Thursday, June 24, 2010

#34: Tell-All by Chuck Palahniuk

A fading star in moviedom's Silver Age is tended to by her faithful assistant, who has to go to extremes to keep the wolves from her door in Chuck Palahniuk's Hollywood send-up Tell-All.

Although I intentionally avoided Palahniuk for a number of years after hearing others talk about his rather disturbing novels (Fight Club notable among them), I finally gave him a go and actually found him to be a very accomplished, interesting writer--though pretty much all of his novels I have read to date have to be approached with caution and an open mind.

That being said, I was probably more shocked by this book than any of the others of his I have read.  It is sort of a breezy, outlandishly plotted satire with little of the dark material of his typical work.  I honestly don't know who Palahniuk wrote this novel for; it surely will not satisfy his fans, and the casual reader who might be interested in the lighter fare would be reluctant to pick it up.  Basically it's a good fit for someone who can stomach Palahniuk's darker turns, but has a deep love for classic cinema (everyone from Thelma Ritter to John Agar to Bonita Granville are name-checked, and Lillian Hellman plays a critical role).  So I think Chuck, me, and some guys I took film classes with at Ball State are its primary audience.

That being said, I did enjoy the novel, which I heard via a good audiobook version read by Hillary Huber.  I checked it out from the Morrison-Reeves Public Library in Richmond, Indiana.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

#33: The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie

Arnold Spirit is a Spokane Indian who tries to improve his fortunes by leaving his school on the reservation and going to a white high school a short distance away, but a world apart, in Sherman Alexie's comedic and tragic Young Adult novel The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian.

Despite the Young Adult label Alexie remains in full effect here, in all his rage and glory, unflinching in his portrayal of "the rez" but also leavening the proceedings with genuine humor. The novel seems to be at least somewhat autobiographical but even more so rings true as a coming of age story.

Even though the novel is accompanied with some neat cartooning throughout, the storytelling is definitely for more sophisticated readers; but I would recommend this to anyone middle school age on into adulthood.  It stands very well alongside Alexie's other works.

I have been a big fan of Sherman Alexie for a while but did not know about this YA novel.  I picked it up because I have been reading along with a YA fiction class my daughter is taking this summer at college. 

I traded for this on and read it quickly, then donated it to my daughter for the little library she hopes to have in her own classroom one day.  Recommended.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

#32: Dealing Out Death by W.T. Ballard

Bill Lennox is a "troubleshooter" for a big movie studio back in Hollywood's golden era; in his latest case, he tries to help a starlet out of a jam, only to get in deeper himself, in W.T. Ballard's Dealing Out Death

Lennox ends up following the starlet to Vegas and deals with the gumshoe's general supply of smart-aleck mobsters, angry cops, and willing dames.

I was not aware that W.T. Ballard was a prolific mystery and western writer of the pulp era, or that Bill Lennox was one of his more well-known characters, when I spent 99 cents on this one for my beloved Kindle.  But I enjoyed this pretty undemanding read and read it over a day or two.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

#31: Assignment Mara Tirana by Edward S. Aarons

Sam Durrell, deep in the shadowy world of espionage in the cold war '60s, has said goodbye to his longtime girlfriend Diedre; a year later, she is set to marry America's first astronaut, Adam Stepanic, who has the misfortune of veering off course on his return trip from orbit and landing behind Communist lines.  It's up to Durrell to go behind the Iron Curtain and rescue him in Assignment Mara Tirana, an admirable entry in Edward S. Aarons' long-running spy series.

I have been chewing through a big stack of these Sam Durrell novels that I snagged off of ebay some time ago and have yet to find a lemon.  In fact I am willing to say that the series, from what I have read, is the equal to some more well-regarded series of the time period, including Donald Hamilton's Matt Helm and even Ian Fleming's Bond.

This entry is a bit different from the norm as it tells a parallel story, following the astronaut's nerve-wracking attempt to escape from the Eastern Bloc while Durrell closes in on him from the other side.  The Mara Tirana of the title is a fiery woman who ends up grudgingly helping the astronaut while various complications impede Durrell's progress, but all ends up rather neat in the end.

I read this in a single day while staying at a cabin at New Harmonie State Park.  A good entry in the series, and I am eager to dive into another.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

#30: The Boy Detective Fails by Joe Meno

A young boy, adept at solving mysteries, teams up with his sister and a boyhood chum to unravel the town's crimes.  After his sister's suicide, the boy is institutionalized, emerging as an adult to try and solve the greatest mystery of his life in Joe Meno's The Boy Detective Fails.

I heard Joe Meno read from his work during a public reading at the Ropewalk Writer's Workshop in New Harmony Indiana.  I bought this book that night and read it straight through the next day while staying in the state park nearby.  The following day I spend about four hours breaking the numerous codes throughout, including one that can be deciphered with a decoder ring you can cut out of the back of the book.

This was an offbeat read to say the least, reminiscent of book series from my youth like "Encyclopedia Brown" but with a distinctive postmodern edge, verging on the hallucinatory.  I really enjoyed Meno's style as well as picking out the many pop culture references throughout.  The codebreaking added an unusual element I had not seen in other work.

A happy surprise from an author I was unfamiliar with and will seek out going forward.  Recommended.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

#29: Hunt Beyond the Frozen Fire by Gabriel Hunt and Christa Faust

World adventurer Gabriel Hunt heads to the South Pole to find the missing father of a beautiful young woman, only to quickly stumble onto a larger conspiracy involving Nazis, Amazons, and an underground kingdom in Christa Faust's rollicking Hunt Beyond the Frozen Fire.

The Gabriel Hunt series was cooked up by the same people who brought Hard Case Crime into the world, an admirable collection of lost noirs and contemporary novels in the pulp vein.  This new series attempts to recapture what might best be called Men's Adventure novels of yore.  Supposedly Gabriel Hunt "narrates" these tales to a stable of current writers, which makes for the curious byline.

Honestly I have picked up and put down others in the series before latching onto this one from Faust, whose other novels I have enjoyed.  Thankfully Faust keeps tongue firmly in cheek as Hunt's predicaments become increasingly outlandish, culminating with a nude wrestling match and a hair-raising flight in an old Nazi airplane to escape a steaming jungle under the ice cap.  If this description makes the hair on your neck stand up, this series is definitely for you.

I bought this for my beloved Kindle and read it in one fell swoop one day while camping  in New Harmonie State Park.

Friday, June 11, 2010

#28: Love Me and Die by Day Keene

Hollywood P.I. Johnny Slagle is asked to find out what happened when a studio's fading star allegedly hit and killed a young woman while drunk driving.  Faced with a cover-up, Johnny quits the studio job and vows to bring the killer to justice, even as various forces converge against him, in Day Keene's Love Me and Die.

I have been a Day Keene fan since ever since I read Home is the Sailor, and I try to find the pulp writer's work wherever I can.  I felt lucky to nab this from

I learned later I got a better deal than I thought as this book is a bit rare, having been expanded by fellow pulpster Gil Brewer in an uncredited turn.  Although I have not read anything from Brewster, I understand he is another genre writer who could use some rediscovering.

No matter what its origins, Love Me and Die is brisk and tough as Johnny plows through the sordid underbelly of Hollywood (as if there is any other kind) as the corpses stack up around him.  He makes the enemy of studio bosses on down to underworld yeggs, and angers a few dames as well.  A really enjoyable slice of noir with some go-go Hollywood mixed in.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

#27: Juliet, Naked by Nick Hornby

In the wake of his classic album "Juliet" a moderately famous American musician disappears into a self-imposed exile, prompting a rabid online fandom; meanwhile, a lonely British woman strikes up an online friendship with him, and the two gradually coax each other back to life in Nick Hornby's Juliet, Naked.

I have been a fan of Hornby's books for a while.  They are usually pretty light and funny, and thus have been easily digested into moviedom (High Fidelity, About A Boy).  He has always been adept at writing about people who have come to some sort of dead end and need to be jolted awake by various turns of events.

Although Juliet, Naked features a lot of Hornby's familiar standbys--stunted adults, busted relationships, wise children, pop culture riffs--I think his storytelling has been deepening over his last few novels.  His observations seem more pointed and his characters more complex.

I always look forward to Nick Hornby's latest and found this one especially rewarding.  Recommended.

I checked this out from the Morrison-Reeves Library in Richmond, Indiana.

Friday, June 4, 2010

#26: Monster by Walter Dean Myers

An inner-city teen is on trial for his role as a lookout in a murderer/robbery in Walter Dean Myers' Young Adult novel Monster.

Myers has been writing mostly urban YA novels since I was a young adult myself, and I had enjoyed my previous exposure to his work.  I picked this up, after a long layoff from his books, as I have been reading along with my college daughter's Young Adult Fiction class.

Monster has a unique format; portions of it are written as the protagonist's diary, and portions are written in screenplay format as the main character develops the skills learned in a school video club while waiting in jail. Most of the story takes place during the teen's trial, with flashes of home and school life. Photography and unusual layouts are of interest.  The novel has a straightforward narrative but no easy solutions; in fact the teen's actual actions and motivations are left open to much speculation, and would definitely be worth talking about to a young person.

A good read that I picked up from

#25: The Strain by Guillermo Del Toro and Chuck Hogan

A master vampire lands in Manhattan, leading to an undead plague in The Strain, the first novel by horror movie director Guillermo Del Toro alongside veteran thriller writer Chuck Hogan.

The novel opens with an empty plane landing at JFK, mirroring Dracula's memorable boat scene (one of many homages paid to a variety of horror classics).  In the long, leisurely creepy opening chapters  the CDC is dispatched, suspecting terrorism or some sort of viral outbreak.  By the time the scientists fathom what has really happened the vampire rampage is in full swing.

Then the novel ramps up full blast as the scientists end up with a smattering of ragtag helpers, including an aged vampire hunter, a municipal rat catcher, and a gangbanger, pursuing the king vampire and his minions across the Big Apple.

Probably 95 percent of the big cast of characters gets killed or turned before the cliffhanger ending (The Strain is the first of a reported trilogy).  But along the way there are plenty of skin-crawling shocks and scares to satisfy any horror hound.  Del Toro and Hogan come up with their own credible vampire mythology (and no, they aren't sparkly) that adds to the interesting read.

I listened to a really good audio book version read by actor Ron Perlman, on loan from Morrison-Reeves Public Library in Richmond, Indiana.