Friday, January 30, 2015

Bleak Surrender

This may be a Southern thing, but remember when you'd play limbo and chant “how low can you go?“ Okay, well the same applies to Chang-Rae Lee’s The Surrendered. How low and how bleak can this novel go in its tapestry of pain and suffering? Now, just because I would describe the novel as low and bleak doesn't negate how amazing (if sometimes trope-cheating) the book actually was. Really, I loved it; any book that keeps me anxious until the very end is a winner. Nonetheless, as stated, there were some problems along the way.  However, a few of those problems are so precise that should I even attempt to shed light on them I would spoil the story. I don't want to do that. I absolutely can't, as it'll make some of those “problem” areas all the more dissatisfying.

Therefore, I'll give you just a little bit of what I liked and didn't like about The Surrendered

While The Surrendered opens up during the Korean War (1950-1953), it’s a post-war novel. “The misery of life after war times” is the surface overture of the novel, as three protagonists guide you along their desolation through securely interlacing stories.


The first character is an orphaned Korean teen named June Han Singer. Her journey escaping North Korea during the war opens up the novel. Struck by tragedy after tragedy, she is forced to forge her own path after the loss of her family. She’s all that’s left of the Singers. 

June's story jaunts into the future, particularly in 1986 where we find June in her late forties living in New York. Here, she’s an antiques dealer, clearing away the remains of her estate (apartment, business, etc.) to seek out her long-missing son, Nicholas. One year Nicholas went overseas and never returned home. However, through a stream of letters and postcards, June has managed to keep in contact with her son. Troubled by guilt for her lack of involvement in his childhood (except for her lying about his father, I didn't see June as a distant mother to her son), June decides to hire a private investigator to help her locate Nicholas; suspected somewhere in Rome. However, that’s not all. June is dying of stomach cancer, which brings urgency to her cause. (I found this line of plot as sort of the backbone of the novel.)

Then there’s June’s savior, Hector Brennan. Hector once worked as a GI in the Korean War. Explosive and easily agitated, Hector was released from his military duties after frequent entanglements with his superiors. The fun part is that we get to jump back into his past, his childhood. As a teen, Hector spent much of his time watching over his veteran father, who spent his time in bars drunk and searching for fights. Aside from watching of his troubled father, Hector also spent time exploring his sexuality with various neighborhood girls as well as the wives of military soldiers. One day, this exploration comes with a price. Nevertheless, after his discharge, Hector is seen wandering around Korea until his discovers young, starving June. Hesitate by her experience, June eventually takes Hector’s invitation to follow him to a local orphanage where he finds himself work as a resident handyman.

I could imagine Sylvie like this
The last protagonist, and probably the brightest of the three, is a missionary wife and daughter named Sylvie Tanner. With her own disastrous–and I mean disastrous–past trying to control and pull her back into its darkness, Sylvie’s struggles lead her to the same orphanage June and Hector arrives at. Working alongside her missionary husband, Sylvie finds herself beloved by the children at the orphanage. So much so that they all wish she'd adopt them before her journey leads her elsewhere. However, while all that innocence softens her inner, controlling demons, it’s the presence of June and Hector who inadvertently pokes at it. The two fight for Sylvie’s love, comfort and affection. Each desperate to silence their inner turmoil through the other.


So as you can tell by now, the structure of The Surrendered jaunts back and forth in time and space, guiding each of the characters' journey through nuggets and clues given early within their stories. From there, either those answers are answered through a jaunting look into the past or future. As for the setting itself, the novel jumps mainly between Korea and America during the late 1950s and 1980s (some chapters are even earlier than both). The leaping back and forth in time and space was something I did like about The Surrendered. I can understand why some readers might not appreciate the non-linear way the story is told, but I loved it. I liked it mainly because–as mentioned–it nuggets and cliff-hangs you along. And it surprises you as well. An event summarized in sparse, inscrutable detail will suddenly come to a conclusive edge only a few chapters later. Frustrating sometimes when you stop and beg the author to give you more details, but a delight when you find out that Lee didn't just leave you hanging.

Additionally, I liked the jaunting and jumping because somehow it worked with my engagement with the book. I was forced to maintain and track the unfolding of its story. I didn't tag along sheepishly. I was a part of it, much like a mystery novel where the reader has to engage and maintain elements dispersed throughout the book to find satisfaction in its conclusion.  I came into The Surrendered looking for a great story, and I really did receive it.  Even if down to the way Lee told the story.


However, I think that what really became my issue was how Lee kind of over-pushed the bleakness through the various deaths of secondary characters. So much so that I found some deaths scenes a little too forced, a little too orchestrated and would've appeared challenging if these characters’ fate would’ve been opposite to the one they were given.  Removing the many troubled, but brighter characters took away some of hope.  It also left these characters in a someone prop-like status used to further the inner ugliness of the main characters.  Additionally, it made matters inescapable how this novel would never “see the light.” It also made me, as the reader, question some of the intent of the book. Should we never believe in silver linings? Should we never have faith there is always good somewhere down the road long after the punishment of war? I just don't know with this one. All I can say is that some characters’ death took me out of the novel for a moment, and into a writer’s uncertain objective.  (What should I do with this character to increase the hardcore drama?  Oh, yeah.  Kill him!  He'll be another notch in the misery.)

The Surrendered was a gripping read no doubt. It was the book I found myself most invested in this month. I'm torn between the bleakness and the engaging execution of the story.  And while the more I read the more I realized the character's weren't necessarily going to "brighten up", it still didn't change how valid their stories were.
I think that’s enough talking about this book. We could go on all day, but I highly recommend The Surrendered.  Although I wasn't feeling Lee's debut, Native Speaker, I have to say that The Surrendered has definitely compelled me to try his debut again.  Or better yet, just go nuts on Amazon and order all of his books.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Die Again?

It has finally happened. Since 2012’s Last to Die (which was a letdown), Tess Gerritsen has finally released book eleven (technically twelve if you count The Bone Garden) in her Rizzoli and Isles series, Die Again. Finally the crime-fighting duo is back!  And just for the record, I don't watch the TV show.  I saw the first episode, realized how Angie Harmon didn't even come close to how I envision Jane Rizzoli (help me Jesus was that too much for me), and decided I didn't want to spoil my personal perspective of the series and characters.  Additionally, I dislike the show's theme song.  I know.  How petty.  But I just can't get with its Celtic melody.  Something about it kills the Rizzoli and Isles universe's edge.

So I'm done being petty and, considering I haven't written much about Tess Gerritsen since starting this blog, I'll give a little background as to how I discovered the series.  Which was really quite simple, as it merged out of reading Patricia Cornwell's Kay Scarpetta series.  I wanted to read more on medical examiners and forensic pathology; while the pathologist of the duo, Isles, didn't show up until the second book, her name brought me to the series.  And yes, I fell hard for Jane after the first book.  Then WHAM: two women solving crimes.  One is a temperamental detective.  One is a distant medical examiner.  I identified with both adjectives, so how could I resist?  Furthermore, I just love reading about intelligence characters and authors with a knack for teaching me a thing or two about a life I'd probably never get a chance to live.  And seeing that Gerritsen is a doctor, I kind of trust her shit.

Needless to say, I've kept up ever since.  And I'm always, always proud to say that my favorite book in the series is Body Double (book #4).  I threw my schoolwork aside to read that book in a single night.  That's how serious the situation became.  There are a few other Gerritsen books outside of her Rizzoli and Isles series that I also recommend.  Two being Harvest and Gravity.  Both will turn into one-night reads.  Trust.

So yeah.  I'm pretty familiar with Tess Gerritsen.  Now on to Die Again.

The narrative format throughout Die Again is the same as her previous books in the Rizzoli and Isles series.  Gerritsen’s narrative jumps from different perspectives, times and settings. In Die Again, she places the series’ stars in the present investigation state of solving the gruesome murder of a taxidermist named Leon Gott. Like the big-game hunter he once was, Gott is found in a position similar to his animal conquests, hanging upside down in his garage and gutted like a forest duiker.  With a few clues and connections, the ladies back their way through his history to un-bury the truth behind his murder.  Sometimes at the slight displeasure of one another's company.  It’s an unusually gruesome murder/case, but I found it plays into the book's primal overture of finding ourselves psychologically helpless and gutted by our fears. To the point where we're paralyzed by them. (You'll probably get it once you read the book.)

Nonetheless, so where does this case lead series’ star Rizzoli and Isles? Well, here comes Gerritsen’s B-story.

Six years ago a group of multinational (from Japan to America) tourists disappeared on a safari deep in Botswana. And while you would think a herd of lions took over their camp and snatched them all into the African bush, there was actually a killer among the group picking them off one by one during the night. Naturally, this raised suspicions within the group, and as the tension and murders continued, one lone survivor named Millie flew into the African bush to escape. She survived two weeks before arriving half dead at a gaming lodge tucked into the African Delta.  And really, after reading the first book in Suzanne Arruda's African safari-themed mystery series, I have to say that Gerritsen's complete take came nowhere near as uneventful and boring.  Meaning, when Gerritsen uses words and language to put you in Botswana you were there–storywise and all.  

As for the killer, well, he’s still out there hunting from the African bush of Botswana to one of the oldest cities in the U.S., Boston.  Which all sounds like a sweep and an outliner's nightmare, but, as always, Gerritsen made it all coalesce.  With a shiny–if not far-fetched–glow.  

So yeah.  Die Again was a thrill, but at the end I thought to myself "it was good, but she was reaching high on this one."  

I think that mostly came with how I didn't really get her villain.  Apart from how the limited suspects led me to him more than partway through the book, I just wasn't compelled by his presence.  His argument.  And the rush ending didn't help matters.  So in that sense, the villain seemed wooden to me.  Even while his deathly deeds and modus operandi were documented (mainly through the eyes of others) and summarized, I didn't get enough of his personal angle.  To me, the killer's point is just as important as the good guy's.  This kind of made me wish Gerritsen shared chapters focused on the killer's psychology as well as Millie's story of survival.  And the ending of Die Again let me down in this aspect.  I would've appreciated a full fleshing out.  (Think the A&E reality show, The Killer Speaks.)

Even so, Gerritsen has mentioned before that her books contain women climbing out of horrific situations, and it's been an on-going staple to her storytelling.  Without a doubt, this is the strength of the series.  Therefore, I did find myself touched by Millie's story.  Not so much toward the end where she becomes a jittery mess (though completely understandable), but I was definitely in her corner through her narrative.  Additionally, I felt for the fate of a few of the supporting characters.  The "what could've been" at the end of the book was moving.

Die Again is another fantastic Rizzoli and Isles thriller.  It's gripping where it needs to be.  Wonderfully thematic if you pay close attention.  And overall fun riding once again with Rizzoli's mouth running and Isles complimenting her with her own theories.  They're friends.  They support one another in their common goal.  Sometimes that support is tested, but you know it's unbreakable.  

If you're not familiar with the series, I suggest you start with the first book, The Surgeon.  

Monday, January 26, 2015

Chronicling Robb

I know, I know. Enough with the J. D. Robb already. Even so, I’m feeling good as I semi-chronicle my return to the series, so bright and early within the year. And in doing so, I have to share that I finally got the two latest releases.  Concealed in Death (Book #38) and Festive in Death (Book #39) just arrived in the mail! 

Concealed is about the skeletal remains of twelve, hidden in the walls of an old building. A building that once was a homeless shelter for teens. Festive in Death is about a narcissistic personal trainer who finds himself stabbed by one of his many adoring women.  Eve has to put aside her dislike of said trainer in order to do her job and catch his killer.

I can say that both seem like a romping good time. But you just never know, really. Especially with In Death books. Nonetheless, I'm excited for two more Eve Dallas cases before Obsession is released on February 10th (just in time for my birthday). After then, I'll have to leave this series along until book #41, Devotion in Death, is released on September 1st.

So here’s to more progress in one of my favorite series. Though–as mentioned in my last post–they sometimes get on my nerves.  What relationship doesn't, though?

Be on the lookout for my thoughts.  If you've read Concealed or Festive, please share yours.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

My 5 Least Favorite In Death Books

As mentioned in a previous POST, I’m slowly crawling my way back to catching up on J. D. Robb’s In Death series after a two-year break. I'm currently two books away, before the 40th book is released next month. Excited? Yeah. I suppose. It does feel nice to be back in NYPSD homicide lieutenant Eve Dallas’s futuristic world. It’s great to see her fight crime alongside the cast of equally (well, a handful of them) entertaining characters. Nevertheless, all that is neither here nor there at the moment. What I present in this post is my Top 5 Least Favorite In Death books–out of the 37 that I've devoured so far. Because I started the series and read a few of these books years ago, I'm really working with memory (as well as a touch of residual emotions) here. Therefore, I may not be specific as to why I didn't like these books. It could be something as simple as a bad line of dialogue. Or an even worst, a dull-ass ending. So I'm just going to shoot from the hip and hope that some of you In Death fans can encourage me to re-read them, should I sound misled. Conversely, if you can relate, share in my dislike of these particular chapters of Eve Dallas’s saga. Anyway, let’s roll!

1. Imitation in Death (In Death #17)

Okay, a killer wearing a cape and top hat decides he wants to jump outside of the year 2059 and back into 1888. Why? Because he wants to imitate the infamous Jack the Ripper. You know? The East End of London’s own serial killer. Nonetheless, in the same fashion as Jack the Ripper, this killer takes it upon himself to target a prostitute. When Eve Dallas arrives to investigate said prostitute's death, she discovers a letter addressed to her. It’s the killer nudging her to follow his stream of copycat killings–as if it’s all a game dedicated to testing her skills.

What I didn't like about this book? For starters, having read the first 16 books to this point, I wasn't disappointed once. Then this dull brick of a book fell and killed my high. I was simply bored with Imitation in Death. Or maybe I was burnt out. Nevertheless, while this series is police procedural, my biggest discontent came with how Imitation consisted of Eve going around in circles interviewing suspects, repeatedly. It was a loop. Interview after interview. Nothing exciting. Just a dull stream of interviews until she finally capped her killer.  This has stuck with me since I walked away from this chapter in her saga.

2.  Born in Death (In Death #23)

Eve’s good friend and popstar, Mavis, is about to have a baby.  Attending a birthing class, she meets another mom-to-be name Tandy Willowby.  When Tandy doesn’t attend Mavis’s baby shower, Mavis gets worried.  You see, Tandy came to New York from London.  She doesn’t know many people, and definitely doesn’t have any family in America.  Super concerned, Mavis ask Eve to look into the missing Tandy.  Find out what happened to her.  While it’s a situation better for Missing Persons, Eve takes on Mavis’s request and eventually finds herself confronted with a new murder case.

Well, it’s no surprise that I dislike Mavis more than any character in this series (outside of the killers).  Since I started reading the In Death books, I've found Mavis mostly obnoxious and corny.  She rolls onto her scenes dancing and saying stuff like “mag” and “steller.”  And while she has a dark past, it’s hardly even used to fill her development out.  So when she tries to pin Eve into working in an area outside of her own department, you can bet I was irritated.  A book sub-featuring lots of Mavis.  Yay.  Not!  And just to be clear, Born in Death probably deserves a re-read.  A small part of me remembers liking the actual case.

3.  Kindred in Death (In Death #29)

A newly promoted NYPSD captain decides to go on vacation with his wife, leaving behind their sixteen-year-old daughter.  Upon their return, they find their daughter has been brutally murdered in her own bedroom.

My mood is still flat and apathetic towards Kindred in Death. Which is kind of strange when this is probably one of Eve Dallas’s top grizzliest cases, and should've been some kind of stakes-driven thrill ride. Nonetheless, the only thing I can really remember regarding this particular case is a jogger and the return of the techno geek character Jamie. And something else about, through a stream of arduous canvass interviews, a witness spotting said jogger possibly fleeing the crime scene.  Eve and her crew squeezed every bit of potential evidence out of his singular event.  It lead them in the right direction, but I found it a headache getting through this case from this point forward.  So at last, I can summarize my feelings about Kindred in Death in two words: a stretch. I just didn't seem to click with this book.  A small part of me has to blame the previous book, Promises in Death. Promises was such an emotional ride that I actually dropped a tear at its end. This one was just a disappointingly dry "meh." One in which I'm currently convinced that I skipped a couple of pages out of boredom.

4.  Indulgence in Death (In Death #31)

Random thrill kills suddenly take over New York, and Eve eventually finds herself at Coney Island uncovering the next murder inside of a house of horrors owned by her husband, Roarke. It appears that these murders are flavored with expensive taste. From the antique crossbow used to kill a limo driver, to the bayonet relic used to stab a high-class prostitute. There’s a pattern somewhere in all this chaos, one involving money, power and status. The killings are a game. They're someone’s personal indulgence.

Spoiled, rich men with nothing to do but play games by killing people more or less sums up Indulgence in Death. It’s nothing all that new in the In Death series, but slightly twisted in this case. However, not twisted enough, as you have to put up with their one-dimensional smugness throughout the book. Nevertheless, Indulgence opens with Eve and Roarke visiting bits of his family in Ireland. Coincidentally, they become involved with a murder case. Eve uses that moment to coach the green-around-the-ears Irish cop at the scene. And once the murder is wrapped, you'd think it would deepen and sedge its way into the murders that takes place in New York. It doesn't, really. It was a thing to probably gold-star Eve’s amazing-ness as a homicide lieutenant. Other than that, I think I of zoned out on this one because of the often exasperating subject of how Roarke owns everything–including the house of horrors where one of the victims lie. In retrospect, it may have been the fun house’s security that he owns. Even so, he's forever in the economic pot. Even down to this small, itemized occurrence. The last thing that made me smirk was a scene where Eve didn't understand the purpose of a pair of BBQ tongs–or something to that nature. Regardless, it's not always cute when Eve acts as if she doesn't understand the simplest things outside of her occupation.

5.  New York to Dallas (In Death #33)

Twelve years ago, rookie cop Eve Dallas had an encounter with a serial killer named Isaac McQueen. Subsequently, McQueen is sent to prison for eternity. Until he escapes with the objective of exacting revenge on Eve. His trail leads him to Dallas, the place where, as a young child, Eve was found wandering its streets after murdering her malevolence father. Gotten wind of McQueen’s escape, Eve heads to Dallas to put an end to his escape. Only to find that McQueen’s accomplice is Eve’s biological mother, Stella.

The whopper of all of my disappointments. While I'm kind of over it, it’s still hard for me to talk about this book without expressing rage. This was the book that made me realize that even after 32 books, this series would never reach the heights or depths I’d hoped for it. It was always going to be a slow-burning series. Torpid in a sense, but a fun ride. A series you have to take case-by-case, book-by-book. However, the ultimate publisher’s money machine. New York to Dallas was the book that made me read one more, then take that two-year hiatus from the series. To me, New York to Dallas was the perfect opportunity to breathe a whole new life/level into the series, but instead it seemed to have sucked away the series’ last breathe before everything returned to its basics. And hardly un-bothered, I may add. It’s that glass ceiling that never got broken. Chipped. Nowhere near a crack.

New York to Dallas was an anti-climactic conclusion to a huge piece of Eve’s history. Even Roarke’s history had a better treatment. Nonetheless, this was all my fault. I went into New York to Dallas thinking I was going to get something similar to Tess Gerritsen’s Body Double. Or something along the lines of J is for Judgment by Sue Grafton. Thinking I was going to get my meat and potatoes and instead got a cabbage.  But, alas, I'm over it. Mostly anyway.  What I can say is that my concerns with how Eve deals with her past has changed a touch in the proceeding books.  There's no more nightmares and ruminating on the past; instead, she's "conversing" with it.  And I'm cool with that.

Well, that's it.  These are the 5 In Death books that immediately comes to mind when I think about rotten apples in the series.  Only 5 out of the extensive number isn't bad.  Or not steep enough for me to totally stop reading the series.  I started reading In Death at an interesting time in my life, so its brought me comfort over the years.  It's funny because I remember being unmoved by the first book, then four months later I was pumping gas and something kept telling me to go to the bookstore and pick up the second book.  It sort of shined on me with such clarity.  So it's a relationship, I suppose.  And with all relationships, comes issues.

Now share with me your least favorites in the comments below.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

To the Bottom of Yoshida's Villain!

It’s probably easier–to save any spoilers–if I just copied the back synopsis of Shuichi Yoshida's Villain here to give you an idea as to what the book is about.  As well as sprinkle your imagination.
"A woman is killed at a ghostly mountain pass in southern Japan and the local police quickly pinpoint a suspect.  But as the puzzle pieces of the crime slowly click into place, new questions arise.  Is a villain simply the person who commits a crime or are those who feel no remorse for malicious behavior just as guilty?  Moving from office parks and claustrophobic love hotels to desolate seaside towns and lighthouses, Shuichi Yoshida's dark thriller reveals the inner lives of men and women who have something to hide."
I decided to borrow the book’s synopsis to keep Villain’s plot as imprecise as possible. Why? Because while Villain’s unfolding events may seem apparent in the beginning, there are moments of both physiological and story progression that deters, squeezes, and red herrings you around the entanglements of the book. All of which may spoil the reading experience should I try to lay it all out in a summary. Nevertheless, to me Villain works in part like a character analysis, societal/cultural examination, noir thriller, and salacious love story. And while some of those elements may not seem to correspond properly with one another–or belong underneath the same listing–it’s kind of what I'm left with after reading the book.

Villain offers plenty; crammed together and, in my opinion, dark and elegantly deployed in the book’s storytelling.  It's a story that raises questions asking what sort of psychological disposition (if even able) causes an individual to tumble over the edge and into that of a murderer? What unawareness causes a person to fall as prey to a murderer? What causes a person to fall in love with a murderer? How does either of the two’s family respond, internalize and accept the falling of their loved one? How do outside players pushed into the fray deal with guilt and grief concerning their choices and lack thereof?  What are the choices given to all those involved, and what could amount to a better decision? How does cultural and societal pressure play a role?

And so much of this is presented without overthrowing the actual story itself.

So many questions with subjective answers consume you post-Villain. However, if not, you'll have at least enjoyed the shadowy ride with its troubled characters. And Villain is a ride that may, at times, feel bumpy from Yoshida’s multiple interlocking plots and sometimes non-chronological events. Also, the unexpected leaps from third-person to a reflective first-person narrative may ask you to step back for just a moment to gather exactly which character is providing his or her study of the surrounding events.

If you love Japanese crime and physiological thriller writers like Natsuo Kirino, Ryu Murakami and Miyuki Miyabe then you can't go too wrong with Yoshida’s Villain. As my first reading of him, I have to say that Villain contained all the elements and components I love in Japanese crime/psychological fiction.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Into Robb or Nah

Okay, so I'm making a point to catch up on my J. D. Robb before Obsession in Death releases next month. I’m four books away, with the first two down in Calculated in Death and Thankless in Death.  Concealed [book 38] and Festive in Death [book 39] are on the way. Now, how and where can I start, seeing how Calculated is book number 36 in the series? So really? Exactly where should I start my thoughts?

Well, considering each book contains an individual case, perhaps there. Calculated opens up in Manhattan’s Upper East Side–sometime in November. Stripped of her expensive coat and briefcase, an accountant named Marta Dickenson lay dead at the bottom steps of a brownstone apartment under renovations. At first glance, it appears to be a mugging gone wrong. Then homicide lieutenant Eve Dallas steps in and discovers Marta’s death was a lot more premeditated than it appears. Assigned to work on three financial audits, Marta’s murder begs for a closer look. 

So with an innocent accountant and wife dead in her hands, it's up to Eve to speak for her. And what she unravels is a stream of financial corruption and fraud, tucked and hidden in mountains of company records. However, it takes a team of four players to provide the momentum of this corrupt engine. And the closer Eve gets to the truth, the more desperate the group of four become as they begin to sell and pick each other off to hide their role in Marta‘s murder.  Which more or less made Calculated a little tangled in some areas.  As well as sluggish.  Nevertheless, it's demanding of readers' focus, to keep track of the many names and ties involved.  So besides the standard series characters gone to work, what I found most alluring about this book is how it focuses on the tale of the hitman.  His side of things.  How he became who he is.  That I did find satisfying, and even saddening to a degree.

Almost thankfully, but not so thankfully; Thankless in Death is miles and miles of trouble-free, painless, effortless plotting compared to Calculated in Death. As book number 37 in the In Death series, I would wager to say this was a sleeper. The plot is really quite simple.  A twenty-something entitled and ungrateful brat of a man–still living under his parents after being fired from a job and being kicked out of his girlfriend’s apartment–decides that he’s had enough of his parents' nagging at him to straighten up his life. So what does he do? He kills them, swipes their money and other valuables, and then takes off.  Still begrudging others who've made his sad existence of a life miserable, he decides to take on further murderous acts to focus his psychological distress. The reader witnesses his villainous progression throughout it all.  And from the opening's murder of his parents, to the arrival of Eve, the evidence is clear that he’s her man. This, in turn, creates an open mystery and a not so tense cat-and-mouse chase between him and homicide lieutenant Eve Dallas. 

Thankless wasn't a thrill ride at all.  Interesting?  Sure.  Neurotic?  A touch.  But never an actual thrill.  Partly because the villain was an idiot who spent more time running and whining than actually thwarting. However, there were a few character moments present that kind of made me understand what the book was really about.  Which, in my humble estimation, would revolve around showing gratitude to the friends and family present in your life.  At the end of the day, I could get with that and forgive the book.

Getting to the Point

So yeah. Books number 36 and 37.  Whether you have an on-again off-again relationship with this series, you'd probably want to have some history behind you before you jump into Calculated and Thankless in DeathIn saying so, as much as I want to write an outstanding post about the two, I can’t.  All I can say is that if you've gotten this far, you've gotten this far for a reason.  Either you're in the game, or you're not at this point. You love the futuristic setting blended with police procedural, or you don’t. You love Eve and her relationship with Roarke (or as most readers read only for Roarke), or you don’t. You love the ensemble cast–including the colorful Detective Peabody and the motherly-figure Dr. Mira–or you don’t. Some readers express concerns about some “switch” in writing styles.  Some even express suspicions of a ghostwriter. Some express concerns about characters’ attitude “changes."  Some are just worn of it all.  And some (actually many) just don't give a damn and keep going.

Most of these things pass over me, as I’m in the game for Eve’s smart-ass mouth and dedication. However, if anything does bother me, it’s usually the comma splices and the slightly swelling Mary/Gary Sue-ish flavor decorating the power couple that makes up Eve and Roarke. Okay, and also the lack of action scenes. Oh yeah, and the corny names for futuristic foods, games, businesses, and various forms of slang (I detest the use of “vid” for “video” and “mag” for “magnificent”; incidentally, this is probably why I find the popstar character Mavis obnoxious).

Furthermore, the series is unhurried outside of its crime-of-the-day format. And I mean unhurried as in character progression, overarching developments, series expansion, and so forth and so on. It’s a good thing. It’s a bad thing. It’s a comfortable and formulaic thing. Honestly, that’s just it. It is what it is at this point. Not a disappointment, but an old, fun pair of friends. Some visits ballpark it more than others, though.

I would always suggest the unfamiliar to start with the first book, Naked in Death, and work (at their pace) forward. J. D. Robb releases two new books a year in the series, and its only for the truly dedicated and addicted. Even I learned during my two-year hiatus that it was pointless to nick-picked this series apart when all I ever crave is the next book. The next crime. The next Eve Dallas banter and dedication to her work. 

There'll be good books. There'll be bad books. And the pump will keep pumping toward somewhere. Not quite sure where. But somewhere.  And I'll do my part and pump along.  

How about I do a post listing my 5 favorite and least favorites?  Before then, if you're familiar with this series, tell me your favorite and least favorite entries as we approach the 40th book next month.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Drawing Tae Hee Video Set

Hey, hey now.  Here's the two promised videos that accompany this POST I did a couple of days ago.  Commentary included.  Hope you enjoy!

Monday, January 12, 2015

Dream Maker Stop

What‘s up, folks? Okay, so it’s the New Year and it appears my best friend and I have a tradition of visiting our local metaphysical shop, The Dream Maker, very early in the year.  We get inspired to collect new stuff to get us in the receiving mood. Baring the chilling, negative-something-or-another January air, we arrived just before the shop closed (I need to take pictures of the places on our next visit). I didn't have anything in mind this trip, only that I wanted to get a new pendulum because the one I've had for the past two years is busted from wearing it to work to stave off bad energy. It’s a seven chakra pendulum stacked with colored stones.  And I haven't seen another in the shop since I bought mine.  Nonetheless, on this particular trip, there were plenty to replace it with.  I finally settled on a quartz bottle pendulum with colorful stone pieces inside (chakra stone pieces, perhaps?).  It was either this one or a pendulum of an angel fashioned out of rose quartz.

I also got two word stones. The one carved with “Love” is made of sodalite, and the one carved with “Friends” is made of goldstone. While the goldstone attracted me with its simmering blackness, I picked these two word stones as areas I hope to improve in.  More or less a emblematic gesture to myself.

The last item I got is what’s apparently a little jewel box (or what have you) made of camel bone and brass–with a crushed velvety-like filling. Wanting something unique and different to put the word stones in, I finally decided on this box.

Look for an update by June as we go back to recharge.  If you collect crystals, gems or have a general interest in the metaphysics, please share your experience in the comments.

The Guy Who Almost Faded Away

I mentioned a couple of post ago how I've been sitting around not drawing.  I'd sketched an image and struggled for weeks trying to create it the way I'd envisioned it.  Unfortunately, that process stalled completely.  Friday I decided to just do it.  To take whatever it was I had already done and keep going.  There's no such thing as perfection after all.  It's something that will forever remain elusive and paralyzing.  So I'd rather keep creating.  Anyway, I actually filmed the process of this particularly project, so until I update this post with the edited film, here are a few of the stills.

The usual inking and color outlining done.  Just going with the flow on this one.  Nothing particular in mind, except that I wanted dark, bushy-like eyebrows.

As always, I fill in the color of the eyes first.  For some reason I do the eyes before letting everything else blossom.  It may have something to do with how I'm inspired by Naoko Takeuchi.  Nonetheless, I also colored areas of shade/shadow, and filled his top lip.  I had a little problem with the ink not drying properly, so when I went to erase the penciling, some of the ink smeared.  

Now time for the crafty part.  I had a cousin over and, from a multitude of scrapbook paper, she picked up this denim background and a shimmery gold piece for his cap.

So I had to scalp him to get all the necessary pieces traced and put back together.  Thankfully, he remains unbothered by the event.  While the pieces were off, I dusted him with a fleshy yellow-tinted chalk pastel and a soft brown for his hair.  I used a paper towel to even it all out.

Almost done.  All the pieces glued in place now.  I streaked his hair with a single black colored pencil and four shades of brown.  I used an eraser to streak in highlights–which I don't believe showed all that much.  Added pupil effect to eyes.

Not sure if this is the complete version yet.  I added jewel studs (because I love studs) before the scan.  Scanned him in, revived color, darken the black areas of the cap, eyebrows, and eyes.  He reminds me of a certain popstar, but I'm good with that.  The innocence, the youth, the potential look of caution; done.  We'll name him Tae Hee.  Now on to the next project.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Fresh Start with You Can Heal Your Life

It’s the New Year and I still want to stress (well, I should use a better term) the idea of giving ourselves a fresh, positive jolt for 2015. In doing so, I want to share one of my favorite books on creating favorable changes–both the outer and inner kind. It’s the book that brought me some much needed comfort over the years, because there‘s nothing exciting about dealing with those dark nights of the soul we all unavoidably must face.  And you know those nights, when it feels like Life is trolling you like a Whack-a-Mole game.  So unless you're like a few people I used to know who'd rather ride Life until the wheels pop off, you may have cause to focus on a little personal development. Nevertheless, the book, as seen to your left, is Louise Hay’s self-help debut, You Can Heal Your Life.

I was moderately familiar with Louise Hay back in my Sylvia Browne days (found somewhere in the headache of my early twenties).  Still, it wasn't until The Secret powered on 2006 with its quantum-ness talks on the law of attraction that a slew of related authors came blinking on my personal development radar.  Louise Hay, obviously, was one of those authors. Working at Borders, I checked You Can Heal Your Life out for a couple of days.  And I wasn't deterred by a manager who asked in subtle disgust whether or not I actually believed what you think/believe influences the makeup of your life. He was an adamant skeptic (and ain't nothing wrong with that) and thought I was crazy.  But really I was just searching for answers. I needed some mental and emotional healing; and to be perfectly honest, he, at the time, was part of my problem.

Unfortunately, I wouldn't truly appreciate You Can Heal Your Life until years later–after watching the video shown somewhere below this post. I mentioned in a past post what incident compelled me to seek out Louise Hay again.  Since then I've collected many of her books, audio lectures, DVDs, and even went to see her live in Atlanta during one of her I Can Do It tour stops.

See, I fell in love with You Can Heal Your Life because it is simple and uncomplicated with its purpose, while addressing multiple areas of personal development.  In an easy and comprehensible way, it covers relationships, jobs, aspirations, and spirituality (to name a few).  It leaves aside all of the quantum and scientifically researched talk for the fundamentals and basics.  It doesn't try to prove much of anything, while teaching you why you shouldn't sell yourself short as it concerns Life and the one you were given.  You learn how to recognize those bad thinking habits, and shift them from the inside out. And if it’s hard to drill your way through to change and giving up old, discouraging habits and attitudes, the affirmations given in the book are there to guide you in the right direction.  And say inner peace still doesn't come so easily, well you'll at least know that control how much of it you'll give yourself.

Nevertheless, I think ultimately (as it’s boiled down and compressed into my subconscious), You Can Heal Your Life reminds me that everything is going to be okay, and to trust the God/Universe. I went into picking up the book the second time because I needed to understand how everything is working out for my highest good, and from each experience only good will come. And that I am safe. And that I have to love the Self. Anytime I feel like things are clouding up around me, I pick up this book to beat it all back. It’s like an emotional beacon toward getting myself out of the rut of obsessing and over-thinking situations that are out of my hand. It allows me to let go, even just for a moment.

Lately I haven't been picking the book up as much as I feel like I should, so I will myself to keep it front and center and off my bookshelf. Next to my bed will do.  Just like the audio lectures/books of Louise Hay that I listen to when I just can't seem to fall asleep on my own.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Gerritsen No Goose. Robb Wins.

Seems like I'm breaking in the New Year catching up on J. D. Robb's In Death series–and not quite one of those juicy 400+ paged books I promised myself to start.  As previously mentioned, I stopped reading the series for two years before I finally caught up with where I left of in Delusion in Death.  Reading this series feels like an old pair of shoes and a wine-tasting party (or what I would believe) with old friends.  The series remains highly familiar, highly uneventful, and highly formulaic.  Yet, it feels like home and so much more.  

I happened across these two books at my local Books-A-Million.  The only reason I was there was because Barnes & Nobles didn't have Tess Gerritsen's latest, Die Again, on sale.  Sorry, but I'm not paying $27 for a book.  Nope.  I thought Books-A-Million would fair better, but no luck.  Except with J. D. Robb.  Calculated in Death follows immediately behind Delusion.  And after Calculated comes Thankless in Death.  I found them on bargain, therefore, I equivalate this to a JACKPOT.  As well as a comfortable way to get my year started.

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