Book Report: Five Themes of Today by Changde Chen (2001)

Book coverThis book is an interesting proposition: It is a number of philosophical arguments presented as poems, as lyrics. Although they do not contain imagery and particularly clever turns of phrase that makes for good poetry, the line-broken and metered presentation makes for easy reading of a philosophical argument.

The main piece within the book, “On the End of Technological Civilization”, presents a mathematical argument that technology is destined to fall because, basically, in a long enough timeline, all possibilities will come true, including the fall of the civilization. I don’t buy it because every moment brings new possibilities that did not exist the moment before, so the finite infinity projected might not apply to history as it does to mathematics.

The other ‘themes’ are longer musings on the logic of love and marriage, reason and religion, the war between equality and liberty, and the dead weight of democracy. They’re followed by some shorter little riffs on more topical subjects. I found all of them engaging, but although I did not agree with much, I did enjoy the presentation of the arguments. I would have expected the bits, particularly the one on reason and religion, to be a little more informed by the Chinese perspective, but it focused on Western religion instead of the Chinese beliefs, for example.

An interesting bit about this particular volume.

This appears to be a copy inscribed by Chen to his Oxford colleague, poet Bernard O’Donoghue. The sticker indicates it was a charitable donation at some time, and fifteen or so years later it ended up in Springfield, Missouri. Man, I feel for Chen here: A personal gift of his book with an inscription put in the Goodwill pile. I remember when I saw a copy of John Donnelly’s Gold listed on Amazon by a used bookstore in Indianapolis, and I knew which copy I’d mailed off that got there. I feel you, brother.

At any rate, like I said, a good intellectual read and an interesting presentation and easily digestible presentation of the material. It led me to wonder if I could make a philosophy book completely out of bullet points or ordered lists for modern audiences to understand. Perhaps someday.

Book Report: Buddhism Through Christian Eyes by Alex G. Smith (2001)

Book coverThis book is a brief (64 page) primer for Christian missionaries headed to southwest Asia to try to convert Buddhists there. It was written by an Australian missionary with many years’ experience in Thailand, and many of the chapters of the book originated as articles in various religious publications in the region.

The first part of the book talks about Buddhism and how it came to predominate Asia and how it makes its inroads in the West: It does not seek to replace the native religions per se, but rather it complements and then absorbs them. The book then puts into some stark relief differences between Christian scriptures and core Buddhist doctrine (as well as Buddhist scholarship). The stark differences don’t receive a lot of emphasis when you’re reading popular Buddhist books (like Start Here Now), but, then again, you don’t get a lot of the heavy duty Christian scholarship in most church services, either.

At any rate, an informative bit of counterpoint to straightforward Buddhist-themed literature, but a bit apocalyptic on the march of Buddhism to take over the world.

Book Report: Hellbinder by “Don Pendleton” (1984)

Book coverThis book is the first Executioner novel I’ve read in 2017, and the last published in 1984. By 1984, I had recently arrived in Missouri for the first time and lived in the basement of my “rich” relations, whereas “rich” meant “richer than us” but in retrospect was not that rich at all. I digress.

This book is a bit of a globe-trotter: Bolan starts out investigating a KGB camp in the United States, but it’s just a staging area for an attack on a government chemical weapon storage facility. When Bolan gets there, he’s too late: The KGB has already hit the storage facility and steals six canisters of a deadly chemical weapon. Then, they’re off to El Salvador, where a Soviet rogue agent uses one of the cannisters on a rival guerrilla camp for a propoganda stunt that blames the US for the attack. Then the rogue agent sells the other five to a Syrian faction that’s going to use them on Israel. So we jet off to the Middle East after our excursion in Central America. In Syria, Bolan hooks up with a beautiful Mossad agent and reveals the plot to them, where he helps to neutralize the threat and helps Mossad steal the five canisters from Syria.

It’s an odd book, in that Bolan is sort of passive here. He’s late in the attack on the chemical factory, he’s tied up and powerless during the attack in El Salvador, and then he’s only part of the attack force in Syria. The globe-hopping is different, too, as many of the previous books have been limited to a single area or mission. The insertion of the standard Bolan boilerplate musings on His War and stuff are just kind of stuck in there, a bit clunky and a bit out-of-place. Although Bolan does not smoke in this book, he does carry cigarettes–just to share with soldiers he wants to talk to. So it’s a bit of an outlier–or perhaps a change in direction that I’ll see more of in the year to come.

At any rate, not necessarily a bad read, but a bit different from others that precede it.

Book Report: Madame Bovary, C’est Moi! by André Bernard (2004)

Book coverThis book is a little encyclopedic collection of main characters of novels and little vignettes about the books and how the characters came about. It talks about Madame Bovary, Anna Karenina, and others of classical lit along with more contemporary demi-classics like Sam Spade and the Continental Op (from Dashiell Hammett’s novels and stories).

A quick read–it’s only 135 pages with bibliography–but it’s a bit of fun. One feels a certain smug satisfaction when browsing the entry for something one has already read–in my case, the aforementioned Anna Karenina and Dash Hammett stories–and perhaps a bit of curiosity that might inspire one to read one of the novels mentioned that you haven’t read (in my case, Madame Bovary, but fortunately that inspiration is fleeting, and I can go back to reading Executioner novels). The book also has numerous sidebars, from bulleted lists collecting characters into groups (alliterative names, single named characters, and so on) to quotations from authors on other authors, their characters, or writing (C.S. Forester expresses his trouble identifying characters in War and Peace by name, which is what caused me to put the book down when I started it soon after I read Anna Karenina ten years ago (!)).

A good, quick read for the literary-minded amongst us.

Book Report: A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith (1943)

Book coverIt seems to me that, as I was growing up in the 1970s, that allusions to this book were everywhere, but it might have been that I saw the same Bugs Bunny cartoon referring to it over and over again. It was quite a sensation in its day, spawning a movie and a Broadway play much like you get from modern pop culture forces. This book was also sent overseas with World War II veterans a bunch, too, so it was part of the Greatest Generation zeitgeist even though it was set a generation earlier.

It deals with a young girl, Francie, at age ten in a tenement neighborhood in Brooklyn in 1912. It follows her as she ages into her teen years, after the death of her alcoholic father, and into the period when the US enters World War I. So, basically, the same time as the first couple of seasons of Downton Abbey. But the Nolans are not the Crowleys. The father only works a night a week, and the mother works as a cleaning woman. The kids start out collecting junk (from the rubbish bins of the buildings their mom cleans, which gives them an advantage of other neightbor kids). Francie is a bit of an outcast, a dreamer who wants to become a writer.

I really enjoyed the book. It takes you out of the here and now and into poverty before the Great Society safety net, and it does very evocatively. Forget your Dave Ramsey University for being frugal–reading how this family stretched pennies and managed to save makes me want to nail a tin can to my closet floor and insert pennies when I can.

It’s also a mindbender to find modern themes in a book set in the 1910s that was published during World War II. We’ve got:

  • A violin teacher with a particular interest in having his young lady students take off their shoes and socks while they practice.
  • A child molestor that has the neighborhood up in arms until Francie’s mother shoots him with a gun possessed illegally.
  • A soldier passing through that spends some time with a 16-year-old Francie and tries to bed her as a one-night-stand; when Francie asks her mother later if she should have, the mother says yes.
  • Wandering gangs of disaffected young men doing bad things because they’re bored.

You might think these are all 21st century problems, especially if you were educated somewhere in the end of the 20th century or the 21st. However, the book illustrates human nature has always been human nature, and the human spirit has always endured.

At any rate, I recommend it. At the very least, when that Bugs Bunny cartoon comes on, you can tell your kids, “I read that book.”

Book Report: Start Here Now by Susan Piver (2015)

Book coverThis book is a quick primer on the shamatha meditation style written by a practitioner and published by an organization following the Shambhala school of Buddhism. That said, the book is heavy on the practice of meditation and thin on the philosophical tenets of Buddhism.

The early parts of the book contrast shamatha with other types of meditation and gives a quick overview of some of the schools of Buddhism, but the real focus of the book is encouraging the practice of meditation, particularly shamatha-style, which involves focusing on the breathing.

Buddhist thought aside, the book provides good insight into methods to still yourself each day. Which I’ll try to focus more on. But the author insists I should follow the millenia-old teachings of actual Buddhist masters instead of breathing according to the Relax setting on my watch. I don’t plan to set up a meditation space in my home nor conduct a meditation retreat weekend with all natural foods and lots of napping (well, I might plan lots of napping), but I’ll try sitting in better posture and focusing on my breath while trying to relax.

So it was an interesting and informative book to read, written for a quick read and, perhaps, for future reference if you become a meditator.

Book Report: No One Noticed the Cat by Anne McCaffrey (1996)

Book coverThis book is the first fiction book I’ve read in 2017. It’s a short novella with a cat on the cover. Which is probably why I bought it in the first place.

It’s a fantasy story about political intrigue. A young prince takes the throne, and his regent passes away; immediately, he must negotiate diplomatically with a neighboring king whose queen is an intriguer who has been killing people who cross her. Once the young prince takes a shine to one of the eligible royals from that kingdom, he might well be the next target, and it’s up to him, his trusted advisors, and the cat who might possess the spirit of his former regent, to keep the kingdom and the prince safe.

It’s a quick little bit of fantasy and intrigue, a pretty engaging little bit. I’m not sure if it’s targeted to adults or young adults, but, honestly, so much these days the young adults are as far as adults get, ainna?

McCaffrey is most known for her Dragonriders of Pern series, and although I’ve probably read one or two in my life, I most associate her with Dinosaur Planet and Dinosaur Planet Survivors, the latter of which I got from a summertime reading program back when I didn’t own many books at all and that mass market paperback meant something.

Book Report: The Sheep’s in the Meadow, the Raccoon’s in the Corn by Marguerite Hurrey Wolf (1979)

Book coverThis book is a collection of essays about country living from a woman in Vermont (sometimes). Let me explain.

The author and her husband bought a farm in Vermont in 1948 and spent summers there for a number of years while living elsewhere. They lived on the farm full time while her husband, a dentist, worked at the University of Vermont, but his work took the family to Boston and Kansas City for a number of years, but they retired to the farm in 1978. The essays in this book come from throughout the time period, and they’re not in chronological order, so sometimes their children are children and sometimes they’re married adults. Sometimes, the author is an older woman talking about how farm work is getting harder as she gets older, and sometimes she’s talking about closing the house up for the winter. It’s a little jump-cutty in the gestalt.

But the individual essays are amusing and entertaining little vignettes. She talks about being a woman driving a pick-up truck back in the day when that was out of the ordinary (or maybe it still is in some places and I just live somewhere where it is not). She talks about the swimming hole on the farm, she talks about giving talks as an author and the strange situations that arise there. The essays are all self-contained and pleasant, but sometimes she uses the same turn of phrase or metaphors over and over again. She’s clearly well-read–a college educated former teacher after all, and her vocabulary and allusions sent me to the dictionary more than once. But I suppose they could have been written years apart, so this is forgiveable.

According to the essays and the about the author section, she has written many other volumes of such Rural Living stories and whatnot. I’ll keep an eye out for them, but I might be challenged in this regard if they did not disseminate much outside of Vermont and New England.

Book Report: Training African Grey Parrots by Risa Teitler (1979)

Book coverYou’re probably wondering why I picked up this book. Well, that’s easy: It was on my to-read shelves. No, no, you say; why did you buy this book, Brian J.? You’ve got a house full of cats! Well, gentle reader, twenty-some years ago, when I was a young man who planned to be a novelist, I thought it would be cool to have a main character who has a pet African grey parrot (kind of like Baretta; I don’t know why I am so fixated on Robert Blake allusions lately). I was so interested in it at that time that the girl I was seeing even bought a monk parakeet, which is a low-end mimic of a bird. But that’s been decades, so today I cannot even think of the character or the conceit of a plot I was planning.

So I saw this book inexpensively, I picked it up, and since I was in the mood for some light non-fiction, I picked it up.

So the book talks about how to pick out a good young parrot, how to work patiently with it to teach it how to come out of its cage, step on a stick and then your finger, how to maximize training it phrases and best use its mimicry, and to teach the bird tricks like climbing a ladder and ringing a bell. The book also goes into some trainer-esque things like trimming the bird’s claws and beak and clipping its feathers; I can’t imagine trying to do these things as a beginner, but I suppose it’s good to have them in there for completeness.

So am I tempted to get such a bird? Well, some of the things that turned me aside from getting one of my own back in those days are still true. They’re fairly expensive. They will, in all probability, outlive me (easier now than then, but these birds have a life span of 50 years or so, and I didn’t think so then and know so now). I could probably afford one, expensive as it is, and I do spend more time at home than I did in my middle 20s, but I also have cats who would agitate at the least and eat at the worst the expensive bird, so it’s probably still not for me.

But if I remember the plot and character of the book, I know more about training the birds, so I can deduct the couple hours I spent reading from my taxes someday.

Somewhere around here, I have a book on having rabbits as pets, too; although I have yet to read that book, you might remember a character in John Donnelly’s Gold has a pet rabbit.

Book Report: Baby, Would I Lie? by Donald E. Westlake (1994)

Book coverI bought this book shortly after Christmas, when I took my children to ABC Books so they could spend the gift cards I bought for them the week before Christmas. Honestly, it’s an inefficient system if you think its purpose is to get gifts for my children. If you realize it is instead a system for getting me to ABC Books as often as possible so I can pick up one or two or five books each trip, you’ll see its genius.

At any rate, this Donald E. Westlake novel was in the Missouri section as it takes place in Branson. Since I was going to a near-Branson location this weekend, I picked it up.

It was not a very quick read. Unlike a plot-driven book like, say, a Parker novel (not Robert B. Parker, but a Richard Stark Parker book a la Lemons Never Lie). Instead, it focuses on a number of characters with their points of view intersecting on an event.

This event is the murder trial of a country and western star, Roy Jones, with his own Branson theater. He stands accused of the murder of one of his theater’s young lady employees amid other problems, including negotiations with the IRS to recover some owed back taxes numbering in the millions. The media descends upon Branson, including an intrepid reporter for a New York weekly and her lover/editor and former co-workers of theirs at a Florida-based tabloid. The tabloid reporters will stoop to great lows to uncover dirt on Jones, and the editor from the New York weekly wants to do a story on the depravity of the tabloid. His replacement at the tabloid is a nervous, high strung man with a wife and kids he’s not fond of, and he has the closest thing to scruples of anyone at the tabloid.

Jones himself picks the woman reporter to spend time with his entourage and get the inside view of the defense and trial, but he’s playing his own game, as the reporter will learn.

As I said, it’s more a study of these characters and their interplay than a plot-driven piece–as many subplots play out with almost equal weight. Instead, the focus is on the characters. The telling and brushing of them is humorous and slightly askew–less than you get in Hiaasen and Barry, but still not straight on and serious.

It’s a sequel of sorts to an earlier book with the same main characters (and a different event), but it does not depend upon familiarity with the earlier events nor does it really nod to them. It is contained in its own right.

The characterization of Branson is pretty good; although 20 years have passed since the books publication, the vibe of Branson is correct. Although some of the characters look down on the people who come to Branson, the intrepid reporter main character comes to see us sympathetically, so it’s not condescending.

It’s a fun book, and I should probably pick up some more Westlake elsewhere when I can.

Book Report: Wisconsin Place Names: A Pronouncing Gazetteer compiled by Harold A. Engel (1968)

Book coverThis book is a collection of Wisconsin place names with pronunciations for each. It has been published in three editions starting in the 1930s; this edition is from 1968, and it’s a product of the University of Wisconsin Extension Office. So it’s not unlike the provenance of David Burton’s A History of Rural Schools in Greene County, Missouri.

At any rate, I flipped through the book while watching a Packers football game, and I tried to say the names before I read the pronunciations, and I did fairly well, I think. Of course, the names are all said relatively like they look (and I’m steeped from my youth in saying Native American Indian place names). So it’s quite unlike Missouri place names, where even when you think you should know how to pronounce it, you’re wrong (see Boliver, Cuba, Nevada, and so on).

I did have a couple of disputes with it, though. Here’s a sample page, by the way, with one of the disputed pronunciations:

Wisconsin does not have an O sound in it; it is wisKHANsin. Also, there is no L in Mi’WAHkee.

But a quick and interesting flip through during the football game, as I said.

Book Report: Beyond the Cross and the Switchblade by David Wilkerson (1974)

Book coverAfter reading The Cross and the Switchblade, I picked up this book right away because I didn’t imagine a situation where I’d be more primed to read it than right after the first. The effect is a little like reading Jerry Kramer’s books (Instant Replay, A Farewell to Football, and Distant Replay) in short order as I did in 2015: You get autobiographical glimpses of a person doing something and getting note for writing about it, and then you leap forward quite a ways and see not only the aftermath of it, but where the person is now and how hopes and disappointments accrued after the Big Book.

At any rate, this doesn’t have the narrative first half that its precedent did. Instead, it takes a bit of topical look at how things have gone in the interim. Teen Challenge, the thing that Wilkerson started in New York, has gone international, and he’s gotten to be a popular speaker and crusader, but he steps back from it because he wants more one-on-one contact. He learns about the rise of drug use among suburban teens and starts drawing attention to them; he tries to motivate them with some serious eschatology (which might have later been broken into another book). His wife and he grow apart, partly because he’s so busy and in demand and partly because they both have some trouble dealing with her bouts with cancer in the early 1970s.

It’s a bit shorter and less focused of a book, but it does lead one to understand some of the challenges of being a prime evangelist back in the day. Wilkerson lived into the 21st century, so he had a Web site and everything, which is odd to think about when you read his earlier book from times of the Sharks and the Jets (allusion footnote for you damn kids).

I’m glad I read it when I did, because as a stand alone book, it’s thin gruel, but as a companion to the earlier piece, it’s interesting and engaging. Well, for someone who can allude to 50s musicals easily, I suppose.

Book Report: The Cross and the Switchblade by David Wilkerson (1962, 1970)

Book coverI bought this book last fall in Clever. I’ve recently spoken with my wife in the merits of the parish model versus the congregational model, and I talked about a whole genre of books where the parish priest takes on crime in his neighborhood (maybe I’m just fond of Robert Blake’s series Hell Town). The edition of The Cross and the Switchblade is the movie tie-in edition, so I thought it might be the font from which the genre sprung. But the pastor in the book is Pentacostal, affiliated with the Assemblies of God. So his is also a congregational model.

At any rate, the book tells the story of Wilkerson, a pastor from the country, who sees an article in Life about several gang members on trial for murder, and he is moved to go minister to them in New York City. So he hops into his car, essentially, on a day off from his church and goes to try to see them. He tries to approach the judge in the courtroom and makes a nuisance of himself and gets ejected before the cameras of the press, so he becomes a bit notorious in his own right. He can’t see the boys on trial, but he keeps returning to New York without a definite plan and finds that young people, especially gang members, are willing to talk to him because he was in the newspaper.

The first half of the book deals with this fish-out-of-water story as he makes his forays into New York, especially Brooklyn, to minister to the gang members and the drug addicts there. The first half culminates in a revival at an arena where he has an altar call, and several gang members come forward, including one who started out particularly hostile but ends up a minister. From what I can see in the photos included from the movie, the film covers this first half of the book with some dramatic revisions. Confession: Erik Estrada stars in the film, so when I read his bio mention it in TV Superstars ’81, I decided to pick up this book next.

The second half of the book is a little less focused as Wilkerson builds up his ministry and creates a center for at-risk youth. He discovers the dangers of drug addiction, particularly heroin, and that’s about the size of it.

It’s an interesting book for many reasons. It has an interesting and adventuresome narrative in it. It’s an interesting look at the dangers of the bad part of New York City in the late 1950s. It’s also an interesting look at the Pentecostal way of doing things: it’s decentralized to a high degree (certainly compared to the Catholic church and the more conservative Lutheran denominations) and features things like altar calls and speaking in tongues, which is not something you see at my church. So, interesting all around.

Unfortunately, it’s still all-to-timely, as heroin is making its big comeback and violence in our cities is reaching a crescendo even as people become even less interested in the eternal than they were in 1960.

Book Report: TV Superstars ’81 by Ronald W. Lackmann (1981)

Book cover“Verily, verily,” you say, “This is about the lowest one can go to reach 100 books in the year.” Well, gentle reader, I’d like to point out that Advanced French for Exceptional Cats has even less substance than this Weekly Reader book. Besides, I’ve already read TV Superstars ’82 and TV Superstars ’83. So I’m not just running up the score here. The score, by the way, is 100 books read this year with this title.

At any rate, as with the other (later) books, it features brief biographical sketches of stars from contemporary (then) television shows grouped by the show. So you get the stars of The Dukes of Hazzard together, the stars of WKRP in Cincinnati grouped together, and so on.

The book reuses (or the later books will reuse) bios from those whose programs are on the air, so I’d already read Tom Wopat and John Schneider’s bits from the ’82 edition (’83 has the scab Dukes). The differences in the books’ contents, though, illustrate the fleeting nature of “superstardom” as the shows come and go. For example, Eight Is Enough, Buck Rogers in the 25th Century, and B.J. and the Bear on television until 1981, so the actors in it are superstars in 1981, but mostly forgotten by 1983 (according to the book).

This book has, unlike the others, animal star bios: The dog who played Boomer (a dog named Johnny) and the Bear (a chimp named Sam). I don’t remember seeing those in the later books, but animal sidekicks seem to have passed out of fashion in the 80s.

The main bit of trivia I got from the book was reminding me of House Calls, a medical show with Gregory Harrison and Lynn Redgrave. It kind of got lost in the blur of the medical shows of the era, from Trapper John, M.D. to St. Elsewhere (which did not air concurrently, but they did in the era known as “my childhood”). So I’m ready if it comes up in trivia nights or on Jeopardy!, but it probably won’t since the window of viable trivia only extends back thirty years, apparently.

It is also a quick reminder, reading these books, how something that seemed to always be when you’re young might only reflect a couple of years. But a high percentage of your life in your youth, so it seems more permanent than it is.

Book Report: Skysweeper by “Don Pendleton” (1984)

Book coverYou might be saying to yourself, “Is he reading more of these Executioner novels to pad his annual total to 100 books read?” Gentle reader, you might not be far from the truth. However, I’d like to point out I’ve read over a dozen Executioner novels this year, so the padding started early.

This book finds Bolan on the West Coast, looking into a Soviet cell looking to steal or disrupt a laser-based missile interceptor program. He’s got some help from the inside, so any infiltrating he needs to do comes with an authentic security badge. He discovers that a former Vietnam POW, now the head of the program, was brainwashed while captive and is programmed to aid the Soviets when activated by following any instruction he’s given. In this case, it is to steal the Skysweeper and deliver it to the Russians. Except Bolan objects.

The structure of the book differs from the others in the series as the book makes a bit of a nod to the technothriller, but sometimes the loss of the earlier simplicity pushes Bolan into doing things that defy the suspension of disbelief. Of course, if I’m into these books for realism, I’m in the wrong place.

At any rate, the conceit of the book is more memorable than the actual book. I just had to crack it open to review how it ended since I actually finished the book last week. Spoiler alert: Bolan wins. Further books are not, in fact, a gritty reboot where The Executioner has been replaced by a fourteen year old minority girl. Well, at least, not the next one. Maybe.

Book Report: Living a Mother’s World by Mary Jane Rerucha (1976)

Book coverThis book is a small, self-published collection of poetry by a Midwestern farm wife circa 1976. It’s on some very nice paper stock, so it probably cost a pile to print. The woman was committed.

It is broken into three sections: poems about family and motherhood, poems about landscape and the natural world, and poems about other things, like church. The poems are decent; some are rote sorts of poems like you get when someone sits down and thinks, “I should write a poem about x.” The poem celebrating the flag is like that. Others have good sense of rhythm and good rhyme schemes. The poems I enjoyed most were in the first section, poignant thoughts about growing children and looking back at them. I’ve decided I feel the same way about poems as I do about paintings: I prefer to have people in them and don’t really enjoy landscapes unless there are human figures in them. Which might be why I have so much Wordsworth around but haven’t read much of it.

As I read this, I thought about the number of magazines that I take that still publish poems. Since I did not renew National Review (too expensive), I’m down to Chronicles and First Things. The poems I see in them don’t touch me, generally, any more or less than the poems in these collections I read by unknowns.At any rate, a good collection of poems by a normal person. One or two of them might have been worth tearing from the paper or a magazine and putting on your refrigerator or cubicle wall. Which is about the best you can expect of any poet, really.

Book Report: Prairie Fire by “Don Pendleton” (1984)

Book coverThis book starts with a running man ploughing through Nebraska cornfields as professionals pursue him. Through flashbacks, we find it is Bolan, who was investigating some off-page MacGuffin that led to his capture and escape from a crew hired to hit him by the KGB. Bolan hides in a barn of a small farm, but finds himself captured by the farm owners and held until they start to believe his story that they’re in trouble with him there.

So the book turns into a tower defense story, with Bolan and the family hardening the household to withstand a nighttime assault. And so they do. Spoiler alert: Bolan lives.

It’s an interesting twist of a plot, as Bolan is usually on the offense so we get to see him build a defense. But sometimes I wonder how little experience with guns, military assaults, and whatnot the authors of the books have as they go on. When booby-trapping the house, Bolan makes a small IED with some C4 he recovered from an attempted carbomb, but he makes it so the trigger requires him to hit a small mark with a .22 shot–from a gun for which he has extremely limited ammunition instead of, I dunno, a tripwire? Also, the book describes the report of a .22 rifle as a falsetto yapping. I suppose that’s a metaphor that might work, except it doesn’t, especially when you don’t trust the author.

So it’s an interesting twist, but there are some things that give you pause. I can suspend disbelief until I start thinking I could do as good of a job as the professionals in the book. But those moments pass, and we’re through the book with some enjoyment in spite of it.

I only have 47 Executioner titles remaining on my to-read shelves, not counting the other related titles. If I keep at it at the pace I have this year, I’ll be done in under four years. Woo! Unless I buy more, which is always a risk.

Book Report: Misspent Youth by Peter F. Hamilton (2008)

Book coverThis book is a British science fiction novel from B.O. (Before Obama). The copy I have is an Advanced Uncorrected Proofs version that I picked up some time ago at a book sale along with other ARC and proof copies of books. Which explains some of the typos I found, although fewer than one might find in John Donnelly’s Gold or the similarly self-published Lightning Fall.

At any rate, the plot of it: About 40 years in the future, the elderly inventer of the storage mechanism that allows the Internet of the future is chosen by the European Union for a revolutionary therapy that rejuvenates a human to the age of about 25. The treatment takes about a year and a half, and at the end of it he has to accustom himself to his new youth and to reconnect with his eighteen-year-old son, the product of a marriage of convenience to a much younger woman who is now older than the formerly elderly engineer. The newly youthful fellow does all of this by nailing all the young women he comes into contact with: the granddaughter of a close friend; the trophy wife with whom he’d never actually had relations; girls in his son’s circle; and finally, the son’s infatuation and something of a girlfriend.

All this boffin goes on against a backdrop of English seperatists who want the UK to break away from the EU and are becoming increasingly violent in their insistence. The pseudoclimax of the book takes place at a major right in England where the father and son end up on different sides: The father is inside a heavily guarded conference center to present a paper, and the son is carried along to the riot by peer pressure. They reconcile, and then the father dies from an unforeseen and untreatable side effect of the treatment. The End.

Well, it’s certainly got a 1970s science fiction vibe from it along with some of that later Heinlein “Ew, put it away already!” I saw on Wikipedia that there are a couple other books set in this same universe, but I don’t expect I’ll revisit it.

What did it get right? Well, people access the voice-enabled computer by saying a word ahead of it. I guess they were doing it on Star Trek, but it’s much more relevant now that every second commercial on television is people talking to the cloud. What did it get wrong? Brexit by violence 40 years from now (hopefully).

I suppose the title means it’s a commentary on misspending your second chances by wasting the time as much you did when you were younger anyway. Or maybe that’s being to charitable, but it’s certainly a theme that has resonance and is probably defendible. Maybe we’ll see in 40 years.

Book Report: Nora Bonesteel’s Christmas Past by Sharyn McCrumb (2014)

Book coverAs you might remember, gentle reader, I like to read a Christmas book about this time of year. This year, I chose this book because it was the first one I could find on my to-read shelves.

The bottom of the cover indicates this is a Ballad novella; the author has written many best selling books in this series taking place in the eastern mountains of Tennessee, but you don’t need intimate knowledge of them to enjoy this book.

It’s billed as a novella, but it’s really two unconnected stories in the Ballad mythos. The sheriff and a deputy are tasked with arresting a man in the backwoods on Christmas Eve for a hit and run accident that damaged the car of the wife of a Senator (hence the importance of arresting him on Christmas Eve amidst the threat of a heavy snowstorm). When they find what they think to be his home, he says he will go quietly if they just help prepare his home for his absence to make it safe for his wife. The second story deals with a couple of Floridians who have bought a second home that used to be the county’s best home, the place where an old judge and his family lived. They decide to stay for Christmas with their tacky Florida ways. When strange goings on go on, they come to Nora Bonesteel, an elderly local medium, to see if she can guess what is wrong. It seems a spirit of Christmas past is not pleased with a pink Christmas tree decorated with flamingos.

On the plot lines, it’s pretty thin gruel, but the writing is dense and pretty enough to carry you along. Thematically, it’s a little light on the Christmas spirit, too, lacking any religious element of it or particular generosity of spirit. No real changes of heart or reunions of family. But pleasant enough.

I saw one of the author’s Ballad novels on the mark down table at Barnes and Noble while Christmas shopping, and I didn’t grab one for $6. Perhaps I’ll grab one if I see it at a book sale in the future to see what happens in a non-Christmas themed novel from the author.

Book Report: Ginger Snaps compiled by Dian Ritter (1976)

Book coverThis book is a middle 1970s collection of what we used to call proverbs, but by the mid to late 20th century had to be accompanied with some wry wit. Many of them are the sorts of things you’d find on Internet memes today, if Internet memes lasted longer than it takes to scroll past them on the social media sites. No, these proverbs of the pre-computer era would be photocopied with some cartoon and pinned to a cubicle wall or taped to a the breakroom cinderblocks.

Which is not to say they’re untrue or without their wisdom. As a matter of fact, this book includes lessons from Lao Tzu:

Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime.

We have Lord Whorfin (eight years early):

Character is what you are in the dark.

Aside from these, it’s got tweetable quotes like “I wish I were what I was when I wanted to be what I am now.” and “Be satisfied enough to improve, but satisfied enough to be happy.”

Given the time from whence it came, its proverbs promote hard work, character, skepticism of government, and trust in God. Which means modern people won’t be well versed in any, which might make the contents more unapproachable and archaic than they should be.