Friday, January 30, 2009

Quit Listening To: "Night of Thunder" by Stephen Hunter

Quit Listening To: Night of Thunder by Stephen Hunter, downloaded from

I was enjoying the story but not the narrator. Nothing against the narrator, he was doing fine. My problem is that after several Bob Lee Swagger novels I firmly have Swagger's voice and speech patterns in my mind and they clashed too much with the narrator's interpretation.

I'll read it instead.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Listened to: "L.A. Outlaws" by T. Jefferson Parker

Listened to: L.A. Outlaws by T. Jefferson Parker, downloaded from

I enjoyed this from the start. Take three characters, mix in various family members and other cops, shake, bake for 300 pages. Very well done.

Suzanne Jones is a junior-high history teacher who is living out what she believes is her family history of crime. Claiming ancestry of a famous California crook of the 1800s, Joaquin Murrieta, she has been robbing fast food places and stealing cars for a year or so under the guise of 'Allison Murrieta'. Over the past few months she has developed a massive media following in Los Angeles by leaving business cards at crime scenes, posing for photos during heists, and even sending in a videotape to the news.

Charlie Hood is a Deputy Sheriff for Los Angeles County whose nightly patrol brings him in contact with Suzanne. Suzanne had been after $400,000 of cut diamonds a wholesaler was using to settle a gambling debt. When Suzanne arrives at the auto-shop where the deal was being made she finds the diamonds and ten bodies from a recent gun battle. Suzanne grabs the diamonds, avoids some other guy who shows up at the shop, and gets pulled over by Hood when she is speeding in her (stolen) Z-06 Corvette. They start screwing a couple days later.

The "other guy" is Lupercio. A former MS-13 gang leader who is so deadly and scary that even MS-13 called a truce with him after he broke from the gang. Lupercio is working for the fence who was trying to get the diamonds and tracking Suzanne to get them back.

Suzanne was a semi-likable scumbag. She is living dual lives as the admirable and well-liked teacher and as an amoral crook. I was getting pissed off when it looked like Suzanne was going to get away with everything. Suzanne is committing multiple armed robberies - sticking a gun in peoples faces - and stealing cars but easily rationalizes away her crimes. Suzanne gets indignant and angry when a fence tries to drive a better deal for himself for her stolen diamonds. Bitch. Her getting shot was not a surprise rationally, but Parker did well letting me believe she may live, hook up with Hood, and stay out of jail. She is slutty, too.

Lupercio was a great villain. A seemingly unstoppable dude. He dies, of course.

Hood is in Parker's upcoming novel. I'll have to check it out. He is a good character.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Read for the High School Book Club: "Hunger Games" by Suzanne Collins

Read for the High School Book Club: Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, 2008, 9780439023481.

Very good science fiction novel aimed at YAs. Straightforward writing and a good lead character. Collins takes a futuristic setting and makes it realistic and believable. Good enough I emailed Bill Crider, fan of YA lit., to tell him about it.

Katniss is 16 years old and lives with her mother and 12-year-old sister in District 12 of the country of Panem. District 12 is a poor District in the Appalachians and reliant on the coal mining industry. Death by starvation is common in District 12. But, Katniss her older friend Dale often slip outside the electrified fence surrounding the District to hunt game and gather berries and other plants to both supplement their diet and sell or trade.

The local government in each District, 12 Districts in total, answer to the Capitol and the Districts have little to no communication among themselves. The Capitol runs things with an iron fist after District 13 revolted years ago and was ultimately destroyed. The Hunger Games were initiated as a method of maintaining power and keeping the other Districts in line. Dissent and rebellion may result in instant execution. Leaving the District by hunting outside the fence, like Katniss does, is a capital offense. But Katniss is spared this since the "Peacekeepers" who run things are her some of her best customers.

Each District selects two kids, male and female, from 12 to 18 years old to compete in the annual Hunger Games. Some Districts treat their entrants as honored celebrities but District 12 residents fear the yearly lottery used for selection. The Games are set in a different wilderness each year and televised live to the country. Competitors have to hunt and kill one another until only one kid is left. Katniss volunteers herself after her sister is chosen in the lottery. She travels to the Capitol with her male counterpart, meets the trainers, receives three days of training, and is set into the woods. Things happen, people die, realizations are realized.

The Games themselves are interesting. Contestants get sponsors who can send gifts of weapons, food or medicine. The Gamekeepers who design the games can send fires, bad weather, and crazed animals against the players to drive them into action. Katniss's hunting and woodsman skills give her a significant advantage over the others.

The idea of a fight to the death for entertainment is not new. But, Collins takes the topic and does a really solid job. Today's reality television shows, the Olympics, fashion, television poise and presentation, greed and selfishness, and tyrannical government all play a part.

Read: "Blood Alone" by James R. Benn

Read: Blood Alone by James R. Benn, 2008, 9781569475164.

Very good. Much better than I expected. Great story with historical and geographical detail.

Billy Boyle wakes up in a hot and dusty U.S. Army hospital tent. Boyle has intense pain from a head injury and a less serious arm injury. But, Boyle doesn't know he is Boyle. He does not know his name, his job, his family, anything because he has amnesia. Boyle gets a start on remembering when a Sergeant shows up to check on him and says he was the one get him to hospital. Boyle leaves with the Sergeant and his memory starts piecing back together.

This was a really well done book. Set in Sicily after the Allied invasion in the summer of 1943. Boyle has to battle amnesia to find out who he is, who his friends are, who his enemies are, and what his mission is. The amnesia is both physically and psychologically induced. As traumatic memories come back they bring the original trauma along with them.

I liked Benn's descriptions of Sicily and the oppressive heat. Benn ties his story into the true tale of Lucky Luciano aiding the Allied cause by partnership with the Sicilian gangsters. The strange, to me, concept of honor is discussed by the characters and plays out in their actions.

This is the first of the the Boyle series I have read and it works great as a standalone. I'm glad that the Eisenhower connection, Boyle is Eisenhower's nephew and on his headquarters staff, was not played up like I was afraid it would be.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Quit Listening: "Ship of Ghosts" by James Hornfischer

Quit Listening: Ship of Ghosts: The Story of the USS Houston, FDR's Legendary Lost Cruiser, and the Epic Saga of Her Survivors by James Hornfischer, 2006, downloaded from

Not so great. I listened to about 30 minutes. Narrator was not that good and book was not up to the standards set by Retribution. Ship of Ghosts was more of a tale than a history. The author was making assumptions and guessing on individual thoughts and reactions. Sucked.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Read: "Hell Hole" by Chris Grabenstein

Read: Hell Hole by Chris Grabenstein, 2008, 9780312382308.

Very good. Better than the last one in the series. This felt a little darker themed, too.

Danny Boyle and John Ceepak are still partnered in the seaside resort town of Sea Haven, New Jersey. Boyle is still maturing as a full-time cop and Ceepak is recently married with a 17 year old stepson.

Boyle is called to a noise complaint during the summer. The complaint is for a loud party several soldiers are throwing for themselves in a rented house. While Boyle is there one of the soldiers gets a call that a unit member committed suicide in a rest area just a few miles away. Boyle leaves the party to drive a sergeant to identify the body at the scene. Boyle is sickened by the suicide-by-gunshot crime scene but recognizes that something is out of place. He takes a couple cell phone photos and talks about it to Ceepak.

Ceepak, of course, recognizes what is wrong and recognizes this was a murder. Ceepak finds a way to get involved in the investigation and becomes even more involved when finding out the dead soldier is the guy Ceepak rescued from a shoot-out in Sadr City that resulted in Ceepak's Bronze Star. Ceepak had forgotten the dude's name while blocking out most of the bad stuff from Iraq.

I won't go into the plot too much but Grabenstein plotted out a good story. An evil Senator. PTSD. Ceepak's drunken and estranged father showing up. Boyle's advancement in proficiency and ability. (I asked Grabenstein about that in October, '08 and he said he plans to keep Boyle as Ceepak's helper and assistant. Grab. has no plans to have Boyle advance as a level peer with Ceepak investigative skill and fervor.)

There were a few holes or goofy parts, like when one of the soldiers scores heroin and almost dies in an arson set fire intended to kill him. That seemed a stretch. I felt that whole fire scene may have been a chance to write some NYFD friends into the book. (That and show how the soldier was in trouble from his pals, but still...)

Two things that did annoy me:
1) At the end Grabenstein devises a way to get all the characters in the same room for Ceepak to reveal what really happened. That's fine. But, it was then I realized that the whole conspiracy attempt was overblown. They set the dead soldier up to shoot him in the face. The conspiracy devised a way to set-up the Dead Soldier with some new heroin to to shoot-up so he would high as kite and easy to kill. Why not just give him another dose of heroin, or mix in a shot of cocaine, to give him a death by overdose? Why all the blood and drama?
2) Snipers with lasers on their rifles. Aside from range finding what sniper uses a laser?

One last aside. The plot revolves around crimes committed in Iraq by the soldiers. I read a really interesting comment about military justice a few months ago. In the U.S., and some other western countries, crimes by military personnel are investigated and prosecuted. The events are generally not ignored, hidden, or skewed. The commenter pointed out how this is a relatively recent concept and that it is an incredibly admirable aspect of the U.S. Army. The winning army isn't pursuing kangaroo courts over the losers and holds it's own soldiers accountable for their actions.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Read: "The Rising" by Brian Keene

Read: The Rising by Brian Keene, 2004, 978084392018.

Horror novel that I saw plugged in the back of Library Journal or Booklist so I ordered it for the Library.

Zombies roam the earth. This time the zombies are more than zombies. Dead bodies are inhabited by escaped demons from, presumably, hell. But, here is another twist, not just human bodies rise from the dead. So does most everything else. the forests are alive with man eating squirrels, rabbits and deer. And the human demons retain memories that the demons put to use. The zombies don't just shuffle around and chew but they can drive cars, ride motorcycles, and use weapons. Not only that, but the demon souls are organized and communicate to form ambushes and attacks.

Jim has been hiding out from the zombies for the past month in his underground bunker in West Virginia. He is just about to kill himself with a shot to the head when his cell phone rings. Too shocked to answer the call in time he checks his messages and hears a message from his 12 year old son in New Jersey. Jim's battery finally goes dead before he can call his kid back. JIm gets out, teams up with a pastor, and heads out to rescue his son.

Along the way we meet 1) a prostitute junkie who kicks a heroin habit cold turkey. 2) A government scientist whose work may have opened the "portal" for the demon souls to enter. 3) a group of former National Guard soldiers in Gettysburg who force surviving men into slave labor and rape surviving women.

A good horror novel. Keene has several unsettling scenes with zombie children and even zombie infants. Civilization has almost entirely broken down with cannibals, biker gangs, skinheads, and street gangs in charge of some areas. The only government authorities are insane military leaders. Families members are lost in violent and terrible ways to both zombies and humans.

Read: "Killing Rommel" by Steven Pressfield

Read: Killing Rommel by Steven Pressfield, 2008, 9780385519700.

I really liked this one.  Pressfield wrote this like a soldier's memoirs of the English Army's North African 

campaign against Rommel.

Pressfield does a great job.  The book reads exactly like a memoir and has great historical detail.  I originally had no intentions of reading this book.  The reviews I read praised the historical aspects and realism of the book but the "Kill Rommel" mission made it sound like a half-assed "What if?" novel.
Lieutenant "Chap" Chapman is a tank officer in Northern Africa.  During never ending training in the desert Chap tries to transfer to another unit and applies for the Long Range Desert Group (LRDG) who are looking for armor officers to assist in evaluating desert routes.  Chap' s commander does not let request go anywhere and after some beatings by Rommel on the English Army Chap does end up getting the transfer after a personal connection with his Colonel. 
The LRDG is a special forces unit for reconnaissance and raids against the Krauts.  Chap is along, at first, to evaluate possible flanking and attack routes for Gen. Monty's upcoming counteroffensive against Rommel.  Chap ends up being an integral part of the unit and even commands a patrol.
The whole "Kill Rommel" portion of the book is minor; I think the title is very misleading.  Chap and company undertake a mission to kill Rommel but it is not the book’s focus.  Pressfield follows the North African campaign's history very closely and does not seem to make much up.  The hardships of desert travel were neat to read about.  LRDG members all had to be drivers and mechanics as well as shooters.  Each truck carried multiple spare parts and during a month long patrol maybe a quarter to a third of the days were spent on truck maintenance and repair due to the beating they took from the rough terrain.  I was surprised that so many of the LRDG soldiers were Kiwis and that the SAS was a separate unit.
There are quite a few characters to keep track of but nothing too difficult to follow.  A good book.

What's with the screwed up formating?