Monday, July 30, 2007

I Met Kristen Bell (Veronica Mars) At San Diego Con This Weekend!

When I found out Kristen Bell was going to be at Comic Con in San Diego this weekend, I immediately bought a ticket to have a picture taken with her. She’s been the smartest, sassiest teen detective on television EVER!

Unfortunately, I got busy and forgot about the photo. If Farah from Gold Eagle Books hadn’t reminded me, I would have missed this opportunity. I dashed over fifteen minutes too late but Kristen was kind enough to take the picture anyway.

During the shoot, I got to talk to her for a few minutes. She’s absolutely a doll. Kind, witty, sincere. Just exactly the way I’d hoped she would be. I’ve met Adam Arkin and Mark Harmon before and had the same experience. It’s nice to know that stars remain approachable and grounded.

Alas, Veronica Mars is no more. I’d been hoping to get the chance to write some tie-in novels based on the show. I guess there’s always fanfic, but my schedule doesn’t permit that.

But I was even more smitten with Kristen after meeting her. She’s gorgeous, fun, and friendly.

Kristen, thank you again for taking time to take the picture! And I wish you continued success in your career.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Great SF/Noir Book By A First-Time Author!
When I was growing up, I had two literary genre loves. I cut my teeth on the hard-boiled private eye fiction produced by Gold Medal, pulled to those books by the evocative covers drawn by Robert McGinnis (who could pass up scantily-clad women holding pistols?). I still pick up novels published by Hard Case Crime ( because McGinnis is still out there drawing some of those covers.

I also loved the world of science fiction. But I was torn, as most of us were in those days, between two polarities. Robert A. Heinlein wrote hard-edged science fiction that mostly came true over the next sixty years. Andre Norton wrote a more fanciful type of science fiction that didn’t mire itself in emerging technology or social stratification that could come about because of it. She just imagined wild and fun places to plunk her heroes down in and give them villains to defeat.

There was nothing like a hard-fisted private eye on the trail of a strong villain when rendered in the muscular prose of someone like Raymond Chandler or Dashiell Hammett. Also, there was nothing like sitting back envisioning future worlds built and peopled by gifted science fiction writers.

I would read books in one field, then switch over to books from the other field. During those days, it seemed like the two literary genres would never meet. At least not successfully.

After reading the description of KOP, Warren Hammond’s first novel, I knew I had to try it out. It had all the earmarks of the fiction I love to read in both fields.

The main character is Juno Mozambe, a corrupt cop that still has enough humanity about him to win over readers who are familiar with film noir. Juno could have stepped from one of those books or movies that came out when that top of tale was in its heyday. He’s a very complete character by those standards, and Hammond plays him fairly all the way down the line. In fact, that character could have been lifted from the book and thrown into Prohibition-era Chicago, Mafia-infested New York, or San Francisco’s Chinatown Tong stories and fit perfectly.

Juno has worked his way up through KOP (Koba Office of Police) by supporting and defending Paul Chang, who is the police chief. Chang taught Juno everything there was about corruption. Juno became a bag man for the police department, going to drug dealers and cathouses to collect bribe money.

But there’s currently a power struggle going on inside the upper echelons of the Koba society. This is usually the meat of any film noir story that involves political office, crime syndicates, and evolving economic problems.

Hammond brought Juno to life well. Within ten or fifteen pages, I felt I’d known the character all my life. He could’ve been one of the characters Humphrey Bogart would have played in the movies. But the reader isn’t bogged down with Juno’s backstory all it one time. Rather, that story seems to be sipped through very thin straw. Readers are only given enough about Juno to keep them interested and let them know the stakes that he’s playing for as the story develops.

The corruption is there. The political favors are there. The organized crime guys are there. This book doesn’t miss a beat when it comes to that tough guy image. It even pairs Juno with a young female rookie cop with something to prove to the world ala Dirty Harry.

Maggie Orzo is a young woman descended from the wealthiest families on Koba. She’s young and idealistic, but Juno also finds out that she will pursue her own ambitions and passions, which include being one of the best and highest-ranking policeman in the department. I think she’s a very impressive character and I can’t wait to see how Hammond treats her in the sequel coming out sometime next year. It’s supposed to be called Ex-KOP.

Hammond’s world, Koba, came to life for me in this book as well. I tried to imagine what it would be like to have a world constantly on the verge of being swallowed up by the jungle that fought to reclaim all the civilized areas every day. On Koba, there’s only five hours of sunlight followed by a twenty-two hours of night. The predominant life form on the planet tends to be reptilian and tropical. Hammond’s descriptions of an everyday life that includes street cleaners using flame throwers to torch creeping vegetation, stratified canopy life among the trees, and the Koba River that flows through everything anchored me to this world. By the time I’d finished reading the book, I felt like I’d actually gone to an alien world and spent hard time there.

The economic disparity between the haves and the have-nots addresses today’s world, but also any Third World nations struggling to simply survive. Past successes of the culture live on in the city, but the desperation of those who’ve never had that taste of success is palpable. These are the common threads that run through every culture in the world today, and that have ever existed. Hammond obviously loves writing about the ideology of economics and class struggle.

Although experienced readers probably won’t find anything new in this novel, it’s still an amazing read. I picked it up, turned through a few pages, and was walking a beat on alien turf with a damaged and paranoid police detective that I at first abhorred and later came to love and respect. KOP went down as smoothly as a cool drink on a hot, summer day, and it was filled with enough twists and turns to keep me on my toes throughout.

As stated, Hammond already has a second book in the series in the works. Personally, I can’t wait. Although the first book finished up all the plots that the author had shaken out, there are still yet a number of problems and character actions to work out. Not to mention, Hammond built the world big. There should be a lot more stories here to tell. I just hope he gets to tell them all.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Found: A Great New Romance Author!

Although Jane Graves is a local author and one whose name I’ve seen on several books, I had not yet read one of her novels. When I saw the cover of Hot Wheels and High Heels I was immediately intrigued. The back cover copy offered humor and a look at the life of a repo man. I figured if the romance didn’t hook me, I still had the adventures of stealing cars from people who didn’t want him stolen. These days the action in a romance novel can be top-rate.

I’m a big Stephanie Plum fan. I had the good fortune of discovering Janet Evanovitch’s books when the first one came out. So I was there at the beginning. I’m also a fan of some of the paranormal series that are out there. As a guy, I really don’t think that’s all that uncommon these days. Men read a lot of women writers. I still treasure my Robert B. Parker stuff, but I love the laughs and insights provided by the ladies. And some of them provide chills and thrills as well.

Back to Jane Graves. When I flipped open the book and began reading, I was immediately attracted to the ease with which the author puts words on the page. I was actually several pages into the story before I realized how much I’d read. The prose is effortless, and the characters are instantly unique and identifiable.

Darcy McDaniel, the heroine, has got a real problem. While she was down in Mexico on vacation with a friend, her husband sold her house, emptied the bank accounts, and ran up the charge cards – then vanished. For the last fifteen years Darcy has been a trophy wife. She traded her good looks to a man old enough to her father for a lifestyle of malls, manicures, and personal trainers. Later in the novel you’ll find out more of her motivations for doing that.

I have to admit in the beginning I wasn’t very sympathetic toward Darcy. It wasn’t that I figured she got what she had coming to her, but I know other people who have much worse problems. Still, this is a huge problem for her.

Before she knows it, she’s back living with her parents in the same small, dingy trailer park that she’d grown up in. It was suddenly like the last fifteen years never existed. All she has left is her dog Pepe and her Mercedes, which had been at the airport awaiting her return.

Enter John Stark, ex-cop turned repossession agent. And this repo man has papers to reclaim Darcy’s beloved Mercedes. He’s strictly a no-nonsense kind of guy who gets the job done right the first time. Unfortunately, he’s never dealt with anyone like Darcy. She makes a fool of him and keeps the Mercedes. For a time. Then John returns with a truck and grabs the luxury vehicle with no problem.

As the fates conspire against them, as they are sometimes do in romance novels, Darcy gets under John’s skin and he inadvertently offers her the receptionist job at his agency. Darcy refuses to take it at first, but quickly finds that no one else will give her a job. John’s partner Tony holds John to his promise. Darcy starts to work, living hand-to-mouth.

Since this is a romance novel, the rest of the story about boy-gets-girl is predictable in many ways. However, Jane Graves keeps the story lighthearted, fun, and fast-paced. Despite the fact that I was certain I knew how the story would end up, I stayed glued to the pages – to the character development, to the dialogue, and to the rapid scenes.

That’s one of the best tricks the author pulled off in this book: there was honest character development. Darcy grew as a character. For me, she went from being grossly unlikable to sympathetic and admirable. The changes she made in the way she looked at the world, herself, her family, and in what she thought she wanted were all real. I’ve seen people make those same changes for a lot of the same reasons.

Maybe the plot is the same romance novel that has been told for years, but Jane Graves makes her characters come to life in ways that many romance novelists don’t. She makes the predictable a unique experience and worthwhile. Not only that, but her prose zings right along and readers will be at the end of the book before they know it.

As I said, this is my first Jane Graves book. But it won’t be my last. She set the bar high in this one. I want to look at earlier books and get the sequel to this one coming out next year when she finds the right woman for skirt-chasing Tony. Pick this one up, folks. For the beach or just for fun. It’s a good one.

The Closer Season 3 Episode 2: "Saving Face"

Tonight’s episode of The Closer totally rocked! Although there was the usual murder, mystery, and mayhem, there were more chuckles and outright laughter than seriousness. The first couple of episodes this season have been emotionally-heavy. Not much to smile about with a case of mass murder involving a family and the in-fighting going on between team members.

“Saving Face” opens at a funeral where Detective Flynn delivers a eulogy for a fallen comrade. Unfortunately, the dead man’s history tended to be flamboyant – to say the least. Flynn has no problem segueing into a one-man, a routine based on innuendo and behind-the-scenes hijinx that had gone on before. Lieutenant Detective Provenza is howling in the pews and having a hard time covering up his amusement at the whole situation. Detective Tao is with him and is embarrassed by the whole thing.

But that’s not nearly as embarrassing as when they’re acting as pallbearers and accidentally drop the casket. After rolling down the steps, the casket breaks open and spills out TWO dead bodies instead of one. The beautiful blonde young woman with the dead man is nude and wrapped in a sheet. Not exactly the kind of funeral anyone would want.

The camaraderie of the detectives shows up instantly. Flynn and Provenza elect to bundle their dead friend back into the casket and proceed with the funeral rather than embarrass the widow or the family. Tao isn’t happy with that.

At the gravesite, Brenda arrives and puts a hold on the burial. That upsets everyone there. She takes Flynn and Provenza to task for not calling her in and for moving the body. (This is a definite cue that the episode is not going to be one of the more serious ones. Both of the detectives are far too professional to do something like that had the script not called for it.)

Back at the church, Brenda runs afoul of a bride-to-be and her family. She demands that the dead body in the crime scene go away. Brenda stands her ground. And she gets her butt kicked in the process. Personally, I couldn’t believe she got manhandled so badly. I so wanted Brenda punch the bride and stretch her out unconscious. But then everything that happened afterwards wouldn’t have been as funny.

In short order, Brenda finds herself up to her neck in trouble. The bride and her family are planning on filing a civil suit against the LAPD and Brenda for interfering with their wedding. The widow isn’t happy about how her husband was handled. And no one knows who the dead woman is or what she was doing in the coffin.

There are twists and turns aplenty in this episode, and all of them are fun – especially the arrangements Provenza makes regarding the wedding catering. Brenda, never at her confident best among the women of L.A., gets blitzed by a plastic surgeon she interviews that thinks she’s there to have some cosmetic work done. Those scenes are priceless. On the home front, Fritz has narrowed down their house search to three candidates, but we still don’t know when or how soon Brenda is going to allow herself to be moved.

The end resolution, with Brenda facing the guilty party, feels a little off this week because it doesn’t take place inside the police station. I figure the show was trying to give the fans a different look on things, but it really jarred. This was another great episode in this fabulous series.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007


I just found a new blog and added it to my bloglist on the right. Jace works in Hollywood and keeps up with a LOT of television news! He's going to be one of my go-to guys for the scoop now.

Check him out if you're a television fan and want to be in the know.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Click to Mix and Solve

Click to Mix and Solve

Click to Mix and Solve

Click to Mix and Solve

For All The Brainiacs Out There!

Here are some puzzles created from some of my recent books. Simply click and go for it. Lemme know your best times!

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Author Will Thomas

Allow me to introduce Will Thomas, the author of four Sherlock Holmes-type mystery/detective novels. On July 10 his fourth book, The Hellfire Conspiracy will be released.

The new novel features the same two recurring characters he’s had in the previous three. Cyrus Barker, the lead detective, almost out-Sherlocks the Great Detective himself. Everything Holmes knew, Barker seems to know more about. Not only that, Barker is a much more physical protagonist than Holmes. Barker is a swordsman, a marksman, linguist, scientist, and…well, the list goes on. He also has an affinity for the Eastern cultures.

His sidekick, and teller of the tales, is Thomas Llewelyn. Where Holmes had Doctor John Watson, a trained physician, Barker has Thomas, who was convicted at one point of being a thief. Watson was a man of the world, but Thomas is still a bright-eyed innocent in a lot of ways. In the early novels, Thomas is not quite enamored of Barker’s “amazing” intellect. They get on more like Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin, which is not bad company to keep.

I’ve read the previous books and enjoyed them all without reservation. Aside from interesting characters and true mysteries, Thomas (the author) also delivers an engaging picture of Victorian London.

The Hellfire Conspiracy involves white slavery, a serial killer who calls himself Mr. Miacca, and upper class depredations practiced by the Hellfire Club. The people that belong to that secret society don’t want their dirty laundry aired. In addition to sexual largess, some of them also perform Satanic rituals. None of them want any of those secrets let out into the public.

While searching for a missing girl, Barker runs afoul of these powerful people, the serial killer, and Scotland Yard. The inspectors on the police force that once – reluctantly – turned to Barker for help are now arrayed against him in their attempt to protect the bluebloods.

Unfortunately for all concerned, Barker isn’t a man who can be scared off. Once he’s got his teeth set into a mystery, he won’t let go. Especially if Scotland Yard – whom he has a grudging relationship with – is helping cover it up.

I’m really looking forward to the new book. But I can’t help but wonder what it would be like if Sherlock Holmes’s world and that of Cyrus Barker touched if it ever so briefly. I don’t think either of the detectives would acknowledge the other existed, but the stories Watson and Thomas Llewelyn could tell each other would be fantastic.

Will Thomas is a native of Oklahoma, so I’m predisposed to him because we’re practically neighbors. But if he didn’t have the chops, I couldn’t recommend him. He does. Try him if you like mysteries or Sherlock Holmes. I think you’ll find he’s a good fit.

Hellboy's Up To His Neck In Trouble!

Hellboy: Blood and Iron is the second Hellboy animated movie released direct-to-DVD. The first was Hellboy: Sword of Storms. As in the first feature, Ron Perlman provides the voice for Hellboy. Other stars from the feature film lend their voices as well, including Selma Blair, Doug Jones, Peri Gilpin, and John Hurt. The story is taken from the second story arc of the Hellboy comics. It was originally called, “Wake the Devil”.

This movie shows more of Hellboy’s upbringing than the feature movie starring Ron Perlman. It also reveals a lot more of Professor (Bruttenholm) Broom’s background before he found Hellboy back in the 1940s after the Nazi Germans brought him into this world. As it turns out, Professor Broom was quite the paranormal investigator long before Hellboy arrived.

During those days, the professor’s arch-nemesis was Erzsebet Ondrusko, a vampire and worshiper of Hecate, the queen of witches. The opening sequence showing Broom’s encounter with the villainess is appropriately chilling and a visual treat. In fact, the whole movie owes more to creator Mike Mignola’s artwork than the feature-length movie. The scenes in the animated movie could have been ripped directly from Mignola’s comics pages.

Hellboy is introduced while lurking through a sewer system and looking for a monster. He, admittedly, is up to his neck in crap. The humor mixes very well with the action and emotion in the film. This isn’t Leo Tolstoy, but it’s nice to have characters you feel like you know and can care about. Especially when they’re dealing with old business that carries a lot of emotional baggage for them.

Hellboy puts down the creature with help from Abe Sapien and they quickly return to the hidden headquarters of the BPRD (Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense). They sit around talking and the viewer gets to know more about the characters. One of the things I enjoy about the movies is that you don’t have to know much to understand who the characters are. You’re given what you need to know as you go along, and it’s never dull even for the true fans that already know everything.

When assignments are given out, Professor Broom usurps control of the meeting and assigns Hellboy, Abe Sapien, and Liz Sherman to investigate sightings of ghosts in a mansion that’s been remodeled into a top-of-the-line museum/lodge. The job was initially a low-priority for them. The professor offers no explanation and the rest of the team is left wondering what’s going on. More than that, the professor is going along and that hasn’t happened in years. All of them are concerned for his health.

Of course, when they arrive at the mansion, things are decidedly much worse than they were led to believe. There’s not just one ghost; there appear to be dozens. And even more evil is afoot.

Interspersed for the current ongoing story line, there are flashbacks to Professor Broom’s earlier encounters with Erzsebet Ondrusko. The story concerning Hellboy and the others definitely takes second-place to the overall storytelling until the very last of the movie. It’s all the clues and backstory of what has gone on before that really captures the interest.

The fight scene at the end of the movie is multi-layered as Hellboy and the others are divided. It’s all interesting to watch, but it tends to drag on the little, especially when you realize that time after time it is not over.

Due to the violence and the scary appearances of many of the monsters, this animated feature is and recommended for young kids. However, if you like cartoons and your kids do too, this is definitely one you can sit down and enjoy together. There’s enough story and enough action to keep everyone happy. At 75 minutes, you can easily fit the movie into an evening.

John McClane Is Back And Making The World Unsafe For Terrorists!

The Die Hard franchise isn’t a thinking man’s dream. It belongs to the wannabe action hero inside every red-blooded American male. And to the women who love them. Any misapprehension that these films are going to take themselves realistically or seriously should be checked at the door.

Live Free Or Die Hard opened Wednesday of this week just in time for the Fourth of July celebration, and to take advantage of the extra-long weekend at the box office. It’s the fourth film in the franchise about New York Police Department Detective John McClane, absolutely the toughest cop Hollywood has ever created. In my opinion. Nobody bleeds like McClane bleeds. Or limps. Or talks to himself, delivering a humorous, self-deprecating monologue on how he got into the whole mess he is in.

There was some hesitation about whether or not Bruce Willis could pull off the franchise character again. There was no hesitation about the fact that if Bruce Willis could not play McClane, no one else could. Willis the actor and McClane the character are too tightly-knit to allow to anyone else to intrude into the franchise. Maybe other actors can play James Bond and win over a whole new audience, but I can’t see that happening with this one. Not as long as Bruce Willis can still walk and talk.

After seeing the movie, there’s no doubt that Willis – and McClane –are back in a big way. For a while, Willis swore he’d never play the character again. He wanted more serious roles and a chance to stretch as an actor. He’s made some good films, and some not so good films, since Die Hard With A Vengeance with Samuel L. Jackson. And while the McClane role is somewhat limiting Willis pulls it off with zest. Maybe he was born to do other things as well, but he was definitely born to be John McClane.

Now all the fans are going to be waiting for the next Die Hard movie, although there hasn’t been any talk of such. We can only hope.

The movie starts out with a bang, the way these things always do. A group of cyber-criminals utilize code and algorithms written by blackboard computer hackers to get into key Federal government installations, including the Federal Bureau of Investigation. They’re operating under a man named Thomas Gabriel, who has used enough players in his operation that none of the computer hackers know who they are working for or what they are truly doing.

As soon as Gabriel is certain that he’s into the computer networks he wants to be into, he gives orders to start the elimination process of all the computer hackers involved. The action turns violent and bloody. Matt Farrell (played brilliantly by Justin Long) is the only one who escapes his fate, and that’s only through the direct intervention of McClane.

It’s been twelve years since the last Die Hard movie. Those twelve years are reflected in the latest release. McClane has gotten older and his life has moved on. His wife finally left him for good and he’s estranged from his son and daughter. He’s introduced breaking up his daughter’s latest date in a fairly humorous scene.

One of the things that was awkwardly handled in the movie was Lucy’s – McClane’s daughter –sudden change in feelings about her father. Viewers knew it was coming, but it came without true motivation from within. That part felt particularly scripted.

When McClane gets the call to go pick up a known computer hacker, the tension immediately ratchets up. In a move that was also very scripted, McClane arrives at Matt’s house just in time to keep him from being blown to smithereens. (And you have to wonder why the bad guys simply didn’t walk into each of the hackers’ houses/apartments and simply shoot them when they were done with them. The explosions were just to give the special effects crew a warm-up for the action that was coming.)

The cat and mouse game begins, with McClane alternately fighting to stay alive and chasing the bad guys. The action sequences are pure dynamite, fueled by adrenaline and testosterone – on part of the characters and the audience. Viewers that are totally into the McClane experience are hard pressed not to hoot and holler in support of their hero’s actions and one-liners.

Those fans understand that there are glaring plot holes and things that make no sense and in the real world things wouldn’t function the way they do in the movie. For instance, the cell phone systems would go down almost immediately as emergency services took them over to use for their own operations. McClane uses a cell phone a lot in the beginning of the movie, as do the terrorists. Those would be the first things shut down. Security on major important network sites, like the eastern seaboard utility control area, would be immediately entrenched in military personnel if the United States government believed it was under attack.

But that’s beside the point. This film is about action, not about reality. Reality would be much slower paced.

As always, McClane ends up being the guy involved in the investigation who gets all the key pieces as to what’s really going on. It wouldn’t be a Die Hard movie if he didn’t.

The concept of the “fire sale” in the realms of cyber-terrorism is a real thing. There are a lot of checks and balances to keep it at bay, but it is one of the things the United States government constantly guards against. The movie sells the idea very well.

Also, though the franchise isn’t known for being cutting-edge or high-tech, there’s a lot of the emerging computer technology and integrated systems that are nationwide and international in the film. Justin Long’s character introduces all that technology and the concepts behind it in bite-sized chunks that the audience can keep track of in the midst of car chases, gunfights, and serious explosions.

I found myself as enthralled by the computer attacks as I was by McClane’s usual physical action and banter. There was something so inherently cool about watching the terror-geeks and Matt Ferrell at work on computer systems even though much of it was fake. The idea that it was all possible and would be done in such a way was amazing.

But the action – that’s the key to every Die Hard film. There’s plenty of it in this movie. Is it over the top? No doubt about it! No one – but no one – could walk away from all the damage that McClane takes while doggedly pursuing the bad guys. I lost count of the number of bodies left behind, the number of vehicles that were destroyed in wrecks and explosions, the number of buildings that were leveled, and would have to guess that the number of bullets fired must be in the millions.

The most over-the-top sequence in the film is the scene where McClane is driving an eighteen-wheeler through a system of elevated highways while being pursued and fired upon by a military attack jet with hover capability. There is simply no way this could ever happen, or that a truck could suffer that much damage and still keep going. Much less without the driver getting killed.

If they do a video game on this movie as they have some of the movies in the past, you can see this sequence being part of the game. It’s ludicrous. It’s impossible. And yet, it’s so McClane. And that’s what puts the butts in the seats, folks.

Maggie Q plays possibly the most lethal lady McClane has ever had the misfortune of crossing paths with. She absolutely tears him apart for a while. And that leads to possibly the second-most over-the-top sequence in the film when the action spreads the elevator shaft. Still, if anybody was gonna do it like this, it has to be rogue cop John McClane.

Make no mistake. This film isn’t for posterity. This film isn’t even close to Academy Award material - except maybe for special effects.

What this film is, and where it succeeds so admirably, is an action film starring one of the best action heroes ever invented or portrayed, and played once more by the only actor that could do that character justice. This is superhero action without the cape and the mutant abilities. And this is a hero who’s fallible yet impossible to beat.

Treat yourself to a summer delight over the holidays. Buy a ticket. Invest heavily in a willing suspension of disbelief at the door. Find a good seat. And prepare to cheer on John McClane one more time as he goes up against impossible – and, admittedly, wildly improbable – odds.