Saturday, December 30, 2017

My Life According to Books: 2017

It's been a while since I did one of these. In 2017, I broke my personal record of books read with 47. Here are 10 questions answered by books I read in 2017.

1. Black Friday makes me: Blind to Sin (Dave White)

2. If you post ignorant comments on Facebook: Murder is My Business (Brett Halliday)

3. In my ID photo, I look like: John Quincy Adams (Paul Nagel)

4. If someone interrupts my reading, I: (dig a) Shallow Grave (Dave White & Alex Segura)

5. When I read/watch the news, I: (witness) The Vanishing American Adult (Ben Sasse)

6. The last time I visited the zoo, I: (saw a) Mexican Tree Duck (James Crumley)

7. If I were a Supreme Court justice, I would: (stand) Athwart History (William F. Buckley)

8. Absolutely nothing compares to: The Thousand Dollar Tan Line (Rob Thomas)

9. Best advice my mom gave me was: (be a) Master and Commander (Patrick O'Brian)

10. My hope for 2018 is: Honor Among Thieves (Jeffery Archer)

Monday, December 18, 2017

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Honor Among Thieves by, Jeffrey Archer

Embarrassed and enraged after the Gulf War, Saddam Hussein hatches an ingenious plot to steal the Declaration of Independence and burn it on live TV on the Fourth of July. The CIA and Mossad join forces to steal the Declaration back before this can happen and anyone knows it's missing.

The plot is ridiculous and so is most of the book. I feel that's kind of the point. Our heroes are a constitutional law professor at Yale and a Mossad trainee who is a retired supermodel because, of course they had to be. One of the more ridiculous elements is their escape from Bagdad where they dismantle a pink Cadillac, carry it 20 miles across the desert, reassemble it, and drive away. It's a fun sort of book that you just turn your brain off and enjoy like people who watch the Fast and the Furious movies or National Treasure.

Archer gets dinged for style points, though. The book is tilted a lot toward summary and away from scene with tons of passive voice everywhere. Though all the summary may be a good thing because his dialogue is very stilted.

Honor Among Thieves was a fun little diversion, but I kept getting distracted from the story by the writing.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Song of the Week: Christmas Is A Comin'

Can it be Christmas without Bing Crosby? This week's song is a lesser known song by Bing, but it's a great and catchy one.

Friday, December 8, 2017

MST3k Friday: The Christmas That Almost Wasn't

Good news, everyone! If you missed the announcement on Thanksgiving, the return of MST3k was given a second season by Netflix. I couldn't be more happy. The new season is a great successor to the original series and I hope it introduces a new generation of fans to riffing.

One of the movies in the most recent season was another Christmas stinker like Santa Claus Conquers the Martians and Santa Claus. It's called The Christmas That Almost Wasn't. In this story, some rich guy who hates Christmas bought up all the land in the North Pole and is forcing Santa to pay rent. Santa can't pay the rent and is in danger of being evicted on Christmas Eve. He enlists the help of a hapless lawyer to talk some sense into the rich guy whose name is Thaddeus T. Prune. Yes, this movie is about Santa suing his landlord.

Here's a song (un-riffed) from the movie to show you how truly awful it is.

Monday, December 4, 2017

Song of the Week: We Are Santa's Elves

It's December here at Unsquare Blog and you know what that means:  time for the song of the week to be all Christmas music! Our first song comes from the Rudolph the Red-Nosed Raindeer special from Rankin-Bass.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

The Concrete Blonde, by Michael Connelly

The Concrete Blonde opens with Harry Bosch confronting and killing a serial killer known as The Dollmaker. Chapter One picks up four and a half years later when Bosch is sued by the killer's widow for killing her husband. On the day of opening arguments, a note is delivered to the precinct that points the detectives to a new Dollmaker victim. Even with the trial going on, Bosch must figure out if the new victim is a copycat or did he kill the wrong man.

As a rule, I don't like serial killer stories (movies, tv, books). I find them tedious and repetitive. The killers typically dispose of their victims in creepy ways and almost always taunt our hero detective with notes or phone calls. One of my biggest problems with them is motive. Ninety-nine out of a hundred times the killer does what he does because of some childhood trauma and he ends up killing some version of his mother over and over. Give me someone who kills because of love, hate, jealousy, or mistake and compounds that first action by making further bad judgments throughout the book. It's much more realistic.

That being said, Blonde is an example of how to pull off this kind of story well. The focus is mainly on Bosch trying to figure things out with only a small amount of the typical cat-and-mouse routine. There is also a lot centered on the trial and watching the two lawyers set traps for each other. Bosh is the center of this book, not the killer.

Because Connelly is such a good writer, I enjoyed this one.

Monday, November 27, 2017

Monday, November 20, 2017

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Making It All Work by, David Allen

Mainly a companion piece to the original Getting Things Done. The first half of the book talks about the why of GTD and smooths off some of the rough edges of the first book. The second half of the book dives into the horizons of focus, which was a part of GTD that definitely needed some expanding on. It gave me some ideas of how to revamp my current system with a better understanding of the runway, 10k, 20k, etc foot horizons.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Song of the Week: Word Crimes

You've got Weird Al (who I like) and grammar (of which I try to promote proper usage). What could go wrong?

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Mexican Tree Duck by, James Crumley

At first, private eye C.W. Sughure is tasked with making a biker pay his outstanding bill for some exotic fish. After that, he goes on a booze- and cocaine-fueled road trip with three buddies from Vietnam in search of the biker's mother who has gone missing. It's a wild ride filed with humor and some great poetic lines that only Crumley could write.

A good read.

Monday, October 30, 2017

Song of the Week: Wrap It Up

One morning last week, I awoke with the hook for this week's song in my head. It took me a little while to place it and when I searched for the tune on YouTube, to my surprise one of the results was for a version by Sam & Dave. I never new anyone other than The Fabulous Thunderbirds played it. So this week, you get a two-fer:  both the Thunrderbirds and Sam & Dave versions.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Maigret by, Georges Simenon

Maigret has recently retired to the country from the Paris police. Soon his country life is interrupted by his nephew knocking at his door late at night.  The nephew followed Maigret into the police force, but has managed to make himself the main suspect in the murder of a bar owner. It's up to Maigret to return to Paris to clear his nephew's name.

Georges Simenon could reasonably lay claim to being the most prolific author of the 20th Century with over 500 novels and numerous short works to his credit. The Maigret series, published between 1931 and 1972, comprises 75 of these novels and 28 short stories and has been portrayed on screen by such varied actors as Michael Gambon, Richard Harris, and Rowan Atkinson. This eponymous book was my first introduction to the character.

The relationships between Maigret and others were layered and complex, probably things that were built up in the prior 18 books of the series. There were some wholly original scenes, such as when Maigret tails a suspect through the dark night, and some clever traps Maigret used to ensnare the villains. If these are staples of Simenon's work, then it's easy to see why this character is so enduring. That being said, the style of storytelling is not typically what I like to read. There are moments where the story is told by summary, not by scene, and at times the language was a bit flat (other times, it was very poetic). I'm not sure if this is Simenon's doing or the fact that the book was translated from French.

Overall, it was an enjoyable and very quick read. There may be more Maigret in my future.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Bad Boy Boogie, by Thomas Pluck

We meet Jay Desmarteaux when he is released from prison after serving 25 years of a life sentence for killing a school bully. His release has been paid for by an old friend who then tries to get him out of town. Jay refuses and gets himself a normal job, but everyone who knew him way back when keeps telling him he's not wanted and he should just leave.

The description of the book is a little misleading. Jay doesn't try to get his revenge by living well. He gets his revenge by killing everyone who screwed him over. He killed the bully in defense of his friends, but they all hung him out to dry at the trial, leaving him to take the rap alone. Almost immediately, he begins stalking and systematically eliminating these cowards.

The story is told in present day and flashbacks to Jay's childhood before and during the tormenting by the bully. Pluck sets a breakneck pace, but I began to jumble who was on Jay's side and who wasn't. It didn't help that in the present day some of the characters' motivations were a bit of a muddle. After a while, I started to notice repetition in word use. Everything in a 50 page stretch smelled like sulfur, and almost every character's face at one point experienced rictus.

Pluck created some interesting characters and is a propulsive writer, so I'd say this book is a 3.5 instead of a flat 3. It's a very pulpy and violent revenge thriller of the kind you don't see much anymore.

Monday, October 9, 2017

Song of the Week: First I Look at the Purse

Sometimes I find myself listening to Soul Town on SiriusXM. This week's song is one I hadn't heard of before until I listened to that station.

Here are The Contours with "First I Look at the Purse.".

Monday, October 2, 2017

Song of the Week: Hard Lesson Learned

This is one of the more country-fied songs from Lay It On Down, the new Kenny Wayne Shepherd album. It's a pretty good song and this performance is from the concert I went to in August. I'm glad somebody was able to capture a couple of the songs from that great show and share them.

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Silent City by, Alex Segura

Segura captures Miami and its different neighborhoods really well. Pete Fernandez is a compelling character who feels lived-in. You feel his pains and enjoy the beers he does. Some of the other characters aren't as well drawn and the story sometimes fell into cliche. I also found it a little annoying that every chapter had some reference to a little known band. Overall, the book was briskly paced and very readable. I'll be reading the next Fernandez book.

Monday, September 25, 2017

Monday, September 18, 2017

Monday, September 11, 2017

Song of the Week: Wander This World

This week's song is from blues guitarist Jonny Lang. He hit it big in the late '90's when he was still in his teens with songs like "Lie to Me" and "Still Rainin'". This week's song is from his second big label album Wander This World which contains the aforementioned "Still Rainin'".  It's the title track "Wander This World" which I hadn't heard before it popped up on Bluesville the other week.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

The Savior's Game by, Sean Chercover

A disappointing end to Sean Chercover's Daniel Byrne trilogy. I thoroughly enjoyed the first book, but each book has been a step down from there. Gone are the strong characters and moral complexities of The Trinity Game. Gone are the global conspiracies and globe-trotting adventures of The Devil's Game. Now, Daniel Byrne finds himself in a mystical land where everyone has super powers and thinks that life on Earth is just a dream. There is a lot of metaphysical double-speak and exposition to set up what people know and an do in the world, called "Source", but then Daniel barely does anything in that land.

Also returning is the repetition of the verse from James that "faith without works is dead". Chercover doesn't push the false doctrine of works righteousness like he does in the first book, but it's a prime example of the muddle that is character motivations in this book. Byrne easily rejected the priesthood in the first book and doesn't believe in God in this book, so why would he repeat this scripture verse over and over? He has no faith, nor is he searching for one, so it makes no sense. Also, there is a heel turn by one of the characters from earlier in the series that serves no purpose except to put obstacle in his way that Byrne easily overcomes and create a race-against-the clock climax.

Chercover is a talented writer who can create complex characters and strong plots, but The Savior's Game is a complete misfire.

Monday, September 4, 2017

Song of the Week: Work Song

Happy Labor Day. To celebrate the day, here is Cannonball Adderley with "Work Song".

Saturday, September 2, 2017

The American Spirit, by David McCullough

The American Spirit, a collection of speeches by historian David McCullough, is an inspirational walk through American history. McCullough talks about why history is not just a collection of facts and dates, but the story of the people who lived before us and why reading history is the antidote for hubris. It is not just a book about history, but about why our American experiment truly is exceptional in world history. There is no other country on earth that knows the exact date of her birth and the names of those responsible for it. We can never spend too much time learning about the Revolutionary era and what those who lived in it thought.

Since the book is a collection of speeches given over a 25 year period to different audiences, there is some repetition of anecdotes and some places where he dwells on the surface instead of digging deep into his topic. But overall, this is worth a read.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Mr. Kiss and Tell, by Rob Thomas and Jennifer Graham

The second book in the Veronica Mars series follows closely behind the first. In this one, Veronica is hired by the Neptune Grand to investigate a woman who claims she was raped and beaten at the swanky hotel. Of course, once she settles the case to the satisfaction of the hotel, she continues to investigate the crime to get justice for the victim.

This book may be a stronger one than the first in the series. It still relies on characters from the TV show and movie popping up to give readers a jolt of familiarity, but the character of Veronica has a bit more life on the page. Still, it's a little annoying that it follows the trope from tie-in novels that almost every character involved in the story is someone from the show. It's a good novel and refreshing to read a crime story that can deliver thrills and emotion without sex, violence, and profanity.

Monday, August 28, 2017

Song of the Week: Believe

This week's song is from Kenny Wayne Shepherd's fourth album, The Place Your're In. A lot of people consider this album a misstep, or, if you're not as generous, a disappointment. It steps away from the blues/rock of his first three and is mostly a rock album. Additionally, Kenny sings most of the songs himself, except for two that he brings Noah Hunt in. In my opinion, these are the two strongest songs on the album. This week's song is one of those two.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

The Path to Power, by Robert A. Caro

Some men seek power for what they can do with it. Some seek it just to have it. Robert Caro's The Path to Power firmly plants Lyndon Johnson in the second camp. Chronicling LBJ's life from birth (1908) through his first failed attempt at a Senate seat (1941), Caro's exhaustive book repeatedly shows a man obsessed with power and willing to do anything to get it.

Caro extensively lays out what life was like in the Texas Hill Country while Johnson was growing up and during The Depression. The government did a great many things for the poor in this part of Texas such as bringing electricity and paved roads, and you could start to get the idea that Johnson saw the federal government as a great benefactor. But that theory is dashed by his actions as a secretary to Congressman Dick Kleberg. Johnson, and many Southern Democrats, viewed New Deal money as "free money" because it was mostly Northern states who supplied it. Since they were so willing to do so, many Southern states fed at the overflowing trough.

No, Johnson was a son of a bitch almost his whole life. Caro details many examples of his poor behavior at school, including an incident where, when a classmate refused to give little LBJ his pie, Johnson stayed behind during recess and ate the boy's pie while the other kids were playing. He then promptly went outside without even wiping the crumbs from his mouth. Johnson was also abusive to his underlings and downright hostile to Lady Bird. He overreacted to any kind of punishment and was frequently disobedient to his parents.

Even though he was disliked by many, he was able to engender loyalty among a select few. He always sucked up to people above him and occasionally staffers sacrificed any kind of life they had for him.

Johnson had a knack for getting himself into positions of power. He didn't always start out at the top, but he found a way to get himself in charge of handing out jobs. First at college, then as head of the Texas branch of the National Youth Administration. At these positions, and others, he was able to spread people loyal to him across a wide area and put himself at the center of all things. Then, when it came time for him to make the jump to a leadership role, his minions were everywhere.

Caro's book is full of interesting details, but covering 34 years in nearly 900 pages, there is a bit of repetition and bloat. While things like Johnson's lineage and life in the Hill Country provide context for Johnson's actions, the detail is excruciating and could easily be pared down. Also, there is a large segment of Johnson's work at the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee where Caro details almost every cent sent to congressional candidates and their telegram replies to Johnson.

I will probably read the other volumes in Caro's series on Johnson, but because of the length and how much of a jerk LBJ was, I'll probably take a break before I do so.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Song of the Week: Born With A Broken Heart

Last Wednesday (8/16), I saw Kenny Wayne Shepherd in Morristown, NJ again. As when I saw him in 2014, he put on a great show with a mix of old and new songs, six from the new album, and some blues standards. If he's ever in your area, I recommend you go see him.

This week's song is a song from his first album, Ledbetter Heights, and it's the song that was in my head for the whole week leading up to the concert. Thankfully, he played it.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Monday, July 31, 2017

Song of the Week: Baby Got Gone

Kenny Wayne Shepherd is releasing a new album this week, so this week's song is one of the tracks from it. Take a listen.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Song of the Week: Got My Mind Set On You

This week's song is from George Harrison in the 1980's. It definitely has the '80's sound with the drum machine in the background. I assume like many people my age, I became aware of this song through Weird Al's parody "Six Words Long".

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Soul Circus by, George Pelecanos

Soul Circus is the third book in Pelecanos's Strange/Quinn series. Strange is hired by Granville Oliver's defense attorney to help keep Oliver from getting the death penalty. Strange takes the case for the money and to make up for something he did in his far past. And Terry Quinn is helping his girlfriend, and fellow private investigator, search for a missing girl. But these stories are basically the hook Pelecanos needs to write about the epidemic of gun violence in Washington, D.C..

I still haven't made my mind up about Pelecanos. I loved Right as Rain, but everything else I've read by him hasn't reached me in the same way. He definitely has the street patois down and knows the ins and outs of gangs, investigations, and straw purchases.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

The Force by, Don Winslow

All Denny Malone wanted to be was a good cop.

Don Winslow's The Force is the story of the fall of a dirty cop. Denny Malone runs the Manhattan North Division's Task Force as its undisputed king, but things aren't all rosy in his kingdom. Set against the backdrop of Ferguson, Freddie Gray, and a fictional shooting by an NYPD cop, extra scrutiny is being paid to all NYPD task forces by the community, the brass, the mayor's office, and Internal Affairs. Pretty soon, Malone is neck deep in a pile of crap.

As always, Winslow's prose is tight and punchy. Even though I sped through the first 100 pages, I felt it was a lot more establishing the world and the character of Denny Malone than anything actually happening. At that point, it kicked into high gear.

In the back third of the book, The Shield's Vic Mackey kept popping into my head. In many ways, Malone and Mackey are similar, but with distinctions. Malone is the stereotypical dirty cop. He first starts by being extra violent with some offenders, then takes freebies, then finally starts taking and being a courier for bribes. Mackey was a more nuanced dirty, where he let certain crimes go and protected certain gangs if they played by his rules (no selling in school zones, no kids involved, you snitch when I tell you to snitch). He does it to provide for himself and his team in their retirement. Malone does it because everyone does it (and to provide for his family). Both their downfalls are initiated by stepping over the line from dirty cop to outright criminal:  The Shield's Armenian Money Train and Malone ripping 50 kilos of high quality heroin from a scumbag. The other difference is in how they react when trapped. At one point Mackey realizes what he did was wrong and he takes actions to first protect his team, then his family, then himself. Malone never admits that he's as bad as the skells he puts away and, reluctantly at first, burns down everyone he knows in order to save his own hide.

For readers of this blog to hear me compare something to The Shield, know that's high praise from me. You'll also know how much I love Don Winslow. This is another great book by a guy at the top of his craft.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Since We Fell by, Dennis Lehane

On a Tuesday in May, in her thirty-seventh year, Rachel shot her husband dead.

Now that's how you write an opening sentence. Dennis Lehane's latest novel is part literary character study, part thriller. It starts out detailing Rachel's life: the emotional damage inflicted on her by her mother, her very public nervous breakdown on live TV, and the slow rebuilding of her psyche by her husband. Then, while out to lunch with a friend, she notices her husband exiting a building across the street - when he's supposed to be on a plane to London. The story then goes through a lot of twists and turns to it's exciting conclusion.

Some people may thing the first part of the book is slow, but I guess that depends on what you're looking for. It's a great look into how Rachel got to that point and what makes her tick. In a standard thriller, it would probably be morseled out as the story goes on instead of being an infodump at the beginning. I didn't mind it, but then again, I think Dennis Lehane could write about paint drying in a riveting way.

This is the first book of Lehane's I've read outside of the Kenzie/Gennario series, and I enjoyed it. Probably not as much as that series, but I did like it.

Monday, July 3, 2017

Song of the Week: The Egg

This week's song of the week is another one from the musical 1776. This one is from Adams, Franklin, and Jefferson called "The Egg".

Monday, June 26, 2017

Song of the Week: She Said, She Said

Readers of this blog will know that I'm a huge Beatles fan, so it's no surprise that I'm loving the new SiriusXM Beatles channel. Along with Beatles songs and songs from the former Beatles' solo careers, they also play people who influenced the band and musicians doing covers of Beatles tunes. This week's song is one of those:  Gov't Mule playing "She Said, She Said". It's a pretty good interpretation of the song.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Sunday, June 11, 2017

2017 Stanley Cup Champions Pittsburgh Penguins

The Pittsburgh Penguins have just become the first team in nearly 20 years to win back-to-back Cups. It wasn't an easy road, having to face teams with two of the three best records in the regular season (the Penguins were #2) and tons of injuries to key players. The Penguins have now played 39 playoff games over the past two years; the most ever by any team in any sport over a two year period.

Congrats to the Western Conference champion Nashville Predators. Nobody expected them to make it this far, but it shows how a great defense and a hot goalie can take you far in the playoffs.

Friday, June 9, 2017

MST3k Friday: Hercules

I'm still working my way through the new season of Mystery Science Theatre and I still love it. When I saw they did a Hercules movie I got so excited because they did a great job with the three Hercules movies in the original run. This movie, The Loves of Hercules, stars Jayne Mansfield and her husband Mickey Hargitay. It was funny and well done like the others. One of the things I've noticed about this season of MST3k is each episode has one riff that calls back to a famous riff from the original run.

I couldn't find a clip online of The Loves of Hercules, but here's a clip from one of the first Hercules movies.

"Look, I don't need the golden fleece. You keep it."

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Men at Work by, George F. Will

A nice, warm tribute to America's favorite pastime. There are some great tidbits of baseball trivia and some fun stories about the game's history, but a lot of the book is a behind-the-scenes look at how each different baseball discipline approaches the game. Will talks to a manager (Tony La Russa), a pitcher (Orel Hershiser), a hitter (Tony Gwynn), and a strong defender (Cal Ripken, Jr) about all the tiny details they have mastered to be the tops of their particular crafts.

A fun read for anyone who loves the game.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Song of the Week: Seaons

Soundgarden and Audioslave frontman Chris Cornell killed himself last Thursday at the age of 52. We'll never know what drove him to this place, but the world is a poorer place without his immense talent.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Song of the Week: I Will Never Let You Down

This week marks the first album from the band Fastball since 2009. I hope it's as good as their others. This is one of the songs on the new record.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Song of the Week: Voodoo Working

Samantha Fish is a great new talent on the blues scene. She's a great guitar player and that voice! Here's a song from her new album.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Colonel Roosevelt, by Edmund Morris

The third volume of Edmund Morris's Theodore Roosevelt series is as well-researched and written as the first two. It covers Roosevelt's life from 1910 and his exit of the White House until his death in 1919. At times, Morris provides too much detail that the book is almost a day-by-day account of Roosevelt's life, which bogs down the narrative in spots. The epilogue, which discusses the fates of his children and the historical impact of TR, is as beautiful as anything Morris wrote in the first two volumes.

Monday, May 1, 2017

Song of the Week: The Blues is Here to Stay

Another song this week by Tab Benoit. I love this one because it's got a nice groove and pays tribute to the rich history of the blues.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Song of the Week: You Need Love

If there was any doubt how much Led Zeppelin was influenced by blues (which there isn't), check out "You Need Love" by Muddy Waters. How similar is this song to "Whole Lotta Love"?

Friday, April 21, 2017

MST3K Friday: Reptilicus

The new season of MST3k is pretty close to tone to the original. It even has silly songs during the host segments! This song is from the first episode "Reptilicus".

Friday, April 14, 2017

MST3k Friday: Revival League Edition

Today is a special day. Not only because it's Good Friday, but because Netflix is releasing the first new episodes of Mystery Science Theater 3000 since August 1999. As a backer of the Kickstarter campaign, I got early access to the episodes. I am sworn to secrecy about the new season, but I'll offer a few quick thoughts.

  • It feels like classic MST3k
  • The volume of jokes seems to be higher than in the original series
  • Crow's voice sounds similar to what we're used to.
  • Tom's voice will take some getting used to
  • I don't know if it's because they're in the same vocal register or because they're new voices, but I had a hard time figuring out who said what riff in the theater.
  • I don't understand (yet) why the Mads have a house band.
Do yourself a favor and check out the new episodes on Netflix. I know I'll finish the episodes of the season I haven't watched yet.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Song of the Week: Mississippi Blues

Here's a very tight blues jam by Jarekus Singleton at the Festival of Discovery in 2012. His bass player is pretty darn good, too. I wonder when he's going to put out a new album.

Friday, March 31, 2017

MST3K Friday: Village of the Giants

I watched this movie last week and it was a pretty funny one. You see some stars in MST3K movies, but how about Beau Bridges and Ron Howard in the same movie? You get that in this one.

Here's a collection of bits with Mike and the bots making fun of Tommy Kirk's tiny pants.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Blind to Sin by, Dave White

What ever happened to a good old silent alarm?

Jackson Donne has spent the year since the events of An Empty Hell in prison. Being a former cop, a PI, and the scapegoat for a political assassination, nearly everyone in prison is gunning for Donne, but he has protection from Matt Herrick's father, Kenneth. Counter to Donne's wishes, the pair are released from prison, but the terms of their release include performing a heist on the Federal Reserve. Soon Matt Herrick is drawn into the pair's orbit and finds himself trapped in an explosive web of lies and family history.

With this novel, Dave White shows himself a true student of the genre. The heist theme is straight out of Donald Westlake, to whom White pays tribute by naming each part of the book after a different Parker novel.

Raymond Chandler once wrote about the private eye "down these mean streets a man must go who is not himself mean, who is neither tarnished nor afraid." But modern authors are turning Chandler's famous sentence on its head. Ray Banks put his PI, Cal Innes, through so much physical punishment that he was a cripple in Beast of Burden. Dave White seems to be putting Chandler's maxim to the test by putting Donne through so much emotional punishment to see if the mean streets can tarnish the man and turn him mean.

The history of the genre only informs and enriches the story. The actions of the characters are original (sometimes surprising) and White's characters feel lived-in. One criticism I have is multiple characters' reactions to events are described by an icy feeling in their chest or something stewing in their bowels. Also, more than one character counted to 10 or 20 before reacting in order to slow their heart rate and not be impulsive. I don't know how often this happened in the novel, but it happened a number of times in a short number of chapters that it felt repetitive and stuck out.

As always, White's books are enjoyable page-turners with actual depth. This one comes recommended.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

The Thousand Dollar Tan Line by, Jennifer Graham

Paradise doesn't just get lost in Neptune. It gets razed to the ground.

Spring break and college students descend on Neptune, transforming the beaches and boardwalks into a frenzied, week-long rave. When a girl disappears from a party, Veronica Mars is called in to investigate. The house the girl vanished from belongs to a man with serious criminal ties, and soon Veronica is plunged into a dangerous underworld of drugs and organized crime. When a major break in the investigation has a shocking connection to Veronica's past, the case hits closer to home than she ever imagined.

Writing a tie-in novel to a popular TV show or movie is a tricky tightrope to walk. The author must both serve the source material, capturing the nuance of the screen character, and the casual audience who many not be familiar with the show. Graham and Thomas do a good job with The Thousand Dollar Tan Line. Veronica's sarcastic sense of humor and the banter with her father are hallmarks of the television show and are both rendered well here. There are many cameos from almost everyone in the show, and only one or two seem gimmicky. For non-fans, the mystery itself is compelling and twisty. The "shocking connection to Veronica's past" mentioned above will resonate with fans of the show and movie, but it explained well enough that even fresh eyes will empathize with Veronica.

The novel is well plotted and the characters have depth, but there are moments that are a bit over-written. This doesn't detract from the overall enjoyability of the book. I will read the second book in the series at some point.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Song of the Week: Red Solo Cup

This week is St. Patrick's Day. I wonder how many red Solo cups are going to be sold around college campuses this week.

Friday, March 10, 2017

MST3K Friday: The Thing That Couldn't Die

I watched this movie last week. Not too bad.

"The king's men approacheth."
"You're all evil and I hope you all have snacks."

Monday, March 6, 2017

Song of the Week: Evil Is As Evil Does

I first heard this song on SiriusXM's BB King's Bluesville station. Apocalypse Blues Revue is a band consisting of the former drummer and guitarist from Godsmack (Shannon Larkin and Tony Rombola), plus a bassist and frontman. While writing for Godsmack's 2010 album, Larkin and Rombola were burned out by hard rock and took to jamming in their South Florida rehearsal spot. During one impromptu session, the drummer laid down a slow, simmering groove, and another side of the guitar player reared its head. "I couldn't believe it," smiles Shannon. "I didn't even know he was into blues or could play the way he does. My reaction was immediate. We had to officially start a blues band.”

The self-titled debut album is a mix of grinding blues, traditional shuffle, and others. At certain times, I could detect the influence of Jim Morrison and The Doors in the vocals. Overall, it's a solid debut, but there are definitely two songs that stand above the rest. This week's song "Evil Is As Evil Does" is one of those songs, and the first of theirs I heard.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

John Quincy Adams by, Paul C. Nagel

John Quincy Adams was in many ways the first resume president. He was the United States's minister to four countries (the Netherlands, Prussia, Russia, the United Kingdom), United States Senator from Massachusetts, and Secretary of State before becoming President. After his single term in office, he is famously the only former President to become a member of the House, serving nine terms and seventeen years until his death in 1848. Many people those days, and historians these days, consider him a failure as a President and a curmudgeonly figure, but the outpouring of national grief after his death was surpassed only by Abraham Lincoln's in the 19th Century.

With John Adams as his father and someone as remarkable as Abigail as his mother, Adams was compelled to make something of himself at an early age. He traveled across the ocean to Europe twice before the age of 20, and even traveled from St. Petersburg back to Paris alone at age 14. He became a giant in the political arena, but all he wanted was literary acclaim. JQA loved books, frequently wrote poetry, and constantly lamented to his diary about the lack of time to read and write.

The book is full of great details that I never knew before (or had forgotten). John Quincy Adams served in the House, Senate, and as President, but he was almost a member of the Supreme Court. In 1811, James Madison nominated him for a vacancy on The Court. His approval was almost assured by the Senate, but Adams was serving as ambassador to Russia at the time and declined citing his wife's pregnancy and the hard travel they would have to face to return to Washington. Adams did confide to his brother and his diary that he felt he was too partisan to be an impartial judge, so his wife's pregnancy was simply a convenient cover story. Since he remained an ambassador, he was available to negotiate the treaty that ended the War of 1812 (much like his father negotiating the end of the Revolutionary War)

As Secretary of State, Adams was responsible for writing and promoting what became known as the Monroe Doctrine. He put in place the agreements that established the border between the US and Canada and the annexation of Florida from Spain. He is arguably the most important foreign policy figure in American history.

But he really won the hearts of Americans as a congressman. He was instrumental in directing funds that established the Smithsonian and was one of the most vocal opponents to slavery. Do yourself a favor and watch Anthony Hopkins's portrayal of JQA during the Amsitad case from the 1997 movie.

One of the things that most struck me about this book was how Abigail Adams was presented. In every other book I've read about the founding or the Adams family, she is shown to be a smart, feisty, remarkable woman. It this book, she comes across as an overbearing, hectoring woman constantly fretting about people falling into moral decay. Perhaps it is because most other stories are told through John's eyes, but this one is through the eyes of her son.

Nagel's biography balances JQA's private and public life to provide the reader a good idea of what he was like. There were several points that Nagel constantly repeated (JQA's want of a literary career, his frustrated relationship with his mother) that became grating after a while. However, it didn't detract much from the overall book.

If you're interested in American history, this book is a worthwhile read.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Song of the Week: So Much In Love

Here's a nice tune for Valentine's Day. It's one of the a capella music groups that influenced Billy Joel in his writing of the Innocent Man album. If you listen to this song and "For The Longest Time" back to back, you can really here it.

Here are The Tymes with "So Much In Love".

Monday, February 6, 2017

Song of the Week: Last Kiss

A number of years ago, Pearl Jam had a hit with the song "Last Kiss". Most people these days are probably more familiar with their version than they are with the original by Wayne Cochran. Cochran's version was released in 1961, but failed to do well on the charts. It was then recorded again in 1964 by J Frank Wilson and the Cavaliers, which was a hit for the group. Theirs is the version of the song we feature this week.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Song of the Week: Day After Day

For some reason I woke up Saturday morning with this song in my head. I thought I'd share. According to Wikipedia, the song was written and sung by Pete Ham and produced by George Harrison, who plays some of the slide guitar parts of the song along with Ham. After reading that, I can definitely hear Harrison's touch in the slide guitar solo toward the end.

Here is Badfinger with "Day After Day".

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Ceremony by, Robert B. Parker

"She's a goddammed whore," Harry Kyle said.

Kyle's daughter, April, has dropped out of school, ran away from home, and become a prostitute in a seedy part of Boston. He doesn't seem eager to get his daughter back, but his wife is a little more caring, so she hires Spenser to find her.

Ceremony is the ninth Spenser novel by Robert B. Parker, and the first to feature April Kyle. As with all his novels, it's full of tough guy antics, beer, cooking, and interesting moral questions. What would you do with a teenage girl who is working as an underage prostitute, but doesn't want to go home and nobody at home wants her? The next paragraph discusses Spenser's solution, so if you don't want a book from 1982 spoiled, feel free to skip it.

After much thought and debate with his girlfriend, Susan Silverman, Spenser comes up with an ingenious answer to the question. He introduces April to a madam he knows in New York City. April's only marketable skill seems to be having sex for money, so Spenser figures why not let her do it in a nice place and get paid well? Instead of turning half a dozen tricks a night in alleys or parked cars, April will get to do one a night (at most) in a nice hotel and get paid well for it. She can also leave whenever she wants, which is much more understanding than your average pimp. Putting aside that underage prostitution is wrong, Spenser's solution is a humane one and probably provides the best future for April. If he returned her to her home, her parents wouldn't do anything to change, April would run away again to the life and probably get hooked on drugs or get beaten to death by her pimp or a john. With the madam, April would have a sense of security and a freedom she wouldn't have otherwise.

Two additional books feature April Kyle, Taming a Sea-Horse (#13) and Hundred-Dollar Baby (#34), which will probably be my next two Spensers.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Song of the Week: I Done Quit Getting Sloppy Drunk

It's a couple weeks into the new year. How are your resolutions going? Did you resolve to take better care of yourself? Perhaps you wanted to drink less. Well, then here's a fun blues tune for you from Anson Funderburgh and The Rockets.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Red Right Hand by, Chris Holm

The man staggered into the lobby of the Albuquerque field office shortly after three a.m.

I've been lax in my book reviews lately, so let's see if I can get back into the swing of it. Red Right Hand is the sequel to Holm's prior book, The Killing Kind.  Both feature protagonist Michael Hendricks, a former soldier who is now a hit man of hit men. If Hendricks finds out there's a bounty on your head, he'll kindly inform you and offer to take care of the hitter - for ten times the contract price. In Kind, a shadowy conglomerate of mob bosses finds out about Hendricks and puts a bounty on his head. Chaos ensues.

We pick up Red Right Hand not too long after the events of Kind. Hendricks is now on a mission to take down the syndicate that tried to kill him in the first book. In the meantime, after a terrorist attacks the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, FPI Charlie Thompson notices a long thought dead federal witness in one of the eyewitness videos. Her bosses don't want her to pursue the witness, so she gets in touch with the only man she trusts to keep him safe:  Michael Hendricks.

As with his other books, Holm does an outstanding job describing the action sequences, but the core of the story is the relationship between his characters. Hendricks is more of a loner than in the first book, but his relationship with his new teammate envisions a new level of humanity for the damaged ex-soldier. The geography of San Francisco is presented well, too. I had many flashbacks of my recent trip there.

As with Holm's other books, this one comes recommended.

Monday, January 9, 2017