Monday, March 28, 2011

Read: "Come Closer" by Sara Gran

Read: Come Closer by Sara Gran, 2003, 9781569473283.

Since I read her and Megan Abbott's blog I figured I ought to read one of her books. I was looking at her bib. on Novelist and picked this one. A review had a neat comment, "[could not find the quote]". Basically the quote said Gran takes a cliched topic but avoids the pitfalls and keeps it interesting. She did, too, because my interest was kept through all 168 pages. I say that speaks to Gran's skill because most books like this are uninteresting to me.

Amanda and her husband, Ed, live in a NYC loft. They get along pretty well until ademon starts possessing Amanda. Amanda recognizes what is happening, reads up on possession, pursues spiritual, medical, psychological, and magical help but continues to let reason and doubt keep her from a complete cure. After a while her attempts at rescue are hopeless as her demon, Naamah, takes firmer control of her. When Amanda tries to speak out loud to Ed or others her voice is constricted and different words come out.

Naamah is the second wife of Adam who was rejected by Adam when he witnessed God put her together. Or so I recall from the book.

1. Gran skips a lot of the usual stuff and keeps Amanda's narration internal. There is little dialogue and Amanda blacks out whenever Naamah starts to take over. Those blackouts mean there are no extended explanations and descriptions of the various crimes and misbehaviors Naamah undertakes. Amanda is kept in the dark about many of the bad things that are going on.
2. Amanda likes some of the things Naamah enables her with and makes her do. Increased assertiveness, heightened sexuality, a "presence" of beauty and power.
3. I've forgotten what else. I'm listening to an old Howard Stern episode on my headphones and it distracted me.
4. There was another book similar to this where the narration was almost all the internal thoughts of the main character with little dialogue. I don't recall the story I only recall writing similar comments. Will I now look for those comments? No.
5. Gran's personal interests (deduced from reading her blog) come through in this novel. Her online essays on magic, psychology, disassociation, the subconscious explore the same things she puts Amanda through.
6. As a result of Abbott and Gran's blog a copy of Black Dahlia Avenger by Hodel is sitting at home. I have a pile of stuff and may not get to it.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Finished: "One Soldier's War" by Arkady Babchenko

Finished: One Soldier's War by Arkady Babchenko, 2007 (for translation, 2006 for Russian), 9780802118608.

Very good. A veteran's memoir of life in the Russian Army during both Chechen wars.

This is much different than most war memoirs because Babchenko does not write about combat. He refers to the terror of mountain fighting and the many dead friends and comrades but never writes blow-by-blow accounts of attacks, and defenses, and shooting the enemy. Maybe Babchenko's memoir is more "Russian" with it's focus on friends and his experiences in barracks. Maybe the brutality of the conflict is so well known to Russians that he sees no need to rehash the events.

Babchenko's book is chronological but, due to his refusal to write about time in combat, has many gaps. Babchenko was drafted in '95 or '96 and after six months "training" was sent to Chechnya, assigned to a rear area, then assigned to a combat unit. He was demobilised but signed up again in '99 or '00 to fight in the Second Chechen War. Through both campaigns he ended up serving in rear areas, Grozny, the mountains, "the gorge", and elsewhere.

1. Never, ever, ever join the Russian Army. The daily brutality of hazing, bullying, and beatings is incredible. Babchenko was at an airfield in his first tour and his face was constantly swollen from beatings. Many conscripts would just walk away from base and risk the Chechens and inevitable arrest than accept the treatment of soldiers with more time in service. I knew about the brutality of Army hazings, dedovschina, but did not know how bad it could get. Suicides and murders are probably much more common then reported. Cruelty for cruelty's sake paired with starvation and humiliation.
2. Babchenko received little to no training. After six months of basic training he was sent to Chechny after having fired a rifle two times.
3. Babchenko's PTSD is the same as any other soldier in any other conflict. Survivor guilt, sorrow, unable to walk without checking for traps, walking scrunched over to avoid enemy fire, unable to sleep, etc. Babchenko's last essay tells how he slowly recovers to civilian life and how once he stats to write about his experiences all the terror and sounds of war fill his head again. How many veterans try to put down their history and stop so they can rebury the memories and sensations that burst out?
4. There are so many passages worthy of quotation. I'll try and pick just one that occurred at the end and is therefore most fresh in my mind. Babchenko is writing about how irrevocably he is changed from the war:

The you start to get drawn into life. You get interested in this game, which isn't for real. You pass yourself off as a fully fledged member of society, and the mask of a normal person grows onto you, no longer rejected by your body. And those around you think you are just the same as everyone else.
But no one knows your real face, and no one knows you are no longer a person. Happy, laughing people walk around you, accepting you as one of their ow, and no one knows where you have been.
You hear bad things about all armies. The U.S. Army seems very well run. No beatings, paid on time, food to eat, proper gear (aside from hillbilly armor in Iraq), and lots of training and organization.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Read: "DMZ: On the Ground" by Brian Wood and Riccardo Burchielli

Read: DMZ: On the Ground by Brian Wood and Riccardo Burchielli, 2006, 9781401210625.

Not bad. An alternate view of Escape from New York.

A Civil War has occurred and there is a territorial split between New York and New Jersey. Manhattan is a demilitarized zone without any outside services like water, electric, etc. Manhattan is incredibly dangerous with no news coming out.

Matty Roth signs up as intern to a famous photojournalist going into Manhattan. Roth's helicopter is shot down and and everyone is killed but him. Roth's initial attempts at escaping Manhattan are foiled by chance and explosions. Roth stays in Manhattan and starts filing stories.

This compilation has Roth adjusting to life in the city and discovering that a lot of people are living there and that several neighborhoods are thriving. The island is still very dangerous and territorial lines are not to be crossed. Roth's press credentials are like an informal travel visa gaining him access around the city.

1. Much use of Manhattan scenery. This meant nothing to me.
2. Roth ends up being rescued by a medic/doctor named Zee. Zee is tattooed, dreadlocked and has multiple piercings.
3. Where did that awful motif begin? Post-apocalyptic and dystopian films and comics are big on characters having multiple piercings, crazy hair, and tattoos. These tales have societies evolve (devolve?) into tribal communities and, apparently, tribal means copying the real (and imagined) fashions of uncivilized cultures. These people have a lot of time on their hands while scrabbling for food and shelter.
4. Some of the artwork I liked and some I didn't. A lot dark colors were used. Shades of brown, tan, grey, and black give a depressing view of a depressing place.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Read: "Echo Burning" by Lee Child

Read: Echo Burning by Lee Child, 2001, 9780515143829 (2005 paperback).

The weakest of the Reacher novels I have read. Child took awhile to get into the mystery aspect. Most of this was Reacher dealing with intense summer heat and Child detailing the endless flat plains of West Texas.

Reacher is leaving Abilene quick in the middle of the summer heat. He gets a ride from an attractive Hispanic gal, Carmen. Carmen starts feeling him out and telling him about her awful husband who beat her but is now in prison. Carmen asks Reacher for help to kill the husband when he is released. Reacher says, "No" but believes her tale of violent abuse.

Reacher travels with Carmen to BFE West Texas. Reacher hired on as horse hand as reason to stay on husband's family's ranch. Husband's brother Buddy thinks Reacher is fucking Carmen - he isn't. Bobby schemes to get rid of Reacher and Reacher puts two other horse hands in hospital. Bobby has DPS Troopers evict Reacher from bunkhouse on same day husband comes back from prison. Assassins go to work on tangential characters.

Carmen is arrested for killing her husband the same night Reacher is driven away in back of squad car. District Attorney is sympathetic because he needs Hispanic votes for a judgeship and likes Carmen. DA says Carmen is a liar and an ex-whore which is the opposite of what she told Reacher. Reacher still believes in Carmen. Reacher gets her a lawyer. Reacher thinks. Reacher says little. Carmen's daughter is kidnapped. Reacher kills people with both brute violence and brains. Assassins and bad guy are defeated and Reacher hits the bricks.

1. This different from other Reacher books in that Reacher is not shagging anyone. Carmen offers herself as payment which Reacher declines. Carmen's lawyer is a hot lesbian with a girlfriend.
2. American details. Child calls DPS troopers Texas Rangers. They are not the same. As I recall the Rangers do promote from within DPS.
3. Reacher can be a dickhead. He is grouchy and taciturn overly violent. Child usually has Reacher squaring off against irredeemable scumbags but there are times in Echo where Reacher's violent reactions go beyond reason.
4. Constant mention of Reacher's size and weight. Nothing new there.
5. Typical Reacher behavior of sizing up competence and abilities of people, especially police officers.
6. What happened to Reacher's ability to always know the time? He wears a watch in this one and checks it. One novel had him explaining his natural ability to always know the time. That is a large slip in continuity.

Finished: "The Road" by Cormac McCarthy

Finished: The Road by Cormac McCarthy, 2006, 9780307265432.

Eh. What is the big deal on this book? It's post-apocalyptic science fiction with cannibals. This is a less interesting version of Go-Go Girls of the Apocalypse. McCarthy throws in some flowery language that I just skipped over anyway.

I was getting bored and ready to quit after about 50 pages. I decided to finish because, damnit, I had not finished a Men's Book Club book in months and would finish this one. I also wanted to know if the man and son would be eaten by cannibals.

Man and son - no names given - are traveling South across a post-apocalyptic landscape to warmer weather. McCarthy provides no geographical names and no explanation for the event(s) that caused the world to be covered in ash, dying plants, and constantly overcast weather.

Man and son repeatedly have overcome three problems: 1-No food, 2-Freezing weather, 3-Cannibals. At least until the father dies and the son is taken in by non-cannibals.

1. If you skip through the flowery crap the story is not so bad the threat of the characters being eaten kept me involved.
2. The novel's plot ans story are very neutral. McCarthy sticks to man, boy, and daily survival. There is little on morality and nothing on causes and politics.
3. During the Book Club discussion I realized how easily the novel's neutrality can be used by any political persuasion. The left: peace, kindness, working together. The right: the world will fall apart and it's every man for himself.
4. I do like how McCarthy sets this about 7 years after the apocalyptic events. Man and son are left scavenging. Food and ammunition stockpiles are no more, the population is way down, no wildlife for hunting.
5. Cannibals.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Listened to: "The Book of Three" by Lloyd Alexander

Listened to: The Book of Three by Lloyd Alexander, 1964, downloaded digital copy from

I know I previously read this book and the others in the series. I remember the pig, the bad guy with a horned helmet, and the traveling. I was completely blank on the plot. I checked it out to both relearn the tale and consider the novel's maturity level for Boy #1.

Jack had copies of the Prydain series in his room. I cannot recall if I wanted to read these at the time or not. I have a split memory on whether I, A) wanted to read them but was reluctant because of sibling clashing. Or, B) I was reluctant to read them but did anyway because Jack did and I felt I should, too.

I am sure I liked the girl, Eilonwy, much less on the first reading. Teenage and pre-teen girl characters would aggravate and annoy me when I was in elementary and middle-school. The narrator's voice for her was very well done with little barbs of anger and sarcasm throughout the novel when she would get angry at Taran.

Anyway. Taran is an orphan living on a farm with an old wizard and Coll, who runs the farm. Taran is about 14 or 15 and years old and chafing to get away from farm life and live adventurously. One of Taran's chores is caring for Hen Wen the "oracular pig". Hen Wen has a freak-out one day and escapes her pen because she knows the bad guys are invading the kingdom. Taran takes off into the woods after her.

Taran blunders through the woods and meets a prince and the man/animal/bum, Gurgi, who follows the prince around. Taran is enamored with the warrior prince. Both are captured by evil witch. Taran escapes dungeon through help of Eilonwy, the witch's charge. Taran and Eilonwy team up with Fflewddur Fflam, a traveling minstrel. All set out to find the pig and warn the king about the coming invasion of bad guys. Gurgi tags along.

Fleeing and fighting follow. Bad guy zombies chase the group. Taran and the rest are heroic with sword play and arrows and spears. Not too much fighting though. Taran faces off against the novel's main bad guy, Helmet Horns Head. Novel ends with Taran returning to the farm and Eilonwy staying at the farm with everyone rather than return to the family who gave her to the witch. Taran is glad to be home but his adventures have changed the way he sees the farm.

1. The relationship between Taran and Eilonwy has the young teenagers behavior of sparring and arguing alternating with kindness and compliments.
2. A standard, modern, YA quest novel. Disparate group traveling and working together. Self-discovery by the hero. Teenage confusion on what choices to make when under pressure. Split loyalties in the decisions. First time making adult decisions without guidance of an elder. A pretty girl with a forceful personality.
3. How much did quest novels change after Tolkien? The pre-Tolkien stuff I read in college English and classics classes focused on a lone hero. After Tolkien's Frodo traveled around with a group did other authors join in?

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Read: "Innocent Monster" by Reed Farrel Coleman

Read: Innocent Monster by Reed Farrel Coleman, 2010, 9781935562207.

Just not for me. Coleman writes well but the main character, Moe Prager, doesn't do it for me. I really like Coleman's Tony Spinosa books though; I think Hose Monkey is quite good and look forward to a third entry in that series. Megan Abbott had some online comment about Innocent that made her sound like she was swooning over this one.


Moe Prager has been estranged from his daughter, Sarah, since his ex-wife (her mother) was murdered by a guy out for revenge against Prager. The estrangement was all from the daughter's side until she calls him up to ask for help in finding a missing girl. The girl, Sashi, is the daughter of Sarah's favorite childhood babysitter, WhatsHerFace. Moe has retired from PI work but wants his daughter back. Sashi has been missing several weeks and Moe figures she is dead. The cops figure she is dead. The parents mostly figure she is dead. Moe still wants his daughter back and figures maybe he can find the body.

Sashi is only 14 (or so) but a famous painter. Moe asks questions of art types. WhatsHerFace and husband are lousy parents. Moe liaises with investigating cop. Moe meets creeps who despise Sashi and he work. Moe hires former offensive lineman for muscle work. Moe meets gal. Moe reminisces. Moe has sex with gal from Boston. Gal splits town. Moe reminisces again, and again. Moe cracks case and insane guy is found after suicide with evidence he killed Sashi. Moe is maudlin. Moe goes on bender. Moe figures everything out in the end. Gal comes back and saves Moe from a beating.

1.a. One thing that turned me off is that I kept picturing Coleman as Prager. I've heard Coleman at Muskego twice now and imaging his constantly smiling, bearded, and bald head all over Gal's naked body creeped me out. It felt like seeing a kindly grandfather picking up a hooker at a singles bar.
1.b. I hate when I associate the looks, voice, and mannerisms of an author with the main character. But, once it happens I cannot disassociate.
2. I'm glad Coleman did not create a wine snob with Prager. I reckon there must be a wine shop themed mystery series out there with a focus on wine not unlike those recipe mysteries. That is the kind of novel I do not want to read.
3. I figured out the bad guy early on. I felt proud of myself for that. The bad guy was not so bad though. Catching him was no great victory for justice considering he was probably helping as much as hurting. The resulting denouement is akin to Gone Baby Gone.
4. I learned the meaning of denoument in high school English class.
5. I bought most of the other Prager books in the series and may try James Deans or Walking.
6. Speaking of Megan Abbott, that blog of hers and Gran is nice.

Just Never Finished: "Bad Dirt" by Annie Proulx

Just Never Finished: Bad Dirt: Wyoming stories 2 by Annie Proulx, 2004, 0743257995.

This was for the Men's Book Club and I just never got into the stories. I've read a couple before but I don't know if I ran across them in magazines or tried to read (or finished) the book before.