Friday, October 31, 2014



Many know David Benioff as one half of the team that created the stellar Game of Thrones HBO series adaptation. And no problem, that show is awesome and it's one of the most impressive film adaptations I've seen of fiction. But I originally was a fan of Benioff's work as an author, with both of his fantastic novels (the New York crime drama The 25th Hour and the WWII coming of age adventure, City of Thieves) on my list of favorites! Now I've finally completed the author's short list of fiction work with this solid collection of short stories.  
Each story is a slice of life tale, not featuring large moments of action, but instead focusing on each character at a critical turning point in their lives or at a time when they have to make the hard decisions. As usual, Benioff writes with a poetic ease and injects each story with a tangible atmosphere. My favorites in the collection were "De Composition," about a man struggling with his sanity after hunkering down in a survival bunker during the end of the world (I love how Benioff is intentionally vague with what is possibly an awesome reveal), "Garden of No," about a young waitress/wannabe actress in Hollywood about to hit her big break, and the heartbreaking final story "Merde for Luck," that follows a gay couple in New York City as they struggle with AIDS during the mid-90's.
"So many die without our caring, decline to silence in rooms beyond hearing. We honor the dead and abhor the dying."
As much as I love Game of Thrones, a hope that Benioff returns to write more awesome books, he's up there on my list with Scott B. Smith as being overdue for another great novel!

THOSE ACROSS THE RIVER by Christopher Buehlman


*Sigh*. This book had such great potential and loads of missed opportunities. 
It follows a couple, Frank and Eudora, moving to a small town in the Depression-era South. Frank has inherited a house and land that stretches back generations and he travels there to write what he hopes to be a bestseller about the violent history of his great grandfather's slave plantation that lies in the mysterious woods across the river. Soon, after arriving, the town is terrorized by...dunh dunh dunh! Those Across The River!

The novel begins in a very similar way to 'Salem's Lot, with no major action happening until about halfway through both books, instead focusing on the going-ons around the small town. But while Stephen King's novel took this time to really get to know the small town so that when the horror happens to the community, it's truly affecting, Buehlman's novel spends a large chunk of its time with Frank's mostly unnecessary dreams about his time in war and the couple's extremely healthy sex life. They literally make hot, sweaty, love every other chapter! Now, I'm no prude; I love sex just like everyone else and would love to have it all day like this couple, but I don't care about reading it when I should be reading about things that truly develop the story. And I may be biased about dream sequences, because I rarely think they work very well in stories, but for the life of me, I still can't figure out what they had to do with the story in any way. I mean, I guess they developed Frank's character a little, but maybe I could've just read one, not FIFTEEN repetitive dreams! Most of those pages that featured sex and dreams could've been used for something more useful.

I won't spoil what lies beyond the river, but the time spent building the suspense was effective and creepy, and once the action kicks off, it's at times very exciting, but eventually, it feels like Buehlman just ran out of steam and couldn't figure out how to finish it. A true, satisfying climax is missing! A great build-up of what lies across the river, and then the potential just peters out. The great character of Martin Cramner has SOOO much potential for interesting ideas and scenes, and nothing much happens with him either! Again, this book really had many chances to be great, and they were either flubbed in the messy storytelling or hijacked by hot sex or dreams of trench warfare.

THE DEEP by Nick Cutter


I received this advanced reader's copy from Gallery Books through NetGalley in exchange for review. I had heard great creepy things about Nick Cutter's debut novel The Troop, and decided to give his upcoming follow-up a try during this Halloween season. The book begins with a great premise, humanity is dying away after a worldwide outbreak of a disease called the 'Gets, which causes the victim to begin to forget, starting with little meaningless things, but eventually evolves to forgetting things far more serious and fatal. This concept is terrifying in itself and deserves its own novel. In an effort to find a cure, a team is sent into the deepest point on Earth, miles down into the Mariana Trench, and then even further, to the bottom of Challenger Deep. The story that follows is a mix between Sphere, Event Horizon, and The Shining. It's a total nosedive into insanity.
"Don't worry, it'll get even darker. You've never seen the kind of dark we're gonna encounter."
All my friends should know that I have a fear of deep ocean and open water. So this book had me by the throat from the very beginning. I'm not ashamed to say that if I got sent on a mission to the bottom of the Pacific, I'd probably be the one to go totally bonkers. The book wastes no time getting to the goosebumps, ratcheting up the creepy tension as soon as the trip begins to the bottom of the sea. Nick Cutter is great at building suspense and atmosphere. But once down at the underwater facility, the plot goes ALL over the place. I never fully got a sense of what the threat really was. There were so many antagonizing ideas thrown into the story that it sort of became a mess; a kind of a reverse deus ex machina of perils and obstacles, thrown in to move the story along. What did work were the descriptions of the psychological breakdown of the characters. That was the stuff that really affected me. The style of writing told in slipped, short chapters, kept my eyes flying through the book, to the point where I felt that I might actually be going a little crazy myself by the time I got to the insane final chapters.

Monday, October 27, 2014

THE BLACK DAHLIA by James Ellroy

*Book 1 of the L.A. Quartet*

Most people are familiar with the case of the Black Dahlia, one of the most infamous unsolved
murder cases in U.S. history, where a young, pretty Hollywood starlet named Elizabeth Short is found in a vacant lot, her body mutilated, disemboweled, and cut in half. But this isn't a true crime book. Just as in the fantastic The Big Nowhere, the first book I read by author James Ellroy, he mixes L.A. history and fascinating fictional characters and weaves an awesome tapestry of the seedy and depraved world of 1940's Los Angeles. The novel is told from the point of view of Dwight "Bucky" Bleichert, who starts the book as a promising new LAPD warrants officer, until he gets embroiled in the case of the Black Dahlia, changing his life forever in more ways than one, as he is swept up in the obsessive circus that the investigation becomes. 

This fixation on the case is personal for the author, he also fell victim to the Dahlia's pull in real life in the late 50's after Ellroy's mother was brutally murdered. He became fascinated with historical violent crime and studying the murder of Elizabeth Short became a proxy for dealing with his mother's death. This personal attachment fills the book with real earnestness and passion that helped to make it a crime classic.

Aside from the fact that Ellroy's usual knack for great wordplay is on display, one of the most interesting things about the novel is the way the obsession over the Dahlia is detailed, an obsession that jumps from person to person like a disease, eating away at everyone it touches. Although his partner jumps headfirst into the investigation, Bucky starts off fairly unfazed by the murder, annoyed at the media frenzy and eager to get back to working warrants; catching normal bad guys he can understand, not ones that cut Glasgow smiles into pretty girls' faces from ear to ear. But eventually he succumbs to the Dahlia's pull and falls deeper, the way Danny does in The Big Nowhere, so deep it becomes all he thinks about. The Black Dahlia is the story of that kind of obsession, the one that can eat away at the soul. 


Saturday, October 18, 2014

COLD SHOT TO THE HEART by Wallace Stroby


*Book 1 of the Crissa Stone Series*

I recently read Wallace Stroby's standalone novel Gone 'til November, and was disappointed in it, mostly because of the inefficiency of the lead female character, who proved to be non-essential to the story and seemed terrible at being a police officer once the action started popping off. So I was a little hesitant going into this book. But, my worries were in vain! Stroby creates one badass series character in Crissa Stone (book 4, The Devil's Share, comes out next year), one that is a breath of fresh air in crime fiction. There are a bunch of female protagonists in crime today, but mostly of the do-gooder detective type, like Kinsey Millhone or Tess Monaghan, but I don't know of any straight rumble-tumble, female criminal antiheroes like Richard Stark's Parker. Until now. Or maybe not now, but in 2011, when this book came out...

Crissa Stone is an efficient thief, who's all business, always has a plan, never works near her home in NYC, has never needed to fire her gun on a job, and is careful about the people she works with. But it all goes to hell once pricey payoffs to the sleazy Texas lawyer dealing with the case of her imprisoned mentor, partner, and lover pressure her to take a job ripping off a high stakes poker game in South Florida. Things go south bad. And now Crissa is targeted by a psycho Mob hitter named Eddie The Saint.

I loved reading about Crissa going about her business and setting up heists. I always love reading about people being good at their jobs, and especially about women who can throw down on their own in a fight. But Crissa is not just an emotionless criminal. She's trying to make money to provide a nice life for her estranged daughter, who is being raised by Crissa's cousin and doesn't know Crissa at all. And she finally wants to have something of her own and set roots by finally buying her dream house in Connecticut. That's why she decides not to run. She needs to protect what's hers. So she decides to  face off with Eddie The Saint. And stand tall while doing it.

MY FAVORITE BOOKS by Dennis Lehane

My Top 10 Favorite Books by Dennis Lehane

1) Mystic River
2) Gone Baby, Gone
3) The Given Day
4) Shutter Island
5) Darkness, Take My Hand
6) A Drink Before The War
7) Live By Night
8) The Drop
9) Prayers For Rain
10) Moonlight Mile

Friday, October 17, 2014

GONE BABY GONE by Dennis Lehane


*Book 4 of the Kenzie and Gennaro series*
“When I was young, I asked my priest how to get to heaven and still protect yourself from all the evil in the world. He told me what God told His children; 'You are sheep among wolves, be wise as the serpent, yet innocent as doves.'”
This is by far the best installment in Dennis Lehane's great series following inner city Boston private detectives Patrick Kenzie and Angela Gennaro. And the best detective novel I've read so far. I know that's saying a lot but I don't say it lightly. Lehane always proves to be a master of plotting, and here, he not only takes a simple missing child mystery and turns it into something endlessly addictive and compelling, but he ends it well too. The final reveal and resolution came at me like a hard fist to the face, sending me reeling for days. It's ingenious and truly one of a kind, and left me to ponder even my own morality. When a novel in such a crowded and cliché-ridden field as the detective genre can leave you so affected, that book is truly something special. There are so many great moments in this book, the plot develops at a flawless pace, and every character is pitch-perfect and memorable. And I love the way the Patrick and Angie get so involved that the case affects them personally and take over their lives, challenging everything they believe in. All of this ranks this book as one of the best novels in modern crime fiction, right up there on my list with Clockers, A Simple Plan, The 25th Hour, The Big Nowhere, and the author's other masterwork, Mystic River.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014




It's hard to describe this book or the effect that it has. The novel is an exposé on the troubled history of the de Leon/Cabral family, their immigration from the Dominican Republic to America, and how a curse that stretches all the way back to that pendejo Christopher Columbus haunts them throughout time. It focuses specifically on Oscar, the youngest child, an obese nerd in the 80's/90's, who falls in love easily but is destined to be the only Dominicano to never get laid. 

This book may sound like every other immigrant family/coming of age saga out there, but what sets this apart from any other book I've ever read is the novel's style and it's delightful narrator. The story is dictated by the almost omniscient Yunior, a friend of the family who was once Oscar's roommate, with a conversational, word-on-the-street style. A style that's a gumbo mixture of formal, poetic prose, constantly changing Spanglish, historical footnotes, and nerd culture references, everything from Lord of the Rings, Dune, Point Blank, Joseph Conrad, and Planet of the Apes. I know a bit of Spanish and I'm familiar with some of the references so I didn't have a hard time with it the way some people have. There is lots of history about the Dominican Republic during the reign of dictator Rafael Trujillo, and the story could have easily turned into a depressing, boring slog, but the book's irresistible style prevented all that. 

I feel silly reading the above synopsis that I wrote. The book is about more than that. It's about love, family, and legacy that manages to be heartbreaking and joyous at the same time. It's about embracing your inner nerd and about finding your way back home. I don't know, I feel like I'm not doing this awesome novel justice with this review. Maybe I shouldn't have even written one! I'll just stop here and let the book (and Yunior) speak for itself:
"Hey, it's only a story, with no solid evidence, the kind of shit only a nerd could love."

Saturday, October 11, 2014

GONE 'TIL NOVEMBER by Wallace Stroby


"Forget about money. Pain's the only currency. And everybody pays their way."
This decent standalone effort by author Wallace Stroby tracks parallel stories of two vastly different people on different sides of the law as their paths start to cross surrounding an officer-involved Florida roadside shooting of a young black man. Sara Cross is a small-town sheriff's deputy who is the first responder to the shooting. The officer involved happens to be her ex-boyfriend that she inexplicably still has the hots for, but soon she suspects that there is more to the shooting that meets the eye. Meanwhile, Morgan, an aging hitman from Jersey reluctantly comes into town hired to find out what happened to a shipment of money and guns that never made it to its destination. 

This novel reads so much like a George Pelecanos novel, I wouldn't be surprised if it actually was dug out of his closet somewhere. It has so many of the same themes, same structure, and written with the same prose-style: an unadorned, direct, no-nonsense manner, like Ernest Hemingway meets Elmore Leonard. Even Morgan, the story's best character, reads like a Pelecanos hero, sort of like Derek Strange if he decided to break bad. Morgan, is efficient and ruthless, is tired of the life, but needs the money to deal with a rare intestinal cancer that's flared up in him. Listening to the old cassette tapes of the classic soul music that he loves is the only thing that eases the pain. 

But my biggest problem is with the character of Sara. I was surprised by how incapable of a protagonist she was. She never seems to be able to take care of herself when trouble goes down, always needing to be rescued. But not only that! She was COMPLETELY inconsequential to the story. And it seems like Stroby went out of his way to make her immaterial. We follow her as she uncovers clues, but then the story is pushed forward because of the actions of other people, not because of anything she did. I realized at the end of the novel that if Sara was removed from the book altogether, the development of the plot would not change at all.

The book is entertaining enough while reading it, but I was left fairly unsatisfied when it was all said and done. But, I hear nothing but great things about Stroby's series novels, which I'm starting very soon. Hopefully they're better.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014



This beautifully written and provocatively-titled novella follows a lonely commitment-phobe who, on his 90th birthday, wants a night of mad passion with an adolescent virgin. But instead of the usual heartless, physical sex he has had 514 times in his life, he finally finds real love in the form a young hooker in the midst of a deep sleep.
"I was ignorant of the arts of seduction and had always chosen my brides for a night at random, more for their price than their charms, and we had made love without love, half-dressed most of the time and always in the dark so we could imagine ourselves as better than we were. That night I discovered the improbable pleasure of contemplating the body of a sleeping woman without the urgencies of desire or the obstacles of modesty."
At first glance, this story could easily be seen just as the tale of a dirty old man infatuated with a little girl, but I was taken by the deeper exploration of the emotional and physical effects of aging, the celebration of the innocent and pure, and a man finding love so late in the game and finally being rejuvenated at the terminus of his years. This book would make an interesting companion piece with Walter Mosley's The Last Days of Ptolemy Grey, with which it shares similar themes.
“Blood circulated through her veins with the fluidity of a song that branched off into the most hidden areas of her body and returned to her heart, purified by love. Before I left at dawn I drew the lines of her hand on a piece of paper and gave it to Diva Sahibí for a reading so I could know her soul.”

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

ROSE GOLD by Walter Mosley

 *Book 13 of the Easy Rawlins Series*
Easy Rawlins needs money. Again. This guy can't get a break. Sometimes I wish that this series would just end where Easy acquires a bunch of money, sends Feather off to a good school overseas, retires from running the streets, settles down on farmland out in Ventura somewhere with Bonnie and tend crops on his farm all day. He definitely deserves it. But nope, them's the breaks. Easy seems destined to roam the streets of Los Angeles as a private dick. Money trouble always seems to creep up on him. This time his rental properties need city-required repairs and his adopted daughter Feather has been invited to go to an expensive Ivy prep school. The LAPD stop by his new house just in time to offer him a heap of money to help locate a kidnapped UC Santa Barbara coed that might just turn out to be a Patty Hearst situation.

I'm starting to feel more and more now that Mosley should end this series soon. No, not really, I'd miss Easy too much! But it at least needs an overhaul. It's suffering from what befalls so many other detective series: stale plots. The plots are starting to get repetitive. The last book, Little Green, was also pretty forgettable for this same reason. This book lost any tension it might've had pretty early on, after you discover that there's not much danger. It's disappointing because I think that a Patty Hearst-style kidnapping would be ripe for an engaging story. The series needs to be shaken and spiced up a little bit, the way Mosley did in the great installment Cinnamon Kiss, where Easy had something to really fight for. But, Mosley's great writing, the highly-readable main character, and his motley cast of friends and colleagues introduced in previous novels, are enough to keep me going, despite the yawn-inducing plot.

Friday, October 3, 2014

GONE GIRL by Gillian Flynn


There's not a whole lot I can say to promote this book any more that it already has been. But I'll start off by saying that Gillian Flynn has a new reader, and I'll jump into her other novels soon! The story is pretty well known and deceptively simple: Nick Dunne's wife Amy goes missing on their fifth wedding anniversary, sparking an intense manhunt to find her. Doesn't sound all that special does it? But as many already know, that is only the tip of Gone Girl's decadent little plot iceberg. To say more about the story would lead to spoilers and a disservice.

Flynn is a talented writer with an assured voice, a great sense of pace, and a knack for keep you turning the pages with twists that could easily feel like gimmicks, but don't. The reason for this is that she takes the time to flesh out the characters so fully, that the reader is completely immersed in their story, and each subsequent plot point feels like they naturally build on everything stem we have learned.

The structure is great as well too, alternating between Nick's point of view in the present, and Amy's diary entries throughout the years of their relationship. This provides important back story as well as conflicting POV's on different pieces of the back story, revealing that many couples might not truly know one another.

An entertaining read all around.