Wednesday, January 30, 2008

RAMBO'S BACK!!! ... in theaters

Original Rambo Trilogy

First Blood (1982)
Ex-Green Beret John Rambo returns from Vietnam still haunted by the violent, torcherous experiences he's been exposed to. Drifting aimlessly through rural regions in the Pacific Northwest, he seeks connection with the widow of a once brother-in-arms only to be shunned as an outsider and accosted by the local sherriff. The continued harassment soon culminates in a violent altercation leaving one man dead and Rambo on the run. Merely a victim of circumstance, Rambo must nevertheless re-engage his military tactics to thwart his pursuers and survive as a lone wolf against hundreds now trying to track him down.

First Blood Part II (1985)
Shady politics under bureaucratic protection have secretly left several American P.O.W.'s stranded in Vietnam. In an effort to set them free without unnecessary exposure, the feds employ
Rambo to infiltrate the enemy and free the captives from their jungle prison. Stylistically, this may be the best flick of the original three placing Rambo in a realistic vigilante role with enough grisly action and subversive attitude to satisfy any attention span. Even the tacked-on love story doesn't seem too overblown as Rambo's roguish loyalty to "the mission" and indifference to protocol give fresh meaning to the word 'mercenary'.

Rambo III (1988)
When lifelong friend and mentor Col. Sam Trautman is taken prisoner in Afghanistan, only Rambo has enough skill, expertise and warrior hutzpah to attempt the rescue mission. But even Rambo must acknowledge the suicidal conditions present: Trautman's prison compound is perched high atop a desert mountain surrounded by soviet troops in a region enduring continual war. The third Rambo features some gruesome carnage sequences akin to films like Death Wish or Bloodsport; and yet manages a worthy tale loaded with trademark shoot-'em-all-and-let-God-sort-'em-out explosiveness.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

New African-American Fiction Titles!

Between Goodbyes
by Anita Bunkley
After a harrowing escape to Florida aboard a renegade boat of Haitians, Afro-Cuban Niya Loundres must now cope with unfamiliar surroundings and fair-weather ‘friends’. By chance she lands a waitress job at a floundering Jamaican restaurant where, with time, she works her way into a life as a nightclub dancer. Meshing natural ability with innate beauty, Niya becomes in-demand almost overnight; finding success to be as treacherous as it is advantageous.

What You Won’t Do for Love
by Wendy Coakley-Thompson
After another letdown in the romance department, Chaney Braxton moves to Washington D.C. hoping for a fresh start. One day while walking her sister’s dog, she meets Devin Rhym who, in addition to being a veterinarian, also has a penchant for Asian cuisine. As sparks fly between Chaney and Devin, so does the baggage as past relationships, family drama, and tragedy force each to re-evaluate their feelings.

Trouble Loves Company
by Angie Daniels
Renee, Danielle, and Kayla are three sexy, sassy thirty-somethings rolling with life’s ups and downs and together sharing life’s hard-learned lessons. Despite a devoted husband, romance author Renee is dissatisfied with marriage; viewing it more and more as the button-down lifestyle she’s always dreaded. Kayla just knows the Rev. Leroy Brown will leave his family for her until she finds him in bed with another woman (not his wife) and single mom Danielle struggles to raise her teenage daughter even as her own relationship drama heats up.

Gotta’ Keep on Tryin’
by Virginia Deberry & Donna Grant
Pat and Gayle are longtime best friends who co-own and operate a business together—Ell & Me, Inc., a children’s toy company based around a storytime character Gayle created several years ago. But trouble arises when secrets from the past emerge threatening to destroy both their business partnership and time-tested friendship.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

The Center Cannot Hold, by Elyn Saks

This is the true story of Ms. Saks’ struggle with schizophrenia and her success in creating a productive life in spite of her illness. She grew up in Florida in the fifties and early sixties, with two younger brothers, in what appears as an idyllic childhood. Her father was a lawyer, and both parents put emphasis on spending time with their children, engaging in sports and other family activities. There are some warning signs of the illness, in that Elyn has compulsive behaviors and experiences hallucinatory moments. She hides her hallucinations from her parents, although she does try to communicate to them her fear of the dark. Not surprisingly, they fail to take it seriously. Only towards the end of her junior year in high school, does she alert them to having tried marijuana, and of suffering some after effects. (the after effects appear to have come from taking mescaline, but she doesn’t tell them that). At this point the parents take her to a rehab center, since she refuses to promise never to try anything illegal again. The rehab center is punishing and humiliating in its behavior modification techniques, but when she later has another hallucinatory episode, her parents take her back there.

Although some reviews have criticized the quality of Saks’ writing, I found her story riveting throughout. She first does graduate study at Oxford in England, and the difference between her treatment there and in New Haven, Connecticut, where she later attends school, is overwhelming. She finally finds therapy in the U.S. similar to what she had in England, but the heavy handed and demeaning approach to her symptoms by the medical establishment here is striking in compared to England, where her wishes were respected and her rights were not violated.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

The Siege of Mecca by Yaroslav Trofimov

Towards the end of the 1979 annual pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia by the followers of Islam, there was an armed uprising by militants led by a Saudi preacher Juhayman Al-Utaybi. Under cover of the presence of thousands of pilgrims, hundreds of rebels took control of the Grand Mosque. The Saudi government kept a tight control on news of the insurrection, since this was before the introduction of live satellite TV, mobile phones and the internet. Only Muslims are allowed in Mecca, which also hampered the use of outside help to quell the insurgents.

Trofimov, a writer and journalist, obtained interviews with some few remaining participants who were teenagers at the time, and suffered only imprisonment for their part in the uprising. Trofimov traces the unrest from discontent with the Saudi rulers for their departure from the strict observance of Islamic beliefs. The ruling family promised to make reforms in order to gain permission from the clerics to use arms against the rebels, since this is holy ground. Ironically, Trofimov portrays these reforms as helping to provide aid for future Muslim revolutionaries, among them the Al Qaeda organization. The book describes the desert and rural culture that the rebels came from and illuminating the ideals they fought and died for.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

I Capture the Castle / by Dodie Smith

Cassandra Mortmain lives in a castle (moat and all). But in depression-era Britain this derelict, centuries-old stone heap is more of a cave than a king’s palace (“…nothing romantic about being shut up in a crumbling ruin surrounded by a sea of mud.”). Yet it’s strangely suited for a 17-year-old with little to do but chronicle her family's eccentricities; her author/father's writer's block essentially leaving the family financially bereft. Her ashamed-to-be-poor older sister Rose and artsy stepmother Topaz--whose experimentalism includes lute-playing and outdoor nudism--each add their own bit of ambiguity amidst decidedly 'medieval' surroundings. It's a 'roughing it' kind-of-life even from Cassandra's laid-back perspective; acknowledging the castle's limitations while simultaneously promoting its bohemian distinction.

Salvation appears one rainy night when a pair of (wealthy) American brothers--Neil and Thomas--happen upon the doorstep (car trouble). Their arrival kindles new life to the castle; sparking interest from both girls and even resurrecting the despondent father James--Neil being a devotee of James' only popular book. It doesn't take long for Neil to fall in love, propose, and become engaged to the beautiful Rose; throwing the plot into full-swing nearly overnight.

But this faux faerie tale is only a setup as Neil, though not a bad guy, doesn't quite complete the 'prince charming' profile; leaving room at the forefront for secondary characters--Thomas in particular--to steadily emerge with time. All is revealed in rhythm with Cassandra's emotions (Neil being the object of Cassandra's affection), which indirectly recieve attention even if offset by the other characters. Domestic fiction it may be, 'Castle' (despite appearances) is no faerie tale upgrade. Any satirical element is subtly downplayed by the narrator's authenticity--a lighthearted, if enigmatic style which manages to level the playing field; slyly rooting out any presumptious or sentimental notions.

Weaveworld / by Clive Barker

Weaveworld is the story of a rug ... like no other. Its seams magically woven with the strands of time, it fabricates a strange and enchanted otherworld. It is the world of the Seerkind, an ancient race far older than man, who wield an awesome power to devise magic. It was long ago that the Seerkind were nearly wiped out by a horrendous evil known as the Scourge until, on the brink of extinction, they wove themselves into the rug for safekeeping. Since that time the rug has had human caretakers--guardians worthy of its untold potential. The last caretaker, having died before the rug’s succession, allows a diverse mix of characters (some good, some evil) to now pursue possession of the rug and the power it contains.

This is fantasy at its best. Clive Barker has an incredible ability to illuminate the extraordinary and Weaveworld, written in 1987, demonstrates just that. It's a story which stays grounded through suspended reality, even while it constantly strains the boundaries of the abstract, making the un-realistic

In the Dark of the Night / by John Saul

The Brewsters think they’ve landed a steal when a summer rental home on the lake becomes available. Chicago-ans vacationing in Wisconsin, they’re excited about spending some quality time together with their two kids—Eric and Marci. For his part, Eric and best friends Kent and Tad can’t wait for some R&R before what’s sure to be a great senior year. Upon arrival, the house is better than anticipated with already furnished, spacious rooms and green lawns shaded by lofty pines—all just feet from the lake! Some old knick knacks, probably forgotten by the old owners, even provide a quaint element of antiquity to the place. Sifting through all the old junk (tools and rusted lawn equipment, mostly) proves a great way for the boys to pass the time; progressively more so as they become ever-more drawn to the house and its alluring secrets, secrets shrouded in a mysterious past.

But any harmless fascination soon turns treacherous as creepy, suspicious, and ultimately life-threatening incidents crop up with increasing frequency; making the boys all the more conscious of a supernatural presence in their midst, a presence emanating malevolence with each passing hour. With time seemingly running out and their very lives endangered, it’s up to Eric, Kent, and Tad to uncover the treacherous secrets surrounding the 'house in the pines'.

John Saul has authored dozens of horror novels over the past few decades providing plenty of fun for readers who love a good fright-fest. Some imagination is required as elements of the paranormal are prevalent in many of his works. Here, fans of horror flicks like Amityville and Poltergeist (even Friday the 13th, somewhat) will resonate with a plot that follows well-tread (but never dull) paths of ghostly apparitions, unexplained occurrences, and morbid details on previous homeowners, all culminating with the house essentially repelling its inhabitants. The plot’s not so formulaic though as, to be sure, certain twists along the way ensure that readers won’t be bored. Saul is not as deep as Stephen King or Anne Rice, choosing to focus on the action rather than the characters, who at times seem really farcical in the horror-flick heroine sort-of-way. (FIC SAUL)

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Anansi Boys / by Neil Gaiman

"Fat Charlie" Nancy has been the good-natured doormat all his life; demonstrated through his ever-so-submissive groveling to a pigheaded boss and domineering fiance. That all changes the day his father dies summoning Fat Charlie to a funeral for a man he hardly knew. Thinking it just another hassle, Charlie attends only to satisfy Mrs. Higgler (a very old friend of the family). It's only after the funeral that revelations fall concerning Fat Charlie's god-like inheritance and his separated-at-birth/never-known-about twin brother-- Spider.

Following introductions, it is at once evident that Spider (though Charlie’s mirror image) is everything Charlie isn't, but would like to be. Spider is in control; always capable but never hasty, permeating confidence while embracing trepidation, a winner. Within 24 hours (more or less), Spider and Charlie catch up on 30 lost years of brotherhood through (what else), women and song. With all the reunion confusion, Charlie nearly forgets his normal life and altogether forgets Mrs. Higgler's (what could only be nonsense) talk about how he and Spider are offspring of the mythical African god, Anansi (hence the last name 'Nancy'). But before long, certain quirky events slowly bring Charlie around to the knowledge that there must be something to his inheritance. Thus begins the brother’s real world/myth realm adventure which will determine their entire lives...and beyond.

This is another breathtaking novel by Neil Gaiman, a writer whose work is synonymous with Homer as much as H.P. Lovecraft for all the creative talent shoved into his one brain. Known for his books like Stardust, Good Omen/Bad Omen, & Interworld as well as story collections like Fragile Things, Gaiman has essentially taken the fantasy fiction world to another level. With Anansi Boys, reader's will discover a multi-genre epic linking the mundane to the mythic and transforming other world realms into accessible reality.

Agatha Raisin and the Haunted House / by M.C. Beaton

Alone again (naturally), saucy divorcee/amateur sleuth Agatha Raisin can get down to the serious business of 'being thoroughly done with the male sex'. Steadfast to the last, her resolve is firm after seeing her husband leave her for his latest fling. But even heartbreak can't keep her away from a good mystery; especially one where a wealthy dowager is found dead after a night alone in a (rumored-to-be) haunted mansion. And when her new next door neighbor--one Paul Chatterton--proposes they investigate together; all the obstinacy in the world couldn't stifle Agatha's more ways than one.

Prominent mystery author M.C. Beaton has garnered loads of praise writing about Agatha's adventures and romantic blunders, publishing over a dozen books in the series. Agatha is a sympathetic sleuth; middle-aged and single with a 'free-lance' career and realistic habits...besides trying her hand at the occasional whodunit. This caper is nothing but (relatively) harmless fun as Agatha and Paul trace down clues to find the real reason behind a wealthy widow's accident. Entertaining without (too much) predictability; 'Agatha Raisin' epitomizes liesure reading and should catch on with 'cozy' literature fans.