Monday, January 28, 2013

Finished: "Power Ballads" by Will Boast

Finished: Power Ballads by Will Boast, 2011, 9781609380427.

Committee book.  Pretty damn good.  Short stories about working musicians in the Chicago area.  Interlocking stories with a drummer named Tim in most stories.  A difficult life that pays poorly, requires late nights and touring that keep people away from their families and damages romantic relationships.

The musicians work hard as youths and the music gives them a joy and transcendence.  But, they drift away to other careers as they hit their late twenties.  Minor hit makers go into accounting or directing church choirs and resurface 10-20 years later to play local bars on the weekends.

Tim is a jazz drummer.  He plays with the big names of jazz which means, as one record company guy tells him, no one has heard of him.  He still makes his living as a musician though.  Not an easy thing to do.  Around his jazz playing he plays for different bands as a member or fill-in. 

One story has Tim doing session work for twin brothers from Kansas City who are set to hit it big with some parent-friendly hard rock.  The brothers are Ricky Nelson Kid stand-ins.  Beautiful guys with great teeth and camera ready for bedroom posters.  But, the bass player and drummer are too schlubby.  The two schlubs get paid off with a few thousand bucks and bus tickets back to KS/MO.  Tim is hired for studio work and then hired to tour with the Nelson Kids - the tour poster has Tim and the new bass player standing behind the Nelson Kids and photo-shopped with deep shadows on their features. 

Tim and the Nelson Kids barely interact.  Tim takes his profession seriously but is not much into the Nelson music.  He barely interacts with the Nelsons and shines them on with a smile when needed.  He's happy to be touring and making more money than he ever did before.

The first story, Sitting In, was really damn good.  Tim as a 14-year-old arrogant tuba player who goes to Milwaukee bar with his dad to hear a local polka band.  Tim is critical of the gas station attendant playing the tuba.  He dislikes the Attendant and thinks he should take over the chair.  As he starts to sit-in with the band he gets worse and the Attendant - whose status and ego are wrapped into these Saturday jobs  - is not happy.

Interesting look at profession and skill I know nothing about.  1. Distaste and impatience with amateur antics.  2. The importance of equipment for a good sound.  3. Understanding and use of musical theory and structure.  4. Impermanence of bands and musical jobs.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Read: "Sunset and Sawdust" by Joe R. Lansdale

Read: Sunset and Sawdust by Joe R. Lansdale, 2004, 9780375414534.

Lansdale is a Facebook posting fanatic.  I tend to skip over half his posts but he posted a link to this one not too long ago.  I placed a reserve, took it home, and read it.  I liked it.  Spoilers.

Sunset Jones is concerned about her husband, Pete.  Sunset's main concern for Pete is his vioelnt behavior.  Especially since Pete is raping Sunset as the novel opens.  Since Pete is also a local Constable in Depression-era East TX he ditched his gunbelt when unbuckling his pants.  Sunset reaches over, pulls Pete's revolver, sticks the gun to his head, and sprays her herself and her kitchen with Pete's blood and gore.

The blood and gore would make a mess to clean up.  Good thing a tornado was tearing by and took the house along with it.  Too bad the tornado didn't clean off Sunset, too.  Sunset stumbles her way over to her in-law's house where Sunset and Pete's daughter is.  Sunset has no where else to go.  Her in-laws are not pleased to learn about Pete.  I don't recall if the in-laws were concerned about the house.  Sunset never lets go of the revolver.

Turns out Pete's father was just as violently abusive as Pete.  Sunset's mother-in-law Marilyn first slaps Sunset, then hugs her and supports her.  Marilyn sews her own husband into his bed sheets, beats him with a rake, then kicks him out for good.  Many more things happen.

Sunset is appointed Constable through the influence of Marilyn who owns a majority of the local sawmill that employs most everyone in town.  Sunset hires a musician drifter named Hillbilly and a local sawmill worker, Clyde, as her deputies.  A woman police officer is not liked in those times.  A woman with any power is disliked.  Could be worse though.  She could be a black man and be considered even lower.

Things happen: Sunset helps in local big town when black guy kills a couple people at a movie theater.  Sunset finds out about a dead baby and woman buried in a black farmer's farmland.  Sunset finds out about scheme to steal land for oil rights.  Hillbilly is a narcissistic and sociopathic piece of garbage.  (Hillbilly murders five fellow hobos, knocks up Sunset's daughter, screws Sunset, skips out to hang with a local whore,takes up with Bad Guy.)  Sunset always keeps that revolver on her or next to her.

Sunset's long lost father returns.  Bad Guy and Bad Guy's Brother are from Chicago and there for the oil scheme.  People are murdered by Bad Guy's Brother.  People are avenged with shotguns.  Sunset figures out the dead baby and woman.  Sunset drives off into the sunset.

1.  It's all a way for Lansdale to tell a tale about life in small town East Texas during the Depression.  Black men are always at risk of lynching for little or no reason (and one occurs).  Women are not respected.  Men with power get away with a lot.  Poor people struggle.  Marriages are complex and people are tied together by circumstance, even when one partner should leave.
2.  These are some common Lansdale themes and he does his usual good job with them.  What's that one character say in a Crider book?  Something like, "When you look past all the foul language he [Lansdale] talks about some very important things."
3.  I'm thinking of collecting a bunch of Lansdale similes for a work video.
4.  There are at least two covers for these novel.  One of the covers is lousy.  I like the second version that is on my copy.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Quit Listening: "The Wizard of OZ" by L. Frank Baum

Quit Listening: The Wizard of OZ by L. Frank Baum. download.

Narrated by Brooke Shields. 
Some actors are good book narrators. 
Some actors are lousy book narrators.
I quit less than half way through.

Listened: "Captains Outrageous" by Joe R. Lansdale

Listened: Captains Outrageous by Joe R. Lansadale Hisownself, 2001 (print pub date), download.

Another great reading by Phil Gigante.  Another survey of dick jokes by Lansdale. Another enjoyable listen by myself.

Hap Leonard are working as nightwatchmen for the local chicken processing plant.  Hap sees a naked girl beyond the plant's chain link fence getting stomped into the ground.  Hap climbs the fence.  Epic fight ensues between Hap and hopped-up, pilled-up, doped-up, boozed-up assailant.  Hap prevails.  Barely.

Girl's father is chicken plant owner.  Girl's father rewards Hap $100,000.  Hap, of course, wants to decline the money.  Hap ends up accepting the dough and he and Leonard decide on a vacation.  John, Leonard's new boyfriend, convinces them to take a Caribbean cruise.

Hap and Leonard on a cruise ship? No way this can last and it doesn't.

Leonard wastes no time in pissing someone off.  The person in question is the ship's maitre'd who strictly enforces the restaurant's "recommended" dress code. Leonard employs his usual charm of threatening violence.  Before boarding a tender to the Mexican shore the maitr'd apologizes and says the tender returns to the shore at 3 PM.  Hap and Leonard return at 3 PM to find the tender left at 2 PM.

H&L walk the beach. H&L attacked.  Leonard is stabbed.  H&L rescued by machete wielding fisherman. Fisherman tends Leonard's wounds.  Fisherman's Daughter puts H&L up.  Hap puts it up Fisherman's Daughter.

Fisherman's Daughter owes big money to a loan shark.  Fisherman Daughter's booked a pricey charter that pays enough to pay off the Loan Shark.  H&L help on the charter when Fisherman hurts leg.  That was a bad idea. The next day Fisherman's Daughter is found tortured, bloody, and dead.  H&L and jackape charter customer go to jail.  H&L bailed out of trouble by Texas pals including Billy Bob the pig farmer.

H&L return to TX.  Hap stays with Brett now that they are back together.  Guy staying at Hap's apartment is found tortured, bloody, and dead.  I sense a pattern.  So does Hap.  So does Leonard.  So does Billy Bob. 

H&L need both revenge and protection from further attacks.  H, L, and Billy Bob head South to go after the Loan Shark (who is also a big time crime and drug lord).  More violence ensues.  More gay jokes ensue.  More dick jokes ensue.  More moral fretting by Hap.  More worry by Hap. Everything turns out just fine except for the dead guys.

1. Leonard likes big dicks.
2. Simile heaven. Lansdale posted something about his simile writing on Facebook a few days ago. Let me find it.  Similies. I like them. I use them naturally becaue the people I grew up with used them naturally. One of my favorite writers was also an influence, Raymond Chandler. He was a master. Hemingway hated them, if I remember correctly. It's a matter of taste, but I like them and have overdone them from time to time, especially early on. They roll out when I write, and then when I go back through I try and cut a lot of them. They can be an excuse for not writing the scene, and sometimes they are a fine excuse for writing the scene. Sometimes it's nice to have a line like: He was so tight when he blinked the skin on his dick rolled back. Or, It was hotter than two rats fucking in a wool sock. These are offensive to some people, and that is the point. To others they are funny, but I have head them both in conversation and have used them in prose. You can also say something that is more benign, and I applaud you.
3. Gratuitous Shen Chuan reference.
4.  The lady at one of the public computers is making very annoying and exhalations.  Kind of like a quiet grunt. Hunnh.  Hunnh.  Hunnh.  I want her to leave.
5. The bad guy is a big time drug lord in Mexico.  But, his security is kinda lax.  Okay, this is a novel and set in written in 2000 or so.  But, nowadays with the high violence level among drug bosses this dude would never show his face in public and have tens of guards around his grounds. 
6.  By the way, Hap sneaks into the Bad Guy's grounds and shoots him and his 7 foot tall goon.
7. I am out of order in this series and do not recall John, Leonard's boyfriend, from other books.  I'm betting Leonard screws up that romantic relationship, too.
8. Hunnh Hunnh Hunnh Very annoying. 
9.  EDIT: I'm listening to iTunes and a Social Distortion tune came on that matches Hap and Leonard's recurring circumstances.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Finished: "The Sense of an Ending" by Julian Barnes

Finished: The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes, 2011, 9781611733259 (large print).

Meh.  Guy in his sixties recalls his school days and how memory changes.  Details are forgotten then remembered.  Events were misunderstood and later re-evaluated.  Actions are subconsciously blurred and then clarified.  Behavior and conversation are misinterpreted.  Long held truths were just shadows. Spoilers await.

Told by Antony, Tony, in his retirement years.  Private schooled in London with three good pals in the last couple years of school.  He attended university.  Had a girlfriend at school.  Met the girlfriend's family.  Never had sex with the girl.  Broke up with the girlfriend who subsequently did sleep with Tony.  Tony was decided he was not interested in her anyway.  She subsequently dated one of those three school pals.  Later on one of that same school pal killed himself.

Tony graduated.  Got married.  Had a child.  Was divorced.  Continued his bureaucratic career until retirement and stayed on good terms with his ex-wife.  Tony gets a letter from a solicitor saying the mother of the Ex-Girlfriend left him 500 pounds and a diary.  The diary was the deceased school mate's.  The diary is held by Ex-Girlfriend.  Ex-Girlfriend refuses contact, for at time, and says the diary was burned. 

Tony is nostalgic and tries to communicate with Ex-Girlfriend.  Ex-Girlfriend is not a happy camper in general.  After a couple conversations and several emails Ex-Girlfriend takes Tony on car ride and she very briefly meets with a mentally disabled guy.  Later on Tony learns mentally disabled guy is the child of Dead Schoolmate and Ex-Girlfriend's mother.

I liked quite a bit of the story but the ending was "meh".  In a way that ending fits with the novel.  Tony could be said to have lived a meh life.  But, was it really?  He was average, he was normal.  He did not live as great literature taught him as a youth but so what?  Why should the ending reveal shocking secrets when his life - by his own account - had no others?

1.  Maybe this was a good book.  I have plenty of comments I could share after all.  It must have touched a nerve or discussed topics of substance for me to do that.  Right?
2.  " compelling that it begs to be read in a single sitting.  With stunning psychological and emotional depth and sophistication, it is a brilliant work and winner of the Man Booker Prize."  Geez, I wouldn't go that far. 
3. Ex-Girlfriend was described as manipulative.  Ex-Wife calls her the Fruitcake.  Was she?  Everything was seen through Tony's memory.
4.  Tony was bitter when he learned that Ex-Girlfriend and Dead Schoolmate were dating.  He wrote a letter wishing them an awful time and saying Ex-Girlfriend's Mother warned Tony about her.  Tony wrote that Dead Schoolmate should talk to Ex-Girlfriend's Mother.  Dead Schoolmate and Ex-Girlfriend's have "full sex" (as young Tony called it) and Dead Schoolmate killed himself.
5. Dead Schoolmate was the smart one of the boys.  He was a strong thinker and a scholarship student at Oxford.  Even his suicide was considered smart.  That Dead Schoolmate approached his end with a philosophical rationality.  Then Tony finds out that Dead Schoolmate was likely just distraught over knocking up the middle-aged mother of his girlfriend.
6.  I don't quite understand the "blood money" payment by Ex-Girlfriend's Mother to Tony.  Ex-Girlfriend called it blood money but what payment would have been due Tony?  That Tony's pal was forced into death?

Friday, January 11, 2013

Done: "Dead in the Water" by Ted Wood

Done: Dead in the Water by Ted Wood, 1983, 068417958x.

A couple weeks ago someone posted a Friday forgotten book from this mystery series by Ted Wood.  It must have been Bill Crider who reviewed the book because I am his dancing book review monkey and placed a hold.

Reid Bennett does a reverse migration during the Vietnam War.  He heads South from Ontario, joins the Marines and serves in the infantry in Vietnam.  Bennett then joins the Toronto police.  A few years later Reid is off-duty and stops some bikers mid-gang rape. Bennett kills a couple of the bikers.  Bennett is tried and acquitted but his wife leaves him, his job turns to crap, and the public hates him.

You learn that in the first two pages.  Bennett has taken a Chief of Police job in Murphy's Harbor - a lake resort town North of Toronto.  Bennett is the whole department plus a disabled WWII veteran who handles the phones and some administrative stuff.  But, this being a 1983 book, the veteran, Murphy, is crippled.

Murphy gets a late night call about a boating accident.  Murphy rolls out of bed to learn that a couple teenagers collided with an drifting boat.  Murphy identifies the boat as owned by a local owner of a cabin resort and a WWII buddy of Murphy.  The resort owner is missing and Bennett meets a good looking gal from NYC who is fretting and worried that the two men she is there with are missing.

NYC Gal will not give information.  Bennett gets called for a body.  The body is one of the missing men and was hired as a bodyguard.  Things happen.  Bennett has a superdog who instantly responds to training.  NYC Gal gives Bennett a sealed envelope.  NYC Gal takes off.  Bennett is pulled in different directions - he is one guy with a big territory.  Teens call Bennett "killer".  Bennett's cop boat is stolen.  Bennett finds missing WWII vet dead in the stolen cop boat.

Bodyguard's company sends a guy up.  Guy helps out a little.  NYC Gal tries to get sealed enveope back.  WWII Vet was selling dope.  Blah blah blah.  Bennett tussles with gangsters and kills a couple more people on the way to resolution.

1.  As a mystery this is not so great.  There are sections where Bennett seems to suddenly have changed location and Woods does not make some dialogue and description very clear.  The explanations of motive and opportunity are not so believable.
2. I did enjoy the book.  Bennett is interesting.  He does not like his job.  He may be a Chief but this is not prestigious position and is a big step down from being a big city police detective working big city crimes.  He's been there less than a year when the book starts.
3. Bennett does not much like the people of Murphy's Harbor.  Most tourists are drunk.  Most resort workers are drunk.  The teenagers are teenagers - they are rude and like to press emotional buttons.  Local adults are self-important and sometimes creepy.
4.  Bennett is a combat veteran with issues.  Reminders of combat come back with certain sounds and smells.  Bennett became a killer in the service and knows this separates him from other people.
5.  The dog was alright but not too believable.
6.  Bennett solves everything in the end but the gangsters "introduced" at the end were paper thin and obstacles to give Bennett problems to solve.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Listened: "Hell and Gone" by Duane Swierczynski

Listened: Hell and Gone by Duane Swierczynski, 2011, Overdrive download.

This is the second Tom Hardie novel and the third has not been published yet.  I would likely not have started the second novel if I had not know the third was still forthcoming.  A good book.  Spoilers await.

Tom Hardie is picked up by an ambulance after the end of the last book.  He has been beat-up and shot-up but is kept drugged and confused and seems to have been recaptured by the Accident People from the first novel.

Hardie's not-quite-a-pal is FBI Special Agent Deacon Clark. Hardie called Clark for help in book one and Clark is still trying to find Hardie.  Clark's family is threatened, Clarke's FBI computer remotely controlled with graphic photos of Hardie on screen, and Clark has to stop looking for Hardie.  Another story line follows a college girl who is looking for her boyfriend who she believes was not killed in an airplane crash.

Hardie awakens wearing a suit and sitting in a bare room with Topless Bad Gal from last book telling him he is caught and now given a job.  Topless Bad Gal leaves and Hardie takes an elevator down, down, down, down to where he is met by prison guards and called Warden.

Hardie is in an underground prison and the new Warden.  There are three guards and four prisoners (numbers approximate).  The name of the game is brutality and isolation.  Hardie is taught how things work.  Hardie just wants to escape.  Hardie is tested by the guards.  Hardie ends up speaking to Hot Female Prisoner who recognizes him and says she was sent to find him.

Hardie is dense.  Hardie is boneheaded.  Hardie is recalcitrant and stubborn.  Hardie becomes a prisoner.  Hardie escapes with other prisoners - I do not recall how - and guards and prisoners fight.  Detente declared.  The prisoners and guards figure out they are all prisoners because they fought the organization of which Accident People are just a part.  The prisoners were pitted against one another to keep the prison easy to run.  The real warden, called the Prison master, is discovered to be a prisoner.

Hardie's escapes up, up, up and finds the underground prison was under Alcatraz.  Hardie takes the ferry off Alcatraz Island and uses some information to find three guys who have authority in the Organization.  Hardie kills one, schemes around, is captured, forced into employment and sent into space.

1.  Yeah, Hardie is sent into space.  This is a big 1970s-James-Bond-movie-era novel.  Big organizations with big money and big power and big reach.
2.  All the prisoner/guards were heroic people.  One prisoner/guard seems to be a Jack Reacher stand-in.  I presume other characters are riffs as well but I do not recognize them.  One might have been Zoe Sharp's main character.  I'm not sure since I have not yet read a Sharp novel.
3.  The last Hardie novel was written because Squickenski enjoyed a trip to, and stay in, the Hollywood Hills.  This novel must have been an excuse for Swizzlestickerinski to watch prison movies.  Not that there is anything wrong with that.
4. Swizerpermiser's wife once posted some comment on a Facebook page I read.  What does this have to do with the book? Not a damn thing.
5.  Switzerperminski keeps things moving along with changes in character perspective and some jumps in time.  Turns out Hardie was kept sedated and operated on for five years before he woke up with Topless Bad Gal.  Deacon Clark secretly hired Hot Female Prisoner to find Hardie and she was captured when she got too close.

Quit Listening: "A Sense of an Ending" by Julian Barnes

Quit Listening: A Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes, 2011, Overdrive download

Damn iPod skipped over a couple audio sections and screwed the story up.  At one point the narrator is talking about high school (or whatever the Limeys call it) and the next he is referring to a girlfriend that was never introduced.  Stupid computers.

I quit listening and turned on a Joe R. Lansdale audio which JUST DID THE SAME DAMN THING!  Stupid computers.

I pulled a print copy of Sense of an Ending off the shelf and took it home since I enjoyed what I heard.  The Lansdale audio book also skipped over several minutes.  I may just delete and download that Lansdale title again because I hate having to muck around and try to rewind the audio or skip backwards minutes at a time.  Stupid computers.