Friday, October 28, 2011

A DROP OF THE HARD STUFF by Lawrence Block

Finished Fr 10/28/11

This is a novel which deals with Matt Scudder's early days of sobriety. Matt is rapidly coming up on One Year Sober, and he meets a man who he had not seen since childhood. Jack Ellery, is a fellow alcoholic, and is assiduously working The Twelve Steps to hang on to his sobriety. Ellery had been sober for some time, and his sponsor has advised him that it is now time for him to tackle Step 8 of The Twelve Step AA Program. In order to continue his sobriety, the initiate must seek out and apologize to people that he has harmed during his drinking. According to AA, you can't get free of your addiction until you make amends. However, this step leads to his death, and the murder of several others, and Scudder attempts to find out the reason for these killings.

This novel might be better named, "The Mystery of High Low Jack And Even Steven".

This is the seventeen novel in the Scudder series, and if you are a fan, this novel is not to be missed.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

SPLIT SECOND by David Baldacci

Finished Tu 10/25/11

Two separate incidents involving Secret Service agents are linked in a plot that might be a bit too clever. In 1996 Sean King was assigned to defend a presidential candidate, and in a tiny rural hotel, the man is assassinated and King is wounded. Eight years later, another presidential candidate is visiting a funeral home, and Special Agent Michelle Maxwell is in charge of the detail, and her man is kidnapped.

Dozens of character are introduced, and numerous explanations are presented, and nearly four hundred pages later, the rather "Big Picture" is revealed.

Note: Whenever two brothers are introduced and one of them is disfigured by self inflicted knife marks, hard drugs are involved, and has been committed to an insane asylum, pay special attention! Has this tired ploy ever been introduced, and NOT imply much more than it seems?

The novel will keep your interest until the very end, but way too convoluted.

Friday, October 21, 2011

SWAMPLANDIA! by Karen Russell

Finished Fr 10/21/11
SWAMPLANDIA! is a 'Coming Of Age Tale' which involves a family who run a very low-budget alligator zoo/amusement park in the Ten Thousand Island area of South Florida. Chief Bigtree leaves the park to do some 'mainland business', and Ossie, his daughter, elopes with her(imaginary?)ghost-boyfriend, Louis Thanksgiving. Kiwi, the Chief's son, leaves to get a job with a rival park called, "World of Death". This is biblically themed park which attempts to recreate all of the fun and excitement of Hell by a quirky assortment of employees who make less than minimum wage. Ava, the heroine of the tale, Kiwi and Ossie's little sister, takes off with The Bird Man to try and find Ossie.

The novel is actually three separate stories. First, Life at Swamplandia, Second, Kiwi's adventures at World of Darkness, and finally, Ava's quest to find Ossie at The Eye of The Needle which is a gateway to the Underworld. Ava's story contains a rape scene which is quite disturbing. Many readers have objected to Russell's changing points of view, but I had no trouble with this technique, and I thought that her gorgeous prose saved any problems with plot or narration.

That's the bare bones of the story, and Russell is a great writer, and really tells the tale with a maximum of humor and style. Thirteen year old Ava Bigtree is quite the scrappy young heroine. In a small way Ava Bigtree reminded me of Tom Robbin's character, Sissy Hankshaw. In fact, Karen Russell's oddly humorous approach was somewhat similar to Robbin's take on reality.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

GET REAL by Donald E. Westlake

Finished Tu 10/18/11
A John Dortmunder Novel

John and his gang are approached by a producer of a television reality program to do a crime, and put it on TV. The production company is located in a lower Manhattan building which houses several businesses which are owned by the parent company. The gangs finds out that one of the offices has an apartment in which there seems to be large amounts of cash. One of the companies uses this as a slush fund to pay bribes when they deal with foreign contractors. John and the gang tell the producer that they will rob one of the companies in the building, but NOT the one with the cash.

A fairly simple and entertaining read, and it is more witty than funny. The bad guys are more con-men than criminals, and they have a real sense of class.

DROWNED HOPES is my favorite novel in this series, but this one is a nice addition.

"Get Real" is the name of the production outfit
"The Heist" is the name of their show
"The Stand" name of a show where they focus on a produce stand in upstate NY
Some of the characters in the gang might be from other novels. Stan, the taxi driver and his mother, seem to be familiar.
The novel is set in lower Manhattan, except one of the guys lives in Canarsie, Brooklyn.

Monday, October 17, 2011


THE INNER CIRCLE is a novel about Alfred Charles Kinsey, zoologist at Indiana University, and the founder of the Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender and Reproduction (Kinsey Institute). The story is told in the first person by John Milk, a fictional character who becomes Kinsey's first researcher, and Milk relates how Kinsey's obsession with the investigation of human sexuality impacted his professional career and his marriage to Iris. The novel begins the day of Kinsey's funeral (he died at the age of 62 in August of 1956), and then in a series of flash-backs the reader gets an 'inside glimpse' at Kinsey's groundbreaking approach to the statistical exploration of human sexuality.

Although an enjoyable read, the novel is a bit dry, and almost seems as if it might have been written in the 40's or 50's. I preferred Boyle's THE ROAD TO WELLVILLE and DROP CITY, but reading this book was time well spent. THE TORTILLA CURTAIN will be my next novel by TC Boyle.

Prok- Kinsey's nickname used by The Inner Circle (Professor K)
Clara (Mac) Kinsey
John Milk
Iris Milk
Purvis Corcoran
Violet Corcoran

"High Raters"- People who engaged in a large variety and volume of sexual activity. These people were of special interest to the researchers.
"Sex Shy"- People who were sexually repressed.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

THE RACE by Richard North Patterson

Finished Th 10/13/11

Senator Corey Grace- Republican moderate running for Republican nomination
Senator Rob Morotta- Also running for Republican nomination. Will do anything to win.
Magnus Price- Ace consultant for Morotta. Along the lines of Karl Rove.
Senator Bob Christy- Also seeking Republican nomination. Extreme Christian Fundamentalist.
Lexie Hart- Black Hollywood star who is Grace's lover.
Clay Grace- Younger brother of Corey. Gay suicide.

Although THE RACE does have a fast-paced and engaging plot with fully developed characters, the book aims to do more than simply relate a tale of political intrigue set in contemporary America. Patterson has crafted this novel to be more of an astute and clever vehicle to introduce and explore most of the major 'Hot Button' issues of American politics.
-Stem Cell Research
-Gay Marriage
-Christian Fundamentalism
Each point of view is well presented, and characters from both sides of the issue make their points with clarity and candor. However, it's kind of odd that nothing is mentioned about Democrats-America seems to be entirely composed of various shades of 'Red State' politics. All of the characters are Republicans, and Corey Grace's views, I think, are far outside any moderate faction of the Republican party(even in fiction!).

Interesting and thought provoking, and a real departure from the usual Richard North Patterson book.

Monday, October 10, 2011

WE ALL FALL DOWN by Michael Harvey

Finished Mo 10/10/11

The virus was released by CDA, a privately owned 'level-four' bio-lab which is the highest rating for a biological containment facility. The CEO and one of his scientists planted a variation of a lethal strain which contained a 'kill switch'. This made the virus incommunicable after three to five days. They did this to insure that their company would remain a key player in The War on Terror, and CDA would continue to make huge profits.

-Michael Kelly is a local Chicago PI, and he is central to the investigation. It seems a bit far-fetched to consider that with all the federal and state anti-terrorist organizations that Kelly would be any where near an incident of this magnitude.
-Dr.Ellen Brazille and Dr.Molly Carrolton "Black Biology" scientists at CDA, and Carrolton engineers the false attack with her boss, Stoddard.

The novel is largely set on the West Side of Chicago near Garfield Park- "The K-Town Area" (streets begin with the letter 'K', the eleventh letter of the alphabet, and the area is eleven miles from the Indiana border). Oak Park is directly east of this area, and in the novel a wall of steel fencing is erected to quarantine the affected areas. several hundred residents die before the plague ends. The symptoms are that of Ebola crossed with Anthrax.

The novel was a fast read, and very interesting, but ultimately, kind of a let-down. The use of the Black Chicago gang, The Fours, was a bit heavy-handed. And, the ties to organized crime was very clumsy.

The Author's Note at the end was most chilling. Harvey feels that 'Black Biology' is a very real threat, and it is no longer a question of 'If', but 'When'. In January of 2010 a congressional panel gave the US a failing grade for a complete lack of safety precautions in this area.
-Google 'Fort Detrick disease samples'

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Did Not Make The Cut

This is a section of the blog to record the books that, for whatever reason, I did not spend enough time with them to consider them 'read'.

A PERFECT SPY by John le Carre Late September 2011 This is a long novel which is based on Carre's own life. His father was a bit of a hustler, and this story features Magnus Pym, a retired British agent, is partly an unadorned recollection of Magnus' childhood and memories of his father Rick Pym. Just too long, and I wanted to move on.

IT'S ALL GREEK TO ME From Homer To The Hippocratic Oath, How Ancient Greece Has Shaped Our World by Charlotte Higgins Sa 10/8/11 I have been waiting for this book for several months-it must be very popular, but I only spent a couple of hours on it. It's not bad, but I think I could spent a couple of hours on the internet, and get more of a feel for the subject. Two sessions on the stationary bike, and an hour on the couch.

Thursday, October 6, 2011


Finished Th 10/6/11

Clive Beresford- 33 year old ex-fanzine writer. Adrift in contemporary London, and deeply attached to early 90's alternative rock band, THE THIEVING MAGPIES.

Lance (Geoffrey) Webster- Lead singer, and creative force behind THE THIEVING MAGPIES. Self-destructive behavior led to the dissolution of the band.

Alan Potter- One year older than Clive, but 'hipper' and more successful. He and Clive traveled all over the UK to cover the English Alternative Musical Scene.

Billy Flushing- One year younger than Clive, and much less 'hip', yet he achieves more success than either of the three classmates.

Gloria Feathers- Maven of the scene, and an artistic influence on all of the bands. Girlfriend of Lance Webster.

A terrific coming-of-age novel which deals with writing, friendship, career, and although the story is set in 2007, the focus is on the alternative music scene of late 80's and early 90's Great Britain. Clive Beresford is adrift in his life, and unnaturally obsessed with The Thieving Magpies, an alternative band from the late 80's. He feels that this band virtually wrote the soundtrack to his life, and one day, to his total amazement, he finds that Lance Webster, lead singer of the band, lives just down the street from him. But, Webster is 'exclusively reclusive', and will not submit to an interview, so Clive must get creative. The novel is the story of the developing friendship between these two men.

While reading this book it is crucial to hit Wikipedia numerous times to learn of the many bands that were part of this very creative musical scene. I guess many would find the massive interaction of so many musical acts tedious or off-putting, however the real story is the growing interaction between the two men. Although I am a fan of the music, I think that it would be possible to enjoy this novel if you were indifferent to the musical setting.

THE THIEVING MAGPIES are a fictional band, yet the author, Tim Thornton has written a complete discography which he includes at the end of the novel.

"If I'm Still Sober, You're Still Ugly"
"I Always Hated Love Songs"
"A Good Time Was Had By None"
"No One Likes A Grown-Up Pop Star"
"Have You Stopped Talking Yet?"

Some 'Real' Musical Stars of this Scene


Monday, October 3, 2011

CITY OF THE SUN by David Levien

Finished Sa 10/1/11

Detective Frank Behr is called upon to find a kidnap victim. Paul and Carol Gabriel lost their son Jamie while he was delivering newspapers on his bicycle early one morning. The police have done little because there is not much to work with. Frank teams with the boy's father Paul because they develop a bond because Frank can identify with his loss because of Frank's son's death. The case stretches from low-life strip clubs of Indianapolis to the hot desert of the Tex-Mex border.

-Child trafficing

Saturday, October 1, 2011

TOP SECRET AMERICA The Rise of America's New American Security State by Dana Priest and William M. Arkinw Security State by Dana Priest

Finished Fr 9/29/10

-850,000 Americans now have top security clearances
-250,000 Private contractors operate in the security sector
-1,200 Government agencies deal with issues of national security
-2,000 Private companies keep tabs on national security
-10,000 This is the number of locations for Intelligence installations
-50,000 Number of reports gleaned in a single year; some overlooked

No single government agency, private company, or single individual knows the total cost of these services. And, local law enforcement agencies are using techniques developed in The War On Terror to investigate political activities of private citizens and political groups. Any form of oversight is clearing lacking.

It seems to me, after reading this thought provoking book, that while 'business is booming' in this particular sector of the economy, America is being held hostage to a very expensive, inefficient, and potentially corrupt national policy.

THE LEFTOVERS by Tom Perrotta

Finished Fr 9/29/11

"Barefoot People"- Hippie hedonists who seek pleasure in the time that remains. They have bulls eyes painted on their foreheads.

"Guilty Remnants" (The Watchers,GR's)- They wear all white, and usually travel in pairs. And, they are always smoking, and they more or less take a vow of silence. They feel that it is their duty to remind everyone that "you must get right with God" in the seven years that remain. They affect an "in your face guilt trip".

Kevin- Retired millionaire, liquor store owner who is the mayor of Mappleton (Northeastern small town)

Laurie- Kevin's wife who later joins the GR's.

Jill- Their rebellious daughter. Cuts off all of her hair, and hangs out with sultry high school student, Aimee. Later, Aimee lives with Kevin and Jill.

Tom- Son of Kevin and Laurie. He is in college and falls under the spell of Pastor Wayne Gilchrist. He is 'The Hugging Minister', and he hugs his flock, takes their pain away (Healing Hug Movement). He also is busted for his involvements with many teenage girls.

Christine is one such girl who is supposed to be having Wayne's son. She is hiding out with Tom on a cross-country odyssey. The child is a girl, and Wayne ends up in jail, and renounces his divine status.

Nora- Kevin's girlfriend. She lost both her children, and her husband during the Rapture. Jamison uncovers her husband's infidelity with their day-care worker. She ends the novel by finding the child which Tom has left on Kevin's doorstep.
"Hey, look what I found"!

Reverend Matt Jamison is so angry that he or any of his family were not called to The Rapture, that he spends his time trying to discredit all of the people who left in the rapture.

I totally loved this novel, and I have never read a bad book by Perrotta.