Book Report: Brazilian Baroque by Sharon Harper Sampson (1972/1973)

Book coverI bought this picture book last weekend and thumbed through it during a football game. It’s the takeaway book from a Washington, D.C., exhibit of Brazilian religious artifacts sponsored/provided by a government ministry of Brazil from the time I was born.

The preface and the introductory essay “Colonial Religious Art in Brazil” describe the development of religious art in Brazil (wait, you mean the title already summed that up?) from the items they brought from Portugal to the different regional styles driven by the materials at hand. To be honest, without a map of Brazil handy, a lot of this information rolled right over me as it’s pretty comprehensive in identifying individual religious institutions, the churches, convents, abbeys, and whatnot, that originally displayed the items and when they were built, burned, and/or rebuilt. The detail was a bit much for any sort of retention, and it certainly hasn’t driven me into further study.

The book also lists, I suspect, all the items at the exhibit whereas the book itself focuses on silver and precious metal-based church service pieces with a couple of other statues and monstraces thrown in. So although a number of terra cotta and soapstone statues are listed in the catalog, they are not in the book. Which is a pity; I think I would have prefered to see them rather than another censer.

Okay, I say it hasn’t driven me to further study, but I am not as familiar with the history of South America, especially Brazil, as I could be. So maybe I’ll pick up something on it sooner rather than later. I have a really dry history of Latin America that I tried to read twenty-some years ago. Maybe I’ll pick that up again. Maybe after I read The Story of Civilization.

Book Report: An Ozark Tapestry and More by Marjorie Shackleford McCune (1987)

Book coverThis is the second of the chapbooks that I bought this weekend; Heartstrings was the first. This is also an example of grandmother poetry, literally, as the back cover has a picture of the author with her grandson. The About the Author bit on the back cover mentions she took a class in writing poetry at Drury University late in life.

Which probably explains why this is a cut above the norm for the genre (which I am probably the one who coined the term grandmother poetry, but I think you will agree it is a genre in itself).

The poems cover the usual genre territory: Family, faith, and the seasons. However, under the influence of the poetry class undoubtedly, Ms. McCune has some poems with a pat abab rhyme scheme, but she dabbles with some other rhyme schemes and even free verse which really frees her from the constraint of the rhyme scheme for better rhythm and imagery. So some of the poems are all right (he said, in Northerner, which tends to dim compliments and to praise with faint praise, or so I tell my beautiful wife when she’s miffed that I say that her dinner was all right).

Apparently, a lot of the books I got this weekend come from the middle to late 1980s, and as I look upon this, which is a chapbook that appeared only a few years before my first, I’m a little–disoriented. I mean, the woman who wrote with this fresh voice was 80 in 1987. She has passed away long ago, and her book is 33 years old. Which means my first published book is 26 (but still remains fresh and is reprinted in its entirety in Coffee House Memories). Which means I am… getting old enough to write grandfather poetry although my grandfathering years are still at least, um, not that many years in the future maybe.

Book Report: Heartstrings by Sharon Harper Sampson (1985)

Book coverAs you might have expected, gentle reader, I dove right into the chapbooks and art monographs during the second week of football. As I watched most of three games, I had plenty of time in between plays to read a poem or look at a picture and caption. Given how my attention during football games these days focuses mostly on the books and a little on the football game makes me think that maybe watching football is more of an excuse to read during the day than actual love of football.

At any rate, this is a middle 1990s chapbook back when making a chapbook often meant laying the stuff out yourself on paper. Desktop publishng was very rudimentary then, gentle reader–take if from someone who printed the text of his first 1994 chapbook out and laid the actual pages out on paper and whose first issues of his magazine (the St. Louis Artesian) were laid out on paper until I got Microsoft Publisher on a 386 PC in 1995 for later issues and my second chapbook. Oh, there were small publishing houses that did chapbooks back in that age, but most of us just ran them off at Kinko’s.

The most interesting bit about this book is that it was hand-lettered in a fun, almost italics font that took a lot of work. Here’s the dedication page:

Book dedication

I have trouble making my handwriting legible much less pretty.

However pretty it is, though, it makes for a slower read over the length of a book, even a chapbook like this. I’m currently working on a longer book, a Yoga devotional, presented in an italic font, and it’s not fun going through 300 pages of it. This book, though, is only 53 pages.

The poetry is pretty pedestrian Grandmother poetry talking about family and faith with end rhymes and a bit of a sense of rhythm. So, yeah, nothing that sticks out–but I’m reading the complete works of Keats, and most of Keats’ work doesn’t stick out, either. So take of that what you will: Good poetry, or a good poem, one that strikes a chord within you, is pretty rare.

Book Report: Lord of Janissaries by Jerry Pournell and Roland J. Green (2015)

Book coverI miss Jerry Pournelle’s Chaos Manor blog. I used to read it all the time, and I corresponded with Dr. Pournelle from time to time–he cited me on the blog a couple of times, and he bought my poem for There Might Be War: Volume X. In the months leading up to his death, he mentioned he was working on another Janissaries novel. This year, that book, Mamelukes became available. I ordered it; as I hadn’t actually read the first novels in the series, I ordered an omnibus edition of them as well. Which is how I came to possess this book. When I finished Sixth Column (in August!), I picked this volume up. It helped that it was on the top of the stack.

At any rate, this book collects three books: Janissaries, Clan and Crown, and Storms of Victory. Basically, the story is based on the question of whether a company of Marines could conquer the Roman empire. A squad of mercenaries on a CIA contract are surrounded on an African hilltop in the late 1970s. As they’re about to be overrun by hostiles, a flying saucer appears and makes them an offer: Come act as their agents on a distant planet. Or die.

So the mercs are whisked to a planet where they’re supposed to farm a drug for the aliens. They’ll have to get the locals, humans, to help by any means necessary–it turns out that there are humans throughout the galaxy. On this particular planet, they’re kind of representatives of different eras of human history–barbarians, Romans, and so on. The mercs discover that the aliens end the drug’s multi-year growing opportunity–which is made possible when the most distant star in a trinary system makes its approach by bombarding the planet back to the stone age–not that it gets that far from it.

When they land, the former leader of the group is deposed and ‘exiled’ by his second-in-command. The exiled man is given a gun and sent away, and he encounters the daughter of a barbarian chieftain. He falls for the girl and befriends her priest, and he proves to be an effective war leader as he has studied military history–which comes in handy when he leads the barbarians–now pikemen and cavalry–against a Roman legion effectively.

So that’s the three books, really. The first is the best as it lays the conceits and the world. The characters are developed and the basics of the long arcs and subplots appear. But the second and third books in the omnibus deal a lot more with the intrigues of medieval leadership and military engagements. They’re about making the military alliances and then fighting battles with them. So it gets a little less engaging and a bit repetitive in the last 500 pages.

At the end of the third book, some of the subplots involve interstellar intrigue which are not resolved and the main arc, whether the earthmen fulfill their obligation to provide the drug and perhaps save the planet from the skyfire that falls every couple of hundred years. I guess it’s good that the fourth novel will probably answer these questions.

But I have spent the better part of a month in this world, and as I found the last two thirds of this volume a bit less than the first, I have not picked up the fourth book of the yet and might not for a while. But it’s on the top of a stack, so who knows?

Book Report: Westminster Abbey by Trevor Beeson (1987)

Book coverThis book report is likely to look a lot like the book report for Windsor Castle.

I bought this book at Calvin’s Books in June; I don’t know if I will watch a lot of football these days, so I have decided to flip through these travel books as a brief interlude while I read longer works. And my response to this book is much like that to Windsor Castle: Wow.

The book has text describing the history of Westminster Abbey along with its various renovations throughout the centuries. The pictures depict the rooms, the effigies, the tombs, and the artifacts you can find on site. And as with Windsor Castle, I’m almost moved to go see it. I suppose I should sooner rather than later, although that’s not necessarily possible in the short term. The pessimist side of me suspects before long it will be a mosque. Although when one factors in historical scope, “before long” could be a hundred years.

Book Report: Sixth Column by Robert A. Heinlein (1941, 1999)

Book coverThis Heinlein book comes from a 1941 magazine, a 1949 book edition, and then a fifth Baen paperback printing from 1999. That is to say, the book was in print fifty-eight years later. The cover has a retro-video game look to it that might make you think this is one of the juvie rocket-jockey things, but it’s not.

The story picks up at a secret Rocky Mountain military lab where a messenger finds that most of the scientists are very recently dead. Only a handful have survived some sort of accident, and the messenger was to tell the lab that it was to act independently as United States military command (and the country) had collapsed under an invasion from the Asians, who are apparently a blend of Communist China, Japan, recently amalgamated India, and elements of the Soviet Union. The messenger takes command, and the remaining scientist discovers that one of his colleagues had discovered another natural force somewhere between electromagnetism and gravity that can kill people by race/genetics as well as provide power and work miracles. So to resist the occupying army, they start a new religion and hope to make an effective stand before the occupiers realize what’s going on.

An interesting premise, and a bit talky in that Heinlein way (but not full of sex, as that’s decades away). However, the book does use an awful lot of slurs for Asians from slant-eyes to flat-faces and more (I couldn’t get away without putting them in as I have typed other ethnic slurs whilst talking about books in the past). You know, I am an old man now, so I come from an age where I can recognize that, when this book was originally published, the United States had just defeated an Asian power, the communists had taken over China, and people knew about the Mongol hordes. So I can accept the language as a product of its time and not hit the fainting couch or the streets in protest.

So a quick read, an interesting premise, talky, and prone to describing a military enemy in dehumanizing ways.

Book Report: Windsor Castle by Robin Mackworth-Young (1983)

Book coverI bought this book in June. I don’t know if I will be watching a lot of football this year, so I’ve started flipping through the travel books and artistic monographs I’ve bought this year instead during the evenings when I don’t want to read another chapter before bed.

This book, as the title indicates, is a pictorial take-away probably sold at the gift shop at Windsor Castle. Appropriate for its time, it has a couple of pictures of Queen Elizabeth II and the Reagans in it. I saw them and thought that she looked relatively young, but of course she did: It was almost forty years ago, and more than half of her reign has since passed.

I was quite wowwed with the castle. Not only are the rooms depicted huge and castley, but the text delves into the history of the castle which was originally a fortification for William the Conqueror. When I look at American history books, particularly the local ones I tend to favor, I read about some town that goes back a hundred years (or two, I guess, since we’re in the 21st century now). But when your building (well, compound, but that’s a word applied to American outposts smart people don’t like) dates back 1000 years, you can describe how King John laid seige to it or that George III redid these buildings.

Fascinating stuff, and it almost makes me want to go to England to see it. My beautiful wife has been to London and likes it–we’re not the sort that travel internationally easily (although in the past we have jetted off to the coasts of our country), and she would like to go there with me someday. Books like this make me want to go. The madness that is the world makes me really not. Time will tell which wins out. Until then, I have a stack of such books that I bought inexpensively at Calvin’s Books on one of our short, driving vacations this year.

Book Report: Swimming Middle River by Leah Holbrook Sackett (2020)

Book coverI worked with Leah a bit fifteen or so years ago when she was Leah Holbrook and did some freelance copywriting for the interactive agency where I worked. I saw last week on LinkedIn that she had published a book, so of course I ordered it. Friends, if you publish a book or your kid releases a CD, I will buy it. I will even get tickets to a musical if you’re in it, which fortunately does not happen terribly often, as tickets to Jesus Christ Superstar for my whole family runs to almost two hundred bucks. I prefer the fifteen dollar books or CDs, thanks.

At any rate, it’s a collection of short stories. The first is about a middle-aged man going back home to look for a loan from his grandfather, and he reminisces about preteen sex with his cousin and then in the past discovering that his by then maybe teen-aged cousin is also diddling said grandfather, and record needle scratches to a stop….

Oh, it’s literary fiction.

You know, I went to a single meeting of the Casinoport Writer’s Group at the Casinoport Community Center, it took mere minutes in the meeting before the assorted middle-aged women went on about pedophilia which squicked me right out. So I never went back, and I have avoided other adult writing groups. The lead story in the volume isn’t convincing me otherwise.

So the stories kind of deal with that sort of thing: personal relationships/sex, teen sex, kids of broken homes, and the like. So, literary. Although I have written literary fiction in my time, they tend to have less sex in them (see “To a Good Home” and “The Brooch“).

So the writing’s all right, but topically not my bag, baby. Nine stories over 126 pages, so a pretty quick read. And if you’re into literary fiction, perhaps you’ll get more out of it more than I did. Now, back to genre fiction for me.

I’ve been kicking around the idea of putting out a collection of short stories, probably entitled To A Good Home (which might be the best short story I have ever written). However, I am afraid I would sell fewer copies of it than I did The Courtship of Barbara Holt, which is one, now that Charles Hill has passed.

Book Report: A Few Flies and I: Haiku by Issa selected by Jean Merrill and Ronni Solbert (1970)

Book coverThis is the first collection of poetry I spotted on my to-read shelves after Loveroot, and it was a good palate cleanser.

Issa was a Japanese poet from around the time of the American Revolution (he lived 1763 – 1828) who wrote in “haiku”–the translations in this book do not follow the common haiku pattern of 5/7/5 syllables, but the originals might. Some of the haikus were translated by R. H. Blyth, the source for Games Zen Masters Play. The volume is a Scholastic book, which meant it was sold in school book orders before I was born. When elementary school kids or their parents apparently bought collections of poems, simple as though they might be.

Well, the book is a lot of haikus, many about insects, and some breaths of insight from seeing flies alighting hither and yon. I read them all in one sitting, and that’s not the best way to enjoy a haiku. They should be savored one at a time, reflected on a bit. But I am a man in a hurry to make my annual book quota (70 books, of which this is the 73rd I’ve read this year, but the unofficial stretch goal is 100), so I gulped them down too quickly.

I have identified my favorite, though:

Just being here,
I am here,
and the snow falls.

I have started (long ago, but I have not worked on or completed) a military science fiction book where a space marine says, “I am here” before every action. Now I know where the quote comes from. Am I retconning? A little. Given that I have only a couple of pages of this book done, I am merely conning.

At any rate, a nice respite from more modern poems. Better if taken in moderation.

Book Report: Titan A.E. by Steve Perry and Dal Perry (2000)

Book coverEver since I bought this book at the Friends of the Kirkwood Library book sale in 2008, it’s been on the tops or fronts of my bookshelves where paperbacks fit when double-stacking books. So the book has often been visible, and many times I have picked it up and thought about reading it. It was not the time, then. It was that time now. Or this week, anyway.

The book is a novelization of the 2000 animated film that I have not seen. It seems to me that a similarly flavored movie came out at about the same time, but I cannot remember what it would have been, and although I have done a bit of research, I don’t know what I might have been thinking about. Twenty years ago, I was not so into animated films that it would have made too much of an impression. Just enough, I suppose. Also, I would like to defend myself that I am not into animated films even now, thank you very much, and I have not read a comic book since my favorite comic book shop closed up last year.

At any rate, the book details the story of Cale, the son of a prominent scientist/engineer. Fifteen years after the destruction of earth by a race of energy aliens called the Drej, humanity is scattered, a refugee race without a home world. A former associate of Cale’s father shows up at the backwater junkyard asteroid where Cale is eking out an existence and dreaming of building his own ship. He wants Cale to help him find the Titan, the ship Cale’s father built before the destruction of the earth. The mixed species crew of the associate’s ship keep almost a step ahead of the Drej as they use a special ring Cale had as a guide to the Titan. When they get there, they discover the associate is working with the Drej in their quest to eliminate the Titan, which was prophesied to be the end of the Drej? Something.

You know, like the Robotech book I read in 2016, I suspect that the novelization here has a depth that the cartoon itself doesn’t. I quibble with some of the timeline: The book is set 1000 years in the future, but humanity doesn’t seem to have changed, and the earth’s destruction was fifteen years before the book, but humanity has seemingly forgotten it even though much of the human population should remember it fairly clearly.

That aside, the book is akin to Heinlein’s juvie fiction, a rocket jockey story with some interesting depth to the villains as well and perhaps a twist or two that were unnecessary. But a pleasant little read.

Apparently, the book has a couple of prequels and a comic book series prequel. The video game rendition was cancelled, though, and I guess the intellectual property lost its lustre sometime the same year. Which means it’s ripe for a reboot, amirite? This time with live action, and Matt Damon can be the father instead of voicing the son.

Book Report: Georgia O’Keeffe by Georgia O’Keeffe (1976)

Book coverI bought this book in June at ABC Books; of the seven books I bought that day, I have now read/browsed six. So it is possible that for a second year in a row, I will finish all of the books that I bought on one trip to a book store in the same year I bought them. But that’s not actually certain.

At any rate, I had not really paid much attention to her work. I knew she had a reputation for being gay, although that is in dispute, and that a lot of people see vaginas in her flowers. I think I confused her with Grandma Moses when I was young, as she was still alive but was very, very old–both she and Grandma Moses lived to about the century mark (Grandma Moses a little older, Georgia O’Keeffe a little younger). And both of their names started with G, which means to a young man not steeped in the arts, they were practically the same person.

So. Georgia O’Keeffe. She’s a little modern for my tastes, but she paints in sharp lines and bright colors, so I rank her higher than Matisse, Picasso, and the post Impressionists–even Americans like William Partride Burpee. Some of the landscapes/buildings have wavy lines where I would have preferred them straight. I like a couple of her New York series, but I’m not fond of the landscapes with the floating skulls. The more abstract work and some of the stylized flowers, meh.

Still, I’m glad to have reviewed this monograph (for which I paid TEN WHOLE DOLLARS) to increase my familiarity with her work and make me slightly more intelligent of art.

Book Report: Amazing Sh*t My Drill Sergeant Said by Dan Caddy (2015)

Book coverI forget where I saw this book listed most recently on the Internet, but I bought a copy for my former Marine brother and a copy for myself. As I had just finished an Executioner novel (Combat Stretch), I thought I would pick up something quick to read before jumping into another novel. Not that I’m reading long novels recently.

At any rate, it’s what you would expect: A couple of longer stories (which are a couple paragraphs long) interspersed against single-quotation-on-a-page sections. A lot of insults, some of which we civilians can appropriate.

As you know, gentle reader, I did not serve, but I come from a military family (Marines, not army). So I recognized at least one story–the candy bar in the toilet–that my father’s drill sergeant had done. So that’s been around a while. And I realized that I knew my mother’s boot camp nickname, but not my father’s–one assumes he had one.

I have seen a lot of ASMDSS t-shirts listed on my Facebook feed; now I know what it means.

So a quick read to be sure, and amusing enough if you’re the kind of person who likes the novels of Richard Marcinko. And maybe wonders if he regrets not signing up back when three or four years of military service sounded like a long committment, but four years of college and a decade’s worth of student loans did not.

Book Report: Loveroot by Erica Jong (1973)

Book coverI have mentioned before that I read Jong’s How To Save Your Own Life, her 1975 sequel to her seminal novel Fear of Flying a long time ago, before I started writing book reports on this blog. I never read Fear of Flying, though. And I’ve read some about it (mostly Wikipedia) that says Fear of Flying was an empowering bit of second-wave feminism. I guess it fit into the zeitgeist of the time, when the early boomers were coming of early middle age (well, their 30s, which was middle aged in those days), and Erica Jong became a thing.

This was her third volume of poetry. I started reading it after Fully Empowered, and the second poem in the volume is “To Pablo Neruda”. As a matter of fact, the poems refer/allude to/directly address a number of poets, including Walt Whitman, Anne Sexton (twice, and apparently Jong new her personally), Sylvia Plath, Keats, and Colette. A lot of the poems in the book deal with being a poet and the poetic impulse, so Jong is learned and takes herself very seriously.

The poetry is often vulgar and only sometimes crosses the line into earthy and sensuous, but you can only use the word “cunt” never in your poems to be anything but vulgar. Perhaps that’s the point, shocking little old bourgeois moi. Perhaps I’m judging her a little harshly because for every passage where it’s appealing that she’s good to go without using the cunt, she looks like she could be one of my immediate relatives.

So maybe that squickied the lusty appreciation of this early 1970s authentic womanly carnal expression right out of me.

Overall, aside from a few interesting moments, the poems have a very collegiate feel to them as though they were written by a sophomore at a university somewhere immersed in a creative writing program than real musings of someone growing older. I paid $4.95 (the same as the book’s cover price in 1973) for this at ABC Books in June for a first edition in a mylar cover, I don’t expect I’ll pay that much for another book by this author. If I ever buy another book by her, which is unlikely.

Book Report: Combat Stretch The Executioner #152 (1991)

Book coverNot longer after finishing the Medellín trilogy with Message to Medellín a week or so ago, I jumped back into the Executioner one-offs with this volume.

An interesting thing I discovered when researching the trilogy: Although the trilogy is numbers 149, 150, and 151 in the numbering, the numbering on Fantastic Fiction and in the front of the books indicates that #150 in the series is Death Load. Which makes me wonder how that happened. Was the middle book in the trilogy only available to subscribers? Who knows. Well, someone probably knows. Actually, Wikipedia says Death Load was in the main line and Evil Kingdom was in the Super Bolan line. Which probably explains why it was longer than the mainline. The copy I have of Evil Kingdom does not indicate Super Bolan at all. I wonder if that makes it a collector’s edition.

Sorry, that’s more about the series than this book. Don’t I decry series business over the individual books in my book reports? I do!

This book has Bolan working with a beautiful KGB agent to find a Japanese terrorist organization which has a super typhus that it threatens to release unless its demands are met. The KGB agent has another objective: To steal the bioweapon for the Soviet Union and kill Bolan.

In a series of set pieces, Bolan and the Russian track and engage elements of the organization at the safe houses where they’ve stored the bioweapon for dispersal. In one of the firefights, the good buys are exposed and have 72 hours to find the main stronghold and find an antitoxin before they become infectious and need to be quarantined. They find the stronghold, discover the kidnapped scientist who has already discovered the antitoxin, and get saved with thirteen minutes to spare–and the beautiful Russian agent has fallen in love with Bolan and cannot kill him, so her superior who is in love with her shows up and is disappointed.

So it’s not a bad entry in the series, but it does have some errata. At one point, Bolan discovers that the Russian agent is to poison his granola bars with arsenic using the nuts to cover the scent of almonds. As any Agatha Christie reader can tell you, arsenic doesn’t smell like almonds–cyanide does. And when teams kit up for battle, they all end up with different weapons again. I guess in a post-apocalyptic scenario, this might occur as gun collectors emerge with different guns in their collectons.

Aside from the little mistakes, not a bad entry in the series. Fear of bioweapons is as timely as ever, ainna?

Book Report: How To by Randall Munroe (2019)

Book coverI bought this book at Books-a-Million in June. I haven’t made a goal of reading the books I bought in Branson this year (unlike last year, when I read all five ending with Herschend Family Values). But we bought a copy of this book for the boys as well, and the oldest spotted on my to-read stack (those volumes from Branson this year are still stacked on the floor atop the box of books I inherited from my most recently passed aunt) and recommended the book.

Well, he hasn’t read What If?, another book with a similar premise. Wherein What If? the author speculates on crazy questions and works out the math and physics on the prospect, in How To, he takes a basic activity like being on time, digging a hole, moving a house, playing piano, and so on and then goes off on a little physics tangent exploration of the possibility. So the schtick is a little different because he’s taking things for which we already have a good solution–leave early, use a backhoe or excavator, buy a player piano–and goes tangentally off into ridiculous but physics-ally sound answers (or reasons why the answers he chooses are not physics-ally sound).

So a little less engaging than What If? from my perspective.

My boys liked it, though. Enough to recommend I read it sooner rather than later. Although I’m not sure how much they appreciated the math and physics in it. I suspect they liked it because it had a lot of cartoons in it, like their previous favorites Dog Man and Captain Underpants.

I see Munroe has published another book in the interim–Thing Explainer–that I’ll watch out for. I’m also thinking about getting a copy of What If? for that former physics teacher on my gift list. She might find it a hoot. Or not. The key in Christmas gift giving, especially to those with whom you’ll open gifts in person, is a large number of items so that, hopefully, something will delight the recipient.

Book Report: Flight of the Golden Eagle by Terrence Webster-Doyle (1992)

Book coverI bought this book almost a year ago already when I went to ABC Books to get some books signed by a local author. I would say that the year has flown, but honestly it’s only because the number of event markers to indicate the passage of time have diminished in the year 2020, not that I had a lot of Big Events to jazz up the metronomic rhythm of middle aged life here at Nogglestead in 2019. As they say and I often quote, “The days are long, but the years are short.”

The author of this book runs (or ran) his own martial arts for peace institute. A psychologist and martial artist, the goal of this children’s book is as much about talking about world peace and how the perspective of a young person as a martial artist can help them bring about that greater understanding and world peace as it is about martial arts concerns qua martial arts. The book is broken into small sections, stories, recountings of teachers instructing the students through lessons or martial arts training (sometimes not the same thing). Each section has a lovely children’s book illustration, so it’s almost half an art book, too.

I can’t help but compare it to the Buddhist sesshin books I have read in the recent years (Everyday Zen and Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind). Although sometimes with insights that my own kyoshi has told me (Learn your own tells when you’re sparring because your opponent, if he or she is good, will see them, et cetera).

Still, the appeal of it for me, and the part I appreciated the most, was that practical advice and not the kumbaya bits. Because kumbaya is impossible. The best we can hope for is live and let live, and that’s in short supply these days.

Book Report: Message to Medellín The Executioner #151 (1991)

Book coverAs I mentioned when reviewing Evil Kingdom, this book is more of a typical Bolan novel than the first two in the trilogy–which makes it a kind of a sad conclusion to the trilogy since it stands in contrast with the other books, which had a little more going on than the typical Bolan set pieces strung together. Standing alone, it would just be one of the others; as part of three, though, it’s glaringly weak.

At any rate, in the book, Phoenix Force comes to Colombia to join up with Bolan and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police commandoes to ratchet up the pressure on the lead cartel and to sow fear amid the other cartels. At the end of book one, Blood Rules, a member of Able Team is kidnapped by the lead bad guy’s female assassin in Miami for torture and interrogation; this situation is ignored completely in book two, but in the first part of this book, Able Team quickly rescues him and kills the assassin. And their portion of the book is done. It’s pretty clear that the people who plotted the trilogy out thought this might be an interesting thread, but two of the three authors did not.

At any rate, in Columbia, Bolan and the team assault the main bad guy’s heavily fortified ranch complete with private zoo (so you know the tigers will eat someone by act three; it’s Chekov’s Rule). As they do, the heads of competing cartels arrive in their own helicopters in their own planned assault, just in time to get shot down by Jack Grimaldi, and then A VOLCANO ERUPTS! threatening everyone.

I can see the outlined plot points, and I can see where they’re checked off. Which sometimes happens with Bolan novels, but really happens when you contrast better versus more common entries in the series (or especially in the bad entries in the series).

This isn’t a bad entry, but I’m disappointed nevertheless because the preceding volume was so much better.

Hopefully, the series will stick with the one-offs which the nature of the subscription book better supports.

Book Report: Evil Kingdom The Executioner #150 (1991)

Book coverAs I mentioned, this is the most expensive Executioner book I own. Or that I paid for, anyway. Blood Rules, the preceding book in the series, was the first in a “trilogy.” As I owned the first and the third, I had to order the middle one off of the Internet to get it, so I paid more than the fifty cents I usually spend on Executioner books. I spent like five whole dollars. So I will definitely put this in the book safe. Or maybe I mean I should buy a book safe for valuable tomes like this one.

It continues the story that teams Able Team, Phoenix Force, and Mack Bolan fighting against the Columbian drug cartels. The story focuses primarily on Bolan and Grimaldi as they work in Columbia, setting the cartels against each other and denting production and manufacturing facilities. They find help in an elite Royal Canadian Mounted Police (!) team, a dying priest, and a Justice Minister who wants to make a difference. Meanwhile, Phoenix Force starts closing in on the strongman in Panama only to be interrupted by a U.S. invasion. The book skips over Able Team in Miami for the most part, which tightens it up a bit even though the book contains a couple of smaller subplots that fit within the confines of the book and add a little bit of interesting asides.

So this is probably the best book in the trilogy; as you know, gentle reader, Bolan books and other subscription books of the type were farmed out to a team of writers with plot outlines and maybe some scenes to include. But the first included sex scenes atypical to the series; this one some depth found in better books; and the third, which I have started, is pretty straight forward Bolan. Compare and contrast: This volume is 350 pages, and the third a touch over 200. More typical Bolan length for the era.

The only quibble I have with the book is that he mentions the chain guns on an Apache helicopter, and if you had asked me in 1991, I could have told you that the AH-64 had a single 30mm gun. Not so much because my recently passed aunt worked logistics for the Army aviation back in the day, but more because I got Microprose’s Gunship in 1986 or 1987 and played it a lot.

Okay, another quibble: Each team member on the fire teams tends to have his own weapon in his own chambering. Come on, a little standardization would be very, very handy if you had to change weapons or share magazines in the heat of battle. Richard Marcinko doesn’t make those sorts of mistakes, anyway.

Still, this was a good entry in the series. After I finish the third, I’ll have to really reflect on the pace of my reading these books. If I only read 10 a year, I still have, what, five or six years to go? And I won’t be able to keep up that pace when we get to the thicker titles later in the series. Perhaps I should make it a goal to read them all before I die; however, when acutely fearing mortality, I tend to want to read better things. So I guess I’ll keep plugging at them as I feel like it.

Book Report: The Legend of the Golden Huaca by Colleen Tucker (2011)

Book coverI got this book at a “book sale” last spring. A book sale, in the Before Times, was when a library organization sold books at fairly low prices as a way to raise money to help the library. I could tell looking at it where I got it; the first page inside has the price (from the Better Books section) and section. It’s different from the ABC Books markings, where I often also get books from local authors.

The book is the story of a group of fresh college graduates who go into the heart of deepest Arkansas to find out what happened to the missing father of one of the group. Late in the autumn, around Thanksgiving, the boy and his father were hunting and got a little lost when the boy falls and hurts his arm, which will end their trip. They find a rock which looks to have ancient carvings on it, and the father runs into the brush and up to a bluff and never returns. The boy gets help from some other hunters in the area, and they alert the authorities, and after a brief search, they all give up and the boy goes back to Springfield for college. He completes his finals and his final semester and gets his friends involved, including the daughter of a Real Archeologist who has a plane and for some reason decides to fly from Springfield to Northwest Arkansas. But that’s part of the problem I have with the book. So many of the parts require a suspension of disbelief.

You see, they find that the local hermit has found a cave containing treasure that Conquistadors were taking to New Orleans the long way when an Aztec prince and his retinue catch up with them, but the Conquistador Captain manages to hide the loot in a cave before they strike. A descendant of the noble (the book has a rather simplistic notion of the history of the Aztecs and lays out an easy Aztecs good/Conquistadors bad back story) lives nearby, seeking the loot of his ancestors. So when the kids come camping (elaborately) to look for the one fellow’s father (and maybe the loot), things kick into gear. The hermit sneaks into their camp; one of the kids gets greedy and wants the treasure for the treasure, not for the noble pursuit of archeology; and, eventually, they find the cave where the hermit has chained the father for six months (suspend your disbelief!) They liberate the father, who seems to have killed the hermit just that day, and an earthquake or volcano or Aztec magic destroys the treasure. But the kids have their memories. Except the greedy one, who died.

So. Although the biography of the author gives her creds in television and in law enforcement, she is an amateur. The pacing is a little off, the story makes you scratch your head a lot and need to suspend disbelief, and the ending disappoints. But as I was reading it, I felt a little deja vu–because I’m pretty sure that one could make the same sorts of critiques of my self-published novel, too.

And I couldn’t help but wonder, when thinking of this book and Murder at the Painted Lady, I had to wonder if not many older women were writing grandmother poetry these days because they were all writing novels.

At any rate, it was not the worst self-published book I’ve ever read, but you can probably pass on this one.

Book Report: Fully Empowered by Pablo Neruda (1962, 1995)

Book coverI picked this book up shortly after 100 Love Sonnets because I couldn’t think of another time where I’d be more primed to read more Neruda. As I have mentioned, I read a bit of a middle 1970s translation of Neruda that was, erm, not very literal–it inserted 1970s slang into the work where Neruda had not put it. 100 Love Sonnets, by my survey of the original Spanish on the left-facing pages, was very close. I hoped this volume would be, too.

Oh, but no.

It’s not as bad as the glimpse I had earlier (which is not this book; I looked for “I ain’t got no truck with death” specifically). This book does not throw slang into the mix, but it does use some synonyms for direct translations where I wonder how much license the translator took and why.

Also, the poems are longer, a little more free-flowing, and of varying topics, sometimes of a political nature, that makes the poetry more modern than 100 Love Sonnets. Which means I like it less to begin with.

At any rate, I probably did catch the book at the right time. I probably wouldn’t think anything that Neruda wrote would equal 100 Love Sonnets anyway, so it’s best to have read them almost back to back. Now, of course, undoubtedly two or three other volumes of Neruda’s work will catch me by surprise when I go looking for something to read. Or, worse, I’ll stumble across a second copy of this, translated with a different title, in a couple of years and will accidentally re-read these poems again without knowing it.