Friday, May 22, 2015

Crime Scene Cleaner (German Television Comedy Series)

Crime Scene Cleaner (German Television Comedy Series)

Schotty has a job many wouldn’t want to do.  I'm sure you're already guessed, he is a crime scene cleaner.  He’s an average guy just trying to do his job.  But besides being a crime scene cleaner he is a sounding board for the people he meets when all he’s trying to do is clean up gore.  He encounters a murderer returning to the scene of the crime, a hooker not realizing her appointment was cancelled, even a National Socialist Party member (basically a modern Nazi) wanting to discuss politics as Schotty tries to clean up the aftermath of a grisly accidental death.

By turns my mouth was gaping open with the absurdity of it all or I was laughing out loud.  There isn’t a lot of action, let’s face it the true action already occurred, but there is a lot of witty and truly odd dialogue as people love talking to Schotty.  They tell him everything and bring him into philosophical, ethical and political discussions as he goes about his work.

You need a quirky sense of humor to enjoy this series, I freely admit that, but I think anyone will enjoy the first episode.  It was probably the best of them all.  I it an elderly woman kills a home invader and can’t stop lamenting the loss of a couch the intruder slashed.  Many famous people sat on that couch and she grieves for it at length.  Too bad the intruder fell down the stairs and died.  Or did he?

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Jack of Spades by Joyce Carol Oates

Jack of Spades by Joyce Carol Oates

I’ve only read short stories by Oates and I thought I was getting a novel this time, but this seemed more like a novella; it was quite short.  One day I will read a novel by the award-winning New Jersey native, but not yet.  And hopefully when I do read a novel length story it will catch me as much as this story did.

Andrew J. Rush is a famous, but not Stephen King famous, novelist.  He writes suspenseful mysteries that aren’t too gory but are well-constructed.  Andrew J. Rush has a secret.  He also writes as Jack of Spades.  Jack of Spades writes gritty gory noir books and no one knows his identity, no one.  As a reader we know that something is wrong immediately as Rush has internal conversations with Jack of Spades.  When a woman threatens a lawsuit of plagiarism Rush is thrown for a loop even though the suit is unfounded and the woman is clearly mentally ill.  That event is the tipping point in an author’s spiral downwards when his worlds start to collide.

King is referenced a lot in the book, you have to wonder if Oates is jealous, and really, what writer wouldn’t be jealous of King’s success.  Maybe that’s where the idea for this book came from?  In which case what pseudonym is Oates writing under?  

Revival by Stephen King

Revival by Stephen King

On a sunny day in Maine six-year old Jamie meets Reverend Charles Jacobs for the first time.  Jacob’s becomes Jamie’s Fifth Business – the person that you aren’t related to or even friends with that keeps showing up in your life again and again and again.  Unfortunately for Jamie Jacobs is his Fifth Business and not someone, anyone, else.  Reverend Jacobs is an inventor obsessed with electricity, not normal electricity mind you, but what he calls Special Electricity.  With Special Electricity Jacobs is able to heal, and more.  What exactly is Jacobs’ ultimate goal?  Jamie knows he will find out, but he also knows he really doesn’t want to know the answer.

King plays with the word of his title throughout the book.  Think of all the ways revive and revival can be defined.  That’s the only clue I’ll give you about the novel.  Well, okay, I’ll give you one more.  Lovecraft fans will be thrilled, Uncle Stevie finally “went there” in this one.  I can’t say anything else without giving away major plot points but I can say that the Necronomicon is mentioned in this novel. 

The novel starts off slow and you have to wonder why King is telling you so much but as the plot starts moving faster and faster it all comes together.  All those “extraneous details” surrounding Jamie’s life are important once again.  On audio the beginning was particularly slow, but King keeps it entertaining and the dread builds slowly as the plot moves faster.  It worked really well.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Half a King by Joe Abercrombie

Half a King by Joe Abercrombie

Apparently I was in the mood for an epic fantasy book because once I read the first chapter I was completely hooked.

Yarvi was not cut out to be royalty.  He was born with a deformed hand in a kingdom where warriors are kings.  He has been preparing for the tests to become a minister, the wise advisors to the king, a position he is well suited to assume.  But when his father and brother are murdered Yarvi must reluctantly sit in the Black Chair and reign over his kingdom.  First he must avenge his family and that is when the king, or as he calls himself “half a king” since he cannot wield a weapon, begins a journey beyond his wildest dreams.

This is a gasping book.  I gasped often at the things that happened to Yarvi that seemed to keep coming at him left and right.  You’d think things were finally looking up and *gasp* they weren’t quite.  In some books coincidences feel contrived and predictable, that is not the case here because the plot is woven together so well.  And the characters!  They are all so real, something often not found in fantasy epics depicting journeys from far off lands. 

I wish I could say more about the book but I want readers to discover the twists and turns for themselves and they start pretty must straight away.  If you aren’t a fan of fantasy I think you may still enjoy this book.  A lot of people get annoyed by strange names and races in fantasy books which you don’t have here.  The gods even have normal names like Mother War and Father Peace.  (The female deities are not the genders you expect.  Besides war and peace being what we would consider opposites, the sun is female and the moon is male as well.)  The Gettlanders, the peoples Yarvi rules over, remind me of a cross between Vikings and the people of Medieval Britain.  Another thing some people hate about fantasy epics are that they are so long.  Not so with this one, coming in at a svelte 336 pages.  Try it, you’ll like it!

I borrowed this one as an eBook from the library and I have the second on hold.  I loved it and hope the next book is as great as the first.

The Rembrandt Affair by Daniel Silva

The Rembrandt Affair by Daniel Silva

Gabriel Allon, accomplished art restorer and retired Israeli spy, retreats to Cornwall with his wife to recuperate following a disastrous mission in Russia.  Naturally he doesn’t get to simply relax.  An old friend, a well-respected art dealer named Isherwood, has a big problem.  He brokered a deal with the National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C. to sell them a heretofore unknown Rembrandt on behalf of a client.  In preparation of the sale he entrusted the painting to a professional for restoration.   The restorer is murdered and the painting is gone.  Isherwood didn’t mention the painting to his insurers to forego paying the extra premiums so if the painting is not found he’s out $45 million.  That’s why he’s extremely desperate to have the painting found and asks Allon for his help.

Follows is a trip around the world establishing where the painting has been in hopes that it will lead to clues to where the painting is now.  Nazi war criminals, Swiss bank accounts and shady philanthropists all come together to explain the hidden life of the painting.  Allon travels from the British countryside to Argentina, London and Switzerland to track down the painting and assembles a team of Israeli agents after the investigation leads to information that seems to show Iran is getting ready to make nuclear weapons.

If you haven’t read any of the fifteen Gabriel Allon thrillers this is one that can be read as a standalone so you can try the series out.  It is tenth in the series, and events from past books are alluded to, but I never felt like I didn’t know what was going on.  A longtime fan may have been happy to see characters from past books appear in this one, but the characters were well-described and I was fine being introduced to them here.  I’m not a huge fan of spy novels, but this one was more art heist and backroom double dealing than true full on spycraft.  It was fast paced and adhered often to the tenants of Murphy’s Law, things that could go wrong often did, but the good guys prevailed in the end.  Overall a very enjoyable quick read.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Grand Piano (Film – Starring Elijah Wood and John Cusack)

Grand Piano (Film – Starring Elijah Wood and John Cusack)

I was intrigued after seeing a preview of this movie and for once the film lived up to the trailer. 

Elijah Wood plays Tom Selznick, a piano prodigy who left the stage five years ago after freezing during a performance.  He is making his widely anticipated return in Chicago with his successful movie star wife in the audience.  As he sits down to play and turns the pages of his music he notices terrifying messages scrawled on the score in red marker.  Basically if he plays a wrong note his wife will be murdered.  Naturally he doesn’t believe a word until the red laser light starts tracking across the score.

This is an edge of your seat thriller.  I got anxious every time Selznick left the stage during a piece, yes there was a lull in the music and he wasn’t needed, but how often does the star of the show leave his bench during the middle of a piece?  Then again I don’t think I’ve ever been at a performance where a member of the orchestra’s life was threatened.  At least I hope not!  The pacing of the movie is great, there is never a dull moment, which is amazing in and of itself since the action all takes place in a music hall during the performance. 

Why is it so important that Selznick doesn’t play a wrong note?  How can he get help while trapped on stage?  You’ll need to watch to find out.

The Blondes by Emily Schultz

The Blondes by Emily Schultz

Blondes may have more fun, and have the most jokes written about them, but now they are also the most feared women on earth.  Scandinavia has all but fallen, outbreaks are occurring around the world and people are fleeing to Africa and India where "blondeness" is rare.  Blonde women, whether natural or from a bottle, are going crazy.  They act like they have rabies and bite and kill those around them and themselves.  No one is sure how it is transmitted, or why it only affects those with a lack of hair pigment, but everyone knows the world will never be the same.

Hazel Hayes is our narrator, a natural redhead.  Apparently one case of a redhead going mad has been documented so she is considered suspect along with peroxide blondes.  Hazel has managed to find the absolute worst time in the world to become pregnant with a child she doesn't really want by a man she can’t get in contact with because he’s married to someone else and a country away.  Hazel wants to get from New York back to Toronto to decide what to do about the baby and just to get back home but this is a time of panic and quarantine.  Going home is going to be really hard.

This is one of the weirder pandemic tales I’ve read.  It was a little annoying not knowing how the disease worked, but the author got around it by cutting Hazel off from media in the later months of her pregnancy (and therefore the later part of the narrative).  The book is told in current time (Hazel about eight months pregnant) and from the beginning of the outbreak (Hazel about a month pregnant) and eventually the two storylines become one.

The Blondes is being compared to Stephen King, but I don’t really see it.  It’s probably just me but not having a plausible, or any actually, reason why this was happening really bothered me. I did like the way the author proposed that governments would handle the situation; Canada was much stricter than I would have given them credit for which makes me think fleeing north in case of a situation may not be the best solution.   The other thing I really liked were the relationships made and left behind in a time of crisis, the last people you would think you could lean on are sometimes exactly who you need.