Tuesday, March 27, 2012

read: Alice Cooper, Golf Monster (3 stars)

Alice Cooper, Golf Monster: A Rock 'n' Roller's 12 Steps to Becoming a Golf AddictAlice Cooper, Golf Monster: A Rock 'n' Roller's 12 Steps to Becoming a Golf Addict by Alice Cooper

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

It might help to already be a fan of Alice Cooper before you read this book. Or maybe you're curious about who he is and have a high tolerance for golf. Or maybe you really like golf and can't believe a guy named Alice does, too. Otherwise, there may not be enough here to keep you interested until the end. Personally, all three apply and I liked it.

This is a light, easyily read, personality book. It's all Alice all the time, written from the perspective of a man who's found himself (as well as Jesus Christ) and is comfortable with that. His co-writers make it all easy to digest, although they do let the narrative meander quite a bit. The presentation is more topical than chronological and sometimes it's not clear what time period is being discussed.

If you already know a bit about Alice, there are probably not too many surprises here. If you don't, there are probably only the obvious surprises.

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Saturday, March 24, 2012

"John Carter" [B+]

This should be a blockbuster. I don't understand why it isn't doing better business. It's quite well done, a bunch of fun, and a more compelling story than many more successful critical busts like Transformers 2 and 3.

It's been a while since I read the book on which this based, so I can't really tell where the details might vary from the original story. If it does, it's not by much. They major characters and plot points are there. I was afraid from the previews that it would all be CGI with a few live actors. But there were many live actors and the CGI was very well done. The acting (both live and animated) worked for me. The spectacle was spectacular. There is even some substance involving the meaning of honor.

John Carter (IMDb)

Monday, March 19, 2012

read: The Inside Ring (3 stars)

The Inside Ring (Joe DeMarco, #1)The Inside Ring by Mike Lawson

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Calling this book a thriller isn't quite right. It starts off with a bang. That's for sure. The President is shot. The man next to him is killed. Did someone on the 'inside ring' of his protection detail set him up? Will there be another attempt? There are plenty of questions. The problem is that for a long time all we have are questions. What is in short supply are thrills and suspense.

We meet some interesting characters. We're treated to a tour of some Washington D.C. sites and offices. We get some hints at some odd connections. Leads turn into dead ends with more unanswered questions. We get some threats, but they seem vague and toothless. We get a lot of background on Joe Demarco, our protagonist. But for a long time it felt like the story was adrift. There was no ticking clock. I didn't feel any suspense or imminent threat. Where were the thrills? I almost gave up.

It didn't help that some of the prose feels a little wooden. Chapters start with a seemingly obligatory description of the scene. Characters are introduced with a full description of clothing, hair color, and facial features. But after that, there is a good flow of narrative and dialog. I stuck with the book because it's an easy read and the mysteries are oddly interesting.

The last third of the book finally earns the thriller designation. Demarco starts getting some answers, starts getting his butt kicked, and starts fighting back. The reader gets their thrills. I look forward to reading more about the adventures of Joe Demarco, but I hope they are a bit more uniformly thrilling.

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Thursday, March 15, 2012

The Thrill of Clocks

I'm no expert about writing (yet). But I know what I like when I'm reading. And when I'm reading a thriller, I want thrills. I want to be forced to turn the page to find out what happens next.

Compare and contrast two recent reads, both thrillers set in Washington, D.C. What did one have that made me remark that it had 'a tight plot with page-turning suspense' and the other (which I have yet to finish) feel like it's almost a chore to keep plowing through? Both stories involve conspiracies that the protagonist has to unravel. Yet one was riveting and the other feels limp. As I said, I'm no expert, but one thing that seems to be missing from the second book is the almighty ticking clock.

In the first book, the ticking clock is the revelation that a terrorist attack is imminent. At first the protagonist and the reader are in the dark about the who, what, where, when and why. We just know it is very bad and it is coming soon. As the mystery is unraveled, the threat becomes more dire and the timetable shorter and shorter. The clock is ticking.

In the second book, there is no ticking clock (at least not in the first half of the story). And there is no imminent threat. There is an assassination attempt on the President in the first chapter. But after that there is only mystery. We already know the what, where and when. We are even given a purported who and why. We are now supposed to care that the who and the why are probably red herrings and a larger conspiracy is at work. But why should we? I'm halfway through the story and all we have are vague threats and inconclusive clues. There is no ticking clock or burning fuse evident. The danger is past. The thrill is gone. It remains to be seen if the suspense and action will ramp up in the second half.

I see now that the thriller I am working on needs a ticking clock. It has a bang up opening, like the second story above. But all it has after that (so far) is a mystery (like the second story). I know there is an imminent threat. I need to make sure the reader sees it and feels it, too. It does not have to be revealed all at once, there needs to be suspense. But in order to have suspense, they need to see the bomb under the table or the killer lurking in the shadows. They need to be thrilled. Otherwise, I'm writing a mystery and not a thriller.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

"Real Steel" [B+]

Even though this story is full of mechanical men, it's also full of heart. It's about the journey of Charlie and Max, a father and son who need to find themselves and each other.

The journey takes place in the grimy underworld of robot boxing. This is the world populated by gamblers, crooks and lowlifes. It is the world into which Charlie has fallen, due to his losing fight with his personal demons. His newly found son, Max, gleefully follows him into this world in order to play with the wonderful robots, which are essentially huge walking, fighting video games.

Even though the fighters and the situation are completely invented, the story and the characters come across as very real. The near future setting seems simultaeously improbable and inevitable. It is absolutely as believable as it needs to be for the story to work.

"Bridesmaids" [C]

I didn't think this was nearly as funny as it was purported to be.

"The Artist" [B]

I thought I knew what to expect when I went to see this film. It turns out that I did not. Not entirely. Based on all the hoopla and award nominations and wins, I expected more. More story. More wit. More dog tricks.

There was a bit of all that, of course. The film has a lot of charm and a bit of wit. Jean Dujardin does live up to the acting accolades he's received. But the story is pretty predictable, a bit contrived, and awfully repetitive. The directing is mundane.

Even so, this is a very good film. I recommend it.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

read: The Last Temptation (3 stars)

The Last TemptationThe Last Temptation by Neil Gaiman

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A fantasy Halloween collaboration between Neil Gaiman and Alice Cooper about life, choices, and tempations. A bit too on-the-nose.

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Thursday, March 8, 2012

read: Fuzzy Nation (4 stars)

Fuzzy NationFuzzy Nation by John Scalzi

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

John Scalzi hits another home run with this easy-reading novel about an exploited planet, a disbarred lawyer, and a race of sentient cats. If the author is to believed, he wrote this 300 page marvel just for fun. This shows through in the breezy tone and quick pace and the fact that this is a reboot of the classic science-fiction tale Little Fuzzy by H. Beam Piper, from which he borrows the premise and characters.

I recently read (or rather listed to) Little Fuzzy and enjoyed it. It is a sweet story that felt a pretty dated and clunky by modern standards. This book starts with the same premise, yet it is updated with a more modern view of technology, the future and corporate exploitation. It starts with the same characters, yet they are recast for current sensibilities and behave more realistically. The story starts and ends in basically the same place, yet bounces along in a quite different way. It's the same story, but it's not. Somehow it all works.

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