Friday, March 25, 2011

BETTER by John O'Brien

Finished Fr 3/25/11

This rather slim novel is by the author of LEAVING LAS VEGAS, and chronicles the lives of various inhabitants who live in a lavish 'crash pad' high in the Hollywood hills. Double Felix (his name is Felix, but this is his rather clever nickname)owns the home, and oversees a non-stop alcohol fueled party, and he sometimes invites people to stay and live at the house. The novel is mostly told by William who was a high-profile, severely alcoholic corporate lawyer who came to party, and never left. Also, in the house is a beautiful Asian hooker by the name of Zipper, a young party-girl called Maggie, and a very young and beautiful girl by the name of Laurie who has captivated both William and Double Felix. The book is mostly a catalog of snide dialog and weird philosophical ramblings by the house guests. Finally, a house fire forces everyone to move on. This book could have been so much better, and it was released posthumously.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

TRUE GRIT by Charles Portis

Finished Su 3/20/11

Mattie Ross, a fourteen year-old-girl from Dardanelle, Arkansas, sets out to avenge the murder of her father in the wild and savage Oklahoma Territory of the late 1870's. Mattie is the living personification of, "plucky", and, without much trouble, she finagles the assistance of an aging federal marshal, Rooster Cogburn, and a Texas Ranger by the name of La Boeuf to chase down pack of bad guys. The novel is written in the first person, and Mattie tells the tale over sixty years later as an old and infirmed woman, yet she still retains every bit of her feisty spirit. This comedic novel is a classic of the Cowboy Genre, and the quaint, yet astute nineteenth century dialog is second to none. At the end of the book, you feel you have participated in an examination of a very specific period of America's history. Charles Portis is truly an overlooked American writer.

Saturday, March 19, 2011


Finished Sa 3/19/11

Khaled Hosseini has created a wonderful character study about the love and respect of two Afghan women, of two different generations, who happen to share the same evil and violent husband. The novel spans a thirty year period from the the mid 70's through America's involvement in this war-torn land. Mariam is an illegitimate daughter of a wealthy man who is married off to a much older man. And, Laila is the child of educated parents who are killed in the war, and becomes "Wife Number Two" for the malevolent Rasheed. Although the war and the religion of Islam are background themes, the real thrust of this novel is the growing affection and understanding between these two women. At the conclusion of the novel, I could not believe how any nation could support a policy which treated women in such a despicable manner. A tyrannical government chose to interpret a very narrow and parochial view of Islam and the Koran.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

BURNING ANGEL by James Lee Burke

Finished Su 3/13/11

James Lee Burke takes the very popular, and often employed, Police/Crime/Thriller Genre, and infuses this literary style with lyricism worthy of a poet. The vivid descriptions of rural Louisiana, Dave Robicheaux's dark and troubled alcoholic past, and Dave's love and respect for his family and co-workers all contribute to a novel which resonates long after you've finished the final chapter. The central character of BURNING ANGEL is Sonny Boy Marsallus who was once a friend to Robicheaux, and has an almost mythic life. He has ties to the Giancano family, contemporary New Orleans mafia overlords, he is a fixer and money lender, and has a dark and corrupt past which he acquired in the jungles of Central America during the bloody Reagan years. Also, a subplot concerns a wealthy family who seems to be trying to evict black homeowners who have laid claim to the area for generations. This is the kind of novel that you want to take your time reading, and savor each well written page.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011


Finished We 3/9/ll

This is a first novel in a genre that I did not even know existed. Author John Ringo employs the military fiction adventure genre of writers such as W.E.B Griffin, and crafts space opera type tales of the early science fiction scene. I prefer the more psychedelic/psychological types of science fiction by writers like Philip K. Dick, Ursula K. LeGuin, and John Brunner, and I have never been a fan of Military Fiction.

From the Shadows: The Ultimate Insider's Story of Five Presidents and How They Won the Cold War by Robert Gates

Finished Mo 3/6/11

I spent a few days with this, and only intended to find out if Gates had a background in the military. However, it was so well written, and his story was so interesting that I read the whole book. It was like being a 'fly on the wall' at the nexus of power in Washington DC through five different administrations. I especially liked his impressions of Jimmy Carter. Gates feels that Carter is by far the smartest of our recent presidents, and he was so thoughtful and contemplative that his enemies interpreted this as weakness. And, nothing could be farther from the truth. (Simple minds seem to require simple solutions). Also, Gates seems to feel a fair degree of disgust for the partisan politics which emerged in the Regan era. Although, it is evident that Gates had the greatest admiration for this president, he felt that the people under him were a bit too concerned with party loyalty. And, although I'm sure that this was even worse under George W. Bush's regime. Also, William Casey, the head of the CIA under Regan, comes across as a very strange individual. Usually he is vilified, but Gates shows why he took some of the 'extreme' positions, and why he felt they were justified. And, finally, Robert Gates comes across as someone who only did what he felt was right, and had no political ax to grind. When you finish the book, you feel you have read what really happened, and not a recreation of events to fit a particular political agenda.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Looking for a Hero: Staff Sergeant Joe Ronnie Hooper and the Vietnam War by

by Peter Maslowski and Don Winslow Finished Sa 3/5/11

I spent about ten hours reading and skimming this very long biographical novel about the most highly decorated veteran of The Vietnam War. Joe Hooper should be as famous as Sargent York or Audie Murphy, but for some reason, he's the most famous American that nobody has ever heard of. This epic work is broad in scope, and provides an excellent history of the reasons and motivations for this highly contested Southeast Asian conflict. Many reviewers have said that this book is, "anti-military", but in light of the facts, I don't know how you could share this opinion. At the end of the book, I wondered if 'flawed' wars produce 'flawed' heroes, but as the book says...*War Is Hell, but Actual Combat Is A Motherfucker". And, the men who engage in this 'Hell' clearly need more than a medal and a parade when they exit the war zone, and, more than likely, require serious help to reintegrate into society, and Mr. Hooper clearly did not get this much needed attention. Drink, drugs, homelessness, and violence seem to be the fate of many of our heroes, and that is an unfortunate fact for all patriotic Americans to consider.

Friday, March 4, 2011

ITALIAN SHOES by Henning Mankell

Finished Fr 3/4/11

I much prefer Mankell's crime series featuring Kurt Wallander, however, ITALIAN SHOES, is a fairly engaging study of middle-aged depression. Former surgeon, Fredrik Welin, has been living alone on a small island in Sweden when he gets a visit from an ex-girlfriend who he has not seen in over forty years. She is dying of cancer, and asks him to accompany her to a remote lake, and along the way he learns that he has a daughter by this woman. Later, they visit Louise, his daughter, and he forges a relationship with her. Welin has left the medical field in disgrace due to a botched operation. He amputated the the wrong arm of a patient, and later in the novel, this woman comes to his island, and he drives her away in a clumsy attempt at seduction. I guess Mankell is making a metaphorical point that Sweden is also experiencing a kind of 'isolation of spirit', and 'loss of direction' similar to what has happened to his lead character. However, although the novel kept my interest, I was unmoved at the end. In the right hands, this might make a thought provoking film.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

RAINBOW DRIVE by Roderick Thorp

Finished We 3/2/11

Another excellent Police Procedural Novel by the author of, THE DETECTIVE. This is a very long, and multifaceted novel which involves dozens of interconnected characters. However, at the conclusion, the basic theme, and reasons for the plot are clearly understandable. Mike Gallagher is acting head of Homicide, Hollywood Division, and he was present near a particularly grisly multi-murder one morning in the Hollywood Hills. Although he is not officially on the case, and has been told to ignore it, he becomes involved in the investigation, and soon discovers that a massive cover-up is in play. As events play out over several hundred pages, we see that old California money and influence is at the center of the case. Also, a massive drug operation, a lucrative land development deal, and an international white slavery ring, all create 'layers within layers' in this exhaustive mystery.