Cult by Warren Adler
I love a good cult story so much I’ll often settle for an average one. Cult is just one of those themes, like circus or magicians, that immediately grab my attention. Plus I’ve read Adler’s short stories before and quite enjoyed them, so this was an easy choice.
So is it a good cult story or an average one? Well, more of the latter, I’m afraid. There was something definitely missing here, as one might have expected from a book so unimaginatively named.
When I try to nail down exactly what that something is…it isn’t quite the not very likeable characters, it’s more of the inflexible and unyielding moral rigidity of the novel. Very black and white tonally. The author’s ascribes high EVIL categories to things foregoing moral nuances all too easily and frequently.
Or maybe that wasn’t it. Maybe it was the main characters themselves. I just didn’t like them very much.
But once upon a time they liked each other very much, Naomi and Barney. A Jewish liberal dogooder and an Irish apolitical moneycentric businessman. Please note I am only mentioning the characters’ religious/cultural makers because the author makes such a huge deal about it. They loved each other so much, but it just wasn’t enough for Naomi to ignore the fact that Barney didn’t miss out on any sleep over the many social injustices that she would so intensely obsessed over. So, they split up and Barney like a proper man of his ideals and ideas married a pretty young thang and had a baby with her. And when several years later the pretty young thang ended up in a cult, Barney came crawling back to Naomi to use her political connections to try and get her out.
Since this specific cult is properly legal, this goes against much of Naomi’s ideology, but nevertheless she proceeds to help Barney, because she’d never miss out on the opportunity to do good. And also, she never really got over Barney.
And so it becomes a great stand off. On one side Naomi with her good intentions and Barney with his hired deprogrammers and on the other side a bunch of thoroughly brainwashed cultists willing to die for their cause. Guess who wins. Well, the correct answer would be no one, it’s too ugly of a game for proper wins.
There’s a local sheriff involved too, but that’s fairly extraneous. The main plot is Naomi/Barney against the cult. The main character is really Naomi and the main theme is how much she’s willing to compromise her principles. Is brainwashing the brainwashed back to normal too much? She thinks so. And I suppose Adler meant her as an admirable character, but her nuanceless rigid morality is tedious, she’s the liberal people hate when they hate liberals, so dedicated to taking the high road she’s willing to ignore the road signs. She’s slappingly obnoxiously moralistic and to highlight that there’s a constant juxtaposition to the moralfree bottom line money wielding kinda guy that Barney is, which is all too unsubtle and obvious.
The thing is Adler was a genuinely good writer in that he had that organic storytelling quality to his narratives, it’s the plot here that leaves a lot to be desired. It’s almost like it’s too didactic or pedantic or something, what other reason there would be for such fablelike strict moral codes. It means well, but it’s just too blatantly self righteous to enjoy outright. The components end up arranging themselves into something that tends to veer into a slightly hysterical melodrama. Reads quickly, though. Thanks Netgalley.
The legendary Canadian niceness is so potent that at times it carries right into their fiction. Such was the case here in this appealing mystery that managed to remain surprisingly low key despite decidedly high stakes.
Somewhere around Manitoba/Winnipeg area there’s a lovely lake and a surrounding lake community. Places regular people live and/or come to vacation and a fancy lodge for those with Donald Duck kinda moolah. Sam, the novel’s protagonist, definitely one of the former ones, after being freshly laid off, comes to the lake to stay in her family cabin and try to write the Great Canadian novel. She’s got her friends (people she’s known from childhood) around also has her teenage kid come visit for the summer mother/daughter quality time. It’s a fun summer, though she hasn’t written a word.
What Sam instead gets preoccupied with is the past, specifically the fate of her father, a local accountant (or was he) who died in a fire in 1989. And thus Sam ends up entangled in a local (and all kinds of murderous) conspiracy that goes back decades, so much so that her very life and the life of her daughter might be in danger. It turns out the truth Sam’s always been told is quite far from the real thing.
Overall, this was a nice (I know, that word again) character driven small town mystery with a likeable cast and very decent writing. Not the thriller to light the world on fire, too mild mannered for that somehow (even when deadly) but a perfectly good read in its own right and goes by quickly too. Thanks Netgalley.
I’m not a Trekkie by any means, but I do appreciate Star Trek. It’s a terrific fictional creation, but fiction so often blurs lines with reality for fans and novices and it is out of that intersectionality that this autobiography is born. So let’s refer to it as the real thing (and not a creation of a Star trek novelization expert), because it was intended as such.
Spock (along with Data) has always been my favorite Star Trek character. A man of logic, calm and patience, a moral and intelligent man, just the light you need amid the chaos.
But because Spock is a very much a creature of the mind, his memoirs read accordingly. Which is to say these are not the juiciest of memoirs. They are as sedate, pensive and measured as the man who wrote them. In fact, those who mostly know Spock from the recent movies would be disappointed to find out that the romance with the beguiling Nyota isn’t anywhere to be found within these pages since that was a creation of the alternate star Trek universe.
In this timeline Spock has never had a romantic interest. A devoted son, a dedicated friend and occasionally a caring mentor, but never a lover…nor a fighter. Spock’s life as he describes it was a long and difficult struggle with the duality of his nature (Mom’s from Earth, Dad’s from Vulcan) and then subsequently finding his place in the world and righting whatever great injustices he found to right, always in a peaceable manner.
In every possible way Mr. Spock is an admirable character and his intelligent humane presence comes through in his words, in his life. This is exactly the kind of person who should write a memoir, someone who has lived a long and remarkable life and has lessons to impart and knowledge to pass on.
And sure, it’s fictional, but a good fictional memoir still beats the whiny, maudlin, overshare driven crap out there that rules the modern memoir market. The exact same way good fiction often beats underwhelming reality.
For Star Trek fans this’ll surely be a delight. For the rest, it is a charming read in its own way, but possibly not for everyone. It isn’t fast paced or salacious or boombastic in any way. Just a fictional life lived well.
The author (or as she prefers to maintain the novelty, the editor) did a perfectly good job. From her bio it seems that she has certainly had plenty of experience writing within the Star Trek universe as if gearing up for this endeavor. Not to be outdone or accused of preferentiality, Titan books is publishing the autobiography of other Star Trek’s greats, if you’re into that sort of thing. For me, Mr. Spock is perfectly enough. I enjoyed his story. Live long and prosper. Thanks Netgalley.
The Resting Place by Camilla Sten
Camilla Sten’s debut was excellent. Pure excellence, a how to instant genre classic of an exciting and terrifying thriller. Naturally I was psyched to read her follow up. And I did. And this review is a chronicle of that disappointment.
It’s possible that coming out of the gate as strongly as Sten did, she simply set the bar too high for her subsequent efforts. It’s possible this and not its predecessor is the one off for an obviously talented author. But at any rate, this is a prime example of a sophomore slump and it’s just freaking sad.
There’s none of Sten’s debut’s originality, none of its elan, none of its dynamism. What you get instead is a strictly by numbers genre story, an all in the family thriller set in a remote Swedish location for atmosphere and so geographically contained that it’s practically a locked estate mystery.
It’s an estate the story’s protagonist, Eleanor, inherits from her recently murdered grandmother, a difficult, mercurial and imperious woman with some secrets in her closet. Eleanor promptly grabs her boyfriend and sets off to uncloset some of those secrets on location, along with her aunt and the estate lawyer. Once they get there, they notice that the longserving caretaker is missing and that is only the beginning of their difficulties. Some secrets don’t want to be known and some aren’t worth the effort to uncover.
Granted, this estate, this family, has more secrets than most and darker ones at that, but the unearthing of them is so slow and what’s found is so clichéd that it seldom seems worth the effort.
For this novel Sten took a minute by minute approach some thriller authors do, meaning the bulk of the narrative is dedicated to chronicling every minute moment and every momentous minute of the live of its characters and that’s fine to bulk up the word count, but doesn’t do much for the suspense building. In fact, the plot is so precisely so meticulously stretched out, you can see the seams straining to contain it.
Because of course if the story hurried up, there wouldn’t be much of it. There aren’t even that many characters and the ones you have aren’t there aren’t even that likeable or interesting. The only interesting thing about Eleanor is her prosopagnosia (and how contrived it that), meaning that while she saw who offed her granny, she can’t tell who it was.
Much like most thrillers of this kind, the narrative is split between the past and the present, with the past being an upstairs/downstairs melodrama and the present being…well, underwhelming. The weather locks the characters inside and there might be a killer lurking on the premises. Boohoo. Actually the entire production is melodramatic and underwhelming, especially considering that the author has already blatantly demonstrated she can do so much more.
The writing is still good, you can’t get rid of that easily, Sten can write, but the plotting is subpar at best and pacing leaves much to be desired. There is a prerequisite ending plot twist and (kudos to Sten here) it isn’t a predictable one, but it’s also just another example of the questionable character psychology employed in this novel, from development to motivations.
Overall, this was a disappointment. Sadly so. I would have read whatever Sten wrote based on the strength of her debut, this novel had very much the opposite effect. It isn’t terrible, mind you, it really isn’t. It’s just so blah, so slow, so average. I’m a huge genre fans, I love Scandinoir too, but there was just nothing here to wow the reader. And really, it’s Sten’s own fault, for being so good to begin with. Presumably her next book will be the one to tell which of these two was a typical Sten. Thanks Netgalley.
Cascade Stories by Craig Davidson
Not too long ago it seems everyone was talking about Saturday Night Ghost Club, a book I still haven’t read because our library stubbornly refuses to get a copy. But it certainly made me aware of the author, so when I found a collection of his short fiction on Netgalley, I was eager to check it out. And now I have. And now I no longer care that much about missing out on SNGC, though if you have a digital copy of that to lend, I’d be very appreciative.
Which is to say, I’m not in love with this, I didn’t hate it, it was very much a mixed bag. A mixed bag that displayed obvious and ample talent, but nevertheless didn’t quite wow.
These are pretty long short stories, so there are only six of them in this collection, all set in an imaginary Niagara adjacent Canadian place. It’s a pretty bleak place and these are pretty bleak stories. It didn’t immediately grab attention, but then the Vanishing Twin got closer and then there was a ridiculously dragged out basketball themed story that just about turned me off completely.
Davidson is great on details, bizarrely meticulous on details, in fact, which can work for some readers, but this one found the approach overwhelming. The author also tends to get too busy with the metaphors, often cramming one atop another until the entire thing is one giant impressionistic abstract. It’s meant to hit a certain tone on the heartstrings, but it doesn’t always succeed and as a writing technique it’s really overused here.
After that, the stories improved. A lot. Got much more interesting, more emotionally engaging, got more…Those stories didn’t just emotionally engage, they devastated, quietly, the way slow unfolding tragedies can, the way real life does.
And more often than not you can sift through all the stylistic embellishments and obscene amounts of details and technical lingo to the sheer beauty of narrative storytelling. In those moments the author would shine. And the appeal would be easily understood.
So not the easiest of reads. Nor is it as incendiary as the cover suggest, though fire is heavily featured. But an interesting read all the same. Something different. Something realistically surreal. Something very, very sad. Difficult to recommend outside of fans of tragically devastating slice of life stories, so read at your own discretion and ideally coordinate to an appropriate mood. Thanks Netgalley.
It took me a minute to get into these series. At first, it was kind of a Grimm (or insert your own reference for stories with people hunting supernatural creatures), but then it evolves dramatically into a much more complex and fascinating universe. One I’m not all too excited to follow. In fact, book three takes you further than ever into this place where stories and reality collide, brutally and bloodily, and the worldbuilding is now at the level where there’s enough terror and enough realism you can properly (and terrifyingly) engage with the narrative.
Moreover, now there’s a political commentary here. The author snuck it in subtly enough (and I for one love subtlety with these things), but there it is, the Brexit mentality, England for English, xenophobic commentary, etc.
Only the threat (perceived and real) to the nation is on a far grander scale, straight out of the classics, the proper battle of good and evil with ancient evil looking to rise up and modern good (as represented by Duncan, his girlfriend and, the main event, his awesome, awesome grandma) are potentially all that stands in its way.
Now that the world is getting woke to the power of older (and female) characters above and beyond Mrs. Marple, they get more attention and pages, but there’s still no one quite like this chain smoking asskicking granny out there. Love that character.
Overall, a wildly entertaining ride that features great storytelling and terrific technicolor bonanza of art panels. Recommended.
Zero K by Don DeLillo
This isn't the first time I'm trying DeLillo, but I don't know if I'd go back to him after this. Yes, empirically I understand, this is the sort of book that wins awards, it's dealing with heavy subjects (mortality, meaning of life, etc.), it's written in that specific language of structured beauty, it is the very edifice of eligibility for the famous lists and shelves, but...it is absolutely unenjoyable to read, profoundly unengaging, thoroughly unentertaining. The concept is interesting initially, but it gets buried under the ineffectual, somewhat repetitive in composition and sentiment ramblings, the characters utterly fail to compel or rouse basic interest. The book deals with alienation, but it didn't have to be alienating. Well written stylistically, but soulless, with about as much warmth and life to it as its subject of preservation. And, to stretch the pun, polarizing most likely, since I can absolutely envision readers to be as enamored by it as I wasn't. The best thing about it was its brevity, only a few hours and one turn of phrase, which I really liked and seem to have promptly forgotten. Thanks Netgalley
A tough talking, chain smoking investigate journalist in 1973 Detroit finds herself involved on an up close and personal level with a supernatural murder mystery of mythical proportions. Literally.
Saladin Ahmed charmed me with what he did with Black Bolt and now has won me over completely with Abbott. First rate storytelling not only mixing and matching genres, but also cleverly interweaving the subtle racial and classist commentary into the narrative.
Subtle is really the only way to talk about such things, otherwise it gets too much. Few authors seem to be making that distinction lately, jumping on the bandwagon of red hot themes without any specific approach other than shouting their truth. Which is fine, but to me way less effective than something like what Ahmed’s done in Abbott.
And of course if you don’t want to read it that way, you can always just go in for the adventure, the mystery, the suspense, the terrifying danger of it all. And for classic mythology fans there’s so much in here.
Excellently written, smartly plotted and stunningly rendered, Abbott is all you’d want in a book and in a protagonist, except possibly for her being weirdly hung up about her bisexuality. I absolutely loved this graphic novel and would definitely read more. Interestingly enough the alternate covers in the supplemental materials for this book were really not that great, not comparing with the originals. But that’s of course, neither here nor there. The book’s great. Recommended.
With Marvel Universe being as popular as it is, all these superheroes are coming out of the woodwork, ones I’ve never even heard about. Though there might have been a brief mention of Black Bolt in the Black Widow old comics. At any rate, I knew nothing about this guy, so this graphic novel was a fun introduction. And I actually mean fun, because I don’t normally go for traditional superhero fare, but this tale of a bunch of random unknown (to me, anyway) sups and space aliens trapped in a mysterious prison on the outer reaches of the galaxy by a mysterious sadistic warden and, as the subtitle suggests, not having an easy time of it, was indeed oodles of fun.
Well written (haven’t heard of the author before but he did a terrific job, very dynamic), excellently drawn and stunningly colored, this was a blast in every way. Great characters, especially (and you can’t really beat this) a giant teleporting pup, who is probably now one of my all time favorite Marvel Universe denizens.
All in all, great time was had. I’d definitely read more of this. I’m not surprised this book got all those award nominations, they were well deserved. Recommended.
You’ve heard of Bonnie and Clyde? Of course, you have. They are the American Romeo and Juliet of sorts. But you probably haven’t heard of the Dicksons, another pair of the Depression era bank robbing lovers on a lam. Fame (or infamy) is all about numbers and the latter pair simply haven’t racked up the kind of score that Parkers did.
There’s also a kinda sorta icky matter of the two of them getting together when Stella was only 15, but times were different then and, at least as represented in this novel, the two of them were very much in love, age difference barely mattering. Their bank robbing career was brief and tragic, J. Edgar became obsessed with apprehending them and no matter how bulletproof and clever they tried to be, the odds stacked against them were just too insurmountable. A brief marriage, a brief time in the sun for the two doomed lovers born under the outlaw moon, two wild young things in pursuit of happy times and easy money.
If only they had followed a more conventional road in the game of life. Both were promisingly smart, but alas…would there have been a book about them then?
Now there is one. A pretty good book, too. Well written, compelling, dynamic…throws you right in a driver’s seat of a getaway car in hot pursuit. Very credible, dustily realistic depictions of the 1937 America. Fans of historical fiction should enjoy this one. Much like their criminal careers, goes by quickly. Recommended. Thanks Netgalley.
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.