Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Just Finished: "Bury Me Deep" Megan Abbott

Juat Finished: Bury Me Deep by Megan Abbott, 2009, 9781416599098.

Good book. I have not yet read the afterword about Winnie Ruth Judd. Knowing that the novel took the Judd story as a starting point was what delayed my starting this book. Too much bad taste in my mouth from Phoenix and the fact that the gal who wrote the book on Judd, Bommersbach, got on my nerves.

Told from the perspective of Marion Seeley. Seeley is young - about 25 or 23 - and married to an older doctor, Everett, who is in his thirties. Marion has been married to Dr. Seeley, as she calls him, for several years. But, Everett is a heroin addict and they have spent the marriage bouncing around the country as Everett has gone state-to-state chasing a valid medical license and landing in rehab.

The Seeleys land in Phoenix with Everett depositing Marion in a boarding house while he heads to a job with a mining company in Mexico. Marion makes friends with a nurse at the TB clinic she works at. The new pal, Louise, and Louise's roommate/pal, Ginny, make fast friends with Marion. Louise and Ginny invite Marion to all their wild parties, give "good girl" Marion her first drink, and introduce her to Joe. Joe introduces Marion to lust and sexual ecstasy.

Marion can't get enough of Joe. Marion worries over her sin and betrayal to Everett - even though Everett is a junkie bum - but cannot tear herself away from Joe and is happy in her sin. Joe is a married philanderer though and soon starts to cast Marion aside. One night Marion and Louise and Ginny start to fight. Ginny is killed. Louise is killed. Joe has Marion take the bodies to L.A. to hide.

Anyway. I missed a few pertinent details but you get the point. Marion is backstabbed by Joe. Marion has massive guilt. Marion still wants her legs wrapped around Joe. Everett shows back up. Things happen. Hearts are torn. Blah, blah, blah.

I liked this more than Queenpin. The writing style felt different. I'm not sure why, both are told first person. (Was that first person? I get confused.) Maybe I'll have an opportunity to ask Abbott about it at Muskego.

1- Lots of neat period touches by Abbott. Soaking hair in castor oil, meals, TB patients and symptoms, geography of Phoenix and L.A.
2- Abbott likes commas.
3- I don't like to having to keep checking the book cover to spell Abbott's name correctly.
4- Abbott did not spring many surprises for me until the end. It took me a while to catch the lesbian angle though. Several things said by Louise are remembered later and revealed to mean something different (kind of like James Ellroy does).

EDIT: 5 - Both Queenpin and Bury feature a female protagonist enthralled with a rough and cruel dude.

Listened To: "Dispatches" by Michael Herr

Listened to: Dispatches by Michael Herr, 1977 (listened to 2009 audio version off Overdrive).

Since audiobooks take so long to complete I take notes while listening. Here they are with a little clean-up after I finished listening:

Which came first? The attitude or the book? Is Herr's writing reflective of what went on or has everyone copied his tone?

Stories have been taken by and used by others:
"How can you shoot women and children?" responded with, "Just lead them a little less." and "You should do a story about me, I have 150 confirmed kills [plus oxen]" in Full Metal Jacket. Spooky M-79 shooter on the line in Khe Sanh redone in Apocalypse Now.

[Later comment: I found out after listening to the book that Herr helped write the script for Jacket.]

Khe Sanh's disastrous venture. Improperly digging in with the aid station next to the always shelled runway. Just sitting and waiting for an attack - to be fair an attack was expected by all. I once read a Marine's comments that they were always patrolling outside the perimeter but that ended after a while.

The Marines were just waiting it in Khe Sanh out until the weather cleared and the Air Force went to work. The Marines' stumblefuck in the mud was pointed out in a press conference by a former Marine captain working as a journalist. The former Marine pointed out how they had not dug in. The bunkers were crap. When the Army sent in the Cavalry to take over after the NVA left the Cav skipped the crappy original location and started building bases on the hills and bringing in all sorts of stuff. Khe San's original base was abandoned.

Comments about the Marines' reputation outweighing reality. Marines would go in with fewer people and weapons - seemingly based on reputation and pride. Whether or not they could get away with it or not was irrelevant. I'm assuming some of that was just because the Marines always seem to be the under equipped step child.

The unreality of first combat. The foolishness of expectations by Herr. Everyone seems to have some aspect of posing - Marines, Army, Journalists all amongst one another and with other groups. Exception being Sean Flynn and Dana Stone.

Photos carried by Marines and soldiers. The same photos were encountered everywhere - dead Viet., smiling soldiers holding up decapitated heads, a head propped on the body's chest, heads in a row with cigarettes in their mouths, dead VC female with the automatic phrase "no more boom-boom for that mama-san", cut-off ears, ears strung onto a necklace. "Snapshots were the least of what they took after a fight. At least pictures didn't rot." The same as now but soldiers have digital cameras and flash drives. Did the same things happen in Iraq and Afghanistan? Is the leadership and professional of young soldiers different than the '60s?

Everyone was raised on war movies. First times in combat seem like a movie with you waiting for everything to reset itself. Soldiers and Marines raised on war movies who do stupid things in combat just because a camera is there. The unreality of it is the same as now except their are also references to video games. The said comparisons to movies were made by soldiers in the Black Hawk Down fight in Somalia.

Herr's comment and criticism of the press corps: hundreds of credentials handed out during the war by MACV. Herr figures only about 50 of the people were any damn good. The rest were from a wide cariety of small and big papers, magazines, college reporters on vacation, magazine reporters, 2nd tier literary types 'who wrote how they hated the war more than you', people who accepted everything they were spoon fed by the military press assistance people and high ranking officers, press people who never went into the field, etc.

The main reason I listened to this is from reading about Sean Flynn in Requiem and remembering Kevin Dillon playing him in Frankie's House. (I never saw Frankies House all the way through, I only caught a few bits on television.) Even before Flynn disappeared he had a bigger than life reputation as Movie Star's Son. He was a good looking dude with his own acting experience. Flynn rejected that past and got by on his own ability. Requiem mentioned how Flynn would go out with LRRPs for weeks at a time and Herr mentions how Flynn would come back with only a two rolls of film.

Neat stories about Tim Page's history of injuries and his long recovery from the last injury.

Sign at Special Forces camp: Mercenaries kill for money. Sadists kill for fun. Green Berets do it for both.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Read Several Days Ago: "The Book of Murder" by Guillermo Martinez

Read Several Days Ago: The Book of Murder by Guillermo Martinez, 2008, Translation by Sonia Soto, 9780670019946.

Novelist in Argentina is contacted by a woman, Luciana, who worked for him as a transcriptionist 10 years ago. Transcriptionist asks Novelist for his assistance because she believes another novelist, Kloster, has been murdering her family members for the past decade. Novelist narrates tale of month long business relationship with Luciana and his own deep admiration for the brilliant Kloster. Novelist meets Luciana and Luciana tells tale of working for Kloster and her suing him for sexual harassment. Luciana tells tales of tragic deaths of her boyfriend, her parents, and her brother. Luciana fears she or her younger sister are next. Luciana comes to Novelist in a panic when she learns her sister will be interviewing Kloster.

Novelist contrives method to meet with the now famous Kloster. Kloster tells his side of the tale. Kloster's work with Luciana, making a failed pass at her, Kloster's insane wife, his resulting divorce due to the lawsuit, his wife's murder of their daughter. Kloster's writing of a revenge themed novel that he felt was partly written by a mysterious force or being that entered his mind. His idea that the being has been killing Luciana's family.

Luciana ends up killing herself to save her sister. Sister and Kloster start doing the deed. Novelist is left to wonder on the idea of chance versus paranoid obsession.

This was good. There were a few other, smaller characters but Martinez told the story through the three main characters and he did a damn good job. Not to mention that the translator, Soto, must also be quite good. Not a mystery or a thriller either. Noir-ish though with a single guy, the mysterious, and possibly powerful, Kloster, the paranoid Luciana, the young and beautiful sister in sexually charged danger from Kloster.

Not as much math discussion in this like in The Oxford Murders. Novelist and Kloster have a discussion on chance and probability. Is Luciana a nutbag? Indications point to "Yes, she sure is." But, her parents are killed by a poisonous mushroom and her brother is murdered by someone who writes to a convict to let the convict know the brother was shagging the convict's wife. What is the probability that Luciana's relatives and boyfriend would all die in rare ways? What or who should Novelist believe?

This brought on thoughts about Argentina and the Dirty War. The War was never referred to by Martinez but I pondered it anyway.

Other: Over the weekend I watched Illuminados por el fuego [Blessed by fire] which was about Argentine veterans of the Falklands. After such a disastrous and completely fucked up campaign by the Argentines I was surprised of the continued fervor and belief by Argentines that the Malvinas belong to them. I'm guessing that part of that is both national pride and true belief the islands are really theirs, and the other part is sorrow over the deaths of so many young guys was for naught.

The battle scenes in Illuminados were well done. They focused only on the two soldiers in question and showed things from their perspective: no sweeping aerial views or coverage of other battles on the islands, showed the confusion of the night battles, CGI added tracers and sound effects were effectively used.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Finished: "Catching Fire" by Suzanne Collins

Finished: Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins, 2009, 9780439023498.

Good story, but I liked the first book better.

Katniss and Peeta are back in District 12 and living in the Victors' Village. Katniss is pining for Gale but her false romance with Peeta during the Hunger Games has driven a wedge between them. Gale is also forced to work at least six days a week in the mines and Katniss does not have much opportunity to see him. Katniss wants to flee the District and take to the woods with Gale and her family.

Katniss and Peeta are due to take a victory tour to all the other Distrcits. Katniss receives a visit from the super-evil President Snow who says her defiance during the Games has sparked discontent and uprisings in the other districts. Snow threatens her to get in line or he will kill all her family, Peeta's family, and Gale's family.

Katniss and Peeta do the tour of other Districts and play all lovey-dovey for the crowds and camera but Katniss and Peeta just barely witness a brutal and murderous crushing of a public dissent. Katniss also realizes she will have to carry on the fraud with Peeta into marriage and children. Discussion ensues on whether District 13 was really leveled 50 years ago. A new police commander in District 12 starts violently cracking down on the populace.

Since the different Districts have been rebelling - Kat gets word of this from several sources - President Snow reads off new rules for that year's 75th anniversary of the Games. Suspicion is that Snow has changed the rules to both distract the Districts and enforce a penalty for their actions. For this Game all previous years winners are selected to compete again. Katniss and Peeta go back in the area and Katniss plans to have Peeta survive this time. Things happen, people die in the arena, rotten people are introduced, duplicity is pondered, etc.

My problems with the novel:
1- The story does not stand on its own. I know this is part of a planned series but Collins references too many instances and people in the first book without explanation. That always annoys me. Yeah, the author's goal or advice may be to have the reader start at #1 but I still think there should be more background info given.
2 - The Hunger Games was the focal point of the first book. Kat's and Peeta's preparation and competition in the Games take up most of the story. This book has Katniss trying to adjust after her win and wondering how to either run away or fight the Capital. The first half of the story lead me to think Kat would be actively involved with a rebellion. But then, Collins sticks her and Peeta back in the stupid Games.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Listened to: "The Mysterious Benedict Society" by Trenton Lee Stewart

Listened to: The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart, 2007, downloaded from

Boy #1 took swimming lessons this past summer. I would usually try and bring something to read. but most often ended up dozing away in the too hot building. One day I grabbed the wrong book and ended up with the print version of this novel. I got hooked within the first few pages and checked out the audio version when I saw it on Overdrive. The first few pages were still interesting but the story did not live up to that initial promise. The ending gave quite a few surprises though.

Reynard is an orphan, about 11 years old, and extremely intelligent. His life in the orphanage is dismal except for his female tutor. One day he answers a newspaper ad, "Are you a gifted child looking for Special Opportunities?". Rennie passes a series of strange and bewildering exams and is selected along with three other kids: Sticky, Kate, and Constance. All four kids are orphans, smart, and talented. They are selected by Mr. Benedict, a narcoleptic scholar and former orphan himself. Benedict tells them of a secret plot that has been sending cryptic brainwashing messages over the television airwaves. Those airwaves are behind the Emergency that has been going on for years. Benedict has recruited the four kids to be secret agents and pose as students in a private school where the messages are emanating from.

The kids get brief training from Benedict and his staff and get to know one another. The kids are almost captured by "recruiters" from the private school.

All four enlist in the academy run by Mr. Curtain - who turns out the be Mr. Benedict's twin. Curtain dislikes children and the bizarre and contradictory lessons the kids are learning make no sense. The kids investigate quietly. The kids fight evil "executives" who run the school and act as teachers. The kids communicate with Mr. Curtain's group via Morse Code. We learn about the kids. The kids have conflict within their group. The kids discover Curtain's sinister plan to take over the government. The kids defeat Curtain. Curtain escapes. The kids rejoin Benedict. Reynard is adopted by his tutor. Sticky is reunited with his parents. Kate finds her lost father. Constance is adopted by Benedict.

My problems: 1- This book seemed watered down compared to the darkness and true danger in the Lemony Snicket novels. I didn't feel the threat to the kids in Mysterious like I did in the Unfortunate Events novels.
2 - The clean and happy ending was nice and not unexpected but, again in comparison to Unfortunate, was overdone for more.

My Likes: 1- I did not expect the reunion between Kate and her father. Kate's father had disappeared years before and lost his memory. He had already appeared, unrecognized, as a helper of Mr. Benedict.Sticky's reunion with his parents was also unexpected but a nice touch.
3- The mysterious technology angle.
4- The amazing memory of Sticky and the brain power of Reynard. The ingenuity of Kate.
5- The revelation of Constance's age.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Finished a Couple Days Ago: "The IPCRESS FIle" by Len Deighton

Finished a Couple Days Ago: The IPCRESS File by Len Deighton, 1963 (U.S. version), LC number 63-15370 (no ISBN).

I really liked this one. I am sure I have read other Deighton books before but cannot recall what without searching a bib list of his work. Furst's espionage novels have always drawn me in so maybe I should look for more in the genre.

I am a big fan of the movies done on the Harry Palmer character with Michael Caine as Palmer. (Never mind that the novels never gave the narrator a real name.) I saw those flicks back when AMC used to show classics and before they had to start running commercials.

There is no surprise that the novel and movie differ quite a bit in plot. The bare basics remain: Narrator is a spy for the British government in 1962 (or so). Unknown is a bit of a smart-ass but good at his job. He is investigating a kidnap ring in the U.K.

Until the start of the novel Unknown had been in military intelligence until starting a civilian job with a civilian intelligence operation headed by Dalby. Dalby is a rising star and his unit's work has made Dalby a very powerful man in England's government.

Unknown is tasked with finding a kidnapped scientist. He and other unit members are able to do so but do not catch the ringleader of the kidnappers who have been nabbing scientists and selling them to the Soviet Bloc. Dalby disappears on assignment and Unknown takes over the unit. Investigation into the kidnappings continues with the help of a statistical analyst. Weird things happen. Unknown gets suspicions of his old boss - they never got along - being either a crook or turncoat.

Dalby reappears and Unknown and other unit members are detailed to a South Pacific island to observe a U.S. nuke bomb test. Unknown finds that he is suspected as a double-agent but finds evidence Dalby is the double-agent. Unknown is arrested for murder and espionage by the U.S. Army. Unknown is sent for repatriation to the UK but traded-in-turn to Hungary. Unknown is held in solitary and tortured. Unknown escapes his prison to find he is really in the UK and was in custody of the kidnapping ring and undergoing a long term brainwashing. Unknown stays underground. Unknown's friend is murdered. Unknown is wanted for the friend's murder. Unknown cracks the case against Dalby and the kidnappers. Unknown presses an Army General to find out the high government official who was in on the kidnappers with kidnapping ringleader. Ringleader ends up working for government intelligence.


1 - IPCRESS has great plotting that my short summary completely misses.
2 - There some nice twists, turns, and suspicions that make for a good espionage tale.
3 - At times Unknown's humility and self-deprecation make him seem a bumbler or novice but he isn't.
4 - There are several dated political and entertainment references and slang words.
5 - Why the hell wouldn't the kidnapping ringleader be forced to turn over the name of the government dude who was in on the plot?
6 - Sexual situations are alluded to but not described.
7 - I thought of offering this for inclusion to the Friday's Forgotten Books project but these notes are written for myself, not an audience. My punctuation and grammar would require too much self-scrutiny anyway.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Finally Finished: Medal of Honor text by Peter Collier.

Finally Finished: Medal of Honor: portraits of valor beyond the call of duty text by Peter Collier, photographs by Nick Del Calzo, 2006, 9781579653149 (2nd edition).

This is a big format book (10" x 11") and not easy to hold and read the way I usually do so it took a while for me to finish it. The book's focus is on living honorees with a large black and white portrait, a smaller black and white portrait of the man at about the time of the action, a precis of the citation, extra biographical information, and maybe an extra anecdote or two.

After reading all these stories I wonder "How are they still alive?"

So many continue on as career Army and Marine members. One guy was awarded for action in Vietnam and continued serving with a tour in Iraq in 2005. Many others are discharged and get notice a year or so later that the award will be presented.

Some amazing stories like Rubin who was in a Concentration camp as a kid, then emigrated to the States, joined the Army, went to Korea, was captured and spent two years in a North Korean prison camp. I wonder if North Korea seemed like summer camp after WWII; especially since Rubin's knowledge from WWII enabled him to keep a few dozen other prisoners alive. I looked Rubin up online and found a newspaper article from a couple years ago. Rubin did not get the award until 55 years later because he was Jewish. Rubin said his Sergeant was an anti-Semite and would always 'volunteer' Rubin for tough jobs. Rubin told an audience at the VA in Prescott, AZ that he was put up for multiple times for the MOH, DSC, and other awards because of this.

Several stories are familiar to me. The mustached Scotsman in Korea who led a bayonet attack against a hilltop position. Senators Kerry and Inouye. The defense of Guadalcanal's Henderson Field by a machine gunner. The Navy guy who was a SEAL, lost an eye, and then joined the FBI.

Inouye's was one of many awards that were given after formal re-evaluation by Defense for people who may have gotten shafted for being Asian, black, Jewish, etc.

The stories got depressing after a while. Each individual story can be inspiring, but the guys who are honored are usually the first to point out all the dead comrades that preceded the action. All the stories are so similar too. Honorees with multiple wounds during action, attacking multiple enemy bunkers, falling on a grenade and surviving, multiple trips into enemy fire to rescue or treat wounded comrades.