Book Report: New Pearl of the Orient Korea by Korea National Tourism Corporation (~1980)

Posted in Book Report, Books on November 19th, 2014 by Noggle

Book coverThis book is one of the Korea-centric books I bought this spring in Clever. Like the first two I read, it’s a tourist-focused book. As a matter of fact, the Korean government’s tourist arm put it out. So it describes places to go and to see in South Korea and highlights some of the customs, traditions, and other cultural facts about the country that might interest a viewer, so it’s got an added dimension that the purely artifact- and location-based tourist tracts don’t.

On the one hand, the material I’ve read has covered a lot of the same ground and has been location- and artifact-based books I’ve read. But in reading similar material over and over again, I’m starting to pick up a sense of Korean history vicariously. I know when the Silla dynasty came to power, and I’ve got a sense of when the Yi (or Chosun) dynasty came to power. Although I lack detailed knowledge of the ins and outs of the history and the invasions, I’m getting a very high level sense of them. I’ve got a couple more books on Korean art to go through, and I think some of it will stick just from the repetition. Good for me.

At any rate, this book is an interesting artifact of its own in that it brags about different locations with all paved roads or mostly paved roads by 1980. I can laugh, because I live in Greene County, Missouri, one of the few counties in the state whose (public) roads are completely paved (although I’m not too far from some unpaved Christian County roads). Also, the book talks about driving four hours from Seoul to visit a location. I’m not much of a traveller, but it doesn’t appeal to me to fly some dozen hours to a destination and then drive eight hours round trip to another location. Perhaps that’s geared more toward the people who travel to Korea for a month or something.

I’m glad I’ve picked these books up and have looked through them. And I’m absolutely ready if one of the local trivia nights has a category called Korea. Well, that’s overstating it: a lot of this washes over me. But I’m more prepared than many people.

Books mentioned in this review:

Book Report: Murder for Halloween edited by Michele Slung and Roland Hartman (1994)

Posted in Book Report, Books on November 18th, 2014 by Noggle

Book coverI started this book on Halloween, appropriately enough. Which means it has taken me over two weeks to read this one book, which hardly justifies my profligate book buying habits. However, in my defense, the short story form leads to earlier reading stoppage in the evening, as instead of maybe just reading one more chapter of a novel, I have to think, “Do I want to read a whole new story with whole new characters and a whole new narrative style and situation tonight?” Often, the answer was no.

That’s not to knock the quality of the short stories in the volume; they’re all crime stories, not all of which include murder, centered on Halloween. Most have been published before, which explains why I’d read one of them before, an Edward D. Hoch Nick Velvet story I probably caught in its first appearance in a Ellery Queen.

At any rate, the book includes:

  • “Monsters” by Ed McBain
  • “The Lemures” by Steven Saylor
  • “The Adventure of the Dead Cat” by Ellery Queen
  • “The Odstock Curse” by Peter Wimsey
  • “The Theft of the Halloween Pumpkin” by Edward D. Hoch
  • “Hallowe’en for Mr. Faulkner” by August Derleth
  • “Deceptions” by Marcia Muller
  • “The Black Cat” by Edgar Allan Poe
  • “OMJAGOD” by James Grady
  • “The Cloak” by Robert Bloch
  • “What a Woman Wants” by Michael Z. Lewin
  • “Yesterday’s Witch” by Gahan Wilson
  • “Walpurgis Night” by Bram Stoker
  • “Trick or Treat” by Judith Garner
  • “One Night at a Time” by Dorothy Cannell
  • “Night of the Goblin” by Talmage Powell
  • “Trick-or-Treat” by Anthony Boucher
  • “Pork Pie Hat” by Peter Straub

Some of them are straight crime fiction, but some slide into horror and fantasy. “One Night At A Time”, for example, deals with a vampire detective. A couple of the stories are told from the perspective of children, such as “Yesterday’s Witch” and “OMJAGOD”. Some are of the quality of detective magazine filler, such as “What A Woman Wants” which is about a police squad looking for a smash-and-grab thief that uses Oldsmobile Cutlasses in his crimes, and the antagonist has a ride along magazine writer and agonizes about how to approach a fellow cop for a date fishing.

So it was a timely read when I started it, but a time consuming read once I started it. The biggest takeaway I got was in reading the Steven Saylor story set in Ancient Rome. I have a number of his paperbacks that I picked up some time ago, and his short story here has given me the excuse to pick one of them up.

Books mentioned in this review:

Book Report: Limericks by Edward Lear &c (1980)

Posted in Book Report, Books, Poetry on November 14th, 2014 by Noggle

Book coverThis book is just what it says: A collection of limericks, the five line poem type.

The book contains 212 limericks by Edward Lear, the English writer who popularized the form. His limericks are a bit of nonsence, and the fifth line pretty much just restates the first line without the clever twist that later limericks employed. So we get things like this:

There was a Young Person in Pink,
Who called out for something to drink;
But they said, “O my daughter,
There’s nothing but water!”
Which vexed that Young Person in Pink.

and:

There was an Old Person of Fife,
Who was greatly disgusted with life;
They sang him a ballad,
And fed him on salad,
Which cured that old Person of Fife.

After the main course of Lear, we get 28 limericks from Punch magazine and then 20 other limericks. These last 48 are in the contemporary form with a little more punchline to the last line, but none of them stuck with me or inspired me to memorize them and tell them to others.

I’m not really consumed with the urge to try out the form, either.

So skip this book unless you’re a real scholar on poetry forms or want something to browse through during football games and don’t mind re-reading the same limerick a couple of times because you’d forgotten you’d read it before third down.

Books mentioned in this review:

Book Report: Leif and Thorkel: Two Norse Boys of Long Ago by Genevra Snedden (1924)

Posted in Book Report, Books on November 4th, 2014 by Noggle

Book coverThis book is a ninety year old children’s book, written when children’s books were not 300+ page fantasies part of a series for adults to read. As such, it’s a couple pages over one hundred and is, the title page informs us, designed to make children interested in history. As opposed to fantasy, magic, dystopia, and intrigue, which is what we’re teaching them now, I guess.

At any rate, this follows two young Norseboys, Leif Ericson and Thorkel. Leif has come to live with Thorkel and his family, including father Lodin and wife Astrid. The chapters of the book recapture some of the slices of life in Norway around 1000 AD: Lodin comes home from raiding England; they drive the cattle down from the mountains for the winter; they prepare for and endure winter; they prepare the cattle to go to the mountains in the spring; they attend a Thing, which is a court proceeding adjudicating a dispute among neighbors and then a duel when one party does not concede. Then, the boys go their separate ways: Leif to Greenland where his father lives and then onto the Americas briefly and Thorken as part of a war between his half-brother, who becomes king of Norway, and an alliance of other nations against him.

The book has no larger plot other than these guys growing up and becoming men. It illustrates the way the Vikings lived from the perspective of young men whom the target audience could relate to. And it leaves the reader a little smarter than when he started, even if it’s only to remind an adult of things he’d learned about the Vikings in school but didn’t have at the tip of his brain.

This 1924 book was published by the World Book Company. Later, that company would be better known for its encyclopedias.

It’s a handsome looking hardback, too. Which is a shame, though, because I’ll probably start collecting other volumes in the series in my nonchalant collecting fashion, and it’s hard for me to keep track of all things I’m nonchalantly collecting.

Books mentioned in this review:

Book Report: As Autumn Approaches by Ronald E. Piggee (1993)

Posted in Book Report, Books, Poetry on November 3rd, 2014 by Noggle

Book coverThis book is a chapbook written by a Vietnam veteran, a black father in Nebraska in 1993. The poetry within ranges through a bunch of different styles, including free verse and at least one villanelle. It’s better than a lot of chapbooks I’ve read.

The book led me to some personal musings, though. In 1993, my father was two years away from dying from cancer; he was a Vietnam-era veteran who served in Okinawa instead of Vietnam (and I think he felt a little guilty about it). It’s hard for me to imagine him writing poetry, but that was not his way. He was a hands guy: his creative hobby of the time period was building elaborate ship models that required him to tie nautical knots in thread using a magnifying glass and tweezers.

Crazy that a book of poems about growing older would make me think about my father, how he didn’t grow older, and how I will not long be older than he ever was. Or maybe not so crazy, since that’s what poetry does. So consider that an endorsement of this book: It was definitely evocative.

Book Report: No Exit and Three Other Plays by Jean-Paul Sartre (~1950)

Posted in Book Report, Books on November 1st, 2014 by Noggle

Book coverSince I’m apparently on an Existentialism kick (see my recent report on Camus’s The Fall. I picked up this book. I’ve read No Exit before, whether in my collegiate Existentialist reading period or my collegiate Existentialism class. I had not read the three others, though.

For those of you who don’t know, The Fall is about three people in Hell. Each of them is condemned for sins related to love, and their torment is to spend eternity with people who irritate them. It’s the source for the quote “Hell is–other people.” that American collegiate Existentialists banter amongst themselves.

The Flies is a retelling of the story of Orestes and Electra’s revenge upon their mother Clytemnestra for the killing of their father Agamemnon. In this retelling, the Orestes returns to Argos just before they ‘celebrate’ a holiday when the dead come back to remind the living of their crimes and slights against the departed. Orestes meets a disguised Zeus and then his sister, who has long hoped for her brother’s bloody return. When they meet, she does not think he’ll be the one to wreak vengeance, but he does and she has second thoughts. He kills his mother and stepfather, and the siblings hide out from the vengeance-seeking populace and Furies in Apollo’s temple, where Zeus appears to deal with them and to get them to return to his fold and to rule the people by casting off their freedom and doing his plan.

In Dirty Hands, a comrade imprisoned for killing the leader of a rival faction returns to his revolutionary compatriots to their chagrin, as he has proven to be unreliable. An old flame or crush of his secures his temporary safety while she tries to understand what went on with the assassination attempt and whether the fellow killed the charismatic and pragmatic leader for proper party reasons or in jealousy.

The Respectful Prostitute tells a short tale about a prostitute fresh in town who was the witness of the killing of a black man on a train by an respected citizen of the town and the member of a powerful family. The official story is supposed to involve the attempted rape of the young lady by two black men and her defense by the racist fellow, but she does not initially want to hew to that line and tries to resist various forms of persuasion to keep her story true.

They’re all pretty quick reads; the translations aren’t dated. Sartre’s work really draws out some of the Existentialist thoughts on freedom and what it means to be a person, and Sartre really subtlely leaves some questions for us to wonder about–particularly whether the wife of the main character in Dirty Hands got herself into a compromising position with the political figure to trigger her husband’s jealousy and compel him to complete his mission. Pretty good stuff, and reading it makes me feel deep.

Books mentioned in this review:

Book Report: Historical Tweets by Alan Beard and Alec McNayr (2010)

Posted in Book Report, Books on October 31st, 2014 by Noggle

Book coverThis book looks enough like something that Henry Beard would write that I thought maybe they were the same guy (until I looked at a Henry Beard book and saw his name was Henry and not Alan). I thought maybe they were related. It appears not. They’re only in the same vein of humor.

This book presents a series of Twitter messages–tweets– that historical figures might have sent. It’s akin to a number of lists you’ve already read on the Internet.

So it’s quick and it’s clever in places, but there’s nothing especially revelatory about history, nor does the humor last with you after you turn the page.

But it counts as a book I read this year, so there.

Worth a buck at a book fair, but please don’t give me the 2015 desk calendar for Christmas.

Books mentioned in this review:

Book Report: Longarm and the Border Showdown by Tabor Evans (1993)

Posted in Book Report, Books on October 26th, 2014 by Noggle

Book coverI picked up this book, and I was all like, “Shazam, how different are these titles in the same series?” For lo, although the book started out with a bit of gratuitous hey, sailor contact for grandfathers everywhere, the paragraphs were longer, deeper, and richer than I could have expected. But then I realized I’d confused this, a volume in the Longarm series, with the entry in the Gunsmith series that I’d read earlier. And they’re night and day.

In this book, Longarm is a Federal marshal sent from his normal Colorado range to Laredo, Texas, to investigate a fellow Federal marshal who might have gone bad and might be helping crooked local authorities in smuggling operations. So Longarm picks up an unlucky gambler traveling partner and heads down to pose as a merchant who can happen to come across a large number of Federal weapons to sell.

As I mentioned, the book is deeper and richer in prose and its set pieces take a little work. It’s got some, er, amorous scenes, but it’s also got its limits in that area; there are apparently some women the main character won’t touch. Additionally, the book reads like a Western with its painting of frontier towns and–who would think it?– concerns about horses and transporting horses.

So I liked it as a lighter read, and its linear story telling allowed me to put it down and not have to go back to see if I’d forgotten a three page jump cut scene with important information that I’d read and forgotten the night before.

So as I get older, I’m finding myself looking forward to good genre fiction and classic literature for pleasure reading than modern thrillers and detective novels. Fortunately for me, there is plenty of both on my to-read shelves. Also, should I want to get into this series, it’s apparently still in production 20 years after the release of this book, the 174th in the series. It’s up to 436 novels done or in planning, 30 Giant novels, and 4 Double novels (according to Fantastic Fiction). So I’ll keep my eyes open for these titles at the book sales in Ozark and in Clever. And someday I’ll gut out others I own in the Gunsmith series. When I need penance for something.

Books mentioned in this review:

Book Report: The Fall by Albert Camus (1956)

Posted in Book Report, Books on October 17th, 2014 by Noggle

Book coverI picked up this book because it was sure to be more weighty than the other things I’ve been reading recently, and so it was.

The book is a short novel told in flashback by a reliable narrator. The first person narrator is a former Parisian lawyer who now haunts a bar called Mexico City in the red light district of Amsterdam. The narrator talks to a new visitor to the bar and, over the course of a number of nights and trips around Amsterdam, tells his story: He was a successful, had many mistresses, was respected, and demonstrated philanthropy until a single event called him to question himself, at which time he no longer felt the success he wanted to be and tried to show he was. He eventually ends up in this bar, telling his stories to try to knock other successful people off of their game as well.

Of course, the story told in flashback by an unreliable narrator makes it easy to dismiss his stories, but the book does illustrate a certain tension between a Dale Carnegie outlook and that of the Existentialist. That is, a Dale Carnegie self builds itself into greatness and might find happiness by striving to be better and experiencing setbacks, whereas the Existentialist might be going along all right until something triggers the Existentialism, the sense that the creation of the self is hypocrisy. I’m being a bit twee here, but I’m identifying two types of self-conscious personality types, people who think about who they want to be and either try to be it or do not. Of course, another personality type that is not so self-conscious exists and just does what it does, whether it’s Randian Triumph or Moochery or just people who go through their lives doing their things. Maybe I’m philosophizing a little glibly here and broadly talking about types of people who do not exist.

At any rate, it does show the defeatist Existential response to resistance in self-definition. Given the nature of the narrator, it’s not a ringing endorsement of this point of view, but it’s not an indictment of it, either. More of a description.

One can’t help compare this book to Jean-Paul Sartre’s Nausea; in that book, a historian eventually has his Existentialist trigger moment, but it’s just thought-based, whereas in The Fall, it is the narrator’s reaction to an event (or events) that triggers his pessimism. Ergo, it’s a much more approachable and true-to-life book. Of course, it’s been twenty years since I read Nausea, so I might be describing my experienced flavor of it instead of the book itself, so your mileage may vary.

At any rate, it’s a short little novel, as the Existentialists were wont, and it does give one some things to think about regarding consciousness, our self-images, and their relationships to the world. Which is never a bad thing, unless one goes the full Existentialist and starts feeling the need to compliment Sartre.

Books mentioned in this review:

Book Report: Dirty South by Ace Atkins (2004)

Posted in Book Report, Books on October 16th, 2014 by Noggle

Book coverWith this book, I decide I don’t like Ace Atkins’ books very much.

This is one in his Nick Travers line of books. Travers is a former New Orleans Saints linebacker who becomes a college professor, one who teaches only a class or two and spends most of his time researching blues music and interviewing old blues musicians. And doing favors for friends, favors of an investigative nature. Also, he becomes a bar owner during the course of the book and begins rehabbing/resuscitating his favorite blues bar. Also, he’s seeing a woman in Mississippi, but he spends a lot of time in New Orleans away from her, especially while on this case.

A fellow former football player, now a rap record mogul, turns to Nick when the new fifteen-year-old sensation is ripped off and when the rap mogul needs to come up with a large amount of cash to satisfy a loan from another rap mogul. So Travers looks into it amidst the other series business.

This book include the flaws I didn’t care for in The Lost Ones and Cheap Shot. Chief amongst them is how much of the book is spent on the series business and not on the efforts of Travers to solve the problem at hand. He gets a dog. He meets with his girlfriend, but she does not serve as a philosophical foil a la Spenser’s Susan Silverman. He kind of tries to mentor the fifteen-year-old by taking him to a friend’s farm, where he’s expected to do manual work to find himself (compare to Robert B. Parker’s Early Autumn). He gets ownership of a bar and works on it with friends; its opening serves as the triumphant end book. Most of these things do not apply to the actual plot of the book.

A good book, and a good series book, works the plot first and then a little bit of series growth and movement as the plot unfolds. In this book and others in Atkins ones I have read recently, the overarching movement of the series occurs at the same time and independently of the actual individual book’s plot. I’m not sure you even saw that in the late Parker as starkly as you see it here. Perhaps it’s the 21st century way–I don’t read that many modern series, as you know.

Also, this book offers three points of view: The first person of Nick Travers; a third person limited omniscient focus on one of the bad guys in scenes to show us how bad he is; and the first person of the fifteen-year-old. The perspective of the fifteen-year-old and all the scenes there only give us the flavor of his perspective and don’t advance the plot. The third person of the bad guy only serves to show us how bad he is. Well, okay, they show a little of relationships that prove important to the plot, but the scenes aren’t really necessary to show the relationships. They don’t even really humanize the bad guy or add depth to him; they just illustrate he’s a bad guy. And he’s just a level boss, not the big bad guy..

I’m not sure whether these extra scenes and extra points-of-view merely padd the book up to hardback size or if they’re intended as what my fiction professor told our workshop were nice little moments. But they slow the book down quite a bit.

Additionally, the book is built out of short chapters jumping around amongst the points of view and into and out of the plot. This doesn’t suit my current reading style, which is just a brief twenty or thirty minute session at night before bed. I found myself having to re-read preceding chapters to ensure that I hadn’t forgotten something out of left field that I’d read the night before. With a more linear book, I can recap by simply finding my place in the book.

At any rate, I only picked this book up because I dropped by the library when I was going to have an hour available for reading and nothing to read on hand. Unfortunately, I didn’t find a short history summary book and ended up with this book. Next time, I will try harder. Or make sure I’ve got a paperback in reach at all times.

Books mentioned in this review:

Book Report: Poems of Creatures Large and Small edited by Gail Harvey (1991)

Posted in Book Report, Books, Poetry on October 7th, 2014 by Noggle

Book coverThis book is not the first in this series of grouped short poetry anthologies I’ve read; in 2007, I read Poems of Flowers and Poems of Friendship shortly after finding them at an Old Trees estate sale. I picked up the current volume at a thrift store about a week ago. I like these slim little anthologies that I read them quickly.

As with the other volumes, this slim (65) page volume collects mostly public domain poems on a theme. This time, it’s animals, so all of the poems are about animals (Tiger, tiger, burning bright? It’s in there.). As always, the poems vary in style and, honestly, quality, but it does offer a bit of a buffet approach to a number of styles and poets from Whitman to Wordsworth to a lot of Bret Harte.

I know, I know, Don’t you have an English degree? Shouldn’t you be reading Real Volumes of Poetry? Oh, but no. I’m currently into my third decade of trying to read the complete works of Emily Dickinson, friends, and I’m here to tell you that poetry is supposed to delight and entertain. It’s supposed to be deep pop music. Pleasing to the ear and conveying deep meaning. Like so much art, it got corrupted by critics and poetasters so that too much of it is either too ponderous to be appreciated by normal people or just twee without any deeper resonance. Give me a K-Tel collection of poems like this any day over the complete works of Wallace Stevens.

I liked this collection so much that I’m considering looking into how many Gail Harvey edited in this series and seeking out the others. Fortunately, the intersection of my laziness and otherwise busy day will intercede and prevent me from adding any more to my sagging shelves other than the upcoming autumn book sales and occasional trip to the thrift store.

Books mentioned in this review:

Book Report: Bomun Temple in Seoul Korea (?) and Wonderful Korea

Posted in Book Report, Books on October 6th, 2014 by Noggle

Book cover Book cover

I picked up these books in Clever this spring for something to flip through during football games. And so I did.

The first, Bomun Temple in Seoul Korea, is an inexpensive tourist trinket for visitors of a Buddhist temple in Seoul, South Korea. It’s a set of photos with captions bound with string, and it includes errata such as the same page appearing twice. It focuses on the artifacts and architecture of a single temple, so it’s pretty in-depth.

The second, Wonderful Korea, is broader. It’s broken into sections by province or geographic region and has a couple photos of different temples, pagodas, parks, and museums. As such, it focuses on things you can see all over Korea. It’s broken down into districts within Korea and highlights some of the things to visit in those areas. The area around Seoul is heavily represented, and the locations are given a couple of images and sometimes a couple of artifact images, but it is by design not very detailed about any one location. The book also includes a number of maps to help you get around Korea and the districts in each chapter, and amid all of the eastern architecture and art, there are dots on the map for the local YWCA. Which would now be historic, but were then contemporary.

Takeaways from flipping through:

  • Historical books from continents other than North and South America really drive home how recent our historical sites are. Whereas your local historical societies run back about a hundred or a hundred and fifty years before getting very swirling-fog-of-prehistory, these books feature temples built while the Roman Empire was a thing that were burned when Charlemagne was important and then rebuilt when Christopher Columbus was considered crazy instead of evil.
     
  • Eastern art and architecture aren’t my thing. I’m more into the highly realized works of the European Renaissances and beyond, and Asian art looks a little primitive and playful to me. That’s a taste judgment, ungentle reader, not a moral one. Your kilometerage may vary.

Still, I’m glad to have looked through them. I have a couple more from that score this spring and I’ll keep you apprised as I go through them, but I imagine my reaction will be similar.

Books mentioned in this review:

Book Report: The Barrabas Hit by Jack Hild (1989)

Posted in Book Report, Books on October 5th, 2014 by Noggle

Book coverSo close after reading Designation Gold, I picked up this book to really juxtapose and contrast the Marcinko books with more common men’s adventure fiction.

This book finds Barrabas set up and kidnapped in Athens by a former associate who blames Barrabas and the SOBs for a botched operation that left him disfigured. Once he has Barrabas locked in a basement on a Greek island, the man now going by Joshua leaves a trail for the SOBs to follow to lead them to his island–and an ambush.

The book starts out with the operation that went bad and then seemingly tries to play up the mystery of who this “Joshua” is. Perhaps the scene at the beginning was added later. It’s a quick read, of course, and interesting and consumable in that men’s adventure novel way.

Where I dinked the Marcinko and Weisman book about the non-first person narrator characters for seeming like NPCs, this book uses third person, so many of the characters come across that way, too. The good guys and the named bad guys are interchangeable but for a characteristic. O’Toole is the Irish one, Billy Two is the Indian one, Lee is the woman one, and so on. The plot is thinner and more straight forward than the more modern thriller (although there are only eight years that separate these two books, one is patterned on the thriller and one on the adventure novel).

At any rate, they’re different books and they suit different audiences or moods. But I experienced the flavor of each and, as I said, got the contrast acutely.

I’ve got a couple more SOBs books (and keep accumulating men’s adventure novels), and I’ll get to them as the mood strikes. The SOB books aren’t as good as the old Pendleton Executioner books, but they’re not dumpster diving like some of the paperback series are.

Books mentioned in this review:

Book Report: Rogue Warrior: Designation Gold by Richard Marcinkco and John Weisman (1997)

Posted in Book Report, Books on October 3rd, 2014 by Noggle

Book coverThis book, strangely enough, is the first one I tried to read after I read the purportedly nonfictional Rogue Warrior, and I was immediately bogged down in the very opening of it. So I set it aside and later realized it was not the first of the fiction (Rogue Warrior II: Red Cell was, and I’ve since read that).

However, on my second go-round, I was more into it.

Within the story, Marcinko goes to Russia (ca 1997) to investigate the killing of one of his “shipmates” and his family, including Marcinko’s godson. He finds Russian gangsters, a multinational fixer, and ultimately a plot for the Syrians to build a nuclear weapon for it–or be framed for the effort in order to draw an Israeli strike. Marcinko investigates, does some action stuff, leads some set piece raids, gets thwarted by the brass, overcomes obstacles, meets some kindred spirits, and triumphs.

It’s a decent thriller, thicker than a men’s adventure novel and written with a little more depth. Many of the non-Marcinko characters do come off a bit like non-player characters where they’re only distinguished by their nickname. But the voice of the narrator is distinct and brash and, if you’re in the mood for it, a bit of fun. The definite, conscious asides about exposition, equipment, tactics, or whatever the narrator is going on about now contrasts with Clancy-esque attempts to just fit it into the narrative where it can be tedious and jarring. The voice also contrasts a bit with the first person narrator of the Odd Thomas novels, wherein Odd goes into deep musings of philosophical questions in between action bits. In these books, the narrator is briefing you, often at the presumed annoyance of his editor. It works pretty well.

Secondly, these books are coming on twenty years old, and the world has moved from a place of turmoil in the shadows to a place of overt turmoil. The plot described in the book isn’t imaginative or speculative since the Israelis have hit a Syrian site thought to be preparing nuclear materials. Twenty years ago, this stuff might have been just outside the realm of what we thought was really possible. Imaginative. Now, it seems a little more true-to-life. Sadly, it’s aging too well.

So I’m looking forward to reading the others I have (but that doesn’t mean I’ll rush right into them), and I’ll probably fill in the gaps such as I can. I have to wonder, though, if they suffer from the same eventual fate of these kinds of thrillers when they transition authorship that they will lose that which makes them special. Probably, but I have a ways to go until I get there with the series.

Books mentioned in this review:

Book Report: What Makes a Picasso a Picasso? by Richard Muhlberger (1994)

Posted in Book Report, Books on October 1st, 2014 by Noggle

Book coverThis book proves me a hypocrite. I’ve dodged cultural sensations like Harry Potter, Twilight, and Hunger Games because, I’ve ::sniffed::, they’re children’s books. But put a discarded library children’s book about an artist in front of me, and I’m all over it.

Because, let’s face it, my knowledge of Picasso is precursory. I know his era, his acquaintence with Gertrude Stein and the Lost Generation, and he did La Guernica which I did a paper on in college, although I’m not entirely sure what I had to say about it. Probably that it fought the norms of the day in which I wrote the paper, which strangely enough were sort of still norms instead of the anachronisms they are now. Everything else I got from Steve Martin’s Picasso at the Lapin Agile, which is why I’m prone to answer at trivia nights that Picasso knew Elvis.

This book is a simple little book from the Museum of Modern Art and takes a brief, high-level overview of Picasso and his work and its phases. So I learned a bit about his Blue Period and what he was trying to do with Cubism. Basically, it’s a painted collage of different views of the same image. Okay, I get it, but I don’t think it’s any less stupid.

So I got something out of this book, and it didn’t take too long to read. Best of all, there are others in the series with other artists, so I’ll definitely keep my eyes open for others in the line. Because I like to know a little bit about a lot of things, even though I have to go to children’s books to learn them. And it didn’t take a million words to get to the end and think it was stupid that Picasso and Hermione weren’t together.

Books mentioned in this review:

Book Report: Cheap Shot by Ace Atkins (2014)

Posted in Book Report, Books on September 30th, 2014 by Noggle

Book Report: Cheap Shot by Ace Atkins (2014)

Book coverI was not particularly impressed with this book. Perhaps I read it too soon after The Lost Ones and found too many of that book’s flaws in this one.

In this book, a New England Patriots linebacker hires Spenser to look into some people who were following him. Spenser is not sure if it’s someone associated with his second wife who has a sketchy past or if it’s related to a nightclub shooting where someone died and the linebacker might have been responsible. So Spenser does some sleuthing and follows some false leads to make it interesting. Nobody in the Patriots organization wants him hanging around, nor does the linebacker’s agent. Then the linebacker’s son is kidnapped and held for ransom, but the linebacker instead offers the ransom as a bounty on the kidnappers. Hey, haven’t I seen that in a movie? Spenser then follows some other leads and saves the kid after some danger. The end, except one of the bad guys is untouched, which does not bring closure to the story and leads into next week’s episode.

So Atkins’ writing sometimes seems as informed by television and movies–where he makes allusions to celluloid instead of print, and by “allusions to” I mean “he borrows from.” His writing style when affecting Parker’s is better still than the mid-to-late Parker, but I’m hopeful that he gets more original with further books.

Also, SUCKER PUNCH ALERT. Okay, Atkins is wise to steer away from political commentary within the books–which means he’s probably a conservative, but Spenser repeatedly mocks people for wearing suits from Men’s Wearhouse. Hey, I own suits from Men’s Wearhouse. And they’re a far step above the slacks and button down shirts I get at Walmart that are my daily apparel. Also, one of the cheap foils for Spenser and Hawk’s masculinity claims to be a second-degree black belt in Tae Kwon Do, but he crumples with a single blow from Hawk. Hey, I am studying Tae Kwon Do (mixed in with a couple of other disciplines). I know some second degree black belts, and I’d like to think they’d put up a bit more of a fight (although, in full disclosure, in my started-but-incomplete follow up to my first, unpublished novel, the protagonist squares off on a fellow who goes into a fighting stance. “Tae kwon do?” my protagonist asks. The bad guy nods. Then my protagonist drew a semiautomatic and said, “Meets some urban ninjistu.” So although I’m dissing it a bit, I’m not going to the extreme Atkins does). Where was I? Oh, yeah, Why is Ace Atkins attacking all of my life choices? What next, mocking an English degree? A taste for omelets? All because I’ve given him a lukewarm review on an obscure blog?

What, it’s not all about me? Gentle reader, this is the Internet. It *is* all about me. Cosmically. If only you connect the dots and dust motes.

So I’m not weaned off of Atkins’ Spenser novels or other novels because I’m hopeful others will have better things to offer. But these last two things I’ve read have not been highlights of his oeuvre.

Books mentioned in this review:

Book Report: Mary Rose by J.M. Barrie (1929)

Posted in Book Report, Books on September 13th, 2014 by Noggle

Book coverI am so easily led. I see an article ("War, Culture, and the Minds of Nations") allude to a book (actual quote: "There were other responses that we have largely forgotten. England saw a revival of the spiritualism that had emerged in late-Victorian days among post-Christian intellectuals. James M. Barrie had a huge West End success with his syrupy mystical play Mary Rose, in which a bride disappears on her honeymoon on a Scottish isle only to reappear there completely unchanged 30 years later. It was said that when the line “Mary Rose is coming across the fields” was spoken, a gasp went through the audience. But a London theater audience in the 1920s was likely to contain several hundred people whose sons, nephews, and older brothers had perished on the Western Front. However absurdly, they were hoping that death could somehow be denied."), and suddenly I must read that.

So I bought this book and read it immediately.

The play, as one would expect from the author of Peter Pan, is fantastic in nature and also deals with, as Mr. O’Sullivan indicates, a character who is strangely young. The play has three acts: there’s a frame story about an old man coming to a haunted house for sale. He wants to see a ghost. Then we go to a flashback in the house, where a man, his wife, and the parson interact and talk about art. Then the man and his wife entertain the suitor of their daughter Mary Rose and reveal to him a curious incident from her youth, where she played on an island in Scotland while her father fished in a boat nearby, and she somehow disappeared for a number of days. When they found her, no time had passed. In the next act, the now-husband takes Mary Rose back to the island, and as they prepare to leave, she vanishes. Then another flashback takes place thirty years into the future; Mary Rose’s parents and the parson are again talking about art, and again Mary Rose’s husband arrives. Mary Rose has been missing the whole time, but news comes that Mary Rose has returned and is on her way (she’s coming across the fields). Mary Rose arrives, and she’s stunned to see how everyone has aged, and she’s eager to see her son who was a baby when she disappeared, but who has run away and made his life in Australia. Finally, we return to the present day, where the old man is Mary Rose’s son, and he meets the ghost of his mother. Mary Rose, now a ghost, has forgotten what she’s looking for, but it’s him, and he has difficulty in convincing her it’s the case, but ultimately, he puts her spirit at ease.

The plot is very symmetrical and engaging, but I think there’s a lot of the story that lies in between the frame stories that would be interesting. What happened to Mary Rose after she returned? She never went back to the island? Did she die young after not finding her child?

The day after finishing it, I’m still thinking about it, so that’s probably the mark of a good bit of theatre. And like so many of the non-modern plays I read, I’d like to see this on stage. But that is unlikely.

Books mentioned in this review:

Book Report: The Lost Ones by Ace Atkins (2012)

Posted in Book Report, Books on September 8th, 2014 by Noggle

Book coverI bought this book off of the discount rack at Barnes and Noble as part of a recent binge there. I’ve enjoyed Atkins’ Spenser novels (Lullaby and Wonderland), and I didn’t think much of White Shadow (but I didn’t dislike it enough to swear the non-Spenser Atkins books). So I picked this up. New, albeit old.

I have to wonder how much television programming affects how one reads books or perhaps how one writes them. This book is the second of the Quinn Colson novels about a ranger who served several tours overseas and who comes home and ends up sheriff of his county in Mississippi (that took place in the first book, where he had to uncover some perfidy that his uncle, the previous sheriff, was part of or something–events of that book are alluded to an awful lot). As part of his duties, he’s trying to find work for a friend and fellow veteran who lost an arm; he has to find a woman who is smuggling babies for adoption from Mexico; he also has to contend with a gun-running operation working through a traveling carnival for which another fellow veteran is the supplier.

It features all the modern amenities of shifting points of view with an omniscient narrator to ensure the short attention spans of modern readers (myself included) don’t wander. It hops between the plot items and everyday life of the protagonists (and antagonists). It alludes to the past things in the series. And then it wraps up, sort of, with some elements unfixed. Maybe that’s for next week? Also, we’ve got some flashbacks to childhood while Quinn works out an episode from his past that might have turned his younger sister from the straight and narrow onto a self-destructive path. It’s a very busy book.

I’ve only seen one episode of the television program Justified, but this book felt of a kind with the pilot of that program.

I guess this sort of thing has been a part of police procedurals since the 87th Precinct novels of Ed McBain, but somehow they’ve gotten moreso. Or maybe I was not in the mood for it.

At any rate, it’s not a bad book, and I liked it better than White Shadow, but I’m not going to rush right out and buy the rest of the series.

Unless I find them at book fairs or on Barnes and Noble binges, I suppose.

Books mentioned in this review:

Book Report: Odd Apocalypse by Dean Koontz (2012)

Posted in Book Report, Books on August 28th, 2014 by Noggle

Book coverFunny thing about the passage of time when you get older: longer and longer passages of time seem like a short time because, I guess, they’re a smaller percentage of your whole lifespan. Which is why, although I last read an Odd Thomas novel (Odd Hours four years ago and the graphic novel In Odd We Trust three years ago, it doesn’t seem that long. Perhaps it’s the diminishing number of books I’m reading these days; it’s only been, what, 200 books ago, not 450 books ago?

At any rate, I picked up this book from the discount rack at Barnes and Noble on a recent binge, and I’m reading them first out of my stack of thousands. Besides, the character of Odd Thomas is still engaging enough to give me warm feelings about them. Especially after three or four years pass between readings.

This book finds Odd Thomas and his pregnant protectee on an estate where the few employees are weird, and the fierce owner seems of two minds about helping Annamaria, the pregnant woman. He’s compelled to house her, but he’s not happy about it when she’s not around. Odd Thomas gets some apocalyptic visions and encounters some strange beasts on the grounds, which are shuttered tight at night. So Odd investigates and finds not an apocalypse waiting to happen, but strange things at Roseland nevertheless and evil that he must ferret out and guns he must fire.

The same quibbles I had with Odd Hourse I have here: Too much of the book is Odd thinking to himself. Too much riding the voice alone and not the events or the odd things. To be sure, some fantastic things occur, but I’m pulled out of it by Odd Thomas as much as I’m drawn into it.

So it’s okay, more straight ahead fantasy thriller than horror.

I see that I’m two or more books behind on the series, and I’ve had enough of it for now. According to current projects, I’ll finish the series sometime in my fifties. Okay.

Books mentioned in this review:

Book Report: Books Are Better In Bed Than Men Because… by Deenie Vin (1991)

Posted in Book Report, Books on August 24th, 2014 by Noggle

Book coverYou might have thought the depths of my book-reporting could get no lower than books comparing cats to men, but you have little imagination, gentle reader. Why, in my quest to rack up numbers for the sheer love of metrics, I have not even begun to critique coloring books yet!

I have, however, glanced through this book. It’s lower in quality than the cat books in both publishing (it’s a comb-bound book) and in tone. This one is a little more racy than the cat-loving books, and that’s to be expected, as it is entitled “in Bed”. But it’s a bit repetitive in quips, as the “you can read a lot of books and not be judged” motif appears several times. You will, however, be judged by how many times you hit the same punchline in a slightly different way to pad out a book.

So it might have been an amusing gift back in the day to give to your bookish friend, but most of the amusement is in the concept of the book and the gifting of it, not in the execution of the book or its reading.

Books mentioned in this review: