Saturday, December 28, 2013

ALAS, BABYLON by Pat Frank

Finished Th 12/26/13

Published 1959
Randy Bragg learns from his brother, Mark, that a nuclear attack is in the offing. Mark arranges for his wife, Helen, and two children, Ben Franklin and Peyton to fly from Omaha (they are stationed at SAC base, Offutt Field) to Fort Repose, Florida where Randy lives.
Central Florida- In the Timucuan area of north east central Florida. Ft. Repose is a fictional city, probably near Inverness, Hernando, or Wildwood.
Florence Wechek-runs the Western Union office and becomes the town's news source
Alice- She lives with Florence at Florence's house which is across the street from The Braggs. Alice was the librarian and becomes the entertainment source for the community.
Elizabeth McGovern, father Bill, mother Lavinia- Liz is Randy's girlfriend. Her father is a retired executive who lost his purpose. Lavinia dies from lack of insulin. This family would have floundered had Randy not intervened.
Rita-ex-girlfriend of Randy. Lives in Pistolville which is 'the wrong side of the tracks'. Her brother ran the grocery store. They get rich (and infected with radioactivity) by trading in stolen or found jewelry.
The Henrys-A black family that lives near the Braggs. Two-Tone, alcoholic, Malachi-capable mechanic who dies fighting highway robbers at the bridge. Had a Model-A which became the familys' transportation
Dan Gunn-the local doctor and friend of Randy's. I hijacked and beaten by robbers. Malachi is killed in the encounter, and all of the robbers are killed except for one who is hung in the town square.
Sam Hazzard-Retired military man who lives near the Braggs. Had Ham radio and was the source of news until they ran out of batteries.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

BEL CANTO Ann Patchett

Finished Mo 12/23/13
Birthday party for a rich Japanese industrialist ends in a hostage situation that lasts almost six months. The lives of all involved change for the better. Well written and a wonderful read.

Mr. Katsumi Hosokawa-opera lover and industrialist. NANSEI is the name of the corporation. He is there because his favorite opera soprano singer, Roxane Coss.
Gen Watanabe-is Mr. Hosokawa's assistant and interpreter. Speaks numerous languages and is invaluable during the hostage situation.
The party is held at the house of the vice president, Ruben Iglesias. The president (Matsuda) skipped the party to watch his favorite soap opera. Ruben becomes the chief valet and servant to everyone at the house. And, he loves it.
Carmen is one of the terrorists. She is actually a beautiful young woman, but in the beginning people think that she's a boy. She and Gen fall in love. Mr. Hosokawa and Roxane fall in love.
Caesar- young terrorist who is found to have a supreme natural talent as an opera singer. He copies Roxane and soon she is tutoring him and he soon develops his own distinctive style.
Ishmael- very young terrorists who helps Ruben and is friends with everyone. He fantasizes about being the son of the vice president.
General Benjamin, Alfredo, and Hernandez lead the terrorists. Benjamin is suffering from a bad case of shingles and one side of his face his filled with sores and dark redness. Alfredo is missing a couple of fingers on one hand.
Simon Thibault-A diplomat and spends his captivity wishing he was back with his wife.
Kato-One of the Japanese businessmen who is with Hosokawa's group. He plays piano and becomes Roxane's accompanist. Her original accompanist, Christopher, died because he was diabetic, and didn't get an insulin shot.
Father Arguedas-low level Catholic priest. He opts to stay when he could have left. The Monsignor made a fool of himself when he left with the women.
Messner-A Swiss executive who works for the International Red Cross. He is the go-between with the hostages and the Generals. They submit demands but the government is adamant and don't give up anything. Beatriz- she is the other female terrorist and has a very long braid and spends most of her time watching the TV. She also likes the soap that is the favorite of the president.
Victor Fyodorov-One of the three Russian executives who were in the country for possible investment in Nansei. However they really had no intention of backing the Japanese company. He declares his love for Roxane.

In the end of the novel the government invades the house and all the terrorists are killed. Carmen in shot in the arms of Mr. Hosokawa and they both are killed instantly.
Gen marries Roxane and the book ends after their wedding in Lucca, probably Tuscany, Europe. Simon and Edith Thibault are the wedding party.
The heart of the book and the reason for the rather odd ending. Nobody would have guessed that Gen and Mr. Hosokawa would have gotten together, but it did kind of make sense.

"Gen and Roxane had married for love, the love of each other and all of the people that they rememberd"s



December selection for the Contemporary Book Club, Wednesday, 12/18/13

Christopher Boone is autistic or suffers from Asperger's, but it is never specifically stated.
He discovers the neighbor's dog, Wellington, stabbed with a garden fork. Mrs. Shears lives in the house and her husband left with Chris's mother. This isn't revealed until later.
Christopher decides to write a mystery novel to tell what happened to the dog. In the process of his investigation, he finds letters that his father has failed to show him.
Against his father's wishes, he secretly leaves Swindon and takes the train to London to find his mother.
A really interesting look inside the perception of someone who sees the world from a radically different perspective.

The discussion of the book lasted until almost 715pm. One of the women has a grandson who has mild autism and she said that the descriptions in the novel were very realistic.

Mark Haddon is a children's book author, a vegetarian, and a die-hard atheist.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

THE VIG by John T. Lescroart

Finished Mo 12/16/13
Dismas Hardy-Ex-cop, lawyer who now works as a bartender in a friend's bar. He saved this man in Vietnam. Divorced but trying to get back with his wife, Jane. Their marriage collapsed after their son fell out of his crib and died.  Jane is in Hong Kong for business during the whole novel, and she has found a new guy, but Dismas has decided to marry Frannie. She is the brother of his friend and pregnant by her dead husband, Eddie.

Rusty Ingraham is a seedy lawyer and acquaintance of Dismas who warns him that Louis Baker is about to be released. He's a black career criminal who threatened Dismas and Rusty. Rusty sets up a phony crime scene in which his girlfriend, Maxine has been shot, Rusty is nowhere to be found (assumed shot), and it looks like Louis Baker did it. Rusty was trying to fake his death to get out from under a huge debt to the mob including thousands in 'vig' money. Hence the novel's title. Maxine had just gotten almost a hundred thousand in an insurance settlement and Rusty took that money as well, but he was really just trying to get the mob off his back.
Dismas tracks him to Mexico and captures him with the help of Abe Glitsky. Abe is a black cop with a distinctive scar on his face and lip and also the protagonist is several novels by Lescroart.

Many red herrings are introduced as to who actually killed Maxine and whether or not Rusty was dead or alive. Baker's gang pals at the housing project. Maxine's husband (they're separated). He might have been trying to bet the insurance settlement. Johnny Laguardia is the collection agent for the mob boss, Mr. Tortoni.

Not a bad novel, but pretty average. Beach or Airplane Read

ALEX by Pierre Lemaitre

Finished Mon 12/16/13
Alex Prevost
Novel opens as Alex is being stalked. She is captured, taken by van to an abandoned warehouse where she is suspended in a cage. She can't stretch out, rats are placed nearby, and her captor only comes once a day. Police trace the man, he's the father of her latest victim, and he jumps off an expressway as police close in.

Alex has murdered six men and a woman. She had been 'pimped' by her brother and her genitals had been disfigured by acid. That's why she knocks out her victims and then pours sulfuric acid down their throats. Uses numerous false names that are based on characters from classic novels that she's read. In the end, she commits suicide but sets the scene in such a way as to frame her brother for her murder. Drinks whiskey and takes pills. Her brother's fingerprint is on the pill bottle and she puts one of his hairs at the scene.
Thomas Vasseur- her brother. He is her step-brother and is seven years older. Has been raping her and pimping her since she was eleven.

Commandant Camille Verhoeven- five foot lead detective. His wife had been kidnapped and murdered. She was also pregnant. This is his first case since this incident. Maud is his mother who was a famous painter. She is dead and he has inherited her paintings and an old home.

Divisionnaire Le Guen-300 pound, dapper 'ladies man'. Camille's boss. He is soft-spoken and the antithesis of Camille's vitriolic temperament.
Louis- Very rich detective and an impeccable dresser. Buffer between Camille and Le Guen. Extremely intelligent.
Armand-Detective who works with Camille and Louis. Very determined, but incredibly cheap. Never pays for a meal, or anything else, if he can help it.
Vidard-Powerful political figure who is higher on the chain of command than Camille and he dislikes Camille. He is extremely vain and stupid.

Sunday, December 8, 2013


Finished Sa 12/7/13

Vasily Sheklov is dropped by submarine behind US lines and picked up by Turpin. Black 'reb' (current slang for hippie, beatnik, slacker) Danty witnesses the drop-off. He has psychic powers and 'born at the wrong end of time' which is a reference to Merlin in THE SWORD IN THE STONE. Turpin is a Russian sleeper agent and has been secretly in place for 25 years and enjoys a high position at Energetics.
'Johnny Reb and Jenny Reb'-slang for young slackers

Lakonia-beautiful lakeside city   Cowville-the surrounding slum

Energetics General-the huge private corporation run and funded by Department of Defense

Russia sends Sheklov because they have received six pictures from an alien civilization that send them from a location near Pluto. They interpret it as a message that humans will be destroyed, but actually they are looking at them in the wrong order. It shows early man, the discovery of fire, and then humans traveling to other galaxies.

Sheklov's alias is Don Holtzer, a Canadian executive in the lumber industry. Danty makes him recite eastern philosophy while under some kind of hypnosis. Sheklov can't control his outburst.

Magda-lives with Danty and she's a kind of unlicensed therapist

Lora is Turpin's daughter and she is a sexually free spirit, and has sex with nearly everyone. Has an affair with Danty. She is raped by three blacks and she set it up for personal kicks.

Novel ends when security agents raid Danty and Magda's apartment while Danty, Magda, Sheklov and Lora are driving. They take off to cross into Canada using Danty's special powers to find the best crossing. Danty dies in an explosion on a train that he set so that they could make it across. Sheklov goes back to Russia to explain the alien photos to his superiors and the rest relocate to Canada. The book ends on an 'up note' when Sheklov leaves to explain his findings to First Secretary of Russia and the Chinese Ambassador that the world will not end and Humans will eventually visit the stars.

Brunner is quite critical of America. P. 149- The US, like the Romans, get too big and greedy. Then they trade freedom for security, and in this case, the true visionaries become 'rebs', and society stagnates.

Friday, November 29, 2013

AFTERSHOCK by Andrew Vachss

Finished Fr 11/29/13

Set in a small town on the Oregon coast
Dell and Dolly, he is a mercenary who trained in the French Foreign Legion (La Legion Estrangere); She is a nurse practitioner with Medecins Sans Frontieres.
Novel opens with Dell killing hunters near their property. He is 'setting the stakes'. Wants them out of the area because he is afraid that Dolly might be accidently shot, and he would be unable to live without her
Mary Lou McCoy- Lesbian softball star, kills one boy (Cameron Taft), and wounds two others
Danielle McCoy-her 13 year old sexually precocious and manipulative sister
Franklin Wayne-loyal 'big and dumb' friend of Mary Lou's. At the school only to play football, and appears to be retarded, but knows more than he lets on and his love of Mary Lou is unquestioned.
Tiger Ko Khai-name of the rape gang. They were signature jackets with raglan sleeves
Debbie Rollo-Expert witness who is part of Dolly's organization. This woman is expert on women who have been raped.
T.D. Joel-Expert witness on  Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. The key to their defense rests on the fact that Mary Lou was not temporarily insane, but PTSD due to the fact she was convinced that Danielle was in danger of being gang raped.
Cameron-the 'pretty boy' rapist who Mary Lou killed. Danielle believes that he was in love with her. He wasn't.
Ryan Teller-the real leader of Tiger Ko Khai. Formed when he was in the military in Southeast Asia
Mr. Bradley Swift-lawyer retained by Dell for Mary Lou. Dell has him get a haircut and change to a dynamic and effective lawyer. He had been kind of a slacker.

Saturday, November 23, 2013


Finished Sa 11/23/13

First novel in the Dr. Tony Hill/Carol Jordan series/1995
Val McDermid is a lesbian author from Scotland.

Four Gay killings
Dr. Anthony Hill-Profiler with sexual problems. Mother distant. Grandmother demanding. Only able to 'fake' human interaction. Using phone sex as self-therapy, but only kidding himself.
Detective Inspector Carol Jordan
Bradfield Police Department
'Handy Andy' 'Queer Killer'
'Angelica' phone sex-Trans-sexual, but not gay. Sex change in Holland, denied by British. Works for phone company as computer specialist. Christopher Thorpe/Angelica Thorpe

Monday, November 18, 2013


Finished Mo 11/18/13

The first in the Matthew Scudder series, 1976

Wendy Hanniford, stepfather- Cale
Real father killed in Korea at the battle of Inchon

Scudder left the force after sixteen years after he accidently shot and killed Estrellita Rivera when two men tried an armed robbery at a bar where Scudder was drinking. Scudder tithes ten percent of his fee because of this accidental killing. He is divorced and the father of two sons who live with his ex wife in upstate NY.

Richie Vanderpoel- Gay roommate of Wendy and falsely accused of her murder. Actually she was slashed to death by his father, Reverend Vanderpoel. His wife committed suicide years earlier by slashing her wrists in the bathtub.
Wendy had a thing for older men. She seemed to constantly be looking out for a father figure (dead father). She even came on to her stepfather, and his negative reaction pushed her even further in that direction.

When she came on to the reverend, he took her up on it, had an affair and couldn't handle the guilt. When his son discovered Wendy's body, he lost his mind, and committed suicide in jail within a day.

Scudder visits the reverend and forces him to commit suicide with Richie's pills or he will expose him. He does.

WAR AND PEACE by Leo Tolstoy

Finished Su 11/17/13
October and November selection for Classic Book Club, Lincoln Library

5 Disc Series BBC 1972 Anthony Hopkins as 'Pierre'

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Friday, November 1, 2013

ISLANDS IN THE NET by Bruce Sterling

Finished Fr 10/25/13

THE NIGHT CHURCH by Whitley Strieber

Finished 10/25/13


Finished Fr 11/1/13

The book offers some interesting insights about automobile design and marketing within the car industry, but the author's neo-conservative political bent is far too intrusive. To believe that global warming is a left-wing conspiracy theory, and Fox News is somehow notable for its courageous stand against the obvious is flat-out ridiculous. Although, I guess England's Prince Charles could probably cook up a dandy defense of 'The Divine Right of Kings'.  Mr. Lutz's take on the American car industry could best be summed up by the statement, "The operation was a success, but the patient died". I could accept his opinion that too much 'over-thinking' goes on in the industry, and it's probably the fault of the way that business management is taught in American universities. However, I couldn't accept his viewpoint that this is caused by a 'left-wing' bias in education. I suppose he's trying to come across as 'a no nonsense kinda guy', but his neocon views soured me on his valid positions.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

THE BOOK OF LIES by Mary Horlock

Finished We 10/23/13
October selection for the Contemporary Book Club

The book is set on the Channel Island of Guernsey and blends the story of Cat Rozier, a disaffected high school student in the mid 1980's and the social and political problems that occurred during the Nazi occupation of the island during WWII. The deception and falsehoods of the Rozier family seem somehow tied to the island's history during the war. The novel examines how the occupation forever changed the character of  the island's people in ways that were profoundly secret and subconscious. I found it startling to learn that when Germany occupied France, there was approximately one German soldier to every one hundred and twenty civilians, but on Guernsey, the ratio was almost one to one. This assured collaboration to one degree or another, and this is the theme of the novel. How does the atmosphere of deceit and misrepresentation that happened a long time ago set the stage for an unsatisfying life in the present?

Mary Horlock does a great job telling two parallel stories separated by decades, yet fundamentally connected, and the novel is rich in psychological insight and historical detail. I really liked the book!


Rozier Family
Charles and Emile-Brothers
Hubert Rozier and Arlette Prevost (The Duchesse)-parents of Charles and Emile

Emile is Catherine's father. Catherine is the focus of the novel that is set in 1985 (11/24-12/24)
Nicolette Prevost-she is the 'frenemy' of Catherine. Catherine kills this girl in the opening paragraph and the entire novel is an explanation for this act that intertwines the lives of her uncle and his dealings with the Nazi occupation during  WWII.

The novel is a commentary on the fluidity of Truth, but might have been more perfectly titled THE BOOK OF SECRETS

Vicky Senner-one of Cath and Nic's friends. Her father and mother are doctors on the island. Mother is shrink.
Ray Le Poidenvion- He is older than Charles and he takes Charles's boat and escapes. Later goes to Australia. Charles is imprisoned by the Nazis.

Anton Vern is the Nazi officer who has the affair with Arlette, Hubert's wife during the occupation
PATOIS PRESS The printing company that's the family business through both stories

J-P (Jean Pierre) and Ray are the two other people who planned the escape by boat

Michael (son of the police constable) He is Catherine's friend. Goth Kid who leaves the island with Cath

Revelation in the end by Cath is that her mother might have been covering her father's suicide or maybe her mother might have killed him.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

THE 5TH HORSEMAN by James Patterson and Maxine Paetro

Finished Su 10/6/13

This is one of Patterson's 'Women's Murder Club Novels'.

My post on Goodreads-

This is one of Patterson's 'Women's Murder Club Novels', and it's really about two different crimes that are related only because they occur in San Francisco. The first is a series of murders of beautiful young women who are carefully smothered, and then their bodies are posed at an artfully staged crime scene, and the second series of murders concern seemingly random deaths at a large municipal hospital in San Francisco. Both plots are told from the point of view of Lieutenant Lindsay Boxer who works for the homicide division of the San Francisco Police Department. She shares her findings of the cases with several of her friends who make up 'The Murder Club'. All of these women have ties to law enforcement, forensic medicine, or the law. 

Both plot-lines are developed in a fast-paced manner and are completely engaging, however James Patterson writing style is borderline 'hack' and he always has the feel of a lower quality sensational novelist. But I can't deny that he is quite able to deliver a true 'potboiler'(albeit with the aid of his 'assistant' writers). A great 'airport read' or something lite to take to the beach.

Thursday, September 26, 2013


Finished We 9/18/13
September 2013 selection for The Contemporary Book Club

Post on Goodreads-

This is a Jo Beckett Thriller that also features Gardiner's other adventure heroine, Evan Delaney in a tale that centers on 'An Extreme Reality Experience'. A very wealthy hedge fund manager arranges a birthday party for his daughter and five of her friends in which they will be featured players in a 'role-playing urban-reality game', but Edge Adventures, the company that hosts the event has been usurped by a band of criminals who are using the game to mask a multi-million dollar kidnapping. The plot is fairly intricate and a real page turner, but doesn't take the time for much character development. It almost has the feel of a screen play and it would certainly make a fine Action/Adventure film, but it's not finely crafted literature, and veers close to parody. I guess the author set out to make the book as 'over-the-top' as possible, but it has the feel of an airport read or a book for the beach. Nothing wrong with that, but be forewarned.


Autumn Reiniger- She's the kidnap victim

REINIGER CAPITAL-Her father's (Peter) investment group

EDGE ADVENTURES-Urban reality games, role-playing scenarios into the demimonde of crime rescue. 
Terry Coates-The game runner. Former Oakland cop.
"Kyle Ritter". Bad Cowboy. The Red Rattler.
Dane Haugen- He was fired from Reinger after being traumatized by Edge Adventure. He's terrified of snakes.

Sabine-With Haugen on their own 'adventure'. Also Von Nordlinger

Evan Delaney-Forensic psychiatrist who helps journalist Jo Beckett track down Autumn.
Delaney is working on a murder/disappearance of Phelps Wylie. He worked for Reinger and was found at the bottom of a mine shaft. No reason for him to be there.

Lark, Dustin (Autumn's boyfriend), Autumn, Peyton (broken collar bone, snake bit), Cody Grier (shot and killed),Noah (shot and badly broken leg) -The six kids on the birthday party.

Gabe Qunitana-Boyfriend of Jo Beckett. He's highly trained rescue expert (PJ-Air National Guard pararescueman). Recovering from a gunshot wound.

Tang-Female SF cop that aids Evan in the investigation. 

Wednesday, September 25, 2013


Stopped Reading Tu 9/24/13

My post at Goodreads-

I tried to get through this novel several years ago and couldn't make it to the end. And this time, I fared no better. Obviously she isn't her father, and although she doesn't try to duplicate Kerouac's literary fluency, she never makes the case that her life story merits a book. Unfortunately what makes her interesting is her relationship to her famous father, and she (through no fault of her own) never had much to do with the man. I found her 'hippie' adventures quite commonplace, and I personally know people who led more interesting lives during the turbulent 60's. Why would she choose to write a 'road book' when her father has already crafted a classic of the genre? Her life might have merited documentation had she chosen a lifestyle and career altogether different from 'The Kerouac Brand'. Maybe if Jan Kerouac had made a career in the US Marines or became a successful executive in a flashy Madison Avenue advertising agency she would have delivered something of her own instead of only dishing up a very pale imitation of her father's life work.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

ICE COLD IN ALEX by Christopher Landon

Finished We 9/18/13

My post on Good Reads-

First of all, I must admit that I am growing weary of so many contemporary fiction novels that employ tawdry 'flashbacks', garish 'flashforwards', and pointless 'shifting points of view' as literary gimmicks, and it was a pleasure to read a novel from 1958 that was written with enough confidence to just proceed inexorably from 'A' to 'Z'. I fully enjoyed the tale because the author did not attempt to woo the reader with unnecessary tricks or useless pedantic devices.  

ICE COLD IN ALEX is a gripping tale of World War II set in the North African desert during the fall of Tobruk in 1942. Captain George Anson and his Sergeant Major Tom Pugh are ordered to transport two nurses out of the city just as the Tobruk is about to be overrun by the Nazis.  Although set during the war, all the characters are non-violent types, and the book is more of a straightforward metaphor that allows that their shared adventure and metaphysical journey will lead to catharsis and character development. The clever title refers to Captain Anson's desire to have an ice cold beer in Alexandria with his compatriots once they have completed their mission, and this overwhelming sense of purpose keeps his mind from dwelling on his addiction to whiskey and spirits. His alcoholism, the fierce desert environment, and the mysterious South African Captain Zimmerman who shares their hospital ambulance are as much of a hostile force or mortal enemy as are the Nazis.

This is not a major work by any means, but it's an interesting and insightful novel of WWII, and I'd recommend it to anyone.


Finished We 9/18/13

Autumn Reiniger- She's the kidnap victim

REINIGER CAPITAL-Her father's (Peter) investment group

EDGE ADVENTURES-Urban reality games, role-playing scenarios into the demimonde of crime rescue.
Terry Coates-The game runner. Former Oakland cop.
"Kyle Ritter". Bad Cowboy. The Red Rattler.
Dane Haugen- He was fired from Reinger after being traumatized by Edge Adventure. He's terrified of snakes.

Sabine-With Haugen on their own 'adventure'. Also Von Nordlinger

Evan Delaney-Forensic psychiatrist who helps journalist Jo Beckett track down Autumn.
Delaney is working on a murder/disappearance of Phelps Wylie. He worked for Reinger and was found at the bottom of a mine shaft. No reason for him to be there.

Lark, Dustin (Autumn's boyfriend), Autumn, Peyton (broken collar bone, snake bit), Cody Grier (shot and killed),Noah (shot and badly broken leg) -The six kids on the birthday party.

Gabe Qunitana-Boyfriend of Jo Beckett. He's highly trained rescue expert (PJ-Air National Guard pararescueman). Recovering from a gunshot wound.

Tang-Female SF cop that aids Evan in the investigation.


Saturday, September 14, 2013

STEVE WINWOOD: ROLL WITH IT by Chris Welch with Steve Winwood

Finished Th 9/12/13

Post on Good Reads-

The book offers a standard tabloid treatment of multi-talented rock musician, Steve Winwood. It documents his career from a teen aged performer in The Spencer Davis Group, and on to Blind Faith and Traffic. It also features his transition to a major player in the 'easy listening' demographic in the 1980's. If you like the man's music, you won't be disappointed, but the book is really not much more informative than an expanded Wikipedia article. I'd recommend that you listen to any of his records rather than spend time with this book.


Finished Th 9/12/13

The book is a fact based fictional work concerning Ernest Hemingway's little-known Caribbean based spy operation in Cuba during the height of WWII. J. Edgar Hoover, tyrannical head of The Federal Bureau of Investigation,  was deeply suspicious of Hemingway's supposed 'leftist leanings' and he enlisted FBI agent Joe Lucas to keep tabs on the spy ring. The novel is told from Joe's point-of-view, and initially he disliked and distrusted Hemingway, but the novel is also documents his change of heart towards the author.

This historical novel is a gripping tale of riveting suspense with unbelievable characters who are accurately modeled on the real participants, and the book offers a real insight into what Hemingway 'the man' might have been like. In the 'Author's Note' at the end of the book Dan Simmons acknowledges that although THE CROOK FACTORY is a work of fiction "the vast majority of details, characters, incidents, dialogues, and wartime events are true".

I can't recommend this book enough, and I definitely want to read more by Dan Simmons.


Why was the director so interested in Hemingway's penny-ante operation? Why the visits from the BSC's Ian Fleming and the OSS's Wallace Beta Phillips (the bald dwarf)? Why assign someone as serious and deadly as Delgado as liaison? (this man was Lucas's contact and worked for the FBI, but might have been a German agent planted by Himmler) Why should the raido operator from the Southern Cross be murdered and who had murdered him? (This was an American ship that Hemingway thought was helping the Germans, and refueling U-boats). Why assign a weak sister Abwehr agent like Theodor Schegel (this guy had an American name also) to head it up? Was Helga Sonneman in on the Abwehr mission and, if so, what was her role in it? (She was one of the rich people behind the Southern Cross's enterprise, and might have been working with Schlegel, but who was the boss).  How did Hemingway get Martin Kohler's radio codes (this was the radio operator that had his throat cut), and was their getting the codes part of some larger deception? What was the reason that the FBI was funneling large sums of money to the Cuban National Police through a killer like Lieutenant Maldonado (this guy's nickname was CRAZY HORSE, and he has a violent showdown with Lucas in a creepy national cemetery in Havana. Lucas overpowers him but is gravely wounded, however he manages to lock Maldonado in a tomb, and the man walks with a limp for the rest of his life). And why was the FBI also funding Schlegel and the Abwehr at the same time?

Saturday, September 7, 2013


Finished Th 9/5/13

My post on Good Reads-

If you are a fan of any of the thirteen bands that are profiled in this tremendous book or if you are only curious about the 80's, this might be the book for you. The groups that are featured are the bands that were enormously influential, yet some of them sold very few records and Michael Azerrad finally accords them their just due and explains the reasons they were ignored or left behind. Each of the bands, and also the important management personalities within the DIY record labels are given the full 'Rolling Stone' treatment and the book is nothing short of a 'page turner'.  I think that most people remember the Reagan Eighties as a time of widespread greed and the hegemony of corporate America, but this book documents another 'revolution'.  OUR BAND COULD BE YOU LIFE chronicles the deeply personal and always challenging subversive musical scene that started with 'punk' and transformed into a myriad of musical styles and directions that have changed nearly all of what is thought to be 'popular' music. The hippies said, "Don't Trust The System", but the kids of the eighties said, "Make The System Work For You", and always THINK FOR YOURSELF. I can't recommend this book enough!!

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

THE BIG WHEEL by Bruce Thomas

Finished Tu 9/3/13

My post on Good Reads-

The book is written by the former bass player with Elvis Costello and The Attractions, and if you are looking for a behind the scenes 'tell all' of what it was like to be a member of one of the best and most influential rock'n'roll bands of any era, you will be disappointed. The band members names are never used ('the drummer', 'the singer', etc), and Thomas crafts a kind of fictionalized and highly personalized view of the music biz and his part in it. On the plus side, the book is very cleverly written, and his wry observations would be captivating even if he wasn't one of the foremost bass players in music, so maybe he should have written a straight up novel instead.  I guess I was looking for more of the 'inside scoop' on what it was like to be 'an Attraction', yet I couldn't help but enjoy Thomas's slightly surreal take on his professional life.

HARD FREEZE A Joe Kurtz novel by Dan Simmons

Finished Labor Day Mo 9/2/13

Post on Good Reads-

Another pulse-pounding page-turn from author Dan Simmons's 'Joe Kurtz series'.  Kurtz is on the trail of a serial killer who also happens to be the chief of the Buffalo, NY detectives unit. Joe is contacted by a man whose 13 year old daughter was raped and killed over twenty years ago, and on a recent trip through Buffalo accidentally recognized chief detective Hansen as the man who murdered his daughter. And, throughout the course of the novel, Kurtz is dodging hits from various local crime families and militant groups even though he has formed an alliance with Angelina Farino, the beautiful crime boss of the Farino mob. The novel opens with an assassination attempt on Kurtz by three killers known as 'The Three Stooges' at Buffalo, New York's famous (and very real!) Ted's Hot Dogs that is so exciting that you can't put the book down after reading the first couple of pages.  

Nonstop action, and the Joe Kurtz series is easily one of the best out there. I highly recommend any of these books!


Begins with a hit on Kurtz by 'The Three Stooges' at Ted's Hot Dogs, a very popular Buffalo hot dog stand. This is a real place-

The hit was from Stephen 'Little Skag' Farino of the Farino crime family of Buffalo. Kurtz begins a partnership with 'Little Skag's' sister, Angelina Farino Ferrara. She had left the area to marry an Italian boss, had a son by him, killed the son, and then married a count. She wants to be a world class thief (she learned this skill from the count) and to be The Don of the Farino crime family.

The Gonzaga crime family is the other organization in Buffalo, and it's run by an ugly toad of a man called Emilio.

A Black concert violinist, John Frears, contacts Kurtz's agency. He runs a dating service, and is soon going to expand into the wedding planning market, but everyone knows that is was one of the best detectives in the US. Frears wants to find who killed his thirteen year old daughter almost twenty years ago. The serial killer/rapist is a man who is a master of identity theft, and now is the head of the Buffalo detective department- James B. Hansen. Frears was in the Buffalo airport on a concert tour and saw Hansen and recognized him, and this is why he comes to Kurtz.

Kurtz puts it all together, and later he and Angelina break into Hansen's house and rob his safe of $200,000 and incriminating evidence (photos of teens that he has murdered).

Donald Raferty is a drunken thug who is the guardian of Rachel who is the daughter of Sam, a close friend of Joe's who was murdered many years ago. This is why Kurtz landed in jail because he three the man responsible out the window and killed him. He did twelve years.

The final throw-down happens in the abandoned Buffalo train station. It's the middle of the winter, snowing, and very cold. This is the reason for the title of the novel.

Hansen is called by Kurtz to buy back the evidence. Hansen shows up with two crooked detectives to kill Kurts. And an Asian hit-man from Gonzaga's outfit tries to kill them all. This man throws Kurtz over the side of the building, and almost kills him. Kurtz is rescued by Frears. Frears was also a demolition expert in Vietnam. He was in Princeton at the time, but dropped out to enlist. He was doing this because his professor was an expert on ethics and morals. and he wanted to prove himself. This professor is now homeless and a friend of Kurtz, his name is Professor Frederick (called Pruno).

Saturday, August 31, 2013

THE KING by Morton Cooper

Finished Fr 8/30/13

My post at Good Reads-

This is a best seller from 1967 that recounts the life of a character who shares similar characteristics to Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin or Tony Bennett. Harry Orlando is a wildly popular American singer/songwriter who is at the top of the national entertainment game, and wishes to trade it all for a career in government service. He was a friend to President Joseph Haywood, but when the president is killed in a plane crash, this seems the end of his hopes to become a respected cultural proponent of the Arts. The novel documents the many loves of Harry, and probably the most important plot-line is his growing relationship with Grant Campbell who is an ex-Hollywood actor turned Republican congressman who has some nefarious billionaire backers.

Morton Cooper's writing style is a bit dated, yet he delivers a compelling story about the nexus of Hollywood, Las Vegas, and National Politics. Harry Orlando is an entertainer who has all the money, sex and popular recognition that any man could want, yet the novel examines his urge to make one big compromise with a questionable politician that could gain him the respect of The Cultured Class, but, in the process, he might lose his soul. It might come across as too melodramatic for some readers, but I found the book to be an enjoyable read.

This is one of my books, and I picked it up because I was tired of reading contemporary novels that skip back and forth in time for no real reason. This novel was written in 1967, and although it's over 400 pages, it goes pretty much for 'A' to 'Z', and employs only 'Flashback's to establish characters or situations from the past. It was a most refreshing change from what I have been reading!

Harry Orlando- Successful singer modeled after Sinatra who has reached the top of the entertainment heap and wishes to go into government service. He had been friends with President of the United States, Joe Haywood but the president was killed in a plane crash before Harry could be nominated to a cultural post.

Bill Temple is a friend of Orlando's and has become an influential Washington Insider and political newspaper columnist. They have a falling out because Harry takes up with a sleazy right-wing politician (modeled after Ronald Reagan). Grant Campbell was a Hollywood actor who played 'Boy Scout' type roles and believes in vacuous slogans that promote The Love of Jesus and The American Constitution. But, he is dangerous because he accepts support from hard-core billionaires who are really racist and jingoistic.

A sub-plot is that when he got out of college, Bill Temple and a friend went to Paris and wrote a kind of satire of pornogragphy under the pen name of C.S. Poole. The book was mysteriously rewritten as hard-core porn, and the state of Alabama has Temple under indictment. He has commitment issues with his wife Mary, and near the end of the novel, he commits suicide by cutting his wrists. At that time, he had sworn that he would do everything possible to stop Orlando from hooking up with Campbell. Campbell's people release the news of Temple's pornography charges. Actually, Patsy, Harry's useless brother who is like a servant to Orlando, gives them the info thinking that he is doing Harry a favor.

Miriam is Harry's first wife. He loved her, but he couldn't stop his wild lifestyle. She knew it, and was never really connected to him. She wanted a stable steady husband, and Harry is anything but that. Even though they have been divorced for decades, he still wants her back, but she has the guts to say 'no'. They have an adult son, Jimmy, who is college educated and wants to be a writer. Harry has a professional writer friend rewrite a few of Jimmy's stories and have them published. Jimmy hates this because he wants to be his own man.

Noreen is the Love of Harry's life, but she is an alcoholic and has serious nymphomaniac tendencies. She was a nobody from Louisiana, and he made her into a somewhat respected actress, but she blew it all, and becomes a restaurant greeter in a sleazy San Francisco dive. She cuts out the hard liquor (although she drinks a river of beer) and only takes one lover at a time. In the end, Harry and her are together.

Monday, August 26, 2013

REALLY THE BLUES by Mezz Mezzro and Bernard Wolfe

Read/skimmed during the 'Hernia Repair, August 2013'; the first two weeks August

An entertaining and informative read that comes across like one, long spoken 'rave-up'  jazz riff.

The book is an autobiography first released in 1946 about a white kid from the north-side of Chicago who not only loved jazz and blues, but felt strongly attracted to the entire Black race. It looked like he might spend his entire life behind bars for pointless and absurd crimes, yet his love of music and the people that made it seemed to offer him hope. At that time in American history, his viewpoints were unthinkable, and Mezz's take on race and music are probably thirty years ahead of their time.  The book is chock full of colloquial expressions and 'jive talk' that really makes you feel like you are part of the groundbreaking era of the birth of the modern jazz age.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

LOVEDEATH by Dan Simmons

Finished Fr 8/24/13

5 Novellas (I didn't read all of them) This shows that Simmons can write in any genre that he chooses.

1) ENTROPHY'S BED AT MIDNIGHT   An insurance adjuster contemplates the odds that he can do all that is necessary to protect his daughter.  One of his cases: A guy is working on a dangerously slanted roof, and ties a line around his waist, tosses the rope over, and has his son tie the line to 'something solid'. He ties it to the rear bumper of their trunk, and later his wife drives away pulling the man to his death. The adjuster puts these in a binder called The Orange File. The story ends at an amusement park where he is in a car on a ride with his daughter, and wonders if this incident might end up in his Orange File.

2)DYING IN BANGKOK  This was my favorite. Two friends on  R & R  during Vietnam war visit a brothel and witness a sex show involving a vampire. One of the friends becomes infected, and years later the other comes back to infect the still living vampire with AIDS. Very creepy horror story with an undercurrent of homosexual desire.

3)SLEEPING WITH TEETH WOMAN  Didn't read it. Seemed similar, at least in setting, to BLACK HILLS.

4) FLASHBACK  A future dystopic society in which people take a drug that allows them to focus on memory. A character who was on the detail to guard JFK when he was assassinated uses the drug to 'go back and change history'. However, this man was not there, and seems to be remembering someone else's life. Another character is in a gang and they are trying to gun somebody down, witness it, and then use it to 'flash' on.

5)THE GREAT LOVER I didn't read this one, and I probably should have. I got the feeling that Simmons felt that this one was the best of the bunch. Set in the trenches of WWI.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013


Finished Tu 8/20/13 August 2013 selection for The Contemporary Book Club, Springfield IL

My post on Good Reads-

THE FORGOTTEN GARDEN is a compelling story with the flavor and style popular women's novels of one hundred years ago.
The book presents a compelling mystery that spans almost one hundred years. In 1913 four year old Nell is found on a wharf in Brisbane, Australia and it takes until 2005 to determine her true identity, and how and why she got there. The novel jumps back and forth in time and develops dozens of interesting characters that painstakingly shed light on this central mystery, but the novel's primary strength is that it manages to flawlessly capture the flair of a Victorian melodrama at its finest. The book could almost be viewed as an homage to the early 20th century novelist, Frances Hodgson Burnett, and she is even a minor character in THE FORGOTTEN GARDEN.

Three Basic Time Periods-
1) London 1913
2) Brisbane, Australia 2005
3) 1975 Covers Nell's trip from Australia to Blackhurst Estate (Tregenna) The estate is in Cornwall, England

(The Authoress) Eliza Makepeace

Ivory Walker (Nell)
Ivory is actually Eliza's daughter, but most of the novel it's assumed to be Mary (the maid's) child

Cassandra- Child of Nell's daughter,  Lesley. Nell had bought the cottage, and was preparing to relocate when Lesley shows up with Cassandra and she never is able to move to England.

Lil and Hugh- This is the couple that becomes Nell's adoptive parents when Hugh finds the four year old Nell on the wharf after the voyage from England.

Ben-the old man and friend of Nell's. He is a favorite customer at her shop, and his daughter, Ruby, helps Cassandra when she gets to England.

'White Suitcase'-This is the case with the storybook illustrated by Nathaniel Walker that Nell (Ivory) takes to Australia. There was money and ID but it is stolen by a mother of a big family. This woman kind of watched over the child, but she was crooked.

Henry Mansell-Detective hired by Adeline Mountrachet to locate the lost child. In the end Eliza dies from a fall out of his coach when he is bringing her back. She had already placed Ivory on the boat and dies before telling anyone. Adeline is married to photographer Linus. He has a club foot and was hated by his family. They made him feel worthless. He was in love with his sister, Georgiana.

Georgiana got pregnant by a sailor and left Blackhurst and had Eliza. After Sammy is killed and Mansell finds them. Eliza is brought back and Adeline attempts to 'break' her.

Will is the little boy who kind of befriends Ivory on the voyage. His mother takes her money

facts on the Mountrachets p. 160-165

Mrs. Swindell this is where Eliza and her twin brother Sammy live in London (1913). The old woman is greedy and mean to the children. This is where Eliza hides the broach, and this is what allows Mansell to capture her when she leaves with her daughter. She comes back for the broach after placing the child on the boat, and he chloroforms her. Mrs. Swindell threatens them that the 'do gooders' will take them away and put them in an orphanage.

While playing 'Ripper' with Sammy, Eliza runs ahead and in the fog, Sammy is killed when a horse walks on his chest. She was going to use the broach to pay for a funeral, but decided that Mrs. Swindell would only steal the money.

Clara- this is the daughter of Mary, the maid. Cassandra is in England and has met Ruby and Ruby tells her of meeting Clara and this woman had sketches of Nathaniel Walker

37 Battersea Church Road- this is where Mrs. Swindell lived and Nell goes back to this address when she visits as an adult and meets Mrs. Swindell's daughter who lives at the same house. Her name is Harriet Swindell.

William Martin- Old man who loved Eliza and saw her having sex with Nathaniel. "It's not what it seems". Cassandra meets him through his granddaughter.

Christian- he is boyfriend of Cassandra and helps her get the cottage livable, and also helps with the garden. He is an ex-cancer doctor. He met Nell one time when he was eleven years old when he was in the garden, and she kind of gave him her blessing to watch over the place.

Rose and Nathaniel are killed in a train accident in 1913. This allows Eliza to take Ivory because she doesn't want her child to grow up at Blackhurst with Adeline and Linus

When Eliza is taken back to Blackhurst she is wearing Sammy's clothes and had cut off her red hair.

Rose swallows a thimble as a child and is x-rayed for an hour causing her to become sterile. Christian tells Cassandra and then they realize that  Rose could not be Ivory's natural mother. But they still think the it's Mary's child.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013


Finished Tu 8/20/13

I read this book during the recovery period after my hernia procedure of August, 2013. The surgery took place on Friday, August 2nd, and I read through a pain-killer haze over the next few days. I read several other books during this roughly three week period, but finally finished the book early on the morning of 8/20.

Link to Wikipedia-

Monday, August 19, 2013

HARDCASE (A Joe Kurtz thriller) by Dan Simmons

Finished Su 8/18/13

Set in Buffalo, NY
Kurtz does eleven years in Attica for the brutal killing of a man who raped and murdered his lover. (beats, tortures-hand in garbage disposal, throws him out a sixth floor window onto the roof of a cop car. They watched as the scene unfolds)
He had befriended a mafia Don's son, Little Skag, and this gives him an in with the mob when he is freed, and he agrees to try to find their missing accountant. Richardson is a man who knew too much about the family business.  Don Farino is the elderly leader of the Farino Crime Family and is in a wheelchair because he was ambushed and shot in the spine. His power is dwindling, and he knows it.
Attorney Leonard Miles did it under the orders of the Don's daughter, Sophia Farino. They had an 'off the table' deal to trade guns for dope across the Canadian border.
Arlene-Kurtz's secretary and hacker. She's the heart of his office which is above an X-rated video store in a bad area.
Malcolm Kibunte- Black gang-leader and owns Seneca Social Club. Kurtz burns it down and tangles Malcolm over the falls. He cuts the rope thinking he can out swim the falls and drowns.
Malcolm's partner is an albino killer who is proficient with a knife. He is gunned down by Arlene when he tries to break into the office.
Detective Hathaway-crooked Buffalo PD detective who tries to set up Kurtz, put him back in prison where there is a $10,000 price on his head by the black gangs.

Monday, August 12, 2013

HARD AS NAILS A Joe Kurtz novel by Dan Simmons

Finished Su 8/11/13

My post on Good Reads-

If you are a fan of Lee Child's, Jack Reacher series, run (don't walk) to the nearest bookstore of library and grab a copy of HARD AS NAILS by Dan Simmons. This superb crime thriller is set in the down-and-dirty city of Buffalo, New York, and features a barely legal PI by the name of Joe Kurtz. One important segment of the compelling and complicated story-line involves the murders of dozens of heroin dealers and suppliers in the Buffalo area, and the local crime families have no idea who is behind the killings, and hire Kurtz to find out who is responsible. The fast-paced action and pulse-pounding excitement ends in a murderous assault at an abandoned amusement park in upstate New York that is nothing short of unforgettable. 

Dan Simmons is an excellent writer, and he can write in numerous genres, but his Joe Kurtz series is as good or better than any of the more well known serial detective novels. I loved Simmons novel, BLACK HILLS, which(more or less)dealt with the history of the American plains, but I never thought he could write such dynamite 'hard boiled' detective fiction. And, it's impossible for me to overstate my recommendation!!

My notes:
Set in Buffalo, NY   Chipewa St. This is the hip street in the falling down city. Decatur in upstate NY.

ex-PI Joe Kurts
Shot with his female parole officer, Peg O'Toole. She took a bullet in the head and he took a ricochet.

Father , Big John O'Toole gunned down in drug deal. He was a police officer his whole career.
His brother, Major Francis O'Toole, wounded in Vietnam. Running a heroin smuggling operation with Colonel Vin Trinh.  SEATCO  (south east asia trading company)

Heroin dealers and suppliers are being killed in Buffalo, NY. 22 or more, and the syndicates are willing to combine efforts to deal with it together. Toma Gonzaga (gay don) and Angelina Farino Ferrara (female don)

Local detective, Rigby King, grew up with Kurtz and is an ex-teenage lover.  She is on the case.

Artful Dodger (Sean O'Toole- son of Francis, the guy in the wheelchair) He's the wicked guy who is killing all of the junkies and connections. And, sets up a hellish Halloween party every year using the corpses of his victims. This is the setting for the dramatic last scene of the novel

Baby Doc Skrzypczyk-local arms dealer

Cloud Nine Amusement Park

Arlene, Kurtz's secretary, expert hacker

Kennedy fiance of Peg. He's the Bad Guy. Running a high priced security operation and his father had ties to CIA. Younger brother of the Artful Dodger. He got burned up in a fire in his mental asylum.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

BLACK HILLS by Dan Simmons

Finished Tu 8/6/13

My post at Good Reads-

BLACK HILLS provides a startlingly original chronicle of the American West that offers a very unique presentation of its impact on US history. The novel is loosely structured as a biography of Paha Sapa (his name means 'Black Hills' in the language of the Sioux) who we meet as a ten year old Lakota Indian who 'counts coup' with General Armstrong Custer as he lay dying on the battlefield of Little Big Horn. When the boy touches the general, his soul or personality lives within the Indian, and this supernatural element allows the author to blend their stories for over the next sixty years. This 'spiritual twining' gives the author an opportunity to not only explore the history of the American Plains Indians, but also to examine George Custer's military contribution to America's historical record. And, keeping true to the story's primary setting, The Black Hills of western South Dakota, Dan Simmons comes up with an entirely new and captivating story-line as Paha Sapa becomes an expert dynamite worker at The Mount Rushmore National Memorial project during the 1930's.  How this important US public works initiative came to fruition, and Paha Sapa's hidden agenda concerning the sculpture becomes a major focal point of the novel. The novel also contains a fascinating section about the World's Fair: Colombian Exposition held in Chicago in 1893 where Paha Sapa meets his future wife, Rain. The book's epilogue adds much additional information about future relatives of the novel's characters that allow the story to continue into the modern era.

So many different complimentary story-lines really communicate a wide-ranging and multifaceted pastiche of American history, and Dan Simmons has really treated the reader a large cast of interesting characters in persuasive situations, and all of it is based on the real history of America!

Dan Simmons's entry at Wikipedia shows that this author writes (and excels) in numerous literary genres, and I can't wait to start another book by this extremely original writer.

Sunday, August 4, 2013


Finished Su 8/4/13

Post on Good Reads-
The book delivers everything you could possibly want to know about one of the most important musical figures in contemporary music, but the overall impression of the man is that he is a most unpleasant and possibly mentally unbalanced individual. Sometimes 'heroes' are not the kind of people that you would want to befriend, and this seems absolutely true with Lou Reed.

Regardless of his disturbing personality one cannot deny the tremendous influence of  his band, The Velvet Underground, and Lou Reed's other solo projects, and if you are a fan of the music (I am), you can't help but to have a certain degree of curiosity about the man who was responsible for all the wondrous music. The author of the book, Victor Bockris shares a background with Reed as both men had ties to Andy Warhol's Factory, and they both are livelong denizens of NYC.  If an author and his subject have nothing in common, it might be easier to dismiss such unduly harsh observations, but since Bockris and Reed did share part of the same 'scene', I am inclined to agree with this writer's perspective on his subject. But never forget that the 'real' Lou Reed can always be found in his music, and his out-of-control life is only secondary to his monumental impact on nearly every aspect of contemporary music.

This book provides just about everything one could possibly want to know about one of the most important voices in music. However, it's unfortunate that the most important fact the one learns is the Lou Reed is not a very nice person. But I would be willing to go along with Victor Bockris's assessment since both men had close ties to Andy Warhol. Lou Reed got his first shot at fame and fortune as kind of the 'house band' for Andy Warhol's Factory during his tenure with THE EXPLODING PLASTIC INEVITABLE, and Victor Bockris was a writer for Warhol's magazine, INTERVIEW during the 1970's.

Monday, July 29, 2013

DUNCTON WOOD by William Horwood

Finished Th 7/25/13

My post at Good Reads-

I read a very large chunk of this novel(significantly over two hundred pages), but just lost interest, and skimmed through to the end. Life's too short, and there are far too many more interesting books out there, and I wish that I had bailed sooner. Years ago I read WIND IN THE WILLOWS and WATERSHIP DOWN, so I can see why someone might actually 'love' this book, but as Bob Dylan once said, "No,No,No, It Ain't Me Babe".

It's basically a love story between two moles, Rebecca and Bracken who live in 'Moledom' which is an anthropomorphically intelligent society where the moles have their own social organization, history, and written form of communication. Mandrake is Rebecca's father and he is a powerful tyrant who has forcibly taken control of the society, and wishes to wipe out the spiritual influence of  'The Stone'. The mole's religion is loosely based on the standing stones or stone circles of Great Britain, and the story is set in the area of West Sussex, England.

Wikipedia Link

Amazon Link

Saturday, July 20, 2013


Finished Sa 7/20/13

My post on Good Reads-

A short and simple novel about two American political operatives who are approached by a British firm to swing an election for a chief who is seeking the premiership of the, soon-to-be-independent African colony, Albertia. Clinton Shartelle is the cynical and experienced political operative extraordinaire, and Pete Upshaw is a slick public relations expert who could convince Eskimos that they needed to buy more snow. Although Ross Thomas's novel was written in 1967, it's clear that the 'behind the scenes political shenanigans' (as Clint remarks, "We're not in the truth business") have remained the same since the first elections were held, and the book certainly bears out the old adage that "you don't really want to know how this sausage is made". However, although the action is light and lively, I wish there was more depth to the story and the characters. I read the book in a couple of sittings, and it seemed like a first idea for a great book. It's an enjoyable read and not bad, by any means, I just hungered for a much more detailed development.

Thursday, July 18, 2013


Finished We 7/17/13

A thoroughly entertaining and informative expose about everything you wanted to know about any foul or filthy substance such as mud, grime, dust, or excrement in Britain down through the ages. However, I definitely would not recommend eating while reading any part of this book because the descriptions of what conditions were like in the United Kingdom several centuries ago are so realistic you can almost 'smell' the graphic narration. There was no concern for sanitation whatsoever, and any care for air and water quality did not exist, and the book shows how the politics and culture of the age allowed this to occur.

The section about England's first cholera epidemic of 1831-1832 is especially horrifying, and the coverup by the authorities to keep the port city of Bradford open is beyond the pale. The descriptions of people crammed together in filthy hovels with absolutely no control over bodily functions was straight out of Dante, and the fact that Big Business wanted coal shipments to continue regardless of the loss of life sounds amazingly "Twenty-First Century".

And, I don't think I will ever be able to see a painting of an elegant 17th or 18th century aristocrat in an elaborate wig and refined clothing without remembering passages in the book that inform us that the wigs were most likely infested with lice and the sophisticated garments were never washed. The book is not an 'easy read', and has the feel of a college text, yet the meticulous descriptions of sanitary conditions of ages past are truly revelatory.  And, it's really amazing that anyone could have lived through this.

Link to Amazon-

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

THE SHADOW OF THE WIND by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

Finished Mo 7/15/13

July 2013 selection for The Contemporary Book Club

   A complex and compelling tale that manages to cross numerous literary genres (fairy tale, mystery, love story) while retaining the feel of classic gothic fiction. This novel demands much more from the reader than the average novel, but it's really worth the effort.
   The main thrust of the plot is relatively simple, yet subplots are intentionally overwhelming because characters life events tend to mirror each other. The novel is structured like an intricate piece of chamber music that invents new themes as slight variations of a single motif, however this literary technique only adds to the hypnotic effect of the novel, and is marvelously effective.
   Daniel Sempere is the ten year old son of a widowed antiquarian bookseller who discovers a novel by mysterious author, Julian Carax, and he spends the rest of his life untangling the facts of this elusive writer's legacy. Things get complicated as dozens and dozens of colorful characters are introduced and the novel veers into many different directions simultaneously. Each subplot is worthy of its own novel, and Zafon devops each and every character to the fullest. There really isn't a 'minor character' in the whole book.
Link to Wikipedia-

Saturday, July 13, 2013

ROUGH MIX by Jimmy Bowen (with Jim Jerome)

Finished Su 7/7/13

 My post on Good Reads-

 From a teenaged rock 'n' roll star in the 50's to a legendary Nashville producer in the 90's, Jimmy Bowen tells it all, and doesn't waste much time making himself appear 'well liked'. However, he never comes across as arrogant,  but only as a perceptive man who has an instinctive and comprehensive knowledge of the Music Business.

   ROUGH MIX documents the career of a musician and record producer who has played a part in nearly all facets of the music industry, and he offers his unique musical perspective in entertaining detail.  It's not a 'tell all' book about personalities, but delivers only one man's unvarnished point of view. I find the music of Las Vegas almost unlistenable, and Country-Pop is not even close to my favorite genre, but I did enjoy ROUGH MIX. In the end, it's more about the man than the music, and well worth a look.

   Bowen and some high school friends had a minor hit in the late fifties and toured with Buddy Holly, Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley, Little Richard, and many other early icons of rock. And, when a crooked record label ended this part of his musical career, he was able to get involved in the management side of the industry. Soon, he found himself guiding the musical professions of many entertainment superstars in glitzy Las Vegas. Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, and Sammy Davis Jr. were all helped by Bowen to update their sound employing his extraordinary knowledge of America's pop market. Following many smash hits for these artists, he ran a series of record labels with varying degrees of success, until he found himself in Nashville, down but not out.

   This is the part of the book that I enjoyed the most. When Jimmy Bowen arrived in Nashville in the early 70's, the country western scene was decades behind the pop market in quality of sound. Rock audiences enjoyed the benefit of top flight session musicians and state of the art recording studios, yet 'Old Guard' Nashville producers felt that because their management techniques worked in 1950, they would continue to be successful nearly twenty-five years later. Obviously they could not have been more wrong, and Bowen shows how he proved this seemingly obvious fact, and went on to become the 'Messiah of Music Row'.

 Bowen wins and loses many fortunes, countless homes, and a handful of wives, and finally seems to have found peace with his Texan soul mate, Ginger, on the Hawaiian island of Maui. And, the game of golf plays is an important factor in Bowen's 'guide to happiness'.

Monday, July 8, 2013


Finished Su 7/7/13

My post at Good Reads-

   This book was recommended to me by a few members of my Contemporary Book club who never read 'nonfiction', but they loved this particular book. The author of THE IMMORTAL LIFE OF HENRIETTA LACKS, Rebecca Skloot teaches 'creative nonfiction', and I'm not exactly sure how this differs from strict 'nonfiction', but this book is most certainly as entertaining as anything filed under 'fiction'.

   The book is about a poor black woman, Henrietta Lacks, who was treated for cervical cancer at Johns Hopkins Hospital in 1951, and some of her cells were harvested by Dr. George Gey, and later these cells became the first cell line to grow in vitro. Henrietta Lacks cells (HeLa) became an astounding benefit to medical research, however neither Henrietta or any members of her family were informed about the donated cells, and this becomes the dramatic hook of the book. Does a patient or the patient's family have any rights whatsoever from harvested cells or tissue? In 1951 there were no laws concerning this issue, and even today, the legal ramifications seem pretty vague.

   Rebecca Skloot becomes a vital part of the story as she tells about her journey to help Henrietta's daughter, Deborah, and other members of the extended family to learn about the HeLa cells and find out about Henrietta's life and what really happened to their very important ancestor. The Lacks family are quite a handful, and provide for a rich and unique collection of characters. All are economically deprived and live in extremely deprived areas of Baltimore, Md and rural Virginia, have numerous health issues both physical and mental, and many have serious issues with the law, yet Skloot treats them all with deep understanding. She becomes almost a part of the Lacks family, and this might be the reason that Oprah Winfrey has made plans to make the book a film for HBO.

   Because of the intense scientific nature of this book most people would probably rather do a little online research about HeLa, and then leave it at that. But, I would recommend that you read this book because it a rich and rewarding experience and is as compelling as most 'crime fiction', and this book is absolutely perfectly suited for people who 'never' read nonfiction.

Friday, July 5, 2013


Finished Th 7/4/13
My post on Good Reads-
   I was expecting so much more of this book since Kim Philby was the most notoriously successful spy of the entire Cold War era, and quite possibly the most important secret agent who ever lived. And, it's not that  Philby can't write, because he really can,  yet his choice of material and his impartial approach seems to render his extraordinary life almost dry and dull. Kim Philby was a secret lifelong Soviet Communist who became the head of the British secret service, MI6, and betrayed or seriously compromised nearly all covert activity by every agent operating for the Americans and British, yet managed to remain in place and undetected for almost three decades.  However, Philby's book never rises above, 'just the facts', and completely lacks emotional depth. This book should have been a thrill a minute, but comes across almost as flat and passionless as a Wikipedia entry.

   John le Carre based his Smiley character on Kim Philby, and I think that the fictionalized account provides more realism than Philby's own autobiography. And this is most unfortunate since Kim Philby was a writer of exceptional quality, and I'm mystified that he chose to tell the story of his most exceptional life with such a dearth of excitement.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

GOLDFINGER by Ian Fleming

Finished We 7/3/13
My post on Good Reads-

  What a difference does fifty years make! I found GOLDFINGER to be nothing more than a novel of great cultural curiosity with a rather mundane storyline that faultlessly embodied the social and political correctness of an era that is most thankfully behind us.

    If you have been awake at any time during the last few decades it's nearly impossible to consider James Bond as anything more than a very dated potboiler fantasy/action adventure hero. And, more to the point his entire character deftly provides a benchmark as to how far we have come in terms of social consciousness in the last half century. Author Ian Fleming seems impervious to the slightest compassion or understanding of anyone other than rich, white males of American or British extraction, and his overheated and frenzied conclusions come ludicrously close to bombastic White Supremacist rants. Also, his depiction of women, gays, and lesbians is completely beyond the pale, and his ridiculous assertion that women's suffrage and sexual equality caused "feminine qualities to die out or be transferred to males" is nothing short of astounding.  And, to further embarrass himself, Fleming offers this observation;  "Pansies of both sexes were everywhere, not completely homosexual, but confused not knowing who they were. He (Bond) was sorry for them, but he had no time for them".    And next the various races of planet earth come under Fleming's scrutiny. The novel's Korean arch villain, Oddjob, is a blatantly flat racial stereotype that rivals anything posited by anything found in Mein Kampf or the American Ku Klux Klan of the 1920's.  Fleming's cracked observations should never have been confused with knowledge, although racist and homophobic views were much more accepted in the fifties and sixties, and loony cultural observations aside, his prime objective seems to be to present the unmitigated rush of a story. And, even here he is deficient as I think most readers would agree that John le Carre and Len Deighton provided fictional accounts that were much more accurate depictions of Cold War reality, and offered much more dramatic intensity.

However,  the character of James Bond will forever be emblematic of a kind of 'last gasp' of Old World cultural viewpoints. The fact that John F. Kennedy publically acknowledged Ian Fleming as his favorite writer probably gave this mundane English author much more credibility than he actually deserved, but I guess JFK was kind of a quaint caricature of 'the way we were' as well.


Dated potboiler fantasy

Do not mistake information for knowledge, and who above all wrote for the sheer rush of the story. John Le Carre and Len Deighton are probably more accurate depiction of Cold War reality.

Auric Goldfinger

OPERATION GRAND SLAM-Now mind, the idea of robbing Fort Knox is brilliant, and Fleming could have made it work. But here, in my opinion, it did not.

Stereotypical depiction of Women and Oddjob is here as one of the more fascinating flat, racial stereotypes. Homosexulaity!!!!

JFK, while President of the U.S., declared Ian Fleming his favorite author

Shirley Bassey

Saturday, June 29, 2013

POWER PLAY by Kenneth M. Cameron

Finished Fr 6/28/13

  A fairly pedestrian effort from 1979 that fictionalizes several 'hot button' issues of the era that include the OPEC Oil Crisis of the mid 70's, US inflation rates that topped out at 14% by the late 70's, the widely accepted belief that that moral weakness would lead to societal breakdown, and the utter horror of a woman in a position of power in the executive branch of the government of the United States.  
   The the plot is driven by a calamitous power outage in the Northeast that leads to the destruction of the national grid, and plunges the nation into darkness and chaos, and the author features several characters as they confront this rapidly changing and hostile environment. The novel's weakness is that it's very difficult to accept the changes that these characters undergo. Garrett begins as a rather docile, henpecked husband who morphs into a feudal warlord, Frederika is a spoiled rich kid who inexplicably changes into an urban guerrilla, and her sheltered and pampered friend, Miriam, is sexually tortured and then becomes the partner of a very important man in the New Society. And, Hallie Dickson portrays the first female vice president of The United States, and when she is sworn in as commander in chief, wonder of wonders!!!, she pulls it off about as well as any equally qualified male could have done.
   I guess the appeal of these kinds of books is that they present ordinary individuals who are thrust into extraordinary circumstances, and they must rise above the catastrophic events, and this trajectory is taken much more seriously than reasonable or credible character development. However, I found that I could enjoy the tale if I didn't scrutinize too closely.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Within Arm's Length: The Extraordinary Life and Career of a Special Agent in the United States Secret Service by Dan Emmett

Finished Tu 6/24/13

My post on Good Reads-

The author provides a straightforward analysis of his long and successful career in the The United States Secret Service both as an agent and an instructor. However, if you are looking for any 'inside scoops' or 'political posturing' your won't find it here. Dan Emmett values the office of the president of the United States above all else, and he writes nothing that would dishonor or reveal any procedures within the agency that might be taken in a negative light, so there is nothing of a controversial nature in the book, and this makes for a rather bland read. However, Mr. Emmett delivers a sincere homage to government service, and he comes across as a man of honor, and I would highly recommend the book to anyone interested in a career in The United States Secret Service, or if you are just curious about this US law enforcement agency, and want, 'just the facts', without any trumped up political or cultural hot button issues.

This book was recommended to me by Dr. Curt Floyd.  The author of the book was an instructor and mentor to Curt's son when he was a member of The  Presidential Protective Division.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

LONE WOLF by Jodi Picoult

Finished Fr 6/21/13
June 2013 Selection for The Contemporary Book Club, Springfield IL

    The book is a challenging examination of how a dysfunctional family handles the moral dilemma of whether or not to continue or withdraw life support to a love one, and the novel is presented as a literary conceit in which the social organization of a wolf pack is compared to how human families function.
    Luke Warren and his daughter are involved in a car accident and both are seriously injured, and Luke is in a coma and not expected to wake up. Luke's twenty-four year son has been absent from the family for six years after a violent confrontation with Luke, returns to his father's side, and is convinced that his father will never recover, and he should be removed from life support. However, Cara, Luke's daughter, passionately maintains that Luke will pull through, and heroic measures are absolutely necessary.
   That's the basic plotline of the novel, however the author employs a metaphor about wolves and how they interact as a pack to offer an allegorical dimension to the novel. Luke Warren was a world-renowned authority on all aspects of wolf behavior before the accident, and actually lived as a wolf with a Canadian wolf pack for a couple of years. His experiences with the wolves drives the novel, and how the wolves are a 'family', and how their behavior contrasts and compares to Luke's 'family' is the figurative subplot, and provides the literary prism through which the novel's events are viewed.  Although thought- provoking and enthralling, this metaphor comes off as a bit contrived.
    However, LONE WOLF is a fine novel, but I felt that the allegory between wolf packs and human families was intriguing, yet not very realistic. In the end, it seemed like too much of a reach, although I can't deny that I enjoyed the novel, I just couldn't accept the premise that humans and wolves share such similarities.

Beresford, New Hampshire
Luke Warren- Born Minn. to a junkie mother. Raised by grandparents
Georgie Warren (Ng)- divorced from Luke. Remarried to Joe Ng. Twins, Elizabeth and Jackson
Cara-Luke and Georgie's daughter. Lives mostly with Luke, and largely for the past four years before accident
Edward Warren- 24 years old, but left home at 18 and is presently an English teacher in Thailand. For most of the novel you are led to believe that he left because he 'came out' to his father and was rejected. Actually, he was going to tell his father, but interrupted his father in bed with another woman. He wanted to stay with the family, but a couple of days after this, he found the paid bill for an abortion for a child with one of Luke's assistants.
Helen Bedd- The Office of Public Guardian. Dresses in gray because her mother worked in a Gentlemen's Club, and Helen wants to be exactly the opposite. She is the 'state appointed' voice of Luke in a coma. If a relative cannot be found to act in the patient's best interest, she is called.
Zirconia Notch-Cara's hippie lawyer. Lives in far northern New Hampshire with goats and a llama. She is also a spirit medium between humans and their pets.
p. 393 The heart of Cara's dilemma
Abenaki Indians-many of the names that Luke chooses for his wolves are from this indian tribe's language.
p.536 Difference between Dream and Goal is 'a plan'.
p.539 Cara's actual role in the accident. "I hate you"  "You'll be the death of me"
Last chapter is entitled Barney, and seems to be someone who has Luke's kidneys after they've been harvested. Kind of stoooopid.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

THE DISTANCE by Eddie Muller

Finished Tu 6/18/13 (I began this book on the flight back from Phoenix on The Pineaire Cleanup with Janny and Joe)

My post at Good Reads-

Although the novel contains elements of a whodunit, thriller, and murder mystery, it's more than that, and delivers a truly bewitching and noirishly atmospheric 'total immersion' into the world of boxing and journalism of late 1940's San Francisco. The author masterfully creates a demimonde in which the forces of politics, crime, and The Fourth Estate interact in an elaborate and sinister gavotte. 
The book begins at the scene of a murder and introduces an elaborately plotted storyline which eventually provides the reason for this crime, yet it's really just an opportunity to develop a most unusual and ultimately tragic love story. Because the action is set in the sordid world of boxing and shows how a tainted journalist covers the action and orchestrates the outcome, it allows the author to present some finely detailed characters who are not really full-fledged gangsters or corrupt athletes, yet are far from upstanding or morally upright citizens.
In a way, Eddie Muller, the writer, is really recounting the fictionalized biography of his father who was actually a well known San Francisco boxing journalist from the 1930's to the 70's, so the book really has the ring of truth. The book is very well written, and compares very well to anything by Dashiell Hammett. This is an amazing first book!

Billy Nichols (Nicholovich) is 'Mr. Boxing',  local newspaper fight reporter. The novel is set in San Francisco-1948. Billy is drawn into the  murder of Gig Liardi who was the fight manager of Hack Escalante.
Billy falls in love with Claire Escalante who was forced into a blackmail scheme to tarnish local crime boss Eddie Ryan.  Eddie is a crooked fight promoter, and his brother, Jimmy, is a loan shark.
Claire becomes pregnant by Billy and she is murdered because she stole Eddie's blackmail info from an old acquaintance of Billy's, Burnell Sanders. This guy is the one who started all the mayhem, and he's a short little thug that Billy had known since childhood. He wanted to be a 'player' at any cost.
Francis O'Connor is a homicide detective that suspects Billy and Hack were connected to the killings in some way.
The novel opens when Billy goes to Hacks aid and buries the body of Gig in Golden Gate Park. Hack admits that he did it, but it was an accident. Gig called his wife a whore, and, of course, she was.
This is really a very fine first novel.


Finished Fr 6/7/13 (This was the night before 'The Pineaire Cleanup' when I flew to Sun City with Janny and Joe)

The book is a fascinating examination of the role that alcoholic beverages have played in the social, cultural, and political history of America. It's an amazing array of facts that, at times, is almost overwhelming, but I guarantee that anyone who picks up this book will find something about the subject that they did not know. I was surprised to find that plain water, especially cold water, was thought to be hazardous, and alcohol was believed to be a much healthier beverage for everyone, including children. And, I really can't believe that even today, many counties and municipalities have such severe regulations and restrictions concerning a legal product.
The book is so chock full of data that you can skim it or study it, and still enjoy an absolutely delightful reading experience. 

Monday, June 3, 2013

THE MASAKADO LESSON by William P. Kennedy

Finished Su 6/2/13

My Post on Good Reads-

This is an interesting novel about a confidence game that happens to be set in the world of computers. However, the novel was written in the late 1980's and the Information Age of that era now seems altogether quaint, so the setting of the book is more than a little dated. Also, the author plays to America's fear and apprehension over Japan's ability to achieve global economic dominance. Back in the eighties, this view had a certain degree of traction, but these days those same feelings have been transferred to the Chinese. Although, if you can overlook those two shortfalls, you'll find THE MASAKADO LESSON is a well-written tale of competing grifters who become so entangled by their own games that they can't sort out who is playing who. Even though the novel was written and set nearly a quarter century ago, the story would have worked equally well if the characters were conspiring to steal the design of the first printing press, or the quickest trade route to the Orient rather than the race to see who could develop the world's first supercomputer.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013


Finished Tu 5/28/13

My post on Good Reads-

This is one of my favorite novels, not so much that it's beautifully written, but the fact that it masterfully celebrates 'style' over 'storyline'. Mark Hudson's vivid and immoderate descriptions are so feverishly gushing and hyperbolic that the 'purple prose' brilliantly highlights and underscores the shallow and superficial nature of his lead character. Andrew 'Litch' Litchfield is a washed up, very minor figure in the music industry who, a couple of decades earlier, inadvertently stumbled upon the music of West African bandleader, Sajar Jopp, and was able to garner him some much needed international recognition. In a masterful and unceasing exhibition of self-delusion, Litch has always blindly maintained that it was his uncanny appreciation and understanding of all that is great in popular music that allowed him to pluck Sajar Jopp from obscurity, yet the fact of the matter is that it was probably just chance.  The book provides a delightfully detailed description of a man who loves music, but distances himself from the music itself, and actually is just more enthralled with the 'idea' of great pop music. Litch Litchfield is a man who is driven by his own very misconstrued notions about himself and his relationship to nearly everything, and he is undoubtedly my most favorite 'unreliable narrator' that I have ever come across.

If you are an avid collector of music or a fan of the sounds of West Africa, or auditorily addicted to nearly any genre of music, this might be the book for you. The overpowering allure and intensity of the love for any kind of popular music seems to come from the same place, and if you share that frenzied view, you'll have no trouble recognizing Litchfield's diabolically distorted 'take' on the nature of True Pop.  And, this novel also has a soundtrack (THE MUSIC IN MY HEAD-various artists) by the same name and serves as an excellent introduction to the real musicians on the 70's and 80's African Pop Scene. Hudson uses pseudonyms for most of his characters, and Sajar Jopp is modeled rather closely on Fela Kuti or King Sunny Ade. And, Litch Litchfield might be any one of a myriad of fanzine and magazine writers, borderline musical producers, and self-deluded 'movers and shakers' who are hypnotically drawn to the Music Biz.

novel that comes with its own soundtrack cd

Andrew 'Litch' Litchfield   Sarah 'Her' She'

Sajar Jopp

Tekrur (country)

N'Galam (city)

Confuses the music for what it represents. Wouldn't buy a record unless the act of passing on it would cause a lifetime of self recrimination.

The last twenty pages covers Litch's personal life.

Fevered, gushing, hyperbolic

Saturday, May 25, 2013


Finished Fr 5/24/13

The novel is packed with seedy atmosphere and sleazy characters, but lacks a compelling storyline. These seamy qualities seemed to put the lock on a dynamite 'noirish' thriller, yet the book fails to satisfy. John Field is an Canadian expatriate journalist who has lived in Bangkok for over twenty years, and has never once been back to the west. He no longer is in the writing trade and makes a spotty living as a kind of  'middleman' putting together business deals for various shady characters. His life basically consists of hanging out with his pals, drinking and carousing with local prostitutes. He's divorced and has one daughter, Songlin who attends Catholic boarding school and she is being raised strictly to become a native Thai. One of his best friends, Dr. Meechai Wuthiwat, is a local community leader who runs The Bangkok Nursing Home and is treated John for a particularly virulent strain of STD. In an odd manifestation of humanity, John buys the contract of young prostitute, Ao, to get her a better start in a straight life. Then, he does a deal in Laos for an old girlfriend and her husband, and finds them brutally tortured and murdered. He becomes ensnared in a huge heroin smuggling operation that has ties to members of the military and the government.

John has a lot on his plate, but it's more 'bumbling around' than a 'hard hitting, fast paced dramatic action'. All the elements are in place to make John Field the Jason Bourne of The East, yet not much happens. This really could have taken off in a big way, but, unfortunately, it never does.

My post on Good Reads-

 The novel is packed with seedy atmosphere and sleazy characters, yet the book cries out for a compelling storyline that is never provided. These seamy qualities might have put the lock on a delectable 'noirish' thriller, yet the book ultimately fails to satisfy.
 John Field is an Canadian expatriate journalist who has lived in Bangkok for over twenty years, and has never once been back to the west. He no longer is in the writing trade and makes a spotty living as a kind of 'middleman' putting together business deals for various shady characters, and his life basically consists of hanging out with his pals, drinking and carousing with local prostitutes. He gets caught up in an international heroin smuggling operation involving powerful and shady figures in the military and national government, he's implicated in a vicious double murder, he buys the contract of a young prostitute to get her 'out of the life', he raises his daughter to be an educated Thai, and finally contracts an STD seemingly impervious to treatment.
 However, it's a real letdown when the reader realizes how little excitement is generated. The book is fairly well-written, yet the storyline reflects more 'bumbling around' than 'hard hitting' drama. All the elements are in place to make John Field the Jason Bourne of The East but unfortunately, not much tension or drama is introduced. This really could have taken off in a big way, but, unfortunately, it never does.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

THE WEIGHT OF SILENCE by Heather Gudenkauf

Finished Su 5/19/13
Selection for The Contemporary Book Club, May 2013

My post on Good Reads-

The story grabs you immediately, and it's hard to put down. I read the entire novel in one afternoon. I only have two rather mild objections to the novel. One, it really should be considered 'Young Adult'. I think the book would be ideal for teenagers- especially girls, and that should be the target audience. And, finally I thought that although each chapter offered a different point of view, the 'voice' always remained the same. The chapters by the children sounded identical to the adult characters such as Martin or Deputy Sheriff Louis. Although Calli's chapters are 'third person', and the rest are 'first person', they all shared the same 'voice'. The novel might have worked better if the author had used the omniscient narrator throughout.

OUR MAN IN HAVANA by Graham Greene

Finished Mo 5/20/13

My post on Good Reads-

A droll political thriller about James Wormold, an English vacuum salesmen in fifties Havana, who is drafted by the British Secret Service to help bolster his country's position in The Cold War. He obviously is privy to no secrets of any kind, but The Agency demands 'eyes and ears' as the evil Communists threaten global domination. Because Wormold needs money to support his sixteen year old daughter Milly's expensive lifestyle, he concocts a plan which would include an imaginary team of agents operating under his direction who would deliver blueprints of fake enemy installations. He would submit this entirely bogus information to The Service, and then charge them for his time and efforts. Apparently Graham Greene based the novel on a real incident that occurred in 1941 in which German agents operating in Portugal tried to implement this same scam. I don't know what happened in real-life agents, but in the novel, things rapidly fall to pieces, and take a turn for the sinister.

The book is in no way 'a laugh riot', and after reading some of the reviews, I thought it might be something like the 60's TV series, GET SMART. However, the humor in the book is more 'amusing' and 'whimsical' rather than downright 'hilarious', and this lends a more thought provoking aspect to the work. I fully enjoyed it.

The May selection for the Springfield Illinois Classic Book Club