Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Done: "Cataract City" by Craig Davidson

Done: Cataract City by Craig Davidson, 2013, 9781555976743.

Long at 390 pages. I generally dig Davidson's work but took a break about halfway through this. Work related tensions were bleeding over into whatever I was reading and making me dislike the books.

Davidson keeps hitting at some of his favorite themes. Being poor in a nowhere town with no way to move up.  Boxing for cash. Self-destructive behavior with booze. Strong friendships that are strained.  Parents who love their children but fail them - or, instead, are rejected by their teen children.  Border life between Ontario/Quebec and NY.

Duncan and Owen are best buddies. Their dads are best buddies. Both dads work at the local food plant and Owen's dad went to night school and entered management. Petty small town arguments erupt in a parking lot after a summertime pro-wrestling show. As the fathers of Duncan and Owen are scooped up by the cops the boys are scooped up by their pro-wrestling idol, Bruiser Mahoney. Bruiser Mahoney says he will drive them home. Bruiser Mahoney starts to drinking and doping and decides to teach them a lesson - in a good way - by taking them camping in the woods. Bruiser Mahoney ODs in his sleep and the boys are lost in the Ontario woods. The days spent trecking their way out are a milestone.

The boys are separated by their parents. They reunite as teens when Duncan finds abandoned greyhounds. Duncan races his dog and bets his dog against the doped up dog owned by scumbag smuggler Lemmy Drinkwater.

Owen heads to police college. Duncan moves in with his girlfriend, loses his factory job, fights bare knuckle bouts hosted by Drinkwater on a reservation, agrees to smuggle cigarettes for Drinkwater, kills Drinkwater's goon in self-defense but goes to prison because he was smuggling at the time.

Duncan gets out of prison looking to get even with Drinkwater. Things happen.  Duncan and Owen wish their lives were better and they could escape Cataract. Cataract is a dying town adjoined with Niagara Falls. None of the small-time glitz of the Falls carries to Cataract. So on. So forth.

Davidson always writes about bodies and motion. Muscled greyhounds digging into a track's sand. How some greyhounds cannot compete because their rear legs will kick out to the side. Smashing nose cartilage and broken hands. Swallowing blood that the shattered nose drains into the throat. Cutting a swollen forehead during a boxing match.  Freezing toes in winter woods and peeling off the dead toenails. 

Read: "Emperor: The Gates of Rome" by Conn Iggulden

Read: Emperor: the Gates of Rome by Conn Iggulden, 2003, 0385336608.

Recommended by a library patron. The book was okay, I enjoyed it. I like Steven Saylor's (no relation) novels better. Both are set in ancient Rome but I like Saylor's characters and use of setting.

Gaius and Marcus grow up together on the estate of Gaius's wealthy Senator father. Marcus is the family's ward, taken in since his mom is a high-class prostitute in Rome.  Gaius's mother is mentally ill and his dad is often away in Rome. The estate is run by former gladiator Tubruk who is a sort-of father figure to both boys.  As 12-year-olds they are trained by former soldier and gladiator Reinus. Renius is purposefully cruel.

Gaius's father is killed during Rome riots and a slave uprising. The two head to Rome with Reinus and Tubruk and are taken in by Gaius's maternal uncle, Marius. Maris is a Roman tribune and in conflict with the other tribune, Sulla.

Things happen. Death is easy. Slaves are treated well and treated horribly. The pecking order must be followed. Be careful with your political alignments. Sulla is maneuvered by Marius into a military campaign against a rebellious Greek king. Marius fortifies Rome in advance of Sulla's return.  More violence. Marcus joins a Greek based Legion. Gaius soldiers with his uncle.

About half way through you're clued in that Gaius becomes Julius Caesar. Later on you learn Marcus is Brutus.  I'll probably try the second one in the four part series.

Heard: "Hard Luck and Trouble" by Lee Child

Heard: Bad Luck and Trouble, by Lee Child, 2007, Overdrive download.

Comment
I've decided Jack Reacher is an asshole and a jerk. Imagine him not being written into a hero situation. He has no fixed address and wanders the country as a bum. He floats into a town, beats up some people (usually including Police Officers), kills some others, has some sex, and immediately leaves. Lee Child writes Reacher as the Lone Ranger, he swoops in to save a town or damsel in distress. Imagine an alternate storyline with Reacher as a borderline sociopath who kills some crooks and takes their money.

Reacher as sociopath is discussed by Reacher's own friends in Bad Luck. Reacher kills without remorse and has no concern for his own death. There is nothing unusual or surprising about another man trying to kill Reacher on the street in Vegas, that's normal life to Reach.  Once Reacher and Co. defeat the bad guys and take in the $65 million possessed by the crooks they split the loot and town.

Let's review Reacher's recurring thoughts and actions through the novels:
Might makes right.
He has little to no concern about injuring or killing another person.
He dismisses many other people as stupid and worthless.
Laws are mostly followed but are treated as minor impediments when in his way.
Justice is for him to decide. Personal beefs always trump the legal system.
Regularly threatens physical violence to get his way.
Unable and unwilling to new relationships.

I don't know if I'll keep listening to these or not. After all, Child puts Reacher up against nasty bad guys and he assists powerless people. I still think he is dick.

Plot
Reacher is withdrawing cash from a ATM in Portland and sees a deposit in his account. The deposit number equals a radio code calling for help. Reacher figures out who sent the message and heads to Los Angeles. Reacher at one point led a super team of Army investigators and one of them is dead after being dropped from an aircraft into the California desert.

All the investigators are being called together but three others are missing and presumed dead. Reacher and the three other surviving members promise bloody revenge. They investigate the dead man's business and track down the bad guys and find a plot to sell hand held anti-aircraft missiles (MANPADS). Violence ensues.

Reacher does the usual. Threatens and thinks. Walks and talks. Plots and schemes. Figures angles. Deducts motives. Predicts actions. Wears the same clothes every day. Eats at Denny's.

Extra comment:
1. Rice-rocket love with Reacher and Co. buying ubiquitous Hondas to drive around Los Angeles traffic.
2. Constant traffic and driving talk as Reacher and Co. criss-cross Los Angeles. Let's take the 409 to the 110 to the 306 and then Sepulveda to Monroe to Sunset to the Hills and then go into The Valley and see the guy.
3. Reacher is warned of a bad guy's attempt at murder when the bad guy chamber s round into his handgun.  The bad guy is a LAPD Officer and is supposedly following that practice from his old job.  Never chambering a round? Huh? What U.S. police department would follow that rule when a cop would need a one-hand draw while fighting for his life?
4. Child has Reacher doing his savant math skills.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Read: Gun Digest 2015 editred by Jerry Lee

Read: Gun Digest 2015 by Jerry Lee, 2014, 9781440239120.

- Really, Gerard?  You read the whole thing? Each item entry and ballistics chart?
- No, but I read almost every article, even the boring ones.

Pieces of note:
1. Article on the black powder .303  Lee Metford.
2. .38 article.
3. Article on Webley revolvers and why they were not chosen by the Brits in the '20s.
4. Beretta military pistols over the past 150 years.
5. Hi-Power article.
6. Lazzeroni rifles and cartridges. I recall reading about Lazzeronis several years ago and never realized it is fairly new company.

Crappy or Boring Articles:
1. 3 Deadliest Gunfighting Pistols of All Time. The morbidity I can deal with but you're just guessing at numbers of "how many people did this model of gun kill?"
2. Holsters of Arvo Ojala.  An article for someone who grew up in the '50s when film and TV westerns were king.
3. Two articles by Jeff Quinn. Quinn is often times one of the better writers in this series but his asides and personal beliefs get on my nerves. But, he's worth reading because he is thorough and clear about the devices and what's good and bad about them.
4. The usual failing of gun writers that "there is no bad gun". That's one of the reasons I like Forgotten Weapons, if something doesn't work they'll address the issue and diagnose design flaws.

Comments:
1. I did not play any of my picking games. Such as:
A. You get to pick one gun per page and build a collection.
B. You get to pick any three in the book.
C. You get to pick any three and get 10,000 rounds ammo so don't worry about ammo cost and availability.

Heard: "Shouldn't You Be In School" by Lemony Snicket

Heard: "Shouldn't You Be In School?" By Lemony Snicket, 2014, Overdrive download.

Lemony Snicket continues his memoir as a lonely almost-13-year-old PI stationed in Stain'd-by-the-Sea. With more gratuitous literary love.

Sure, Lemony is no real PI, he is apprenticed with VFD and working under S. Theodora Markson. Markson continues her incompetence and Snicket sneaks around under her nose.

Stain'd-by-the-Sea is still a dying seaside town.  Markson is hired by the Department of Education to find an arsonist. This is a big deal with any VFD member but Snicket sees something shady and suspects his nemesis from the past two novels, Hangfire. Snicket and Markson work the case and when a building is burned find the local librarian to be at fault. The librarian is not at fault, of course, he's been framed.

Snicket chafes under Markson's mentorship. Markson is snookered by the Board of Education's president who becomes the lonely and gullible Markson's best buddy and pal. Snicket speaks with his own pals Jake, Cleo and Moxie. Snicket pines for his gal frenesis, Ellington.  I created that word: friend + nemesis = frienesis. It's a good word, use it if you like.

When the school burns down all the students are transferred to a remote boarding school where they will get a "top drawer education". It's a plot by Hangfire and Snicket is trying to figure out what Hangfire's end game is. Snicket sneaks into the school and meets with Markson. Snicket plans a fragmentary plot and everyone discusses what a fragmentary plot is.

Fun stuff. Snicket follows the hardboiled PI mold of a lonely guy working against the odds and law enforcement. A person who won't let love or wanting interfere with his own code of justice.  Except he's 12-years-old and doesn't like coffee.

Comments:
1. Gratuitous literary references. I picked up a few and may have gotten others if I were reading. It's too difficult to pause and audio book and ponder what Snicket and the others are discussing.
2. Books I caught were: The Red Pony, A Separate Peace, Wind in the Willows (didn't have to catch that one, the title is covered), Old Yeller.
3. Gratuitous librarian love.
4. Gratuitous library love.
5. Gratuitous book love.
6. Snappy patter.

Heard: "Extraordinary Education of Nicholas Benedict" by Trenton Lee Stewart

Heard: The Extraordinary Education of Nicholas Benedict by Trenton Lee Stewart, 2012, Overdrive.com download.

Same narrator as the Mysterious Benedict Society series, Del Roy. The novel seems to be aimed at upper elementary aged readers.  The main characters are 9, 12, and 14 (I think). That 12-year-old age is a neat one because you're still reliant on home and family but starting to see what's out in the world and seeing how you could fit in.  You're dreams also feel more realistic and achievable but they can still be a bit far out there. This is one of those stories where the kids are mostly alone or bypassing the adults. The focus is on the kid dynamics, kinda like an Our Gang flick.

Nicholas is a 9-year-old orphan and a genius.  He remembers everything he reads, is very observant, and can figure things out.  Nicholas is also a narcoleptic who's sleep attacks are initiated by deep emotions: happiness, fear, shock.  Nicholas also has night terrors and his nightmares make him scream and howl in his sleep.

The novel starts with Nicholas being transferred from one orphanage to another. The last orphanage wants to move Nicholas on because his screams have driven people up the wall and his precocious brain power has gotten on the nerves of the staff. His train arrives at remote depot in the late summer evening where he is picked up by the dour orphanage director. Nicholas falls asleep in the car. Nicholas wakes in the car, parked at night, and meets John, a 12-year-old tasked to watch over the sleeping boy and show him around the manor that houses the orphanage.

John takes Nicholas inside the darkened building. (This is roughly post-WWII but it's a childrens novel so don't worry too much about the year.) The orphanage has money toruble and the director severely limits electricity use and relies on candles at night. John also warns Nicholas of The Spiders, a group of three older boys who torment the other children.

Nicholas has had a tough life. He has learned to present a very positive attitude and will quickly plaster a smile on his face when meeting someone new.  Nicholas keeps himself busy with books and thinking. If Nicholas knew what it was like to have a friend he'd be lonely. Especially when he finds out the orphanage director - who is completely tone-deaf to children and their needs - will be locking him into a single room at night Nicholas is not pleased but knows how to cope and has the brains to plot escape.

Nicholas discovers that the previous manor owners willed the house as an orphanage and that the man's diary lists a "treasure". The orphanage director is hunting for the treasure and Nicholas starts in himself. Nicholas plans to find the treasure - money, jewels, who knows - and strike out on his own.  Nicholas is already very cynical and believes no adult is kind or altruistic to strangers.

Nicholas is friends with John. Nicholas invites John on the hunt. John and Nicholas make friends with a girl living on a neighboring farm. Nicholas overcomes obstacles. Nicholas meets a kind man. Nicholas realizes not everyone is a jerk. Nicholas solves the treasure mystery which is not money. Nicholas stays at the orphanage.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Pretty Quick: "Art and Architecture of Insects" by David M. Phillips

Pretty Quick: The Art and Architecture of Insects by David M. Phillips, 2014, 9781611685329.

I took this home in case my kids would read it.  Filled with big black and white photos of insects.  Phillips was a medical researcher until he retired but has been a lifelong bug collector.  He selected his best electron microscope photos - some bugs are too small for the naked eye - and shows us some bugs. All the insects are gross.

117 pages long and over half the space is photos. Phillips gives description and explanations of many insect parts: eyes, exoskeleton, head, antennae, that one gross bit, and that other gross bit.  You'll be reading about many things you already learned. That's okay, you relearn the old stuff and find out new stuff.

For instance, those disgusting antennae and hairs have many uses. The revolting compound eyes don't give an image like the simulations I've seen before where a single view is repeated 100 times in bug eye shape. No, each facet should be thought of as supplying a pixel of information. Eyes can also see UV light, it helps them to identify the plants they eat to grow even more repugnant.

One reason a squash-worthy bug's reaction time is so quick is the short distance for the nerve impulses to travel.  Teeny, tiny nauseau inducing bugs have such small bodies the nerve impulses are instantaneous compared to ours. The antennae and feet recognize vibrations and they bugs skip town, a small bug can jump the human equivalent of hundreds of feet and escape most predators.

Female insects can store sperm.  Sperm is stored in an abdominal chamber for life. Some male bugs "remove another male's sperm from the genital tract of a female who has previously mated before mating with her. The penis of dragonflies is specialized for this purpose."

Phillips collected his revolting specimens, stuck'em in ethyl alcohol, posed them on a platform, coated the corpses in an electrified and atomized gold, and then took the photos. All the photos are black and white. Phillips used film and "natural colors are difficult to represent accurately" so he kept the black and white.

Black and white is fine because you still may want to wash your hands after seeing so many yucky flies, wasps, bedbugs, earwigs, beetles, weevils, caterpillars, treehoppers, thrips, mosquitos, springtails, and termites.

I read some of the text to the nine-year-old Ian and he said, "That's interesting." He was angry about something at the time so the book was a good distraction.

Photos courtesy of ForeEdge Press via Slate at http://www.slate.com/blogs/behold/2014/08/07/david_m_phillips_photographs_insects_with_an_electron_microscope_in_his.html