I Need A Volunteer Regarding My Book Of Gold

Posted in Books on September 14th, 2014 by Brian

A writer sez:

If you only write one book in your whole life, and only sell 600 copies or less, nonetheless, I assure you, I solemnly assure you, that this book will be someone’s absolutely favorite book of all time, and it will come to him on some dark day and give him sunlight, and open his eyes and fill his heart and make him see things in life even you never suspected, and will be his most precious tale, and it will live in his heart like the Book of Gold.

I’ve sold considerably fewer than six hundred copies, and I mailed out fifty or sixty copies for review, so I have to wonder if this holds true for John Donnelly’s Gold. I’ve gotten some nice reviews of it, and I’ve had some people tell me they didn’t care for it at all. It’s a serviceable and amusing bit of work, but not something that changes one’s life.

To think that it’s someone’s favorite book of all time? I don’t believe it.

(Link seen via Instapundit.)

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

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

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 Brian

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:

The Hardest Working Book Reporter In The Business

Posted in Books on September 5th, 2014 by Brian

You know who reads and reports on more books than I do? Friar, that’s who.

Today, he does a book report on Robert B. Parker’s Early Autumn (and The Hunt for Red October).

I read Early Autumn back when I checked the paperback out of the Jefferson County Community Library. It was in the days of belonging to a broken home with no father, and it impacted me a lot. I was so heavily influenced by the self-definition portions of the book that I gave copies out to other shiftless, adrift twenty-somethings when I was in college.

It’s been quite a number of years since I’ve gone back through Parker’s early work; back around the turn of the century, I ran through the books to that point. It was far easier then, as there were fewer books in the oeuvre. Also, the average quality wasn’t diluted by the 21st century work.

So I’ll stick to reading Friar’s book reports about Parker’s work.

I’m Not Sure How I Feel About That

Posted in Books, Movies on August 31st, 2014 by Brian

A Mack Bolan movie might be in the works.

I’m not sure how I feel about that.

It will be tricky to convey that which sets the Bolan series apart from other men’s adventure novels–namely, the interior life that Pendleton gave Bolan and the philosophical asides about his motivations and whatnot.

Of course, I was not compelled to rush out and see the Parker film, either. Let’s face it, I’m not much of a moviegoer during these child-rearing years, and I worry about what modern Hollywood will do to informed 1960s era paperbacks. Because, face it, your general Hollywood type in the 21st century is less well read and less educated than your general paperback writer of the middle 20th century.

(Link via Ace of Spades HQ.)

Book Report: Odd Apocalypse by Dean Koontz (2012)

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

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 Brian

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:

Book Report: 101 Reasons Why A Cat Is Better Than A Man by Allia Zobel (1994) and Women Who Love Cats Too Much by Allia Zobel (1995)

Posted in Book Report, Books on August 19th, 2014 by Brian

Book coverIt is inevitable: Every autumn, as football season comes around, I find myself behind my best pace from the past in book reading (2011, wherein I read 106 books). So I pick up little comic books and whatnot that I can flip through while watching football games. Which explains these books.

See, it’s only the Internet age that thinks cats are just now the centerpiece of lists, but in the olden days, little book forms of humor relating to cats (see also All I Need To Know I Learned From My Cat and 101 Uses for a Dead Cat) were pretty widely available. They must have gone as gifts a lot of times.

At any rate, this one-two punch comes with a marriage for the author sandwiched in between. The first deals with how nonjudgmental a cat is and how a cat will never pressure a woman. Which is unlike any cat I’ve ever known. The second book covers such fecund territory as how badly a cat treats its owners and why they still put up with it.

So it’s about what you would expect, and it’s as amusing as the comics page of the newspaper. Perhaps it’s better if you’re a woman. Or if it’s 1994 again.

Man, we’ve got a whole football season of these non-thoughtful book reports to look forward to. And they’re even less amusing than the books themselves.

Books mentioned in this review:
 

Book Report: The Private Hell of Hemingway by Milt Machlin (1962)

Posted in Book Report, Books on August 18th, 2014 by Brian

Book coverAs I mentioned yesterday, I got this book in Orlando last week. I mean, I already have a hardback entitled Papa on my to-read shelves, but I was in Florida (although not Key West), and I was not that excited about my other airplane paperbacks (a fantasy called Catswold and a history of Australia by a historian). So I bought this book.

And read it quickly.

The author is an acquaintenance of Hemingway (who often refers to himself as “the author” when he meets Hemingway, so we get some weird things where one sentence says Hemingway and the next says “the author,” and you have to figure out if the author is Hemingway or his biographer). The book came out in paperback in 1962, very quickly after Hemingway’s suicide, and it has a title that was the postwar equivalent of clickbait. Obviously, they’re trying to capitalize.

That’s doesn’t matter, though; this is a very readable biography of the author (Hemingway) starting from his youth in Illinois to his success in the thirties and then his later career. The book follows Hemingway to Europe for World War I, the Spanish Civil War, and then into Spain for his love of bullfighting. It talks about his marriages to his four wives and his wild lifestyle. It talks a bit about his books, but this is not a literary criticism by any means. The book covers his trips to Africa, including the one where his plane crashed and how it affected the end of his life.

Strangely, the book really doesn’t dwell on the end of Hemingway’s life much, and if there’s anything in the book that it might present as hell, it’s Hemingway after his plane crash. But the book only mentions it, and the book’s end comes pretty abruptly.

Still, it makes me want to read Hemingway again. I haven’t read a Hemingway novel in the ten years this blog has been running, apparently, since a blog search only shows a little literary recap and no primary sources (but plenty of instances where I compare people to Hemingway). On the weight of this book, I checked online for complete collections of Hemingway, and the only one I see is about $2000 for an Easton Press collection. I’m adding it to my Amazon wish list for your convenience, gentle reader.

Recommended. But it’s not quite what the title would have you think.

Books mentioned in this review:

Good Book Hunting: August 9, 2014: BrightLight Books, Orlando, Florida

Posted in Books on August 17th, 2014 by Brian

Back when we were young, my beautiful wife and I would always look for a used bookstore in places to which we traveled. At some point, we got away from that. Well, at some point we got away from both traveling and from going to used bookstores when we traveled. That point might be called “childbirth,” and it’s possible we only got away from traveling.

Regardless, we went on an excursion recently to Orlando, Florida, and we got out of the tourist corner of the city to find the BrightLights book store in Fern Park. And as we did not drive to Florida, we were pleased to discover, after inquiry, that they would, in fact, ship the bulk of our purchases home for us so we didn’t have to transport them expensively on our plane.

It’s not like we got a whole lot:

Books from BrightLights Books

I got a trio of 3 ex-library books by John Ringo because I heard he’s a libertarian science fiction writer and they were only a buck each; a signed uncorrected proof of Robert B. Parker’s Wilderness; and a biography of Hemingway (not pictured because it’s a small paperback that I carried with me onto the plane and was not hence unboxed yesterday).

My beautiful wife got a set of The Teaching Company lectures for $14 and a couple other books in her interest areas.

It’s a good tradition, and since we’re starting to do these “family vacations” now, we’ll have to ensure we visit used bookstores wherever we go.

Book Report: Blood Silver: The Story of the Yocum Dollar by Woody P. Snow (2014)

Posted in Book Report, Books on August 13th, 2014 by Brian

Book coverI spotted this book in Barnes and Noble while I was gorging on new books for some reason. I think I had a little time to kill, so I thought I’d go into the book store and let the children pick up a book or two, and suddenly I had a stack of books, including this one.

Woody P. Snow is a local radio personality; I catch bits of his show in the mornings sometimes. And, as you know, I’ve done a little research of my own into the Yocum Silver Dollar (well, I read Traces of Silver). I’ve thought about writing a piece of nonfiction about it, but not about writing a novel about it.

This book has a couple pages of modern day narrative to frame it: a diver finds one of the silver dollars in the lake and shows it to his grandmother, who told him stories about it but now is in the grip of dementia. Then, without ado, we go back to the beginning of the nineteenth century. James Yoachum loses his wife in childbirth, goes mad, and wansers into the wilderness. He eventually makes his way into the Ozarks and is rescued and later adopted by an Indian tribe. He wins the heart of the chief’s daughter and learns the tribe’s secret, and the source of its silver jewelry: an old Spanish silver mine. A fur company puts in a trading post, the area surrounding the trading post grows, but the citizens are left without a currency when the fur company moves out. Yoachum begins making the coins with the help of his brother and his Indian wife. All goes well until the United States Government moves in, surveys the land, and makes the residents pay for their land, and some try with the silver dollars.

It’s a decent, straight forward story, but it does suffer a bit the same way that Downton Abbey suffers: time passes, often in blocs of months or years, and nothing seems to change in the characters during the interim. It’s a minor flaw, but one nevertheless. The story ends thirty years after it begins, and at the end, one of the characters announces a pregnancy, and she must be into her forties by that time.

At any rate, I enjoyed the book.

Now, you’re probably thinking to yourself, “Brian’s read two historical novels this year set in the Ozarks. I wonder how he would compare them?” Well, friends, I’m probably the only one in the whole world who would dare compare Daniel Woodrell’s The Maid’s Version to Woody P. Snow’s book.

Here’s how they’re similar:

  • Both authors have “Wood” in their names.
  • Both books are based on historical (or perhaps legendary events).

Here’s how they differ:

  • Woodrell’s book goes backwards and forwards through time and jumps points of view. Snow sticks to the semi-omniscient narrator.
  • Snow’s prose is more straightforward than Woodrell’s.
  • Snow’s book does not have much in the way of unrelated asides or actions from characters who aren’t integral to the plot.

None of this is unexpected, of course, given their respective writing careers and goals. But it’s still amusing to consider comparing and contrasting the two.

Worth a read.

Books mentioned in this review:

A Far, Far Geekier Thing That I Did Than I’ve Ever Done

Posted in Books, Life on August 5th, 2014 by Brian

On the Facebook (that’s what we old timers call it, “the Facebook,” just like it was originally, although I’m far too old to have been on the Facebook when it was the Facebook), I follow Robert Crais, whose novels I’ve read (what, you don’t believe me?). He posted a link to a blog that posted photos of his office, and my eyes were drawn to:

Directly above MS. DISTRICT ATTORNEY is the Merry Marvel Marching Society No-prize I won for having a letter-of-comment published in the AMAZING SPIDER-MAN comic book. I was thirteen. Years later, Stan Lee inscribed and signed it for me.

Whoa. A Spider-Man comic with a letter from Robert Crais. I had to have it. But which one was it? Read more »

Book Report: Voodoo, Ltd. by Ross Thomas (1992)

Posted in Book Report, Books on July 28th, 2014 by Brian

Book coverIt seems like I read one Ross Thomas book a year, so I picked up this book. It looks as though my reading has been skipping through Thomas’s decades of writing, with my first read being 1972’s The Porkchoppers and my second being 1982’s The Mordida Man

Like the latter, this book is a straight ahead thriller, and it’s the third book using the same set of characters–but the first I’d read. I was going along, thinking Thomas’s books were all one shots and appreciating the wonder of the detailed back story he’d created for each of these characters until I researched it and realized he was rehashing things from earlier books. I don’t know if this soured me, but I think that the glimpses of the back story stood in for character development. The motives of some of them were unclear, but it was responses to earlier actions not covered in this book. Sadly, this was less effective.

The plot revolves around a London-based, American-run detective agency that is hired to find two hypnotists. The hypnotists were hired to consult with a Hollywood film actress arrested for the murder of her boyfriend, a wealthy producer. After consulting with her, the hypnotists vanished, and no one is sure whether they vanished because they found out something or if they are to blackmail the starlet with revelations she made while under oath.

The two detectives get the old band back together. This band includes a former Secret Service agent they have to spring from a Phillipine prison; a con artist; and an aging fixer/procurer/scrounger. They rent a house in Malibu and begin their investigations.

As I said, I think ultimately, the author relied a bit much on the reader being familiar with the previous books in the series. Individuals really weren’t that well delineated in the text, and the ensemble plotted a bit behind the scenes against itself. Which was revealed a bit in the climax and beyond, but not so much in text. And the ultimate solution to the murder–which differs from the solution for the problem for which the agency was hired–was kinda tacked on and not integral to the main story arc.

The book wasn’t the best of the Thomas books I’ve read. It’s his penultimate work, and at the back of the book, they have the page to order a number of his other books. None of which I’ve read (yet). I thought this book was so-so, and I’m hopefully that reading his earlier work will show that it evolved to this book: that is, a straight ahead, indistinguishable paperback thriller whose predecessors, so to speak, were better.

Books mentioned in this review:

Book Report: More Cat Tales Starring Hodge produced by Philip Lief (1981)

Posted in Book Report, Books on July 24th, 2014 by Brian

Book coverAm I cheating in my annual book count by counting this book? You bet I am. I actually re-read this book.

I picked this up at a mall on the corner of Fond du Lac and Silver Spring back when it was a little mall with shops and everything. I was in middle school or high school, and by the time I was in college, the mall was just a record store (Mainstream) and a bowling alley at the other end. But for a moment in the 1980s, it had a five and dime in it, and I bought this book for a quarter or something.

At any rate, my oldest child has found my Garfield collections (which I also count). So I remembered this volume and got it out for him, and he was unimpressed.

It’s a collection of cat pictures with speech bubbles. And it’s a sequel to another book that apparently sold enough to warrant the sequel. But. The little quips are amusing, but not what I’d call funny.


You see, the novelty is that it’s cat pictures. With speech bubbles.

It’s the 80s equivalent of half the Internet. It’s a bit of arcana. And it’s amusing to me because the quips are amusing and because I remember being amused by this book when I was young.

But your mileage may vary.

Books mentioned in this review:

Book Report: The Brave Ones edited by Marvin Allen Karp (1965)

Posted in Book Report, Books on July 23rd, 2014 by Brian

Book coverThis book continues my recent trend of military history paperbacks, almost. The trend began with The Battle Off Of Midway Island and continued with Sink the Bismarck!. I guess the trend is also from nonfiction to fiction, as this is not a book about the actual exploits of US GIs. Instead, it is a collection of six short stories set in World War II and the Korean War.

The Collaborator tells the story of an ex-GI living in China when the Japanese invade. He is forced to collaborate with them, culminating in them using him as an infiltrator during an American invasion of a small island. However, their hold on him is broken, and he can finally get revenge.

The Soldier Who Had No Gun shows the story of a chaplain who accompanies a tired, dispirited platoon on a dangerous mission to flank a German stronghold and how he rejuvenates the group.

In The Trap, a British guerrilla war expert is in a plane shot down over a jungle. Pursued by the Japanese, he and his two American airmen have to sneak to safety, and the Brit learns a little something about guerrilla warfare from a native American.

Set in Korea, Night Attack covers a ROK assault on a thinly stretched American position immediately after a platoon sargeant is promoted to lieutenant, and his new platoon sargeant is another man passed over for the job.

In The Raid, a team of specialists is sent to a Japanese prison camp to rescue a submarine commander with knowledge of an upcoming assault. They are to extract him if they can, and to kill him if he cannot.

Operation Christrose tells about a fresh lieutenant coming to a quiet part of the front and leading his platoon on a scouting trip across the river–and into the camp of a German army massing for a surprise break out.

These stories appeared in men’s magazines and The Saturday Evening Post between 1944 and 1963, so between Right Now and 20 years later. They’re pretty vivid accounts and better reading than the normal pulp paperbacks I read.

The one Korea story, and the Korean veterans I saw speak at a recent memorial dedication, have brought to mind how forgotten that war is. Whereas World War II continues to throw off films and culture and whereas the Vietnam War overserves as a metaphor, you don’t get a lot of fiction or film out of the Korean War. And what a brutal place it was to fight.

So I enjoyed this short collection and really see myself going on a 20th century war tear here for a bit.

Books mentioned in this review:

Instapundit Makes The Millennium Allusion

Posted in Blogging, Books on July 21st, 2014 by Brian

Instapundit alludes to Millennium:

JOHN VARLEY, CALL YOUR OFFICE! No, really, he should be demanding royalties from this guy: Ukraine rebel leader claims Flight MH17 was filled with already-dead bodies.

My review of the book here. And, yes, I’ve seen the movie. Three times.

Book Report: The Conquering Sword of Conan by Robert E. Howard (2004)

Posted in Book Report, Books on July 19th, 2014 by Brian

Book coverThis book is the third of the three in the Conan set by Robert E. Howard.

This volume includes:
“The Servants of Bit-Yakin” wherein Conan climbs into a hidden redoubt with a temple in it. Priests seek audience from an oracle within the temple, and a faction has brought along a woman to act as the oracle and to order the priests to put Conan to the death. Conan, of course, has other plans, including collecting the mythical jewels said to be in the temple or nearby.

“Beyond the Black River” which takes place in the wilderness at the Pictish frontier. A shaman of the Picts is getting ready to lead the clans against settlers in the area, and Conan and some others try to delay them enough for the settlers to escape.

“The Black Stranger” A nobleman has brought his retinue to a coast of the Pictish wilderness to escape someone pursuing him. One day, pirates show up looking for a treasure rumored to be nearby, and the nobleman might have to ally with two competing bands of buccaneers to escape his pursuer. Then Conan shows up with knowledge of the treasure, and he plays all ends to get a ship of his own.

“Man-Eaters of Zamboula” deals with an inn and a town with a deadly secret–at night, certain savages collect those out-of-doors and those unlucky enough to stay in a particular inn for a grisly feast. And Conan finds himself in that room.

“Red Nails” finds Conan pursuing a woman warrior who has fled from their mercenary crew after fending off an unwanted advance with deadly result. Conan and the woman find a strange city on a plain where a society has degenerated to two warring factions opposing each other from different sides of the large building that is the city.

So these plots, again, are more complicated and less repetitive.

It’s interesting that these, the last of the Conan stories, often take place on the frontier and Conan takes on a certain Natty Bumpo/the Deerslayer vibe to him. I wonder how much Howard wanted to do that. Of course, in the writing chronology this holds true, but in the chronology of Conan’s life, he is not relocating further and further from civilization, and certainly not for the same reasons.

So I was a bit sad to have finished the Conan stories. I mean, I’ve got the other Howard things to go through sometime (after I buy them), and there are some non-Howard Conan books to read. But not the original. Not the original.

And Howard did all this by the time he was 30. Sometimes, when I was young, I thought I’d like to live the pulp writer lifestyle, banging out these works for a couple hundred bucks a throw and living in a seedy apartment while I did so. I never did make many sales. As a matter of fact, by the time I was 30, I’d only sold a single short story for five bucks to a magazine made on a photocopier. Ah, well, I guess I still have a chance to make it as a pixulp writer if I turn my mind to it.

And good reads like these Conan stories are just the thing to inspire one to become a writer.

Books mentioned in this review:

Book Report: The Bloody Crown of Conan by Robert E. Howard (2004)

Posted in Book Report, Books on July 18th, 2014 by Brian

Book coverThis book is the second in the three books that make up the complete set of stories that Howard wrote featuring Conan the Cimmerian. As you will remember, I read the first, The Coming of Conan the Cimmerian in January.

This book features three tales:

“The People of the Black Circle” features Conan carrying off the queen of a country to use as ransom for some of his followers. She’s seeking revenge on a band of magicians for the death of her brother, and as Conan and she flee from a magician following them, they team up to defeat the magicians.

“The Hour of the Dragon” is the only Conan novel, and it tells the story of how Conan loses the kingdom of Aquilonia and works to get it back.

“A Witch Shall Be Born” talks about a female ruler deposed by her presumed dead twin sister who was left to die at birth because she had a witch’s mark upon her. Instead of dying, she goes onto become a witch and impersonates her sister, a benevolent ruler, until Conan puts a stop to it.

One of the knocks I had on the first book was that the stories were a little formulaic and repetitive at times; with this book and the three stories within it, Howard has concocted some more elaborate plots that are difficult to sum up in the single sentences above. Which is good.

Not only am I continuing to be impressed with this series, but I think I’ll pick up some of Howard’s non-Conan work. Maybe with Christmas’s gift cards.

Books mentioned in this review:

Book Report: Sink the Bismarck! by C.S. Forester (1959, 1979)

Posted in Book Report, Books on July 15th, 2014 by Brian

Book coverSuddenly, I’m on a World War II naval battle kick, first with The Battle Off of Midway Island and now this book. What a contrast they make.

This book, originally titled The Last Nine Days of the Bismarck but retitled after the 1960 film Sink the Bismarck! came out went through quite a number of printings; this paperback is still in print 20 years after the original and 38 years after the events depicted in it. What kept it alive? Past generations’ interest in actual history? The movie in heavy syndication on television that had not fragmented into a billion channels? Perhaps both, maybe neither. But I’m prone to idle speculation.

The difference in naval doctrine is stunning. Although I’m no naval military history expert, the book might capture a turning point in naval operations. The Bismarck is a big battleship with big guns that knocks out a British battleship (the Hood), and then goes around the Atlantic for a couple of days. Will it harry shipping? Although that might have been the idea, it does not engage shipping and starts making a beeline for France when it’s clear that the British aren’t cowed and are actively hunting it. This might represent the 19th century way of naval war.

The British, on the other hand, bring the house. They have a number of cruisers, a carrier, and whatnot working together to target the single battleship. This is more akin to what we’re used to in modern warfare and, indeed, reflects more of the strategy of the battle of Midway that will come only a couple years later.

I’m probably over simplifying it, but the claim seems valid to my layman’s eyes.

The book is a partially fictionalized retelling, as Forester recreates conversations that he can most assuredly not have access to. It does make this book approachable and readable, but not academic history. The book clocks in at only 118 pages, too. Remember the days when paperbacks were only 150 pages? Heck, I remember the days when hardbacks were only 180 pages. But then price inflation meant they had to make them fatter to justify higher prices–compare to portion sizes at restaurants–but there was something to be said for a quick, informative read like this. Back when people read.

It’s worth a read. I might even want to see the film now to see the movie-ized version of a fictionalized historical incident looks like.

Books mentioned in this review:

Another Book Report Compare and Contrast

Posted in Books on July 11th, 2014 by Brian

Joe liked The Executioner #7: Nightmare in New York far better than I did when I read it last year.

On the other hand, I liked it a lot better than I liked Nightmare in Manhattan which I reported on ten years ago. Back when I put some thought and words into my book reports.