Saturday, March 31, 2012

Quit: "I, The Jury" by Mickey Spillane

Quit: I, The Jury by Mickey Spillane, 1947 - no print date on the paperback I have.

I was enjoying the book but this $0.75 paperback from the early '80s is yellow and smells. I dislike touching the paper. I breath in the dust from this thing and am afraid I'll catch a lung disease.

I'll have to search for a different copy in the library system. My wife just bought a reconditioned Kindle Fire and I may check for a copy on the Amazon Prime thing she also signed up for.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Heard: "1910-1919" by Joanna Bourke

Heard: 1910-1919: Eyewitness: a history of the 20th Century in sound by Joanna Bourke, downloaded from An English radio production. 

 BBC Audiobooks, LTD is the publisher so I assume this was a broadcast on their channels. I could find no production date but the release date on Overdrive is 2006 and AudioGO (new name for BBC Audiobooks) lists a pub date of 2004. 

 There are still several events from the decade that are still discussed. World War One eclipses everything. The great thing production is audio clips from eyewitnesses and participants. Veterans of the fighting, families left at home, politician's wives, etc. are all included in the audio clips. 

 The war followed the usual pattern. Calls to defend against a foreign threat intent on destroying the nation or way of life. Fervor for the cause with many men enlisting. Hatred for the new enemy. Military and political leaders blundering their way along and leaving corpses on the way. Everyone slowly wearing down and dying off. 

 Anti-German sentiment was very high before the war. There were a lot of German immigrants living in Britain and personal assaults and looting of German owned shops happened around the country. During the unofficial Christmas Armistice in 1914 one English soldier interviewed said a German he talked to spoke fondly of England and wanted to return after the war. That anti-German sentiment was stirred by rumors and propaganda of German atrocities. Things got so bad that - and I had forgot about this one - in 1917 the King changed the royal name from Saxe-Coburg-Gotha to Windsor. 

 The cluster-fuck campaigns on the Western front were discussed. WWI is often spoken of as the advent of the machine gun. Yeah, attacking into machine guns was stupid. But, artillery still did most killing. Artillery did fail in the Somme where the shells did not penetrate deeply enough to German bunkers. After the first couple days of the Somme the "British Army issued a statement". Oh, you can bet that statement was a load of bullshit. 

 Post-war issues of no work and rationing. Before the war 4 in 10 men were ineligible to vote. Women advancing in careers and work during the war leading to suffrage. If women were over 30 and owned property or paid substantial rent they could vote. 

1- Bullshit from the government and military. Bullshit is always coming out of the mouths of those in charge. How do you determine what is true and false? You can say "You can tell he is lying because his lips are moving" but that's an extreme. 
2- Who was the guy who wrote a WWI history with an emphasis on economic theory? Nial Ferguson? I never finished his book but recall how many British could not come to grips that some soldiers liked killing Germans. I tried reading a Bulldog Drummond book a few years ago. I did not take notes but recall that Drummond still had plenty of hatred for the Bosch. 
3- You could argue Drummond is a by-product of wartime PTSD. Drummond cannot settle down and seeks adventure. Plenty WWI vets were struck with drinking problems and an inability to relax.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Finished: "Separate Kingdoms" by Valerie Laken

Finished: Separate Kingdoms by Valerie Laken, 2011, 9780060840945.

Shortest version: The first story sucked. Then the stories got better and better until I was getting stuck in them.

Short version: Blond gal from Milwaukee writes short stories. Many stories have a autobiographical bent. Stories told from male and female perspective. Several stories set in USSR or Russia. I will not try to list a recurring theme. Laken has a link to a Find A Library search on her website.

Version: Some of these were really good. I'm glad I pushed through the first one. I disliked the first one because the protagonist, a 12-yr-old blind Russian boy, seemed to be heading towards tragedy. No tragedy happened but I was very uneasy at the prospect. Interestingly enough, Laken has some brief notes about each story in the back of the book and she was exploring the barrier of crossing from child to adult in this story. There are some uncomfortable experiences of my own at that age that color my desire to read anything like that.

One story has a lesbo couple going to Russkie land to adopt. They have to fake being pals since gay couples are not allowed to adopt but single people are. The two women are quite a bit different in personality and the narrator is both stressed and joyful at adopting. The narrator is more maternal than her wife/partner/girlfriend/whatever but has to try and hide her excitement and love from everyone. After they are shown a second, additional child from the one they were expecting they have to make a choice. But, the narrator has already fallen in love with the first kid by memorizing his photo. The wife wants the second child. Narrator has to balance love for a child versus her love for her wife. Agonizing.

Another story has a 31-year-old sales guy getting seizures. The seizures freeze him up as if he is transported forward in time by a minute or two. Not a good thing when you drive everywhere for work.

1. Would it have killed the fucking publisher to list the story names at the top of the page instead of the damn book title?
2. Regarding the adoption story Laken says a job interviewer "asked me to talk about the gender politics of this story, which made me consider climbing out the window."
3. Laken put out a novel before Separate that sounds interesting. I'll have to run it down.
4. And kill it.
5. Run it down and kill it.
6. With fire.
7. And Marshmallows.
8. And put the fire out with lake water.
9. And get the kids home for bath.
10. Then have another beer.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Read: "Quarry's Ex" by Max Allan Collins

Read: Quarry's Ex by Max Allan Collins, 2011, 9780857682864.

It's a shame Collins writes anything other than Quarry novels. I'd be happy if Quarry were all he wrote. Now that Westlake is gone Quarry is filling my need for the grit of the Parker novels.

Quarry is not a sociopath and is very difficult to understand. A sociopath is what you'd expect for a hired killer. Quarry just became so used to death as an infantryman that death is normal. Murder is an acceptable solution to problems. As Quarry says in several of the books, all his victims are already marked for death so why should it matter if Quarry does the work? What's one more in a daily, worldwide tally?

Quarry justifies and rationalizes his work. Most of his victims were mob-related and never squeaky clean so he can tell himself things are fine. (Things do catch up to him in Last Quarry though.) Does Quarry not understand what a dirtbag he is? That he is disgusting not just for his casual attitude to murder but that he willingly does it?

Plot: Quarry is still running through the list of hitmen he took from The Broker after killing him. Quarry will observe a hit man until the hit man takes a job. Quarry identifies the mark and approaches the mark with an offer to kill the killer and find the employer. For a fee.

It is 1980 and Quarry has followed a killer to a small Nevada town and found out that a movie director is the victim-to-be. Director is doing a biker flick in the desert. Quarry does his spiel and also finds his ex-wife - the murder of her boyfriend was the act that started Quarry on his career - is married to the director. Many emotions ensue. Quarry is torn. Quarry hates and loves his ex-wife. Quarry gets a blow job. Quarry kills the hit man. Quarry hangs around the movie set. Quarry figures some things out. Quarry bangs his ex-wife. Quarry figures everything out. Quarry kills a couple more guys. Quarry and his ex-wife part amicably.

1. More Hi-Power love.
2. More period detail love.
3. Blatant Tom Cruise reference. I mean, if I can figure it out it has to be blatant.
4. Page 142 has Quarry leaving the dead hit man and thinking, "Which truck me as pretty slick on the part of the late Nick Varnos, if some pretty cold-blooded shit. The world wouldn't miss this prick." Does Quarry realize he is talking about himself?
5. That's the thing about assassin novels. The lead needs to be likeable, and Quarry and Eisler's John Rain are, but they are scummy fucks. Just because someone like Quarry or Rain refuse to kill women and children does not make them noble.
6. Movie set lingo and description love.
7. Model 15 Combat Masterpiece love. I wouldn't mind having one of the 6" models but don't want one bad enough to pay for one.
8. Collins recently posted thoughts on readers who criticize the descriptive sex scenes in several of his books. I was wondering about the aftermath of one sex scene but Collins did not address the issue.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Listened: "Bossypants" by Tina Fey

Listened: Bossypants by Tina Fey, 2011, WPLC download.

- I just told my wife I finished listening to this and that the book was, "Not as great as some people [as I literally pointed a finger at my wife] seem to think."
- My wife responds with, "It was funny!"
- "I enjoyed it," I respond "but some of the humor does not translate past the sex line."

This seems to be the usual celebrity autobio with a mix of personal and work history. I liked the book but, like I wrote above, her jokes no motherhood, menstruation, s on women don't click with me. Fey's narration was above average.

Short version: Grew in Philadelphia. Friends with gays. Went to UVA. Fashion disaster. Moved to Chicago. Hired by Second City. Hired to write at SNL. SNL Head Writer. "What's it like being in charge of men?" SNL fake news anchor. Started 30 Rock. Emmies for 30 Rock. Sara Palin. Gets book deal.

Long version:
1- During high school did summer theater and loved it. High school kinda sucked except for those summer theater pals. Loves her parents.
2- College was a romantic failure. Stories told.
3- Chicago was tough with shifts at a suburban YMCA starting at 5 AM. Classes at Second City led to a job there.
4- blah blah blah. What do I have to say that is any more important than what Fey says?
5- I liked her commentary about women in comedy. I've read smaller snippets by her on that topic but the longer stories in the book were illuminating. I just learned illuminative is not a word.
6- A fun book. Well worth your listening time.

Done: "Every Shallow Cut" by Tom Piccirilli

Done: Every Shallow Cut by Tom Piccirilli, 2011, 9781926851105.

This is only 162 pages long and 1-2 blank pages pad-in the start of each chapter. Does this count as a novel or novella? In many ways this is typical Piccirilli. 1- Self-destructive or suicidal lead dude. 2 - Dead family members or family strife. 3 - A car. 4 - Poorly dealing with failure. 5 - Interesting to read.

Does the messed up main character/narrator have a name? I don't recall and could not find when when I just now looked.

Messed-Up begins his tale as three street thugs are beating him on the sidewalk outside a Denver pawn shop. Messed-Up has nothing left in his life to lose but his bulldog, his car, and the stuff he was taking to pawn. Messed-Up up rises up and beats the three dudes. Messed-Up steals $800 bucks from one of the guys. Messed-Up pawns his stuff - for little cash - and buys a .38.

Messed-Up is freshly divorced and foreclosed. Sales of his novels have steadily declined and he decides to head back to Long Island and stay with his disapproving older brother. Messed-Up drives cross country feeding fast food to his bulldog and living in the car. Messed-Up and bulldog spend a week in a motel during a flood and Messed-Up starts a new novel on some legal pads. Messed-Up pawned his laptop a while ago.

Messed-Up gets to Long Island. Messed-Up and brother started clashing when Messed-Up was a teen and the relationship never recovered. Messed-Up is suicidal. Messed-Up is self-destructive. Messed-Up refuses any help or advice.

Messed-Up visits his agent in Manhattan. Agent is no help and terrified when he sees Messed-Up's revolver. Messed-Up visits an author friend who full-times as a therapist. Messed-Up told directly that he is having a break-down and needs help. Messed-Up leaves.

Messed-Up ends back in Long Island and fights with his brother as brother tries to get him to not leave and work his life out. Messed-Up hits the road with his bulldog and his gun and tries to decide where to kill himself.

1. I think this was an e-book first and then got printed. I am not sure and not curious enough to look.
2. I really like Piccirilli's Chase and Jonah novels.
3. Speed-loaders for revolvers illegal? Whuh?
4. My allergies have me addled. This publisher, Chizine out of Toronto, also did Craig Davidson's last book.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Done: The Art of Fielding" by Chad Harbach

Done: The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach, 2011, 9780316126694.

I got 270 pages into this and realized there had not yet been a murder, an armed robbery, or even a beating. In fact, not much of anything interesting happened. And there were still 142 pages to go.

Henry Skrimshander is from South Dakota and playing a final AAU baseball game in Illinois after his senior year at high school. His impressive skill as a short stop is noticed by a the opposing teams pitcher, Mike Schwartz. Mike recruits Henry to play for Westish College. Mike does more than recruit Henry. Mike will be a sophomore but his natural powers of persuasion and strong personality have already carved him a strong place at Westish. He talks Henry's parents into Westish, he talks Henry's dad through the financial aid process, he calls Henry's high school for transcripts, he talks Westish into what, in mid-freaking August, must have been the latest admission in college history.

Scrawny Henry is tutored for three years by Mike into 155 pounds of muscle and tenacity. Fleet of feet with a strong arm and a .408 batting average the team is finally a Div III contender after 100 years of mediocrity. Then things start to fall apart for everyone. For Henry. For Mike. For the college president, Guert. For Henry's roommate, Owen, who is secretly dating the much older Guert. For Guert's daughter, Pella who, is escaping depression and a controlling husband.

A throw to first by Henry went awry and smashed Owen's face. Henry loses all confidence and can only double and triple clutch his throws. Mike's knee pain has cultured a pill popping addiction. Pella starts dating Mike but sleeps with Henry. Guert is found by other college administrators to be shagging Owen and his career is threatened. So on. So forth.

But, not much actually happens. Harbach writes well. The characters are believable and full of detail and life. Westish College has it's own presence. A blurb by Jay McInerney says how Fielding "is an autonomous universe, much like we inhabit, although somehow more vivid." McInerney is correct but for fuck's sake give me something to read about.

1. Westish and the town of Westish sit on Lake Michigan. I looked at a map to figure if Harbach modeled Westish after a real town. The closest guess - based on geographical clues in the text - is Kewaunee. Next choices are Two Rivers or Manitowoc.
2. All of the main characters but one are students or college aged. They are not the usual booze busting students.
2.a. Mike has been on his own since orphaned at 15. Mike's law school admissions are rejected and he is stuck about what to do next.
2.b. Henry is solely focused on baseball and classwork. Henry only goes to bars by getting dragged there.
2.c. Pella is 23-years-old and fled her failed marriage with no money, clothes, or job history.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Listened: "The Fifth Witness" by Michael Connelly

Listened: The Fifth Witness by Michael Connelly, 2011, Overdrive download.

Connelly not Connolly.

Mickey Haller's criminal defense work has dried up in the recession.. There are plenty of criminals but none can pay. Haller takes a couple seminars on real estate and foreclosure law and starts recruiting clients facing foreclosure. Each case pays a relatively small amount, but with hundreds of cases he is making enough dough another to hire an associate attorney.

But, what fun is a financial case? Connelly With An E needs a murder to show us. So, Connelly With An E has one of Haller's foreclosure clients accused of murder. The client, Jennifer, is accused of murdering a banker involved in her foreclosure. Connelly With An E makes clear early on that Jennifer is a nut. Jennifer had made foreclosures her life. She campaigns against banks, foreclosures, etc. She leads protests, picket lies, websites, etc.

Haller takes the case because of the big publicity and the possibility Haller can sell the story to Hollywood and a publisher to cover his firm's pay. Haller works. Haller spars. Haller pushes buttons and envelopes. Connelly With An E writes about the big business of foreclosures in Southern California.

Haller finds a straw man to give the case some reasonable doubt. Haller clashes with the prosecutor. Crazy client. Scum-sucking Hollywood producer sucking on Crazy Client. Haller presses his luck with the judge. Haller still loves his ex-wife. Haller hopes for full reconciliation with his ex-wife. Haller's teen daughter is barely in this one.

Everything ends nice and happy. Crazy Client is acquitted. Crazy Client was so earnest about her innocence and the straw man mobster so convincing that Haller believed her. He was wrong. She was a manipulative, murderous witch. She gets caught at the end with cops digging up her yard for her missing husband. Early on I figured the husband died but Connelly With An E fools us all with Crazy Client hiring a guy to pretend to be her husband and trick Haller on an evidence issue

1. I had all sorts of comments about this after I stopped listening. That desire has fled me.
2. Continuing Haller theme of big versus small guy. Haller always sees himself as the small guy fighting injustice. The end of the novel has Haller filing for election as Attorney General. If Connelly With An E gives the job to Haller how will he adjust?
3. The trial fills up most of the book. That is good. Connelly moves into the trial about a 1/4 through (a rough guess since I listened) and keeps things interesting with new evidence, witness questioning, procedural and legal maneuvering, and more information on trials and how the process works.
4. Matthew McConaughey crack.
5. Brief interview after the novel with Connelly With An E. Connelly With An E says he picked a female client to make a change. Connelly With An E has a good attorney pal, who he partly modeled Haller on, and that attorney moved into foreclousres when the criminal clients dried up.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Done: "Murder at Lascaux" by Betsy Draine and Michael Hinden

Done: Murder at Lascaux by Betsy Draine and Michael Hinden, 2011, 9780299284206.

Not so bad. I thought it would stink I was mistaken.

Nora and her husband Toby are in Southern France. Art historian Nora has wrangled a visit to the Lascaux caves and is researching a early 20th-century French painter. They both will attend the week-long cooking school at the Cazenac-Cazelle Chateau. The chateau is the family home of the painter Nora is researching. Nora and Toby sign up for the cooking class as part of letting Nora access the family archives.

During the Lascaux tour the lights go out and a fellow tour member is murdered. The rest of the group, Nora and Toby and two other Americans, are interviewed by cops. The other Americans are also staying at the chateau cooking school. Everyone is a suspect.

Nora and Toby discover links between the murdered guy and several locals and locales. Intertwined are various histories of Southern France, religious persecution by the Catholic church, World War Two collaboration, theft of artifacts, multiple family secrets from multiple families, and one more murder.

1. A nice mix of characters and local history.
2. Good descriptions of the countryside and the villages they visit. The kind of writing job that explains a place well enough to make you either want to visit or stay away forever.
3. I did not much care about the cooking info but the authors did not go too deep into that.
4. Wisconsin authors.

DNF: "Now Playing" by Ron Koertge

DNF: Now Playing: Stoner and Spaz II by Ron Koertge, 2011, 9780763650810.

I read the first one after a plug by the Unshelved comic. I don't recall how I heard about this sequel.

This starts off right after the first novel ended. Ben the Spaz has presented his high school documentary at a museum and Colleen had gone on a bender. Colleen starts getting clean again. Ben is stuck on her but knows that her addictions make her untrustworthy. Ben makes friends with a rich girl who also likes film. Colleen gets kicked out of her stripper mom's house, stays with Ben for a while, moves in with nice neighbor across street from Ben.

Ben's grandmom does not much like Colleen but does help her out behind the scenes. Colleen finds out where Ben's mom is. They drive only 10 miles or so to see his mom at the Target store she works out. The mom seems drugged out or mentally out there.

I quite reading after that. I had to push myself to continue the story. I wasn't into it so I'm moving on. I predict that is what Ben does with Colleen in the end.