Monday, April 30, 2012

The Scarecrow

"The Scarecrow" (419 pages) by Michael Connelly was yet another book I picked up from my mother by an author I've never read. Though the book was a sequel of sorts, at least for the main character in the story, I was pleasantly surprised by the work. From Goodreads:

"Forced out of the Los Angeles Times amid the latest budget cuts, newspaperman Jack McEvoy decides to go out with a bang, using his final days at the paper to write the definitive murder story of his career.

He focuses on Alonzo Winslow, a 16-year-old drug dealer in jail after confessing to a brutal murder. But as he delves into the story, Jack realizes that Winslow's so-called confession is bogus. The kid might actually be innocent.

Jack is soon running with his biggest story since The Poet made his career years ago. He is tracking a killer who operates completely below police radar--and with perfect knowledge of any move against him. Including Jack's."

"The Scarecrow" follows crime beat reporter Jack McEvoy who was featured one other time in Connelly's "The Poet," a book I guess I'm going to have to track down now. The story kicks off with a bang and at a fast pace following Jack's investigation into a homicide, which turns into something more sinister than just one random act of violence in L.A. Through some luck and research Jack becomes involved in a story that eventually threatens his very life and those he cares about.

I really enjoyed Connelly's writing style, most notably the pacing and tension of the story. Though some of the novel was a bit contrived and convenient I found myself tearing through the book to see where Jack's investigation would take him next. The only other small complaint I have is with the character "the Scarecrow." A little more fleshing out of this key person in the story would have been appreciated.

Recommended, especially for fans of mysteries and/or thriller.

Thursday, April 26, 2012


Well it's that time of year again, my birthday. I'm mildly amused and somewhat surprised that I'm still alive, what with all the booze, drugs, and whoring!

I remember when I was a kid, the father of a friend turned 40 years old. We thought, at the time, that that was so very old. Here I am only a year away from the big 4-0 but I don't feel like it or even look it, or so I'm told. Maybe every generation thinks this but I feel more youthful in my late 30s than my parents and their peers appeared when they were the same age. Or maybe I saved some wrinkles by not having children!

I guess age is what you make it. Though I joke about being old or older I really don't feel much different mentally or physically than I did in my early 20s. Perhaps it has to do with my core group of friends. I'm generally one of the oldest in the group with most others being 5 to 10 years younger than me. Who knows.

So that's my birthday thought for this year. How do you feel compared to how old you really are?

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Boys Like Us

"Boys Like Us" (365 pages) edited by Patrick Merla is a book that was given to me by my mother, probably for Christmas, in 1996. I know I started the collection of stories at one point but never finished. I picked the book back up this winter and read it off and on between other readings. From Goodreads:

"In stunning essays written especially for this collection, 29 noted gay writers recount their true 'coming out' stories, intensely personal histories of the primal process by which men come to terms with their homosexuality. These essays form a documentary of changing social and sexual mores, timed to coincide with National Coming Out Day (October 11) and AIDS Awareness Month."

Though the collection of stories is somewhat outdated it's still an interesting read to see the various coming out stories over a couple of generations arranged chronologically from Manhattan in the late '40s to San Francisco in the early '90s. Reading the collection now really makes one appreciate how far we've come as a society in regards to homosexuality.

To quote the inside cover of the dust jacket: "These are intense, sometimes unexpectedly funny tales of romance and heartbreak, repression and liberation, rape and first love-defining moments." Highly recommended especially to those who care to look to the past struggles of being gay throughout the latter part of the 20th century.

Monday, April 23, 2012

The Bone Yard

I picked up "The Bone Yard" (291 pages) by Jefferson Bass at the store in the airport on my way to Atlanta last week, having nothing at hand to read on the plane. I didn't know anything about the author or the series but the cover and description looked intriguing. From Goodreads:

"The onset of summer brings steamy weather to East Tennessee and the Body Farm, Dr. Bill Brockton's human-decomposition research facility at the University of Tennessee. But even Brockton is about to get more heat than he's bargained for when a former student asks him to help prove that her sister's death was not suicide, but murder.

Brockton's quick consulting trip takes a long, harrowing detour to the Florida panhandle and the ruins of the North Florida Boys' Reformatory, a notorious juvenile detention facility that met a fiery end more than forty years ago. Guided by the discovery of a diary kept by one of the school's young 'students,' he finds a cluster of shallow graves, all of them containing the bones of boys who met violent deaths. As Brockton and his team close in on the truth, they find skeletons in some surprisingly prominent closets . . . and they learn that the ghosts of the past pose perilous consequences in the present."

First off does anyone else find Blogger's new interface a little wonky? Anyhow, the "Body Farm" series of books is a collaboration between the writing team of Dr. Bill Bass and Jon Jefferson, hence the author's name of Jefferson Bass. Think of the stories as similar to the television series "Bones" featuring a forensic anthropologist as the central figure.

The novel started off well enough with an investigation of suicide by shotgun and quickly evolved into another side story about the discovery of several bones of young men unearthed near the Georgia/Florida border. I never felt that the two different plots meshed well together, ultimately leaving both stories lacking in their conclusion. It seemed as though the two stories were moving along fairly well, though separately, until the last forty pages of the book, when the writers ran out of steam and opted for a hurried conclusion. As I've never read a novel in the "Body Farm" series I wasn't sure if this was an aberration or the norm.

An interesting premise of stories overall that fall well short of being thoroughly hashed out. Indeed the conclusions seemed rushed and a little half-assed at the end. Recommended for mystery or forensic thrillers, minimally. I probably won't be returning to this series of novels anytime soon.

The Vortex Bar Etiquette

One of the cool places I frequented a couple of times in Atlanta last week was The Vortex Bar and Grill in Midtown. This was printed on the cover of their drinks menu:

Bar Etiquette

The Vortex offers one of the most extensive selections of beer and spirits to be found anywhere in the city, and we have a pretty popular bar scene because of it. If you don’t normally spend much time in bars, we would like to offer the following guidelines of acceptable BAR behavior. We hope that you will find this information useful. If you already know the ropes, we hope you find it entertaining.

PROVIDING IDENTIFICATION By law, you must present valid identification to consume alcohol no matter how old you are. It doesn’t matter how old you look. If you didn’t bring your I.D. with you, and you are refused a drink, it’s your own damned fault for being a total fuck-tard. We do not make the laws, but we are required to obey them. Our liquor license, and the livelihood of our entire staff depends on it. No I.D.? No booze.

ORDERING FROM THE BARTENDER If the bar is very busy, be ready to order when the Bartender approaches. Questions like, “What’s a good shot?” or, “What beers do you have?” are silly and time consuming. As you can see by our 6-page Liquor Menu, our selection of beers and spirits is very extensive. If you’re not sure what you want, please review this list. It should be helpful. Never say; “I’ll have a gin and tonic, and make it strong.” In doing so you call into question our Bartender’s ability to make a drink. You also make yourself look like a cheap idiot. If you want a double, ask for a double –and be prepared to pay for a double. Never snap your fingers or whistle at the Bartender, because nobody on our staff is actually a Cocker Spaniel.

PAYING FOR YOUR DRINK If you are ordering “cash & carry,” at the bar, have your money ready. Fumbling for your wallet or purse prevents the Bartender from waiting on other customers. Trying to pay for one drink at a time with a credit card is really pathetic, so if you don’t have cash, start a tab.

TIPPING FOR SERVICE Tipping is how our Bartenders make their living. Most people tip somewhere within the 15 to 20 percent range. Some “regulars” tip significantly more, particularly when hanging out at the bar. Rest assured, most Bartenders know who tips well and who doesn’t, and right or wrong, it can make a difference. If you can hear your tip hit the bar, chances are you’re being too cheap. As a general rule, don’t mess with the person who signs your paycheck, cuts your hair, or mixes your drinks. The results are guaranteed to be unpleasant.

SHOWING YOUR ASS Few things are as embarrassing as being cut-off at your favorite bar. Do everyone a favor, and cut yourself off when you’ve had enough, hopefully before you start embarrassing yourself. If any of your friends are worth a damn, they should help you in this regard. If they don’t, consider finding some new friends. If you absolutely insist on making a complete jack-ass of yourself when you drink, you should probably only drink on Saint Patrick’s Day and New Year’s Eve. Those are official “Amateur Nights,” so you will have lots of company.

ACCEPTING YOUR RESPONSIBILITY Don’t be a fool. Never drive impaired. It’s not worth it. If you don’t have a designated driver, and you are not sure of your own condition, don’t hesitate to ask –we will gladly call you a taxi. We’ve got them on “speed-dial.” A cab ride is always cheaper than a D.U.I., and always safer than driving with a buzz. Cab it. It’s the right thing to do!

Hilarious! I think this should be a mandatory mission statement at every bar. Anyways, I just thought I would share.

Monday, April 16, 2012

The Whisperers

Yay insomnia! Well if I'm going to be up I might as well read. "The Whisperers" (407 pages) is only the second novel I've read by John Connolly. I was a little shocked at how well I liked this read. From Goodreads:

"The border between Maine and Canada is porous. Anything can be smuggled across it: drugs, cash, weapons, people.

Now a group of disenchanted former soldiers has begun its own smuggling operation, and what is being moved is infinitely stranger and more terrifying than anyone can imagine. Anyone, that is, except private detective Charlie Parker, who has his own intimate knowledge of the darkness in men's hearts.

But the soldiers' actions have attracted the attention of the reclusive Herod, a man with a taste for the strange. And where Herod goes, so too does the shadowy figure that he calls the Captain. To defeat them, Parker must form an uneasy alliance with a man he fears more than any other, the killer known as the Collector . . ."

Why am I so surprised by this novel? Because it's so totally different from the other book in the Charlie Parker series that I've read by Connolly. I was expecting a by-the-numbers mystery/thriller and was treated to a story that evolved into something with fantasy elements. The story very nearly went over the edge for me near the conclusion but I think it put on the brakes at the last second.

In addition to a unique story, I really enjoy Connolly's writing style. First his ability with descriptions is very much appreciated. A little heavier than a book a year author. Secondly the author really fleshes out all the characters in the story, no matter how large or small their involvement. At certain points he would direct a complete side story about one of the characters that had nothing to do with the overall plot of the book, but it was always interesting. This can bother some readers but I found it to be entertaining.

Recommended for fans of mysteries and thrillers with a little bit of fantasy thrown into the mix.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

I Wish I Was in Dixie!

And I will be tomorrow morning! I may try to blog on the road but knowing my recent habits probably not...

The TV Show Meme

Well it's been a while. I'm a very bad blogger! As always from Sunday Stealing.

Before reading the questions: Pick 5 TV Shows you like. They can be past or present. Hint: pick shows that you are REALLY into. Hey! no peaking at the questions! List them:

1. Star Trek: Deep Space Nine

2. Futurama

3. Mad Men

4. The Walking Dead

5. Game of Thrones

1. Who is your favorite character in 2?
Philip J. Fry.

2. Who is your least favorite character in 1?
Amazingly no one cast member comes to mind. The ensemble cast of Deep Space Nine not only makes this show a fantastic Star Trek spin-off but a great show on its own.

3. What’s your favorite episode of 4?
Probably the premiere of The Walking Dead. Wake up in the hospital and the whole world has gone to hell? Great start.

4. What is your favorite season of 5?
The first season but it's only three episodes into season two.

5. What’s your favorite relationship in 3?
Don Draper and all of his whores.

6. Who is your anti-relationship in 2?
Bender and Amy hooking up recently. Eww robosexuals!

7. How long have you watched 1?
I've watched the entire series either in first run or on DVD at least three times, some episodes more.

8. How did you become interested in 3?
I really can't remember. I think I liked the premise of an ad agency set in the early 1960's.

9. Who is your favorite actor in 4?
How can all the zombies not be the best actors?

10. Which show do you prefer 1, 2, or 5?
Tough choice. Deep Space Nine > Futurama > Game of Thrones.

11. Which show have you seen more episodes of 1 or 3?
Deep Space Nine definitely but I have both series on DVD.

12. If you could be anyone from 4, who would you be?
Once again I have to go with being a zombie. I love brains!

13. How would you kill off any character in 5?
Just as they did in the novels, unexpectantly.

14. Would a 3/4 crossover work?
Probably not since they take place fifty years apart.

15. Pair two characters in 1 that would make an unlikely, but strangely okay couple.
They actually already did this with Major Kira and Odo.

16. Overall, which show has the better cast, 3 or 5?
Very hard decision. I'd probably go with Mad Men slightly over Game of Thrones.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Nothing to Lose

I can't believe Lee Child stole the title of my soon to be released biography. Oh I guess that would be the other way around. "Nothing to Lose" (407 pages) is another zigzag attempt to get caught up with all of Child's Reacher novels. From Goodreads:

"Two lonely towns in Colorado: Hope and Despair. Between them, twelve miles of empty road. Jack Reacher never turns back. It's not in his nature. All he wants is a cup of coffee. What he gets is big trouble. So in Lee Child’s electrifying new novel, Reacher—a man with no fear, no illusions, and nothing to lose—goes to war against a town that not only wants him gone, it wants him dead.

It wasn’t the welcome Reacher expected. He was just passing through, minding his own business. But within minutes of his arrival a deputy is in the hospital and Reacher is back in Hope, setting up a base of operations against Despair, where a huge, seething walled-off industrial site does something nobody is supposed to see . . . where a small plane takes off every night and returns seven hours later . . . where a garrison of well-trained and well-armed military cops—the kind of soldiers Reacher once commanded—waits and watches . . . where above all two young men have disappeared and two frightened young women wait and hope for their return.

Joining forces with a beautiful cop who runs Hope with a cool hand, Reacher goes up against Despair—against the deputies who try to break him and the rich man who tries to scare him—and starts to crack open the secrets, starts to expose the terrifying connection to a distant war that’s killing Americans by the thousand.

Now, between a town and the man who owns it, between Reacher and his conscience, something has to give. And Reacher never gives an inch."

Even some of the most lack luster Lee Child novels usually have enough in them to keep me entertained. "Nothing to Lose" falls somewhere in the middle for me. Not the worst nor one of the best in the series. It is gratifying to read about Reacher kicking ass and not bothering to take names, as usual. Mainly my problems with this particular outing for Child is the strange turns the story takes as it progresses. One moment everything is interesting and believable and the next bordering on the absurd. Not a major factor in my enjoyment but an issue. Recommended for fans of thrillers or mysteries, though the trills are really kept to a minimum this time around, as well as for Lee Child fans.

Friday, April 06, 2012

Angels and Demons

To quote one of my heroes, Bender Bending Rodríguez, I'm back baby! I returned to the world of Dan Brown recently with his first Langdon novel, "Angels and Demons" (579 pages). I was interested to read about an adventure in Rome and Vatican City since I recently converted to Catholicism. Not really. From Goodreads:

"An ancient secret brotherhood.

A devastating new weapon of destruction.

An unthinkable target.

When world-renowned Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon is summoned to a Swiss research facility to analyze a mysterious symbol -- seared into the chest of a murdered physicist -- he discovers evidence of the unimaginable: the resurgence of an ancient secret brotherhood known as the Illuminati...the most powerful underground organization ever to walk the earth. The Illuminati has now surfaced to carry out the final phase of its legendary vendetta against its most hated enemy -- the Catholic Church.

Langdon's worst fears are confirmed on the eve of the Vatican's holy conclave, when a messenger of the Illuminati announces they have hidden an unstoppable time bomb at the very heart of Vatican City. With the countdown under way, Langdon jets to Rome to join forces with Vittoria Vetra, a beautiful and mysterious Italian scientist, to assist the Vatican in a desperate bid for survival.

Embarking on a frantic hunt through sealed crypts, dangerous catacombs, deserted cathedrals, and even the most secretive vault on earth, Langdon and Vetra follow a 400-year-old trail of ancient symbols that snakes across Rome toward the long-forgotten Illuminati lair...a clandestine location that contains the only hope for Vatican salvation.

An explosive international thriller, Angels & Demons careens from enlightening epiphanies to dark truths as the battle between science and religion turns to war."

Again I find myself on the fence with another Dan Brown novel. While there are some interesting story lines and unique problems for the hero to solve, I just can't quite get over how full of shit Brown is in this novel, especially with his history of the Illuminati. I'm all for an author taking an artistic license when it comes to historical events as long as the author doesn't preface the book with a blurb about how the science and all locations are real in the novel. Why even say this when you're just going to fudge on the early historical events? Maybe it's just me but it sets up the book for failure from the beginning.

For a really cool historical fiction I would point readers to "The Historian" by Elizabeth Kostova. A much better example of what can be done with a quasi-true historical narrative.

Again, I had no problems with Brown's writing, which seems the case with a lot of reviewers, at least on Goodreads. I appreciate the break-neck speed which hustles the story along and I found myself engaged in some of the more tense moments of the novel. I just wish Brown would jump off the religion versus science fence. I can appreciate and often enjoy an author with whom I don't agree but in the case of a waffler, not so much. Recommended for fans of Brown and the genre.