Book Report: The Sanibel Sunset Detective by Ron Base (2010)

Book coverI also bought this book on Sanibel Island, although this is not an autographed copy (unlike A Brief History of Sanibel Island, previously reviewed or coming soon depending upon the order in which you read these posts.

It’s the beginning of a series that goes on at least three or four more books. It deals with a retired newspaperman (there are a lot of those floating around in Florida, apparently–remember, the antagonist of Slam the Big Door was one) who opens a detective agency on Sanibel Island for something to do. He doesn’t get many clients, but a twelve-year-old boy comes in looking for his mother. He has a number of cards from her, but he’s not sure who she is. He’s living with someone else now. The boy is not very forthcoming, and Tree Callister, the Sanibel Sunset Detective, doesn’t put much stock in it. Until a local hoodlum visits because he thinks Tree knows where the woman is. Then the mess is on, as the boy is on the run and hiding from cops, Tree, and the minions of a media mogul who looks to be based on Conrad Black.

It’s a bit of a wild plot, but not bad.

At first I thought the book was going to be self-indulgent in the fashion of Roger L. Simon’s Moses Wine books (see The Big Fix, The Lost Coast, Peking Duck, and California Roll) as the detective is very self-consciously sixty years old (although he’s not courting death like Mrs. Stone), so he’s dwelling on that and the prose itself throws back to his youth with a lot of allusions and whatnot. But it improves once it gets rolling.

The book unfolds well as the dilettante detective finds himself over his head with bad guys, ex-cons, and dangerous women befuddling him. That much is relatable and good, but there’s a coincidence that the plot turns on and the narrator goes a bit Mary Sue at the end.

But I enjoyed the book enough to look for others in the series in other book stores I visited in Florida (bookstores not named “Gene’s Books” on Sanibel Island), but I couldn’t find them. So I’ll get around to ordering them online one of these days. The book is recent enough that the places that it name-checks are still around (Jerry’s Supermarket, for example–I shopped there). This differs from some books that I’ll get around to reviewing after I get around to finishing them.

So I’ll read more in the line, which is about the best recommendation you get from me.

Book Report: A Brief History of Sanibel Island by Marya Repko (2010)

Book coverThis book reads like any small town history book. It details, briefly, the history of Sanibel Island, an island in southwest Florida that is home to a number of resorts and hotels but also has many individual houses. Sixty percent of the island is actually given over to wildlife refuges and parks, so it’s more lush and green than other regions.

Sadly, though, a week after reading it I don’t remember much about it because the book focuses a lot on the different families and what properties they owned and what became of them. Which is not very narrative nor exciting enough to retain.

So interesting, I suppose, if you’re traveling to the island, but not something that will be of interest if not.

I bought this book on Sanibel Island itself, and it’s probably not available anywhere else other than online sources. And I scored an autographed copy, so I’ve added it to the Nogglestead Estate. Which leads me to wonder: Does removing the Autographed Copy sticker increase or decrease the value of an autographed book?

Book Report: The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone by Tennessee Williams (1950, 1993)

Book coverThis book is the third I read on vacation. As you might remember, it is one of three books I bought at the Friends of the Springfield-Greene County Library this spring amid oh so many albums.

It’s a short book–111 pages. It’s not a play, it’s a short novel, with dense, vivid prose that draws some attention to itself as it waxes and muses. The plot deals with an aging, retired actress who got by on her beauty rather than her acting ability, which means that she gave it up when she realized she was aging out of beauty. Her wealthy husband dies on a European trip, and Mrs. Stone finds herself in Rome, where a penniless contessa matches aging wealth American widows with young Italian men not so much for marriage as for expensive gifts. When Mrs. Stone realizes what is going on and that she is growing fond of one such young man, she invites death before the loss of her dignity.

So, basically, if you imagine a bit of a mash-up of Mrs. Dalloway–a bedraggled figure is following Mrs. Stone as the young war veteran’s story is interweaved with that of Mrs. Dalloway. However, in this book, the bedraggled figure is death in the form of a serial killer preying on wealthy American widows is following Mrs. Stone awaiting her invitation to strike–and The Awakening set in the period of Three Coins in the Fountain. Which explains why I saw all the scenery described in Deluxe color.

At any rate, the prose, as I mentioned, is deep and rich, but ultimately the book was unsatisfying because of the stylized nature of the suicide and the fact that a fifty-year-old woman was considered washed up enough to kill herself to preserve her dignity. It’s not very flattering to fifty-year-old women of the era.

Strangely, this was made into a film twice: In 1961 and in 2003. Neither of which are going onto my Amazon wish list.

Book Report: Starman Jones by Robert A. Heinlein (1953, 1975)

Book coverFor my second book of my vacation (the first being the last chapter or two of Slam the Big Door), I started on this book. It’s one of Robert Heinlein’s youth rocket jockey books from 1953, so it’s not as, erm, liberated as his later adult fiction.

In it, young Max Jones is a farmer in the Ozarks. He’s living at sustenance level, plowing with borrowed livestock, and providing for his stepmother and acting as the man of the house after his father passed away. His stepmother marries a man from town who then tells Max that he’s selling everything, including the farm and Max’s uncle’s books, and he threatens Max with physical punishment for disrespect. So Max lights out for Earthport. He runs across a seeming hobo who steals Max’s ID card and books and presents himself at the Astrogator’s Guild to claim a place as a trainee; however, neither the hobo nor Max can claim that position. So when they meet up, the hobo helps Max forge papers and take off in a space craft on a year-long interstellar flight.

A series of events occur that lead Max to move up from the livestock handler to, ultimately, the Captain of the ship (briefly).

It’s a quick read (even though it’s 252 paperback pages. It’s an interesting take on interstellar travel and the world where it is possible from the perspective of 1950 something. Max is an Ozarks farmer using livestock in this future, but from what I know of rural Missouri in the 1940s (see Growing Up In The Bend, for example), 1953 was not that far past draft animals and electricity in rural Missouri. The use of computers tracks perhaps with World War II naval operations but not so much with 21st century usages. So you have to have more suspension of disbelief than normal.

But if you’re looking for rocket jockey science fiction from time to time (and you should), you could certainly do worse than Heinlein.

Also, note on the cover, the dreaded Spider Puppy:

My wife and I have taken to calling it the Spider Monkey Puppy in the intonation of that obnoxious but forgotten Super Bowl commercial.

I spent the first couple of days of the vacation making up horrific facts for the Spider Monkey Puppy, but in reality, it’s a pet. But not in your dreams, gentle reader, not in your dreams.

Book Report: Slam the Big Door by John D. MacDonald (1960)

Book coverIt’s funny: I like John D. MacDonald a whole lot, and although I have a number of his paperbacks on the to-read shelves, I don’t delve into them too often–it’s been a year since I read End of the Tiger (on a different vacation, no less) and then A Tan and Sandy Silence and Two Other Great Mysteries. In preparation for my recent trip to Florida, I started this book and finished it on the plane en route to the keys of southwest Florida. Not the Florida Keys, mind you, but definitely some other cays ‘n’ bays.

At any rate, in this book, an ex-newspaperman whose wife just died from quick moving cancer visits an old Army war friend in Florida. The friend used to live in the city and was a big honcho for an advertising agency (akin to the fellow in “Hangover” in End of the Tiger, come to think of it), but he had a self-destructive urge to dissipation, which caused him to turn to drink and to a loose woman, costing his job and his marriage. After a bit of time finding himself, the friend became a builder in Florida and married into a piece of money which allowed him to try a larger development. However, a group of native businessmen want to usurp the development en media res, so they start applying different sorts of pressure to create money problems for the wartime friend. The appearance of the loose woman from New York and the trouble with the development lead the man back into a dissipation spiral.

Which the antagonist tries to stem with mixed results.

There’s not a lot of crime in the book; it’s more of a character study and a business/land development story, but it’s still told with MacDonald’s characteristic ease and comfort. The characters are believable, and the story has depth as the antagonist muses on growing old (at 40 something).

I don’t know when I’ll pick up another MacDonald book. They’re a fixed quantity, and when I’ve read them all, I shall be sad. Except there are so many, I can re-read them with some freshness. But my to-read stack does not allow much re-reading unless it’s accidental.

Toward the end of the book, someone recommends that the protagonist and a young lady visit Marco Island, which has a nice beach. I took that recommendation! What’s interesting about this allusion in this book is that the book was published in 1960, which is a couple years before the developers made Marco Island into what it is today (as we shall see later in the week or as you’ve already seen if you’re reading this blog backwards chronologically from sometime a week or so hence). So it’s written before the developers that MacDonald often lambasts had their turn at a destination he mentions.

At any rate, I recommend the book if you are old enough to understand books without cell phones and computers in them.

Book Report: Starwolf #1: The Weapon from Beyond by Edmond Hamilton (1967)

Book coverThis book is the first of what would be a short series of science fiction novels akin to men’s adventure paperbacks: you have a single character, a tough guy, who gets into different missions. In this case, the Starwolf of the title is Morgan Chane, the son of missionaries who died shortly after reaching high-gravity Varna. Chane was raised there, an outsider amongst the pirates, but he grew to become an interstellar raider until a dispute over loot leads to a fight where Chane kills the leader of the space pirates. The book opens with him wounded and on the run from the other pilots. When he reaches a particular cluster, his ship is about to blow when he tries a desperate gambit to be picked up by a nearby ship. And he is. By a group of mercenaries who might need his talents. The leader knows who he is and gets Chane’s reluctant help by threatening to expose him–and Varnan spacewolves are killed on sight in most of the rest of the civilized galaxy.

So we’re off. The mercs are hired to find what weapon an opposing force in an interplanetary war is developing. They infiltrate the opposing force’s home planet, only to flee under suspicion right into the path of some starwolves searching for Chane.

It’s a pretty quick-paced action thriller kind of book; as I said, it’s akin to the men’s adventure paperbacks I tend to read, but the plot moves three-dimensionally–you never know what to expect. This book fits right into my wheelhouse–it alludes to a developed cosmological history where some group ‘seeded’ human like races in different systems, and eventually they start space travelling, albeit at different times. The warring worlds of this book, for example, have just discovered space flight, and most of their equipment is stuff they received from space traders looking for raw materials from the planets. There’s no Prime Directive here, no Terran Dominium or central government, apparently. And there are the mysteries of those who have come before (and might again).

At any rate, much like my other recent foray into science fiction (The Starcraft Archive, I enjoyed the book. The Starwolf series only ran three books, and I only have one of them. However, I have two books from the (four book) Agent of T.E.R.R.A. series also from Ace paperbacks, so I’ll probably jump onto them sometime soon.

Book Report: Fishin’, Huntin’, Travelin’ and Ozark Memories by L.B. Cook (1997)

Book coverThis book could have included Figurin’ in the title if only because someone did a quick calculation on the front of it. Clearly, someone did not think this was an heirloom quality book.

Since I’ve been reading 600- or 700-page books of late, I thought I’d take a little detour into this seventy-something book of local interest. Published at the end of the 20th century, it’s a collection of work of a local conservation-oriented fellow who previously had published a couple of the bits in newsletters and whatnot. As the actual title indicates, it’s a collection of two or three page recollections of trips taken over the course of decades by the author. Some of the shorter bits, particularly of trips to southern Texas, have the feel of a newspaper column and are the stronger of the writings in it. Advice as to how to find places to hunt in other states by mailing postmasters and conservation agents in the areas you’re interested in hasn’t held up. And some of the pieces are more like minutes to hunting trips or meetings, with a lot of name-dropping, than narratives.

Still, I laughed a couple times when the name-dropping happened. The only name I recognized was Ned Reynolds, a long-time fixture at the local television station. The stories and narratives are not often fixed into time, and putting Ned Reynolds’ name into it doesn’t help. Some of the stories were things like “Henry Schoolcraft, Teddy Roosevelt, Ned Reynolds, and I went turkey hunting….” Well, obviously not really, but the most enjoyment I got out of the book was from thinking this.

Unfortunately, it’s not a strong book in the narrative department and is probably only of interest to Cook, his family, perhaps the families of those whose name he dropped, and people like me who will read any book of local interest if it’s short enough.

Book Report: The Most of George Burns by George Burns (1991)

Book coverThis book is a collection of four of George Burns’ books: Living It Up, The Third Time Around, Dr. Burns’ Prescription for Happiness, and Dear George. As such, it’s 780 pages, most of which I heard in George Burns’ voice as I read.

My goodness, it has been twenty years since he passed away. I guess I’d better say something about who George Burns was for you damn kids. He started out in vaudeville, and he married Gracie Allen and hit the big time. They moved from vaudeville to radio to movies and then later to television. When Gracie retired, he started a nightclub act and after a number of years, he started making movies again, including his Oscar-winning turn in The Sunshine Boys. After that film, he had a bit of a renaissance, appearing in the Oh God films and on television programs. And, apparently, writing best-selling books. When he wrote the first of these books, in 1976, he was eighty years old.

As a child of the late 1970s and 1980s, I knew of George Burns because of his aforementioned renaissance. He was a little fresher than some of the other older comedians from the radio and early television days that I saw on television like Red Buttons and Milton Berle.

Living It Up is memoir in nature and talks about his family life, his going into vaudeville, his radio program, and his television program. The chapters relay anecdotes along with jokes and a voice that isn’t taking itself too seriously. It talks about some of those early comedians I didn’t know when I was young and gives me some perspective on them. It’s written about the same time as the film starting his renaissance comes out.

The Third Time Around is another memoir, this one after he has returned to movies and has several under his belt, including the hit Oh God. He focuses a bit more on his later career and his work in the movies in the 1930s, but it’s still an entertaining look back.

Dr. Burns’ Prescription for Happiness and Dear George are humor books written around the George Burns character after the renaissance. Both feature a lot of pictures with George Burns around attractive, eighties-styled women in various capacities and coalesce around a theme. In the first, Burns talks about what it is to be happy. Key: Get into a career, or at least work, you love. The second is a collection of ‘letters’ written to George Burns seeking advice, which he then gives in pithy one-liners. I was a bit disappointed with the last two books in the, er, book, because the first two had some weight, depth, and sense of George Burns as a person in them. These last two were George Burns, the character, instead. We never had this problem with Dave Barry, who was always Dave Barry the character (sometimes played by Harry Anderson, or Harry Stone, whichever was not the character).

The book missing within this book is How to Live to Be 100 – Or More which transits Burns from the memoirs to the humor. I’m pretty sure I have it here somewhere on the shelves. I also have the book that follows Dear George, Gracie: A Love Story. This thicker book I uncovered recently. It looks to be more memoirish, so I’m looking forward to reading it sometime. But not immediately.

I’m glad to have read this book and to have learned more about George Burns. As a product of the era of his renaissance, I have affection in my heart for the man, and I think he lived an interesting life spanning multiple eras in history–from vaudeville to radio to television to movies and to the semi-modern era (come on, at 120, Burns would be all on the Internet with help) but also through eras of personal life, from youth to time in vaudeville to the success with Gracie (across eras) to the renaissance and beyond. It’s inspiring to see that with the right attitude, sense of humor, and gag writers, one can perservere and thrive for a long time.

Hopefully, this lesson does not only apply to entertainers.

Book Report: Sold for Slaughter by Mike Newton(1983)

Book coverThis book breaks again from the terrorist angle and returns Mack Bolan to fighting organized crime, albeit with an international flavor. Mack Bolan goes looking for Smiley Dublin, one of the Ranger girls that played recurring parts in his original war with the mafia. She was investigating human trafficking, and Bolan finds her at a human flesh auction in Kansas run by a Mafioso. He frees her and then starts tracking the human trafficking (and more) back to its source in Algiers. The source is a triumvirate of stock bad guys, and Bolan works to disrupt their operations.

It’s not too bad of an entry–Bolan doesn’t smoke, so there’s that–but the books are getting to be of a stock type with name checking of currently trendy weapons, easy head shots, and action that borders on absurd, but cinematic. As I’ve said in my self-defense, the books are what they are: television episodes in paragraph form. Sometimes, they rise up to surprise you. This one only surprised me in a oh, come on fashion. The female character is treated very poorly: Although she’s supposed to be an elite secret agent, she tags along to Algiers for one reason: To defy Bolan’s orders to stay put and to get captured again transparently to be rescued again.

Ay de mi.

At any rate, if these books continue to lightly disappoint, I’ll probably slow down on them again. I’ve read about 50 of the titles in The Executioner series so far (not bad since this is #60), and I have 80 something to go in the assorted properties. To give you an idea of my pacing, I read #20 which also featured Smiley Dublin in 2011. As I’ve picked up the pace, it’s only taken me since since February to read the 1983 books in the series. So I was going for it. Now I’m going to taper off on them and work in some better books, I think.

One thing about this edition: Although the book bears no library markings, the inside of the back cover has some date stamps which would seem to indicate this was in a library of some sort at one time:

I wonder what that was all about.

Also, since “Don Pendleton” writes about the book’s author in an afterward in these new volumes, I’m starting to put the stated author’s name with the book. For completeness sake. Although for ease of searching, I should continue to mention “Don Pendleton” in each post.

Book Report: The Starcraft Archive by Jeff Grubb, Gabriel Mesta, Tracy Hickman, and Micky Neilson (2007)

Book coverThis book collects four novels set in the mythos of the Star Craft video games and novelizes elements of it but also expands on it. Apparently, Blizzard has a whole series of books based on the WarCraft and StarCraft worlds (not to mention a WarCraft movie. So they’re sure there are stories to be told in the universe, I reckon, and cross-pollinated dollars to make.

Full disclosure: Although my beautiful wife loves the StarCraft series, I only played it for a couple minutes when invited to a LAN party at my wife’s employer in 2000. It was supposed to be a StarCraft party, and I was to pick the game up in the couple of minutes while everyone got set up. I started a couple of random missions in the different campaigns but didn’t really get into it–I was steeped in turn-based games like Deadlock and Civilization. Fortunately, everyone never got set up, so we all went to dinner instead. But as I read the book, I got the StarCraft Battle Chest set out and started looking at what it would take to install it on a machine sixteen years later. A lot more hackery than I want to expend on installing it only to run it for a couple of minutes and abandon it (which is my wont for video games for the last decade). Oh, there I go, cross-platform musing. Back to this book.

The novels within run from okay to pretty good. They include:

  • Liberty’s Crusade by Mike Morhaime, which tells the StarCraft (1) story from the perspective of a news man. A rebel leader uses the arrival of the alien races of the Protoss and the Zerg to consolidate his power and overthrow the Terran Confederacy. Pretty good.
  • Shadow of the Xel’Naga by Gabriel Mesta, which tells the story of an ancient artifact found on a backwater human colony where substinence farming is the order of the day. The artifact beams a powerful message into space which attracts the Zerg and the Protoss who arrive even as the military of the Terran Dominion who respond to a request for help from the colonists. This is the weakest of the books, as it is the most likely to drop video game terms and units in as fan service, and the behaviour of the Terran commander is reckless and foolish, with tactics beneath me and I’m no space naval officer.
  • Speed of Darkness by Tracy Hickman, which takes the point of view of a confused, reconditioned Terran marine who struggles with memories and fitting into the military who is part of a sacrificial mission on Mar Sara and organizes a last stand against the Zerg. It’s a very good book, but you’d expect that from Tracy Hickman. My goodness, he co-wrote one of the geeksetting trilogies in the 1980s (Dragonlance, anyone), but he’s not George R.R. Martin or J.R.R. Tolkien level famous in the 20th century. It must be the nature of the work-for-hire or a terminal lack of double R middle initials.
  • Uprising by Micky Neilson, which describes in detail some events in the uprising that would upend the Terran Confederacy and lead to the Terran Dominion.

Overall, the book was a pleasure to read. Although military in nature, it wasn’t so military as to exclude those of us who didn’t serve (which is the knock I have against some military sci-fi such as Drake or Frazetta–I just can’t get into them because they’re bogged in detail). It was fresh compared to all the Executioner books I’ve been reading lately, but I wonder if I read all the books in the line whether they’d all start to be formulaic, too.

Book Report: Fear and Trembling by Søren Kierkegaard (1985 edition)

Book coverI cannot remember whether I started this book or Søren Kierkegaard first. However, I sure finished the other Cliff Notes-esque summary of Kierkegaard’s thought first. Because, face it, Kierkegaard is not a quick read.

First, a note about the translation: As you know, any translated literature I find just a bit suspect because the translator makes some changes to try to illustrate the intent of the original in the second language or the translator does not and lets the idioms fall where they may. As I do not speak Danish, I have no idea what tack the translator did. It’s coupled with the almost two centuries of time that have passed. One telling word choice that jarred me was vaudeville. Certainly Kierkegaard did not use a direct translation since he preceded the American theatre form by half a century or so. Another, more important example: this book uses absurd an awful lot. I get that a lot in translations of Sartre and Camus, too. So was Kierkegaard the origin of the concept that the later Frenchmen picked up on, or was the translator aligning some word of Kierkegaard’s to the common Existentialist expression? I suppose if I had time or inclination, I could delve into it. But I don’t.

At any rate, the book is a long musing on the meaning of what it is to be truly religious. As we learned from Søren Kierkegaard, this book comes after Either/Or, and where that book identifies two spheres of man’s activity (the aesthetic and the ethical), this volume explores a yet higher sphere, the religious. It does so by musing at great length upon the story of Abraham and Isaac. Abraham, a good and faithful man, is told by God to sacrifice his only son. So Abraham bundles the boy up and heads to the designated spot, whereupon God stays Abraham’s hand. Abraham is beyond the ethical in this because he was going to do an unethical thing for his faith, and because he did he became the father of religions.

To make a long story short, to be religious requires one to live in the paradox, the absurd. You have to hold two things in mind and heart at the same time that cannot be true.

I was unconvinced by the arguments, and I didn’t really enjoy the book. Although there were some tweet-worthy aphorisms within it, the writing style was convoluted and wordy, perhaps on purpose. But the paragraphs were as long as a page at times, which hindered me, as I sometimes picked up the book after a couple of days away from it and then would read a couple preceding paragraphs to refresh me as to where I was. In many cases, I had to re-read several complete pages.

You know, Kierkegaard might have been a genius–he was certainly well-read, as the allusions in the book indicate. However, it’s not a fun read. It’s not a quick read. I had to gut out the last forty or fifty pages. I’ve started and gotten most of the way through too many theology and philosophy books over the last year, so I was determined to read it. And I did. But I’m not eager to delve into more Kierkegaard, which is unfortunate, because I got Either/Or for Father’s Day. And that book is twice the size of this one. Perhaps I’ll put it on the shelf, let it marinate a while, and then convince myself that the thicker volume won’t be like this one.

Now, onto finishing the Tillich perhaps.

Book Report: John Donnelly’s Gold by Brian J. Noggle (2011)

Book coverSo I read my book. Is there no depths to which I will not sink to have some book report to provide to you, gentle reader? Apparently not.

Back when I published this book five years ago, I read it half a dozen times or more in proofreading the copy (clearly, not in editing!). So I got pretty tired of it back then. But I was ready to read it again.

So, to recap the plot, gentle reader: Four employees are amongst those laid off from their Internet travel company before their options vest, so they dare each other to steal a gold bar owned by the company CEO. They devise a plan to steal it from his house and its live Internet feed without anyone noticing, and they give it a try.

You know, the main knocks against the book are that it’s wordy (it is) and the end is kind of abrupt in turning (it is). I’ll throw in another no one has mentioned: An important point upon when the plot hinges doesn’t make sense if you think about it. It reflects my experience, but not that of most people, so of course I wrote it that way but it wouldn’t happen like that in real life. I could have handled it differently if I recognized it before I published. But it’s out there now. I’m not going to tell you what it is because I want you to buy and read the book to see if you can spot it. I’m pretty sure I got the weeks down to seven days and made sure the gun didn’t switch from semiautomatic to revolver.

And I enjoyed it. The book is full of little in-jokes and allusions that I get since I wrote them. Some of them I’d forgotten and got a little burst of delight.

At any rate, it’s probably worth the four stars it’s garnered.

Book Report: Crude Kill by “Don Pendleton” (1983)

Book coverThis book is like Under Siege on a boat. No, wait, Under Siege was Under Siege on a boat. This book has certain elements of that plot line, though, but it precedes the Steven Seagal film. So maybe it’s like The Poseidon Adventure right-side up. Except it’s not. Never mind. It’s like a Mack Bolan book on a boat.

Terrorists have taken control of the new world’s largest nuclear-fueled super-duper tanker in the Mediterranean Sea and are holding it for ransom, threatening to blow the boat up and pollute the entire Mediterranean Sea and its beaches with hundreds of millions of gallons of oil. Mack Bolan is called in and reaches the boat via parasail, and then it’s infiltration and defeating an army of terrorists who want the nuclear fuel for atomic weapons as much as they want the ransom money.

Bolan finds some new skills in the book, including underwater operations. He orders a UDT (Underwater Demolition Team, the precursors of the SEALS) to stand down which brought these books into the most stark contrast to the Richard Marcinko’s Rogue Warrior tales, and the Bolan books suffer in comparison. But they’re quicker reads and entertainment enough for their paperback glory.

So I liked the book well enough to want to read another. Or perhaps a Marcinko.

Book Report: Frik’ In Hell Volume 3 (2013), Holes In It (2014), and The Normlings (2016) by Todd Tevlin

Book coverBook coverBook cover
As I might have mentioned, I bought these books in St. Charles when I went to see Todd at the St. Louis Comic Con. So be aware that this is another set of books that I’m reading written and composed by people I know. Although Todd cannot kick me in the head from Old Trees, Missouri, where he lives, which is just as well.

Frik’n Hell Volume Three is more of the adventures of Frik, a knight who works in a restaurant, although this volume doesn’t find him in the restaurant. Instead, he’s on a quest to find Wot, the mage of western pointerly things. So there’s a single arc with some episodic build up, but my reaction is similar to the that of Volume One and Two. I don’t get the zeitgeist of the Web comic. I guess they follow some of the slow development in discrete units that you found in newspaper comic serials but with a modern sensibility. Not my bag, in all, but some of the things were amusing. As with the previous volumes, half of the book is given over to “The Making of” material where Todd presents original sketches and commentary, so it’s like DVD commentary on a film.

The Normlings is issue one in a series (time will prove) and it’s like Six Characters in Search of an Author in that the characters are dropped into a void and have no purpose or story behind them, so they talk and then the artist inserts some things. If you’re into that abstract meta stuff, perhaps it will amuse you. Again, not my bag, baby.

Holes In It, on the other hand, I got that. It’s a series of discrete strips dealing with a father and his son, and they’re based on Todd’s relationship with his son. But because they’re humorous observations and one-offs, they mirror the pattern of newspaper strips like Hi and Lois and For Better or For Worse. Because I have male children, I related to a lot of the stories and quips. So this one was more my bag, baby, and I liked it.

But you know what is my bag, baby? Supporting people I know and their literary ambitions. Todd might have more success if he focused on the Holes In It family, but he’s got integrity and he’s gonna do what he wants. Hopefully, he’ll want more Holes In It volumes, though.

Book Report: Yo, Millard Fillmore by Will Cleveland and Mark Alvarez (1993)

Book coverFor a second time in recent memory, my reading has been determined by a book that one of my children wanted to read from my to read shelves. First, The Simpsons: A Complete Guide To Our Favorite Family and then this book.

It’s a brief Scholastic primer on the Presidents through Clinton. Each President has a two-page spread with the left page talking about his (remember, gentle reader, that this book only includes male presidents as that is all we had for several hundred years (he added to explain for future Internet searchers)) presidency and the right continuing some mnemonic narrative that is supposed to help you remember the presidents in order. Honestly, the schtick looks more difficult than rote memorization since you have to remember the mnemonic story and then what name each pun represents.

Frankly, if I’m ever to do well on Jeopardy!, I’ll have to memorize the Presidents and their general dates, but this isn’t the book to do it.

Also, a side effect of modern life is even though the book title spells it correctly for me, the default in my brain is not Millard but Mallard Fillmore. Which probably also illustrates why I will never be a good Jeopardy! contestant.

Book Report: Love’s Legacy by Stephanie Dalla Rosa (2015)

Book coverDISCLAIMER:Of all the books I’ve reviewed on this book, this book represents the work of the author most likely to punch me in the head. She is a second degree black belt and instructor in the dojo where I train. So bear that in mind that if I have nothing but nice things to say about this book that it might only be abject terror speaking. Thank you, that is all.

This book covers the death of the author’s mother from cancer and the author dealing with her grief and her relationship with God. The first part of the book includes portions of the mother’s journal–for the mother had hoped to write a book about the experience and how God got her through it–along with the author’s recollections of the period of the illness. The second part deals with the aftermath and how the author tried to build a relationship with God but faltered for a time until finishing her mother’s book gave her some purpose.

The book made me think of identity as aspiration as opposed to authentic identity by nature. In the first part, the mother was suffering through her treatment, but her journal entries are mostly upbeat and aspirational, particularly in her relationship with God. This is what she wanted to be and how she wanted to be known and remembered. In the second, the author has to come to terms with dark hours (days, months, and years) and, by willpower and faith overcame a great darkness in her life.

The book presents a clear contrast with the Kierkegaard I’ve been reading (Fear and Trembling) and the book about Kierkegaard I’ve read recently. Whereas Kierkegaard goes on about the paradox of Christianity and reliance upon the absurd (I’ll get into that when I review Fear and Trembling, you bet), this book presents a more accessible dilemma and statement of faith. Which explains why I’ve finished it and have to one of these days push myself through the remainder of the thinner tome.

On a personal note, it was a hard book for me to read; as you might recall, gentle reader, my own sainted mother was diagnosed with cancer and passed away around the same time (remember the eulogy?). So reading the book brought back memories and attendant unresolved guilt for all the things I could have done differently and might have should have. I can’t help contrast her experience with my own. It’s not so much wallowing, but more reflecting on the differences as though I might learn something from it.

So I liked the book, and I’m considering buying additional copies as gifts for my aunts, my mother’s remaining sisters, but I’m not sure whether they would appreciate it or not. Time will tell if I do that or not, I suppose. But it’s worth a read if you’re dealing with this situation or the grieving.

Book Report: Søren Kierkegaard by Elmer H. Duncan (1976)

Book coverThis book is an entry in the Makers of the Modern Theological Mind series as was Reinhold Niebuhr. On a recent trip to ABC Books, I found the Kierkegaard volume, and I picked it up and delved right in since I seem to be in a theological phase lately (well, I guess Existentialism and Thomism last January and The Screwtape Letters last July makes for a very slow moving phase, but in my defense, I’ve started a couple books I’ve yet to finish).

What I’ll take from this bit is that Kierkegaard was writing a document targetted to Danish Christians of the era and was mostly a rebuttal to Hegel. His Either/Or countered the Hegelian Thesis>Antithesis>Synthesis bit by saying that ethical choices are exclusive or (XOR, as computer folk would call them) and cannot be reconciled through creating a system or classification where both options exist and relate to one another. It’s told in two parts: the first part by The Seducer, and the second part by The Judge. These two represent the aesthetic and ethical spheres. Fear and Trembling examines the story of Abraham preparing to sacrifice Isaac and explicates on the religious sphere, which Kierkegaard puts higher than the merely ethical. The book also talks about other writings, but these are the ones I was most interested in.

This book spends a lot of its few (145) pages delving into other philosophers’ and theologians’ work. We get explanations of Hegel and Plato and their systems; we get pages on the Existentialists and people in the 20th century who Kierkegaard influenced (hint: apparently everyone). We even get a whole page of defending Heidegger from his association with the Nazis in Germany. It seems like a lot of real estate on a book on Kierkegaard spent talking about others. But you can boil a lot of Kierkegaard down into pretty short sentences.

As I read it and work through Fear and Trembling, I wonder if Kierkegaard is the man who broke the Christian church. His book Fear and Trembling focuses on the religious individual experiencing something he (or she) thinks is divine and not so much on the divine. It seems a turn to the individualism that runs through Existentialism and whatnot. I’m sure there are some other revolutions and counterrevolutions that go on as well, but given how much of twentieth century thought cites Kierkegaard as an influence, I can’t help wonder if it was a bad influence.

Book Report: Ambush on Blood River by “Don Pendleton” (1983)

Book coverThis book differs from the philosophy of other recent ones which rumble about Bolan going it alone again. Instead, this is a Phoenix Force book, essentially, as Bolan leads a team into the heart of Africa.

While visiting Canada, Bolan gets wind of an African job. Decades ago, a mercenary abandoned his post to rob a bank, and he hid the cache of diamonds and documents in a war-torn land. In the present day (of 1983), the Russians spring the mercenary from an Angola prison to recover the loot. The deposed leader of the African nation wants Bolan and his team to recover the loot from the mercenary and the Russians and to recover some sensitive documents that could embarrass America. So Mack gets the team together, they roll into Africa, and conduct a number of set-piece battles to recover the diamonds, incidentally kill the current deposing general, and kill the bad guys only to discover that the promised documents did not exist and were only a pretext to get the diamonds.

It’s more of a team book instead of an Executioner book; one has to wonder if it was moved over from another title to fit the publication schedule of the month’s Bolan book wasn’t ready. So it’s not really an Executioner book, and if you recognize that, perhaps you’ll enjoy it more.

This is the first I’ve seen in the line that recognizes the actual author of the book in the back in a little bit where “Don Pendleton” pens a note about the actual author. The recogniztion must have been gratifying. This book was written by Alan Bomack, who also wrote The Invisible Assassins. I enjoyed this book more than the earlier one.

I know I’ve read a bunch of these books this year. I promise I’m reading some headier work more slowly. Ask anyone.

Also, note this is an investment grade men’s adventure novel. Inside the back cover, there’s a price tag for $1, but on the back, the price tag from when my beautiful wife bought this for my birthday is $1.13. This book increased in value 13%. I mean, down from it’s original price of $2.25, but it’s rebounding, baby. I should buy a bunch of them!

Book Report: The Simpsons: A Complete Guide To Our Favorite Family edited by Ray Richmond (1997)

Book coverI don’t know where I bought this book, but I know why I picked it up recently: because my soon-to-be ten-year-old has recently acquired a taste for all things Simpsons from a couple of books he’s gotten, and he wanted to read this one, but I wouldn’t let him until I’d read it. In a manner befitting Bart and Lisa, he asked me repeatedly, multiple times daily, whether I was reading the book yet and, if I was not doing anything, whether I could not better spend the time reading the book.

It’s an episode guide to the shorts from The Tracey Ullman Show and the first eight seasons of The Simpsons. Not to make you feel old, old man, but this is a twenty-year-old guide to The Simpsons. Apparently, there has been at least one additional book for completeness’ evolving sake. For each episode, there’s a synopsis, a character highlighted, a number of jokes you might have missed, some notable quotes, ties to other Simpsons episodes, and things to identify what movies or whatnot the episode lampooned. After each season, there’s a compendium listing of things like the times Homer says, “D’oh!” or “Mmmm….” That’s about it. Much to my child’s chagrin, it took me a number of weeks to go through the complete book, as I could only make it a couple of episodes at a sitting.

Of course, what’s a good book/episode guide without double-effect nostalgia. As I read the book, I see the air date at the top and remember what I was doing around that particular time. Watching The Adventures of Beans Baxter instead of the Simpsons on Fox; graduating high school; going to college; working in a grocery after college; receiving the email from the woman who would become my wife; and so on. Additionally, I started watching the Simpsons on DVD around 2004 (as mentioned here), so some of the episodes are familiar from my pre-parental, stay up until two o’clock work-from-home days (as opposed to my current parental stay up until nine o’clock work-from-home days). So I remember watching them on the eMac in my office as I worked or after I finished work or live-blogging the Republican National Convention of the era.

The jokes, the humor, and their relevance remain but change over time. Much of the stuff lampooned still holds true, although some of it might seem dated to kids from today. But not all of it. And sometimes you can apply the gags to your own life. For example, I read Bart saying Branson is like Las Vegas if Ned Flanders ran it. I read this in Branson on vacation this week. So it’s not quite Jeopardy!-esque as the nexus of all knowledge, but.

At any rate, interesting as a fill-in reader for moments when you don’t have a lot of time for Kierkegaard. Or to educate your children on late 20th century animation.

Book Report: The Greek and Roman World by W.G. Hardy (1960)

Book coverThis book is a sociological anthropological look at the Greek, particularly the Athenian, and Roman civilizations. It takes the point of view of an average citizen and describes what the world might have looked like to them, from going to the Forum or the market to participating in the democracy or republic of the time. As such, it’s not a history per se, as it does not recount historical dates and actions, but instead describes how people would have lived and how society, the government, and commerce would have looked.

The book is very brief–120 pages roughly–so it’s not a long read, and you might learn something. I learned how Athens divided itself into ten entities for the purposes of government, and that every entity was not a contiguous region but instead had land and citizens in each of the three topographies of the area so that the miners, the fishers, and the farmers would be equally represented. That’s interesting. But unlikely to show up as a question on trivia night.

But the book supplements some of the other reading I’ve done in ancient history and philosophy lately, so I’m glad to have read it.