Book Report: Curse of the Gypsy Woman by Lin G. Hill (1993)

Posted in Book Report, Books on March 5th, 2015 by Noggle

Book coverThis book is a chapbook containing a single short story by a local author; I think I have one of his full length works here somewhere. I must have gotten this book in a package of books for a buck at the Friends of the Springfield-Greene County book sale.

At any rate, in this story, an author with writer’s block and a looming deadline agrees to take a quick vacation to a random spot on a map, and he ends up renting a car and driving with his wife into the Ozarks. They pull off the highway where a sign promises a restaurant and a place to stay, but the road turns to a dirt road. They pass an old gypsy woman and do not give her a ride, which leads to her placing a curse upon them. When they reach the ramshackle inn, they find it’s run by gypsies, and they’re kidnapped and taken to a hidden gypsy camp where they are locked in a ramshacklier shanty on the Night of the Wolf. And werewolves attack, and they survive. BECAUSE THEY’RE NOW CURSED WITH LYCANTHROPY.

It’s a pretty basic story, and not a very good one. But it hearkens back to a time of less cellular coverage and fewer smartphones. In a more deft storytelling, this might not have been quite so disparate, the distance between then and now, but reading it left a lot of brainpower for thinking about other things instead of the primary text.

Geez, Charles, I hope this isn’t your brother I’m pooh-poohing.

Book Report: Terrorist Summit by “Don Pendleton” (1982)

Posted in Book Report, Books on February 27th, 2015 by Noggle

Book coverThis book reads so much like an authentic Don Pendleton book that I checked Fantastic Fiction to see if Pendleton wrote it. He did not; Steven Krauzer did. Krauzer, apparently, had read some of the Pendleton books before starting out. You have a lot of the elements of the Pendleton Bolan in the book, but a decided bit of tomfoolery at the end that is uncharacteristic of Pendleton.

In the book, Bolan has to go to Algiers to look for a missing technology executive whose daughter was kidnapped by terrorists of some stripe. For ransom, they want a prototype suitcase nuke the exec’s company had developed. The man goes to Africa himself to find his daughter and is instead captured, and it’s up to Bolan to get him out. Bolan does so early, getting the nominal plot out of the way so it can turn Pendeltonesque. Bolan pursues the woman to a camp in the Sahara where a Soviet-trained bad guy has assembled a summit of numerous terrorist groups to organize them under an umbrella operation headed by him. Bolan infiltrates the base posing as a Mafia-based bigwig and turns the groups upon themselves. This is all pretty Pendletonesque.

However, at the climax, Bolan is escaping from the site in a Range Rover when a Jeep pursues. He puts down his rifle to pick up his trademark .44 and has the Range Rover spring into reverse so suddenly he’s coming at the terrorists hard and fast while firing the handgun. Instead of, you know, shooting them with the rifle from a distance.

The tacky ending makes me wonder how the whole business worked. Did the editors have this cinematic ending in mind and perhaps on paper when turning it over to the writer to fill in the gaps? I dunno, but it diminishes the book.

I’m going to start calling these things the thrown silverware moments in honor of Silent Night: an outlandish moment in the climax thrown in for cinematic value but that leaves any thoughtful reader agape.

Books mentioned in this review:

Book Report: Silent Night by Robert B. Parker and Helen Brann (2013)

Posted in Book Report, Books on February 25th, 2015 by Noggle

Book coverThis book was a little bit of a gift; it was, for me, an unexpected new Robert B. Parker Spenser novel. And although I savaged a lot of his later work on this very blog, because I know (suspect) this will be the last of his Spenser novels (although it was completed by someone else), I enjoyed it.

The plot: Around Christmas time, a boy comes to Spenser for help. The boy is associated with an unlicensed youth help facility. Run by the brother of an importer/exporter. Of drugs. The center is funded by the brother, who is unhappy about it but promised his mother to take care of his brother. Someone is attacking the brother who runs the shelter, trying to drive him off. The authorities are on the drug-smuggling brother, and he’s about to bolt, but he’s going to tie up some loose ends–including his former tennis pro girlfriend who might know too much. Until Spenser.

You know, trying to sum up the plot, I wonder if it holds up to scrutiny, or if the plot is merely the excuse for some Spensering.

Regardless, it’s full of proper Parkeriana: “Wouldn’t it be pretty to think so?” and unnecessary asides and psychoanalysis. We also get the obvious errata, like describing a Playstation and a couple of game cartridges or taking the shells out of a rifle. But because this is the last new Parker Spenser I’ll (probably) read, I kind of viewed them with affection.

Although I did laugh out loud in the climax, when the tennis pro is faced with a killer at a dinner party and picks up a knife from the table and throws it at the fellow, stopping him cold with a table knife to the chest. and Helen Brann, I presume. That does not read like something Parker would have done.

At any rate, I enjoyed it affectionately, and as time passes, Parker’s rising again in my memory. Perhaps I will fill out my collection of his works after all.

Now, with this rosy glow, do I pick up some of the latest John Sandford novels from the library?

UPDATE: As he mentions in the comments, Friar has already read this book.

Books mentioned in this review:

Book Report: Red Water by “J.R. Roberts” (2008)

Posted in Book Report, Books on February 22nd, 2015 by Noggle

Book coverIn case you’re wondering, it looks like it takes about nine months for me to forget how much I don’t like a series. I read A Daughter’s Revenge last May, and it took me until February 2015 to pick up this book.

Clint Adams, the Gunsmith, is camped out when clumsy horse thieves try to get the drop on him and steal his horse. He outfoxes them, goes to a nearby town (Red Water of the title), has an, erm, encounter, discovers the local marshal is forming a posse to hunt those dangerous (but clumsy) outlaws. The Gunsmith thinks that’s odd, and when he joins the posse after an, erm, encounter, he finds the marshal doesn’t have a plan for all the town’s decent gun handlers except that they’re out of town. Apparently, the marshal is in on a scheme to steal the plans of safes made by a local safemaker. Which Adams thwarts amid the, erm, encounters.

Of the contemporary Jove Western series, Longarm is the better of the two. As to the Gunsmith series, I think I’ll put them on a higher shelf and avoid them until I forget, again, how I feel about them.

Books mentioned in this review:

Book Report: The Gallic and Civil Wars by Julius Caesar (2006 ed)

Posted in Book Report, Books, History, History on February 21st, 2015 by Noggle

Book coverAs I mentioned, I got this book at the end of December with a Christmas gift card from ABC Books, who were having a half off sale on Folio Society books at the time, which is why I ended up with such a la-di-da edition. But Folio books are pretty handsome editions with heavyweight paper for the pages and a box to keep the dust off the top. I won’t join Folio Society and pay its prices for these books, but when I see them in the wild relatively inexpensive, I might pick them up if they’re something I want to read.

And I wanted to read this book after reading Last Seen in Massilia which takes place during the Civil War.

This book collects not only Caesar’s commentary on the Gallic War and the Civil War, but also the African War and the Spanish War (which were essentially extensions of the Civil War but with Pompey’s sons.

I’ll spare you the complete history lesson, but I will tell you what I learned about Roman warfare in the process:

  • With every campaign, Caesar informs the reader that he has secured a source of corn. This is no mere battlefield heroics tale; Caesar emphasizes the importance of logistics throughout, and the choice of camp sites for their access to food, water, and forage are continuously emphasized.
  • The amount of engineering and digging involved in soldiering in the Roman era took me a little by surprise. Whenever camping, the soldiers fortify their camp, and if they’re going to stay a while, they dig a lot of trenches and build earthen walls. To say nothing about the Battle of Alesia.
  • The Civil War has a different tone than the The Gallic War. The history of his campaigns in Gaul have the flavor of writing for history; the Civil War account has more of the feel of a contemporary political tract, where he’s justifying what’s going on for current readers, not history.
  • Caesar proves awful forgiving at times, allowing those whom he defeats to retain their lives and some of their privileges. This might have been prudent politically and strategically, as it allowed opponents to know that surrender did not mean death. It probably shortened many sieges. This contrasts with the Mongols, who drove refuges from captured towns before them to terrorize their next victims.

At any rate, it’s a pretty easy read even though it took me almost two months; as you know, I’ve been reading some other unrelated things alongside it. The translation seems pretty contemporary, and the narrative moves along, although I could have used a couple more maps sprinkled in the text to keep the movements straighter in my head. Also, I admit letting a large number of the names of the participants and places wash over me a bit.

I read a lot of these heady tomes, and I’m reading them, for the most part, and not studying them. I’m not highlighting or taking notes to write a paper on them. Perhaps that makes me less of a student than I should be, but the aggregation of the things I read builds connections between them so I am pretty sure I’m getting smarter as I do. But this isn’t the place for a detailed analysis of the Roman impact on Egyptian politics or the Egyptian impact on Roman politics in the first century BC, nor is it really my interest. Sorry, Googlers.

Also, note: This book was (mostly) written by Julius Caesar. Before the new Testament. Caesar is, you know, Caesar. A figure of such import to history that rulers bore his title two millennia later (that’s the Russian Tzars, as a reminder). There’s something inherently cool in my mind about reading his books. I’ll probably feel the same way about reading Thucydides and Plutarch once I really get into this Greek-Roman History rabbit hole.

I recommend it. It looks like you can get this edition for about $40 on the Internet, but the Kindle versions are cheaper.

Books mentioned in this review:

Book Report: Kung Fu: The Way of the Tiger, The Sign of the Dragon by Howard Lee (1973)

Posted in Book Report, Books on February 18th, 2015 by Noggle

Book coverThis book is one of several books tied into the original Kung Fu television series from the 1970s, in which a half-American Shaolin priest with a bounty on his head wanders the west having adventures. It ran for a couple of years and then ran in syndication for far longer (ask your dad what “syndication” is). Then, in the early 1990s, a spin-off appeared featuring the grandson and great-grandson of the original character, and that series played for longer than the original. I think I saw more segments and/or episodes of the spin-off than the original. So I didn’t come to the book with an existing love for the characters or story.

The book starts much like a pilot of the television series; in a series of flashbacks, Caine’s training is revealed and the events leading to his exile from China and the bounty on his head. In the present day of the book, which is the old West, Caine is fitting in with a bunch of railroad building Chinese immigrants driven by a harsh and murderous foreman who insists upon following the exact route planned for the railroad even though the company’s pesky geologist predicts disaster in blasting through mountains. When the disaster occurs, the Chinese rise up and only Caine can protect them from slaughter at the hands of the railroad guards.

It’s a short paperback, but it’s not as quick a read as could be expected. There is little dialogue, and there are stretches of paragraphs or pages of unnecessary musing–I guess this is the character development. The flashbacks aren’t problematic, though, and if you’re not familiar with the television series, they do provide a bit of parallel tension as his training unfolds.

I’ve got a bunch more of these paperbacks, and I’ll read them by and by. It did interest me in looking up the television series, but it doesn’t look like it’s free on Amazon Prime, so I won’t rush out to buy the DVDs for them. But the book is working its marketing and synergy magic, albeit forty years later.

Books mentioned in this review:

Book Report: The Harvard Classics: Folk-Lore and Fable by Aesop, the Brothers Grimm, and Hans Christian Andersen

Posted in Book Report, Books on February 11th, 2015 by Noggle

Book coverI’ve been reading this book to my son(s) over the course of the last two or three years. It’s a 368 page book, so cut me a little slack. Also note that we did the book in fits and starts, where we read a bunch of Aesop together, both boys and I, at the outset, but once we got into the relatively bloody Grimm brothers, we held off a bit. Eventually, the older boy wanted to hear the stories more than his younger brother did.

At any rate, we’re through it now. I’m not going to go into great detail because it’s been three years, and I’ve forgotten any of the lessons of Aesop’s that I might have learned. I will sum up some thoughts on each:

  • Aesop’s fables are good for children. They have a message in them, and their fanciful use of animals will make the children pay attention.
  • The Brothers Grimm are pretty bloody. There’s a lot of chopping getting done and bodily harm, but most of the stories have a redemptive element if not a Christian message. Famous Grimm stories include “Rapunzel”, “Hansel and Gretel”, “Cinderella”, “Little Red-Cap”, “Little Snow White”, “Rumplestiltskin”, and “The Golden Goose”. When Disney got a hold of them, the films had more survivors than the stories. Which is the same complaint I had about Disney’s Hamlet. Also, the brothers reuse elements of their stories, so if you read the whole kit and kaboodle at once, you’ll feel a sense of deja vu.
  • Hans Christian Andersen has a reputation about being child friendly, but his stories are about as bloody as the brothers Grimms’, and they often don’t end on a note of redemption. Instead, some like “The Emperor’s New Clothes” just kind of end abruptly, while others end like “The Shadow” end with a nominal protagonist losing in the end. Hans Christian Andersen is not unlike a children’s Stieg Larsson. Famous HCA stories include the aforementioned “The Emperor’s New Clothes”, “The Little Mermaid” (which does not probably end like the Disney film), “The Ugly Duckling”, and the source for at least one Kate Bush song (which does not end the same way as the song or its video).


All in all, a good collection. Now we’re going to read the Harvard Classics Arabian Nights, and three years’ hence when we finish that, the lad(s) should be ready for Plato and Aristotle.

Books mentioned in this review:

Book Report: Return to Vietnam by “Don Pendleton” (1982)

Posted in Book Report, Books on February 10th, 2015 by Noggle

Book coverThis book shares an awful lot of plot with The New War. Grimaldi flies Mack Bolan into the jungle, where Bolan is supposed to rescue a man from an enemy camp, and then Grimaldi returns to save the day.

This time, though, Bolan is returning to Vietnam to exfiltrate a soldier who stayed behind and who knows about American POWs still held by the Vietnamese. He joins up with some Hmong in-country and runs into difficulty when a beautiful resistance fighter fancies Bolan over another man in her unit, and that man is a hothead who might cross Bolan to get the girl.

Unfortunately, this book was a bit of a slog for a variety of reasons. For starters, there are some technical inaccuracies to consider: For starters, the method of getting Bolan into the jungle is for him to eject from a Harrier (the new hotness at the time), and then for the Harrier to fly back to base. With part of the canopy missing. Presumably, Bolan will land and go on fighting, albeit an inch or two shorter for the time being (ejecting from a fighter is not the same as jumping from a skydiving school, kids; it’s a violent action that sometimes knocks the ejected unconscious). Then there’s a lot of bringing weapons up to the hip in firing position. Oh, and the firsts. When thinking about how good Grimaldi is, Bolan thinks, “I’m a pretty good pilot myself.” Uh. That’s new. And he lights a cigarette. And he sheds a tear. So Bolan in this book is a bit more of a stock action hero than the man shaped by the history of the first forty books in the series. He even moons over the Hmong woman even though he’s got the love of his life in America. On the other hand, the contact with Stony Man Farm is dismissed, and we don’t get chapters of Hal and April fretting or remembering what an awesome guy Bolan is, either.

Still, I think I’ll take a break from the series for a bit.

Oh, and if you’re wondering whether I’m actually reading Julius Caesar or merely using its presence on my chairside table as a pretext to read junk: I’ve finished The Civil War, but it’s all Super Mario Brothers on poor Caesar. “Thank you, Caesar, but victory is in another castle!” And so Caesar is off to Egypt. I’ve got the Alexandrian War and the Spanish War to go.

Books mentioned in this review:

Book Report: The Civil War As They Knew It edited by Pierce G. Frederick (1961)

Posted in Book Report, Books on February 9th, 2015 by Noggle

Book coverThis book says its text is by Abraham Lincoln and the photos are by Mathew Brady; however, only the latter is true for the most part. Although the book does quote Lincoln on every page, the editor’s text far outweighs Lincoln’s words. The book is 200 pages of photographs, and the images themselves take precedence. The editor provides a light running history of the war accompanying the images, and then Lincoln gets his say at the end of each snippet of historical text. Lincoln’s comments come from speeches, letters, and cables he sends during the course of the war.

It’s a quick perusal–although it’s 200 pages, I ran through it in a little over an hour–but the book has a good summary-level review of the Civil War and, most strikiningly, the photographic record of a war one hundred and fifty years ago.

That’s before the Internet, child. And before television, even over-the-air broadcast television.

Books mentioned in this review:

Book Report: The Pocket Book of Old Masters edited by Herman Wechsler (1949)

Posted in Book Report, Books on February 4th, 2015 by Noggle

Book coverThis book is a 1949 paperback. Let that sink in for a minute. It’s sixty-five years old. That’s a quality paperback. And it was in pretty good shape before I started sticking it in my pockets and sitting on it for a couple of weeks.

At any rate, this book covers ten painters considered “old masters” in 1949, including:

  • Leonardo da Vinci
  • Raphael
  • Michelangelo
  • Titian
  • Bruegel
  • Rubens
  • Rembrandt
  • El Greco
  • Velasquez
  • Vermeer

Each chapter includes a two-page intro by the author that talks about the text selection for each author, and then the text that follows is some writing about the author. I have to say that generally, because some of it is biographical, some of it is interpretive, and some of it is fiction. For example, for the Renaissance Italian fellows, we have some biographical sketches of da Leonardo, Michelangelo, and Raphael. But for Titian, we get a bit of purple prose describing Titian’s works in glowing and abstract terms. For El Greco, we get a section of On Human Bondage, a novel. So it’s unfortunate that the chapters are uneven.

This book also includes a number of black and white reproductions of some of the artists’ work. It’s unfortunate that they’re only in black and white, though, but given this is a little pocket paperback from the immediate post World War II period, it’s understandable. Still, the writers often talk about the artists’ unique use of color and that’s not something the reader can see.

Still, it’s a good quick summary course in these artists and could serve as a stepping stone to further interest. I’m more interested in Vermeer now and have researched him a little on the Internet to see some of his works in actual color.

So it’s an effective book, for sure, and it made me lament contemporary art museums and the elementary school rubbish on the walls there. But that happened because few enough people in the middle of the last century cared to make artistic judgments for themselves and instead let the academics and critics dictate taste.

Books mentioned in this review:

Book Report: The Programmer’s Book of Rules by George Ledin, Jr., and Victor Ledin (1979)

Posted in Book Report, Books on February 2nd, 2015 by Noggle

Book coverThis book is really one of the last books I read in 2014, but it’s taken me a while to write it up because I’m a procastinator and because I wanted to nearly-simultaneously write it up for the professional(?) blog. But now that I’m content to recycle most of the content, it’s much easier. It’s always much easier when you just give up.

As its title implies, this book really does contain a set of rules for programmers to follow: The left pages have the rules in large font, and the right pages have the rules explained in a paragraph or two. The book focuses not only on programming best practices, but also on software development best practices, and these are much more applicable to modern programming than the pre-object oriented programming lessons.

For example, first and foremost are the rules about making sure your program answers the users’ needs. Rules like:

  1. Fit your program to your users’ needs.
  2. Aim your program at the widest circle of users
  3. Explain to your user how to use the program
  4. Make it easy for the user to run the program

Other rules cover interface design, such as Display results with pertinent messages which are just as relevant now as it was when the interface designed displayed only green or amber text.

Even the discussion of loops, variables, and breaking your program into sections has a sort of relevance because it discusses these things philosophically, at a high level, in a way that programming how-to books and online language tutorials do not.

It’s a quick read or browse; although it’s roughly 220 pages (which is still slim by modern, $60 computer book standards), it’s really less than that since the text is not densely packed on the pages as described above, and it’s worth the time for the insights not only into the crystallized rules but also in the recognition of some software development problems and goals predate the Internet, which I am pretty sure some of our younger co-workers don’t know.

But now that I’ve read it, I’m torn. Do I put it on my regular read bookshelves, or do I put it on the computer programming bookshelves along side twenty-year-old hardware primers and introductions to the C programming language (some of which are thirty years old)? Well, the decision is probably less philosophical and more practical in nature: there’s space on the regular shelves, whereas the computer bookshelves are tightly pressed with books I have not read. Also, they’re behind four comic book long boxes containing most of my comic book collection and a couple other boxes of paraphernalia.

So I’m definitely putting it on the regular shelves. Because I’ve read it completely, unlike the other computer books which were for reference, text books, or the hope thirty years ago that I’d be more of a knowledgeable IT professional than I actually am. Not because I’m lazy.

Books mentioned in this review:

Book Report: The Iranian Hit by “Don Pendleton” (1982)

Posted in Book Report, Books on February 1st, 2015 by Noggle

Book coverThis book follows closely on the heels of The Violent Streets. I’m not sure Mack Bolan will ever get a full night’s sleep for the next forty years.

In this volume, Bolan is called to protect an Iranian military figure on the run after the revolution who has been hiding in the United States. The night before he is deported from the country, an elite squad of Iranian commandos has been dispatched to take him out. Bolan looks over the compound and finds the security is Mafia, and that the Iranian’s American wife wants out–and the Iranian is not above killing her lover in front of her to teach her a lesson.

So Bolan comes in, finds an unlikely ally in a mafia guard and that someone inside the Iranian’s circle is ultimately behind the whole thing, tipping the Iranian government off.

The pacing of the book is pretty good, mixing action and the Bolan War Journal style drop-ins a little better, but it’s still less than seamless. As these are early books written by the staff writers at Gold Eagle, they’re bound to be less smooth than later editions as the book and myth of Bolan becomes clearer. After all, none of these guys read the first forty books before writing them, and this patch of first entries was written at the same time, so the little tics each author introduces contradicts other ones.

Also, this volume identifies a possible flaw in the way the books are written. On page 91, Bolan gives his silenced pistol to the wife of the Iranian for her protection. On page 111, Bolan shoots a bad guy with the very same weapon he no longer has. Then, later in the book, a bad guy has the gun after having taken it from the wife. I can’t help forensically musing that the author wrote the action set pieces first as though they were identified in the outline most clearly and then filled in the other stuff which lead to this particular gaffe. And no one noticed it. Maybe the author didn’t read the whole book through in its entirety in its order. Perhaps someone else punched it up and added this. But this whacky error made it into the book.

Hey, I’m no saint. In my own novel (Available now!), I had an eight day week and demonstrated the old revolver-for-a-semiautomatic switcheroo. But I read the book over and over again looking for things like this, and I found them.

The Gold Eagle books are probably rife with errata like this and with other inconsistencies as authors not familiar with the character but familiar with the tropes of the genre insert them into Bolan books (as we’ll see next time).

On the whole, the series has its up books and its down books, but overall, the quality might not suffer too much from the Pendleton books, although this is yet an optimistic view in my experience and with the hopes that they straighten out a bit and fly truer. Time will tell.

Books mentioned in this review:

Book Report: Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello

Posted in Book Report, Books, History on January 30th, 2015 by Noggle

Book coverThis book is a souvenir from Monticello. Not my souvenir, as I’ve never been. I probably got this particular book in a collection of thin books for a buck from the Friends of the Springfield-Greene County Library book sale. I’m sure I’ve mentioned it before, but these little packs remind me of the varied grab bags I’ve gotten in the past where remaindered comic books were bagged at three for a buck, and you could only see the front of one and the back of another, so it was pretty much a crapshoot or where ten packs of record singles fresh from juke boxes were bundled ten for two bucks and you could only, again, see the ones in the front and the back. That’s what you get with the bundles of thin books at the book sale, a bundle of poetry chapbooks, souvenir books, or free pamphlet-sized books for a buck. I buy them and read them because they’re quick, and they count for a whole book on my annual quest for the magical reading century mark (which I’ve missed for a couple years’ running now, but I’m well on my way this year so far.

At any rate, this book has text describing the house, grounds, and gardens of Thomas Jefferson’s home in Virginia accompanied by color photos and diagrams and maps. It’s a tidy little book, something to help guide yourself around the joint and to remember your trip.

Or to make you want to go. Like I do now.

Book Report: The Violent Streets by “Don Pendleton” (1982)

Posted in Book Report, Books on January 27th, 2015 by Noggle

Book coverThis book finds Mack Bolan in St. Paul immediately after returning from Turkey (as described in Double Crossfire, which I read in 2010 before I filled in gaps in the series). One of the Stony Man operative’s sister has been raped, and it’s a like several other rape/killings that have been haunting the Minnesota capital for years, off and on. Bolan investigates and discovers that elements of the police are covering it up because the suspect is the son of an elected official, and they want to use the knowledge and cover up as blackmail on the pol.

Then Bolan shoots most of the bad guys. finis.

Still, it’s a good read, certainly better than The New War, and I can see now how the house, by removing Bolan’s focus solely on the mob, broadens the variety of plots and adventures Bolan can have (and by now has had). This one is a little more vigilantish with the bad guys not being terrorists or external enemies, but domestic crime elements. This will definitely keep the series fresh. Unfortunately, the Bolan War Journal asides that talk philosophically about the nature of Man and the Hobbesian worldview must be mandatory, and in some books they’re not grafted well into the narrative. Instead, whole chapters are dropped in with a couple of nouns changed to reflect the current plot. Also, the books generally contain a roll-up of the overarching storyline from the Bolan books, especially the Mob War of the Pendleton books. These, too, jar expositionally when they’re inserted. They’ll probably move away from them as the number of non-Pendleton books increases, but they don’t aren’t well done in these early books.

Books mentioned in this review:

Book Report: Existentialism and Thomism by Joseph C. Michalich (1960)

Posted in Book Report, Books, Philosophy on January 22nd, 2015 by Noggle

Book coverThis book is a Thomist critique of Existentialism. Ho, boy, let’s get into some weeds.

Thomism is a philosophical system based on the works of St. Thomas Aquinas, a monk from the 13th century who wrote several thousand pages of reasoning including Summa Theologica. The philosophy is the only philosophy taught officially in the Catholic church’s seminaries and whatnot. The university I went to was apparently a hotbed of Thomism in the 1950s, or so I heard, but it did teach other systems of thought to its students. Including Existentialism. At any rate, this book looks like it’s still in print 55 years later, and that’s probably mostly because of its role in teaching Existentialism to bishops and Jesuits. But it could partly be because it’s fairly accessible.

This book is short (88 pages) and collects five separate essays that target some places where Existentialism is systemized. The essays include:

  • “Some Aspects of Freedom in Sartre’s Existentialism” which talks about Sartre’s view of human existence and its freedom to be for itself.

  • “Gabriel Marcel’s Ontology of Love” which talks about Marcel’s take on the interconnectedness of human experience. Let’s be honest: whenever the phrase ontology of love appeared, I heard it in Barry White’s voice.
  • “Mood and Cognition in Heidegger and Sartre” which discusses the importance of mood and emotion as the starting point for cognition in Heidegger and Sartre and how little beyond those base and concrete elements the Existentialists could move.
  • “Husserl and the Rise of Continental Existentialism” which talks about Husserl’s theories and how they coincide and conflict with the Existentialist mindset: namely, the importance of phenomenonism and its importance, but how Husserl’s “reductions” of the phenomena would be rejected because they abstract the phenomena away from the subject perceiving them.
  • “Thomism and the Challenge of Existentialism” is the heart of the criticism, and it explores a bit how Existentialism rebels against philosophical systems that focus on the abstract and the reasoned over the experience and subjective nature of cognition itself. It claims that Existentialism is essentially (see what I did there?) fighting a straw man, as so many other philosophical systems including the perfect Thomism derive those abstractions by reasoning from individual experience and perception and by balancing intellect with the emotions. It puts the finger on why I’ve only considered myself an Existentialist in bad moods: it really doesn’t go beyond the subjective in creating or describing reality and can’t because if it does, it threatens the subjectivism that’s very important to it.
  • “Existentialism in The Outsider“, the last chapter, seems a bit like an add-on. It takes to task an Existentialist novel by a British writer; you’re forgiven if you thought it was about The Stranger which appeared in Britain as The Outsider. Side note: This essay originally appeared in RENASCENCE, a Thomist publication at Marquette University, that hotbed of Thomism in the 1950s. At any rate, the essay rails a bit about this novel and its weak underpinings and defense of the Beatniks, those kids with their “eccentric dress and wild demeanor”. Given that novels obscurity, I have to wonder if this chapter made it into later editions.

I’m normally a primary source kind of fellow, so I’ve some familiarity with the Sartre mentioned above, and I’ve heard the names Heidegger, Hegel, and Husserl in my college classes. Heck, I might even have read them.

But it’s refreshing to pick up a criticism of the philosophy. It takes one out of the philosophy, so to speak, to see what someone else thinks of it, which can be clarifying. Of course, one must not take the critic’s depiction of the philosophy under study as the definitive representation of the philosophy. It’s another perspective on it.

So if you’re into Existentialist thought or explore it a bit, this book can serve that role for you quite nicely. It’s approachable, but it does get into deeper analysis of cognition, perception, and reality. It’s not too heady for most of it if you’re just a lightweight Existentialist who has read The Stranger and Nauseau and never even tried Being and Nothingness (I did just that: try), and the stuff that is heady does lean a little on you already knowing some terms of philosophy, so it’s not too hard to follow and even understand.


Books mentioned in this review:

Book Report: The New War by “Don Pendleton” (1981)

Posted in Book Report, Books on January 20th, 2015 by Noggle

Book coverThis book is the first that Don Pendleton did not write in the Mack Bolan/the Executioner series, and, boy howdy, don’t we know it. Fantastic Fiction says it was written by Saul Wernick, and I’m pleased to see this is the only entry this particular author wrote in the series.

In it, Mack Bolan goes to Columbia or Panama to exfiltrate or eliminate an agent with intimate knowledge of…something. When Bolan gets there just ahead of a hurricane, he finds the jungle lair of Islamic terrorists is a missile base and a base capable of reprogramming satellites. The makers of the satellites have provided a liaison to help the bad guys log into the satellites for some undisclosed reason. The bad guys’ bosses in the middle east want them to launch the missiles, but in the jungle, the terrorists’ plan is far more dramatic: to crash a satellite into the Panama Canal. So it’s up to Bolan to stop the plan, save the day, exfiltrate the agent and an attractive defector from the cause, and the pilots of the first helicopter that arrived to retrieve him.

So, plotwise, it’s an international thriller and not just a mafia hit. But the style of the writing is the real Louisville Slugger to the cranium. It’s less gritty and consistently introspective as the Pendleton books; it’s more florid in descriptions and does the Men’s Adventure thing with the guns, although when someone brings an automatic weapon up to the hip “in firing position,” one has to recognize that fifteen year old video gamers are probably better versed in military operations, practices, and tactics than your average men’s adventure paperback writer in the golden age of the paperback original.

Also, the guy had a thing for exclamation points. In prose. Fiction. A lot! And the plot, although workable, didn’t use much of the supporting players. Only the pilot Grimaldi makes an appearance, dramatically appearing in the hurricane with a gunship. Also, the book lacks tension, as the risk to Bolan is told rather than actually conveyed in the text. He eliminates half the base on one sortie and then worries about the other half on the next sortie. At one point, we’re concerned about all the people Bolan has to protect, then after Grimaldi’s heroic flight through the hurricane, he arrives at Bolan’s camp. And, hey, right behind him is a rescue chopper! How conveniently placed to take care of one plot point.

A subpar outing in the series, I hope. Although I’ve read a couple in the line after Pendleton and they haven’t made much impression on me. They will make more of an impression and get more of a direct comparison here as I read them consecutively and pretty quickly.

You’re not really asking, but I’ll tell you I’m almost done with the Gallic War by Caesar; I’m to Book VIII which was written after Caesar’s death to complete the account. It was written by someone other than Caesar, or so the story goes. Or did Julius Caesar fake his death? This is the Internet. All possibilities are equally valid unless they require contact with the actual physical world.

Books mentioned in this review:

Book Report: Thermal Thursday by Don Pendleton (1979, 1990)

Posted in Book Report, Books on January 14th, 2015 by Noggle

Book coverThis book is the sixth printing of the book from 1990, which means it was in print for at least eleven years. Which is something to note of its own accord.

This book closely follows the events of Monday’s Mob, Terrible Tuesday, and Wednesday’s Wrath. I’m not actually reading one of these per day, although it might seem like it. It’s taking me about two and a half calendar days (not, surely, sixty hours each). How’s that Gallic War that you claim to be reading coming along? you ask. I’m to the part where a couple of tribes band together and challenge Caesar. So, I’m somewhere between Book One and Book Seven.

Where was I?

Oh, yes. Hours after leaving New Mexico, Mack Bolan is steeped in doubt about his future with Washington, so he asks for a little space from his government contacts. He goes to Miami and infiltrates a mob project to build undersea tunnels from the Everglades to Mexico and Caribbean islands to facilitate smuggling. So it’s the craziest plot yet.

It’s also a very segmented book, and not in a good way. The first 120 pages or so involve the set-up and then Bolan infiltrating the site acting as Frankie, a mob bigwig looking in on operations. He finds a vast complex underground where engineers are using slave labor pirated from amateur smuggling operations to build a great undersea network of smuggler’s subways in the limestone strata beneath the sea. When Mack gets out from his probe, we get twenty pages of him getting together with his Washington contacts and discussions with scientists about how such a thing could be remotely feasible enough for a book plot. Then we get 20 pages of Mack blowing it up. However, at some point after Bolan left, the mob got onto his game and redoubled patrols. A bit of whiplash there; I put the book down one night after the scientists were talking, and I opened it up and the mob was onto Bolan. I actually backtracked to see if I’d forgotten something overnight, but apparently not.

At any rate, this effectively wraps up my reading of the tail end of the Pendleton Mack Bolans; all the others out from here are the stable books. They probably lack the philsophical asides that Pendleton deftly inserted (or made into full discussions at times). And, brother, I’ve got a long way to go to clear my top shelf off.

Books mentioned in this review:

Book Report: Wednesday’s Wrath by Don Pendleton (1979)

Posted in Book Report, Books on January 13th, 2015 by Noggle

Book coverThis book takes place about 12 hours after the events of Terrible Tuesday. Given the nature of the last “week” of novels that Pendleton wrote, the timing of it would be tricky: Bolan goes to different cities across the country and does his thing there within the span of 24 hours (usually less, since he does not begin exactly at midnight). If you’re reading them back to back, you go “Hmmmm.” This probably wasn’t a problem when they first came out, as the books were months apart.

In this book, the “Hmmmm.” involves people apprehended at the end of Terrible Tuesday. In the twelve hours it takes Mack Bolan to fully heal and whatnot, those mobsters are sprung from jail, transported to New Mexico, and tortured slowly–in other instances where Pendleton refers to “turkeys,” that indicates torture over the course of days or weeks, not hours. But Bolan bursts into a torture scene, executes the torturer, and then impersonates the fellow who’s involved with a paramilitary plot to steal weapons from the nearby military bases. It’s the same military fellow from Colorado Kill-Zone which I read back in 2011 when I only had 20 Executioner books on my to read shelves. The Old Days.

At any rate, Pendleton is beginning the transition in these books from the previous focus on mob activities to more military thriller sorts of plots and operations. This will ease the transition into the stable of writers to follow and how Mack Bolan starts his life as a government operative.

A quick enough read, obviously. I’m a book away from finishing the ones I’ve in this week (I’ve previously read Friday’s Feast and Satan’s Sabbath). And then it’s into the world after Don Pendleton, where the books are up and down.

We’ll see if I continue my, erm, “discipline” of reading Executioner books as I read Caesar. It might not last many of the “Don Pendleton’s” books.

But that’s okay. I have other books to choose from.

Books mentioned in this review:

Book Report: Flowers of Evil by Charles Baudelaire translated by Jacques LeClercq (1958)

Posted in Book Report, Books, Poetry on January 12th, 2015 by Noggle

Book coverInterspersed among my other reading, I’ve been working on this book for a little bit. It’s a collection of poems by Charles Baudelaire, but they’re end-rhymed, so the translator had a heavy hand in the actual English of the poems which probably means they’re almost as much his work as Baudelaire’s. Because poems have so much nuance, rhythm, and flow that rely on word selection, you have two choices when translating: You can go with the literal translation, which will chop most of the mouthfeel of the original poem out, or you can try to put the poem in the target language with as much of the flavor of the original as possible but still ending up with something of the original in it. I think this translation, as demonstrated by the end lines, did more of the latter.

Now, about the poems: Oh, my.

On one hand, these are the poems I wanted to write when I was twenty years old. Vivid, evocative, concrete, and meaningful (and full of end rhymes). You’re in the moment with the poet narrator in a way that overshadows a lot of poetry in English that I’ve read. The topics are full of love, lust, and pondering mortality.


The introduction explains a bit of Baudelaire’s bio and explains his obsession with a particular woman, and it comes through in the poems as the poet-narrator fixates on a woman and the poems describe a love/lust/hate relationship with a woman. And the poet-narrator muses on death and the ultimate meaninglessness of love when confronted by death. It’s pretty powerful stuff.

And vivid in a sometimes squicky way. There’s a poem called “Carrion” which is about the poet-narrator and his love out for a walk when they come across a dead animal, and the poet-narrator describes it in great detail as it breaks down and then says something about the breakdown of the flesh and how the woman will be food for worms soon. And then there’s a poem about necrophilia. But only one.


It’s good poetry qua, but some of the topic matter is a bit objectionable.

This book features an inscription, To Michael, with love and a Merry Christmas, Ellen 1966. Frankly, I’m not sure what sort of message you’re sending if you’re giving this book to a lover. Also, Phil offers to read Baudelaire to Rita in the film Groundhog Day; suddenly, this changes the meaning of the film for me forever.

Books mentioned in this review:

Book Report: Terrible Tuesday by Don Pendleton (1979)

Posted in Book Report, Books on January 9th, 2015 by Noggle

Book coverI know, I know, you’re quoting back to me what I said last week: “In 2015, I hope to finish more books, and as always, I hope to read a better quality of literature….” How does it explain that the last two books I finished were this book and Monday’s Mob?

I’m reading Julius Caesar’s The Gallic War, and after every book or half book, I take a little time to read from cheap paperbacks. As these paperbacks are shorter than The Gallic War, I’m finishing more of them as I read one piece of longer work. So there.

Mack Bolan, on the second day of the last week of his free agency, swings out to California at a tip from Leo Turrin and stumbles into a plot of the new California Concept. A group of retired mobsters and the remnants of Bolan’s previous visits have gathered in a plan to build the world’s foremost data and electronic signals interception facility to gather as much information as they can for their nefarious schemes, and it’s up to Bolan to stop it.

Man, what a world that was where the plot of men’s adventure novels involved the mob doing this sort of thing. In the 21st century, it’s the government doing it, and the electronic and wireless transmission of information is much greater.

If only they weren’t the 1970s, I’d want to live in the sweet, innocent world of the 1970s.

Books mentioned in this review: