Sunday, September 15, 2013

Nicholson: A Biography by Marc Eliot

Review based on ARC.

Sigh.  I really like Jack Nicholson.  At least, I really like what I think I know about him.  I think he's a great actor and he seems really interesting.  I knew someone who was at a fancy resort'y island restaurant that Jack was dining at, and she said he was a complete A**.  This didn't shake my interest in the man or alter my favor of his acting.  Nor was it really surprising.  But then again, we all have bad days, and maybe that was just one of his.

I'm not a big tabloid girl (anymore) and I don't particularly love gossip.  I'm happy to watch actors on TV/movies and then maybe some day I'll read a biography or an autobiography.  Preferably authorized.

But, then again, this is Jack Nicholson, so I eagerly signed up for the advanced readers copy and I even more eagerly awaited my copy once I was informed that I'd won one!

So the "sigh."  Sigh.  This was not what I was hoping it would be.  And, from reading other reviews of other disappointed readers, I'm not alone.  The so-called biography felt more like an article in US Weekly than a biography.  I don't deny that Eliot did research, and I'm sure that he spoke with many "close friends" of Nicholson.  But the book took the tone of a gossip column... "hey, psst, READ IT HERE FIRST! Nicholson has problems 'down there'!"  It just felt kind of sad.

Who knows, maybe Eliot was on the receiving end of one of Nicholson's bad days.  But his tone was petty.  I'm not saying lift the man (Nicholson) up as a god and ignore his faults.  He has faults.  Great.  Show them.  But there are ways to show a man's fault (see, e.g., Walk the Line re Johnny Cash) without being petty and gossipy about it.  And, in this book, Eliot missed the boat.

So.  it's not a terrible thing -- there's a lot of good information in there, and I appreciated the time that Eliot spent seeking to learn more about a man that so much of the world finds fascinating.  So it gets a couple stars.  But the tone, the lack of real depth, the lack of a greater understanding of what really drives Nicholson, those things make the biography a bit of a disappointment.

Overall, TWO AND A HALF of 5 stars -- a middle-of-the-road rating for a book with a lot of potential and some noteworthy disappointments.

The Case of the Deadly Butter Chicken by Tarquin Hall

Review based on ARC.

This is the third mystery by Tarquin Hall involving the endearing Vish Puri, India's "Most Private" Investigator.  I have not read the other two books but, after having read this one, am definitely interested in seeking them out!

Vish Puri a/k/a Chubby is a detective with an addiction to the flavorful and savory foods of India.  I can relate.  Butter Chicken, or what I have called Chicken Tikka Makhani, is one of my favorite dishes, and I can understand the obsession.  However, Puri is more than just a stomach with good taste.  Puri is a detective who can and will handle all manner of cases, even that as bizarre as a missing mustache.

The thrust of this book revolves around the murder mystery of the father of a Pakistani cricket hero while eating at a post-match dinner.  In order to solve the mystery of who has poisoned the victim, Puri investigates various dark underbellies -- gambling, smuggling, and match-fixing.  Puri even takes the investigation into history, and we lean about the blood and horror of the 1947 partition between India and Pakistan.  In doing so, Puri is eventually led a lot closer to home then he ever hoped to be:  he must work with his mother, Mummy-ji, who has herself sworn off investigation.

Throughout the food and the mystery, there is humor.  The book is endearing, entertaining, and satisfying.  Recommended to readers who like mysteries, who have a sense of humor, and who at least understand why Makhani is so good.....

FOUR of five stars.

All is Fair by Emma Newman

Review based on ARC.

I received this review from NetGalley dot com; thanks to Angry Robot Ltd for the opportunity to read and review this book!

I requested this book because the cover is engaging and reminded me of another book I wanted to read, though I couldn't quite place what it was.  It soon became apparent -- I have the first book in this series on my bookshelf.  Nevertheless, with early reviewers, time is limited, so I read the third without having read the first (or the second).

Fortunately, it is an interesting enough book, with a background that is not overly complicated, so I was able to read this third without ever really feeling lost in the plot.   True, I did not know who Max or his Gargoyle already were; true, I did not know who Cathy was or how William got to his place of power by trickery; true, I did not know who had already died or how, but the information was presented to me, a new reader of the series, without an overly simplistic "here's what's already happened" backdrop or an overly complicated or presumptuous inside-references.

Instead, it was as though I were dropped into the middle of a mystery, and through conversation and memory, was able to piece the rest together.  Each of the stories were interesting and, rather than leave me with the sense that I'd already gleaned all from the series that I needed to by reading the third book, it made me want to go back and read the first two, to get that more in depth experience of the events that I now undertand have already occurred.   In other words, well done!  I liked this third enough to want to read more Newman -- whether something already published, or something yet to be published.

A quick synopsis:
This story takes place in the Nether (a faerie-run world otherwise like ours) and in Mundanus (it's like muggles... the non-magic people or people not in the nether live in the "mundane" world -- i.e., mundanus).  William has taken the throne of Londinium (the Nether-London), which makes Cathy the Duchess.  What we gleaned from the prior books is that William seems to be a pretty good guy, but controlled by a pretty evil faerie, and that Cathy is a headstrong girl who wants to change the corruption and evil in the Nether.  Cathy was attacked in book 2 (presumably), and William is told it is one household who has done so.  William therefore wins the seat of Duke in a duel that he wins by murdering someone who had previously  believed to be his friend.  Cathy attempts to feel nothing romantic toward William, her husband, at the beginning of the book, but begins to realize as the book progresses that she needs his support to accomplish what she wants to accomplish.

Max the arbiter and his gargoyle (where his soul is housed) continue to investigate who or what is behind the murder of a series of wizards and the corruption in London.  Max and the gargoyle work with Cathy, who is an insider now given her new position as Duchess to attempt to discover the truth.

Cathy's friend Sam, from Mundanus, has lost his wife and finds himself in the care of Lord Iron, which unsurprisingly puts Sam in the position of accepting an offer from Lord Iron which ends up being more than Sam himself anticipated.

With a quick plot, interesting characters, and an element of mystery, Newman brings the reader fully into her tale, and eager to find out, "what next!"

Recommended for readers looking for a quick urban fantasy read with dark intentions, a touch of insanity, and a subtle love story.  FOUR of five stars.