Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The Company We Keep, by Robert Baer & Dayna Baer

This is really a set of slightly inter-related essays, each chapter alternating between spouse. I was pleasantly surprised by how well written and easy to read this book is, and although it isn't at all what I'd expected (i.e., I'd anticipated a more coherent auto-biography) it was worth reading.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

I am a Japanese Writer, by Dany Laferriere

This is a wonderful novel, but it felt a bit odd to read.   I believe that's because I've grown accustomed to the mystery novels I tend toward during my business travel.   They are always linear, as readers of mysteries expect. Mr Laferriere's writing doesn't resolve conflict at the rate and pace of a mystery.

I fear I've confused the reader, so perhaps a small sample will help:

"I have a special way of cooking salmon.  It has nothing to do with the salmon itself. What's special is me. I put a very small amount of water in a pot with the juice of one lemon, thin slices of onion, fresh garlic, salt, pepper, hot chilis and a large ripe tomato that I crush, keeping only the juice. I boil everything together for no more than three minutes. I lower the heat to minimum and place the salmon in the sauce. Then I leave the kitchen and come back twenty minutes later to begin cooking the rice and the vegetables. But this time, I don't leave. I stand and watch the salmon simmering. For no good reason, I start worrying. About what? About everything. Why? I can't say. Don't worry about my worrying. I ask questions, then answer them myself to forget I'm alone. Otherwise, I'd be dead silent. It's incredible all the things you have to do just to maintain life. Right now, wave after wave of worry is washing in and threatening to drown me. I'm sweating anxiety. I start worrying about my mother, back home. I didn't like the way her voice sounded the last time we talked on the phone. Her small, frail voice. I know my mother's voice is never strong, but that time it was really alarming. That call dates back a month, but I'm only reacting now. I've been busy, it's true. Busy doing what? I don't remember. Right now, I don't have anything to do but watch my salmon simmering. She told me she wished I had a more secure job, and that makes me sad. Now, even after my fiftieth birthday, I still don't know what kind of writer I am. I hadn't thought of this before, but back home, what are they going to say about me having become a Japanese writer? I watch the salmon slowly firming up. I've ended up communicating my anxiety to the fish. Now I'll have to eat anxious salmon one more time. I don't even know if the anxiety comes from starting a new book or from becoming a Japanese writer. And there lies the fundamental question: what is a Japanese writer? Someone who lives and writes in Japan? Or someone who was born in Japan and writes in spite of it (there are nations that are happy without writing)? Or someone who was not born in Japan, who doesn't know the language, but who decided one fine day to become a Japanese writer? That's my situation. I have to get it through my head: I am a Japanese writer. As long as I'm not that naked writer who enters the forest of sentences with no weapon other than a kitchen knife."

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Reading Michael Chabon, by Helene Meyers

When I heard Professor Meyers speak at a Southwestern University event some time ago, I was immediately impressed by her obvious intelligence, wit and energy. So when I recently saw that she'd written this book -- which I'd otherwise not heard of -- I felt compelled to read it.

And happy I did! This is a genre I'd not previously encountered: the "pop lit book club." The idea is to help book club readers (and students) keep track of the plot lines and characters of specific novelists, and provide a connecting fabric to associated commentary, other works, and reviews. Neat idea.

And Professor Myers does a fine job of it.

It helps, I suppose, that I'm already a huge fan of Mr Chabon. If you've not yet read his work, I'd start with my personal favorite, Gentlemen of the Road.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Saturday, March 19, 2011

The Secret Soldier, by Alex Berenson

This suspense novel features Mr Berenson's oft-used hero, John Wells. Wells is an ex-spy who takes a mercenary case for the King of Saudi Arabia who decides to trust him over anyone in his own Kingdom. Hmmmm, well I never said Mr Berenson writes credible novels.

In spite of its obvious pitfalls (if it were credible there would be few scenes in the book), it was a pretty good novel of the genre.

Disturb, by JA Konrath

Oh yuck. There, that sums up this novel. The concept: a pill which obviates the need for sleep, and enhances performance too. Billions to be made. So it has some nasty side effects: bribing or intimidating a single FDA investigator will fix that, right? Because it takes only a single subject to form an appropriate test set for a major new drug release, and there are no data involved, just the voice of a single investigator.

Oh, and it isn't a spoiler to say that the dialog between the test subject and his brother is a case of multiple personality, because it was too obvious to be in doubt.

Sadly, I overpaid at $2.99 -- probably could have gotten a supermarket tabloid and learned all about Charlie Sheen's antics of the day for the same price.

Killer, by Stephen Carpenter

The concept of this mystery is that real murders occur that copy cat novels written by our hero, Jack Rhodes. Unfortunately for Jack, the real murders actually occurred prior to his books' publication dates. Which makes him a suspect. Especially since they seem to have been committed during a year -plus drinking blackout period.

It is actually a pretty good mystery. The obligatory "beautiful female attorney falls for damaged client after just one look" was a bit off putting. But still a B- overall.

Origin, by JA Konrath

This is a weird one: the US government is hiding Satan (for lack of a better descriptor) in an underground bunker in New Mexico (why is it always New Mexico for these things?). Our hero is a polyglot linguist, drafted to interpret the monster's language as he wakes up.

What really bothered me about this was the plot line that has the featured characters prioritize their own sorry lives above the betterment of humanity - I like my heroes to be heroic, not pathetic. And that it is set up for a sequel. Which I won't read even if offered, as this one was, at 99 cents.

The First Rule, by Robert Crais

This mystery novel features Joe Pike as the heroic, albeit damaged investigator into the murder of an old colleague and his family. It follows Mr Crais' formula for his Pike mysteries, and that works just fine for me.

The List, by JA Konrath

Some of this book was interesting and fun, some was annoying; overall I'd give it a solid C.   The concept is that children were cloned from DNA of famous figures:  Abe Lincoln, Thomas Jefferson, Joan of Arc, and the like.   An evil, wealthy political king maker seeks to kill them off lest his secret (which I won't spill here least readers want to spend the $2.99 to read it themselves) be revealed.  

Clearly set up for a sequel.  Which I'd read for 99 cents -- but I'd pass on for another $2.99.    Which, I suppose, is a crisper evaluation than a letter grade after all.

Follow the Stone, by John Locke

This was just a delightful story, which happens to be a Western. The story telling is strong and that is more important than the genre, so if you're anti- cowboy stories, it might still work for you.

Surprisingly by an otherwise unimpressive author; Mr Locke is on his game when he departs from evil secret agent assassins and instead just tells a good tale.

Saving Rachel, by John Locke

Even though this suspense novel included my least favorite hero, Donovan Creed, it has such an interesting plot line that it was a worthwhile read.    The idea is that a man is forced to decide who lives between his kidnapped wife and mistress.   The ending descended into (what I've now seen as) the usual implausible Creed scenarios, but still it was worth the 99 cents.

Lethal Experiment, by John Locke

Mr Locke's hero, Donovan Creed, is an unpleasant, unlikeable bad guy.   Not the kind of nice guy bad guy you sometimes see in movies, no this fellow is a full out psychopathic antisocial bad human being.   And it disturbs me a bit that Mr Locke appears to have so much fun with all this bad.

So why read his books (there are two others from this very same vacation)?   Simple really:  for 99 cents, I got a quick read for a sunny day when I wasn't in the mood for anything deep, meaningful, or holding any redeeming social value.

Savages, by Don Winslow

This is a pretty good suspense novel, albeit with unusual heroes in a pair of pot dealers:  one ex military and the other an idealistic business person.  When their business is the object of a hostile takeover (by a Mexican gang), they go to war.   Would have liked a happier ending though.