Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Quit Listening To: "Last King of Scotland" by Giles Foden

Quit Listening To: Last King of Scotland by Giles Foden, downloaded from Overdrive.

Bleh. I disliked the narration and after the dreck of Ministry of Special Cases I already had low hopes for this one. I chose this because a story involving Amin must be interesting, right?

Scottish doctor working in the bush is called to assist Idi Amin after he crashes his Maserati off a dirt road. A couple weeks later Scotsman receives a letter appointing him as Amin's personal physician. I quit listening after Scotsman took his new job and was looking to buy a suit.

Quit Listening To: "The Ministry of Special Cases" by Nathan Englander

Quit Listening To: The Ministry of Special Cases by Nathan Englander, downloaded from Overdrive.

Just not that good. This received plenty of good reviews but was lame. I listened to about 30 or 45 minutes and bailed.

Main character, whose name I do not recall, is the son of a Jewish whore in Buenos Aires. His mother and other undesirables, pimps and loansharks, are buried on the "bad" side of the Jewish cemetery. Son-of-a-whore (hijo de puta) is hired by the now respectable children of those pimps and whores to climb the wall separating the bad side from good side and chisel away the names on the gravestones. Today's respectable progeny want to erase their link to yesterday's scum.

Meanwhile Son-of-a-whore's wife is buying some security door and his university enrolled son doesn't like his father. My thought on this? Who the fuck cares?

EDIT, February 3rd: I received my copy of COGNOTES highlights in the mail and Englander received the Sophie Brody Medal for outstanding achievement in Jewish literature. Either the rest of this years selection of Jewish literature was horrendous or none of the judges read the winning book.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Listened to: "Restless" by Willaim Boyd

Listened to Restless by William Boyd, 2006, downloaded from Overdrive.

Very good. This reminded of Alan Furst's books. Pretty decent narration too.

Ruth Gilmartin is a single mom in 1976 Oxford, England. Ruth is a full time English-as-a-second-language tutor for engineers and other professionals. Ruth's mother, Sally, lives in a remote village and gives Ruth the first part of her autobiography. Ruth is shocked at Sally's life before marriage. To begin with, her real name is Eva Delectorskaya and secondly, she was a British spy during World War Two.

Eva's family were White Russians who ended up in Paris. In 1939 Eva's brother was killed at a political rally and Eva was recruited by an Englishman who says her brother was murdered while working for British Intelligence. Trained in Scotland Eva first works in Paris generating false news stories for propaganda. After the continent is conquered by the Germans Eva does the same job in New York City. On a simple courier assignment to New Mexico Eva is almost murdered. She kills her assassin and returns to New York knowing there is a mole in her group. Eva flees her work and colleagues to Canada and lives under a false name until she can travel back to England in anonymity.

After reading several Furst novels about World War Two espionage and Soviet intelligence I was expecting the bad guy and could easily tell who it was. There were not many major characters to choose from anyway.

There is a very brief author interview at the end where Boyle says he made up all the spy training. I thought that was interesting. He came up with the novel while writing an ex-spy character for another novel and wondered how a person trained to deceive, to expect deception, to trust no one, and always be paranoid would live life afterwards. (Something also covered by the John Rain series.) Boyle thought a mother-daughter relationship would be an interesting take.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Listened to: "The Night Gardener" by George Pelecanos

Listened to: The Night Gardener by George Pelecanos, 2006, an Overdrive download.

Another damned abridgement. I should have paid closer attention during my last selection of titles.

This was a really well done story that survived the abridgement and the less than stellar narration by the author. I would bet that an experienced and skilled narrator would really make this chopped version shine.

Gus Ramone is a detective for the Washington D.C. police. Asa, a friend of Ramone’s 14 year old son, is found dead from a gunshot wound in one of D.C.’s community vegetable gardens. Ramone and a couple retired officers suspect that the victim was killed by the Palindrome Killer. The Palindrome Killer murdered three black teens (whose names were palindromes) in 1985 and left the raped bodies in community gardens. Ramone works Asa’s case and another murder while a secondary storyline follows an older ex-con trying to look out for his foolhardy nephew.

I think the abridgement took a lot out of the story. Character interactions were not fleshed out, characters come and go or are only spoken of, red herrings are not followed up, and the novel’s ending was lousy. The finale of the secondary storyline has a very minor character from the primary storyline suddenly appearing in the key role that merges the two stories. A flashback to 1985 has the Palindrome Killer hanging out at one of his crime scenes but he never made an appearance in the present day setting and was only used as a tool to have the two ex-cops meet and work together.

Pelecanos does such a good job with his characters, plotting, and the issues of race, gays, parents, teens, good cops and bad cops that the novel easily survives the abridgement.

Friday, January 4, 2008

Listened to a Damned Abridgement: "The Dangerous Book for Boys"

Listened to a Damned Abridgement: The Dangerous Book for Boys by Conn Iggulden and Hal Iggulden, 2007, from Overdrive.com.

Damned abridgement at 4 hours long. I did not notice this fact when I downloaded the book. At least the book is organized by sections and the authors could easily pick their favorite sections to include without eliminating anything vital. Some of the science and astronomy questions were really neat-o. The sections on famous battles and extraordinary stories were quite good. The rules of stickball and soccer were not so interesting.

Two novels I recently read touched on two of the stories. The Battle of Balaclava ties into Winter Soldiers by Kilworth which was set during the Crimean War. The story of Robert Scott in the Antarctic ties in with The Terror by Simmons which was set in the Arctic but had characters who had traveled with Antarctic expeditions.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Read: "On Call in Hell" by CDR. Richard Jadick

Read: On Call in Hell:a doctor's Iraq War story by CDR. Richard Jadick, 2007, 9780451220530.

Good book. Jadick continually emphasizes the dedication and skill of his Navy corpsmen and the Marines fighting in Fallujah. Picked this one for the book club.

Jadick graduated college, was a Marine officer for seven years, went to medical school on a Navy scholarship, then went back to a Marine battalion as a Navy surgeon. Battalion surgeon is the scutjob all the new and inexperienced Navy doctors get, but Jadick really enjoyed it. So, years later, when the Marines were scrambling for doctors for their upcoming MEU and Iraq deployment Jadick volunteered and ended up running a Battalion Aid Station in the middle of the Battle of Fallujah.

Jadick appeared on the cover of Newsweek in a story about the Battle of Fallujah and his aid station there. From that story he must have received a book offer. Heck, that article is why I bought the book. Since this is one of those flash-in-the-pan autobiographies Jadick briefly covers everything else in his life: growing up, college, Marine Corps, Med School, Navy career, etc. There is plenty more about Iraq, trauma medicine, and Fallujah he could have talked about, but he did not focus on that alone.

The basics to emergency medicine in combat are surprisingly simple. Keep them breathing, pack the wounds with gauze, pump them full of Hespan (to increase plasma volume), get them to a field hospital. Jadick - following the rule of leading from the front- went with his team into Fallujah to set up an aid station as close to the fight as he could get it. Jadick is a trained surgeon who did a few months in a civilian trauma unit but even he did nothing too advanced. He left most aid station work to the skilled corpsman he helped train and prepare.