Friday, October 21, 2011

Deviant by Adrian McKinty

Anyone that knows me, knows that when Adrian McKinty comes out with a new book, I hardly move from my reading chair until I've finished it, even if it is a young adult book. I hate putting his books down and moving out of his almost poetic form of writing back into the real world that generally consist of chaos. Deviant hit me a bit different however. It hit a bit close to home in some of it's content, weather it was supposed to or not.

Deviant is the story of Danny Lopez, whose family moves to Colorado when his mom is promoted at work. Suddenly, he finds himself thrown into an experimental new school where no one is allowed to talk, including teachers, except while reading the scripted lessons being taught. Not only is school strange, but someone is killing cats and leaving them in odd places that demand to be noticed. As Danny and his new friends decide to figure out who is doing the killing, they discover people aren't at all who they thought.

So what struck me about that? One thing was the school. I have 2 kids myself that go to public school, I work part time at one of their schools, and am very involved with both in any way I can be. I hate the politics of it, and as outrageous as the school system that was in the book was, if it got test numbers up, I could see the government, or powers that be, going for it. It was ridiculous, yes, but so are several ways the school politicians fool us into believing their system is working.

The other thing that struck me was the view of religion put in the book. Since I live in the middle of the "Bible Belt", religion is everywhere, and I can see the book being almost offensive here because of the mere mention of Focus on the Family, and Christianity in general, in a negative light. In all honesty, I'm now a bit curious and wouldn't mind spending some time in Colorado just to see how justified the negative impressions are.

Of course, with McKinty's books, you always get more than you expect. Thrown in with the story of a new boy at an odd school trying to catch a cat killer, you have many tidbits of fun. Japanese culture, space, old Si-fi movies, and art all appear in bits and pieces. It's a bit like reading an abbreviated form of the authors blog at times, which I always enjoy.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Plugged by Eoin Colfer

Like a lot of people, I know Eoin Colfer from his Artemis Fowl series, and, having listened to one on audiobook, I was eager to read his first adult novel, Plugged. I admit, I wasn't sure how it would work out, but I hoped that Mr. Colfer would be able to pull off that mix of suspense and humor. He did. The story was both dark and humorous, and full of dialogue that makes you miss both Raymond Chandler and Ken Bruen at the same time. I hated for it to end.

From the side flap:
Daniel McIvoy, an Irish bouncer at a seedy New Jersey club. Dan has a problem. Well, he has several, but the worst is that the girl he loves was just murdered. Then more people around him start dying, and not of natural causes.

Suddenly Dan's got the mob, cops, and an unstable lovesick neighbor after him, and the only clue points toward the crooked doctor who gave him hair implants before vanishing into thin air. Luckily-or perhaps not so much-he has the help of a volatile detective, a permanently hungover army psychologist, and a mischievous ghost.

I will say that mischievous ghost was a nice touch. Having been to a question and answer book signing with Eoin Colfer, and hearing that he really enjoys writing YA novels because he can add that bit of the supernatural, I was glad he was able to fit that into his adult novel story also. I will also say that that book signing was one of the most enjoyable I've been to, since the author had some really great stories to tell. (One of them involving duct tape and kids he happen to be directing in a play. Working at an elementary school myself, I could relate.)

And, as it happens, you can win a free signed copy of Plugged over at Crime Always Pays. Enjoy and good luck.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Absolute Zero Cool and Buried Secrets

I'm in shock this morning as everyone left the house for work or school and I find myself with some time to actually sit down on the computer and blog. I think it seems like forever since that has happened, or, at least since school let out last spring. It's been an insane summer with a lot of changes going on in out family and reading time, much less blogging time, has all but been abolished. Somehow, none the less, I have managed to work my way through a couple of books amid the insanity. Both of these books deserve their own post but seeing as how I'm not sure when I'll have time to sit down and type again, I'm going to take the safe route and just get it all out now. A little recognition is better than none after all, right?

Lets start with Declan Burke's Absolute Zero Cool since I just finished it and it's relatively fresh in my mind. The main thing I thought when I finished the last page of Declan's latest was "that was the most unusual, twisted book I've ever read". And that's saying something considering some of the books I tend to read. I think what made it so different for me was that instead of the story focusing on the murder/mystery plot, it focus' on the insane rationality of the main character's musings. In the beginning, I admit, it took a bit of getting used to to figure out who was who and exactly how it was going to work, but it does work. The gist of it, I think, is a character in the authors book, appears and convinces the author to re-write the book the character is in while the character is writing part of the book. Clear as mud? I promise, it makes sense once you get into it. The plot however, goes something like this:

“Close it down, blow it up – what’s the difference?”

Billy Karlsson needs to get real. Literally. A hospital porter with a sideline in euthanasia, Billy is a character trapped in the purgatory of an abandoned novel. Deranged by logic, driven beyond sanity, Billy makes his final stand: if killing old people won’t cut the mustard, the whole hospital will have to go up in flames.

Only his creator can stop him now, the author who abandoned Billy to his half-life limbo, in which Billy schemes to do whatever it takes to get himself published, or be damned . . .

amidst all of the twistedness thought, that bit of wry Irish humor manages to sneak in, like this rant about Tuesday that I will now think of every time something goes wrong on a Tuesday.

All of these creatures need to defecate. Sooner or later, the works gum up. Everyone waits until the porter hoses out the Augean edifice. Then it all starts again.

I like to call this process "Tuesday."

Everyone has a thing about Mondays, but Mondays do their best.

Tuesdays are evil.

Tuesday is Monday's Mr. Hyde, lurking in the shadows and twirling its luxuriant mustache. Tuesdays take Friday the 13ths out into the car park and set their feet on fire, just to see the fuckers dance. If Tuesday was a continent it would be sub-Saharan Africa: disowned, degraded and mean as hell.

Tuesdays are in a perpetual state of incipient rebellion. I can feel it. Tuesdays want to be Saturday nights, and a few pancakes once a year aren't going to keep them sweet forever. When it all blows up in your face, don't say you weren't warned.

We have chained Tuesdays too tightly, allowed them no time off. We have taken no notice of Tuesday's concerns about working conditions. Tuesday is Samson, blind and furious, his hair growing back by imperceptible degrees.

You have been warned.

The union rep is on the phone, so it must be Tuesday.

It continues on for a couple more pages, but you get the idea. I really like that particular rant.

Ok, so I've gone on about Absolute Zero Cool more than what I intended, but like I said, the book deserves it own blog.

Joseph Finder's Buried Secrets was another one I managed to sit down and read. Unfortunately, I finished it some time ago and with all of the distractions in my life, I honestly mainly remember liking it, and the whole Nick Heller series altogether. Nick Heller is a character that's very easy to just fall in love with. He's tough, loves his family, and does what needs to be done even though he at times hates he has to do it. In Buried Secrets, Nick Heller is called in by a friend of his family to rescue their daughter who has been buried alive. The family doesn't know where, or why and only has a live internet connection with a video and voice stream from inside the girls casket. They can clearly see her suffering and will do anything, or so they say, to stop it. It's Nick's job to save her at any cost.

Buried Secrets is the second book in the Nick Heller series, and I hated to actually finish it because there wasn't a third one to start on. I'm hoping there are more to come since Mr. Heller has become yet another fictional character on my "character crush" list.

And, last, but not least, a quick mention of a fun app I found for a handful of ebooks. If you get a bit, and have an Iphone or Ipod touch, search Booktrack in the app store. They are short stories that have sound effects and some mood music added. I just finished their version of Arthor Conan Doyle's Sherlock Homes and The Speckled Band and loved it. I've never really gotten into the original Sherlock Homes stories but I couldn't get enough of this one. Parts of it even made it seem as if I was reading a ghost story with all of the sound effects. I loved it. Next time I'm at the bookstore, I will definitely have to give Conan Doyle's series another try.

Well, if you're still with me, I hope you'll check out these books, and let me know what you think. I've enjoyed them.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Absolute Zero Cool by Declan Burke

I've mentioned how much I've enjoyed Declan Burkes books before, both Eightball Boogie and The Big O were very amusing and entertaining books reminiscent of Raymond Chandler and full of wry humor. Well, as luck would have it, I'm happy to announce the coming eagerly awaited release of Declan's latest offering, Absolute Zero Cool, which can be found here as of August 10th. Declan was nice enough to send me a summery and a few reviews so I could pass it on.
by Declan Burke

“A genuinely original take on noir, inventive and funny. Imagine, if you can, a cross between Flann O’Brien and Raymond Chandler.” – John Banville, author of THE SEA

Who in their right mind would want to blow up a hospital?

“Close it down, blow it up – what’s the difference?”

Billy Karlsson needs to get real. Literally. A hospital porter with a sideline in euthanasia, Billy is a character trapped in the purgatory of an abandoned novel. Deranged by logic, driven beyond sanity, Billy makes his final stand: if killing old people won’t cut the mustard, the whole hospital will have to go up in flames.

Only his creator can stop him now, the author who abandoned Billy to his half-life limbo, in which Billy schemes to do whatever it takes to get himself published, or be damned . . .

“ABSOLUTE ZERO COOL is unlike anything else you’ll read this year … Laugh-out-loud funny … This is writing at its dazzling, cleverest zenith. Think John Fowles, via Paul Auster and Rolling Stone … a feat of extraordinary alchemy.” – Ken Bruen, author of AMERICAN SKIN

Advance Praise for ABSOLUTE ZERO COOL:

“Stop waiting for Godot – he’s here. Declan Burke takes the existential dilemma of characters writing themselves and turns it on its ear, and then some. He gives it body and soul … an Irish soul.” - Reed Farrel Coleman, author of EMPTY EVER AFTER

“Declan Burke has broken the mould with ABSOLUTE ZERO COOL, which is actually very cool indeed. Funny, inventive and hugely entertaining crime fiction - I guarantee you’ll love it.” - Melissa Hill, author of SOMETHING FROM TIFFANY’S

“If you want to find something new and challenging, comic crime fiction is now the place to go … Declan Burke [is] at the vanguard of a new wave of young writers kicking against the clich├ęs and producing ambitious, challenging, genre-bending works.” - Colin Bateman, author of NINE INCHES

“ABSOLUTE ZERO COOL is a surreal rollercoaster of a read, full of the blackest humour, and yet poignant. An outrageously funny novel ... The joy is in the writing itself, all sparky dialogue and wry observation, so smooth that when it cuts, it’s like finding razor blades in honey.” - Deborah Lawrenson, author of THE LANTERN

“Burke has written a deep, lyrical and moving crime novel … an intoxicating and exciting novel of which the master himself, Flann O’Brien, would be proud.” - Adrian McKinty, author of FIFTY GRAND
As you can see, it's gotten some great reviews already..John Banville, Ken Bruen, Adrian can't beat that really. Also, if you happen to be in Dublin on August 10th, and would like to meet the author himself, who not only writes wonderful books, but seems to be an all around nice guy, the kick off release party for Absolute Zero Cool will be at the Gutter Bookshop, Temple Bar, Dublin. And feel free to come back and post pictures/stories so I can live vicariously through them. Also, for more information about Mr. Declan Burke, you can visit his blog Crime Always Pays, he'd be glad to hear from you.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Gentlemen and Players by Joanne Harris

I had never heard of Joanne Harris before picking up Gentlemen and Players, and I had no idea she had also written the ever popular Chocolat, so I didn't really know what to expect. I was simply browsing through a bookshop and the name caught my attention. I'm glad it did as I enjoyed the novel quite a bit. Gentlemen and Players is written in the first person alternating between the protagonist, an aging professor at an exclusive boys school, and antagonist, a 12 year old wanting to be a part of the school. You get both sides of the story, with the author throwing in quite a few twist that tend to make your jaw drop in either unbelieving or shock even though you might have slightly suspected it was coming.

As the inside flap says:
For generations, privileged young men have attended St. Oswald's Grammar School for Boys, groomed for success by the likes of Roy Straitley, the eccentric Classics teacher who has been a fixture there for more than thirty years. But this year the wind of unwelcome change is blowing. Suits, paperwork and information technology are beginning to overshadow St. Oswald's tradition, and Straitley is finally, and reluctantly, contemplating retirement. He is joined this term by five new faculty members, including one who-unbeknownst to Straitley and everyone else-holds intimate and dangerous knowledge of St. Oswald's ways and secrets. Harboring dark ties to the school's past, this young teacher has arrived with one terrible goal: to destroy St. Oswald's.
The alternating points of view give you a good picture of what both main players are thinking while still keeping many secrets from the reader. I found that I could relate to both in small ways and enjoyed getting to know them. One of the "principles" mentioned in the novel even came to my attention in the real world in dealing with my 12 year old son,(although with him, we weren't talking about murder or trespassing). The story begins:
If there's one thing I've learned in the past fifteen years, it's this: that murder is really no big deal. It's just a boundary, meaningless and arbitrary as all others--a line drawn in the dirt

Like the giant NO TRESPASSERS sign on the drive to St. Oswald's, straddling the air like a sentinel. I was nine years old at the time of our first encounter, and it loomed over me then with the growling menace of a school bully.


another child might have been daunted by the command. But in my case curiosity overrode the instinct. By whose order? Why this point and not another? and most importantly, what would happen if I crossed that line?
Joanne Harris does a nice job with the cat and mouse motif and if you haven't given her a try, I do recommend her and the appositely named novel.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Shooting Star by Peter Temple

Ok, so I've gotten incredibly lazy with keeping up with this blog, I'd even go so far as to say ridiculously lazy. I know, I know, it's the end of the month and this is only my second blog...pretty bad. I'm sure the few of you on here are lost and wondering what to do with all of that extra time you have since I've been gone, well, never fear, I'm back...for the moment anyway.

In my absence I can't say I've been reading a whole lot that would inspire me to write about it, mostly I've been re-reading things as a result of not being interested in reading something new. One of the exceptions would be Peter Temple's Shooting Star. It's been several weeks since I finished it, but I do remember enjoying the book enough to grab my Kindle and download some of his earlier stories, and I have The Broken Shore sitting on one of book shelves also. Back to Shooting Star, according the inside flap, the plot goes something like this:
Her rich family has closed ranks and summoned Frank Calder, ex-soldier and disgraced police hostage negotiator. they want him to deliver the ransom money to the kidnappers. Frank wants them to call in the law, but the family refuses, since police bungling nearly cost the life of another Carson child kidnapped years before.

But are the two kidnappings connected? and is greed the motivation? Revenge? Or could it be something else? To find out, Frank Calder must go beyond his brief.

As Frank feverishly searches for suspects in the web of Carson family businesses and deals, marriages and indiscretions, rivalries and intrigues, he knows that if his instincts are wrong, the girl will surely die.

I can't say I remember a whole lot of what happened or "who done it", but what I do remember is the, dark writing that pulls you in, it's almost poetic feeling at times.
We go down the passage. I feel the old sprung floorboards bounce, feel the rotten stumps move. Dave is ahead of me. At the frond door, I say, 'Open it.'

He opens it, stands, looks back at me. And I am seeing myself from outside, looking into the dim doorway, seeing myself, shirtless, sweat in the hollow of my throat.

'It's OK,' I say. 'It's OK, I'm with you.'

He puts out a hand to me. I sigh and take it and we go out into the verandah together, grown men holding hands.

It is dark, no moon, no lights on in the street. I am straining to see beyond the low hedge and front gate.

At the steps, the spotlight comes on, night sun, impossibly bright light. Dave jumps, startled, lets go of my hand, turns, tries to hug me, bury his head in my shoulder.

I hear the sound and I feel the shot hit him, feel it through his bones, feel it through his arms clinging to me.

'Oh Jesus, no,' I say, holding him, feeling the strength leave his body, having to hold him up, feel his warm blood on my face, taste it on my lips, go to my knees with him.

And I hear myself saying, 'No, Dave, not me, not me.'

Then I am myself, looking into his eyes, seeing the reproach in them, no anger, just hurt and betrayal. 'You knew,' he says and he begins to cough, to cough up blood.
I have also heard good things about Temple's Truth and I believe it won The Miles Franklin award, a pretty nice Australian Literary award as I understand it. If you have read it, let me know what you think.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen

Two things struck me about Water for Elephants. The first is the entertainingly colloquial style the book is written in. One of my favorites in the beginning of the first chapter...
I am ninety. Or ninety-three. One of the other.

When you're five, you know your age down to the month. Even in your twenties you know how old you are. I'm twenty-three, you say, or maybe twenty-seven. But then in your thirties something strange starts to happen. It's a mere hiccup at first, an instant of hesitation. How old are you? Oh, I'm - you start confidently, but then you stop. you were going to say thirty-three, but you're not. you're thirty-five. And then you're bothered, because you wonder if this is the beginning of the end. It is, of course, but it's decades before you admit it.
I'm not much older than thirty and I can certainly relate...unfortunatly.

The other thing that struck me was the explicit sexual crudeness of parts of the story. I can't put an example on here without changing the adult contact settings, but I will say that she could do with a lesson from Jim Thompson on how less can be more. I'll use the example someone once pointed out to me from The Killer Inside Me
"You're not going anywhere, baby," I said, and I hit her again.

And at last she got it.

She jumped up and I jumped with her. I whirled her around gave her a quick one-two, and she shot backwards across the room and bounced and slumped against the wall. She staggered to her feet, weaving, mumbling, and half-fell toward me. I let her have it again.

I backed her against the wall, slugging and it was like pounding a pumpkin. Hard, then everything giving away at once.
That little bit says a lot, and gives you a good enough general picture to get the point across, we didn't need the details.

Regardless however, I admit, I was regaled by the story told by Jacob Jankowski about his life, and how he came to be a veterinarian in a traveling circus. In the early part of the Great Depression, as he was finishing his last year of veterinarian school, Jacob's parents were suddenly killed leaving him to fend for himself without a penny to his name. In a paroxysm of anger and sadness he runs. Just runs. Eventually he stumbles on a train and, on impulse, jumps on not realizing how drastically his life was about to change. Before he knows what has happened, he's put in charge of the animals, falling in love with the wife of a deranged animal trainer and figuring out the puzzle to training the seemingly untrainable elephant that is meant to either save or break the show, and in the end, possibly help him survive.

Overall, I'm not yet sure if it is a story I would recommend, I think I would given a disclaimer, as I did like the author's overall style, but if you are reading the book because you enjoyed the movie, just beware of the "extra content".