Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Listened to: “MirrorMask” by Neil Gaiman

Listened to: MirrorMask by Neil Gaiman, 2005, audio version 2007 downloaded from

Okay, but not enough going on for an adult reader. This is a kids book and the print version tallies in at 92 pages. The storytelling is very abbreviated, so much so that I thought I was listening to an abridgement. There are many identifiable spots where more description, plot or dialogue seemed to be missing. The narrator did very well.

Helena falls asleep and enters a dreamworld. Except she’s not really dreaming; she is an a bizarre world with beetles as police, floating giants, flying books, blah blah blah. Helena is the double of an evil queen’s daughter. The other girl has run away from home and is destroying the world. I’m not sure how the world is being destroyed. Either I missed that tidbit or forgot it.

Not bad for 79 minutes of entertainment, but not great either.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Read: "unSpun" by Brooks Jackson

Read: unSpun: finding facts in a world of disinformation by Brooks Jackson and Kathleen Hall Jamieson, 2007, 9781400065660.

A nice, short book jampacked with sense. This details a lot of things I have already learned about advertising, political adverts, and critical thinking. There are nice examples that the authors deconstruct and they give tips on recognizing bullshit. Eight chapters including "warning signs of trickery", "tricks of the deceptive trade", finding evidence, and online resources. A book worth buying. I, of course, got it from the Library.

There is a discussion at the end about being skeptical, but not cynical. I thought that was a nice tough and is something the authors touch on throughout the book. You need not immediately dismiss anything a spokesman says, just realize that the argument may be one-sided or ignorant of the opposing argument.

I also like the debunking of the "liberal media vs. right-wing media" arguments people make. In regard to the willingness of people to in the face of obvious proof, " decades of social science experiments have shown that, in a sense, there's a little UFO cultist in everybody" and "...we apply stringent tests to evidence we don't want to hear, while letting slide uncritically into our minds any information that suits our needs."

Monday, December 17, 2007

Listened to: "F. Scott Fitzgerald Stories" by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Listened to: F. Scott Fitzgerald Stories by F. Scott Fitzgerald, downloaded from Overdrive.

Pretty good, better than I expected. Fitzgerald was a very astute observer of human behavior and wrote well about it. This was just two stories, Bernice Bobs Her Hair and The Jelly Bean, at about two hours runtime. The narrator was not so good.

The only other Fitzgerald story I have read was Great Gatsby during high school. The two stories here have really good looks into the characters and I should try to re-read Gatsby to see how my impression will have changed. Both Bernice and Jim (the Jelly Bean) were interesting and imperfect people.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Listened to: "The End" by Lemony Snicket

Listened to: The End by Lemony Snicket, downloaded from Overdrive.

A very good ending to the series and, more importantly, the book. I was thinking about the long term themes of the series (orphans making their way, duplicity of people, unavoidability of 'unfortunate events' in life, ethics and honesty, etc.) but I'll leave that to a PhD student.

After fleeing the Hotel Denoument in the previous novel the Baudelaires are at sea with Count Olaf when a storm washed them upon a coastal shelf and an island. The island is composed of other castaways and 'ruled' by Ishmael. Ishmael doesn't want "to force anyone" but his suggestions are accepted as orders. Ishmael orders are meant to keep the islanders safe from the evils of the world by keeping things as simple and primitive as possible.

Anyway. Olaf dies - either from a harpoon wound or Medusoid Mycelium - the islanders flee the island and the Medusoid, Kit Snicket is washed ashore, gives birth and dies, and the Baudelaires find an island history partly written by their parents. The Baudelaire parents are dead after all and Beatrice is the orphan's mother.

The ending is well done by Snicket. Loose ends are sort of tied up but, as Snicket writes, there are always mysteries and life goes on. The Baudelaires and Kit Snicket's daughter leave the island at the end.

Read: "The Maltese Falcon" by Dashiell Hammett

Read: The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett, 1980 edition, 0517338416.

I started reading Hammett when I was in high school and have always been a fan of the Continental Op stories. I'm sure I read Maltese before but do not recall for certain. I may be confusing the novel with the motion picture. I picked this on out for the Men's Book Club.

This is a short novel. No wonder the edition I received was able to cram five of Hammett's novels in one volume. The genre has definitely changed since Hammett helped start it. The violence in Maltese is mostly offstage. The only action is some fisticuffs between Sam Spade and a couple bad guys who are no physical match for him. As mentioned by another member of the book discussion the novel has a lot of dialogue. There is little description of the setting or the characters.

A good novel with a scheming and malicious broad revealed at the end. I did not remember Spade as being so vulnerable to the gal. Modern novelists would write more about Spade's inner turmoil - if any - about turning her in to the police. I liked that absence, it left me thinking more about Spade instead fo just laying everything out.

I was going to re-read Dain Curse of Red Harvest but have some other books checked out and waiting so I won't do that now. I wonder if my paperbacks of those two novels are still around.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Read: "Bomb Squad" by Richard Esposito and Ted Gerstein

Read: Bomb Squad: a year inside the nation's most exclusive police unit by Richard Esposito and Ted Gerstein, 2007, 978140131521.

I finished this a couple weeks ago but wanted to read the last appendix to be thorough. But, the book was dropped behind the bed and it was too difficult to gear myself up to read a selective list of international terror bombings from 1945 to 2003.

A fairly decent book but only because of the inherently interesting subject matter. The writing was just "okay" and the organization and background information could have been much better. The authors use that awful method of repetition of the same facts or statements from chapter to chapter that other journalist authors seem to use. As if each chapter is written a month apart and forgotten. These guys are not John McPhee.

The authors followed the New York City Police Department Bomb Squad through all of 2004. The squad is a small unit responsible for the whole city. Those responsibilities include sweeps at Mets and Yankees baseball games, parades, presidential visits, UN events, Fourth of July, City Hall, and federal buildings. Call outs for suspicious devices, old military ordinance in basements, and improvised bombs under cars. After September 11 demand for the unit and pressure to expand the unit have increased. Unfortunately, expansion would lead to less skilled bomb technicians as squad members would have less and less hands on experience.

Interesting tidbits:
Bomb techs do no follow-up investigations. They respond to a suspicious device, check-out it out or defuse it, and then leave it to detectives. Their only investigative duties are crime scene investigation and rebuilding or modeling exploded bombs.

Puerto Rican separatists, the FALN, set off loads of bombs in New York. One bomb maker, Morales, had both arms blown off, escaped jail, went on the lam and ended up in Mexico. "When the location of [the bomber] was pinned down, Mexican authorities were alerted. But they underestimated the FALN and sent just two cops in a patrol car. Morales had five armed guards. In the shoot-out, one officer was seriously wounded and the other fatally wounded. But the officers managed to kill all of Morales's bodyguards. As Morales tries to flee, a final shot from the wounded officer knocked him to the ground. The wounded officer picked up the wounded Morales, locked him in the trunk of the patrol car, and then hoisted his fatally shot fellow officer into the backseat. It was too late for the officer by the time they got him to the hospital."

"The rule: Wherever there are bombs and Nazi memorabilia, there will be dildos and sex toys."

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Read: "Engaging the Enemy" by Elizabeth Moon

Read: "Engaging the Enemy" by Elizabeth Moon, 2006, 0345447565.

Fairly decent but ultimately unfilling. I'm not sure what Science Fiction sub-genre Engaging fits into but Moon wrote a good book. The problem is that I don't like sci-fi series. The stories never seems to get anywhere. I dislike reading seven books to finish a story and dealing with constant referrals to previous entries in a series that I did not read. The next novel in the series is on the shelf so there is a good chance I will try it.

Moon does not suffer too much from Sci-Fi Bloat. The novel is 400 pages but Moon doesn't get carried away creating goofy names and intricate foreign cultures. No aliens or annoying crackpot philosophy. I liked that.

Ky Vatta is one of the few survivors of the Vatta Transport Co. Vatta was an old, very successful, family owned, interstellar cargo carrier. Pirates attacked the Vatta headquarters with the collusion of government authorities and killed off most of the family. At this point Ky has taken over a pirate ship and is manuevering literally and figuratively to rebuild the company and assemble an armed merchant fleet to battle the pirates.

Moon solidly and believably creates Ky's legal, financial, and familial difficulties. Ky has to contend with several jurisdictions and ships over the vast distances of space without real-time communication - said communication being knocked out by coordinated pirate attacks. The parallel plot line of an elderly aunt trying to uncover the people behind the pirate conspiracy takes a backseat to the action in space.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Read: "Cripple Creek" by James Sallis

Read: Cripple Creek by James Sallis, 2006, 0802733824.

Good, well written. Sallis wastes no words. There was no padding in 192 pages. This is at least the second novel with this character, I once tried to read the first one but lost interest and quit.

Sallis does not give a lot of description and does not dwell on characters and locations. I had to go back several times to reference things and the flashbacks begin without notice. Sallis also does not go into detailed histories of his characters, he gives just enough to explain some things and wonder about the rest. That's fine.

Turner is a former Memphis cop, ex-con (shot his partner in Memphis), and mental health counselor. Turner landed in small town Tennessee and was kindly pressured into helping the local cops with a case. Turner is now a regular deputy after turning down the Sheriff position. I'm not sure how a former ex-con (11 years in prison) is supposed to be eligible for police work.

A mobster from Memphis is busted for drunk driving, the current Sheriff and secretary are busted up as the mobster is busted out of jail, and Turner goes after the bad dudes. The bad dudes and the resulting hit men after Turner are a small part of the story. Sallis does not delve into the sleuthing, planning, details on guns, breaking into a mobster's house, or fistfights. The events are told with a real economy of language.

Mostly this is about Turner, his girlfriend, and his suddenly appearing, long-lost daughter. Not to mention his friends in town and his ongoing adjustments to being a cop again and getting old.

EDIT, 6 June 2011: This novel always reminds of the flick One False Move and Bill Paxton's sincere but unskilled sheriff.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Read: "The Follower" by Jason Starr

Read: The Follower by Jason Starr, 2007, 9780312359744.

I was greatly impressed with Starr's writing after the first few pages. He did an excellent job with three very different characters. Andy the Frat Boy, Katie the Victim, and Peter the Stalker were all really well done. Starr wrote from the perspective of each character and did a great job in a short amount of space. Too bad the story petered out at the end.

Each character has their own misperceptions and delusions and it's fun to read how foolish or clueless they look from another character's perspective. Peter the Stalker is so convinced that Katie will immediately fall in love with him; he has everything plotted out like cheesy movie and is shock and confused with things do not work out as like his obsessive plans.

Andy has been dating Katie for a couple weeks. He really likes Katie but is more concerned about getting laid and holding up his ladies man reputation. Andy also has an obsession with doing anal and is angry at himself for never doing so. Starr has a funny bit where Andy is thinking back to two years previous when he was in college and was convinced one gal liked it in the ass. After Andy adn the girl get naked Andy pulls a small tube of vaseline out of his pocket and danglesit in front of her with a smile.

Almost all characters are Manhattan-ites in their twenties and say "cool" and "definitely" a lot.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Finished Listening to A Few Days Ago: "The Penultimate Peril" by Lemony Snicket

Finished Listening to A Few Days Ago: The Penultimate Peril by Lemony Snicket, downloaded from

Pretty good, one of the better ones from the series, better than the last few anyway. Things are getting progressively worse for the Baudelaires. The Baudelaires are forced to make some morally ambiguous, but necessary, decisions and even join with Count Olaf to flee a burning hotel.

Penultimate has more revelations and teasers about the Baudelaires' adventures, family history, and V.F.D. members.

Another very fine narration by That-Gay-British-Guy-With-A-Beard.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Read: "Winter Soldiers" by Garry Douglas Kilworth

Read: Winter Soldiers by Garry Douglas Kilworth, 2003 (U.S. Edition), 0786711116.

Fairly good. I reserved this after reading positive reviews of the series in Library Journal or Booklist. A rough description of the series is: Sharpe in the Crimean War.

Sergeant "Fancy Jack" Crossman joined the British Army after having enough abuse from his wealthy father. Crossman was part of the gentry but enlisted under an assumed name to disappear into the ranks. Crossman has been successfull as a soldier and is employed under a Colonel who sends Crossman and his small group out on "fox hunts". The "fox hunts" are sabotage and spying missions against the Russians.

The novel covers several months with Crossman going out on several missions. This was not a straightforward novel, more a collection of tales about Crossman's combat missions and rear area activities. The continuing theme in the novel is Crossman's odd position as a gentleman among enlisted rogues. He fears discovery by his father who is a Major in another unit. Crossman also has to deal with a now-married former girlfriend and his newly arrived female "cousin" from England. A romance never quite develops between the cousin and Crossman but I reckon that is for the next installment.

No damn maps included in the book. I hate that.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Read: "Death Head Crossing" by James Reasoner

Read: Death Head Crossing by James Reasoner, 2007, 9780786018895.

Fairly decent. A quick paperback Western. Another Crider recommendation; maybe I should start to think for myself more.

Drifting gunman Hell Jackson is traveling through West Texas when he comes across three toughs torturing an old Indian man. Hell doesn't want to interfere but ends up killing the three toughs. Bidding the old man's dying request, Hell travels to the town of Death Head Crossing to give the old man's granddaughter the man's religious "treasures".

Jackson stays in Death Head for a short while and out of curiosity gets involved in a local murder mystery involving the Hand of God The Hand is an unknown man murdering locals for their sinful behaviour. Jackson and a New York journalist band together to look into the murders.

This is a quick entertainment read. Reasoner's characters are fun and the novel does not pack in a bunch of the standard Western cliches. Death Head does not have the gore and sex of some other western series. Reasoner has written a ton and a half of westerns and I wonder if he skips from sub-genre to sub-genre; write a sex Western here, a violent western there.

According to Crider, and some other dudes posting on Crider's website, Reasoner has done some ghostwriting for other big name authors. Reasoner refuses to give a clue about who he has ghostwritten for. I reckon the penalties for spilling the beans would be financially severe.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Listened to: "The Terror" by Dan Simmons

Listened to: The Terror by Dan Simmons, 2007, Books On Tape downloaded from Overdrive.

Excellent book with excellent narration by John Lee. A hell of a lot better than Simmons' Darwin's Blade crap. This was real long; total time was 28 hours and 18 minutes.

I started listening to Terror before I read Darwin's Blade. After Darwin's I started wondering if maybe Terror's greatness was due to John Lee's work. But, in retrospect the excellent characters, attention to detail, and pacing are all due to Simmons. Lee's work is icing.

British Navy expedition ships Terror and Erebus have been frozen into Arctic ice for two years while searching for a Northwest Passage north of Canada. The two crews are still doing okay even though both ships are running low on heating coal and their tinned food rations are spoiling. But, the unknown monster on the ice that makes an occasional meal of crew members is definitely making things worse.

Eventually both ships have to be abandoned and the heavy whaling boats (and other small boats) have to be dragged across the ice in an escape attempt. Bad things happen with scurvy killing some crew, the monster others, and treacherous scum killing some more. The evil Caulker's Mate Hickey was particularly well done by Simmons. Hickey's treachery to kill one of Terror's officer - which instigates the murder of a group of recently met Eskimo - seals the deaths of everyone.

At the end of the novel one crew member has survived with assistance of Eskimo. The Eskimo stay warm in furs and travel with lightweight sleds. They sleep in warm igloos or simple leather tents and can hunt for all the food they need. This is in sharp contrast to the English who wear cotton and wool and stay on the frozen ships - rarely above freezing on board - and are running low on the heating coal. The English would only leave their ships for a handful of hours a time and can find no game aside from occasional polar bear.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Finished: "Volk's Game" by Brent Ghelfi

Finished: Volk's Game by Brent Ghelfi, 2007. 9780805082548.

Very good. One of the better books I have read in a while. On par with, and felt similar to, L.A. Rex by Will Beall. Bill Crider said, "Dance Monkey!" So I did.

Volk is a former Russian special forces soldier who served in Chechnya for two years. Volk lost part of one leg from the calf down and is now a gangster in Moscow. Volk's girlfriend and co-worker Valya is an 18 year old Chechen who somehow hooked up with Volk while in Chechnya. Both Volk and Valya are brutal and pitiless after the horrors of the war and Volk trades in anything except children younger than 14.

Turns out Volk is more than just a low-level mob boss. He is a Colonel in the army and indebted to and reports to The General who uses him as a funding source. Volk also works under the permission of mob boss Maxim. Maxim has unusual influence in the Kremlin, so much so he might as well have a job title there.

Volk ends up in a byzantine plot to steal a long-lost da Vinci painting from a St. Petersburg museum. Both the General and Maxim are pulling strings aside the competing interests of a Kremlin politician and the Russian intelligence service, FSB. Volk has to steal the painting and then save his own skin, as well as a kidnapped Valya, when the painting is stolen from him.

Ghelfi does a fantastic job with the Moscow and St. Petersburg settings and in portraying the culture and politics of modern Russia. Volk is a good character and Ghelfi gives just enough info throughout the book to let you try and understand him. The intricate plot with intersecting love lives and betrayals reminded me of James Ellroy.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Read: "Montreal" written by Helga Loverseed.

Read: Montreal written by Helga Loverseed, 1996, 1896339603.

Eh, this book was okay; I reserved it on a whim. One of those paperback photo books aimed at tourists. Slightly smaller than a 8.5" by 11" piece of paper with plenty of color photos. The book is sectioned to cover the different areas of the city with brief, descriptive essays.

Judging by cars, clothes, and hairstyles the photos were taken over a wide range of time. The aerial views are pretty nice and some of the photos overlap, but from different angles. It's neat to look at those shots and make comparisons. I do wonder how photos were chosen because several street level shots are of the same dang buildings.

I was hoping for a longer and larger book with photographs to match. I still hope to visit there again on vacation. There are loads of summer activities for families and kids.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Finished: "Whack A Mole" by Chris Grabenstein

Finished: Whack A Mole by Chris Grabenstein, 2007, 9780786718184.

Pretty good. Another John Ceepak mystery narrated by Ceepak's partner Danny Boyle. The previous two Ceepak books, Mad Mouse and Tilt-A-Whirl, actually involved the carnival rides they were named after but this one did not. The whack-a-mole game gets a few passing mentions by Boyle. Maybe Grabenstein got sick of tying the rides into the story, or maybe he just didn't bother. As before, Grabenstein has nice local color for the New Jersey beach town of Sea Haven and he has two good main characters. Ceepak - who will neither lie, cheat, or steal nor tolerate those who do - does not seem as kooky as before but I am used to him by now.

Boyle and Ceepak come across an unknown, local serial murderer who started killing in runaway teen girls in 1980 but had been inactive for 15 years. While hunting with a metal detector Ceepak finds a high school class ring in the beach sand. Ceepak being Ceepak he investigates the owner to discover that the girl who lost it went missing about 20 years ago. Pretty soon watertight containers are unearthed from the beach sand with victim's skulls inside along with maps directing Ceepak and Doyle to the next container.

Grabenstein does a fair job with the plotting and gives some tricky red herrings for suspects, I was a bit surprised when the killer was identified. He also screwed up and claimed that the BTK killer was from Kansas City. Then, the weirdness that Grabenstein's characters deciding that a Glock model 27 would be a better service weapon than a model 23. Huh? I suppose you can find a retention service holster for a 27 but why? It's a subcompact.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Read: "Darwin's Blade" by Dan Simmons

Read: Darwin's Blade by Dan Simmons, 2000, 0380973693.

Run of the mill, nothing special, mostly a waste of time. I read this after a plug by Bill Crider where Crider said there was lots of gun stuff. In fact, Crider said, "If Simmons and Stephen Hunter sat down to talk, they could go on about guns and ammo for, at a rough guess, thirty-seven years without repeating themselves."

With that kind of plug my expectations were high, so high that Simmons' gun errors stood out even more than usual. I was so annoyed by this that I wrote them down. Some of the errors could be attributed to poor typesetting, like incorrectly writing in .60 and .748 caliber. Other errors seem to fall to Simmons' attempt to overload on detail. Like when main character Darwin gets shot at by a sniper and an hour later the cops/FBI talk say the sniper was using handloaded cartridges with such-and-such a powder and bullet weight. Bullshit.

Simmons' also recycles every internet story about fatal accidents you already read about. Like the solid rocket booster attached to a wahoo's car, a guy using a .22 LR cartridge as a car fuse, and the list of absurd drivers' statements after wrecks. The theory that racking a shotgun will solve all burglaries and the erroneous idea that you cannot miss with said shotgun.

Darwin Minor, professional accident investigator and reconstructionist has some interesting bits to him. But the pretension of being a no television watching, single-malt drinking, classical music listening, philosopher quoting, sports car driving, loft living, grieving after dead wife and son dying, former Marine snipering, loner is way, way too much.

I won't bother with the secretive Russian hitmen, who are also former snipers, killing everyone from afar rather than just walking up and shooting someone in the face.

Anyway. Darwin works for a company that does accident reconstruction for insurance companies. He gets shot at by some Russian killers because, due to a lame plot connection, an accident reconstruction he did helps point to accident fraud. Darwin gets shot at and humps a lady cop investigator assigned to assist him then kills some other Russians in sniper set piece.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Read: "Songs of Innocence" by Richard Aleas

Read: Songs of Innocence by Richard Aleas, 2007, 9780843957730.

Good one. This is an original for Hard Case, not a reprint. Good story with a former private detective trying to find out who killed his best friend, a gal student at Columbia University who worked as a hand-job providing masseuse.

John Blake is a geeky looking dude in his twenties who quit being an investigator after too many bad experiences and took an administrative assistant job in the writing department at Columbia University. After Blake's best friend Dorrie does not respond to phone calls and emails, Blake goes to her apartment and finds her dead in her bath; an obvious suicide. But, all her papers and photos from her work life have been shredded and her laptop cleared of any work emails or contacts. Blake and Dorrie had a standing agreement to call one another if they were thinking of acting out a suicide, and since Blake had talked Dorrie out of it before, he is convinced that the suicide is actually a murder and a client did her in.

The novel has quite a bit of plot twists and red herrings. A couple of really bad dudes, creepy massage parlors, bloody altercations, etc. Aleas does a good job with the plot by leading you one way and then swinging you another.

EDIT: I thought this was the same guy who owned Hard Case, Charles Ardai,and it is. The pseudonym threw me off. 15 October 2007

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Read: "Die Trying" by Lee Child

Read: Die Trying by Lee Child, 1998, 0515125024 pbk.

Pretty decent. I have been dragging on finishing a couple nonfiction books so I figured I would take a novel home. This is a good thriller but I ended up remembering another novel, maybe by Stuart Woods, that had the same setting of secessionist militia dudes in the forest.

Jack Reacher is walking down a Chicago sidewalk when someone drops a crutch trying to get through a dry cleaners doorway. Reacher helps the lady by picking up her 20 or so bags of cleaning and turns to find two armed men facing him. The two men kidnap Reacher and the gal and stick them in the back of a panel truck.

Reacher and the gal are taken to an abandoned town in Montana which has been taken over by a militia organization led by a fat, crazy dude. The gal is an FBI agent, the daughter of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and goddaughter to the President. The gal was the kidnappers' goal but the idiotic team leader took Reacher along rather than kill him.

This is the second Reacher novel by Child but the third one I have read. The other two were quite a bit better with more believable story lines and better plotting (the plotting for The Hard Way was fantastic). Maybe it took some practice for Child to get as sharp as he was for Die Trying, that book really impressed me.

Once again Reacher is wandering the country with no possessions, no home, no method of financial support. But, call him Mr. Irresistible because he bones the FBI gal and impresses the fat, crazy guy enough to delay execution. He's also Mr. Skill since his knowledge and abilities are endless and don't deteriorate, even years after last practice.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Sort-of read: "Guns Illustrated 2007" edited by Ken Ramage

Sort-of read: Guns Illustrated 2007: 39th Edition edited by Ken Ramage, 2006, 9780896894266.

I usually do not read the articles in this annual since the articles are just industry updates. I read through specs, find errors (there are always a few), and play If I Could...

There are many variations to If I Could... Variations include: pick one from each page, pick anything and have unlimited ammunition, pick one from each category, pick a 10,000 rifles to outfit the Union Army in the Civil War, pick ten to fill a safe, etc.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Read: "The 47th Samurai" by Stephen Hunter

Read: The 47th Samurai by Stephen Hunter, 2007, 9780743238090.

The latest novel by Hunter to feature his character Bob "The Nailer" Lee Swagger. Good but the second part was the better of the two halves. The Swagger books have all been gun books except this one. This one is a sword book - which was difficult to get used to. I was expecting guns, guns, guns and got none.

It starts off with Bob's father Earl Swagger fighting on Iwo Jima in a one-man bunker attack that earned him the Medal of Honor, then segues to the mostly retired Bob Lee in Idaho. Bob Lee is scything a plot of land when a retired Japanese officer named Yano - about Bob's age - drives up and announces his father was at the bunker that Earl took on single-handedly. Yano suspects that Earl may have kept Yano's sword, Bob tracks said sword down and delivers it to Yano in Japan. Yano and family are killed and Bob gets his dander up and goes out for revenge while absorbing as much Japanese culture, character, and sword training he can.

This novel is a lot different than the other Bob and Earl novels and it took me about halfway through to really get into the book. First off, I'd gotten more used to the Earl character since the last few Hunter novels I read featured Earl instead of Bob. It took me a while to warm back up to Bob. One big problem I had with the book is that Hunter discusses modern Japanese culture and the blending of politics with the yakuza much like Barry Eisler does. Since Eisler's writing on the topic is terrific Hunter's retread did not interest me much.

Bob Lee can be corn-pone; always ready with an odd saying, bluntly speaking the truth, and ready with self-deprecating humor or arrogance skewering wit.

Kondo took a small breath.
"You fight like a peasant," he said.
"I am a peasant," Bob replied.

Friday, September 7, 2007

Just Read: "Thank God I Had A Gun" by Chris Bird

Just Read: Thank God I Had A Gun: true accounts of self-defense by Chris Bird, 2006, 9780965678452.

Very good. Fourteen stories of self-defense.
Bird interviewed most victims and he writes about the event, the victims' training and mindset and any mental trauma they had to overcome afterwards.

The events are told and then analyzed by firearms instructor and journalist Bird and - for me - are great reinforcement and reminders about awareness and training. Two big points that go hand-in-hand are the response time by police - even when they know shots have been fired - and that assailants would continue to move and fight after being mortally wounded.

One incident had a smaller guy, five foot five inches tall, getting robbed in his motel room. The victim shot both robbers with his .45 but still had to physically fight them off after emptying his weapon. One of those robbers died from the wounds which hit center mass. Another incident had a lady in Arlington, TX shooting an home intruder who had been fleeing from police. Even with cops actively searching her neighborhood it took six and half minutes for them to arrive at her home. Never mind the debacle in New Orleans after Katrina when the cops were nowhere to be found, or rural areas where the Sheriff's office has a slow response time.

Shot placement and good defensive rounds rule.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Re-Read: "Run, Boy, Run" by Uri Orlev

Re-Read: Run, Boy, Run by Uri Orlev, 2003, 0618164650.

Dirty fucking Nazis. Human garbage.

I re-read this for the Men's Book Club. When I first read this novel I considered it one of the best books I ever read. I was riveted to the story of 8 year old Jurek and his time growing up during World War Two in the Warsaw Ghetto and Polish countryside. (My notes from the first reading with plot description)

The book is still good - and I still rank it very high - but since I already knew the outcome and read of the horrendous things that Jurek overcame means I did not feel the same emotional impact as before. Damn dirty Nazis. What kind of a person intends to kill a nine year old boy? The Gestapo. Not to mention the the other close calls Jurek had with regular troops who shot at him.

Jurek's survival is amazing and his survival is due to a handful of kind people and Jurek's own personality, endurance, and tenacity. Orlev writes without a lot details and he doesn't go delve into Jurek's emotions and reactions. I liked that because it let my own reactions and emotion be in the forefront. I felt like more of a participant with Jurek rather than an observer.

Dirty, filthy Nazis.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Re-Read "Maus: a survivor's tale" by Art Spiegelman

Re-Read Maus: a survivor's tale by Art Spiegelman, 1986, 0394747232.

Great book. Damn Nazis. Re-read this for the Men's Book Club. I probably come away with different views and insights each time I read this.

One thing that strikes me is how people were just stuck having to accept things. So many opportunities to die and so many escapes from death. Spiegelman's dad was a bit of a wheeler-dealer and the contacts he made kept him alive many times.

Spiegelman asks his dad if the dad had to pay a relative to help him out of one jam. His dad says, "Hah! You don't understand... At that time it wasn't anymore families. It was everybody take care for himself." You never could know who to trust and what was safe. I wonder if I survived through something like that whether the need for revenge would be burning me.

Damn Nazis.

Friday, August 31, 2007

Did not get to: Mini House" by Alejandro Bahamon

Did not get to: Mini House by Alejandro Bahamon, 2003, 0060513594.

I read the other mini house book but misplaced this one. Ater finding it and trying to renew it I found a reserve on it. I'll try it again later.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Stopped Listening to: "My French Whore" by Gene Wilder

Stopped Listening to: My French Whore by Gene Wilder, 2007, downloaded from Overdrive.

The story is fine but the narrator (Scott Brick) is too annoying. He gives the character a whiny, defeated voice. I'll read the book instead.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Read: "Damn Near Dead" edited by Duane Swierzynski

Read: Damn Near Dead edited by Duane Swierzynski, 2006, 0976715759.

Pretty good. A collection of original short stories with elderly protagonists. Bill Crider has a story in here. Crider says, "Jump!" and I say "How High?".

Some of these were really good stories. Offhand I remember the story by Laura Lippman as being good but there is not a dog anywhere in the collection. I was just looking through to try and remember the best ones but they are all dang good so I won't bother listing any in particular.

I most liked the stories that connected the elderly person's past with their present; old secrets coming out, or old regrets providing current motivation. Those stories let me know a lot more about the characters.

Too bad the cover and layout are not up to snuff. The cover and illustrations are not amateurish but do make me think "self-published". That's not good. Also, I just noticed that the cover illustration is not a old guy dancing with a surprised young gal. It's an old guy raising the gal's hand high - to the edge of the cover - to hit a revolver out of her hand.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Listened to: Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson

Listened to: Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson, 1883 with a 1993 audio version by Blackstone Audio.

Good book with the same narrator as Kidnapped.

During the 1980s WGN used to show movies every Sunday afternoon. Usually the pictures were Charlie Chan and Sherlock Holmes features but I associate the 1934 version of Treasure Island with that show. I don't recall that movie very well but I kept comparing it to the book anyway.

Stevenson just keeps the excitement and adventure rolling along. First Jim Hawkins has the mysterious, threatening, and drunkard pirate at his family's tavern. Then Blind Pugh shows up, the tavern is attacked by pirates looking for the treasure map, the map gets to the local Squire who outfits a ship, Jim finds out that half the crew plan mutiny, shoot-outs between the two sides, castaway Ben Gunn meets up with Jim, Jim voyages across a bay in an unworthy boat, springs free the anchored ship with a pirate aboard, escapes the pirate's murder attempt, shoots the pirate, gets back ashore and is captured by the remaining pirates, another shootout, recovery of the treasure, and onward back to England.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Read: "A Nameless Witch" by A. Lee Martinez

Read: A Nameless Witch by A. Lee Martinez, 2007, 9780765318688.

I got to thinking about this guy's books and thought a new one must be due. Well, I'm overdue because the book came out a couple months ago and I missed the release. I got this copy from Watertown and ordered one for my place.

This was pretty good. Martinez's other two novels Gil's All Fright Diner and In the Company of Ogres were both pretty good as well. Nameless is narrated by the witch of the title and the lovey-dovey aspect was a bit much for me.

Nameless is born undead due to a decades old curse by a dying wizard who declared the sixth born child of every generation to be a "...gruesome abomination. A twisted, horrible thing that shall shun the light and dwell in miserable darkness." Nameless' other problem is that she is a gorgeous, hard-bodied blonde with an incredible appetite for cannibalism - especially for dudes she digs.

Anyway. A humorous novel with a bloodthirsty demon duck, an intelligent ogre, and a White Knight (Defender of the Weak, Destroyer of the Foul, Sworn Champion of Decency, Avowed Foe of Evil). Nameless and company defend a village from a goblin horde and seek the wizard who sent out the horde. A good read.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Read: "Angels in America" by Tony Kushner

Read: Angels in America: A gay fantasia on national themes by Tony Kushner, 1995, cannot find the ISBN.

First off: I am not gay. This is two plays, Part One: Millenium Approaches and Part Two: Perestroika. Since this is a play it was difficult for me to read through and get the full gist of things. I can imagine the characters on stage but my imagination certainly pales to the skills of experienced stage actors, directors, and designers.

I liked the first play better. Not sure why, it just seemed to say more. Neither one is not something to watch if you are a fan of Roy Cohn. "Carzy" Ann Coulter would be apoplectic watching this. The republican bashing is extensive.

Here is a good quote though: "What I think AIDS has shown us is the limits of tolerance, that its not enough to be tolerated, because when the shit hits the fan you find out how much tolerance is worth. Nothing. And underneath all the tolerance is intense, passionate hatred,"

Part Two is supposed to have a lot of comedy but I must have missed most of it. There were some good jokes I did catch.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Listened to: "Sea Wolf" by Jack London

Listened to: Sea Wolf by Jack London, 1999 Blackstone Audio version downloaded from Overdrive.

Pretty decent but two of the main characters were really annoying at times. Part of the annoyance may have been the narration.

I've only read a few Jack London stories before, never a full novel. Humphrey "Sissy" van Wyden is on a ferry crossing San Fancisco Bay in a deep fog when his ferry and another ship collide and the ferry sinks. The tide carries a freezing van Wyden out to sea where he is picked up by the sealing ship, the Ghost.

The Ghost is captained by the amoral Wolf Larsen, a native Norwegian whose cruelty and disconcern for his crew is legendary among the sealing fleet. Rather than drop van Wyden off in San Francisco or pass him over to another ship Captain Larsen presses the bookish van Wyden into service as Cabin Boy.

Sea Wolf is part adventure novel and part philosophy discussion. Sissified van Wyden is a rich man's son who has avoided all physical labour. Under the control of the cruel ship's captain who was sent to at an early age van Wyden has to harden up physically and mentally to survive. Wolf and "Hump" discuss at length their competing philosophies on nature and life but - thankfully - those discussions are never boring.

It's only when the Ghost picks up the lifeboat of a sunken steamer and Ruth Webster is brought aboard that the annoyance begins. Wolf Larsen and van Wyden are both hot for Miss Webster and, since van Wyden is narrating, he has to ramble on about her beauty, and his love, and his suppressed desires. Blah Blah blah.

I wonder if I would have been as disgusted with van Wyden's gushing if I were reading the novel.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Read: "Mini House Style" by Rico Komanoya

Read: Mini House Style by Rico Komanoya, 2004, 0060589078.

I saw this book, or it's sister publication Mini House, at a bookstore last Christmas and then forgot the title. I was able to find it in the newly expanded library catalog and get both books from other libraries. Nice photos and design ideas.

I had a lot of complaints when reading the book but all of them are explained in the author's afterward. First off, there are some big houses of 1500 square feet or more included. Secondly, not all the spaces are living space, a few are artist lofts or modern building additions. Thirdly, several 'houses' are just experimental building and design projects. Fourth, a lot of the floor plans are obscured by house photos.

Most of the projects were built in Scandinavia and Japan. The truly small houses are neat to see because they are designed to make efficient use of limited space and they take a small area, maybe 800 sq. ft., and make it look bigger. Photos and floor plans of each home are shown with a standard set of questions the authors asked the architects.

The book started out with a strict limit of houses less than 860 sq. ft. But, the author ran out of homes before he ran out of book space. In expanding the criteria the author added in the larger buildings and experiemental ideas. To give credit, the larger houses are often placed on oddly shaped or small plots of land and required similar thinking on the use of space.

Some of the places are designed for full-time living while others are holiday and weekend homes. Some are wicked neat, others are very impractical.

Saturday, August 4, 2007

Finished: "Blue Devil Island" by Stephen Mark Rainey

Finished: Blue Devil Island by Stephen Mark Rainey, 2007, 9781594144424

Pretty decent. Blue is a mix of an historical war novel and horror novel.

Set on fictional Conquest Island in the Solomon Islands in 1943. Seabees have just built an airstrip and quonset huts on uninhabited and mountainous Conquest Island for a U.S. Navy squadron of Hellcat fighter planes. The squadron is on their first combat assignment and led by experienced pilot Drew McLachlan who is narrating the story 50 years later as one of the last two survivors of the island.

Flying daily missions in support of infantry campaigns, the squadron starts racking up victories against Japanese ground targets, bombers and fighters. Back at the base things are not looking so good. There is a weird threatening aura around the island and distant drumming and a bizarre high pitched screech after a Japanese bombing run unnerves the pilots and the Marines of the ground crew.

As the squadron takes on air casualties the ground crew starts getting killed by local humanoid creatures. The short, copper skinned dudes have long, sharp claws and thick, bony skulls. Aggressive and violent, the creatures are theorized as a separate evolution from humans serving the supernatural being who inhabits the island and has been appearing in Drew's dreams. The pilots end up fighting on two fronts: against the Japanese in the air, and the creatures and "spirit" on the ground.

The novel is a neat look at WWII from a pilot's perspective with various conversations and descriptions of flying, air combat, and aircraft that are interesting. The terror side of the story is good too. But, I have not read any horror novels in a while and had to suspend a bit more disbelief than usual.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Read: "Wolves Eat Dogs" by Martin Cruz Smith

Read: Wolves Eat Dogs by Martin Cruz Smith, 2004, 9780671445957 (paperback).

Very good. This is the fifth novel with Russian police inspector Arkady Renko. Each one has been very good.

Arkady has traveled in all of Smith's novels. Based in Moscow he has also worked on a fishing ship in the north Pacific, traveled into Germany, and gone to Cuba. This time Arkady is forced to travel to Chernobyl for a murder investigation.

Smith's novels are a great mix of character, plot and setting. All three ingredients are used to wonderful effect. Arkady and other characters are well drawn and the Chernobyl setting is well described and plays an active part in the way the characters interact and the plot moves.

The restricted "Zone" surrounding Chernobyl is supposed to keep everyone out. But, scientists, squatters and villagers still live inside the radioactive area. The Zone used to be the home of thousands and included Pripyat, a city of 50,000 people. Arkady stays in the Zone with the scientific enclave to investigate why the business associate of a recent suicide Arkady investigated was found dead in an abandoned graveyard in the Zone.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Re-Read: "Dirty White Boys" by Stephen Hunter

Re-Read: Dirty White Boys by Stephen Hunter, 0679437517, 1994.

Real good book.

I first picked this up in '95 at the UGX when looking at new books. I cannot remember what made me take it off the shelf but the first line is a grabber, "Three men at McAlester State Penitentiary had larger penises than Lamar Pye, but all were black and therefore, by Lamar's own figuring, hardly human at all." I really liked the book in '95 and have been reading Hunter's novels ever since.

A professional criminal and convict, Lamar is wicked smart and ruthless. He and his barely functioning, retarded cousin Odell have been in and out of prison together since kids. Lamar kills a black convict when the convict tries to rape him and knows that his own gang has cut him loose and he is fair game for the black gangs. He quickly devises an escape plan and takes his cellmates Richard Peed and Odell with him.

Bud Pewtie, 48 year old sergeant in the Oklahoma Highway Patrol, is called out of bed at 4 AM to join the search for the escaped cons. Bud is partnered with young trooper Ted Pepper and assigned search duties. After lunch at a diner, Bud and Ted swing by a farmhouse on the request of the worried waitress who has a missing and elderly regular customer. Bud and Ted drive to the customer's remote farmhouse, get out of the car, start walking to the house, and are promptly ambushed by Lamar and Odell. Pepper gets a .45 in the head. Bud barely survives the gunfight. Scummy Lamar and his group escape. Pepper's widowed wife Holly and Bud continue their months old extra-marital affair. Bud and Lamar circle each other and violently meet two additional times.

Bud has been screwing Ted's wife Holly for awhile and the dishonesty and sneakiness of it has been eating him up. He has fallen for the 26 yr. old Holly and fallen out of love with his distant wife. Worried for his two teen sons, not wanting to hurt his wife, the scandal of screwing a dead cop's wife, and Holly pressuring him to leave his wife are a black weight over his head.

Some things about the novel that are interesting: Lamar is scum with good qualities (honesty, loyalty to family, bravery, intelligence) Bud is a good guy with bad qualities (dishonest to family, screwing partner's wife).

The good guys say "goddamn" a lot. The bad guys say "fuck" a lot.

A consistent strong point of Hunter's work is good gun writing. Hunter gives detail and description of firearms, tactics, and shooting that other writers are clueless about. You'll never read a line from Hunter about a "glock revolver".

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Just read: "Two-Way Split" by Allan Guthrie

Just read: Two-Way Split by Allan Guthrie, 2004, 9780809556519 (US ppbk).

Quite good. This is actually Guthrie's first novel, but the second Kiss Her Goodbye was the first publishd in the States. I read that one a while ago.

Two-Way's story has three different narratives colliding at a post office robbery in Edinburgh. Pearce the recently released convict, Kennedy the bored private eye, and the criminal trio of Eddie, Carol and Robin/Don. Carol is insane and on medication. Robin is insane and off his medication. Don is the split personality of Robin's dead brother and very dangerous.

I like that Guthrie doesn't go into the psychology or pathology of his characters; he presents what is going on and you just have accept it as part of the story until additional explanation is given. The revenge motivations of Pearce - who got 10 years for murdering his dead sister's drug dealer - are revealed bit by bit throughout the novel. But, those bits are not dangled in a teasing - and therefore annoying way - because the action keeps going and hard man Pearce is believable.

Guthrie's third novel is at the library but I have several other books I need to get to first.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Listened to: "Grim Grotto" by Lemony Snicket

Listened to: Grim Grotto by Lemony Snicket, downloaded from

Book eleven in the series. A decent novel but I liked some others in the series better. The Baudelaire orphans travel down the Stricken Stream and are rescued by the submarine Queequeg. Klaus gets the hots for the captain's daughter who ends up joining up with Count Olaf when they are captured and she finds her brother is a member of Olaf's crew.

Blah, blah, blah.

The Baudelaires are closer to the end of the series, so the action has to get better. Right?

Finished: "Boxing Stories" by Robert E. Howard

Finished: Boxing Stories by Robert E. Howard, 2005, 0803273525.

I enjoyed these stories but you wouldn't think so for all the times I fell asleep reading them. Howard was a pulp writer in the '20s and '30s who killed himself in 1936 when he was 30. This is another title plugged by Bill Crider. Crider says, "Dance, Monkey! Dance!" and I do a two-step.

Like a lot of pulp writers Howard wrote A LOT and is most famous as the creator of Conan. Howard's publishing history is as interesting as his stories. He wrote across several genres and all the boxing stories collected in this volume were published in various adventure magazines.

Half or more of the stories are Sailor Costigan stories and I liked them quite a bit. The Costigan stories have a good bit of humour and are supposed to be collected elsewhere in their entirety. All the Costigan stories follow the typical set-up where dimwitted but gallant Costigan gets in a beef or needs money and takes a fight. The following fight is narrated by Costigan round by round and Howard does a real good job keeping the story exciting; it's not a plain blow-by-blow recitation.

Either Howard had a fascination with Iron Men fighters or his readers really liked those stories. Either way there are several of those included as well. Iron Men - meaning iron jawed, oak ribbed fighters who could not be knocked out - are fascinating and extinct. The kind of punishment they took - lacking any defensive skills, getting knocked down multiple times, multiple cuts, eyes swollen shut - would never be allowed now, the fight would get called off. Howard mentions the real-life boxer Joe Grim several times. Grim lost about 70 fights and won maybe 5 (I'm approximating). But, Grim was a huge draw because he would stand in the ring with his hands at his hips and just get slugged over and over and over again while throwing wild, easily ducked swings. Grim didn't even duck or sway to avoid the shots, he just waited for an opponent to tire himself out and then hoped to get in a hard shot of his own.

Howard was found of saying punches hit like "caulk mallets" and "trip-hammers".

EDIT 14 Aug 09: This title is no longer in the catalog. I must have really lucked out and got a hold of it before the book was withdrawn.

Sunday, July 8, 2007

Just Read: "Cruel Poetry" by Vicki Hendricks

Just Read: Cruel Poetry by Vicki Hendricks, 2007, 9781852429270.

Pretty decent with lots of sex. Recommended by Bill Crider. Crider says "Jump!" and I say "How high?"

Set in Miiami's South Beach and focusing on three characters: hooker Renata (Rennie), would-be-writer Julia (Jules), and literature professor Richard (Dick). Everyone falls in love with sultry and gorgeous Rennie, including her client Dick and her neighbor Jules. Rennie lives in a ratty hotel on the beach and entertains clients in her room and on out-calls. Jules moved to Miami in an attempt to isolate herself and write a novel. She falls for Jules after listening to her through the wall and getting to know her. Professor Dick is infatuated with Rennie and hoping to throw away a good life with his wife and two boys to 'rescue' Rennie from her life.

Rennie doesn't want to be rescued. She enjoys her sex work, enjoys her sort-of boyfriend - and fellow hooker - Francisco, and enjoys living on the beach.

I though this would be more of a straightforward noir novel with more action. There is violence, including three murders, but the focus is on the relationships of the three main characters and the setting of Miami. Just as much of the violence is relayed to the characters in conversation, and without the detail most other authors would go into. That was a neat change, actually. Hendricks was writing from each characters' point of view and adding more people would have been messy to read. Well done by Hendricks but I do prefer novels with more plot for the characters to live within.

Sunday, July 1, 2007

Finished: "AC/DC: Maximum Rock & Roll" by Murray Engelhart w/Arnaud Durieux

Finished: AC/DC: Maximum Rock & Roll by Murray Engelhart w/Arnaud Durieux, 2006,978-0-06-113391-6.

Okay, but not great. At 456 pages this took forever for me to finish; the book's thickness was intimidating.

This is more of a superfan book than a throough biography. It's not fauning and starstruck but the authors are obviously big fans of the band. Dissention and management problems are mentioned but never gotten into. Drug and booze problems by two of the band members are glossed over. At times this seems like a 400 page tour history.

Most of the book covers the beginnings of the band plus the first ten years, or so, until Bon Scott's death. The book realy suffers from what seems to be a complete lack of interviews with bandmembers and management. The many quotes seem to come from previously published interviews.

Angus and Malcom Young grew up in 1960s Sydney listening to rock records while older brother George was having a few hits with the Easybeats. Angus and Malcom are big fans of old blues performers and rockers like Chuck Berry. They both played in a variety of bands with changing line-ups until Bon Scott joined up and things started to click for them. The guidance and prodcution skills of brother George were a big part of their success.

The first half of the book is much more interesting with coverage of Bon and their work in Australia. The authors like to talk of all the chicks they were banging in Australia and the wild, alcohol fueled parties they had. For a hard rocking and party happy band it's surprising that Angus is a tea-totaler. Angus's nights were spent in his room smoking cigarettes and playing guitar. Hell, the guy is an introvert who had green teeth from lack of dental hygiene. He woudl wonder why chicks would have sex with him but never hang out.

AC/DC always saw themselves as a straightforward rock and roll band. No frills and pretensions, just straightforward rock tunes with plenty of rhythm. That the band during their time in London got lumped together with all the punk bands was surprising. That they get lumped together with hairspray bands like Motely Crue and Poison is a cruel joke.

I have spent a lot of time on youtube the last couple weeks listening to AC/DC tunes.

Additional, 5 Jy 07: a copy of Let There Be Rock came in for me today. The 2003 reissue's liner notes are by Engelhart.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Read: "Rain Fall" by Barry Eisler

Read: Rain Fall by Barry Eisler, 2002, 045120915X.

Not nearly as good as Eisler's later novels which are damn good. But still good.

This is the introductory novel for John Rain before current characters Delilah and Dox. I was not too into this one because I already know the ending from reading later novels. I also know which characters stay alive for later novels.

Rain is not the eptiome of paranoia in Rain Fall like he is later on. Since Rain's cover is blown in this one - and he finds out that he has, at times, been a pawn by the CIA and others - his later paranoia makes more sense.

Rain Fall also reveals more about Rain's past than before. Since Rain is a series character a little bit more of his history is revealed in each successive novel. But, this one tells more about Rains Vietnam experience and his friend Crazy Jake.

This copy is the one I bought when I went to hear Eisler speak in Milwaukee earlier this month. I bought the paperback and Eisler signed it. I really enjoyed going and listening to him speak.

Listened to: "Not a Good Day to Die" by Sean Naylor

Listened to: Not a Good Day to Die: the untold story of Operation Anaconda by Sean Naylor, 2005, 9780792734826.

Very good. Long too at 19.5 hours. Good narration by John Henry Cox.

Journalist Naylor was at the operation and interviewed multiple soldiers, sailors, and airmen and special operations people. His introduction discusses how the operation's fractured planning and organization led to multiple problems and how Naylor's investigative reporting led to higher ups trying to shut up the guys he was talking to.

Hindsight is 20/20 but the mistakes that happened prior to the operation were identified and talked about by multiple people. There was no single, unified command in Anaconda. The special forces dudes, air force, CIA, and regular infantry were not all under one command and were not sharing all the information they needed to.

From the start the operation was stunted by the arbitrary troop cap in Afghanistan set by Rumsfeld. When the 101st deployed into Afghanistan they were not allowed to take all their troops or firepower; they had to leave behind most of their helicopters and all of their artillery (except for mortars).

Anaconda was the first operation in Afghanistan where U.S. troops made up the bulk of the ground troops. After the screw-up in Tora Bora, where Afghani troops underperformed and let Al-Queda fighters escape, the U.S. troops were supposed to encircle the Sha-i-khot (the spelling varies) Valley and capture or kill the Al-Queda fighters within.

After the big success in the first part of the Afghanistan war when bombing was the name of the game there was a reliance on air power for indirect fire support without regard for the usual problems of weather and the need to planes refuel and re-arm. Artillery would have been available 24 hours a day and could fire in any weather. In the end, when 120mm mortars were used, artillery was available but until then there were multiple communication problems between ground troops and aircrews, trouble with aircrews locating targets in the valley, and Apaches suffering the effects of groundfire (although they also ripped apart a lot of targets), and fixed wing aircraft having to share the airspace with one another.

There were all sorts of things that went wrong in the initial few days of the operation - especially trying to land on a defended position and losing SEAL Neil Roberts out a helicopter. Some of the troops involved were getting massively attacked but still ended up on top. I would have been hiding in deepest hole I could find.

The SEALS did not come out looking good. Their lack of experience in mountain warfare should have meant they would have time to learn how to operate there, but they were not given the time. They had trouble planning daily missions and had to have the 10th Mountain Division help them out. One SEAL in particular came off as defeatist and whiny.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Never got to: "Twin Peaks: Behind the Scenes" by Mark Altman

Never got to: Twin Peaks: Behind the Scenes by Mark Altman, 1990, 1556982844.

I never read through this because I am hoping to rewatch the series. The second season just came out on DVD and I bought it for the Library. The first season came out in 2001 and the only place that has it is West Bend and I have not placed a reserve yet.

The book is neat with information on cast, creators, plot synopsis, etc. It's a straightforward fan book and kind of neat to look through because it is such a cash-in on the show's mania. I really enjoyed Twin Peaks but never had a Friday evening viewing party with stacked donuts and cherry pie. Those chicks were hot though. I loved that odd solo dance that Audrey did.

Friday, June 8, 2007

Read: "Requiem for an Assassin" by Barry Eisler

Read: Requiem for an Assassin by Barry Eisler, 2007, 9780399154263

Another good one by Eisler. There are some things about the plot that stretched believability and didn't make sense – but hey, it's a novel. Eisler has his character John Rain evolve from book to book and this latest one shows the biggest changes. Eisler's last two novels have had Rain considering, and then moving, into retirement. Not an easy thing for Rain to do after 30 years as a remorseless killer.

In Requiem Rain has moved to Paris and gotten his own apartment, separate from new girlfriend, and Mossad operative, Delilah. Rain no longer does any contract killing and his paranoia has abated. He stopped his 24-hour a day policy of constant anti-surveillance and anti-ambush drills and methods. He meets people on time and lets them choose the meeting place and he doesn't perform a two hour reconnaissance before hand. His life is settling into the closest it has ever been to "normal".

Meanwhile, his best – and only – friend Dox is getting kidnapped in Bali. The lead kidnapper, Hilger, needs Rain to commit several murders and is using Dox as leverage. Rain, the man who didn't care about anything, is now forced to kill a couple targets while working with a CIA agent from Hong Kong in an attempt to find and rescue Dox.

Rain's ruthlessness shows up much more than in the last book – or maybe I just got used to it before. In Last Assassin he was acting in self-defense and in defense of his son and ex-girlfriend. Rain's impulsive action in Requiem to murder that same ex-girlfriend's current boyfriend, halted by Rain at the last moment, was downright scary. Also frightening was his immediate acquiescence to Hilger's demands that Rain murder two strangers, family men, to free Dox.

Rain easily steps back into operational mode and it worries him, he cannot reconcile what has become a dual personality. Rain's "normal" side has a girlfriend and a love for scotch, jazz music, and good restaurants. However, he cannot shake his decades old professional persona, the "iceman", and takes long evening walks through bad Parisian neighborhood's for the chance of a fight.

More brand names in this one: Benchmade (rain loves Benchmades), Wilson Combat, HK, Hideaway knives (who now have a cheaper 440c version available), Spyderco, Fred Perrin's LaGriffe, and multiple international hotels.

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Just finished: "Shutter Island" by Dennis Lehane

Just Finished: Shutter Island by Dennis Lehane, 2003, 0688163173.

I picked this one out for the Literary Book Discussion at the Library and I'll be damned if I remember why. I needed to choose a title that was readily available and would appeal to me, too.

Shutter was good but odd. I have read one other Lehane book (don't recall the title) and saw the film version of Mystic River and I assume Lehane likes sad endings. Maybe he just like 'realistic' endings.

Shutter Island has U.S. Marshal Teddy Daniels traveling by ferry to Shutter Island, off of Boston, to assist in a search for a missing prisoner. Shutter Island is home to a mental hospital/prison for very violent prisoners.

I could go on about the plot but if anyone actually reads this note they may be disappointed by me giving away the ending. The ending was not a great surprise. Lehane writes well but the plot turns preposterous with all the different situations that occur. Some of the novel's events and characters could be hallucinations, seeing as how insanity is involved, but Lehane was stretching my suspension of disbelief too far. In the end I feel like the novel was an exercise for Lehane.

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Read: "Draw" by James Reasoner

Read: Draw: the greatest gunfights of the American West by James Reasoner, 2003, 0425191931 (pbk.).

Pretty good. Short chapters with biographical sketches of the shootists and the shootout. Some guys show up more than once, like Bat Masterson and Wyatt Earp. I reserved this (copy is from Hartford P.L.) after a plug by Bill Crider.

Pretty much all the guys in Draw were unsavory and unpleasant characters. When I read complaints about how bad modern society is I keep in mind how dangerous the "Wild West" (and 1920s Chicago) was. Sporadic law enforcement, lynchings, and unfair trials were standard. The legal standard for self-defense was pretty dang low. Even the lawmen were, oftentimes, crooks and gamblers. A fellow would be a deputy then a gambler then a hired gunman and then a deputy again.

I was surprised at how often people moved around; men traveled from Kansas to Texas to Oklahoma to Arizona to New Mexico to Colorado and would get into altercations at each stop. That's a lot of train trips and horse rides.

Of the 31 stories told by Reasoner there were some really interesting tales with some really interesting people. But, I'm not going to bother retelling them.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Gave up on: "The Price of Honor" by Col. David H. Hackworth (Ret.)

Gave up on: The Price of Honor by Col. David H. Hackworth (Ret.), 1999, 0385491646.

I've read a couple Hackworth books before. I read his autobiography and a compilation of his columns and his commentary on foreign policy and military issues was always interesting. But, he should have hired a ghostwriter to clean this up.

His writing has odd shifts where a person is described in one spot and then, suddenly, seems to be at another. The dialogue is difficult to follow because the characters are not always clearly identified. The writing needed polishing.

The story follows Captain Caine of the U.S. Army. Caine's family history has soldiers all the way back to the Revolutionary War. The one black mark in that history was Caine's father who was killed in Vietnam and accused of cowardice. Is it true? Will Caine discover the truth while fighting through Sarajevo and Somalia? Will he bone the independent and feisty woman reporter? Will Caine family and huge political secrets be revealed? Hell if I know.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Just finished: "No Dominion" by Charlie Huston

Just finished: No Dominion by Charlie Huston, 2006, 9780345478252.

Another good job by Huston The plotting in this one was better, with a surprise at the end that I did not see. The kind of plot twist where the main character has been set-up and unknowingly led along, kind of James Ellroy-ish with a kicker of a surprise at the end.

This is a mystery novel disguised with vampires; the second one by Huston featuring Joe Pitt. The vampires are vampires due to a viral infection and secretly live in Manhattan. Manhattan is divided by several different Clans (gangs) who violently guard their territories. Pitt is a Rogue, unaffiliated with a clan but allowed to live in the Society's territory due to Pitt's past affiliation with the clan and his handiness as a private eye, of sorts.

Pitt is asked to investigate a new, highly addictive, lethal drug that some vampires have been using and overdosing on. Pitt goes from one bad situation to another, gets beat up a lot, and has noir-guy wisecracks in the face of danger. Pitt is also very noir-ish by sticking to his own principles and moral code. Huston keeps the story and plot moving briskly.

Pitt is a very similar character to Huston's Henry Thompson. Both are of the same age, have a similar smart-ass personality, are sort of rundown and down-on-their-luck, and surprisingly capable in the face of violent adversity.

Huston's dialogue is always written according to peoples' actual speech with stops and starts and characters talking over one another. Sometimes the dialogue reads like a transcript rather than a novel.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Listened to: "Gentlemen and Players" by Joanne Harris.

Listened to Gentlemen and Players by Joanne Harris, 2006, downloaded from

Good. Deceptively good because the characterizations were very well done, so effortlessly well done and flowing that I did not even notice until now. The novel had some surprising moments. I saw the 'big' surprise coming because I was told there was one. Set in an English private school, St. Oswald's, during both present day and fifteen years previous. Gentlemen is narrated by two characters: the son of the school Porter (the handyman/groundskeeper), Julian, and the Classics teacher, Mr. Straitley.

Julian is quite villainous. As a young teenager Julian is mostly adrift without parental support and attention and he goes downhill quickly when attached to Leon, an older, loutish student from St. Oswald's. As an adult Julian is murderous, with – revealed at story's end – a lifetime body count of at least four people. Julian is amoral and set on revenge against the school that never accepted him. His infatuations with the school, it's staff members, and one of the school's students are very well written.

Mr. Straitley is 65 and in his 100th semester of teaching at St. Oswald's. As the semester begins Straitley's curriculum is under siege from the newly established Languages department – whose head has taken away his office - and the school's recent emphasis on computer sciences. Straitley's narration is set in present day and records the reactions of the victims of Julian's underhanded and scheming plan for revenge against the school.

Pretty good n

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Finished: "World War Z" by Max Brooks

Finished: World War Z by Max Brooks, 2006, 0307346609.

Pretty decent. I don't know why I took so long to finish a freaking zombie book. An oral 'history' of the 15 year Zombie War. Brooks even gives an acknowledgement to Studs Terkel. Really more a collection of short stories with multiple characters. Well done by Brooks.

I read a comment about this book where the reader would think, "Those poor people" and then remember she was reading a novel. Brooks never wavers from the book's conceit as a oral history, which is kind of neat Brooks makes the idea of zombies more believable than if written as a novel. Information on the Zombie plague and how Zombies behave is discussed as fact and history rather than sci-fi make believe.

Besides, Brooks covers the globe with 'interviews' from people in Antarctica, Ireland, China, Siberia and elsewhere. Brooks would have had to string together some Herman Wouk or W.E.B. Griffith style narrative if writing this as a novel and I bet the characters and story would have suffered.

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Read: "The Last Assassin" by Barry Eisler

Read: The Last Assassin by Barry Eisler, 2006, 0399153594.

Pretty good. I liked the previous Eisler novel better. Last has professional assassin John Rain attempting to do away with his nemesis, the criminal kingpin and politician Yamaoto, who has had a price on Rain's head for a few years. Rain is forced to do so after he is informed that former girlfriend Midori has a son and Rain is the father. Midori is under surveillance - and in danger – in Yamaoto's hope that Rain will show up at her NYC apartment. Rain is typically ruthless and bloody; no broken necks though.

Eisler does another good job in explaining and understanding a difficult character like Rain who has survived in a – literally – cut-throat profession for decades due to his paranoia and a refusal to make friends and allies. Recent changes by Rain to accept a friend, fellow killer Dox, and sort-of girlfriend, Delilah, are difficult for him to accept. Rain has to contend with: loyalty, friendship, love, and a future outside of his chosen profession.

I'm going to take the novel's characters' fondness for Benchmade knives to be a trait that the author holds. Brandnames like Benchmade, Emerson, HAK, and Heckler-Koch make appearances. Eisler seems to do a lot of research by talking to and training with a variety of martial arts, security, gun, and knife people when writing his books; he gives a lot of credit in his Ackowledgements.

Eisler does a decent job with his overseas settings in Barcelona and Tokyo. His descriptions are good but Rain has obscure favorites and favors expensive hotels; murder pays well.

Monday, May 7, 2007

Mostly read: "Rifles" by David Westwood

Mostly read: Rifles: an illustrated history of their impact by David Westwood, 2005, 1851094016.

Good articles with a lot of detail pieces on the history of development and design. Rifles also details how stupid and shortsighted military leaders can be. Forgoing technological advancements that have already made favored techniques and theory obsolete.

I read several articles but did not have enough interest to read them all.

Never finished: "Safari" by Bartle Bull

Never finished: Safari: A chronicle of adventure by Bartle Bull, 1988, 0670818801.

Very interesting and well written but I just never got to finishing it. The large format did not lend the book to easy reading. A well-done history of the African safari, famous hunters, and the evolution of safari along with changes in population.

Monday, April 30, 2007

Read: "L.A. Rex" by Will Beall

Read: L.A. Rex by Will Beall, 2006, 1594489262.

Great novel. One of the better books I have read in a while. Really good writing by Beall; he does a great job with his characters and, especially, his setting. Beall works as an officer for the LAPD in South Central Los Angeles. L.A. Rex is set in South Central and Beall's familiarity with the area really shows in his vivid descriptions of the neighborhoods and the people who live there.

The mentality of a gangbanger is difficult for me to grasp but Beall does a good job of showing how they act amongst and against each other and other gangs. The horrid and violent things that go on in the ratty L.A. neighborhoods are shocking. The kid who pays his crackhead prostitute mother for sex because she is so out of it and because he accepts it as the only attention he gets from her really freaked me out. The inexplicable - to me - and casual violence against each other weirded me out too. I just cannot wrap my head around why anyone would not care about going to prison or would want to kill a cop.

Set in about 1998, Beall's storyline follows Ben Halloran (formerly Kahn), the son of a big-time LA attorney who is famous for defending druglords and regularly sueing the city for brutality. Ben's story of growing up with an asshole father, and moving in criminal circles as a result, is mostly told through flashbacks. After Ben is set-up and kicked out by his father one of those criminals tells Ben to join the LAPD to be one of his inside men. Partnered with an older training officer called Marquez, Ben starts to like police work and his loyalty shifts to his fellow officers.

Listened to: "Freakonomics" by Stephen D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner

Listened to: Freakonomics: a rogue economist explores the hidden side of everything by Stephen D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner, audio edition downloaded off

Very interesting. Wunderkind economist Levitt analyzes different topics by using statistical methods employed by economists. Did Roe v. Wade have the greatest effect on lowering crime than anything else in the 1990s? The corporate structure of the Vice Lords [I think it was the Vice Lords] in Chicago as related to the drug trade. Does a "black" name adversely affect a kid future when compared to a "white" name? Is gun control effective; what is more dangerous to children, a gun or a swimming pool? How are cheating teachers and Sumo wrestlers alike?

Well written and well narrated by the second co-author. Levitt lays out very convincing arguments. It would be interesting to hear any refutations of his arguments' A question I had: his argument that abortion had a huge effect on the crime-rate is partly based on comparison to the results of Romania's overnight banning of abortion and a resultant rise in crime. My first thought is, "How accurate are the Romanians' crime numbers?"

But, I'm way too lazy to look into argument's against Levitt's results. Besides, the topics he covers are controversial and encourage lying by opponents.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Listened to: "The Two Minute Rule" by Robert Crais

Listened to: The Two Minute Rule by Robert Crais, 2006, downloaded from

Pretty decent novel; however, the narrator was not very good.

Richard Hollman is recently paroled from Federal prison after serving time for bank robbery. On the last day of Hollman's time at the halfway house he is notified that his long estranged police officer son, Richie, was murdered the night before. Hollman had been waiting until his final release to try and contact Richie.

For years Hollman was a car thieve and drug addict whose contact with his son was sporadic - at best - and spent no time with Richie as his parent. One time Richard took Richie on an outing to the Santa Monica pier and left the eight-year old boy with his friend's girlfriend so Hollman and his pal could go steal a Corvette they spotted in the parking lot.

Hollman is well drawn out by Crais and he has quite a temper. Hollman is constantly struggling to keep himself together over the death of his kid and his guilt at being such a piece of crap father and that maybe Richie turned out bad like Hollman. He starts asking questions about what happened the night Richie and three other officers were all murdered in the LA River channel. Hollman's questions get him in trouble with a Police Lieutenant in charge of the case.

The story is mostly believable and has a nice tie-in to a fictional version of the armed robbers from the 1997 North Hollywood bank shoot-out. Hollman, with the help of a former FBI agent who was bored and frustrated at home until Hollman sent a letter asking for help, figures out that the cops Richie was involved with were searching for the missing $16 million bucks from the robbers multiple bank robberies.

A good novel with a no-so-good narrator. The narrator's voices were annoying and almost all the time he had Hollman on edge and loud mouthed; that was grating to me.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Forced to finish: "Sullivan’s Law" by Nancy Taylor Rosenberg

Forced to finish: Sullivan's Law by Nancy Taylor Rosenberg, 2004, 0758206186

This was a festering pile of shit. How does this lady get people to buy her books? Why do people continue to read her books? How can they finish any of her books?

This is the only Rosenberg "novel" I have read and I will likely NEVER read another. I only finished Sullivan's Law because it is for a book discussion. In fact, I took notes of all the things that angered or annoyed me when reading this collection of poorly written paragraphs populated with wooden characters so I can gripe in detail.

Fucking piece of shit.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Read: "Magic City" by James W. Hall

Read: Magic City by James W. Hall, 2007, 9780312271794.

Very good. A mystery novel set in Miami with a connection to the 1964 Cassius Clay vs. Sonny Liston fight and a mass murder the night of the fight. You can tell by the writing that Thorn must be a continuing character. Hall's vague references to Thorn's past come off as mysterious and intriguing, not like the seemingly inside jokes of some series.

Main character Thorn lives in Key Largo but his girlfriend Alexandra lives in Miami. Thorn is going to spend a week watching after Alexandra's father, Lawton. Lawton's senility has been slowly progressing and he is getting more and more difficult for Thorn to deal with. Thorn is a laid-back beach bum and considering moving to Miami to be with Alexandra. Thorn's week long stay in Miami watching Lawton is a trial run to see if Thorn can take moving to the city.

Things go bad when a couple Miami goons try to steal an old photo of the Liston-Clay fight from Lawton's home. The photo shows proof a relationship among group of people in the fight audience. Proof of a relationship related to a mass murder against a Cuban family and their anti-Castro militia pals.

Hall does a great job in drawing out his characters and their actions. The two surviving boys of the massacre, the G. Gordon Liddy style goon, Thorn and his relationships with Alexandra and Lawton. Even briefly appearing minor characters get a revealing light shown upon them.

Hall also conveys the feelings and emotions of 1964 really well. The excitement of the upcoming fight and the social and political changes caused by the influx of immigrant Cubans are very well, and succinctly, done.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Finished: "Rumpole and the Reign of Terror" by John Mortimer

Finished: Rumpole and the Reign of Terror by John Mortimer, 2006, 0670038040.

Pretty good. A very quick read. I never read any of the Rumpole books or watched the television series. I picked this one out based on a review in Library Journal and a plot that involves British anti-terror laws.

Rumpole is a barrister who takes cases out of the Old Bailey court in London. Rumpole's main income comes from the Timson family whose wide ranging criminal progeny are in need of constant legal care. A disowned Timson approaches Rumpole to assist her Pakistani born doctor husband who has been arrested for something terrorist related. But, the government won't say what the doctor is charged with, what evidence there is, or who his accuser is.

Pretty much everyone turns against Rumpole on the assumption the doctor is guilty. Without Rumpole to advocate for him the doctor would have been totally screwed. How do you get a decent lawyer when everyone thinks you are a terrorist? Never mind that you're out of work and about to lose your freaking house - a key point in the doctor's innocence.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Read through: "Gun Digest 2007", 2006, 9780896893160

Read through: Gun Digest 2007, 2006, 9780896893160.

Eh. I get these annuals and sometimes the articles are interesting to me and sometimes not. The color photos of custom guns are always neat-o but never show enough detail.

I did the usual "Which one?" game. Each catalog page shows several photos of the items on that page. Which one would you take if you could choose one for free? Variations are: Pick one from each page to build a collection. Whatever gun chosen includes 10,000 rounds of ammunition. Gun chosen comes with no ammunition. Pick one only from each category of rifle, shotgun and handgun. So on and so forth.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Listened to: "The Slippery Slope" by Lemony Snicket

Listened to: The Slippery Slope: A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book 10 by Lemony Snicket, audio version donwloaded off

Good, but the last two in the series were better. This one has three new characters and more information to unravel the mystery of V.F.D.

The idea of the squared off Mortmain Mountains was too fanciful. The newly introduced villains were intriguing if they scare Count Olaf they must be really bad. The third Quagmire triplet showing up was nice, too.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Finished: "Secret Diary of Laura Palmer" by Jennifer Lynch

Finished: Secret Diary of Laura Palmer by Jennifer Lynch, 1990, found no ISBN.

I'm 17 years out of date on this one. I'm surprised the book was still available anywhere and not withdrawn. I never was interested in this when it came out because it seemed like such a cash in on Twin Peaks mania. Especially since the author is David Lynch's daughter.

I enjoyed this though. Laura Palmer was one mixed-up teenager. When Twin Peaks was on television I was the same age as the main characters and the chicks were very hot, including Laura Palmer. But now, the story of Laura as a sexually abused, cocaine addicted, amoral, manipulative, promiscuous and protstituting sixteen year old is really, really, really, really, creepy and disturbing.

I need to reserve the DVDs of the first and second seasons of Twin Peaks and watch them. When the show first premiered I read the promos about it and got real excited about seeing it. Since I didn't have a TV I was in the dorm's TV lounge where some other people were watching something else. I was hugely disappointed, but then two girls came in and asked if anyone minded if they changed the TV to the premier. Yeah!