Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Ear Sounds: "The Secret Keepers" by Trenton Lee Stewart

Ear Sounds: The Secret Keepers by Trenton Lee Stewart, 2016 (print),audio from Wisconsin Digital Library.

I was giddy when this audiobook became available and became disappointed as I listened. School Library Journal gave this a starred review. No. My mind kept wandering as I listened. Maybe that lack of attention is from the sorta-lousy narration but I better enjoyed the real-but-different world of Stewart's Mysterious Benedict Society.

This novel is not firmly set in present day reality but it's also not grounded to a fictional place. There are some make-believe elements that I really liked: a watch that gives invisibility and an entire city under the thumb of a crime lord. Secret Keepers just does not have the details that Mysterious Benedict has on the places and society. In Mysterious you knew "The Emergency" was in place and how it effected life and politics, that the Ten Men were scary villains, so on, so forth.


Reuben and his widowed mother live in a crappier part of Uma City. His mother works two jobs to pay the bills and her only child Reuben (about 12-years-old) spends a lot of time alone and roaming the neighborhood. Reuben has made no friends and with school out of session he keeps to himself. He fancies himself a spy in training and travels the streets, alleys, abandoned buildings, and rooftops without detection. When chimneying up between two buildings he just barely makes it to a high ledge. Sitting there - about 30 feet up - he sees something sticking out of the masonry. He pulls and discovers a bread bag with an old oddly colored watch packed inside.

The watch is old, has a mysterious inscription, and doesn't work, but Reuben figures this rare item is valuable. So, in an effort to financially assist his family he visits the wealthy part of the city and tries to sell the watch at different shops. He gets odd reactions from sales people and the first guy he visits tries to scam Reuben. Reuben ends up visiting a watch and clock repair store and speaks to Mrs. Genevieve. Mrs. Genevieve lets Reuben in on the secret that the watch is wanted by the crime boss's man in town, The Counselor. There are also daily adverts in the newspaper - which Reuben was unaware of - offering rewards for anyone bringing the watch to the advertiser's attention.

Things start to happen as Reuben plays around with the watch and discovers it is not broken but, when correctly set, turns the holder invisible. Things happen as Reuben experiments with the watch, uses the public library to decipher the watch's description, and heads North to a seaside town. Reuben discovers the watch has been missing for decades. Reuben meets a girl his age named Penny whose family has kept a lighthouse for generations and guarded a secret connected to the mysterious watch.

More things happen with a car chase, fisticuffs, danger, intrigue, sneaking, more danger, pursuit, a booby trapped house, and a mean old man as the villain.

A decent read but I had higher hopes. Give it a try for casual, middle-school aged adventures.

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Comic Book Memoir: "Imagine Wanting Only This" by Kristen Radtke

Comic Book Memoir: Imagine Wanting Only This by Kristen Radtke, 2017, 9781101870839.

I received an email about a book festival in Green Bay to be held this Spring or Summer. Some neat names were listed and I saw Radtke posted with the headliners. With a name like Radtke I figured she must be from Wisconsin. I looked her up, read through her webpage, and saw she linked to an article entitled, "Comic Stripped: 17 sex scenes in graphic novels" in her web page's News section. "Alright!" I thought.

Well, I should have paid more attention because Radtke wrote the article. This book has no sex scenes. The good news is that I really like Radtke's illustrations. The entire book is black and white with sharp lines and a not-quite-photo-realistic style. The book made a few "best of the year" lists but the story itself did not engage me.

Radtke writes about her uncle who dies young from a congenital - and hereditary - heart defect. Her uncle's death hits her harder than expected and she worries for and ignores her own health and mortality. There is a failed engagement with a college boyfriend, loneliness at a nanny job in Italy and in a professional job in Kentucky. A fascination with abandoned buildings and towns. Grad school in Iowa City. Details of the Peshtigo Fire of 1871. How the Peshtigo fire was studied to plan the fire bombings of WWII. Reference to the mass sheep kill near Dugway Proving Ground in Utah (of which I just heard a discussion of on a radio show). Visits to former residents of an abandoned Colorado mining town. A village in Iceland is overrun by lava. Radtke classifies her grad school boyfriends by the cigarette brands they smoked.

I don't think much happens in the story. The story is about Radtke growing up in her 20s and not much of the tale drew me in. Maybe I need to be a 30-year-old female to understand what is going on.

1. Radtke seems to have grown up in Green Bay.
2. Gratuitous Packers reference.
3. I enjoyed the artwork.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Quick-ish: "Lightwood" by Steph Post

Quick-ish: Lightwood by Steph Post, 2017, 9781943818303.

Post's second novel had a very appreciative review by Crimespree magazine so I requested this novel. It's a straight forward novel of crime, love, and revenge with the middle son of a small Florida crime family coming home after prison.

Judah did a few years in Starke without any visits from family or friends. He exchanged a few letters but was alone. When he gets out of prison he has no one to pick him up either. Judah ends up walking and hitch hiking his way back to Silas, FL. Judah goes to his hometown not because he wants to but because he has no where else to go.

Fortunately, after Judah has been during some celebratory/nothin-else-to-do drinking his lifelong pal Ramey. The beautiful Ramey has never been a romantic interest but immediately becomes one. Judah sees things looking up but cannot avoid his mean father, Sherwood, any longer.

Things happen as Sherwood has Judah assist in robbing a nearby, small-time biker gang of drug proceeds. Sherwood is informed of the cash transit by the nephew of a holy roller preacher who deals in loansharking and other shenanigans. When the bikers cannot pay off their debt to the preacher even more trouble ensues.

The story ends up a four way fight among Judah/Ramey, Sherwood and his other son, the bikers, and the preacher, Sister Tulah.  It's a love story of Judah and Ramey wrapped up with Judah's anger at his abusive father and revenge for the bikers who end up putting Judah's other brother in a coma.

I enjoyed the story. I think Ramey is a better female character than the ones I usually read about. Judah is surprisingly stable for someone who just got out of prison, has an abusive family, drinks too much, and has not real job experience. The biker gang is a small town outfit of only seven or so guys. The gang is on it's last legs with a Club President who is not cut out for the job.

1. M14 rifle love.
2. Car love.
3. Lots of cigarettes.
4. Florida forests.
5. "Bucking your controlling parents who might just murder you" love.

Done: "Magnus Robot Fighter, Vol. 3" by Russ Manning

Done: Magnus Robot Fighter 4000 A.D.: volume two by Russ Manning, 2005, 9781593072902.

Volume 3 and - By, God! - it has one of the stories I remember from when I was younger.  ANd you know what that story has in it? GORILLAS and CHIMPS! The presence of these robot apes only reminds me of Bill Crider's blog which, when he wasn't discussing gators and WBAGNFARB, had a fair amount of monkey and ape content over the years.

Let's skip any pretensions of literary analysis and cut to the story I wanted to find: Beasts of Steel from 1965. The continent spanning city of North Am has been having it's food depots ravaged by wolf packs. Wolves! But, the wolves do not eat the foodstuffs, they just tear everything apart and destroy the food. Of course these are no normal wolves. These are not wolves at all. They are robots!

Magnus is nearby one of the wolf attacks, responds, and gets involved. He decides someone is training those wolves to attack. He goes to visit animal trainer and stage performer Danae whose 'Neo-Animals" have super advanced intelligence.

Meanwhile, we learn who the bad guy is and what he wants - revenge, like every other villain in the damn series - and about his robot animals. Action ensues with karate chops, attack gorillas, talking chimpanzees, women in peril, so on, so forth.


There are other stories. I enjoyed some more than others. The clothes are campy. A mix of Star Trek and Batman with bright colors, short skirts, and tight outfits. Each episode ends with a pithy comment from Magnus when responding to a comment about Danae's bravery, "She sure is Leeja... and so are her incredible neo-animals... - animals that are truly fitting companions for mankind in this fantastic age we live in!"

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Play: "The Homecoming" by Harold Pinter

Play: The Homecoming by Harold Pinter, 1965, no ISBN or LC number. This is a book club edition by Grove Press, Inc and came from Waterloo P.L.

I was listening to BBC 6 Music a week or two ago and one of the announcers was discussing the film The Go-Between. He was talking about the flick being impressive and when he spoke about the screenwriter, Harold Pinter, he spoke of Pinter as if Pinter's fame is known by all. Or, at least known by the British. Since I had no idea who Pinter was I looked him and found out he was awarded a Nobel for literature. "Dang, seems like I should have heard of the guy," I think to myself. "Might as well request a couple of his plays."

Homecoming is from 1965 and is set in one room in a house in North London. Inside the home live two older brothers, Max and Sam, and Max's two adult sons, Teddy and Joey. Max is a retired jerk. Sam is a chauffeur. Joey is a factory worker and boxer. Teddy is a pimp.  A third son and his wife, Teddy and Ruth, make a surprise visit after an absence of several years. Teddy is a college professor in the States. Ruth used to live in the neighborhood.

If not for reading some play commentary I'd have no idea what the fuck was going on. It's a dark comedy but that never comes through to me from reading the play. That's all I have to say about it. I don't know if I am unskilled in reading plays or what. Maybe the changes in comedy over the years do not translate for me.

I still have Pinter's play No Man's Land at home and will read it.

A While Ago: "Walking Wounded" by Mael and Olivier Morel

A While Ago: Walking Wounded: uncut stories from Iraq by Mael and Olivier Morel, 2013, 9781561639823.

Comic book nonfiction about the stories of several Iraq War veterans. I picked this up at the Fitchburg P.L.'s staff holiday party along with some other comic book books. I read the book a while ago and did not think the story was that great.

Heck, I cannot recall anything about the book. I think most stories were about coming back to the States. After I read the thing it said on my bed's headboard and was there for a couple months. Only now am I getting it back.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Tough Listen: "Just Mercy" by Bryan Stevenson

Tough Listen: Just Mercy: a story of justice and redemption by Bryan Stevenson, 2014, download from Wisconsin Digital Library.

This was chosen as a virtual book club title by my alma mater. I would not likely have tried this book without except for the promos I read from my school.

Short Version: Dude goes to law school, spends a summer helping a defense lawyer, joins a nonprofit defense firm, starts a nonprofit death row legal firm, does a crap ton of important and precedent setting work for the innocent and unfairly tried and unjustly imprisoned, argues several times in front of U.S. Supreme Court, and lets us know all the ways that poor people and black people are consistently screwed over.

Longer Version: Stevenson went to Harvard law school and wanted to do important work. In class he found out that a lot of lawyer work is boring, uneventful and not having any social impact. One summer he helped out the Southern Center for Human Rights and knew what he wanted to do. After graduation Stevenson went to Atlanta and after a few years started a nonprofit practice in Alabama.

Stevenson's practice has focused mainly on death row cases and convicts with life sentences. Stevenson returns to the case of Walter McMillian throughout the book to illustrate his points. McMillian was a independent logger in the 1980s when a former white girlfriend of his took up with a dirtbag. The dirtbag and ex-girlfriend got busted so something or other and Dirtbag said, "Hey, you know that murder case you still haven't solved and everyone is pissed off about? Well, I know who did it and I want out of jail."  Sure enough the police take the bait.

The Police start looking into McMillian and even though he has a strong alibi with the testimony of tens of people the cops overlook facts, do a crap investigation, and railroad the man into a murder conviction.

McMillian's story is compelling and only one of the many similar cases taken on by Stevenson. There are several cases where indigent defendents are saddled with idiots for lawyers. (Stevenson lists several lawyers who were later disbarred.) Even when a decent or earnest lawyer is assigned a case there is no money available to pay the attorney's fees. If you want a expert witness you'll have to get by with only $500. Sometimes two lawyers who are supposed to work together argue about the total $1500 available and do jack shit for the client.

McMillian details all the many ways people get screwed over in death penalty cases. He also covers the injustice of life sentences - he terms those judgments as "death in prison" - given to juveniles who were in their early teens at the time of the crime.

Anyhoo. The book can be a depressing and angering listen/read. I was grateful for Stevenson committing his career for such a low paying gig. His work is incredibly admirable and a not-so-visible continuation of the civil rights struggle. You'll hear plenty of stories of people screwed over by society and the law but you'll also hear about Stevenson and others who work to make things better.

1. Stevenson is advocating for his clients and his work to change the legal system. His presentations of his clients usually show them as good people stuck in bad situations are mistreated by the law. How much detail is he skipping over to make that argument? He's a skilled lawyer and knows how to argue for his clients. Is he whitewashing anything?
2. I had a dream the other night where a former Library Page was around and I discovered we had just read a lot of the same books. She even had a print copy of Just Mercy with her.I didn't actually want to talk to her about the books though.

Comic Compilation: "Magnus Robot Hunter, 4,000 AD" by Russ Manning

Comic Compilation: Russ Manning's Magnus, Robot Fighter, 4000 A.D.: volume one by Russ Manning, 2004, 1593072694.

My mother used to buy comics for my brother and I before long car trips. This usually meant Donald Duck and Uncle Scrooge, I don't recall any super hero titles. We always use to get plastic wrapped three packs of comics. At some point we got a issue or two of Magnus, Robot Fighter. I'm pretty sure those issues must have been done by another writer and artist.

The foreword by Mike Royer tells us about Manning's artistic style and how his artwork was appreciated by a lot of fans but was usually uncredited because of the publisher's policy. Once fans learned Manning's name they were able to seek out his work.

Magnus started in 1963 and Manning did all the work. I did read those road trip comics almost 40 years ago so my memory is surely off. But, I recall different artwork and more compelling stories. The stories in this volume are pretty heavy on the evils of sloth versus the admirable traits of manly manliness and karate chopping robots. The world has become dependent on robot servants and Magnus wants everyone to be gruff and tough and not depend on robots. Especially since so many robots seem to be turning evil. 

Anyhoo. Magnus was raised from infancy to fight robots. He was secretly "adopted" by robot 1A who raised Magnus in an underwater house by Antarctica. Magnus was trained in his adoptive robot's super secret and advanced training program so Magnus was able to karate chop steel and iron. [Magnus's go to technique is to chop the heads right off robots.]

Each story has Magnus fighting either evil robots or evil humans who control robots. Magnus protects the massive city of North Am and has blond _____  adoringly staring at him.

1. According to my internet box the last Manning issue was 1977. No other stories until the early 1980s. So, it's possible I read one of those 1980s ones.
2. I guess I'll find out when I read volume two.
3. Lots of people wear shorts shorts and short skirts, or one piece outfits with short skirts.
4. Lots of flying cars, tall buildings, and wide avenues.
5. I have Volume Two at home but have not yet started it. I also see there is a Volume Three but no copies are in the library system.

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Completed: "One or the Other" by John McFetridge

Completed: One or the Other by John McFetridge, 2016, 9781770413276.

Third and most recent novel in the excellent Eddie Dougherty series set in 1970s Montreal. This book jumps forward four years to 1976. Eddie is still officially a constable at Station Ten in downtown Montreal.

Eddie still fills in with the detectives on certain assignments. Detective Carpentier even has Eddie briefly meet the Chief of Detectives in the Chief's office. But, Eddie still feels stuck - which he is. He wonders what's holding him back. Is it that he is English in a French town? Should he be making nice with different superiors? He's already working cases as a Constable and working Detective cases off the clock at all hours.

Eddie has continued to date Judy from the last book and figures he should propose. Right? That's what people do when they grow up and Eddie is getting close to 30 years old. He buys a ring cheap from a local hood but wants to find the right occasion to ask Judy.

Things happen. Two teenager bodies wash ashore in the St. Lawrence, one on the Montreal side and one on the Longueuil side. Eddie is tabbed by Dougherty to work with a lady cop from Longueuil. "Lady Cop" in 1970s Quebec means "Coffee Fetcher" and the cop, Legault, has little street experience. But, she's ready to detect and Eddie is ready to threaten.

You see, Eddie has turned into a goon. His interrogation tactic is to threaten, smack, shove, slap and scare people into talking. When he runs into a situation where that tactic cannot work - talking to rich people with lawyers - he is in a quandary. At first Legault is a bit taken back by the tactic, but she's also new, she has not done too much of this work before. As the novel moves on it's Legault who becomes the talker and Eddie starts trying to catch up. They work together often enough that they develop a rapport and team up for the interrogations.

But, the novel focuses on Eddie. Eddie wants the murderer of those teenagers found. He has a crisis of confidence and occupation but he comes back around to realizing that he enjoys being a policeman. He is starting to be honest with himself about his career, his abilities, his family, and his love life.

We follow Eddie around a few months through a bank robbery, joining a detective squad working a armored car robbery, encouraging Judy in her job search as a teacher, deciding if he should move to the suburbs, prepping for the Summer Olympics, working the Olympics, moving in with Judy, helping Judy deal with her divorcing parents, so on, so forth.

We also time travel to 1976 Montreal and drive along with Eddie though out the City. We go through the Provincial elections and the secessionist Parti Quebecois's  election win. Some English are starting to move away to Ontario and Toronto. Eddie thinks it's all politics as normal while everyone else lives their lives. But, what will he do as an English? He's always been from Montreal.

Anyhoo. I really enjoy this series.

Fast: "Missouri Homegrown" by Jesse James Kennedy

Fast: Missouri Homegrown by Jesse James Kennedy, 2017, 9781935797746.

Crider said to read this so I bought it for the library. Another Southern-Missouri-Is-A-Hell-Hole-Of-Crime-And-Violence-And-You-Should-Avoid-The-Area-At-All-Costs novel. This is very fast moving and has some cliches that make me feel like I was reading the tie-in to a B movie. I thought the story ran a little long and got lost among all the shoot-outs, but the book is a good action read and I enjoyed it. There is lots of drugs, tough guy talk, shoot outs, beatings, ambushes, etc. to keep you going.

Jay McCray and his nephew Jack live in Southeast Missouri and grow marijuana for a living. They live in the deep woods and, except for boozing it up at a couple local bars, they live in isolation. When a Mexican drug cartel starts branching out from Kansas City and St. Louis they demand the McCrays join the fold. The McCrays tell the cartel to stuff it. The cartel sends out a dozen men to kill the McCrays. Since Kennedy is giving us a couple Hillbilly Outlaw Super Crook Woodsmen the cartel hit squad are slaughtered by the two McCrays.

The novel begins at the end of that mass killing and the action keeps spooling out from there. The cartel sends along more men to deal with the McCrays and two of those guys are at loggerheads. The FBI had an uncover Special Agent among the hit squad and they start investigating the McCrays as well. Jimbo McCray, Jack's father and Jay's brother kills several prison guards to escape his prison and shows up at the McCray house. Cops are crooked. People are scared.

Booze is consumed by the gallon. Marijuana is consumed by the pound. Mayhem ensues. I thought the story dragged out a bit at the end but I enjoyed the novel.

1. Kennedy says he wrote the book in sections and sent those to his nephew in prison. The nephew then passed the sections around to fellow inmates the guards. The story seemed episodic and I wonder if that is why.
2. Jimbo McCray's prison escape leaves about five or six people dead. I call bullshit on someone getting out that easily. But, oh well, it's a novel. But, I also call bullshit on Jimbo not being hunted down by every spare police officer, deputy, prison guard, game warden, highway trooper, railroad cop, and ATF/FBI/DEA/Marshalls/Homeland/Postal Service/Customs/USSS agent available within 200 miles.
3. Kennedy set things up for a sequel and Kennedy's Facebook says the upcoming sequel is entitled Tijuana Mean. I'll buy that.
4. Kennedy's bio says he was in the service, went a little wild, did some time, went to work. Did I try to look him up in Missouri court records? Well, of course I did. Did I find anything? Nope. Do I feel some professional shame in drawing a blank in my search? Yes, but my defense is that I did a short search and spent little time performing the search.