Category Archives: strange

Tim Dorsey — Clownfish Blues

The protagonist of Dorsey’s twenty-plus books is Serge Storms, a psychotic serial killer who thinks up unique ways to punish or kill people who are hurting others. Coleman is a drugged-out sidekick to tea-totaling Serge. Clownfish Blues main plot (if it has one) revolves around the Florida lottery.

Dorsey skips between places, events, times, and people, so you don’t know where the story is going. Sometimes he seems to throw in characters from previous novels just for the sake of mentioning them, not to advance the story. Serge is unbelievable, Coleman is getting boring in his drunken stupor, the plots are thin, but Dorsey makes me laugh.

His stories are an exaggerated view of reality in Florida. The highways and byways visited by Serge and Coleman are real or based on real places. I enjoy the tours around the state.

So even though there are many things about Dorsey’s writing that I wouldn’t put up with from other authors, I enjoy his weird tales. As I said, he makes me laugh.

Dennis Lehane — Since We Fell

I met Dennis Lehane once at a book signing in Boston and I’ve seen him on television a few times. He seems like an easygoing likeable person with a twinkle of humor in his eyes. But Lehane writes dark stories. His characters are twisted. He examines his characters minds good and bad—their delights, doubts, and demons. Great stuff!

The first part of Since We Fell follows Rachel Childs from a childhood with a dominating mother and no father, through a successful career as a journalist in Boston and an unsuccessful marriage, to a breakdown on camera in Haiti while covering the aftermath of the 2010 earthquake. Her husband leaves her, she’s fired from her job, and she becomes a virtual shut-in.

Enter second husband, Brian Delacroix, who understands her (unlike first husband), treats her with loving kindness, and helps her overcome her phobias. Perfect husband…or is he?

The story is filled with questions, conspiracies, murder, and surprises. Is it a psychological thriller, a literary novel, crime novel, or something that doesn’t fall into any genre or category? It fits all three of my classifications of head, heart, and even some humor.

Charles River, Boston
Charles River, Boston

The setting is mostly in Boston, my favorite city in the world. It made me feel at home.

In my opinion, Dennis Lehane is one of the today’s best authors.

Stephen King — Duma Key

Duma Key is the first Stephen King novel I’ve read in many years. Even though he is an excellent writer, I’m not a fan of horror. You usually find his books classified as horror, but they could also fall into thriller, suspense, fantasy, psychological, supernatural, paranormal, ghost story, and mystery genres. Duma Key is all of these.

I’m not sure why I decided to read this book; maybe because the setting is in Southwest Florida where I live. I found the story intriguing from the beginning. Edgar Freemantle, builder and contractor, is almost killed in an accident that damages his right hip and leg, crushes his skull, and he loses his right arm. Due to his unpredictable behavior while recovering, his wife leaves him.

His shrink suggests Edgar should take up a hobby and go on sabbatical. He leases “Big Pink,” a house hanging over the water at the edge of the Gulf of Mexico on Duma Key. Here he begins to draw and then paint, learning at a furious pace. His ghost arm drives him.

Walking the beach, Edgar meets Wireman, and they become friends. Wireman is caretaker for an old woman, Elizabeth Eastlake, who floats in and out of dementia. Elizabeth owns the habitable part of Duma Key, including Big Pink, and she is an integral part of the story.

The story begins as psychological and/or supernatural thriller, moving on to become a ghost story. It doesn’t become a “horror story/monster movie” until about three-quarters of the way through. By that time it had me hooked, and I had to keep reading to see what would happen. Edgar, Wireman, and Jack (who was hired to help Edgar and became his friend) join forces to battle the monsters.

As I said at the beginning, Stephen King is an excellent writer.

Dave Eggers — The Circle

This is a dystopian, creepy, novel. I can’t say I liked it, but it kept my interest to the end. To me it was a different kind of horror story, too close to the reality of where we are headed. I picked up the book because friends were talking about the movie, which I didn’t see. From what I understand, the movie didn’t exactly follow the novel and may have missed the point of the book.

I guess you could call the story a satire.

Satire definition from Oxford Dictionary: The use of humour, irony, exaggeration, or ridicule to expose and criticize people’s stupidity or vices, particularly in the context of contemporary politics and other topical issues.

I didn’t see much humor in the book, but the rest fits.

Mae Holland is thrilled when her friend Annie gets her a job at The Circle—a company that has become the ultimate monopoly in social media and the Internet. Think Facebook, Twitter, Google, Amazon, Instagram, Flikr, Tumblr, YouTube, government databases, medical databases, police records, real estate records, credit bureaus…anything that collects data about you and more…all lumped together in one company. Your life is available to anyone.

Mae is needy and wants to be loved and admired by the whole world. She accepts and enjoys the cult-like behavior required of her by The Circle. She ends up wearing a camera, which records everything she does and everyone with whom she comes in contact.

Mercer, an old boyfriend and a friend of her parents, sees all that is wrong about The Circle—the lack of privacy and lack of control of your own life. He tries to explain to Mae, but she can’t see it.

I could go on, but if this sort of book interests you, read it.

Ethan Canin — A Doubter’s Almanac

If you are looking for a happy or loving novel, this is not the one. Milo Andret, the central character of this book, is an egocentric, offensive, mathematical genius and also an addict. But the writing is excellent, the story is gripping, and even the unlikable protagonist is intriguing.

The book skips backward and forward between times and places, yet somehow that’s not confusing. Part one is from Milo’s point of view (third person), and part two is his son Hans (first person). The fractured relationship between father and son (also a brilliant mathematician) weaves through the fabric of the tale.

The story is filled with fascinating characters and locations, but mostly it’s an account of the workings of the mind. It’s somewhat esoteric and at times philosophical, leaving the reader (at least this one) with unanswered questions. Are mental illness and genius related? Addiction and genius? Is the addiction genetic? How much of intelligence is inherited and how much is learned? And more…

But I do understand the mathematical mind better than when I began reading. At some point while reading, I had an epiphany—insight into the mind of my brother who was a mathematical genius and an addict. That could be the reason I found the book so interesting. I also have a few friends who are brilliant in their fields. Most are a bit whacko (or a lot). But aren’t we all somewhat weird from another’s point of view? Maybe the whole idea of mental illness is skewed. Could it be that we just don’t understand minds that are so different from our own?

I seldom reread a book. But this one will probably end up by my bedside to be read again.

Benjamin Wood — The Ecliptic

The setting for most of this novel is an artist’s colony on a remote island off the coast of Turkey where artists who have lost their muse have come to recapture their creative brilliance. No one knows the other residents actual names or backgrounds. There is no contact with the outside world. There are no clocks to keep track of time.

The protagonist, Knell, is a painter who has been living on the island for years. Her friends, other longtime residents, are a playwright, an architect, and a novelist. The story begins when a young disturbed man arrives at the colony and upsets the routine.

The novel explores the twisted mental state of Knell’s mind and her creativity. The second section of the book takes us back to her previous life in the London art world of the 1960s and what brought her to the island.

This is a well written literary novel. The characters are captivating, the settings are beautifully painted, and the twisted plot keeps you reading. But a warning—you may be disappointed with the ending. I’m not sure if I was or not.

e·clip·tic

/əˈkliptik/
noun     ASTRONOMY
  1. 1.
    a great circle on the celestial sphere representing the sun’s apparent path during the year, so called because lunar and solar eclipses can occur only when the moon crosses it.

Steve Hamilton — The Second Life of Nick Mason

chicago-loop-secorner_620

There is no fun or laughter in this story, but it gripped me and kept me reading into the wee small hours of the morning. I’m not even sure how to classify this book—thriller, crime fiction—but from the point of view of the crook, not the cop.

Nick Mason is a small time criminal in Chicago. Caught in a bad situation, he is sent to prison for 25 to life. He makes a deal with mob boss Cole who is running the crime world from prison. Cole manages to get Mason’s conviction overturned and his release after five years’ time. The condition is that when his phone rings, he will answer and do whatever is asked.

Mason fascinated me. He hates what he is doing but is extremely good at it. His ex-wife has remarried and won’t allow him to see his daughter. He hangs around her soccer games in the shadows to watch her play. He buys a dog and starts dating the woman at the pet store. He shares a luxury apartment, supplied by Cole, with the woman who runs the restaurant where his “official job” is assistant manager. They barely speak to each other.

Tense, well written, many good characters, a great picture of the underside of Chicago.

Cory Doctorow and Charles Stress — The Rapture of the Nerds

Full Title:  The Rapture of the Nerds 
A tale of singularity, posthumanity, and awkward social situations.

I read somewhere that speculative fiction that predicts the future is truly about the era in which it is written. I believe this was in reference to one of the classic dystopian novels, Brave New World or 1984. The Rapture of the Nerds is written in our far-flung future but definitely reflects our current world.

The novel is set in a future Earth where most of the population has chosen to leave and become part of “the cloud,” which occupies the inner solar system. The protagonist, Huw, is quite happy in his simple home and garden in Wales where he spends his time throwing pottery. His parents gave up their earthly bodies and left for the posthuman cloud fifty years ago.

Huw volunteers for jury duty to judge whether or not to accept the latest technology tossed back to Earth from the cloud. This leads him to being chosen as witness for those still living on our planet when a decision is eminent as to whether to preserve Earth or use its resources and move everyone into the cloud.

The book is ridiculously funny, full of pokes and prods at today’s world. If I read it ten times I would probably catch something new each time.

I have read other novels by Doctorow but none by Stress. Together they wrote a rollicking good story.

Curtis C. Chen — Waypoint Kangaroo

Waypoint Kangaroo is a delightful, high-tech, SF thriller with lots of humor thrown in. Kangaroo is the code name for a spy who has the unique ability to open a “pocket” into an alternate universe where he can store all sorts of tools and toys and retrieve them later. Since he’s somewhat of a loose cannon, he has been ordered to go on vacation on a tourist ship to Mars so that he’ll be out of the way while the home office is audited.

Of course, he runs into trouble on his vacation.

The characters are fun and the plot is fast-paced and full of twists and turns. The author has a vivid imagination when it comes to the space ship, the techy stuff, and the weird “pocket.”

Chen wrote a captivating first novel. Try it. You might like it.

Walter Mosley — Inside a Silver Box

I’ve read Walter Mosley novels before, usually mysteries. Knowing he writes science fiction too, I thought Inside a Silver Box was one of his SF works. But it is much, much more. I’ve posted about mixed genres; this is the ultimate mix. It probably can’t be classified. Try fantasy, SF, mystery, thriller, quest, literary, psychological, philosophical…. It also fits all of my three H’s—Head, Heart, and Humor.

Two people, black thug and rich white girl, are perpetrator and victim brought together when he saves her life. They become friends and together they set out to save the world from the Silver Box and its evil alter ego. If it sounds like a wild tale, it is. But Mosley is an excellent writer who makes you think.

The book is unique, strange, and for me captivating.