Book Report: Border Sweep The Executioner #120 (1988)

Book coverI threatened to pick up the next Executioner novel, and, by golly, I did it. You and I must be punished!

They’ve come a long way from the Don Pendleton days. They’ve become longer. They’ve jettisoned the page-long philosophical musings. The action has gotten more movie cinematic, and the tactics have gone out the window. Mack Bolan is no longer uber-competent–as a matter of fact, he’s kind of along for the ride.

In a plot ripped from today’s headlines thirty years ago, Mack Bolan is called to Arizona to help an investigator down there who’s looking into human trafficking across the southern border, and Bolan slowly uncovers a plot where a master coyote is trying to organize both sides of the border to provide one-stop shopping for American agriculture who need cheap illegal immigrant labor and the high-tech transport to provide them.

Overall, it’s a rather amateurish effort, although I guess the author was more professional than I am because he got a paycheck for his work. But it’s padded out to 250 pages by descriptions that aren’t done well enough in their writing to merit the space and that really bog down the pacing of the plot. The number of set pieces is pretty small, and they’re pretty far apart amid the Dungeon Mastering descriptions.

And we’ve got whackiness that doesn’t ring true.

Bolan shook his head, the sprinted toward the sound of gunfire. The deep bark of a carbine gave him hope that at least one of the border patrolmen was still alive.

I’m not an expert on guns, but from my knowledge, you can tell more about the size of the hole in the barrel rather than the length of the barrel from the sound.

We’ve got some cultural misunderstandings:

Gordo wrapped a heavy arm around Roberto’s neck, hugging the much smaller man to his massive chest and rubbing his knuckles vigorously into the man’s hair. “A real tender chicken, this one.” He laughed. “You should pay me, Anna, take him under your wing. Young chickens should stick together.”

What are the odds that a Mexican prostitute would have a German name rather than a Mexican one?

We’ve got contradictions in the text:

Randy Carlton loved the desert and hated it with equal conviction. Its beauty was undeniable, but its hostility was implacable.

Page 56 versus page 167, where:

He [Carlton] had always loved the desert. Whenever he thought about it, he would smile.

And we have great trick shots:

The wispy gas coiled up in a thin stream, then vanished as it was sucked up by the whirling turbo fan. In a moment or two the bulk of the tear gas would be spewed, and the fan would be unable to handle the load. Bolan realized he had to do something, and do it fast. He brought the Skorpion around and zeroed in on the edge of the sphere, like a pool shark lining up a difficult shot. The slug just nicked the edge of the gas cannister and sent it spinning in toward Carlton. It vanished behind the turbine housing, only to come arcing back a moment later to bounce out into the hall, belching a thick cloud.

If you’re wondering whether Bolan and the infiltrators had to cinematically traverse the huge turbine blades, shut your mouth. Of course they did!

At any rate, the further I get into the series and the longer they get, and the worse the writing gets, the more I dread reading another one.

And I have 37 Executioner novels, 10 Stony Man novels, 16 Mack Bolan, and 8 Able Team books in my collection to read.

I recently picked up three books by Don Pendleton in another series he did about a guy named Ashton Ford. I’ll quite likely read these before I read another in the Gold Eagle sets.

Book Report: Murder in the Cathedral by T.S. Eliot (1935, 1963)

Book coverWell, after reading What If?, I did not pick up the next Executioner novel. Instead, I picked up this play that I bought at the very end of last year.

It’s a single evening play in two acts by Thomas Stearns Eliot, the man most known in these parts for “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” (which I could recite and perform from memory in my Open Mic days). The play deals, as the title clearly indicates to anyone with a classical education, and oh, my God, that’s not many of us any more, is it?, the death of Thomas Becket at the purported “request” of King Henry II of England. Becket, who had been the king’s chancellor (tax collector in chief) before he became archbishop of Cantebury, opposed the king after he became archbishop.

The first act of the play covers Becket’s return from exile to Cantebury, where his mere presence lifts the spirits of the downtrodden and the clergy, but Becket predicts his own martyrdom and is presented with various temptations: sensual pleasure, power, and finally, immortality in his martyrdom. While he resists easily the first and earthly ones, the last of them tracks with his secret desire. Then, in the second, when the knights are coming, Thomas does not flee and insists upon opening the doors to those who would kill him. After they do, the knights present their cases as to who really was at fault in his death.

So I guess you’re supposed to wonder and talk about later whether Becket was doing God’s will or his own in the second act given the nature of his last temptation. But I’m a bit meh on it.

The play is mostly in verse, some rhyming and adhering to standard rhythm and some not. However, the knights present their cases in prose. So clearly this is Drama, which means you go to the play to be educated and not entertained with a side of emotional response and later musing on the big themes that entertained you while playing out.

So I liked it less than The Marriage of Bette and Boo. Or even The Oedipus Cycle or The Bird by Aristophanes because they’re old books translated from dead languages. This play is more akin to The Balcony by Jean Genet in that it’s Educational, but I forgive the Genet play more because it was in French, and Eliot wrote in English, following a rich tradition of playwrights who wrote plays enjoyable for themselves and not the IDEAS they PRESENT.

Still, probably better than “The Waste Land”.

Also, I did flag two bits of text worth something amid the rest of the versage:

What peace can be found to grow between the hammer and the anvil?

and

You shall forget these things, toiling in the household,
You shall remember them, droning by the fire,
When age and forgetfulness sweeten memory
Only like a dream that has often been told
And often been changed in the telling. They will seem unreal.
Human kind cannot bear very much reality.

So it’s got that going for it.

Book Report: What If? by Randall Munroe (2014)

Book coverSweet Christmas, this is the second book in a row that I really enjoyed. I’m wonder if I am not doing the reading-for-pleasure thing correctly this year that I’m so surprised when I really enjoy a book.

This book is a collection of crazy, mostly physics-oriented hypothetical questions answered seriously and with actual math. The author created the xkcd Web comic and includes a section on the Web site going over questions like this (and the book is a collection of things that first appeared on the Web site, likely). Things like “What would happen if the Earth and all terrestrial objects suddenly stopped spinning, but the atmosphere retained its velocity?” and “What would happen if you tried to hit a baseball pitched at 90% the speed of light?” I don’t want to spoil it for you, but the answer to many of the questions is cataclysm.

Perhaps I enjoyed the book more than other Internet sites bound and printed that I’ve read (Jump the Shark, Awkward Family Pet Photos, and two Darwin Award books–The Darwin Awards II and The Official Darwin Awards 3) because I was not as familiar with the material. Or perhaps it was because the material and the content is a little deeper. It’s not popular culture, it’s not pictures with snarky captions, it’s science. Or at least musings therein.

I’m not qualified to judge whether the physics work out on his answers–I’m sure the Web site’s comments section are full of robust arguments about the answers–but it’s good enough for someone with a philosophy degree who just likes to speculate.

At any rate, a good, fun read. I wish I could remember on whose Web site I saw this on. I’m becoming quite the little follower, where people like Dustbury or Instapundit post links to books or music I might find interesting, and then I rush out and buy it. Perhaps I should stay off the Internet until I read some of these thousands of books I own that I have not yet read. Or maybe not.

Also, the string of two fun, enjoyable reads daunts me a bit as I look at the bookshelves trying to pick something to read now (no, not one of the books already on my side table with bookmarks in them–I want something new). I might not pick something I enjoy as much and might end up with something that remains on my side table for months (or, heaven forfend, years). The pressure can prove overwhelming. So I’ll likely pick out the next Executioner novel and slog through it.

Note this book is not related to the alternate history essay series such as What If? 2.)

Book Report: The Promise by Robert Crais (2015)

Book coverThis book has been on my to-read shelf for a while, and I don’t know why. I enjoy Robert Crais’ books more than a lot of the stuff I read. How big of a fan am I? I once spent an afternoon going through microfiche old PDFs of Spider-Man comic books to find the one with the letter from little Bobby Crais in it. I should probably jump right on new Crais books when they become available, like I used to with Robert B. Parker books, but my winding path through my library doesn’t often make sense.

Although billed as an Elvis Cole and Joe Pike novel, the book also features the dog handler from Suspect (and given explosives are involved, one would expect an appearance by the protagonist of Demolition Angel to make an appearance). I’m sure one could muse at length about the reasons that authors bring their series characters together with each other or their one-offs (see also Robert B. Parker). Is it because the fans want to see them together? Because authors love the characters and want to see them again? Because authors are lazy? Probably not the last in all cases, but one never knows, and one who writes this blog goes off into long enough digressions in these book reports without a lengthier musing on this topic at this time.

Cole takes a case from a corporate executive whose employee has gone missing along with several hundred thousand dollars of money and a large amount of untraceable plastic explosive. Apparently, she’s using it to try to find the terrorist organizations that blew up her son in Africa. As Cole investigates, he stumbles upon a fugitive on the run to the safe house where the woman, her handler, and their customer are planning a transaction, and Cole falls under suspicion for being involved. The big baddy targets the K9 officer who saw him there, and a twisty plot unravels over the course of the book.

Crais jumps between points-of-view throughout the book (which is the narrative style, ainna?), and the plot does come out as Cole investigates. He discovers that his client is not who she claims to be and that someone in the government might be involved. Although this is the prime way to set up a sucker punch, it’s not–the government isn’t arming the terrorists or anything like that (uh, spoiler alert). The end comes pretty quickly, and some of the resolution is just tacked on a bit at the end without needing the flow (that is, the tacked-on bit could have happened anywhere in the story or ten years later).

Still, a fun read from start to finish. Paced well (jumping points of view probably helps that), and it makes me want to go out and catch up on the series. Which might mean nothing more than searching my to-read shelves to find any other Crais books that might lurk there.

Book Report: The Dhammapada translated by Juan Mascaró (1973, 1975)

Book coverSpeaking of the Buddhism I’ve been reading, this book is a collection of aphorisms (as the back says) in the Buddhist mindset. Apparently, it’s just one long scroll or collection of musings or verses that the translator has helpfully broken into chapters (Contrary Ways, Watchfulness, The Mind, The Flowers of Life, The Fool, The Wise Man, etc.). You can tell that the author has broken this up because some of the content of the chapters flows away from the ascribed topic/title and then the chapter ends where a new topic begins and can be titled. So in the original, it would have been a single document just flowing. Not that I minded the chapters, though; the aphorism are in numbered verses, so it would have been like a long poem without them, and you probably know by know how I feel about long poems.

At any rate, it’s calming and pleasant to read, and the content mirrors the other things in Eastern philosophy I’ve read and is not far off from the Christian Stoicism I’m also currently reading and even the parables of Jesus: Slow down, don’t worry, help others, do good. You know, the practical aspects of many religions–that is, the pragmatic, how to live content, is similar no matter how wildly the ontology or eschatology differs. Which is why I prefer these little guides and comfort reads more than the heavy philosophy or theology most of the time.

Worth a read if you’re into this sort of thing.

Book Report: Nightmare Town by Dashiell Hammett (1999)

Book coverYou might think Nightmare Town is New York based on previous evidence, but no. It’s a collection of Dashiell Hammett’s short stories. I would have expected that I read them since I have a couple of different editions of The Thin Man and The Glass Key, including two volume New American Library set, but those must only be the novels.

This book collects twenty of Hammett’s pulp stories, so you’ve got detective stuff along with the occasional Western. Several feature the Continental Op, three feature Sam Spade, and the first five chapters of his first stab at The Thin Man conclude the book (a little unsatisfyingly, though, since it does not resolve, and it differs from the published version enough that I wanted to see how this book ended, too).

The stories are terse in the pulp style–fancy that!, and they’re pretty good for the most part. Some of the plots a touch convoluted, though, and a couple of the stories turn on gimmicks, both of which are also a hallmark of pulp. But you know what you’re in for if you’re reading Hammett.

I’m pretty slow at reading short stories, though, as I’ve mentioned, since each story requires a little reset time that makes stopping easy at bed time. Still, I’m glad to have read it.

Book Report: Mackinac Island: Its History in Pictures by Eugene T. Petersen (1973, 2018)

Book coverI bought this at the Island Book Store on Mackinac Island when I was up there last week.

As you might know, when I travel or where I live, I like to pick up a book on the local history. I picked up a couple of books about Mackinac Island, and I started with the picture book because it was easier to browse in the airports and on the planes that brought me back.

This volume is the second edition of a couple thousand copies, mostly sold to the tourists like me, I bet. It has a collection of images, which includes photos the middle of the 19th century, but also maps and drawings of the area and principals. Mackinac Island’s history traces back to the fort on the island that has been strategically important since before the Revolutionary War, so there’s a lot of history to represent, but relatively few photos until it becomes a tourist destination around the turn of the 20th century.

As such, most of the images are of tourists, hotels, and attractions with a smattering of photos of old buildings from pre-photography days taken in photography days.

It’s a quick browse and a bit of an educated, historical piece of memorabilia to remind one of his visit to the island. But for real historical narrative and insight, I expect one will have to delve into the actual textual books one purchased in Michigan.

Note: It’s not the height of pretentiousness if the author calls himself “one,” or even “the author,” if the one author does not capitalize. Thank you, that is all.

Book Report: The Song of Hiawatha by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1982)

Book coverAs I mentioned, I recently returned from a trip to Michigan. What are you going to read if you’re going to Michigan? A book set in Michigan which is a series of poems/songs about Native Americans.

The Song of Hiawatha is a collection of native American folk stories told in verse. Wordsworth based some of the work loosely on the studies of explorer Henry Rowe Schoolcraft, who also visited the Ozarks and has a section of the local highway named for him. Which I mention only because it’s interesting how mobile some people, particularly explorers, were in those old days.

The plot, as it were: Hiawatha, a heroic figure if not a demigod, has multiple adventures where he fights fantastic beasts and learns things to share with his tribe. He wins Minnehaha and befriends a couple of fellows. Then the friends and Minnehaha die, and when the white man arrives, Hiawatha leaves his tribe and heads west.

As I mentioned previously, I recently read an excerpt from The Song of Hiawatha in a collection. You know, I’ve been resistent to reading long-form poems, but this book was fairly easy to read. Part of it lies in the poem itself, with its song-like rhythm, its breaks into chapters and even stanzas within the chapters. Part of it lies in the layout of the book, with only 27 lines to a page and lots of white space. When you get a big collection of poems whether by a single author or a collection, you often get lots of lines jammed onto a page in tiny print which makes it harder to read as your eye can skip over lines easier. Or maybe I’m just getting old. But I’d like to point out that my collection of poetry, Coffee House Memories, is pleasingly arrayed in the paperback edition. The Kindle edition, well, you’re reading on an electronic device anyway, you damn kid.

Strangely enough, tucked into the book was the Reader’s Digest edition booklet discussing the book. Reader’s Digest released a number of classics in a subscription collection, and with each book, they sent a small pamphlet with information about the book and the author. I think I’m going to start collecting and placing these pamphlets along with the teasers for Classics Club editions in a binder so I can show them to houseguests when it’s time for the houseguests to leave. The Reader’s Digest pamphlets are particularly informative. This book had a forward of its own to give that sort of context. Many times, I don’t read the forwards because they tend to be critical essays best read after you’ve read the book, but this forward was informative and context-building.

At any rate, I liked it a bunch, and it’s starting to cement my enjoyment of American poetry, especially that in the vernacular, contrasted with British Romantic poems. See also my book report on Little Orphant Annie and Other Poems by James Whitcomb Riley.

Book Report: A Question of Accuracy by Arthur G. Razzell and K.G.O. Watts (1964)

Book coverBack in December, I was talking to an engineer, and I said that my FitBit was precise, but not necessarily accurate, when it gave me 250 steps’ credit for sitting on a bar stool and speaking expressively. The engineer was impressed that I knew the difference being that I have an English degree and all. So when I saw this book on the sale cart or in the sale room at Hooked on Books in January, I bought it, even though I figured it might be a kid’s book. As a matter of fact, it is a kid’s book, but it’s a discussion of the philosophical aspects of accuracy.

That is, the book talks about the different aspects of what sorts of measurements are “good enough” for the task at hand and how you can always improve accuracy with better instruments. It also talks a little about the challenges of accurately representing measurements (the problem with maps, for example, which are flat representations of a sphere). And the book also mentioned the Mackinac Bridge, which was fitting since we were vacationing in Michigan at the time and I drove over that very bridge a couple days later.

So, yeah, the book reading has been kind of light this year; I’ve been starting a lot of long books and not finishing even the short books I’ve started. I’m not even at forty books and the year is almost half over, but you can see I’m taking drastic steps. Namely, reading a bunch of children’s books (see also Crosshairs) on vacation. It’s just as well that I read a couple short children’s books because the remainder of my vacation was taken up with a fitting title.

Book Report: Crosshairs by R.P. Vogt (2013)

Book coverFull disclosure: when I moved from a nice suburb and good school district to the trailer park in the middle of my seventh grade year, “R.P.” was the kid assigned to be my friend to help me get around North Jefferson Middle School in Murphy, Missouri. He was a smart kid. I was a smart kid. I’d like to think we were numbers 1 and 2 in the smarts for our seventh grade class, but I might be giving myself far too much credit. By the time we finished high school, I certainly dropped a couple points in the rankings because I didn’t put any effort into my schooling, and he did. But I digress. We go way back, and when I saw he had a book, I ordered it.

This is a young adult novel about a boy (about my kids’ age) who gets to go hunting with his father, uncles, and cousins for the first time. While he’s there, he finds one of his cousins stealing from other family members, and the book deals with the fallout of that including a run in with a local hood. It’s a short book (120 pages) with none of the cartoons that are rife in the Diary of a Wimpy Kid or “James Patterson”‘s Middle School series. I’m not sure how much the book captures the zeitgeist of contemporary middle schoolers, but my oldest has expressed interest in the book, so I suppose he’ll let me know. The questions the lad has about honoring your word and doing what’s right in spite of your word are real and tangible concerns for a young man, and thematically the book works.

So I enjoyed it well enough. But I’m probably giving some weight to being pleased that someone I knew wrote a pretty good book. And, quite likely, has sold more copies of this one book than I’ve sold of all three of my books. Curses, R.P. wins again!

Book Report: The Sword of Genghis Kahn by James Dark (1967)

Book coverIf you only read one Australian spy thriller featuring a Mongolian mad scientist’s plot to take over the world with a metal-melting satellite, this should be it! Of course, I’m not sure where you would be if you wanted to read two such books, as this probably is the only one. But it’s a series book, so you could easily find other things like it to read.

Well, I’ve pretty much given it all away here: Mark Hood, an operative for a trans-national spy agency (which operates freely in the Soviet Union as well as the West because all parties agree to give this group, Intertrust, the ability to ferret out nuclear proliferation concerns). In this book, a strange phenomenon–weapon?–destroys a Japanese fishing fleet and damages a U.S. destroyer, drawing the attention of Intertrust and its dashing hero. Additionally, scientists are disappearing–being kidnapped?–, and hero travels to the Soviet Union to protect a similar scientist only to find the scientist has been snatched away just before Hood and his associate arrive. The agency provides them cover to travel to China, and they discover the kidnapped scientist aboard a train with a beautiful young Asian woman who’s delivering the scientist to Mongolia and her father, a distant descendant of Genghis Khan, who has discovered the treasure of Khan and used it to finance a solar-lensing satellite that can target anywhere on the planet with a heat ray.

Yeah, it’s complicated.

The book is written in a British style. The prose is polished and the story moves along, but it’s a little dry and at a distance. So it’s not that thrilling. The plot, though–outlandish. Somehow the combination of the outlandish plot with the sedate language doesn’t work for me. But it is definitely the best Australian spy thriller I’ll read this year.

(For a review on the first book in the series, Come Die with Me, see Glorious Trash.)

Book Report: The Long Good Boy by Carol Lea Benjamin (2001)

Book coverAfter reading a book about magickal cats who solve crimes, it only seemed fitting to turn to this book, which I just bought in March, which features a private investigator (Rachel Alexander) and her pit bull (Dash) who solve crimes. Dash, it should be noted, does not talk. Also, note I read an omnibus edition of a couple earlier books in this series in 2009.

At any rate. In this book, Rachel is hired by a trio of transvestite hookers to investigate the murder of one of their colleagues in the meat-packing district of New York City. She finds that a manager of a local meat plant was murdered around the same time, so she wants a look into the files of the plant. She spends many pages teaching a dachshund belonging to one of the prostitutes to unlock a bathroom window so she can break in and fax files to her home line. The meat plant might be tied up in mob activity. The plant’s assistant manager, who was passed over for the job when the murdered manager was hired, is a frequent client of the prostitutes, including the one who was murdered.

Much of the book is spent in chasing down or set pieces that don’t really amount to much. The whole plant break in thing takes a long time, and then Rachel is outfitted as a hooker and spends a couple nights on the streets for no real reason other than to explore the experience, and then in the last third of the book, she finds out not so much that family secrets are involved and a couple of failed police stings, and then the book wraps up in a rather abbreviated and confusing climax.

Still, it was an enjoyable read. The pacing was good, even when it was going nowhere. I liked it enough to maybe pick up another the next time I find it for a buck.

Robert B. Parker created the Sunny Randall series to be adapted by Hollywood for Helen Hunt, or so I heard. I wonder why this series hasn’t been optioned?

Also, as a side note, the topic matter and discussion of transvestite and pre-operative transgenders: Although this book is sensitive for 2001, how insensitive is it in 2018? If the chronically offended read old books, perhaps we would know. And the answer, likely: INTOLERABLY!

(Also, if you’re interested, here’s my book report on the book whose title is the source of this book’s title: The Long Goodbye.)

Book Report: I Hate Ann Coulter by “Unanimous” (2006)

Book coverWhat a mean-spirited, insipid little book this is.

Of course, with a title like I Hate Ann Coulter!, what would I expect? Probably something akin to Rush Limbaugh Is A Big, Fat Idiot by Al Franken, which is also floating around on the shelves somewhere here.

I’ve not been a fan of Coulter. The only book of hers I’ve reviewed here was Godless, although I might have read one of her earlier books before this blog–although it’s hard to imagine any life before this blog. I know she was kind of popular with the early blogosphere, but I don’t think I’ve seen anything linking to her in quite some time. Her books are quite incendiary, with a bunch of name calling and near-nastiness that’s supposed to be humorous as she makes her points.

But that differs from this book, where nastiness is the point, and the author or authors do nothing but lay into Coulter’s looks and whatnot. They insinuate she’s a man. You know, the kind of thing that in the year 2018 would be doubleplus ungoodthink, but only if not targeted to Ann Coulter, apparently.

The times when they bother to attack her credibility as a commentator, they mock Coulter’s points that time has borne out. Such as:

Ann makes the wonderfully deranged contention in Godless that a liberal, when questioned, “might turn violent–much like the practicioners of Islam, the Religion of Peace, who ransacked Danish embassies worldwide because a Danish newspaper published cartoons of Mohammed.”

Well, we’ve seen an uptick in political violence from the left in the intervening years, ainna?

Or the stunning ignorance on offhanded display, such as an assertion in a quiz to see if you’re like Ann:

6. Does it bother you as a Christian that Jesus never kicked anyone’s ass?

Seriously, kids? Have you never heard this story?

The Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple he found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and the money changers seated at their tables. Making a whip of cords, he drove all of them out of the temple, both the sheep and the cattle. He also poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. He told those who were selling the doves, “Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!”

You’re refuting Coulter’s point about liberals being, well, Godless by demonstrating a relatively common story from the Bible.

My goodness, I cannot believe I read this. Well, no, I can. I read anything, and this little stroll through the gutter did not take me very long, fortunately, and my book count this year needs some padding.

I would recommend you not bother. Go visit Twitter if this is your thing. No doubt the author(s) of this book have a sweet feed somewhere over there where they DESTROY and OWN conservative commentators all day long.

Book Report: Little Orphant Annie and Other Poems by James Whitcomb Riley (1994)

Book coverIt took me a couple tries to get through this book. A couple years ago, I stuck it in my gym bag as my carry book, and I read it at the martial arts school before class. I even read the first poem, “Little Orphant Annie”, to my children, and they were interested in the Gobble-uns at gits you eff you don’t watch out.

But I ran into an excerpt from “A Child’s Home–Long Ago”. This particular excerpt runs six pages. Which, in retrospect, is not very long, but I’m not generally a fan of long poems (the longest in Coffee House Memories, “Homecoming ’93: A Collage”, runs five pages, but it’s narrative). The long ones that really choke me are the ones written by the Romantic poets, where it’s ten pages of landscape. Brothers and sisters, I prefer paintings that have people in them, and I sure tooting need something more than a litany of flowers if a poem is going to be more than twelve lines. The excerpt of “A Child’s Home–Long Ago” starts out landscapy, with a description of the home, and I must have abandoned it before it got to describing the children and the other people they interacted with long ago. It got better, and I made it through the poem and the book.

James Whitcomb Riley rose to infamy by penning a counterfeit Poe poem, but he managed to make do on his own as a journalist and writer. His poems make great use of the vernacular, as the refrain of “Little Orphant Annie” proves out, which makes reading the poems a little fun. He’s got a good sense of rhythm and does tell little stores in some of his poems, which makes them more engaging than mere word pictures. I ding the Romantics again because I’ve started reading Keats and Shelley, who wrote only, what, sixty or seventy years before Riley, but whose poems read much older. Or perhaps Riley’s just read that younger.

Riley, relative unknown in the 21st century, must have punched quite above his weight in the pop culture of the day, though. The title poem of this collection spawned comics in the papers and a musical play made into a movie several times. Raggedy Ann dolls, which were popular up into my childhood, were named for the poems “Little Orphant Annie” and “Raggedy Man”. Crazy. You don’t get many toys or comics named after Maya Angelou or David Clewell poems these days, ainna?

So I enjoyed the book and wouldn’t mind getting my hands on a more comprehensive volume sometime. This book is a little Dover Thrift Edition, which was what we had instead of inexpensive POD and Kindle versions of classic works back in the old days. For a buck, you could get a collection of classic poems or a longer work that had fallen out of copyright. They’re still available, apparently, for just a couple bucks. Dover in the 1990s must have been the Walter J. Black of its time, with its minting money in classics and in clip art books. Like book clubs of classics, though, its main time of success must have been limited.

Book Report: Cat Fear No Evil by Shirley Rosseau Murphy (2004)

Book coverI read an earlier fantasy novel (The Catswold Portal) wherein a portal leads to a world of shapeshifters who can turn into cats and their relatives above ground. In researching the author, I learned she also had a mystery series with a talking cat. The Joe Grey series. This is one of the books, the ninth in the series, published 12 years after The Catswold Portal. And instead of looking like the latter was a standalone book, some of the mythos from it are creeping in.

At any rate: Joe Grey nominally belonds to a guy who lives in a small town in California, and Joe has been helping the police solve crimes because he and a couple other cats in the area can talk and reason like humans. In this case, they look into a case of identity theft and some very particular burglaries up and down the coast where a specific collectible item was taken while many other valuables are left behind. Then, a bad cat from previous books comes around without his former human accomplice. With whom is the giant black tom working now?

That’s the setup, and as the book goes on, we discover there’s a shapeshifting cat woman in the stories as well as lore, mysterious jewelry, and research done at the Cat Museum. So perhaps the series started out independent of the fantastic elements from The Catswold Portal, but by book 9, they’re working into the mythos.

The book carries a lot of series business, with subplots unrelated to the main plot of this book but continuing the story arcs of people in the books. And the writing is not high fantastic as the pure fantasy novel, but it has tendencies to be especially lush in places. Particularly in the description of what everyone is wearing in every scene.

There’s a lot of jump cutting and time shifting in the book, where one scene picks up a little earlier from the last but from a different person’s perspective. This narrative style combined with the series business and the overdone descriptions and conversations make this book longer than it should be, but if you’re really into the series and the characters, perhaps it’s just what you want.

But it’s not really what I’m looking for in genre fiction, so I’ll probably leave it alone. Unless I find a trove of them at a book sale, cheap. In which case I will forget my reservations and buy them for a time when I don’t remember that I didn’t like book 9. Maybe reading them in order would build it up more. I dunno.

Book Report: Pocket Quips by Robert C. Savage (1986)

Book coverThis book is a small collection of quips, anecdotes, and aphorisms collected by a pastor, presumably for sprinking in sermons and whatnot. As such, it’s chock full of faith-based meditations, brief meditations, on grace, hope, love, and morality, but it also has some secular bits, too. It’s not Poor Richard’s Almanack, but it’s not supposed to be. It’s a step up from Hallmark compilations, but that’s it.

Strangely enough, though, the Grain of Salt (GoS, a term I shall use henceforth) is high, as one of his entries on Kindergarten is “(A child’s definition.) Kindergarten is ‘a garden full of children.'” Maybe not everyone is from Milwaukee, where the first kindergarten was formed/held/enschooled, or fluent in German, but kindergarten literally means the children’s garden. I used to say this in a dramatic voice when dropping my children off when my youngest was in kindergarten.

Man, that was a long time ago.

Book Report: The Beauty of Gesture by Catherine David (1994)

Book coverThe subtitle of this book is The Invisible Keyboard of Piano and T’ai Chi, and it’s a mindful meditation on, well, being mindful. The author is an expert pianist and long time t’ai chi practitioner who explains the subtleties in each that one gains through experience and through focusing very hard on every aspect of each action involved in either. Or in everything we do. Then we can improve upon the subtleties to get closer to impossible perfection in music or kata.

The style of the book is very meditative, often poetic in its prose, and a bit meandering. I suppose that the process of reading the book, much like the process of writing it, was to be enjoyed for its own sake qua reading. Not just to glean the message from terse prose. However, it meandered a little much for my particular taste. A little richer and deeper than more contemporary mindfulness reading, it doesn’t linger too much in one’s consciousness with a definitive message that sticks.

I actually completed the book two weeks ago, but I haven’t written a report on it because I wanted to say something deeper about it, but most of it’s fallen away but the impressions I’ve left above. I’ve approached the book as someone who’s studied martial arts for a couple of years (how good I am at them depends upon your perspective–if you see what I’m doing right, I might be okay, but if you focus on where I need to improve in those subtleties–I’m not very good at all) and I’ve just started guitar lessons with my martial-arts-gleaned appreciation and patience for gradual, subtle improvement over a long period of time (longer than a couple of months, anyway). But I really don’t have much to add. Be mindful, I guess.

Oh, and on a trivial note: This book was my carry book for a while until I set it on my chairside table to finish it off, and I replaced it with Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (no longer my carry book, but now on my chairside table to finish off). As I finished this book, I found a reference to the Pirsig book. So thematically, they share something in common, and David knows it.

Book Report: The Best of Wheat and A Little Chaff by Leah Lathrom (?)

The Best of Wheat title page

Instead of the cover of the book, I’ve posted here the title page of it, which includes a photo of the author. A brief preface tells you about her life, and it reads like it was put together by her preacher. Born in the 1800s, Mrs. Lathrom grew up in parts of the Middle West (and lived in a sod house for a time), married, raised some kids, and then went blind. As she did so, she wrote poems. Most of these are from later in her life. She dedicates some to family members to celebrate their graduation or to memorialize them. Many are of her relationship with God and hoping to inspire others to get to know Him.

Overall, some good moments, but the real strength of them comes from the fact that normal people, especially older women, expressed themselves in poetry and shared them with others (see also Ideals magazine). Clearly, we’ve lost something in transitioning from ordering thoughts in lines and rhymes to putting a little text on a picture.

At any rate, it did take me a couple runs to get through the volume. I had it on the table for football game browsing, but that tailed off. I had it on my dresser for evening reading-on-the-deck-at-sunset sessions. But what finally helped me push through it was bringing it along with a fairly dense carry book (Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance) to my boys’ basketball practice. Two carry books might become my new standard practice. Maybe a little cart with a couple dozen selections that I can wheel wherever I go.

Oh, and one more thing about this book: I went looking for a link online, and I learned there is also a Volume II.

Book Report: Iroshi by Cary Osborne (1995)

Book coverI bought this book a couple weeks ago with the others in the trilogy and got right on it. It’s a short book (216 pages, which is short for modern books, and I do tend to think of this pre-turn-of-the-century book as modern), so it wasn’t daunting as far as reading it (sometimes, I admit, I pick up a book and think, do I really want to spend the next couple of weeks reading this?).

All right, then. The book is about a swordswoman trained in Kendo and some other martial arts. The book starts with her arriving at an out-of-the-way planet and looking for ruins, and then it delves into her past in flashbacks: She’s from a poor family whose father abandoned the them, she went to Earth, the nominal center of a fraying empire, to study with a master. The master was attacked by ninjas as the result of an old mysterious conflict, and when he could teach her no more, he sent her on her way with a sword, and she became a mercenary and a bit of a legend. Now, she finds ruins and finds the spirits of an alien race, and they offer to ‘join’ with her in building a guild to help humanity keep from destroying itself.

Then we fast forward ten years, and the guild is established, and she heads back to Earth to keep the government from moving its seat to the planet with the ruins. There, she discovers the old master’s quarrel was with his own sons whom he disowned because they got involved in organized crime. And they begin their final assaults. Which Iroshi defeats, and part one of the three books ends.

It’s a rather scattershot affair. It’s broken into several parts, with the first being her search for the temple punctuated by flashbacks; then, Part II jumps ten years into the future when she’s been building up this guild of fighters (called the Glaive). There’s sword-fighting, there’s politicking and intrigue, there’s a brief reunion with her father, and then there’s a large ninja assault and some space battles. I don’t think it hangs together all that well.

And it’s the beginning of a trilogy.

I’ll have to jump on the other two books soon so I can sort of remember what’s going on in them and because it’s probably not something I’ll return to after a couple of years with any eager anticipation.

Book Report: Vendetta in Venice Mack Bolan/The Executioner #117 (1988)

Book coverI decided to break up the serious reading with my first Mack Bolan book of the year. It’s been almost six months since Vietnam Fallout. This book, the 117th in the series, is only four later, but their increased girth means they’re no longer quick reads to pick up when I’m in between other lengthier works. They are the lengthier works.

In this book, Hal Brognola is in Amsterdam for a conference when he goes on a bit of a walkabout and ends up getting mistaken for a customer in a person smuggling ring. He taps Mack Bolan to investigate it. Bolan does and discovers it’s really one guy, mostly, and some time later he breaks it up and gets the girl.

The book differs from other characterizations of Bolan–instead of a hypercompetent wish fulfillment protagonist, Bolan here comes off as bit less competent and not necessarily even the driver of the action. He’s more passive, and there’s 250 pages of stuff happening to Bolan. The book only finishes up in Venice, so the title is a bit odd (but is alliterative).

I’d like to think I’m going to read more than two Bolan books this year–I have 72 in the Executioner and related titles to read–but unless they start getting better in the average, I might not. Especially at my galacial pace this year.