Sunday, October 25, 2009

Houston Texans vs. San Francisco 49ers - Haiku

Hung on by teeth's skin.
Have to say it: confidence
is up in H-Town.

Houston Texans - 24
San Francisco 49ers - 21

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

"Castle" - Picked up for full season

Michael Ausiello, from Entertainment Weekly, is reporting that ABC has picked up "Castle" for a full 22-episode season. Best news I've heard all day.

If you haven't been watching my favorite show* of the season, head on over to Hulu.com for the latest episode.

I think ABC has done well to pick up Castle. The writing improves every week and last night's episode marked a high point with the chemistry between Nathan Fillion and Stana Katic. I don't usually record Castle. I should have recorded last night's episode. It was that good. Come to think of it, I'll just watch it again on Hulu.

If you want a top-notch weekly recap, head on over to BSCreview.com and read Elena Nola's column. For more news, CastleTV.net is the place to go.

*Favorite new show: Flash Forward

CSI: Miami - Recap - "Bad Seed"

Why does last night's episode of CSI: Miami make me leery of eating salad at a restaurant? Find out in my recap over at BookspotCentral.com.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Houston Texans vs. Cincinnati Bengals - Haiku

Consistent offense.
Consistent defense. Good win.
Next step: repeat it.

Houston Texans - 28
Cincinnati Bengals - 17

Saturday, October 17, 2009

On writing in books

After reading the responses to the recent reading meme that went around the net (here are my answers), I was surprised to discover I am in the minority when it comes to writing in books. I share my thoughts on why I do it over at Do Some Damage.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Forgotten Books: Batman and Tarzan: Claws of the Cat-woman

(My latest entry in Patti Abbott’s Friday’s Forgotten Books. For the complete list, head on over to her blog.)

One definition of a forgotten book is forgetting you even have a copy. As I leafed through all of my graphic novels, I stumbled upon Batman and Tarzan: Claws of the Cat-woman. Since I’ve read and written about the first three Tarzan novels, of course I’d select this book. This is the new Tarzan Blog. (No, not really, but those of you who only read my FFB entries certainly might think so.)

In comicdom, Dark Horse Comics owns the rights to Tarzan nowadays. Ten years ago, they teamed him up with DC’s Batman. Hmm: two rich guys, both lost their parents early on (at least Bruce knew his), both patrol their respective “jungles,” what’s not to like? I have to say, going in, I was wondering how much of the Burroughs world was going to make it in the book. A good amount, really.

The story takes place in this kind of nether world: the time is vague, Batman exists in Gotham, and John Clayton, Lord Greystoke, aka, Tarzan, is a famous figure, having had his exploits written by “a writer” (that’d be your ERB wink). Bruce Wayne has financed an expedition to Africa and Finnigan Dent (note the name) brought back some rare artifacts to be displayed in the new Thomas and Martha Wayne wing of the natural science museum. Later that night, a person dressed as a cat breaks into the museum and Batman stops her. And then Tarzan, decked out in a white (!) loincloth *in Gotham*(come on, at least let it be leather; and why a loin cloth? You’d think he’s just take off his shoes or something.) waylays Batman. No sooner does Tarzan figure out who Batman really is (can’t hide your scent) than a band of Masai warriors attacks them. Battle ensues.

Here’s where we get the typical posturing when two characters meet for the first time. If you’ve read the Tarzan books, you know he kills his enemies if that’s the only way to protect those around him. In Gotham, he’s about to throw a warrior off the roof when Batman stops him. “No murder in my city.” (You know where this is going, right?) The different dynamic duo win and discover the “cat woman” is Princess Khefretari of the hidden city of Memnon. Mr. Finnigan Dent (there’s that name again) looted the city and plans to return to finish the job. To the Batplane, Tarzan!

Predictably, Batman and Tarzan have to travel on foot to get to the hidden city. There are some humorous (and weird) episodes along the way. When they first land, Bats is taken aback with Tarzan’s pet lion. I mean, really! If Bats knows who Greystoke is, then he’s got to know the man is at home with wild animals. Cut to a later scene when Bats thinks the bull ape is friendly...and gets himself nearly beaten to death. It takes Tarzan’s fighting abilities to save the day.

Naturally, Finnigan Dent tries to kill our heroes but not before said lion rends one half of Dent’s face. Yes! Now I know where I know the name. Dent now has, say it with me: two faces. There are enough escapes and fights to make any fan of pulp fiction happy. The best one is when our heroes are chained together and thrown into the alligator pool. After their escape (giving nothing away here), you have the single best frame of the book. Tarzan, bleeding from a shoulder wound, is stopped by Bats for a field dressing. Igor Kardey’s art shows Tarzan, eyes rolling, head tilted, assenting to Batman’s ministrations, with one line, “Very well.” This from a man who had part of his scalp torn from his head in the first book. Next, Tarzan compliments the field dressing. Batman’s reply: “I’ve had practice.” So much said in so few words.

It’s a fun story although far from earth-shattering. The art is well done. Kordey gives Batman black eyes most of time, a neat take on the standard white. Tarzan is rendered fantastically, all muscles yet haunted eyes. You have a lot of little moments (like the field dressing scene) that pay homage to various things in each character's past. I remember reading it back in the day but, as I mentioned before, forgot I even had it. Come Christmas, I’ll probably forget it again. But, as part of my All Things Tarzan mode I’ve been in, I enjoyed it and would like to read another adventure with these two quintessential heroes.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Reed Farrel Coleman and Ken Bruen - Interview Link

Crime writer Keith Rawson has posted an interview he conducted with Reed Farrel Coleman and Ken Bruen in support of their new novel, Tower, the first original work from Houston's own Busted Flush Press. The Farrel part is a video; the Bruen via e-mail. Both wonderfully revealing.

Check it out. I plan to get my copy of Tower this weekend.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

CSI: Miami - Recap - "In Plane Sight"

How was last night's CSI: Miami episode similar to a fantasy many defrauded investors have about Bernie Madoff? Find out in my recap over at Bookspotcentral.com.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Houston Texans vs. Arizona Cardinals - Haiku

A tale of two halves.
The game lasts sixty minutes.
Clock's ticking, Coach K...

A second Haiku:

Third-and-inches. Failed.
Fourth-and-one on the goal line.
Stuffed. Make one, we win.

Houston Texans - 21
Arizona Cardinals - 28

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Reading Habits Meme

Saw this going around so I thought I'd join.

Do you snack while you read? If so, favorite reading snack?
Rarely. If anything, I drink something: ice water, iced tea; hot tea

Do you tend to mark your books as you read, or does the idea of writing in books horrify you?
Frequently. I'll mark passages, either in fiction or non-fiction, I like, mostly to help with my reviews.

How do you keep your place while reading a book? Bookmark? Dog-ears?
I remember the page number. If not, anything to put in the book, often the pencil I use to mark passages.

Laying the book flat open?
Not usually. I like the book in my hands.

Fiction, Non-fiction, or both?
Both. Lots of history on the non-fiction side. Pulp, crime, SF, etc. on the other.

Hard copy or audiobooks?
In recent years, I have been favoring audiobooks. I still like hard copies (ebooks included) but audiobooks allow me to read many more books than I otherwise would. Plus, I get the story read to me. How cool is that?

Are you a person who tends to read to the end of chapters, or are you able to put a book down at any point?
At any point. With audiobooks, often, I arrive at my destination at points other than chapter breaks so I pretty much read that way with a hard copy, too.

If you come across an unfamiliar word, do you stop to look it up right away?
Pretty much never. I might make a mental note (if listening) or underline the word on the hard copy but I never stop reading and look up a word. It breaks the flow.

What are you currently reading?
The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown.
Gabriel Hunt Through the Cradle of Fear

What is the last book you bought?
Gabriel Hunt Through the Cradle of Fear

(Via New Mystery Reader, I've just been sent The Last Dickens and Bury Me Deep)

Are you the type of person that only reads one book at a time or can you read more than one at a time?
I read at least two books at a time, one audio and one (or more) in hard copy. Last week, I was reading Gabriel Hunt, listening to The Lost Symbol in the car, and listened to The Beasts of Tarzan at the office.

Do you have a favorite time of day and/or place to read?
Any time, any place.

Do you prefer series books or stand alone books?
With my introduction to Tarzan this year, I'm see the fun of series books. There's something nice about familiar characters returning. However, I like the clean slate of a stand-alone, too, the unpredictability.

Is there a specific book or author that you find yourself recommending over and over?
The Shadow of the Wind
Gabriel Hunt books
Mystic River
The Dawn Patrol by Don Winslow
Money Shot by Christa Faust
Ender's Game

How do you organize your books? (By genre, title, author’s last name, etc.?)
On the shelf. Paperbacks stacked horizontally; hardbacks/trade paperbacks stacked vertically. All my Hard Case Crime books are together on the shelf or displayed on my wall. Other than that, no order at all.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Book Review Club: The Blonde by Duane Swierczynski

(This is the October edition of Barrie Summy's Book Review Club. For a complete list, head on over to her blog or click on the icon at the end of this review.)

The movie "Fatal Attraction" was visceral warning to any guy who merely entertained the notion of cheating on his wife. Duane Swierczynski's "The Blonde" chalks up another visceral: if you're thinking about hogging a stool in an airport bar on the night before you're to meet with your wife's divorce lawyer, just don't do it. Really. It's not safe. And it could get you in a world of trouble.

Jack Eisley clearly never read Swierczynski's book. Well, how could he? He's the main character. He goes to the bar and the cute blonde, the one that probably trolls around all the airport bars looking for lost travelers, lays a line on him he doesn't believe that starts this exchange:

"I poisoned your drink."
"Excuse me?"
"You heard me."
"Um, I don't think I did."
The blonde lifted her cosmopolitan. "Cheers."

In the annals of hooks that grab you by the lapels and dare you *not* to read anymore, this one is quite clever. Jack and "The Blonde" (who gets a name later on in the book but I'm not going to spoil it here) have some confused, yet witty repartee that actually had me chuckling all throughout the book. Jack uses logic, as would anyone, but the Blonde has all the comebacks. Aside from the blue ribbon pickup line, the Blonde has something else to lay on Jack: her little secret. If she doesn't keep someone within ten feet of her, she'll die. The Blonde is a modern day femme fatale, the way she cleverly runs circles around Jack's questions and disbelief. She's a winner. She leaves Jack in the bar with the best thing she could: doubt.

Mike Kowalski is the other main character in the story. A government agent, he's gone off the rez and made himself a one-man vengeance squad looking to take out the hoods that killed the lady he loved. He's got one of the goons in the sights of his sniper rifle, ready to pull the trigger and add a little brain matter to the goon's pizza, when his cell rings. It's his handler, former handler, thank you very much, and former something else. She's got a job for him, two actually. Fly to Houston (Yay! My town!) and retrieve a man's head. Yes, Mike, the whole thing. Sheesh, man, you got static on the other end of the line? Job #2: find a woman named Kelly White. She may have come in contact with the headless guy and we need her corralled.

With these two (three, now) strands started, Swierczynski slams the pedal to the metal and roars out the gate at breakneck speed. The bulk of the story takes place in a little less than twelve hours. Swierczynski shifts from Kowlaski's POV and storyline to Jack's (and the Blonde, who is Kelly White, natch). Thus, after awhile, you get what you'd expect: Kowalski the government agent hunting down Kelly White "and the new guy she met at an airport bar." (See, Jack, stay away from airport bars, man!).

Swierczynski's style is light, filled with fun pop references, and is pretty dang funny. I found myself laughing aloud more than once. Like his third book, Severance Package (my review) the pace is relentless, giving you (and Jack) few pauses to catch your breath. It makes for an exciting and thrilling read. And, with the trade paperback edition, you get the equivalent of a DVD extra: the short story, "Redhead," the sequel. I'm not saying anything about that story. You'll have to read "The Blonde" first. Go ahead, read those first few lines, then the first few pages. You'll not want to have this book farther than ten feet away until you've plowed your way to the end. It's worth it.


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@Barrie Summy

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

CSI: Miami - Recap - Episode 03 "Bolt Action"

My recap of last night's CSI: Miami episode is up at Bookspotcentral. Have a read and see if you don't agree with my comment about cameos.

Monday, October 5, 2009

The Music of 1999 - Brand New Day by Sting

Sting’s 1999 CD, “Brand New Day,” was released ten years ago last Monday (28 September). Coming three years after “Mercury Falling,” Brand New Day (BND) was the return of Happy Sting. For many, the 1996 Mercury Falling was a somber collection. Yes, it had its downer songs—what Sting CD doesn’t?—but his Motown influences certainly made the CD unique among Sting’s oeuvre. You cannot miss the lightness with BND. If you’re like me, most of Sting’s music reminds me of seasons and weather. If Mercury Falling was a “winter” CD, BND was all summer. Musically and lyrically, Sting was in a sunny, warm, and often inviting place.

Coming mere weeks before the millennial calendar change, Sting channeled the anniversary with his first track, “A Thousand Years.” Not one to shy away from grandiose themes, Sting’s meditative singing is almost a devotion to love and longing. Evoking lovers who exist in some sort of transcendental plane not our own, Sting sings of love lost, regained, and cherished. If the album BND is a summer day, “A Thousand Years” is the darkness before the dawn.

If BND is known for one thing, it’s “Desert Rose” (introduced to the world via the Jaguar commercial). The compelling, fast-paced song is intoxicating in its rhythms, beats, and feel. Cheb Mami, an Algerian vocalist, sings the Arabic lyrics that act as counterpoint to Sting’s English lyrics. Interestingly, when Sting asked Mami if he’d like to sing with him, he sent Mami the instrumental track. Both men listened and wrote essentially the same song. How’s that for synchronicity? This is a happy, fun song, even if the lyrics speak to the lost. More than one critic, in 1999 and beyond, have noted the over synthesized nature of BND. It’s certainly here in “Desert Rose,” but the layers merely add to the overall effect of what is, in my opinion, the best song on the album. I’d rank it in the top two or three of all time. Here's the video from his live concert.

If there is a secret weapon on BND, it’s trumpeter Chris Botti. For Sting, jazz has always been a major influence on his music (remember Branford Marsalis and Kenny Kirkland in the 80s?) and one of his jazz heroes is Miles Davis. With Botti, playing with a Harmon mute, dancing in and out of the shadows of songs, Sting is essentially playing with Davis’s heir. Botti first shows himself in “Big Lie, Small World,” a nice little Brazilian song. Botti’s trumpet flits in and around the melody, sometimes complimenting a lyric, other times doing his own thing. He closes out the song with a solo that, in 1999, had me scrambling for the liner notes to figure out just who this guy was. On tour, Botti played on almost every tune, bringing nuances to the songs that I don't think Sting knew existed. Brilliant trumpeter who knows that silences and rests are just as important as thousands of notes. I have followed his career ever since.

The remainder of the album has the types of songs you’d expect from Sting’s experiemental mind. “After the Rain Has Fallen,” (video) with its call for a life of adventure and romance, is a story song not unlike “The Pirate’s Bride,” a European-only cut from the previous album. With tongue firmly in cheek, Sting sings from a dog’s POV (for the second time; bonus points if you know the first time*) in “Perfect Love Gone Wrong.” Botti’s all over this song. In a fun treat, when the POV shifts to the dog’s owner, the music not only shifts from its jazzy jaunt to deep funk but the lyrics are rapped (by a female vocalist). Yeah, really, but it works. “Tomorrow We’ll See” has Sting singing about a prostitute, bringing out his clever use of vocabulary, rhythm, and rhyming. Sting returns to his country & western vein (that he tried out on Mercury Falling’s “I’m So Happy I Can’t Stop Crying”) with “Fill Her Up” (Video) It’s a fun, up-tempo tune with steel guitar, fiddle, cat calls and a gorgeous backing choir. If you could say any song is jarring, it’s this one. Not to say it’s bad; it’s just a little off-putting when you’re in music and rhythms that are decidedly European in origin to be jettisoned to Memphis, Tennessee. The message, however, is all Sting: pure optimistic joy at the power of love.

Effervescent, joyous, jubilant, infectious, “Brand New Day” is one those quintessential Sting songs (the video). You can’t help but smile as the song just bops along while Sting tries to get all the words out of his mouth in time and on beat. Stevie Wonder contributes harmonica on the album, something Sting mimics during the tour. As the song fades away, the theme from “A Thousand Years” returns, bookending a fantastic CD. With its exhortations of turning the clock to zero to start a brand new day, it’s no wonder Sting sang this song at midnight of 1 January 2000 in New York’s Times Square.

There isn’t a Sting album I don’t’ like (yeah, even “The Soul Cages). The first album, The Dream of the Blue Turtles, is a milestone in my musical evolution as I was introduced to jazz in a big way. "Nothing Like the Sun" and "Ten Sumner’s Tales" are classic examples of nearly perfect pop records that speak to love and world issues. Brand New Day can sit right besides those albums. While it’s not as perfect as those first three, it’s a very good piece of music by one of the more erudite and searching songwriters of our times.

Extras:

The Brand New Day Era was capped with a concert he performed at his home on 11 September 2001. If you remember, he was to simulcast the concert on the 11th via the internet, with many of the BND songs reworked and reinterpreted. In preparation of this event, Sting had a documentary crew film him and his band. The resulting DVD, “All This Time,” showed the rehearsals and gathering of friends, family, and fans at Sting’s Italian home. We know what they didn’t: the attacks were coming. It’s fascinating to watch artists deal with the violence in their own way. In the concert that night, Sting chose to play a reimagined “Fragile” as a tribute to the victims. Here’s the video. What follows, on the DVD, is proof of the things Sting sings about: the power of music and love to deal with unimaginable grief. As the concert progresses, song by song (truncated though it was by the exclusion of certain stables like “Desert Rose” and “Englishman in New York”) you see and hear this band of musicians and audience members find joy despite sorrow and power through music. As much as the song “Fragile” was dedicated to the victims of the attacks, the rest of the concert was as well. For the reworked songs, the DVD (and CD) is worth the price. For the joy you will get by the concert’s end, that’s priceless.

Extras, part 2:

In 1999, many songs found themselves remixed for discotheques all over the world. Usually, this entailed putting backbeats to the song, no matter the original rhythm. Some of the Brand New Day tracks have that. “A Thousand Years” is different. Bill Laswell takes the nearly six-minute song and *doubles* it’s running time. The opening is orchestral, introducing the theme with Middle Eastern effects subtly playing in the background. Back beats do start and Sting’s wispy voice seemed even more ethereal here. But it’s Chris Botti’s trumpet that get all the glory. The vocals end with over four minutes left, leaving Botti time to play with the melody. One could argue that this version of the song should have made the album.

*1987’s “Conversation with a dog,” available on the “We’ll Be Together” single.

The Music of 1999 - Introduction

Ten years ago, I finally grew up.

While that may be a harsh thing to say about a thirty-two-year-old person, it was true. After many years in college and graduate school, I managed to claw my way out of school and into a real life. I had met a new lady in 1998 and we were still dating. In late December 1998, I moved back to my hometown. I looked for and found a job. I courted that lady and we married in August 1999. As the fall of 1999 crept onward, the millennial rush started. Remember Y2K? Remember all the End of the World books and movies? Remember all the Best of lists? As a historian, the ending of 1999 brought a confluence of eras. You could have the Person of the Year (can't really remember), the Person of the Decade (Bill Clinton is my vote, for better or worse), the Person of the Century (Gavrilo Princip; think about it: who else affected the 20th Century more?), and the Person of the Millennium (Johannes Gutenberg). It was an exciting time.

On my car stereo back then, I was being introduced to new music by artists I had never heard of and older artists I knew and liked were creating some of their best music. For me, 1999 was a very special year and the music is an integral part of it.

So, I'm sharing some of my favorite albums and songs from a decade (!) ago. It'll be an on-going series for the next several Mondays, at least through November. Maybe you liked some of these albums, too. Maybe you hated them. I'd like to hear from you.

First up (a bit later today): Sting's Brand New Day.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Houston Texans vs. Oakland Raiders - Haiku

A win is a win,
But it felt like pre-season
In rainy H-Town.

Houston Texans (2-2)- 29
Oakland Raiders (1-3) - 6

Friday, October 2, 2009

Forgotten Books: The Beasts of Tarzan by Edgar Rice Burroughs

You have to give Edgar Rice Burroughs credit, the man knows how to start a story. When we last saw our hero in The Return of Tarzan, John Clayton had married his true love, Jane Porter. The sweeping soundtrack played in your mind and the sun set on the Atlantic Ocean. You might be tempted to think that the opening scenes of the third book in the series, The Beasts of Tarzan, would show Lord and Lady Greystoke and their gushy love at peace in Scotland.

You’d be wrong. Chapter one’s title, “Kidnapped,” provides the first hint, paragraph one gives you all you need to know about this book: Tarzan arch enemy, Nikolas Rokoff, has escaped. Three pages later, the final piece of the plot: a piece of paper, written by his wife, to Tarzan: “Jack [Tarzan’s infant son] stolen from garden through complicity of new servant. Come at once. Jane.”

And we’re off. I don’t know enough pulp history to determine who was the first author to give a readership a series of cliffhangers but ERB is a likely candidate. Through manipulations a plenty, Tarzan finds himself captive on a boat headed to...Africa! No, seriously. I tell you what: if I’m Rokoff, I’m taking the Lord of the *Jungle* to Antarctica or the Sahara, anywhere but the very same jungle from whence he came. Now, truth be told, Rokoff maroons him on a jungle island (later named Jungle Island) where hoards of wild beasts have never heard of Tarzan. They must challenge the white man. They do.

They lose. Tarzan still knows how to speak ape and tussles with the king ape of a different tribe. Tarzan kills said ape and, after a bit, wins over the allegiance of the rest of the apes, about a dozen or so. At this stage, Tarzan becomes a cross between Dr. Doolittle and Aquaman: he recruits the apes (that's Akut on the cover image), Sheeta the leopard, and an African, Mugambi. We won’t even discuss the fact that the beasts of Tarzan include a man. Nevertheless, When Tarzan’s in trouble, he can send out a signal and his hoard come to his rescue.

With his posse in tow (literally, these apes help Tarzan row a boat from Jungle Island to the African mainland), Tarzan hunts Rokoff. Tarzan thinks Jane is in London but that his boy is with Rokoff. Jane, meanwhile, really *is* in Africa, having been captured by Rokoff but then escaping from him. Along the way, she gets an infant she *thinks* is hers but doesn’t find out the truth until later (i.e., daylight). The poor baby dies and, when Tarzan hears the news, he thinks it was his kid that died, not even knowing that the white woman is, in fact, his wife.

Burroughs packs in a lot of chases, near misses, deadly battles, into this book. With all the misdirection and mistaken identities, it’s almost like an episode of the old TV series, “Three’s Company.” As I mentioned earlier, ERB knows how to grab a reader and keep those pages a’ turnin’. At certain places, just when one hero is at the highest danger, ERB shifts focus to the other hero. He brings the second hero to death’s door...and then throws you back to the first hero. It’s Saturday morning serial storytelling at its best.

The kicker is the last chapter, when you learn about the fate of the infant and what he’s been doing while his parents are fighting wild beasts and crazed Russians. Granted, glancing at the title of the fourth book pretty much laid your fears to rest, but, still, it was kind of funny the way the whole thing turned out.

Burroughs writes in the omniscient narrator POV all the time and he breaks the fourth wall on the last page. “Possibly we shall see them [Tarzan, Jane, et. al.] all there amid the savage romance of the grim jungle and the great plains where Tarzan of the Apes loves best to be. Who knows?” Like Tarzan’s first two adventures, The Beasts of Tarzan was serialized first (in All-Story Cavalier magazine) and later published as a book. Burroughs knew what he was doing when he wrote those last words: leaving it up to the readers to demand the next exciting adventure of Tarzan.

Writing note: Burroughs started writing this third adventure of Tarzan in January 1914. He finished one month later. One. Month. Later.

Wow.