Friday, July 20, 2018

Quit: "You Beast" by Nick Lantz

Quit: You Beast by Nick Lantz, 2017, 9780299311742.

Poems I did not enjoy. So I quit.

The title and cover are fantastic.

Quit: "No Man's Land" by Harold Pinter

Quit: No Man's Land: a play by Harold Pinter, 1975, no ISBN of LOC number.  Book club edition by Grove Press.

I tried. I gave up. I stuck it in a pile.

Comic: "Preacher" by Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon

Comic: Preacher: Book One by Garth Ennis adn Steve Dillon, 2009, 9781401240455.

Compilation of issues 1-12. Very entertaining. The television adaptation differs quite a bit. This is OK because I think the TV version is very good. That means you get two different stories (TV and comic) that have completely different storylines. Unless, of course, issues 13+ are flashbacks covered by the TV show.

Anyhoo. Preacher is a former crook working in a rural Texas church. Preacher gets in a barfight one night and that ends up filling the pews. But, at about that time up in Heaven some lesser angels are having a freakout after a mysterious entity(deity?) named Genesis escaped confinement and flew off. The upper angels are very unhappy. The entity is very dangerous and the lesser angels release the Saint of Killers to track Genesis down. The Saint is killer cowboy.

Hey, it's a comic book. Just roll with it.

Preacher is at the church lectern when Genesis breaks through the door and enters Preacher. Unfortunately this means the entire damn town burns down leaving Preacher the only survivor. Things happen as Preacher has a chance meeting with his ex-girlfriend Petal and Tulip's hitchhiker buddy/vampire named Cassidy.

The three travel looking for God - who quit Heaven and went to earth - and then meeting up with the vicious family of crooks that Preacher escaped from. Anyhoo. There is some fun storytelling with lots of gore, gonzo, and guns.

Paper: "By the Time You Read This" by Giles Blunt

Paper: By the Time You Read This by Giles Blunt.

Quite good. Blunt writes about grief and therapy in a way that kept me interested and engaged. Most writing on those topics falls flat for me. Blunt's John Cardinal experiences intense grief but Blunt's story does not bog down like others.

John Cardinal is in his 50s now. Cardinal and his wife Catherine's daughter lives in NYC. One night Catherine heads out with her cameras for an outdoor photography session. That same night Cardinal heads out to work and responds to a dead body.

The corpse is on the pavement at the rear of a brand new high rise in North Bay, Ontario. The body looks to be a suicide but Cardinal is an experienced investigator and knows to treat the crime scene as a possible homicide. He won't screw things up by moving evidence. Until he recognizes the dead woman is his wife, and he drops to his knees and cradles her corpse.

Well, the rest of the book is a look at grief and sorrow. And an excellent look it is. Cardinal is experiencing the mental and physical pains of losing his wife to suicide. Catherine spent years battling her mental illness. She had regular visits to a therapist and several hospitalizations. Cardinal knew her ups and downs and knew that right before her death Catherine was doing A-Ok and making work and family plans. Cardinal does not believe this was a suicide and, since he is a murder detective, he starts to detect. Everyone else, of course, thinks Cardinal floating down The Nile.

As Cardinal starts detecting he starts to interview Catherine's pals, her colleagues, and her therapist. Blunt gives us a despicable villain in the therapist. Therapist is an acknowledged expert on depression but has history of dead patients. He soon learn why and find out how he has manipulated his patients.

Sure, you can read the book for the mystery and catching of a killer, but it's Cardinal and Therapist's lives that are engaging. Blunt, as I said, does an excellent job of showing us Cardinal's grief. He also does a great job in with the dialogue, description, and inner thoughts of Therapists and his patients during therapy sessions. As the Therapist manipulates and slowly guides his depressive patients to their deaths.

1. Blunt's brief autobio on his website is great.
2. I'd like to do a Canada summer trip. Last year we visited South Dakota. This year we visit Wyoming. Canada was in the cards but for the added cost and time of getting passports. I just learned that Passport Cards are less expensive and used for car and boat travel across the boarder. Since we'd be driving that would be the way to go.
3. Hey, North bay is 699 miles when going up WI, through the UP, and entering at Sault St. Marie. A fair amount of that is two lane roads though. And the divided highway sections are partial access highways.

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Finished: "The 57 Bus" by Dashka Slater

Done: The 57 Bus: a true story of two teenagers and the crime that changed their lives by Dashka Slater, 2017, 9780374303235.

Our staff training day this year included a visit to the Children's Cooperative Book Center (CCBC) at UW-Madison. We had a brief tour and the staffer there answered questions and gave a couple book talks. She really sold me on 57 Bus and I placed a hold on the book as she was still talking about it.

The story is different than I expected. I thought I'd be reading more of a true crime and law and order book. Instead Slater covers all the before and after of the crime. We see the two teens as the older children they are and how they are both having trouble growing up.

Short version: rowdy teen plays prank on other teen on Oakland city bus in 2013. 1st teen lights the 2nd teen's skirt on fire expecting a little smoke and a shocked reaction. Instead the whole skirt goes in flames, the teen gets 3rd degree burns, the 1st teen is arrested for a felony and charged with a hate crime. Writer interviews both sides and presents the history of what happened.

Longer-ish version: Slater does a ton of reporting. She gets to know both families, she speaks to friends, relatives, teachers, school administrators, neighbors, etc. She gives us a balanced look at what happened and the results on everyone involved. Here is a another short version: everyone is screwed over.

The victim, Sasha, is genderqueer and that is part of what made the story a big deal when the assault happened. Richard, who lit the skirt, said he was homophobic when interviewed by the police. Richard's comment was leaked and, after many already people thought Sasha was targeted, the assault was figured as a hate crime. And, let's face it, Sasha was freaking burned. In flames, out of the bus, and running around on the sidewalk burned. Another two passengers knocked them down and put out the flames.

Slater focuses on Sasha's journey from a boyhood as Luke to genderqueer Sasha as much as the assault and recovery. The gender/sex/sexuality/romance topic is very important to Sasha. Early in the book Slater provides a glossary to help us out. Genderqueer/nonbinary is: "gender identity doesn't fit neatly into male/female categories."  Since Sasha does not identify as male or female Sasha does not use male and female pronouns and has adopted "they", "we", and "us". This is incredibly confusing at first for someone like me who has not tried to keep up with gender/sexual/romantic language changes. I agree that others should support and follow the names and language another person uses to describe themselves. But, even Sasha's parents have trouble making the change.

Richard was 16-years-old when he attacked Sasha. I believe Richard when he says he had no intention of a real fire. Richard was attempting a prank. A prank that was a Real Bad Idea, but still a prank. Richard was a loveable, friendly, talkative boy. But, he had trouble before. A couple years previously he was hanging out with a school cutting crowd that would ride the city buses all over and look for things to do. This would include arguing and fighting with other teens. One fight gave him about a year detention in a youth home. Richard himself is robbed at gunpoint and has several friends who are murdered.

Richard's large extended family includes his dedicated mom. She works two jobs and still makes it to each court hearing. During Richard's first detention she would drive the several hours to the group home. When the assault hits national news Richard is painted as a gay-hater. Everyone of his friends and relatives are shocked at what happened and disagree with Richard's portrayal.

Richard stays in jail after his arrest and is charged as an adult. He writes two apology letters to Sasha shortly after his arrest but those letters are kept by the attorney since Richard admits to the crime. Slater implies that the state went tougher on Richard because the letters were held back. That the state did not see remorse. A plea bargain falls through and Richard signs an agreement to several years of prison with a chance at a juvenile facility if his first few months are trouble free.


The story covers two cultures I have little to no experience with: Urban teens with gender fluidity and urban teens with fiscal instability living in violent neighborhoods. The #57 spans the length of Oakland and touches on pretty much every part of a incredibly diverse city. Richard and Sasha would never have met but for the chance meeting on the bus.

1. I'll read online comments for news stories where smart-asses will write racial shit about a perpetrator's family. To paraphrase the writing "My poor boy boy dinna' do nothin'. It's all the po-lice! My poor Pookie" They will then gripe about how a person's mother will stand up and defend the person. Fuck you, Internet Asshole. What mother wouldn't stick up for her kid? You think she should tell the press, "My son is worthless bucket of crap and belongs in jail for the rest of his life"? I rarely see those comments when a white, rural kid commits a crime.
2. My uncle has lived in the Bay Area for 30-40 years and was in Oakland for several years. He had plenty of stories but one was how they clearly heard the murder of a neighbor across the street.
3. Reading brought up the idea of community standards and behavior. I hear "community standards" and think of how it is used to try and censure literature. There are cultural differences in behavior though. Punching someone in the face to enforce behavior is an acceptable step in plenty of places around the world. Richard could be rowdy and disruptive in school but to his peers that did not overshadow his kindness to others.
4. Restorative justice was looked into with Richard and Sasha's case. Slater had a very interesting story where this worked out. A high school boy was slapping girls butts. He and three girls sat in a circle with a counselor. At first they had ice-breaking exercises and people were joking around. Then things got serious when one girl talked about what happened. Their discussion aired things out and everyone understood together that slapping butts is funny, but not funny. They group agreed to always ask permission to touch. They become friends and that agreement partly turns into a joke "May I take a Dorito?" but is also recognized as serious.
5. Slater touches on some issues of juvenile justice and the legal and prison systems that Bryan Stevenson deeply covered in Just Mercy.

Audio of Old: "My Helmet For A Pillow" by Robert Leckie

Audio of Old: A Helmet For My Pillow, 1957, from Wisconsin Digital Library

One of the most famous World War Two memoirs. This book and others were used to create the story for the HBO mini-series The Pacific (first aired in 2010). After watching that show a couple years ago figured to try the book out.

Leckie enlisted in the Marine Corps right after Pearl Harbor. He left New Jersey that winter for Parris Island for an abbreviated 6 week basic training. After that he did some advanced training, became a machine gunner, went to the Pacific, a brief stop in New Zealand, and landed on Guadalcanal.

Marines landed on Guadalcanal on August 7, 1942. It took only 9 months for the military to ramp up enough people and equipment and ships to start an invasion. Leckie crammed in plenty of training and drinking during that time.

Like the rest of the Pacific Campaign the Marines were also fighting the weather, plants, animals and insects, poor resupply, dirty water, mud, rain, jungle diseases, dysentery, heat, humidity, and whatever jerk was in charge.

After a few months of fighting and waiting on Guadalcanal Leckie's unit went to Melbourne, Australia. Leckie drank more, chased women, and got in a lot of trouble with a couple terms in the brig. They then loaded up the ships and invaded Peleliu. On Peleliu Leckie fought, was sent out for medical treatment, came back, and was wounded in a artillery blast.

This is the standard military memoir.  A brief-ish story about home life, enlisting, training, new friends, the excitement of a first battle, terror and drudgery of a combat zone, friends and colleagues dying, eventual withdrawal from combat.

Leckie acknowledges his own faults (like his poor temper). He was proud of the Marines, his work, and fellow Marines but he did not much enjoy being in the service. He railed against of the liberties given to officers over enlisted men and how some jerkwad officer would ignore the rules for himself and punish the men under them. He went to jail at least twice - I recall the two times - and escaped the military police and/or punishment a few other times.

The story is well told and a good listen. This is fitting seeing as how Leckie had his first paid writing job when he was 16-years old. I just don't have any particularly interesting comments. I do recommend the book for anyone who has not read any books like this and wants to try one out.

1. Jap, Jap, Jap. Everything is "Jap". That is now derogatory but still okay when I grew up hearing it in World War Two movies, novels, and memoirs.
2. Not too long after I watched The Pacific I read Islands of the Damned by R.V. Burgin. Burgin was an important secondary character in the series and wrote this book with a co-author. I enjoyed Islands better than Helmet. Rick Atkinson said in an interview that when he wrote his three-volume history of the war that he relied on original docs. That memory's accuracy fades as time goes on. After 50 years one battle or friend can easily be mistaken for another. Well, I agree with the historical accuracy of that but Burgin's view on things after 60 years more insightful and human than the 15 years of Leckie. Leckie, to me, still seemed angry. Leckie seemed eager to man a machine gun position once more. Leckie died in 2001 but I imagine he would have written a different book in 1995.

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Talking Sounds: "You Will Know Me" by Megan Abbott

Talking Sounds: You Will Know Me by Megan Abbott, 2016, download from Wisconsin Digital Library.

A second athlete novel by Abbott. Since Abbott wrote this you know the book is going to be good. You also know there will be a fine focus on the characters and how they think and what they perceive. I had plenty of fascinating insights as I listened to the novel. But, since I never wrote the thoughts down I've forgotten most every one of those incredible and interesting observations. So, here is what I do recall.

You Will Know Me is a neat change from Aboott's previous three books. All four of those last novels discuss the lives of teen girls but You is the only story narrated by an adult rather than a teenager.  In those other novels Abbott gave a neat look into the lives of those girls and young women. She regularly covered the teen to adult transition with girls who discover sex, changing bodies, seeing their parents as fallible humans, recognizing how men look and speak differently to them.

Anyhoo. Katie is in her mid-30s and married to Eric who proposed after a surprise pregnancy when they were were 20. Their 15-year-old (roughly) daughter is Devon. Devon took up gymnastics ten years ago after a freak lawn mower accident mangled her foot. Gymnastics was intended to help Devon improve her balance and strength after losing a toe, but Devon immediately loved the sport and was a natural. Since then Katie and Eric have put in a padded basement gym, paid for gym and coaching fees, bought Devon equipment, spent long weekends driving to long tournaments, sought out a more skilled coach, formed a booster club, and mostly ignored their 10-year-old son.

Devon herself is driven and dedicated. She's focused on gymnastics and school but most of her effort is placed on the sport.  Her practices last three hours and the gym's stands always have parents there observing, gossiping, fretting, and planning. Devon's gymnast career has been on a strong climb as her talent and skill keep improving and gaining notice. She was ready to advance into an elite level of competition when she flubbed a routine and missed qualifying.

It's now been a year since that qualification failure and Devon is wound pretty tight. She does not date or have friends outside gymnastics and - as we learn - is a kind of outcast at her school. It's this point where Abbott hits away on the theme of bodies and body image and body functionality. Unlike Abbott's other teen girl books where new curves bring sultriness and male attention the gymnasts are all very petite, very muscular, and wanting to stop the growth of puberty. Big boobs bring weight and bust balance. (Bust was a pun.) Gymnastic events are all about the power-to-weight ratio and that prime intersections of skill, experience and light-weight happens when the athletes are still girls. An athlete has a narrow window to work hard and succeed before she grows to an adult.

Puberty's effects are a touchy subject. Age and change are a barrier to success and fame but how do you wish a kid to not grow up? Devon is good enough that people expect her to compete nationally or internationally. Katie usually dance around this body issue in conversation but knows how Devon will change and is split over her desire for Devon's athletic success and versus growth. Katie and Eric have spent a lot of time and faith on Devon. Hell, their family is built upon Devon's gymnast career.

AT the novel's start Devon is practicing to enter a qualifying meet when the super handsome boyfriend of the gym's popular tumbling coach is hit and killed by a car. Super Handsome was the darling of the athletes and the gym moms. The moms all gave him the eye and flirted as he helped out at the gym, went to meets, and worked in the restaurant of the booster club's main financier.

The hit-and-run death is a shock to everyone involved with the team and gym. Katie gets protective as she recognizes the odd behavior of Eric and Devon after the accident. Tumbling Coach is initially suspected of killing Super Handsome in a jealous rage. Tumbling Coach is cleared and starts throwing accusations at Devon. Katie gets confused, "What the hell is going in? My daughter spent no time with Super Handsome."

Katie's distress spreads from grief over Super Handsome to concern over her daughter, her husband, her daughter's coach, other gym parents, and a slow realization of how their second child gets constant second billing within the family. The reader starts to see conspiracy among all these characters as we recognize the signs and clues that Katie is oblivious to.

Anyway here are some spoilers. Things happen as the cops get involved. Katie and Eric clash. Katie gets jealous of Eric's closeness to Devon. I started to see Devon as a liar and manipulator. I wonder if there is a conspiracy to keep the hit-and-run driver's identity a secret to protect the team and Devon. Were Super Handsome and Devon doing the sexy-sexy? Did Eric murder Super Handsome because of the sexy-sexy? Was Katie doing the sex-sexy with Super Handsome and reluctant to admit it to us?

Spoilers are over. Abbott writes another fine novel. An interesting thing is that there is little or no detail on the sport or it's disciplines. Abbott does not dwell on body mechanics, body position, or scoring details of the athletes and sport. The focus is all on the characters.

As in other Abbott books the narrator is not exactly unreliable but more that she is unknowing or naive. Or she is unwilling to admit to and see the truth. Katie repeatedly says Devon's success is all by Devon. Katie credits Devon's desire, dedication, and discipline. Which is kinda true but Katie and Eric are there every way to support/push Devon along.

1. Did Bill Crider review this? I should check and see what he had to say.
2. In the past I've often stopped reading Abbott's novels about halfway through because she lays the tension on thick and I have to step back from the feelings of dread I get reading. After a couple days I'll go back to the book.
3. The title of the review in the NYT was "Gymnast Girl and Cute Dead Guy". Well, that's a bullshit title but I suppose it does draw the eye.  Cute Dead Guy has a minor role. Cute Dead Guy is nothing. Cute Dead Guy is the damn McGuffin.

Heard: "The Bridge of Sighs" by Olen Steinhauer

Heard: The Bridge of Sighs by Olen Steinhauer, 2003, download from Wisconsin Digital Library.

This was okay by I enjoyed Steinhauer's contemporary spy novels much more. This is set in 1948 Eastern Europe in a fictional country. Emil is a 22-year-old homicide inspector. He spent the war years in Finland and away from most death and destruction. Both his parents died in the war - his father in combat and his mother starving to death as a Army nurse in the mountains - and he lives with his grandparents in the capitol city.

Emil attended the police academy and is assigned to the homicide unit. Yeah, weird huh? A brand new police officer assigned to a job that most places only give to the most experienced and skilled officers. Emil shows up his first day is mostly ignored by all the officers. Until, towards the end of his first or second day, Emil tries to speaking to another cop and receives a hard punch into his gonads for the trouble. The punch makes Emil puke and stumbles home at the end of the day.

Emil's grandfather is a longtime Red. He went to Russia during the revolution and all about the communist revolution. Emil is tired of his grandfather's lectures. Emil is pretty much alone. He is getting a cold shoulder at work and all his past love affairs have been war and post-war relationships of convenience with women needing protection or dealing with personal trauma.

Emil is unhappy and demands a case from the homicide division's boss. Boss gives Emil a meaningless filing task but Emil attacks the job, returns the files, and demands a case. Boss says, "Well, there is this one minor killing" and sends Emil to a death scene. Emil gets there, looks around, and realizes the corpes is a once highly placed commie. "Uh-oh. A politically connected dead guy? There's no way I'm winning this scenario."

Anyhoo. Emil starts investigating and meets the not-so-grieving Widow who was separated from her money grubbing husband. Emil gets hot and heavy for widow. More things happen and spoilers await.

Emil finds out the Corpse was blackmailing a rising star ready to enter the ruling council of commies. Emil is shot by the mysterious man who seems to be working with Council Commie. More things happen and the homicide dicks decide Emil is a righeous dude. Emil discovers the Council Commie used to work for the Nazis and rolled up spies for the Krauts. Council Dude then switched sides to the Reds and used his Nazi experience to slaughter a bunch of Hitler Youth he used to command.

More things happen and there is a mostly happy ending.

Spoilers over. As spy novels go this is smaller scale. No big international schemes and conspiracies. Hell, this not really a spy novel anyway. This is a murder case where the detective has to visit Berlin to chase leads and then has to maneuver to avoid the powerful political guy's reach.

I say read some Alan Furst books if you want to try Eastern Europe espionage world war and post-world war stories.