Monday, April 30, 2007

"Happiness Sold Separately" by Lolly Winston

Elinor and Ted Mackey are in crisis mode. Not only are they not able to get pregnant, Ted has turned to another woman. He is having an affair with his fitness instructor, Gina Ellison. Elinor has just found out about the affair as the book opens, and the novel follows them as they try to mend their marriage.

Elinor retreats to her mother's for a while to think things through. Ted tries to stay away from Gina, but finds it difficult. Making matter worse are Gina's son, Toby, who has returned to live with his mother after his new stepmother decides she doesn't want him underfoot. Toby takes an immediate liking to Ted, who agrees to tutor him in math. Ted comes to enjoy spending his tutoring evenings with Toby and Gina, who makes them a home-cooked meal after each session. Now Ted is not only cheating on Elinor with Gina, but also with a ten-year-old boy.

Elinor decides to take up with the tree surgeon who shows up one morning to tell her her oak tree is diseased and will be removed by the city. She thinks of him like a tree - he is tall and strong. She also realizes that Roger, the boy she's hired to clean her house, has a huge crush on her. She offers to look at his portfolio for him; he's really a photographer but hasn't completed his final project and doesn't want to take some stupid job clicking pictures of school kids. Roger leaves behind strange objects in the beds of the people he cleans for, mostly to try to jolt them out of their boring lives.

The novel takes some unusual twists and turns as each character comes to be involved in the others' lives. Everything is intertwined by the end of the book, and the resolution isn't wrapped up in a nice little neat package.

While I loved "Good Grief", Winston's first novel, I can only muster mild enthusiasm for "Happiness Sold Separately". I'm not sure why, but I think I have a few reasons for it, the first being that there are way too many flawed characters for one book. Don't get me wrong, I think it's good for characters to have a few flaws here and there. Face it, folks, Prince Charming does NOT exist. But these people - they made me soooooooooo tired! I kept thinking "These are adults? These are grown-ups? They ALL are this messed up?" The only "normal" person in the bunch is Elinor's neighbor and best friend, Kat, and believe me, I found myself wanting her to have much more page time. Pretty much every character on the canvas needed some serious therapy time.

The other reasons probably have to do more with the subject matter, which is mostly infidelity and children. I can't really relate on either count. I know it can be difficult for some women when they desperately want children and can't have them. Knowing that doesn't make it easier for me to be sympathetic, though, as I personally have never wanted children nor have I wanted to be a mother. That makes it hard to relate to Elinor, who wants the child she can't have, and Gina, who has a child that doesn't want her. I've not gone through the pain of infidelity, nor do I worry about it, so relating to that plot line was also difficult. I just found myself feeling ambivalent about these people and their problems, which made me sad. I really wanted to like them, but they just weren't likable!

I'll wait and see what Ms. Winston puts out next. If it looks more like her first book, I'll gladly pick it up. If, however, it looks to be more of this line of writing, I'll pass. Sorry, but why waste time reading about people that you don't like, and that in the end, depress you?

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

"The Time of Feasting" by Mick Farren

This is one of those books that I probably could have and would have put down if I was a bit busier. The plot is pretty basic, the characters weren't too bad, the action was humdrum - until the last 100 pages. Then the thing took off like a flash. Just wish Farren had put a little more effort into the other 2/3 of the book.

Renquist is a vampire well over 1000 years old. He is the Master of the New York colony of vampires, a group of bloodsuckers basically living on the down-low. They really don't do much; no one has a job, no one really goes out much, they don't draw attention to themselves. It's best this way; there was a slaughter of vampires in 1919 and they've tried to hide themselves ever since.

Now there's a new generation of Nosferatu, and they want to go out and play. Especially now, during the Feasting, a sort of crazed blood lust that rolls around every seven years. Normally, these times of gluttony are handled by the colony going "on vacation" to far away lands where such things won't be noticed, foreign countries in political turmoil or besieged by plague. Renquist has decided that this time will be different. The colony will stay in New York and the members have been ordered to make their kills look like the work of a serial killer. One of these young vampires, Carfax, is determined to go all out, as he is tired of hiding in the Residence. He feels that as a vampire, his heritage allows him to do whatever he wants whenever he wants, that he is superior to humans. Needless to say, this sort of teen-aged tantrum is going to cause problems.

Also threatening the Colony is Kelly, an alcoholic defrocked priest, who sees Renquist and immediately knows what he is. Once he decides that this is his chance to make right with God, Kelly dogs Renquist and makes it his mission to kill the vampires. He enlists the aid of two NYC detectives, neither of whom is mentally ready for the idea of the undead roaming their city streets.

As I said, the first 2/3 of the book is just OK. There's a lot of exposition about the nature of the vampires, how the colony is set up, the relationships within the colony, etc. There's also some stuff about how the vamps were originally created by aliens, which sort of made sense, and sort of didn't. It seemed a bit "out there", even for a vampire novel! And again, the character development is all over the place. Renquist and a few of the other vampires are fairly well-rounded, while other characters are rather one-note. Carfax certainly falls into this latter category, which is too bad. Imagine how much better this might have been had he not come across as a petulant child, if he'd had more reason for his actions other than "I want to!" The action in the last hundred pages was good, enough to keep me reading to the end, as the story finally got exciting.

This is the first in a series by Farren. I'm not sure I'll read any of the other entries, though.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

A trip to the vault

Let's take a little trip into the vault and look at two books the Bookbabe found extremely captivating. Even better, these books are actually complimentary of each other in an odd sort of way.

First up is "Perfume" by Patrick Suskind. This little gem has been around for a while and the Bookbabe first learned about it when she worked at the used book store long ago. A customer had recommended Suskind, saying it was rare to find his works, the author being German and not very well-known here in the United States, etc. He went on to tell me that of the works that had been translated, I would be wise to keep my eyes open for "Perfume", by far Suskind's best. It took a while to track it down (over a year, if I recall), but it was worth it.

The story goes like this: a child is born with a unique sense of smell, a sort of human bloodhound. However, this same child, Jean-Baptiste Grenouille, has no odor of his own, a condition that seems to turn the human race against him. His mother is disgusted by him and his wet nurse finds her job incredibly difficult, as she claims that he does not smell right - he has no "baby" smell. He is brought up as a thing rather than a human. Grenouille survives his childhood and apprentices himself to a perfumer, learning everything there is to know about the art of creating perfume. While his skill brings great fame and fortune to his mentor, Grenouille has bigger plans. Plans that will involve murder.

More than anything, Grenouille wants to be loved and adored, and he knows this is impossible due to his lack of odor. His plan is to "distill" the most pleasing of human odors and create a unique perfume, one that will draw in every human within a hundred-yard radius. The only drawback to the plan is that it will require the deaths of several people, as that is the only way to "distill" the essence he is searching for. Grenouille is certainly not above killing; his childhood has not instilled a conscience in him.

"Perfume" has a slow, subtle increase of dread and horror, much the way a good scent wiggles its way into your brain. It's not necessarily what I would call action-packed, so if you prefer that sort of thriller, this might not be to your liking. But it's a book that I often recommend and that I've never forgotten.

The second book is a non-fiction work about scent and how it is registered in the body. I know, sounds boring, doesn't it? But in Chandler Burr's "The Emperor of Scent", the entire process is thoroughly examined and turned on its head by one Luca Turin. Turin is a scientist who is proposing a theory on how our sense of smell works, one that is at odds with everything that has previously been written. The saga of his attempts to publish said theory are funny and frustrating at the same time; his peers want nothing to do with him and his "outrageous" ideas. Turin then goes to the perfume industry with his findings in hopes that they will listen to him, since he will be sharing something that should make them quite a bit of money. That industry turns out to be just plain confusing, both for Turin and for us.

The strength is this book is not only Burr's writing but also in the character of Turin himself. This is no stodgy scientist - think more absent-minded professor with the enthusiasm of a child. Turin is fascinating and I kept thinking how much I'd love to meet him, even if I wasn't sure I'd understand a word he said! And this work, as I said earlier, makes a great companion piece to the fictional "Perfume".

Just a little suggestion from the vault, dear reader.

Friday, April 20, 2007

"Heart-Shaped Box" by Joe Hill

I was anxious to read this book as soon as the reviews started popping up; critics were giving it some fairly high praise, and the story just sounded pretty good. Then the real kicker - turns out that Joe Hill is really Joe King, as in Stephen King. Yep, this is the King of Horror's kid. Well, that put a new spin on things. Did I still want to read it? Would I find myself constantly comparing it to his dad's works? Would I be disappointed?

Rest easy, readers. The answers were yes, sometimes, and no. The influence of his famous father is there, but it in no way overshadows or detracts from the story. Joe is a great writer, one that his dad I'm sure is proud of.

The story seems simple enough. Judas Coyne, semi-retired rock star, has always collected some weird stuff, partly out of his own interest, partly to uphold his image of a "goth/rock" god. His assistant tells him about an email that comes in, one offering the sale of a ghost. Seems this woman's stepfather died and now he's haunting their house, particularly her daughter, and so she's hoping that by "selling" his spirit, she'll rid her family of his presence. Not wanting anyone to think she's totally crazy, she goes on to say that she will send one of the old man's suits, so that the buyer actually gets something for their money, even if the spirit decides to stay with her family. But she's pretty sure he'll go with the suit. Jude jumps on the offer, then forgets all about it.

Until he receives a package one day. It's a heart-shaped box that chocolates come in, the cheap ones you can pick up at a drugstore. The exact sort of box that his old man used to give his mother twice a year. When he opens the box, though, there's no candy, just an old, dark suit. Then it hits him - this is the "ghost" that he bought. He quickly realizes that there really is a spirit too; he sees him sitting in a chair that very night. And there's something incredibly sinister about this spirit, something evil, something that knows who Jude is and what he's done.

This is where the story really takes off. For Jude has not bought just any ghost, he's the proud owner of a spirit bent on revenge. Craddock, the old man, was the stepfather of one of Jude's many groupies, young women who he usually takes up with for a few months to up to a year, usually never longer. Anna, aka "Florida", was his previous girlfriend, one he sent home after she slipped back into one of her depressive phases. Turns out she killed herself soon after, and her family blames him for her death. Sounds simple, right? Well, it's not, and that's the beauty of this book - it'll keep you guessing until the end.

Jude's history and that of his current girlfriend, Marybeth, aka "Georgia", play a big role in the developments of the story. So does the history of the ex-girlfriend, as well. Jude isn't as much of a jerk as he seems at the outset, nor is Craddock a simple avenging spirit. There are secrets to be revealed and obstacles to overcome, and the whole thing is a great big wonderful ride. There are several references to current "alternative" rock songs and groups, as well as some classic rock (probably hard not to go there, seeing as how Big Steve is also a rock 'n' roll groupie!) There are great visual images of the road-trip that Jude and Marybeth take in their attempt to escape Craddock. Yes, there's the supernatural side of the story, but there's also the personal side, too, and Hill does a great job of developing his characters, enough that you're hoping they'll make it in the end, flipping pages faster and faster to find out. I'll admit - I really, really, wanted to flip to the end to be sure it would all be OK, but as Big Steve himself has said, there's a special place in hell reserved for those that read the end of the book before they get there. Have to agree with him on that one! Why read the whole thing if you've already peeked at the ending?

In summary, the book was great. Joe is going to follow in his father's footsteps, and I for one couldn't be happier about it. But Joe is not going to be his dad, and that's the best news of all - a great new writer in a much-loved genre. Check out "Heart-Shaped Box" today.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

"X-Rated Bloodsuckers" by Mario Acevedo

Felix Gomez, vampire PI, is back in another mind-blowing, action-packed, whodunit. You may remember Felix from Acevedo's first book, "The Nymphos of Rocky Flats". If not, run out and find yourself a copy of that little gem - you won't be sorry.

Felix is hired by Katz Meow to investigate the death of her fellow porn star and friend, Roxy Bronze. The murder happened in Los Angelos, so Felix must travel there to start his investigation. It picks up in a hurry when he can't locate his client, Katz Meow, putting him on the trail with only a contact name, Coyote. Turns out he's a fellow vamp and a strange one at that - he obviously has a lot in common with his namesake, Coyote, aka The Trickster.

The case is not the simple murder Felix was led to believe. There is an obvious cover-up by the cops, Roxy's sleazy ex-husband, her soon-to-be ex-boss (she was going into business for herself), the leader of the vampires in LA, and a shady evangelist all thrown into the mix of suspects. Then there's Roxy's sister, a person that several seem to be unaware of. Add in a potential love interest for Felix, one who just happens to be human, and it's a crazy ride with several red herrings.

What makes Felix great is his humanity - he screws up with the best of them. And Acevedo doesn't let on to you, the reader, what's going on, so you feel like you're sitting there with Felix trying to navigate the twists and turns of the case. It's fast-paced action but not at the expense of character development, something you don't always see in thrillers. I'm eager to pick up the next Felix Gomez case - here's hoping Acevedo doesn't keep me waiting long!

"Agents of Light and Darkness" by Simon Green

The second entry into the Nightside series by Green is just as fast-paced as the first. John Taylor, the man who can find anything, is now living in the Nightside again, and as usual, there are forces who need his help. In this particular instance, he is requested to find the Unholy Grail, the cup that Judas drank from at the Last Supper. Seems it's surfaced and several parties are interested in obtaining it, as it brings great power to the one that owns it.

Of course, it also brings corruption and madness....

John is not the only one racing to find it. Angels from Above and Below are very anxious to procure it, as are several of the Nightside's residents. Indeed, even the Vatican is showing a great amount of interest in this little artifact, and John needs to hurry. The Nightside might not be able to survive this battle otherwise.

There's not much to say about this book, other than you won't be disappointed in it. The only thing that I was surprised about was that I knew who one of the key players was as soon as he/she showed up. Not to worry, though - that didn't mean that I was able to figure out how that character played into things, nor was I prepared for the ending. A great little sci-fi series for those who like Jim Butcher and perhaps the very early Anita Blake books.

"Everyday Cheapskate's Greatest Tips" by Mary Hunt

This is one of those fun little books that you can read in about an hour or two, something that you pretty much skim through and pick out the good stuff. And there is some good stuff in here! Ms. Hunt publishes the national subscription newsletter "The Cheapskate Monthly" and a syndicated newspaper column called "Everyday Cheapskate". Now, before you say "oh no, not another financial guru!", rest assured that Ms. Hunt is not offering that kind of financial advice. No, she serves up easy-to-do, common-sense, home-spun advice, and she knows of what she speaks - at one time she owed $100,000 in debt, and she paid it all off, one penny at a time. No bankruptcy, no fancy accounting, just some hard-nosed decisions and a lot of determination. And in this day and age, when so many of us are in the red, it's refreshing to read about someone who understands our pain and can honestly tell us how to alleviate it, then live in such a way that we don't get right back into it.

This particular book is a compilation of tips, 500 of them to be exact, and they range from little things like cutting your dryer sheets in half to putting aside money every paycheck towards an "emergency fund" (rather than relying on a credit card for just such emergencies). Not all of the tips will apply to everyone, nor will everyone want to follow the advice. For example, the Bookbabe doesn't have children, so I skipped over most of that section. Ditto on the pet section. But that doesn't mean those tips won't be valuable to another reader.

It's worth the short amount of time it takes to get through this book to read it. I pulled out 4-5 tips that I plan on putting into action soon, things that I think might help out myself and the Hubster. You may not find any; you may find all 500 useful. Either way, it's worth a look!

"The Dream-Hunter" by Sherrilyn Kenyon

OK, I don't know how many of you have read any of Kenyon's Dark-Hunter series. If you've never picked up any of them, you're missing a guilty pleasure, something the Bookbabe's sister turned her on to. The guys are always hunky, the women are a little chunky, and the lovin' is very funky! (Sorry, couldn't resist trying to be cute!)
Anyway, Dream-Hunters are part of the mythos that makes up the Kenyon World. They are not led by our beloved Acheron, but that's OK - Ash makes an appearance in this book, which is a nice little tease. Also, savvy DH fans will realize that this particular entry comes early in the DH time line; Nick is still an irritating boy with a very loving mother, not something we've seen out of him in quite a while.

Anyway, here's the basic story: Dr. Megeara Kafieri has taken up her father's cause of Atlantis, finding and excavating enough evidence to prove it's existence. Arikos, the Dream-Hunter, has been visiting her dreams on a regular basis due to her intense emotions, something that Skoti (aka Dream-Hunters) can only feel while in a human's dreams. Arik decides to make a deal with Hades to be human for two weeks, so that he can know Geary as a real woman, not just her dream self. Of course, you should never make deals with the gods, as they tend to bite you in certain anatomical regions, and Arik's deal is no different. In order to be human, he must obtain a soul for Hades - Geary's soul.

Obviously, the main part of the novel is the love story between Geary and Arik. There are several subplots, not the least of which is the fact that several key gods, goddesses, and other minor deities do NOT want Atlantis to be found, mostly because it "contains" Apollymi, also known as The Destroyer. Her release would be a bad thing for all human and immortal beings, so several people attempt to keep Geary from her quest. There's a subplot involving Arik and his "brother" Solin, something I'm not sure has been mentioned before unless in a short story (which I obviously haven't read). There's Kat, who is actually Katra and a handmaiden to Artemis, but also friend to Apollymi, and she's got something for Acheron, too.....

It's a very fast-paced book, and at times, I really could have used a score-card. Luckily, I've read just about all the Kenyon books up to this point, which helps. Would probably also have a better feel for things if I knew my Greek mythology, but it doesn't keep me from enjoying these books. As I said, they're guilty little pleasures! I will, however, recommend that you find Ms. Kenyon's website and check out the reading order - it does make a huge difference. Certain characters will seem to be acting out of character if you don't!

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

"Eternal Nights" by Patti O'Shea

This was sent to me by my friend at the used bookstore. I think she'd sent it because I really enjoyed "Through a Crimson Veil", O'Shea's entry for the Crimson City series. I have to admit, I wasn't too sure about this one; when I picked it up and read the back cover, I just wasn't grabbed by the plot line. At all.

Well, they tell you not to judge a book by it's cover, don't they? Good reason for that old adage - it's true! This was definitely a good read, and I would gladly recommend it to others who aren't looking for traditional romance novels. This falls under the category of "futuristic romance", but it probably could've been placed under paranormal romance just as easily. In any case, it has a strong plot, good character development, and a decently-paced romance, elements that come together to create a fabulous little book.

Captain Kendall Thomas is cataloging archaeological finds on Jarved 9 for the army. In her daily work, she discovers that someone has been stealing artifacts and smuggling them off the planet. She knows she needs to protect the heritage of this planet, and particularly that of the great pyramid, a structure to which she feels a strange affinity. However, she's not sure she's got enough proof to go to her boss, not yet.

Her good friend Wyatt Montgomery knows that something is wrong, something big. But Bug (his pet name for her) is skittish as the best of times, and Wyatt knows that no amount of pushing is going to get her to open up. Before going on a three-week mission for Special Ops, he asks a friend of his to watch out for her. Unfortunately, this friend is put at risk, and is killed upon Wyatt's return. Adding to the mystery is the disappearance of Kendall, something that is very troubling to Wyatt. He goes to rescue her, and they are both trapped and left for dead in the pyramid.

Sounds simple enough, right? Find a way out of the pyramid, alert the authorities to the smuggling operation, get the girl. As an added twist, Wyatt remembers a past life with Kendall, a life lived right there on Jarved 9. However, Kendall doesn't have any memory of it, which means that Wyatt must be very careful in his pursuit of her. Unbeknownst to Wyatt, Kendall has been having some strange dreams, dreams that may just be those past memories. Will she realize that they were in love before? Will she let herself love him now? Will they be able to escape with their lives?

It's a fast-paced finish to find these answers. O'Shea doesn't disappoint, either (other than explaining why he calls her Bug - never did figure that one out!).

"Greywalker" by Kat Richardson

Here we go, readers - something new and interesting! Yes, it's on the paranormal side, but not so much on the romance. Actually published by ROC Fantasy, a division of Penguin, this is a debut novel by KR.

Harper Blaine is a private investigator, just barely making ends meet, when she is brutally attacked by one of the perp's she's been tracking. It's a vicious assault, one that leaves her clinically dead for two minutes. That's just enough time for her to return to the land of the living as something not quite human. As she soon finds out, she is now a "greywalker", someone who can move between the world of the living and the dead. This is not the kind of news that a hard-nosed PI is comfortable hearing, and Harper pretty much tries to ignore her new abilities.

Not easily done, as it turns out. Not wanting to believe in the Grey, Harper finds herself drifting in and out of it without meaning to; she also finds herself dodging people that aren't really there. It makes for some embarrassing public scenes, as well as some incredibly unpleasant physical side effects. In the meantime, she's taken on a missing persons case that will blow that world wide open. I won't go into that too much here, but let's just say she finds out she's not the only "not exactly human" thing roaming the Seattle streets.

There's an interesting blend of characters here. Harper herself is a nice change of pace, a heroine who doesn't really want to be one, a person of extraordinary abilities who feels very human in her shortcomings. While it might seem whiny to some, I found her constant complaining about the Grey and its effects very normal - I mean, how well would you handle having your whole world turned upside-down? I really liked her "security" guy, Quinton, a bit of a shady character who none-the-less shows some real possibilities, including a romantic interest down the road. (way down the road, I think - but then again, maybe KR isn't going that direction. Hard to tell). The missing person and his family aren't so bad, not exactly what I was hoping for, but not as cliched as they might have been. Then there's the couple who try to help Harper with her new abilities, Ben and Mara Danziger. They are so well-written, I often felt like I was there in the room with them! Ben is a theory-guy, while Mara is a real witch - and both are professors at university. Their concern for Harper feels quite real, and I think they're going to be important allies in the coming books.

Yes, readers, this is the start of a beautiful series. Or at least, I hope so. The second book, "Poltergeist", will be out this fall. Check out this little gem in the meantime.

"The Vampire Who Loved Me" by Teresa Medeiros

Ah, the basic plot of boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy leaves town to save girl, boy comes back and girl won't let him lie to himself any longer, the end.

Except, of course, that in this case the "boy" is Julian Kane, a grown man, and a vampire to boot. The girl has grown to a young woman, and Portia Cabot isn't a wilting flower, either. The rekindling of their love is pretty much the plot for this book, a passable if cliched paranormal romance novel.

Prior to the events of this book, Julian had been trapped, tortured, and starved by his evil sire, who then threw Portia into the same crypt, knowing what would happen. Plans don't always come off, though, as Portia gave up her blood and her love to "save" Julian's life, or un-life, as the case may be. Horrified at his growing affections for the 17-year-old, Julian left town soon after, determined to "save" Portia right back.

As we all know, lovers that try to protect each other just end up doing the opposite. Julian rides back into town to track down a killer vamp and runs into Portia. She is determined to stay away from him, since it's obvious that he no longer wants her, and he could very well be the killer himself. The book takes the usual twists and turns as far as the mystery part goes, and the romance part is really nothing new, either.

As I said, it's a passable entry in the field of paranormal romance, but I'm not sure that true paranormal fans will find enough "weird" stuff in it, nor will romance readers find enough "regency romance" in it to satisfy them. It took me about a day to finish it, and I have to admit I skimmed through some of it. Not awful, not great. A solid "C", if you will :-)

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

"The God Delusion" by Richard Dawkins

First off, I'll let everyone know that I will not comment on my own religious views in this column. I truly want this to be about the books, not about my own personal issues. Having said that, let's take a look at Dawkins diatribe.

I'm going to leave it up to each reader to say whether it's a "good" or a "bad" book, because I think in this case, it's really going to depend on your own religious views how you see this book. Obviously, the title should give you a rock-solid idea of where Mr. Dawkins stands on the issue. He is an atheist and very proud of it. He is also a scientist and uses scientific method and theory to make his case against the existence of God.

Some of the information is very interesting, such as the section on cargo cults and how they can be found on several small islands that can in no way, shape or form communicate with each other. The comparison of the cults and how each has evolved is thought-provoking indeed; it gives one pause to realize that the same sort of "religion" can and does show up in very disconnected places, and how do we explain that? Dawkins also looks at other interesting topics, such as morality, and how we are actually programmed to be moral so as to ensure the future of the species. Basically, no commandments were needed because we're genetically structured to do the "right" thing; if we didn't, there would be no future generations.

I won't go into too much more of the actual topics themselves because, as I said, I think most will have made up their minds before they ever open the book. What I can tell you is that Dawkins almost sinks his own argument with his delivery. For someone who goes on and on about religious intolerance and bible-thumping fundamentalists, Dawkins himself does a great job of "thumping" himself. I found the first half of the book very difficult to get through, not due to the topics/subject matter, but due to Dawkins own smugness and condescending tone. If he's truly looking to enlighten people and convince them that it's delusional to believe in God, Allah, Buddha or any other deity, he really shouldn't all but call those same people stupid, idiots, and morons. There is such a thing as presenting a point of view that aims to change some one's mind while still being respectful of that person as a human being. Dawkins really misses the mark on this in the first half of the book, and I think a lot of readers, even those that agree with him, are going to be put off by it. I know I was, and this was a book that I really wanted to read!

Challenge yourself by picking up something you don't think you'll like or agree with. It's never good to stick to the same thing all the time, whereas it's always a good thing to learn and expand your horizons. Just be aware that some of the things you pick up will be difficult to get through, such as this book. I'm very glad that I kept going and didn't throw down the book, but let me tell you, it was hard. I will agree with Mr. Dawkins wholeheartedly on one thing; keep an open mind and make your own decisions.

Monday, April 2, 2007

"Into the Fire" by Richard Laymon

For those of you unfamiliar with Laymon, he can be a treat, just like old Steve-O claims in his blurb for this book (and many other RL titles, too). However, not every Laymon book turns out to be such a treat; he was definitely a hit-or-miss author. Yes, was - unfortunately, we lost RL to a heart attack on February 14, 2001. That also means that you need to realize that anything you pick up of his at a bookstore is not "new", at least, not in the sense we usually think of it. It could be the first time one of his books has been published, as there were a few works sold by his widow. Anything else is a republication, and often under a different title. The saddest part of all is that we Americans, RL's native people, were some of the last to discover him; he was quite popular overseas. At least he had some success before heading off into the sunset, huh?

Anyway, enough of the history lesson. I've read several of RL's books before, and as I said, he's very much a hit-or-miss kinda guy. Reminds me of another gem of a writer, guy by the name of Jim Thompson, famous for some little works like "The Grifters" and "The Killer Inside Me". Both authors are worth checking out, but be aware that you may pick up a great book or a so-so book - you just never know.

As for "Into the Fire", this one is definitely one of RL's better works, right up there with his "The Traveling Vampire Show". It starts out right in the middle of the action. Our heroine, Pamela, is handcuffed in the passenger seat of a car driven into the desert by Rodney, an old high-school classmate, a guy who always had an unhealthy obsession with Pamela and has finally acted on it, killing her husband of six months and taking her hostage. Pam manages to keep her wits about her and tries to escape. Lady Luck doesn't side with her for long, though, and Rodney tackles her, then shoves a gun in her mouth, fully intending to blow her brains out.

Only that doesn't happen. It's Rodney who has his brains blown out, thanks to a mysterious stranger named Sharpe. (No, I'm not ruining the story for you, dear readers - you get all this info from the back of the book!) Sharpe puts her on his converted bus and drives her to Pits, population 6, a true hole-in-the-wall place in the middle of said desert. Pamela should be thanking her lucky stars, but she's not sure that Sharpe isn't worse than Rodney. After all, the other "passengers" on Sharpe's bus are all mannequins...

There's a parallel story running through the book about Norman, a college kid driving his dad's Jeep (possibly on Spring Break?), who ends up with taking on some hitchhikers against his will. The interesting part about these two stories is how each of the characters handles their unique circumstances. Do they survive? Do they overcome great odds? Or do they find themselves sucked into the chaos surrounding them? And yes, in true Laymon form, these stories are going to converge, bringing all the characters together for one hell of a finale.

"Into the Fire" is truly worthy of King's blurb, and he's right - if you miss this one, you miss a treat.