A penny saved is ridiculous.

A penny saved is ridiculous.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Why, why, why?

On this fine Wednesday, here are some haunting questions for you to ponder:

1. How is it that we put a man on the moon before we figured out it would be a good idea to put wheels on luggage?

2. Why is it that well-rested people will say that they "slept like a baby," when babies wake up and cry something like every two hours?

3. Why is it that you see actors in a movie, but on TV?

4. Why is bra singular and panties plural?

5. Why do all toasters have a setting that burns toast to a useless, charred crisp? Does anyone actually like their toast that way?

6. Why does Disney's dog character Goofy stand erect and talk, but Disney's Pluto character, also a dog, remains on all fours and just barks?

7. If Wile E. Coyote has enough money to buy all that ACME crap to help catch the Road Runner, why doesn't he just buy himself dinner?

8. Hey, wait... Do the Alphabet Song and Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star both have the same tune?

9. Why did you actually start humming to yourself the two songs mentioned above?

10. Did you ever notice that a dog gets annoyed when you blow in his face, but when you take him out for a ride in the car, he immediately sticks his head out the window?

Better get pondering, because there are more to come...

Ace Atkins?

The following is an article just released by the Associated Press (AP):

NEW YORK (AP)- Crime novelist Robert B. Parker is gone, but his most popular series will continue.

Parker's estate and publisher G.P. Putnam's Sons announced Wednesday that new "Spenser" and "Jesse Stone" novels will be written. Michael Brandman, a longtime friend of Parker's, will handle the "Jesse Stone" books. Ace Atkins will take on Spenser. Parker's widow, Joan Parker, says in a statement that she's "delighted" the author's characters will "live on."

Parker died last year at age 77. "Sixkill," a Spenser novel completed before his death, comes out next month.

Monday, April 25, 2011

On the mark

Recently spotted on the chalkboard at a local luncheonette:

We spend the first two years of our children's lives teaching them to walk and talk. Then we spend the next sixteen years telling them to sit down and shut up.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Killer tale

You Can't Stop Me, by Max Allan Collins and Matthew Clemens, tells a decent, suspenseful story about an America's Most Wanted-style television host who all of a sudden has a fat, juicy clue about his family's unsolved murders fall into his lap, allowing him to use the resources of his TV show to follow up on the clue.

In the plotting of the book, variety seemed to be the name of the game here. The book has a lot of entertaining scene changes, each delivering different flavors in the thriller palette: there are dark scenes of the murderer dispatching his victims; the dramatic assembling of TV host J.C. Harrow's criminal investigation team, with each member having a different, fascinating specialty; lots of thoughtful speculation on the part of the team members about the crimes they're investigating; and of course, a couple of dangerous confrontations between Harrow's team members and the killer.

The serial killer plot also includes a clever side mystery involving the origins of the killer's rage, which adds a level of meatiness to the proceedings. I also enjoyed the frank discussion of television ethics by Harrow and his team members: because Harrow is using his show, his very successful show, to track down his family's killer, would he allow his network to deliberately slow the pace of his investigation in order to generate more episodes before the killer was caught? How much showmanship overall would Harrow allow to take precedence, in light of the fact that the network was the sole funding source of the investigation so important to him? Interesting stuff.

Quibbles? Only minor ones. J.C.Harrow might have been a little more interesting to me if he was seen to genuinely enjoy his celebrity for its own sake, at least a little. But, no, it's pretty clear that he only went on television because of the possible opportunity it would eventually give him to track down his family's killer. It might have been more fun if there was more dark complexity in Harrow's psychological make-up: how would he deal with the fact that he loved being a TV celebrity, knowing that he only became a celebrity because his family was killed? Oh, well, maybe that's something for a future book in the series. And if not, so what? Harrow isn't the only ongoing character in the series, so there's plenty of room to plant complexity elsewhere.

Also, as much as I liked the variety of scenes overall, it did also suggest a kind of "trying out different things to see what works" sort of vibe, which slightly undercut momentum. To be fair, origins stories tend to be a little more slowly paced than subsequent installments of a character's adventures, and this book is basically the origin of Harrow's team. In any event, I've already started the second book in the series, No One Will Hear You, and a more consistent tone and faster pace is already evident.

But this first book, You Can't Stop Me, is still quite good in itself. The mix is solid: It's got scares and pulse-pounding stuff, as well as decent characters and more thoughtful stuff. And, yes, the pages never less than adequately turn, and often turn quite fast. Myself, I might have waited for the third or fourth book in the series for Harrow to finally catch up with his family's killer, in order to build suspense and anticipation, but I guess I can see the value of giving readers immediate satisfaction regarding the driving force behind J.C. Harrow's life of the past decade.

Also, the fact that Harrow confronts his central goal of justice/vengeance-seeking here in this first book might address my earlier quibble about J.C.'s personality. Where does J.C. go from here? If trying to find a purpose in life and a reason to be happy (or at least content) after a longtime obsession is satisfied doesn't make a character more interesting, complex, and compelling, nothing will.

So, yeah, I'm going to hang around a while to see where this thing goes. If you decide to read You Can't Stop Me, you probably will, too.

The thick, meaty You Can't Stop Me is currently a bargain on Kindle for $4.39.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Top-flight product

I thought I'd take a moment to tell you about my new Belkin Grip Kindle Sleeve, which I recently purchased at Amazon for $24.99.

I bought a similar Belkin sleeve for my Kindle 2 and didn't hesitate to buy this new sleeve when I recently upgraded to a Kindle 3. These Belkin products continue to be excellent sleeves for the Kindle: the Kindle sits snuggly inside a totally enclosed cushioned interior, yet is easily inserted into or removed from said interior. I also like the new look; the black sleeve I selected basically remains as clean and conservative-looking as the previous version for the Kindle 2, yet now sports a little welcome visual flair.

Once your Kindle is enclosed in its cozy Belkin sleeve, nothing will ever happen to it. You can toss it in your briefcase, jam it down into your beach bag with all your other beach gear, or hold it in your hand in conjunction with a bunch of other items. Whatever you do, your Kindle will stay clean, protected, and safe.

And considering all the usefulness and durability you're going to get from it, the price isn't bad, either. To each his or her own, I guess, but I think there are plenty of more expensive sleeves and covers available for Kindle that simply don't provide as much protection as this simple yet elegant little product.

Just my two cents.

Vampire apocalypse

I would label The Fall as the dark middle chapter of Guillermo Del Toro and Chuck Hogan's vampire trilogy (kind of like their The Empire Strikes Back), only the first book, The Strain, was already pretty dark itself. In any event, things get darker, new characters and situations are introduced, revelations are made, and the vampires continue to be very scary. It's a potent mix that keeps one turning the pages.

In fact, I probably didn't give the story enough credit for the originality of its vampires when I reviewed the first installment. At that time I said that the authors weren't so much trying to be original with their vampires, just make these oft-used horror protagonists really scary again after years of sexy, heart-throb vampires in the movies and on cable TV. But, you know, I can't remember vampires ever being as scary, dangerous, unappealing and, well, icky, as they've been in this trilogy so far. Maybe in that one Blade movie that Guillermo Del Toro directed several years back (Blade II, I think). But these books even surpass that on the "repugnant vampire" scale.

While The Strain was pretty much a pure horror novel, The Fall is more of a horror/adventure story, as many characters- both good and bad- are constantly jockeying around trying to accomplish certain ends. But the horror is definitely not left behind. A particularly disturbing scene finally shows us the mechanics of how head honcho vampire The Master is able to discard one host body in favor of another. This is something only the more evolved, top-tier vampires can do, and it's a doozy of a process.

With the story being so layered, involved, and just plain big, it'll be interesting to see how everything can be wrapped up in only one more book, but I'm sure the writers are up to the task. Of course, I wouldn't put it past these guys to have the vampires totally win in the next book (things are pretty grim already), and then wait a few years and do another trilogy where the remaining humans maybe start fighting their way back. Ah, speculation on top of speculation as we wait for the next book!

The Fall is available on Kindle for $9.99.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Echo of the past

Cover art for the forthcoming Killing the Blues, Michael Brandman's novel featuring Robert B. Parker's popular Jesse Stone character, is now being posted on various web sites, and is now presented here. Not a bad cover. In fact, it's so business-as-usual looking that it makes me feel like Robert Parker isn't gone at all. Which is probably the point.

Looking at this cover, you just know a new Spenser novel will shortly follow Sixkill, the last Parker-penned Spenser adventure coming out in May. One wonders, though, who is being lined up to write the thing.

Now that it's pretty clear that Dr. Parker's characters will live on in the literary world, do you find the news comforting, disturbing, or a little of both? Stay tuned for my own take on the situation.

Monday, April 4, 2011

More Parker/Brandman news

Being a trained police investigator (really), Paul Bishop, who runs the cool-cat/60's vibe blog, Bish's Beat, is relating more information on the recently-announced Robert B. Parker's Killing the Blues, a Jesse Stone novel by Michael Brandman.

According to Bish's Beat, it seems that Mr. Brandman, though not an established novelist, has a long history working on various television adaptations of the late Dr. Parker's works, performing writing and producing duties. In my book, this news can be taken two ways: One, it's nice that there's a solid Parker connection in Mr. Brandman's background, but, two, how many of those old TV versions of Parker's stories was Robert Parker actually happy with?

Anyway, Bish's Beat goes on to describe the plot of the new book, which sounds perfectly fine and engaging (at least no red flags there). Check the plot description out at Bish's Beat (just scroll down a few posts from the top) and see if you agree. Of course, the proof is in the pudding, meaning the actual writing.

Whatever the result, this will be an interesting experiment. Robert B. Parker was known for specific recurring themes and character traits in his books. Now that a new writer (or possibly more than one writer) is taking over, how much change is proper, desired, dreaded, etc.?

Hmmm, this sounds like a topic for a meaty blog essay. I better get cracking!

Friday, April 1, 2011

More Spenser and Jesse?

Now here's something interesting... Amazon has something available for pre-order called Robert B. Parker's Killing the Blues, a Jesse Stone novel by Michael Brandman. It goes on sale September 13 of this year.

Was this an unfinished novel by the late Dr.Parker, that this Mr. Brandman (whoever he is) completed? Or is the Parker estate moving forward with finding authors to pen new adventures from scratch featuring the Parker stable of series characters (Spenser, Jesse Stone, Sunny Randall, and Hitch & Cole, if I'm remembering them all)? Or maybe it's a combination of both scenarios: the estate could be sampling the commercial waters by putting out a book that was at least partially written by Robert Parker, and if it's well received, more adventures penned entirely by new authors could follow.

I will look into this and report back. As I said, this is quite interesting. Personally, in concept I don't oppose new writers offering their takes on these terrific characters, if the whole thing is done right.