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.