Thursday, February 28, 2013

DNF: "Call of the Mild" by Lily Raff McCaulou

DNF: Call of the Mild: learning to hunt my own dinner by Lily Raff McCaulou, 2012, 9781455500741.

NYC chick moves to Oregon, takes reporter job, takes hunter safety class, does one of those outdoor women weekends, starts hunting and fishing.  I'd read this book but I have a stack of committee books I need to go through and this one is overdue.

Besides, where the hell are the photos and maps?  All nonfiction books should include photos and maps.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Listened: "American Spy" by Olen Steinhauer

Listened: American Spy by Olen Steinhauer, 2012, Overdrive download.

I think Steinhauer puts these stories together very well.  He changes perspective for each part of the story, plants seeds and information ahead of time, and wraps things together.  Important characters disappear or die, are found to be lying or concealing information, and true motives are revealed.  The spies speak of having layers of cover.  Steinhauer uses that to the reader's advantage by peeling away those layers and keeps the story moving.  Some spoilers follow.

Milo Weaver is still unemployed after leaving the CIA and his most recent CIA boss is also unemployed after taking the blame for 33 dead agents.  The Boss (I cannot recall his name) is itching for revenge against the Chinese spymaster who engineered the murders of those 33 agents.  Boss is trying to talk Milo into helping.  Milo wants nothing to do with it.

Things happen.  Integral characters interact.  Motives are mysterious.  Violence is vicious.  Relationships are revealed.  Steinhauer presents one character and then jumps back time to the other character's view.

Boss disappears in London after signing into a hotel under one of Milo's old cover names.  That cover name was already flagged for the museum robbery and child abduction and murder in book two.  Milo figures Boss is trying to draw him into a scheme.  Milo has no interest.  Milo is contacted by the CIA.  Milo is pressured.  Milo calls the CIA boss.  Oops, the agent was actually a Chinese plant.  Milo is under the Chinese Spymaster's thumb.

Meanwhile, Chinese Spymaster is on a mole hunt in his own organization and under pressure because of that hunt and the 33 murders.  Steinhauer does well with Chinese Spymaster.  He is not an evil mastermind but sure acted that way.  He loves his new wife.  His new wife is his dead son's wife.  (Yes, very creepy.)  Chinese Spymaster had learned the bare details of Boss's plot and put him under his thumb.  Chinese Spymaster has to survive (literally and professionally) a push against him within his spy organization.

Milo enters the CIA conspiracy.  A part of the conspiracy anyway, only the parts the CIA tell him about and even those parts may be false flags.  Milo's family are threatened and then kidnapped.  Milo's Russian father is murdered in Milo's apartment.  Milo ends up in Hong Kong, is captured, and repatriated.

Everything ends happily ever after with several dead Chinese agents, a dead Russian, and a Chinese Spymaster forced into spying for the CIA when he screws up and misses the real mole in the Chinese spy agency.  Chinese Spymaster is put under the thumb of the real mole.  Milo takes his dead father's intelligence job with the U.N. in Geneva.

1.  Milo is uncharacteristically trusting.  In fact he is stupid and shortsighted by the standards of this series.  Milo does not check and verify identities and assertions.  That seems out of character for a guy who was first a super spy, then a super spy manager, and then a super spy again.  Milo was a professional paranoid.  He does consider the tracking and surveillance on him.  Part of this is chalked up to being out of the business.  I call bullshit.  He was living a life of constant paranoia for 15 years and then he forgets his security procedures?
2. Another view at realpolitick.
2.a.  The lives of my people are more important than your people.
2.b.  You may not kill or torture my people.
2.c.  Only we can kill and torture our people and we don't need a reason.
2.d.  I don't know what you're doing but keep it up and do it to that guy.
EDIT 2.e. The issue of international murder just hit the news again.  It seems pretty clear that Alexander Litvinenko was murdered by the Russians in London in 2006.  Litvinenko was a naturalized English citizen.  The latest news is about a new coroner inquest with accusations that London has swept things under the rug to keep money flowing in trade deals.  "Hey, don't murder our people!  But, it's okay this time if you pay us off, just don't tell the guy's family and we'll keep lying to them also."
3.  Real estate in Geneva must be insane.  My parents have spent a decent amount of time in Zurich, first during sabbatical and then return trips.  My father would say "the land of high mountains and low prices".  The prices part was a joke.
4.  One night (Summer, 1990) I was walking through the park alongside Lake Zurich (Switzerland, not Illinois).  A guy on a bicycle rode along side me chatting me up.  I tried to ignore him and kept walking.  I sped up walking but what good is that next to a guy on a bike?  He eventually gave up and went away.  I was greatly relieved. According to a quick view of the Google map I was walking through the Rentenwiese.
5.  Maybe it was the University of Zurich where my father walked me over so I could exercise at their gym.
6.  Unfortunately this is the latest Milo book for now.  Maybe I'll try Steinhauer's other series. Or I could catch up on Alan Furst.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Read: "The Appearance of a Hero" by Peter Levine

Read: The Appearance of a Hero: the Tom Mahoney stories by Peter Levine, 2012, 9781250001221.

Committee book.  Another victim of I-don't-read-to-read-what-I-am-required-to-read syndrome.  Pretty damn good though.  I'm not sure what the subtitle is there for.  Are these stories famous in some literary subculture?  Spoilers follow.

Shortest version:  Rich people get drunk, go to parties, attend famous business schools, and have sex.

Short version:  Young rich people get drunk, go to parties, attend famous business schools and start high paying jobs, and have sex.  Other people are attracted to their beauty and charisma.

Version:  Young rich people get drunk, go to parties, do drugs, attend famous business schools and start high paying jobs, and have sex.  Less attractive and powerful people are attracted to their beauty and charisma.  A powerful undercurrent of children and parents.  Adult children pulling away to independence.  Parents worrying for their kids.  Super rich people looking for surrogate kids in San Diego.  The responsibility and attachment inherent with creating a family.  Some people resist the change and some strive for it.

The stories are about Tom's life from college to death.  Tom is not central to each story but the stories with him in the background do revolve around Tom's wide and changing social circle and help illustrate his life.

Tom is a rare creature.  His charisma naturally, and powerfully, draws men and women.  Beautiful women.  Women make excuses to meet him or be near him, "You dropped your napkin...Do you have the time?...What's good here?"  Tom is a genuinely nice fella.  He treats everyone kindly and with consideration.  He has the ability of some great politicians to make everyone feel like the most important person in the room.

Tom is a party boy.  Bar life, socializing, taking hot girls home to screw is normal.  He is naturally and easily the spark of any party.  He is very good at being a friend.

But, Tom is stupid.  Tom is a mimbo.  He has the handwriting and prose of a third grader Women leave him after a time when they find nothing deeper within Tom to sustain a relationship.  Tom's only strengths are working out and looking good.  He wants more but cannot achieve his desires.  He is close to his father but his dad's pressure, and deep love, push Tom away.  His father's influence during a night of drinking means Tom loses a solid girlfriend he is living with.

Tom life starts strong and the future is wide open.  He's a powerful athlete, he's wealthy, he's handsome, he attends great schools.  Once he is on his own he cannot achieve on his own in business.  Tom only succeeds when partnering with others.  He becomes an itinerant white collar worker.

Levine does not cover Tom's death but he must be around 40 years old.  The last story informs you about Tom's death when a husband has to travel to the funeral and the man's wife is upset the man will not open up about his feelings.  I presume Tom either kills himself or dies from the physical effects of sadness.

1. Levine attended Johns Hopkins.  Sterling Archer was offered a lacrosse scholarship to Johns Hopkins.  Sterling was then shot in a hotel room like Roy Hobbs in The Natural.  Archer is also great with women, bulky and fit, attractive, mentally dense, and drinks too much.
2.  The people are entitled but hard working and competitive.  The entitlement comes because they are already in the system: top schools, business contacts, and they know the behavioral mores.  They are set-up to succeed and make gobs of money but still have to put in the time and effort needed.
3. Only 160 pages.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Done: "When the Killing Starts" by Ted Wood

Done: When the Killing Starts by Ted Wood, 1989, 0684183315.

There was a Forgotten Fridays entry for this a few weeks ago that was glowing.  Well, maybe not glowing but the book sounded pretty good and I am Bill Crider's dancing monkey for book recommendations.  I received this and the first in the series, Dead Water, at the same time.  This was pretty good.

Reid Bennett is on vacation in Toronto. His actress girlfriend is heading to the western plains to make a movie.  Reid gets a call asking him to help corral a wealthy wayward waif.  Rich kid Jason is not really a waif but that alliteration is worth the word.  Jason is a spoiled brat.  Jason's mother is asking Reid to find Jason and convince him to not stay with the mercenary group Jason has joined.  Vietnam vet Reid is tasked to find Jason and convince him to stay home and not head down to Central America.

Reid starts by looking for the mercenary group that recruited Jason.  Reid gets into a fight right away.  Reid's Super Dog rescues Reid.  Reid gets a line on the training camp location and heads into the northwoods boonies to find the mercenary training camp.  Reid finds Jason.  Reid tells Jason to return at night and they will sneak off and await the pre-scheduled pick-up by a bush plane.

Reid is found out.  Reid escapes death-by-mercenary when Reid's part time deputy George shows up, against orders, with Super Dog and rescues Reid.  Reid, George, Super Dog and Jason escape a forest fire set by the mercenaries to kill Reid and company.  They do this in opposition to Jason's recalcitrant and untrustworthy behavior. The forest fire chase was very well done by Wood.

During the rescue Reid finds out Jason's mom was not the woman Reid met.  Reid met the dad's girlfriend.  Reid goes after payment.  Jason's dad refuses a meeting but Reid perseveres and get s check.  That meeting is an obvious set-up but Reid does not see it happening.  Jason's mom's girlfriend is murdered.  Mercenaries are after Reid.  Jason's mom is raped and murdered.  Reid is set-up for the mom murder.

Things happen.  Toronto cops and Ontario Provinvial Police think Reid is a trigger happy, bloodthirsty killer.  Canadians still think Vietnam vets are prone to violence and killing.  Mercenaries go to Reid's town and try to kill George.  Reid shoots the merc shooter.  Reid catches another mercenary.  Reid gets no sleep during the hunt and excitement.  Reid gets lovey-dovey with his girlfriend as he recovers in the hospital.

1.  Two parts with rescue mission and a vengeful aftermath.  The revenge angle did not seem realistic.  I think the mercenaries would slough off the failure and keep going with work.  But, the mercenary leaders were also violent and petty men.  A subplot involving money and arms trading gave a bit of reason.
2.  Some very '80s themes like Central America revolutionaries, Vietnam vet angst, and Soldier of Fortune magazine.
3.  I wanted to stop reading and use a map to look up the Ontario and Quebec locations Wood writes about.
4.  .38 love.  Enfield SA80 love.  Shotgun love.  Attacking Super Dog love.
5.  Canoe love.  Fishing love.  Bush pilot love.
6.  Indians are considered untrustworthy and lazy by society at large.
7.  Looks like all these Bennett novels have been Kindleized.
8.  Does Wood still write?  I am not interested enough to start researching.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Listened: "The Nearest Exit" by Olen Steinhauer

Listened: The Nearest Exit by Olen Steinhauer, 2010, Overdrive download and I am not listing the ISBN.

Pretty damn good.  I am really enjoying the series.  Espionage with real politic and issues and policies that effect individuals.  Spoilers below.

Milo Weaver ended the last novel trying to mend his marriage and quitting the CIA.  This begins with Milo back to work as a super spy, a Tourist, in Europe.  Milo went back to work after hitting bumps during marriage counseling and his wife's anger.  Milo is proving his worth in the field after an absence of seven years by doing increasingly difficult jobs.  Milo has two big tasks in a row: raise a few million bucks to keep the Tourist Bureau funded, and murder a 12-year-old girl.

Milo does rob a Swiss art museum but does not want to kill the girl.  Milo researches the girl and her Moldovan immigrant family now living in Germany.  Milo calls his U.N. employed Russian father - still a secret from the CIA - and asks for help.  Milo's dad is resistant.  Milo's dad is more upset about Milo's theft of paintings than the murder of a child.  Milo kidnaps the girl and turns her over to Milo's dad to hold for a couple months.  The girl escapes and is murdered anyway.

Meanwhile, an American reporter in Hungary receives a letter from Milo's former supervisor who was killed in book one.  The letter details the Sudan murder plot from the first book that ended in lots of dead people.  American Journalist starts researching the letter.  American Journalist comes home to a guy in his apartment who throws American Journalist off the apartment balcony.  The letter said to trust only Milo.

More things happen.  A mole is suspected when a Bulgarian (I think he is Bulgarian but the nationality is irrelevant) says the Chinese have a mole.  Cameras recorded Milo talking to the girl before the kidnapping and German intelligence is hot for him.  American Journalist survived the drop, went into hiding, and started research with help of Chinese spies.  The motive for the girl's murder is revealed.  Milo's Tourist job and empathy are incompatible.  Mole hunt goes on.  Weasel U.S. Senator who ran the Sudan operation is causing trouble.  Milo wants to rejoin his family.  Everything ends happily ever after with Milo shot, many Tourists dead, Milo's boss - an mostly ethical man - fired, and a murdered girl.

1. Bizarro world where the murder of a 12-year-old immigrant is considered not just acceptable but advantageous.  People without empathy - Milo considers how that lack of empathy is a needed trait for Tourists - who consider the robbery of an art museum to be more insulting and violating than killing a girl.
2.  Political shenanigans.  German intelligence severed ties with the CIA when the CIA was found to be running heroin.  The relationship between German intelligence and the CIA is to be repaired by killing the girl.  The girl had been kidnapped when she was 11-years-old, forced into prostitution, and screwed by a high ranking German spy boss.  The CIA used a videotape of this to blackmail the German.  The German asked them to solve the problem.  "Sure, we'll get rid of the girl and that will solve the problem."
3.  Weasel Senator appears, to me, to be a dilettante.  I think my view on this is covered by one of my WI senators, Ron Johnson.  I think Johnson is a jackass.
4.  Tourists are like a realistic James Bond.  They have no fixed address.  Assignments vary from surveillance to courier duties to assassination.  Tourists are super secret, travel the world, stay in nice hotels, and their cell phones do fancy stuff.  Tourists are single, drink a lot, and used to violence and sudden death.
5.  Some bad guys are punished or killed.  Others get away scott free.
6. Decisions are made with a balance scale: these guys die so these guys get money, this girl dies so this guy can die.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Meh: "This Wicked Rebellion" edited by John Zimm

Meh: This Wicked Rebellion: Wisconsin Civil War soldiers write home edited by John Zimm, 2012, 9780870205040.

Edwin B. Quiner was a newspaper publisher who was the Governor's private Secretary when the war started.  Quiner subscribed to papers from around the state and tasked his daughters with clipping out soldiers' published letters home.  The several volumes worth of letters went to the Historical Society.  Zimm culled them.

Some letters were quite interesting.  Some were not.  The best ones covered topics I knew little about.  Some letters I found interesting touched on:
- The debates in the North over whether they should go to war at all.
- Fighting for the republic versus fighting against slavery.
- Observations by WI soldiers as they traveled through the South.  The weather, the terrain and flora, the bugs.
- Southerners' behavior.  Bushwhackers in MO and AR.  Guerrilla warfare where a Southerner would offer dinner and then ambush you a few hours later.  WI soldiers retreating through a town and having the women shoot at them from the homes.  The hillbillies of AR and MO.
- Fighting in MO and AR versus the well known battles in the southeast.
- Differing opinions by WI soldiers about black people and slavery.
- The fluidity of battle and maintaining the lines.  Picket duty was interesting to learn about and took a lot of soldiers to do well.  The converse was the uncontrolled territory where men would come across the enemy and have to choose to sneak away, fight, attempt to capture prisoners, etc.

I forced myself to finish this.  I could not maintain my interest and skimmed the last few letters describing thoughts after the war.