Thursday, August 30, 2012

BILLY LYNN'S LONG HALFTIME WALK by Ben Fountain

Finished Th 8/30/12

My post on Good Reads-

Specialist Billy Flynn faces nearly the same conundrum as Captain John Yossarian did in Joseph Heller's classic novel, CATCH 22. Both characters are trapped in a 'double bind' or paradox. Yossarian can't get out of the Air Force due to insanity because War demands a certain degree of insanity, and Specialist Flynn can't reconcile what he did and saw in Iraq with the lavishly inappropriate reception that he and his squad receive when they return to the States. Ben Fountain's excellent novel presents Billy and the other members of Bravo Squad as they are idolized and adored at a home game of the Dallas Cowboys during the Thanksgiving Classic. Nearly the entire novel takes place at this football game, and 'The Heroes'  indulge in some pretty immature, yet understandable behavior, but what I found to be especially revealing is how 'the average' Americans related to these young men. They seem deliriously happy and grateful that the US had finally violently reacted to the tragic events of 9/11 even though Saddam Hussein or the country of Iraq had nothing to do with the attack. These Americans didn't care and didn't want to know, and although it's never stated, it seems that, 'Kill Em All, And Let God Sort It Out', was our wildly popular foreign policy. Also, the novel profiles some of the Texan 'Monied Elite' who supported Bush and his administration's agenda, and these characters seem especially chilling and almost demonic.

This is a thought provoking and entertaining novel about Americans and their questionable political and social culture. If you lean politically to the far Right, you probably would find this novel a waste of your time, but it's your profound loss.




The eight survivors of Bravo Squad are caught in a gun battle at Al-Ansakar Cana in Iraq, and are treated to be guests or 'America's Team', The Dallas Cowboys at the Super Bowl with Destiny's Child.

'Victory Tour' media stunt by the Bush administration to reinvigorate public support for the war.

Specialist William Lynn from Stovall Texas
Sargent Shroom who died in his arms
Excellent profiles of the big monied supporters of The War and Republican Party.

Whoever said that this novel is,"the CATCH 22 of the Iraq War", really hit the nail on the head.  


Tuesday, August 28, 2012

THE AGE OF MIRACLES by Karen Thompson Walker

Finished Tu 8/28/12

My Post on Good Reads:

THE AGE OF MIRACLES is the first person, personal story of Julia, a middle school student who lives in a contemporary California coastal town with her mother and father. Early one Fall, the days inexplicably become longer. At the beginning, it's only minutes per day, but within months, daylight and nighttime might last for the old equivalent of several weeks. This is not a SciFi Thriller, and the 'temporal dysfunction' is only a literary device to demonstrate how people cope and deal with cataclysmic change. 

I guess the whole novel could be taken as a metaphor that life is only temporary, and, as people, our only legacy is that, "We Were Here", and learn to accept and celebrate this unalterable fact. 

Walker's writing style is lyrical, and deeply moving. This is a beautiful novel that's compelling, as well as thought provoking. This is a terrific debut novel, and I look forward to more books by Karen Thompson Walker. 

My notes;

"We Were Here" (What Julia and Seth wrote on the wet cement sidewalk at the end of the novel)

Joel, Helen, Julia (She is eleven and twelve through most of the novel; 5th 6th grader)
Hanna- Julia's friend
Sylvia- Neighbor and piano teacher. Possible lover of Joel
Michaela- Julia's friend who was old beyond her years. Her mother is much younger than the other mothers.
Far into 'the event' she and her mother's new man move to a very expensive gated community.
Chole and Tony- Julia's cats
Tom and Carlotta- Older couple that live on Julia's stream. Arrested for growing marijuana.
Seth Moreno- Boyfriend of Julia's. His father is a scientist who is working on plants that can grow without life. Hopes to splice genes with undersea plants.
Gabby- Goth friend of Julia's. Shaves her head and wears black nail polish. She flees to desert community of "Circadia". (definition of 'circadian'-Relating to or exhibiting approximately 24-hour periodicity)
Joel's father, Julia's grandfather- Lives in a sprawling old house in the center of a new housing development. He is a 'hoarder' and dies in an accidental fall while stocking his secret bomb shelter that had been there since the early sixties. This happened on Julia's birthday, and the family was to meet him to take him to the birthday dinner. He died with a birthday card and a twenty dollar bill in his pocket for Julia.

Mr. Jensen- Hippie science teacher. He leaves early in the novel; probably headed to a desert community. These people live by the earth and sun's rhythms, called "Real Timers". The government has mandated that people should live by a 24 hour clock. By the end of the novel, days and nights have stretched to days long. At one point, this southern California area got five inches of snow. Night lasts so long, the temperatures drop, and then, it snows. Plants are dying off. 

Eucalyptus trees were introduced to California in 1850's from Australia. They were pretty much useless, but they took to the growing season of California. The tree in Sylvia's front yard falls on her house, and destroys her piano.
Whales dying/deterioration of the magnetic fields/birds are dying and falling out of the skies.

Helen, Julia's mother, is sick through most of the novel. She is affected by the lengthening of the days, and sometimes she is completely debilitated.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

TWENTY-NINE PALMS A TRUE STORY OF MURDER, MARINES, AND THE MOJAVE by Deanne Stillman

Finished Su 8/26/12

My post on Good Reads-

This is a superior book of the 'true crime' genre, and closer to the approach of Truman Capote or James Ellroy rather than Ann Rule. Rule's books recount an enthralling murder case, and basically it's, 'just the facts', and the other two authors try to capture a bit more of the 'emotional fall-out'of the atrocity. And, this is what Deanne Stillman has beautifully accomplished. 

Much has been made about how the author presents the Mojave desert as a major ingredient in this bloody and senseless double murder. But, I think what really sets this novel apart is how she showcases the 'less than sterling' characters of the victims and their families. Mandi Scott and Rosalie Ortega were promiscuous drug takers who hung around with the 'wrong crowd', yet Stillman really evokes empathy for them. They really come across as loving and caring individuals wise beyond their years, and this makes the tragedy even more devestating.

This is a great read, and I'd recommend it to anyone who loves 'true crime' books that aspire for just a bit more. 


6422 Palo Verde Street Apt 7- murder scene. August 2/3, 1991. This apartment was a 'party pad' for local gang-bangers and Marines stationed at the nearby base.

Amanda (Mandi) Scott- Just days prior to her sixteenth birthday; mother came to the apartment just after the murder, and did not enter. She was finding out about the birthday party which would have occurred the next day. She was driving a green Camaro which she would have given to Mandi.

Rosalie Ortega (Fishhead) From Philippines and the nickname comes from her love of cooking fish. Had a young daughter, Shantelle who was with her grandparents when she was murdered. They were long distance truckers, and her grandmother went by the CB handle, 'Asian Doll'. She was 21 at the time of her death, and had a job at the local Texaco mini-mart.

Debie McMasters- Mandi's mother; Came from two generations of women who were physically abused by spouses. Originally from Northern California (near Sonora, CA). She had a history with The Hells Angels and other biker gangs, and dealt in drugs with them.

Valentine Underwood- Veteran of The Gulf War. Killer of the two girls, and had several rape/assault charges before he entered the Marines. Just weeks before the murder he raped a girl by the name of Tammy. Her father was the highest ranking NCO on the base, and he promised her not to press charges, and he would take care of Underwood. He apparently did nothing. Valentine had a college degree, and was in college on a basketball scholarship.
     He wore the number "33" (Patrick Ewing and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Lou Alcindor), and he stabbed each girl 33 times. Amanda was first, and Rosalie was in the shower. He stabbed himself in the hand, and was almost too injured to play a game between the Marines and the Air Force right after the murders. He started, but was taken out, and claimed that he had injured himself cleaning a trash can with a disposable razor.
      His blood was found at the murder site, and he raped both victims, but he claimed that he only found the bodies after having consensual sex.
      Received a life sentence in 1997. Years later he was brought up on charges of rape in Massachusetts due to a DNA match.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

THE MERMAIDS SINGING by Val McDermid

Finished Th 8/23/12

Post on Good Reads-

This is the first in Val McDermid's series featuring criminal profiler, Tony Hill, and Bradfield police detective, Carol Jordon. The novel is set in the early 1990's in a fictional northern England city, and it occurs just when the concept of criminal profiling had gained popularity in the United States. Tony Hill is trying to set up a national criminal profile database in England as a serial killer begins targeting young men in the gay subculture in the city of Bradfield, England. And, this is not 'gay bashing' since the victims seem to have been subjected to very gruesome and elaborate forms of medieval torture.

What makes the novel interesting is that the lead character, Tony Hill, is a celebrated criminal psychologist, yet he suffers from fairly serious psycho-sexual problems. A minor flaw in the novel might be that Carol Jordan's problems in dealing with an endemic sexist hierarchy has been explored in nearly every detective novel with a female lead. But, this is the first in a series, and I would not let this prevent me from reading another.

The killer's journal documenting his torture devices was very interesting, and his emotional state during the murders was very compelling. The ending of the book revealed an unexpected killer, and managed to blend Hill's sexual problems with the solution to the case, and also leaves the door open for a growing relationship between the two main characters. I would definitely check out another of the Hill/Jordan series by McDermid.


My notes-

The killer is Christopher Thorpe, but he is a transsexual and now using the name Angelica. This is the woman who Tony Hill has been using as a 'phone sex' partner. He was researching the Phone Sex Sub-Culture, but this woman seemed to be making his problem of impotence a thing of the past, and right before he was kidnapped, he was entertaining thoughts of actually meeting Angelica.

Carol Jordan lives with her brother Michael who is a computer expert, and she has a cat named Nelson.

The title to the novel is from the poem by T.S. Elliot, LOVE SONG OF J. ALFRED PRUFROCK
"I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each, I do not think that they will sing to me".

Each chapter begins with a few lines from "On Murder considered as one of the fine arts" by Thomas De Quincey (1827).

Sunday, August 19, 2012

HUNTING IN HARLEM by Mat Johnson

Finished Su 8/19/12

"When you believe in what you do, what you can do you won't believe"

"By Any Means Necessary"    Malcolm X  (Jean Paul Satre)


Cedric Snowden
Robert M. Finley
Horus Manley
Congressman Cyrus Marks
Lester Baines
MOUNT MORRIS HISTORIC DISTRICT
Piper Goines NEW HOLLAND HERALD
Chupacabra
Horizon Realty

My post at Good Reads:

HUNTING IN HARLEM is a well-written novel that attempts to reconcile an important dilemma. How can a destitute urban area be saved from the downward vortex of poverty and crime, yet still allow members of the community the freedom to live their lives as they see fit. Horizon Realty operates in the Mount Morris section of Harlem, and takes a bold approach. Their goal is to resuscitate the local economy at any cost, and if you are judged, 'not part of the solution, you are you are part of the problem'. Three surprisingly motivated and intelligent ex-cons are hired by Horizon, and slowly begin to realize the company's draconian policy. However, the book is not a thriller, and although Horizon's criminal behavior is not exactly defended, it is certainly not condemned. While reading the book I always found myself wondering  (and, I am sure that this was Mat Johnson's intent)  if the managers at Horizon didn't have a point. Since a tiny fraction of people in a ghetto obviously lead bad lives, can't these 'bad' lives be sacrificed for the greater good?  Of course, it's also true that those who are certain of what is right for the majority are usually the most dangerous (and, also a subliminal message by the author).

The characters and plot are entertaining and engaging, but secondary to this conundrum. I thought that the last line in the novel was especially telling and ironic-"When you believe in what you do, what you can do you won't believe".




Thursday, August 16, 2012

THE BEGINNER'S GOODBYE by Anne Tyler

Finished We 8/15/12

This might be "The Beginner's Guide to Anne Tyler" as it is not nearly as satisfying as most of her classic novels, and only offers a rudimentary over-view of  her remarkable narrative powers.


Aaron Woolcot- 6'4" tall. Slight paralysis on right side of body.Needs cane for walking. Racquetball player?
Dorothy (Rosales) Woolcot-Short, stocky, 8 years older than Aaron. Mexican descent.
Nandina- Aaron's older sister; very tall and slightly domineering.
Irene Lance-works with Aaron at his vanity press. She's elegant.
Peggy-works as the office secretary for the vanity press. She's round, pudgy, and a 'girly-girl'.
Nate and Luke-Friends of Aaron's. Luke owns a restaurant and his wife is the chef.
Gil Bryan- Partner in Bryan Brothers General Contractors. Really is in business with his cousin.
Wyndhurst is the section just north of Baltimore where the Woolcot's lived


My post at Good Reads-

I am a huge fan of Anne Tyler, and I was a bit disappointed with THE BEGINNER'S GOODBYE. However, the novel is a fine exploration of grief , and does render an honest reflection on a lost relationship, but it doesn't come close to Tyler's stellar novels like ST. MAYBE, THE ACCIDENTAL TOURIST , or LADDER OF YEARS. 

In THE BEGINNER'S GOODBYE, Aaron Woolcot has lost his wife, Dorthy, in a freak accident, and several weeks after her death, she begins to 'visit' him as he grapples with his bereavement. This is not a 'ghost story', but this quasi-paranormal story-line allows Aaron to confront Dorothy for just a few more times so that he can finally appreciate what they had and learn to accept what they lacked. And, this realization allows Aaron to grow, and move on in his life.

Although the novel 'worked for me', I couldn't really accept the character of Aaron. He seemed much too old for his actual years, and there is no way that this man with his physical disability could be a racket-ball enthusiast.
However, I still love Anne Tyler, and I see this novel as more of a, "The Beginner's Guide to Anne Tyler".

This was the July 2012 selection for The Contemporary Book Club, Springfield, IL.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

INTERNECINE by David J. Schow

Finished Tu 8/14/12


My post at Good Reads:

Since the novel never actually defines, 'internecine', I'll save you some time, and provide the meaning. The term relates to a struggle within a nation, organization, or group which can be mutually destructive, ruinous, or fatal to both sides, and is characterized by bloodshed or carnage. And, nothing comes closer to the theme of this terrific crime novel. 

When advertising executive Conrad Maddox returns from a flight and finds a mysterious locker key waiting in his rental car, life as he knows it ends. After visiting the locker and retrieving the case which is full of weapons, phony ID, and money, he meets Dandine, owner of the case and former contract assassin for a shadowy organization called Norco. And now, both of them are under the gun. The novel is a fast-paced swirl of action and revelation. It postulates the existence of many competing super-secret intelligence operations which operate below popular consciousnesses. Or as Dandine explains to Conrad, "they are now inadvertently at play in a field of “terrorism, counter-assassination, military coups, dirty tricks, Watergate, spy vs. spy, murky secret organizations, that sort of thing.”

The book requires you to think, and it's not an easy read, but it's well worth the effort. I would highly recommend it. You should also check out UPGUNNED by David J. Schow which also deals with an ordinary man who is thrown into a violent and hostile environment, and forced to 'sink or swim, and the journey becomes a revelation. 




By the author of UPGUNNED which I read in June of 2012, and INTERNECINE has a similar theme. Both novels deal with men who are thrown into hostile environments, and forced to 'sink or swim'. And, the journey becomes a revelation.


 Of or relating to struggle within a nation, organization, or group.
2. Mutually destructive; ruinous or fatal to both sides.
3. Characterized by bloodshed or carnage.
Since the novel never actually defines, 'internecine', I'll save you some time, and provide the meaning. The term relates to a struggle within a nation, organization, or group which can be mutually destructive, ruinous, or fatal to both sides, and is characterized by bloodshed or carnage. And, nothing comes closer to the theme of this terrific crime novel.


When advertising executive Conrad Maddox returns from a flight and finds a mysterious locker key waiting in his rental car, life as he knows it ends. After visiting the locker and retrieving the case which is full of weapons, phony ID, and money, he meets Dandine, owner of the case and former contract assassin for a shadowy organization called Norco. And now, both of them are under the gun. The novel is a fast-paced swirl of action and revelation. It postulates the existence of many competing super-secret intelligence operations which operate below popular consciousnesses. Or as Dandine explains to Conrad, "they are now inadvertently at play in a field of “terrorism, counter-assassination, military coups, dirty tricks, Watergate, spy vs. spy, murky secret organizations, that sort of thing.”

The book requires you to think, and it's not an easy read, but it's well worth the effort. I would highly recommend it. You should also check out UPGUNNED by David J. Schow which also deals with an ordinary man who is thrown into a violent and hostile environment, and foreced to 'sink or swim, and the journey becomes a revelation. 



“Internecine” means conflict, mutual destruction, and slaughter—or, as Dandine tells Conrad, they are now inadvertently at play in a field of “terrorism, counter-assassination, military coups, dirty tricks, Watergate, spy vs. spy, murky secret organizations, that sort of thing.” A world in which being innocent can’t save you, the police can’t help you, and your only hope of getting out alive is to risk unheard-of dangers against opponents with nearly unlimited power. To free themselves from the spider web of black ops, murder, madness and betrayal, Dandine and Conrad must delve ever-deeper into the spiraling, dangerous maze that is Norco, where everyone seems to be in on the most lethal of games…except you.







Friday, August 10, 2012

MILDRED PIERCE by James M. Cain

Finished Th 8/9/12

Good Reads post:

This is an extraordinary novel of Female Empowerment set in the downward spiral of The Great Depression, and concerns a young mother who manages to create, out of almost nothing, a thriving restaurant business. That in itself would be sufficient material for a fine story-line, but Cain's novel goes far beyond that, and introduces a sub-plot dealing with Mildred's infuriating relationship with her oldest daughter. The character of Veda might be the finest example of,'Spoiled Evil Rotten Child', ever conceived. 

This novel is written in the style of fast paced 'who dunnit', yet it's overwhelmingly a carefully nuanced character study of a particularly toxic family dynamic. Although the book can be extremely melodramatic, it never sinks to mawkish sentimentality, and the characters are always believable. 

This is a classic novel that lives up to every bit of the hype!

Link to Wikipedia:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mildred_Pierce

DEAD BEAT by Val McDermid

Finished Th 8/9/12
Good Read post:

Comparisons to Sarah Paretsky's V.I. Warshawski series are unavoidable. Both writers create tales of female investigators who solve crimes in a straightforward and down-to-earth manner, and also take the reader on a detailed tour of a particular locality. Paretsky's novels are set in the greater Chicagoland area, and McDermid takes the reader to the Manchester/Bradford/Leeds areas of northern England. DEAD BEAT features Manchester-based detective, Kate Brannigan, as she attempts to solve the murder of a Mancunian soul singer, and determine who is running a fake merchandising ring that is operating in Greater Manchester, England.

This is the first in the collection, and although a bit formulaic, if you are a fan of these kinds of detective novels, this one will not let you down.


My notes on the novel:
Neil 'the rock journalist' is the killer. He found out that Moira (the victim) had an abortion and he threatened to tell Jett, the famous soul singer. Moira is a recovering addict and used to write and sing backup for Jett. Moira is killed because she can force Neil out of the organization, and he won't be able to write the book on Jett.

Mentions The Hacienda Club (the characters call it 'The Hassy') better known simply as The Ha├žienda) was a nightclub and music venue in Manchester, England. It became most famous during the "Madchester" years of the late 1980s and early 1990s; during the 1990s it was labelled the most famous club in the world. 

Friday, August 3, 2012

SKYDOG THE DUANE ALLMAN STORY by Randy Poe

Finished Fr 8/2/12

My entry at Good Reads:

I just read Gregg Allman's biography, MY CROSS TO BEAR, and Randy Poe's book lacks the personal insights of a founding member, but is much more 'fact based'. Randy Poe provides a wealth of information about the early bands and musicians that later became The Allman Brothers Band. The author is a music industry insider who has tracked down the important people who knew and influenced Duane Allman, and helped to create and develop this most important American band. And, the book contains a comprehensive discography of Duane Allman's work with his own bands and his musical contributions to other artists' recordings. And, Poe also includes a complete rundown of Duane's guitars, both studio and stage, and provides a continuing update on the lives and careers of friends and band-mates of The Allman Brothers Band organization.


Intersection of Hillcrest and Bartlett Street- the site of Duane's fatal motorcycle accident. Link to Google Maps;
https://maps.google.com/maps?hl=en

HERBERT HOOVER by William E. Leuchtenburg

Finished Th 8/2/12

"The inefficiency expert whose economic boosterism met its match in the Great Depression"

1874 Born West Branch, Iowa
1884 Orphaned
1885 Sent to Oregon
1891-1895 Enrolls at Stanford, graduates bachelor of arts in geology
1897- To Australia for Bewick, Moreing, and Company (San Francisco company)
1899- Marries Lou Henry and sails to China
1914- After becoming a partner, he forms American Residents in London for Assistance of American Travelers. This group gave loans to help Americans trapped in Europe as WWI began.
Later appointed chairman of the Commission for Relief in Belgium.
1927-Heads relief effort for Mississippi flood victims
1928- Elected President of US. Declared Republican in 1920, but would have been welcomed by both parties.
1929- The Great Depression begins; Organization on Unemployment Relief; National Credit Corporation; Reconstruction Finance Corporation; World Disarmament Conference in Geneva; Emergency Relief and Construction Act
1932-BONUS ARMY ROUTED; Defeated by Franklin D. Roosevelt
1946- Appointed Food Ambassador by Harry Truman
1964-Died

A slim book which describes an unusual man who enjoyed many years in glory at the center of the world's biggest events. Became a successful mining expert in Australia and China, saved millions from starvation in Europe, took charge of one of the biggest floods in American history, and lost it all by his mishandling of the government during the Great Depression.

"Vote For Roosevelt, Make It Unanimous"
He actually said that the unemployment statistics were inaccurate because many quit their jobs to make more money selling apples on the street.
He felt that private charities should be handling the relief effort, and he didn't want to commit resources of the federal government because this would undercut their efforts.
Known for creating committees and boards instead of taking action when he was president.

My post at Good Reads:

This is a rather slim book which manages to hit all of the high (and low) points of the life of Herbert Hoover. Here is a man who was one of the most popular men on the planet, who became a US president, and yet ended his career in virtual disgrace. A successful mining engineer who headed an international relief effort which saved millions of Europeans from starvation, and a few years later saved thousands of Americans in a terrible flood of the Mississippi river in 1927. Although, the Great Depression sank his political and civic fortunes, and although he was in no way directly responsible, his inability to take command of the situation will be his sad legacy. 

I thought that this campaign poster for FDR was especially revealing:
"VOTE FOR ROOSEVELT, MAKE IT UNANIMOUS"

The book is just long enough to keep you interested in this multifaceted historical figure, but doesn't bog down with minutia that is the bane of many historical biographies.


Link to Wikipedia:
 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Herbert_Hoover

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

THE DROPPER by Ron McLarty

Finished Tu 7/31/12

I read about two thirds of this, and then skimmed to the end. It's kind of a poetic or lyrical 'coming of age' tale. The story is in in Barrow, England which is in Northwest England (North of Blackpool) and features Albert 'Shoe' Horn. He is a seventeen year old apprenticed plumber who must take care of his mentally challenged brother, Bobby. Their mother has recently died, and they live with their alcoholic and abusive father.  Shoe is a semi-professional fighter, and some of the novel concerns his fights and the colorful characters that are part of this brutal sport. A notable friend is 'McAvy' who is a huge, yet tender giant of a man who seems to be the emotional center of the young Horn's lives.

I had high hopes for this novel, but it never took off for me. The book charts Shoe's adventures in Love, Work, and Sex, but I couldn't relate to it. The characters are well-developed, but not a lot happens. Or, most of what happens is internalized, and the book could have been a real page-turner, but seemed far too introspective for my taste. The story and the setting would have benefited with a more realistic writing style rather than the poetic or dreamy approach that McLarty employs. However, I plan to give McLarty's THE MEMORY OF RUNNING a look.