December 31, 2008

The Day Before The Morning After

In honor of New Year's Day, here's an excerpt from Jeeves Takes Charge on New Year's Eve.

I crawled off the sofa and opened the door. A kind of darkish sort of respectful Johnnie stood without.

"I was sent by the agency, sir," he said. "I was given to understand that you required a valet."

I'd have preferred an undertaker; but I told him to stagger in, and he floated noiselessly through the doorway like a healing zephyr. That impressed me from the start. Meadowes had had flat feet and used to clump. This fellow didn't seem to have any feet at all. He just streamed in. He had a grave, sympathetic face, as if he, too, knew what it was to sup with the lads.

"Excuse me, sir," he said gently.

Then he seemed to flicker, and wasn't there any longer. I heard him moving about in the kitchen, and presently he came back with a glass on a tray.

"If you would drink this, sir," he said, with a kind of bedside manner, rather like the royal doctor shooting the bracer into the sick prince. "It is a little preparation of my own invention. It is the Worcester Sauce that gives it its colour. The raw egg makes it nutritious. The red pepper gives it its bite. Gentlement have told me that have found it extremely invigorating after a late evening."

I would have clutched at anything that looked like a life-line that morning. I swallowed the stuff. For a moment I felt as if somebody had touched off a bomb inside the old bean and was strolling down my throat with a lighted torch, and then everything seemed suddenly to get all right. The sun shone in through the window; birds twittered in the tree-tops; and, generally speaking, hope dawned once more.

"You're engaged!" I sad, as soon as I could say anything.

I perceived clearly that this cove was one of the world's wonder workers, the sort no home should be without.

"Thank you sir. My name is Jeeves."

December 18, 2008

The Lincoln Lawyer ***

*** The Lincoln Lawyer, Michael Connelly, 2005

I'm a big Michael Connelly fan since I first tumbled to the Harry Bosch series about ten years ago. I had the thrill of hearing him speak at the Texas Book Festival a few years back and he seemed like a real down-to-earth guy. He's good people, as we say down here in Texas.

But I'm far from star-struck. All the books I've read by him are decent reads, but some are more decent than others. The last few I've read wowed me less than the others, so I wondered how The Lincoln Lawyer would compare. Lay aside all doubts. This is Connelly at the top of his game.

For me it was plane-reading. I was headed to San Luis Obispo to lay down bass tracks on the newest CD by the Number One Son. (Photos on his blog.) It was captivating and I only set it aside when I complained about having to pay $150 to get the flight case on the plane and discovered I was sitting next to John Hagen, cellist extraordinare, (These things happen when you fly out of Austin.) on his way to do a Lyle Lovett gig, who had also paid $150 to get his cello checked. I read it as time permitted, until the night before the recording date, when I hit a spot that wouldn't let go. I ended up reading straight through till the end, closing the covers around two a.m. It made for a long recording day, but some things just can't be helped.

This book is as good an introduction to Connelly as any. Or start with the first Bosch book, The Black Echo. Either way, check him out. He's worth your time.

December 11, 2008

From Beirut to Jerusalem ***

*** From Beirut to Jerusalem, Thomas Friedman, 1989

Three stars for the average citizen. Four stars for those interested in the Middle East.

Dated, but detailed, it's no surprise why this three-time Pulitzer-prize-winner received the National Book Award with this account of his time spent in the Lebanon and Israel in the 70s and 80s. Friedman was on-hand to see and report first-hand on such history-making events as the 1982 invasion of Lebanon by Israel, the Sabra and Shatila massacre, the 1983 Marine-barracks bombing in Beirut and the beginning of the first Palestinian Intifada (1987).

Friedman's perspective seems to this marginally-informed reader to be fairly balanced. Read it and let me know what you think.

December 4, 2008

The Maze of Bones ***

*** The Maze of Bones, Rick Riordan, 2008

Book 1 of the 10-book series, The 39 Clues. Rick Riordan wrote this one and designed the story arc for the entire series. Each of the 39 Clues books will be written by a different author. The second, One False Note, is available as of December 2, 2008, and was written by Gordon Korman.

I liked Rick's first series, Percy Jackson and the Olympians, but I like The Maze of Bones even more. Not sure why. But if you have kids who like this sort of thing, or if you are a kid who likes this sort of thing, The 39 Clues experience also includes trading cards and a huge on-line game which will allow you to become a member of the Cahill family and compete for prizes.

If you do the online thing, let me know how it turns out. I'm too busy reading the books.

December 1, 2008

Coming in 2009: Songs You Won't Hear On The Radio

Because I apparently don't have enough to do already, I'm going to post the occasional music-related review of songs that have stood out for me over the years.

Here's a little appetizer: A shockingly young Tom Waits singing The Piano Has Been Drinking live on Fernwood Tonight.

November 13, 2008

The Battle of the Labyrinth ***

*** The Battle of the Labyrinth, Rick Riordan, 2008

Shockingly, this is the first Rick Riordan book I've reviewed here. Shocking, because I'm a major fan since running across a copy of The Last King of Texas in a Honolulu bookstore. I'm particularly a fan of the Tres Navarre PI books. But more about that when I finally read Rebel Island.

The Battle of the Labyrinth is book 4 in the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series. Rick was a middle-school English teacher before his writing consumed so much of his time that he had to leave it behind. A teacher-of-the-year kind of English teacher. Back in 2005 I had the pleasure of attending a half-day session Rick did for the Writers League of Texas on how to write a whodunit. It was apparent in a matter of minutes that he was indeed a teacher-of-the-year kind of guy. And a read of any Percy Jackson book makes it clear that Rick knows his audience.

I won't go into the details of the plot of this or the other PJatO books. Just know that if you like this sort of thing (young adult book of fantasy, magic, mythology, etc.) you will love Percy Jackson. The first movie is scheduled to release in 2010.

November 6, 2008

Making a Good Writer Great ***

*** Making a Good Writer Great: A Creativity Workbook for Screenwriters, Linda Seger, 1999

Third of the three Linda Seger books I bought recently, making four of her books total that I've read. This book is endorsed by Ray Bradbury, which carries a lot of weight with me, as a Bradbury fan for almost 40 years, now.

This book is largely a set of creative exercises to get the juices flowing and take it to the next level. I typically shy away from such works, since I typically know what I want to write and how to write it, so if it hadn't been Linda and hadn't been endorsed by Bradbury, I probably wouldn't have picked it up. But I have great respect for both, so I snagged it along with the others.

It's worth the read. One paragraph in particular caused me to start re-thinking the rewrite on my current project. Other sections, such as mining your dreams, didn't do much for me. But you can't have everything. Where would you put it all?

October 30, 2008

Creating Unforgettable Characters ***

*** Creating Unforgettable Characters, Linda Seger, 1990

I got 3 Linda Seger books recently and read this one second. Linda has a way of distilling the essense of what you need to focus on. I highly recommend reading her before and while working on a writing project.

October 26, 2008

RIP Tony Hillerman

Tony Hillerman has died.

I reviewed two of his books recently: The Shape Shifter and Skeleton Man. And others buried in the annual reading lists for 1992, 1993 and 1994.

Check him out. Very recommeded.

October 23, 2008

The Italian Secretary ***

*** The Italian Secretary, Caleb Carr, 2005

Three stars for Holmes buffs, two stars for everyone else. As noted elsewhere, I have a decent collection of extra-canonical Homes stories and I'm always looking to exend it. I noticed this in B&N on the way from the coffee shop to the screenwriting critique group, and grabbed it. Later I realized it was by Caleb Carr of The Alienist.

It's a decent addition to the canon, but there are others I think feel more authentic, such as Meyer or Hardwick or the stories by Doyle's grandson, Adrian Conan Doyle with John Dickson Carr. Hmm, Carr. Wonder if there's a connection. Could be Caleb's father or uncle or something.

While digging around, I also found this website, where a guy has indexed the characters in 298 novels, 896 short stories and 88 kid's stories about Holmes. I guess my collection of 20+ books is meager, after all.

October 14, 2008

The Alienist ***

*** The Alientist, Caleb Carr, 1995

I bought this a long time ago and carted it around in boxes from TX to AZ to CO to HI and back to TX. At 600+ pages, it's kind of daunting to pick up. But then I realized it was the perfect elliptical workout book because it's hardback and so big it will stay open without me having to hold the pages down. However, as I began reading it, I discovered it might not pass The Ellipitcal Test.

The funny thing is that this is exactly the kind of book I have always loved to read, especially on a nice winter night by the fire with and a pipe and brandy at my elbow. Old, dead white guy kind of writing. But while working my guts out on an elliptical trainer, I began to lose patience with the slow pacing and "Tour of 1896 NYC" feel. I wanted something exciting to distract me from my pain, but all the book did was make me want to grab a Guiness, lounge in an armchair, and disappear into the world Carr created.

I powered through the first few score pages and after a few workouts I finally got invested enough to get past that issue. That being acheived, I really enjoyed the story. Exactly the kind of stuff I used to read extensively back 10+ years ago. Highly recommended if you like that kind of stuff, and I do.

October 7, 2008

Advanced Screenwriting ***

*** Advanced Screenwriting: Raising your Script to the Academy Award Level, Dr. Linda Seger, 2003

I've read somewhere around a half-dozen screenwriting books. The best was Seger's Making a Good Script Great. I had the opportunity to attend several of Seger's workshops sessions in April. They were so useful that I decided to get the rest of her books and I finally got around to it.

Much of what is in here is not particularly revolutionary or paradigm shattering, but there are plenty of thought-provoking suggestions that help in getting a fresh perspective on what you're writing. I already have several ideas to experiment with on the next draft of my current project, particularly on identity and movement as theme.

Which is the whole point - fresh ideas, improving the script, honing the craft. A writer is a pilgrim on a journey that has no end, only resting places.

September 30, 2008

The Shape Shifter ***

*** The Shape Shifter, Tony Hillerman, 2006

I scored a bunch of hardbacks at Half Price Books. Three Connellys and this Hillerman and some other stuff. I saved the Hillermna for our trip to Llano.

I have this to say, "He's back." Skeleton Man wasn't as strong as some of his earlier stuff, but this one is a solid Leaphorn story. It's worth a read.

September 23, 2008

The South Beach Diet, Arthur Agatston, 2003 ***

*** The South Beach Diet, Arthur Agatston, 2003

The first 120 pages of this book have info on blood chemistry and why the diet works. The rest is meal plans and recipes. I've already read up on glucose and cholesterol, so the book didn't tell me much I didn't know already.

However, I gleaned two factoids from the book. Insulin doesn't just regulate blood sugar. It regulates fuel, which means it also regulates fat as well. The other is that the sugar in beer (amusingingly called maltose) has a higher glycemic index than fructose, the sugar found in sodas. Wine is the better choice, which I knew already, but I didn't know why.

This diet (Phase Three) is pretty much the way we should all eat. I was already doing most of what it recommended just based on my own research, but there were some good suggestions and recipies, so it was worth the read.

The Woman is on board, so we've been doing a lot of cooking together, which has been fun. And I learned how to cook an omlet. I don't flip it, though. I'm not a show off.

Three stars for those interested in fixing your blood chemistry, eating better and living longer. Four stars for everyone else. Ha!

September 16, 2008

Property Management for Dummies **

**Property Management for Dummies, Robert Griswold, 2001

I have stumbled upon the opportunity to become a slumlord. I read this book to decide if I wanted to or not. If you're faced with such a decision, this is a good book to read. The second edition just came out, so I'm going to check it out. It has a CD with forms and stuff. Cool.

I skimmed two other books, but they didn't have much that wasn't in this one.

September 9, 2008

The Shape of Mercy ***

*** The Shape of Mercy, Susan Meissner, 2008

The cover looks like a romance novel. I was certain I wouldn't like it, but had committed to reading at least one chapter. Wow.

First, it's not a romance novel. Second, this is good writing. It reminds me a little of Sleep Toward Heaven in that it's about three women: a college girl and an old woman in present day Santa Barbara, and a girl accused of being a witch in seventeenth century Salem. Susan weaves these three stories together expertly.

If you're looking for something fresh, give The Shape of Mercy a shot.

September 2, 2008

Murder on the Rocks **

**Murder on the Rocks, Karen MacInerney, 2006

I met Karen at a Texas Writer's League happy hour a few years back. Just now got around to reading her book. Don't tell her!

Murder on the Rocks is a nice little mystery, good for an evening by the fire. It's not my favorite type of story. There's more cooking and romance than I normally require from my murder mysteries, and not enough jerks and social misfits. But a lot of folks love these more domestic/romantic whodunts. You might be one of them!

August 26, 2008

Lives of the Signers of the Declaration of Independence**

** Lives of the Signers of the Declaration of Independence, B J Lossing, 1848

The last time I visited my mother, I skimmed the shelves of my dad's books to see if there was anything interesting. I grabbed this book. The format is good for bedside reading, since there are 3 to 5 page biographical sketches of the 56 men who signed the D of I. Very informative.

However, the book is a riot of Capitalization, Commas, and Rhetoric. Here are some samples.

He took a prominent part in the debates respecting the independence of the Colonies, and voted for, and signed that glorious Declaration of American disenthralment. Soon after this act was consummated, he returned home and was immediately appointed by governor Trumbull and the Council of Safety, to the command of a detachment of Connecticut militia.

His clear perception saw the end from the beginning, and those delusive hopes which the repeal of obnoxious acts held forth, had no power over Lewis Morris. Neither could they influence his patriotism, for he was a stranger to a vacillating, temporizing spirit. He refused office under the Colonial government, for his domestic ease and comfort were paramount to the ephemeral enjoyment of place.

In many places it reads like a cross between an object lesson and a letter of recommendation. Here's a representative sample:

The life of Mr. Hopkins exhibits a fine example of the rewards of honest, persevering industry. Although his early education was limited, yet he became a distinguished mathematician, and filled almost every public station in the gift of the people, with singular ability. He was a sincere and consistent Christian, and the impress of this profession was upon all his deeds.

Overall, it's slow going. On the other hand, what's the hurry?

August 19, 2008

The Year of Living Biblically ***

*** The Year of Living Biblically, A. J. Jacobs, 2007

I heard about this from The Other Son when the book-geek gang was planning the itinerary for the 2007 Texas Book Festival. We planned to go, but the session was at 7 pm and after a day of traipsing around and listening to authors, it was down to me and The SpyMan, who wanted to ditch and get sushi instead. So we did.

Fast forward six months and I get an email from a dedicated fan of the FredBooks telling me I was quoted in the book. I got a copy and sure enough, she was right. However, the quote is from an essay I published on Teh Interwebs in the mid ninties under a pen name. (A free autographed copy of the FredBook of your choice to the first non-Kelly person to identify the quote and the page number it is on. Those who I've already told about it are disqualified, of course.)

This is a very clever book and worth the read. Here's the story behind the book. It's broken up into short sections numbered by the days of the year, which makes it the perfect bedside book because you can read as much or as little as you like and always find a stopping point when you get tired or someone says, "Are you going to keep that light on all night?" (The proper answer to that is, "Yes, actually.)

August 12, 2008

The Mists of Avalon **

** The Mists of Avalon, Marion Zimmer Bradley, 1982

Two stars for the general populace. For Arthurian lore fans, three stars. I've read several books, or series, based on Arthur and Camelot. My favortie is Mary Stewart's Merlin series, starting with The Crystal Cave. I also enjoyed Steinbeck's The Acts of King Arthur and His Noble Nights, Lawhead's Pendragon cycle, and amazingly enough for someone with a confirmed antipathy toward poetry, Tennyson's Idylls of the King, which is in the top 10 books I've read. You really should give it a shot.

Anyway, I found Mists in a library sale. It had been a while since I'd read any Arthurian stuff. I stuck it in The Stack and it followed me around from Texas to South Carolina to Arizona to Colorado to Hawaii and back to Texas.

It's a big book. I rank books by the size of animal they can kill if you throw it. At 900+ pages, it's in the rat-killing class and a little daunting to pick up and read, especially when you're on the go a lot. You should get credit for 2 or 3 books if you read this one! But one day I realized that the size meant it would stay open by itself, which made it the perfect book to read while working out.

It passed The Elliptical Test, but it could have been edited down by 200-300 pages without losing much except weight. What makes this story interesting is that it is told from the perspective of the women involved in the legend. There is also lots of exploration of Christianity vs the pagan religion or no religion, which is interesting for the first 400 pages or so, but begins to wear after a while.

As Lincoln said, "People who like this sort of thing will find this the sort of thing they like." I liked it.

August 5, 2008

Demon: A Memoir ***

*** Demon: A Memoir, Tosca Lee, 2007

I heard some good stuff about this one, and it was a Christy finalist, so I picked it as my plane reading on my trip back from Orlando. Good choice.

Tosca can write, boy howdy. Funny thing is, I was about halfway through when I realized that this is what The Shack could have been if Young was actually a good writer. If he had bothered to actually create a real story instead of flimsy cardboard props to hang his polemic on.

The story resonated with me the same way that many of the favorite books of my youth did. There are two stories developing along side each other, both fascinating. At first the story of the demon was interesting, but as the book progressed I became more involved in the story of the narrator.

Tosca's powers of description are formidable and compelling. I felt like I was there when the earth was created and Lucifer made his appearance, and when it was re-created after the rebellion. Powerful stuff, Maynard.

Highly recommended. Check http://www.toscamoonlee.com/ for more info on the book and what Tosca is up to now.

July 29, 2008

R. Holmes & Co. **

** R. Holmes & Co., John Kendrick Bangs, 1906

As a kid I devoured the Sherlock Holmes stories by Arthur Conan Doyle, and read them again many years later. However, Doyle is dead and he left behind only 4 novels and 56 short stories about Holmes. It doesn't take long to exhaust the oeuvre, so one must look beyond the canon for fresh material. A skim of the reading lists from 1992, 1994 and 1995, will reveal that I have amassed a decent collection of extra-canonical works, some brilliant, some abysmal.

R. Holmes & Co ranks below the middle of that scale. It's clever and diverting, but has, from my perspective, some fatal flaws that keep it from rising out of the ratings basement.

A bit of history may be in order for those not familiar with the genre. The character of Raffles, the gentleman thief, was created by E. W. Hornung, who was the brother-in-law of Doyle in the 1890s, the same time Doyle was writing the Holmes stories. Raffles is the evil twin of Holmes, brilliant and urbane, but using his powers for ill-gotten gain rather than for good.

In 1905, Bangs evidently got the idea to create a mash up of Raffles and Holmes, creating Raffles Holmes, the son of Sherlock Holmes and Marjorie Raffles, the daughter of Arthur Raffles, the thief. The second story in the collection chronicles how this came to pass.

My biggest compliant about the stories is that the premise makes no sense. Raffles Holmes seeks out the narrator, Jenkins, to make a bundle by having Jenkins publish his exploits as Dr. Watson did for Holmes and Bunny Manders did for Raffles. However, R. Holmes does some decidedly questionable and sometimes illegal things in the stories. If you're going to be deceiving folks to make money, you can hardly then publish the stories and expect to get away with it or continue to do so in the future.

My second complaint is that the language is unnecessarily stilted, even more so than the originals it draws from.

R. Holmes & Co is available at the Gutenberg Project if you want to check it out for yourself.

July 15, 2008

Romancing Hollywood Nobody ***

*** Romancing Hollywood Nobody, Lisa Samson, 2008

This one got delivered to Casa Wunderfool the day before my Orlando trip. Yeah! Reading material for the plane. It was just the right size for the trip and just the thing for my frazzled brain. While I was in Orlando, the first Hollywood Nobody won a Christy award. I reviewed the second one (FHN) here.

RHN fits right in with the rest of the series. In fact, I like it better than FHN. Rumor has it that only one volume remains in this series. Dang.

July 8, 2008

Texas: A Year with the Boys **

** Texas: A Year with the Boys, by William Hoffman, 1983

A fellow screenwriter loaned me this book because she said some of the characters reminded her of the characters in my latest project. It's an interesting read, and there's one guy in there who is almost a dead ringer for my college roommate. However, it's not a particularly great book.

July 1, 2008


Volunteering as a reader for a screenplay competition has seriously cut into the amount of reviewable material I can read. I'm doing tons of reading (have to wade through 80 screenplays) but I can't write about any of it, and even if I did, you wouldn't be able to get a copy, so it would be pointless.

All that so say that until I get through them, posting will be a bit sparse. On the upside, for all my trouble I get a full-access badge to the festival. Of course, when you do the math for the benefit on a per-hour basis, it would be cheaper to buy the badge. But for me, someone who is navigating the journey from novelist to screenwriter, the experience as a first reader is very valuable. I'm getting to see first hand what it is like to evaluate random stuff that comes in, just like somebody will one day evaluate a screenplay I send in.

The main thing I've learned so far is that I have to up my game. If I got my first project, currently in fourth draft, to read, I'd drop it in the No box.

June 24, 2008

Anatomy of a Rodeo Clown **

** Anatomy of a Rodeo Clown, Aleta Lutz

Last year I was at an open mike at The Oaks when a rousing chorus of Happy Birthday broke out for Aleta Lutz, a 91-year-old lady sitting on at a side table sipping Shiner from a small glass. After my set I snagged an empty chair at her table to chat. After all, how often do you get a chance to talk to someone who is 91?

That's intriguing enough, but when I discovered she was a writer, I was hooked. We talked until she had to go home, and made arrangements to keep in touch. A few months later, Aleta and her son Jim the Bola Man made the trek from Manor to South Austin for dinner We talked of the writing life and other things. She started out as a young girl during the Depression, writing true crime stories and being paid per word. For many years she lived down around South Padre Island and wrote a society column for the newspaper. Now she lives with Jim in a old farm house, the house where they filmed What's Eating Gilbert Grape.

After dinner, I gave her a FredBook. She gave me a copy of her book, Anatomy of a Rodeo Clown: The Story of Charley Shultz.

I've kept it by the bedside and read the short, bite-sized chapters and learned of the hard times of a Depression-era Okie who stumbled into a career as a rodeo clown. Interesting story. And autographed by the author!

June 17, 2008

Burning Bright **

** Burning Bright, John Steinbeck, 1950

Like many baby boomers, my first exposure to Steinbeck was being traumatized by The Red Pony and The Pearl in school. I don't know what these educators are thinking. High school is depressing enough without adding stories like that to it. In the 80s, I was properly introduced to Steinbeck by a cab driver in San Francisco who recommended I read Cannery Row and Sweet Thursday. A much better introduction. I fell in love with Steinbeck and began collecting novels as I worked my way through used book stores across the country.

I have a stack of Steinbeck in the To Be Read shelf that are not mentioned in The Stack. When the fancy strikes me, I grab one. Some are more compelling than others. I'm partial to Tortilla Flat and The Winter of our Discontent. And Travels with Charley, but that's not a novel.

So, when I was headed as a volunteer to a fund raising event where I thought I might have some time on my hands, I grabbed a Burning Bright because it is short, under 100 pages. I didn't get to read much more than the introduction at that time, which I found to be as interesting as the book itself.

Steinbeck wrote Burning Bright as a stage play and then filled in description and action to turn it into a novella. It was intended to be able to be performed simply by lifting the dialog out of the book without any significant adaptation. A production was done in New Haven and Boston. It was his third attempt at such a form, the first two being Of Mice and Men and The Moon is Down. (More information at wikipedia.)

It's an unusual book. Divided into three acts, each act has the same four characters but the setting for each of the three acts recasts the four characters in different situations: the first act is set in a circus, Saul and Victor are trapeze artists and Friend Ed, a clown; in the second act, Saul and Friend Ed are neighboring farmers and Victor is Saul's farmhand. In the final act Saul is the captain of a ship, Mr. Victor, his mate, and Friend Ed a seaman about to put out on a different ship. In all acts, Mordeen is Saul's wife. If you don't know this going in, the transition to the second act is confusing.

Also, the dialog is a bit ornate and poetic for the humble characters who speak it and takes a little getting used to. However, it's an interesting story and I found the character arcs engaging.

Two stars for the general reader, three stars for students of the craft.

June 12, 2008

The Writer's Journey ***

*** The Writer's Journey: Mythic Structure for Storytellers and Screenwriters, Christopher Vogler, 1992

Three stars for the general public. Four stars for writers. I can't believe I took this long to finally read this classic and immensely valuable work. I began taking notes halfway through as the implications for my two current projects began to crystallize. When I finished, I opened it back up to the front and started again, reading the entire book through twice. I expect I'll read it, or at least skim it, again in a year or two.

If you're a writer of fiction or screenplays, you owe it to yourself, your work and your readers to read this at least once.

Highly recommended.

June 5, 2008

A Place Called Wiregrass **

** A Place Called Wiregrass, by Michael Morris, 2002

I picked this book up because it won the Christy Award for First Novel the year before I did with Welcome to Fred. I'm a firm believer in knowing the competition.

I'd like to note right up front that I rank this down at two stars not for the writing, which is good enough, but for the story, which is not the kind of thing I like to read as a rule. Too much second-guessing romance action for my tastes.

But for all that, Morris spins a worthy tale with engaging characters. I was fully invested in the main three characters, all women, being the protagonist, Erma Lee, her granddaughter, Cher, and her mentor, Miss Claudia.

If you're of a mind to appreciate well-written novels with a romantic bent, although not a genre romance novel, you may find this novel to your liking.

May 29, 2008

Muslim Women in America ***

*** Muslim Women in America: The Challenge of Islamic Identity Today. Yvonne Yazbeck Haddad, Jane I. Smith, Kathleen M. Moore, 2006

With the exception of The Holland Suggestions, everything I've read so far this year has been a three star book. That's unusual, but nice for me. Maybe I'm getting better at picking a book by its cover.

When I co-wrote Hell in a Briefcase with Phil Little, I had to do a lot of research on the Middle East, the Palestinian conflict, Arab culture and terrorism. A couple of years ago I had an idea for a new project that would use a lot of that research, but go in a different direction. This lead me to begin researching the experience of American Muslim women.

Muslim Women in America is the fourth of fifth book I've read on the subject, and one of the best. It's only 164 pages, but it's dense. You won't just breeze through this one. If this subject is of interest to you, this book is worth reading.

May 22, 2008

River Rising ****

**** River Rising, Athol Dickson, 2005

Ladies and gentlemen, we have a winner. Literally and figuratively. Athol gets the first four-star review of the year, but more impressively, he won several awards with this book.

OK, let's get the annoying question out of the way right off the bat. Athol tells you how to pronounce his name. It's kinda like a person with a lisp saying basil, but without the 'B' on the front.

So, you're saying, what exactly does it take to get the coveted Four-Star Wunderfool review? I mean, if Russo didn't get it, who can? Here's what it takes:

Brilliant writing, a compelling story and unforgettable characters all mixed together into a book that is a must-read for anyone.

Russo came close. Really close. The only thing that kept him him out of the four-star level is the last four words: must-read for anyone. Straight Man is a little raw in spots for my tastes and I wouldn't recommend it to my mother. Still a great book, though.

But forget Russo. We're talking about Athol and River Rising. Up to now I've known Athol chiefly for his questionable movie recommendations. (I rented Ten Items or Less based on his recommend. My advice: miss it if you can.)

But fortunately for all of us, Athol is better at writing books than picking movies. Much better. River Rising has all the elements of a Four-Star Wunderfool pick in spades and passes the elliptical test with room to spare. Athol is a master. This is literature, pure and simple. I'm reading River Rising and thinking, "I want to write like this. It's time to take it to the next level."

The ending had just the right touch of reality and wistfulness. I was a perfect ending. I don't recall ever finishing a book and thinking, "Wow, that was exactly the best way to end this book." I have now.

Now I'll have to read the rest of his stuff. His newest one is up for the Christy. I haven't read anything by the other two finalists, although I did briefly meet Steven James at a film conference this year. If they asked, I'd tell them to not spend too much time working up an acceptance speech.

Fortunately, I doubt I'll ever have a book up against Athol in a competition. One of the advantages of learning how to write screenplays instead of cranking out more novels. Plus, I doubt we'd end up in the same category. Although why River Rising was in the suspense category for the Christy is a little puzzling to me. Great book, but not what I'd call a suspense novel.

Highly recommended.

May 15, 2008

Straight Man ***+

***+ Straight Man, Richard Russo, 1997

OK, I know, the plus is cheating, but this is better than three stars, but not quite the stop-everything hold-the-phone level. Pretty close, though.

Russo better watch out or he might replace Robertson Davies as my favorite author, just as Davies shoved Graham Greene to second place back a decade or so ago. Right now Davies maintains the lead because he's a dead white guy. Russo is merely a white guy.

As annoying as it may be to admit it, Snyderman introduced me to Russo. That guy has fairly unerring tastes so far. Like Davies, surely one day he'll fall off the pedestal.

This is the third Russo novel I've read, after Nobody's Fool and The Risk Pool. I haven't read the Pultizer Prize winning Empire Falls, yet, but I watched the Golden Globe winning HBO mini-series with Ed Harris and Helen Hunt, based on the book. I liked them all, but Straight Man is my favorite so far.

The incorrigible smartass William Henry Devereaux, Jr. is both infuriating and irresistable. This novel obliterated the elliptical test. More than once I checked the clock and realized I'd been exercising over an hour. Russo is a master at multi-layered stories buried in character. His recurring theme seems to be conflicted sons of dysfunctional fathers, explored from various angles in various books. He does it well.

Highly recommended.

May 8, 2008

The Shack *

* The Shack, William P. Young, 2007

It had to happen sometime. Our first one-star review of the year. I knew going in I wouldn't like this book, but I got it as a birthday present with the comment, "I'd like to hear what you think about it." So what choice did I have? I may be a jerk, but I'm not a complete cad. Yet. Give me time. I have a few years left in me. I might make curmudgeon of the year before it's over.

Lots of people love this book. Lots of people read People magazine. I'm not one of them, in either case. I'm not saying there's a correlation, here. Just mentioning some specifics.

Here's my problem with this book. It's a cheesy, schmaltz-laden story wrapped around a lecture on the nature of God.

If I want to read a good story, I want some really good writing. Life is too short to endure mediocre writing. Not everybody is as picky as I am. That's fine. Let them read what they like, and I'll do the same.

If I want to read a book on the nature of God, then I want a book that deals with the subject directly, not a 250-page third-rate parable with an angst-ridden character tossing softball questions to a sagacious character to hit out of the ballpark. Or three sagacious characters, either.

Actually, I got through the Foreword and thought, "Maybe I was wrong. Maybe this is a good book after all."

The Foreword was the best part.

I didn't subject The Shack to the dreaded elliptical test because I knew it wouldn't stand up and during a workout is no time to be playing around with an unworthy book.

When a book repeatedly refers to The Great Sadness, just like that, in caps and italic, you know you're in trouble. Like caps wasn't enough.

We really want you to get it, reader. It's not a sadness. It's not just the sadness. Or merely the great sadness. It's not even The Great Sadness. Dammit, we're talking about The Great Sadness here! Sit up and pay attention and have a hanky or three handy.

That's not to say that there aren't some good concepts in the book. There are. I truly believe that the world would be a better place if more people embraced the concept of God presented in The Shack. Most of it, anyway. But that's not why I read books.

Your mileage may vary.

May 1, 2008

Deadline ***

*** Deadline, John Dunning, 1981

The introduction indicates that Dunning wrote this in six weeks and, unlike his other books, sold it immediately without a single rejection. It's not hard to see why. It's a page turner, from start to finish, all 253 pages. Dunning mentions the coincidence of the similarity to the movie Witness, which came out four years later, but it is evidently just that, a coincidence.

Recommended for whodunit fans.

April 25, 2008

The Elliptical Test

Last year I started reading while working out on a NordicTrack elliptical. Reading while working out really tests the quality of a book. The workout, 40-60 minutes of steady, heart-pumping effort, is unpleasant enough. The book has to engage me to the point that I forget I'm working out. That's a tough standard. I'm not as forgiving of lazy writing when I'm sweating and gasping and looking for something to take me away from it. I keep a stack of books nearby because I am known to toss books that fail the workout test across the room.

Retribution ***

*** Retribution, Stuart Kaminsky, 2002

I twigged to Kaminsky back in the 80s with the Inspector Rostnikov series, the story of a Moscow police inspector who has to tread the delicate dance of Soviet politics to avoid Siberia or worse while solving crimes. Those are three and four star books. I followed the series through the breakup of the USSR and the new politics of mafia and gangs. It's a fascinating, incredibly well-written series, an example of taking the whodunit to the literary level.

So when I saw a Kaminsky novel while digging around through the bargain stacks, I snatched it up. Retribution, the second in the Lew Fonesca series, makes it clear that Kaminsky has not lost his touch.

Last year I started reading while working out on a NordicTrack elliptical. Reading while working out really tests the quality of a book. The workout, 40-60 minutes of steady, heart-pumping effort, is unpleasant enough. The book has to engage me to the point that I forget I'm working out. That's a tough standard. I'm not as forgiving of lazy writing when I'm sweating and gasping and looking for something to take me away from it. I keep a stack of books nearby because I am known to toss books that fail the workout test across the room.

Retribution not only made the workout endurable, it engaged me to the point that I went past the hour without realizing it. Now that's some engaging writing!

Highly recommended.

April 17, 2008

Embrace Me ***

*** Embrace Me, Lisa Samson, 2008

I always approach a Lisa Samson novel with trepidation. I love so much of her work that with each new book I wonder if she can do it again. How many times can she ring that bell that resonates down to the core? The truth is that no matter how many times a novelist cranks out a sterling piece of work, each new project is a new chance to fail, an opportunity to demonstrate that the well is dry. Staring at the blank first page of a novel is a terrifying prospect, no matter how many you have written or sold.

A while back I listed my top three Lisa Samson picks. Now I must revise my ranking. Embrace Me, the 10th Samson novel I have read, just claimed the top ranking. I'm reluctant to displace The Living End as #1, so perhaps I'll rank Embrace Me as #0.

I won't summarize the plot, as you can find that information anywhere. Instead I'll tell you my impressions.

Lisa never shies from the tough road less taken. She climbs inside the characters and claws her way out to a plot and a theme. Sometimes, as in this case, she climbs inside some bizarre characters, but it just makes the journey that much more interesting.

Lisa's novels are in first person, although sometimes from multiple viewpoints. Heretofore those viewpoints were always female. Embrace Me marks the first foray into a male viewpoint, which she credits Will (her husband) for assisting in refining. I won't say that she totally nails the male perspective, but she's close enough as to make no difference. Mark Andrus may have written in As Good As It Gets that for Jack Nicholson to write women, "I think of a man, and I take away reason and accountability." The only fault I'll attribute to Lisa in writing a man is that she may have not gotten shallow enough. Heh.

There are some startling revelations in Embrace Me that, in retrospect, I should have seen coming, but I didn't. This book knocked me out of the saddle more than once. The mercy is that, unlike The Living End, I didn't read it on the bus, so I didn't have to wear cheap sunglasses to preserve my privacy when it moved me.

Recommended reading.

April 11, 2008

To Say Nothing of the Dog ***

*** To Say Nothing of the Dog, Connie Willis, 1997

It's been a long time since I've found myself thinking about the characters in a book when I'm not reading it. That's what happened with this one. This book felt like PG Wodehouse meets Robert Heinlein.

The title is an allusion to a 19th century book, Three Men in a Boat (To Say Nothing of the Dog). Before I was halfway through, I decided to get a copy of the 1889 book. After I finished, I went to the bookstore but didn't find a copy. However, I bought another book by Connie Willis. That should tell you something about how good she is.

Not surprisingly, To Say Nothing of the Dog was nominated for a Nebula award in 1998 and won the Hugo in 1999. But, before you write this off as a sci-fi time travel novel and give it a miss, which is exactly what I would normally do in that circumstance, let me tell you that it feels nothing like a sci-fi novel, so don't let that scare you off.

Strangely, although it was pretty clear from the cover copy, I somehow failed to realize it was written by a woman until I was 60+ pages in. I was surprised because the voice was remarkably like the dead white guys I'm so fond of reading.

This book has a lot going for it - a great plot, some nice puzzles, a gradual unfolding of the world of the novel and the issues at state, well drawn, memorable characters, and excellent writing. There were a few puzzles the characters seemed a little late to figure out, but even more things I was sure I'd figured out that I turned out to be wrong about.

Highly recommended.

April 4, 2008

The Best Kind of Books

I am addicted to words. As a kid, I read the dictionary. Seriously. It has shaped my writing and what I love about reading.

I am drawn to writers who are masters at the art of using words. There is nothing quite like a fine bit of writing, that sentence or phrase that seems to express the essence of a thing in a way that is at once fresh and obvious. In a way that makes you wonder why you never thought of it that way, because now that you’ve heard it, you can’t imagine a better way to express it.

Combine that with engaging characters and a nice plot, and you can’t lose.

Most good stories have the four main components of characters, plot, dialog and narrative. All are important, but they occur in varying degrees of presence depending on the type of book. For example, a spy novel might depend more on plot and less on characters. A travel book might rely heavily on narrative and have little or no plot. It may or may not have interesting characters, depending on who’s writing it and why.

Many modern readers are plot junkies. They want to keep the action going and are willing to accept two-dimensional characters that act according to type as long as the plot twists keep coming. A completely unforeseen surprise ending is the acme of this type of book.

For me, a really great book, regardless of type, is built around characters. The plot is simply what they do, the dialog simply what they say, the narrative providing the infrastructure in which they do and say those things.

Do you know any really clever people, fun to be around? It is fascinating how a mundane setting or experience can be transformed by such a person. I find it the same with books. If the characters are riveting, it really doesn’t matter what they do (the plot). If the characters are really well done, it might take you a while to realize there IS no plot! I once read a brilliant paragraph by Nabakov that described a screen door. A screen door, for crying out loud! Which has nothing to do with characters, but I just remembered it so I threw it in.

This is not to say I enjoy reading books about screen doors. I like a good plot as much as the next guy, and clever dialog can be a thing of beauty, even in the presence of formulaic plots, as Damon Runyon and P. G. Wodehouse have demonstrated.

In the end, for me, it comes down to the writing itself. Whisper a well-turned phrase into my ear, and I'll follow you anywhere.

March 27, 2008

The Holland Suggestions **

** The Holland Suggestions, John Dunning, 1975

It all started when I moved to Denver in 2000. We packed a 26-foot diesel UHaul in Scottsdale and dragged our pitiful car behind it. The one we bought in Phoenix after the previous car died in El Paso on a Sunday evening and we abandoned it and rented a car to get to my new job by Monday morning.

Engaging backstory ensues

On the trip from AZ to CO, we stopped in Winslow, Arizona to take pictures of the statue of Jackson Browne standing on the corner by a mural of a girl, my Lord, in a flatbed Ford. Then, because of my ridiculous insistence on seeing sights from Tony Hillerman novels, we eschewed the easy route across 40 and up 25. Instead, we left 40 at Gallup, slipped over to Window Rock and looked at the window rock and bought some souvenirs, then back over to 491 and up to Shiprock, an amazing sight, over to Four Corners (Stand with each heel and toe in a different state!), and up through Moab to 70.

The hell of this particular route was that instead of a nice easy ride through Albuquerque and Colorado Springs, we drove right through the Rockies, through Vail and Frisco and Silverthorne. With a 26-foot truck that drove like a semi. Pulling a car. It was an education.

The nice part came when H flew in to help me unload the UHaul. We did it in record time, which gave us some time for exploring. H had heard of a place called Edward's Pipe and Tobacco Shop and wanted to check it out. We found it on Broadway and wandered into a time warp. Woodwork everywhere, an excellent bar with stools where a few gents were smoking cigars. H and I bought a few cigars and pulled up a stool to the bar. The owner offered us a free beer. (Couldn't sell them without a liquor license, but it didn't break any laws to give them away.)

Long after the UHaul was unpacked and H had flown away and the house was in working order, I continued to frequent Edward's, especially on Friday afternoons when a BYOB party brought a few dozen aficionados out of the woodwork to sip and smoke and schmooze. Where I met an editor at the Denver Post, who regaled me with many tales of growing up in a Catholic monastery or some such out in the arid high-desert of southwest Colorado.

Somewhere along the way during one of these confabs, I asked the editor if he knew of any authors who write about the Denver area with the same sense of place as Tony Hillerman does about the Four Corners area. He turned me onto Booked to Die and John Dunning. I devoured that novel and the sequel, The Bookman's Wake, and loved every word. They are three star books, at least. And Google informs me that there are other Bookman sequels that I will have to track down. If you are a lover of whodunits, I strongly advise you to check out these books.

Actual book review occurs

However, this review is about The Holland Suggestions, which turns out to be Dunning's first novel. As a first novel, it's a decent bit of work, much better than my early, pre-publication attempts, but far from riveting. As a confirmed reader of dead, white guys, I concede that this novel has much in common with the writings of dead, white guys, only without the good parts. As a bonus (or not) it adds the mid-life crisis introspection, the arm-chair psychoanalysis, and the obligatory casual sex scenes of a 1970s novel.

It seems that after Dunning experienced success with the Bookman series, Pocket Books (Simon and Schuster) republished his earlier stuff, which accounts for the versions of The Holland Suggestions (1975) and Deadline (1981) on my shelf. They include an introduction in which Dunning talks about the circumstances under which the books were written and the writing process, which is very different between the two books. The average reader may find this introduction boring and skip over it, but for me it was the most fascinating part of The Holland Suggestions, and pretty engaging for Deadline, too.

As the rating system indicates, it's not a bad book, but hardly something I would suggest. If you're stranded in a vacation cottage and find it on the shelf, you might give it a whirl. If you like that sort of thing.

March 20, 2008

Finding Hollywood Nobody ***

*** Finding Hollywood Nobody, Lisa Samson, 2008

Reading a Hollywood Nobody novel is like spending an afternoon with Lisa Samson. That's how it feels.

True confessions time. I've read everything Lisa has published since The Church Ladies (2001), having been turned onto Lisa by Snyderman at our first meeting in a coffee shop in Nashville. Her novels are not exactly what you would expect a reader of dead white guys to be consuming, but I am an eclectic reader, consuming good writing, regardless of the genre, and Lisa is a good writer. So, I find myself reading stuff completely out of my demographic just because. I'm just saying.

I first hooked up with Lisa when we both won the Christy award the same year, me in the First Novel category for Welcome to Fred and her in the Contemporary category for Songbird. (Although The Living End, which came out the same year and was also a finalist, should have won. It is my favorite Lisa novel. The Wunderfool List of top three Lisa novels goes like this: Living End, Straight Up, Club Sandwich. Hollywood Nobody is in a separate category. )

Then a few years back I stopped by Che Samson in Lexington, KY on a winter/spring weekend while on business travel. I spent a pleasant afternoon with Snyderman in Nashville, then drove up to Lexington and got snowed in for two days, hapless guest of the very gracious Samson clan as ice formed on the inside of the windows and Lisa and I sat with our laptops in the warm room and wrote in silence, occasionally exchanging comments as she worked on the beginnings of the Hollywood Nobody project. It was a magical time I will never forget.

So, at this point you're thinking, "This guy, who slept shivering with his clothes on in Gwynnie's princess bed with Little Mermaid purple gauze hanging around because the Boston airport was closed for two days, can't be objective where Lisa's writing is concerned." Wrongo, bucko. I can like the person and not the writing. I do it all the time.

OK, here's the deal: The Hollywood Nobody series is a Young Adult (YA) series. I say, "So what?" It's entertaining stuff. Scotty, the protagonist, is a highly engaging character and once you get her vibe, you're in for the ride and that's it. I devoured the first Hollywood Nobody novel and was highly displeased to have to wait for the second. I pre-ordered it on Amazon, but when it came in my daughter snagged it. I got it back just this week. I read it in two sittings.

The first sitting, I read the first few pages and thought, "Hmm, I'm not getting that Hollywood Nobody vibe. Where's the magic?" The next time I picked it up, I was hooked in a few pages. At 1:30am I thought, "I should go to bed." I actually got to the top of the stairs, turned off the light, and opened the bedroom door to tiptoe into the bedroom to avoid waking The Woman, when I had an epiphany. Or rather, a conversation with Me, Myself and I.

Me: What are you doing? Myself: Going to bed. It's 1:30 am for crying out loud! I: Because? Myself: Well, it's late. Me: And what's on the schedule tomorrow? Myself: Uhh. I have to get some work done on the day job. I: Doing what, exactly? Myself: Writing a brochure on Fibre Channel over Ethernet. I: Due when? Myself: Whenever I decide to finish it. Me: So, nobody cares if you get up at 8 am or 11 am. Myself: Well, yeah, pretty much. I: So, why aren't you finishing that Lisa Samson novel tonight? Myself: Uhhhhh . . . . Me: You know you want to. Myself: Well, duh!

So I went back downstairs and finished the novel around 3 am. When I hit page 152 I freaked out and there was no question of going to bed at that point. I was in for the duration and boy howdie, shoot I reckon! As they say.

Reading a Lisa Samson novel, any of them since 2001, is a treat. (I must confess that, even though in a moment of bonhomie she gave me one, I haven't read the early-days romances and that's probably the best for everyone concerned.) But in the Hollywood Nobody novels I feel that vibe of hanging out with Lisa. And it is a good vibe, folks. I have two actual sisters. They rock each in their own way. But they're not writers. If I had a sister who was a writer, I would want her to be like Lisa. Heck, I'd want her to be Lisa.

I also have a copy of Embrace Me. I haven't started it, and I don't know anything about it. But you'll be hearing about it soon. Heck, I might even start it tonight. It's only 2am. What have I got to do that's so important?

March 13, 2008

Skeleton Man ***

*** Skeleton Man, Tony Hillerman, 2004

I'm a Hillerman fan from way back, as can be seen from my original reading lists. Hillerman gets it. He gets the sense of place. He gets the people, as attested by the endorsements he gets from Native American groups. And he gets the story.

All that being said, he's getting on up there in years and is not in the best of health. So we can understand if he's not at the top of his game in the more recent books.

Set that thought aside. Skeleton Man delivers a good solid Jim Chee story. And the Leaphorn sub-plot has some interesting tweaks.

My only critique is that the real begining was Chapter Two. You can lose Chapter One and the story is as good or better. This is a worthy read, but not a good starting point. If you're new to Hillerman, go back to the beginning.

March 7, 2008

The Whodunit

aLike a lot of other folks I know, I can’t resist a good whodunit. Of course, we all have our standard of what exactly a good whodunit is. As you might expect, I’m about to tell you what I think makes a good whodunit.

First of all I use the term whodunit as a broad term to include what is normally labeled mystery in the bookstore. It includes novels about private detectives (Sherlock Holmes), police detectives (Harry Bosch), regular cops (Jim Chee), CIA operatives (Emily Polifax), private citizens (Miss Marple), investigative reporters (Fletch), wealthy playboys (Lord Peter Wimsey), medieval priests (Caedfel), medieval samurai (Sano Ichiro), bookstore owners (Cliff Janeway), burnt-out musicians (Kinky Friedman), aged barristers (Horace Rumpole), have I gone on long enough, yet? Yes, I believe I have.

A good puzzle is table stakes. You can’t even get into the game without one, so we will take that as a given. A good whodunit has memorable characters to go along with the puzzle. The main characters should have some mysteries of their own. They should struggle with more than just the case; they should have to wrestle with themselves as well.

Disqualifiers: see Murder by Death for the initial list. In addition, I get extremely annoyed when the main character does something extremely stupid, like getting romantically involved with the suspect, especially if he/she already knows the suspect is probably guilty. Even worse is going to bed with the prime suspect. Just how stupid can you be? I also get annoyed when I can see the obvious clue but it takes the protagonist multiple chapters to figure it out. The author should be better at hiding the solution.

I prefer a minimum of sex, profanity and graphic violence. A good whodunit depends on the quality of the puzzle and characters and doesn’t need to highlight the sex lives of the characters to tittilate the readers. (You know, that's a pretty weird word.)

Even with these self-imposed restrictions, there are so many good books out there that it would take me years to read them all. So what am I doing sitting here writing this? I think I have a good one on the shelf right now!

February 28, 2008

My Name Is Russell Fink ***

*** My Name is Russell Fink, by Michael Snyder, 2008

When I go to Nashville, which is not often these days, I have dinner with Snyderman if he can fit me into his schedule. We hooked up via email not long after Welcome to Fred came out. He's the guy that turned me on to Richard Russo. And Doug Coupland. And Lisa Samson.

I knew from reading Snyder's early stuff that it was only a matter of time before he got published. Then I read the toad-licker story and I realized that I didn't want to introduce him to my editor because I didn't need the competition. When you read an opening that goes:

“Kill the toad, man. Before it kills you.”

You know you're about to read something special. And it is. Read it. It's not that long and after you finish, you'll know if you want to rush out and get the novel or not. A few elements of that story made it into My Name Is Russel Fink, but not the toad part. Or the rock star part. Maybe in the next book. I really miss the toad. I got a chance to read Fink for endorsement. In the last 4 years, half a dozen publishers have sent me books for endorsement, some written by friends, some by strangers. I declined to endorse everything that I got. Until Fink.

I'm a pretty picky guy. I have ecclectic and highly subjective tastes. And I expect that when readers of the FredBooks see my name endorsing a book, they're going to be expecting something at least a bit out of the mainstream. And they're right. In this case, considerably out of the mainstream.

I'm not going to describe the plot of the book. You can find that in other places. Instead I'm just going to say, if you like the vibe of the toad-licker story, get the book. If you don't, stick with whoever it is that you read.

February 14, 2008


Speaking of book reviews, I found a great site. BlueRectangle.com does short video book reviews. They have hundreds of fiction and non-fiction reviews in 17 categores. They also have a store in Alameda, CA (just south of Oakland) and they buy books, in person and over the web. They have a review a day and an RSS feed so you can make sure you don't miss any reviews. When I saw they had a review of Wodehouse, I was sold.

Oddly enough, I just happen to be in Pismo Beach, CA this week and will be driving up to Sunnyvale on Monday. I wish my schedule permitted me to drive on up to their store for a visit, but that would entail at least an hour each way, if there's no traffic, and then I would inevitably end up with an extra suitcase of books to take back with me on the plane, so maybe not.

February 7, 2008

Action Plan for High Cholesterol ***

*** Action Plan for High Cholesterol, Arry Durstine, 2006

At this point you're thinking, "What? This isn't fiction!"

The point of the Wunderfool Reading list is to record everything I read in the year, not just the literary stuff. And I read this, so here it is.

2007 was the year for The Wunderfool to slay the glucose monster, as mentioned occasionally in some restaurant reviews on Eating Fred, Texas. It is safely laid to rest and 2008 is the year to tame the cholesterol beast.

If you're in a similar position, this is a good book to start with. Only 160 pages without the recipes and appendices, it's a slim volume. Durstine is a sports medicine guy and his focus is on diet and exercise, with a few chapters on medications and alternative treatments as well, which I skimmed, since my goal is to beat this without medication, which I don't want to pay for and can't remember to take anyway.

As I read the description of how the body process all this stuff, which is very complicated, I came up with an analogy involving frat guys and janitors and pimps to explain it all. Maybe one day I'll write it down for the benefit of posterity.

In the meantime, three stars if you're interested in controlling cholesterol. For you others, and you know who you are, up your life insurance.

January 31, 2008

Sleep Toward Heaven ***

*** Sleep Toward Heaven, Amanda Eyre Ward, 2003

I don't normally read Oprah books. I don't normally read books by people who are still alive. In fact, for me to read a book that was actually published in this century is unusual. So, why did I read Sleep Toward Heaven? The answer is simple and probably pathetic, but I can live with that. It's a Texas book - set in Texas, written in Texas by an Austinite, won the Writers League of Texas Violet Crown Award.

For all of you bottom-line types, here's the lowdown bird's eye on this caper: This is a good book. Very well written. Definitely worth reading. Get a copy.

What's more, this is a first novel. I'd be very pleased to produce a novel like this one at any point. I'd be insufferably vain if I had done it the first time out.

As a writer, I was interested to see how she put the book together. It's about three women:

  • Karen, a death row inmate
  • Celia, the wife of a man Karen killed
  • Fanny, a doctor and the niece and adopted daughter of the doctor who works in the prison where Karen is incarcerated
The narrative rotates between the perspectives of these three women, which is not unusual, but in addition, the voice and person changes for each character's chapters:
  • Karen: third person, present tense
  • Celia: first person, past tense
  • Fanny: third person, past tense

As a novelist, I found it fascinating to consider how these choices influence the tone and voice. Present tense is not used very often in novels. By using it for the death row inmate's chapters, Ward achieved a sense of immediacy that reinforced the idea that Karen had little time left. But the choice of third person leaves a sense of detachment, an odd contrast to the immediacy of the present tense, but an effective one, since it implies the detachment Karen must employ to survive in her environment.

The first person perspective of Celia's chapters gives a sense of intimacy. It drew me into the world of the woman who is trying to figure out how to survive after her husband was gunned down while going for beer after mowing the lawn.

And the third person, perspective of Fanny's chapters gives some distance from a doctor who can't seem to make her personal relationships work after losing a patient she had become emotionally invested in.

It just worked, all the way around, which goes to show how important the choice of tense and person is when crafting a story.

There were many other things Ward did particularly well, including avoiding sentimentality (which must be very difficult in a novel with so many tragic stories), avoiding preachiness (which is probably equally as difficult when dealing with a subject like the death penalty), and avoiding stereotypes. These may seem like negatives, but the result is very positive. They are large, gaping potholes that confront every serious writer and avoiding them is not a simple task.

There was one thing that puzzled me. To my knowledge, Ward used real place names for everything except Gatesville, which she calls Gatestown in the book, even though it is located outside of Waco, exactly where Gatesville is. Don't know why, but I bet it's an interesting story.

So, kudos to Ward for an excellent job and kudos to you if you grab a copy and read it. You won't regret it.

January 25, 2008

1995 Wunderfool Reading List

Rating Guide

**** Stop reading this review and get this book *** Definitely worth your time ** Not bad, but not a must-read, either * Better than reading the shampoo label, maybe no stars Reading this may damage your brain

MOTS = More Of The Same (Not necessarily bad. See previous reviews of same author.)

  1. ** Streiker's Morning Sun, Robin Hardy. MOTS
  2. * The Sword Of Shanara, Terry Brooks. Very forgetable, mediocre writing. Waste of time and paper.
  3. *** The Name of the Rose, Umberto Eco. Great first book, easier reading than the second. Recommended reading, but not for the faint of heart. Listen to Gregorian Chants while reading. Best with a nice wine or brandy and a pipe or two.
  4. ** All's Fair: In Love, Politics, and Running for President, Mary Matalin and James Carville. Disappointing. I was fascinated by this marriage of a rabid Democrat and a rabid Republican, but there was very little in here about their relationship. It was primarily a journal of the ups and downs of the 1992 Presidential race.
  5. **** Tempest-Tost, A Mixture of Frailties, A Leaven of Malice, Robertson Davies. An excellent trilogy (The Salterton Trilogy) from one of my favorites. My previous experiences with Davies (two novels) have both been rather serious works, so it was a surprise and a joy to discover the two lighter novels that form the first two parts of this trilogy, with some remarkably excellent writing. The third novel seemed a complete change of gears as far as tone, but was still quite well written and eventually very entertaining. Strongly recommended reading.
  6. *** Politically Correct Bedtime Stories, James Garner. Amusing. Worth the read.
  7. *** Lord Of The Flies, William Golding. I read this over 20 years ago, but somebody checked out the movie and we watched it and so I had to read it again. What an excellent book, if somewhat depressing. Highly recommended reading.
  8. *** To Kill A Mockingbird, Harper Lee. Excellent, recommended reading. I think I have read this one before a long time ago. I decided to read it again because Sarah was reading it for school. I think they should have saved it for a few years. She would understand a lot more in about 3 years. Milly rented the video with Gregory Peck. I didn't see it because the Hs. came over and Traci didn't want to watch it because it was sad. However, Sarah said it wasn't near as good as the book, so I didn't waste my time with it.
  9. *** The Ides of March, Thornton Wilder. Very good book, recommended reading, but not for the average bear. Lots of reflection on the nature of life, religion, human nature, etc. Just happened to have a lot of relevance to where I was at the time. I think first person is easier to achieve a natural tone, but I remember reading somewhere that first person is harder to write effectively than third. I don't remember why, now.
  10. *** The Thanatos Syndrome, Walker Percy. Interesting book, well-written, recommended reading, with some reservations. This almost seems like two books, or one book written in two gears. The first 200 pages are mainly reflection on the human condition, human nature, society, etc. The last 200 pages are a fast-paced action-thriller type of stuff, with the ATF bugging phones and following people and busting a child pornography ring. (With rather explicit descriptions of the photographs I could have done without!) Also, there are many places where we get in on the thinking of the protagonist, (since it is first person) but then, when the action hits, we often have to guess what he is thinking from the dialogue. Rather strange mix of styles.
  11. *** Roughing It, Mark Twain. Some excellent parts, but also some slow parts. Got to remember to pull some quotes out. It is rather spotty, but there are some really good sections. If there were a best-sections version about half the size, it would be a must read kind of thing. As it is, I would still recommend it, but I find that most people are not willing to read really gripping, high quality stuff, so there's no chance that they will read something that takes a little digging to find the gems.
  12. ** Beating the Street, Peter Lynch. Decided it would be a good summer project to learn about investing in the stock market. This is the first book I've read on it and it was not boring, unlike my expectation. Great writing and lots of good advice, it seems. Not enough to completely educate me, however.
  13. ** Stock Picking, Richard Maturi. Another good book on the stock market, but a little drier than Lynch.
  14. *** A Burnt-Out Case, Graham Greene. Another great Greene book. Recommended reading.
  15. ** Ten Stupid Things Women Do To Mess Up Their Lives, Dr. Laura Schlessinger. Book left for me by C. to pass on to K. I read it. Not bad.
  16. *** A Palm for Mrs. Polifax, Dorothy Gillam. MOTS. Getting better.
  17. **** The Tragedy of American Compassion, Marvin Olasky. A must read. Highly recommended reading. All UUs should be forced to take an extensive written and oral exam on this information.
  18. **** A Confederacy of Dunces, John Kennedy Toole. See reviews from 1993. I was cleaning out the book case and ran across this one and decided to re-read it. Very funny. Highly recommended reading, but not for prudes.
  19. *** Winter in Eden, Harry Harrison. MOTS.
  20. *** Return to Eden, Harry Harrison. MOTS.
  21. Prophet Motive, Cleo Jones. Trashy mystery set in Utah and based on Mormon culture. Complete waste of time.
  22. ** Who Killed What's-Her-Name? , Elizabeth Daniels Squire. Mediocre writer, decent plot, kept me wondering in spite of the occasional groaner, like "Mother put rocks in the front yard. They made the lawn look rugged. Rugged. Like we would have to be." But, if you can survive such things, it's an entertaining read.
  23. *** The Medical Detectives, Volume 2, Berton Roueche'. Case histories of difficult diagnoses or challenges in isolating the source of epidemics. Worth the read.
  24. *** Rumpole for the Defense, John Mortimer. Carole M. picked up The Second Rumple Omnibus for me at a used bookstore in California, so I'm reading the whole thing, even though I have read part of it before. This one I had not read, and it was quite good, as is usual for Rumpole. Recommended reading.
  25. *** Rumpole and the Golden Thread, John Mortimer. MOTS, which is good. Recommended reading.
  26. *** Rumpole's Last Case, John Mortimer. I remember some of the stories, but not others. At any rate, first-class Rumpole material. Recommended reading.
  27. ** Bad Habits, Dave Barry. Written in early to mid 80's, fairly humorous.
  28. *** The Man In The Corner, Baroness Orczy. Nice little armchair mysteries from the author of The Scarlet Pimpernel. Very little character development but nice puzzles.
  29. ** Memnock: The Devil, Ann Rice. Helene made me read it. Not too bad, but I doubt if I'll read any more of her stuff.
  30. *** McNally's Luck, Lawrence Sanders. Helene made me read this one, too. This guy is a great writer, although the protagonist is as randy as a billy goat Catch these quotes (which are paraphrases, since I've already returned the book), "Like most men, my life is a contest between brains and glands. You would do best to bet the Old Grey Matter to place." "He knitted his eyebrows, which, given their hirsuteness, could have resulted in a sweater." "He was a self-proclaimed poet and his first book, The Joy of Flatulence, was so obscure and cryptic that the critics labeled him a genius."
  31. *** A Morbid Taste for Bones, Ellis Peters. I've been looking for some books in the Caedfel series for some time, and Mark H. up and loans me a couple. Not bad.
  32. *** One Corpse Too Many, Ellis Peters. Another Caedfel. Pretty good. Check out the last sentence in the book. "From the highest to the lowest extreme of man's scope, wherever justice and retribution can reach, so can grace." Recommended reading.
  33. *** McNally's Risk, Lawrence Sanders. "Her conversation was a diarrhea of words and a constipation of ideas."
  34. *** McNally's Caper, Lawrence Sanders. MOTS.
  35. * Bittersweet Grace: Twentieth-Century Religious Satire, Walter Wagoner. A big disappointment. Most of the selections weren't satire at all, but commentary or observation. However, there were a few good selections, most of which I had read before, such as an excerpt from Elmer Gantry and one from Life With Father.
  36. *** The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, Agatha Christi. Mark H. loaned it to me, so I felt compelled to read it. I've been saving Christi for my twilight years, but I guess it won't hurt to read one occasionally. Very good.
  37. *** The Marlowe Chronicles, Lawrence Sanders. I've succumbed to the obligation to read whatever people loan to me. The problem is, it's all so good. Of course Helene keeps pumping Sanders in my direction, and he's such a great writer that I find it hard to resist reading them, even though they have way more sex and profanity than I prefer in an author. This one was very well done, written in the mid 70's.
  38. *** Taliesin, Stephen Lawhead.
  39. *** Merlin, Stephen Lawhead.
  40. *** Arthur, Stephen Lawhead. Since Daniel was reading these, I decided to finally finish the series. Not bad. Probably the best stuff Lawhead has done. I hear there's a fourth one out.
  41. ** The Fourth Deadly Sin, Lawrence Sanders. Not bad.
  42. ** Lost In The Cosmos: The Last Self-Help Book, Walker Percy. Amusing in an erudite way. Thought-provoking in spots. Quite slow reading over all.
  43. *** Pendragon, Stephen Lawhead. MOTS
  44. *** Murther and Walking Spirits, Robertson Davies. No time to do this justice now.
  45. *** Death Is A Lonely Business, Ray Bradbury.
  46. *** The American Rivals of Sherlock Holmes, Hugh Greene. Graham Greene's brother!
  47. *** Lancelot, Walker Percy. Well-written, but too explicit in a few spots. Not near as egregious as The Thanatos Syndrome, but there nonetheless. I wonder that Bennett ranks Percy #1, but maybe I'll figure it out one day. Recommended reading.
  48. *** Maigret and the Gangsters, Simenon. Good stuff.
  49. **** Trent's Last Case, E. C. Bentley. Highly recommended reading for mystery fans and pretty much anybody else, too. Dedicated to G.K. Chesterton (a contemporary, and evidently boyhood companion, of Bentley), forward by Dorothy Sayers, blurb by Agitha Christi calling it the best detective novel ever written. The last chapter is a gem purely on writing alone, not to mention the complete whiplash of plot that occurs.
  50. * Many Waters, Madeline L'Engle. Waste of time and paper. Poorly written.
  51. *** The Heart of the Matter, Graham Greene. MOTS, quite good.
  52. *** The Elusive Mrs. Pollifax, Dorothy Gillam. MOTS, entertaining.
  53. ** Winnie-The-Pooh on Problem-Solving, Allen. OK, but I found the Pooh stuff distracting me from learning problem-solving. I either want to read Pooh for the beauty of the writing, or learn problem-solving, but I don't think I can do both at the same time.
  54. *** McNally's Trial, Lawrence Sanders. MOTS.
  55. *** The $30,000 Bequest, Mark Twain. Some excellent stories, here. The title cut reminded me of Carissa R. Then there was "A Cure For The Blues" which reminded me of reviewing Mark S. early stories. Must pass this on to him. Recommended reading.
  56. *** Rumpole on Trial, John Mortimer. MOTS. Quite good, recommended reading.
  57. *** Mrs. Polifax on Safari, Dorothy Gilman. MOTS
  58. *** Mrs. Polifax on the China Station, Dorothy Gilman. MOTS

January 18, 2008

1994 Wunderfool Reading List

Rating Guide

**** Stop reading this review and get this book *** Definitely worth your time ** Not bad, but not a must-read, either * Better than reading the shampoo label, maybe no stars Reading this may damage your brain

MOTS = More Of The Same (Not necessarily bad. See previous reviews of same author.)

  1. ** From Beowulf to Virginia Woolf: An Astounding and Wholly Unauthorized History of English Literature, Robert Manson Myers. This was a fairly amusing little book with a jacket blurb by Bob Darden. It really gets rolling in the last 3 chapters or so, with jewels like "King George III died of a cerebral hemorrhoid" and "'I am; therefore I think.' which is getting Descartes before the horse."
  2. **The Stainless Steel Rat for President, Harry Harrison. MOTS.
  3. *** Boy's Life, Robert McKammon. An excellent story of a 12-year-old boy in the style of Bradbury's Dandelion Wine and Something Wicked This Way Comes, but definitely of the 90's. More like a mix of Bradbury and Stephen King. The guy is a good story teller, but goes a bit off the deep end occasionally. Not quite the stylist Bradbury was, but gives King a good run for his money. Not as gory as King, thankfully. Probably the most disgusting and revolting scene in the book, the one I wish he had left out, was the story of a girl eating a booger in church. Yeeeech!
  4. *** The Canary Trainer, Nicholas Meyer. From the guy who brought you The Seven-Percent Solution (excellent) and The West End Horror (not so great) comes another post-canon Holmes work worth reading. The beginning is a bit slow, and the footnotes a bit excessive, but overall a good book.
  5. ** The Stainless Steel Rat Saves The World, Harry Harrison. I know, I know, but it's the last one I have. MOTS.
  6. *** Monsignor Quixote, Graham Greene. Excellent story of an apparently aimless modern-day quest by a supposed ancestor of the fabled knight. A humble and perhaps ineffectual priest is unexpectedly promoted to monsignor and is booted from his parish by the antagonistic and jealous bishop. He gains a travelling companion of the recently deposed mayor, who is a communist, and they spend the book trying to convert each other. Involves the struggle with faith and doubt, Quixote believing that a faith that is not tortured by doubt is no faith at all, or at least not worth having. His nightmare was of Jesus being rescued from the cross by 10,000 angels and the whole world knowing for a certainty of his divinity.
  7. ** Inside Out, Dr. Larry Crabb. Carole gave me this book over a year ago. I tried to start it once, but couldn't get into it. I tried again and once I got past the first 3 or 4 chapters it picked up. It basically maps out renewing the inner man, dying to self, and a that kind of stuff, in a fairly practical way. However, it could have been done in less than half the space. And I would have read it a whole lot sooner if it had.
  8. *** Talking God, Tony Hillerman. MOTS, but this one happens mostly in Washington D.C. and is pretty violent.
  9. * A is for Alibi, Sue Grafton. I decided to check this series out to see if it was worth getting into. After all, there would be at least 25 other books to read, right? Then we could move over to the Greek alphabet and other cultures. But I didn't care for it much. The main character has too much moral confusion and does stupid things, like getting emotionally and sexually involved with a main suspect. I guess I should be thankful it was heterosexual.
  10. *** The Mosquito Coast, Paul Theroux. Excellent writer, good material. More graphic but somehow less depressing than the movie. Excellent example of what Scott B. could become if he just put his mind to it. If I had been writing this story, I would have had the father gasp, "See, I was right," just before he died. However, in the book this would be impossible since vultures attack him and pull out his tongue. (A graphic scene which doesn't occur in the movie. I think the movie streamlined the story and made it more forceful without sacrificing too much.)
  11. ** See, I Told You So, Rush Limbaugh. MOTS. If you listen or watch, there's no reason to buy the book, except to make a point.
  12. ** The Gentle Art of Smoking, Alfred Dunhill. Nice but dated reference book on the history of the tobacco industry and the manufacture of cigars, cigarettes, and pipes.
  13. **** Body and Soul, Frank Conroy. An excellent novel based on music. The transcendent beauty of music is eloquently described. This book is a legend if for no other reason than I got it on the book club's recommendation and I liked it. It should have come with a CD. Recommended reading.
  14. *** The Book Of Guys, Garrison Keillor. A great book, very entertaining in spots, a little slow in others. Not recommended for prudes. I found it interesting that he redid "How the Savings and Loans Were Saved" in here under the heading "George Bush". It remains to be seen if he will whip on the Clintons like he has on the Republicans.
  15. *** Pi in the Sky: Counting, Thinking, and Being. Interesting book, but not as startling as Hoffstadter's. It has some good quotes before some of the sections.
  16. *** The Comedians, Graham Greene. One of his better novels, although the ending just seemed to peter out without going anywhere. Interesting that he is preoccupied with 1) Catholicism, 2) Communism, and 3) Latin America.
  17. *** The Seven-Percent Solution, Nicholas Meyer. Excellent post-canon Holmes story involving Freud.
  18. *** Disclosure, Michael Crichton. Real page-turner from the man who brought you The Andromeda Strain, and Jurassic Park. Novel of high-tech intrigue, sexual harassment, and virtual reality. Very raw sex scene, however.
  19. **** The Moonstone, Wilkie Collins. Excellent detective novel written by a contemporary of Dickens about the time of the American Civil War. Some very excellent quotes, most by Betteridge, the steward at the manor, and an excellent character, Miss Clack, a prudish, interfering spinster. "We were not a happy couple, and not a miserable couple. We were six of one and half a dozen of the other. How it was I don't understand, but we always seemed to be getting, with the best of motives, in one another's way. When I wanted to go upstairs, there was my wife coming down; or when my wife wanted to go down, there was I coming up. That is married life, according to my experience of it." "There's good sense, Mr. Franklin, in our conduct to our mothers, when they first start us on the journey of life. We are all of us more or less unwilling to be brought into the world. And we are all of us right." "Here I am, with my book and my pencil -- the latter not pointed so well as I could wish; but when Christians take leave of their senses, who is to expect that pencils will keep their points?" Highly recommended reading.
  20. * The Difference Engine, Golding and somebody else. Interesting novel speculating on the world if Babbage had been able to mass-produce his Analytical Engine and usher in the information age a century sooner. I hated the authors' cinematic style, frequently describing scenes as if giving camera cues and instructions. I disliked the extensive and graphic digression into scenes with prostitutes. I despised the ending which degenerated into cryptic reports of apparently unrelated items. However, if I interpreted everything correctly, the authors postulate the premature derivation of Godel's Theorm which somehow wreaks havoc and chaos on society and introduces unreliability in the computing machines of France. You got me. Not recommended, but I wish somebody would read it so I could find out if I understood any of it at all.
  21. *** 24 Short Stories by Dorothy Parker. I expected more clever stuff, but it was predomiately depressing stuff. Still an interesting read.
  22. *** It Was On Fire When I Lay Down On It, Robert Fulghum. Pretty good, several nice pieces. Recommended reading.
  23. *** Focault's Pendulum, Umberto Eco. This one really slowed my schedule down. It had its moments, but had way too much arcana. I guess that's the Italian aspect. An American author wouldn't have buried the plot and action in so much research. I guess I'll have to read his first novel, Name of the Rose see if the movie cleaned up all the slow parts or if he just went crazy on his second novel.
  24. * Blind Date, L. Stine. Found this is Sarah's stuff and had to read it to find out what she was reading. Pretty good writer for juvenile literature, but this is about 4 years ahead of her, in my estimation.
  25. *** Something Fresh, P.G. Wodehouse. Blandings novel. MOTS.
  26. *** Summer Lightning, P.G. Wodehouse. Blandings novel. MOTS.
  27. * Outcry in the Barrio, Freddie Garcia. Typical junkie converted story, poorly written, but for some reason I found it remarkably moving.
  28. *** America, B. C., Barry Fell. Excellent 1976 book about established civilizations of ancient Celts in New England, Lybian language influence in the Zuni language, Semitic (Arabic, Phonecian) influence in the Pima language, and other thangs. Why haven't we heard of this stuff before?
  29. ** Padre, Robin Hardy. MOTS.
  30. *** Listening Woman, Tony Hillerman. MOTS. Leaphorn novel with no mention of wife, dead or alive.
  31. ** Parallel Time: Growing up in Black and White, Brent Staples. Highly disappointing auto-biography. From the blurb in the book club I got the impression this book offered insight into Staple's struggle to escape from the destructive elements of the ghetto culture without losing his identity as a black man. Instead it was just a chronicle of what happened to him, without any generalization or application to the specific identity/culture problem. It leaves you to draw your own conclusions. The problem with that is that I already have drawn my own conclusions. I was looking to Staples to either validate or enlighten them. He did neither.
  32. **** The Silent Gondoliers, S. Morganstern. Excellent book by a remarkable author (The Princess Bride). Highly recommended.
  33. ** Billy Bathgate, E.L. Doctorow. Good writer, material didn't particularly interest me. Too much sex for my taste.
  34. ** The Man Who Turned Into Himself, David Ambrose. Good story, interesting ideas.
  35. *** Colored People, Henry Louis Gates, Jr. This was the book I was looking for when I bought Parallel Time, although I didn't know it. Great book, recommended reading.
  36. ** A Nun in the Closet, Dorothy Gillam. Occasionally clever story by the author of the Polifax series. About on par with Polifax, but it seems she just can't resist inserting Eastern mysticism (see review of The Clairvoyant Countess in a previous year) and, in this case, social conscience. Forgettable.
  37. ** What the Bible Really Says, Barthel somebody. Mildly interesting. The most interesting thing is how the name Jehovah came about. It seems that the name of God, YWYH, is too sacred to be pronounced, so the Jews used Adonai instead. So, everywhere YWYH appeared in the text, they wrote A O A I above it (the vowels from Adonai.) Later translators who didn't realize this merged YWYH and AOAI to get YAWOYAHI, Yahweh, or Jehovah. Sort of blows the doors off the Jehovah Witness presupposition that they are the only true church because they are called by the name of God, eh?
  38. ** The Moviegoer, Walker Percy. I had to read this after I read that Walker Percy was Bill Bennet's favorite novelist. I will admit he is good, but I'm not enthralled, yet. I'll reserve judgement until I've read a few more.
  39. ** Red Sky at Morning, Richard Bradford. I bought this book because the name of the author. It is actually a decent book. I laughed out loud several times.
  40. *** Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury. Daniel is reading this for his English class, so I picked it up and re-read it. It is a bit tedious in the beginning, but still a great classic, particularly the words of the professor.
  41. *** Classic Christianity, Bob George. Good exposition of the doctrine of grace.
  42. *** The Scarlet Pimpernel, Baroness Orczy. Great book written in the first half of this century that reads like Dickens.
  43. * Freudian Fraud, E. T. Torrey. A book Dangerous Dan gave me for my birthday. I only read it when eating by myself, so it only took me 6 months to read it. Mildly interesting.
  44. *** West of Eden, Harry Harrison. From the author of the Stainless Steel Rat series, a very intriguing series about what might have happened if the alleged comet hadn't hit the earth 65 million years ago and mammals and reptiles evolve simultaneously into sentient species.
  45. **** Anguished English, Richard Lederer. Hilarious. Recommended reading
  46. * Charade, John Mortimer. Remarkably dull early effort from the maker of the great Rumpole.
  47. *** The Ghostway, Tony Hillerman. MOTS.
  48. ** Why I Am Not A Christian, Bertrand Russell. A collection of essays. Intriguing in parts, ho-hum in others, not compelling.
  49. *** Who Stole Feminism, Christina Hoff Sommers. Very entertaining and informative. Recommended reading.
  50. *** Orient Express, Graham Greene. Pretty decent book, sort of funky ending. Typical Greene.
  51. ** Portofino, Frank Schaeffer. Novel by the Jr. Schaeffer. Not a great writer, but a decent one. Some entertaining spots, picks up as it goes along.
  52. *** Grendel, John Gardner. Very good book, but not for the average reader. Would probably bore most folks. I saw a play based on this book about 15 years ago. It was strange, but good.
  53. ** Seven Promises of a Promise Keeper, collection. Not bad.
  54. ** The Union Club Mysteries, Isaac Asimov. Clever but forgettable.
  55. **** The Selfish Gene, Richard Dawkins. Excellent. Highly recommended reading.
  56. ** The Crossing, Cormac McCarthy. Got it through the BOMC, it was all the rage, but I'm not sure why. It didn't do much for me.