Sunday, December 3, 2017

THE WOODEN SEA by Jonathan Carroll

Finished Th 11/30/17

I got this novel and FROM THE TEETH OF AN ANGEL from Amazon (the first time I had two items wrapped together) after reading AFTER SILENCE.

The first third of this novel really blew me away, but it got just too complicated to be believed. It's designed to be 'unbelievable', but there is a limit.

It's set in upstate New York and kicks off when the town's chief of police, Frannie McCabe is visited by a three legged pit bull, Old Vertue. The dog seems to be attracted to the chief, and when the dog drops dead, Frannie buries him, but the dog resurrects. And, this jump starts a series of extraordinary and audacious adventures that involve time travel, aliens, and otherworldly beings.

"Is it mischief or metaphysical"?

"How do you row a boat on a wooden sea"? This is kind of a zen koan that really is not answered. The best guess is that if the sea is wooden, you would just walk away. Or maybe the question is not 'sea', but 'C'.

From a review on Publishers Weekly and I fully agree-

"Immensely popular abroad, Carroll (The Marriage of Sticks) has yet to achieve commensurate stature on his native shore. His latest novel combines George Perec's pleasure in puzzles and Philip Dick's interest in metaphysics. Frannie McCabe is the 47-year-old police chief of Crane's View, N.Y., who one day adopts an old, three-legged stray dog. This is typical of his style, as his wife, Magda, recognizes: "The more goofy they are, the more you like them, huh, Fran?" The dog, Old Vertue, dies; the weirdness begins when McCabe tries to bury him. The burial is interrupted by a report about the perpetually battling Schiavo couple, who seem to have tidied up and abandoned their usually squalid house. McCabe's investigation of the domicile turns up a bizarrely patterned feather which, along with the dog's carcass, reappears in the trunk of Magda's car the next day, spooking McCabe. Even spookier, Pauline, McCabe's stepdaughter, now has a tattoo that exactly matches the feather. Then McCabe's world turns surreal: he is visited by his teenage self. The adolescent McCabe, who had been a notorious delinquent, leads his older self to Astropel, a black extraterrestrial. The aliens know Crane's View has some connection to the cosmic puzzle of the universe itself, but they need McCabe to figure out the specifics. Astropel shuttles Frannie back and forth in time, piling up such clues as a maniac Dutch millionaire from 2030 and a koan ("How do you row a boat on a wooden sea?") pronounced by a dead high school girl. Carroll's best set piece shows McCabe watching Crane's View physically fast forward from the '60s to the '90s.

"Although the story's resolution is weaker than its build up, this wonderfully offbeat novel will further augment Carroll's growing reputation as the pop writer's pop writer".

Saturday, November 25, 2017

CROSS JUSTICE by James Patterson

Finished Fr 11/24/17
This was a brand-spanking new paperback that Janny loaned to me, although I'd bet the farm that she didn't pay retail for it.

This is the most awful novel I've read in years. There is almost no writing skill and the characters bear little resemblance to real people. Alex Comfort is no more a black man than I am! The story is the only thing slightly positive thing about the book, but in the end, it was just too far fetched to be believed. And, although the twin stories are vaguely connected, The Palm Beach Serial Killer seems 'tacked on' and hastily linked to the main action in Starksville, North Carolina.

Alex Cross, his wife and two children travel to his hometown (he hasn't been back in decades) to help his cousin defend a relative who has been accused of a grisly rape and murder. This murder was a setup to conceal a major drug operation that used the railroad system to smuggle narcotics up and down the east coast (if you are over five years old you might have a bit of a problem accepting this). The entire police force and judicial system is bent, yet Cross overcomes.

A twisted transvestite in Palm Beach, Florida is killing old women because his mother was mean to him, and the local police are baffled. This 'man/woman killer' owns an art gallery and has painted portraits of his victims, and this clue and dubious connections between the victims lead police to the truth.

Alex Cross gets dragged into this investigation (totally randomly; he goes to Florida after he learns that his father didn't die in North Carolina, but fled to The Sunshine State) and later it's revealed that the lead detective on this case is actually Alex's long-lost father. Too crazy to relate.

Two or three lines from any Michael Connelly book are far superior to Patterson's entire genre.

The plot copied from Wikipedia-

"Alex Cross and his family, who live in Washington, D.C., travel to Starksville, North Carolina, so Alex and his wife Bree can help clear Alex's cousin Stefan Tate of a murder they suspect he did not commit. Stefan, a school teacher, is on trial for supposedly murdering Rashawn Turnbull, a boy in his class, and almost everyone in town is convinced he's guilty and wants him to hang. Alex has not been to Starksville since leaving as a child thirty-five years ago. The Cross family has not found the town to be welcoming to them, partly because they are there to help clear Stefan.

Alex travels to Belle Glade, Florida, to get information on his father, who was said to have committed suicide near there. He meets a veteran Palm Beach County, Florida, sergeant, who is convinced Alex can help him catch a brutal serial killer in Palm Beach County. It turns out that the sergeant is Alex's long-lost father Jason. Meanwhile, Alex looks into Marvin Bell, a local businessman who has had dubious influence on the Cross family during Alex's childhood and is said to have orchestrated Jason Cross's fake death.

After investigation, it turns out that Bell teamed up with Rashawn's maternal grandparents to ship a highly potent addictive drug across the South and were making large profits off of this drug. Rashawn's grandfather had killed Rashawn due to feeling shameful about the child's mixed heritage, then pinned it on Stefan since the latter had been investigating into the Starksville drug trade. It is also discovered that the entire judicial system of Starksville had been under FBI investigation for corruption. Following the incident, the FBI moves in and arrests all the judges in Starksville, with Stefan's case being dropped."

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

DROWNING RUTH by Christina Schwarz

Finished Tu 11/21/17 This was a trade paperback that Janny loaned me. It's a first novel and an Oprah selection.

Set in rural Wisconsin near Lake Naukawaukee between WWI and WWII

Two sisters- Amanda and Mathilda (Mattie); Amanda, trained as a nurse, awkward and domineering; Mattie outgoing, pretty and sweet.

Mattie marries Carl and they live on a small island in the lake. They have Ruth and then Carl leaves to fight in WWI. Moves back to family home off the island.

When he returns Ruth is four and he learns that Mattie has drowned. Doesn't really know the circumstances. A distant relation, Hilda, comes to the island to help raise Ruth. She leaves when Ruth becomes unmanageable.

Amanda has been hospitalized for depression (madness) and when she is released she comes to the island to help with Ruth.

In her teens, Ruth befriends Imogene. This girl is actually Amanda's daughter. Amanda was pregnant and went to live on the island with Ruth and Mattie when  Carl was in the war. Amanda gave the baby to a local woman saying that it was the child of a servant girl.

Ruth and Imogene's relationship is a mirror of Amanda's and Mattie's; Outgoing vs. Inward

I wasn't a big fan of the novel, but it's well written and the truncated structure wasn't too difficult. But, I found nearly all of the characters not too likeable. And, exactly how Mattie drowned was not that riveting (after all of the buildup- I thought that it would be a real game changer).

Copied from a review at Publishers Weekly-

"Ruth remembered drowning." The first sentence of this brilliantly understated psychological thriller leaps off the page and captures the reader's imagination. In Schwarz's debut novel, brutal Wisconsin weather and WWI drama color a tale of family rivalry, madness, secrets and obsessive love. By March 1919, Nurse Amanda Starkey has come undone. She convinces herself that her daily exposure to the wounded soldiers in the Milwaukee hospital where she works is the cause of her hallucinations, fainting spells and accidents. Amanda journeys home to the family farm in Nagawaukee, where her sister, Mathilda (Mattie), lives with her three-year-old daughter Ruth, awaiting the return of her war-injured husband, Carl Neumann. Mattie's ebullient welcome convinces Amanda she can mend there. But then Mattie drowns in the lake that surrounds the sisters' island house and, in a rush of confusion and anguish, Amanda assumes care of Ruth. After Carl comes home, Amanda and he manage to work together on the farm and parent Ruth, but their arrangement is strained: Amanda has a breakdown and recuperates at a sanatorium. As time passes, Ruth grows into an odd, guarded child who clings to perplexing memories of the night her mother drowned. Why does Amanda have that little circle of scars on her hand? What is Amanda's connection to Ruth's friend Imogene and why does she fear Imogene's marriage to Clement Owen's son? Schwarz deftly uses first-person narration to heighten the drama. Her prose is spare but bewitching, and she juggles the speakers and time periods with the surety of a seasoned novelist. Rather than attempting a trumped-up suspenseful finale, Schwarz ends her novel gently, underscoring the delicate power of her tale."

Monday, November 20, 2017


This was a hardback novel that I ordered from Amazon after reading Hansen's,  'Mariette In Ecstasy'. I also ordered 'Hitler's Niece' at the same time. 'Mariette' is by far the best of the bunch.

DESPERADOES is rich in detail, but it lacks a compelling narrative flow. I had more enjoyment watching a few Youtube videos about The Dalton Gang- especially the Coffeyville Robbery of 1892.

I read about half of the novel during September and October, and finally in mid November I spent about an hour on the book and skimmed to the end. With a dynamic and cohesive plotline, this would have been a terrific book,  but now it's only a collection of well-written incidents and insightful observations.

Link to Coffeyville website-

Youtube link to video shot at the bank; contemporary-

About the gang and robbery-

I was really taken with the character of Eugenia Moore. She road with the gang and according to Emmett she said something to the effect, "I don't understand the concepts of chastity and virginity. It's like boasting that you can't read". She is portrayed as someone who was as 'wild and crazy' as the men in the gang, however it seems that she might have only been a 'composite' and Emmett Dalton developed this character based on numerous women who were involved with the gang at various times throughout their history.

Many authorities treat Moore as a real individual, but this website/author  claims that she was only a composite of many women close to the gang. I would have liked to have read a whole book about this character!

Sunday, November 19, 2017

DOG EAT DOG by Edward Bunker

DOG EAT DOG   by Edward Bunker

From the library on Hoopla, and finished Su 11/19/17

A couple of weeks ago I heard an interview on Marc Maron's WTF with Willem Dafoe and they were talking about the film where Dafoe played Mad Dog McCain and Nicholas Cage played Troy Cameron. Dafoe mentioned that it was taken from a great novel by Edward Bunker. First, I checked Netflix and learned that the movie was available for streaming, and I watched it that morning. And then I checked the library and saw that the book was on Hoopla.

1) Troy Cameron- Born into wealth and privilege in Beverly Hills. Father was an abusive urologist and abused Troy's mother. Father attacked mother and Troy shot him three times in the back. Father lived, but Troy began his career in the juvenile court system.

2) Charles 'Diesel' Carson- While in the system gained 80 lbs of muscle and got the nickname 'Diesel' for his strength, although it might have been 'for playing football without a helmet'.

3) Gerald 'Mad Dog' McCain- Just a couple of days before Troy's release he was goaded into a fight by a black thug, and Mad Dog cut the guy with a shiv, nearly killing him.  Mad Dog knew that if Troy retaliated, he would lose any chance of freedom. Troy never forgets this, although McCain is completely unhinged and addicted to whatever he can lay his hands on. However, near the end of the novel, Troy and Diesel agree that McCain's gotta go.

The book is essentially about three friends who met and grew up in California's child criminal courts system. When they are released as adults and subject to the recent, 'three strikes and you're out' mandate, they decided that they will commit crimes against criminals because these individuals can't call in the police. They rip off a drug dealer and successfully take a large score, but they are involved with a kidnapping that goes awry. They accidentally kill the man who is supposed to pay the ransom when he is unexpectedly present on the evening of the crime. Troy and Diesel murder Mad Dog because he is far too unstable and they get taken down when they are targeted by store security in a harmless visit to a local grocery store. Diesel's handgun is accidentally displayed in the store, and Diesel is killed in a gun fight in the parking lot, and Troy is captured. While in the prison hospital Troy is given a handgun and a pipe wrench by a prisoner who is a friend and Troy manages to escape. He hijacks a car with an elderly black couple, the Reverend Charles and Charlene Wilson, and manages to travel down the California coast where the car is stopped by police. In the ensuing gun fight, Charles and Charlene are killed and Troy is wounded and captured. All is lost and Troy is back in the system, and this time- on death row.

Much of the novel is different from the film and I'm curious as to why they just didn't 'do the book' because it's so much better. In any event, I loved the book, and I'd wholeheartedly recommend both the novel and the film to anyone interested in hardboiled criminal fiction.

the author's page at wikipedia-

Thursday, November 16, 2017

THE POET by Michael Connelly

This is an old paperback that I first completed on Mo 2/24/03 over a long three day weekend. This time through, I finished it Tu 11/14/17. When I finished ROGUE LAWYER I was searching through the stacks for a copy of THE LINCOLN LAWYER. I thought that it was written by Grisham and surprised to learn that it was a Connelly novel. I couldn't find it, or any of the Mickey Haller series, but this one was worth a second look.

Reporter, John McEvoy is a twin and his brother is a police detective. The detective is murdered and the scene was arranged to appear like a suicide. John joins the investigation and determines that there is a serial killer of police detectives on the loose.  Cops commit suicide and there is a connection to children in their past. McEvoy uses the internet and finds the connection between these half dozen murders disguised as suicide and realizes that it's the work of a serial killer. They called the killer in this investigation, The Poet, because this murderer leaves sections of poetry by Edgar Allen Poe at the scene.

The FBI's Behavioral Science Unit (Rachel's outfit) determines that the killer seems to be motivated by a molestation that happened when he was a child. The Poet is aided by an online organization of paedophiles.

Many years ago a Florida detective was sexually abusing children. He discarded William Gladden because he got too old. Gladden went on a life-long killing spree against detectives because of this this man.  Gladden takes pictures of young children and sells them on the internet. This is the man that is thought to be The Poet for most of the novel.

Rachel Walling's father was also a detective and he was abusing her, and when John learned of this he was convinced that she was the killer.


John falls in love with the FBI investigator Rachel Walling. Near the end of the book John feels that she might be The Poet. However, it's not her, but another FBI agent, Backus. 

A fantastic book and I'd read anything and everything by Michael Connelly. And, he's a cut above John Grisham, but Grisham's work is still important part of the genre of legal thrillers.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

THE ATOMIC WEIGHT OF LOVE by Elizabeth J. Church

November selection for the Contemporary Book Club, 2017. Finished Fr 11/10/17; a hardback edition that I got on Amazon- We 8/30/17

Meridian's family might be related to Scottish Super-Hero, William Wallace. Mel Gibson's character in BRAVEHEART.

An interesting and captivating love story that spans the fifties to the seventies from the point of view of an educated woman trapped in a very limited marriage; somewhat a blueprint to the rise of feminism.

Meridian Wallace
Alden Whetstone
Clay- Vietnam vet, geologist

From Amazon-

"In her sweeping debut novel, Elizabeth J. Church takes us from the World War II years in Chicago to the vast sun-parched canyons of New Mexico in the 1970s as we follow the journey of a driven, spirited young woman, Meridian Wallace, whose scientific ambitions are subverted by the expectations of her era.

In 1941, at seventeen years old, Meridian begins her ornithology studies at the University of Chicago. She is soon drawn to Alden Whetstone, a brilliant, complicated physics professor who opens her eyes to the fundamentals and poetry of his field, the beauty of motion, space and time, the delicate balance of force and energy that allows a bird to fly.

Entranced and in love, Meridian defers her own career path and follows Alden west to Los Alamos, where he is engaged in a secret government project (later known to be the atomic bomb). In married life, though, she feels lost and left behind. She channels her academic ambitions into studying a particular family of crows, whose free life and companionship are the very things that seem beyond her reach. There in her canyons, years later at the dawn of the 1970s, with counterculture youth filling the streets and protests against the war rupturing college campuses across the country, Meridian meets Clay, a young geologist and veteran of the Vietnam War, and together they seek ways to mend what the world has broken.

Exquisitely capturing the claustrophobic eras of 1940s and 1950s America, The Atomic Weight of Love also examines the changing roles of women during the decades that followed. And in Meridian Wallace we find an unforgettable heroine whose metamorphosis shows how the women’s movement opened up the world for a whole generation."

From Amazon-

"An Amazon Best Book of May 2016: The Atomic Weight of Love sounded like a quiet book to me, but the process of transformation from caterpillar to butterfly is a quiet thing, too, and that’s what this story reminds me of. It’s a fascinating account of Meridian Wallace, a science-minded woman who falls in love with a brilliant man working on big things—in this case, the atomic bomb. She puts her dreams on hold in service to his, sure that it’s only temporary and in these years meets other women who have done the same. Suddenly, it seems as if she has just faded into the background of her own life. Then the catalyst--a young man, both hippie and Vietnam veteran, who introduces her to many things, freedoms born of the era, and there is indecision. Ultimately Meridian reclaims herself, takes her identities over all those years and patches them together into a new and meaningful life. Woven throughout are interesting facts about human-like bird behavior and historical anecdotes, so while Meridian’s story--a reflection of the changing role of women between the 1940’s and 1970’s--is the centerpiece, there are many other treasures along the way. --Seira Wilson"

I really loved this novel and although it's a romance, it is in no way a Harlequin Romance! And, I was pleased to see that the author did not cast Meridian's husband, Alden as a villain. He was as much trapped by society's expectations as she was.

Link to excellent review-