Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Not sleep inducing

More of a combination horror and adventure tale than an outright horror novel, Stephen King's Doctor Sleep was engrossing and fun. For those looking for more of a direct horror sequel to The Shining, you do get that in the early chapters, as the young Dan Torrance (still called "Danny" at that point), has a few more encounters with the ghosts of the old Overlook Hotel (kind of like the way the henchmen in those old James Bond films would show up for one final confrontation after the main villain was defeated). But then we jump ahead and get a different type of story, one where grown-up Dan is a struggling recovering alcoholic who has made- at best- a shaky peace with his special abilities and his past.



The story takes off when Dan is distracted from his own issues by a young girl also blessed (or cursed) with the "shining" ability, a girl who is targeted by a traveling group of psychic vampires who feed on children with her unique attributes. While there is definitely suspense about the story's outcome, I especially enjoyed the fact that the otherwise cute and friendly young girl, Abra, was shown to be extremely powerful and extremely strong willed, and regularly stood up to her attackers with only minimal help from Dan, who basically just gave her a little guidance on her powers. No patronizing damsel-in-distress scenes here.



Likable yet nuanced supporting characters (including Abra's parents and Dan's friends from Alcoholics Anonymous) and decent attention to Dan's own issues round out the proceedings, all making for yet another strong, late-career entry from Mr. King.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Testing, testing...

Okay, there have been many, many technical issues with "Kindle Taproom" lately.  Honestly, it hasn't simply been me not taking the time to post (though there's been a little of that, too).  But lately some of the technical roadblocks have lifted, or else I've found ways to work around them, at least somewhat.  So, stay tuned, and we'll see what happens.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Wonder and joy

Stephen King's Joyland was a rich and enjoyable summer reading experience.  Just don't expect the torrid crime novel the cover promises.  No, what you get here is a gentle tale, set during the summer of 1973, about a decent young man named Devin Jones- his heart recently broken- who takes a job at an amusement park during his summer break from college. The friends he makes at the park, his immersion into "carny" life, and some extra special friends he makes during his walk to and from the park every day via the beach, all fuel a gentle, involving slice-of-life tale about a young man confronting the joys and trials of growing up.

Yes, there is a crime story in the book- rooted in a years-old unsolved murder that took place in Joyland's sole dark, scary ride- but the investigation of the old crime by Devin and his friends only lightly peppers the bulk of the book, and only comes to dominate the story in the last thirty pages or so.  The crime story is a good one, filled with tension and danger as the old murder threatens to make way for a new one, but it's only a small part of a book that's pretty much dominated by those other, gentler elements I mentioned.  If you're okay with that you'll be fine.

And- oh, yes- there are some ghostly, supernatural elements, too- not surprising, given the author.  They're pretty well done, too.  But what you'll probably remember most about Joyland- which inexplicably is being marketed as an old-fashioned pulpy crime novel- is spending a gentle, wondrous, and- yes- often sad summer with Devin and his friends Erin, Tom, Annie, and Mike (the last a young boy you won't soon forget), and how they all made a deep, powerful impression on Devin just when he needed it most.   

Friday, June 21, 2013

Somewhat funny

On this fine Friday, I present for your amusement a few puns, gathered from around the internet, to help you make it through the workday...

I thought I saw an eye doctor on an Alaskan island, but it turned out to be an optical Aleutian.

She was only a whiskey maker, but her loved her still.

A rubber-band pistol was confiscated from an algebra class. It was determined to be a weapon of math disruption.

No matter how much you push the envelope, it'll still be stationery.

A dog gave birth to puppies near the side of the road and was cited for littering.

A grenade thrown into a kitchen in France resulted in Linoleum Blownapart.

In a democracy it's your vote that counts.  In feudalism it's your count that votes.

Two eskimos sitting in a kayak were chilly, so they lit a fire in the craft.  Unsurprisingly it sank, proving once again that you can't have your kayak and heat it, too.

Did you hear about the Buddist who refused Novocain during a root canal?  His goal:
transcend dental medication.

Atheism in a non-prophet organization.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

It's murder, darling

Lord knows where my original paperback copy of Max Allan Collins' Kill Your Darlings has disappeared to, so it was great rediscovering the book on Kindle (it's also back in regular ol' print, too). The third book in the Mallory series, our man Mallory is now a successful mystery writer, and spends the entire book at a real-life mystery convention, Bouchercon, hobnobbing with mystery fans and fellow writers.

The entertaining and well-drawn convention scenes (apparently, mystery conventions aren't all that different from other conventions, as evidenced by the many scenes set at the hotel bar) soon give way to an actual mystery, as a writer friend of Mal's is found dead in a bathtub. Accident or foul play? Mallory is going to find out.

Originally breezing through the book as a young man, this time there was an added level of richness: I know about mystery writers and mystery publishers now, and also know (via his website and other writings) what Max Allan Collins thinks of many of them. So I kept saying to myself (despite Mr. Collins' assurances in the beginning that none of the characters was based on anyone real), "Hmmmmm, this guy has got to be based, at least a little, on Robert B. Parker", and "Mallory's friendship with the murder victim, Roscoe Kane, has got to be strongly informed by Collins' own friendship with Mickey Spillane, even though Spillane himself is mentioned in other parts of the book." And finally, "That successful but somewhat shady bookseller, editor, and small-press mystery publisher has got to be a thinly-veiled version of...", well, let's be nice, but you get the idea. Of course, I could be wrong about any or all of this stuff, but it was fun to speculate as I was reading.

Anyway, the mystery plot is very good: clean, clear, and engaging, with a satisfying resolution that's unpredictable while playing fair with the facts. Also satisfying is a sweet little romance for Mallory, entertaining observations about Chicago and its attractions, and lots of good banter (aka trade-speak) between all the writer characters. A couple of tough-guy style fisticuffs, some involving Mallory getting attacked by thugs and some involving our hero losing his temper with fellow conventioneers, seemed a little broad and unnecessary, but that's a quibble. So what if Mr. Collins' current polish and subtlety isn't completely evidence in his earliest work?  And, to be fair about some of those scenes, Mallory himself later admits he acted like a boob during his confrontations with his colleagues. 

As I've said once or twice before, these past months it's been a lot of fun moving through this five-book series many years after originally encountering it. I only hope that when I'm done, more Mallory adventures will be on the way. Max Allan Collins has been quite prolific of late, so I'd say it's a definite possibility!

Kill Your Darlings is available on Kindle for $3.99. 

Friday, May 10, 2013

Truly seeking justice?

Roger Donaldson's Seeking Justice didn't receive a lot of attention- from the media or audiences- when it was released in theaters not too long ago, but it's worth a look at home via disc, download, or streaming (so many options these days). The film reminded me a lot of Mr. Donaldson's old thriller with Kevin Costner, No Way Out. Like that earlier film, there's lots of tension and action, but all laced with an uncomfortable (and involving) paranoia as both audience members and the center-stage characters constantly wonder who is in on the big conspiracy.

The story in Seeking Justice involves a vigilante group that offers, well... justice to the Nicholas Cage character and his wife after the wife (played by January Jones) is brutally attacked by some weirdo creep. Though it rubs him the wrong way, the husband eventually takes the deal, but soon finds out that there's no free lunch. You see, Cage is all too quickly asked to return the favor and help the vigilante group exact vengeance against some other thug who supposedly did something horrible, this time to a little kid. The "supposedly" is what complicates the film, demonstrating that vigilante justice maybe isn't the simple, satisfying thing many believe it is.

In the end, this was a solid, well-crafted thriller about a topic- taking the law into one's own hands- that is usually relegated to exploitation films and other "crowd pleaser" type movies (the Neil Jordan/Jodie Foster movie The Brave One is the only other modern, A-list movie that comes to mind that tackled the subject, and that did a decent job, too). Anyway, a well-told, intelligent story and complex, understated performances by Nicholas Cage and his co-stars easily make Seeking Justice a good choice for home viewing.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Death-tainted treasure

The fifth novel in John D. MacDonald's classic Travis McGee series, A Deadly Shade of Gold, has boat bum, philosopher, and occasional (read: when he needs the money) investigator McGee chasing after ancient gold statuettes and clues to unravel who killed his friend Sam Taggart. Joining McGee in the adventure is Taggart's ex-fiancee Nora, who was on the cusp of renewing her romance with Taggart when his brutal murder put a damper on things.

Like the four books that preceded it, this travel-heavy fifth entry in the series (we spend time in Mexico, California, and New York, in addition to McGee's native Florida) is gritty, detailed, and enjoyable, but for my tastes things got a little bogged down with politics (particularly involving Cuba of the 50's and 60's), too-complicated plotting, and excessive philosophizing my our man McGee. Plusses include well-rounded women characters (pun sort of intended) and many tense confrontations and escapes.

While this slightly overlong tale is my least favorite among the first five books in this 21-book series (I'm finally discovering this series via reading each of its entries in order), all that means is that I enjoyed the book instead of really enjoyed it. The brisk and scary Nightmare in Pink (with its memorable psycho ward setting) is still my favorite so far. But this tale of the corrupt rich and their ethics-free pursuit of priceless antiquities, and the many violent deaths left in the wake of that pursuit, still largely kept me speeding through its chapters. This is rich, dark fun.

A Deadly Shade of Gold is available on Kindle for $7.99.