A penny saved is ridiculous.

A penny saved is ridiculous.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Quick Bat-tip

Originally appearing as a 13-part comic book limited series in the late 1990's, Batman: The Long Halloween is an epic, involving tale set during the early career of the caped crusader. Writer Jeph Loeb and artist Tim Sale tell a story that skillfully combines Batman's colorful rogues gallery (Joker, Riddler, Catwoman, etc.); more realistic criminal elements (in the form of warring gangster factions); and a terrific whodunit (who is the mysterious killer known as "Holiday"?). It all results in a wonderfully immersive story and hundreds of pages of gorgeous, moody artwork.

By the way, many of the story elements and set pieces of Batman: The Long Halloween inspired sequences- sometimes pretty directly- in Christopher Nolan's "Dark Knight" films, and Mr. Nolan acknowledges his debt to this story in the collection's forward. In any event, I'm glad I finally took the time to discover this little epic by Mr. Loeb and Mr. Sale, and look forward to soon moving onto Dark Victory, their sequel of sorts to Batman: The Long Halloween.

Batman: The Long Halloween is available in both print and Kindle editions.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Here ya go

Until I post something a little more substantial, please enjoy this photograph of a pretty woman and the following handful of clever puns (both photo and puns courtesy of spam and the internet).  The photo and puns really don't have anything to do with one another, but so what, right?

I changed the name of my iPod to Titanic.  It's syncing now.

I tried to catch some fog.  I mist.

I know a guy who is addicted to brake fluid. But he said he can stop anytime.

I stayed up all night to see where the sun went.  Then it dawned on me.

I'm reading a book about anti-gravity.  I can't put it down.

PMS jokes aren't funny, period.

I took a class trip to the Coca Cola factory.  I hope there's no pop quiz.

What does a clock do when it's hungry?  It goes back four seconds.

I used to think I was indecisive, but now I'm not so sure.

How do make holy water?  Boil the Hell out of it!

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

The real McCoy

Remember the scene near the beginning of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan where Admiral Kirk is mildly depressed and Dr. McCoy encourages him to get back his command of the Enterprise? That scene is recounted at the beginning of this engaging little story, where it gets McCoy thinking of an emotional crisis of his own way back when.

The bulk of this Kindle novella (probably about a hundred pages long if it ever appeared in print form) describes an early adventure of McCoy's on the remote planet of Capella IV, where McCoy and his medical colleagues study and interact with a primitive humanoid species, with the aim of trying to secure permission from the tribe's leaders for the Federation to mine a needed ore from the planet. The Prime Directive, politics, and a "needs of the many versus the needs of the few" situation all conspire to create a personal and professional crisis for McCoy, which he recounts to Mr. Spock years later after his meeting with the depressed Kirk.

As I said, this is an engaging little story, with interesting details about the alien race, decent banter and interactions among the Starfleet personnel, and even some saucy humor involving the alien race's mating rituals. The story's conclusion depends a little on being familiar with how things eventually worked out for Kirk in Star Trek II, but I suspect that 99 percent of the people who purchase this story will already be up to speed on that.

In the end, Michael A. Martin has written a crisp, entertaining novella that is true to the characters we know, and well worth the modest price being asked (something around three bucks at the time I purchased it).  I'll be on the lookout for more Star Trek tales from Mr.Martin.

Grave doings

After reading this book, it seemed to me that Robert Dugoni wasn't trying to re-invent the wheel with My Sister's Grave, but just wanted to deliver a rich, satisfying police thriller / mystery story. And that's exactly what he did.

Seattle police detective Tracy Crosswhite's younger sister Sarah had disappeared decades before in their old hometown of Cedar Grove, and though a body was never found, strong circumstantial evidence pointed to her murder, and a creepy local guy was eventually convicted for the crime. But now the body has been discovered, along with clues that suggest that the person convicted may have been framed for Sarah's murder.

With her ultimate aim being the identification of the real killer and bringing him to justice, Tracy works to get the case reopened. But she can't do that until the original guy is exonerated and released from prison because of the shady procedures used to convict him. Tracy's efforts to do all that don't make her popular with the residents of Cedar Grove, who don't want the disturbing crime from their town's past getting all stirred up again.

Dugoni has a nice, readable style, skillfully mixing investigation, family dynamics, action, danger, and even a gentle romance as Tracy becomes close with the lawyer helping her with her case. Some of the story is revealed in flashbacks, which are skillfully integrated into the main flow of the story.

This is the first novel of Mr. Dugoni's that I've read, and I look forward to sampling another one of his books in the near future.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Flying Delta

Mickey Spillane's The Delta Factor, which the famed author wrote in the mid-1960's, was an okay little thriller with an okay little plot: A con man and adventurer known only as "Morgan the Raider" is arrested by the government for allegedly stealing 40 million dollars from the U.S. Treasury or some other federal agency (it wasn't all that clear). Morgan is offered a deal, however: if he uses his skills to successfully break a guy out of prison (a political prisoner being held in one of those fictional communist island nations so popular in action movies and thriller novels) the feds would go easy on Morgan's prosecution and maybe not investigate too closely the whereabouts of the 40 million, either.

Things generally move along nicely, though some three-page sequences could have been done in two pages, and some three-paragraph descriptions could have been summed up in one or two paragraphs. Also, some of the plotting was strange: for example, Morgan is told by the feds to find a way to get himself arrested and incarcerated once he's in the communist country, so that he'll be in the same prison as the guy he needs to spring. But when Morgan gets down to the country, that plan is never referenced again, and Morgan undertakes an entirely different plan to get himself in the prison, one that doesn't involve him getting arrested. It's almost like Spillane forgot what he wrote before.

But despite the above observations, there's a nice sense of place as Morgan moves through the Caribbean country's neighborhoods and casinos, making the necessary contacts, and putting his plans together. Also, an additional layer of menace soon surfaces, in the form of competitors and enemies from Morgan's past who have their own reasons to be interested in Morgan's latest mission.

This being a Mickey Spillane novel, you also get frequent bursts of violence and action, which are entertaining, as well as impossibly alluring women, who are also entertaining. The women have decent roles in the plot, too, which was nice.

Spillane, the creator of Mike Hammer, wrote only one Morgan the Raider novel (this one), though a partial rough draft of a second Morgan novel was recently polished up and completed by writer Max Allan Collins. Though I can't say that The Delta Factor blew me away, I liked it well enough to check out in the near future what Spillane and Collins have come up with for the follow-up, The Consummata.

It's said that Spillane's negative experiences with the producers of the movie version of The Delta Factor so turned him off that he lost enthusiasm for the character, and that was why he didn't produce further books about him. That may be so, but it also could have been that, like me, the author might have found the book to be certainly good enough but not really great, which would also be a pretty good reason for not moving right into the writing of future installments. Spillane did have a reputation for being- rightly or wrongly- hard on himself and started but never finished many, many manuscripts.

But, in the end, if you like thrillers, especially thrillers from the classic paperback era of the 50's and 60's, I'd say give this a whirl. Whatever else one can say, this is a quick, painless read with many good moments.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Two versions of "Vice"

A few years ago, I wrote the following review of Thomas Pynchon's novel "Inherent Vice" and posted it on Amazon.  I'm not sure if I re-posted it here, during the early days of this blog, but- even if I did- an occasional rerun is allowed, right?  Anyway, the reason it's here now is because the movie version of the book, directed by the always interesting Paul Thomas Anderson, will be out soon, and I thought readers might enjoy some thoughts about the book.  I did have problems with the novel, as you'll see, but I'm still looking forward to the movie.  The trailer is available to view on the 'net and the movie looks well-crafted, well-acted, and pretty funny.  In any event, here's what I thought of the book...

Sometimes when a writer of straight-up dramas or literary works takes a crack at the mystery genre, the results can be interesting. I often reflect on Martin Amis' Night Train, for instance. Amis made use of the conventions of the mystery genre without allowing himself to be pulled along by them, ultimately delivering a gangbusters, heartbreaking story that delivered satisfaction by, well... not delivering satisfaction and clarity on every aspect of the story. The lingering mystery of "why...?" on certain character points can be just as resonant as an "Aha!" type explanation, as Amis ably demonstrated. But, just as importantly, he told a clear story along the way to his ambiguity-laced conclusion.

But we're talking about Thomas Pynchon's Inherent Vice, aren't we? Anyway, the thing starts out well, and throughout delivers much value: lots of well-drawn, imaginative scene setting, description, and characterizations (Doc, the central character, is both smart and ridiculous), but soon the story gets so complicated and meandering that all one can really enjoy are individual scenes, which- to be fair- are often quite well-crafted. However, any momentum, novel-wide architectural craftsmanship that builds on what has gone before, etc., occurs in minimal fashion. 

So, Pynchon doesn't even get to the point where he has to choose between haunting mysteriousness and total explanation in the resolution, because the hundreds of pages of story before the closing sections are muddled and unclear already. In other words, while the resolution in Night Train produced many questions to think about afterward, Amis' comprehensible, well-crafted story clearly laid out those questions beforehand... we easily followed what was going on up until the ultimate questions are laid at our feet. Pynchon doesn't do that; his whole story is all over the map.

To be clear (can't resist that), Inherent Vice offers some good banter, observation (especially of the cynical variety), humor, and the imaginative description I mentioned before, but in the end the book was a chore. Not as painful as other chores, but- with its muddled story and muddled final viewpoint- a chore nonetheless. The book does work as a kind of mood piece, I'll give it that. And if that's enough for you, give it a shot. For me, Inherent Vice fell into the trap of many literary works: it disregarded craft in favor of self-conscious artiness. And that can often result, as it did in my case, in frequent distraction and yawns.

Friday, September 26, 2014


How To Get Away With Murder series premiere: one murder set in one timeline, another set in a timeline about three months later, with the show jumping back and forth between the two timelines while squeezing in all kinds of other subplots. I better lay off that second glass of wine if I'm going to try to keep up with this. I didn't realize I was tuning into Raymond Chandler crossed with Lost.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Another visit with Mr. McGee

Over the past year or two, I've been enjoying finally discovering John D. MacDonald's classic Travis McGee series, which the prolific author wrote from the 1960's until his death in the 1980's. This is the eighth entry in the series, and this time our self-described "salvage expert" McGee tries to figure out where a friend's late husband's fortune disappeared to after his death.

As fans of these books are well aware, the gimmick (though that's really too cheap a word to employ here) of the McGee series is that our man Trav spends as much time communicating his various philosophies to the reader- on topics as diverse as credit cards, human mating rituals, the best way to cook a steak, etc., etc.- as he does discussing the current book's case at hand. Due to the skill of the author, McGee's frequent speeches are, thankfully, always thought-provoking and a lot of fun, even if you don't agree with them all.

In fact, it was one of Travis' social topics this time out that made this book particularly interesting. Along with the imaginative, often very dark, plot about the dead husband and his estate that disappeared before anyone could inherit it, I enjoyed this installment a lot because it addressed a seeming contradiction that's become pretty apparent now that the series has reached book eight: namely, Travis has often lamented the superficiality of most male/female relationships, pointing out that the "new permissiveness" has mainly resulted in people using each other and moving on to the next person, with little true appreciation- especially by men- of the special, sacred aspects of human connection (I'm paraphrasing there, but I think I accurately summed up the character's frequently-expressed view). 

And where's the contradiction, you say? Only in the fact that, over the eight books so far, Travis has routinely moved through one to three women per book, with nothing ever lasting very long. Talk about glass houses.

So, here, in One Fearful Yellow Eye, we finally get a little introspection and speechifying by Travis about this seeming contradiction, and it's interesting. It'll also be interesting to see how some of Travis' conclusions will be applied to his future dealings with women.

But for those mainly looking for a decent mystery story, don't worry, this novel definitely delivers that, too. There's danger, very creepy antagonists, surprising revelations regarding who was behind what, and some very effective suspense. Dark secrets, mortal danger, and all under the radiant sunshine and gorgeous blue skies of southern Florida. What more can readers want?

Between all that, and a new, even more self-aware Travis McGee, One Fearful Yellow Eye amounts to one of the richer installments of the series so far.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Age of Aquarius revisited

The fourth mystery in Max Allan Collins' Mallory series, the hauntingly-titled A Shroud For Aquarius is an involving little story mainly consisting of a series of interviews as our man Mallory- now a fairly successful mid-list mystery writer- approaches various suspects who may have had something to do with the death of Mallory's old friend Ginnie Mullens. Mallory's investigation is actually done at the request of the police this time, not despite their disapproval, which is an interesting touch.

As Ginnie was a 60's radical in all senses of the word (anti-war, fairly adventurous when it came to drugs and relationships), author Collins skillfully weaves into the narrative a hard look on Mallory's part (and Collins', too?) at the 60's generation: acknowledging what it accomplished but taking it to task for some of its more self-indulgent aspects.  These introspective moments are interesting and thoughtful, and enhance rather than slow the story at hand.

As Mallory gets close to the truth, effective scenes of tension and danger are stirred into the mix, but there's also a little sexy romance, too, as Mallory gets reacquainted with a girl from the old days who got away (or so he thought).  Both the danger and romance scenes are well done, and there are just the right amount of each.

A light, fast read with a little food for thought, A Shroud for Aquarius is a solid piece of early work from Mr. Collins, now happily available again on Kindle and in print.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Good for a spin

Stephen King's Mr. Mercedes has a pretty good hook which quickly draws us into the story: a retired police detective, bored and quite possibly suicidal, gets a new lease on life when he starts getting taunted by "the one that got away", a homicidal maniac who ran down a whole bunch of people in line for a job fair. Detective Bill Hodges now has a reason to live again, as he decides to chase down "the Mercedes Killer" himself, rather than turn things over to his former cop colleagues.

This maybe isn't first-tier King, as the plotting and characters are fairly simple. Bill Hodges, for example, is totally good and totally likable (if sometimes flawed in his thinking), while the Mercedes Killer is totally creepy and totally evil. This doesn't make things horrible, just a little less interesting than many of King's other books. There's good suspense throughout, though, and a few story highlights. These include a gory poisoning death that makes the book feel like the classic King of old, and a long set piece near the end, set at a boy-band concert attended by 4000 screaming pre-teens, where our heroes attempt to prevent a tragedy that would make the Mercedes Killer's first act of terror seem like a hangnail.

There's some good humor throughout, too. The way King describes the insipid daytime TV that retiree Hodges is watching day in and day out at the story's start makes us completely understand why the barrel end of Hodge's service revolver is starting to look disturbingly good to him. Talk about horrific!

If this novel was one of those 800-page affairs of King's, I'd be harder on it. But, as it's fairly compact, I'm basically okay with its more simple, modest pleasures. You get a decent cat-and-mouse detective plot, a little romance, some likable supporting characters, and at least three or four instances where you'll be turning the pages very quickly. Hey, not everything has to be Duma Key or 11/22/63. Sometimes "pretty good" is perfectly fine.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Toasting the weekend

On this fine Friday, let's take a moment to contemplate one of our favorite beverages here in the Taproom.  Courtesy of the internet, here are some things to consider...

A meal without wine... is called breakfast.

Wine improves with age.  The older I get, the better I like it.

The other day someone told me that I could make ice cubes with leftover wine.  I get confused... what is leftover wine?

In wine there is wisdom.  In beer there is freedom.  In water there is bacteria.

Alcohol is not the answer.  It just makes you forget the question.

Does Mom have a birthday coming up?  Buy her a bottle of wine.  Remember, you're the reason she drinks!

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

More excitement and fun, please

Enjoying the way that the superhero group The Avengers and its individual superhero members have been presented at the movies these past few years, I thought I'd take a gander at how the characters are being portrayed in the comics these days.  So I recently picked up a nice-looking trade paperback called Avengers, Volume One: Avengers World.

Alas, this collection of the first six issues of yet another Avengers comic book title (there are many these days due to the success of the movies) delivered a fairly entertaining reading experience but not much beyond that. The artwork, production values, and printing are first-rate, I'll say that. But I found the stories to be just okay, and often murky and dull. 

The first three issues collected here deal with a weird group of aliens trying to destroy, re-make, or recreate from scratch all life on Earth (again, the aliens' aims and motivations were murky). The final three issues mostly center around our heroes dealing with the aftermath of that attack (lots of clean-up required), with a couple of updated superhero origin stories laced into the proceedings. Again, all that was okay, too, but there wasn't much excitement or real drama to kick things up a notch. 

To be clear, I wasn't looking for continuous mindless action-- just cleverness, momentum, high stakes, memorable conflict, etc. You know, good 'ol superhero melodrama. The storyline here had some of that stuff, but not enough to make this the fun ride it should have been.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Decent thriller out of Europe

I acquired Gabi Kreslehner's Rain Girl on my Kindle via Amazon's Kindle First program, and found it to be a satisfying, moody reading experience. A beautiful young woman is assaulted and left for dead on the high-speed Autobahn (the novel, recently translated into English, is set in Austria), where she eventually awakens, wanders into traffic, and is fatally hit by a car. 

Detectives Franza and Felix are assigned the case and try to piece together the final hours of the woman's life: Why was she dressed so beautifully? Who assaulted her and left her by the side of the highway? What strange scene played out at a nearby rest stop prior to the woman's roadside abandonment?

Adding texture and nuance are the detectives' own daily problems: Franza is having an affair behind the back of her dentist husband Max, and Felix is experiencing stress because he and his wife are expecting twins, which will shortly give them a total of four kids to care for. Franza and her husband are also estranged from their grown son Ben, which bothers Franza a lot, though her husband thinks the son is just going through a phase. Adding more stress to everything is the eventual revelation that Franza and Max's son had a connection to the dead woman.

The book moves along nicely, yet also manages to take its time and deliver some nice imagery and thoughtful literary asides, resulting in a story that works as both a thriller and a graceful straight-up novel. Author Gabi Kreslehner and translator Lee Chadeayne both deserve recognition and kudos for a fine, engaging book.

Crouch sticks the landing

The Wayward Pines trilogy (the first book is Pines and the second book is Wayward, with reviews of both appearing a few posts down in this blog) comes to a satisfying conclusion in The Last Town, as Blake Crouch's uneasy hero Ethan Burke presides over all-out war amid the crumbling infrastructure of the world's weirdest town.

Because we're now far into the story, there's not much mystery or fanciful strangeness left to discover as The Last Town gets underway, but there's tons of strategy, action, battles, confrontations, and- most importantly- satisfying resolution. Oh, and scares-- there are lots of scares. In many ways, this is the horror story of the trilogy.

Author Crouch worked hard to give us a bang-up conclusion to his offbeat tale, and he certainly succeeded. Throughout the book, he makes the reader go "Wow!" quite frequently-- right up to the last sentence, in fact (which is a doozy, by the way).

When the upcoming television series based on these books (it'll be on the FX network) eventually gets around to adapting this big closing installment, I hope they just stick to the book. The story's all here, man.

I know this is a sketchy review, but at this point if what I've written about these books seems at all interesting to you, just pick 'em up, grab 'em on your Kindle, or download the audios from Audible. Discover some of the books' pleasures and surprises on your own.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Odd but okay Jesse Stone adventure

Michael Brandman's third and final Jesse Stone novel, Robert B. Parker's Damned If You Do (yes, they now use the late writer Robert Parker's name in all the titles when they release a new entry in the various series he created over his long career) almost seemed like an experiment, as the story was 100% police-thriller plot, straight no chaser. That is, there was nothing about Jesse's personal issues: his drinking, his needy ex-wife, whoever he's dating, etc. Only the two offered plotlines- about a murdered girl found in a seedy hotel room, and a shady assisted living facility that abused its residents- were advanced as I moved through the book. Even when Jesse visited his shrink, they only discussed the two cases and not anything going on in Jesse's life.

If this turns out to be a new direction for the series- all cop stuff all the time- I'd be horrified. But this one time, it was sort of interesting. The two thriller plots are pretty good and are developed nicely, with each giving Jesse some entertaining "tough cop" moments. But, yeah, it was pretty weird not seeing Jesse struggle with something going on his personal life, or having a heart-to-heart talk with his assistant Molly about same. Actually, the Jesse/Molly friendship has been mostly bland since Robert Parker stopped writing the series, but that's another topic.

So, yeah, I enjoyed this quick, fast read, which reasonably suggests that Jesse sometimes works cases while not being distracted by personal issues. But when this series' next assigned writer- mystery author Reed Farrel Coleman- picks up Jesse's adventures with the next book, Robert B. Parker's Blind Spot (which will be coming out shortly), I'll be happy if we get back to the nice layered plotting that's been the hallmark of this series. In other words, I hope it features Jesse both chasing suspects and his personal demons... or at least a new girlfriend.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Supremely fun

The entertaining, fast-paced Supreme Justice, by the always reliable Max Allan Collins, centers around freelance investigator and security specialist Joe Reeder helping the U.S. government chase down conspirators who are murdering Supreme Court Justices. The story is intriguing because it takes place in a near future where Miranda warnings have all but been eliminated, Roe v. Wade has been overturned, and other major shifts to the right have taken place. In other words, the country has become a living nightmare for liberals and progressives.

As it's the conservative justices of the court who are being targeted, it soon becomes apparent that someone is trying to alter the balance of the court to try to get things shifting back to the left. The sitting president is a democrat, you see, and it's presumed he will appoint more progressive, left-leaning replacements for the murdered justices.

The politics of the novel aren't laid on as thick as the above may suggest. This is basically a well-told whodunit laced with some decent action scenes, as Joe Reeder and his main task force partner, FBI agent Patti Rogers, examine crime scenes, interview witnesses, and try to piece things together before more justices are killed. Sure, Joe is pretty liberal and doesn't like where the country's been headed, but he doesn't think the conspirators' methods of changing things is the way to go.

Introducing each chapter is a thoughtful quote from a famous historical figure- usually a past Supreme Court justice but not always- that make us think a little about the how's and why's of our justice system, and overall lend a little extra depth to the book. Actually, I wouldn't have minded a little more of this sort of thing, maybe in the form of more conversations between Joe, Patti, and the other task force members-- you know, the way Dan Brown often stops his stories mid-stream to have his characters talk about a scholarly subject for a while. Okay, maybe not, but one can't argue that that tactic hasn't worked for Brown!

Getting back to the subject at hand, the politics of the author are communicated with a little more emphasis near the close of "Supreme Justice", as it is pretty clear when the dust settles that Mr. Collins and his characters feel that many of the tragedies in the story could be pretty directly laid at the feet of the country's big shift to the right. Because my politics are pretty close to Mr. Collins', that didn't bother me, but- more importantly- it really shouldn't bother anybody else much, either. The plot, action, and characters are what really count here, all working together to deliver a bang-up page turner.

Monday, July 21, 2014

More weirdness and danger in Wayward Pines

Want a great summer read? Blake Crouch's Wayward is a terrific follow-up to the first book in this series, Pines (see the previous review on this blog). I can't talk too many specifics without revealing the secrets of the first book and the fun stuff you should discover on your own in this one, but I can say this: after finally discovering the quite amazing secrets of the mysterious town of Wayward Pines at the end of book one, former U.S. Secret Service Agent Ethan Burke now has to figure out what to do with the information.

Specifically, is doing the right thing for himself necessarily doing the right thing for the people in town? Can he come up with a plan that's good for everyone? Or should he not do anything and just accept the uneasy but relatively secure and comfortable existence offered him if he fulfills his new role as town sheriff? These moral dilemmas mix nicely with Ethan's first assigned case: an old-fashioned murder mystery. How does the murder of a young woman tie into Wayward Pines' secrets, and the secrets within those secrets?

Like the first book, the dark, nightmarish stuff is balanced by a clever plot that keeps moving, a decent and memorable resolution, and this time even a little humor (I'm thinking of the secret cocktail party that serves the world's worst liquor). It's all very satisfying, and just like the first book, Pines, really made me want to read this second one, after finishing Wayward I'm all ready to jump into book three (and the apparent final chapter), The Last Town. Kudos to author Blake Crouch for a great, imaginative series. I really want to see where this whole thing is going.  And, yeah, I still think the upcoming television adaptation (on the FX channel this fall) should be pretty great.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Pining for a great story?

Blake Crouch's dark and moody Pines contains echoes from all kinds of great works of the past, including David Lynch's Twin Peaks, William Golding's Lord of the Flies, Shirley Jackson's The Lottery, Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard's The Cabin in the Woods, and- of all things- Issac Asimov's The Foundation Trilogy. But- whether intentional or not- those influences only flavor and enrich a confident, idea-rich thriller that is very much Blake Crouch's own baby.

Secret Service Agent Ethan Burke wakes up with a head injury in the picturesque town of Wayward Pines, Idaho, and just wants to dust himself off and go home-- but why is he getting gentle but firm resistance from the town's residents whenever he tries to do so? A slow-burn mystery that soon gives way to an ambitious hybrid of several popular genres, Pines will both satisfy and unsettle you by the end, and leave you wanting more. Thankfully, you can simply move right into the equally good second installment, Wayward.

It's no wonder that Pines has attracted the attention of network television, as it should make a great TV series (it premieres in the fall on the FX channel). But do yourself a favor and experience this creepy, mind-bending, and very entertaining thriller in its pure, original form first. You won't regret it.

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.