Friday, December 22, 2006

Read: "Fade to Blond" by Max Phillips

Read: Fade to Blonde by Max Phillips, 2004, 0843953500.

Excellent. This is a Hard Case Crime paperback. An original novel, not a reprint. I have a couple more Hard Case books checked out and one is an Ed McBain from about '58. Another is by Pete Hamill but I do not know the vintage.

This was really well written. Nice Hammett like touches in some of the descriptions by the main character, and narrator, Ray Corson. Ray left home early, bummed the rails a few years, saw service in WWII and now, in the mid-1950s or so, he's a washed out actor/screenwriter/boxer/bodyguard in Los Angeles making do as a construction worker. One day a big chested blonde shows up asking for Ray's help as muscle. The blonde says she has been threatened with facial disfurgerment by a local porn producer. Of course, the blonde's story is not all true and Ray, not dumb but not brilliant, struggles a while before he gets to the truth.

Corson's L.A. is filled with aspiring actors, failed actors, talent scouts, and all the gaffers, riggers and set designers that make up the low end of the movie industry. The setting gives an interesting twist by showing the work-a-day world of Hollywood. No glitter in the Phillips' rented rooms and drug dealer house parties.

Phillips is spare in his writing but his character descriptions are sharp enough that we can fill in the empty spaces he leaves. One nice touch by Phillips was when Corson forcibly takes a drug dealer to see a mobster. The dealer is verbally abusive with Corson and Ray says to the reader, "He made me a recommendation."

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Just Read: "American Skin" by Ken Bruen

Just Read: American Skin by Ken Bruen, 2006, 1932112472.

I reserved this one after doing an author search for Bruen.

I recently read some definition of noir that fits this book: bad people doing bad things to other bad people. Not so much because the book fits that definition but because the main character consciouscly puts himself into the genre.

Stephen Blake, the main character here, is conscious of his own noir activities and compares them against standard noir cliches and themes. But, American is not so much about the bank robbery, double crosses, shootings, deceptions and betrayals that make up the plot. It's not a nod-and-a-wink having fun with the genre. American is more of a mix of the noir novel and the Irish novel, or the Irish novel and the American noir novel. The kind of Irish novel with the IRA, the Provisional IRA, alcoholism, the seemingly inherent depression of the people, Brit vs. Paddy, with heaping helpings of sorrow and regret.

Blake is in the U.S. after a bloody bank robbery in Ireland. His girlfriend, a banker, is back in Ireland laudering the money and due to meet him in Tucson. The reader follows Blake from New York to Vegas to Tucson with multiple flashbacks telling about him, his lifelong friend Tommy, his girlfriend, and Irish sorrow/sadness/despair/anger/blah/blah/blah..

Alongside all the Irish stuff, Bruen mixes in a couple sociopaths for good measure, and that's where it gets an American-Irish twist. Bruen writes a fair amount about the differences between the way Irish and Americans act and think. How Blake is coming to the US and happily turning his back on Ireland and creating an American accent. The American sociopaths in New York and Arizona are different than the sad and angry Irish. Bruen sets each character up according to geography.

I'm overanalyzing the novel. I liked the book. Bruen is a very good writer.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Did not read: "Life of an American Soldier in Aghanistan" by Diane Yancey

Did not read: Life of an American Soldier in Afghanistan by Diane Yancey, 2004, 1590183290.

A YA nonfiction book. I flipped through it. Not what I was expecting. The news is filled with Iraq but there is not much of anything about Afghanistan.

Not a bad book. A good summary of the war there, with little tidbits about different jobs the Army, Navy and Marines are doing. But, it's an '04 book. I wanted something newer and more in-depth.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Gave up: "Black Maria" by Kevin Young

Gave up: Black Maria: Being the Adventures of Delilah Redbone & A.K.A. Jones: Poems by Kevin Young, 2005, 1400042097.

Picked this one out from either an online recommendation or review. Maria is supposed to be a noir novel told through poetry. I gave up real quick.

I found it impossible to figure out which character was speaking, what the characters' relationships were, and how the plot was developing. I had a rough idea of the plot and characters from reading the book jacket but I gave up after a few pages.

Finally Finished: "20,000 Years in Sing Sing" by Warden Lawes

Finally Finished: 20,000 Years in Sing Sing by Warden Lewis E. Lawes, 1932.

I'm not sure if this edition was actually printed in 1932 or not. I also skimmed the book for the last twenty pages because Lawes was wordy.

Lawes worked in the prison system for several years and was the first long-term, professional warden the prison had. All previous wardens were political appointees who would last from 6 months to two years.

Lawes traces the history of Sing Sing and penology theories. He then goes over his career and his and inmates daily routine in Sing Sing and how the prison works as a whole. His views on prisons and prison administration were practical and logical. Lawes talks about the comparative views on penology and the lock-em-up-forever vs. reform-them. Lawes was a practical guy; he knew that some convicts were incorrigable but that some were not and should be helped along. He saw arbitrary prison sentences and the absence of education and recreation in prisons as real good ways to start problems.

It'd be interesting to read Lawes comments about prisons today. Back then prison gangs were nothing like they are now and racial tensions were not so bad. I've read a couple books by Eddie Bunker that compare well to Lawes views on prison administration and convicts and the way to get both to live together. I read Newjack by Ted Conover a few years ago as well. Conover's experiences almost 70 years later that 20,000 are a neat comparison. Sing Sing's prison population are much different, the buildings even older, and Conover had frontline experience coping with inmates.

Lawes coverage of changing public perceptions on prison, the law, ex-convicts, and the courts are accurate for today.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Read: "Ask the Parrot" by Richard Stark

Read: Ask the Parrot by Richard Stark (Donald Westlake), 2006, 089296068x.

Another brilliant novel by Westlake. The Parker novels use such straight forward language, and Parker is so matter of fact, that the intricacy of the plot and multiple characters' viewpoints always surprise me.

I was reading about Parker novels last week and saw this great observation about Parker:

The real attraction of the books is Parker himself, who is staking a claim to being the greatest antihero in all crime fiction. He is unquestionably the most matter-of-fact: If there are emotions in the books, we know about them only because Parker observes them. He doesn't feel them himself. He just uses them or ignores them.

Parker is a ruthless killer, calm and collected, and wickedly smart. He will not screw a partner over, and he'll only kill when necessary because "It puts the law on you like nothing else."

Parrot starts with Parker's escape at the end of Nobody Runs Forever. Parker hooks up with a guy, Tom, who was looking for Parker and his bank robbing pals because he wants to rob his old employer. Parker stays with Tom and susses out Tom's character and motivation to manipulate him and everyone else Parker encounters.

Sunday, December 3, 2006

Just Finished: "The Jugger" by Richard Stark

Just Finished: The Jugger by Ricahrd Stark, 2002.

A Mysterious Press reprint of the 1965 novel by Stark (Donald E. Westlake).

The plot is different in this Parker novel. No crime is planned and committed like in most other Parker stories. Instead, Parker travels to Sagamore, NE (North of Omaha) to see if an old partner needs to be killed. That's Parker all right.

The old partner, Joe, had retired to Sagamore five years ago after a lifetime of robberies. Joe is the "Jugger" of the tile, he's an old safecracker. Joe sends Parker a letter that makes Parker think Joe may be going senile and may and will talking about his old colleagues and the jobs they pulled. Parker immediately flies from Miami to Omaha and travels to Sagamore to, if necessary, kill Joe. Parker discovers Joe died the day before and Parker's suspicions about Joe's open mouth bear fruit when he finds that Sagamore's crooked Chief of Police was trying to extort money from Joe.

Parker is as smart as ever. He knows what people are thinking and what they want and he uses that to his advantage. He manipulates the Chief and a few others to get himself in the clear. At least for a time. Excellenrt writing by Westake, I think the twists and the plans by Parker are great.

Next on my list is the latest Parker book, Ask the Parrot.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Read: "In the Company of Ogres" by A. Lee Martinez

Read: In the Company of Ogres by A. Lee Martinez, 2006, 9780765315472.

Martinez's second book. A humorous fantasy novel. Never Dead Ned can die but he cannot stay dead. Most of those were accidental, some were murder. Ned is approaching his fiftieth resurrection when he is transferred from the accounting department of Brute's Legion into Ogre Company as it's new commander. While muddling through as commander the Red Witch, who has been the one responsible for bringing Ned back from the dead, tells him his true origin as the Bad Void. The Void was an all powerfull force that destroyed galaxies on whims. After a bit, the Void tired of destruction and decided to "change his nature" by becoming human. A demon arrives to take the Void's hidden power that lies inside of Ned and laughter and destruction ensues.

Funny novel. Martinez adds magic, wizards, orcs, ogres, goblins, demons, elves, trolls, etc. in the mix. Good book. I liked the plot and setting of Gil's All Fright Diner better, but the writing in Ned is improved.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Finished: "A Dangerous Man" by Charlie Huston

Finished: A Dangerous Man by Charlie Huston, 2006, 034548133X.

I finally finished season one of Lost and finished this one.

Another good novel by Huston. Dangerous is the third and last of Huston's Henry Thompson novels. Hank has been working as an enforcer and hitman for a Russian mobster, David, in exchange for the safety of his parents. Based in Las Vegas, Hank has been tutored by experienced hitman Branko. Hank is dependent on a variety of stimulants, depressants, and anti-depressants to get through his work.

After a couple years in Vegas, and turning himself into a total mess, David has Hank act as a bodyguard for an upcoming MLB player in hock to David for lost bets. After defending the player outside a strip club, Hank is asked to be his minder in NYC when the player joins the minor league team in Brooklyn.

Like usual, things go bad for Hank. Hank, for a normal, friendly guy, is incredibly proficient at violence. This book has a much lower body count than the first two. Hank is also out of friends so at least they don't get killed off in this one.

Tuesday, November 7, 2006

Bailed out on: "The Enormous Room" by E.E. Cummings

Bailed out on: The Enormous Room by E.E. Cummings

I saw a reference to this somewhere and Watertown PL had it. I read the foreword which briefly told the whole story. Cummings writing is too much of the happy chums on a lark type writing of English schoolboys. Since I got the précis from the foreword I quit reading.

Basically, Cummings graduated college and went to France to be an ambulance driver during WWI. His best pal in France was suspected by the Frogs of being anti-French and they both got thrown in prison.

Monday, November 6, 2006

Finished: "The Ruins" by Scott Smith

Finished: The Ruins by Scott Smith, 2006, 1400043875.

I finished this at the DMV. I was a couple pages from the end when my number was called so I finished reading the book in the parking lot.

Good book. I read a strong recommendation a week or two ago and received this copy from Watertown.

Recent college graduates on a long summer trip to Cancun make friends with a German named Mathias. Mathias's brother took off from Cancun to chase a girl who was headed to a remote archeological dig in the jungle. When his brother does not return or contact Mathias he gets the four college students to travel with him along with a Greek tourist they have been hanging out with. The six of them travel to the remote site and upon arrival at the hilltop of the archeological site are threatened by an armed Mayan man rushing up on horseback.

Once the six of them step upon the vine covered hillside the Mayan man refuses to let them leave. Soon, more armed Mayans arrive to prevent their departure and the six discover that the vine covering the hilltop is both sentient and hungry.

I spoke to another reader about the novel's plot and characters and she felt that none of the characters were likable. I thought that the reactions of the characters to their "shipwreck" situation of being stuck on a hill with little food and water was realistic. That's all Ruins is, really; a modern, and slightly science fiction, version of six people in a lifeboat.

Thursday, November 2, 2006

Finished: "Mad Mouse" by Chris Grabenstein

Finished: Mad Mouse by Chris Grabenstein, 2006, 1786717602

Second novel by Grabenstein featuring NJ seashore cops John Ceepak and Danny Boyle. This story is set only a couple months after the first novel's setting. In Tilt-a-whirl Ceepak and Boyle solved the bloody murder of a famous real estate mogul. The aftermath of that case had their police chief arrested for murder. Now, a new chief is in charge and Boyle is hoping to get hired on from his seasonal baseball-cap-with-polo-shirt status to full time cop-with-a-gun status.

Ceepak is still a "by the book" nut. He tickets his partner, Boyle, for an illegal left turn with, "The law is the law. It should be applied fairly, without fear or favoritism." He says things like, "Then have a cold one for me, partner…But pace yourself. It takes a full hour for the effect of each beer to dissipate." He talks using radio code short hand, says "Roger that" constantly, and his code to never "lie, cheat or style or tolerate those who do" is always referred to.

The mystery is okay. It starts with Boyle and old high school friends on the beach one night getting attacked by a paintball gun. The same thing happens the next night outside a restaurant with Boyle and a pal getting targeted. After the second event Boyle and Ceepak realize that a rifle has been shot at them as well. After Boyle's would be girlfriend gets shot in the chest, and the shooter narrowly misses Boyle, things speed up.

The character interaction and storyline is more important than the mystery. Tilt-a-whirl was more interesting with the characters being introduced. This was good but Grabenstein will have to work to keep things interesting.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Read: "Astro City: Confessions" by Kurt Busiek

Read: Astro City: Confessions by Kurt Busiek, 1997, 1563895501.

Another Astro City compilation. This comic book novel focuses on one Astro City Superhero, Confessor, and his teen sidekick Altar Boy. The storyline is an autobiographical telling by Altar Boy (real name Brian Kinney) about how he came to Astro City and was recruited by Confessor. Kinney is an orphan and, like a lot of people, idolizes the heroes and has always wanted to visit Astro City. His time with Confessor is a little turbulent but Confessor is a good teacher and Kinney trusts and respects him - until a scret is revealed. Ooohhh...

Trouble starts when a killer is stalking, killing and mutilating teenage girls. Both the police and the heroes are investigating but the killer's brutality and a summer heatwave raise public tempers and the public demands a resolution. Things really go downhill when the Mayor starts accusing the super heroes of interfering with the investigation and insinuates that they may be involved.

Kurt Busiek and company did another great job with this one. The artwork is above average and the storyline does not get too preachy. The fickleness of the public, and their ignorance and short memory of how the heroes protect them every day angers and confuses Kinney. Confessor's faith in his work never wavers. But, the backlash by the public and their willingness to back extreme security measures that threaten personal privacy and freedom speak to current conditions.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Gave Up On: "Ticket to Ride" by Janet Neel

Gave Up On: Ticket to Ride by Janet Neel, 2005, 0312349238.

In 1995 or 1996 I read a really good review of a Janet Neel mystery novel in the Times Literary Supplement. I read the novel and enjoyed it but had not yet read another of her novels when I checked this one out. And I still have not read one.

I gave up on this novel after only a few pages. The story starts out differently than other mysteries or thrillers because it does not begin with the crime or conspiracy. Instead, a couple old biddies, one of them an English MP, are chatting and going to meet the MP's kids for lunch.

I also get really annoyed with UK novels that use only single quotation marks for dialogue. If a story is good I'll stick with that format ,but this story did not grab me and I have other good books waiting. The storyline is promising: eight bodies of illegal immigrants have washed up on an Norfolk beach. A brother of one of the victims visits a lawyer about it and she gets involved in the investigation. Trouble ensues. Blah, Blah, Blah.

Read Again: "The Book of Guys" by Garrison Keillor

Read Again: The Book of Guys by Garrison Keillor, 2003, 067084943X.

Short stories by Keillor that I read shortly after the book came out in '93. When I read it in 1993 I thought some of the stories were marvelously hilarious. Some stories are still quite funny but did not strike me like the first time around. Other stories are dated, like the one with George Bush Sr. and Willie Horton, and stories involving "political correctness" which was such a big brouhahha in the early '90s.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Just finished: "The Vesuvius Club" by Mark Gatiss

Just Finished: The Vesuvius Club by Mark Gatiss, 2004, 0743283945

I reserved this from Watertown after reading a review for a second, upcoming book with the same lead character. That character, Lucifer Box, is a young portraitist for the rich who doubles as an assassin and spy for the British government. He also screws hookers in "slimy alleys", "takes advantage" of young society ladies, takes hours to get dressed, lives next door to the Prime Minister in No. 9 Downing Street, and digs dudes. That last feature of his personality is what got him his current position with the government after an old family friend blackmailed him into the job.

Box is told to investigate the disappearance of several British scientists and the death of a diplomatic officer based in Naples, Italy. Lucifer fends off an assassination attempt during a carriage chase in foggy London, fights an angry father in a Bath house, and saves Italy from volcanic chain reaction by a revenge obsessed transvestite. All the while he chases after a redheaded lady art student and bones (gets boned by?) an expatriate English dude.

This novel reminded me of pulp westerns. The quick pacing, overall lack of historical detail, and sexual endeavors all struck the same note. The novel was pretty good though. Fun characters and fun story. The concept is interesting too, with Lucifer loving the secretive nature of his double life.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Finished: “The Wrong Kind of Blood” by Declan Hughes

Finished: The Wrong Kind of Blood by Declan Hughes, 2006, 0060825464.

Good novel but not great. Like the title suggests, Hughes has a theme of blood throughout the novel. The topics of family bloodlines, biological blood types, and obligations to blood relatives run throughout the story.

After living in Los Angeles for twenty year, Ed Loy returns to Dublin to bury his mother. At the funeral reception a lady friend swaps spit with him and then asks him to investigate her husband's recent disappearance. Loy was a P.I. in L.A. for several years and since he needs the money he takes the case. The husband turns up dead so do the corpses of other people involved in the case.

Hughes does a decent job of tying in several family mysteries with old and new criminal conspiracies. The blood theme does get old though, Hughes just about shouts out part of the ending at the novel's halfway point. According to the book jacket another Ed Loy novel will be published in 2007. I'll probably check it over but on the basis of this one I should probably skip over it. I have enough books on my To Read list than to run into a disappointment.

EDIT: After further thought, this is really only a decent/average novel. I had to force myself to keep reading it. It was only after I was about halfway through that I started to get interested in the story. I'm used to mystery novel protagonists with more "Umph" in their actions.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Read: "A Soldier’s Portfolio: this is our war: servicemen’s photographs of life in Iraq" edited by Devin Friedman

Read: A Soldier's Portfolio: this is our war: servicemen's photographs of life in Iraq, edited by Devin Friedman, 2006, 157965309X.

Very good book. But, to nitpick, there are photos from Kuwait and even from the U.S. (a gal's 'sexy' shots to her boyfriend.)

This started as a photo essay for GQ with submissions sent in from servicemen to the magazine. Editor Friedman was on assignment in Iraq and realized how many thousands and thousands of great photos showing "what it's like" for servicemen there. GQ had so many photos submitted they did a book.

Some photos are by Army and Navy journalists but most shots are just snaps. Some of the photographers are seriously into photography as a hobby, and some people just wanted mementos and photos to e-mail home.

There some funny photos with a Navy Lieutenant at sea and floating in a massive metal container filled up with cold water and beer during a "steel beach party" on an aircraft carrier. Another, from August, 2004, is a shot of a hundred or so topless soldiers gathered in front of a beer commercial model, taking her picture, and waiting for an autographed photo.

The sad shots are the memorial services and the story by a dad from AR whose son was based at Camp Anaconda at the same time he was. The son would visit his dad's quarters in the evenings for two or three hours they'd "just talk and talk". The dad's unit stayed in Iraq when the son went home. Dad was wakened by a commanding officer and told he had to call home; his son was killed by a drunk driver while driving home.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Looked Through: "A Collector's Guide to the '03 Springfield" by Bruce N. Canfield

Looked Through: A Collector's Guide to the '03 Springfield by Bruce N. Canfield, 091721840x, 1989.

I got this from Waupun after the Director there recommended it when we were talking guns. As the title says, it's a collector's guide. Owning one rifle does not make me a collector and I have not even bothered to check any of the markings on my rifle to compare against information from the book.

A good book with LOTS of information on development and production.

Looked through:"Bruce N. Canfield's Complete Guide to the M1 Garand and M1 Carbine" by Bruce N. Canfield

Looked through: Bruce N. Canfield's Complete Guide to the M1 Garand and M1 Carbine by Bruce N. Canfield, 0917218833, 1999.

A recommendation from Waupun PL like the other Canfield book listed below. Yes, I would like an M1 or M1 Carbine but since I don't have one, or plan on buying a collector grade weapon, I did not take the time to read through this. I reckon a recent manufactured Carbine, like one of the Israeli ones, may be in the future but those are different from the originals discussed in this book.

Thursday, October 5, 2006

Read through: "Montreal & Quebec City" by Gregory B. Gallagher

Read through: "Montreal and Quebec City: Top 10 Montreal and Quebec" by Gregory B. Gallagher, 2004, 0756600332.

A DK guide. Who the hell am I kidding? All four of us are going to fly out to Montreal for a two week summer vacation to take in the F1 races, or the comedy or jazz festivals? Yeah, right. I'll start buying lottery tickets.

Saturday, September 30, 2006

Just Finished: "Of Mice and Men" by John Steinbeck

Just Finished: Of Mice and Meni by John Steinbeck, 1937, 055327824X (1975 paperback edition).

Pretty good novel. I'm not sure if I have read any other Steinbeck novels, maybe The Red Pony.

I was impressed how Steinbeck had nothing superfluous in the book. He was succinct and to the point with really well done descriptions of the terrain and ranch of the setting. Everything that happened in the novel led to the ending. Talk about foreshadowing.

Friday, September 29, 2006

Checked Out: "'Words for the Hour'" edited by Faith Barrett and Cristanne Miller

Checked Out: "Words for the Hour": A new anthology of American Civil War poetry edited by Faith Barrett and Cristanne Miller, 2005, 1558495096.

Waste of time. I even tried the Whitman and Melville poems. Didn't even bother with Dickinson.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Read: "The Plot: the secret history of the protocols of the Elders of Zion" by Will Eisner

Read: The Plot: the secret history of the protocols of the Elders of Zion by Will Eisner, 2005, 9780393328608

Eh. Not so great. Plot works well as a succinct summary of the fraud and nonsense of the 'Protocols'. Plot kinda sucks as a comic nonfiction work. This would have been a quicker and more informative read for me as an essay.

Eisner traces the full history of the fraud from it's origins as a harsh critique of Napolean the Third, to the Russian government's plagiarization of the French publication, to the constant rebirth of the 'protocols' in different languages by different publishers.

One critique: Eisner traces how the fraud keeps popping up over and over and gives a recent list of the different countries where different publications have appeared. But, most of the publications look like fringe groups that are preaching to the anti-semitic choir. There are more 'official' publication sources like Hamas. Hamas? The only people believing those murderers are already on their side, they won't be getting many converts.

Eisner's point in Plot is that the fraud keeps living even after being repeatedly, and convincingly, debunked. How is it surprising that anti-Israeli/Jew groups still like to push it? The long legs of the protocols is no different than the crap about the Masons, the Illuminati, Catholic church, or Jack the Ripper conspiracies. I question whether Eisner was really shocked by how the stupidity stays alive.

Kinda Read: "The Encyclopedia of Serial Killers" by Michael Newton

Kinda read: The Encyclopedia of Serial Killers, 2nd edition by Michael Newton, 2006, 0816061963.

Very interesting, there are so many parallels among killers. Sexual abuse, alcoholic parents, family history of mental illness, physical abuse, signs of abnormal behaviour when young are all common. Getting caught for other crimes like burglary, theft and rape are usual as well. Attempted kidnapping and rape should be a red flag about anyone.

This got to be unsettling when sitting down and reading through several articles at once. Encyclopedia is much better digested one or two articles at a time.

A neat thing to do is read about these vile people and use the inmate locator searches available through most state corrections departments to see what they look like now. This book is a good argument for the death penalty.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Finished: "Stardust" by Neil Gaiman

Finished: Stardust by Neil Gaiman, 0380804557 (pbk), 2000

A good book. I must have reserved this book after reading Gaiman's comic book novels earlier. Stardust is a fantasy novel and definitely not something I'd usually read. Gaiman's author notes mention the Victorian Era fascination with fairies and that must be where the story started out.

Set in about 1850, Stardust begins in the rural English village of Wall. Wall is named after the huge granite wall that runs through the middle of a pasture outside of town. There is one passage through the wall and the passage is guarded day and night by men from the village who deny access to everyone who wants to pass through to the pasture and woods beyond. The wall separates the rest of the world from a fairy world on the other side. The passage is opened once every nine years for a fairy festival on the other side of the wall where fairy vendors sell all sorts of "magical" stuff.

Main character Tristan is born after his father screws an elf, or something, at the fair and he is then deposited nine months later at the passage with a note naming his dad. 18 years later Tristan passes through the wall to find a falling star after the girl he is smitten with promises him anything he desires if Tristan returns the star to her. Since Tristan was born on the other side of the wall his father convinces the guards to let him through.

Gaiman adds in conversational bits and characteristics that do not fit into the fantasy novels and stories I have read before, which is good. Some of the characteristics seem anachronistic but are a nice touch. Stardust is a solid story but not a homerun like some of Gaiman's other stories like Coraline.

Finally read: “Yossel” by Joe Kubert

Finally read: Yossel by Joe Kubert, 2003, 074347516X.

Kubert wrote and drew Fax from Sarajevo which I read earlier. I had this dang thing for about three or four months until I actually read it.

Kubert's family left Poland shortly after he was born in 1926. During the war, people in their hometown, Yzeran, were "slaughtered in the streets" by the Krauts. Yossel is Kubert's "what-if" story of his family staying in Poland and sent to the Warsaw ghetto.

Yossel is told from Kubert's imagined point of view as 15 year old Yossel. Kubert uses unfinished, rough drawings because he, "wanted to convey a sense that these drawings were in Yossel's mind, even though he may never have had the opportunity to put them all to paper." The unrefined illustrations are annoying at first but I got used to them and they do have a stronger impact.

The story starts in Warsaw with Yossel and other Jews hiding in the sewer from the dirty Nazis, then told through flashbacks of Yossel and his family and the story of a concentration camp inmate who escaped from camp during a thunderstorm and returned to Warsaw. This was a decent book but not that great.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Read: "The Wreck of the Batavia: a true story" by Simon Leys

Read: The Wreck of the Batavia: a true story by Simon Leys, 2006 (US edition), 1560258217.

A curious book. Leys spent 18 years collecting information to write a book on the wreck of the Batavia in 1629 on coastal islands off Australia. In the foreword he writes that he worked very slowly and, "From time to time, I learned that some new book had been published on my topic - invariably sending me into a cold sweat - and each time, I would rush to get a copy of it." Finding that each book "missed the target" Leys would relax and continue to dawdle. "Then came Mike Dash. With his Batavia's Graveyard, published in 2002, this author hit the bull's eye and left me nothing more to say."

So, right from the start, Leys tells us, 'don't read this, buy Dash's book.' Wreck numbers 110 pages and Leys spends just 59 of those giving a brief account of the Batavia's maiden voyage, wreck and aftermath. The aftermath is the real story. Led by a charismatic sociopath, and failed apothecary, named Jeronimus Cornelisz, most of the surviving 180 crew and passengers were murdered in a bizarre mutiny plot begun at sea. I guess I'll have to read the Dash book to learn all the extra details.

The second half of the 110 pages is devoted to Leys' work on a fishing boat in Breton, France. One of only a dozen commercial, sail powered vessels left in 1958, Leys signed on for a month long trip during a school break.

Both halves are well written and kept my interest. But, the two disjointed and unrelated halves make Wreck a curious item and both read like long magazine articles. I liked it.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Finished: "Lost" by Michael Robotham

Finished: Lost by Michael Robotham, 2006, 0385508662

Very, very good. Detective Inspector Vincent Ruiz wakes up in the Thames hallucinating that the yellow buoy his arms are wrapped around is Marilyn Monrow. Ruiz has been stricken with trauma-induced amnesia and has to find out why he was in the river, missing his Glock, and has a massive rifle wound in his thigh.

Ruiz is in trouble with his boss after a boat covered in bullet holes and blood is found drifting on the river. Ruiz is suspected of foul play and faking amnesia to avoid investigators. The only clue Ruiz has is a photo in his wallet of a seven year old girl whose disappearance he investigated three years ago – and whose convicted murderer sits in prison. Ruiz works his case with the help of a psychiatrist friend and his memory returns in sharp bursts filling in gaps of the mystery. Ruiz finds that the girl may be alive and he was following a ransom demand to the child's mother.

Lost is a real good book. I was left guessing what happened to the girl until the end. The ending itself could have been better since some parts of the plot I wanted to know more about are unreconciled.

The author's website lists one author novel by him and the book jacket says he co-wrote autobiographies. Lost was sold as Drowning Man in the UK.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Just read: "The Right Madness" by James Crumley

Just Read: The Right Madness by James Crumley, 2005, 0670034061.

Another brilliant Crumley novel. Serpentine plotting with really good characters. People are not who they seem and their treacherous and insane behaviour is commonplace. Casual violence and conspiracy go hand in hand.

Next time I read a Crumley novel I'll need to keep better track of the characters though. The geographic distances and varied characters gave me trouble in remembering locations and names.

Right Madness sparks the return of CW Sughrue after 2001's The Final Country with Milo Milodragovitch. Sughrue is hired by his best friend, Mac, to find out which of his patients burglarized the patient records in his psychiatric practice. Sudden and unexpected death follows two patients surveilled by Sughrue and a third death points directly to Mac as the murderer. Sughrue's investigation ties into a years old case he pursued for Mac and things go downhill in a typically Crumley manner with violence, scotch, beer, and drug fueled days and nights.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Returned: "How to Think Like a Survivor" by Tom Watson

Returned: How to think like a survivor: a guide for wilderness emergencies by Tom Watson, 2006, 1589232178

Why did I request this? I don't remember. I looked through and read some parts though. Was reminded of some things and learned some others.

Read Sections: "Drinks: Enjoying, choosing, storing, serving, and appreciating wines, beers, cocktails, spirits, aperitifs, liquers, and ciders"

Read Sections: Drinks: Enjoying, choosing, storing, serving, and appreciating wines, beers, cocktails, spirits, aperitifs, liquers, and ciders by Vincent Gasnier, 2005, 075661323X.

Very nice reference book by DK. I read through the whiskey and beer sections. Covering all the beers, wines, and spirits in the world is likely impossible and the book would be quickly out of date. A very good book for what the author did cover.

Thursday, September 7, 2006

Finished a while ago: "Gunner" by Donald Nijboer

Finished a while ago: Gunner: an illustrated history of World War II aircraft turrets and gun positions, by Donald Nijboer, photos by Dan Patterson, 2001, 1550463322.

I always thought B-17s and B-24s were like sturdy porcupines that would scare away or shoot down any enemy air opposition. Nope. 'Flying Fortress' was a misnomer. A quote on the fate of gunners: "Failure of their leaders to see the limits of the self-defending bomber and to develop the long-range fighter sooner sealed their fate."

The theory of the self-defending bomber was the rage in the '30s. Fast bombers flying at high speed with a defensive armament were thought to be immune to fighter attack. British bombing raids in 1939 tested the self-defending bomber theory during daylight raids and the losses - 12 of 22 Wellington bombers lost in one Dec, '39 raid - forced a switch to night bombing in April, 1940.

The hand-aimed guns of the first bombers were inadequate. The powerful slipstream and speedy fighters ruined the gunners' accuracy. Different powered turrets were adopted over the next couple of years and the number of machine guns increased. Some British fighters were stuck with smaller .30 caliber guns unlike the honking .50 caliber guns the U.S. AAF used.

Even powered turrets proved inadequate. Only fighter escort could effectively defend the fighters from German planes. The Pacific campaign was different though. The spread-out island fighting meant there were few large bomber formations and fewer flak defenses. The experienced and well-trained Japanese pilots died out early in the war leaving the Japanese without a strong fighter force.

Gunner covers several different aircraft and divides them into four, two, and single engine sections. Each section includes a history of the aircraft and its pluses and minuses. Quotes and stories from gunners and photo and cross section illustrations of gun positions are included.

Here are a couple good stories:

"We were flying in the tail-end-Charlie position of the formation when the next thing I noticed was an Me 109 level at about 7, 8 o'clock and in a position where I couldn't reach him with my guns. He lowered his gear and flaps and flew along with us. He sat there while the ball turret gunner and I instructed the pilot to move the plane so we could get a clear shot, but the German pilot knew the blind spot of the B-17 very well. I watched as he took off his oxygen mask and smoked a cigarette. After about two or three minutes, he pulled up his gear and dropped below like a rock. He apparently had run out of ammunition. That was the closest I ever got to seeing the face of the enemy."

"To be honest with you, I though the front turret was a bit of a bummer. You couldn't swing the turret because it would throw the airplane trim off. The pilot would say, 'Leave the goddamn turret alone.' [W]hen you moved the turret, the slipstream would come howling through. The bombardier and navigator would scream like a son of a bitch because the wind coming through was as low as sixty degrees below zero."

"As effective as this system [B-29's gun system] was, the fact remained that many B-29s were shot down by Japanese fighters. Throughout the Second World War, the fighter always had the advantage over the bomber, no matter how sophisticated the defensive armament was. With the introduction of jet fighters at the conclusion of the war, the days of the multi-turret armed bomber came to an end."

Luke and Han's gunnery heroics were definitely science fiction.

Finished: "Sharpe's Fury" by Bernard Cornwell

Finished: Sharpe's Fury: Richard Sharpe and Battle of Barrosa, March 1811 by Bernard Cornwell, 2006, 9780060530488.

This Sharpe novel has a different flavour than the others. The battle can be considered significant but was not as big as the ones in the other novels and Wellington was not there. I had not read any Sharpe books in a while so I cannot pinpoint the differences in the storyline but Fury just seemed out of tune compared the other books in the series. The novel is still enjoyable but it does not have the same flavor as the others.

Fury starts out with Sharpe assisting in the capture of a French fort in Spain so they can then destroy a pontoon bridge over a river. In the process of destroying the bridge Sharpe, Sergeant Harper, several riflemen and the force's commanding general are separated from the main force. Swept downstream on a barge from the pontoon bridge the group makes its way to Cadiz, Spain. Sharpe is then recruited by the British Ambassador in Cadiz to recover damning letters that the Ambassador wrote to his whore girlfriend.

Recovering the letters takes about half the novel and then Cornwell contrives a way to get Sharpe into the Battle of Barrosa to the south of the city.

Cornwell paints the Spanish army in a very unflattering light. The Spanish general commanding the joint British and Spanish force at Barrosa sucked. The Spanish troops in the Peninsular War could be very good but the commander at Barrosa, General Lapena was awful. General Lapena drove his attacking force around in the middle of night with constant starts and stops and turns. The Battle itself had Lapena refusing to fight while the British fought off and beat away a force outnumbering them 7 to 5, including an uphill British attack to clear the right flank. Lapena had his Spanish troops halt a mile or so from the battle on the beach while the British stopped the French from driving them all into the sea.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Read (again):"Night Prey" by John Sandford

Read (again): Night Prey by John Sandford. 1994, 0399139141.

I read this novel for my book club. About half-way through the novel I recognized a scene and remembered I had read this before. I read three or so Sandford novel about 8-10 years ago and this was one of them.

Lucas Davenport returns to work at the Minneapolis Police Department (Minnesota, not Kansas) as an Assistant Chief/Special Investigator. A serial killer has been discovered by a state cop and Lucas and the homicide department get involved.

Sandford is a good writer but there is nothing deep or thought provoking about the novel, that's why it took me so long to remember it. Nothing wrong with undemanding books like this, I read others like that a lot, but I think those others stick better. Maybe I'm too harsh, I read the damn thing a decade ago.

Sandford is skilled too. The state cop character, Meagan, really gets on my nerves in the beginning of the story but I warm to the character over time. I presume that is what Sandford intended. There are also nice touches of humour and the setting is well done; Sandford describes the Cities and the people very well. The killer, Koop, is also well done. A creepy cat burglar with a body-building obsession.

I have a long enough reading list that I won't chase after Sandford's other books right now.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Finished: “Violent Cases” and “The Comical tragedy or tragical comedy of Mr. Punch”

Finished: Violent Cases and The Comical tragedy or tragical comedy of Mr. Punch by Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean

Both graphic novels - short stories really - are by Gaiman with artwork by McKean. I'm lumping the two titles together because they are very similar. Both have an adult narrator telling strange or spooky tales from childhood. Both narrators struggle to recall details from their memories without the assistance of older relatives or friends. The stories are told conversationally to a friend, as if over an evening drink.

Violent Cases has the narrator recalling when he was 4 ½ years old and had to visit a local osteopath. The osteopath claimed to have been Al Capone's doctor. The doctor tells a couple stories, one of the stories is about Capone murdering several people with a baseball bat.

Comical Tragedy recalls a boy's time spent with his grandparents in the 60s. His grandfather owned a seaside entertainment arcade that was slowly going out of business. A "Professor Punch" gets a concession in the building and puts on a Punch and Judy puppet show. The Professor may or may not be the original Mr. Punch and, therefore, cannot be killed. Eh. Neat artwork, drawings mixed with photographs and printed word. I think I missed the point of the story.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Never got to: "The Barber of Seville" by Gioacchino Rossini

Never got to: The Barber of Sevill by Gioacchino Rossini,1998 (book), 1996 (CD), 1579120202.

This has a long introduction with the complete opera in Italian with English translation side-by-side. An audio perfromance CD is included.

This would have been neat to listen to but I never got around to it.

Never fully got to: "Blown Away: American Women and Guns" by Caitlin Kelly

Never fully got to: Blown Away: American women and guns by Caitlin Kelly, 2004, 0743464184.

Neat book. I read through some sections but, again, I never got around to reading the whole thing. Maybe I can try again sometime.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Never got around to: "Cockpit: an illustrated history of World War II aircraft interiors"

Never got around to: Cockpit: an illustrated history of World War II aircraft interiors by Donald Nijboer and photographs by Dan Patterson, 2001 reprint, 1550463748.

Neat book but I never got around to getting through it. I have been reading Gunner, also by Nijboer, which is in the same vein. Thirty-seven aircraft are covered with a one page intro and then comments by former pilots.

Nice photography.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Just Finished: "Calibre" by Ken Bruen

Just Finished: Calibre by Ken Bruen, 2006, 031234144x.

Pretty good. I read Vixen a while ago and liked it quite a bit; this novel is a continuation of the series. The main character of Calibre, sort of, is Inspector Brant of the London Metropolitan Police. Brant is an amoral goon who likely will never be caught as a bad cop. Brant is too carefull, too successful and has too many other cops in his debt to take a fall.

Calibre is not a mystery novel and not much of a police procedural. The novel is more about several of the cops at Brant's Southeast London station with a serial killer thrown in the mix. Descriptions and dialogue are brief. Stories about the personal lives of the characters intersect. Events that other authors might build up and dwell on - an officer cracking another cop with brass knuckles, a cop blitzing on cocaine and hatching an obscure plan to salvage his reputation and career, a killer's diary about his killings and motivations - are moved along by Bruen. Bruen keeps the story flowing moving.

Bruen presents a part of London that you don't want to visit, and you certainly cannot count on the cops for help. Supervisors are concerned about themselves and press coverage, cops are boozers and/or dopers, criminals will joyfully kill the cops, informants are screwed, and everyone defers to "that animal Brant".

The character of the killer is a crime novel aficionado and there are quotes between each chapter. Bruen is on par with any of the authors (Robert Parker, Jim Thompson, Ed McBain, etc.) he quotes.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Sort of Read: "Developing Grip Strength" by David Gentle

Sort of read: Developing Grip Strength by David Gentle and David Webster, 1986, 0947655085.

This is half exercise advice and half strong man history. The stories of strong feats-of-strength are interesting but not so helpfull. Some of the exercises are also interesting but unhelpfull. Breaking matches and pencils, bending bottle caps, and tearing card decks in half are not very practical.

Still, there are some good exercises I have been using. Soon I will have the grip powers of an ape!

Friday, August 18, 2006

Read: "Beasts of No Nation" by Uzodinma Iweala

Read: Beasts of No Nation by Uzodinma Iweala, 2005, 006079867x

A very good novel but difficult to finish; short at 142 pages, showing that succinct writing can really pay off.

Told by Agu, a boy soldier, during an unnamed African war. Agu's narration jumps around but it mostly covers his time as a boy soldier. Agu is about eight to ten years old and before the war loved to read and attend school. He had aspirations of being a doctor or engineer.

As the war starts, Agu's sister and mother flee with the UN as refugees and Agu and his father stay behind. Agu's father is killed when their village is attacked and Agu runs. He is eventually captured by a rebel group run by the "Commandant". The Commandant is as murderous towards his own soldiers as the civilians he orders those soldiers to rob, rape and murder.

Agu joins in the bloodshed, to do otherwise is to be killed. His only friend is Strika, another boy soldier, who has not spoken since his own family died. Agu and other boy soldiers are regularly raped by the Commandant. The intense pain, shame, hopelessness and anger of Agu's first raping causes a suicide attempt in a river. Unfortunately, Agu becomes a favorite of the Commandant until the Commandant is later killed by a Lieutenant.

Agu lives through shootouts, shellings, bombings, forced marches, constant hunger, terror, the haunting memories of family and home, and forced participation in the deadly, bloody beatings of both enemy and fellow soldiers. Agu is sure that escape from the war is impossible; but, after the death of Strika and the pain and hunger of a forced march he drops his gun and walks into the bush. The last chapter describes Agu's time in "heaven": an orphanage where he has clean, new clothes, plenty to eat, daily baths and his own room.

I took two or three days to read through the seven pages Agu uses to describe his rape. Agu only describes once his part in the all the killing; Agu is afraid of judgment by God and man against what he sees as his complicity in rape and murder. The brief final chapter is a unique view into the aftermath of the war. Rather than being a 10 year old refugee, Agu is a 10 year old combat veteran.

Further thoughts: I automatically dislike the author for being a successful Harvard graduate and good writer. Also, I wonder if Uzodinma ever drinks Ouzo? Was the horrible posed photo on the dust jacket his selection, or the publisher's? I'll keep an eye open for his next novel.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Read: "The Ralph Wiggum Book" by Matt Groening [Publisher]

Read: The Ralph Wiggum Book, Matt Groening [Publisher], 2005, 0060748206.

Ralph Wiggum is one messed-up kid. A joke at a time on the Simpsons and an occasional date with Lisa does not clue in to how completely messed-up Ralph is.

Finally finished: The Real Frank Zappa Book, by Frank Zappa with Peter Occhiogrosso

Finally finished: The Real Frank Zappa Book, by Frank Zappa with Peter Occhiogrosso, 1989, 067163870X.

This was good. Zappa was a smart guy. Of course, he also had some goofy conspiracy ideas. The book is a standard celebrity auto-biography with some personal history and a lot of writing about "current events". A lot of those current events are really dated. Theories about AIDS, the whole story about Zappa's fight over album labels and the nonsense of Tipper Gore and friends.

Some of Zappa's ideas were ahead of their time. Zappa had a business plan to offer downloadable music to consumers. Recordings would have been delivered via cable television or telephone. Consumers would receive paper catalogs listing content, place an order, and keep the recording. The cable television option would have cover art and liner notes on the screen as the download was going on.

Another idea of Zappa's was, in result, The Daily Show. He offered to host a five day a week evening show that would discuss major news events, feature satellite interviews, analysis, and a live band. The band would occasionally perform "Purposely cheesey sitcom segments...[the band] will 'pre-enact' the possible social consequences, twenty years down the road." Re-runs or weekly compilations would have been shown on MTV.

Other things Zappa talks about never age: military spending, supposed bias in the media, the drug war (although Zappa was very much against drug use), taxes, etc.

Other items: Zappa liked coffee, was not that good a guitar player, a bad singer, loved his kids but was a bit anti-social, worked a lot, liked humour in music, and enjoyed and wrote symphonic music.

His comments on modern symphonic music were eye-opening. The costs and trouble associated with booking an orchestra, the musicians' high rehearsal costs, dealing with musician unions, recording for release, etc. The costs are astronomical for getting a new piece rehearsed, performed, and recorded. Professional musicians can play Bach or Beethoven right off the bat; they have been practicing the music their whole lives but need good rehearsal time for newer compositions. Big-name orchestral conductors sell tickets because the audience wants to see the guy put on a show and wave his arms. Those Bach and Beethoven pieces don't entail composer royalties either. A modern composer has a heck of a time getting his work produced.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Never finished: All the Way to Berlin, by James Megellas

Never finished: All the Way to Berlin, by James Megellas, 2003, 0891417842.

Good book but I must be burned out on World War Two infantry memoirs. Megellas fought in Italy and through the Normandy invasion and into Germany with the 82nd Airborne.

Megellas is a very impressive guy and has written an impressive memoir. But, after getting about halfway through the book I put it down and never got back to it. I don't want to start reading it over again to re-learn the first half of his story.

At least I was open minded and tried: "Blade Runner 2: The Edge of Human" by K.W. Jeter

At least I tried something new: Blade Runner 2: The Edge of Human, by K.W. Jeter, 1995, 0553099795.

Jeter was a pal of Philip K. Dick and wrote this novel as a sequel to the story in the movie and not a sequel to Dick's original novel. Either way, I tried it out and read about ten pages before deciding, "I was right, this is shit."

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Read: "Star Wars episode I journal: Darth Maul" by Jude Watson

Read: Star Wars episode I journal: Darth Maul, by Jude Watson, 2000, 0439139414.

This is a short juvenile novel. I reserved this because it is about Darth Maul. The novel is written for an elementary school aged audience so there is not a whole lot going on. There are only 97 pages.

Narrated by Darth Maul, Journal, has information about his relationship with Darth Sidious, his training, his thinking and goals, his origin.

I'm thinking about looking around for other Darth Maul novels. There should be a couple out there unless Lucasfilm is still wasting the character by only licensing kid novels.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Read: "My War gone by, I miss it so" by Anthony Lloyd

Read: My War gone by, I miss it so by Anthony Lloyd, 1999, 0871137690.

Pretty good book, I'm surprised I liked it enough to finish it. Lloyd went to Bosnia in 1993 as a war tourist. His cover was as a journalist - a journalist without an employer or any job experience. The book covers his experiences in Bosnia and Croatia, his heroin tripping returns to London, and a brief sojourn to the hell of Chechnya.

Lloyd likes flowery language and description. He doesn't go too over the top though. His philosophizing is based on what he has seen and what he has lived through, it's not guesswork.

Lloyd was an officer in the British Army in both Northern Ireland and Gulf War One and after bumming around the world for a bit he ended up taking a basic photojournalism class in London. Unsure of how to get to the war in Bosnia he met a Bosnian family in London and asked for language lessons. From there he ended up getting into Sarajevo and stayed with that family's remaining relatives. Eventually getting regular newspaper work, Lloyd traveled around Bosnia covering the Bosnian government's army (Muslim) and the Croatians. Lloyd has little nice things to say about the UN - although he held some of the "peacekeeper" soldiers in high regard - and it's impotence in Bosnia. His regard for the European powers who sat on the sidelines is no better.

Lloyd's coverage of the second Chechnyan War deserves it's own book. Except such a book would be too disturbing and depressing to finish. Lloyd was not in Chechnya long but the widespread, horrifying and numbing atrocities and murders of Bosnia were a world apart from the Russian artillery attacks on Grozny. At one point 30,000 artillery shells a day were hitting Grozny and it's suburbs as the Russians tried to take the Chechen capital back from the rebels. I have little sympanthy for Chechen fighters after the many terrorist acts committed by them, but the indiscriminate Russian shelling was no better.

This book just confirms my theory on war. That theory follows: When in a war zone the first thing you should do is immediately leave. If you cannot leave make sure that you leave. If for some reason your exit is blocked, leave anyway. If normal modes of transportation are unavailable, leave. If borders are blocked, leave. If you have spent your whole life in that one place and all your belongings, money, prestige, and security have been there forever, leave. Above all else, the first thing you must do when caught in a war zone, is leave.

Sunday, July 9, 2006

Just Read: "It's not easy bein' me" by Rodney Dangerfield

Just Finished: It's not easy bein' me: A lifetime of no respect and plenty of sex and drugs by Rodney Dangerfield, 2004, 0066211077.

Humorous. What a horrible family Dangerfield had. His mother was a complete bitch who never hugged or kissed him or gave him a present. When Dangerfield was a kid he would see his dad twice a year for about two hours per year.

Rodney struggled in show business for several years until he figured he should get a real job and ended up selling aluminum siding until his mid-thirties when he went back to comedy because he was so miserable as a salesman.

The day my wife and I got married - that was a beauty. I gave her the ring and she gave me the finger.

My doctor's a very strange man. I said to him, "Doc, what's the difference between an oral thermometer and a rectal thermometer?" He told me, "The taste."

Last week, I had a bad experience. I went to a nude beach. They kicked me out. They told me it's impolite to point.

I tell you, with my doctor, I don't get no respect. I told him I'd swallowed a bottle of sleeping pills. He told me to have a few drinks and get some rest.

I tell ya one thing, my wife keeps me in line. No matter how many guys are ahead of me.

My wife and I, we both love Las Vegas. She likes to play the slots, and I like to play the sluts.

I told my psychiatrist, "Doc, I keep thinking I'm a dog." He told me to get off his couch.

Oh, the other night my wife met me at the front door. She was wearing a sexy negligee. The only trouble is, she was coming home.

I went to the store to buy some rat poison and the clerk said, "Shall I wrap it, or do you want to eat it here?"

Friday, July 7, 2006

Read: "Slocum and the Tong Warriors" by Jake Logan

Read: Slocum and the Tong Warriors by Jake Logan, 1989, 0425115895

A librarian mailing list was recommending different Westerns and said the Jake Logan westerns had either a lot of sex or violence. I cannot recall which it was but I found this book at Waupun PL and reserved it to try a Western out.

I assume Jake Logan is a corporate name. The novel wasnt too bad for a trashy novel. It had neither a lot of sex or violence but I have not read enough westerns for comparison. It did have lines like these though: "She straddled his waist and wriggled her hips seductively. When the dampness of her moist, hot nether lips touched the tip of his cock, Slocum groaned." And "Harriet's hips went berserk even as Slocum spilled his seed into her hungering interior." And "He grunted as he spilled his seed into her."

The storyline follows Jake Slocum as he robs a San Francisco opium den, fights off the Chinese gangsters, gets separated from the money, finds the guy who had and lost the money, hunts for the money while meeting up with a high priced whore, gets a railroad/shipping magnate homicidally angry at him, and eventually recovers the dough while alternately shooting bad guys and "spilling his seed" into the whore.

Thursday, July 6, 2006

Just Read: "Run, Boy, Run" by Uri Orlev

Just Finished: Run, Boy, Run by Uri Orlev, translated by Hillel Halkin, 2003, 0618164650

One of the best books I have read in a while. Orlev's novel is about an eight year old boy, Srulik, who is separated from his family in Warsaw's Jewish ghetto in '42 or so. Srulik was digging for food in a trash bin while his mother waited, when he came out from the bin his mother was gone. Unable to find his mother and not knowing his street address, he takes up with a group of older orphans. Stealing at night and playing soccer during the day the kids decide to escape the ghetto. Srulik escapes, is separated from the group, and eventually gets to the forest where he joins another orphan group and learns to survive in the woods. Changing his name to the non-Semitic Jurek he spends the next three years on his own alternately living in the forest or working for farmers.

One time while escaping from German soldiers Jurek is crawling through a field and sees a man lying down in front of him. "The man was lying on the ground too. His hair was matted and wild and his lined, ashen face was covered with a growth of beard. Srulik realized he was a Jew like himself. He kept crawling until he was close enough to whisper: 'Get out of here! The Germans are after me.'"

The man was his father who had earlier escaped from the Ghetto and gone missing. In a two to three minute conversation Jurek's father gives him quick instructions on staying alive, tells him to survive no matter what, gives him a kiss, and then sacrifices himself by jumping up and running away to draw the soldiers from Jurek.

Under constant threat of capture by the Germans, Jurek's freindly personality, orphan status, and blond hair get him work with different farms. Captured by the Gestapo he is sent to work for a Gestapo officer's Polish girlfriend. While operating a thresher Jurek's right arm is crushed. After a doctor refuses to operate on a Jewish kid Jurek's arm has to be amputated. Jurek escapes the hospital with a farmhand's help and works his way east to be "adopted" by a Russian soldier.

At war's end Jurek arrives in Warsaw and is taken in by a Catholic family. Over the past three years Jurek has pretended to be Catholic and is confirmed alongside the family's son. Having finally found a family he can safely stay with Jurek resists the attempts by Jewish organizations who want to re-unite orphans with their family and culture. Forcibly captured and taken to an orphanage Jurek remembers his true name is Srulik and through the help of a orphanage worker remembers enough to return to his home village and discover what happened to his family. After university in Poland he emigrated to Israel, married, and taught mathematics.

Based on Jurek's true story that Orlev first heard at a university function in Israel. I wonder if Srulik and Solomon Perel (author of Europa, Europa) ever got together to compare notes.

20 Apr 2012 EDIT: Forgotten Books is linking here today, I re-read this book for a book club. My reactions after second reading:

Sunday, July 2, 2006

Read: "Ice Haven" by Daniel Clowes

Read: Ice Haven by Daniel Clowes, 2005, 037542332X

This is a comic book novel from relatively well-known comic book novelist Clowes who has a couple movies made from his stories.

I dont have much to say about this. This is a collection of stories around the theme of a kidnapped child. A loose connection of stories; a real loose collection. I may try another book by Clowes but I dont read many short stories and thats what this book is.

The idea of the kidnapper being an unpublished poet who kidnaps the kid to get his ransom note poetry published is funny.

Saturday, July 1, 2006

Just finished: "Direct Action" by John Weisman

Just Finished: Direct Action by John Weisman, 2005, 0060757515.

Weisman co-authored several of the Rogue Warrior shoot em up series with Richard bat shit crazy weirdo Marcinko. After seeing a good review for Weismans '03 novel SOAR I read that and liked it.

Direct Action is like the Rogue Warrior series in that it is real didactic; there is constant preaching throughout the novel about what is wrong about U.S. policy and military/covert actions. Weisman has definite opinions and writes persuasively about them. I reservedly agree with most of what Weisman says, but the preaching gets annoying, and heck, what do I know about the CIA and military intelligence? I agree with the guy because he presents his argument as fact and the opposing side as folly.

Weisman really annoyed me when he wrote about the 1993 World Trade Center Bombing and the 1995 Murrah Federal Building bombing. Weisman writes this about the investigators in the 1993 bombing: Initial reaction to the bombing was that it had been perpetrated by a domestic group because the modus operandi resembled the attack that had brought down the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City. What the hell!? Was Weisman half asleep when he wrote that? What other stuff is Weisman screwing up? Where the hell is his editor?

Yeah, this is a just novel. I should not treat it like a non-fiction book. But, when you weave in real people, real history, real surveillance and spy recruiting methods, and black out names and information like a FOIA document, and you have book blurbs about how knowledgeable you are then you should not stretch things.

Anyway, I still liked the book. The focus is on main character Tom Stafford who is trying to find out what a bomber for hire is up to and who has hired him to bomb what. Tom resigned from the CIA to work for the 4627 Company as an intelligence dude. The CIAs failure to recruit spies and gather intelligence means they farm those jobs out to private companies like 4627. Not a lot of dialogue in the book, it is mostly description and story. Not a shootin', bombin', punchin', bloody novel with lots of gun talk either.

Friday, June 30, 2006

Just read: "Tilt A Whirl" by Chris Grabenstein

Just read: Tilt A Whirl by Chris Grabenstein, 2005, 0786715847

Good. Good characters (mostly) and plot.

Narrator Danny Boyle is a 24 year old summer cop at the seaside resort town of Sea Haven, NJ. Danny is a partial cop with no gun, daytime hours, a polo shirt with sewn on police logo, and a baseball cap. Boyles primary job is to be the driver for new cop John Ceepak. Ceepak was recently discharged from the Army where he was an MP for 13 years or so. Ceepak joined the Sea Haven department after an invite from an old Army buddy who is now Chief of Police.

One morning, at their daily 7.30 AM pancake shop breakfast, a 12 year old girl walks by the restaurant's front window covered in the blood of her just murdered father. Ceepak and Boyle investigate and are in the thick of the investigation from then on. The murder investigation wraps up early, of course, and carries over to the real mystery over who was framed and what authority figures are behind it all. Not an original plot idea but well done and quite fun to read.

The book has a fair amount of humour from Danny Boyle. Danny only takes the job semi-seriously since hes only a semi-policeman. Hes also intrigued by Ceepak and his personal Code of honesty, patriotism, and kindness. That humour is well balanced with coverage of crime scene forensics and setting description.

The Boyle and Ceepak characters are interesting and well drawn out. The supporting characters are not as well drawn. But, so what? There is a mystery plot to follow and Grabenstein does not blather on and on over philosophical issues like some other authors do.

There is a second novel with Ceepak by Grabenstein called Mad Mouse; Ill read it.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Just read: "The Stalin Front" by Gert Ledig

Just Read: The Stalin Front, by Gert Ledig. 2004 translation of 1955 German novel, 1590171640

Not bad; short at 198 pages. Ledig was a German veteran of the Russian front outside Leningrad.

The novel is set around a Russian attack on a German hilltop position. Story is told by both German and Russian voices. Ledig uses rank rather than names for most characters. I took this as a statement by the author: Why bother learning names when a lifetime at the front can be measured in days or hours?

Stalin Front is a grim book with most of the characters dead at the end, some through stupidity and chance, and one, the Sergeant, through bureaucratic need. Chosen as a scapegoat for the mass panic at the beginning of the Russian attack the Sergeant is chosen by Headquarters to be executed for desertion. Headquarters announces his execution, removes him from the rolls and sends notice to his family. A Captain is left to shoot him - after the decision and public notice - knowing that no trial was given and that any of hundreds of other soldiers could have been charged for the same thing.

For a short novel the several individual characters stand out as real people. Terror, anger, resentment, hope, and other emotions come through clearly. I reckon the translator did a real good job.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Just finished "The Da Vinci Code " by Dan Brown

Just Read Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown, 2003, paperback version 1400079179

Whats the big freakin deal?

Maybe I am overly critical due to the massive press over the past three years but this was not a very good book. Code had some decent moments, but when I can figure out whats going to happen, thats a bad sign.

Also, whats with the constant cliff-hangers? Brown way over uses that technique; and when the cliffhangers are consistently lame or overblown the constant repetition is just annoying. That crap with backwards handwriting really ticked me off, if I can figure it out it is automatically lame.

The characters were dull as well. Lopsided grin is about as much info as Brown said about Langdon to give his main character any character. The rest of the time Langdon is spouting off whatever notes Brown wrote down when he his research in preparation for writing.

I'll have to read The Da Vinci Cod to see if that parody is better than the novel. Since the novel dragged on for 500 pages, the parody should have plenty of fodder.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Never Finished: "Character Studies" by Mark Singer

Never Finished: Character Studies: Encounters with the curiously obsessed by Mark Singer, 2005, 0618197257

Compilation of profiles written by Singer for the New Yorker. I read five of the nine in here. One of those was read in the magazine though, so maybe that doesn't count.

The profile of Ricky Jay was fantastic. Jay is an incredible magician and sleight-of-hand artist, and I don't even like magic acts. The article is on Jay's website.

Good articles, but I've had this book too long and need to return it.

Friday, June 9, 2006

Just Read: "Rain Storm" by Barry Eisler

Just Read: Rain Storm by Barry Eisler, 0451215508, 2005, Paperback edition.

Pretty good book, this novel precedes Killing Rain listed below. A bit far-fetched at times though; killing six dudes, three at the same time, in the space of a couple hours?

Really nice details of Brazil, Macau and Hong Kong. Street life in all the places and the lifestyles in each. Hong Kong sounds more crowded than I realized.

The philosophical thoughts of Rain seem odd in comparison to the ruthless and pitiless work he does. On a quick count from memory Rain kills eight people in this novel, this means his ruminations on a tough life fall on mostly deaf ears. Yes, he kills people who deserve it but his paranoia and violent reactions to actual or perceived threats means that my ears are deaf to his brief tales of woe.

Still, I like the character, mainly because he has character. Eisler draws Rain up pretty well, hes is not one-dimensiol. Rain has personal interests (good coffee and scotch, judo, beaches, etc.), regrets, memories of his family, strong personal ethics and morals, and more rarely love and affection for other people. Rain is also a constant professional, he does not slack off on preparation and planning and he takes his work and his survival very seriously.

For a paranoid guy he sure has a lot of girlfriends. The author has similar interests to the main character and traveled a lot to prep for the novel. Thankfully, Eisler does not seem like a wanna-be, that kind of nonsense could easily come out in the story.

I wonder if my comma usage has been correct.

Monday, June 5, 2006

Just read: "The Enemy" by Lee Child

Just Read: The Enemy by Lee Child, 2004, 0440241014 (pb)

Popular author, so I figured I'd try one out. Continuing character is Jack Reacher and the novel is set in 1990. Not sure if this is a flashback or if all the novels are set a few years back.

Good story. Child uses uses some short quick sentences to effect pace and impact, like James Ellroy, King of Mysteries.

Reacher is an Army Major MP who works for a special unit that has jurisdiction over any Army facility. A two-star general based in Germany dies of a heart attack in a sleazy North Carolina motel. The general's death starts a chain reaction resulting in three murders. Reacher, the hero, searches for the truth against resistance of his superiors, blah, blah, blah. Not a new concept but really well done.

The settings were interesting. A lot of action takes place on Army bases. Child does a good job showing the differences between civilian and military people and the way they work. The fact that Reacher has the authority to search a room or car on base at any time helps the story; Child does not have to slow down or adjust the pace for warrants and probable cause like in other police procedurals.

Ill try another Reacher novel.

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Just read: "Stoner and Spaz" by Ronald Koertge

Just read: Stoner and Spaz by Ronald Koertge, 2002, 0763616087.

Good book. A short, 169 pages, YA book so it was a quick read. A good way to pad my list if I want numbers.

Teenager Ben (Spaz in the title) has cerebral palsy (CP) leaving him with a scrunched up left arm and a left foot he has to drag around. Ben is in a self-imposed exile in his high school; he considers himself freakish and does not talk or make friends with any classmates because he is convinced they will either reject him or pity him. Ben spends his free time at home, with his guardian Grandmother, and at the Rialto Theater watching revivals of old horror pictures and westerns.

One evening at the Rialto, Colleen - a high school classmate and the Stoner of the title - appears out of nowhere. High as a kite, Colleen sits next to Ben and promptly passes out. Ben was trying to avoid her in the theater but the experience of touching a girl, even one passed out on his shoulder, is thrilling. After the movie Colleen talks with Ben outside instead of staring and talking at him. Later, Colleen pukes out the window of Ben's Grandmother's car.

Good book. Ben and Colleen end up a couple, Colleen gets straightened out for a time, and Ben comes out of his shell and discovers most people don't give a rat's ass about his CP. Novel has a fair amount of coverage of their crappy LA high school and it's students. Because, you can't have a YA novel without talking about school and social problems. Oh, no.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Finished: "Helmut Newton Portraits" by Helmut Newton

Helmut Newton Portraits by Helmut Newton, 1993 (this edition), 3823817116. A rebound paper edition from Madison PL via ILL.

Pretty neat. Selection of black and white and colour portraits by photographer Newton. Neat photos. Interview with Newton in the beginning where he talks about his work and friends and life.

Finished: "Helmut Newton's Illustrated" by Helmut Newton

Helmut Newton's Illustrated by Helmut Newton, 2000, 1560252634. From the St. Charles Community College Library in Missouri.

Neat book. One of those items you see in a bookstore but never get to sit and look through at leisure.

A compilation of Newton's irregularly published, photos only magazines. Newton only did four issues and had them printed when he felt he had enough interesting photos to print. Each was done on a theme: Sex and Power, Pictures from an Exhibition, I was there, and Dr. Phantasme.

Some of the photos really draw you in; others are not so interesting.

EDIT: Fess up, there are nudie shots too.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Just Read: "The Sabre's Edge" by Allan Mallinson

Finished The Sabre's Edge by Allan Mallinson, 1585675334, 2003.

'03 copyright? What the heck... I thought this was the latest and greatest.

An okay book. I enjoyed a couple of the other novels in the Matthew Hervey series much more. There is not a whole lot of action going on in this novel. Previous novels had more of a mix between the Army society and manners and field/battle antics. Sabre's is more manners.

This is another novel - like Nightrunners of Bengal - set in the early 1800s that cover the weirdness of British culture. Hervey has been in India a few years with the Sixth Light Dragoons and is detailed to a General's staff before the seaborn invasion of Rangoon. After being wounded, Hervey returns to the Dragoons and is sent to Central India where he ends up in the siege and attack of the fortified city of Bhurtpore.

The fact that my geographic knowledge of the cities and regions of India is poor does not much matter. Mallinson gives good description of the terrain and people to make up for that ignorance. But, the other descriptions of people and plot are not so interesting. Previous novels taught a lot about horses, cavalry, and the details and oral teaching history of both. Sabre's spends more focus on Hervey's changing views on Army leadership and some of it's poor leaders. The side story of his "bibi" - his Indian mistress - his interesting. A bibi is accepted as okay by British society but only if she is kept outside the base and out of sight. An officer marrying a bibi would be ostracized; never mind taking her back to England. Mallinson does not cover that storyline too much, which is probably good, I would have gotten bored with the storyline.