These are reviews originally posted to Amazon as customer reviews. They're intended for entertainment and informational purposes only. (Apologies for any typos, bad grammar, or offensive language.) This isn't sponsored by Amazon or represent them in any way, although they do have a very nice site and I recommend checking it out for your next book purchase. Feel free to comment on the books if you've read them or tell me how much my reviews suck or whatever.
That is all.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Play Dead

Play Dead
By Ryan Brown
(3/5 stars)
I've never actually read a book featuring zombies before, but I have watched a few zombie movies like "Night of the Living Dead," "Shaun of the Dead," and "Zombieland" so I am familiar with the subject.  All of those movies I'd say are better than "Play Dead," a book I'd give 4 stars for the concept and 2 stars for the execution.  A lot of potential was left in the locker room instead of on the field, not to mention an overall pedestrian writing style.  While the book is easy to read and not really terrible, it could have been a lot better too.

The story is about football--and zombies.  In Texas there's almost nothing the people care about more than football, so that the people of Killington (pun intended?) are crazy about their team even though they're about as good as the Detroit Lions.  Things seem to be finally going their way with the emergence of quarterback Cole Logan, who has the team one win away from the district finals against the hated Elmwood Badgers.  The Badgers have made a successful run in large part because their team is more doped up than the East German Olympic team.

Everything's bigger in Texas, including the pranks played on the opposing team.  Instead of stealing the Killington mascot, the Badgers attack Cole with a hatchet and then run the team bus off the road, seeming to kill everyone but Cole (who wasn't on the bus) and Coach Hickham, who managed to escape out a window.  That's where the zombies come in, thanks to a football-crazed witch.  From there it's down to a showdown between the zombie Killington team and doping Elmwood team.

The game itself is almost an afterthought, crammed into the last 30 pages of the book.  The other 310 set up the bus accident, the zombies, and the game itself.  Most of this is devoted to the emerging romance between Cole and ace school reporter Savannah Hickham, also the coach's daughter.

In the hands of a far more gifted author--like Stephen King maybe--this situation could have turned out to be much more interesting.  As it is, the characters are stock and the Killington players have no personality BEFORE becoming zombies.  Even the name "Cole Logan" seems like something pulled from an Action Movie Cliche guidebook.

In the hands of a gifted satirist the Texan love of football, various football cliches, and so forth could have been exploited to better advantage than they are here.  There is some of that, but not enough to make this a truly great book.  That's too bad because Brown has a fun concept but he's the wrong author to pull it off effectively.

I mentioned the pedestrian writing earlier and overall I felt this was the kind of story I'd see in an online writing critique group.  One particular issue was the author's heavy use of dialog to the point he actually describes Savannah through dialog thusly:  "Oh, she's a doll.  Red hair.  Green eyes.  That adorable figure."  That just made me shake my head sadly.  For one it's unbelievable dialog and for another it's just plain sloppy writing.  Probably the only worse way of describing a character would be to use a police APB.

Anyway, this is an OK book, not a great one.  It is light beach/airplane reading that seems destined to be made into a movie with a Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart lookalike in the Cole and Savannah roles.

That is all.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

The Serialist

The Serialist
by David Gordon
(4/5 stars)
I was predisposed to liking this book as I wrote a very similar character to Harry Bloch in my novel Where You Belong.  That is a writer who gets by writing under pen names that sometimes are not of the same gender as the real author.  In my case the male author wrote a YA sci-fi series under the pseudonym of an Irish woman.  In "The Serialist," author Harry Bloch writes porn, sci-fi, "urban" detective novels, and lately vampire novels by using a variety of aliases; the pseudonym for the latter series is actually his mother's identity.

Despite publishing dozens of books, Harry has never published under his own name and he makes only enough money to get by.  He lives in his mother's former house, alone after his ex found greener literary pastures.  The closest he has to an agent is a 15-year-old girl named Claire whom he "tutors" by writing term papers for her.

So it's not much of a surprise that Harry jumps at the opportunity to ghost write the autobiography of notorious serial killer Damian Clay.  Clay is on death row and slated to be executed in just three months.  In exchange for providing his story, Clay wants Harry to visit some of Clay's fans and write perverse stories about them for Clay's amusement.  While Harry is reluctant to go along with this, ultimately it's an opportunity he can't pass up.

From there things take a deadly turn.  Really the second half of the book plays out like a two-part episode of "Murder She Wrote" where Harry takes on the case.  Actually it would make for a good series on the USA Network with the unconventional detective and his equally unconventional sidekicks Claire and a stripper named Dani who's the sister of one of Clay's victims.  The last fifty pages especially drag along as Harry unravels the last few clues of the mystery and things run their course.

I suppose, though, that if this never turns into high art or "literature" that's keeping in character.  It's hard to believe someone like Harry could suddenly create a stunning masterpiece.  Then again it's hard to believe he does a number of things he does in the book, so here we are.
Anyway, the narrative is witty and engaging.  Harry is a lovable loser, not a Sam Spade-type detective, which makes the story fun as it goes along.  I am disappointed though that, as I said, the second half comes off as a TV detective show, but then I was probably hoping for something too much from a mere serialist.

That is all.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010


by Pamela Klaffke
(5/5 stars)

I'm surprised I liked this as much as I did because I'm definitely not in the book's target audience.  For one thing, I'm a guy.  For another I don't know anything about fashion.  I've never seen an episode of "Sex and the City" or "Ugly Betty" or "America's Next Top Model" or "Project Runway."  I never watched "The Devil Wears Prada."  I did read one "chick lit" book solely on a whim because it was super cheap and I was bored.

But I did really enjoy this book because it's so funny.  The story centers around Sara B., a cofounder and photographer for "Snap" magazine.  Sara's main contribution is to take pictures of people who are then labeled as "DOs" or "DON'Ts."  She's been doing this for almost twenty years to the point that she's now 39 and most of her subjects are far younger than her.

Despite the success of the magazine, Sara feels generally unfulfilled.  She's never married or had children like her friends or really even had a serious relationship.  She drinks and smokes almost constantly, often to the point of excess.  And when she takes the picture of a young woman with a parrot on her shoulder whom she calls "Parrot Girl" she realizes her passion for the job is waning.  Not long after this, she meets a perky young woman named Eva, whom Sara makes her assistant and takes under her wing.  Except of course Eva is a backstabbing phony out to usurp Sara's job--not that she really cares.

The story is narrated by Sara and full of hilarious asides and fantasies, many of which are darkly comic like a game show where only the fastest shoppers survive while those who use coupons and write checks are shot.  A lot of her asides are also self-deprecating about her enlarging rear or sagging breasts or flabby stomach.

I think what I enjoyed the most is that while Sara goes through changes, she never really changes entirely.  There's not that "A Christmas Carol" moment where she decides to change her ways and be "good" forever.  Nor does she decide that to be happy she needs to settle down in the suburbs like her friends and have kids.  In other words, she never sells out herself.

The story doesn't contain many surprises, but it's enjoyable guilty pleasure reading--even for dudes.

That is all.