Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Review: Carter Beats the Devil by Glen David Gold

The month of June has been brought to you by the state of exhaustion. Never, ever before have I experienced a busier, more stressful, more exciting month in my life. Part one of June was consumed by wedding prep, the wedding itself, and the honeymoon. Part two of June has been completely filled with the purchasing of our first home and then the subsequent moving of all of our belongings into said house. All the fun doesn't stop there, though, because even though the house certainly is livable, we will be (and have been) renovating almost every room in it. Between the physical exertion of these activities and the sleep deprivation that comes with getting used to the creaks and groans of a 125 year old home in the middle of the night, I am flat-out exhausted.

I only note this because I have been derelict in my duties to review anything, whether it be books, restaurants, or beer. Luckily (sort of) I've had no time to read, so I don't have a queue of backed up reviews other than this one. Beer reviews, on the other hand, will be forthcoming.

Enough of my whining. I owe you folks a review and I intent to deliver.

Carter Beats the Devil by Glen David Gold is about magic. Magic: the stuff you know doesn't exist, but you hope does in spite of what you know. Sleights of hand, card tricks, levitation, dangerous feats with sharp or very, very fiery items, and all the other good stuff that boggles the mind.

Charles Carter, the protagonist in this novel, actually was a magician during the 1920s, though this certainly can not be considered a factual biography by any means. The plot of Carter Beats the Devil focuses on Carter's performance that occurs the night before the then-president of the United States, Warren G. Harding, dies in his hotel room. Harding had attended the performance and actually had an appearance in the final act whose name the title of the novel draws from. Since Carter had spent time alone with Harding before the performance and was one of the last to speak with him, he naturally becomes a prime suspect in the case.

As this crime involved the president, the Secret Service are tasked with solving the case and figuring out what exactly happened that night in Harding's hotel room. Through this investigation details on Carter's past are brought up and the reader learns about his childhood and his rise to fame as a magician. Through this clever device, Charles Carter slowly transitions from the subject of an investigation to the main character of the novel.

Despite the description, Carter Beats the Devil is not a typical mystery or perhaps even a mystery novel at all. Yes, there is the whodunnit aspect and yes there is the obligatory plot twist at the end, but in between are three separate love stories, a tale of the rise and fall of fame, the invention of television, and a number of other things you would never attribute to a mass market mystery (at least, not the new ones).

The characters are, for the most part, are beautifully developed, though a few of the peripheral characters could have used a little work. Easily the best part of this novel is the description of the setting in which the story takes place. Most of it is in Prohibition Era San Francisco, with its brothels, speakeasies, dock workers, and beautiful views. I've never been to San Francisco, let alone in the 1920s, but Gold does such a remarkable job describing it that I feel like I can imagine it perfectly. He also does a great job working in a number of cameos of famous, historic figures from the time. A perusal of the novel's Wikipedia page shows what I'm referring to.

So, overall, what did I think of the book? Though not short by any means, it is a relatively easy read, only bogging down in a few places. It is the kind of entertaining read that probably sits itself right in the middle of "lowbrow" and "highbrow" (if not aligning a little bit closer to the latter). I'm going to say that it is pretty darn as close to great as good can get. For it being Glen David Gold's first novel, I would say that it is not a let down at all. He will definitely have a tough time following this one up.

I give Carter Beats the Devil by Glen David Gold 7.7 out of 10 stars.

[I'm moving from 5 stars max to 10 to allow for greater definition between ratings. It was getting difficult to show the difference between, say, a 3.4 star book and a 3.8 star book even though there is a marked quality difference between the two scores. From now on, anything rated about an 8 (instead of a 4) will be the cream of the crop.]


Next up is The Thin Red Line by James Jones. The movies by the same name are based on this fictional account of the Guadalcanal campaign in the Pacific Theater of WWII. I've never seen the movie, but I am looking forward to the book. Also, as noted above, some quick beer reviews will be coming soon to a computer monitor near you.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Quick Reviews: Do Androids Dream of Girls Who Play with Fire?

Usually, my reviews are a little more in-depth than these, but because of the wedding/honeymoon/house buying, I've gotten a bit behind on the reviewing. I read these three novels while on my honeymoon.

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick

In a relatively dystopian, future version of planet Earth, androids are created to do the crap jobs people don't really feel like doing anymore. Every so often, the misbehave and have to be put down. This is a story of one of those circumstances. This novel is the "inspiration" for Bladerunner, which I suppose means it is tangently based on it. I didn't really care for the film (I know, blasphemy), so I was hoping for something a little different and definitely got it. This book manages to be lighthearted in a heavy way, with both goofy and very serious moments. It's sarcastic without being explicitly so, and as Philip K. Dick likes to roll, it is a good piece of social commentary. I don't think it's as hard-hitting as some of his other books, most of which I prefer over this one. Overall, though, a solid offering and a quick, interesting read.

Score: 3.5 out of 5 stars.

The Girl Who Played with Fire and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest by Stieg Larsson

I have to say, I was majorly disappointed by both of these books. I read The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and really enjoyed it, so I was caught off guard hoping these would be good. The former of these two have nothing to do with the first novel in the trilogy except for the characters. Lisbeth Salander, the our glam-emo protagonist from The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is back in this novel, richer, and a little more grown up (at least appearance wise). She gets caught up in and then framed for the murder of two individuals reporting on a sex trafficking story, and the shenanigans ensue. We have spies, government cover-ups, patricide, fratricide, the whole shebang. This story starts in the second novel and then picks up immediately in the third. Even with all of this craziness, I was still disappointed.

Both of these books, but moreso the last of the trilogy, are unnecessarily long and filled with details which add absolutely nothing to the progression of the plot or the building of the characters. The Girl Who Played with Fire is at least one-hundred pages too long (and probably two-hundred) and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest seems to exist solely as a disjointed five-hundred page effort to tie up all the loose ends put forth in its predecessor. Character after character are introduced, few of which inspire enough emotion to be either likable or unlikable.

This trilogy got progressively worse as it went on, so if you've read The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, in my opinion, you're probably best off stopping there and pretending it's not part of a trilogy.

The Girl Who Played with Fire: 3 out of 5 stars
The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest: 2.5 out of 5 stars


I'm reading Carter Beats the Devil  by Glen David Gold currently, and crazy schedule pending, I should have it done by this weekend. See you soon!

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Beer Review: Solidarity by New Albanian Brewing Company

Style: Baltic Porter
ABV: 8.5%
Ratebeer: 93/73
Beer Advocate: B+

The New Albanian Brewing Company is located in, of all places, New Albany, Indiana. Until a relatively recent trip to Indianapolis, I had never heard of the brewery or the city. Apparently it is down by Louisville.

While at the wonderful Tomlinson Tap Room, I was lucky enough to try their double IPA offering, Hoptimus. Thoroughly impressed by this, I figured I would try a different bottle I found from them while still in the city. Since I've been on a big porter/stout kick recently, I thought a Baltic porter would be perfect (plus the label was pretty cool).

Back story and ingredients:


It pours very dark brown, almost cola-colored, with a very light head that cleared out quickly with little lacing. Not the prettiest beer I've ever seen, but you I don't have tastebuds for beauty.

The smell was mostly roasted grain and coffee; don't really get anything else out of it. Taste is much of the same, but with a tiny bit of chocolate on the finish, along with a very, very subtle hop presence. Sweet when chilled and almost cloying when it warms up.

The carbonation is medium, perhaps a bit too present for my tastes. Body is really thin, almost like an iced coffee. Not nearly as thick as I thought it would be. The 8.5% is completely hidden; perhaps the smoothest 8+% beer I've ever tried. If someone told me this was 4.5%, I wouldn't doubt them.

I have to say, I was really disappointed in this beer. I've been impressed with other varieties from the same brewer, so I know they can do better. I was really looking forward to this one, but the taste and thinness of it just kills it for me.

Grade: B-

P.S. Now that I'm back from getting wedded and thoroughly vacationed, I have a few reviews and a couple other posts I'd like to get up. You'll be hearing back from me soon!