The good news is that I’ve returned to work for about month, though I am not working full weeks. It’s mostly a hybrid situation: part on-site, part remote and it isn’t my home branch. My temporary location is great, though not too many interesting titles on the stacks (probably on request by patrons) and since beggars can’t be choosers I came across an available John Grisham title from the e-stacks and downloaded it. You can never go wrong with Grisham. FYI, COVID-19 has been great for e-books and has kept many library systems circulation stats in the stratosphere during nationwide lockdowns. Welcome to Normal 2.0, indeed. But enough of the pleasantries and other such bollocks and let’s get on with the blooming review. Yeah?

Cullen Post was once a lawyer that became frustrated with the system and as a result suffered a mental breakdown … followed by a divorce. When he recovered, he went off to seminary school and became a priest, but sometimes the past finds a way of re-asserting itself into your new calling. Sort of like my engineering and tech past re-asserting itself into my current librarian life. I was nicknamed (temporarily) The Help Desk for helping patrons, in person and by phone, that came/called in with tech questions to my reference desk. I may be on hitlists of several tech and cable call-centers. I have detoured. Dreadfully sorry about that.

Cullen opens a pro-bono service called Guardian Ministries whose main mission is about freeing innocent people that were wrongly convicted and serving someone else’s time. Being a non-profit, he has an extremely small staff including a no-nonsense, sharp-witted secretary/accountant named Vicki, a hacker, and former exoneree (turned shadow warrior private investigator) named Frankie Tatum. Frankie was a recipient of Guardian Ministries’ work and was freed after spending more than a decade in jail for a crime he did not commit. Out of gratitude, Frankie joined with Post and often volunteers to do the scary gutter work, for at six-foot plus he is quite a formidable character.
When the case of Quincy Miller lands on Cullen’s desk, it is a compelling read. A black man in a small, predominantly white, Florida county goes through a bitter divorce and loses a lot due to his inept lawyer. The lawyer is murdered and it didn’t help matters that Mr. Miller, on several occasions, had threatened him at his office … publicly. Shady witness testimonies, along with questionable forensic analysis and evidence, and a predominantly white jury (one black juror) led to a life sentence. The death penalty was avoided due to one vote (one can make an educated guess on that one). The moment Guardian Ministries takes the case and starts digging in, strange things begin to happen and shit hits the fan. Cullen is followed by shady yet scary characters, and there are threats for them to back off the case. Someone does not want the truth to be unearthed and for good reason. It gets messy along the way: corrupt and drug dealing law enforcement officials, Aryan Nation gang members, a drug cartel with a hidden Caribbean resort that cater to feeding live (screaming) victims to crocodile infested lakes via zip lines, and even a Stephen King moment involving a deceased practitioner of African voodoo. Now if you’re expecting car chases, explosions and exchanges of gunfire, you will be disappointed. But fear not, for Grisham kept all the explosions for the courtroom and all the thrills for the discovery investigations and the intrigue of bureaucratic world of the law enforcement machine … and he doesn’t disappoint. It is just as thrilling and fascinating and sometimes downright frightening (our “wonderful” law system, that is). Needless to say, a gripping page turner (or to be precise since this was an e-book … a gripping screen-swiper).

Grisham’s Guardians has a bit of everything to offer every emotion and person. Written in a hybrid format (first person/third person), Guardians, though a work of fiction offers a compelling and not so flattering view of our very imperfect (dare I say, compromised) law system. Aye, it is not worst but it could really, really use some bloody, serious tweaking, as the last few years (along with a very glaring 2020) has painfully revealed. In the end, it is also a touching story about redemption and forgiveness, but highlights a group of unsung heroes that stalk this land : those that do innocence work. These valiant shadow servants who devote hours (often for free) and sometimes risk their lives to uncover the truth and truly deliver justice. After all, an innocent person sitting in jail for someone else’s crime is not justice done but a mere farce of justice. So yes, innocence-proving groups do justice to … justice by forcing the law to re-examine cases and find the true perpetrators. This book was actually inspired by the real-life Centurion Ministries. And I salute them all, for this noble calling.

Face It By Debbie Harry

I recently discovered that Debbie Harry wrote a memoir. Well truth be told, I came across this little ditty about a year ago when I was perusing the booklists for purchasing for the library. Then other books came along, and a minor thing called a pandemic happened. So as I was going through my library e-book collection, my eyes alighted on this and it was AVAILABLE (yes !!!). Needless to say … but enough with the pleasantries and such bollocks, and on with the bleedy review.

Growing up in the TV-less land of Guyana during the 70s, by default, had many of us attached to our radios. I may have heard Rapture and Call Me numerous times on our radio, but I definitely remember the reggae-styled The Tide Is High. Actually, it was very popular in the country because of that very reggae-style beat. I always imagined it was a sultry, brown-skinned woman (that probably looked like Pam Grier) with dread-locked hair crooning The Tide Is High over the radio. Yes, I have a thing for Pam Grier (still do) and … bloody hell, I was in for a surprise. Flash forward to the early 80s where television sets (despite no transmission of telly signals in the country still) rigged to Betamax players were popping up in various venues to entertain people. One such location was the local sports club, in our town, that on Saturdays would host free videos for the kids/teens to watch. One such Saturday as I was waiting for the main movie to begin, they were playing a bunch of music videos to fill the time. And then Blondie’s Heart of Glass appeared on the screen … and for the first time in my teeny life the concept of infatuation became a vicious reality. Everything around me seem to disappear (yapping kids, rowdy teenagers, preening girls) and it was just me … and sultry Debbie Harry. My love affair with Blondie had begun. And I know this was a bit of detour here … but there.

A love child (her words) as a result of a liaison between an American woman and a married Englishman, Deborah Harry (not her original name) was placed up for adoption. She was adopted by a childless couple (the Harrys) in New Jersey. Ms Harry’s revisiting of her childhood is quite refreshing and delightfully simple where she, I suspect being quite the tomboy, bravely explored the nearby woods that hosted transient and hobo types, read books (she’s a bookworm) and later on wrestled with her floor rug as she watched wrestling on the telly. In other words, a really decent childhood, despite her tough introduction to the world. Well, there was that odd encounter, at eight years old, that involved indecent exposure and a masturbating pervert. Yes, there were absolute tossers back then. An eight year old kid. Seriously?

Moving through her teens like most typical teens and beyond her college years, with a new sense of independence, she eventually moved across the river into New York City and conception of Blondie begins. We are returned to a New York City where Times Square isn’t exactly the family friendly glitterfest that it is today and lofts on Canal Street and Soho cost $75 – $100 a month for rent (yes, this was a very long time ago). As she sets out to start her musical career we find ourselves revisiting a downtown staple that was once the hub of emerging underground music scene (punk et al): CBGB/OMFUG (which actually stands for Country, Bluegrass, Blues and Other Music For Uplifting Gormandizers … aye, quite a mouthful). Along the way she and her band mates struggle to earn a living as they salvage tossed out clothing to remake into their own stage gear (yes, folks back then real punk clothing was mostly DIY since we didn’t have Hot Topic around with their ridiculous prices). There were a few perilous turns in Debbie’s NYC life: a sexual assault in the presence of an incapacitated boyfriend and a near Ted Bundy moment when she reluctantly accepted a ride from seemingly, “decent” stranger. Needless to say on both occasions, visions comprised of Dexter and Hostel emerged in my mind as I thought of these two wankers. At CBGB, she formed friendships with Joey Ramone (of the Ramones), Fab 5 Freddy, Lou Reed, Joan Jett, Patti Smith, and Siouxie Sioux (of Siouxie and the Banshees) … to name a few. One of the highlights of the earlier parts of her career was being invited on tour with Iggy Pop and David Bowie, where she learned the glaring differences between American and British punk. Let’s just say that the Brits are bit more tribal, physical and spit on groups as a sign of appreciation (a tradition that Iggy Pop claims to have pioneered). Thankfully, these folks never encountered Donita Sparks of L7 that would have rewarded such a (misread) gesture by tossing a “freshly” retrieved used tampon in the crowd (ah, such good times). Then there is that unnerving time that she worked with Phil Spector, who had an unhealthy fascination with guns and was quite the nutter. Not much changed over the years and we all know how that turned out. Though quite brilliant, the writing was on the wall for that one.
The NYC underground music scene was often intertwined with elements of the NYC art scene where both sides sometimes use each other as muses. This was seen in Harry’s relationship with the likes of Andy Warhol, Basquiat, and the controversial Mapplethorpe. Ms. Harry also talked about her fascinating film career and some of those movies that became cult classics: John Waters’ Hairspray and Videodrome. She was actually offered a script for Blade Runner but her record label (bloody tossers) “forbade” it. So now, with this disclosure, my mind is left generating scenarios of her playing Priss (Darryl Hannah) or Rachel (Sean Young). Bloody hell, I guess we’ll never know.
In writing about the paramours in her life, for the most, there are never a dull moment. There was some housepainter chap in New Jersey that liked guns and was a wee bit possessive to point where dear Debbie almost went into a form of witness protection living. Then there were a few interesting ones like Harry Dean Stanton (aye, the bloke from the original Repo Man) and Penn Jillette (yes, Penn from the Penn and Teller duo). There is a bit of an eyebrow raiser story about her collaborating with Penn to modify a Jacuzzi into an aquatic orgasm-delivery system. It is quite the venture and read. For some reason, I like Chris Stein. He is the constant in her life (lover, the other pillar of Blondie, and really good friend), and in my humble opinion, that one that should have rode off into the sunset with the girl. Only in this case, Duckie married Kristy Swanson and left Molly Ringwald by herself (yes, a Pretty in Pink reference). Alas, but good news, they still remain great friends through it all.
Filled with very intimate photographs and fan-generated art (much to my delight) Face It is quite the literary feast for Blondie and punk fans. Though written as a memoir/autobiography, it unwittingly turns Lady Deborah into a guide of the past NYC underground music and art scene and it is quite an education. We also get to see the really petty world of the record industry from the Blade Runner incident to a certain scumbag manager to their treatment at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction. Surviving being burnt out of several apartments, near-electrocution, carbon monoxide poisoning, and many times on the extreme generosity of great friends (since there were many occasions of having no dosh), Debbie Harry and Blondie etched themselves into the psyche of the world of rock and punk. She is delightfully blunt, and is not afraid to put aside the tough exterior and talk about her vulnerabilities. Face It, she’s badass (I couldn’t help it).

And yes, I still have the hots for her.

Running title: Behind The Beautiful Forevers – Life, Death And Hope In A Mumbai Undercity

This book was published in 2012 (yes, eight years old) and by some strange standards, it may be considered “old”. Whatever. For some strange reason I’ve always wanted to read this book (aside from the fact someone gave it to me eons ago and it was sitting on my bookshelf) and eventually it took a quarantine to force me to read it. Needless to say, I regret not having read this MUCH EARLIER. But enough with the bollocks and such and let’s get on with the bloody review.

Beautiful centers on the lives of inhabitants of a makeshift settlement, not too far from a group of luxury hotels near the Mumbai airport, called Annawadi. It is basically a settlement built by squatters who merely exists in the shadows of India’s society. The book, however, centers around some interesting characters.
There is Abdul, along with his mother Zehrunisa, a garbage sorter that has his trade down to a “science”. Barely a teen, along with his younger brother, this is what he does to provide for his family after his father suffered an injury to his back (which doesn’t seem to stop him from impregnating Zehrunisa). Then there is the mother/daughter team of Asha and Manju. Asha aims to be a top slumlord … someday … with great political affiliations, but in the meanwhile serves as the village councilor, that prostitutes herself and engages in little bouts of fraud and extortion. Yes, she’s quite the ambitious one. Manju, her daughter on the other hand has a decent education and earns money tutoring internet basics and classes that paid district teachers neglect to do. Did I mention that Manju is a prepubescent teen? Then there is Fatima or One-Leg, a one legged amputee (hence the nickname) that is a bit of a trouble maker but gets around in more ways than one and proving, simultaneously, that amputation does not dampen the libido or promiscuity. The Hussains (Abdul, Zehrunisa et al) have done quite well for themselves mostly due to Abdul’s discerning eye for scavenging “quality” garbage that can be sold to recyclers. Unfortunately, when you live on the margins of society, you are a sitting duck for every motivated hyena and coyote that comes by. In this case, the “coyotes” are usually police officers that shake down scavengers for the little that they earn. In some cases, successful scavengers such as Abdul, simply because they’ve been granted “privileged access” to some of the prime “dumping grounds” by the police. If this sounds infuriating already, the bad news is that I’ve just gotten started. Asha, as the village councilor, is the person that people carry their grievances to and she, in turn, uses her affiliations to “help” them. Now when Asha “helps” someone it is actually a favour and tribute (money) is expected and this is not usually a one-time payout. To go against that protocol is to find yourself accosted by police officers under some trumped-up charge and eventually in the “rescuing” arms of Asha who just happened to be in the neighbourhood. Right. And that “rescue” will come at steep cost. The moral: don’t mess around with Asha’s tribute.

The story takes a dramatic turn when a vicious conflict occurs between Fatima (One-Leg) and the Hussains. As the Hussains were trying to “renovate” their shack, Fatima (out of pure envy) claimed that the renovation efforts were affecting her wall. Harsh words were exchanged, and threats were made, and no thought anymore of it. Except for Fatima, that took it to a new diabolical level: she poured kerosene on herself and set herself aflame with the hope that the Hussains would be blamed for her injuries or murder (should she actually die). Complete bollocks, one would say. Sadly, this incident was the catalyst that started the domino effect in revealing how permeated corruption and abuse is many nooks and crannies of India. Abdul and his father are arrested based on really, crappy, accounts that would stun most active and practicing nitwits. The harsh reality of this is that it was not even about justice, but a haphazard conspiracy to extort the Hussains. All coordinated by the police and … Asha. And just when things couldn’t get any lower, we’re introduced to special executive officer Poornima Paikrao. Her main task is to collect victim statements but instead choose to participate in this conspiracy by coaching the crime scene and the victim. She also attempted to extort the Hussains several times during the arrest, during the incarceration and then outside the courthouse DURING the trial. When often pleaded upon for her help, her favourite saying (with upturned palms) was: “But what can I do?” There were times I heard my inner voice scream (at this farcical behaviour): “Your bloody job!!!”.
Unfortunately, fate was not kinder to Fatima as experienced by her treatment in the hospital (that has probably never heard of the Hippocratic oath). Cringeworthy examples include her IV bag with a “used” needle sticking out of it, since the nurses thought it a waste to use a new needle. Don’t worry I’ll save you some the “juicy” stuff. Along the way there are some sad side stories such as Abdul’s friend, Kalu (the movie-teller) that was murdered but was written off as “due to sickness” by corrupt police investigators and it is so blatantly fraudulent that you’d be aghast reading about it. The other was the suicide of Meena, Manju’s friend, that was subjected to way too much beatings by her parents and even brothers. I shudder to think that she was subjected to more than just beatings … by her brothers. And sadly, suicide was her escape.

A slight detour. In case you’re wondering what a “movie-teller” is, it is basically someone that tells an entire movie from beginning to end. Yes, I know that is frowned upon in America, but imagine growing up in a society where you couldn’t afford to go the movies as often as you’d like (and, in my case, lived in country that did not broadcast tv waves until 1985). As teenagers, back in Guyana, it was always common sight (back then) to see your mates gathered around an animated character as he basically told you the entire movie (sound effects and action included, Micheal Winslow would have been proud). Some kids were so really good at it, so much that it was the next best thing to being at the movies. And yes, you’ve been privy to another strange bit of my life.

For a country that has given the world yoga, Gandhi, herbal medicine, delicious spices (it is hard to fathom life without a decent curry) … and call centers that staff a lot of “Americans”, Beautiful paints a slightly less flattering image. Unlike America, where even the poor can afford to have lofty dreams and even achieve it, Beautiful shows a world where the poor can’t even see past their surroundings (e.g. Asha’s slumlord ambition). The poor preys on the poor and even worse, those that are supposed to protect the poor and the innocent are the biggest predators of all. In short, life is cheaper than cheap in Annawadi.If you’re looking for sunny, upbeat stories, that feels like Bollywood song and dance sequence, then I am afraid that this is not the book. The writing and story, is however, very riveting and grabs you but be forewarned that your emotions will cycle faster than the changing colours of a steroid-infused Aurora Borealis.

I came across this book a few months ago on one of the shelves of another branch and it seemed like it was published by the same umbrella that also publish a slew of delightful horror writers such as my good man, Jonathan Janz. So after having read the synopsis, I was compelled to read this strange new author and as Hannibal Lector said, to the little kid on the airplane about to partake (unwittingly) of some poor sap’s fried brains, one has to try new things. Little did I know what awaited me in those pages? So enough with the bollocks and let’s get on with the blooming book review.

Austin and Angie has young family, with their newborn daughter Ceili. They’ve got a nice house in a seemingly nice neighbourhood though the one the houses close to them is strangely vacant and unoccupied. It is a simple life. Austin loves Angie though there are times when she gets on his last decent nerve. Aye, we’ve all been there. Well, personally I can’t honestly say that since I’ve never been married. And no, I’m not living that grand bachelor life as most would believe, though that would have been nice excuse but nay. And I divulged a bit of my life and … detoured . Dreadfully sorry about that. So one evening after one of those “moments” Austin makes his way to the local watering hole to drink his woes away and encounters a mysterious, raven-haired beauty named Regina. Regina has tattoos and a strange little book that she writes strange stuff in, and as she engages Austin in a conversation somewhere along the line she mentions that she’s a witch. And sure enough, some of us have been in that situation, where usually the conversation usually dies and folks go their separate ways or those who seek to pursue their curiosity maintain so from distance. Austin chose the latter (though not from a distance) and when Regina asked of his true desires, being the romantic, he mentions that wished his wife would die. Yes, you read correctly. A bloke meets a complete mysterious stranger in a bar, who claims to be a witch, and when asked what he would wish for most … aye. Now even Stevie Wonder on dark moonless night can see where this is heading. Several days later, Austin returns home from work and hears his wife chatting up a storm with someone in the house. She is introduced as the new neighbour that is now residing in what was once the strangely vacant house next door. His new neighbour is (you guessed it) the mysterious Regina. To make things even more interesting his daughter, Ceili, seems to take a liking to Regina. And then the shit hits the fan. One day Austin returns from work and finds his wife … dead. Some sort of accident. So as Austin starts looking forward to life as single father, Regina steps into his life to comfort him. She’s a good friend and even better, she loves Ceili and Ceili loves her. Yet, Austin still remains in a slump. So they decide to have night out and Regina just happens to find the most perfect babysitter in a town. Not bad for someone who’s new to the town. Red flags abound. After their date, Regina “melts” in Austin arms and they have mind-blowing sex. Nay. Red-hot, kinky, mind-blowing sex … that involves a wee bit of cutesy bloodletting ritualistic stuff. And so nightly erotic bacchanalia ensues and Austin, guided by the second “head”, can’t believe his luck. And just when the sex couldn’t get any hotter, Regina decides to take Austin on special date night to a special club. You know those clubs: by day it is simply unassuming house or building, but by night it is a party like no other where only certain folks get in. There might be masks, candles, whips, and passwords like “Fidelio” involved with Sisters of Mercy music being played in the background. Or so I’ve heard. But in Austin’s case, he was blindfolded on his way to this secret club. The club was called the Devil’s Equinox where beyond the regular dancing crowd were lower level dark rooms where a procession of hooded women dressed as nuns gathered and initiated new members into this “dark gathering”. Sure enough, Austin thought it was just all costume and kink, until he met the Mother Superior, who informed him that he was an initiate and that he to make a pledge to the Dark Lord. After giving in and “pledging” he was orally pleasured by one of the hooded acolytes that turned out to be … his babysitter. There is a field of red flags fluttering noisily at this point, but alas … Austin’s second head has serious case of tunnel vision. And somewhere in his mind it is occurring to him that Regina is not your garden variety weekend Wiccan, and she’s into some seriously scary and dark shit that would make Richard Ramirez cower and cry for his mother. Aye, all that freely given, great, fiery sex has a price. No strings attached, they say, sure, and I have bridge and beachfront Arizona property to sell you. And Regina has a diabolical plan that involves Ceili that would make your blood run cold and would soon put Austin in a fight for his and Ceili’s life… and soul. And just keep in mind the strangely vacant house I mentioned earlier. Just thought I should mention that … and that’s all. Not going to be a bloody tosser and ruin a good scare.
Disturbingly dark, Equinox will have peeking over the pages in a mixture of fear and anxiety as you race towards the terrifying yet interesting conclusion … that would satisfy those few that have a very dark sense of humour. And also might be warning to blokes that are hanging around hardcore matriarchal Satanic cults for the “good sex” … let’s just say it doesn’t end well. You’ve been warned. And yes, the grass is always greener … on the septic tank.

Once in a while, my inner conspiracist gets the best of me and I feel the need to read about shadowy folks and such. So when I came across The Network and its synopsis (on the cover) I could not help myself. So enough with the blah-blah-blah and other such pleasantries and let’s get on with the bloody review.
Jack Logan is an investigative reporter living in New York. One late night, his life is interrupted by a US Senator named Malcolm Phillips. Phillips is a wee bit bat-shit crazy and panicky as he swears that his life is in danger and makes Jack promise to protect his wife Taylor and to find someone named Jeremy. Ah yes, Jack and Taylor was an item in the past. At first, Jack did not know what to grasp from that strange late night visit until Phillips is found dead in a Micronesian hotel room; an apparent victim of an allergy attack. Right. And everything goes full throttle from this point. As Taylor and Jack work together to find Jeremy, they find themselves being pursued by some very formidable and efficient assailants that are not exactly in the mood for tea and scones. Leading the pursuit is the enigmatic Damon Crosse, the head of shadowy firm known as the Institute, that has indoctrinated a generation of countless political and media power players that has basically turned the world upside down with shitty offerings such as reality TV. I’ve always suspected as much. Unknown to Taylor and Jack, Damon’s pursuit is aimed at capturing Taylor, for she is the key to finding some Biblical treasure that is capable of wielding untold power to the one that knows its true value.
About 400 pages long, Network is a thrilling ride to be sucked into (especially when you’re stuck at home during a bleedy pandemic) where Jack and Taylor is in a literal fight of good versus evil. Think Jason Bourne meets Davinci Code meets Tomb Raider (sort of) meets Constantine (yes, the Keanu Reeves movie). If you are a slow reader, you’ll find your pace slightly quickened as you race towards the end of each page to see what awaits you on the next page. There are some Judeo-Christian themes appears throughout the story that adds greatly to moments of redemption and mercy. Yes, sometimes no matter how far you’ve traveled down those dark paths in life, you can still make u-turns. Damon Crosse is a terrifying villain to the point that I’ll have to admit that the ending is going to be quite a doozy that’ll send some folks reeling. And yes, it might give you some sleepless nights as you try to figure out who’s really pulling the strings in this world. But until then, enjoy the read and sleep tight.

P.S. Hope to read MORE (wink, wink), Miss Shaw.

Hello there, mates. How’s everyone doing thus far with this pandemic? I hope all is well with you and yours, and yes … I looking forward the return of Normalcy 2.0. Lets be real, normal will change for many of us, but enough of that. I came across this title during my monthly “vetting” of the booklist in order to decide what gets onto the stacks at my branch (and what does not). When you encounter a tagline, that reads “the biggest company, the perfect algorithm, what could possibly go wrong?”, on a book with a cover that is designed to parody the packaging of a certain well-known online retailer … well, an evil grin along with a good hunch emerge in my mind. And here we are. But enough with my usual bollocks and such and let’s get on with the blooming review. Yeah?
Qualityland is actually the name of a country in the (near, possible???) future. Somewhere along the line a certain country with a troubled history (I’m guessing Germany but don’t quote me on that … please) decided that they needed to change their name and voila … Qualityland. In Qualityland the citizens are known as QualityPeople that use QualityMoney (or Qualities) for currency and QualityPads for internet access (and just about everything else). TouchKiss is the way most digital transactions are concluded. Yes, instead of using fingerprint recognition, it is deemed more secure to use your lips since these are not so easily forged. A bit worrisome in the event of pandemics, if you ask me. AI along with realistic humanoid androids (apart and combined) are rampant and normal as everyday life. Self-driving taxis bicker and harass passengers to rate their service even though they may not carry you completely to your destination in what is determined as a red-zone (or unsafe neighbourhood). Yes, in case you missed that bit, algorithms have made self-driving cars very discriminating especially when it comes to certain neighbourhoods. It gets better. Daily or certain social interactions allow you to be rated. The higher your rating on Everybody (Qualityland’s version of Facebook and Twitter combined), the greater your access to jobs, medical care, and even wealth, fame, sex. If your ratings fall to 10 or less you are known as a Useless. Needless to say, your life becomes a crapshoot at that point. Oh, and another thing, surnames are based on parental or current occupations such as (for example) Melissa Sex-Worker or everyone that is unemployed shares the (indignity) of the surname, Jobless. And then there is TheShop, an online warehouse, with algorithms so tuned that they are practically psychic and knows (and delivers) what you (might) want or need before you even know it. And as it turns out they are usually correct. And for some strange reason Jennifer Aniston does not fare well and her rom-coms are seen as a celluloid curse that the world has to tolerate.
Peter Jobless, is an unemployed (shocker) slacker that inherited a scrapping business from his late father and also lives where he works. Due to some strange environmental law, repairs to any form of automatons (even Roombas) are forbidden and once discarded these devices have to report to the nearest local scrapper. Martyn Chairman is a sleazoid politician that cheats on his wife with every willing Qualiteen intern and loves browsing revenge porn sites … and also works for Conrad Cook, a celebrity chef turned president. Kiki Unknown is an enigmatic hacker that knows the ins and outs of most systems and makes a living through various unorthodox means (such as blackmailing men with videos of them self-pleasuring to revenge porn sites). Yes, I know you’ve just imagined one possible scenario in this book. Henryk Engineer is cross between Bezos, Musk with a hint of Zuckerburg thrown in, a recluse and the CEO of TheShop. And then there is John of Us, the first android poised to be elected as president of Qualityland. Somewhere along the way, Peter Jobless life hits the skids: first he’s dumped by his girlfriend since the dating app (called QualityPartner) advised her to do so and replaced him with a newer, exciting partner … whilst on an actual date (!). Then on a date with Melissa Sex-Worker (you can guess what she does for a living) he breaks a (Sex) contract by not (get this) having sex. This led to his rating plummeting and giving the status of Useless. Just when his life couldn’t get anymore complicated he gets a delivery from TheShop: a blue dolphin vibrator. To his chagrin and dismay, when he tries to return it, TheShop refuses to accept it since …well … algorithms don’t make mistakes. And so starts the strange odyssey to meet face to face with Henryk Engineer as Peter Jobless bumbles into love and unwittingly starts a revolution … all because of a blue dolphin vibrator.
Qualityland though set in the future, is a delightful parody and at the same time, a cautionary tale about where we’re actually heading (or already in). One of the most interesting moments in the book was the android, John of Us, speech about data-mining and not what but who is really the “product” that Big Data is selling out there. Not exactly earth-shattering, but enough to occasionally pop you out of sleep some of the nights and channel your inner Albert Finney (I’m as mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore”). Throughout the book there are these little pop-ups of snapshots of web content, some humourous, some disturbing and some laughable … with comments (alas, there are trolls in Qualityland). A superbly hilarious, thought-provoking book with a wee touch of the disturbing (especially the obvious dislike for all things Jennifer Aniston), Qualityland has something for everyone of varying stripes. Dare I say, a nice beach companion for the coming summer (even if you’re a Jennifer Aniston fan and there is no more need of social distancing, or that coronathing hanging around).

Genesis by Robin Cook

Once in a while, I like to do crazy things like reading books about stuff that’ll probably give sleepless nights or in the case of Mr. Cook … make me paranoid of ever setting foot in another hospital. So naturally when I came across Robin Cook’s new book, my inner masochist simply threw caution to the wind and said … bloody hell, why not. Of course this is most likely the book that most folks may want to read as this country struggles through the Coronavirus crisis. Fear not, though a medical thriller it has very little to do with pandemics, and yes, I try not to be a complete and insensitive tosser. But enough of the blah-blah and other pleasantries and let’s get on with the blooming review. Yeah?
When twenty-eight-year old social worker, Kera Jacobsen, shows up on the autopsy table at NYC’s Office of City Medical Examiner (OCME) it seems like a typical overdose. Another tragic victim of the opioid crisis. But for ME Laurie Montgomery and her brilliant and enigmatic pathology resident, Dr. Aria Nichols, things are a wee bit off since Kera was never known, by most, to abuse drugs and it was discovered during the autopsy that Kera was ten weeks pregnant. To make things even more interesting, when Kera’s friend (and fellow social worker), Miranda, collaborates with Aria and suggest the use of genealogical DNA databases to track down the mysterious father of the child, things really take an interesting turn … and the shit hits the fan (Miranda is murdered). And so a strange game of cat-and-mouse begins.
Aria is an interesting character (to say the least): a potential forensic prodigy that constantly defy resident protocols, a possible sociopath, and has an aversion to anything male and bearing a penis.But what she lacks in social graces, emotions or following rules she makes up for quite skillfully in forensic investigations and autopsies. On the other hand ME Laurie Montgomery aside from being an astute and consummate professional has to deal with Aria as a subordinate, and then there is the fact that she has a ticking time bomb inside her (she’s diagnosed with the BRCA1 gene mutations) and two children that are on the autistic spectrum. Her husband James is also a skilled medical examiner AND her subordinate. Yes, awkward pillow talk and such bollocks but he is seemingly the one thing that balances out the seeming and impending chaos that exist in her life. But paths will intersect as the search for this mysterious man continues in dizzying speed, and somewhere in the midst of the medical labyrinth there is some willing to kill, with undetectable efficiency, to make sure that truth never comes to light. And everything hurtles towards a breathtaking conclusion that may leave some folks with soiled undies … and a reasonable fear of medical institutions.
In a world where genealogical databases offer so much insight to people’s past, Genesis shows the other side of this medical Pandora box offering. In truth, in several cases genealogical databases haven been used to solve unsolved murder cases. Cook, in typical fashion, offers up a thrilling read and cautionary tale into the world of genealogical databases: it may be help you learn about the past … and even the present … in, some cases, very gory details. Use with caution. And enjoy the read.

Bad Blood by John Carreyrou

Running Title: Bad Blood – Secrets And Lies In A Silicon Valley Startup

Several years ago I was sitting at home watching the telly and I came across this news flash about some woman named Elizabeth Holmes. Apparently, she was involved with some fraudulent behaviour involving some tech startup that got her into hot water. Sounds bang on and to the point. Little did I know, and thanks to members of my book club (yes, I run a book club in my branch and no it is NOT called the Evil Parrot Book club) and their recommendation of Bad Blood, I was made a bit wiser. And somewhat, troubled. But enough with the teasing, niceties, and other usual bollocks and let’s get on with the bloody review. Yeah?

The last thing I wanted to read was some boring blah-blah about some Silicon Valley tech startup, and about 20 pages into Bad Blood, it had dawned on me that Carreyrou’s tome was anything but boring. At some points I thought I was reading one of these creepy, conspiratorial Grisham novels, and to my dismal horror, it was not. Most importantly, it was based on something that was real and equally terrifying (don’t worry you’ll see the reason for such dramatic descriptions). Bad Blood introduces us to the interesting world of Elizabeth Holmes: blonde-haired, blue-eyed, super-intelligent AND a Stanford chemical engineering student. Or as my mum would say “wife material”, though my mum may be a bit biased since she is a retired chemist. Ah, we’ve detoured. When most of us at certain age were trying to figure out those labyrinthine first few years of college, Ms. Holmes was learning Chinese Mandarin and working at Singapore laboratory that performed tests for the SARS (remember that bit of craziness, oh … right we’re dealing with version 2.0 of that bollocks … coronavirus, they say). Then somewhere along the way Ms. Holmes had an Eureka moment and an LED bulb lit up in her mind: micro-sizing the world of blood testing. Instead of drawing vials of blood (as is currently done for blood testing) what if the same results could be achieved with blood droplets? Instead of scary needles, how about patches with micro-sized needles that could be applied to the skin to draw small amounts of blood? Best of all, instead of having to wait days or maybe more than a week, results can be sent back with hours? Now imagine if these testing devices were in everyone’s home and were beaming info back and forth through cellular and Wi-Fi technology. Sounds awesome, doesn’t it? It most certainly did in Ms. Holmes’ mind to the point that she dropped out of college and filed a patent for the futuristic vision of a blood testing patch. And with college tuition money being used as seed money the health-tech startup known as Theranos was born, and Silicon Valley had a new neighbour. And the slow hitting of shit on the fan. Though a marvelous theory, building the machinery that would deliver all this medical greatness proved quite the bugger. And then appeared the silent partner known as “Sunny”: Ramesh Balwani, a Hindi-Pakistani software developer that was apparently more than a “mentor” and “advisor” to Elizabeth. Let’s just say that their relationship may have been more than “professional”. Chunder factor: this bloke was twice her age. Like a siren, Ms. Holmes had good sales pitch that most could not resist and it drew in the likes of many high-caliber personalities such as Larry Ellison, Henry Kissinger (aye, that one), and retired Marine general, John Mattis. Even after being told, by very competent engineers, that her “contraption” was very flawed and, in subtle terms, an engineering clusterfunk waiting to happen, Ms. Holmes did the next best thing: cheated by buying and hacking commercially competent Siemens systems to perform blood tests and then past the stuff off as Theranos testing. I know what you’re saying: that was wrong on so MANY levels. That was the good news part. The bad news was that she and Sunny went even further as they hired a high-end pitbull of a lawyer and weaponized non-disclosure agreements for incoming employees for “protection of intellectual property” (that was useless). And then there were the harassing and stalking of employees/potential whistleblowers (including family members that dared to work with her). And tossed into the mix, an unusual (and possibly unhealthy) fixation on all things Steve Jobs. Though being called a female Steve Jobs by Forbes magazine only added to the egos and the misery of others. Yes, characters were assassinated, reputations ruined and there was one suicide … all based on a carefully crafted lie.
Bad Blood, most would find in a very short time, is not a very boring read. Unchecked, Theranos was a potential Pandora’s box for the medical industry where faulty testing would have lead to healthy people taking unnecessary treatments (like chemotherapy or paying over $3000 out of pocket to find out that you’re really fine) and unhealthy people would be given a false sense of security (such suffering a heart attack when you were assured that you were “fine”).
A cautionary tale for those that are pro-business and at the same time think that regulations are too “bothersome” or “in the way of progress”. Though started with noble and lofty intentions, somewhere along the way ego, image, delusions and yes, greed kicked in and a lot of really good folks got plowed under into a churning, crimson tide. And in a time when whistleblowers and diligent journalism is treated with disdain, Bad Blood unwittingly, sheds a bright shining light on these silent and unsung heroes that are scattered throughout this society who remain oblivious to the greater good that they do. And the cost they pay. Good show, Mr. Carreyrou. Jolly good show.

P.S. I don’t think mum would approve too kindly of Ms. Holmes behaviour.

The Cartel By Don Winslow

For some strange reason I am drawn to some of the dark aspects of this life in this world, both written and screened. If Netflix and my cable subscriber is reporting on my viewing habits, there is probably (at most) some interesting files sitting somewhere in some interesting buildings or (at least), some warnings issued to potential mates. So when someone donated the Don Winslow book to my branch, there was something that screamed “you’ve got to put this in the stacks … and you have to check it out”. It probably had to do with the fact there was a bulletproof vest featured on the cover with the word “Cartel” on it. Aye, I’m an easy sucker for a catchy visuals and titles. Well so much for the pleasantries and other such bollocks, so let’s get on with the bloody review. Yeah?
First off … Cartel is over 700 pages long. What, you ask, could they write about in 700-plus pages in a book simply entitled, The Cartel? Apparently, a lot, and there is nae a dull moment in none of those pages, and the best part is even when you finish the book you still feel that there should have been … MORE. Aye, it is that (terrifyingly) good.

Art Keller is a Vietnam veteran turned DEA agent and one of his biggest accomplishments is toppling the Sinaloan cartel, El Federacion, and capturing it top leader, Adan Barrera. Cartel finds Art residing in a Mexican monastery as its primary and premium beekeeper, producing good honey whilst enjoying a bit of solace away from the crazy world … though his Sig Sauer isn’t far from reach. Unknown to Keller, Adan has negotiated an extradition to a Mexican prison to serve the rest of his jail sentence. What the Americans don’t realize is that Adan’s extradition to a Mexican prison is about as harsh as me being transferred to a library branch … in Hawaii … with free housing … in a big mansion … for 5 to 10 years. From the scariest prison in Mexico, Adan lives it up with all the comforts of a premium five star resort as he runs his drug empire and is protected from his enemies from confines of his “jail” … as he plots the demise of Art Keller. Of course, When Art is informed of this change of events, more than vows are broken as Art willingly joins up for this narco-war. And so begins the rapid descent into the world of terrifying, viscous darkness and re-definitions of barbarism as an unorthodox game of cat and mouse is played. Though the Cartel is supposedly orbiting around Art and Adan, there are some interesting “scenic routes” in terms of characters that show up and add to this immense, yet terrifying and twisted mosaic: a group of reporters, foot soldiers, beauty pageant winners (yes, this is not an editing error). Compared to what is shown in the (sanitized) news, the fictional Cartel sheds some terrifying light on the real world of cartels. Where beauty pageants don’t offer scholarships to Ivy League colleges but are actually grooming grounds for wives and mistresses of narco-kingpins. Where cartels have better surveillance and intelligence gathering capabilities that rival those of the CIA and FBI, and along with corrupt members of law enforcement can reach out and squash those that are deemed a “threat”. Where being a journalist means literally putting your life on the line to write and publish the truth. Where loyalty doesn’t always promise longevity and the possibility of being a convenient sacrificial lamb and the promise that your family will be well taken care off (as Joe Isuzu would say … sure !!!). Where rising up the ranks in the cartels means to engage in strange game of chess, where a pawn can suddenly become a king and vice versa; or you can be cannibalized (sometimes literally) by your own chess pieces (I’m guessing not much time to sleep is a staple of being in the higher rungs in this “business”… hmm … where do I sign up?). Where rising to the top as female makes you the scariest person in the room, since the narco-world is very misogynistic and takes a whole lot of machismo (and some extreme levels of depraved viciousness) to impress these chaps. At this point of time, it is needless to state that this is not going to have any fairytale endings and folks emerging out at the end are not quite unscathed, mentally or physically (or both).

Cartel though fictional is (sadly) not in the least, some exaggeration of what’s actually out there. And that, folks, is some scary shit to say. Several years ago I reviewed a book called Zero Zero Zero by Roberto Saviano which is a NONFICTION documentation of the cocaine trade around the world, and it reads like Winslow’s Cartel … except that it is well … REAL. Cartel is one of the few fictional books that actually points an accusing finger at us with the question, “How much is your high, really worth?”. The answer, as both books would indicate, apparently a very high price and what some of us are paying for that indulgence, stateside, is the “discount” price. And though some of the viciousness that have been associated with cartel violence has been termed “barbaric” and “barbarians”, I’ve looked up several known historical barbarians and I hate to say it, but even those barbarians had a code that they lived by. What Winslow’s Cartel describes in many pages is something beyond barbarism.

One final note, it turns out that Winslow’s Cartel is actually a second book of The Power Of The Dog trilogy. Aye, I must admit that I have not read the first. The good news is that Cartel holds it own and is a dog’s bollocks standalone. All that is required is a good stomach. Happy readings, mates. And good show, Mr. Winslow.

Full Throttle by Joe Hill

What can I say? Looking back at the list of books I’ve read during 2019, it is disturbing to note that I’ve been reading … nay… consuming a lot of horror novels. Dark, disturbing and sometimes, stomach churning horror novels. I don’t know what that says about me, though it might explain my (perpetual) single status. Whatever. Their loss. Ever since NOS4A2, I’ve been fascinated with Joe Hill’s writing, and though I’m not a big fan of anthologies (don’t get me wrong, I’ve read a good few) I like reading Mr. Hill’s offerings (remember Strange Weather, folks?). So when I saw Full Throttle staring at me from the “New Arrivals” shelf, I figured why not … it’s not like I’ve got a string of dates lined up and seemingly sane folks can’t live on binge-watching the telly (I think I’m sane). But enough with the bollocks and let’s get on with the blooming review (so you folks can get back to your holiday festivities such as sipping eggnog and cuddling up to a Love Actually on Blu –ray … what, only me on that one, I’ve detoured … and revealed much).

Now in the last few months, I’ve serenaded you with the dark and disturbing, lotion-in-the-basket, sort of horror. Full Throttle is a nice “break” away from such. And yes, I am being extremely generous in the use if the word “break”. Full Throttle is a delightful collection stories that are frightening but not always (except for a few) in the preternatural sense, ranging from cautionary to vengeful to hear-touchingly creepy to (yes) macabre.

    To avoid spoiling the stories for my fellow readers and coming off like a complete tosser, I’ll offer up a taste of what is in Throttle:

  • A bunch of bikers carrying a dark secret finds themselves unwitting victims of a mysterious truck driver.
  • Teens visit a seaside carnival and youthful bravado leads to an assault on an innocent carousel worker … and unleashing a terrifying and frightening secret that would change their lives.
  • A bookmobile driver finds that his mobile library serves an interesting set of patrons: the dearly departed (though I must say as a librarian, my work with the public has it limits).
  • A girl and her AI companion, in a futuristic world, puts human morality under a magnifying glass and a sad commentary is revealed.
  • A Twitter user visits a horror-themed circus and finds themselves in a terrifying world. Or is it just a publicity stunt?
  • A call for help in a tall, grassy area at the side of the road, in the middle of nowhere, lures unsuspecting Samaritans to a sinister setting. They’ve made the movie adaptation (In The Tall Grass) on Netflix. The book and the movie versions differ slightly and that’s all this bloke’s saying.
  • A patriot separatist plans an act of domestic terrorism (shocker), but his past misdeeds have plans for him and his associates.

Bloody hell, I said I’d give you sampling and just may have screened the entire blooming book for you. To quote the immortal Marlene Dietrich: “Can’t help it”. And yes, I just quoted Fraulein Dietrich.

Though Full Throttle won’t have you cowering under the sheets in bowel-pinching fear, the stories are riveting and delightful chiller-suspense, mixed bag. Especially on a cold Christmas night for those that don’t fancy watching the telly with any Christmas themed movies (particularly ones featuring Liam Neeson, Hugh Grant and Emma Thompson). And most of all, it’ll make you appreciate some of the good anthologies that are out there. And I am looking forward to the second season of NOS4A2. Good show, Mr. Hill. No really, it is a jolly good show.