Category Archives: Book Reviews

Book Review: Harlan Ellison’s Memos from Purgatory

For ten weeks in 1954, then twenty-year-old writer Harlan Ellison adopted the alias of teenager Phil “Cheech” Beldone and joined a NYC street gang called the Barons all in the name of research—an endeavor that nearly cost Ellison his life on more than one occasion, from the gang initiation ritual to the final savage, bloody rumble against a rival gang in Prospect Park.

Fast-forward seven years to 1961 when Ellison attended a gathering in NYC and encountered an old “friend” named Ken Bales to whom Ellison had loaned a typewriter—which Bales promptly hocked. While at the party, Ellison took the opportunity to demand compensation from Bales. A few days later, two detectives arrived at Ellison’s apartment based on an anonymous report of drug parties and illegal weapons. Was Bales the caller? Ellison seemed to suspect as much.

Known for this vociferous anti-drug lifestyle, Ellison explained to the detectives that there were no illegal narcotics in his apartment and the weapons, taken from a street gang, were now used as part of his popular lectures on juvenile delinquency. After allowing the detectives to search his apartment, Ellison is relieved to learn that no charges will be filed for narcotics—but they will have to arrest him on possession of an unregistered firearm, as a .22 caliber pistol was among the gang weapons.

Memos from Purgatory by Harlan Ellison

Thus begins the second part of this memoir—Ellison’s vivid and dramatic description of his 24 hours in jail. Here is where the narrative runs longer than necessary and I can understand why many readers consider it whiny.

Memos from Purgatory is an unflinching, up-close-and-personal examination of street gangs and the callous NYC legal system of the times. It was one of Harlan Ellison’s bestselling books for nearly 25 years. While the material is obviously dated, the color of Ellison’s honest and raw narrative has not faded. I think the same can be said for most of his work.

Of course, what Harlan Ellison book would be complete with an expository introduction? In this case, my 1983 ACE paperback edition contains three intros, one written for this book and two from each previous printing. Ellison’s commentaries are nearly as enjoyable his stories!

 

 

Book Review: Galactic Creatures edited by Elektra Hammond

Galactic Creatures is a fun collection of eleven short stories with a common theme of spaceships or satellites constructed in the form of birds, dragons, fish, and other animals. My favorites included “Dragon Child” by Leona Wisoker, the late, great C.J. Henderson’s “Lawn Care,” and Patrick Thomas’s novella, “Crossing Roads,” which concludes the book.

There were only a few editing issues that caught my attention. On my copy of the trade paperback, both the title and the editor’s name are misspelled on the spine and “Lawn Care” is interrupted three pages before the end by a brief excerpt from what appears to be a story outline that is completely unrelated to the theme of this anthology. Beyond those minor glitches, this is a fine collection of light and quick SF/Fantasy tales.

Galactic Creatures cover

 

A Marvelous Review from the Land Down Under!

I just happened across this recent Goodreads review for my novel By Your Side from a reader in Australia. It made my weekend!

Indy Fernandez rated it Five Stars – It was amazing

Shelves: read-2017
This book has chills, thrills, suspense and even light hearted humour. Will keep you engaged from start to finish, a very well written novel, I applaud the author Phil Giunta as the story is intriguing with characters that are portrayed with so vividly you are caught up in their nightmares.
By Your Side by Phil Giunta

 

 

Book Review: The Lost World by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

In an effort to win the heart of a fickle young lady, intrepid newspaper reporter Edward Malone volunteers as a member of an expedition to South America to seek proof or otherwise debunk the wild claims of arrogant and intractable paleontologist Professor George Edward Challenger.

Upon returning from South America many years prior, Challenger claimed to have discovered prehistoric life still thriving atop a plateau deep in the jungles of Brazil. Unfortunately, his camera was damaged during a boating accident, leaving him with scant and inconclusive photographic evidence and only the sketchbook of one Maple White, a poet and artist who died of severe injuries shortly after escaping this supposed land of dinosaurs.

During a contentious interview, Challenger permits Malone to peruse the sketchbook, wherein White had drawn numerous mundane flora and fauna—until the final image of an impossibly large reptilian creature. Malone, however, remains unconvinced.

Despite his unadulterated aversion toward the press, Challenger sees some potential in Malone and invites him to a meeting of the Zoological Society where Professor Challenger, living up to his name, disrupts the guest lecturer when mention is made of the extinction of the dinosaur before the dawning of man.

Challenger’s claims of eyewitness accounts of pterodactyls in Brazil draws ridicule from both the audience and his peers, including one botanist and zoologist Professor Summerlee.  By the end of the raucous evening, a new team of explorers agrees to travel to Brazil and put the matter to rest. In addition to Malone and Summerlee, famed adventurer and big game hunter Sir John Roxton offers his considerable skills.

Shortly thereafter, the trio embark for South America and are surprised by the appearance of Professor Challenger himself once they reach Brazil. Challenger naturally assumes the role of team leader and guide as the adventurers, along with a number of local hired hands, begin their voyage along the Amazon into the realm of the unknown—where they encounter far more than any of them ever imagined possible.

The story is told from the POV of the reporter,The Lost World Book Cover Edward Malone, as he journals the team’s adventures through this unfathomable—and unmistakably treacherous—domain.  It had been at least 30 years since I’d last read The Lost World, yet so many elements remained with me since then, such as the cantankerous and haughty Professor Challenger, the fearsome ape men, the pterodactyl pit, and a few other vivid details. After reading it again this past week, I found myself just as enthralled as I was the first time. This should come as no surprise since much of Doyle’s work, most notably Sherlock Holmes, has soundly withstood the test of time.

 

 

Book Review: Sherlock Holmes-Murder at Sorrow’s Crown by Steven Savile and Bob Greenberger

In London during the summer of 1881, and still early in their now legendary partnership, Doctor Watson schedules a number of appointments for bored, brilliant detective Sherlock Holmes, who has been unable as of late to find a case worthy of his considerable talents. After the string of potential clients are turned away one by one, an unscheduled caller arrives—bringing with her an intriguing case, naturally.

Hermione Frances Sara Wynter, an elderly widow, has been unable to obtain a satisfactory answer from the Admiralty as to the whereabouts of her son, Lieutenant Norbert Wynter. Norbert was due home one month previous aboard the HMS Dido after fighting in the war against the Boers in South Africa.

However, all of Mrs. Wynter’s initial inquiries to the Admiralty went unanswered until finally, they revealed that Norbert had been classified as missing in action and a deserter. His mother, of course, refused to believe such an outlandish accusation.

Holmes accepts the case and, together with Watson, sets forth to interrogate, beleaguer, and otherwise annoy the Admiralty into providing information on Lieutenant Wynter. Soon, it becomes clear that something is amiss, especially since Wynter was listed as missing in action in February, yet continued to receive a paycheck until July.

When Holmes and Watson are attacked on the street by men sent by someone at the Admiralty, the detective is certain that a government cover-up is at play and, as Holmes is often quoted as saying, “The game is afoot!”

An investigation into the missing officer leads Holmes and Watson to a web of conspiracy that involves the death of former Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli, the now defunct East India Company, and much more.

Savile and Greenberger deftly capture the characters and relationship of Holmes and Watson in a plot that was well-conceived and unfurled at a perfect pace. I was pleased to see the inclusion of Holmes’s “street Arabs,” aka The Baker Street Irregulars, as well as Scotland Yard Inspector Gregson over the more famous Lestrade, the latter making only a cameo appearance.  I have absolutely nothing against Lestrade, of course, but I appreciate the nod being given to the more minor recurring Gregson.

Sherlock Holmes Sorrows Crown Cover

Book Review: Still Me by Christopher Reeve

On May 27, 1995, actor Christopher Reeve was competing in an equestrian competition in Culpepper, Virginia when he was thrown from his horse, causing a C2 spinal cord injury that left him a quadriplegic for nine years until his death in 2004.

The heartbreaking irony is not merely that an actor best known to the general public as Superman was left permanently disabled. The worst part was that Reeve did not even want to be at this particular competition in Culpeper that weekend. He had originally planned to compete in Vermont.

Such begins the memoir of a man I’ve looked up as a hero since the Still Me by Christopher Reeveage of seven when I first saw Superman: The Movie. Reeve opens his life story at a point where he had been certain his life would end, delving into excruciating detail about the damage inflicted on his body and mind as a result of the accident. At one point, after receiving the initial news of his condition, he urged his wife, Dana, to let him go. She replied that she would do so only if that was what he truly wanted, but reminded him that, “You’re still you and I’m still me.” According to Reeve, that was all he needed to hear to bolster his will to live.

However, a true of man of steel cannot be kept down and despite the odds against him, despite the many post-accident setbacks, despite the personnel and equipment necessary to keep him alive and as healthy as possible,  Reeve persevered. He went on to make several public speeches advocating an increase in funding for the NIH and the National Endowment for the Arts. He also directed the critically acclaimed and award-winning 1997 film, In the Gloaming, starring Glenn Close, David Strathairn, Bridget Fonda, Robert Sean Leonard, and Whoopi Goldberg.

Interspersed with tales of his treatment and battles with insurance companies, Reeve takes us on a tour of his broken family life as a child, through his college years at Cornell, and his acceptance into Juilliard—under the iron scowl of John Houseman—and his burgeoning friendship with Robin Williams.

He shares his love of sailing, flying, and equestrian sports and his general zest for life, but above all else, his love for his family shines through as he remembers the birth of his three children and the first time he met his future wife, Dana Morosini. Dana was a member of the Cabaret Corps of singers at the Williamstown Theatre Festival in Massachusetts while Reeve was appearing in a play called The Rover by Aphra Behn. He practically fell in love with her at first sight.

Although he was ranked as an “A” list film actor for many years, Reeve’s stage career was far more impressive, having worked on and off Broadway with such names as Katherine Hepburn (A Matter of Gravity), Jeff Daniels (Fifth of July) and many others. His stage credits include Death Takes a Holiday, Richard III, Summer and Smoke, Love Letters, and dozens more. During his time at Juilliard, he worked in the Acting Company with Kevin Kline, David Ogden Stiers, Patti LuPone, and others.

Then came Superman as well as Somewhere in Time, Deathtrap, The Aviator, The Bostonians, Remains of the Day and other films of which Reeve speaks highly. On the other hand, he blames such flops as Street Smart, Superman III and IV, and Switching Channels for knocking him out of Hollywood’s “A” list.  In fact, his comment on Superman IV was simply, “The less said about Superman IV, the better.” Although he takes partial blame for its failure.

All told, Still Me is a journey through the extreme highs and plummeting lows of a life that was fully lived by a man who many consider a hero to this day. I count myself among them.

Chris Reeve: What is a Hero