Book Report: Secret Prey by John Sandford (1998)

I am reading the series so out of order. This book falls sometime after the earlier books, but before the later books. That being said, the quality of the books and their lack of dependence on the storylines across the books for fluff. Sure, the books contain some of that, but the books build the overarching storylines, not the other way around. And each of the books is compelling enough in its own right.

This one tracks Lucas Davenport, who has just broken up with Weather (but you know what happens later if you read these out of order, to which this is past and prologue). Someone kills the CEO of a bank undergoing a merger while the CEO is deer hunting with various other executives of the bank, most of whom would lose their jobs if the merger went through. So there are plenty of suspects and opportunity. As the novel progresses, the novel looks into the dealings to see who will suceed the deceased as CEO, and the business dealings reminded me a bit of some of John D. MacDonald’s paperbacks. Like MacDonald, you get enough difference in tone and subject to keep the books fresh.

Definitely a welcome rinse for my last mystery reading experience.

Books mentioned in this review:


Robin Carnahan’s Ghostwriting Efforts Panned

Missouri Secretary of State Robin Carnahan, whom I have already noted (here and here) likes to put her own particular donkey stamp on what Missouri voters can and cannot vote on as the result of ballot initiatives, gets her work panned by the court:

A judge has rewritten the ballot language for a proposed constitutional amendment banning certain embryonic stem cell research.

Cole County Judge Patricia Joyce says the language written by Secretary of State Robin Carnahan was insufficient and unfair.

Carnahan had gone the old Soviets one better; it’s not who counts the votes, it’s who determines what the voters vote on.

Group Pushes St. Louis County Sales Tax To Benefit Selves

Come on, who are they trying to fool with this gambit?

A quarter-cent sales tax that would provide $40 million a year for children’s crisis and wellness programs will probably make the county ballot next fall.

A regional consortium of 20 providers of mental health and other support services for children says St. Louis County children are suffering because they lack critical funding for services geared toward mental illness, physical abuse, substance abuse, pregnancy and homelessness.

The county, despite having more than three times the youth population of any other county in the state, is lagging behind its smaller neighbors, including the city of St. Louis and St. Charles, Lincoln and Jefferson counties, say members of the group called Putting Kids First. All of those counties have established a sales tax to fund mental health services, substance abuse and child abuse prevention programs. The most recent was Lincoln County, which approved a quarter-cent sales tax in November 2006.

The money raised by the sales tax is going to get spent with the very people pushing it, hey? So aren’t they a special interest group doing a little rent-seeking? Oh, I forget, they’re doing it for the children, for whose benefit everyone should bleed and sacrifice, except of course those who Serve them. They should get tax money.

And phooey, again, on the St. Louis Post-Dispatch for supporting it and continuing to identify sales tax rates in the terms of a horse race or the arms race. What, are we in the county afraid that the city will break the beautiful, wonderful, happy 10% sales tax barrier first?

Book Report: Stranger in Paradise by Robert B. Parker (2008)

All right, this book offended me.

Of course, as you probably know, I read the early Spenser novels in my formative years, and the books led me to Thoreau and Chandler and whatnot and provided me with a basic set of dictates for manliness. Intelligence, strength, and sarcasm. But then the thing happened, the Spenser Valediction/Catskill Eagle bit, and the Spenser books declined. Slowly, I suppose, but still, they’re now just collections of television scenes, many of which could be excised if anyone dared to incense a best-seller.

Then came the Sunny Randall books and Jesse Stone books (of which this is one) so that Parker could continue to revisit the themes sewn up pretty much in the Spenser books: namely, that strong, decent people can be in messed up relationships for decades, and that’s okay. It takes a strong man to bear the cuckold horns. Also, let us not forget the autonomy thing (lectures provided handily in each book in case it’s your first Parker read); let us remember the tough guys of all races (with “honorable” representatives from African Americans, Italian Americans, Hispanics, Native Americans, and white guys); let us remember the positive homosexual characters (minimum one per book, and many of them are tough guys, too).

I read the books out of a sense of duty, but as I said, this one offended me.

It has all the normal flaws, some of which I allude to above. An ethnic tough guy (Apache) comes back to Paradise. He, like the other main characters in Parker books, are Sex Gods, right? Attractive women want Crow (not Hawk!)/Jesse Stone/Spenser/Sunny Randall (a Sex God in female form). There can be no conversation between attractive women and the Sex Gods without the undercurrent of sex. Then, we have the scenes with the shrink, wherein Stone and his therapist go over why he’s stuck on stupid. Then, finally, we have a minor sympathetic character who’s married but cannot resist the Sex God, so she commits adultery and then confesses she feels no guilt for it, and another adulterer confides that sex between adults is a good thing if it makes you feel good, husband and four kids be damned. Just don’t tell him.

Oh, for Pete’s sake. That goes beyond promiscuity, which I don’t have a problem with. But justifying and rationalizing adultery? Give me a break. With that blow, the series has a total of zero recurring characters that I respect. None. No one for me to identify with. No reason to read.

I’m probably overreacting, but I traced some influence of my personal code of ethics to Parker’s earlier work. I am beyond disappointed with this outing and don’t know if I’ll bother with the other Sunny Randall/Jesse Stone books from here on out. I just picked up the movie Stone Cold just last week, and if I get the others, it will be because I like Tom Selleck, not because I like Robert B. Parker.

Even aside from my moral high-horsing, the book is flawed. Contrary to the oft-reprinted AP review, the dialogue in this book is not crackling, wry, sparkling, or whatever the thesaurus wanted to stick in there for this Parker book. The plot is forced, the resolution relies on the now-frequent shootout trap for organized crimesters, and….

Jeez, can you tell how I feel about this book? I’m so spitting mad about it, it’s like my review wanders out of the room and comes back to add just one more bit of venom? For the sake of consistency, I’ve put the Amazon link to the book below, but jeez, save your time and money.

I cannot believe I pay full price for these things any more.

Books mentioned in this review:


Book Report: Infinite Possibilities by Robert A. Heinlein (2002)

After the Niven, I wanted something with a little more zing to it. I’ve had this book on my shelves for a bit, so I took it out. I misremembered it as a collection of short stories; instead, it is a Science Fiction Book Club collection of three of Heinlein’s juvenile novels from the 1950s: Tunnel in the Sky, Time for the Stars, and Citizen of the Galaxy.

Back when I was in middle school, M. Gene Henderson had a collection of Del Rey imprinted paperbacks in the hard library binding which I tore through in the sixth grade and the first part of the seventh grade. Hence, once I knew the nature of this book, I’d expected I’d find something familiar in it, that I’d read one or more. Actually, although one was familiar, I hadn’t actually finished it. More on that by-and-by.

Tunnel in the Sky deals with students in high school participating in an off-world survival class. Their final exam is to go onto an unknown planet and survive for a couple of days or a week and finding the rescue point. A teleporter device sends them off, but as time passes and the students fight amongst themselves, they realize they’re on their own. Then Johnny Rico a young man has to help them form a society in the wilderness. Suddenly, they’re rescued.

I almost read Time for the Stars at M. Gene Henderson; however, the subject matter deals with a subject that was touchy. I was at M. Gene Henderson for the year and a half immediately following my parents’ divorce and our subsequent move from the friendly environment of the Milwaukee housing projects to the wild suburban world of St. Charles, Missouri. During the course of the divorce, my mother took us on a two-bus transfer excursion to see an attorney who was going to evaluate the children’s interests in the case and act as an advocate for my brother and I. During our meeting, he suggested a crazy custody arrangement: my brother and I spend six months with our mother and then six months with our father, a complete split down the middle of the year. However, in addition to the semiannual jerking us from school to school, the attorney also proposed that my brother and I actually split up so that one of us was each with a parent during those six months. Boys and girls, this was before the crack epidemic, okay?

So Time for the Stars deals with a deep-space probe program using identical twins with telepathy as the communication mechanism. One goes on a deep space probe traveling at near light speeds, and the other remains on earth to receive instant messages from psi. Well, at age 11 and fresh from the divorce, I couldn’t handle that topic, so I didn’t read the book. I read up until I got the conceit, and then I read the last chapter where the old brother and the young brother (travel at light speed will do that to you, or so Einstein tells me) meet again.

Now, 20 years have passed and my brother and I are naturally estranged, so I could get through it, but not without some meloncholy about my brother and my estrangement. So one twin goes in the ship, has some adventures, and gets in touch with his real relationship with his brother. While dozens of light years away, the ship’s excursion runs into disaster. Suddenly, they’re rescued.

Citizen of the Galaxy deals with a young slave sold to a beggar on a distant outpost. Neither is what he seems, and as the beggar-slash-spy is captured, the young slave follows instructions left by his adopted father to discover his past. It’s a big one. Suddenly, the book ends.

That’s a knock I’ll throw on Heinlein: Man, the books just kinda end out of nowhere, with little resolution to the main problems in the book or with pat resolutions. Maybe I just don’t grok Heinlein to that level. But they’re quick, engaging books that carry you along and don’t have the flaws that Niven’s books do.

Books mentioned in this review:


Good Book Hunting: February 17, 2008

On Saturday, we traveled to St. Peters, Missouri, all the way across the Missouri River and everything, to the Adult Hardbacks portion of the Friends of the St. Charles Library book fair. It had hardback mainstream fiction and mysteries for $2 each and videocassettes for a dollar or under. We bought:

Friends of the St. Charles Library book fair
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I got:

  • Alice in Jeopardy, a non-87th precinct book by Ed McBain.
  • Transgressions, an anthology of novellas edited by Ed McBain.
  • Secret Prey, a Davenport mystery by John Sandford.
  • Paradise Alley, a novel from Sylvester Stallone, fresh from his Rocky triumph.
  • From Here to Infinity, an astronomy bit narrated by Patrick Stewart and advertised heavily on ST:TNG movie videocassettes.
  • Earth Versus The Flying Saucers.
  • A Howie Mandel tour videocassette.
  • A video about the history of St. Louis.

I guess Heather got a couple books, too. However, my total new count is 4, and our total spent was $15.25.

I did note, though, that mixed in among the videocassettes were some jiggly direct-to-video or late night cable movies including at least one soft core porn film available for $1. I assume that these were donations that the librarians didn’t know the nature of. Or the library in St. Charles is more liberal than even the Old Trees one.

The Noggle Library 2008 Update

In response to comments in this post, I hereby present the state of the Noggle Library 2008 post.

Back in the day, Kim du Toit posted a picture of his home library (on his old blog, obliterated at some point before he resurfaced with his current blog. I posted the first Noggle Library post in 2003. Man, five years ago, we had nothing. In response to my post, du Toit posted on his blog that some wanker had one bigger than his; hence the sidebar endorsement. However, that actual post, too, was lost when Mr. du Toit ended his original blog, so you’ll just have to take my word for it.

Last year, I posted an update which showed my then office and the rest of the Noggle Library. The volume has continued to grow, though, since last year’s picture did not take into account the 2007 Book Fair Season. Here’s what we have now.


Brian's office, read books
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These are most of the books I have read, hardbacks and trade paperbacks here mostly. To the left, you can see the Robert B. Parker shelf with some space to accommodate future books. The second to the left has the Ayn Rand books and the poetry and drama and the writing books. I have some room for growth, as these are not double-stacked yet.


Brian's office, unread side 1
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These two shelves include unread books, some dating back a decade or two. Most shelves are double-stacked. Two shelves contain oversized books which are only 1-up. The top shelf on the right contains the Classics Club editions of which I have become fond as well as some other material in front.


Brian's office, unread side 2
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This is the other side of the unread shelves. The two bookshelves to the left are unread books, the one to the right is reference material in home repair and whatnot.


Brian's office, paperbacks and computer reference material
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The top bookshelf is mass market paperbacks I have read; the bottom shelf is computer reference works and some music list books.


Brian's office, effluvia
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This bookcase contains “effluvia”; gaming books, binders full of process documentation or manuals, magazines, and so on.

Shelf in the hutch includes more computer books and writing reference/dictionaries.<


Basement reference
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Two small bookshelves in the basement contain reference sets, sewing books, and young adult series (Nancy Drew, etc.)


Basement paperbacks
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This small book case includes Heather’s mass market paperbacks and some religious books and hymnals I picked up for her in November.


The boy's books
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The boy’s books, reshuffled a bit since last year with his Christmas gifts mixed in.


Dining room books
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The dining room cookbooks, Heather’s textbooks, the Time-Life Old West series, and some pet care reference. Not much new here since last year.


Heather's books 1
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Heather's books 2
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Heather's books 3
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Heather’s office books. No changes in layout in the last year; only the density has increased.


Well, there’s where we are going into Book Fair Season this year. I estimate this year I will hit my event horizon, wherein I will actually own more books than I can possibly read in my lifetime given current life projections. However, ever the optimist, I will probably buy a pile more so that I will have plenty of reading choice and so I don’t actually come to the end of my life and have to read Ulysses just because I own it.

Check back next year for the next exciting installment!

Return to Apogee

Hey, whoa. 3D Realms, the software company that apparently used to be called Apogee, has a page where you can download all those shareware side-scrollers from the late 80s and early 90s.

Just like I used to play on my 286 after spending an hour downloading them from a BBS.

I mean, it’s not like I don’t have a bunch of them on 3.5″ diskette, but I will complete my collection.

I’m a Branding Expert, Dammit, Not Educated!

Kudos to whomever designed the label for the new Gillette Clinical Strength Antiperspirant:

Gillette Clinical Strength Antiperspirant label

Yeah, let’s go with the hexagons and make it all scientific and stuff. If anyone noticed something amiss or astray with that initiative, that person was overruled. Too bad, too. When you’re going all scientific and whatnot, you’ll find that the hexagon is the chemical representation of benzene:

Benzene

No, branding experts, benzene is not the cheaply photocopied collection of angst-ridden poetry and inky vampire drawings that Ben publishes. Benzene is:

Benzene exposure has serious health effects. Breathing high levels of benzene can result in death, while low levels can cause drowsiness, dizziness, rapid heart rate, headaches, tremors, confusion, and unconsciousness. Eating or drinking foods containing high levels of benzene can cause vomiting, irritation of the stomach, dizziness, sleepiness, convulsions, and death.

Fortunately, the target audience is probably just as clueless.

The United States Is Just Another European Country

From The American Thinker:

What do I accept? That the U.S. is just another European country now. We are all welfare states if not outright socialist ones and our political choices are between center-left and left-left. Time to get used to it. Moving to France won’t make much difference, whether you are Alec Baldwin or Chuck Norris.

Sadly, I agree. Things will probably get worse before they get better. However, two things might come into play to stem the tide:

  • More children to conservative families than non-conservative ones.
  • Home schooling and more attention to education by conservative families balances the unchecked education indoctrination in schools and universities.
  • Migrations of the population out of the cities and to less populated areas, leading to a decentralization of governments in the best case scenario.

Because without hope, I got nothing.

Heretics in the Temple of Bibliophilia

Virginia Postrel and friend endorse the Amazon Kindle because it takes up less space than books. Postrel:

I love books too, and I wouldn’t want to relinquish all those individual physical volumes for an electronic reader. But, that said, I had to give up hundreds of books when I moved back to L.A., because there just wasn’t room for them all. I buy a lot fewer books than I would if I didn’t have to store them (and live in fear of having them fall on my head in an earthquake). So maybe I need a Kindle after all.

Friend:

I am inundated in books. I have way too many. I have no place to put them. I often can’t find them when I want them. I often don’t know what I want to read on a trip, so I carry six heavy books with me, which sucks.

Heresy! Heresy! Do you know what I do when I run out of space for books? I buy a bigger house!

Apparently, Tam of the mere sixty boxes understands.

(Link seen elsewhere on Dynamist.com.)

Irene Is Safe

Robbers steal $163m in art from Zurich:

Three armed men in ski masks stole four paintings by Cezanne, Degas, van Gogh and Monet worth $163.2 million from a Zurich museum in one of Europe’s largest ever art heists, police said Monday.

What did they get?

A reward of about $90,000 was offered for information leading to the recovery of the paintings – Claude Monet’s “Poppy field at Vetheuil,” Edgar Degas’ “Ludovic Lepic and his Daughter,” Vincent van Gogh’s “Blooming Chestnut Branches,” and Paul Cezanne’s “Boy in the Red Waistcoat.”

What didn’t they get?

The museum also owns Auguste Renoir’s “Little Irene” and Edgar Degas’ “Little Dancer.”

You know, I have a print of “Little Irene” in my house. How they passed up Renoir for Monet and van Gogh, I cannot understand.

The article claims the following regularly scheduled “Don’t try this at home even though the news article has a big dollar amount in its headline” warning:

The FBI estimates the market for stolen art at $6 billion annually, and Interpol has about 30,000 pieces of stolen art in its database. While only a fraction of the stolen art is ever found, the theft of iconic objects, especially by force, is rarer because of the intense police work that follows and because the works are so difficult to sell.

If I were a novelist, or if I were a practicing novelist, this is how I’d plot it out: Russian millionaire who’s a big fan of Monet or wants the Monet to impress his hot young figure skater chickling hires the job out at $2 million a man. It’s costing him $8 million, but far less than he’d have to pay to buy it at auction or on the black market. The other guys snatch and grab a couple extra for their bonus. They wrap the Monet up and ship it to a dead box in Finland, just standard freight, and keep or sell the remainders. After their $2 million payoff.

But I’d save the real plot twist for what comes next.

Another Highlight Reel Headline

Safety experts dis’ Hannah:

Many parents consider Hannah Montana a role model for children. But a scene in her current blockbuster movie is drawing negative attention from some safety experts.

The scene shows the 15-year-old Disney superstar and her dad, country music star Billy Ray Cyrus, riding in the rear seat of a Range Rover on the way to a rehearsal for their sold-out concert tour. In real life, Hannah is Miley Cyrus.

Neither was wearing a seat belt.

Oh, for Pete’s sake. For starters, it’s not a real dis, it’s a press release by an organization that lives to put out nitpicky press releases about its cause du jour.

But to put dis in your headline. 90s urban slang, for Pete’s sake.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch is such low-hanging fruit.

Headline Words Tilt

I know it’s no surprise, but let me point out the obvious. This St. Louis Post-Dispatch headline indicates its lack of objectivity: Ashcroft defends Bush on spying

Spying? Well, I guess that’s one way to put surveillance. If you’re against it.

Don’t you hate how the cops on the side of the road spy on your speed with radar “guns”? Me, too.

How about your municipality spying on you with red light cameras or with cameras downtown or microphones designed to pinpoint gunshots? What, Post-Dispatch, it’s not spying unless you can hang it on Bush?

Good Book Hunting: February 9, 2008

Ah, finally, that time again, my friends. The birds are singing, the sun is shining, the snows that came on Friday have receded by Monday, and it’s book sale season again! Well, not quite full on book sale season, but Heather found something in the city claiming to be a sale of 1000 books, so off we went.

The sale was in a nice section of the city, St. Louis Hills or thereabouts, and it did indeed feature a number of books. A lot of books. Dollar hardcovers and old hardcovers at that. I never did ask the source of the books–the sale was in a single family home–but I did partake. I would have partooken of more were I building a reference library, gentle readers, but recent bookshelf acquisitions have shown me how space-consuming a reference library really is. So I only bought a couple of books (noted below, of course). The sale also offered old bottles at $3.00, collector sorts of bottles from various liquors around the world. Which leads to the funniest thing I saw today (so far): a rather South City Hoosierish looking fellow followed me in the pay money line, and he carried an esoteric and exotic bottle. Full. He spoke with the woman and they agreed that the vodka would still be good. Also, he had a Shooter’s Handbook gun reference guide that he wanted, but he didn’t want to pay a dollar for it; fifty cents, he offered, even though large reference books were $2.00. The woman offered it to him for the buck, but he wouldn’t pay more than fifty cents for it. I can guess why not; that fifty cents was a whole sixth of a bottle of ancient vodka.

We also made a couple of other stops: one, a garage sale in the tiny municipality of Grantwood Village that had record albums for $3.00. I asked her if she’d take a dollar, and she would. Jeez, you record and cassette sellers, you need to know your price point here. Individual songs are a buck on the Internet. If someone wants to buy your old record or cassette, that person probably wants one song for sure and perhaps the rest as “maybe I’ll like it, too.” So you need to beat that dollar price point. You cannot hope that the stuff you liked back in the day along with millions of other teenagers in your generation will somehow prove to be a “collector’s item.” Keep it under a buck, or you’ll keep it, period.

Our third stop was the local rec center for the community garage sale. People, and not a lot of them, ponied up $18 for a table. Given the selection scattered across the dozen tables, either the rush came right when it opened and cleaned it out, or people were foolish to expect to sell that stuff and make $18 back. Never the less, I bought some baseball cards and cassettes.

Here’s our first noted score for the year:



First books of the year!
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Here’s what I got:

  • The Civilization of The Renaissance in Italy by Jacob Burckhardt. Not pictured because it was floating around the back of the truck until after the photo was taken.
  • The Princess Bride by William Goldman. I realized when I told Heather about the book that I’d borrowed it from a friend to read. Now, I have it, so she can read it. Which is good, since the friend went from my best man to not talking to me in about 1 year. Which, oddly enough, is longer than it took the fellow who was supposed to be my best man.
  • Chivalry by a fellow named Cornish. Not actually a book about Cornish Chivalry.
  • The Danger of Peace by J.W. Allen. A lecture given at King’s College in London in 1915, so I think it will have an interesting perspective.
  • Armor and Arms, a catalog of arms in the City Art Museum of St. Louis in 1954.
  • Armor in the Victoria and Albert Museum (London) in 1951.
  • The Book of Buried Treasure, a nonfiction book about buried treasure.
  • At The Hemingways, a nonfiction account of life with Ernest Hemingway and family by someone with Hemingway in the name.
  • Just So Stories by Rudyard Kipling.
  • The Man with the Golden Gun by Ian Fleming because I haven’t read a Bond book in a while. Of course, I already had a couple to read, but now I have this one, too.
  • First Blood by David Morrell. I bought Rambo: First Blood Part II in August last year, but I should read this book first. Side note: of the 23 books I bought on August 27, 2007, I have already read 5. Yay, me.
  • 1066, a book about the Norman Conquest. Because one cannot have enough about that pivotal moment in history in one’s house.

Additionally, I bought the following musical stylings:

  • Four audio cassettes with names like Quiet Moments and Ocean Waves: Interludes. BECAUSE I NEED THE SOOTHING!
  • Street Talk by Steve Perry on vinyl. “Oh, Sherrie” plus.
  • Songs in the Attic by Billy Joel on vinyl. Sure, I already have it on cassette. But I am a collector! Come to think of it, I might already have this on vinyl. If so, it’s still good. BECAUSE I NEED THE COLLECTING!
  • Keep Your Hands Off My Power Supply by Slade. “Run Runaway” plus. Man, I cannot wait to blare that one.

Also, I bought a stack of baseball cards, three packs for like a quarter each. How could I not, with Rollie Fingers, Paul Molitor, and Ozzie Smith looking out at me?

Also, we got a game for the boys, and my wife bought a couple of cookbooks.

A couple weeks ago, I bought a couple new five shelf bookcases to spread out my to read stack. This means that on two bookcases, my books are not double-stacked. This spring and summer will alleviate that, no doubt.

Total purchased:12 books, 3 records, 4 cassettes.

Total spent:$20.90

Any Civilization Player Knows Differently

AP overstates its poll results when it says Bush, Congress hit bottom in AP poll:

It’s almost as if people can barely stand the thought of President Bush and Congress anymore. Bush reached his lowest approval rating in The Associated Press-Ipsos poll on Friday as only 30 percent said they like the job he is doing, including an all-time low in his support by Republicans. Congress’ approval fell to just 22 percent, equaling its poorest grade in the survey. Both marks dropped by 4 percentage points since early January.

Actually, I would expect the absolute bottom to be armed insurrection or at least some sort of lynching. Disgust with one’s government and party, pithy remarks made amongst the like minded, and/or staying home on election day after filing one’s taxes in a timely fashion but answering negatively to a pollster doesn’t strike me as the bottom.

(Link seen on Instapundit.)