Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Review: The Somnambulist

The Somnambulist by Jonathan Barnes

Edward Moon was once the toast of high society in Victorian London, however, a few years have passed since his prime and now Moon's star is in decline. Moon is a mysterious conjurer of sorts who's "Theatre Of Marvels", a thrilling magic show he stars in, is his last source of pleasure...and that too is fading. Aided by his partner The Somnambulist, a silent, giant of a man, they perform their same time-worn routine for a dwindling, yet loyal crowd. The meat and potatoes of the performance is when Moon impales The Somnambulist with multiple swords, yet never drawing a drop of blood.

Moon is not just a simple conjurer though, he is also one of London's finest detectives. This freelance, extra curricular activity has gained him as much, if not more, glory as his magic act in London Society. Moon is dogged by his ever increasing boredom, and a hinted at recent failure in his detective work. All this has landed him in a rut, and he wishes for one more great mystery to solve. Cue a giant, hard to crack case full of lots of ins and outs, and a gristly murder or two and before you know it, Moon and The Somnambulist are on the case.

The book begins with a mysterious and creepy murder scene, and a handful of questions involving Moon's past and the secret of The Somnambulist's stabbing trick. The Somnambulist however for me, failed to deliver on a few fronts. The book's few fantasy elements were never really fleshed out, and served really only to create or move plot elements. I never did find out what went wrong on Moon's last case, and I never found out why the hell The Somnambulist didn't bleed, or die, when he was stabbed. This was a book, for me, that started out with some interesting fantasy and mystery novel elements, then faded down the stretch. Aside from Moon and The Somnambulist, the other characters felt like they were less caught up in the flow of events and more like they were vessels which moved the plot along.

So why did this book get finished rather than going into the Realm of Abandoned Tomes? Well, mainly for the questions I had that never got answered. The real mystery of the book was lukewarm for me, but I am admittedly not an avid mystery reader. I really wanted to know more about the two main characters, and I hung in there for their sake. They were compelling characters and this book had a very Bradybury-esque-Something Wicked This Way Comes feel to me. These things kept me going, but I ultimately felt disappointed in the end.

Being that this is a first novel, it is understandable that there were a few bumps in the road. Perhaps a mystery fan would find more pleasure here than I did, but I don't see myself recommending this one to anyone in the near future.

Grade: C-

Friday, February 19, 2010

Shitty Album I Used to Rock Out to:

Flesh and Blood by Poison

When I was eight or nine years old, I had some really shitty taste in music. I watched a ton of MTV and my brother and I were members with one of those companies you could order tapes from each month. In order to not get a really shitty tape sent to us we had to buy a certain number of tapes each month. This caused us to have a lot of tapes. We basically bought the tape for each band we liked from MTV...and thus, Flesh and Blood by Poison came into our house. I remember listening to three songs from this album. The first was Unskinny Bop, possibly the stupidest song about sex ever...check that, Cherry Pie is the stupidest song about sex ever. The others were Swamp Juice (soul-o) (I listened to it because I like that the song title had a play on words) and Something to Believe in. All these songs are terrible, and they are the best on the album.

I remember a month or so later, as I was now a big fan of Poison, I bought one of their other albums, Look What the Cat Dragged In. This album has an amazing cover, where all the band members are completely glammed out, wearing a crazy amount of makeup. A friend of mine, came over to my house, and was looking through my tape collection and remarked: "Oh man, the chicks in Poison are really hot!"

Somehow, Bret Michaels, the lead singer for Poison, has managed to kinda-somewhat, stay in the limelight. He had a dating show on VH1 and he released a solo album as recently as 2008...not that these things are relevant, they just serve to point out that Michaels, while a bit douchey, has some weird quality that helped make him famous, and has kept him famous. And thanks to that, as an eight or nine year old kid, I gave the guy some of my money.

The only cool thing about Poison is C.C. DeVille. I saw this guy on Rock and Roll Jeopardy a few times, and he tore it up. This guy knows everything about music. Not only was it great to watch someone dominate a quiz show, but it taught me not to prejudge people based on their appearance, 'cause DeVille looked like he would be a moron, then he kicked ass at trivia.

Anyway, enjoy gouging your eyes out to this sweet live Unskinny Bop video. Michaels performs about 1000 pelvic thrusts during the three and half minute long video. This video is a bit of an aberration for late 80's early 90's rock videos as there is a decided lack of strippers prancing around...in place of the strippers we have Micaels who looks like a stripper, slides down a stripper pole, and dances like a stripper too. The bastard probably got a lot of ladies in his day. My favorite lyrics from the song come right after DeVille's solo: What's right/What's wrong/What's left/What the hell is going on. As a kid I loved it because he said "hell" in a cool voice. Now that I've fessed up to owning this album, I hope I don't have to hear it again.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Abandoned Tomes

Every now and then, I start to read a book, but I don't finish. Maybe the book failed to interest me. Maybe the writing style didn't fit my tastes. Maybe a character annoyed me too much and I had to move on. For whatever reason, I hate to waste time reading something I don't like, there is just too much other good stuff out there. When such cases arise, I'll write about them here, and give my reason for putting them down, and the odds I'll pick the book back up again in the future.

Here are three such books for Starters:

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith

This one I really wanted to like, well, I want to like every book I read, but this one in particular. This is a pretty popular title, it is a bestseller, and sometimes I guess I want to read books lots of other people like. I knew from previous encounters that Jane Austen isn't my favorite flavor, but the back blurb promised zombie hordes, bloody battlefields, and there was even mention of Satan, so I thought I would really like it. However, I was wrong. The zombies weren't enough to keep me interested, and while I appreciate what Grahame-Smith did - twisting up a classic of literature, an idea I wish I had thought of first - I couldn't find it in me to finish the book.

Chance of giving it another go: nil

The Court of the Air by Stephen Hunt

I bought this book a few months ago when I went on a Steampunk kick and was buying up Steampunk titles as fast as I could. The synopses I read had me excited, and I had read good things about it on the internets. I will say, this was a pretty good book, the ideas it bought out were cool, it was creative and different from other fantasy I had read, but one little thing got under my skin, and made me chuck the book across the room. There was a character in the book named Stave, he was meant to be a bit of a sketchy dude, and whenever Hunt mentioned him in the text it was like this: "the disreputable Stave..." Always with the "disreputable", but never did Hunt show that he was disreputable. I kept waiting for some proof of this, for some dishonest moment to arise, but it didn't, and it got under my skin, and I had to give this one the hook. So, Mr. Hunt if you ever read this, I'm sorry, I liked your book, but I like for the author to show me things not tell me.

Chance of giving it another go: slim

Bright of the Sky by Kay Kenyon

Do I sometimes judge a book by its cover? Do the Yankees suck? The answer to both is YES. So I'm not perfect. I fully admit that one of the reasons I purchased this book was for the absolutely beautiful and freaky cover done by Stephen Martiniere. That isn't the only reason though. I had heard lots of good things about this book, and lots of folks whose opinions I trust and respect really enjoy this series. I however, couldn't get into it. It is a little bit sci-fi and a little bit fantasy, but I read about 250 pages of it and I just was not into it. I wish I had a better reason than that, but there just wasn't that little something that hooked me in and got me really into the book. Maybe the timing just wasn't right, and someday I'll be able to enjoy this one.

Chance of giving it another go: moderate

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Review: The Long Valley

The Long Valley by John Steinbeck

The Long Valley is a collection of short stories by my newly crowned Favorite Writer, John Steinbeck. With this set of short stories, he wrested the title from David James Duncan. Don't get me wrong, Duncan still has a nice cozy spot in my heart, but Steinbeck has the ability to evoke a feeling of familiarity in me. Not a familiarity in the sense that I feel like I've already read what he is writing, but a familiarity in the characters, and the settings. I feel like I know those people, and that I can relate to them, and their lives. Steinbeck puts me there, in the character's shoes with an ease that is baffling.

But I'll stop gushing about Steinbeck and instead gush about The Long Valley. This collection of twelve short stories would make a good introduction to Steinbeck and his style, or a make a solid reintroduction to Steinbeck for those who haven't read his work since high school. Each story is great in its own way. There weren't any that I disliked, and they ranged enough in content so that I was never bored of the short format. Steinbeck often does more in ten to twenty pages than another author will do in their entire career. Some were strange (The Chrysanthemums, Johhny Bear) and others were dark, (The Raid, The Vigilante), but they were all great, and were great examples of the short form.

For me the best part of this collection was the inclusion of The Red Pony a novella told in four parts. It comprises nearly half of the book, and is essentially four short stories linked together by the same four characters. Each part is good for different reasons, but I think what made them good to me was that in each of the stories, I could find a similar parallel in my own life. I think that is Steinbeck's true talent, his ability to take basic human issues and struggles, and put them into story in a way that is lasting.

I wouldn't necessarily say that The Long Valley is essential Steinbeck, that would be Grapes of Wrath, Of Mice and Men, and The Pearl, but The Long Valley is great stuff, and I think it is still a must read. I couldn't really find anything to complain about, and I give this one my highest recommendation.

Grade: A+

Review: The Hair of Harold Roux

The Hair of Harold Roux by Thomas Williams

The Hair of Harold Roux is a unique book. The novel tells the story of Aaron Benham, an author who is slowly working on his new novel: The Hair of Harold Roux. It soon comes clear that Benham's lead character "Allard Benson" is in fact Benham, and his novel is about his tumultous post WWII college days or as Benham describes it: "a simple story of seduction, rape, madness and murder - the usual human preoccupations."

Through this novel-within-a-novel you get a good sense of Benham's character. To me he was an incredibly believable and realistic character, probably due to his many flaws. In contrast, the other characters in the book did not seem nearly as realistic as Benham. The title character, Harold Roux, was not memorable, and Benham's love interest, Mary, who was meant to be the perfect woman in every sense, didn't seem that beautiful, amazing, or perfect to me at all. In comparison to the other characters, Benham is really what makes the book. His imperfections and outright stupidity seemed accurate for the kind of decisions a college kid may make. Often his shitty decisions made me hate him, but I attribute that to Williams skillfully being able to write a character that was so real.

The Hair of Harold Roux promises seduction, rape, madness and murder, and certainly delivers. There is no doubting the skill of Williams either. This a well written book, and a fine piece of literature. The Hair of Harold Roux is currently out of print, but I'm sure it can be found at a used book store or on the internet.


Thursday, February 4, 2010

Review: The Physiognomy

The Physiognomy by Jeffrey Ford

In the Well-Built City, Cley a physiognomist first class, and uses his skill as a sort of detective/judge/jury, as he unravels tough cases for his master, and creator of the Well-Built City, Dracton Below. Physiognomy is a science where the practitioner can gain insight about the person they are investigating by taking a multitude of facial measurements. This information can allow the physiognomist to determine whether or not that person committed the crime. Cley is sent to the rural mining town of Anamasobia to find the thief of a rare, un-perishing fruit that may or may not grant immortality.

The Physiognomy is a World Fantasy Award winning book, and in some ways I can see why it won the award; Ford's prose is fantastic, and as I read I found myself really enjoying the "voice" of the book. Ford's use of fantasy elements, while somewhat limited, were either new elements to me, or old ones used in new ways. The mystery of The Beyond and what it contained were well written and set my imagination on fire...but there were also things about the this novel that annoyed the hell out of me, the biggest was Ford's use of deus ex machina more than once in the novel. This really grated on me. It undermined the story, and Ford never explained the logic behind these events. The biggest one came at the climatic moment in the book, and as a result more or less killed the book for me. Which really was too bad because I had been enjoying it, but a book needs to finish well, and this one left me wanting more.

Though this is the first installment in an award winning trilogy, I doubt I'll continue on with the series. I'm determined to try something else by Ford though, because I enjoyed his writing...as long as he has figured out how to write his way out of jams, instead of cheating.

Grade: C-

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Review: Preacher: Gone to Texas

Preacher: Gone to Texas, is a crazy, sadistic, blasphemous, and heretical comic.

It tells the story of Jesse Custer, a small town preacher in Texas, who gets possessed by a supernatural God-like being called Genesis. Genesis is the product of an unholy sex-tryst between an angel and a demon. Since the conception of Genesis, God has quit, disappeared from heaven, thus leaving the petty, squabbling angels in charge. The angels fear that whomever is possessed by Genesis, will gain God-like power, so they set the Saint of Killing loose in Texas to find Jesse Custer.

Custer indeed gains some powers. The one revealed so far is his "Word of God" ability to speak commands and have people immediately do as he asks. While this power could make Custer's life extremely easy, he only uses it as a last-ditch solution...the man has morals.

After accidentally destroying both his church and his congregation while becoming possessed by Genesis, Custer sets out in search of God...literally. His goal is to discover why God has abandoned His creation. Custer is aided along the way by his gun-toting ex-girlfriend, and a heavy drinking Irish vampire.

Preacher struck me as a down and dirty comic where nothing, truly nothing, is sacred, and anything goes...Angel execution by a pistol wielding cowboy? Check. A Sheriff who literally tries to fuck himself? Check. A homophobic hero detective with a secret fetish? Check. Every character in the book is fucked up or will somehow become fucked up. At moments this comic had me laughing out loud, then cringing the next as Dillon, the artist, depicted someone's face getting shot off.

Preacher is definitely not for the weak of heart or the religious conservative. Luckily, I am neither, and I enjoyed it quite a bit. Dillon's artwork is not my favorite, but his style fits the story quite well. His "faces getting shot off" pictures will likely give me nightmares for life. Fun stuff! Ennis writes and plots well, and kept me guessing throughout. I don't know who exactly I would recommend this to, but I do indeed give it my recommendation.

Preacher: Gone to Texas, the first volume in a nine part graphic novel series, is written by Garth Ennis, and drawn by Steve Dillon.

Grade: A