Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Book Review - Seth MacFarlane's A Million Ways to Die in the West: A Novel

Seth MacFarlane's A Million Ways to Die in the West: A Novel
Hardcover: 224 pages
Publisher: Ballantine Books; First Edition edition (March 4, 2014)

From the genius mind of Seth MacFarlane comes his very first novel, A Million Ways to Die in the West: A Novel.  Based on the screenplay written by MacFarlane, Alec Sulkin & Wellesley Wild, the novel is a tie-in to this week's upcoming motion picture of the same name.

MacFarlane wrote the novel during downtime of shooting the movie that stars himself, amongst others.  Writing a novel is much different than writing a screenplay but the creator of Family Guy and director of Ted can write the funny no matter what medium it is being written for, be it big screen, small screen, or print.

If one is familiar with the trailers, they already know that MacFarlane portrays Albert Stark, a sheep farmer whose girlfriend, Louise, breaks up with him.

It's the Old American West, where just about anything can kill you.  Albert would like to avoid all those million ways if he can help it.  However, Albert gets dumped early on by Louise and when she chooses the most insufferable guy in town, Albert decides to fight back--even if he isn't the best shooter in town.

Albert soon meets Anna, a beautiful gunslinger, but unfortunately for him, she's married to the baddest guy in the West, Clinch Leatherwood.  Only Albert doesn't know that and Clinch will want to kill Albert when he finds out.

As far as scenes in the trailer that are in the book, the comment Stark makes after the ice block falls was not the same comment in the book.  That's one of the downsides that comes with writing books based on a screenplay when one knows that there will be a decent amount of improvised lines on set.

This book/movie has every classic trope of a western and MacFarlane does the best that he can when it comes to writing a western comedy.

When I learned that MacFarlane had written a novel based on his upcoming movie, I had high expectations.  The book lived up to my high expectations.  The book is very funny and MacFarlane writes the hell out of a sex scene that features a prostitute.  I hope that he writes some more novels, even if they aren't tied in to a television show or motion picture.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Book Review: Veronica Mars: The Thousand Dollar Tan Line

Veronica Mars: An Original Mystery - The Thousand-Dollar Tan Line by Rob Thomas and Jennifer Graham
Paperback: 336 pages
Publisher: Vintage (March 25, 2014)

Not even two weeks after the movie was released, the first Veronica Mars novel was published.  They are considered as canon so any future films would likely make reference to the events that transpire in the novels.  A second book is scheduled for release later this year.

The novel takes place a short time after the end of the movie but most potential readers will likely have seen the film before opening up the book.

Set ten years after graduating from high school, Veronica Mars has relocated from New York back to Neptune.  The land of sun, sand, crime, and correction.  Instead of pursuing a career in law, she's gotten back her license to serve as a private investigator.

Mars Investigations is struggling to pay the rent and employee paychecks.  That is until a girl goes missing from a party.

With Sheriff Lamb inept as ever to do the job, the Neptune Chamber of Commerce turns to Veronica to keep money flowing in to Neptune from students on spring break.  With a girl gone missing, students are canceling their trip--which means hotels and restaurants are losing revenue.

As the beach and boardwalks are transformed into a week-long party by college students, Veronica investigates the missing person's case.  The house she vanished from?  It's owned by someone with criminal ties.  Veronica is soon plunged into this dangerous underworld as she tries to find out what happened.

Soon thereafter, another girl goes missing but this time, it hits close to home with a connection to Veronica's past.

Thomas keeps the classic Mars snark intact as he writes this first novel.  While reading, I could imagine all the characters voices in my head reading the test aloud as I kept turning page after page.  The plot is sharp and the shocking twists that nobody sees coming will keep readers turning page after page until they finish.

That said, given where Logan is when the movie ended, there's not much material there for Thomas and Graham to work with.  He's serving overseas and is only available during Skype chats.  In the meantime, Veronica does what she does best.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Book Review: Washington's Spies: The Story of America's First Spy Ring

Washington's Spies: The Story of America's First Spy Ring by Alexander Rose
Paperback: 384 pages
Publisher: Bantam; Reprint edition (May 1, 2007)

Washington's Spies is the basis for the recent AMC series, Turn.   As a result of the series, the book was recently reprinted.

I've always had a fascination in the American Revolution.  I made it a point to tour the historic sites whenever I vacation in Boston or Philadelphia.

Rose's book focuses exclusively on the Culper Spy Ring with a brief mention of Nathan Hale as well.  Rose goes into detail on a certain quote attributed to Hale but the nation's first spy never said those words.

With a very fast pace, Rose's book is a non-fiction espionage thriller.  I read it with great interest.  When I was in school and studied the Revolution, the spy ring never came up.  Ever.  It was during an episode of Brad Meltzer's Decoded in which I first learned about the ring.

The last book that mentioned the Revolutionary ciphers appeared in the early 1900s so not much material survives on the spy ring because why would anyone have kept incriminating evidence around during a war!  The fact that Washington's library of papers survives helped Rose in his quest to write this book.  Tallmadge wrote a memoir as he neared 80 years old.

In 1778, General George Washington was desperate to know where the British would strike next.  He turned to Benjamin Tallmadge to organize a spy ring to discover such plans and military strategies.

Abraham Woodhull is a Long Island farmer that lives behind enemy lines.  He works with childhood friends, Benjamin Tallmadge and Caleb Brewster, to not only keep their work a secret but to get information that could help General Washington in their defeat of the British.  What they did helped give birth to modern spy-craft with their secret code and all.  The invisible ink helped to make sure that intelligence would not be discovered in the event that it got into the wrong hands.

These spies, who were American heroes, were not in the same mold as a Jason Bourne or James Bond.  They aren't the type that would kick one's ass in a fight although Tallmadge certainly might, being in the military and all.  These are real people that had some challenges in order to survive.  At times, it seemed as if some would quit but they always came through in the end.

They played a role in the downfall of Benedict Arnold, a general who defected to the British only because of money.  In wooing Arnold, the British hoped to find the members of the spy ring.  It didn't work.

All in all, I highly recommend this book.  Their story had never really been told until Rose decided to research into the spies.

Some notes:

Upon reading the book, I discovered a few things different from the TV series.  As with anything, some things were made up for the TV show for dramatic purposes.  On the series, Abraham Woodhull's father is working with the British army.  In real life, this wasn't the case.

The Abe-Anna-Mary love triangle didn't happen in real life either since Anna is related to Abe through marriage!