Monday, October 29, 2012

read: Talking About Detective Fiction (4 stars)

Talking About Detective FictionTalking About Detective Fiction by P.D. James
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In this slim volume, the author has a bit of a chat with us about the state of detective fiction. Her perspective is distinctly British, and rooted in the middle of the 20th century, but that doesn't mean her observations aren't keen or widely applicable or out of step with modern readers and authors. On the contrary, from this elder stateswomen of detective writing we gain perspective, depth and understanding about the past, present and future of the genre.

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read: "A Spark of Death" (4 stars)

A Spark of Death: A Professor Bradshaw MysteryA Spark of Death: A Professor Bradshaw Mystery by Bernadette Pajer
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Entertaining and winsome debut mystery novel centered around the early days of electricity, which was itself considered a mystery at the time. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

The historical and geographical setting of Seattle at the turn of the previous century was well crafted. It was obvious that everything was well researched, without the reader being hit over the head with it. The mystery was nicely plotted and characters clearly defined. I didn't figure out whodunnit until it was revealed.

While the writing was engaging, overall, I found it to be somewhat flat and repetative. Yes, we're in a mystery and, no, the protagonist still hasn't figured it out. But why are we spending what feels like a fourth of the novel rehashing motives and alibis for everyone? I feel like more could have been done to round out and deepen the characters and settings even more.

I liked spending time with Professor Bradshaw and the folks in old tyme Seattle. An extra star for the use of setting, science, and an engineer protagonist. I look forward to reading more books in the series.

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Wednesday, October 10, 2012

read: Formic Wars: Burning Earth (3 stars)

Formic Wars: Burning EarthFormic Wars: Burning Earth by Orson Scott Card

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Enjoyable addition to the Ender saga by Orson Scott Card. It's been a while since I last read Ender's Game, so I did not spot the plot discrepencies that others have pointed out. What did bother me was how matter-of-factly the characters in this book dealt with First Contact. I think there should have been a bit more debate even among the adventurous, though stoic, miners. On the up side, the story was exciting and the art was effective.

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Tuesday, October 9, 2012

read: Luther: The Calling (4 stars)

Luther: The CallingLuther: The Calling by Neil Cross

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Hard-boiled. That's what they used to call this sort of thing. I guess they still do. In any event, this is hard-boiled, even brutal, detective fiction. Sparse, hard-hitting prose. Gritty, realistic characters and settings. Bad, bad, bad guys. Basically decent, but driven cops that sometimes cross the line in order to get the bad guys and protect the innocent. Classic hard-boiled.

DCI (that's Detective Chief Inspector - this is a British novel, through and through) John Luther first came to life as a television character for the BBC. This novel, written by the show's creator and writer, is a prequel to the series, showing that the detective was just as driven, just as brilliant, before those episodes. It also shows a man tormented to the point that he cannot sleep and he can no longer connect with his wife. He is a driven man. Driven to use his powers of deduction and insight to find a serial killer. A killer that is stealing children for purposes that are beyond the imaginings of even DCI Luther. From page one you know he will not let up until he tracks down the fiend. Until the last page you do not know if he will succeed or destroy himself trying. Or perhaps both.

This is top-flight writing. As I said above, the prose is sparse and hard hitting and will keep you turning pages. Not a book for the squeamish. It's written in the present tense, which adds to the immediacy and probably reflects its origins in television. Highly recommended for those that can take it.

Disclosure: I received a free copy of this book for review.

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Monday, October 1, 2012

"Looper" [A]

Looper is the type of science fiction film, heck it's the type of film period, that gets you thinking and talking about what you saw. It compels you to try to make sense of it, not just the science-baloney of it, which is obviously impossible and implausible, while remaining fun and thought-provoking. But it also makes you think about what the characters were going through and the decisions they were making in order to try and make sense of their motivations and actions. You don't walk out of it just satisfied with having been a spectator at a spectacle.

It isn't all talk, however. There is plenty of spectacle here. From gritty, gun-dominated streets (a la Resevoir Dogs, Robocop or Drive) to the futuristic, yet recognizable technology (the cell phones look even more cool, but still work like crap), it's all blended together with jaw-dropping writing, directing, and acting. One odd note comes in the form of the contortions performed on Joseph Gordon-Levitt's face to make him seem like a younger Bruce Willis. It's not any more convincing than probably half that much would have been and it's often just distracting.

This is a film I can recommend to anyone that can look past the gut-wrenching violence and find the lost souls within.

Looper (IMDb)

"Crazy, Stupid, Love" [C+]

While I was watching this movie, I was laughing. I thought I was enjoying it. But now that it's over, I have a hard time giving it more than grudging acceptance that maybe it was funny for those two hours. I think this is a little like the way the characters feel about their love lives. They think they're enjoying it, but if they think about it a little deeper they discover that what they have is not love, but lust (even for those yearning for monogamy) and self-centeredness. These love stories are not about giving, but getting.

Yes, there is good writing here (I was laughing, remember?). And there is some good acting and directing. These all lift "Crazy, Stupid, Love" above being a complete waste of time (like some recent rom-coms that seem to think that comedy is all about four letter words, prat falls, and potty mouth) and make it potentially very sweet and intelligent. I'm not sure where it really falls down (one big misstep is when the 17-year-old baby sitter decides it's OK to give the 13-year-old boy nude photos of herself to feed his unrequited obsession with her - huh?). All I know is that when all is said and done I am not convinced that anyone in this film is destined to live a truly happy life.

Crazy, Stupid, Love (IMDb)