Tuesday, October 08, 2013

Hiaasen's new novel 'Bad Monkey' is good

WATKINS GLEN, New York - Carl Hiaasen's latest novel, Bad Monkey, isn't really about a bad monkey, although there is one it in. And he is bad. Oh my, he is bad.

Instead, Bad Monkey is a somewhat typical Hiaasen romp through the byzantine and bizarre world of South Florida politics and police. Bad Monkey at first seemed a little, well, too Hiaasen with characters acting so bizarre, you can't believe them. Even if they are supposed to reside in South Florida. Which is a bizarre place.

But there is no putting this book down. Within the first 100 pages most readers will be totally hooked and rooting for the protagonist of the book, a guy has been busted from his police post as a detective to the roach patrol - a restaurant food inspector. By the way, this book won't encourage you to do much restaurant dining in South Florida either.

How the main character got busted from cop to food inspector I really cannot write about here.  My granddaughter sometimes reads these posts. Right Samantha?

But you find out early in the first of the book. It involved a vacuum cleaner. I've said too much already.

Carl Hiaasen hardly needs any promotion from me. But this book is entertaining reading. It might help you bone up on your voodoo skills, too. For more on that, check out Bad Monkey.

Monday, August 26, 2013

A book about a man called Iscariot - as in Judas

WATKINS GLEN, New York, USA - There are challenging biographies and there are challenging biographies.

But Judas Iscariot, the ultimate Christian symbol of betrayal?


In Iscariot, author Tosca Lee creates a fictional account of Judas Iscariot's life and times, leading from childhood to his suicide (by hanging himself). The work, although a novel, is based on years of research by Lee who also authored Demon: A Memoir and Havah: The Story of Eve - both bestsellers.

It's a fast-paced book, full of the kind of historical detail that makes such volumes easy to read. After all, you know how it ends. But getting there in this case is everything.

Tosca Lee
Lee builds a case that Judas was not the penultimate devil that most Christian theologians have made him out to be. If anything, he was more devout than the other apostles. But in a twisting and turning set of events, he ends up with the famous 30 pieces of silver.

It was a mistake and he knew it right away. But the book postulates  it was all way more complicated than that.

Iscariot is actually an uplifting book in many ways. And well worth reading.

It was good enough that I am on the trail of copies of Tosca Lee's two other works.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

"The Eye of God" James Rollins' latest thriller

MONGOLIA - Normally, covers that indicate a book is part of a series - in this case a Sigma Force Novel - turn me right off.
James Rollins

It might be the same reason I don't eat at franchise restaurants. I want something original, fresh - like a Lionel Shriver or Jodi Picoult novel where the characters are new, the plot lively, and not a rehash of some old plot or formula that resulted in an avalanche of book sales. (James Lee Burke novels are a notable exception to this by the way. His new book Light of the World will be out July 23 and the characters in it are old friends.)

In the case of The Eye of God by James Rollins, I decided to take a look anyway, as it had quantum physics, time travel and religion mixed up in the mash with the Sigma Force people.

It was a formula that worked.

If the book were shorter, I would recommend it for reading during an airline flight across country. But at just over 400 pages, it's longish. And the action is fast and a little too tiring take in to read in just one or two settings.

Like many action books, this has a serious end-of-the-world bent, but just enough plausibility of science, religion and military action to make it, well, believable. The physical feats of some of the characters stretch credulity, but then swimming under ice flows in Lake Baikal never seemed like a good idea to me anyway.

I can't speak for other Rollins' books, but The Eye of God is worth of look. And if you do pick it up, follow it all the way to the very end. There's a surprise ending with a heart warming twist involving time and its relation to the universe. 

Thursday, May 09, 2013

Follow the money in Roger Hobb's 'Ghost Man'

WATKINS GLEN, New York, USA - Ghost Man by Roger Hobbs moves back and forth in time in a way that in many novels can be sooooo irritating, I give up on them.

Ghost Man does so seamlessly.

And that this is his first novel makes that accomplishment - along with his well-developed plot and nearly flawless execution - all the more impressive.

The storyline is pretty-classic crime novel with robberies, crooks, and a lot of hi-tech communications and gadgetry thrown in to complicate matters. And there is plenty of gun play, too.

Interestingly, all of the scenes, robberies and technical details come off with a solid ring of truth.

Roger Hobbs did his homework, it seems.

He gives a glimpse into a crime world that is as dark as it is chilling. Think of The Sopranos, but without much of the humor that was sprinkled in those HBO programs along with  crushed fingers and blood.

There are also references to what happens if a person is forced to ingest a large quantity of nutmeg. But to give away that - and how it fits in to the book - would give away part of the plot.

Danger! Danger! Nutmeg!
I'm not telling. There could be a Ghost Man lurking outside my door right now.

With nutmeg.

Ghost Man is well-worth a close read. And it will be extremely hard to put down.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

The Graves Are Walking - a book about famine

John Kelly
WATKINS GLEN, New York - The Great Famine in Ireland, the one that sparked the massive migration of Irish from Ireland to the United States and Canada, has been written about extensively since the 1845s when the potato crop went bad and agriculture was decimated.

But a 2012 book by John Kelly, The Graves Are Walking, gives a fresh look (and accurate historical account) of that terrible time, for which most Irish people blame their English overloads of the era.

There is plenty of blame to go in that direction. But after reading Kelly's work, it seems clear that the famine and subsequent events were as much a fault of classic British bumbling as malignant intent.

The book walks through the famine years, explaining the massive exodus from Ireland and why the millions died of starvation. Could many of them have saved had the British acted more in the interests of the Irish? Yes. That they didn't was part ineptitude and a large dose of British attitude about the Irish people.

The Brits believed - perhaps still believe in some cases - that the Irish reliance on the potato as the major farm crop was because the Irish were lazy. Potatoes were simply too easy a crop to grow, Kelly writes, leading the British to have nearly complete a lack of sympathy when the crops failed.

And when I say crops failed, I mean the entire planting of potatoes. Without shipment of food from outside of Ireland, people knew the Irish would starve - which they did because relief measures were pathetically inadequate.

The Graves Are Walking is not easy reading, but it's hard not to hear echoes of some modern American attitudes about the poor in the U.S. eerily reflected in this book.

It might be a good volume to ship to some of our GOP legislators who want to slash food programs for the poor.

It's on the new book shelf at the Watkins Glen library and was published by Henry Holt and Company of New York city.
A starving Irish family in County Galway

Monday, January 28, 2013

'Hitchcock' bio-pic a winner with Anthony Hopkins

HOLLYWOOD, California, USA - Alfred Hitchcock's movies have always fascinated me. And one episode of his popular television series once scared me sooooo badly when I was about 10 years old, I would wake up screaming in the night.

The real Alfred Hitchcock
I forgive him for that episode. But if I wake up tonight in a cold sweat because a creature is coming up my stairs, I'll post something in this space tomorrow. Unless the creature gets me, of course.

The picture stars Anthony Hopkins in the title role with Helen Mirren as Hitchcock's wife, Alma. The rest of cast is dynamite, too. And I challenge any male who watches this film to avoid being smitten by Scarlett Johansson. She plays the role of Janet Leigh who, in turn, played in one of Hitchcock's most famous films, Psycho.

Scarlett Johansson
Psycho is the template around which the entire movie revolves. How Hitchcock and his wife work as a team is fascinating. And the movie script for Psycho gives plenty of insight into who Hitchcock himself was.

A tortured genius is a gross understatement.

Hitchcock is well worth seeing. But unlike his television series, it's unlikely to keep you awake at night. I think.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Film 'Argo' a winner - great actors, great directing

TEHRAN, Iran - The movie 'Argo,' directed by and starring Ben Affleck is a tour de force of moviemaking.

I am not entirely sure what a tour de force is, but is certainly sounds impressive.

Ben Affleck as a CIA agent
The script and directing are as tight as can be. It's one of those movies you don't want to look away from the screen for even a second - you will miss something. I did, and replay is really hard on a computer.

Lots of CIA intrigue in it. Mostly it shows that our government can get things done, but largely in spite of itself. The top dogs of the government don't come off well. Only the misanthropes, like the character played by Ben Affleck seem to navigate it well.

All the actors did a great job in this film, though John Goodman and Alan Arkin really went over the top in their performances. More of that tour de force stuff.
Arkin and Affleck

The story line is dramatic - U.S. hostages during the Iranian crisis of 1979-80 need to be rescued from the Canadian embassy where they are hiding out.

But beyond that, no spoilers here. Watch Argo instead. It's worth it, especially the final few scenes.
Getting past the Iranian guards

Wednesday, January 09, 2013

"Hope Springs" - a painfully funny film

NUEVO VALLARTA, Nayarit, Mexico - Last night I watched Hope Springs, a film billed as a romantic comedy with a great cast: Tommy Lee Jones, Meryl Streep and Steve Carrell.

With those three, how can you miss? Really.

Steve Carrell
Still, I am not much of a romantic-comedy fan. Seen too many Jennifer Aniston and Sarah Jessica Parker films bomb.

But Hope Springs is funny, in a painful sort of way, depending on how many years you have been married and what you think about couples counseling. I would say it's a dark comedy.

And worth watching.

Elizabeth Shue
Tommy Lee Jones stole the show with his acting, though Meryl Streep's portrayal of his wife was Oscar-caliber, too. And Steve Carrell? Carrell played it sooooo straight and in doing so, was far funnier than in any schtick he could have come up with.

I would recommend the movie without reservation but with one caution - watch it very carefully.

This is not a movie that allows you to work in the kitchen and just listen. If you don't watch for all the visual cues, you miss a lot. The facial expressions alone are amazing.

Also starring in Hope Springs in a cameo roll as a bartender is Elizabeth Shue. She's steals her scenes without effort.

Tommy Lee Jones and Meryl Street