Jumaat, 28 September 2012

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The Star Online: Lifestyle: Bookshelf

Book review: A Wanted Man

Posted: 28 Sep 2012 07:43 AM PDT

The plotting is intricate, the pace is unrelenting, the dialogue is sharp, and the hero is as appealing as ever. What more could you ask for from a thriller?

A Wanted Man
Author: Lee Child
Publisher: Bantam Press, 429 pages

IT is estimated that a Jack Reacher novel is sold somewhere in the world roughly every four seconds, which brings the total number sold to somewhere around 60 million plus, depending on how much time has elapsed between my writing this and you reading it.

The phenomenal success of Lee Child's 17-book (and counting) series is not hard to fathom.

All-American Jack Reacher is the rough diamond good guy, the ex-army policeman with a simple thirst for justice and, on occasion, retribution. Reacher does not like the bad guys and he has no problems with dispatching them, with his bare hands if necessary. He's a loner, a drifter, a man whose only baggage is psychological and there doesn't seem to be too much of that. In other words, he's the good outlaw writ large.

But a good protagonist is not much use without a good creator and Child's skills extend beyond simply creating an appealingly macho hero. He is, for a start, a very good plotter. Good old fashioned storytelling is an underrated art and on the evidence of his latest book, A Wanted Man, Child is something of a master.

"Couldn't put it down" and "a page-turner" are probably overused terms of commendation but for once they are well-placed. Almost irritatingly, I found myself constantly wanting to get back to A Wanted Man simply to find out what happened. You know, that feeling of "just another chapter, just another few pages"? Well, you have been warned!

In this episode of Reacher's life he is travelling through the state of Nebraska on his way to Virginia to meet an unspecified woman whose voice appealed to him.

He is hitch-hiking. As he stands on the slipway counting the cars that go past, he wonders whether to remove the plaster from his badly damaged nose with a fast rip or a slow peel. He opts for the fast peel, "cuts re-opened, the swelling lifted and moved, the fracture itself clicked and ground"... And I am going to pause there just for a second to draw attention to the good writing there – swelling lifted and moved, fracture clicked and ground – these are not the obvious expressions and the writing is the better for it. And I bet you flinched.

It is not too long before Reacher is picked up by a car containing two men and a woman. As they are all similarly dressed, Reacher speculates that they are business partners or fellow employees who have attended some sort of work related convention. But the longer he remains in the car the odder the atmosphere and the relationships become, Reacher picking up on the little expressions in the conversation that suggest all is not as it seems.

Cue the parallel story of a murder in a small town in Nebraska and the reader begins to get a sense of where the book is going. While drama unfolds in the car, the county sheriff is investigating a killing that has some disturbing indications of being an assassination. Three men walk into a concrete bunker; two walk out. "This was not a dispute or a scuffle that had gotten out of hand. This was professional stuff, straight from the major leagues. Which was rare in Nebraska." So he calls the FBI and his call is taken up by Special Agent Julia Sorenson.

With his major players in place, Child takes the reader on a breathless ride that knits the two scenes ever closer together and leads to a remote abandoned weapons storage facility, a group of Syrian terrorists and the CIA. I won't tell you more but the finale was for me the least satisfying part of the book although it was, I suppose, also the inevitable climax.

That notwithstanding, A Wanted Man is a very good read, and all the more topical as plans have been announced to make a major film, just called Jack Reacher, in which our eponymous hero will be played by ... Tom Cruise.

Yes, Jack Reacher, our six foot five and 250lb rough neck is going to be played by Hollywood's smallest leading man who always looks as though he has just come out of the shower and the beauty parlour. He does good action movies, Cruise, but as Jack Reacher? I think a lot of fans are going to be upset. Oh for a rejuvenated Clint Eastwood!

But putting the movie to one side, Reacher fans are not going to be disappointed by this latest offering and readers coming to Child anew may be pleasantly surprised.

The plotting is intricate, the pace is unrelenting, the dialogue is sharp and Reacher is as appealing as ever. For a holiday treat or a wet weekend, you really can't ask for much more.

Medieval mayhem

Posted: 28 Sep 2012 02:10 AM PDT

The Painter's Apprentice
Author: Charlotte Betts
Publisher: Piatkus, 400 pages

FOLLOWING on from the author's first historical romance, The Apothecary's Daughter, this second novel set in 17th London features, well, the apothecary's daughter's daughter, Beth.

The young woman is happy to pursue her passion for painting at Merryfields, the family home that provides sanctuary for various troubled souls, including painter Johannes, who notices her talent and takes Beth on as an apprentice. But these are turbulent times, with the English monarchy and Parliament at loggerheads and heading for war, and, closer to home, new arrivals at Merryfields adding to the upheaval.

Opportunity beckons Beth – but what price will she have to pay to follow her heart?

Half-Past Dawn
Author: Richard Doetsch
Publisher: Simon & Schuster,
464 pages

IMAGINE waking up to find newspapers trumpeting your death and no memory of events that have apparently killed you in the eyes of the public and left you with a bullet wound and a strange tattoo on your arm. And, by the way, where are your wife and two daughters?

That's the situation New York City District Attorney Jack Keeler faces early one morning when he finds his world turned upside down. With the help of a friend, Jack slowly pieces together what happened the night before and realises that he has only a day to uncover an ancient mystery hidden inside a prison if he wants to rescue his family.

To Heaven And Back: A Doctor's Extraordinary Account Of Her Death, Heaven, Angels And Life Again
Author: Mary C. Neal
Publisher: WaterBrook Press, 220 pages

DO you believe in heaven and life after death? Dr Mary C. Neal does and claims that she's been there – and returned.

A kayaking accident on a South American river submerged her underwater long enough to be thought dead; when she revived, she returned with a new perspective on life.

The orthopedic surgeon, who is a wife and mother, writes about her near-death experience, her communication with angels, and her sadness upon realising that it wasn't her time yet. She shares the life lessons she's learnt that took on new meaning after her experience and how she has a newfound understanding of her purpose on earth.

When To Eat What: Eat The Right Foods At The Right Time For Maximum Weight Loss!
Author: Heidi Reichenberger McIndoo
Publisher: Advantage Quest Publications, 204 pages

THIS re-issued 2010 publication isn't exactly a diet book despite the words "weight loss" being in its title. Rather, it is an adjunct to healthy eating plans. It offers problem-solving tips for situations when you aren't sure how to eat right, such as when you have to eat on the run or what to eat and when to eat it when you're working out or are facing a holiday weekend of parties and heavy noshing.

How To Work For An Idiot: Survive And Thrive Without Killing Your Boss
Author: John Hoover
Publisher: Advantage Quest Publications, 274 pages

"NOT every boss is an idiot, and not every idiot is a boss."

In this revised and expanded second edition of his popular book, John Hoover continues to offer witty advice on how to deal with that person you simply cannot afford to ignore no matter how difficult to deal with: your boss.

Amidst the humour and zingy one-liners, the executive coach provides useful information on how to cope with and survive all sorts of figures of authorities without getting fired or losing your mind.

Brutal: The Heartbreak ing True Story Of A Little Girl's Stolen Innocence
Author: Nabila Sharma
Publisher: Harper, 304 pages

NABILA Sharma was seven years old when she began religious lessons at the local mosque. But instead of learning about holiness, the little girl became intimately acquainted with evil when her teacher abused her trust and started molesting her.

For five years, Nabila lived in terror for she could not cry for help; as far as her community knew, the teacher was a respectable man and for her to accuse him of unspeakable acts was to risk her entire family.

Brutal is Nabila's heart-rending story of how she lost her innocence and how life was shattered. It is a story of survival and how a girl found hope in her darkest hours.

Just draw it

Posted: 28 Sep 2012 12:25 AM PDT

Want to be a comic artist? You can start by joining Drawlaahh, where like-minded Malaysians get together to, well, draw!

SO you think you can draw, but you don't know how to get that "big break"? Have you honed your artistic skills to perfection, but keep getting rejected? Worry no more, for you are not alone and there is a solution to accelerate your quest towards that "big break".

Here is the true story on how a posse of Malaysian comic artists achieved their lifelong goal. The year is 2010 and the setting, the Singapore Toys Games and Comics Convention (STGCC), an eventful occasion thanks to the presence of David Lloyd (V For Vendetta), Matt Fraction (Iron Man, Uncanny X-Men), Leinil (Secret Invasion, Superior), Salvador Larocca (Iron Man) and Marvel talent scout C.B. Cebulski. For the artists, interacting with those fan-favourite creative talents was a dream come true, but reality bit down hard when it came to meeting Cebulski's expectations. Despite being armed with painstakingly prepared portfolios, the process of entering the House of Ideas was not for the faint-hearted!

Fortunately, despite Cebulski's negative conclusions, the "Meet Matt Fraction" session managed to raise their hopes somewhat. All it took to unlock their conundrum was an obvious question from the floor: "How do we get to do what you do?" Fraction's spine-chilling response? "Finish something, get it out ... and keep showing up, man."

"Finish something". "Get it out". "Keep showing up". As simple as it may sound, these three action-oriented sentences became the starting point and mantra for Drawlaahh – a Malaysian platform for aspiring comic book talents. Starting off as an art blog space, a group of local talents would contribute their sketches based on a random theme; for instance, if the Dark Knight is this week's flavour, then all contributors will sketch him in his or her own way. After a year of activity, a few of the artists got together under the Banshee Creative collective, and last month they achieved a new milestone via the launch of the Drawlaahh: Vol 1 sketchbook, a name that is truly Malaysian, thanks to the "Laahh" post-fix.

The driving force behind Drawlaahh is Angelia Ong, who also happens to be the brainchild behind several key domestic comic events, including the Malaysian Games and Comics Convention, and Comics Are Cool!; while she is assisted by the creative forces of Sheldon Goh, Alan Quah, Faezal Tan, Lefty Julian, Soefara Jaafar, Confused Monkey Studio, Zid, Teo Yong Jin, Amir Shahlan and Lip Wei. Collectively, these bunch of domestic comics crusaders are the main protagonists in enlivening the domestic comic scene.

Having joined some of the Drawlaahh crew in a few of their monthly "Draw Nights", I can vouch for their talent and potential in holding their own on the mainstream front. Guys like Goh, Quah and Zid already have mainstream credentials under their belt – Goh has been turning heads with his work on Zenescope's Grimm Fairy Tales (Baba Yaga has never looked so good!); Alan's had a good run on Arcana's Anywhere; and Zid is set to make his debut on Top Cow's Son Of Merlin series by year end. As for the others, Faezal has achieved international recognition via his Wires project; while Lefty Julian is well-known as one of the stalwarts of the local comics industry with Gilamon Studio, and you can also see more of his ironwork sculptures in George Town, Penang.

With all these creative people involved, the Drawlaahh Vol.1 sketchbook is certainly worth a peek, as it offers 19 pages of sketches featuring some of the best art from the Drawlaahh art blog space. From the Joker to Wolverine, our Malaysian crew provides their renditions of some of comics' best-known characters.

Besides the more established artists, it is interesting to note that there are some diamonds in the rough involved in it as well. While many would have been intimidated by the idea of being featured alongside established artists, the three newcomers to the comics industry – Soefara, Lip Wei and Amir Shahlan – managed to hold their own. In particular, Soefara's Red Sonja and Lip Wei's Maggots gives us hope that there is a strong creative pipeline in the works. Further assurance for the future is provided by Confused Monkey Studio – which comprises three under-12 brothers with the power to "draw their future"!

Overall, it's encouraging to see efforts like Drawlaahh emerging, especially when the domestic comics scene is in dire need of re-energising. Hopefully, this project will spur other closet Jim Lees to step out and be counted, and stamp a mark for Malaysia in the mainstream arena. Now that some of our countrymen have made inroads abroad, let's do our bit by supporting and participating in efforts like Drawlaahh!

> Want to meet the people behind Drawlaahh and participate in the Malaysian launch of the sketchbook? Drop by Earth 638 (2nd Floor, Kelana Mall, Jalan SS 6/12, Kelana Jaya, Petaling Jaya) tomorrow between 4.30–8.30pm. For more info, call 03-7804 8380, e-mail: earth638@yahoo.com, or visit facebook.com/comicsarecoolnow.

Kredit: www.thestar.com.my

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