Monday, May 31, 2010

Finished: "Islands of the Damned" by R.V. Burgin

Finished: Islands of the Damned: a Marine at war in the pacific by R.V. Burgin with Bill Marvel, 2010, 9780451229908.

Burgin is portrayed in The Pacific on HBO. I have not seen that show. I presume he was approached about doing a book because of that mini-series. Burgin served with E.B. Sledge whose With the Old Breed at Peleliu and Okinawa is a famous read from 30 years ago. I have not read Sledge's book. Burgin has some interesting disagreements with what Sledge says. The disagreements are nothing major; just different memories from a fellow eyewitness.

Burgin was one of many kids in a Texas farming family. Burgin's family sounded very solid and certainly worked hard. Burgin joined the Marines after getting a draft notice. Went to San Diego for training and then to the South Pacific. He learned from the veterans of Guadalcanal, fought on several islands, was with the Marines outside Melbourne for a time and got engaged, and married after the war. Burgin never spoke about the war until '79 when he got a call from a fellow Marine who was organizing a reunion. Even then some of Burgin's memories were not sparked until meeting other guys again.

The book is told very straightforwardly. I imagine Burgin had long talks with Marvel and Marvel did a good job of chronologically ordering the tales. Marvel seems to have captured Burgin's own voice. Not that I have ever met Burgin.

Comments and thoughts:
1. No lingering on battle details like in some books. Burgin is equally straightforward in killing Japanese as in two instances Burgin witnesses Marines were killed by fellow Marines. One instance was in pitch black with mistaken identity. The second instance was trying to quiet a Marine who was having a loud freak-out and alerting Japanese to the Marines' location. That death too does not seem to have been intentional, but Burgin is not entirely clear on whether my assumption is so. Someone whacked him on the head with a shovel to quiet him and the blow killed him.
2. Burgin would tend to always hit it off with fellow Texans.
3. a. Under performing units. Burgin singled out an Army unit his Marine unit relieved. He writes about their piss poor discipline and demeanor. I don't hear much about poor units. When I do read that I'll also read about how a unit was treated unfairly and excused for multiple reasons. I think hagiography covers up a lot of screw-ups and fuck-ups and failures.
3.b. Burgin does mention several times of his clashes with Lt. Legs and Legs poor decision. Legs is later replaced by another Lt. That Lt. is a better officer but has several boneheaded decisions that a young guy will make.
3.c. Burgin mentions how Sledge writes disparagingly about their officers but Burgin thought they were better than what Sledge thought.
4. Plenty of guys will downplay their service, I spoke to a guy yesterday who did that.
5. Burgin says several times about how no one he speaks to has heard of Peleliu and he'll tell the story. I heard of it. I've heard of many of the big and small islands the Army and Marines landed on. I don't know the specifics but you can pretty much always assume the Japanese had deep defensive positions.
6. Burgin writes that his family - wife and four kids - went to Australia for ten months in 1956. It must have been tough on his wife to rarely return to Australia and see her family. She was only 21 when they married in Dallas.
7. What was the psychological aftermath on Burgin? He does not say much about that. In '56 when they drove to SF to catch the ship to Australia there was a carload of Asians next to their car. He saw those people and broke into a sweat. They were the first Asians he had seen since Okinawa.
8. Burgin actually used his .45.
9. He survived a night of Banzai attacks.
10. Burgin was a mortarman and those guys got real good at the job. Burgin still takes pride in being the best.
11. I didn't realize how deadly the 60mm mortar can be. Burgin says their shells had a 45 foot radius kill zone. That reminds me of Sully in my junior year of high school. I think he served on tank destroyer in Europe and once said if a shell hit the said of our classroom half of us would be dead. I couldn't quite believe that amount of destruction but it's not something you easily forget.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Listened to: "Magic Kingdom for Sale -- Sold!" by Terry Brooks

Listened to Magic Kingdom for Sale -- Sold! by Terry Brooks, 1986, downloaded from Overdrive.

1986? This book is older that I thought.

Ben Holiday is a Chicago lawyer. Holiday is a workaholic since his wife was killed. Holiday is all boo-hoo and weepy over his dead wife. Holiday is a, "My poor, dead, lovely wife, you are my only love blah blah blah" type of guy.

Holiday gets a holiday catalog from a fictional Neiman-Marcus. Used to be wife's favorite catalog so he reads it. Sees advert for magic kingdom and the chance to be king of it. Ben ponders. Ben figures, "I've got nothing to lose." Ben interviews about purchase of kingdom. Ben purchases for $1 million. Ben drives to North Carolina, walks into woods with a magic medallion, walks into the kingdom.

Ben meets aid to the king. Ben meets others. Ben finds he is one of many who have bought the kingship. All others skipped out after a couple months. Ben tries kinging around. Ben sees fantastical things and creatures. Ben tries to unite kingdom. Ben's overtures to inhabitants are rebuffed. Kingdom's magic is dying. Ben decides to stay.

Ben meets green sylph, named Willow, who devotes herself to him. Green chick is wicked hot but Ben is all, "I can never love again! My poor, dead wife, boo hoo hoo." Green chick has to occasionally turn into a tree. Ben is aghast at would-be girlfriend's tree-ness. Ben prevails against a witch and a dragon. Ben resists green chick. Ben starts to boner up a little for green chick. Ben defeats demon who wanted to take over kingdom.

I have about 15 minutes worth of the book left. I will finish listening but assume that all the inhabitants pledge loyalty to King Ben, the magic starts to renew, Ben bones the green chick and his dick does not turn into wood.

An enjoyable and easy read (listen) with several frustrations:
1. The narrator has bizarrely incorrect pronunciations of several words.
2. The narrator's voices for female characters are awful, awful, awful.
3. Ben is weepy and whiny at times.
4. I did not feel enough threat towards the main character. I always felt like he would be okay. Maybe this was written at a High School aged audience. Kind of like a lot of those Shannara books I read in middle school.
5. This is first of a series. i would reserve book two but it is not listed on Overdrive. I'll have to add it to the WPLC selection list.
6. That reminds me, I should get some Lloyd Alexander audio titles.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Read: "Head Games" by Craig McDonald

Read: Head Games by Craig McDonald, 2007, 9781932557428.

McDonald's books have received a lot of praise so I tried one out. It was good.

57 year old crime novelist Lassiter is a friend of Hemingway, screws Marlene Dietrich, is pals with Hollywood types, drinks too much, has a dead wife and daughter, loves Mexico, served under Pershing in Mexico, served in WWI, lived in Europe, blah, blah, blah. He's a typical raconteur author of the twenties and Dark Mask.

Bud Fiske is writing a magazine profile of Lassiter in 1957. They are in a bar in Mexico when a guy comes in offering to sell Pancho Villa's head to Lassiter. Federales bust in, shots are fired, people are killed, Lassiter and Bud flee with Pancho's head. Many others are after the head including Skull and Bones Yalies (guided by Prescott Bush), Harvard types (opposed to the Yalies), Mexicans who revere Villa.

More shooting, more killing. A visit to Orson Welles and Marlene Dietrich in Los Angeles. More shooting. Fleeing with Mexican hot chick. More killing and shooting as Lassiter tries to sell the head to Bush. Lassiter in a tight spot with Yalies, FBI, CIA (courtesy of Yalies), Mexicans, etc.

Things happen and head is returned to Villa's favorite wife. Lassiter dies. Lassiter's body decapitated in 1970. Bud rescues head from Yalies, with assist from George W. Flees across the US into Mexico and followed by murderous "intelligence" agents. Lassiter's head slyly returned to Mexican hot chick. Bud still on the run.

1. Comparisons to Ellroy: reminiscent lines, time period, competing and backstabbing interests with corruption, LA setting.
2. Gratuitous tommy gun usage.
3. Ripping on poet Rod McKuen. Twice. Mark Kraushaar would like that.
4. Lassiter dislikes the pop psychology of a newspaper reviewer's work applied to a Lassiter novel. Lassiter hires a goon to crush reviewer's hands.
5. Multiple historical characters.
6. Thank you to Mark Singer in acknowledgements for Character Studies. I never finished reading Character Studies so I checked it out again. I then forgot why the hell I checked it out again.
7. Vicious Lassiter comments on Ayn rand's Atlas Shrugged. Hee, hee, hee.
8. Take your guesses on McDonald's own views on politics and war through Lassiter's views and criticisms on those topics.
9. Anachronisms I cannot recall.

EDIT 27My10: I got the date wrong, this is a 2007 not a 2009. It is also, according to NoveList, the first Lassiter book by McDonald.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Read: "The Chill" by Jason Starr

Read: The Chill by Jason Starr, 2009, 9781401212865.

Comic-book horror/fantasy/crime novel.

Irish daughter and her father discover she has "the chill" which freezes men when they fuck her. Irish father knows this is part of a ancient Druid skill and ritual. Forces daughter to whore to guys who he then kills and steals their souls for immortality.

Cop in New York takes on murder case from the daughter-father team. Is told of real story by Boston cop who came to US as a teen after escaping from the daughter. Things happen. People are ritually killed. Evil father is killed. Boston cop and the daughter are brought back together and are young again. They take over the killing to stay young forever.

Read: Hunt at World's End by Gabriel Hunt (Nichols Kaufman)

Read: Hunt at World's End by Gabriel Hunt (Nicholas Kaufman), 2009, 9780843962451.

Another Hunt tale. I need to get the Faust one.

Hunt is robbed of a recent find from the Amazon while he is having drinks at the Discoverers League in New York. He then goes to Borneo to look for a missing family friend who is traveling on a grant from the Hunt Foundation. He rescues the girl, Joyce Wingard, from a cult. He rescues an artifact from a rich thug and his son, the son was the one who robbed Hunt in New York.

Hunt, Joyce, Joyce's uncle on hunt for jewels that are supposed to release a "spear" that is massive weapon. Hunt and Co. go to Turkey. Dive in ocean for jewel. Escape hotel room ambush with explosions, gunfire, smoke, climb up side of hotel. Hunt and Co. take refuge with ex-girlfriend of Hunt. Hunt and Co. travel to African plains. Huge gunfight among cult from Borneo, rich bag guy, Hunt and Co.

Clean on the sex front. Lots of killing. Back stabbing by uncle. Redemption for uncle. Gratuitous use of single action Colt. Gratuitous cliff hanging. Gratuitous copying of Indiana Jones and other serials.

Read A Few Days Ago: "Mixed Blood" by Roger Smith

Read A Few Days Ago: Mixed Blood by Roger Smith, 2009, 9780805088755.

Another good one but difficult to finish. The vicious and heartless kidnapping of a four year boy was difficult for me to read.

Jack Burn and his family land in Cape Town after escaping the U.S. where he is wanted for murder after a robbery that left several crooks and a policeman dead. A couple Americans gang members from the Flats scale the balcony at the Burns' rental home. Jack kills both men but cannot risk his true identity being revealed. He wraps the bodies in plastic, sticks'em in the car, dumps them back at the Flats.

Things happen. Vicious, amoral, ruthless, heartless, obese, smelly, tactless, Boer cop (Rudi) gets on Jack's case and kidnaps his son. Former prison gang-leader guarding construction site next to Burns' house gets involved. Meth junkie in Flats loses her meal ticket - her severely disabled child - and is told to care for kidnapped boy. Burns's pregnant wife now despises Jack and wants to return to the U.S. and turn herself in. People are killed. Crooks are scary. Kidnappers indifferent treatment of boy is harrowing to read. Boy escapes alive but must have bad psychological after effects. Burns' wife turns them in. Burns flees north. Fat bastard dies a fitting death.

Comments and observations:
1. Rudi could have been the evil dude in a horror novel. A really well-done bad guy with multiple murders to his credit whose hatred of everyone and religious fervor drives him on.
2. Burns is sort of a split character. On one hand he is extremely concerned for his son but refuses to risk his own safety of avoiding extradition.
3. The neighboring security guard, Benny, is a twin to the prison bad guy in Wake Up Dead. The guy in Wake Up can be seen as an advanced version of Benny: crime lord in prison, multiple murders under his belt, love of using a knife to kill, a crook and killer since a very young age. But, Benny is working to improve himself and keep out of prison.
4. Another look at the brutal Flats and the people who live there.
5. I found this in my library. Another book I bought and have no recall of ordering it.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Quickly read: "Should You Be Laughing at This?" by Hugleikur Dagsson

Quickly Read: Should You Be Laughing at This? by Hugleikur Dagsson, 2006, 9780061284892.

Compilation of one panel cartoons by Icelander.

Topics covering: Murder, child rape, incest, patricide, fratricide, filicide, matricide, cannablism, coprophlia, urolagnia, child abuse, depression, cruel mockery, nazis, devils, devils dressed as nazis, sex, coitus interruptus, zoophilia.

I feel like I should be hip and declare that I laughed loudly and often. I did not.

Finished: "The Big Kahn" by Neil Kleid

Finished: The Big Kahn: a sequential drama by Neil, 2009, 9781561635610.

Comic book novel. A rabbi's family and congregation sit at the rabbi's funeral. The rabbi has preached at the synagogue for over 20 years and was well regarded and respected. In walks some dude to proclaim (paraphrased) "What a crock, my brother was a con not a Kahn!" Family shocked. Family disbelieving. Rabbi had said he was an orphan of WWII. Turns out he grew up in Brooklyn and ran cons with his brother. One con was gypping Jewish families and organizations out of money promised for Israel or different charities. Kahn falls in love with a girl and continues the charade for years. After a time, the charade goes away and he loves his God, his life, his work and his family.

Family starts having trouble: religious doubt, anger, sorrow, anger at father, love for father, scandal of synagogue, eldest son - also a rabbi - fired from father's synagogue. Family starts to get things back together. Eldest son fucks his sister's roommate and wonders if he is rabbinically fit. Eldest son goes to interview for rabbi job in New Jersey and doesn't want to lie. Open ended ending.

1. Some issues I wonder about. For instance, what makes a rabbi? Kahn was knowledgeable, devout, and honest (yeah, actually), loved his family, and taught his kids about God and their religion. Does not his devotion and belief count as conversion. Was their church so strict as to not consider conversion? He never taught anything wrong but the after-the-fact betrayal was too much for the congregation to take.
2. Kahn's brother accepted the rabbi's request to leave him alone in his new life. He seems to only show up so he can find out if he was in the will. The guy is sleazy.
3. The daughter is slutty and rejecting the religious life she grew up in.
4. Amazing what a cultural influence jews and judaism have had when considering what a small number of people there are. Sometimes I get sick of hearing the family stories of religious and cultural strife. But how can I? I'm the one who keeps reserving the books, reads them, and finds them interesting. Part of me is just annoyed that I seem to be missing out on not being part of a group that seems insular at times. That and the cultural and religious differences mean I am not quite understanding what the hell is going on.
5. You know what would have been much more convenient? If I had noticed there was a glossary in the back before I finished the book.
6. Kahn liked Glenlivet.
7. Kahn never lied about being Jewish and educated as a Rabbi, no one ever asked him.
8. Wait a minute, is rabbi supposed to be capitalized or not?

Read: "Tokyo Vice" by Jake Adelstein

Read: Tokyo Vice: an American reporter on the police beat in Japan by Jake Adelstein, 2009, 9780307378798.

Good book. A real interesting look at Japanese culture, especially sex and crime. Adelstein attended college in Japan at Sophia Univ. Adelstein applied for a job with the major newspaper in Japan and got hired. He starts out as a cub reporter covering the police beat and stays with that path - with a few detours - his whole career with the newspaper. Adelstein hangs out with reporters, cops, whores, hostesses, criminals, other lowlifes and night-time workers. Adelstein scopes out scoops. Adelstein tells several stories of the stories he covered and people he met and befriended - or angered. Adelstein ends up angering a yakuza boss and quits his regular job. Adelstein ends up writing the Yakuza boss story. Yakuza are lowlife trash but sometimes regarded as popular heroes.

1. To me the core of the story is all about sex: Adelstein's own sexual (mis)behavior, Japanese treatment of sex crimes, Japanese sex trade, women and men working in the sex trade.
2. Japanese crime stats are always low. But, Adelstein points out that much crime is ignored or downgraded by police depending on the victims status in society. Crimes against foreign women in the sex trade and common yakuza are not taken seriously. Crimes against women are taken more seriously now (2009-2010) but still not treated as seriously as they should be.
3. Yakuza are pervasive across society and even have fans and fan magazines.
4. I used to visit an online store based out of Japan that sold kitschy things like sock glue and Hello Kitty candy. I think their best-selling products were Japanese porn and erotica though. The website, I think it was called j-place, had neat essays by the American business owner on the differences he noticed between Japan and the U.S. Either the website disappeared, the business was sold, or the yakuza forcibly took over. (EDIT: a commenter listed the correct address of the website. I prefer to think the yakuza took over anyway.)
5. No surprise that Adelstein burns out in his reporter job. He works all damn day and night. He has to spend bucks on gifts, drinks, lap dances, etc. as he works his sources. He never gets to see his wife or kids. He is surrounded by casual sex and his own views on sex gradually erode away.
6.a. How much is bullshit? His article on the yakuza boss was printed in the Washington Post and, according to Adelstein, was thoroughly vetted. But, it is still just Adelstein telling the whole story about everything else.
6.b. Adelstein
, you must have googled your way over here. I am inclined to believe you, but how do you respond when people are incredulous or outright disbelieving of your stories?
7. For that matter, did your wife leave you? Your side of the story made you sound somewhat insufferable. The acknowledgements at the end are unclear.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Read for Book Group: "Homer and Langley" by E.L. Doctorow

Read for Book Group: Homer and Langley by E.L. Doctorow, 9781400064946, 2009.

I've read a couple other Doctorow novels and enjoyed them. A blurb on the back of this says the book is "spellbinding". I think that guy read a different book.

Narrated by Homer. Homer and Langley were born in the late 1800s. Their parents were wealthy NYC socialites living on Fifth Avenue. During WWI Langley is in the service when both parents die - one of the flu. Homer went blind as a teenager and Langley gets gassed in France. Langley cares for Homer and the brothers are fairly close.

Both of them turn reclusive and Langley's hoarding fills the house with newspapers and other junk he picks up when traveling the city. Langley's initial goal is to collate all the usual happenings in the world - crime, politics, disasters, etc. - into a single newspaper issue that can be re-read every day. Their reclusiveness is gradual. During the '20s and '30s when they were younger they would hit the nightclubs. At one point in the '30s they hosted "tea parties" for a dollar a couple and the parties would fill three rooms of their large home. They also had servants who kept them somewhat social and in touch with reality.

Homer comes across to me as an immortal person who just lets things come to him. Days pass by without concern - as if the days are unlimited. What would be small events to other people are important milestones to me.

Not all that exciting a novel. Good thing it is only 208 pages.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Fast Read: "Welcome to the Bayou" by Victor Gischler

Quick Read: Welcome to the Bayou by Victor Gischler, 9780785133780, 2009.

A Punisher comic book. Punisher is driving through rural Lousisiana with a guy in his trunk. Stops at ratty gas station at same time as co-eds and their boyfriends. Fast driving co-eds do not pass Punisher. Punisher gets itchy and investigates. Finds mega-hot crazy chick at house behind gas station. Punisher drives away and walks back. Finds that the four kids have been kidnapped by in-bred, mutated, hillbilly cannibals.

Punisher punishes. Punisher is caught. Punisher is punished. Punisher escapes through help of the guy who had been in his trunk, got out of the trunk, and was also captured by the cannibals. Punisher and Trunk Guy kill more cannibals. Punisher kills mega-large, MasterBlaster-style mutant. Trunk Guy wanders off. Punisher rescues last surviving co-ed. Punisher kills bat-shit crazy mega-hot chick.

Second story called Little Black Book. Punisher blackmails whore to get access into a drug kingpin's home. Punisher kills people. Whore is redeemed through violence. Or something like that.

Third unwritten story called Gischler and Bikini Bottoms. Gischler sees initial illustrations for the first story. Gischler tells artist, "Can we get some more illustrations of the co-eds in their underwear?"

1. Gratuitous shotgun violence.
2. Gratuitous butt shots.
3. Gratuitous use of Colt wheelgun.
4. Gratuitous cannibalism.
5. Needed more underwear girls.
EDIT: 6. Needed gratuitous nipples.

EDITED FOR CLARIFICATION: This is a positive review. You know what was a good book? Pistol Poets. I should re-read that one.

Listened to: "The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Perilous Journey" by Trenton Lee Stewart

Listened to: The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Perilous Journey by Trenton Lee Stewart, downloaded from

Eh. I listened all the way through and liked some parts but this is still a poor substitute for the Baudelaire orphans.

The four "Society" members - Constance, Sticky, Kate and Renny - are joined together a year after the first book's happenings. They are to take a trip with Mr. Benedict. The trip's destination and purpose have been kept a secret from them. Before the trip happens Mr. Benedict is and Number Two are reported kidnapped. Renny and friends try to follow the clues created by Mr Benedict for their secret trip as a way to find him and Number Two.

Renny and all catch a super-fast container shipping ship on it's maiden voyage to Portugal. Meet the ship's captain, an old friend of Mr Benedict. Land in Portugal. Visits a famous landmark castle and see some of Curtain's henchmen. Find the secret directions leading them to Holland. Travel to Holland. Find more directions. Meet up with Milligan. Catch a sea plane to a deserted island in the North Sea. More trouble happens. Lives are threatened.

Throughout we discover more of Mr. Benedict's past and family heritage. The briefcase wielding bad guys are now called Ten Men. Renny doubts the ship captain's loyalty. Milligan is feared dead. Blah Blah. Blah Blah.

I'm not sure if I'll listen to the third book or not. I liked the polite and smiling villainy of the Ten Men. The exotic travel is a nice staple of juv fiction.