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Archive for the ‘Book Reviews’ Category

There’s going to be a war. This war is going to be fucking awesome. It’s going to decide the fate of the world and the gods that inhabit it. It’s going to be fucking choice! Blood, piss, guts, death raining down from above in splatters of matter and bone fragments. Never in the history of time, space, and everything has there been a battle like this. Not only that, there’ s a fucking mystery that needs to be solved too. This guy, Shadow, who just got out of prison, but it’s OK because he’s really a nice guy, is going to find out he’s the badest motherfucker in the world. Sure his wife died blowing his best friend, and her walking corpse is following his every motion, but that’s only adding to the fucking mystery, right?

For those of you whom may have read the book may know where I’m going to go with this.

Nothing happens.

Nope.

Nothing at all.

Many will probably say something like, “but the characters are so rich and intricate!” To which I wholeheartedly agree. I’ll also respond with a “So what?” If an entire book is building up to this promise of hell on earth and death and destruction to decide the fate of the gods, it better have a damn good reason on not delivering on it. I understand that the gods, having become twisted from their original incarnations, were only seeking the war for their own selfish means, which could come from the desperation of being in a nation that has become so ethnically mixed that no god can claim power or dominance without destroying the rest, and/or could even be understood as the constant tension that lies within the nation itself. But, don’t be a dick tease with the blood and death.

I’m told that HBO has greenlit an adaptation of American Gods into a series ala True Blood and Game of Thrones. My only hope is that the first season doesn’t climax with Shadow eating a Pastie in a small town in the Central Midwest.

If I want to read a book with beautiful prose where nothing really happens, I’ll read some Cormac McCarthy. See, I loooveeee McCarthy, but I expect him to describe in minute detail every plate full of beans that his protagonists eat or cup of coffee that they drink. And I’m fine with that. I could listen to him illiterate beans, tortillas, and coffee in a myriad of settings. But Cormac doesn’t promise a war to end all wars. If anything, he down plays what’s going to happen, making it all the more shocking when it finally does.

All of this being said, I can’t say that American Gods sucks. It doesn’t. All of the characters are interesting and amazingly well-developed. There are plenty of notes of Neil Gaiman’s wonderous wordplay. The concept of Gods walking amongst us in a sort of melting pot of lost deities trying to find their place in the world is both exciting and carefully crafted, even if the main character is kind of a dud – I mean, the guy finds out he’s the son of a god and the coolest thing he can manage to do is ride a fucking bird.

American Gods is a beautifully written, intricately plotted novel with amazingly well developed characters. But it is also really fucking boring.

 

I was expecting this….

 

 

 

 

 

 

And I got this…

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A.F. Stewart, the author of Chronicles of the Undead as well as many other great works has posted a review of my novel Becoming on her blog.

“I found the book an allegorical and metaphorical banquet, full of symbolism, with many of its characters standing as fantasy archetypes. Part myth, part dark fable, Becoming by Marc Johnson is a swirling gathering of lyrical thoughts, characters and images dancing outward in a non-linear story…”

You can read the whole review of Becoming:

You can also check out my review of her work, Shadows of Poetry.

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The Strain wipes its ass with the Twilight series by unleashing vampires that would leave Edward Cullen sparkling in a puddle of his own piss. And, if any teenage girl tried kissing one, she would end up with a surprise esophagectomy (Look it up!)

Excuse me. Could you spare a tampon?

My initial feelings about The Strain lied somewhere between ambivalence and ambivalence (Sorry, word geek joke) While I would consider Guillermo Del Toro one of the most profound story tellers out there – Watch Pan’s Labyrinth and tell me I’m fucking wrong! If you’re not left on your knees weeping with strands of drool falling to the floor, then I owe you a cold Pepsi to go with your cold dead heart. – this book is about as memorable for me as a piece of chocolate cake. Sure, who doesn’t love a piece of chocolate cake, except for maybe the coldhearted swine who didn’t like Pan’s Labyrinth, but when you’re done washing the cake down with a cold glass of milk, you’ll likely forget about it two days later, three at the most!

One description that I will “borrow” from somebody whose name I can’t “remember” tells everything about this book; “it’s like CSI with vampires.” And that’s it. It’s like a really, really, really long CSI episode but without the sunglasses. The action definitely keeps you moving; I read through the whole damn 401 pages in less than three days. But the only predictable action device that wasn’t employed in The Strain was Bruce Willis.

Yippee ki yay MutherFucker!!!

Dr. Ephraim Goodweather is a young divorcee who is trying to save the world while he is trying to keep his relationship with his son strong. The guy banging Eph’s former wife is a dildo who gets what he deserves. Even though he’s a doctor, he’s still badass enough to fuck up a few vampires with brutal vengeance. Etc. Probably the think that irked me the most was how Vampirism was treated as a blood disease, leaving the same taste in my mouth when I found out that, in Star Wars Ep. 1, the Force could be detected with a blood test.

Seriously?

Nearly every movie Guillermo has made has been unapologetically mythical and hasn’t had to rely on trying to present “scientific reasoning” for every creature of fantasy. Hell, Pan’s Labyrinth was so anti-scientific in this regard that if you don’t believe in creatures of fantasy, the ending meant that a little girl died horribly and without mercy and did not find any salvation in any way. It was a movie that forced you to believe in ginormic frogs, and fairies, and other crazy shit, otherwise the ending would’ve been too horrible to bear. But, with The Strain, Guillermo has done the exact opposite, explaining even the vampire’s fear of crucifixes in a way that can be measured and analyzed.

So, basically the reason I’m ambivalent about The Strain is because it doesn’t fit within Guillermo’s body of work. Which, admittedly, isn’t a good reason not to like a book, but I’m fucking writing this review, so I can say anything I want. As a stand-alone book, it works. But, with Guillermo’s name on it, I was expecting a profound piece of work. Instead, I ended up with CSI: Transylvania.



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I have been reading like a bastard lately and thought it was high time that I gave you some thoughtful reviews of the books that I have been reading. Well, thoughtful in the way that Charles Bronson was thoughtful about how he would murder some dude just for looking at him funny. Not a fan of reviews in general. Usually, they’re too long winded and are a blatant attempt by the critic to illustrate his/her superiority to the author of the book. Ultimately, these attempts only seem to exemplify the critic’s own inadequacies. So, without further ado, let’s explore my own flaccid literary skills.

 

Shit Son!! It's Charles Bronson!!!!

It isn’t that The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo is a bad book. But like it’s protagonist, Mikael Bloomkvist, it’s just trying to do too much.

TGWTDT (Fuck! Even the anagram is long) is a dead Swede’s account of a girl with, yeah, you guessed it, a dragon tattoo who happens to be a hacker, who happens to be a loner, who happens to be bi-sexual, who happens to meet up with a middle-aged journalist, the afore-mentioned Mikey, and helps crack a horrifying murder mystery that would leave Scooby-doo and the gang crying in their Scooby Snacks.

 

Drive on home boys!

Although I can see how Stieg Larsson, the dead Swede, found inspiration to write the novel in response to a gang rape that he had witnessed when he was 15, naming the main character, Lisabeth, after the victim, I just can’t figure out why he decided to have Mikael have sex with her. In fact, the only thing busier than the plot is Mikael’s little Mikey.

 

Not That Little Mikey! Too Soon???

An engorged dripping distraction from the narrative is that the middle-aged main character, Mikael Bloomkvist, gets to bang every female character in this novel. As a writer, I’ll tell you that we always put ourselves into our work, and Stieg the Swede is no exception. His self-personification gets tail from all across the spectrum. There’s his coworker, who is married, but he has been nailing for decades anyway. There is, of course, the girl with the dragon tattoo, Lisabeth, because, well, she can’t resist his psoriasis. And there is the nearly elderly Cecillia Vanger, because he needed to round his tail count out with a sugar momma.

While TGWTDT resembles the human circulatory system in its intricacies, it almost gets lost in them. The Vanger family history, with all of its psychosis, would’ve been sufficient to drive several novels. But, inexplicably, Stieg the Swede decides to include several side narratives that involve a Swedish Industrialist, several sexual predators, and Nazis, to make for a cornucopia of people who deserve to die horribly, and (spoiler warning) usually do.

Even these pricks!!!

If you ask most people, their most noted interest in this novel is in the character of Lisabeth. After a brutal rape scene, she comes back and punishes the rapist in kind. While the retribution serves to get the audience to jump up and down and say, “Yeah, fuck up that bastard!” it seems unrealistic and undermines one of the true horrors of rape in that many of the rapists never get caught. Sure, Lisabeth can serve as an inspiration to abused women, but it almost diminishes the struggles that many women do have when they are repeatedly abused and are not capable of fighting back in the way that Lisabeth did. And, also, did she really need to tattoo a paragraph on his stomach. She could have omitted “I am a sadistic pig, a pervert, and a…” and simply tattooed Rapist, providing the same effect in only half the time while saving money on ink.

Lisy’s character traits are more often indicated by her doing things that she wouldn’t normally do. “She would never normally do this, but this was different somehow” was a justifier for so many broken character traits that it was difficult to understand why she wouldn’t have broken them before. After knowing Stieg…I mean, Mikael for a week, she bangs him, and her whole ‘love ‘em and leave’ lifestyle is thrown into turmoil when she discovers she has feelings for Mikael that she has never had before and…..bleeeaaahhhhhhhh!!!!!

 

Love Vomit!

Maybe I was expecting too much; with everyone from here to the socialist iceberg that is Sweden (Just kidding guys. You know I love socialism.) telling me this is the greatest book EVER, I might have been more susceptible to the hackneyed plot devices that probably don’t bother most people. I went into it expecting to read a complex mystery, and it was complex. And I guess it was a mystery. So, TGWTDT had that goin’ for it, which is nice.

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As a musician, I always read poetry with an eye toward the lyrical. I can’t say that I know the intricacies of “good” poetry, but I do know what moves me. And by that standard, Shadows of Poetry definitely has some really good work in it.

“A Woodland Dark” is a particular favorite. A melancholy observation at the ending of the lives of leaves parallels the endings of human beings left in the “black earth” where the only mark left for them are clawed tracks.

Not all of the poems are winners. Probably my least favorite was “Within the Moonlight”. The rhythm on this one seemed rather scattered and some descriptors were rather cliché. Also, just a personal tick, I tend to twitch whenever someone utters the word “soul.”

Because I am always neck deep in philosophy, I really enjoyed “What I Am” in the Philosophical Musings section of the collection. Too many people, and you know who you are, use the word philosophy incorrectly and deserve eternal damnation for doing so. A.F. Stewart has a better understanding than these people and so this section carries some of her best work.

To me, the most effective part of Stewart’s poetry is the dark imagery invoked by her use of words. Descriptors are not as important to her as words like “ash, blood, whispers, and of course, shadow.” All of them paint a darker portrait than any adjectives could. Shadows of Poetry definitely has its shadows, but even in the dark, Stewart is able to bring us some beauty.

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The landscape that used to be the medium of the short story is quickly becoming an arid wasteland left to the childish musings of novelists interested in making a quick buck. Some, like Cormac McCarthy, have completely abandoned the medium as pointless. There are a few writers out there who are valiantly trying to keep the short story alive. Steve Morris is one of them.

With his second short story collection, Jumble Tales, Mr. Morris illustrates eighteen individual stories with grace. His strengths lie in his ability to seamlessly bring us into the narrative, providing the reader with just enough to follow through the tale without being bogged down with trivial information.

Many of the stories introduce a type of twist at the end, which, for the most part, is used effectively. There are times, however, that some of these twists seem a bit forced. For me the twist at the end of The Best Policy was jarring and, for me, took away from what otherwise would’ve been a great tale.

The stories that I enjoyed most, however, were the ones where the twists were less jarring or completely absent altogether. One of my favorite stories was One-Nil, an elegantly told story of a soccer player’s redemption. While reading, I could almost taste the grains of dirt between my teeth, and I actually found myself reading this story over and over again. Ships That Pass is another favorite that will be familiar for anyone who feels that they never have enough time alone with their significant other.

Steve Morris shines as a writer of short stories. In his introduction, he broaches the subject of writing a novel. There are parts of me that hope that he doesn’t. Not because I don’t think he would be a proficient novelist, but because I worry that the short story landscape may become more barren.

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I need to pretext this by saying that I love good short stories. The problem is that many authors cannot pull it off properly. The characters usually seem too thin (sometimes non-existent) or the stories omit any descriptions to make room for dialogue or narrative. In All Probability is interesting because I felt myself feeling empathy for most of the characters while enjoying a well written prose. Morris does well at spinning intriguing tales where the characters seem, well, human.

The diversity of the stories was also interesting. Not only do the characters come from all walks of life, convincingly told by the way, but the stories range from the subject of haunting spirits to espionage to dreams and memories.

The book is dense with short stories, and, while their are some that I think could have been better, most are very well done. I almost want to complain about the brevity of most of them, but some part of me thinks that is one of the things that I liked most about the book. I very much enjoyed reading a whole story while I was eating my cereal or in one of the other few calm moments of my otherwise hectic life.

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