Book Report: Miracle in the Ozarks by Chester Funkhauser (2004)

Book coverIn keeping with my recent spurt of Ozarkiana (Unto These Hills, The Willow Bees), I picked up this short novel.

In it, a grandfather still grieving from his wife’s death from cancer takes in his daughter and grandson as the boy suffers from leukemia and the marriage is on the fritz. The daughter takes a nursing job in town, leaving the ailing boy to spend the days with his grandfather in a cabin in the mountains. The boy starts talking about meeting the fairy people down, and his imaginative incidents almost make it sound believeable. But the boy gets lost in a thunderstorm, and the local crazy war veteran helps to find him, and the adventure results in reconciliation and healing all around.

It’s a short book–156 pages–and it’s one of the better of the local novels I’ve read. Although it’s not self-published, it’s apparently from a very small press, and the author is (or was) a grandfather himself who is pictured on the back with his wife and one of his large woodcarvings. So perhaps not a professional writer, but the story is well executed nevertheless.

Apparently, I bought this book four years ago at the Friends of the Christian County Library book sale, so it’s a relatively recent entry in my book stack. Which explains why it was in the front. Perhaps I should dust and turn-out the library again, but that would hide so many of my new acquisitions in the back. But it might turn up those Joshua Clark books I’ve hidden.

Book Report: The Willow Bees by Lucy Willoughby Jones (1994)

Book coverThis book is a bit of local color. It was written in the early 1990s by a woman who grew up on a farm outside of (but which is probably now in) Nixa, a little town south of Springfield. It recounts very short, three to eight paragraph slice-of-life memories about farm work, socializing, family relationships, and whatnot interspersed with numerous poems composed by the author, her family, or those in her social circle.

It was a pleasant read, and it made me consider writing something like this about my life. I mean, I’ve seen some things, and as a child of the last century, I have seen enough change that some of it would be novel to kids of today or tomorrow.

Assuming that any of them would want to read it.

At any rate, I enjoyed the book as you might expect. The author comes from a large family, and sometimes she name checks families who participated in an event or attended a (one room) school in Lone Hill (the actual town she lived in or near). When I read the list of names here (and in Unto These Hills), I wonder why the names of my relations from the Ozarks are not represented. But then I remember that they’re from Taney County further south and, in the early part of the last century, a whole world away.

Book Report: Platoon by Dale A. Dye (1986)

Book coverThis book is the novelization of Oliver Stone’s Academy Award-winning screenplay. I’ve never actually seen the film, and I really haven’t watched a lot of Vietnam movies As I mentioned, I have seen the television program Tour of Duty and Forrest Gump, which is not really a Vietnam movie. I’ve also seen The Siege of Firebase Gloria (“That’s it, Nardo. The story’s over.”) and Apocalypse Now. But Platoon seemed to kick off a number of Vietnam films in the 1980s like Full Metal Jacket and Hamburger Hill (and including The Siege of Firebase Gloria). But I just never got into it. Kids in the 1980s didn’t get into playing Vietnam soldier like previous generations played World War II soldier.

So as a novelization of the screenplay, the book takes advantage of it and suffers from the disadvantages of the printed word. Let’s go with the disadvantages first: One, it’s an ensemble piece with a lot of different characters who are identified by name and a single distinguishing feature, and it is easy to confuse them (and the author refers to the protagonist both by his first name and his last name in different places, so you have to remember that these names are both one guy). On screen, that’s easy to see.

Another thing is that what must have been the spectacle of the film is lost a little.

But we do get more interior lives of the characters which the film would not convey; on the other hand, that turns a couple of seconds of screen time into a page or more.

So what’s the plot? The usual. A green recruit, a literate and educated young man, joins a platoon in the field where he gets mundane duties, gets into firefights, learns, sees death, and ultimately takes part in a pitched battle with massive casualties on both sides.

Not poorly executed, but mostly noteworthy as a study of turning a screenplay into a novel.

You know, I have a set of Tour of Duty DVDs–did I buy them for my father and then inherit them? Not likely–I think I bought them later. But I don’t know that I’m inspired to dive into Vietnam media based on this book alone. Unless the Marcinko books count.

Book Report: A Dangerous Man by Robert Crais (2019)

Book coverIt’s very rare for me to read a book written in the last couple of years, so it says something when I read a book in its week of release. Robert Crais is the only author that can claim that honor, slight that it be. Well, if you search for Robert Crais on this blog, you’ll see that’s not always true. It might actually only be true for this book.

The plot: Joe Pike runs into a crime in progress (like The Sentry) and helps a young lady that Joe Pike might develop feelings for (like The Sentry). She has a crush on him before the crime in progress and is pleased when he comes to her rescue. However, bad guys have been searching for a relation of the young lady (like in The Sentry). And Joe Pike and Elvis Cole have to figure out who has it out for her (is this, too, like The Sentry? I don’t mention it in the book report, but presumably so).

So maybe it was really like that other book, but I haven’t read it in six years, so it was fresh enough for me. But binge readers might find it a repeat.

The book has quick, modern pacing with lots of dialog and short paragraphs which contrasts with Platoon, the book I am currently reading as well as other literature and novels over forty years old. The book also shifts viewpoints, which is pretty standard for thrillers nowadays as well. But these devices really keep the action flowing along.

So I enjoyed it, and I expect I will get the next book right when it comes out. Well, my beautiful wife will, and I will read it when she finishes it. Which is not long, as I finished the book four days after it came out.

Book Report: Blood Run The Executioner #133 (1990)

Book coverI was disappointed with the last Executioner book of the 1980s, but this, the first of the 1990s (well, the last year of the 1980s decade, 1990, but let us not quibble) was pretty good.

In it, Bolan and his brother Johnny are given the task of taking a high profile witness from Florida to LA to testify against the cocaine king of Colombia who has been arrested on US soil while trying to set up a mega buy. the DEA fears leaks in its forces, so they ask Justice for help, and Brognola knows just the guys. So the Bolans take off cross-country with every hood and gang looking for them, including members of the KKK, a vicious Texas biker gang, and the Arizona mob.

So, yeah, it shares a plot with The Gauntlet and its reboot-before-reboots-were-a-thing 16 Blocks, but it’s executed pretty well. The action flows between the subplots, and this author uses the shifting viewpoint trick to build suspense. The characters didn’t pull any real boners and acted according to their natures.

The text, though, had a couple of sour notes. They talk about driving through Texas as though it was a desert starting at the Louisiana border; even though I’ve only been to Texas once and through Texas a couple times by plane, I know that Deep East Texas is like an extension of Louisiana. That’s the one that stuck with me, but a couple other cast-off lines were not true.

Still, of the, what, seven? Executioner books I’ve read this year, this one might be the best (although War Born was pretty good, too). So I will keep on with the series, probably with a couple more this year as time passes, with the renewed hope that every so often they’ll be actually good and not just the book equivalent of episodic network television.

Book Report: Unto These Hills by Paul W. Johns (1980)

Book coverThis book is a short collection of historical musings written by the curator of the Christian County Historical Museum in 1980. As such, it focuses on Christian County, especially Nixa and Ozark, although the abandoned town of Riverdale punches above its weight in these pages as the town had a couple of mills and spawned Ma Barker and her boys.

At any rate, some of it might be more folklore than real history. For example, the book says that Knoxville, Tennessee, was once called Nokesville and that the family it was named after ended up here (I live just south of Nokes Lane on property once owned by a Nokes). It talks about some of the pioneering families, but neither of the names in my family appear in the book–for good or for ill.

A pleasant read and a couple of interesting stories to relate to other people who can then wonder where I learned these things.

About the damage on the cover: When I got the book, it had a 1982 Mizzou Tigers schedule grafted onto it, and I found the cover tearing a bit as I tried to remove it. So I tried to steam it off with the intention of maybe framing the schedule and giving it to my mother-in-law for Christmas. But, as you can see, it was a bust.

Book Report: The Big Kill The Executioner #132 (1989)

Book coverThis book is nominally the last Executioner book from the 1980s: its cover date is 12/89. Almost a year into George H.W. Bush’s presidency. Midway through my senior year of college–I was pretty busy with DECA, the writer’s club, and National Honor Society at school, which was compounded by the fact that I didn’t have a car and lived midway down a holler. That’s what I was doing when the cover of this particular paperback was crisp and uncracked.

Reminiscing about where I was when the book came out is better than reflecting on the book itself.

The plot: The murder of a prostitute leads the son of a mafioso, the head of a respectable company but an unwitting participant in illegal activities, to start looking into his business a little more closely. You see, the son loved the young lady once. His investigations lead the mob to put out hits on him and the co-workers who might know too much. But the son retreats, with Bolan’s help, to a lodge in the Rockies where he should be safe–but it looks like the mob was already there waiting for him.

So it looks for the meat of the book like it’s going to be a tower defense plot, as Bolan, the son, the family of the son, and a trusted cop hold off the mafia hit teams, but it’s not that.

It’s a good plot treatment poorly handled. We’ve got some good elements at the high level that lead to a couple of set pieces that make little sense and some howlers. Like when Bolan comes out of an airport in the mountains and looks over the parking lot, and only at the end of his survey is his attention drawn to the car that has no snow on it as, I don’t know, maybe that’s important.

It took me a couple of times to get started on this as I tried to use it as a break from chapters of Bait and Switch, but I’d set it down for a day or so and when I picked it up again, I couldn’t remember what was going on. The jarring jump-cuts between the set pieces (which don’t hang together too well based on continuing the ultimate plot arc) left me wondering where I was.

So not one of the better books in the line, and not a strong note to end the 1980s. And it ends with a bit of a cliff hanger, although I’m not sure that the thread will be picked up in the next book. The hit woman from Dead Line has not yet reappeared. Perhaps it’s just something to throw into the Bolan plot warehouse for later.

But look at that coat he’s wearing on the cover. If you remember the 80s, you’ll remember someone who wore that coat.

Book Report: Potbelly Mammoth Volume 1 by Nate Hudson (2018)

Book coverI got this book at Rublecon last weekend. Rublecon is a small comic/toy convention held in Relics’ event center. I missed it last year because when I pulled into the parking lot, I could not find a parking space, and my family was reluctant participants anyway.

This year, though, I wandered through the aisles. You didn’t get a Good Book Hunting post because this volume is the only book I bought aside from comic books.

This is based on a Web comic that has been going on for a couple of years; this book collects the first 100 of them and some other extra materials. The story behind the comic is that two roommates, Nate and Swadley, live beside a mostly abandoned laboratory. An intern left behind at the lab creates a tiny mammoth and a tiny T-Rex that the roommates adopt as pets. Nate gets laid off from his job and starts dating the woman who fired him.

The cartoons themselves have a flavor of what you’d get in a newspaper column. Each has a single gag, and the stories build themselves into larger story arcs, but those arcs are not the point.

So I liked it. Better than Frik. Better than RPG World. I don’t know if that’s fair, as the other two have story arcs and whatnot, but it’s pretty good, and I’m hopeful that he’ll get another book out soon, but it looks like the actual Web comic has been at #141 since February.

Eh, no hurry. I have plenty to read in the interim.

Book Report: Bait and Switch by Barbara Ehrenreich (2005)

Book coverYou probably don’t know, gentle reader, that I read Ehrenreich’s Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By In America around 2003 (my beautiful wife read it and sort of fisked it in two parts, Nickels and Dimes, about the same time). It’s before I was doing book reports on this blog, so you’ll have to take my word for it. The premise of that book is that Ehrenreich beams herself into communities and works for minimum or low wage jobs there and tries to lead a life on low wages.

In this book, she decides she’s going to do the same with white collar jobs in Corporate America, so she mocks up a resume and hopes to catch onto a series of middle management sorts of jobs not so much to see if she can survive on $60,000-80,000 a year, but to take the pulse of the middle class who must be also terribly frightened of losing their livelihoods. That’s the plan, anyway.

However, she finds it hard to get a job with her faked-up resume as an independent PR consultant looking for a full time job in corporate America at an advanced salary. So the book instead turns into an indictment of career coaches, job fairs, the Christers (of course), and networking events in general. She tries many different avenues of meeting people who would hire someone like her, but she doesn’t get job offers until she starts hitting the bottom feeders of commission-only sales jobs and pushing Mary Kay.

Basically, she spends 230+ pages LARPing G.J. Meyer of Executive Blues: Down and Out in Corporate America, but without the actual experience of being a corporate professional at all. Apparently, she has read that book, as she includes it in the footnotes a couple of times.

The book doesn’t provide any insight into anything much about anything except Barbara’s inauthentic attempts to be middle class and out of work. I mean, she chooses a profession (PR) that easily sheds experienced workers and hires English and communication majors right out of college. I mean, they’re down to Content Writers now with a going rate of blog posts for $20 each.

She does mention in her conclusion that someone in her fake career would have had a Rolodex full of contacts to reach out to after, you know, actually getting the fake experience she had on her resume. So perhaps, at the end, she recognizes the flaw in her premise. But she wrote the book anyway.

And I read it anyway.

Nickel and Dimed didn’t really match the experience I had with being poor or working entry level jobs. This book certainly doesn’t match being middle class and white collar or being white class and between jobs (as an actual consultant, I’ve been between jobs from time to time). I wonder if she’s not writing these books for people who have experienced these things, but rather for an audience of older Manhattanite women who wonder what it might be like and who might believe it’s anything like an Ehrenreich book.

But, on the plus side, I am at 80% completion of the books I bought at Calvin’s Books in May (and reading all five from that trip is one of my goals for the year).

And, as a means of comparison, this book did not make me as angry as Into the Wild. I didn’t swear at it nearly as much, although I might have flipped it off a time or two and might have said dumb bint a couple of times. I didn’t even hate it as much as Nickel and Dimed, but that might be because I’m mellowing. But Ehrenreich remains a curse word in the Noggle home in a way that Krakauer or whatever that kid’s name was will never be.

Book Report: Funny Ladies by Stephen M. Silverman (1999)

Book coverWhen I picked up this book at Hooked on Books last year, I might have though the book was authored by Sarah Silverman, who is a comedienne and might have collected stories of those who came before her (even though in the Good Book Hunting post, I got the author’s full name). I say I might have then, because when I’ve seen it on the bookshelves between then and now, I’ve had the same thought. But it’s by a dude who’s been a reporter and a celebrity book writer for a while by 1999.

At any rate, the book collects short bios about a number of comediennes (I wrote it again because I’m pleased I know how to spell it) from the various 20th century media (including theatre, which is not media per se, and I put those in italics because the italic store had a discount). It runs roughly in chronological order, with women from vaudeville and burlesque through women on The View (Which is 23 years old now? Crazy!).

You’ve got Fanny Brice (and Barbra Streisand, who gets into the book by virtue of playing Fanny Brice). You’ve got Gracie Allen, which reminds me I have more George Burns to read, and I should. You’ve got Mae West, Lucille Ball, Dorothy Parker, Sophie Tucker, Tallulah Bankhead, Carol Burnett, Totie Fields, and so on. When we get to the modern era, we’ve got Roseanne Barr, Tracey Ullman, Ellen, Rosie O’Donnell, Rita Rudner, Margaret Cho, Whoopi Goldberg, and so on. Apparently, Joy Behar was considered a comedienne (I really hope I’ve spelled it right because I made a point of saying I did) at some point.

On the one hand, like Whatever Became Of…?, it makes me realize how many movies from the early part of the century I missed.

The book talks about all the things that the comediennes did in the early part of the century, movies and theatres and television series, but the latest in the book have much thinner resumes. I mean, Whoopi Goldberg has Ghost, The Color Purple, Star Trek: The Next Generation, Sister Act, and Eddie (knowing this last might make me a Whoopi super fan). I like Rita Rudner, but aside from a book and some cable stand-up shows, what does she have? Not to mention Margaret Cho–she had a short-lived television series, I recall.

But after the 1970s, the funny ladies are all a little more, erm, political–as is this book. We get to the 1970s, and suddenly there are jabs at Nixon (“Richard Nixon appointer her [Pearl Bailey] the country’s unofficial Ambassador of Love, one of the few nonpartisan things he ever did.”) and digs at conservatives. And, of course, even beyond 1999, we’ve seen how political comedy has become.

Of course, twenty years after this book, we see what has become of the then-young modern funny ladies (which is easier to spell than comedienne). Mostly talk shows and not a lot of movie credits. It’s a different career now than it was then, I suppose, and the media have changed. These women can maybe get by with an occasional book and movie where the women of the 1940s had lower salaries and had to hustle more, which leads to lengthier IMDB entries.

At any rate, it’s a pleasant book. I wish I would remember more of it than I will; perhaps if I get into actually watching these women, I’ll remember them better.

Book Report: The Coloring Book by Colin Quinn (2015)

Book coverWell, it has happened: I have finally been reduced to reading an actual Coloring Book to pad my annual reading statistics. Oh, how the might he? have fallen.

You might know Colin Quinn as the guy who was the anchor of Saturday Night Live‘s Weekend Update for five years, but I didn’t watch it then. I know him as the guy from A Night at the Roxbury and the announcer from MTV’s Remote Control.

The subtitle of this book is A Comedian Solves Race Relations in America. Which it does not, really. The book is part a musing on race relations, but mostly a memoir of Colin Quinn growing up in multi-ethnic Brooklyn in the 1970s. “Growing up” might be a misnomer; some of it deals with his pre-adulthood, but a lot of it deals with his early adulthood when he was an ass and drank a lot and did a lot of drugs.

But it does make some interesting points. I do think that race relations were better in the old days, where we had just had normal human friction amongst groups and individuals, not the dialed-up Meaningful animosity. I didn’t grow up in Brooklyn, but I was living in the projects in the era he describes, and I was enmeshed within a vibrant community of different races, backgrounds, and cultures, and we could laugh at each other’s caricatures. Maybe it’s that I was younger then and am different now, but I don’t think so. I think the environment has changed a lot. I mean, I close the shades when watching Blazing Saddles and Airplane! now, and I would have been comfortable watching it with black friends then.

But the book itself is broken into different chapters talking a little about different races blending in Brooklyn at the time, how Quinn related to them, and the drugs and alcohol he consumed. You’ve got lengthy chapters on black, Puerto Rican, Jews, Irish, and Asian immigrants, and then you’ve got some clearly tacked-on short chapters at the end about Europeans and Arabs. But the book bifurcates between the musings on race and the memoir, and it really doesn’t do justice to either theme.

This was actually the second of the books I read from Calvin’s Books this year; I read it before Into the Wild, but I wasn’t sure if I had anything serious to say about Race in America to go along with it. However, I guess not. So the book reports are out of order. Not that you were keeping track. But I am.

Book Report: Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer (1996)

Book coverI bought this book at Calvin’s Books at the beginning of the summer, and I have set as a goal to read all five of those books this year. I know, it’s one of my twee goals, but it might represent the only time in the last couple of years that I have read all the books I bought at once within the year I bought them.

At any rate, I rage-read this book. It angered me quite a bit. The author says:

When McCandless turned up dead in Alaska and the perplexing circumstances of his demise were reported in the news media, many people concluded that the boy must have been mentally disturbed. The article about McCandless in Outside generated a large volume of mail and not a few of the letters heaped opprobium on McCandless–and on me, as well, the author of the story, for glorifying what some thought was a foolish, pointless death.

Which is exactly how I feel (and I even know how to pronounce opprobrium these days). This is a hagiography of a well-to-do young man from a messed-up family who gave up his comfortable lifestyle after college to wander the country as a vagabond and who had too much confidence in his own abilities, which led to a poor decision to live off the land in Alaska that proved fatal. The author presents this kid as a pilgrim, as an ascetic, and as perhaps as an example to emulate–without the fatal consequences, of course.

I have to wonder who made this book a National Bestseller–as the cover touts. I have to expect that it was done by people who had that sort of wanderlust and sense of invincibility who did something like it and survived (like the author) or people who wanted to do something like it and think they would have done better (likely not). I don’t know. I was four years younger than the subject of the book, so the book is set and is published around my formative years, too. Perhaps there’s something in the 1990s zeitgeist that supports the sort of behavior that no longer exists–or perhaps the young men who would have done something like this, the cross-country car trip with no money or the desire to live off the land (but not in quite as hospitable environment as Alaska) now are in the basement playing video games or covering their faces and taking to the street to start a riot.

The author expands upon his original article (I assume, since these sections seem to be grafted onto the narrative) by adding stories of other people who have wandered out into the wilderness in Alaska and a fellow who wandered into the desert in the 1930s. The author also includes a story about one of his individual expeditions that ended in failure but not in death. He visits the abandoned bus that served as the subject’s base camp and where he died. And he appends an artificial coda of helicoptering the parents in to visit the bus as well.

At any rate, yeah, the subject is not an exemplar of anything positive. He was a poor (rich), misguided young man. I didn’t relate to him much–we both had newspaper columns in the college rag (which means the names Biden and Trump both appear in this book from 23 years ago). He read The Death of Ivan Ilyich. I don’t like to speak negatively of the dead or speak to a hurtful event in a family, but this book is a misguided opposite of that.

I think the book might have triggered a bit of latent classism in me, as I couldn’t think of many in my cohort doing anything like this, and I consider mountain climbing as a rich kid’s game. But I was urban poor and then rural poor in the Midwest. Maybe rural and urban poor in the mountains do free climbing for fun, but they certainly cannot afford a lot of gear and to travel for their hobby.

I must have mellowed; although this book is a paperback, I didn’t throw it at any point. Although I did curse at it a bit. It took me over a week to go through 200 pages. But I’m glad to be done with it.

And as to my twee goal: I still have a Barbara Ehrenreich book to go through. In hardback. So that might block my goal of reading these five books this year.

Book Report: By the Shores of Silver Lake by Laura Ingalls Wilder (1939, 1981?)

Book coverWhen I read the preceding Little House book, On the Banks of Plum Creek in March, I predicted I’d read the next volume (this one) by summer. I missed that prediction by a couple of days.

You know, as the series progresses, the narrator (“Laura Ingalls,” a lightly fictionalized version of the author) becomes more sophisticated. In this book, she’s on the edge of thirteen. At the onset, the family is still in the house on Plum Creek. The mother (Caroline), Mary, and Carrie suffer from scarlet fever (which has made Mary blind). Relatives from Wisconsin pass through; one of the uncles has a job for the railroad running a grading team at the edge of the railroad construction. The uncle offers Charles a job running the company store with a salary and everything, and Charles takes it. So he goes on to join the railroad workers in North Dakota, and the ladies are to join them when they recover fully.

They get to ride on a train, and Laura has been tasked with describing the scenery to Mary as they pass. They meet with the workers’ camp as it’s being dismantled to move to the shores of Silver Lake, and Laura reconnects with her cousin Lena. The family moves to and they arrive at the shore of Silver Lake before the railroad camp arrives to meet them.

The book explores the environs around Silver Lake. Charles hopes to stake a claim to a homestead, and they find a spot. When the construction workers finish for the year, the camp disbands in the autumn, but the Ingalls get to stay on in a finely constructed and comported home used by the surveyors. When spring comes, a rush of homesteaders appear, and it’s only by the intercession of a previous acquaintance that allows Ingalls to beat some competitors to the claim office to ensure he gets the patch he wants. Then he stakes a claim and builds a building in the suddenly developing town of De Smet, which is constructed seemingly overnight.

As I mentioned, the book’s narrator is more sophisticated; we see some indications, as we did in On the Banks of Plum Creek, that Charles Ingalls is a bit of a dreamer, willing to give up what he has with a chance at something better (which does not always work as planned). Caroline is not so much a “Yes, Charles,” believing unalloyed that everything he does is the best possible decision–there’s a little resignation and acceptance demonstrated. And the stories are moving from the rural/wilderness to the urban landscape. With the next books, they’ll be living outside of town (kind of like in the television show), and I expect that the stories will be more centered on small town life and farming. So they’ll come to align with the stories from John D. Fitzgerald (The Great Brain series) perhaps.

At any rate, I’m still enjoying the series, and they’re quick enough reads when I am trying to pad my annual stats so I don’t have to resort to coloring books (given that this is the 56th book I’ve read this year, I think I’m in good shape). I don’t have the next volumes in my library, so I guess I’ll suspend reading them until such time as I find them on the old childrens’ books shelves (technically, not my to-read shelves) where I collected books I thought my boys might like to read–but they didn’t. In their defense, I got most of them from my aunt when I got Captain’s Courageous, and I didn’t read them either. So maybe I should count them as to-read shelves since it took me almost two years to read Captain’s Courageous, and I’m apparently not above reading children’s books now.

Book Report: Out of Season by Michael Z. Lewin (1984)

Book coverThis book is the bread and butter of 1970s and 1980s midlist genre fiction. It’s toward the sixth book of an eight book series where the seventh and eighth books come at a gap of seven and thirteen years when the first six were within a span of thirteen years. The series character, Albert Samson, is a throwback of a private invesigator who is a bit of a cipher, a guy running around talking to people and taking notes and figuring things out. It might even have been a throwback in the 1980s, actually, since the likes of Robert Crais and Robert B. Parker were writing more vivid, personality-driven detective thrillers.

At any rate, Al Samson is hired by a rich banking family after the wife discovers, in the course of applying for a passport, that her birth certificate is a fake. They want him to look into it and find out why. Meanwhile, a man in a fancy apartment offers to retain him full time indefinitely in a nebulous assignment. During his investigation, he discovers that the woman was raised by an adopted family, and that the birth mother came into some money, and then that the birth mother was a Depression-era singer with a child out of wedlock who then married a society boy and shot him one night. She was acquited in the trial and then disappeared, so the detective has to find out where she is, if she’s still alive.

So the book features the tangled plot of a well-to-do family and layers of deception in the past. Like I said, a throwback. The kind of thing I thought I’d write.

Not a bad read; short, at the 180 page mark of the old timey genre fiction. I wouldn’t mind reading more of the series in time, but to be honest, I probably won’t remember the author’s name to look for more in the line. When my beautiful wife asked me late last week what I was reading, I couldn’t remember the author’s name or book title; all I could remember is that it’s an old school Indianapolis PI.

Book Report: Selected Poems from Midnight Galleries by Jennifer Silvey (2016)

Book coverI picked this book up for free at ABC Books last Saturday, and I’ve been trying to get back into the habit of reading a little poetry every morning, a habit that had fallen by the wayside with the onset of summer and less structured mornings here at Nogglestead. So I picked this book up instead of jumping right back into the Keats.

It has a dinosaur on the cover, and a number of the poems have fantastic collections of words centering on dinosaurs. To be honest, many of the poems are rather collections of images and words, and I didn’t get a real sense of what they were about. But a couple of the samples were more cohesive, especially when they didn’t involve dinosaurs.

It looks like the author funded the full book with a Kickstarter campaign that raised $1775. Clearly I’m not doing something right here; I self-funded Coffee House Memories and am not yet in the black on it (and probably never will be).

At any rate, Kickstarter campaign materials seem to indicate that poetry is not her main form of creative expression and that she’s just having fun with it perhaps rather than trying to write Serious Literature. Which makes me feel a little better.

Book Report: Retraining Your Mind by D. Dyneska (2019?)

Book coverI bought this book just last Saturday, and after I read Ice Wolf, I needed something to read, and I certainly couldn’t read another Executioner novel as the default right after an Executioner novel (there are rules, arbitrary as they are). So I picked this one up since it was on the top of one of the stacks.

When I was talking with the author, she asked if I read a lot of books in this line. I said I read more Buddhist thought than self-help books, and she said this wasn’t really self-help. I don’t mean to demean the genre when I call it that–I don’t tend to think of self-help as exclusively concerned with battling addictions or abusive relationships or whatnot. I think it also includes the sort of thing my wife likes to read about building good habits, making your bed in the mornings, and thinking right. Books concerned with the practical things. Which, to be honest, is what I read Buddhist thought, Stoics, philosophy, and literature for–to figure out how to live the best possible life. So maybe I do read books like this a lot. Amongst the innumerable men’s adventure books.

At any rate, the book has the feel of a journal more than a denser, dare I say it, self-help book. It contains a number of inspirational quotes and chapters on defeating excuses, getting to know yourself, allowing positive distractions, setting priorities, and whatnot. It’s a short book, weighing in at 130-some pages including some lined pages for your own notes and featuring generous margins. So it’s not a heavy read.

As I mentioned, the book reads more like a journal–it’s written matter-of-factly, and mostly in the second person (you can do this, you can do this) and with few examples or stories from her own life and mind retraining. She alludes to recovering from a devestating house fire, but it’s only mentioned in passing; this would have been a pretty gripping example of keeping a positive mindset.

This book certainly is from Springfield, though: When discussing things that can make you smile, such as jamming to music, painting, taking a walk, taking a bubble bath and massaging your own feet, she lists shooting guns. You won’t get that out of an author writing this kind of book in Connecticut or California, werd.

Book Report: Ice Wolf the Executioner #131 (1989)

Book coverI picked this up right after Creature; the Executioner series is the default for “I’ve just finished a book and need to pick up another, but I don’t want to spend much time picking it.” And it will be for some time to come as I still have 30 on the shelf (not counting the spin-off series like Stony Man or Able Team).

In this book, Bolan is on a security team for a summit between the President and Mikhail Gorbachev in Washington when Leo Turrin tips him to a hit team that is eliminating people in the witness protection program. Bolan prevents this team of trained pros from killing one target and reaches out in his own particular way to a local mob boss who hired the hit team–who reached out to him with the offer. Bolan eventually discovers that the hit team is killing the witnesses as a red herring to distract law enforcement from their real target: the President and Gorbachev. Like so many other fictional antagonists from the 1980s (and, sadly, to this day), they’re Nazis who emerged from a deeply hidden program to take over the world again.

The book weighs in at about 250 pages, a little longer than the pulp entries from early in the series, and they have the makings of an interesting modern (well, 80s) thriller. The big bad Nazi, trained to be a killing machine by his father, might be jeopardizing his mission by hunting for a woman who escaped from his clutches that he must possess; the aforementioned red herring subplot; and infiltration of the security teams by the long-planning Nazis. But ultimately, it’s a couple of set pieces and then the author gets to about page 220 and has to wrap it up with sudden revelations (the woman is his twin sister!) and a climax that is abrupt and we’re done.

So I’m comparing this book to Creature, and I have to say that I’ll remember the plot of Creature better than Ice Wolf in the days to come. I suppose that series books lend themselves to a little bit of this confusion–what plot happened with which title (especially since series titles tend to fit a pattern to increase salability rather than describe elements of the plot). However, I’m sure authors of these series are happy to accept this trade off with profitablity on our behalves.

Which is why I need these posts–so I can keep the plots of books and my thoughts of them clear as the years pass. Although, to be honest, I rarely go back to Executioner titles to see what I had to say about them.

Book Report: Creature by John Saul (1989)

Book coverAfter reading Cabal, I thought maybe I’d knock out a couple of the 80s-era horror books I have around. I have a couple from John Saul, so I picked up this one. Who knew that it might actually be the next in alphabetical order?

At any rate, the plot is that a nuclear family moves to a small company town in the Rockies when the father gets a promotion at the tech company he works for. They find the town idyllic, but it’s controlled almost top-down by the tech company. The local football team has boys that are bigger and meaner than other nearby schools, and it’s because the local “sports” clinic, funded by the tech company, is conducting experimental treatments on the boys. It makes them bigger and stronger, but sometimes makes them feral. Of course, the gentle son of our nuclear family decides abruptly that he wants to become stronger and so he falls under the influence of the doctor running the clinic. When some of the mothers of the affected children start wondering if their children are in danger, the tech company and the fathers align to protect the program and the company.

So it’s got a children in danger theme to it that seems fairly common to the genre, and it has helpless wives who lack the power to get their children out of danger. It reminded me a lot of The Stepford Wives in that regard. It got under my skin a bit–I cannot imagine any of my mother’s sisters or my mother dealing with the issues as the mothers in this book do. And they all lack a support network outside the town, so nobody calls a sister or friend for a sanity check. Stephen King’s books often featured isolated locations, but it doesn’t seem forced. Here, it is.

The book ends very quickly with a burst of violence; it was sudden that I thought right before it that it was leading up to a cliffhanger or a sequel. But no, a little bloodshed and not a complete set of revenge which might have left room for a sequel.

I did flag a bunch of things in this book:

  • Some anachronisms. Or the opposite of anachronisms: things that would seem to belong to a future era, more like the present, than 1989.

    They’d gone first to the software section, where a group of top programmers, all of them casually dressed, were working at computer terminals or whispering quickly to each other in strange programming language that Blake had never been able to comprehend. “We have an Artificial Intelligence unit working here,” Jerry said in reply to Blake’s inquisitive glance. “We’re far ahead of the guys in Palo Alto and Berkeley, but of course they don’t know it. In fact, as far as they know, we’re only working on a new operating system to compete with Microsoft.

    Aside from the locations or writing an operating system, that could be cut from a novel from today.

  • The family moves to a house on Telluride Drive. One story behind the name of Telluride, Colorado, is that it’s from To Hell you ride. Or at least that’s what Michelle Malkin told me.
  • Observe this barbarity, the worst in the book:

    “In a few minutes, honey,” she told the little girl. “How’d you like to take care of the steaks for me?”

    Kelly’s eyes glittered with pleasure, and she instantly picked up the large fork from the counter by the grill and stabbed experimentally at one of the thick T-bones that were just barely beginning to brown. “Is it time to turn them?”

    “Every four minutes,” Sharon replied, glancing at the meat and deciding she had at least fifteen minutes in which to talk with her son.

    Oh, the humanity!

  • Recovering from a beating at the hands of a nearly feral football player, the undersized lad says:

    Mark winced with almost every motion, but when he finally made it, he forced himself to grin at the nurse. “See? Nothing to it. I could run a ten-K if I had to.”

    It’s presented 10K these days, and it’s about an hour of running at a six-mile-per-hour pace. Which is easier for kids.

  • It must have seemed quite cutting edge at the time:

    “May I help you, Mrs. Tanner?”

    Sharon frowned, then glanced instinctively at the girl’s lapel, searching for the identification badge that all TarrenTech employees wore.

    The girl wore none.

    The girl’s smile broadened as she realized Sharon’s dilemma. “I’m Sandy Davis,” she said. “And you don’t know me. The security system did a photo comparison on you, so I knew who you were even before you came into the building.”

    But now we just assume it, ainna?

  • Marty Ames opened the bottom drawer of his desk and pulled out the .38-caliber pistol he’d started keeping there when he first realized that some of the boys might become dangerous.

    You know, I would have gone with a larger caliber.

  • Speaking of isolated:

    For the first time that morning she was able to think about the funeral without crying. She didn’t know whether it had been like other funerals, because she’d never been to one before. There hadn’t been very many people there, and it hadn’t taken very long, and as she sat in the front pew of the little church, listening to a man she’d never seen before talking about her family–and she knew he’d never even met her family, so how could he talk about them?–she tried to convince herself that it really was her father and mother and brother in the three coffins lined up in front of the altar.

    Notice there’s no other family members nor a church support network. Artificial isolation that really sticks out.

So ultimately, the book really didn’t work for me. I’m not a great fan of the genre, and this book hasn’t made me want to read another any time soon.

In thinking about this book and John Saul’s sort-of ubiquity–you could see his books available back in the day, and they were prevalent at book sales a couple years ago–made me wonder how the collapse of book clubs altered book buying. Book club editions were a staple of the book sales for a long time. I think we might have seen that bubble burst as members of my parents’ generation have downsized their libraries. What am I talking about? Even I don’t know.

Book Report: Sanibel Shell Shoked by Art Stevens (1992)

Book coverSpeaking of beach vacations, I dived right into this book after buying it last week in Branson. I felt a little like I was betraying Branson by reading about another vacation destination while vacationing in Missouri. But that didn’t stop me from reading the book.

It collects newspaper columns by Art Stevens who was (is?) a part-time resident of Sanibel Island, splitting time with New Jersey, where he made enough in six months to afford a spot on the island. Although this book dates from 1992, Stevens’ column continues to this day.

It takes on topics such as tourists, alligators, and development on the island. It’s Florida stuff, the kind of thing you find in Barry or Hiassen (and treated more seriously in John D. MacDonald books). As I started the book, perhaps I expected too much of the author; perhaps he suffered in comparison to Barry, who is about the only humor columnist that has made me laugh out loud.

However, some of the columns amused me. So the humor is akin to Mike Royko when he was doing his outlandish pieces.

So worth the read if you’re into Sanibelernalia.

Book Report: Cabal by Clive Barker (1985, 1988)

Book coverClive Barker was all that in the late 1980s. He had a couple of movies out, including Hellraiser and, um, what’s that other one?

Well, this book collects a novella and several short stories. The novella, “Cabal”, talks about the Nightbreed. Ah, there it is!

At any rate, this book has on the outside edge of my to-read shelves since I cleaned up my library (::cough, cough:: three years ago). I read Barker’s Books of Blood (I, but that was before they needed Roman numerals) in 1994, and I’ve picked up a couple of his books here and there because every once and again, I think I’ll read some horror and maybe write some (which tends to come out more like H.P. Lovecraft than Stephen King or one of the modern Urban Fantasy people).

At any rate, this book contains:

  • “Cabal”, in which a mentally unhealthy individual is convinced he’s committed horrible murders, so he tries to go to a remote Canadian town where monsters are welcomed. Once there, he finds that he is not the monster he thought he was, but there are monsters in this world–human and otherwise.
  • “The Life of Death”, wherein a lonely woman becomes enamored with the thought of the dead and becomes a killer inadvertently and meets Death, although not in the way she expected.
  • “How Spoilers Bleed”, wherein some adventurers acquire land rights in the jungle and try to displace a native tribe only to fall under a curse.
  • “Twilight at the Towers”, wherein an espionage agent discovers he’s not just human, and that he has more in common with others of his kind than his handlers.
  • “The Last Illusion”, wherein an investigator with experience (not pleasant) with the occult is called to help protect the body of a magician from dark forces.

I mean, they’re okay stories, a bit gory as expected and with a touch of S&M (graphic at times) that spawned more than one Goth in the 1990s.

So perhaps I’ll read a couple more of these 1980s horror books that I’ve accummulated over the years. Back then, horror books (as with so many other books) were thinner, running 200 or 250 pages (this volume is 338, but broken over multiple stories, it seemed shorter), and horror books must have been fairly popular in book clubs, as you can see bunches of them available at book sales. For a little while, yet. I have to wonder if they’ll all disappear soon as the baby boomers finish downsizing and if another burst of availability will occur when the readers of Generation X start downsizing.