Review: MY FAVOURITE MANSON GIRL by Alison Umminger (Atom/Flatiron)

UmmingerA-MyFavouriteMansonGirlUKA lost teenager looking for purpose in all the wrong places…

Anna has had a miserable year. Everything feels wrong with her life. And rather than stay and face the mess, she steals a credit card and books herself a seat on the first flight out of town to Los Angeles, to crash with her sister. But soon after she lands, cold reality soon dawns on her: Hollywood isn’t the escape she needs. She is trapped in a town full of lost souls and wannabes, with no friends, no cash and no return ticket.

When she’s offered a job researching the murderous Manson girls for a dubious film, she reluctantly accepts — she needs the money. But soon enough, among the fake smiles and glitter-fuelled parties, things turn from strange, to dark, to dangerous…

This is not going to be the summer Anna had in mind.

I wasn’t sure what to expect from this novel. I’d heard some very good pre-publication buzz, and was interested in reading something different to my usual fare. What I found was not quite the novel as described, but nevertheless an interesting, engaging and sometimes thought-provoking novel. I enjoyed it. Continue reading

Quick Review: SHOPGIRL by Steve Martin (Hyperion/W&N)

MartinS-ShopgirlUSAn interesting, enjoyable novella

Mirabelle is the ‘shopgirl’ of the title, a young woman, beautiful in a wallflowerish kind of way, who works behind the glove counter at Neiman Marcus, selling things that nobody buys anymore…?

Mirabelle captures the attention of Ray Porter, a wealthy businessman almost twice her age. As they tentatively embark on a relationship, they both struggle to decipher the language of love — with consequences that are both comic and heartbreaking. Filled with the kind of witty, discerning observations that have brought Steve Martin critical success, Shopgirl is a work of disarming tenderness.

I picked this up on a whim the other week, and started reading it right away. It’s an interesting, short glimpse of a Los Angeles life. Mirabelle’s story is not one of Hollywood or celebrity life/excess. Rather, it is a calm story of a young woman looking for a place in Los Angeles life. She’s working a job that is not, to say the least, scintillating. She is dating a rather dull, narcissistic wannabe, but falls into the orbit of a wealthy Seattle businessman who lives part-time in LA. It’s an endearing, well-told story that I very much enjoyed. Continue reading

Quick Review: WAITING FOR LIPCHITZ AT CHATEAU MARMONT by Aris Janigian (Rare Bird Books)

JanigianA-WaitingForLipchitzSomeone does not like Hollywood/Los Angeles culture and society…

Set in two iconic locales — Hollywood’s legendary Chateau Marmont and luxurious Fresno’s Forestiere’s Underground Garden — Waiting for Lipchitz at Chateau Marmont is a bold and colorful critique of the California Dream through the perspective of a once-upon-a-time successful screenwriter and the wealth that taunts him. Caught between John O’Brien’s Better and, perhaps, a Christopher Guest adaptation of Waiting for Godot, Janigian’s Lipchitz is a new take on the absent protagonist and what’s inevitably illuminated by its void.

This is a strange novel. I enjoyed reading it, but I didn’t love it. There are plenty of interesting and sharp observations about the fickleness and shallowness of Los Angeles and, particularly, Hollywood life, culture and business practices. It’s a well-written novel, but one that I didn’t find as satisfying as I had hoped. Continue reading

Extract: WHAT REMAINS OF ME by A.L. Gaylin

gaylinal-whatremainsofmeukpbToday, we have a short extract from A.L. Gaylin‘s latest novel, What Remains of Me, which has been receiving a fair amount of buzz around the biblio-community. First, the novel’s synopsis:

People don’t need to know you’re a murderer.

They just have to think you could be…

June 1980: 17-year-old Kelly Lund is jailed for killing Hollywood film director, John McFadden

Thirty years later, Kelly is a free woman. Yet speculation still swirls over what really happened that night.

And when her father-in law, and close friend of McFadden is found dead — shot through the head at point-blank range — there can only be one suspect.

But this time Kelly has some high-profile friends who believe she’s innocent of both crimes.

But is she?

Now, read on for a short extract…

Continue reading

Review: DR. KNOX by Peter Spiegelman (Knopf/Quercus)

spiegelmanp-drknoxusAn excellent LA-based thriller

Adam Knox comes from a long line of patrician Connecticut doctors — a line he broke to serve with an NGO in the war-torn Central African Republic. His attempt to protect his patients there from a brutal militia ended in disaster and disgrace, and now he runs a clinic near Los Angeles’s Skid Row, making ends meet by making house calls — cash only, no questions asked—on those too famous or too criminal to seek other medical care.

When a young boy is abandoned at his clinic, Knox is determined to find the boy’s family and save him from the not-so-tender mercies of the child welfare bureaucracy. But Knox’s search for the volatile woman who may or may not be the boy’s mother leads him and his friend, a former Special Forces operator, into a labyrinth of human traffickers, Russian mobsters, and corporate security thugs; and squarely into the sights of a powerful, secretive, and utterly ruthless family that threatens to destroy Dr. Knox and everything — and everyone — he holds dear.

I actually read this quite a while ago, but I kept forgetting to write the review. Dr. Knox is the first novel I read by Spiegelman, but it certainly won’t be the last. An idealistic protagonist, single-minded antagonists, organized crime and vulture business collide in this novel. Easily one of my favourite novels of the year. Continue reading

Review Round-Up: LITTLE KNOWN FACTS and THE HOPEFULS

Two novels. Two families. Two very different reactions.

SneedC-LittleKnownFactsLITTLE KNOWN FACTS by Christine Sneed (Bloomsbury USA)

The people who orbit around Renn Ivins, an actor of Harrison Ford-like stature — his girlfriends, his children, his ex-wives, those on the periphery — long to experience the glow of his flame. Anna and Will are Renn’s grown children, struggling to be authentic versions of themselves in a world where they are seen as less-important extensions of their father. They are both drawn to and repelled by the man who overshadows every part of them.

A story of the fallout of fame and fortune on family members and others who can neither fully embrace nor ignore the superstar in their midst. A story of influence and affluence, of forging identity and happiness and a moral compass; the question being, if we could have anything on earth, would we choose correctly?

I wasn’t sure what to expect from Little Known Facts. I’d been looking for something new and different to read, and this looked like it might fit the bill. Sneed’s prose is very good, and pulled me through the novel nicely. Each chapter is told from a different perspective, and the novel works its way through the experiences of those who have been swept up into Renn Ivins’s orbit. Sneed does an excellent job giving each character their own distinct voice, and luckily all of them worked.

As can perhaps be predicted, there’s a fair amount of bad behaviour in this novel — especially when it comes to infidelity and philandering (Renn’s behaviour is quite reprehensible in some cases). Each of the characters is flawed, of course, in their own way. Each of them is trying to carve their own identity separate from Renn, while also being unable to resist the allure of proximity and what that conveys and enjoying some of the perks.

I really enjoyed reading this novel. And, despite some flaws, would recommend it to anyone who wants to read a good story about family, fame and celebrity (but mostly focused on what’s going on with the individual family members).

Little Known Facts is published by Bloomsbury.

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CloseJ-HopefulsUSTHE HOPEFULS by Jennifer Close (Knopf)

The story of a young wife who follows her husband and his political dreams to D.C., a city of idealism, gossip, and complicated friendships among young Washington’s aspiring elite. 

When Beth arrives in Washington, D.C., she hates everything about it: the confusing traffic circles, the ubiquitous Ann Taylor suits, the humidity that descends each summer. At dinner parties, guests compare their security clearance levels. They leave their BlackBerrys on the table. They speak in acronyms. And once they realize Beth doesn’t work in politics, they smile blandly and turn away. Soon Beth and her husband, Matt, meet a charismatic White House staffer named Jimmy and his wife, Ashleigh, and the four become inseparable, coordinating brunch, birthdays, and long weekends away. But as Jimmy’s star rises higher and higher, their friendship – and Beth’s relationship with Matt – is threatened by jealousy, competition and rumors.

A glorious send-up of young D.C. and a blazingly honest portrait of a marriage, this is the finest work yet by one of our most beloved writers.

I think “glorious send-up” means something different to me than to the writer of the synopsis. I had high hopes for this novel, but unfortunately it didn’t deliver. There’s nothing wrong with Close’s prose — there’s a very good flow, and I read the novel pretty quickly. But, ultimately, the story was dull. Things happen, of course, but so much of what I think might have been interesting takes place off-stage. Beth is basically floating through this novel, a mere observer to… well, very little.

Maybe if you’ve lived and worked in DC, you’ll “get” this. There’s certainly a “knowing” tone to some of the scenes. I just think it’s not being quite as clever as it thinks it is. There was nothing particularly original, and nothing particularly interesting in the novel. There was only one moment that made me chuckle (a dream about Mitt Romney). Most of the points to be made — young DC workers are self-involved, form their own tribal rituals and rules, are too earnest for their own good, and are also highly competitive and jealous — is repeated so often, with little variation. The characters felt flat, and Beth’s self-involvement blinded her to potentially interesting observations (maybe that was the point — if Beth was meant to be a boring character, then job well done).

Most of the elements of the novel felt half-baked — if things had just been followed through, then it could have been a very good novel. As it stands, it’s unfortunately quite bland.

The Hopefuls is published by Knopf in July 2016.

The Importance of a Super-Hero Diaspora…

That’s a rather grand title. Rather than some deep analysis of why super-heroes should be based and from all over the world, this was just inspired by the fact that a). three super-heroes (at least) have re-located, and b). New York and Gotham have become ridiculously over-populated by super-heroes in Marvel’s and DC’s lines.

Marvel&DC-NewYorkGotham

New York City, while I love it, has become rather ridiculous in terms of Marvel’s super-heroes. I remember at least one comic picking up on the fact that you’d have to be a moron to try to be a (super-)villain in the Big Apple, given the sheer saturation-level population of super-powered, tights-wearing do-gooders. There are the ever-expanding Avengers teams and their various off-shoots and allies. Given how often the city is destroyed, one has to wonder why they decided to locate their headquarters right in the middle of America’s most densely-populated metropolis. Thankfully, though, Marvel seems to be doing something to add some variation into the mix. Namely, The Punisher and Daredevil are leaving the city. This last one is particularly noteworthy, given how important Hell’s Kitchen and its surrounding neighbourhoods are to that book’s and hero’s identity – not to mention the rest of the city. As it happens, these have been my two favourite Marvel titles ever since I started reading them (in the same week, as it turned out). Greg Rucka and Mark Waid have done a great job with writing duties, and the artwork for both books has been stunning.

So, here are some details on the moves, both of which are part of the All-New Marvel NOW! Endlessly-Extending Prefixes Strategy…

Punisher-01ATHE PUNISHER: Moving to LA

“Frank Castle’s one-man-war on crime continues… For years, the Punisher has called New York City his home – keeping a watchful eye on the city through the sight of a gun. But when a lead on a major source of drugs, weapons, and more leads Frank out west – he sets his sights on Los Angeles. And the City of Angels isn’t ready for a devil like the Punisher! But not everything is as it appears, and Frank will soon find himself toe-to-toe with a highly trained military strike force known only as the 131! Who are the mysterious 131? And why are they out for the Punisher’s head?”

The new Punisher series was launched in February 2014. Greg Rucka’s relatively short run on the series was absolutely superb (I recently finished it off, thanks to a 99c sale on ComiXology): not only was Rucka’s writing and story gripping and appropriately gritty, but Marco Checcheto’s artwork is stunning. The new series is written by Nathan Edmondson (whose Ultimate Comics: X-Men and The Activity were pretty good). Artwork will be by Mitch Gerads. It’ll be interesting to see how the character adapts to his new environment – although, given that he has travelled abroad before (including in Rucka’s run), it probably won’t be too different. Nevertheless, I really hope Edmondson manages to maintain the quality – it’s a great character, and the extreme shades of grey in which he operates allow for some pretty great/powerful storytelling opportunities.

Punisher-01&02-PalmtreeCovers

Variant Covers for #1 (Larocca) and #2 (Opena)
Palm trees! He still looks miserable, though…

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Daredevil-01ADAREDEVIL: Moving to San Francisco

“Gifted with an imperceptible radar sense, blind lawyer Matt Murdock patrols the streets with a Billy club and a passion for justice. Only this time – it’s a brand new city, with even more dangerous foes. Join Matt Murdock as he journeys from the dark streets of Hell’s Kitchen to the sun-drenched boulevards of San Francisco.”

In March 2014, the Man Without Fear will be relocating to beautiful San Francisco. It’ll be interesting to see how he manages in the new city – his approach to vigilantism has always involved an awful lot of swinging and leaping around New York’s high-rises, so… Yeah. It’ll be interesting to see how his approach changes. (To be fair, I don’t really know much about San Francisco, but I get the impression it’s not too built up…) Mark Waid will continue to handle writing duties, and Chris Samnee will still be producing the artwork. I’m really looking forward tot his re-boot (call it what it is).

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Nightwing-19-Preview2

It’s not just Marvel characters, though. Gotham City is home to the extended Bat-Family and ever-extending Rogues’ Gallery that have plagued the Dark Knight on-and-off for decades. Last year, however, Dick “Nightwing” Grayson departed Gotham City for the Windy City in issue #19. Here are some excerpts from CBR’s interview with writer Kyle Higgins on Grayson’s move…

“I made the decision that if Dick was going to change cities, it needed to be story motivated. It couldn’t just be because of emotional fallout and state of mind… He’s heading to Chicago to find the man that killed his parents. As far as he’s concerned, that’s the only reason he’s going and once that’s over, he’ll be heading back to Gotham City. We’ll have to see how the story plays out, as to whether or not that will happen, but as far as Dick is concerned initially, that’s what he’s headed to Chicago for… Chicago has its own mythology and its own history that we’re tapping into and it’s definitely going to be playing a big part in Dick and Nightwing’s life moving forward.”

I’m quite behind on Nightwing, having not read any issues after the end of “Death of the Family”. I’d like to pick it up again, though, at some point.

Nightwing-20-Interior1

Of course, one thing that still needs to be addressed (and there are some signs that this is happening, for which we can only be happy, and hope for continued progress). Let’s hope we get a little more diverse than just re-locating a Justice League team further north into Canada (which, actually, I do think could be rather cool), and explore countries outside North America and the UK as more than just mission destinations…