Book Report: Poor Richard’s Almanack: Benjamin Franklin’s Best Sayings edited by Dean Walley (1967)

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

Book coverThis book was printed by a greeting card company (Hallmark) as a cheap gift you could pick up for someone as you were picking up the card. Pause a moment to reflect on the decline and fall of these sorts of books. From truisms, aphorisms, and self-helping little nuggets in the 1960s to feel-good and self-affirming poems to…. Do they even do these any more?

At any rate, this book collects some of Benjamin Franklin’s pithy sayings from his periodical and presents them with some period woodcut images. It’s a lot like reading a Twitter feed (or the meditations of Marcus Aurelius, for that matter). Some of the sayings are humorous descriptions of life, some are prescriptions for self-discipline and self-improvement, but all are worth reflection. It’s best not to try to read this as fast as you can–which is pretty fast indeed, as it’s sixty pages of three to five sayings per page–but instead to savor them, maybe even to read them aloud unless you’re in public (or perhaps even then).

Worth a look, and in book form, it’s more resonant than a collection you’d find on SmartyQuotes.com or whatnot.

Books mentioned in this review:

Book Report: Under the Dome by Stephen King (2009)

Posted in Book Report, Books on May 19th, 2015 by Noggle

Book cover

SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW

So I’ve tucked it under the fold for your protection. Unless you come from a social media site or feed directly to this page, in which case there is no fold. TURN BACK NOW, YOU FOOL.
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Book Report: The Avengers #2: The Laugh Was On Lazarus by John Garforth (1967)

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

Book coverThis book did not have Iron Man in it. I guess Robert Downey, Jr., wanted too much to do it.

I guess not; this is the wrong The Avengers. This set is the 1960s British Secret Agents, mod 60s woman Emma Peel and staid John Steed. I’ve never seen the series, and I even missed the almost twenty year old film starring Uma Thurman and Ralph Fiennes, so I didn’t really know what to expect.

It’s a slightly silly, disjointed book. A biotech company can raise the dead, and there’s a priest, and zombie American servicemen who can remember how to fly a stolen plane to the Pentagon. Or to New York.

I don’t know what to make of the story, how it relates to the others in the series, or to the television program. The book has a lot of interior Steed attracted to Peel but unable to say, and I don’t know if this is something that showed up in the program or if it’s a bit of the author’s own invention, thinking that Steed would because what man is not hot for Diana Rigg in a cat suit? I’ve seen that sort of thing before in books, although I cannot recall in which television series or movie novelization book report I remarked on it.

At any rate, of the two period television shows whose tie-in books I’ve read recently, the Kung Fu books (here and here) are better.

But I’ve got a couple more from The Avengers; maybe they’ll grow on me since I’m not going into them cold.

Books mentioned in this review:

Book Report: Renegade Agent by “Don Pendleton” (1982)

Posted in Book Report, Books on May 17th, 2015 by Noggle

Book coverThis book is a tedious, wordy little side-scroller of a men’s adventure novel.

The plot is exceedingly similar to Paramilitary Plot mashed up with Terrorist Summit: An ex-CIA agent is looking to put together a super-network of extra-national intelligence professionals and arms smugglers to help fund terrorists. Bolan has to find him and to rescue a prisoner–in this case, Toby Ranger, a recurring character from the War on the Mafia days.

Unfortunately, in the worst entries in the series, the writing does little to mask how similar these plots were to one another. This entry is particularly week, as entire chapters are chewed up in the musings of Mack Bolan. Where Pendleton would thicken/leaven his stories with a bit of philosophy, later authors simply rehash what Pendleton did and use it as padding to hit word count. This book often features a chapter or two of the musing/exposition, a chapter of Stony Brook team members getting information and thinking about it and the danger Mack Bolan is in, and then a chapter (maybe) that’s an action set piece. Then it repeats. Sometimes, we get a couple extra chapters of philosophy thrown in.

Not worth a read unless you’re compelled to read books on your to-read shelf as I am.

Books mentioned in this review:

A Bonus From This Was Cicero

Posted in Books on May 16th, 2015 by Noggle

As a bonus, This Was Cicero included a blow-in card for the Classics Club:

Click for full size

As you might know, gentle reader, I collect Classics Club editions (and a variety of other series published by Walter J. Black).

And although I’ve already invited the three fellows (Plato, Aristotle, and Marcus Aurelius) mentioned in the flyer into my home, I’ve only so far spent time with Marcus Aurelius.

Also, note in the flyer that the spines only say the name of the author; in reality, the spines also contain the titles. At least in the ones I’ve seen they do.

Book Report: This Was Cicero by H. J. Haskell (1942)

Posted in Book Report, Books, History, History on May 16th, 2015 by Noggle

Book coverThis book is nominally a biography of Marcus Tullius Cicero, but in reality, it’s a history of the fall of the Roman republic wherein Cicero sometimes makes appearances. I guess the author was working from a lot of Cicero’s letters (as do so many historians from Plutarch on), so he focused on Cicero. But there are huge stretches of the book where Cicero is not mentioned at all, including the first couple of chapters.

The author is a Marxist, of course. He refers often to the proletariat in Rome; he defends Catiline because Catiline was in favor of redistributing the wealth; he name-checks the poor oppressed Sacco and Vanzetti; he touches upon themes and books mentioned in Books That Changed America (namely, conservative opposition to public schools and The Influence of Sea Power Upon History, 1660-1783 by Alfred T. Mahan referring to either Pompey or Caesar’s understanding of naval transport of armies); and he often equates good with progressivism/Marxism and bad/corruption/know-nothing aristocracy with “conservatives.” But he’s an early twentieth century Marxist, so it’s lacking in the invective you get in later works.

As I mentioned, the author spends a lot of time talking about things other than Cicero, and he spends a lot of time equating the lives of Roman citizens in Cicero’s lifetime to different periods in history, including seventeenth century England and modern (~1940) America. The comparisons are probably too facile, especially when trying to equate the political groups of the period to modern equivalents (which boils down mostly to Tories/Republicans/Old Senate Factions = bad, Democrats/Redistributionists/Caesar and anyone shaking up the order to make it fairer for the proletariat = good). However:

This is still a pretty good book to read. It is pretty in-depth coverage of Roman history during Cicero’s lifetime, which includes the First Triumvirate and the Second Triumvirate and the Civil War from a different perspective than Julius Caesar. It’s the story of one man with hopes of a restoration of the Constitution that never comes and the slow, continued dissolution of the ideal of the Roman Republic from an ideal state that probably never existed to the seeds of empire based on strong, charismatic men with armies ruling.

It also provides a good deal of context for Cicero’s orations and his other works, including the historical details of why and when the pieces were written. Reading a collection of Cicero’s words will get you a little context, but this book fills in all the gaps.

The author does not paint a flattering picture of Cicero, though. The subject of the book, when he appears, is presented as vacillating, vain, vainglorious, and too much in love with his own oratory. Also, Cicero, in this book, seems to think his words alone could counter armed insurrections of various stripes. A tale with modern parallels.

I enjoyed the book and learned a bunch from it. It’s not without its flaws–politics aside, it does give the subject a bit of short shrift and it has a tendency to draw back from a point in time to provide historical context which gives the reader a bit of whiplash–but informative none the less.

Recommended.

Books mentioned in this review:

I Guessed Better The Second Time Around

Posted in Books, Quizzes on April 26th, 2015 by Noggle

At OregonMuse’s prompting, I took the Christian Science Monitor‘s Famous Literary Detective Skills Quiz.

When I went through it the first time on my phone, I got a 73%, but when I went through it on my computer preparing this blog post, I got:

77%.

This indicates I guessed one better on the English detective novels on the computer. Note the mobile version of the quiz does not show you the right answers as you go along, which explains why I only did one better guessing the second time around instead of getting them all right to impress you, gentle reader.

Good Book Hunting: Friends of the Springfield-Greene County Library, April 24, 2015

Posted in Books on April 25th, 2015 by Noggle

So I went about an hour early before my volunteer shift started at the Friends of the Springfield-Greene County Library book sale. When I went on Wednesday, I thought I’d bought a copy of Olivia Newton-John’s Olivia, but the platter inside the cover is If You Love Me, Let Me Know. So I’d hoped the donor had just misfiled them, and that I could find the cover for If You Love Me, Let Me Know with Olivia inside.

Alas, no.

I did buy additional albums, including Newton-John’s Come On Over. Eleven additional albums, which puts me at 42 for the week.

Here’s what I got:

Books include:

  • Poor Richard’s Alamanack, a collection of Ben Franklin’s best sayings from the periodical.
  • The Year 1000, a book about what normal life was like in Britain in 1000 AD.
  • The Stephen King Companion since I’ve started a 1000 page Stephen King book, naturally I expect I’ll want to read about Stephen King when I’m done with his novel.
  • The Red Badge of Courage in the Reader’s Digest edition. Not the condensed edition.
  • Three Classics Club titles, including Locke’s On Politics and Education, Bradford’s History of Plymouth, and Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels, of which I only needed the last.

I got three films:

  • Jackie Chan’s Rumble in the Bronx.
  • Wonder Boys starring Michael Douglas, Tobey Maguire, Katie Holmes, and some red boots.
  • Muppets From Space

Additionally, I got three sets of university courses on CD, including The Teaching Company’s Origins of Great Civilizations and Greece and Rome as well as The Modern Scholar’s A History of Ancient Israel. The Friends of the Springfield-Greene County Library book sale often has these courses pretty cheap, but the key is to pay attention to what each binder contains. This time out, they marked each binder $10, but some courses are in library binders, where only two discs of a course are in the binder and a whole course might have seven binders. That would be $70 versus $10.

So I’ve got a few things to read, a few things to watch, and a whole lot more to listen to. And I’ve avoided the siren song of half price day today and expect I’ll evade the siren song of bag day on Sunday.

Because, believe it or not, I am running out of places to put books here at Nogglestead. Until I build my stand-alone library building.

Book Report: A City in the North by Marta Randall (1976)

Posted in Book Report, Books on April 23rd, 2015 by Noggle

Book coverThis book should fit right into my wheelhouse: An abandoned city of an advanced civilization lies on a planet inhabited by intelligent, but primitive, ape-like beings. A shipping magnate and his off and on again rival shipping company magnate wife arrive on the planet to steal into the restricted area to visit the city. On planet, they find a mostly impotent governor tending a native garden while members of the corporation running mining operations on the planet run most of the show. The corporation members look at the tourists as though they were agents trying to figure out the illegal scheme the corporation is running. The tourists get permission from the apes to visit the forbidden city, and as they hitch a ride on a transport car between the only two bases on the planet, they avoid an attack from the corporate killers and flee with the apes who are migrating north toward the forbidden city. The wife seems to be going native and the husband wonders if his obsession with viewing the city, sparked by a talk he saw when he was younger, is worth the cost.

The story uses multiple points of view shifting intrachapter (but with clear demarcations via heading–this is Toyon’s Journal, this is Alin’s journal, and so on), and it has a pretty slow buildup. The world is interesting and alien, but the reveals at the end are kinda blurted out by principals to the main characters, and then the climactic action takes place. It could have been handled better, but I was afraid the ending and the mysteries would disappoint me, but they did not–only the execution of the story did.

It really brings to the fore the theme of humans coming into a world and observing it for a limited time and how much of that world throughout the ages they might miss, creating a flawed understanding. A good theme for sure.

So give it a look if you get the chance to do so inexpensively.

Books mentioned in this review:

Good Book Album Hunting: Friends of The Springfield-Greene County Library Book Sale, April 22, 2015

Posted in Books, Music on April 22nd, 2015 by Noggle

Today, I visited the Friends of the Springfield-Greene County Library Spring Book Sale for the first time. Over the last couple of years, I’ve adopted a staged approach to the book sale. First, I go for the albums, and then I go back and look over the books, preferably on half price or bag day.

So today I bought 31 record albums (at $1 each). I also got a couple books as I passed by the History and Poetry tables in the Value Books section.

Here they are:

I got:

  • Four albums by the Four Freshmen. I already had The Swingers and have hoped for the opportunity to expand the collection. This time out, I got Four Freshmen and Five Guitars, Freshman Favorites, In A Class By Themselves, and Fresh! which is from 1986 and is probably a new set of singers.
     
  • Linda Ronstadt’s What’s New which looks to be a collection of standards.
     
  • Pete Fountain’s Mood Indigo. I got a couple of Pete Fountain’s albums in the autumn, and I liked them well enough to look for more.
     
  • Mary McPartland Plays the Music of Billy Strayhorn
     
  • Ray Parker, Jr., The Other Woman
     
  • Yello, One Second featuring “Oh Yeah” (which also appears in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. When my children were littler, I played this song for them a lot on YouTube. It will seem strangely familiar to them now when I play it on record.
     
  • Doc Severinson and the Sound of the 70s, Feel Good
     
  • An album of Gregorian Chant
     
  • The soundtrack to the film Xanadu to replace a copy I bought last autumn which skips.
     
  • Two other Olivia Newton-John albums, Don’t Stop Believin’ and something else because my beautiful wife has a lots of her albums. When I showed her the new ones and asked if she had them, she said no. Also, she doesn’t really like Olivia Newton-John.
     
  • Diana Schuur, Schuur Thing
     
  • Tito Rodriguez, Este Es Mi Mundo (This Is My World).
     
  • Jackie Gleason, How Sweet It Is For Lovers
     
  • A collection of television theme songs not by the original artists.
     
  • A bunch of classical stuff because it looks as though the college radio station was dumping a lot of classical records. It’s hard for me to pick amongst classical things, as I’m not sure what of the great composers we have or lack (aside from knowing we have a lot of Beethoven but no Fidelio).

This year, the Rat Pack and Herb Alpert were poorly represented; only The Dean Martin Show and a copy of What Now My Love were present. A lot of Olivia Newton-John, though, and a lot of Barbra Streisand.

I also got a couple of packs of poetry chapbooks (bundled together for a buck each), A History of Rome to 565 AD, and a collection of musings called Ginger Snaps.

So my bookshelves are not bulging much more from the purchase, but my record storage is now sadly lacking. I’ll have to invest in a nice record cabinet sometime to store them properly.

And I’ve discovered that I get a more acute sense of anticipation buying record albums than books. When I bring the records home and put them by the record player, I find myself inventing reasons to be in the parlor just so I can listen to another of the new platters. When I bring the books home, I’m often interested in reading them, but I no longer really get a I can’t wait! feeling. Because, as the years have proven, I often do wait.

Book Report: Bloodsport by “Don Pendleton” (1982)

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

Book coverThis book finds Mack Bolan in Europe, where he is looking into the disappearance of a number of Olympic-caliber athletes, including a martial arts expert, a skier, a gymnast, and a fencer. Bolan infilitrate a West German terrorist splinter group to stop whatever plot is afoot and to rescue the hostages if they’re still alive.

The book was written less than ten years after the Munich attack in Germany, so its plot was almost based on real life events. The book runs smoothly from set piece to set piece, including the disruption of an arms deal and Bolan posing as a fugitive United States Army pilferer and dealer of stolen goods to infiltrate the terrorist organization. Unfortunately, its plot ultimately is too ripped from the headlines and the pacing again turns abrupt as the word count nears novel length.

Still, by pacing the books out a little more (although this is the thirteen Mack Bolan book I’ve read this year, it’s the only one in a month’s time), I enjoy them a little better as time smooths the disparities between the different authors. And I am reading these for enjoyment, not some project to educatedly discourse on men’s adventure fiction. Well, okay, I do have a goal of someday reading the set I received for my birthday a couple years back, but they’re enmeshed in the larger collection I’ve picked up since then. So they’re a Quixotic quest involved. But it’s still 80% enjoyment.

Books mentioned in this review:

Book Report: Heathcliff: Smooth Sailing by Geo Gately (1979, 1987)

Posted in Book Report, Books on April 16th, 2015 by Noggle

Book coverYou had to know I would read this book soon. Like a gun over the fireplace in a Chekov play, if I buy a cartoon book and finish a collection of Greek tragedies, the lighter cartoons will follow like night follows day. Wait, I think I’m mixing metaphors madly here. Apparently, cartoons also make my brain turn to mush.

This collection has a bunch of Heathcliff cartoons from 1979 in it. I would have had access as a child to these cartoons in the Milwaukee Journal Green Sheet. Some of you might hearken back to those if any of you are from Milwaukee. I doubt I’ve seen them before.

But I’ve seen their like before. I don’t know what I can say about this collection that I haven’t said before. It’s got the common tropes: Heathcliff on the back fence, Heathcliff fighting dogs, Heathcliff rolling garbage cans, Heathcliff outwitting the fishmonger, Heathcliff outwitting the milk man, and so on.

Still, it’s a bit of innocent comfort food to read and review. It takes one back to childhood, especially if one remembers Heathcliff from the Green Sheet at all. Unlike the Executioner and other men’s adventure novels that I read frequently, I can share these with my children. As I expect I will once the oldest catches sight of this new volume.

Books mentioned in this review:

Book Report: Books That Changed America by Robert B. Downs (1970)

Posted in Book Report, Books on April 15th, 2015 by Noggle

Book coverThis book should have a red cover. Its title should be Books That Advanced The Socialist Agenda for America.

How red is it?

Many of the evils of Bellamy’s day have been eliminated or mitigated in the eighty years since he wrote Looking Backward, and reforms which he advocated have been incorporated into the nation’s laws. The closest modern equivalent in organization to the state-controlled society proposed by Bellamy is Soviet Russia, where numerous obstacles have stood in the way of a fair test. [Emphasis added.]

That is, the socialist Utopia dreamed of in a nineteenth century novel is best represented by the Soviet Union, but its implementation was flawed by “obstacles.” Numerous obstacles. Not that the theory itself was flawed; no, there were numerous obstacles.

It takes one 129 pages into the book before we get confirmation that we’re way down the rabbit hole, Alice.
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Book Report: The Oedipus Cycle by Sophocles / Translated by Dudley Fitts and Robert Fitzgerald (1969)

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

Book coverThis book collects the three Greek plays in the Oedipus trilogy from 2500 years ago.

Oedipus Rex, the first chronologically, is set over the course of a couple of days when the king of Thebes (Oedipus) is told by the oracles that a plague will continue until the murderer of the former king Laius is found and handled. Oedipus says the man will be killed. However, during the course of investigating and interviewing people on the stage, he comes to learn that even though he fled his home town because he was prophesied to kill his father and bed his mother, he was adopted in that town because his real father, Laius, had his son put to death because the son was prophesied to kill him–and kindly shepherds instead of leaving him to die in the countryside let him be adopted in a distant town. So all that was prophesied comes to pass, and when Oedipus learns the truth, he blinds himself and becomes a wandering beggar. Two and a half millennia later, we know the story (at least for a couple years yet, by which time all classical education will be educated out of our culture), but I tried to read with a double-effect reader, learning only the truth as it was exposed on stage. It was pretty suspenseful, so I pretended.

Oedipus at Colonus takes place just outside Athens. Oedipus, the blind wanderer, is accompanied by his daughter Antigone into the grove sacred to the Furies. There, his brother-in-law comes to retrieve him to have him nearby Thebes in case they need him. His son comes to recruit him in a civil war against his brother who sits on the throne of Thebes. Everyone wants to use Oedipus for their own ends without valuing the man, so he ends up cursing everyone except Theseus, the ruler of Athens, and Antigone and prophesies a deadly war in Thebes. Then he dies.

Antigone, which I read in high school, tells of the after-effects of the said civil war. Both of her brothers are dead. One, the ruler of Thebes, is buried with hero’s pomp. The other is left for the dogs outside the city walls. Creon, Oedipus’s brother-in-law, now rules Thebes and proclaims death for anyone who buries the rebelling brother. Antigone, because God’s laws overrule men’s laws, buries him anyway. Creon holds to his word and prepares to put her in a cabin where she’ll starve to death (because then it’s not him killing her, see?). A series of people cross the stage to try to get him to relent, including his son who was to marry Antigone, and Teiresias, the seer, but he remains firm until the end, where he relents. However, when he refused to relent, people cursed him, and by the time he has relented, the fruits of the curses have already occurred. As he gets to the cabin to release Antigone, he finds she has hanged herself and his son kills himself. When Creon returns with the news, his wife kills herself. And Creon must live with the fruits of his arrogance.

There’s a certain parallel between the first and the third plays; Oedipus is a hard-headed and hot-headed ruler who proclaims his father’s murderer must be killed, which leads to his downfall, although his sins of incest and patricide were done in ignorance. Creon evolves over the plays from a trusted advisor to a hothead and arrogant ruler.

I’ll be honest, I feel worst about Creon in Antigone; he finally relents and does the right thing–allowing the burial of his nephew and goes to release Antigone, but he bears the punishment for his wrongs even as he tries to amend them. That, brothers and sisters, is real tragedy.

The translation work by Fitts and Fitzgerald is very good; they’ve taken some liberties, as they explain in their afterwards to Oedipus in Colonus and Antigone but it probably makes for a better read.

It also makes me want to read Aeschylus’ Seven Against Thebes, which is part of that playwright’s version of the trilogy and fits between the events of Oedipus in Colonus and Antigone.

Maybe I’ll find that in an upcoming book sale. As I’m reading millennia-old classical literature, of course I’m going to buy up a bunch of it that I won’t read for a long time.

Books mentioned in this review:

Good Book Hunting: Friends of the Christian County Library Book Sale, April 10, 2015

Posted in Books on April 13th, 2015 by Noggle

On Friday night, my beautiful wife forewent the normal extravagant meal at Avanzarre Fine Italian Dining while the children languished at a Kids’ Night Out program at the dojo so that we could go to the Friends night at the book sale in Ozark. Rest assured, we did get something to eat, some fine Italian pizza at Rocco’s in Nixa afterwards. Not that I worked up much of an appetite.

I was the model of restraint.

I might be getting older, or I might recognize that my current book shelvage is already bursting at the seams and know that a still larger house is not coming any time soon, but I only bought books I thought I could browse soon or during football games. Well, okay, after I’d circled the room, I had a box in hand and was getting less scrupulous while my wife looked through magazines, but she didn’t take long enough for me to require a trailer.

I got:

  • One Mack Bolan/The Executioner book. This particular book sale has been a source of a lot of men’s adventure paperbacks, but this year there was only a single one. Which I was pleased to learn I did not already have.
     
  • A Mad magazine paperback, Mad About Town, and a Heathcliff book, Heathcliff Smooth Sailing, which I’ll browse at some point. But I won’t enter them into my book database because they’ll soon end up in my children’s library instead of mine, where the boys will read them, sleep on them, and step on them until they’re destroyed.
     
  • A photo collection of Andrew Wyeth’s work, Christina’s World. I had a print of said image hanging on my wall in college.
     
  • The Mighty Mo, a photo history of the Missouri, the battleship.
     
  • A pictorial history of the Shakers.
     
  • A history of The Lives of the Signers of the Declaration of Independence
     
  • Kill Shot by Elmore Leonard.
     
  • Under the Dome by Stephen King to go along with my growing library of unread Stephen King books.
     
  • A Mercedes Lackey title, Storm Rising
     
  • The Last Man by Vince Flynn. My wife has borrowed a couple of his books from the library, so I picked one up only to learn she didn’t really like him.
     
  • A history of the first world war to go along with my unread history collection.

I passed on a number of Roman history books, which is odd, given that I’m reading a bunch of classic works from the era (starting with The Gallic and Civil Wars). Normally, when I start reading a number of books on a historical topic, I buy up a large number of titles in the focus area as though I’m going to be a scholar in it. Then I read something else instead. This explains my several volumes on Mongol and Aztec history. Or perhaps, as The First World War purchase this weekend proves, I just buy a lot of history books.

At any rate, in the upcoming weeks, I’ve also got the Friends of the Springfield-Greene County Library and Friends of the Clever Library book sales to look forward to. We’ll see if my restraint is a going trend or if I just wasn’t in the mood on Friday night.

Book Report: Blind Spot by Reed Farrel Coleman (2014)

Posted in Book Report, Books on April 7th, 2015 by Noggle

Book coverThis book is the first of the Jesse Stone novels written by the new guy. So we’ve got a little whiplash to account for, as the series jerks back from the television writing to long paragraphs and entire chapters composed of tiny bits of plot development and a whole lot of “nice little moments” that take individual characters within the storyline and give them their time in the sun. And the night. And the light of dawn. And the grey of twilight.

I was going to digress a bit on describing the plot, but let me stay on general lamentation for the structure of the book for a moment: We’ve got dozens of chapters of each major player in the book getting his or her say in what’s going on, which builds some depth and maybe richness to the plot, but at the expense of the plot and a sense of movement. Pacing. This is supposed to be a suspense novel, but not a mystery: we know early on who has done it and what they’ve done, sort of. What we’re supposed to be in suspense for is the ultimate resolution. So I slog through hundreds of pages, and then we get a resolution triggered not by detection but the potentially uncharacteristic confession of a minor character (who gets his chapters, brah) that leads not to a complete resolution, but one of the Parkeriana solutions: A meeting with a bad guy arranged by a bad guy but accepted because they all agree Stone is a man of his word, a brush with danger, and a cliffhanger ending that might lead into the next book or it might not.

Sadly, with what I’ve been reading this year and what I’ve seen in this series, the Parker legacy is a set of series that are destined to be nothing better than fat, wordy men’s adventure novels. Whipsawed between authors seeking to put their stamps on the books, readers get continuity flux, differing styles, and characters who are similar to those who come before in name only.

Seriously, in this book, we get the following changes:

  • Jesse is now a hard core drinker.
  • The cat companion is gone, passed off in a paragraph-long bit of exposition.
  • Molly is back to the previous Irish incarnation.

Amid others.

The plot revolves around a former teammate of Jesse’s, a second baseman who made the big leagues after stealing Jesse’s girlfriend and who is rumored to have intentionally caused the play that ruined Stone’s big league career. After baseball, the fellow got into investments and after the markets fell in 2008, he turned to the mob to help finance a pyramid scheme. He throws together a reunion of his minor league team to get to talk to Jesse to see if Jesse can get him out from under, but before he does, his mob associates kidnap the son of their next target to apply pressure to the reluctant father, and they kill a girl in the process. So the ball player doesn’t get to talk to Jesse before the murder and can’t after the murder. An FBI agent has gone undercover on her own to get the goods on the ballplayer. And the father of the kidnapped boy has put out a hit on the ball player. So we have 300 pages of slow motion resolution that gets wrapped up unsatisfyingly at the end.

I don’t know. Maybe I’m getting older and cynical, but I’m not really enjoying modern suspense fiction as much as I did when the modern was late twentieth century and I was younger. But I have to wonder if I’m going to give up on the Parker properties much like I’ve given up on the Sandford series these days.

Books mentioned in this review:

Book Report: The Currents of Space by Isaac Asimov (1952)

Posted in Book Report, Books on April 3rd, 2015 by Noggle

Book coverThis book is a 1952 classic-style science fiction novel by Asimov. Its plot centers on a spatio-analyst who studies elements in deep space who uncovers something apocalyptic about an agricultural planet and its impending doom, but when he tries to deliver the message to the authorities on the planet, someone wipes his mind and releases him, senseless, on the surface of the planet. A simple native woman takes care of him, but as his memories start to return, they find themselves on the run from interplanetary intrigue and harsh fuedal masters.

The book has a lot of threads going on: The agricultural planet in danger (Florina) is a fiefdom of different masters from another planet (Sark) and is the only source of a particular fabric (kirt) in great demand throughout the million worlds. Another galactic empire (Thantor) wants to get a hold of Florina, and its agents intrigue to do so and see this amnesiac as their way to do it. Meanwhile, on Florina, one regional Sarkite overlord thinks this is just the excuse he needs to unite the different lords under his control. And there’s the story of the spatio-analyst on the run as his memory returns, and the story of his local Florinian overseer benefactor’s efforts to protect the spatio-analyst and his own skin.

So the book jump cuts an awful lot and probably suffers for it, but Asimov was clearly going to include the macro-events and intrigues because exploration of this particular fuedal system was important to him. But it makes the book a bit scattered and thin in the individual story lines.

As I read it, though, I wondered if this influenced Dune. Both deal with a planet that has a monopoly on a commodity, a fuedal system in charge of the commodity, an independent space agency/guild with political powers of a sort, intrigues about who controls the commodity, and a protagonist undergoing an awakening of sorts….

It’s not a 1:1 parallel, but they share a number of elements.

Books mentioned in this review:

Book Report: Kung Fu 2: Chains by Howard Lee (1973)

Posted in Book Report, Books on March 24th, 2015 by Noggle

Book coverThis book finds Caine in the mountains, looking for his brother. He encounters some fellows who don’t like Chinamen and calmly dissuades them from attacking him and then walks into a local fort to inquire about his brother and to talk to an accused murderer who shared a mining claim with his brother. The murderer is accused of killing one of the other mining claim partners. Of course, the guys in the fort recognize Caine as a wanted man and shackle him to the accused murderer. These are the physical chains of the title.

The duo escape and try to make for the mining camp to find out what happened to the other partners, including Caine’s brother. Along the way, they encounter hostile Indians, a trapper who doesn’t like Caine’s chainmate and the sister of another partner in the mining claim and her tenderfoot husband, and the fellows from the opening reappear with hostile intent.

The story moves along more linearly than the first volume of the series and more like a teleplay. It’s a quick and engaging read and lightly heady enough with traces of lightweight Buddhist thought to make one think a bit and compare some of the tenets to Stoic thought if one happens to be reading both at the same time. So better than a lot of men’s adventure novels.

Books mentioned in this review:

Book Report: F15E Strike Eagle by Hans Halberstadt (1991)

Posted in Book Report, Books on March 23rd, 2015 by Noggle

Book coverThis book is badged by Microprose, which you old timers will recognize as the company behind military simulators such as F-15 Strike Eagle and Gunship (as well as the original Civilization). 1991 is near the end of its run as an independent game company (according to Wikipedia, so it’s possible they’re branching out into other revenue streams to create synergy at this point.

The book is primarily a photography book, with lots of images of the F-15E Eagle’s exterior and cockpit with a bit of text describing it, its history, and its recent successes in the Gulf War. If you’re a regular reader of Jane’s Defense Weekly, this stuff is old hat. But if you’re old timey like me and remember Top Gun fondly (which was not the F-15 but the F-14, but you know what I mean), you’ll find a lot to like in this short little book. Plus there’s bits like the fact that they painted over the kill counts on some of these machines as they continued to fly after the action where the saw the combat. Or that the names on the planes are not necessarily the names of the officers in the planes as crews take the available planes, not their plane on missions.

It makes me want to power up my Commodore 64 for another sortie. How come they don’t make good flight simulators any more? Oh, yeah: 9/11.

Books mentioned in this review:

Book Report: Holiday Memory by Dylan Thomas (1978)

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

Book coverThis book is a little chapbook containing a single ‘story’ from Welsh poet Dylan Thomas. It’s part of a series, and this ‘story’ first appeared in another volume, so I’m not sure why this appears in a slim chapbook edition twenty years after Thomas’s death.

At any rate, “Holiday Memory” is not so much a story as a stream-of-consciousness prose poem about being on vacation on the seashore in Wales in August of probably the late twenties or early thirties. Jeez, I’m going to have to start adding nineteen to the decades now, ainna? It’s a colorful, vivid recounting and a pleasant read, although there’s no plot to drive one along. It’s a pretty short work, though, so you don’t have far to go from morning to the beach and night at the fair.

Worth a look if you’re into this sort of thing as I am.

Books mentioned in this review: