Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Ended: "Sleepless" by Charlie Huston

Ended: Sleepless by Charlie Huston, 2010, Overdrive download.

Had trouble understanding what the hell was going on.  Maybe because I was riding my bicycle on the trail.

I quit on page nine of the hardback. I enjoy Huston's novels. The hardcover has water damage.

Stopped: "Red Moon" by Benjamin Percy

Stopped: Red Moon by Benjamine Percy, 2013, Overdrive download.

Committee novel.

Some authors are good audiobook narrators.  I will read the print version.

Quit: "Crazy Rich Asians" by Kevin Kwan

Quit: Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan, 2013, Overdrive download.

Another victim of non-English names in audio.  I usually get by with Spanish, German, Nordic names but get lost with Asian names.

Too bad because the narrator was doing great with multiple characters.

Heard: "Pale Criminal" by Philip Kerr

Heard: Pale Criminal by Philip Kerr, 1990, downloaded from Overdrive and I won't bother to check the date on the audio version.

Narrated by the great and powerful John Lee.  Second in the Bernard Gunther series with a two year gap in into 1938 Berlin.

The dirty, rotten, stinking, filthy nazis (I will not capitalize the word)  have even more power now.  Bernie has partnered his P.I. business with one-eyed former cop Bruno Stahlecker.  Bernie digs into trouble and trouble finds Bernie.

Bernie is hired by rich publishing matron to find the man blackmailing her gay son with purloined, explicit love letters.  Bernie is also asked to rejoin Kripo (the investigative police service, as opposed to the dirty, rotten, stinking, filthy nazi gestapo).  Bernie investigates the love letters at a psychological hospital.  Bernie finds a suspect.  Bernie and Bruno takes turns staking out the suspect.  Bernie goes to tell the matron what he knows and is picked up by the gestapo who inform him Bruno has been murdered.  Bernie is sad.

Bernie is then pressured by Reinhard Heydrich to rejoin Kripo and investigate the ritualistic murders of several teen girls.  Bernie is a straight detective.  He does not like the traditional Kripo crime solving method and finding a Jew and beating a confession.  Bernie starts digging.

More things happen during our tour of 1938 Germany in the later summer and fall of 1938.  That's the point of the book anyway.  Kerr shows us what Germany turned into and the hypocritical and corrupt men who ran it.

The dirty, rotten, stinking, filthy nazis have consolidated power but are still sniping at each other to gain power and curry favor with the upper reaches of government.  International politics are always in the papers as Hitler pushes on the Seudetenland.  The girls' murders are kept quiet from the public. Scheming dirty, rotten, stinking, filthy nazis are murdering the girls in a push to play the Jews and have a pogrom in Berlin.  Kristalnacht happens even with Bernie figuring out the murderers and telling Heydrich.

1.  Gunther is not a modern character put back in 938. He does not have modern values.  He thinks gays are disgusting.  He has sympathy for Jews but does nothing to help them unless they are clients.  At one point he is trying to convince himself to stay out of things and says they brought things on themselves.  At first I thought he was believing that and he may be far away from doing so.
2.  This was from when, 1990?  How would Gunther's treatment of the gay bad guys be thought?  Would Kerr catch heat?  The gayness is incidental of the murder of girls but used against the scumbag since homosexuality was a concentration camp - murder - sentence.
3.  Gunther is a German Philip Marlowe.  He works alone and follows his own code and rules.  He wants justice but needs paid invoices.  He believes in the law even if law enforcement agencies do not.
4.  Kerr uses several real life nazis in the story.  The brief afterword is interesting with information the real life characters who were drummed out of the SS.
5.  I'm currently reading Useful enemies : John Demjanjuk and America's open-door policy for Nazi war criminals and the carry over is interesting.  I'm taking forever to finish the damn book.  It's interesting but also 621 pages.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Heard: "Kenobi" by John Jackson Miller

Heard: Kenobi by John Jackson Miller, 2013, download.

Another one I decided to try out when trolling through Overdrive.  I once received a Star Wars post-Revenge of the Jedi trilogy of paperbacks as a gift in 1993.  Christmas, I think.  I did not much enjoy them.  I had nothing else to read and read them anyway.

Obi-Won Kenobi is on Tatooine with an infant Luke Skywalker.  Obi-Won quickly deposits Luke with his Luke's uncle Lars and Obi-Won makes himself scarce.  Lars does not Oi-Won around but Obi-Won's mission is to watch over Luke.  Obi-Won ventures further away from the Lars homestead to find a desert home.

Meanwhile, we are introduced to A'Yark, a leader of a Sand People/Tusken tribe.  A'Yark leads raids on settlers and runs one on the remote Dannar's Claim where Anileen runs the only store in the area.  Anileen is widowed with two teen kids.  Oren Hault is a local landowner and farmer who organized a rapid response civil defense force to fight against the Sand People.

Miller mixes all these things up into a quasi-Western.  Kenobi is the mysterious stranger come to town.  Kenobi saves Anileen's bacon when the Sand People attack.  Anileen dug in her heels after her husband died in an effort to never give up what her dead spouse worked for.  Oren is the "rancher' who runs the range with a combination of economic might and blarney.  A'Yark and her clan are hunted by the settlers and follow a religion none of the settlers even know about.
Spoilers Below
It's a fun story.  The Western aspects take a bit of a turn as we learn how Oren has been skimming off the civil defense budge to pay his debts.  Oren owes big money to Jabba.  Oren's two grown children are rats with guns who drink too much, hate to work, and cannot follow the orders of their successful father.  Not only has Oren been skimming but he and his kids have been dressing as Tuskens and performing night raids to boost the civil defense membership and fees.  After each raid - fake or not - the civil defense will carry out deadly reprisals on the Tuskens.

Kenobi does not want to get involved.  His mission is to watch over Luke and Kenobi cannot be recognized or suspected as Jedi lest he draw the attention of the Empire.  But, Kenobi likes people and is lonely in the remote and formerly abandoned home he claimed.  Kenobi ends up rescuing Anileen and her daughter when the daughter is on a runaway animal into a dangerous area of the desert.  Kenobi is on hand when the settlement is attacked and he slays a bunch of Tuskens to save the building and people.  (Kenobi is sneaky and uses a smoke screen to hide his light saber swinging.)

A'Yark is intent on tradition, religion, and being a warrior.  She hates the settlers and how they show their skin.  (Tuskens are covered from head-to-toe at birth and are never exposed.  When their old rags and garments start to wear out or are too small they just layer on more cloth.  Any rocks or sand caught under the cloth is left to rub and wear on the Tusken.  Skin sores are common.)

1.  Touches on Obi-Won's loneliness.  He is intent on his mission but alone.  Not just because he has exiled himself into the desert wilderness to avoid detection or recognition.  Obi-Won became a member of the Jedi order as a small child.  The Order was his family.  He speaks to Qui-Gon during his meditation about how Kenobi had so many brothers, sisters, uncles, aunts, and nieces and nephews.  The betrayal of Vader, and the murder of those children, left Obi-Won without a structure.  He decides to continue on as a ronin-like lone Jedi.
2.  I really liked the added sound effects and music.  Those were neat.  Mechanical sounds, store sounds, light saber hum, blaster noises.  The production incorporated music from the films.
3. Similarities of Tuskens to American Indians.  The Sand People/Tuskens are indiginous and have their own culture and religion.  They are nomads.  They kidnap settlers to increase their numbers.  They have to sneak in and raid settlements.  They have close relationships with their banthas (those big four legged things from the movies).  They know the terrain and can move around quietly.
4.  The narrator - whether he tries to or not - sounds a lot like Ewan McGregor.   I liked that.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Gave Up: "American Rust" by Philipp Meyer

Gave Up: Americna Rust by Philip Meyer, 2009, 9780385527514.

I saw a review.  The review said this was good crime novel.  No, not really.  More a literary novel with a crime at the center.

I think the strength of the book was the look at rural poor people.  Set in a Pennsylvania town south of Pittsburgh and surrounded by shuttered steel factories and foundries.  Two 20-year-old guys have been shiftless since high school.  One guy can't keep a job and has a bad temper and need to punch things.  A bad temper is bad thing for a real big guy.  Second guy is a brilliant but had to stay at home to care for his disabled father as his sister went off to Yale and law school.

Anyway.  Second Guy figures, "Screw it, I'm skipping town."  He starts walking and somehow meets with First Guy.  They shelter from a rainstorm in a shuttered factory.  Three drifters come in the building.  Tension starts.  Second Guy goes outside and comes back in to see First Guy held up by a knife.  Second Guy throws a large ball bearing and kills drifter. 

Things happen.  half way through the novel First Guy is arrested for murder and I stopped trying to care.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Quit: "The Gentle Infantryman" by William Young Boyd

Quit: The Gentle Infantryman by William Young Boyd, 1985, 031232099x..

I was researching another author for work.  I was looking through an old Booklist, or something, and a review for this was alongside the article I was looking for.  The review was pretty good and the book sounded neat.  Hartford PL had a copy.  I ordered it over.

An 18-year-old infantry replacement joins the fight in Alsace, France in 1944.  He joins an anti-tank platoon and his gun is soon knocked out.  He continues fighting as an infantryman and mine layer through the winter.  The battle scenes and Army life talk was interesting.  The dialogue was awful and a real distraction.  I quit halfway through.

The conversation is stilted and formal with dramatic speeches from one soldier to another.  It was interesting to hear that the anti-tank gun crews would pull the guns around.  When up against German tanks they would quickly fire no more than three rounds and then haul ass to another position.  Otherwise the tanks would blow them apart.

The thing about the book is that there are tons of war memoirs covering the same topic.  Why read a book like this?  There is nothing in here different than nonfiction I've already read.  Young did not add anything else.  Turow had a nice WWII novel with a lawyer tracking down a rogue US spy/commando.  James R. Benn has Billy Boyle traveling around the European theater and Benn explores little known politics and events.  Infantry life in WWII is not a secret, it was a shit hole of terror and dirt as everyone waited to die.

Quit: "Conditions of Love" by dale kushner

Quit: Conditions of Love by Dale Kushner, 2013, 9781455519750.

Committee book.

I just wasn't digging this and quit halfway through.  Follows a young girl from about 1951 to 1958.  Her father ran off when Eunice was an infant.  Eunice's mom, Mern, is a lousy mom.  She is flighty and obsessed with movies.  Mern stays out drinking and suffers depression.  Eunice's father reappears when Eunice is about 8-years-old and disappears again after whirlwind visit of only 6 hours or so.

Mern meets and moves in with a local guy.  Local guy really loves and cares for Mern and Eunice but Mern has many issues.  Mern puts Guy at arms length.  Mern dumps guy when he is fired from his job and Mern and Eunice move to small town Wisconsin.

A massive flood separates Mern and Eunice.  Eunice is taken ill and cared for in the woods by a kindly hermit lady.  When Eunnice gets to town she is given the letter left by Mern saying, "You left me1  What else can I do but run off to California with this married man?"  Eunice moves in with hermit woman.

I quit reading when hermit woman was about to get kicked off lumber company land.  Not my kinda book, man.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Listened to: "Clandestine" by James Ellroy

Listened to: Clandestine by James Ellroy, 1982, 2013 audio by HighBridge Co.

1982?  Dang, older than I realized.  Good narration.

I may have read this one before.  Many parts of the plot are familiar but Ellroy's '50s LA novels criss-cross so much of the same ground.

Fred Underhill is a LAPD beat cop in 1951.  He and his fat, alcoholic, Medal of Honor winning partner, Wacky, prowl the streets and Fred is addicted to "The Wonder".  Fred is out for experience and thrills and he defines "The Wonder" as the "wonderful, elliptical, mysterious stuff we're never going to know completely."

Fred and partner meet a film producer while golfing.  Fred as an ace golfer and he and the film producer make a killing on bets.  Fred meets the producer's daughter, Lorna, who is an Assistant DA and Fred is smitten.  Fred is ambitious.  Fred is a big-time skirt chaser.  Fred and Wacky respond to a bloody murder scene.  Fred does some on-scene sleuthing of the woman's pad.

Wacky is murdered in a shootout with robbers. Fred angers his lieutenant and is sent to South L.A.  Fred makes the best of the detail, makes a lot of collars, and when another woman is murdered he senses a link to the previous murder.  The murdered woman is one of Fred's past one night stand's (that we observed a few pages back).  Fred wants justice.  Fred works off the books and identifies a suspect.  Fred presents his evidence (legally and illegally obtained) and is assigned to Lt. Dudley Smith.

Dudley's squad works the case.  Underhill works the Asst. DA and falls in love.  Dudley's squad kidnaps the suspect, isolates the suspect, liquors up the suspect, and beats the suspect to a written confession.  The case falls apart with a witness claiming suspect innocent.  Suspect commits suicide in jail.  Fred Underhill takes the fall and is painted as a Red.

Underhill marries the DA.  Things jump ahead to '55 where Fred and Lorna's marriage is on the rocks, Fred has moved out, and there is another murder.  Fred sees a link with the '51 murder he screwed up.  Fred prints up some fake ID, poses as an insurance investigator, and starts to dig.
He goes to El Monte, Hollywood, Long Beach.  He travels to Milwaukee, Tunnel City, WI and outside Green Bay.  He bluffs and lies his way into homes and interviews.  His discoveries tie in people from '51 and the revelations stun Fred.

Fred takes action and there is a weird and unrealistic happy ending.

1.  Ellroy's personal history infuses everything.  The second half of the book is a straight take off of Ellroy's mother's murder.  The dead woman was a nurse and killed on a night out.  Location along a school in El Monte, discovered by a Scout Troop, persons of interest, a gangly son with a deadbeat father.  Ellroy's alter self is a real messed up kid.  The dead mom was trampy drug addict.  The father is a serial killing crime lord pushing morphine and stolen goods.  Fred visits Tunnel City where Ellroy's mom was from.
2.  I laughed out loud when Lt. Dudley Smith shows up.  I was waiting for him.  He is an evil nut.
3.  Ellroy's novels are all the more interesting after reading his first autobiography.  I've not gotten to his second one, Hilliker Curse (only 4 checkouts in 3.5 years).  I suppose the books can be thought as self-indulgent. Me, me, me.  But, they are fascinating.  Ellroy's ego seems to be huge.  But, after such a lousy childhood I suppose that ego could be fairly fragile as well.  Heck, I'm just guessing from a far removed position.
4.  Ellroy never skips on the investigative grind.  Scouring the City for witnesses.  Reading and re-reading and re-reading all the police reports available.  Asking questions over and over.  Minutely searching crime scenes and suspect apartments.  Tracking down known associates and past associates and employment and residences.
5.  Gun nerd gripe.  Revolvers with safeties.
6.  One of Ellroy's crime plots with a guy pulling sneaky strings and setting things up.  The hero takes a long time to discover what happened.  The criminal is always hiding in plain sight.  I really enjoy Ellroy's reveals.
7.  This does not have his later plots where the weak sister and alpha cop switch roles over the length of the book.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Quit: "Wisp of a Thing" by Alex Bledsoe

Quit: Wisp of a Thing by Alex Bledsoe, 2013, 9780765334138.

Committee book.  Dude from Mount Horeb.

Semi-famous guy with dead wife travels to remote North Carolina in search of musical healing.  The area is home to a group of people with a mysterious heritage.  Are they indigenous?  Descendants of European settlers?  Do they have mysterious powers?

The romance angle between Semi-famous and Local Hot Chick did not interest me.  Not enough going on elsewhere to interest me.  There is a fantasy element but that was taking awhile to get anywhere.  I quite somewhere after page 50.

Done: "Bruce Springsteen: rocking the wall" by Erik Kirschbaum

Done: Bruce Springsteen: rocking the wall by Erik Kirschbaum, 2013, 9781935902737.

Committee book.  I wonder if wall should be capitalized in the subtitle. Not sure how this became a committee book, maybe Kirschbaum went to UW.  This copy came from King County Library System in Seattle.

Kirschbaum took a taxi ride after a '02 Springsteen concert in Berlin and the cab driver waxed on about the '88 concert.  Kirschbaum was intrigued.  Kirschbaum spoke to concert organizers and attendees and used past interviews by Springsteen and his manager.  An interesting story told in 136 pages.

The summer concert happened right in the middle of glasnost.  The East German government was not opening up like the Russkies.  A very popular Soviet news magazine was even banned in East Germany because it was too open.  But, there was a push to offer more activities - like concerts - as a steam valve for agitating youngsters.  There were a couple other concerts in East Berlin - Bryan Adams for example - but Springsteen was still at the height of his '80s popularity and a very biggest of big deals.

The state organized youth group decided to ask Springsteen if he would play on his European tour.  Luckily for them Springsteen had wanted to play East Berlin ever since he visited the city as a tourist during his '82(?) tour.  Springsteen's '88 tour had an opening and they booked a date.

The concert came off very well.  The crowd was huge at about 300,000 - depending on the crowd estimate you like best.  The sound system was poor and the video screen was poor but the crowd was tightly packed and enthusiastic.  There were so many people traveling to the concert that the gates were opened up for everyone to enter the grounds.

Kirschbaum tries to tie-in the concert as a watermark of freedom in East Berlin.  That Springsteen's vague call for political and social freedom may have been the boost to the collpase of East German communism.  Well, okay, maybe Kirschbaum is not that obvious.  But, the entire concert was broadcast on DDR TV and radio and was right in the mix of the changes.  This was one of the first times when people gathered in huge public crowds that were not state ordered or organized.  The crowd was celebrating music that was previously tightly controlled or banned.

Kirschbaum covers some of the minor dramas.  The concert was entitled Concert for Nicaragua and Springsteen was not happy about that.  Bruce did not want to be used by any political group.  Springsteen's mid-concert mini-speech in German was altered to change the word "wall" to "barrier".  Everyone knew what he was saying anyway.

1. Kirschbaum said the full concert is online.  He posted some links but I did not bother with that and just did a search.  The search also brought up a Kickstarter campaign by Kirschbaum for this book. I did listen to some of the tunes from the concert but did not see a full, unbroken concert video.
2.  Kirschbaum spoke to the student who danced on stage with Springsteen for Dancing in the Dark.  Let me say that I was intrigued by woman's bra-less, tank top attire.