Tuesday, August 30, 2016

The Bazaar of Bad Dreams

Stephen King is the author of...you know who Stephen King is. I won't bother with the author introduction.

Synopsis: 

There are thrilling connections between stories; themes of morality, the afterlife, guilt, what we would do differently if we could see into the future or correct the mistakes of the past. “Afterlife” is about a man who died of colon cancer and keeps reliving the same life, repeating his mistakes over and over again. Several stories feature characters at the end of life, revisiting their crimes and misdemeanors. Other stories address what happens when someone discovers that he has supernatural powers—the columnist who kills people by writing their obituaries in “Obits;” the old judge in “The Dune” who, as a boy, canoed to a deserted island and saw names written in the sand, the names of people who then died in freak accidents. In “Morality,” King looks at how a marriage and two lives fall apart after the wife and husband enter into what seems, at first, a devil’s pact they can win.




Review:

This is another shorts collection. Some of them were awesome, some great, some okay, some boring. I will go over the stories one by one for a clearer and better view. First out of the gate:

Mile 81: 3 out of 5 stars: A good start to the collection. It centers on a car that eats people. Yup, this is a Stephen King short. I liked the characters, the children. The story has several povs but the kids are the ones who stood out the most, and how they handled their fears. A real life nightmare is happening in front of their eyes, and they might lose their parents. Maybe that's giving away too much. But that's the gist of childhood fears. Losing parents and nightmares coming to life. So that was great. However, it did take a long time to get to the good stuff.

Premium Harmony: 4 out of 5 stars. The narration on this one was awesome and beautifully done. The story was short and to the point. Simple as well. I can't say much without giving it away, but its centered on a man who smokes too much and his overweight wife. The simplicity and honesty in the simple facts of life did it for me. It reminded me of those country noirs I so adore.

Batman and Robin have an Altercation: 2 out of 5 stars: The premise to this one is sad. A son takes his elderly father, who has alzheimer, out to eat as he does every week in the same place. His father tells him the same tales. But the ending is both strong and surprising. It did, however, linger in the middle for too long with backstory. A lot of it good and needed for the conclusion. Some of it was just meh.

The Dune: 2 out of 5 stars: Again, the premise to this one is really strong. And the twist ending as well. But the middle dragged. A retired judge tells his lawyer about a dune and its secrets. I can't say much without spoiling what those secrets are.

Bad Little Kid: 3 out of 5 stars: Long short. It recounts the story about a man on death row and why he's there. His lawyer hears his story about the bad little kid that was the catalyst for the major crime committed. Its a psychological story and intriguing enough. It was a tad longer than it should have been in my opinion, but still interesting.

A Death: 2 out of 5 stars: This was one takes place in the olden times. It's about man who is going to be hanged for his terrible crime. He has not plead guilty, and there aren't any witnesses. There's little doubt and less evidence. But he is guilty by the people's court, and that's why he HAS to die. This short questions how mob mentality can sometimes influence perspective. Innocent people could die because of it, and how maybe we shouldn't question ourselves for thinking differently from the collective whole. But, maybe, just maybe we should.

The Bone Church: 1 out of 5 stars: To be honest, I don't remember this one. It didn't stick with me and it was a bit rambly. I think it was a narrative poem...

Morality: 3 out of 5 stars: Lots to chew on here. It begins with a husband and wife. They are struggling financially. The wife works for a rich man that makes her a questionable proposition. She immediately thinks of the worst, but it turns out that its not as bad as robbery or killing someone. In fact, it doesn't seem that bad at all IN comparison. She talks to her husband about doing it. They will both become rich if she does. And she does. What happens later is the downhill spiral of a flimsy couple questioning everything they've ever known about themselves. Good stuff.

Afterlife: 5 out of 5 stars: My highest rating. One of the shortest in the collection but also one of the more fascinating ones. A man dies and he is confronted by a very office-like afterlife. Because its short, I can't get into the gist of the tale without giving the whole story away. I will say it was quite an interesting little take on life and death and the choices we make and why we keep on making them.

Ur: 3 out of 5 stars: What if you received a pink Kindle in the mail that contained every book ever written--and every book never written? That's the premise. A college teacher orders a kindle to make a point to his ex girlfriend that he doesn't 'need' to just read hard copies, but the kindle he receives is very different. Out of this world even. I liked the multi-universe aspect to this one.

Herman Wouk is Still Alive: 3 our of 5 stars: Two overweight unhappy women with a ton of children go on one last fun trip together. That's one side of the story. The other is about an elderly couple remembering the good old days. What's in store for the future of these four people? A collision. I liked how the narrative showed us how the young and the old can at times feel like they have nothing left to give. It's a depressing story.

Under the Weather: 5 out of 5 stars: I saw the ending coming a mile away. I'm still giving this one five stars because the ending was not the point of the story. It was more about holding on and the lies we tell ourselves to save ourselves from insanity. This one centers around a man who pretty things up for a living--including his own reality.

Blockade Billy: 1 out of 5 stars: A meta short. The narrator is telling King the story of Billy. This one is about baseball. No matter how hard I tried to pay attention, I just couldn't. I don't even remember the ending. It was boring. And not because of all the baseball lingo, but the story itself didn't hold my attention.

Mister Yummy: 3 out of 5 stars: An elderly man in a nursing home is convinced that he will die in the next few days. How does he know? Well, Mister Yummy has come to pay him a few visits. The story explores aspects of ageing, aids, and homosexuality. And mostly, desire. Good story.

Tommy: 3 out of 5 stars: Super short. Tommy was a gay hippy in the sixties who died but remained pure to his lifestyle. "Drink to the motherfucker."

The Little Green God of Agony: 3 out of 5 stars: The title is the gist of the story. A rich man in pain hires a broke preacher to heal him. The preacher tells him about the God of Agony while the narrator, the nurse who has heard it all before, tries not to snap at both the fake preacher and the entitled old man. I like the ending to this one a lot. Sometimes what we think we know is just what we have come to expect from years of routines and complacency. It can make us detached from others and their pain.

The Bus is Another World: 4 out of 5 stars: I tend to love ones with deep introspection. This is why I liked this one. The man in this story is trying really hard to remain calm as he heads to a very important meeting that might change his life and prospects. However, life keeps getting in the way, literally, life. Tough choices have to be made. Sometimes doing the right thing for another is of little benefit to you. Do you still do it?

Obits: 4 out of 5 stars: A fun little read about how an act of spontaneity could in fact be something inherent in you. At least that's my interpretation. A struggling writer settles for writing at a TMZ type of place. He's not proud or happy with it, but he needs money and needs to get out of his parents home. It all started like a fun little joke--so he thinks--making a crude obituary of a dead artist. But what ends up happening is not so funny, and he discovers that it might have always been a part of himself. I liked the straight narrative here. No secrecy or pretty words. Just the facts.

Drunken Fireworks: 1 out of 5 stars: I'm not gonna lie. I didn't finish this story. It bored me. And if I have learned anything from Stephen King is that life is too short to spend it reading boring stuff. The narration didn't help. It's starts out with poor folks who end up with a ton of money and....

Summer Thunder: 4 out of 5 stars: The end of the world is here. A man with his dog. Another man with nothing left but warm beers. It sounds simple enough, but also scary in that it could all really happen. What made this story great to me was the simplicity of strolling around an empty landscape knowing that there isn't much left to live for.

And that's a wrap!















Sunday, December 13, 2015

The Spartak Trigger

I've been meaning to read this book for a long time. Life got in the way. But I finally got to it, so here goes.

Bryce Allen was born in Atlantic Canada in the early - 1980s. He graduated from the University of King's College in 2004 with a BA in History and currently resides in the Midwestern United States. The Spartak Trigger is his first published novel.


Synopsis:


Disgraced cop and degenerate cad Shane Bishop now makes his living as a professional set-up artist, using his unique skillset to frame his clients’ enemies for various criminal offenses. When his latest job goes wrong and his mark ends up in a body bag, the ex-lawman becomes the prime suspect in a high-profile murder investigation – framed himself by a mysterious government agent. 

E-book
In order to obtain a key piece of evidence that will clear his name, Bishop is blackmailed into performing various acts of industrial espionage upon some of the world’s most powerful corporations. He soon graduates to foreign intelligence work and finds himself in Russia charged with infiltrating a radical neo-Bolshevik terrorist group known as ‘Black October’ and retrieving a microfilm they’ve obtained which contains a Soviet-era computer virus that has the power to destroy the world…wide web.



Review:

This novel is interesting on many levels, and I don't mean interesting in the sense that I can't come up with a better word, but that this one actually applies. The narrative is not typical, and that's part of the charm. At first, it takes a minute to get used to the main character arguing with the narrator, but once you adjust to that, it's quite amusing. Mostly because Shane Bishop is an asshole. I really can't come up with a better word here. Maybe dick. He is not a likable man, and he' not trying to be. He's a racist, misogynistic, lunatic with a an equally despicable job. He sets people up. He ruins lives. Like I said, he's an asshole. Not that the people's who's life he ruins are all that great, either. To quote Bishop:


"Another high-tech corporate monkey with a super-expensive severance package?"

And to hammer my point on what an asshole he is, here's another quote:

"I go to a pet store and ask the friendly salespeople all kinds of retarded questions but I don't buy anything."

He has a daughter and you want to think that might be Bishop's saving grace, but no, he's a shitty father as well, and his daughter is an unstable girl who makes terrible decisions. He does try to help her at some point. That was nice. There. That's about the only good thing about Bishop.

Now, back to the plot, Bishop gets framed. He is hunted down. He needs help. This starts the turns and twists and bends of the book. The spy part of it. He meets a lot of interesting characters who lead him in different directions. There's explosions. Action. Sex. Betrayal. Lots of fun. Read the book. Pay attention and you might not get lost:

"He begins to explain to me what the fuck is going on with this meandering, convoluted plot you've managed to tolerate thus far."

I agree with that statement. But I have to say, I enjoyed all the extra characters, the ones that die and the ones that don't. No spoilers! They add to the craziness and fast pace of the book. They come in and out of Bishop's life to briefly confound and piss him off a little more. My favorite part of the whole novel has to be Bishop's arguments with the narrator who desperately tries to keep Bishop in line with his fancy word choices and crafty omissions.

"The narrator sheepishly apologizes for what he calls a contrived coincidence"

You get the sense that Bishop is not all there in the head. He keeps getting calls wherever he is from telemarketers in all kinds of places. All the time. You get a feeling that the narrator and MC don't know what's going on and that endeared me to them and the story. For sanity's sake, you just hope it all comes to a satisfying resolution. I believe it does.

Friday, August 7, 2015

The End of the Trail

Louis Rakovich writes sometimes-fantastical literary fiction. His short stories have appeared or are forthcoming in Bartleby Snopes, The Fiction Desk, Criminal Element and other places. He's inspired by authors such as Truman Capote, Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Edgar Poe, and filmmakers such as David Lynch and Andrei Tarkovsky. He grew up in Jerusalem, Israel, and currently lives in NYC, where he's working on his first novel – a psychological thriller with theological undertones. You can find more stories by him at www.louisrakovich.com, or follow him on Twitter at @LouisRakovich.




Synopsis:

A barren land of salt and snow; a castle where underground paths twist and turn in endless circles and a reclusive king has not shown his face in years; a forest where few things are what they seem. An unnamed hero must navigate through these places as he takes on the task of tracking down a supposed witch, in a story that blends dream and reality, rumor and truth, danger and hope.




Review:

The End of the Trail is a novelette that has a lot going for it. It thrust you into a cold world of salt, among superstitious folks who tell wild tales and have many misconceptions. It's not a nice place. Neither is the weather. It's brutal. I loved the way I was able to feel the cold seeping through my skin as I read. Very descriptive prose. We are introduced to a nameless man, a reader, a lord, who happens to be bitter. And who can blame him? He has lost many relatives, and some of the neighbors have speculations on what his parents did with the deceased children. Would you eat your own dead kids or starve? Was that ever an option? Who knows. The salt drillers, fishermen, petty merchants, and the gossiping women of the cold have stories for everything and everyone. (This actually reminded me of the town a grew up in. Except that it was super hot instead of cold.) This is the type of land and time where survival is a way of life:.

 It was better to fall asleep to death and have your body buried by your family, than to drown in freezing water.
A year is three months of mild summer and nine months of uncompromising winter.

Rumor this and rumor that. A true fact: No one has seen the king in years. Our hero is then summoned to the castle by a thin man. He doesn't know what to expect or who he's going to see. He does meet the 'young' queen. His mission: to track a witch. There have been many rumors about this witch. None of them good. He is cautious entering the forest, the weight of the world rests on his shoulders. His mission is almost impossible to complete in such harsh conditions. But the reward of a new, warm, better life that awaits him if he succeeds is a good enough motivator to help him get through the thick of it all. He might or might not come out of the forest alive.

Like I said above, I liked the poetic way the story was told. At times I had to stop and think about a certain thought or phrase. I don't just mean the more poetic lines of thought, but what seemed like simple ones too:

She chuckled without making a sound.

These characters are nameless, and the story itself is timeless. So are the themes. Deception. Love. Danger. Courage. Honor. Sacrifice. I would have liked to have read more, to have seen our hero deal with the consequences of his decisions, or if he had any later on. It's left to our imagination. And if you really think about it, most of the story has been left to our hero to suppose about since he never really knows what awaits him or what's true or not. Snow and salt are extremely deceptive in their own right. Perfect setting for a story about how appearances can fool. The mood of the story resembles the one of the narrator and the atmosphere. Bleak. It fits well.

This tale is a decent read. And it does a good job of seamlessly merging you into the setting without having to waste time trying to ease you into it. The same can be said about the passages relating to our hero's past. It swirls around like snow drizzle but gets its point across. A good read. Beautiful and poetic.










Monday, July 20, 2015

Black Cat Mojo

Adam Howe writes the twisted fiction your mother warned you about. A British writer of fiction and screenplays, he lives in Greater London with his partner and their hellhound, Gino. Writing as Garrett Addams, his short story Jumper was chosen by Stephen King as the winner of the On Writing contest; the prize was publication in the paperback and eBook editions of On Writing, and an audience with The King, where they mostly discussed slow vs. fast zombies. His fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in places like Nightmare Magazine, Thuglit, Mythic Delirium, Horror Library 5, Plan B Magazine, and One Buck Horror. His second novella collection, Die Dog Or Eat The Hatchet, will be published soon by Comet Press. He is currently working on his first novel, One Tough Bastard. Tweet him at @Adam_G_Howe.



Synopsis:

Ebook copy
 In these three novellas of blackly comic crime and creature horror, you’ll go slumming with well-endowed dwarf porn stars, killer badgers, redneck mama’s boys, morbidly obese nymphomaniacs, dumbass dog-nappers, trailer trash Jesus freaks, diarrheic Jack Russell Terriers, not-so-wiseguys, mob-movie memorabilia collectors, junkie blackmailers, and giant man-eating Burmese pythons. 















Review:

Black Cat Mojo is a twisted ride down a vicious road. And that was part of the reason I enjoyed it. This is a collection of novelettes. They all have similar themes. Animals. Trailer trash. And bad luck. Let's not forget bad decisions. Our 'heroes' (I use that term very loosely here) are put in impossible situations but handle themselves as best as they know how. Not good. They are not the brightest bunch, but a lot of them have heart. There's redemption here. You root for these folks even when you know you probably shouldn't. The prose is direct and to the point. The plot is swift and unapologetic. And the characters are colorful. You can't really ask for more. But it does leave you wanting more.

Because these shorts are individual pieces,and I don't want to lump them into one long, general review, I'll go at them one by one:

OF BADGERS & PORN DWARFS:

First of all, that title alone tells you a lot of what you need to know. Rummy is a dwarfs with a huge penis. A porn actor with a drug and gambling problem. He wasn't always a fuck up. At one time, Rummy was just a a little guy with big ambition who wanted to make serious films, and not as the lead of Hi-Ho, Hi-Ho, It's Up Your Ass We Go. He gets into some financial trouble with a bookmaker, Scanlon, and his muscle, Beef, who personally wanted to make him a eunuch, or as the dwarf puts it:
Rummy suspected the promise of a blowtorch weenie roast was the only reason he'd (Beef) rolled out of bed this morning.
In order to pay for his debt, poor Rummy has to do the unthinkable--or unthinkable only because he wasn't into that stuff. This leads to a series of events that leave the dwarf fighting for his life, his sanity, and another chance to do it all over again. There are some hilarious moments in this short--probably my second favorite--and I laughed out loud at lines like the one below where the bookmaker discusses Rummy's appearance:                                            
"I didn't know you already, you told me you had progeria, I'd believe you." 
"Jesus, man, I know I look tired but--" 
Of Badgers and Porn Dwarfs stays mostly in Rummy's pov. Flashbacks to his former life add a whole set of layers to this has-been's story. Its entertainingly wicked, but it also has a lot of heart.

JESUS IN A DOG’S ASS 

Gotta love these titles. This little story weaves more characters and story lines with distinct goals and levels of aptitude. Again, not the cleverest bunch, but hilarious nonetheless. We have Hank and his wife Marsha. He's an unemployed, moviemaking wannabe, and she's a religious woman who's idea of a good day is coming come to watch American Idol with a large tube of Ben & Jerry's. They have dog name Scooter, and Scooter's ass happens to look like Jesus.

In this same town we have Poke and Hootie. Two lowlifes whose schemes only get them into trouble. Mostly Poke who is more a follower than a leader. After being released from jail again, Poke teams up with Hootie to Steal the dog a lot of the townsfolk have been worshiping. The rest is fanatic mayhem.

The characters in this one were some of my favorites. They were conniving. They all had their own agendas to get what they wanted. Marsha arguably the best at it. The rest just didn't know how to go about it, and when they tried, it all fell apart. Watching this group stumble from A to B, trying to outsmart one another with their poorly thought-out schemes was too funny. The only character worth feeling sorry for here was the dog.

FRANK, THE SNAKE, & THE SNAKE

The tale of Frankie “The Tin Man” Piscopo was my favorite. A three part story about a man with bad luck who was once an average mechanic until his shop was destroyed. He asks the wrong man for help. The Snake, a mob leader, who proves to be as slithering as the creature his nickname comes from.

Frank wrote a book about his former life. The book was named: Requiem for a Rat. That's not what Frank had in mind, but that's the shitty luck he has. Witness protection isn't all that great either. He works at a shitty garage and ends the night at a shitty bar. The wife left him. And he's old. There's nothing much to live for. It wasn't always like that for Frankie. For about six months of his life, he was a "Goodfella" or so he'd liked to believe.

I loved the many references to the mobster movies. Maybe because I'm personally a fan. I found this story the most entertaining, mostly because of Frank. He was just a poor sucker with bad luck. He was not greedy or conniving like some of the other characters in the book. He was just an unlucky smuck who never seemed to catch a break for long. When he meets Stevie, the story really starts to get fun but sad. The obsessive boy demands the impossible from Frank and because Frank has no choice, or assumes he doesn't, he goes a long with everything, hoping things will work out. But things never work out for Frank, and that large (actual) snake in that reeking trailer proves it.

THE MAD BUTCHER OF PLAINFIELD'S CHARIOT OF DEATH 

Last but not least. The shortest. The bonus. I don't know what I liked more about this one. The crime or the horror. Maybe both. The real details about Ed Gein, the killer and body snatcher, were a nice sprinkle, and this story was actually based on some truth. Bunny Gibbons was an actual person. He was a funfair owner who bought Ed's car. A Ford. He called it "Ed Gein Ghoul Car". History doesn't tell us much about the man, but Adam Howe does. Like Rummy, Bunny had some serious mommy issues, and not only that, but he was a serious alcoholic. His shows didn't go the way he wanted. And he wanted to scare the reason out of people. Bunny went the extra mile to ensure this. Of course, to a large population, he was seen as a con taking advantage of a terrible situation for financial gain. Depress, he starts to drink more and sleep more until one rainy night he has a breakthrough--or so he thinks.



I love the horror and the backstory to the last one--or really all the stories. The characters were not just mindless people going about their lives reacting to their environment. These were well-fleshed out folks who tried to survive and make a living in even the most dire of circumstances. Anyone can relate to that if nothing else.

Did I enjoy this book? Yes. Do I recommend it? Yes. In short: Buy it. Read it. Share it. Because why the hell not?









Friday, May 15, 2015

The Ritual

Adam Nevill is a writer of supernatural horror. He used to write erotic novels, which I found fascinating. He has also won a couple of awards for his horror. I've only read one of his, but I plan to read more in the future. So here we go with my review of: The Ritual 


Synopsis:

Paperback copy
When four old University friends set off into the Scandinavian wilderness of the Arctic Circle, they aim to briefly escape the problems of their lives and reconnect with one another. But when Luke, the only man still single and living a precarious existence, finds he has little left in common with his well-heeled friends, tensions rise. With limited experience between them, a shortcut meant to ease their hike turns into a nightmare scenario that could cost them their lives. Lost, hungry, and surrounded by forest untouched for millennia, Luke figures things couldn't possibly get any worse. But then they stumble across an old habitation. Ancient artifacts decorate the walls and there are bones scattered upon the dry floors. The residue of old rites and pagan sacrifice for something that still exists in the forest. Something responsible for the bestial presence that follows their every step. As the four friends stagger in the direction of salvation, they learn that death doesn't come easy among these ancient trees . . .

Review:

This book doesn't waste anytime presenting the plot. Four friends on a holiday in the Scandinavian woods get lost. It doesn't help that two are overweight and with hurting feet. One is angry. The other is Hutch. I have to admit, for some reason, I thought Hutch was the main character. Maybe because he had an early pov and seemed the most level-headed of the four, but to my surprise, and no, apparently I didn't read the spine, Luke told most of the story.

Luke is an angry man. He doesn't like his life. He hates that his friends constantly judge him, and he happens to be the butt of a lot of Dom's jokes. I connected with Luke right away. Hutch was a little too easy going for my taste. But yeah, Luke quickly gets angry with his other friends. Hutch, for getting them lost. Dom, for being a bully. Phil, for just being Phil. They are trapped and lost and not enjoying each other's company anymore. And there seems to be something wrong with those woods. Many things wrong.They find a building with odd hangings and a goat-like mounting of a pagan God. Their dreams are invaded and slowly, little by little, they all start to lose their shit.

I adored how the story mounts the tension in the forest, parallel with the one the four friends are experiencing. Loads of  frustrations. The first half is all about the four friends getting on each other's nerves as food starts to deplete and nightmares start to become realities. It was my favorite half of the story.

However, the second half really made me delve in and get dirty and grimy and sick with Luck. That open head wound was starting to hurt me too after a while. His stench, his hunger, his every ache, was my ache and I so wanted him to survive all the madness. The scary little people. Old woman. And trio of crazies. His mind started to slip and his dreams became more vivid. Delusions. The whole book was a nightmare. The climax was fun. A joy ride. Luke was sure he wouldn't make it. I was sure he wouldn't make it. The creature of the forest was sure he would not make it. Did Luke make it? Read and find out.

This one is a fun story. And maybe not all the characters got developed as much as I would have liked, but the main character did, and that's really what matters. It's an awesome horror. In the woods. All about survival and making due with what you have. Also, the landscape was quite vividly described. The constricting atmosphere, the ongoing rain. Short, spunky sentences. Just an overall fun horror story. If you enjoy the genre and stories of survival of the mind and body, give this one a try!

Saturday, March 7, 2015

No Punchline

Jeff Suwak is featured in a few anthologies and is the author of the novella: Beyond the Tempest Gate. He's done it all from writing, editing, to being an Army Ranger, and competing in full contact kickboxing. One of his favorite writers happens to be one of my all time favorite authors as well: Jack London. Today, I'm going to be covering his short story: No Punchline: Or, The Night Chale Thayer Blew his Head off at the Punch Drunk Comedy Club. (Yeah, that mouthful.)

Synopsis:
Ebook copy

We cannot envision the glory of God, but we know exactly what our demons look like. 
Today, comedian Chale Thayer is going to kill himself onstage in front of all his fans. He has given up all hope that there is any greater purpose to life and is giving God, the universe, or whatever else might be out there one last chance to prove him wrong.

He will tempt fate at the end of a gun barrel, and only time will tell who gets the last laugh.




Review:

I enjoyed this little short for many reasons. I will start with the blunt and quick delivery. This story does not waste time introducing the world and giving it an air of a gritty, cut throat atmosphere. And anyone that knows me knows that I love anything noir. No words are wasted and everything has meaning. Right off the bet you get hit with this piece of information:
"A comedian is someone who doesn't think that anything in the world is funny, not a single damn thing, so he's got to joke about it all or else he'll kill himself."
Chale Thayer is tired. He's tired of it all. And it shows with everything he utters. Sure, there is good about the world. The people who he cares about and that in turn care about him, but mostly the world is an ugly place with ugly people and he can't shake that feeling off.
"Takes a sicker man than me to laugh at the world we live in."
He has decided to take a gun to the comedy club and off himself. No spoiler here. The title already tells you that. Along the way he makes a few quick pit stops to visit some of the people who have meant a great deal to him. The seedy city he lives in and the common folks are all portrayed very well and are a few of the reasons this story is entertaining. They all offer their own kind of wisdom. Often times, people have a way of being insightful even when they're not trying to be.

Chale is not a failed comedian. He actually reminded me of the late George Carlin. His dry humor is more fact based than haha funny. He is an up and comer who refuses to be bought and sold. He refuses to sell out. He refuses to be made into a hero:
"If you feel the need to coronate people as heroes, go find a nurse or a shelter volunteer, and coronate them." 
True words right there. He just wants to understand the point of it all. His worth. His contribution to  society. How unfair it all is. The mystery of himself. He raises a lot of questions that we as individuals face at points in our lives. Yes, Chale can be quite cynical. But life has given him enough reasons to come to his conclusions. He was an interestingly insightful character, frustrated, yes, but through his lenses it all comes together. It makes sense.

I won't reveal more than I have or the ending. A lot of it is left to interpretation. And so, here's mine: The joke is not just on Chale but on the reader as well. There is a plot expectation and the story mounts and ebbs and leads up to the expected climax and so when the end is nigh, I also laugh.

No Punchline is a good story to check out. Its well worth the time.





















Sunday, March 1, 2015

Genesis Code

Jamie Metzl is not just a successful author, but he is also a very accomplished business man. From being a senior adviser at an investment firm to a human rights officer for the United Nations in Cambodia. He has published several books, but this one is the first I've personally read. So, here we go, Genesis Code:

Synopsis:

Hardback copy
Blue Magic, the latest designer drug linked to a rash of overdoses, might explain the needle mark on the arm of a young woman found dead in her Kansas City apartment. But when Star reporter Rich Azadian digs deeper, the clues point to a far more explosive story: MaryLee Stock was a special protégée of evangelical megapastor and power broker Cobalt Becker, who is poised to deliver his followers and the presidency to a firebrand right-wing senator in the next election. When Azadian sets out to prove that MaryLee’s death was no accident and she may have been carrying Becker’s genetically enhanced baby, the stakes become life itself.

In 2023 America—bankrupt, violently divided by the culture wars, and beholden to archrival China—the rules of the game are complicated. With the danger mounting, the dead bodies of young women piling up, Chinese agents circling, and the US Department of National Competitiveness moving in to quash his investigation, Azadian’s only option is to go rogue, assemble a team of brilliant misfits like himself, and begin the fight of his life to find out who is killing these women and why, and if any others like them may still be alive.

Review:

I loved the start of this novel a whole lot, enough that half way through I had already decided to give it a high rating. The first half is very strong. But the last act is a tad of a let down. Rich Azadian is a reporter with commitment issues and a tragic past. In fact, his past is part of the reason he obsesses with the dead girl, wanting to find out what happened to her. His sister was killed years before, and he hasn't really dealt the senselessness of it all.

When MaryLee Stock dies, he goes through great lengths to find out if it was murder. I was on board with him and Joseph, his Indian assistant, as they, little by little, piece together who and what was involved. His suspicion lead him to politicians, the government, radicals, and religious leaders. It was all very intriguing.

The writing itself was a charm. The author did not waste any words. The story goes from one scene to another, one great plot point to another, one day to another. No dull moments. The MC questioned the same things I did, and he got the questions or figured it out around the same time I did. The writer takes you on a fun journey while at the same time not letting you get restless or anxious about where the plot is going.

The main character was interesting in that he not only questioned his job, the loss of his sister, and MaryLee, he also questioned life. He wanted more out of it. I could understand why he didn't want to commit to anyone. He didn't understand himself enough to want to pretend he understood someone else, and so when his ex walks back into his life--he needs her to solve the puzzle--his hesitation made perfect sense to me. Even the conclusion at the end of the story made sense because by that time a lot had happened to him and all the characters involved. I did not have a problem with Rich. But I did have major issues with everyone else in his life.

All the secondary characters were too eager to please Rich. They all sacrificed a lot and risked even more to help him figure out a puzzle that at first didn't make much sense. I could understand why his girlfriend, who still had feelings for him, would go along with it all, but  the other helpers, including his editor and the detective on the job, who were supposed to have strong personalities, were all quickly swayed by Rich. They at times seemed like plot devices. The tough but helpful editor at his newspaper, the tough but more than willing to hear him out detective, the tech guy, the scientist...everyone had a profession and a role that the story ultimately needed for all of it to come together at the end. There is more to this, but I don't want to reveal too much. No spoilers here.

Now, the dreaded last act. My problem with it was that I started figuring out the main plot a lot faster than Rich, and everything worked out perfectly and exactly how Rich needed it to. No casualties. No consequences. They all lived happily ever after. The good guy won. I don't have a problem with this thought process, but in this story it all worked out too well. Every one believed Rich and took his advice on almost everything. Everyone ended up yielding. The high stakes didn't seem so high once it was all nicely wrapped up in a fantastical bow.

However, the one part that I did like about the ending was how this near future exposes the world to how genetic engineering can be used for terrible things that lead to devastating results. How science and religion can be both helpful and destructive. How trying to get ahead could lead everyone back. I loved the world of Genesis Code. It was a very realistic place, not too different from the near future we might all have. The science is compelling. The ideas inventive. The plot was fun. And so I still recommend it because of all the good.