Thursday, May 31, 2012

Read this so you can find out what's readable at your local bookstore. Seriously, I know what I'm talking about. I do have my own blog, you know.

There's something about John Sandford's writing style I'm too dense to define. I think its the way he delivers a strong, character driven plot in short stacatto bursts. Those 'bursts' divide scenes into separate and  unique actions, like the panels on a comic page. Sometimes they relate to the subject at hand only perfunctory, but sometimes they're so intertwined you wonder why or how they were separated in the first place.

Or something like that.

Here's all you need to know: it works. And in Stolen Prey, a Lucas Davenport mystery surrounding the brutal murder of an entire family by a drug cartel, it works very well. Sandford deserves to be mentioned among the mythic elite of the genre, alongside names like Ross McDonald, Rex Stout, and Hammett.

Grade: A+

Book #38 of the year

The Third Gate is a forthcoming thriller by Lincoln Child, an author best known for his collaborations with Douglas Preston. The titular gate refers to the opening to the third and secret chamber of the tomb of Egypt's first pharaoh, discovered below the rot and stench of miles of swampland. Unfortunately, the curse on this tomb might be a wee bit more effective than the one's this archaeological crew is used to dismissing. Thankfully though a ghost hunter, er, enigmaologist is there to lend a hand.

Like too many thrillers the novel features scads of space devoted to the characters telling you details of the history/machinery/terminology in use, a practice I think is both lazy and prone to dating a story (ten years from now, when you pick this up second hand at a yard sale, the medical procedures will make this read like the equivalent of Nehru jackets and shag carpeting).

Still, I enjoyed it for what it is - a quick, harmless, but entertaining book. And I'll remember it forever as the book I was reading as I waited with Smiley to have his abscessed tooth pulled.

Grade: B

Book #39 of the year

As a brief break from book reviews let me mention that we watched One for the Money, the Katherine Heigl movie based on the popular book series by Janet Evanovich. Lisa liked it more than I did, which isn't saying much, although she did comment more than once on Heigl's strained (and inconsistent) Jersey accent. Hey, I know the books are super popular, but I didn't dig this as a novel and I sure didn't love it as a film. What a sub-par effort, and the soundtrack - yowsas! Ridiculous music playing at just the wrong time. How Heigl keeps her name in lights while creating dud after dud is beyond me.

Grade: C-

Harry Lipkin, Private Eye is another forthcoming novel I read, this time by Barry Fantoni (release date July 10th of this year). The titular character is an 87 year old Jewish private eye still licensed and practicing in Florida. He takes the case of an elderly widow who suspects her staff of stealing personal mementos from her home. Sounds exciting, doesn't it?

Let's not mince words. The style was fine if not impressive, but the book read heavily like something  constructed by design. Sure, sure, it's good, even necessary, to map out a book length work, but I got the impression he set a goal for himself   - "8 pages in chapter four buckaroo" and then stuck to it, whether that meant the scene was padded or shortchanged. It all felt forced.

Worse yet, I think the main character came off as subtly racist, especially when it came to the Asian butler. Yes, an older man will carry more baggage than one from a younger generation, but then it should come across as a fault, not a source of humor.

As for the mystery . . . if you didn't see that ending coming, shoot yourself now.

I'd give this book a D, but who am I to judge? At least he got published.

Grade: C--

Book # 40 of the year

Monday, May 28, 2012

Memorial Day 2012

It was another good day today - I kind of like having two days off in a row once in awhile. In the early afternoon we got a lot of cleaning and projects done around the house, like putting in the window A/C units. (sadly, one project involved  getting rid of my dishwasher; more on that later). The older I get, the less enjoyable a day is unless I can finish the day saying something got done

In the evening Schroeder and our mutual friend JJ came over with her daughter and we had a massive grill-out, followed by a movie for the grown-ups.

Dinner barely concluded before we had a freak storm. It was clear skies one minute, Wizard of Oz the next, then right back to clear skies. I saw a tree limb succumb to the wind across the street, but somehow missed a 15 second power outage that messed with my TV.

Anyway, I still found time to give Smiley a haircut today, and did it outside to minimize the mess inside the house. He and I had a rough day today, with us both rubbing each other the wrong way and saying some things we didn't mean. But you know what he left on my pillow before dinner? A sign, rolled up and tied with a blue bow, that said "I Love You". I got very choked up, I really did, and he made it all the worse by saying he did it so I'd have something of his to post on my cubicle wall. I love you little man!

Oh, by the way:  for desert LuLu baked a cake. And by that, I mean she measured out the ingredients, mixed it, poured it into the pan and baked it without a single moment of adult help or supervision. Well done LuLu!

Here's a parody of The Hunger Games that YaYa and her friend posted on YouTube:

Well, two of them:

It was a good day in a good life. Knock on wood.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer

When I was a kid I consumed - there's no better word for it - the 'Illustrated Classics'  edition of every classic novel you can think of; ok, maybe not Tropic of Cancer. They weren't the hardcover version you see above, but stout little paperbacks that fit in your hand. On the left hand page, text; on the right side, a full page illustration.

They did a marvelous job of introducing me to literature and the construction of plot and character, but on the down side, given my published aversion to re-reading a book, I found it unnecessary to slog through 600 pages of the (actual)The Count of Monte Cristo to find out  - again - that he gets his revenge.

Cue 2012, when I sat down, NOOK in hand, to finally read the full version of Mark Twain's The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.

The verdict? Eh.

Look, I hate writing this because who gets brownie points for saying they don't like a masterpiece? Might as well say the Sistene Chapel's a doodle of monkey dung, no?

But . . .

I thought there was no coherent plot, just a jumble of loosely tied events. The novel seemed more a collection of anecdotes and sketches than a 'book'.  I thought there were abrupt and jarring divides between material aimed at a young audience and that fit for adults. Worst of all, Twain (at that point in his career) seems to have no grasp on how to establish tension, or keep the reader at the edge of their seat. The characters emerge unscathed, then calmly sit down and tell you how they managed to get out of trouble. You never 'see' the action, and the reader is the worse for it. I mean, really now - the villain dies 'off camera'. Really???

After I worked out those points I poked around a little and discovered my complaints weren't unique. Certainly Twain improved over time (dramatically, I hope) but even if he didn't, the story itself and his talent for dissecting an event and coming to the heart of it were strong even at that point.

My honest grade, independent of its importance to literature: C+

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Smiley is not so smiley today . . .

Smiley  has an abscessed tooth. It's his upper front tooth, the one that's been that's been discolored for most of his life due to a fall as a toddler. In a way it's a good thing it's on the way out because lately at school the dinkledorfs who pass for other people's children have begun to tease him about its appearance.

Anyhow, today he woke up in misery. He'd been nursing a headache, chills, nausea and lethargy since Monday, but we'd chalked that up to a flu bug that knocked LuLu out last week.

Given the urgency of the situation,  Lisa tried to get him into the dentist but Dr. X's office refused to see him because we'd 'missed' his last appointment - meaning the day my sitter crashed my van taking the kids to his office, in a vain attempt to keep the appointment we'd been forced to make at the end of 2011 for the 'earliest available date'. Per the doc and his receptionist, my kids were now persona non grata and no longer his patients.

Lisa tried to reason w/ the receptionist and failed, so he wound up in the ER instead. He had  fever of 101 and was given Tylenol and antibiotics. Meanwhile at work I used my break to call the dentist. Ten minutes later I had an appointment lined up for Tuesday morning, by which time the antibiotics will have brought the infection in check.

Lisa was happy with my result but royally P.O'd about who got the result, calling it a clear example of gender bias. I am not sure I agree, at least as she defines the issue. I do not think I automatically earned more respect (in this situation) because I'm a man, but I do think that had push come to shovel they would much rather have dealt with an angry Mom than a similarly irate (very large) man.

But -

I wasn't there in person, and I never raised my voice or did anything other than firmly but kindly plead my case. In this case - and perhaps it is only in this case - I don't think my gender had anything to do with the result. Instead, I think this can be chalked up to the fact that I can be a very persuasive, very disarming guy when I need to be, and with Smiley's health on the line this was a time when I 'needed to be'.

Besides, a bit of a damned if you do/damned if you don't, when you think about it. Lisa's all about admiring masculinity and the archetypal father figure, but when you fit that image you get blasted.

Ech. Life. :)

Saturday, May 12, 2012

The Family Corleone

I am a longtime fan of Mario Puzo's The Godfather and the universe it inspired. I rank the film as my 2nd favorite movie of all time, while the book holds the unique record of being the only - the ONLY - book of the hundreds I've read that I've re-read more than once.

 (Er, it actually might be the only adult book I've re-read period. Why re-read a book when there are thousands waiting to be read for the first time?)

I was looking forward to reading The Family Corleone by Ed Falco, a prequel to the original novel that was authorized by the Puzo estate and supposedly based on an unpublished GF4 script by Puzo himself.

The verdict? Eh.

It's not awful, although I fear any Godfather work carries with it built-in brownie points that prohibit a failing grade. The book is centered around the years '33-35 and the mafia war that brought the Corleone's to prominence. The war was mentioned in the original novel at some (moderate) length, and I was eager to read about it in more detail.

Unfortunately, the book was bogged down by several anachronisms - one literally on page one - , coupled with characters who felt compelled to reference the few pop-culture cliches of the era - you know, to establish "setting" - and who run around talking like dime store hoods. They also voice a ton of  vulgarities in Italian (enough that Falco included a glossary in the back), which is probably realistic but comes off as a bit contrived between these covers.

 There's also a glaring editorial error on the inside cover. Above an an organizational flowchart of the New York families is a title reading "Names and Families" - only it mistakenly reads "Games and Families".


Here's my problems with the plot. I think there's a pretty wishy-washy lead up to the war; not that there wasn't violence and disagreement, but I'm still not clear how this drew every family into conflict. Nor do I think Vito's little speech with Luca was nearly enough to establish his loyalty, and the Irish subplot was pointless. Worst of all, the 'war' seemed more like the invasion of Grenada -some people got hurt, but it lasted a blink of an eye.

And Falco messes with established cannon. Luca killed Capone's thugs with an ax, and one choked to death on his gag in fear. Not here. Vito himself was ill at ease with Luca - not here. Sonny was corrupted by seeing his father kill Fanucci - there's a different victim here. Rescuing Tom Hagen was an act of selfless piety - not here.

Screw that.

I'm not one of those idiots who spent page after page blasting Mark Winegardner's literary sequels of the last decade. I enjoyed them, even if I didn't love what they did to Tom Hagen. But I honestly thought this was a mediocre novel that lacks Puzo's grim brilliance.

I grade it a C.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Six months.

It's been nearly six months since my last post here on Slapinions. Yikes.

That's not to say I haven't been writing. I post like mad on Facebook, occasionally (ok, rarely) on Twitter, and since we last saw each other I've had work published in three Wisconsin newspapers. If you're a long-time reader, by all means, follow me in the world of social media. You may not be entertained, but at least you'll never have to wonder where I am.

But back to Slapinions . . .

It's been an up and down six months, full of some crushing lows and great rebounds. I've started a new job (and kept the old one part time) and things *seem* to be on the upswing [knock on wood]. The kids are doing great, if by great you mean healthy and happy and wildly annoying, and we've added a new addition to the house. No, not another spawn, a cat named Gus-Gus that we got for LuLu from the Humane Society.

There's a whole lot more to say about the last six months but the mere thought of thinking about those 180 days, much less writing about 'em, seems like too much of a chore. Eventually I'll repost my FB updates here and you can catch up in due time if you care (and if you do, my word you need a hobby)

Meanwhile, in lieu of actual content, let me just say a few words about some books I've read recently.

Bereft is a novel by Chris Womersely set in rural Australia at the conclusion of WWI. Ten years ago Quinn Walker fled his hometown on the night his 12 year old sister was raped and murdered, leaving his family and community thinking he was the killer. Now a grown man with a face disfigured by war, he has returned in secret, but for what reason? To avenge his sister? To confess? And what of the mysterious young girl he meets in the woods, the girl who seems to know secrets far beyond her years? It's a strong, well done mix of literary fiction and thriller, with a hint of the supernatural thrown in, all written with wonderful style. Grade: A (book #32 of the year)

Seth Grahame-Smiths' Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter left me torn. On one hand I greatly enjoyed the novelty of the premise for about 3/4's of the book  (Lincoln's life as we know it was nothing compared to the bitter,life-long war he waged against Vampires, many of whom wished to keep slavery intact to ensure a plentiful supply of food). And then . . .then it became woefully apparent that it was just a novelty, a cheap little means of piquing your interest in hopes that you finish the book before you realize the author has very little content, and only a hint of style, to offer you. Grade: C
(book #33 of the year)

I rented Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol thinking that it would be white noise on the TV while I puttered around doing this or that. You know what? I was an idiot. Not only was this a good film, it was a GREAT action film, with exotic locales, nerve-wracking stunts and great fight scenes. Color me impressed! Grade: A+

And finally, the most important review of the evening: 

The tamales at the local Piggly Wiggly are sinfully delicious. :)

I hope you are all happy and well,