REVIEW: Latest Star Wars movie excites, but aggravates too

NOTE TO READERS: If you have been living under a rock and haven’t seen Star Wars: The Force Awakens yet, don’t read any farther!

The Force Awakens

by G. Robert Frazier

Star Wars: The Force Awakens has finally played itself out to hordes of fans and left many giddy with excitement and others equally as revolted. I loved the spectacle of the film and the nostalgia of it, but I happen to fall in the latter category overall. Star Wars was a mess and nothing more than a reboot of Episode IV.

For starters, if you have to explain away plot holes in follow-up news articles by the Hollywood Reporter and Entertainment Weekly, as has been the norm over the past couple of days, then the movie didn’t work. A movie should be able to establish time, place, characters, and situations without footnotes and PR flacks coming to the rescue.

I’ve recently read articles trying to explain how the Resistance came to be and how it relates to the new Galactic Senate, as well as an article in which JJ Abrams tries to explain R2’s arc. Whatever.

There are numerous unanswered questions, like who are the Knights of Ren, who are Rey’s parents, who is Lord Snope (Snoke? Snape? Snappy? Snoopy? Voldemort, whatever the hell his name is), how did Luke’s lightsaber wind up in a trunk in Maz Pinata’s cellar, etc., etc. All questions that will likely be answered in the sequels and which we can wait upon.

But aside from the many unanswered questions, the movie was filled with several unsatisfying scenes or lack of scenes altogether.

The biggest fail in the entire movie has to be the reaction to Han Solo’s death by General Leia. Instead of giving the “big walking carpet” Chewbacca a hug, Chewie walks right past Leia and Leia in turn hugs it out with Rey, whom she doesn’t even know and has apparently never met! I nudged my brother while watching that scene and said to him: “That’s just wrong.” Plenty of other folks have responded the same way. My Burbank brother also hated the scene, saying Abrams failed to note the historic significance of Han’s passing and a silent hug between Chewie and Leia would not have left a dry eye in the house.

Another major fail is that Luke, Han and Leia were never reunited on the screen together. That Luke couldn’t share one final adventure with Han, which is what everyone wanted, is a shame and a disgrace on the part of the writers. While the movie is obviously hellbent on introducing new characters for the next generation of movie-goers, it lost points with fans who have been longing for new adventures with old friends.

C-3P0 and R2-D2’s roles were absolutely wasteful. Neither did much of anything in the film and C-3P0 didn’t even sound like him. I don’t know what they did with his voice, but it just didn’t sound right. The stupidest thing he said was when he pointed out to Han that he had a red arm. It didn’t matter one iota to the movie’s plot and no one gave it a second thought. The audience isn’t color blind and I’m sure we all would have noticed without the “on the nose” dialogue from C-3P0. Observant fans will notice that he no longer has a silver leg below his right knee either, but I didn’t hear him telling Han he had replaced his leg with a gold one.

There were so many coincidences in this movie that it felt contrived and forced from the get-go. Rey just happens to rescue BB8; she pilots the Millennium Falcon towards a freighter that just happens to be piloted by Han Solo; they just happen to go to a planet where Luke’s lightsaber is hidden; etc., etc. If events don’t occur organically, that is naturally, then what you are left with is a script where things happen for the sake of plot convenience. It makes the whole thing less believable and, ultimately, less enjoyable.

In case you think I have entirely negative things to say about the movie, that’s not true. I found one gem to highlight: When Kylo Ren froze the blaster fire in midair! Not even Darth Vader froze laser bolts in midair! Now that was cool!

Review: The Gap of Time updates Shakespeare for a modern audience

by G. Robert Frazier

It takes a top-notch writer to be able to capture the essence of a classic William Shakespeare play and present it in an entertaining way for a modern audience. Jeanette Winterson pulls off that feat with her new book, The Gap of Time (Hogarth, $25), an update of Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale.

The Gap of TimeWinterson is aptly able to spin a parallel tale of love, jealousy and forgiveness with a cast of characters stretching from London to the United States and back again. Her writing is at times lyrical while also whimsy, realizing the absurdity of the tale needs a bit of self-conscious ribbing in order to not be taken too seriously.

For the uninitiated, The Winter’s Tale presents the story of a king fueled by jealousy who believes his best friend and his wife have had an affair, leading to his daughter’s banishment and his wife’s death. By a series of coincidences, they are ultimately reunited. Winterson faithfully follows the script of Shakespeare’s play as she presents each act of her novel, beginning with the jealous rage of her main character Leo and following it up with his daughter Perdita’s discovery of her true identity in Act 2. She brings them together in the final act where they are able to forgive each other, as the gap of time since his initial outburst has given Leo time to reflect and Perdita a chance to grow on her own.

If that sounds a bit complicated and contrived, so be it. That’s Shakespeare. But, it works in an entertaining way.

Winterson weaves in enough humor, emotional angst, and unique characters to give the tale a fascinating life of its own. Nor are we confined to just one limited point of view, as Winterson gets into the heads of all the major characters to give us their perspective as the complicated plot unravels.

The story, as in the play, ends on a happy note as Leo is reunited with his daughter and she forgives him for abandoning her. As a modern day reader, however, I was longing for a more classic tragic outcome as Shakespeare popularized in his earlier plays. The happy ending in this story seemed almost as contrived as the coincidental nature of the plot.

Jeanette Winterson has written ten novels, children’s books, nonfiction works and screenplays. Perhaps it was fate that led her to craft The Gap o f Time.

I received this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for this review.

G. Robert Frazier is a writer living in La Vergne, TN. Follow him on Twitter @grfrazier23. 

Review: Steven James peels back twists in Every Crooked Path

by G. Robert Frazier

Every Crooked PathReading Every Crooked Path, the new novel by national bestselling author Steven James, is like peeling an onion: each layer of mystery pulled back reveals something more foul and evil than the last.

What starts as an investigation into a fatal stabbing takes a twisted turn when James’ recurring hero, FBI Special Agent Patrick Bowers, uncovers a child exploitation ring on the Dark Web, a cyber world hidden away from the regular internet, where anonymous clients barter and trade in sexually explicit photographs of minors for their perverted pleasure and the profit of a mysterious cadre of webmasters.

James hooks readers right from the start, as within the first few pages Bowers is attacked at the crime scene in a Manhattan high-rise. Bowers manages to fend off his attacker, but before he can get anything out of him, the man jumps off the balcony to his death, leaving behind a key and a cryptic clue to an even larger conspiracy.

Read the full review at Killer Nashville.

Review: Herman Koch’s The Dinner a tasty good read

by G. Robert Frazier

The main course of Herman Koch’s The Dinner  is deliciously twisted, and so too is the dessert. After reading this compulsively addictive novel, you’ll want to make it the topic of conversation at your next dinner with family and, perhaps, for many meals to come.

The DinnerOriginally published in the Netherlands in 2009, Hogarth – an imprint of Crown Publishing – has served up a new Extra Libris printing of the New York Times bestseller for connoisseurs of fine reading, with a reader’s guide as well as a behind-the-scenes essay and conversation with Koch. And it’s worth every juicy morsel.

The Dinner introduces readers to a pair of brother-and-wife couples during the course of an evening meal at a fashionable restaurant in Amsterdam. But as the night wears on, the conversation – like the dinner itself – takes on a meatier tone. Masked beneath the gentle dab of a napkin and the fussy attentions of the restaurant’s manager (and his obtrusive pinky finger) is a family secret that threatens to spoil the couples’ friendship, their reputations, and very livelihoods.

Koch masterfully draws readers into the conversation, spoon-feeding tasty nuggets of information to us as if we were sitting at a nearby table eavesdropping for gossip. Much of the story takes place during a single evening, but Koch weaves in numerous flashbacks to deepen and enrich the characters’ feelings and relationships to each other like appetizers before the main meal.

The further we dig into the story the more we also learn of the narrator’s own secrets and the less trustworthy he becomes, adding a bit of spice and bitterness to the tale in the same sort of vein as Gone Girl’s unreliable narrators.

Ultimately, readers are left to chew on one insatiable question where it concerns not only the story’s main characters but in their own lives, and that is: how far would you go to protect your loved ones?

Koch is the author of eight novels and three short story collections. The Dinner has been published in twenty-five countries. Just desserts indeed.

I received this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for this honest review.

Review: Questions posed in Powerless linger well after novel is finished

by G. Robert Frazier

If you’ve never given a thought as to what to do in a disaster, you’ll probably change your mind after reading Tim Washburn’s terrifying debut novel Powerless (Pinnacle Books).

PowerlessAt the very least, you’ll find yourself taking an extra long look at those survivor magazines at the grocery store checkout lane, or setting your DVR to record those doomsday prepper shows. You may even feel compelled to go a step farther by purchasing a gas generator for your home, nonperishable foods by the pallet, and cases of bottled water. You might want to get a gun or two as well–one for hunting and one for self-defense.

Because when the power goes out–for good–you’ll need all of it sooner rather than later.

The characters in Washburn’s debut novel learn that lesson the hard way when a massive solar flare wipes out electricity across the northern hemisphere, plunging the entire US into complete chaos.

Read the rest of this review on Killer Nashville

Book review: White Leopard a gritty, graphic PI novel

by G. Robert Frazier

Whether it’s shooting thugs in the kneecaps, punching them in the solar plexus, or chopping off their hands at the wrist, author Laurent Guillaume doesn’t pull any punches in his gritty and graphic English-language debut, White Leopard (Le French Book, $16.95).

White LeopardGuillaume’s anti-hero Souleymane (Solo) Camera is a tough-as-nails private investigator making his living in arid Bamako, Mali, in West Africa after running from a dark past in France, where he was a former drug force detective. Solo’s cases typically involve chasing down and photographing cheating husbands in divorce cases, although he has handled a few higher profile criminal cases, netting him the title’s nickname from police. (He’s part French, part Malian, and reviled by both.)

A simple case—“buying” the freedom of a woman arrested on drug charges by offering a bribe to the local magistrate (apparently an all-too common occurrence in corruption-rife Mali)—takes an unexpected turn when the woman is brutally murdered upon her release. The sister of the victim, who hired Solo in the first place, boasts that he will bring the killers to justice, which only serves to make Solo the next target for the thugs.

Read the rest of this review at KillerNashville.com.

Review: Neil Patrick Harris’ autobiography a hilarious diversion

by G. Robert Frazier

Choose Your Own Autobiography by Neil Patrick Harris (Three Rivers Press, $16) was a fun little diversion from the usual high-octane thrillers and hard-boiled detective novels I like to read. Every once in a while you need something a bit more light-hearted to sort of decompress. This fit that bill nicely.

Choose Your Own AutobiographyTypically I wouldn’t bother with anything about Neil Patrick Harris, let alone an autobiography. Don’t get me wrong. I think he’s a talented actor and he’s certainly making a name for himself following his post-Doogie Howser M.D. fame. But I was never a big fan of Doogie and … wait for It … I never got into How I Met Your Mother either. The best thing he’s been in of late was Gone Girl, and maybe I only liked it because (SPOILER ALERT!) he got killed in the most grisly fashion. (What’s that say about me?)

Bottom line, I don’t really regard him as someone I need to know about in great detail. At least not at this point. Maybe after he is elected president someday … maybe.

But at this point, I’m more than content with a short article in Entertainment Weekly or Variety about him than reading an entire book about his life. I think part of that is he’s still so young and he just hasn’t done enough yet to pique my curiosity further.

I think, somehow, Harris knows this about himself too. It explains why his autobiography is really nothing more than a series of snippets or vignettes from his life collected together as a sort of best of moments. Almost like they are funny stories he’d tell if he were a guest on a late night talk show or as if they were brief flashes of memories from his life. (And isn’t that the way all memories are anyway? I mean, who really remembers their life in a linear timeline?)

There’s no real narrative or arc binding the vignettes together, so to make things even more interesting, Harris allows the reader to pick which vignette to read next by offering a choice at the bottom of each. The idea is brilliant in that regard and immediately makes for a more engrossing and interactive reading experience.  It also allows you to read the book in spurts, without having to keep track of an over-arching theme. If you want to read something else in between chapters, so be it. No harm done, because every entry is self-contained.

To keep you on your toes, he throws in some hilarious “what if” scenarios that usually end badly for him.

Admittedly, several of the more truthful vignettes were also amusing diversions and fascinatingly good reads. Some more so than others.  Depending on how you choose you can actually get to THE END in no time flat, which is what I did. I reached the “final page” so quickly that I actually found myself going back to other chapters I knew I hadn’t read yet to see what I’d missed.

If anything else, the book makes you wonder “what if” your own life diverged in different ways. What adventure would you rather choose if you could?

Note: I received this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for this review.

Related reading:

7 Things How I Met Your Mother Can Teach About Writing

Review: Medical thriller Fatal Complications best left in the waiting room

By G. Robert Frazier

Believable characters – and what motivates them to do what they do – are the key to any great story. If the reader can’t buy into the character’s actions, then the story is going to fail no matter if everything else is done well. Unfortunately, Fatal Complications (Oceanview Publishing, Dec. 1, $26.95) by John Benedict is lacking in this area.

IMG_20151027_132424480 (861x1280)A medical thriller set in a small hospital, the novel follows anesthesiologist Luke Daulton who discovers things aren’t what they appear to be. An operating room emergency leads him to suspect that his surgeon boss, Dr. Katz, is behind some kind of nefarious scheme.

The FBI is also suspicious of activity at the hospital and has planted a spy within its walls to ferret out the truth. When the spy discovers damning evidence and is about to bring it in, Katz and his right hand man, a giant Russian orderly, knock him out and dump his body into the hospital incinerator.

But, Gwen, who is the girlfriend of another hospital worker, has seen the whole thing. She also happens upon a piece of paper in the trash at her billing office with some strange numbers on it – it’s a Sudoku page, go figure — and immediately makes a leap that it has something to do with our dead FBI guy. She passes the paper on to her boyfriend, Ron, who passes it to Luke, who passes it to his wife, Kim, who has a knack for puzzles. (See how this all makes sense?)

Rather than call police, Gwen confronts Katz directly in an attempt to blackmail him, while Kim deciphers the message on the Sudoku puzzle and learns that Katz is trying to kill a state senator who is in the hospital for gall bladder surgery.

Did I mention that Katz is completely off his rocker? His son died in a house fire fifteen years ago and ever since he’s developed a thorough hatred for God. He lets evil consume him while he plans “the complete domination of mankind.” But before he implements those plans, he takes on the job of killing the state senator, because you can’t rule the world without money, right?

By now, you have probably figured out what’s wrong with this novel. Too many coincidences, contrivances, and implausible motivations. I.e., a lack of believable characters.

It’s a shame, really, because outside of all of that Benedict proves to be a capable wordsmith. His action scenes are strong, his descriptions vivid, and his medical knowledge is clearly evident. Benedict is a board certified anesthesiologist in private practice in Harrisburg, Pa., according to the book’s notes on the author. He is a graduate of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and Penn State University College of Medicine where he completed a cardiac anesthesia fellowship, so he certainly has the credentials in medicine to write with authority in his medical scenes.

As a reader, you do feel like you are there in the operating room with the main character. But it would be best to leave this book in the waiting room.

Review: When Clowns Attack a silly, but serious survival read

by G. Robert Frazier

Just in time for Halloween comes an indispensable survival guide, When Clowns Attack (Ten Speed Press,  $14.99). The slim hardcover book by Writer’s Digest advice expert Chuck Sambuchino may sound silly, but it treats its topic as deadly serious. (Hey, clowns might look like they are having a lot of fun, but that’s part of their way of luring you in for one of their patented bozo attacks!)

When Clowns AttackFollowing on the heels of the popular Zombie Survival Guide: Recorded Attacks by Max Brooks and his own How to Survive a Garden Gnome Attack, Sambuchino exposes a far more credible threat and ways to deal with it in his killer clown opus. Zombies may be scary, but clowns are real, OK?

Clowns, he explains, are simply not what they appear to be. You never know their real names, they gallivant about in size 22 shoes, purposefully wear oversized pants in which they can hide all manner of weapons, seem impervious to pain, and have a fetish for children, who they routinely kidnap and indoctrinate into their colorful lifestyle.

Sambuchino speaks from personal experience: both his grandfathers suffered at the hands of these deranged jokers years ago, he tells us in his introduction. As a result, Sambuchino founded the anti-clown group Red Nose Alert and its mission to dutifully arms readers for every  eventuality when confronting crazed clowns, explaining what to look for (from their facepaint to their clothes), how to outrun a clown (throw imaginary objects at them to distract them!), and how to defend yourself in an attack (make a fart sound and they will double over in hysteria) .

The book is full of colorful photographs of the felonious jokesters, though many are stock images. It would have been more exciting to see photos of such crazed clowns as Pennywise from Stephen King’s It, Shaggy 2 Dope and Violent J from Insane Clown Posse, or Twisty the Clown from American Horror Story: Freak Show, but obviously copyrights would probably have been difficult to obtain.

Still, the book is a fun diversion overall and, who knows, could prove useful in the event of a clown attack. At the very least, you could smack the book over the head of a clown. So there’s that.

Note: I received this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for this review.

 

 

 

 

Review: Devil’s Pocket offers YA action, intrigue

In today’s society where everyone gets a trophy no matter how you finish, it’s no wonder that kids get so excited about do-or-die worlds like The Hunger Games, the Divergent series, or The Maze Runner. The imaginary free-for-alls that make those books and movies so popular seem to provide kids with an outlet for their competitive spirit… At least in a literary kind of way.

Devil's PocketAuthor John Dixon’s latest young adult novel, Devil’s Pocket, rides that trend with its own kill-or-be-killed funeral games. The novel focuses on 16-year-old Carl Freeman, who has been technologically enhanced by a chip in his head, and hundreds more throughout his body, turning him into a lightning-quick, lethal super soldier. Along with two other members of Phoenix Force, he will be pitted in the squared circle against the best young fighters in the world in a deadly competition. At stake: $10 million, bragging rights, and their very lives.

But as the body count continues to grow, Carl becomes more and more disillusioned by the game he’s been forced to play. Barely able to keep his temper in check, he and former girlfriend Octavia, who represents an opposing team, begin to plot their escape and the demise of the Few, a collection of masked overlords who run the games for their own nefarious purposes. The tension boils over into an explosive climax reminiscent of a James Bond movie.

Read the full review at Killer Nashville.