same time is determined to live life on her own terms.  As I think about it more, I wonder if perhaps Debbie was numb and these two events, which happened in a manner of hours of each other, were the catalysts that caused her to wake up and start really feeling again. 

Debbie Doesn't Do It Anymore is the first book by Walter Mosley that I have read.  I don't know why I haven't read him before.  He writes a lot of mysteries which would seem to be right up my alley yet somehow his books have eluded me.  Not anymore.  Debbie was an excellent read.  It was non-judgmental look at a woman who decides to stop and take a hard look at her life, the good and the bad.  Debbie has had little formal education but reads a great deal and keeps a journal.  She is very aware of how people perceive her and how her chosen career affects how she relates to people.  She generally sees and accepts people for who they are, reflecting a degree of compassion that sometimes seems rare in the world.  Overall Mosley did a very good job of painting paints a complex picture of a woman with a complicated life, without sentimentalizing or demonizing her.

Since I haven't ready any of Mosley's work I cannot say how it stacks up to the rest of his work.  For me, it was a good introduction to his work and has me interested in reading more, especially the Easy Rawlins mysteries.

Monday, June 2, 2014

A Fatal Winter by G. M. Malliet

A Fatal Winter (Max Tudor Series #2)  Lord Oscar Footrustle and and his twin sister Lady Leticia die on the same day at their shared home of Chedrow Castle.  She died of natural causes, perhaps in reaction to her brother's murder.  Just before these deaths the Footrustle family had come from near and far for a family reunion of sorts at the request of Oscar.  There is his estranged daughter Jocasta and her American husband Simon, Oscar's much younger ex-wife Gwynyth (whom everyone in the family considers a gold digger), and their two children, Alex and Amanda, who also happen to be twins.  On Lady Leticia's side there is her barely tolerated adopted granddaughter Lamorna, Leticia's eldest son Randolph and his assistant Cilla, and finally, Leticia's younger son Lester and his Australian wife Felberta, or Fester as the family calls her behind her back.  Given the location and the structural integrity of the Castle, it is highly unlikely that a stranger broke in undetected and killed Lord Footrustle, which means that the murderer is someone in the family. 

Max Tudor, a former MI5 agent turned Anglican priest, is invited by Lamorna to assist with the funeral preparations.  The local police, aware of Tudor's secret agent past, asks him to look for clues while meeting with the family.  Once again the man who has tried to seek a more peaceful life within the walls of the church is surrounded by violence and death.

With a Fatal Winter G. M. Malliet was definitely trying to channel Agatha Christie and G.K. Chesterton with multiple with references to  Hercule Poirot and Father Brown.  It is an old-fashioned cozy mystery with some modern references thrown in.  Since I adore Christie (though I prefer Miss Marple to Poirot) this worked for me.  I did miss Nether Monkslip, the village where Tudor's parish is and where the prior book in the series took place, and the village's colorful characters.  However, the twists and turns of the castle made up for it.

A Fatal Winter is the second in what I assume to be a four-part series.  Other entries in the series include Wicked Autumn, Pagan Spring, and A Demon Summer (not yet released).