Posts Tagged ‘Book Reviews



12
Nov
17

Good Reads Review: The Black Dahlia

The Black Dahlia (L.A. Quartet, #1)The Black Dahlia by James Ellroy

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

From the first word to the last, The Black Dahlia grabs you, drags you down into the murky underbelly of police corruption and old money grudges, and won’t let you go until you’re covered in filth and feel at least partially responsible for the death of Elizabeth Short.

In case I wasn’t being clear, that’s a good thing. The Dahlia murder is one of the great mysteries of our time, frequently taking a sideline to Jack the Ripper’s work but just as intriguing; Ellroy’s fictional trip through the investigation and fascinating truth (at least so far as the novel is concerned) brings a loving detail and amazing atmosphere to the mystery, and in a way that very few books have managed to do, makes me feel like an active witness to the events told in the novel.

Among the high points include the detail that most note about Ellroy’s LA Quartet; there are no angels. Even the “good” guys are dirty, and the “bad” guys occasionally have legitimate grievances that were not addressed properly or perform what might be construed as decent acts because their personalities drive them to it and not out of some attempt to maintain cover. Bucky, our narrator, is no exception; he’s almost as disgusting as some of the folks more intimately involved in the chain of events that led to Ms. Short’s demise… though at least he does what he can to make things right.

The second thing to note is the language used. The words Ellroy picks to craft his vision are important, more than you might think, even given the written medium. Even if you’re unfamiliar with the Dahlia case, or are unaware of the timeframe the book occurs in, the words that Ellroy uses, whether they’re coming from the mouths of his characters or just the descriptions provided via Bucky’s viewfinder of the world, set the stage perfectly in a blend of film noir and post-war false optimism, and ground the reader readily into the right mindset and era. They also serve quite admirably in forging a connection between Bucky and the reader, bringing you a sense of triumph or discovery when he does right… and rubbing your nose in the revulsion he feels – most especially towards himself – when he does wrong, or digs up someone else’s dirty laundry. The conflict he feels as regards the book’s leading ladies – at least the living ones – Madeline and Kay is well done, and even without any helpful thought bubbles, going only off the descriptions of the conversations Bucky has with them, you can get a clear picture of them and their opinions of each other… again, merely by the words chosen.

All in all, an excellent read, and one I would recommend to anyone with an interest in crime, noir, or the Dahlia case in general – though the last camp would likely be offended by the way the book “solves” the crime. It is obviously a labor of love that cost Ellroy a great deal personally – and if you have the edition that came out shortly after the film, with his extended Afterword, that is made even more clear. Give it a shot.

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30
Oct
17

Goodreads Review: Cracking More Cases

Cracking More Cases: The Forensic Science of Solving Crimes : the Michael Skakel-Martha Moxley Case, the Jonbenet Ramsey Case and Many More!Cracking More Cases: The Forensic Science of Solving Crimes : the Michael Skakel-Martha Moxley Case, the Jonbenet Ramsey Case and Many More! by Henry C. Lee

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Dr. Lee is back again, to wow and amaze us with tales of forensic daring do in a fresh handful of cases.

The problem is, he doesn’t.

While there is some interesting material here, for the most part it felt as though the book was spent talking about all Dr. Lee’s “close and great and professional” friends, with very little in the way of actually discussing the science of the cases, which is what most readers are coming here for. He frequently spends pages upon pages explaining how a given police department screwed up (the chapter on the Ramsey case is particularly laden with this), rather than discussing the evidence that was found and provided useful or interesting.

That being said, the prose is fairly well done, clear and concise. What points he does make are laid out with relative simplicity, not requiring a degree in forensics to understand. It also serves as an interesting springboard if one wishes to delve into the cases via other research; the Martha Moxley case, in particular, proved an interesting study and Dr. Lee has provided an excellent bibliography to run down further information if the reader so desires.

Worth looking at if you’re a fan of the man, or as a starting point for further study. If you’re looking for deep insight into the Ramsey case (which is the most prominent of the cases presented here) you should probably look elsewhere, however.

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08
Oct
17

Goodreads Review: UFOs, JFK and Elvis

UFOs, JFK & Elvis: Conspiracies You Don't Have to Be Crazy to BelieveUFOs, JFK & Elvis: Conspiracies You Don’t Have to Be Crazy to Believe by Richard Belzer

Richard Belzer is well known as a comedian, an actor, and a conspiracy theorist; sometimes all three at once, as is frequently the case with his character Detective Munch across many television series and seasons. If you’ve listened to him talk, you’re aware that he brings a signature blend of dry wit, distinctively Jewish-themed self-deprecating sarcasm, and a fierce intelligence to nearly any party.

This book is no different. Belzer is on point in his attitude from the first to the last page, formulating an immensely enjoyable read. For those who choose to take it as comedy, you certainly can; for those looking for a more intellectual exercise, even if you don’t necessarily see the world through the black lenses of conspiracy everywhere that he does, there’s still plenty of interesting ideas to chew on.

If I had one complaint about the book, it’s that the title is a trifle misleading; while there’s plenty of material about UFOs and related phenomena, and more than half the book is dedicated to assorted JFK tidbits, there is a notable lack of Elvis within the tome, short of a couple of brief comparison remarks made near the beginning. Kidding, really; I can do with less Elvis in my life.

A worthy addition to any conspiracy theorists’ (or those who are interested in them) shelf, perhaps the biggest highlight is the extensive bibliography lurking innocently at the end. Worth running down some of those sources to see how far down the rabbit hole it goes.

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02
Oct
16

Goodreads Review: Roommates

Roommates: A Creepy Little Bedtime StoryRoommates: A Creepy Little Bedtime Story by William F. Aicher

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Want a delightfully disturbing look into a madness riddled mind? Look no further. Roommates peels back the skin (and skull, and gray matter…) to deliver a fascinating internal monologue (or is it a dialogue?) on the subject of loneliness and isolation.

Our narrator is at turns angry, confused, enamored and disturbed by his condition and what may – or may not – be causing it, winding down corridors of depression and almost manic glee en route to a finale that leaves the reader wanting more while remaining satisfied… and perhaps a little relieved to leave the swamp of his mind at last.

Very entertaining and well worth a read. Highly recommended.

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04
Sep
16

Goodreads Review: Spookygirl

Spookygirl: Paranormal InvestigatorSpookygirl: Paranormal Investigator by Jill Baguchinsky

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

First confession; when I picked this book up I thought it was something else. I didn’t read the inner flap, and from the back flap, the cover and the other books that were with it at the time, I thought it was non-fiction.

Was I a little surprised when I started reading and discovered it was a YA novel about a teenager with a dead mom, family troubles, potential romantic entanglements and the struggles of fitting in while being a freak? Yeah.

Was I further surprised when I discovered it to actually be fairly smart, well written, and entertaining? Also yes.

Spookygirl has an interesting narrative set up, with a teenage medium heading into a new school with new living conditions as she resumes living with her widowed father above his mortuary. Thankfully, Dad is at least understanding of her “gifts,” and not above using those gifts to help folks move on or at least find some peace in the afterlife. The mystery of Mom’s death – and Dad’s potential involvement in it – is left appropriately vague, being prodded at in regular intervals. Not so often that you feel the need to say “shut up, already, we get it,” and not so infrequently that you have that “Oh, right, that was a thing that happened” moment. The bulk of the book serves as our heroine getting used to the new situation and picking up the family business so she can attempt to resolve her issues about Mom’s death, and it’s done decently well. It’s a fun little romp, the literary equivalent of a bag of chips: Tasty enough, at least mildly satisfying, not too offensive, but not going to create any earthshattering moments, either.

The book is competent and entertaining and does what it set out to do. If I have any complaints, it’s the giant red herring as regards the school haunting and the too-tidy way it gets rectified, leaving one character in a plot hole somewhere and never referencing her again, and the far-too-shiny-happy ending that ties everything up while leaving room for another volume, but without any real sense of sacrifice. It’s 100% happy ending, and while that may be due to the genre, it felt far too tidy and left me a little sour.

Overall, though, I’d say it’s worth checking out if you’re into teenagers and spooks, and has the advantage of not being too heavy handed with the romantic angle – and our heroine doesn’t end with a boyfriend, so bonus, there – while still remaining reasonably acceptable to its assumed target audience. Worth a read.

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28
Aug
16

Goodreads Review: The Ocean at the End of the Lane

I realized I had not shared my review of my 2nd favorite book of all time, and felt that situation needed rectifying.

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The Ocean at the End of the LaneThe Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I lack the words to appropriately describe this book. Gaiman is amazing, as always. He grabs you, drags you down into the waters of his imagination, and whispers to you, sounds like the waves lapping on the shore, and refuses to let go until the last word is spoken. Then he releases you, leaving you to bob up to the surface, both relieved and saddened that you have to leave.

Melodramatic? Maybe. But appropriate, I think. From our narrator first explaining about Fluffy the kitten to his final moments on the shore of the eponymous ocean, I couldn’t stop. Nothing else mattered. The book owned me, sunk its fingers into me and made me its puppet, leaving me wrung out, emotionally exhausted and completely satisfied when I finished the last page.

I’ll put it plain: You need to read this book. No excuses. You can find it fairly inexpensive nearly anywhere, it’s only 180 pages so can – and must! – be devoured in a single sitting, and contains only vague references to sex and violence, with no naughty words, so it’s appropriately clean for any audience.

Go read it. Now.

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26
Aug
16

Goodreads Review: Papap’s Teeth

Papap's TeethPapap’s Teeth by Danielle DeVor

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Quick and dirty, with some interesting ideas

This was a fun read, though to be honest it felt more like something from Creepypasta or /nosleep; the length and ambiguity both work for the piece (leaving you hungry, pardon the pun, and giving a quick shudder) and against it (not giving you enough time to fully immerse yourself, and feeling slightly rushed.) Well worth checking out, though, and the preview piece at the end serves as a great teaser that inspires you to seek out more by this author.

Give it a taste; you won’t regret it.

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26
Aug
16

Goodreads Review: All Good Stories

All Good StoriesAll Good Stories by Linda G. Hill

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Well, that was different…

I came into this book not quite knowing what to expect. I knew it would involve “mushy stuff,” and that it was liable to be more lighthearted than my usual fare, but beyond that I didn’t have much to go on.

Let me say that I am glad I took the trip. Sometimes whim and chance lead us to things that we would not otherwise have come across, and in those moments we should be thankful.

The technical portion of the program is well done, and while in the first few chapters you might be prone to thinking it childish or a little over-the-top, it becomes clearer towards the end and you start to see how it all fits together. The final whammy – and the opportunity to read the central story that forms the third layer of the work – cap things off nicely and offer an explanation for the apparent oddity of certain turns of phrase elsewhere.

It’s not your standard romance, and gives this particular book-lover and writer a warm fuzzy feeling that there may yet be hope after all. If you’re even slightly on the fence about it, take the plunge. You’ll enjoy it.

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If you’d like to see more by the author, keep abreast of her comings and goings and scribblings and scratches, drop by her site at lindaghill.com!

24
Aug
16

Goodreads Review: Look at this F*cking Hipster

Look at This F*cking HipsterLook at This F*cking Hipster by Joe Mande

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book will inspire one of the following reactions: Hysterical laughter, equally hysterical tears at where the world is going, outrage and cries of “I’m offended” or something between 1 & 2 or 2 & 3. Depends on how misanthropic you are, and how much of a hipster you might actually be yourself.

It’s a quick nothing of a picture book with a couple of funny essays, and I spent most of it laughing. I was amused. If you enjoy mocking how terrible humans are, you will probably enjoy it in a similar manner. Even if you’re a hipster yourself, you might be able to laugh at it ironically. You never know.

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Is it hipsterish of me to point out my GoFundMe and ask for those of you amused by my ramblings to stop by? Oh well, too late, did it already. Seriously, though, if you’ve got a sec, drop a dime in the jar, give it a share or a comment. It all helps and means a lot to this particular scrub. To those who already have, many thanks.

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24
Aug
16

Goodreads Review: Dimiter

DimiterDimiter by William Peter Blatty

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Blatty has enthralled us before with tales of spooks, demons and religion gone awry. He filled The Exorcist and Legion with all manner of phantasms, inspiring fear of the unseen and unknown that might lurk just beyond our line of sight or comprehension.

Unfortunate that he didn’t manage that feat this time. Dimiter suffers from entirely too much ephemera, casting great clouds of smoke up for us to discover there’s barely a campfire behind it.

The book just felt like kind of a mess. There were interesting ideas, and several memorable scenes, but they are strung together nonsensically and seemingly without the purpose of an over-arcing plot. Only one character seems to have any reality or density to him, and even he is yanked around by the plot-chain quite frequently, especially in the epilogue. There didn’t seem to be much of a point to any of it, and there felt like precisely zero payoff by the end.

One saving grace was the prose; though he occasionally delves into confusing POV shifts and bizarre metaphors, overall the writing was well done, almost being decent enough to make you forget there wasn’t a story or a point to it. But realistically, I don’t think I can really recommend this book to anyone unless they’re a devout Blatty worshipper or desperate for something to pull through over a weekend.

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