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Slammer
Slammer
by Allan Guthrie
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $20.75
97 used & new from $0.01

2.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing, November 4, 2009
This review is from: Slammer (Hardcover)
Boiled down to its basics, Slammer is the story of Nicholas Glass, a hapless guard at a Scottish prison who allows himself to become embroiled in a truly untenable situation, placing him at the mercy of ruthless inmates who look at him as a manipulable fool, a tool to achieve their ends and nothing more. As Glass becomes more deeply entangled in their web, he plumbs the depths of despair and madness, seeing no way out. Although he does manage to escape from his dilemma, he does so in a manner which would be difficult for most readers to imagine, at least until they figuratively walk in the guard's shoes by reading Guthrie's disappointing third novel.

How much you enjoy Slammer will depend on the empathy you feel for Glass as he goes about living his life of quiet desperation. Some might feel sympathy, but most will probably feel disdain, as Glass is too often the author of his own misery; Guthrie takes a big risk in making him so unlikable, a risk that doesn't necessarily pay off. Readers may also be discouraged by the author's attempt at a twist ending, which most will see coming from a long way off, making the novel's dénouement disappointing, rather than surprising. The biggest surprise for many may likely be how weak this effort is in comparison to Guthrie's other novels, such as his highly praised debut, Two-Way Split, and Kiss Her Goodbye, which was nominated for the Edgar, Anthony, and Gumshoe Awards.

Pretty cool jacket art, though.


Asterios Polyp
Asterios Polyp
by David Mazzucchelli
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $22.79
114 used & new from $13.25

4.0 out of 5 stars Extraordinary, October 20, 2009
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This review is from: Asterios Polyp (Hardcover)
An outstanding effort from David Mazzuchelli, artist on such memorable works as Daredevil: Born Again, Batman: Year One, the graphic adaptation of Paul Auster's City of Glass, and his late, lamented series, Rubber Blanket. Telling the compelling and provocative story of architect turned vagabond Asterios Polyp, Mazzuchelli's graphic novel delights and disturbs, as readers are treated to vignettes from Polyp's life, from the death of his twin, to his time as a professor of architecture, to his failed marriage, to his days as an auto mechanic. Mazzuchelli's quirky art (Polyp, for instance, looks like a cross between the Dick Tracy villains The Mole and The Brow), innovative page layouts, and creative inking and coloring enhance the intriguing story he has to tell, a story about how one man ultimately reconciles himself to the life he's lived. It's probably too early in his career to label this his magnum opus, but it certainly provides a daunting standard for future works.


Stitches: A Memoir
Stitches: A Memoir
by David Small
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $19.44
139 used & new from $3.94

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars You need to read this National Book Award nominee, October 20, 2009
This review is from: Stitches: A Memoir (Hardcover)
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On October 14, 2009, Small's unflinching, emotionally exhausting memoir Stitches was nominated for a 2009 National Book Award in the Young People's Literature category, triggering much debate. What is remarkable about the debate is that it does not center on whether a graphic novel is worthy of such a nomination, but the category for which it was nominated. Imagine that, graphic novels seem to have passed some sort of academic test, and are now (rightfully) being seen as literature by most. About time.

As to the debate about the category, that's probably merited, but, in the end, the characterization of the book as Young People's Literature is appropraite. Stitches pulls no punches in its depiction of young Small's childhood, capturing all the joy, wonder, terror and powerlessness he felt. It also touches on some very adult issues, but only in the sense of how confusing they are to a child, as Small fastidiously (and wisely) avoided imposing his adult perceptions on events, instead presenting them as they occurred and were experienced by his younger self, adding depth to his narrative. It's not a book you'd give to a young child, but it's definitely something someone a newly minted teenager could handle with some adult assistance.

The story itself is a thing of wonder--Small definitely remembers what it was like to be a child, as he depicts moments both whimsical (you might find yourself thinking of Bill Watterson's Calvin and Hobbes or Winsor McCay's Little Nemo in Slumberland) and terrifying, as when the young Small awakens from an operation without his voice. Although it's pulled from his past, the story has an immediacy about it that's exhilarating; it's so compelling at times that you forget that you're reading, and not actually looking over Small's shoulder (or looking up at the adults who tower over him). He's an artist of no "small" talent, and, if there's any justice in this world, he'll be adding a National Book Award to the Caldecott Medal, the Christopher Medal, and the E.B. White Award that already reside on his mantelpiece.


Spartan Gold (A Fargo Adventure)
Spartan Gold (A Fargo Adventure)
by Clive Cussler
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $8.26
467 used & new from $0.01

4.0 out of 5 stars High adventure, October 20, 2009
Cussler's latest collaboration, written with Grant Blackwood (author of the commendable Briggs Tanner trilogy) is escapist literature at its very best, a rousing, suspense filled, action packed travelogue sure to please Cussler's loyal fan base, as well as thriller readers who have yet to be exposed to his oeuvre, few though they may be. Featuring appealing heroes (the ultra intelligent and resourceful husband and wife team of Sam and Remi Fargo), a compelling central mystery (involving rare bottles of wine from Napoleon's Lost Cellar), exotic locales (from the Great Pocomoke Swamp in Maryland to the Bahamas to Monaco to Bavaria to, well, you get the idea), a ruthless villain (lethal egomaniac Hadeon Bondurak), and a cameo by Clive Cussler himself, Spartan Gold is an excellent way to forget everyday life for a few hours and kick back while the authors take you on a thrill ride you're not likely to forget anytime soon--the fact that the book's so well written, plotted, and executed is only icing on the literary cake. An excellent first outing for the Nick and Nora Charles of high adventure; here's hoping a sequel is in the works.


Richard Stark's Parker, Vol. 1: The Hunter
Richard Stark's Parker, Vol. 1: The Hunter
by Darwyn Cooke
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $18.69
101 used & new from $6.23

5.0 out of 5 stars You don't want to get on Parker's bad side, August 21, 2009
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The excitement generated in thriller and comics fandom when it was announced that artist Darwyn Cooke (The New Frontier, Selina's Big Score) would be adapting Richard Stark's (a.k.a. Donald E. Westlake's) first Parker novel was justified--Cooke has delivered a compelling new illustrated version of the story, which does justice to Stark's groundbreaking 1962 novel of an amoral thief relentlesly pursuing what he feels is rightfully his.

Readers first experience the grim and determined Parker as a veritable force of nature, a storm slowly gathering power as it moves towards landfall. In this particular instance, the storm is heading towards one Mal Resnick, who, proving there is no honor among thieves, has bushwacked Parker and the rest of his string after a heist, making off with the ninety thousand dollar score. Resnick, who used the money to pay off a debt he owed to the mob (here known as "the Outfit ") made only one mistake: he forgot to make sure everyone was dead. Surviving, juggernaut Parker sets his sights on Resnick, letting nothing, and no one, get in his way of regaining his share of the proceeds.

Although one would have to reread the source material to make absolutely sure, Cooke appears to have remained faithful to Stark/Westlake's novel, retaining the author's unique four segment structure (the first two segments told from Parker's point of view, the third from another cast member's point of view, the final segment returning to Parker's) and quoting huge chunks of text and dialogue verbatim. His style and layouts (recalling, at times, Will Eisner, Mike Ploog, Jack Kirby, Wally Wood (especially the way he renders women) and Alex Toth) suits the subject matter. Cooke also contributes some nice artistic flourishes which enhance the story; the inking and coloring are especially arresting. All in all, a wonderful job which will leave fans begging for more--fortunately, it's been reported that there are three additional adaptations in the works.


The Shimmer
The Shimmer
by David Morrell
Edition: Hardcover
151 used & new from $0.01

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A new offering from a Thriller Master, August 20, 2009
This review is from: The Shimmer (Hardcover)
First things first: please take a moment to read the blurbs on the back cover of The Shimmer. No, really, go ahead, take a look above in the "Search inside this book" section, I'll wait.

Read them? Good. The point I want to make is that most writers DON'T get the likes of James Rollins, Sandra Brown, Stephen King, Dean Koontz, Michael Connelly, Tess Gerritsen, and Joseph Finder to provide blurbs for their books. The average writer might get one or two, but rarely more than that. You only get such copious praise from such accomplished writers if you deserve it, having proven your merit book after book, year after year. Just like the people behind the blurbs have done, and certainly just as David Morrell himself has.

Why does he deserve it? Here are a handful of reasons:

First, because he's the author of several genre classics, such as First Blood, The Totem, and The Brotherhood of the Rose.

Second, because he's a consummate professional who cares deeply about his craft. This is evident in everything he writes.

Third, and most importantly, because he keeps coming up with ways to challenge himself as a writer, in the process devising new ways to enthrall his readers. Most recently, he decided to write a fictional treatment of the Marfa lights; the result was The Shimmer. There, he researched an unexplained phenomenon, and turned it into the perfect device to reveal the true nature of his main characters. I won't tell you how, because it's a key plot point and would ruin the effect Morrell creates in the novel, but I will tell you that it is a clever conceit.

So yes, there are myriad reasons why Morrell deserves praise from his peers, such as in the aforementioned blurbs, or being honored by them at Thrillerfest 2009, where he was named a "Thriller Master" by the International Thrillers Writers organization. Myriad reasons, but one in particular--he's just THAT good.


Bad Things: A Novel
Bad Things: A Novel
by Michael Marshall
Edition: Hardcover
139 used & new from $0.01

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Black Ridge is a small town with a big secret, August 20, 2009
This review is from: Bad Things: A Novel (Hardcover)
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Michael Marshall is merciless when it comes to terrifying readers, as evidenced by the two scares he delivers within the first few pages of Bad Things. The initial scare comes when John Henderson and his wife suddenly realize that they don't know where their little boy Scott is; each had assumed the other was keeping track of him. Any parent knows the sick, draining feeling that comes at that moment, and how it grows with each successive second a child remains missing.

The second and more enduring scare comes moments later, mere seconds after they think they have the situation in hand, having discovered Scott standing at the end of a pier on the lake that abuts their home in Maine. Before they can reach their son, who is acting strangely, he falls off the dock into the water. Although rescued by his father within moments, Scott nevertheless perishes, seemingly without cause.

The book then jumps ahead a few years, following John Henderson as he goes about trying to survive each day. He's doing fine, considering, but his fragile peace is shattered by an e-mail received from a total stranger, who writes: "I know what happened." Shaken to his core, Henderson follows up on subsequent communications, and is eventually drawn back to Black Ridge, his ex-wife's home town, and the scene of the greatest tragedy of his life. In his attempts to ferret out the truth behind his son's demise, Henderson shakes Black Ridge to its core, angering its citizens, as well as those who control things from behind the scenes. Like Tyron's Harvest Home, or Levin's Stepford, Black Ridge is a small town with a secret, one its denizens are willing to go to any lengths to conceal.

Eerie and almost Gothic in tone, Bad Things delivers chills a-plenty as it steadily lumbers towards its not so surprising but ultimately satisfying conclusion. While delivering what initially seems to be a by the numbers whodunit, Marshall begins to salt his tale with offbeat elements that slowly start to induce goosebumps, but never really come across as supernatural doings. But, once committing himself to that direction, he commits himself fully, ratcheting up the level of suspense to nerve jangling levels as he proceeds.

As you and John Henderson sift through the evidence he uncovers, you might find yourself thinking about Fritz Leiber's Conjure Wife. Although not on quite the same level as that classic of the supernatural intruding on the everyday world, Marshall, despite some minor missteps (a subplot involving a drug deal gone bad seems unnecessary in hindsight) does manage to create the same sense of a dark curtain between those two worlds being lifted, with unsettling and intriguing results.


The City & The City
The City & The City
by China Miéville
Edition: Hardcover
82 used & new from $1.22

4.0 out of 5 stars Part urban fantasy, part police procedural, part hard boiled crime novel, and part political thriller, August 20, 2009
This review is from: The City & The City (Hardcover)
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Mieville has penned his most accessible novel yet, delivering a book that's part urban fantasy, part police procedural, part hard boiled crime novel, and part political thriller, yet one seamless whole. The dual cities of Beszel and Ul Qoma (two cities occupying the same physical space, which co-exist by studiously ignoring each other) are metaphors for many things, among them divided locales (think post WWII Berlin or North and South Korea) and seemingly insolvable political differences which must nevertheless be overcome. Besides creating a vivid, unforgettable milieu, Mieville also peoples the novel with memorable characters imbued with distinctive personalities, in particular, the book's main character, Inspector Tyador Borlu of the Beszel Extreme Crime Squad. Readers quickly come to trust him, imbuing his first person narration with the ring of truth. All in all, a very solid effort from the innovative author of Perdido Street Station and King Rat.


The Last Child
The Last Child
by John Hart
Edition: Hardcover
223 used & new from $0.01

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Five stars doesn't do Hart's third book justice, August 19, 2009
This review is from: The Last Child (Hardcover)
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Young Alyssa Merrimon's disappearance has devastating side effects, creating an atmosphere of fear and distrust in her hometown. It also takes its toll on her family--one year later, her father has apparently skipped town, and her mother finds herself in an abusive new relationship, plumbing the depths of alcohol and drug addiction. Alyssa's absence is felt most keenly by her twin brother Johnny, who obsessively pursues any clue to her whereabouts while letting every other aspect of his life suffer. Angry and hurt, Johnny won't let anyone or anything deter him from his quest.

In addition to renewing the suffering of Alyssa's family, the apparent kidnapping of another girl also adds impetus to the ongoing investigations being conducted by thirteen year old Johnny and by the appropriately named police detective Clyde Hunt, who also doggedly pursues the case at great cost to his family and professional life. Although no one realizes it at the time, the new crime has set in motion a long and surprising chain of events which will eventually lead to some startling revelations, changing the lives of all involved forever.

The Last Child can be characterized as a non-supernatural ghost story, in that its characters are haunted by their memories of a innocent girl long lost, and by the tragic events of the past echoing into the present day. Offering a compelling, compassionate look at a family in ruins, it also comments on the general human condition, providing vivid, contrasting portraits of hope and despair, courage and cowardice, faith and cynicism. It also functions as an unsentimental bildungsroman, as Johnny experiences an ofttimes brutal physical and emotional odyssey/transformation that evokes the literary journeys chronicled in classic novels such as Huckleberry Finn and To Kill a Mocking Bird. As a bonus, readers get to experience these happenings through the vehicle of Hart's sharp, evocative, nearly flawless prose. A master wordsmith, the author of the Edgar Award winning Down River once again demonstrates the uncanny ability to pull readers into his story while engaging every sense, ingeniously drawing them into the bleak landscape he has created.


The Unseen
The Unseen
by Alexandra Sokoloff
Edition: Hardcover
47 used & new from $0.01

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A well researched, well constructed, well written, well conceived ghost story, July 23, 2009
This review is from: The Unseen (Hardcover)
Sokoloff returns to the phenomenon of the poltergeist in The Unseen, once again exploring ideas she began to develop in her debut novel, 2006's The Harrowing, the story of five troubled college students who summon an entity via an Ouija board. This time out, she uses psychology and parapsychology to approach her subject, focusing on one Laurel MacDonald, a Duke University psychology professor who, intrigued by the presence of hundreds of boxes of neglected records, begins to delve into the research done from 1927 through 1965 in the University's Rhine parapsychology lab. Merely curious at first, she becomes obsessed with the files, zeroing in on one case in particular, which may very well be the reason the lab was so abruptly shut down in the mid sixties.

The case in question involves the mansion known as the Folger House, which, through tantalizing mentions in reports and newspaper articles, Laurel determines was the site of a great calamity, resulting in the death and institutionalization of several members of a team from the Rhine labs, one of whom may have been her seemingly simple Uncle Morgan, who was matriculating at Duke at the time. The theory she pieces together is that the team, consisting mainly of members who showed above average talent in ESP-related experiments, somehow triggered the house's latent energy, resulting in tragedy. Motivated by both personal and financial considerations, Laurel and a colleague decide to try to recreate the experiment, with predictable results.

The Unseen is a well researched, well constructed, well written, well thought out ghost story/southern gothic that, well, just doesn't achieve its full potential. One reason is that if you're at all familiar with the genre, you've seen things just like this before, from, among others, Shirley Jackson (The Haunting of Hill House), Richard Matheson (Hell House), and Stephen King (Rose Red), and that familiarity lessens the impact of what Sokoloff offers up, despite her canny and fresh use of the Rhine lab experiments as a springboard. Another factor is that the idea of the haunted house/spooky locale has become so firmly entrenched in modern culture that even Verizon Wireless is exploiting the trope, in its humorous and seemingly endless "Dead Zone" commercials, which so effectively send up all the clichés we've become so inured to over the years. So, when Laurel sees a mysterious figure in the distance, it's less ominous than it used to be; instead of suggesting menace, you almost expect his appearance to harbinger a lack of bars on her cell phone.

Again, this is not to say that this isn't a good read, it certainly is, it's just that it's better suited to folks who haven't seen this kind of thing before. Understanding that, it's a perfectly readable, scary, and credible piece of entertainment--Sokoloff shines, and deserves kudos for her crisp, direct style, excellent characterization, and for weaving the real life history of the Duke Rhine lab into her own fictional landscape.


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