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.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Just Re-read: "Tactical Pistol Shooting" by Erik Lawrence

Just re-read: Tactical Pistol Shooting: Your Guide to tactics that Work by Erik Lawrence, 2005, 0896891755.

Fantastic book. The best book on pistol shooting I have found. Lawrence is succinct with his instructions and the illustrations are numerous and well-done. Illustrations are essential in an instructional book like this and the photos (not line drawings!) are well lit, clear and focused, and taken from a variety of views. Good review information for a middling, no money for practice ammo, IPSC shooter like myself.

Lawrence covers drills and training exercises while also giving excellent pointers. Main chapters cover shooting positions, malfunctions, reloading, marksmanship, low-light shooting, shooting while wounded, and ends with a very comprehensive list of shooting schools.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Just Read: “Down to the Dirt” by Joel Hynes

Down to the Dirt by Joel Hynes, 2005, 0786715375.

A fairly decent book. Set in Newfoundland and mainly told through the voices of the two main characters, Keith and Natasha. The novel focuses on Keith over six or seven years, from losing his virginity to an older woman when he was 13 to an alcoholic daze when he is twenty.

Keith is a no-good: kicked out of his house, playing hockey just so he could fight, drinking and smoking dope, unemployed, in trouble with the police, etc. Keith hooks up with Natasha and even lives with her and her parents for awhile, until he gets drunk, fights with the dad and insults the mother.

I bought the novel off the review in Publishers Weekly. The selling part to me was this:

"True, they speak a Celtic-tinged dialect (which Hynes captures masterfully), and they commit their minor social crimes in an isolated, rural setting that amplifies their discontent. Hynes's antihero is Keith Kavanagh, a hard-drinking bad boy ("a bit of a savage," his best friend Andy admits), who strives in self-destructive ways for love and respect. Keith's clipped but evocative narration trades off with the similarly poetic, snappish, adolescent narration by Andy and Keith's girlfriend, Natasha. The self-contained chapters read almost like short stories: the birth of Andy and Keith's friendship; Keith's drug-addled killing of a sick cat; a run-in between Natasha and her father over a sex toy. Raunchy, humorous and energetic, Hynes's novel engrosses, but never truly surprises"

The dialect is indeed different. Hynes use of slang made me keep thinking the characters talk in an Irish accent. There are some funny parts too: the above mentioned dildo scene, Keith telling Natasha how to pour sugar in a gas tank, Keith scoring the winning goal in a hockey championship. But, I didnt see the novel as black humor, bildungsroman is more accurate.

Wednesday, May 3, 2006

Just Read: "Nightrunners of Bengal" by John Masters

Nightrunners of Bengal by John Masters, 1951.

Very good book. I read a reference to this novel somewhere. I may have seen it when reading about Allan Mallinson's novels, a couple of which, like Nightrunners, are set in India.

John Masters wrote a series of India novels including The Deceivers, which seems to be his most famous. Masters was born in India and served in the Gurkha Rifles against the Japanese in Burma.

Nightrunners is set in Central India during the Sepoy Rebellion of 1857. The main focus of the story is the relationship between the English and Indians. The two sides share their lives in such close proximity but are distinctly separate. The English army officers have close relationships with the Sepoy soldiers but the civilians have little interaction outside of their boss-employee relationships. The separateness was enough for plotters to convince the Sepoys that the British were out to destroy them and defile both Hindus and Muslims. The plotters needed the Sepoys because the Sepoys' training and arms "held the key" to success.

The main character is Captain Rodney Savage of the East India Company Army and son of the main character in The Deceivers. I know from previous novels set in colonial India (Bernard Cornwell) that advancement in the East India Army was very, very slow for officers. After the Indian Rajahs were defeated by the Company there was little turnover in the officer ranks. After several years of duty Rodney is burning out on the political nonsense of the army and on the petty social battles fought by the officers' wives. That Savage and his wife no longer love one another makes things even worse.

The first half of the story sets the stage for the mutiny in the second half. In the beginning of 1857 Savage and a company of Sepoys are sent from Bwohani to Kishanpur, a self-governing neighboring kingdom, to assist after the rajahs death. As Rodney says:

"We the Company can't permit the endless succession-murders and civil wars that there used to be in the states. We don't allow any rajah to mount the gaddi until we have recognized him as the lawful heir to his state. Then we've forbidden many states including Kishanpur to have a big army; it might be dangerous. Well, when we prevent a rajah from defending himself, we have to undertake to do it for him and we do."

Savage and his company spend a couple months in Kishanpur keeping the peace and training the royal bodyguard. Rodney grows a close relationship with the rani, the dead rajah's wife and current ruler, and has a one night stand with her just before he leaves town. Receiving a job offer to be the rani's general Savage turns down the wealth and authority to stay with his British friends and colleagues.

On return to Bwohani Savage comes across a man running through the night with a cryptic message meant for another town. The messenger says he must deliver the message or risk the wrath of Shiva. This draws the Sepoys' attention and fear and the novel follows Savage and the growing anxiety of the Sepoys to the night of May 10th when almost all of the British - women and children too - are savagely and barbarously murdered in the middle of the night by Sepoys. Rodney and his young son Robin are saved by two loyal Sepoys and escape town through the aid of another Indian. Traveling to Kishanpur, Rodney and other British survivors are imprisoned by the rani and only Rodney, his son, and two others escape. Traveling through the jungle and lodging in a friendly village Rodney fights the madness brought on by the rebellion, a cholera epidemic in the village, attacks a rebel arms depot, and then participates in the final battle at Gondwara.

A really good story and well written.

Monday, May 1, 2006

Just Read: "Montana, 1948" by Larry Watson

Montana, 1948 by Larry Watson, paperback edition, 0671507036

Read this for Jefferson County Reads. Good book but not great. I read White Crosses a few years ago with the same result, good, not great. The discussion group on May 2nd had at least one person who really liked the story.

Montana, 1948 is narrated by twelve year old David Hayden who tells the story of the death of family housekeeper Marie and the subsequent arrest of his Davids uncle Frank on rape charges. Davids family has a lot of authority in their small town of Bentrock. Davids grandfather is a wealthy rancher and held the job of sheriff for years until he resigned for Davids father Wesley to inherit the job. Uncle Frank is a prominent war hero and doctor. Wesleys arrest of his own brother creates a schism in the family and risks the entire familys reputation and status in town.

There are a lot of ways to examine the story and characters actions that I never clued into until the book discussion. The interaction between the sons and the domineering father, the clear racism of Frank and hidden racism of Wesley, motivations of Frank as sheriff versus son and brother.

I thought the book was a straightforward tale of the dangers of doing good versus the benefits of sitting tight. Not the first time Ive missed subtle signals and messages.