Thursday, September 12, 2019

Restaurant Audio: "Bread and Butter" by Michelle Widgen

Restaurant Audio: Bread and Butter by Michelle Wildgen, 2014 (original print date), downloaded from Wisconsin Digital Library.

Wildgen came out to the library two or three years ago for an author visit. I ended up really enjoying the excerpt she read. And that is saying something because I not only don't give a rat's ass about cookbooks, cooking shows, and food novels but I look down on them. Why do I look down on them? Because I don't need a reason, Bub. And because I just don't. So there.

Anyhoo. Three brothers grow up about 45 minutes outside Philadelphia. The two older brothers, Leo and Britt, end up in the restaurant business and run a successful high-ish end restaurant in their home town. Harry is the youngest by about seven years. After a few peripatetic years as a student, beginning scholar, and cook in a remote restaurant he is back home and looking to start his own restaurant.

The story covers one year as Harry opens his restaurant, Leo and Britt fall in love, Harry gets manic and depressed, and Wildgen writes interesting details about restaurants and restaurant work. The characters were fine but they never did anything that much interested me. The restaurant details were enlightening. Of course that detail would mean nothing with crappy characters. The characters were not crappy, I just didn't much care what they were going through.

That's about all. This is literary fiction and sort of a domestic drama (I suppose). I certainly stayed engaged enough to finish, but the business side of the story was most interesting. Hiring people, sometimes frequent staff turnover, the planning needed for menus and decor and supplies, the skill needed to quickly prepare and cook meals, one reason booze is a great money maker is that it needs minimal prep work, the incredibly long hours worked by owners or managers.

1. A pal of Wildgen's (Susanna Daniel) came over to the library 1-2 years previous to Wildgen's visit and one person showed up. One person! We invited her on a Friday night and the weather that night sucked. The was a constant drizzling rain, it was dark, it was the opening of deer season, and there was a competing downtown event of wine and shopping and wine marketed at women.
2. Dang, I just checked the Wisconsin Digital Library and although there is a reading list of Wisconsin Born and Read the list is lacking a bunch of fiction writers who live in WI. Wildgen, Daniels, that lady up North, the famous guy from Milwaukee, the thriller writer from Milwaukee, that lady on the Library Board over in Delavan. (Pewaukee? Muskego? One of those libraries.)
3. There is an ebook edition of Aztalan: mysteries of an ancient Indian town with a three week wait. Aztalan State Park is about two miles away and I've still not read this book since it came out in 2005.

More Sound Waves: "The Secret Place" by Tana French

More Sound Waves: The Secret Place by Tana French, 2014, downloaded from Wisconsin Digital Library.

Another amazing piece of work by French and set in Dublin, IE. French is so great at developing each person's motivations and point of through and using their past experiences to further illustrate. She is equally strong when the characters are interacting and the police are cueing off nonverbal communication. The interrogation scenes in the book were excellent.

French's previous novels have had a thing for childhood trauma and group dynamics. The focus is always on a police investigator and the adult police officers dealing with crimes that foment memories their own childhood trauma.  Secret Place adds is set in a private girls school and bounces around POV from cops to teenage girls. It's kinda like French and Megan Abbott wrote a book together.

Anyhoo. Stephen Moran, who was a smaller part of the last French novel, Faithfull Place, is at his cop desk when Frank Mackey's teen daughter shows up unannounced and shows Moran a bulletin board posting that was hanging at her boarding school. A murdered boy from a neighboring school was found on the grounds of Holly Mackey's all-girl school about a year ago. That investigation dried up and Moran really wants to join the murder squad. Unfortunately for Moran the Murder Squad top kick hates Moran's guts.

"Welllll, if I walk across the hall and take this bulletin board posting that says 'I know who killed him' I can get a gold star and have an in with Murder." He does that and is reluctantly invited on a visit to the school with the lead investigator, Antoinette Conway. Conway does not want Moran along; bringing Moran to the school is a kind of thank you.

The investigation kicks off again with as Conway and Moran start questioning students and staff. There are plenty of POV changes and flashback to the few months right before the murder. We get:
- Teen angst
- Teen drama
- Teen romance
- Teen caddishness from the boys school
- Teen queen bee bullshit from a couple girl students
- Police department politics and backbiting
- Scheming by Moran to stay involved in the investigation
- Scheming by Frank Mackey who is being himself. I.E. Mackey is in the running for Asshole of the World.
- Lots of group dynamics
- Fleeting fantastical elements where the girls are telekinetic
- Class issues and accents
- Money and power and class that drives behavior and resentment

The mystery of who killed the boy never drove my interest until later in the book when French gets closer to the reveal and a confession. The stories are all about the characters and those people dealing with their stresses and desires. My attention did wander a bit in the middle of the book. I think this was because there was not as much dialogue. French's dialogue is so damn good I wanted it back.

1. Mackey is a great character and a real piece of work. He is a very successful police officer and ready to stab anyone in the back. Mackey is the prime example of the old old comparison that cops and crooks are psychologically very similar. He constantly gathers information and then threatens anyone with that information. He dispenses favors and then twists ears when calling in markers. He will twist the story to fit his purposes and since he is a very persuasive talker he can easily ruin a cop's career.
1. The present day investigation covers all of one day.

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Gischler, Again: "No Good Deed" by Victor Gischler

Gischler, Again: No Good Deed by Victor Gischler, 2018, 9781250106698.

I've read most Gischler novels and many of his comics. I don't associate his work with sex scenes. I think of humor, slacker and incompetent lead characters, human bad guys, and a few cars. I was reading through one of the sex scenes in this novel and realized he does have sex scenes in most of his novels. Huh.

I enjoyed the book. I enjoyed the story. I enjoyed the characters. I enjoyed most everything and I don't really want to give a plot summary.

Anyhoo. This is a Good Guy Meets Mysterious Woman and Is Pursued by Bad Guys novel. Francis has a boring job and a lame girlfriend who just walked out on him. On his way to work Francis sees a suitcase atop a dumpster and the case is spilling out a lot of women's fancy underwear. Francis is intrigued, sees a business card in the case, and figures "Eh, may as well help" and drops the case off at the former girlfriend's former workplace, a diner, since it is on the way.

Once Francis gets to work he sends an email to the address on the business card and trouble begins. The bad guys were watching the email account and show up. Mysterious Woman also shows up. Fisticuffs ensue, gunfire ensues, chasing ensues, rescues ensue, so on, so forth.

Summary: It's a Gischler which means it is well worth your time and money. Just give it a try.

1. Gratuitous self-love reference to a Gischler authored fantasy novel.
2. Many shotgun killings.
3. SPOILER:      We all knew she had a child before the reveal, right?  SPOILER

Thursday, September 5, 2019

Wisconsin Guy: "How Not To Be Wrong" by Jordan Ellenberg

NonFic Audio: How Not to Be Wrong: the power of mathematical thinking by Jordan Ellenberg,

Math guy writes mathy stuff about math.

I started this on the drive back from KS in August. I finished up listening while I walked the dog and walked back and forth from work. There was a lot of neat stuff in here where Ellenberg applied mathematical thinking and rigor to math problems and non-math problems. I took a couple notes along the way. Let me check...

1. An everyman's guide to statistics and probability and how they work in everyday life and how a mathematician's thoughts about proofs can drive strong critical and deductive thinking skills in people.
2. The topic of waste and government waste. If you can save $1,000,000 why not save $100,000? Or $10,000? Because what is the cost of reaching that deduction? Several times Ellenberg addresses how things are measured or quantified. How do you quantify aggravation or happiness? Or quantify good will when working with a customer or citizen?
3. Ellenberg knows his stuff. That is not surprising considering his enthusiasm for his work and the fact he is a PhD teaching at a major university (UW-Madison). He brings up some historical info on mathematicians and famous problems that were neat to hear.
4. "The Cult of Genius".
4.A. Throughout the book Ellenberg writes about famous math problems, their solutions, and the geniuses who remain famous decades or centuries after death. Later in the book he emphasizes the many, many, many mathematicians who are doing work and collaborating every day and gives an example of a major breakthrough that was completed after years of work but many people publishing work that was then built upon and built upon.
4.B. When gravitational waves were discovered in 2016 my brother mentioned how our father's black hole project was part of the history. Thousands of people working over years to complete multiple projects that led to a discovery.
4.C. The Big Time Genius gets all the press and praise and math students may think, "Why bother? I'll never be brilliant like that." Ellenberg points out this dynamic in a single classroom. "That one girl in the front row gets everything right, I can never be that great." Ellenberg points out that people need to work at math. The bullshit about the natural math genius is really just bullshit. One or two come along every few decades but everyone else is working, working, working. Lightning bolts of inspiration come from work not Zeus's hand. Mathematicians have to keep thinking, keep trying, and keep learning.
4. D. My wife and I have spoken about this where are children - who do very well in math - are going to run into trouble eventually and they will need to learn to not let frustration drive them off course.
5. Math is constantly evolving. Math is always changing. Advancing. Pushing new frontiers.

1. Gratuitous Housemartins references which I greatly appreciated.

Amlingmeyers: "The Double-A Western Detective Agency"

Amlingmeyers: The Double-A Western Detective Agency by Steve Hockensmith, 2018, 9781790516162.

A glorious return of the Amlingmeyer brothers. My only problem with this novel: I love the narrations of all the previous novels and short stories. I did not realize how important the voice of William Dufris is to the audio versions.

Well, the absence of Dufris did not matter much because I really enjoy Hockensmith's stories. I just read slowly and imagined Dufris reading Big Red's narration.

A recap: Old Red and Big Red Amlingmeyer are brothers from Kansas. Old Red left home to cowpunch and when the rest of the family died in a flood his younger brother Big Red rode out West to join him. Old Red is a very taciturn fellow and illiterate. Big Red is big and tall and very loquacious. Big Red started reading aloud to Old Red at nights and Dr. John Watson's stories about his work with Sherlock Holmes were an immediate favorite to both. Ever since then Old Red has been a faithful acolyte-at-a-distance of Holmes and the Holmesian method.

After a few adventures and novels the brothers have teamed with Diana Crowe and her father, The Colonel, who used to work as railroad police. The brothers and Diana used to be at odds but are not colleagues and sorta friends. The new detective agency - seen in the title - is headquartered in Ogden. Unfortunately they don't have any paying clients. As the firm's chief investor the Colonel is therefore in charge, so he sends Old and Big and Diana off for a paying job to catch rustlers in Colorado (or some state)

Anyhoo. Hockensmith always pairs his plots and continuing characters with Western history. Same as James Benn (whose new book came out this past Tuesday) puts his main guy in the midst of World War Two mayhem. The Reds this time are walking into a town divided by racism and a range war. The town is literally divided down main street with Anglo on one side and Hispanic on the other. The Reds were hired by an Anglo rancher but before they can make contact they end up backing a local Hispanic store keeper against a gang of Anglo ruffians. Oops, those ruffians were co-workers-to-be.

Well, they can scratch that job but Old Red does not much care since he refuses to work for bullies.They end up meeting the town Marshall and then Hockensmith finagles the Reds to meet the local Hispanic Bigwig Rancher (HBR). When the Marshall is murdered on the HBR's land her son is accused of murder. The Reds sell their services and get to work.

Sticking some characters into a divided town and having them mostly try to play the middle is not a novel novel plot. I didn't care. Because it is a fun way to tell a story. HBR and family don't much like the Reds and the son accused of murder would just as shoot the Reds than let them prove his innocence.

Diana and Old Red continue to bicker and argue and Hockensmith leaves Big Red bullheaded over the romantic attraction between Old and Diana. Big Red still can't stop talking either. He gets on Old Red's nerves all the time and started getting on my nerves. There are fisticuffs. Dead bodies. Scoundrel bad guys. Frustrating characters (both Reds). And horses.

I've really enjoyed this series.

1. This is a print on demand paperback with a July, 2019 date printed in back.
2. I recall Hockensmith being dropped by his publisher. What a horrid decision that was. I quickly checked his website and did not see mention of that. This may be self-pubbed.

Bond: "Forever And A Day" by Anthony Horowitz

Bond: Forever And A Day by Anthony Horowitz, 2018, 9780062872807.

One of the novels I picked out for summer vacations. I have a few more left and should bring them back except no one else has placed a hold on them and they are not brand new.

This story is something of an origin story with Bond on his first assignment as a 00 agent. There were only three (four?) 00 agents and the most recent 007 has been murdered on assignment in the South of France. Bond has been an undercover and had a couple try out missions where he committed two assigned murders. Now he has been promoted to continue the investigation, find his predecessors killer, and avenge the agent's death.

What proceeds is different than the film versions. I suppose this is obvious but all the film stories with slam-band car chases, fistfights, and plots to destroy the world have not been in many Bond novels I have read. This story goes right back to some Fleming plots where Bond is not fighting SMERSH. Bond is investigating a heroin ring.

Rather than go undercover Bond flies to France under his own name - after all his immediate and deceased predecessor went undercover and was found out anyway. He starts following the few remaining clues and searching the dead man's apartment. While there he is ambused by a CIA guy, clocks the guy, then makes friends.

Bond gets help from CIA and meets up with the sexy Sixtine. A former British wartime spy with the British SOE, Sixtine holds a grudge against Limeys over wartime activities. But, Bond and her have drinks, make nice, have sex, and work together. Sixtine has been getting romantic with a multi-millionaire from the States. That multimillionaire's film production factory has been ordering chemicals from a company with links to the local French crime kingpin. Plus, the chemical company's dockside warehouses are a stone's throw from where the previous agent was found dead.

Anyhoo. Things move along and this was fun. The book is set in 1950 or '52-ish (I don't recall a specific year but this is not too long after WWII and the Korean War was ongoing). Horowitz gives us a period piece and adds in some cultural mores. There is some daily sexism.There is an allusion to the bad guy being homosexual and Bond being repulsed when Bond is tied up and the man strokes his face. I recall some xenophobia from M but maybe I imagined that - besides modern M is always a bit of a priggish asshole. No racism. No religious bigotry.

I recall some unpleasant reading from early Fleming novels when it came to racism and sexism. I read a Bulldog Drummond novel a few years ago that was set after WWI. Man, that was some something else.

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Missed A Gischler: "A Painted Goddess" by Victor Gischler

Missed A Gischler:  Painted Goddess by Victor Gischler, 2016, 9781503954762.

I finished this a couple weeks ago. I need to take it back to the library.

Third in the fantasy series by Gischler.  A new novel set in the same 'universe' is coming out, Murder Blossom, which sounds a lot better than Turd Blossom. Although Turd Blossom is such a fitting name for Karl Rove, especially when thinking of the turd part.

The Kingdom of Helva (maps included in the novel) is about to be attacked by a massive fleet omade up of thousands of ships. The pals of the main character Rina are scouring the Kingdom and beyond for more magical tattoos that will increase Rina's power. Rina can then defend the Kingdom and be lovey-dovey with a stable boy. The story picks up from the last book and follows individuals through their travels and travails and truffles and tribbles and triumphs and trench training and treacherous traverses and trolling through the dictionary tp feed this "tr" alliteration.

Anyhoo. I recommend starting with the first novel. I had a big break between reading this and the previous novel and got a little lost. Keep in mind that Gischler has the golden touch and it shows in every novel he has published. You can read this and have a good time as long as you're not itching and bitching to learn about all the previous plots and action.

There are swords, magicians, bad guys, zombies, sexy-sexy, gods come to earth, stabbings, romantic jealousy, horse rides, boat rides, monsters, swimming, rescues. All the typical fantasy fun stuff but without any stupid dragons.

1. Your favorite dragon is lame.
2, I have Gischler's No Good Deed at home but just started a James Bond novel.