Wednesday, September 28, 2011

THE HUNGER GAMES by Suzanne Collins

Finished Tu 9/27/11

Katniss Everdeen has been chosen to represent District 12 in The Hunger Games. In this post-apocalyptic/adventure novel, Panem is the name of the country which was once the USA. "The Capitol" is the ruling city-state, and the rest of the country has been divided into twelve subservient sectors. Each year, two teenage candidates (boy/girl) from each sector are selected to participate in a competition in which all twenty-four participants must fight to the death until only one is left alive. The entire event is televised all over Panem to encourage regional unity/rivalry, and to demonstrate the absolute power of the state.

The novel primarily concerns Katniss's preparation for The Games, and her participation in them. Next to nothing about the political history, motivations of the leaders of Panem, or much cultural detail about the various sectors are included in the novel. District #12 (nickname-The Seam, probably a reference to the seams of coal) is the old Appalachian area of the Eastern US. Her partner in the competition from #12 is Peeta, the baker's son, and he forms a personal and professional alliance with Katniss during the competition. Peeta is very much in love with her, yet his feelings only bemuse and puzzle Katniss.

Although Katniss is an accomplished hunter and gatherer, she seems to lack confidence and has an unusual low level of self esteem for such a proficient individual. She really doesn't have much of a clue as to how capable that she really is. And, even though she has phenomenal success in The Games, it really doesn't do much for her feelings of inferiority.

This is the first book in a trilogy, and there will be a movie released based on THE HUNGER GAMES in the spring of 2012.

KATNISS is a plant similar to a potato

Friday, September 23, 2011


Finished Fr 9/23/11
Book Club Selection for September

Rosie Ferguson- Junior; lives in Landsdale, CA(fictional city probably near Larkspur)
Elizabeth- Rosie's mother
James- Rosie's step-father; Andrew is father(deceased)

Jody- Friend of Rosie; Alcoholic, veteran of programs
Alice- Also friend; Student of fashion
Claude- Jody's soldier boyfriend
Fenn- Rosie's older dealer boyfriend
Rae and Lank- Married friends of Elizabeth and James. Rae is an artist/weaver. Lank teacher high school.


Rumi- 13th century Persian poet/theologian
"Each has to enter the nest of another imperfect bird"

Reasoning with an addict is like trying to blow out a light bulb
FINE Fucked-up, Insecure, Neurotic, Edgey

Lamott wrote a first novel dealing with these characters called, "Rosie", but this novel is clearly a 'stand alone'. I would guess that it contains more on Elizabeth's first marriage to Andrew. Possibly lays the groundwork for Rosie's addictions, and an examination with Elizabeth's problems with alcohol which is alluded to in 'Birds'.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

THIRTEEN MILLION DOLLAR POP A Frank Behr Novel by David Levien

Finished We 9/21/11

Frank Behr Mystery

Frank Behr is working as an executive body-guard for Bernard Kolodnik, a hard-driving business mogul on the verge of making a move into big-time politics. Behr is employed by the 'white-shoe' investigation firm called, The Caro Group, an uneasy fit both philosophically and literally because working for someone else rubs him the wrong way - but with his girlfriend nine months pregnant, Behr is doing what he has to get paid. An attempt is made on the client, and Behr manages to protect his man, repel the attackers, and get both of them to safety. Behr is celebrated for his heroism and moved to a different assignment, but he can't stop himself from finding out what really happened in that garage - and why the cops are either making no headway, or burying the incident.

Hit-man from Wales is a great villain, and he is badly wounded, but escapes.
This is the third in the series, and I plan to read more.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

DISASTER WAS MY GOD A Novel of The Outlaw Life of Arthur Rimbaud by Bruce Duffy

Finished Tu 9/20/11

This is a well-written and engaging biography of Arthur Rimbaud(1854-1891). It sticks very close to the details of his life, yet the scenes and dialog would have to be fictional.

The book begins with his mother attempting to bury his body, and finally wraps up with this same scene. I liked that the book did not recount a linear examination of his life, and jumped between his adventures in Ethiopia, to his Parisian encounter with Paul Verlaine, scenes of his childhood with his mother, and his flight from Africa. And, it did not dwell on the particularly lurid accounts of his debauchery with Paul Verlaine in Paris which I was kind of expecting in a book about Rimbaud.

Basically, Rimbaud was a man who wrote poetry for a few years as a teenager, was discovered by Parisian literary society, and completely changed the entire art form. I don't think that anything similar was written for another half century. The spirit of Arthur Rimbaud can clearly be seen in the Punk Rock genre of the late 1970's, and that was nearly a century after Rimbaud had ceased to write. When it seemed that he was at the zenith of his powers, he suddenly stopped writing. He no longer even considered himself an artist, and turned to the business field. Where he decided to engage in probably the lowest form of commerce-Gun Running. A very strange individual indeed! Tremendously talented, yet clearly slightly unhinged.

Bruce Duffy writes with a maximum of style and verve, and really moved the story along.

Rimbaud's meddlesome and controlling mother
Rimbaud had a sister that died of tuberculosis
Paul Verlaine lived with his in-laws while in Paris
Verlaine married a sixteen year old, and she was pregnant at seventeen

Wikipedia entry:

Friday, September 16, 2011

CONVICTION by Richard North Patterson

Finished Fr 9/16/11

CONVICTION examines the legal nightmare of the California appeals procedure. In 1987 two brothers were convicted of the brutal rape and murder of a nine year old girl. Their lawyer was cross-addicted to booze and cocaine, but he did offer a defense which was legally adequate. although it was really just good enough to get them executed. Fifteen years later, one brother is executed, and now there is a slim chance that the appeals process can save the other brother.

The brother who remains on death row suffers a significant degree of retardation, and this was not properly addresed in the original trial. To the court, he was perceived as an unrepentant, angry black male, and the state of California will not execute anyone with an IQ under 70, and Renell scored a 72, so he was good to go.

The important fact to remember is that the appeals process only seeks to determine if the defendants were treated fairly in the original trial. The question of 'guilt or innocence' is not an issue for the appeals court, and in this particular case, the fact that one of the defendants had such a low IQ implied that he had not been treated fairly. This is the basis for his right to an appeal, even though new evidence points to the fact that he was not even involved, this is largely irrelevant.

I read three quarters of the novel, and then skimmed to the end, because I got bogged down by the endless minutia of the appeals process. You will learn a lot, but I don't even think many lawyers fully understand this procedure.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

ELECTION by Tom Perrotta

Finished Tu 9/13/11

A wry tale set in a contemporary suburban high school which focuses on a student election. Supremely ambitious, Tracy Flick, seeks to annihilate popular jock, Paul Warren, in her bid for president of the student body. Along the way, Perrotta examines the dreams, aspirations, and sexual relationships of the students and the staff.

Tom Perrotta is a very perceptive writer, and each character is well developed and multi-faceted. The novel occurs in 1992, and several of the political references are 'spot on'.

And, of course, the novel only whets my appetite to watch the film, starring Reese Witherspoon, one more time.

Monday, September 12, 2011

SHATTER by Michael Robotham

Finished Mo 7/12/11

Michael Robotham is the author of "THE WRECKAGE", and in that riveting thriller Robotham focused on financial mismanagement and corporate corruption manifested by the war in Iraq. SHATTER also deals with a kind of collateral damage from that war. Gideon Tyler is a trained military interrogator who is supremely adept at breaking captives in The War On Terror through the forbidden application of torture. His wife and child have left him, and he kidnaps friends of his wife to try to find them. Tyler's evil psychological manipulations create some of the most sinister dramatic situations that I have ever read. Merely by the use of inference to terrifying suggestions, he is able to convince two women to commit suicide, and confuse and confound the authorities. Joe O'Loughlin is a retired criminal psychologist raising two young daughters, and suspects his wife of infidelity. O'Loughlin suffers from the onset of Parkinson's disease, and portions of the novel deal with how an individual learns to cope with this affliction. Soon Joe becomes a key player in the investigation, and gets swept up in Gideon Tyler's psychotic web of deception and duplicity.

The novel begins with an an inventive and alarming scene in which O'Loughlin watches a naked woman jump from a bridge, and the police have no idea who she is or why she jumped, and, most important, who was she talking to on her cell phone at the moment of her plunge.

The novel is set near the town of Bath, England.

Another excellent and adventuresome read, and Robotham's journalistic style really adds a sense of hyper-reality to the work.

Sunday, September 11, 2011


Finished Su 9/ll/ll

This is the Children's Edition of Mann's book, yet I think that it covered the essential points.

Modern historians tend to believe that The New World was relatively 'untouched' before the arrival of the Europeans. However, it is Mann's contention that it was disease that decimated the native populations before the large influx of immigrants, and this is why the land seemed to be pristine.

-The forests of Amazonia contained thousands of carefully planted tree gardens which were used as a food source.
-Sophisticated cities and huge pyramids existed before those in Egypt.
-Native American cities were much larger and more complex than previously thought.
-Maize(corn) was biogenically engineered by the Indians.
-Indians did manage game populations. Burning large sections of landscape late in the year guaranteed new growth in the spring which would attract animals to hunt.
-Diseases were spread by the invaders use of domesticated animals such as pigs and cattle. Local populations had no history of domestication, and this left them vulnerable.
-"Zoonotic" is a disease transmitted from animals to humans. Measles, smallpox, influenza, and diphtheria are examples of this form of contagion.
-When the Europeans arrived in New England 90% of the indigenous population had already succumbed to disease.

"Milpa"- The traditional Mesoamerican field or garden plot, in which farms grow both maize and beans, together with a variety of other crops, such as squash, peppers, and avocados. This insured soil conservation.

FUN FACT: One hundred and two English people on the Mayflower arrived on the coast of Massachusetts six weeks before the beginning of winter without food or shelter. What were they thinking?

Friday, September 9, 2011

THE GANYMEDE TAKEOVER by Philip K. Dick and Ray Nelson

Finished Fr 9/9/11

THE GANYMEDE TAKEOVER embodies the strengths and weaknesses of most of Philip K. Dick's work. He conjuers wild and masterful ideas, yet his storytelling is sometimes sub-par at best.

In this novel, which he co-wrote with Ray Nelson, the Earth has been conquered by an alien race of worm-like beings. Nearly all of the planet is under their control except for a small group of Black Nationalists operating out of what was once, Tennessee, USA. Dick employs robots, telepathic abilities, a Bureau of Psychedelic Research, vid-phones, ionocraft bombers, a machine which induces wild hallucinations which Do Not End, and other science fiction gambits, yet he is really attempting to develop and present the psychological differences and personal dilemmas of the characters. Also, the author adds an extra dollop of satire through the use of a kind of antiquated racism between some of the characters. The novel was written in 1967, and at that time the US was in the midst of a backlash against the nascent civil rights movement, and the emergence of Black Power.

And, one of my favorite aspects of a Philip K. Dick novel are the odd and quirky names of his characters. Here are a few from THE GANYMEDE TAKEOVER:

Dr. Rudolph Balkani
Joan Hiashi
Percy X
Ed Newkom
Paul Rivers
Gus Swenesgard
Lincoln Shaw

(Alien Names)
Marshal Koli

This is a short novel, and chock-full of strange and compelling ideas, but a rather clunky story-line with little resolution. But, if you are a fan of the Dick genre this is a 'must read', and it is also a good starting point if you are unfamiliar with his work.

Thursday, September 8, 2011


Finished We 9/7/11

This kind of novel is my least favorite format for a Mystery-Thriller. These works generally are introduced by the commission of a crime, and then numerous characters with conflicting motives are presented as the possible perpetrator, and the reader is invited to 'figure out who done it'. Needless to say, Agatha Christie is The Worst (or, The Best) at this type of storytelling, and she is one of my least favorite authors.

However, TWENTY BLUE DEVILS does have a few redeeming qualities.
-It happens on the island of Tahiti on a coffee plantation near the city of Papeete
-There is a lot of information on the cultivation and distribution of coffee
-Some techniques of forensic anthropology are used
-Certain aspects of Money Laundering are examined

The only reason that I picked this novel is that it featured Elkins most famous character, Gideon Oliver. This is the kind of novel that would work best on a long plane ride or at the beach. A bit of light diversion, but, in the end, unsatisfying because it is just 'light diversion'.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Turn Right at Machu Picchu: Rediscovering the Lost City One Step at a Time

Finished Tu 9/6/11

I first heard of this book in an interview on Jon Stewart's Daily Show. Here's the link

Here is a link to the Wikipedia entry about the explorer, Hiram Bingham III

Basically I spent several hours reading and skimming through this book. It is an interesting tale of a contemporary travel editor, Mark Adams who despite having no experience as an outdoorsman, becomes part of an expedition to one of the most intriguing archaeological sites on the planet.


Finished Mo 9/5/11 Labor Day

RABBIT REMEMBERED is a John Updike novella which is included in a collection of his short stories called, LICKS OF LOVE. Updike's 'Harry Angstrom' books occurred to me when I read Jonathan Franzen's, FREEDOM, and I did not realize that Updike had written a new work in The 'Rabbit' Series which takes place ten years after the main character had died. Both authors construct wonderfully diverse and multi-faceted family situations which occur over long periods of time.

Here is what Publisher's Weekly had to say about RABBIT REMEMBERED-

Harry "Rabbit" Angstrom has been dead for a decade in Rabbit Remembered, the novella that closes this latest, richly evocative Updike collection. His widow, Janice, is married to Ronnie Harrison, the widower of Thelma, with whom Harry had a long-time liaison. His son Nelson's wife, Pru, whom Harry also briefly bedded, has left Nelson, who has kicked the coke habit and still lives in the old Springer house with Janice and Ronnie. The past surfaces unexpectedly when Annabelle Byers, Harry's illegitimate daughter, makes herself known to the family. The ramifications of Harry's legacy include a strained Thanksgiving dinner that degenerates into political argument and acrimonious insults, and a mordantly funny flashback to a scene in which Harry's cremated remains were inadvertently left on a closet shelf in a Comfort Inn. While Updike explores the dark territory of bitterness, resentment and guilt, he also includes his trademark ticker-tape of current events (Hillary's candidacy, etc.), a typically muddled millennium New Year's Eve and a surprisingly upbeat denouement. For Rabbit fans, this is a must-read.

One of these days I want to go back and read the other books in the series one more time. RABBIT REMEMBERED can be read as a 'stand alone' novel, or, as in my case, it can whet your appetite for more of the Harry Angstrom saga.

Monday, September 5, 2011

DON'T LET ME BE MISUNDERSTOOD by Eric Burdon with J. Marshall Craig

Finished Mo 9/5/11 Labor Day

A very enjoyable glimpse into the spirit and soul of the man who headed one of the best British invasion bands of the 60's. The book is chock full of interesting anecdotes about how the band (actually, 'bands') were formed, but also he has some very interesting information about the legal side of being a performer. I would almost recommend this book to anyone who is beginning a career in the music business. Pay close attention as to how Eric Burdon handled his contracts and lawyers, and then do the exact opposite.

I have read that John Fogerty is a very angry man due to his adventures in The Music Biz, but it sounds like Eric Burdon might have even more issues.

Great scene where Burdon sings 'House of The Rising Sun' in an empty Karaoke bar, and where he actually visits the real 'House of The Rising Sun'.

Friday, September 2, 2011


Finished Fr 9/2/11

This is one of the best memoirs that I have ever read. You don't have to have the slightest interest in country music to appreciate and enjoy Rodney Crowell's tale about life in the Houston suburb of Jacinto City in the late 50's and early 1960's. Each character is multifaceted, and nobody is either 'all good' or 'all bad'. Rodney's father is a rather violent alcoholic, yet capable of deep passions, and his mother is a borderline neurotic who loves her family in the best way that she can.

Like the best of biographies, at the end of the book you feel that you are meeting a friend that you never knew that you had. And, you find yourself looking back on your own life when you were that age.

CHINABERRY SIDEWALKS is a wonderful read, and has the absolute ring of truth.