Sunday, November 29, 2009

Just Finished: "Jenny Green's Killer Junior Year" by Amy Belasen and Jacob Osborn

Just Finished: Jenny Green's Killer Junior Year by Amy Belasen and Jacob Osborn, 2008, 9781416967927.

I ran across this when looking for fiction set in Montreal. I wish that John Farrow (pen name) would write another police novel. There is not a lot of logic and realism in the novel but I ended up liking it quite a bit.

Jenny Green has a craptastic sophomore year in HS back in Long Island. She convinces her parents to let her enroll at Molson Academy in Montreal. Molson is a private boarding school where her former junior high crush Joshua attends.

Molson student housing is college style with a housemom or dad in charge of each house or dorm. Jenny ends up in a house full of pot-smoking hippies and weirdos. Jenny is a stereotypical Jewish American Princess and is even more stuck-up and snotty than the average HS girl.

Jenny ends up meeting Josh and dating. Jenny loses her virginity to Josh. Jenny realizes Josh is an ass and dumps him. Josh wants her back. Josh shows up and tries to rape her. Jenny kills Josh by smashing her roommate's bong over his head and stabbing him to death with the broken glass shaft. Jenny dispoes of body and sets up convincing enough suicide scene.

This murder scene takes a while to get to but the book improves measurably after that. Jenny dates a guy calling himself Dizzy-D. Dizzy is a smooth guy but a drug dealer who takes her as a challenge to bang. She gives him a blowjob and sticks her thumb in his ass. Jenny finds ourt Dizzy filmed it all and shares it with friends. Jenny kills Dizzy by tasering him and jamming an apple down his throat.

Jenny kills guy at party who sticks a pill in her friend's drink. Jenny kills fellow student who was planning a school shooting. Jenny kills her favorite teacher when guy tries to screw her. Jenny goes on the run and is about to return to the U.S.

1. This is exactly the kind of novel that you would expect to get challenged with teen sex - Jenny is 16, drug use, various sexual realtionships among students, vicious violence, a creepy professor, lesbians, etc.
2. Lots of cracks by Jenny and others at the expense of Jews.
3. The psychological/behavioral accuracy of Jenny must be suspect but I don't freaking care.
4. Co-author Osborn went to UW-Madison.
5. The five killings and the time leading to them were the best parts.

Read a Couple Weeks Ago: "Die A Little" by Megan Abbott

Read A Couple Weeks Ago: Die A Little by Megan Abbott,2005, 9780743261708.

I was incredibly impressed with this book. I have not read all of Abbott's books but I liked this one head and shoulders above them all. Abbott mentioned what a big fan of Ellroy she is. Die fits right into Ellroy's '50s novels of L.A. Booze, squares mixing with rough types, secret prostitution ring, wealthy and famous johns, secrecy and conspiracy, double dealing and distrust.

Lora King and her brother Bill are in their twenties and very close. They grew up orphaned and reaised by their grandparents in L.A. They share a house in Pasadena while Bill works as a investigator for the D.A. and Lora teaches high school. Bill meets and falls hard for the Alice. Alice is beautiful and lively. Alice's personality makes her the center of all attention. Alice and Bill marry. Lora is a bit jealous of losing her brother, she does move out after all, But, Alice's manic behaviour and intense efforts to be the perfect suburban wife are odd. Alice's past is very secretive. Alice, too, is an orphan and talks little of her life before working as a seamstress for a movie studio.

Lora meets Alice's messed up friend Lois and cracks start to show. Lois gets in trouble with men and to the reader is obviously doped up. Lois realtionship with Alice seems deeper than friends. By chance Lora also meets a sharkskinned suit operator friend of Alice's and starts to learn more and more about Alice.

Well, it turns out Alice is not that bad. But, Alice is an ex-hooker and a fairly ruthless pimp. Lois is murdered and Lora starts digging and brings in the police. Things happen. Lois has guilt. Lois worries for her brother. Lois uncovers it all and solves the problem without the professional or personal downfall of her beloved brother.

1. Die is told by Lora and therefore we see her mistakes, misassumptions, and the lies about herself. For example, Lora has a relationship with a guy. Late in the novel the guy mentions how Lora was in his bed within three hours of meeting him and likes to get turned over and banged hard with her face in a pillow. That was a surprise to read. Lora does not portray herself as a wilting flower but she skips over a few details.
2. This is not a mystery. This is Lora's story of herself and her family. She had accepted Alice as a sister but when it seemed Alice may be playing with Bill or maybe ruining him she cuts Alice off.
3. Great setting by Abbott. Setting is definitely one of her great strengths just as in Queenpin and The-Arizona-one-I-cannot-remember-the-title-to. Alice's cooking fanaticism, mixed drinks, cocktail parties, cultural mores of the time. I did spot an anachronism but do not recall what it was.
4. How long until Abbott's mother googles her way over here? Again?
5. Strength of setting is not to say her plot and characters are weak.
6. I really have to get those Muskego interviews transferred off that damned, digital tape and onto my hard drive.
7. The whole femme-fatal- from-the-inside-out was a great idea for Abbott to pursue.
8. I did not get too into the dichotomy/duality of Lora/Lois and Lora/Alice but did cathc on to it. Am I less dense than I used to be, or did Abbott make it clear?
9. If I had typed in these notes directly after reading this I would have gushed. I'm glad I took a while before getting to it.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Fast Graphic Novel Read: "100 Bullets: first shot, last call" by Brian Azzarello

Fast graphic novel read: 100 Bullets: first shot, last call by Brain Azzarello, 2000, 9781563896453.

Compilation of five stories listed as 100 Bullets 1-5 and Vertigo: Winter's Edge 3.

I just don't get worked up about comic book novels like some people do. I like Sacco's work quite a bit, and the Astro City series had some great stories, but mostly I am left unfulfilled. Azzarello has received heaps of praise for 100 Bullets. 100 was really just a brief collection of short stories and the stories are only loosely held together by a single character, Agent Graves. The stories were good but there was nothing spectacular. I am also fairly picky about artwork, if I don't like the artist's style I won't like the book.

Agent Graves suddenly appears in the lives of different victims and offers them vengeance. The protagonist will be untouchable by any law enforcement agency and all investigations cease once the fired rounds are recovered. Person ponders, person decides, things happen.

Listened to: "Holidays on Ice" by David Sedaris

Listened to: Holidays on Ice by David Sedaris, 1997, downloaded from

This is not the newer version with added stories. This ran at just 3 hours, 10 minutes with narration by Sedaris, his sister Amy, and some other broad.

Plenty of laughter from me while listening. Sedaris mixes his own life stories with fictional pieces. All the stories have sad bits. Sedaris has that great balance of humor and sadness when discussing anything. His wit can be cruel and mean but Sedaris always seems like a decent guy in the end. It would be neat to listen to Sedaris and his siblings get together and talk as family.

The fictional piece of a television producer trying to get a woman to sign a movie contract seems to be staying with me more than the other tales.

Quick Read: "Tim Page's Nam" by Tim Page

Quick Read: Tim Page's Nam by Tim Page, 1983, 039450055.

I looked for more information on Page after listening to Dispatches. This is a very brief book made of photos and some brief reminiscing essays by Page.

Page was not that prominent in Dispatches but the stories of his multiple combat injuries are memorable. This book did not have a whole lot more information beyond some more details about his injuries from a friendly fire incident at sea. I had seen many of the photos before but all were interesting to see or study.

Nothing memorable for me in the text.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Finished Yesterday: "The Venona Cable" by Bent Ghelfi

Finished Yesterday: The Venona Cable by Brent Ghelfi, 2009, 9780805088946.

Man do I like this guy's Volk books. Intricate plotting with violent action. Good characters and neat introduction to a different view of world events, politics, and realpolitick from the Russian side.

Volk tracks down the bad guy from Volk's Shadow in Macao and ventilates his head. Volk returns and is arrested over a murdered American found in Volk's unused porn production warehouse. Volk is told to investigate by his boss, the General, and others. Volk finds a connection between his missing father, the dead American, and a 60 year old espionage cable sent from Washington to the Kremlin. Volk was orphaned when his mother died in childbirth and his Air Force father disappeared. Was his father a defector to the U.S., and therefore a traitor, or was he a double-agent?

Political maneuvering among Russian government bigwigs. Volk heads to the U.S. and is shadowed by a counter intelligence agent. Double agents in the U.S. have their strings pulled by Russian handlers. Main double-agent is really on the U.S.'s side. Volk finds out more about his father who was murdered a few years before. Volk gets in fights. Volk is sneaky. Volk is repeatedly stymied. Volk thinks far ahead. Volk perseveres.

Thought and comments:
1. Once again Ghelfi pulls an Ellroy and puts together a really well plotted out novel with red herrings and deceptions for Volk to work through.
2. Characters present several competing views of history.
Right wing side: A CIA agent's defense of the Hollywood Blacklist against commies and support of McCarthy. American Commie Party really was an organ of Comintern (and whatever succeeded it). Hollywood complicit with the gulags who killed their Russian peers in the arts.
Left wing: Abuses by the U.S. government conveniently overlooked. Volk's defense of Cuba for it's high education levels and successful health care. Volk's and others commentary of recent shredding of the Constitution.
3. Scheming and deception by the Russians as a way of life that transferred to all levels of espionage operations against everyone involved.
4. Right winger accusing adversary of "moral equivalency".
5. As an author, what accusations does Ghelfi receive on "which side are you on anyway?' People can read Venona either way. Some thrillers are jingoistic and clearly "America, Fuck Yeah!" but this has a Russian hero.
6. Russian hero of the novel is working against the U.S. How cheer for the guy to uncover a spy working for the U.S? In the end I think Ghelfi makes a compromise with Volk destroying spy information that could hurt the Russians but Volk does so for personal reasons.
7. Change in title from previous two novels.
8. Constant paranoia by Volk. Constant attempts to control facial expressions and body language to not give anything away and to mislead adversaries.
9. Nice compliment to the espionage novels of Furst and the political plotlines of Eisler.
10. An attempted assassination outside Los Alamos reminded me of an attempted assassination in Restless.
11. I remember very, very little about the couple of days we spent in Los Alamos in '84.

Read a Few Days Ago: "Trigger City" by Sean Chercover

Read a Few Days Ago: Trigger City by Sean Chercover, 2008, 9780061128691.

This was well written and an improvement over Big City, Bad Blood. Nice descriptions of different, little things that brought out more of the characters and setting.

Ray Dudgeon is still a private investigator in Chicago. Dudgeon's shoulder is in constant pain from a violent episode in the last book and he has a part-time employee shadowing Dudgeon's old girlfriend's new boyfriend. Dudgeon gets hired by a grieving father whose 44-year-old daughter was murdered by a former co-worker. The father never knew the daughter very well and says he wants Dudgeon to find out more about her personal life and personality. Kind of like having Dudgeon perform a biographical/background check.

Dudgeon starts to investigate and finds a previous connection between the daughter and her killer. That connection leads to the Hawk River security firm where both used to work. Hawk River is a thinly veiled Blackwater with contracts in Iraq and elsewhere around the world. [I wonder if Blackwater - although they have changed their name - would know anything about this novel if Chercover wanted to sign up for a firearms class at their Northern Illinois facility.] The daughter's killer was fired by Hawk River and Dudgeon thinks the killer may have found some incriminating evidence of Hawk River doing something bad. He did.

Dudgeon continues to investigate. Dudgeon pines for his former girlfriend. Dudgeon receives veiled threats followed by direct threats. Dudgeon's reporter pal, Terry, helps him out. Dudgeon dramatically defends himself in public and kills an attacker. Dudgeon protects the widow of the guy who killed the daughter. The grieving father is more than he appears. Dudgeon and former girlfriend have sex. (With more graphic description than most mystery thrillers I have read. Not that there is anything wrong with that.) Dudgeon continues to pack heat (a ParaOrdnance model of some sort). Dudgeon drinks a lot. Dudgeon pops Percocet pain pills. Dudgeon gives tours of downtown Chicago and a few bars. Dudgeon works his Chicago police and FBI contacts. Alls well that ends well.

Thoughts and comments:
1. Traditional P.I. action: Packing heat and a few beatings. A single guy with his own agency and money trouble. Drinking too much. Cop and newspaper contacts providing information. Working by his own code to help the grieving widow of the killing co-worker.
2. I went to ALA Annual in Chicago in 1995 and went to some bar near the river. It was some joint popular with twenty-somethings that specialized in different frozen drinks from maragarita machines. The place was packed with customers four people deep at the bar and just two bartenders working in slow motion. A third worker was moping back and forth from the bar area to a back room and ignoring the customers. What a fucking joke that place was. They could have been making barrels of cash that night but I and several others left without paying a cent because we never got service.
3. Dudgeon stays at the dead woman's apartment and sleeps in her bed. How weird is that? Not as weird as when he takes his old girlfriend there and porks her in the same bed.
4. Chercover starts the story out pretty tight with Dudgeon pining for his gal and taking on a new case. Then things start to spread out: overcharging by Hawk River, espionage with China by Hawk River, contractors hired for "black ops" by the DOD and other acronyms, Tienanman Square and its fallout, conspiracy by nebulous government agencies who pressure the CPD, FBI, and local paper. Things got too stretched out for me.
5. Chercover is schedule to be at Muskego this Saturday. I don't really have anything to say to him if I run into him. I suppose I could say, "Good morning."
6. I would like to see more of Dudgeon's part-time worker and friend.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Finished: "A Fatal Waltz" by Tasha Alexander

Finished: A Fatal Waltz by Tasha Alexander, 2008, 9780061174223.

Chick book. Not really my style. I bought Fatal for the Library after hearing Alexander speak last year. She had some neat things to say about her stories and main character. I ordered her fourth book, Tears of Pearl, after this one checked out well. I read this because 1- I figured I should try out a different type of book. 2 - Alexander is speaking in Muskego this year too so I figured I'd ask her to talk on camera.

1891, England. Emily is engaged to Colin. Colin is a spy/intelligence officer for the British. While they are at a weekend party in the country their host, Lord Fortescue, is murdered. Emily's friend Robert is arrested as the suspect. Fortescue and Robert were both in government and Emily finds out possible a connection between the murder and Austrian intrigue.

Emily travels to Austria to try and clear Robert. Colin turns up there. Emily is nervous and worried about Robert's (EDIT: dang it, Colin's) former lover Kristiana von Lange. Kristiana is a spy for the Austrian crown. Emily verbally spars with Kristiana. Emily worries about Colin. Emily meets the Empress. Emily meets local artists. Emily is threatened by British spy. Emily meets anarchists. "Anarchists do not frolic." Latin and Greek. Emily and Colin lip wrestle. Infidelity among the rich. Matchmaking. Emily discovers the true murderer.

I had trouble keeping the characters straight but that is not uncommon. The romance angles were not for me.

I have not heard back from Alexander so I assume she is uninterested in an interview. But, I was thinking about interview questions while reading and I wrote down some observations. Here they are:

1 - You learn right off the bat - first two pages - that Emily is very disliked by several of her society peers and the some of the aristocracy in Limey Land.
2 - The importance of money, estates and image among the upper class.
3 - One character seems to be whoring his wife to a powerful politician so he can increase his own career.
4 - Starts out with a popular setting in romances - the weekend party at a manor house but then moves to Vienna.
5 - No pre-marital sex between Emily and Colin. Why? Infidelity, whore houses, mistresses and other things are all around. Emily and Colin are both older and experienced - why not have them hook-up? Not doing so as a way to keep the romance aspects going?
6 - The devastating effects of scandal on the upper class. Especially sexual misadventure.
7 - Use of historical figures as characters. Alexander uses the Empress of Austria and Gustav Klimt. Are these people of personal interest that you wanted to write about or did they fit into the time and place with Emily? Any worries over historical accuracy?
8 - I don't recall any physical description of Emily.
9 - Clothes descriptions and fabric details.
10 - Bad Guy Harrison's threats felt hollow. Why would he not just shoot her or strangle her in an alley? Why would Colin not just kill him off or undermine him in some way (turn him in to the Austrians for something)?

Monday, November 2, 2009

Read: "Afraid" by Jack Kilborn

Read: Afraid by Jack Kilborn (Joe Konrath), 2009, 9780446535939.

This took a while to get interested in this but the story picked up steam about 1/4 of the way through.

Helicopter crashes in the Wisconsin forest outside the remote and isolated town of Safe Haven. Bad dudes in black uniforms and fancy body armor start to terrorize the populace looking for a guy named Warren. The Sheriff, a firefighter, a waitress, and the waitress's son become the focus of the story.

Nobody in town knows who Warren is because everyone calls him Wiley and he has been a recluse for thirty years. The bad guys are part of a "Red Ops" unit of surgically enhanced government assassins and terrorists that are supposed to be used behind enemy lines. Bad guys cut, burn, chew, pinch, and torture their way through the populace to find Warren. People die, dogs are threatened, young children are threatened, bodies are stacked, guns are fired, selfish women are murdered, houses burn, people are skinned alive, close calls occur, boats run out of gasoline. No sex.

Once Konrath gave more info on the bad guys I liked the book better because he gave me a reason to believe in the story.
2. I'm still listening to Dispatches by Herr and some references to Vietnam in Afraid got me comparing the fictional story in Afraid to the real stories by Herr.
3. Konrath has a fair amount of gun stuff in here. References to different makes and models, shooting styles, low light shooting methods, calibers, etc. All of that was accurately done until Konrath referenced the Glock 17 as a .45. Yes, this a gun nerd gripe. No, I am not going to send him a nit-picky email about it. Yes, I would like to send a nit-picky email about it.
4. Let's not get into the reasoning why the rich, recluse Warren would even own a Hi-Point.
5. I just remembered there may have been a continuity error with one of the characters. Maybe I could send two nit-picky emails.