Wednesday, August 31, 2011

THE WRECKAGE by Michael Robotham

Finished Tu 8/30/11

Billions of dollars are missing from Iraqi banks, and journalist Luca Terracini is hot on the trail of the missing funds with the help of a beautiful UN investigator, Daniela Garner. Meanwhile in London, a banking official who has uncovered rampant money laundering at his firm, is mugged by a ravishing beauty by the name of Holly, and she seems to be unwittingly in possession of some very dangerous information. Vincent Ruiz is a retired English police detective and he becomes caught up in this whirlwind of stolen cash, international terrorism, and government corruption involving some of the highest policy makers in Britain and the US.

This is an electrifying novel, and I would read anything else by this author. He has a background in journalism, and the sections of the novel which deal with double dealing and corporate malfeasance in Iraq have the absolute ring of truth.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

ORYX AND CRAKE by Margaret Atwood

Finished Sa 8/27/11

ORYX AND CRAKE is set in the same fictional universe as Atwood's 'Speculative Fiction' novel, THE YEAR OF THE FLOOD. ORYX AND CRAKE is told through the eyes of a single character, a post-apocalyptic hermit by the name of Jimmy. This is a tale of a not too distant dystopian world where genetic splicing has run amok, and a genetically engineered plague has decimated mankind. Jimmy reminisces about his two friends, Crake, a savant of biological systems engineering, and Oryx who was probably forced into the online sex trade as a young child, and is very much a tantalizing enigma.

The book is a strange, thoughtful, and clever examination of the dangers of human genetic engineering and biological weapons.

Both novels are fine examples of how a world renown poet would craft an enjoyable and thought provoking fictional work within the fantasy genre.

THIS WHEEL'S ON FIRE Levon Helm and the story of The Band by Levon Helm and Stephen Davis

Finished Sa 8/27/11

Levon Helm documents the stellar career of the musical group which truly exemplifies and celebrates the quintessential American musical experience, yet they just happened to erupt out of Canada. And, after more than a decade of playing the circuit both in the US and Canada, they became, "overnight sensations", as Dylan's sidemen. This rock biography is much more than an expanded Wikipedia entry, and after you finish the book you really gain an insight into the band.

I was amazed to find that Roy Buchanan was once a member of the band, and that Robbie Robertson was judged to be the better guitarist! Also, Robertson's work is so exquisitely blended within the collective whole of the Band's sound that it is hard to believe that he could 'shred like the dickens' when they were Dylan's backup band. He does not seem to be in the mold of Clapton or Hendrix, but apparently this was true.

Also, it is interesting to note that Robertson happened to be closer to their manager, Albert Grossman, so Robbie got more of the monetary compensation for the Band's catalog. The infraction was not quite as severe as what Alan Price did to The Animals, but along the same lines. As Levon Helm tells it, "We got pencil whipped"!

A great read, and it has greatly expanded my appreciation of this superb musical group.

Monday, August 22, 2011

ANIMAL TRACKS The Story of The Animals: Newcastle's Rising Sons by Sean Egan

Finished Su 8/22/11

There is a lot of information about the development of the various bands that went on to become "The Animals", but the majority of the books is about the songs on the albums-who played on them, who wrote them, and the situations in which they occurred.

-Tom Wilson produced the early Animals, and he was a producer for Bob Dylan, Frank Zappa and The Mothers of Invention, and The Velvet Underground. An Afro-American and graduate of Harvard, and a Republican!
-Hilton Valentine (lead guitar) Yes, That's his real name
-John Steel (drummer) Childhood friend of Burdon
-Chas Chandler (bass) Went on to a more successful career in managing Jimi Hendrix
and Slade. And, he was never really very proficient on the bass guitar.
-Alan Price (keyboards-organ piano) He and the manager tricked the band into giving
them all of the rights to "The House Of The Rising Son". They said that the revenue
would be split, but it never was.

The band was originally called, "The Alan Price Rhythm And Blues Combo"
Widely regarded as the most authentic Blues band from England, they went on to fully embrace the Hippie Scene in San Francisco. Although, when they relocated to the US, they settled in Los Angeles.
The band had numerous reformations with the original lineup even though they all agreed that Price had stolen from them. He hated the idea of the 'arpeggio' guitar intro, and left the original session in a storm. But, returned when the whole song had been written and arranged. Later, he took full credit.
Mike Jeffery is the manager who shared credit with Price. He ran a club in Newcastle
Micky Most probably was the most successful manager of the group. He was able to pick the most likely songs for chart success.

The author feels that although The Animals scored an unbelievable string of truly classic radio hits, they never delivered an album worthy of the greatness of the band.

Eric Burdon, although a swaggering English blues-man, became the quintessential hippie. Friends with all of the San Francisco bands, and eating acid like Owsley.

I would say that the book is more like an expanded Wikipedia entry, but essential if you have any interest in this classic rock group from the sixties.

Saturday, August 20, 2011


Finished Sa 8/20/11

THE MILLENNIUM PEOPLE is a wry take on Karl Marx's revolutionary theory. Marx felt that the end of the political status quo would occur when the workers on the bottom of the economic pyramid called it quits, and turned to violence, however Ballard sees the impetus for revolt coming from the more well-off middle class. Ballard envisions radical social change as a kind of, "Upholstered Apocalypse".

David Markham's ex-wife is killed by a terrorist bomb at Heathrow Airport, and this seems to be connected to a radical strike and middle-class uprising at Chelsea Marina, a posh housing estate in fashionable West London. An odd assortment of quirky characters propel the action. And, here is a brief description of some of the more memorable characters in this thoroughly enjoyable Black Comedy.

-Richard Gould, a whacked-out pediatrician who uses 'violent absurdism' to affect social change
-Kay Churchill, a political pundit and ex-film studies professor
-The Reverend Stephen Dexter, a motorcycle riding pastor who seems to have spiritually lost his way
-Joan Chang, a hip pseudo-revolutionary
-Sally Markam, who is David's wife and suffers from a delusion that she is still crippled from a childhood train accident in which she fully recovered
-Vera Blackburn, a demented explosive expert.

Ballard is a craftsmen when it comes to the turn of a phrase, and the story is both insightful and entertaining. It makes me want to reread his delightfully perverse novel, CRASH, which dealt with car-crash fetishism.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

THE WORST THING by aaron Elkins

Finished We 8/17/11

Hostage Negotiations and Panic Attacks

This is a stand-alone novel from the author who put Forensic Anthropology into the front lines of the Crime Genre. Aaron Elkins is most known for a series of books which feature—the 'skeleton detective', Gideon Oliver. I have not read any of these novels, but I plan to check them out.

THE WORST THING concerns a noted hostage negotiator, Bryan Bennett, who is now teaching the art of negotiation to government and corporate clients. He was brutalized during a kidnapping incident as a small child, and still suffers from the psychological trauma of this tragic event. The book begins as he is asked by his boss to travel to Iceland and host a symposium about corporate security, and while there, he becomes the victim in a hostage situation.

Many elements as to how professional negotiators deal with kidnappers are examined, and you really learn a lot as to how this pseudo-science is applied in real situations. Also, Bennett suffers from severe and debilitating panic attacks caused by his kidnapping ordeal as a five year old, and The Panic Experience is explained in detail. Apparently, to be afraid of a particular thing is very bad, but to be afraid of the fear of that thing is much, much worse.

In an odd literary twist, it is revealed that Mr. Bennett did not actually experience the hostage situation as a child, but it was really his brother. Bryan was only five years old when the incident occurred, and it seems that he extrapolated details and impressions which he gleaned from his parents, and mistakenly believed that it happened to him. This section of the novel was kind of contrived, but overall, this book is a fine example of Hostage Fiction.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

FREEDOM by Jonathan Franzen

Finished Tu 8/16/11

FREEDOM was the August selection for my book club.

I have read one other novel by this author, THE TWENTY-SEVENTH CITY, and I thought that book was kind of odd. It was fairly hard for me to accept the premise of a foreign take-over of St. Louis by a sexy socialite and a new female police commissioner from India. I suppose it was a satire, but it seemed kind of a reach. However, I completely enjoyed FREEDOM, and his new novel is a long and thorough tale of an intricate star-crossed love triangle. Walter and Patty Berglund are married, yet they have serious issues within the marriage. Patty still has a crush on Walter's college roommate, Richard, and Walter is wrapped up in his career. The novel spans a few decades, and scrutinizes the personal lives of these central characters, and also those of their family and friends. And, certain relevant topical and cultural issues are examined. One issue in particular seems to be that Jonathan Franzen has a personal issue with house cats that are allowed to roam free because these lovable creatures have a significant negative impact on the song bird population. I was never aware of this issue.

This novel very much reminded me of John Updike's, Harry 'Rabbit' Angstrom series. Another comic-serious novel which expertly details and chronicles the triumphs and frustrations of a group of intensely connected people over an extended period of time

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Storming Heaven: The Lives and Turmoils of Minnie Kennedy and Aimee Semple McPherson

Skimmed through on Monday/Tuesday Aug 8-9, 2011

The definitive work of Amiee Semple McPherson. Peppered with photos, and probably the most 'fact based' of anything that I have read about her. Also, an interesting portrait or her mother, Minnie, who was equally important to the life of this early 20th century religious/media figure.

THE DOGS OF WAR by Frederick Forsyth

Finished Mo 8/8/11

THE DOGS OF WAR is a long and detailed novel which chronicles the take-over of a fictional African country called Zangaro. A predatory English corporate chief finds out that there exists a priceless deposit of platinum in this backward nation, and hires ex-soldier of fortune and mercenary, Carlos 'Cat' Shannon, to organize a team and depose the president so that his company can capture the wealth.
The novel is not really a thriller, but goes into exhaustive detail about how such an insurgent force would be armed, funded, located, and coordinated. Since the novel is almost forty years old, I am sure that this kind of thing goes on in today's world, but the logistics would be much different.
In a kind of trick ending, although the corrupt leader is removed, Shannon's team does not install the 'puppet' president who would work for Sir James Manson, head of the London firm, Manson Consolidated Mining Limited, but finds a leader who would do more to promote the good of the country.
I have the film ordered from Netflix, and I am interested to see if it will be as good, or better than the novel.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

THE WEIGHT by Andrew Vachss

Finished Th 8/4/11

Tim "Sugar" Caine- A man with two different colored eyes who is Big, Large, and Muscle- Bound, and a mind which mirrors his super-large frame.

Clever Premise- Man is brought in for a rape that he did not commit, but his alibi is that he was on a jewelry robbery , and he can't 'rat out' his confederates.

Interesting profile of 'A Man In The Life'. This might be a bit dated, but I guess it still makes sense. A successful, 'High-End' criminal only has 'the word on the street' as his reputation, so just like the stock market, Perception Is Everything.

Plot gets way too convoluted, and I completely lost the thread by the end of the novel.

Monday, August 1, 2011


Finished Mo 8/1/11

"Thriller" indeed, and a very engaging read, and a superlative first novel. Another 'tough girl' heroine who is more than a little similar to Stieg Larsson's Lisbeth Salander. Vanessa Michael Munroe drives the action in THE INFORMATIONIST. Ms. Munroe is deadly in martial arts, and is a wizard in gaining and using intelligence, and this skill makes her much in demand to the corporate chieftains of The New World Order. In this novel she is contacted by the head of a major Texas oil company, and is paid handsomely to locate his daughter who disappeared in darkest Africa four years previously. Vanessa connects with an old friend from her past, and they attempt to unravel this mysterious disappearance in one of the most politically corrupt and lawless areas on the face of the earth.

Ms. Taylor plans to write more on this character, and I will definitely check them out.