Monday, January 30, 2017

gODS IN ALABAMA by Joshilyn Jackson

Finished Sa 1/29/17

This is a library book because I liked THE OPPOSITE OF EVERYONE, the Contemporary Book Club's selection for January, 2017. "gODS" (first letter is not capitalized) is the author's first novel- 2005.

First paragraph in the book-

"There are gods in Alabama: Jack Daniel's, high school quarterbacks, trucks, big tits, and also Jesus. I left one back there myself, back in Possett. I kicked it under the kudzu and left it to the roaches...."

Arlene Fleet is from Possett, Alabama. She makes a promise to God that she will clean up her act (no lying, no sex, etc) if he will let her get away with the murder of high school quarterback, Jim Beverly.

Arlene is engaged to a black tax lawyer, ('Burr'- Burroughs). They live in Chicago. She is a graduate student and teacher.

Clarice- Arlene's beautiful cousin. Arlene is an Army Brat. Her father dies and her mother collapses mentally, and is no longer able to take care of her daughter.

Aunt Florence and her husband, Uncle Bruster, rescue Arlene and her mother. Florence becomes her real mother.

Arlene and Burr come back to Alabama for Uncle Bruster's retirement from the postal service. But, really because Rose Mae Lolley, a friend of Jim Beverly, has traveled to Chicago and is asking about..." where is Jim"?

Clarice was raped by Jim. Florence would only allow Clarice to date if she double-dated with her homely cousin, Arlene. Arlene and Clarice thought that they had kept the rape a secret from Florence, but she knew.

Shortly afterward, Arlene saw Jim with a freshman girl at the local 'lover's lane'. The girl left and Jim is drunk on tequila, and Arlene sneaks up behind him and bashes him in the head with the bottle and he falls deep into the kudzu (apparently the slang term for this plant is 'roaches').

However, in the end of the novel it's revealed that Jim was not killed by Arlene's attack. Arlene had always believed that she had killed him. He lived and got in his car, wrecked it, and was picked up by Florence who was out looking for Arlene. She noticed that Clarice had returned, but Arlene was not home. Florence strangles Jim in the front seat of her car. She puts the body in the trunk and buries Jim in her garden the next morning.

Best line-

" asshole grandpa and his wife, Saint Granny"

I loved the book, but the plot line was very convoluted. I guess that's what the author intended, and this inconvenience is more that made up for by the savory and quirky characters.

The book at amazon-

Wednesday, January 25, 2017


The January 2017 selection for the Contemporary Book Club. A hardback that I bought on Amazon and recieved on Tu 11/22/16 and finished on Su 1/22/17.  Meeting- We 1/25/17; The notes were typed on Thursday morning, the day after we met.

Overall, the group loved the book although a couple of the members were a bit down on Kai, Karen Vaus, Paula's mother. They felt that her 'hippie, free spirited nature' was merely a cover for a deep rooted selfishness. I disagreed, and felt that not only was she a pretty decent mother, but she 'gave the gift of motherhood' to Paula. When Hana is introduced into her life, she and her new sister are 'bonded for life'. The woman in Santa Fe, with us by Skype, also agreed that she wasn't a bad mother.

Kali, Paula Vaus, is a product of the state. She spent a couple of years in Child and Family Services when she turned her hippie mother into the police because her boyfriend was a drug dealer. This decision tormented her, but she was only twelve and she yearned for some stability.

Kai, Karen Vaus, is Paula's mother and drifts from man to man. When a relationship goes sour, she takes whatever valuables are available and Paula and her head for greener pastures.

Kai has invented an elaborate mythology based on Hindu scripture that she uses to tell Paula of their lives.

Paula is a hard-driving attorney. Her boyfriend is a PI called Zach Birdwine. He is an alcoholic. He drinks because he knows that he has a teenaged son by his ex-wife and he realizes that it is better that the boy remains unaware of their relationship.

Paula learns that while Kai was incarcerated, she had a son. This young adult, Julian Bouchard, learns of  Paula and contacts her.

While tracing down Kai's whereabouts, they learn that she also had another child, Hana.

Julian and Paula unite to find and raise their new sibling.

I loved the book and it was a compelling read. I loved it so much that I put on reserve the author's first novel,  GODS IN ALABAMA. I picked it up the evening of the meeting.

The author's page on facebook-

The book at amazon-

NIGHT SINS by Tami Hoag

One of my paperbacks that I bought at the library sidewalk sale last summer, Fr 6/10/16. The note said that I walked from home in 95 degree heat.

the book at amazon-

Very long, over five hundred pages, yet a compelling and exciting read.

The ending is less than satisfying, but there is a sequel to the book which should cover the prosecution of the evil doer.

The kidnapping that is central to the narrative might actually be caused by simple jealousy over an affair and certainly not a long quiet serial killer.  

This novel would make a stellar beach read or the perfect novel to take on a trip- the quintessential Summer Novel, and within those parameters, I loved it!

Sunday, January 15, 2017

MAKES ME WANNA HOLLER- A Young Black Man In America by Nathan McCall

Finished Fr 1/13/17

This is a trade paperback that I got when I belonged to Quality Paperback Book Club. Originally I finished the book We 9/14/94.

An outstanding expose of Black Man's Rage.
Cavalier Manor- Portsmouth VA. He was not from the ghetto and had working class parents, yet he makes it very clear as to how he was made a victim of racism.

The rapes (pullin' a train) are described in detail and seems to have turned off many readers. However, I think he shows that although he might have participated, he most definitely regretted his actions.

Important Insight- In groups, one is capable of doing terrible things that wouldn't occur to an individual.

Also- You can't be rehabilitated if you have never been habilitated.  Def- "habilitate- to make fit or capable (as for functioning in society)".  Jobs, incentives, or opportunity can't solve the problem if an individual has never felt part of something larger than himself.

Also, his experiences as a Black man in the White world of journalism is especially insightful.

I loved the book and although it's almost 25 years since it was written, it is still sells. It might even be even more relevant today. America's strategy of welfare and 'lock 'em up' has clearly failed, and maybe it's time (long overdue) to chart a new course. I wonder if McCall is aware of how some of the nordic countries handle these same difficulties- they are much more effective.

The author's page at wikipedia-

C-Span conversation with McCall

(to 12"   Su 1/15/17)

Saturday, January 14, 2017


Finished Fr 1/13/17

This is one of my paperbacks that I first read on New Years Day, Th 1/1/09

I felt that the book was a little hard to follow and unnecessarily complicated.

The Axis Powers have won WWII. The Nazis have committed genocide in Africa and the Japanese run the western part of the US. The Rock Mountain Area is a buffer zone and the Germans control the east coast.

Mr. Childan runs a store in San Francisco. He sells valuable old antiques which are very popular with the Japanese. One of the major storylines is that these are found to be only modern replicas.

Frank Frink (A Jewish man and his real name is 'Fink') worked for the Wyndham- Maston factory which is responsible for these fakes. He and another man begin making artificial and ornamental jewelry.

The I Ching is central to the book. Many characters only make major decisions after consulting the I Ching. It's a way of foretelling the future.

Frink's ex-wife, Juliana, is a judo instructor who lives in Colorado. She and her new lover journey to the home of Abenson, the author of 'The Grasshopper Lies Heavy'. This is a very popular novel that is an alternate history. In this book, the Allies have won the war. Juliana's lover is a German agent and will try to murder the author, but Juliana cuts his throat before he completes his plan.

There is an especially murky plotline with high ranking Japanese and Childan's antique shop.

Operation Dandelion is a plan by the Germans to attack the Japanese home islands.

The book's page at wikipedia-

This is essential to understand the novel and I don't think that I would have completed it had this not been available.

This book has been made into a TV series on Amazon. I can't imagine how they handle this because there doesn't seem to be the kind of book that would work as a series.

All of Dick's books are worth a look, but this wasn't one of my favorites.

Monday, January 9, 2017

A FAMILY PLACE- A Man Returns To The Center Of His Life by Charles Gaines

Finished Su 1/8/17

This is a hardback that has been in the collection for years, and although it is a signed copy, there's no notation as to when or how I got it. The book was released in 1994.

The author also wrote STAY HUNGRY and PUMPING IRON. I guess that you could say that Gaines help jumpstart Arnold Schwarzenegger's career. Gaines, with a few other partners, also pioneered the sport of 'paintball' and he made a significant amount of money on this project. And, he is an internationally renowned hunter and fisherman.

The author's page at wikipedia-

Latham/Greta/Shelby- All of his children are listed on IMDB as writers and composers. His oldest son, Latham was born on 2/3/64.

The cabin is located in East Tracadie, Nova Scotia. About thirty miles east of Antigonish. I spent some time checking out the area on Google Street View. Antigonish celebrates Scottish Games more than anyplace else except for Scotland. There is also an important Canadian college in this town.

A wonderful book about family. He sees his homelife as a kind of 'secret garden', or a psychological refuge from the turbulence of the world.

I thought it kind of odd (or lucky) that he and his wife were able to get all three kids raised and through college before the marriage began to crumble when he and his wife were almost fifty.

He doesn't seem to fault 'fame and fortune' as their downfall, but it's more the fact that he suppressed and obstinately refused to recognized what was really important to him.

When he and his family build the cabin it's evident that he's still 'The Alpha Male', and a less than ideal working companion. And, I think his self evaluation is accurate and believable, and my favorite part of the book.

I loved the book and it makes me wonder how many more undiscovered gems that are in the collection.

The book's page at amazon-

Thursday, January 5, 2017

SACRED MONSTER A Comedy of Madness by Donald E. Westlake

This is one of my ancient paperbacks that I bought for twenty-five cents at the main branch on Su 1/28/95, and I finished  it in two days on Su 3/26/95. A cryptic message after 'date finished'- "Begin new job tomorrow". I think this refers to when I began driving semis....those were NOT the days.

Re-finished We 1/4/17- the first book of the new year!

The whole novel is one conversation between Jack Pines, a drug addled, alcoholic, washed-up American film star, and and interviewer by the name of Michael Connelly.

"I'm so hungover, I've got to sit down." "You are sitting down". "In that case, I'll have to lie down".

Jack Pine is great friends with Buddy Pal. The reason, is that during a teenage sexual encounter (Jack's first), Jack murders the girl, Wendy. Buddy helps him hide the body in the trunk of the car and they push it over a cliff into a lake. This cements their friendship and Buddy begins to take advantage.

The chapters are called 'Flashbacks' and they tell the story of Jack's rise to the top. He begins in high school and college theater, then NY theater, and finally Hollywood. At one point, he has a long affair with a gay theater director. He's not gay, but does it to advance his career.

The 'big reveal' is that Buddy has gone to Brazil to get reconstructive surgery to look exactly like his friend. Buddy had been an avid patron of Brazilian plastic surgery. Buddy wants to 'become' Jack, and to 'be a better Jack Pine than Jack could ever be'. Jack kills Buddy with several blows to the head with the Oscar that he won when he was still a great talent. Jack tries to repeat 'the Wendy Caper', but is so wasted that, instead of a cliff and lake, he drives the car into his own pool.

Michael Connelly is actually a police detective who is trying to get a confession for Buddy's murder. Jack was never sure exactly who Connelly was, and assumed he was being interviewed for a magazine.

It was an easy read, and I finished it in two sessions. It's not my favorite Westlake, not even close, but it could probably make a nice film.

The book at amazon-

The author's page at wikipedia-

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

HILLBILLY ELEGY A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J.D. Vance

Finished Mo 1/2/17

I heard an interview with the author on Fresh Air last summer and immediately put the book on hold. I was 8th on the list, and I didn't get the book until late December. I picked it up (randomly checked the computer) when I attended the Contemporary Book Club meeting last Wednesday evening.

This is the best non-fiction book that I've read in ages. It should be required reading for everyone, especially those in government and even education.

These kinds of social problems can be shaped by public policy, but they are not really political issues. 'Job creation' can't help if people cannot understand the concept of what exactly a job entails. Vance provides an example of a tile store that he worked at when he was a young man. The owner offered a nineteen year old man a $13.00 an hour job, and since his wife was pregnant he also gave her some office work. Neither one of them showed up on time, and when they did they took excessive unscheduled breaks.  When they were finally let go, they never accepted the fact that it was their own fault that they were fired. This couple posted on social media that it was Obama's fault that they lost their jobs; "Thank-you, Obamacare"!

These people feel completely adrift in their own lives. Because they feel that they are not in control, they are convinced that they cannot make poor decisions because nothing that they do will have any impact whatsoever. I think that this is the heart of the book, and Vance basically shows how this cracked manner of viewing life played out in his own family.  

Although his mother was the smartest person he ever encountered, she was cross addicted to drugs and alcohol and made abysmal 'romantic' decisions.  J.D. and his older sister never had a stable homelife. Mawmaw (M'am-me) and PawPaw were the emotional cornerstones of their lives- his mother's parents. It was just luck that he lived with his grandmother from his sophomore year until he graduated high school. The stability that he found in this home allowed him to concentrate on what was important to his life.

I thought it was odd, but not out of the realm of possibility, that he chose a stint in the US Marines instead of college right out of high school. I guess his unusual? streak of patriotism accounted for this life changing decision. I just wish that instead of being drafted into the military, young Americans had an opportunity to ''serve' in other fields. I think that the world would be a much better and safer place if we deployed teachers, architects, social workers, or medical personnel all over the world instead of soldiers.

Another slight bone of contention is that he seems to feel that 'Day Loan' outfits might provide positive help to the poor. He sights an example of when he was working for a congressmen and forgot to pickup his paycheck on a Friday evening. He says that had he been able to get a loan on this check, he could have avoided a $50 overdraft on an outstanding bill. I agree that 'Day Loan' would have been a reasonable alternative, but why should they be allowed to charge ridiculously high interest rates. Surely the banking industry is making quite enough profit, and they should be forced to cap interest rates wherever and whenever a loan is offered. Although conservatives never address it, there is even an admonition about outrageous interest in the bible.

I loved the book, and I'm going to use my $25 gift card from Barnes and Noble that Jamie and Melissa gave me for Xmas to buy the book. Yesterday I went into Barnes and Noble, and the place was packed. The checkout line stretched south from the entrance all the way to the end of the store. I left immediately. Why were all of those clowns in a bookstore? Trump won.

The book's page in wikipedia-