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review 2015-07-21 15:45
Private Vegas & High-Roller James Patterson
Private Vegas - Maxine Paetro,James Patterson

If the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results*, then it might seem crazy that I read nine of James Patterson's Private series, despite giving the books consistently lackluster ratings. But, in my defense, 1. they were all free (thanks library); 2. sometimes it's nice to have sort of mediocre mind-fodder; and 3. something has to follow a book that blows me away, and I'm always cranky about my “rebound read,” regardless of its quality.  


I rarely review these middling books (and this isn't much in the way of a review, I suppose), but the one note I wrote to myself while reading Private Vegas was something to the effect of: “Why all the designer name-dropping? Does Patterson get paid for product placement?” I mean make and model of cars is one thing, but saying someone slinked out of her Oscar de la Renta dress and kicked off her 4-inch Stuart Weitzman stilettos seemed like overkill.


So, fast forward to the other day when I overheard that James Patterson was listed as #7 on the Forbes annual list of World's Highest Paid Celebrities— just to clarify, that's a notch (or two) above Taylor Swift and Robert Downey Jr. who each purportedly pulled in a paltry $80 million last year. While I'm all for authors making boatloads of green, and can't even really comprehend making that kind of bank, this tidbit brought me back to my curiosity re. Patterson's business model/income stream. 

Forbes 2015 World's Highest Paid Celebrities

I don't have an answer (and am far too lazy to get my google judo on at the moment). But, if anyone out there happens to know if product placement is a “thing” in the book biz, I'd love to know more…


* Citation: Einstein (though I'm likely misquoting him).

† Yes, I realize it's unlikely that such placements would be the bread and butter of the Patterson fortune, but, still!

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review 2015-07-11 17:14
The Butcher's Boy (Butcher's Boy, #1)
The Butcher's Boy - Thomas Perry,Michael Connelly

Pretty tempted to round my 3.5-star rating to 4 because of Elizabeth Waring who, despite being a woman in the man's man's world of 80s government, and proclaiming that “I'm not even a field investigator. I'm a data analyst.” still manages to be pretty kickass.

Data nerds FTW!

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review 2015-05-12 14:02
Ghostman - Roger Hobbs

“I was doing a nickel bit in the hoosegow…under glass because of a loose jawed stoolie who'd snitched to the bulls.”

That line wasn't penned by Roger Hobbs. Actually, it probably doesn't even make sense, but I've always operated under the notion that if I can't be a hardboiled criminal, at least I can try to coopt their lingo. So, if for that reason alone, reading Ghostman was a worthwhile endeavor (especially since the Sam Spade terminology is probably getting a bit dated).


The titular role of “ghostman” is among the more difficult to define. Probably because “there isn't a proper name for what we [they] do.” Professional imposters in the business of disappearing is the best I can do for now. But, despite their solitary nature, a ghostman doesn't do a job alone (far from it).

“This was a job with strict plans, timing and endgame—a jugmarker’s heist from beginning to end.”

A jugmarker, of course, can “[write] heists the way Mozart wrote music.” The jugmarker, from miles away, can bring all the right people together. If a safe's involved you'll need a boxman—preferably one who's “half computer programmer, half demolition expert,” maybe a linguist, and a solid wheelman for sure. A pair of buttonmen who, though they rarely look tough, “hurt people for a living,” are a must as well.


But, there's kind of a catch: “jugmarkers are notorious for taking revenge on people who rat on them. Some don't even kill snitches right away. They kill a guy’s whole family first, just to get his attention.” And, though our guy, Jack, is no snitch, he's dealing with one twisted marker…the kind who will force feed a guy a jar of nutmeg and leave him “to bite off his own tongue and drown in the blood.”


Malcolm X Tea Archer 203 OC


Though I can't speak to the verisimilitude of the criminal lexicon, it does make for fun reading. This ghostman's a pro—heck, he even accounts for exigent circumstances and the plain view doctrine. 


Exigent Circumstances Archer 504 OC


Oh, and if you actually want to know what the book is about, then I suggest you check out Kemper and/or James' reviews…

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review 2015-02-01 17:51
Odd Thomas (Odd Thomas #1)
Odd Thomas - Dean Koontz

There are plenty of prolific authors out there with whom I'm completely unfamiliar. It was only a few years ago that I “met” (and fell hard for) Stephen King. So I decided to give Dean Koontz a whirl, and (as suggested by my lone star rating) Odd Thomas and I did't exactly hit it off.


I get the whole different strokes for different folks thing, but I just couldn't handle the saccharine sweet (e.g. “My favorite body part is my heart...”), at times infuriatingly repetitive narrative voice of Odd "Yes That's My Real Name" Thomas. The premise for the book is simply not all that hard to follow—Odd sees dead people. So, there's no need to expressly state that *insert character's name here* (who doesn't see dead people) might have a different take on the world.


Then there are topics/references tossed in that just felt forced. September 11th comes up a couple times, pedophilia and molestation are in there for good measure, and then there's Odd's bizarre understanding of autism. I'm no expert on the etiology of autism spectrum disorders, but Odd's rationale for avoiding big cities— that, in the face of so many lingering dead, he “would no doubt quickly seek escape in autism or suicide”—left me feeling a bit thrown. It doesn't come up again, other than transitioning to the next thought with “Not yet either dead or autistic…” But WTF?!?


Long of the short, Odd Thomas is not for me. I'd be open to giving Koontz another try, but, after this one, I'm in no hurry. 

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review 2014-11-11 15:44
Frozen: My Journey into the World of Cryonics, Deception, and Death
Frozen: My Journey into the World of Cryonics, Deception, and Death - Larry Johnson

People are weird about death…which, I suppose, means that being ‘weird about death’ is actually quite normal. So, in some ways, having people dole out money to have their bodies frozen on the off chance that future technology will be able to resurrect them in a couple of decades isn't all that different from your workaday televangelist imploring ‘true believers’ to send in checks in order to ensure their place in a city in the sky. Author Larry Johnson's exposé isn't a condemnation of the concept of cryonics, or the viability of the science – it's about the bizarre (and often times super shady) inner workings he observed while working at the Alcor Life Extension Foundation.


The semi-journalistic aim of this book felt like sort of a mashup of The Genius Factory: The Curious History of the Nobel Prize Sperm Bank, and Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief (both of which I happened to read earlier this year). However, in style and content, it was inferior to each and/or both—and this is the reason for my 2.5/5 star rating.


Why tell you this at all? Well, because there's quite a bit of controversy around the legitimacy of the book, its author, the criminal allegations…the list goes on. However, not being an expert myself, and feeling insufficiently interested to dig deeper into the book's veracity, I'm not equipped to give this truthiness score.* Long of the short is that this is a he-said/she-said corporate whistleblower case with the added allure of celebrity affiliation (primarily Ted Williams, but there are others to be sure). 

Hixon filling dewar at Alcor

Of Anesthetic Drugs & Butt Plugs

Larry, a veteran paramedic wasn't a delicate flower when it came to the death business. He'd spent the last several years on-call in Vegas (where insanity often reigns), and was even on-hand as a chopper paramedic for the Branch Davidian debacle in Waco. And yet, pretty much from day one he was a bit surprised at what he found kicking around the Alcor compound.


In addition to the expired paralytic drugs (why would you need to paralyze a dead person?), the butt plugs (umm...maybe those come in handy), and a diaspora of pizza boxes and tuna cans (turns out tuna cans make excellent pedestals for frozen human heads), the cast of characters he met seemed a bit off. Examples?

  • A woman who wears a bicycle helmet while in her car to protect her brain (not exactly sound science there)
  • A CEO (Larry Johnson) and COO (Charles Platt) constantly sniping at one another (in battles dubbed ‘cryowars’ by Alcor staffers) via company-wide emails
  • Oh, and a lurking hunchbacked computer scientist who inspired the observation made by Charles Platt below

“I suppose the most curious thing about Michael Perry,” Charles continued, “is that he removed his own testicles with a razor blade.”

Jerry Lemler Alcor Patient Care Bay

For my money, the most egregious things Larry observes deal with bad lab protocol (e.g. removing Ted Williams' head when he was supposed to be a full-body patient), and the kind of gross environmental and worker-safety negligence that occur when an industry lacks any form of oversight (e.g. if a body pretty much decays in a van, you shouldn't just hose the thing out before returning it to the car rental company).


Yes, referring to death as the end of a patient's “first lifecycle” is a little odd, and helping a patient to reach that end point is (in most states) illegal, but it also doesn't sound like that was the norm. Threatening Johnson's life is definitely not cool, but there's just not much to say about that. 


As far as Ted Williams goes, it sounds like Alcor (at most) aided and abetted Williams' greedy scoundrel of a son, John Henry Williams. I haven't been able to find the full-length piece on this that Johnson wrote for Sports Illustrated in 2003 (you can get the gist from ESPN's coverage of the saga), but what likely made for a fascinating magazine article was just too drawn out in book form.    


* So, if all that death threat business from the cryo-fanatical fringe turns out to be true, feel free to just blame Larry.

† As for the obvious questions as to why Larry wouldn't make an immediate b-line for the exit, he chalks this up to being a bit of an adrenaline junkie. But, yes, I too was confused about this aspect of Larry's tale.  

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