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.