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10 Last-Minute Ebook Gifts For Under $5

December 11, 2014 2 comments

It’s time for the second gift list here at Opinions of a Wolf (see the first, 10 Non-book Gifts for Book Lovers here).  I thought with Hanukkah next week and some holiday parties already happening that it would be interesting to provide a list of cheap ebooks.  Ebooks make great last-minute gifts, as you can purchase them literally on your phone on the way to the party and have them arrive in your recipient’s email with them none the wiser that you waited until the last minute.  Since you can schedule when the gift email arrives, no one needs to know that you scheduled it only 5 minutes ago.  Ebooks are also great because you can find them for very cheap but a reader who loves ebooks doesn’t care how much the ebook cost.  A book is a book is a book!  I’m not just going to tell you a list of cheap ebooks though.  I’m also going to give you a little reader’s advisory–tell you who the book would be best for.  Without further ado, here is the list, in order of cost from least to most.

For the lover of YA who enjoys a touch of fantasy:

A bunette wearing a white dress with blue embroidery gazes at a blue pixie. The book's title and author's name are on the cover in blue and white lettering.
Initiate by Tara Maya
$0
Dindi is about to undergo her people’s initiation test and ceremony that not only welcomes her to adulthood but also will determine whether or not she is a member of the Tavaedi.  The Tavaedi are a mix of religious leader, healer, and warrior who cast magic spells by dancing.  Since Dindi can see the pixies and other fae, she thinks she has a chance.  But no one in her clan has ever successfully become a Tavaedi.  Meanwhile, an exiled warrior, Kavio, is attempting to shed his old life and the haunting of his father’s wars and his mother’s powers.  But he slowly discovers a deadly plot that brings him directly to Dindi’s initiation ceremony.
This is a unique piece of YA fantasy set in a tribal world inspired by Polynesia.  The romance is light and slow-building, and the focus is primarily on growing up and becoming an adult.  See my full review here.

For the urban fantasy reader without a lot of time:

Woman with short hair in a red shirt in profile.
Cursed by S. A. Archer
$0
London works for hire doing investigations mostly for parahumans, and her best friend is a vampire who keeps hoping she’ll consent to being turned.  Her life isn’t run-of-the-mill, but it isn’t too bad either, until one day she gets Touched by a Sidhe and finds herself sucked into the Fey world bubbling just beneath the surface of the regular one.
This fast-paced novella is perfect for the reader without a lot of time who still wants to get some urban fantasy into their day.  See my full review here.

For the lover of the style of classic scifi:
A dime sits on a black background between the title and author name, both of which are on a marble background.
The Coin by Glen Cadigan
99 cents
When Richard’s physicist professor uncle dies tragically in a plane crash and leaves him his coin collection, he is shocked to find a brand-new dime from 2012.  The only thing is, it’s 1989.  A note from his uncle states that the coin is important.  Richard thinks the answer to the mystery might be in his uncle’s personal diaries he also left him, but he’s not a physicist and can’t decipher them.  As the year 2012 approaches, Richard increasingly wonders what the coin is all about.
This novella is a fun new take on the storytelling methods of classic scifi.  The science is strong enough to be interesting but not too challenging, and the result of the mystery is surprising.  See my full review here.

For zombie fans who enjoy a touch of romance:

Brain in a bowl.
Hungry For You by A. M. Harte
$2.50
A collection of zombie-themed short stories and poetry with the twist that they all have to do with romantic relationships in some way, shape, or form.
This short story collection is different and fun simultaneously.  It will appeal to zombie pans, particularly women.  See my full review here.

For the reader of lesbian romance who loves fairy tale retellings:

Girl's hair with flowers and ribbons braided into it.
Braided: A Lesbian Rapunzel by Elora Bishop
$2.99
A lesbian retelling of Rapunzel.  Gray, a witch’s daughter, visits Zelda every day.  The witch switched Gray’s fate into Zelda, so now Zelda is the one entwined with the spirit of the tree that the people worship.  She must live on the platform and every day lower her hair for people to tie ribbons and prayers into.  Gray feels horrible guilt over their switched fates, but she’s also falling in love with Zelda.
this is a fun retelling of Rapunzel, particularly if you’re looking for a non-heteronormative slant or enjoy a more magical feel.  Note that this is part of a series entitled Sappho’s Fables, which consists of lesbian retellings of fairy tales.  The novellas may be mixed and matched.  See my full review here.

For the reader of women’s fiction with an interest in Scotland:

cover_emotional geology
Emotional Geology by Linda Gillard
$2.99
Rose is a textile artist with bipolar disorder who for years found her medication dulled her ability to work.  After a stunning betrayal that landed her in a mental hospital, she has moved to a quiet, extraordinarily rural island in Scotland in an attempt to control her illness with as little medication as possible so she may still create her art.  Her life isn’t quite as quiet as she imagined it would be, though, with a warm neighbor, Shona, who introduces her to her brother, a teacher and poet.
This is an emotional, challenging, touching read for fans of contemporary fiction with a heart.  See my full review here.

For the horror fan:

Eyes behind a beaker.Gargoyles by Alan Nayes
$2.99
Amoreena is determined to be a doctor and help people.  She’s a hard-working, scholarship student on the pre-med track in her third year of college.  Unfortunately, her single mother just got diagnosed with metastatic cancer and lost her health insurance.  With no time for a job and no money for the bills, Amoreena is grateful when she is approached by a surrogacy clinic to be a surrogate for $50,000 with payments upon successful insemination and each trimester.  But after she’s successfully inseminated, Amoreena becomes increasingly concerned that something is not quite right with her baby.
If your horror fan loves Rosemary’s Baby and is particularly freaked out by evil pregnancies, they will love this book. See my full review here.

For the lover of noir and urban fantasy:

Man in a hat standing next to a Europeanish buildingOne Death at a Time by Thomas M. Hewlett
$2.99
Jack Strayhorn is a private eye and a member of Alcoholic’s Anonymous.  Only, he’s not an alcoholic, he’s one of the vampires who meet in a secret vampire group that exists under the umbrella of AA to learn how to control their urges and feed on humans without killing them.  He’s just returned to LA, his death site that he hasn’t been back to since he had to run in 1948 after becoming a vampire.  When his current missing person case shows up dead next to a Fae politician, Jack gets dragged into a mixed-up underworld of Faes, werewolves, drugs, and a group of vampires determined to rule the world.
This is a delightful mix of urban fantasy and noir and is a strong first entry for a new series.  See my full review here.

For the reader of thrillers and fans of Gone Girl:

Title against a foggy image of a man walking in the woodsI’ll Sleep When You’re Dead by E. A. Aymar
$3.03
Tom Starks has not been the same since his wife, Renee, was brutally murdered with a baseball bat in a parking lot.  He’s been struggling for the last three years to raise her daughter, who he adopted when he married Renee.  When Renee’s killer is released after a retrial finds insufficient evidence to hold him, Tom becomes obsessed with dealing out justice himself.
This is a unique thriller, with its choice to cast the opposite of a bad-ass in the role of the main character.  This grounds the typical revenge plot into reality, lends itself to more interesting, unique plot twists, and has the interesting aspect of a flawed, nearly anti-hero main character that the reader still roots for.  See my full review here.

For readers of multi-generational family dramas and GLBTQ lit:

Road during a rainstorm.The Value Of Rain by Brandon Shire
$4.99
Charles hasn’t been home since his mother and uncle sent him away to an insane asylum at the age of fourteen after he was found in the embrace of his first love–Robert.  Now, ten years later, his mother, Charlotte, is dying, and he comes back to take his revenge.
This is one of those genre-defying books.  Shire explores the devastating effects of prejudice, hate, secrets, and lies throughout family generations, and that is something that is simultaneously universal and tragic.  See my full review here.

I hope this list helps you find a read for yourself or a gift for another.  Feel free to ask questions about any of these books or ask for recommendations for books for particular recipients in the comments!

Book Review: Barely Breathing by Michael J. Kolinski

October 23, 2014 1 comment

Image of a man and a woman standing next to a car in front of a creepy house.Summary:
Jake Wood plans to visit his cousin, Jana, in Los Angeles.  He hasn’t seen her in over 10 years, and he’s hoping the visit will help snap him out of the guilt he’s feeling after being the sole survivor of a workplace shooting.  But when he arrives in LA, Jana fails to meet him or return his phone calls.  He’s not worried at first, since he knows that she just got an exciting job working for the renowned scientific researcher Dr. Gregory Mirek.  When he drops by Jana’s house and finds her best friend, Laurie, who hasn’t heard from her in days either, he starts suspecting she’s missing, and it might have something to do with Dr. Mirek.

Review:
I like a good mystery, and the description and cover of this book gave it a bit of a noir feel, so I was excited to see what twists on the noir mystery genre the book could bring.  Unfortunately, a potentially interesting plot was held back by both some awkward writing and portions of the book that just left a bad taste in my mouth.

The plot is interesting and different enough from other mysteries to keep the reader engaged and intrigued.  I personally have not seen a modern mystery revolving around a missing cousin, and I liked how different this felt.  The inclusion of a mystery about Dr. Mirek and just what he’s researching into what happened to Jana, who is working for him, gave it another level of interesting information and twists that keeps the reader reading.  On the other hand, the inclusion of Jake’s past trauma being the sole survivor of a work-place shooting felt tacked on and did not add much to the plot.  If anything, at the beginning of the book, I was wondering if this book was the second in the series, since it felt like I was supposed to already know what had happened to Jake.

The writing really doesn’t support the plot very well, however.  There is quite a bit of showing instead of telling as well as passages that just read awkwardly, instead of building the suspense they were supposed to.  The quote below is an example of this.

After a long pause she said, “Yes, sacrifices,” in a faraway voice. At the time, I didn’t realize that she was referring to issues much more meaningful than gridlock. (loc 673)

There were also passages that just felt out of touch with modern life, particularly for the age of Jake, the main character, who sometimes reads like an old man.  For instance, when Jana first doesn’t show up he googles her for the first time ever and looks at her Facebook page for the first time ever.  There is no way cousins that got back in touch after a decade of low contact would wait that long to google each other or look at each other’s Facebook pages.  Even people in this age-range who don’t use Facebook themselves will still google a new contact.  Jake’s lack of technological and social media savvy just felt really wrong for his demographic.

As far as the characterizations of the main characters goes, Jake is moderately well-rounded but he also isn’t much of a noir hero.  He’s clumsy, bad at appearing bad-ass, and hesitant, and yet simultaneously he’s good at fist-fighting (thanks to wrestling moves from high school), and he keeps being asked to be in porn by random people on the street (or if he is in porn).  When his character isn’t thrust into noir-style encounters, it is well-rounded and interesting.  When his character is, however, it feels awkward and unnatural.  Laurie is relatively well-rounded and interesting, as is her boyfriend.  We don’t see anybody else enough for them to be more than a passing two-dimensional character, and these are handled well.

The book does, however, put a bad taste into my mouth both in how it deals with fatness and how it deals with bisexuality.  The book comes across as fatphobic.  Any overweight character is also bad, and Jake judges them for being fat.  I’m not saying an overweight person can’t be bad, but when every single overweight character is bad and the “good guy” main character judges them for it, it comes across as fatphobic.

Dr. Mirek is revealed to be bisexual, and the reveal is in the most insensitive way possible.  Jake is pretending to be a journalist who had a tough interview with Dr. Mirek.  He’s talking to an undergrad journalist student who previously interviewed Dr. Mirekto under the guise of getting more information on him from her than he could himself.  She states that he was really creepy toward her in her interview and then reveals that she thinks he might be bisexual in a tone that implies that this is just as bad as creeping on her during her interview.  To this Jake responds,

I don’t think my editor wants me writing that Dr. Mirek is a bi-sexual creep with a gambling problem. (loc 1594)

First, bisexual is spelled wrong, and it is never spelled correctly in the book.  Second, this entire conversation implies that bisexuality is just as bad as being addicted to gambling or engaging in inappropriate come-ons.  Just as with the fatphobia, there is nothing wrong with a bad guy character being bisexual, but equating his bisexuality with his badness, implying that it is part of what makes him bad, is a problem, and it is biphobic.

*spoilers*
At the end of the book, it is revealed that Dr. Mirek had a relationship with Laurie’s boyfriend (implying the boyfriend is also bisexual, I might add), and that the boyfriend only participated in kidnapping Laurie and covering up the illegal animal experiments because of this relationship.  The implication from the tone of the book is that getting into a same-sex relationship with Dr. Mirek is what brought the boyfriend down into crime.  Even in the trial, the defense lawyer
conceded that Dr. Mirek and Danny Clarke had a consensual homosexual relationship. (loc 3694)
“Conceded” implies that this relationship is innately bad.  Additionally, it is biphobic to call a same-sex relationship involving at least one bisexual person a “homosexual relationship.”  Essentially, the bad guy is depraved and one of the ways in which he is depraved is by being bisexual and pulling others into situations where they have sex with men and women (the book never admits to the presence of non-binary people).
*end spoilers*

I would like to note that since this was a review copy submitted to me last November/December for review this year, I was extra offended at the biphobic content, as my review policies explicitly state that I do not wish to review anything with biphobic content.  I am offended that an author who read my review policies well enough to submit properly and get accepted, who also knew one of his characters was bisexual, did not take a moment to check and see if this representation could possibly be biphobic.  It is offensive to me as a person, and I feel that the author owes me an apology for putting me through reading something I very clearly stated I did not want to read.  It is often impossible to know from a blurb if a book will be biphobic/homophobic/transphobic, and it is really up to the author to self-censor and not submit for review something like that to a reviewer who explicitly stated they do not wish to read that content.  In all honesty, though, rather than an apology from the author, I would prefer he take some time to read up on bisexuality and biphobia to correct this biphobia in future writing.

Overall, the plot is interesting but the writing at the sentence level struggles.  Additionally, the tone of the book is fatphobic and biphobic, which will both offend some readers and shows a lack of writing three-dimensional characters, since people are bad based on their bodies and sexualities and not their character.  I recommend readers looking for a modern LA noir look elsewhere.

2 out of 5 stars

Source: Kindle copy from author in exchange for my honest review

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Banner for the RIP IX challenge.

Giveaway: One Death at a Time by Thomas M. Hewlett (INTERNATIONAL)

June 27, 2014 2 comments

Man in a hat standing next to a Europeanish buildingThis giveaway is now over! Thank you all for entering!

It’s time for the fourth giveaway of 2014 here at Opinions of a Wolf.  Lots of the indie authors whose books I accepted for review in 2014 also were interested in me hosting a giveaway at the time of my review, so there will be plenty more coming up in the future too.

There are TWO ebook versions of One Death at a Time (review) available courtesy of the author, Thomas M. Hewlett!

What You’ll Win:  One ebook copy of One Death at a Time by Thomas M. Hewlett

How to Enter:  Leave a comment on this post stating what profession you think might secretly have a lot of vampires among its ranks.

Who Can Enter: INTERNATIONAL

Contest Ends: July 11th.  Two weeks from today!

Disclaimer: The winners will have their ebook sent to them by the author.  The blogger is not responsible for sending the book.

Book Review: One Death at a Time by Thomas M. Hewlett (Series, #1)

June 26, 2014 7 comments

Man in a hat standing next to a Europeanish buildingSummary:
Jack Strayhorn is a private eye and a member of Alcoholic’s Anonymous.  Only, he’s not an alcoholic, he’s one of the vampires who meet in a secret vampire group that exists under the umbrella of AA to learn how to control their urges and feed on humans without killing them.  He’s just returned to LA, his death site that he hasn’t been back to since he had to run in 1948 after becoming a vampire.  When his current missing person case shows up dead next to a Fae politician, Jack gets dragged into a mixed-up underworld of Faes, werewolves, drugs, and a group of vampires determined to rule the world.

Review:
This is one of the twelve indie books I accepted to be reviewed on my blog in 2014 (complete list).  I was immediately intrigued by the summary, due to its delightful urban fantasy/paranormal take on AA.  The book delivers exactly what it promises, spiced with a noir writing style.

Jack Strayhorn is the perfect paranormal version of the noir-style hardboiled detective.  He’s got a biting, snarky wit, a handsome presence, a sharp mind, and is a bit distant and mysterious.  It’s just in this case he’s distant and mysterious because he’s a vampire.  Making the private eye a vampire makes his character unique in noir, and, similarly, making the vampire a private eye with his focus primarily on crime solving and not paranormal politics gives the urban fantasy vampire a unique twist.  Jack is presented as a complex character, one who we could not possibly get to know fully in just the first entry in the series.  It’s easy to see how he will manage to carry the proposed 12 entries in the series.

Supporting Jack is a wide range of characters who accurately portray the diversity in a large town like LA, as well as the diversity one expects in a paranormal world.  The characters are multiple races and classes.  Whereas some urban fantasy books slowly reveal the presence of more and more paranormal races throughout the series, this book starts out with quite a few, and that is a nice change of pace.  Most urban fantasy readers expect there to be more than just vampires, and the book meets the urban fantasy reader where they’re at.  Even though the book has a large cast, the secondary characters never blend together.  They are easily remembered, and the diversity probably helps with that.

I like the idea of vampires having an AA-like group, but I’m still not sure how I feel about this group existing as some secret under the umbrella of AA itself.  The book even goes so far as to say the the founder of AA was a vampire himself, and used the human illness of alcoholism as a cover for the vampire group.  I like and appreciate vampirism as a disease that some people just mysteriously have at birth as an analogy for alcoholism, but I feel that having it present in the same group as the real life AA groups dampens the realness of actual AA, weakening the analogy instead of strengthening it.  I’ve seen books before have paranormal people get together in AA-style groups (zombies anonymous springs to mind), and in real life AA has spinoffs such as Narcotics Anonymous and Overeaters Anonymous.  Prior to reading the book I thought maybe something might be added by having the vampires be a secret organization under AA, but after reading the book, I don’t think it did.  I think the analogy would have been stronger if vampires spotted the similarities of their genetic vampirism with alcoholism and formed a “vampires anonymous” group, inspired by AA.  Something about vampires creating AA themselves as a cover hits a bit of a sour note and weakens the analogy.

The plot is complex, with just enough twists and surprises.  There were parts of the ending that I was unable to predict.  The plot contained within the book was wrapped up sufficiently, and the overarching plot intending to cover the whole series was well-established and filled me with the desire to keep reading.  Unfortunately, the second book isn’t out yet, so I will just have to wait!

Overall, this is a delightful mix of urban fantasy and noir and is a strong first entry for a new series.  Some readers might dislike the paranormal take on Alcoholic’s Anonymous found within the book, but it is secondary to the mystery/noir plot and easy to gloss over if necessary.  Recommended to urban fantasy readers looking to venture into noir or vice versa, as well as anyone who enjoys both urban fantasy and noir.

4 out of 5 stars

Source: kindle copy from author in exchange for my honest review

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Book Review: Sleepless by Charlie Huston (Audiobook narrated by Ray Porter and Mark Bramhall)

January 18, 2014 2 comments

A city in sepia tones with the title of the book in fuzzy white letters over the black sky.Summary:
In an alternate 2010, the world is slowly falling into disarray, partially due to terrorism, but mostly due to a new deadly illness.  SLP makes the sufferer an insomniac, unable to sleep for years, until they fall into a state of insanity known as the suffering.  The sleepless, as those with the illness are known, change the structure of society. Movie theaters are now open 24/7, there’s an increase in sales of odd and illicit things, as the sleepless get bored.  Most importantly, the sleepless have moved much of their energy into online MMORPGs.  Some spending countless hours gold farming there, making a good buck with all their hours of alertness.

Park, an old-fashioned cop, is determined to save the structure of society, one bust at a time.  He’s committed to his work, in spite of his wife being sleepless and being increasingly unable to care for their infant daughter.  So when his boss asks him to go undercover to look for people illegally selling the one drug that can ease the pain of the sleepless–dreamer–he agrees.

Jasper is an elderly ex-military private investigator without much of an eye for sticking to the rule of the law who is asked by a client to hunt down and return to her a thumb drive that was stolen.  He slowly discovers that that thumb drive ended up in the middle of much more than some art thieves and finds himself sucked into the world of illicit dreamer.

Review:
My partner and I both enjoy a good noir story, so when we saw this summary on Audible, we thought it would make an entertaining listen for our 12 hour holiday road trip.  The story was so bad, we could only take it for about an hour at a time and eventually just turned it off so I could read out loud to him from a different book.  I eventually soldiered on, though, because I honestly just had to finish it so I could review it.  In what should be a fast-paced noir, there is instead an overwrought amount of description of unimportant things that slow what could have been an interesting plot down to a crawl.

Noir as a genre is a thriller that generally features a hard-boiled detective (sometimes a hard-boiled criminal).  It’s fast-paced and usually short featuring a lot of grit and mean streets.  One thing Huston does that puts an interesting twist on the noir is he incorporates both a cop who is being forced to turn detective and a criminal-style private investigator.  He features both sorts of main character.  This intrigued me from the beginning.  However, the writing includes far too much description of unimportant things for a crime thriller.  For instance, there is an at least 5 minutes long description of a computer keyboard.  I could literally space out for a few minutes and come back to the audiobook that was playing the entire time and miss literally nothing. It would still be describing the same chair.  This really slows the plot down.

A golden robot holding a gun.On top of the overly descriptive writing, the narration is overwrought, like a stage actor trying too hard.  The best explanation I can make for the narration is, if you have ever seen Futurama, the narration switches back and forth between being Calculon and being Hedonbot.  Now, I admit, the audiobook narrators played these parts perfectly. In fact, I had to check to see if they’re the same voice actors as Calculon and Hedonbot (they’re not).  I really think the audiobook narrators are what saved the story enough to keep me reading.  I kept laughing at the visual of Calculon and Hedonbot doing this overwrought noir.  But that is clearly not what makes for a good noir.  The tone and writing style were all wrong for the plot.

In addition to the writing style, there’s the plot.  In this world that Huston has imagined, gamers have become all-important.  When people go sleepless, they become intense gamers.  If they don’t do this then they become zombie-like criminals.  I don’t think this is a realistic imagining of what would actually happen if a huge portion of the population became permanent insomniacs.  Not everyone is a gamer or a criminal.  There’s a lot more options in the world than that.  Additionally, in this alternate 2010, the art world now revolves around MMORPGs as well. The art work that is now sold is thumb drives of the characters that people make in the games.  There is a long speech in the book about how making a character in an MMORPG is art.  Yes, somepeople might think that. But it is incredibly doubtful that the entire world would suddenly overnight start viewing character building in an MMORPG as an art form.  I won’t explain how, because it’s a spoiler, but the gamers also come into play in the seedy underworld of illegal drugs.  At the expense of a plot that follows the logic of the world the author has created, gamers are made to be inexplicably all-important.

hedonbot holding grapes and apologizing for nothingI also must point out that the science in this book is really shaky.  SLP was originally a genetic disease that suddenly becomes communicable.  That’s not how diseases work.  Communicable and genetic diseases are different, they don’t suddenly morph into one or the other.  Additionally, in the real world, there’s no way an illness would be given a scientific name that is an abbreviation for the common name (SLP for sleepless).  Think about swine flu.  The common name is swine flu, the scientific name is H1N1.  Similarly, the drug to treat SLP’s official name is DR33M3R, which is just the street name, dreamer, in leetspeak.  This isn’t fiction based in true science.

One thing I did appreciate in the book is that the semi-criminal private investigator, Jasper, is gay.  He’s extremely macho, ex-military, and he bangs his also macho helicopter pilot.  I like the stereotype-breaking characterization of Jasper.  It’s nice to see a gay man given such a strong role in a thriller.

Overall, this alternate 2010 noir gets too caught up in overly long descriptions of mundane things and an overwrought narrative style to keep the plot moving at a thriller pace.  The plot features an unrealistic level of importance for MMORPGs and the gamers who play, as well as unsound “science.”  One of the hardboiled main characters is a stereotype-breaking gay man, however, which is nice to see.  Recommended to those who enjoy an overly descriptive, overacting narration style with gamers featured unrealistically at center stage who don’t mind some shaky science in the plot.

2 out of 5 stars

Source: Audible

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Book Review: David Goodis Five Noir Novels of the 1940s and 50s by David Goodis

Black Library of America cover showing covers of 5 original books.Summary:
The Library of America collects together great pieces of American literature into themed books.  This can be anything from an author, to writing on aviation, to the Harlem Renaissance, to transcendentalism.  This collection is David Goodis’s best works, all of which happen to be noir.  Obviously the most well-known noir author is Raymond Chandler, but one of Goodis’s works was made into a Bogie and Bacall movie, so he’s not too far behind.  The books in order of year published included in this collection are:

Dark Passage–A man framed for his wife’s murder escapes San Quentin and investigates the case with the aid of a beautiful woman in San Francisco.

Nightfall–A WWII veteran on his way to Chicago for a job finds himself inextricably linked to a robbery and murder and goes on the lam.

The Moon in the Gutter–A dockworker becomes obsessed with figuring out who raped his sister, leading to her ultimate suicide.

The Burglar–A man in his 30s who fell into the world of thieving during the Great Depression tries to get out but his tutor’s daughter keeps sucking him back in.

Street of No Return–A hobo finds himself implicated in a cop murder in the middle of race riots between whites and Puerto Ricans.

Review:
I am a huge fan of noir.  I even took a noir class in undergrad, so when this showed up on Netgalley, I knew I wanted to read it, particularly since I recognizedDark Passage as a film I had watched last year.  Surprisingly, we didn’t read any Goodis in that class, so it was fun to try out someone who’s not Chandler.  I think Chandler found more of a niche than Goodis what with the fact his main character is the same in every novel.  Goodis explores a bit more.  His books all have a noir feel, but they don’t follow the exact same formula.  For instance, instead of a hardboiled private dick, you might get a hardboiled thief or artist or hobo.  Plus the books tend to be a bit more tragic than most noir I have read.

Goodis’s writing at the sentence level has the tongue-in-cheek wit that I so enjoy.

“Madge is a fine girl.”
“Maybe one of these days she’ll get run over by an automobile.”
“It’s something to pray for.” (location 801)

He also is fabulous at setting a scene so richly that it seems as if it is our world but simultaneously is Wonderland.

She had seated herself in a deep sofa that looked like it was fashioned from pistachio ice cream and would melt away any minute. (location 5039)

The mystery aspects of his storylines are unpredictable, don’t always wrap up neatly, and yet make sense once they are revealed to you.  Unfortunately, these strengths are offset by his weak romance writing.  Every single romantic interest in all of the books are a small-framed, lean woman with light brown hair.  The author has a type, we can definitely see that.  Beyond that, though, the love is always instant.  They see each other across the room and fall for each other.  And both people acknowledge this and say it’s something that can’t be helped and they are at its beck and call.  This would be less of a bother except that the main characters often make important decisions based on this new “love.”  For instance, one of the characters gives up his career for this woman he barely knows.  Who does that?! It’s therefore difficult to be sympathetic to the characters when you are thrown out of believability.  That’s unfortunate because the scene setting and mystery plots are so strong.

The best work of the bunch is The Moon in the Gutter where the impetus for a lot of the action is not the romantic interest, but the love between siblings.  Additionally, it looks at issues of class, being stuck where you are, having who you can love and build a life with dictated to you by that classism innate in society.  The grittiness is extreme.  We’re talking about a dockworker dealing with his sister’s rape and subsequent suicide.  Yet Goodis acknowledges the good there too for the blue collar dock workers and their families.  Their lives are passionate and intense in a way that sitting around sipping wine and discussing the symphony just isn’t.

Overall, Goodis exhibits a lot of the qualities of good noir writing.  His style is dark and gritty, often with a femme fatale.  His stories offer more variety than those of other noir writers, but still fall solidly within and as a great example of the genre.  I recommend this collection to those who know they are a fan of noir, and the book The Moon in the Gutter to those who aren’t and would like to dip their toe in.

4 out of 5 stars

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Source: Netgalley

Book Review: The Lady in the Lake by Raymond Chandler

September 26, 2011 8 comments

Book cover featuring a tumbler of whiskey.Summary:
Everyone’s favorite hard-boiled private eye Marlowe is back, and this time he’s been hired to track down a respectable entrepreneur’s wild wife.  She sent a telegram weeks ago stating she was going to marry her boy toy, Lavery, but Lavery was spotted in Hollywood and claims to have no idea where Mrs. Kingsley is.  The last place she was known to be was at the Kingsleys’ lake-side country cottage, so that small town is where Marlowe starts his investigation.

Review:
I first encountered Chandler in a film noir class I took in undergrad at Brandeis.  Ok, so that class was my first encounter with noir too, but it introduced a whole new genre to me to fall in love with.  The cores of the genre just scream my name from the hard-boiled, alcoholic detective with a “work bottle” of whiskey in his office drawer to the ever-present femme fatale.  *sighs*  Can I live in that world?  Can I?  Anyway, so whenever I stumble upon a Chandler book in a used bookstore, I absolutely must buy it.  There’s simply no question.  This will probably continue until I have collected them all.

The entries are always narrated by Marlowe, and The Lady in the Lake does not fail to smoothly represent everything there is to love about him.  He’s darkly cynical yet possesses a striking wit even in the face of getting a beat-down from the cops (which happens in pretty much every book.  Lots of dirty cops in Marlowe’s world).  Without Marlowe’s voice and ever-present intelligence, the books would not be what they are.  Thankfully, his presence is just as perfect here as in the other Chandler books.

So what about the story?  Well, this time the story is not set entirely in LA.  A solid half of it is in the countryside.  While I enjoyed those scenes, I must admit I did miss the LA grittiness a bit.  Although the scene where the grieving husband drags his wife’s corpse out of the lake on his back was every bit as gritty as any city scene.

The mystery made so much sense in the end that I was kicking myself for not figuring it out.  I still can’t believe I didn’t figure it out!  How Chandler came up with these twists and turns and managed to write them without giving it away is beyond me.  I doubt anyone will be disappointed with the mystery.  I literally had no idea what was going on into Marlowe explained everything in the classic film noir wrap-up scene.

The femme fatale was a weak point in this entry, however.  I think this is why I really liked it but didn’t love it.  She just didn’t seem sexy enough.  Violent, yes.  Brutal, yes.  But sexy? Ehhhh.  Personally I always perceive the femme fatale as a gorgeous black widow spider, and well this one just failed a bit on the gorgeous glamor aspect.  She was still a femme fatale, but perhaps a bit disappointing.

Overall, I truly enjoyed my time in Marlowe’s world with this entry.  Marlowe is someone whose presence it is always worth being in, regardless of whether his surroundings are perfect or not.  I recommend this to noir fans, highly.  Those new to the genre, I recommend start with The Big Sleep.

4 out of 5 stars

Source:  Harvard Books used book cellar

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