Posts Tagged ‘Book review’

On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft” (2000©)  —  book review
Who hasn’t day-dreamed of writing the “great American novel” and becoming wealthy and celebrated?  Okay, maybe not me in over 40 years, but still…
Today’s book review is for “On Writing“, by Stephen King.  Yes, that Stephen King.  The horror novelist / writer.  Well, actually, he does write in other genres, too, but that’s the one I know him for.  This book came recommended to me by various sources – some “best of” lists and also a couple of blogs / sites I follow.  I found it on sale for $3 at my local Half-Price Books store, so I snatched it up.
The book is basically a three-part tome: King’s life leading up to writing, how to write well, and finally, advice on life and how to get started getting your writing published.  Part one is extremely interesting and amusing.  I got several belly laughs out of it.  Part two is mundane, yet (probably) useful.  I have already begun applying some of King’s suggestions in my own writing here on this blog.  Part three will probably be useful if I ever (again) imagine myself sitting down to write the great American novel or autobiography.  One of King’s recommendations is to write about what you know.  I’m afraid the only thing I know the most about is me.  (Sad, but true.)
So, final recommendation: very highly recommended!  Is this the finest book I’ve ever read on being a writer.  Yes!  With the qualification it is also the only book I’ve ever read on being a writer.  Having said that, it is a fast read at less than 300 pages and I found it enjoyable and informative.  And, of course, multiple quotes will appear on this blog in the future…
One last mention: King recommends all wanna-be writers start off by reading Strunk & White’s “The Elements of Style“.  (According to part 1 in the book, King is a former high school English teacher.  Go, figure.)  Fortunately, for cheapskates like me, the book (“Elements“) is out of copyright and you can find it in pdf format at multiple locations on the web.  At fewer than 30 pages, it should also be a quick read.  The book cover on Amazon looks very familiar, so maybe King’s book is the second book I’ve read on writing.  LOL…  I probably read “Elements” in high school and blotted the contents out of my memory.
On This Day In:
2017 Summer Pale
2016 Ain’t It Funny
2015 At Both Ends
2014 Whiner(s)
2013 Just Passing Through
2012 Dog-gone Heaven
2011 Occasional, Sad Results

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Will Rogers Says…”  —  book review
Will Rogers Says…” (1993©) is a book of quotations edited by Dr. Reba Collins who was the Director Emeritus of the Will Rogers Memorial and Research Center.  The book is small and short (barely 86 pages with photos), and it is also (obviously) both as very fast read and a very funny / amusing read.
Final recommendation: Highly Recommended!!  If you like social and political commentary, you will love this book.  I will, of course, be posting many of the quotes contained in this handy reference to plain spoken American humor.  LOL.
Two samples:
1)  Being serious, or being a good fellow, has got nothing to do with running this country, if the breaks are with you, you could be a laughing hyena and still have a great administration.
2)  Washington, D.C. papers say:  “Congress is deadlocked and can’t act.”  I think that is the greatest blessing that could befall this country.
[And thus Rogers presages the Trump Administration’s “booming” Stock Market and the Republican majority “Civil War” in Congress despite complete control of all three branches of the Federal Government.  Just saying…  —  KMAB]
On This Day In:
2015 Don’t Complain
2014 Nothing Is The Same
Orange October (XII) – Giants Win Game 7 (3 To 2) And World Series (4 To 3)
2013 Hours, Days, And Years
2012 In Kev Are In Hil
2011 No Game, Didn’t Really Happen
A Good Post

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Book Review: “Running Blind
Today’s book review is “Running Blind” (2000©) written by Lee Child.  This is the fourth in the Jack Reacher action / mystery series.  In this episode, Reacher is co-opted by the FBI to help them solve a serial murder case.  The case seems to be related to the military, hence the need to involve a former officer in the Military Police.
By “related” I mean the murders involve females who were sexually harassed while in the military.  The initial “perp” profile indicates it “might” be someone like Reacher because blah, blah, blah and he handled a bunch of these cases while he was in the service.   If fact, he is detained by the FBI because he seems to be a likely suspect.  He worked on the cases of a couple of the victims, so he seems to be a common thread.
The story follows what is becoming the standard story for this series: Reacher is dragged into something, he goes from being an unwilling participant to being a willing participant to being the brilliant “Sherlock Holmes” and solving the mystery at the end.  The problem with the series remains: there are already twenty plus books in the series and this is only number four, so there can be no personal tension, no matter how much the author tries to create a build-up.  We know he is going to live to be in the next book.
Having said this, the book is a good, fast read even though it felt longer than the earlier books in the series.  It weighs in at 519 pages in my paperback version.  If there is one difference in this episode, it is that we have a continuation of the story arc from the last book.  That arc is his love interest and the house he inherits from the father of the love interest.  Let’s just say, Reacher is a rolling stone, and leave it at that.  It is interesting because it is the first hint the books are not 100% stand-alone stories.  Does it “matter” in the grand scheme of things?  Not particularly.  Just interesting.
Final recommendation:  moderate to strong.  It is a good story, but I knew who the real perp was before the big resolution at the end of the book.  I didn’t know the how or the why, but I had pretty good ideas.  As an aside, I was expecting a super-twist at the end.  It didn’t happen.  Perhaps that’s why I was a little disappointed.  Anyway, I’m still looking forward to reading more books in the series.
On This Day In:
2016 There Is A Difference Between Dangerous And Frightening
2015 Always A Goal
2014 Standing Strong
2013 Shaken And Stirred
The Bird With The Broken Wing
2012 Friends In High Places
2011 Objective Independence

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Casca #6: The Persian – book review
This volume is number six in the “Casca: The Eternal Mercenary” book series.  “Casca #6: The Persian” (1982©) was written by Barry Sadler.  For those of you who haven’t read my other reviews, Casca is Casca Rufio Longinus, the Roman soldier who pierced the side of Jesus of Nazareth while he was being crucified.  Just before dying, Jesus tells Casca that he is happy in his role and that he will remain the same until they meet again.  Each volume tells some of Casca’s life over the last two thousand years as he awaits the second coming of Jesus.
Because Casca doesn’t age, every 20 or 30 years he must travel to avoid questions about why he doesn’t seem to get older.  In a prior volume (number 3), Casca was in China.  In this, he is returning to the West and pauses to deliver a message from the emperor of China to the King of the Persians warning of impending attacks from the Huns.  Casca falls into service for the King (Shapur II) and this covers the few years of that service.
This episode has two interesting sub-stories (for me).  The first involves a re-enactment of a battle tactic Casca first saw in China.  As the enemy advances, you have a line of “volunteers” step forward and cut their throats in front of the enemy.  This is said to surprise and then terrify the Hun warriors.  They turn to flee and are then defeated in detail as they try to retreat / run away.  Casca relates this tactic to Shapur who decides he wants to try it and see if it works.  He sends Casca out with an under-manned force, but with several times the number of “volunteers” as the Chinese used.  The tactic works again and Casca is able to defeat the Huns even though out-numbered by several times his own force.
The second sub-story is about Casca’s “curse”.  Because he cannot be killed, each volume has a point where the miracle / curse must be demonstrated.  In prior stories, Casca has been drowned, buried alive, poisoned, fed to crabs and had his heart cut out and one hand completely cut off.  In this episode, the king judges Casca to have become too popular with the army so he decides to trump up some charges of treason and then have Casca burned alive.  Of course Casca survives, but the execution and recovery are explained in graphic detail.  As a reader, you almost feel you are sharing Casca’s pain.
There is a third story-line which also ties back to the earlier Chinese episode, but I’ve already given too much of the story away.  Final recommendation: another strong recommendation.
On This Day In:
2014 Hey, I Resemble That Remark… (4!)
2013 Sit, Put, Until…
2012 Lessons For My Son
2011 Reaching The Right Audience
2010 Christmas Trees and Profession of Faith

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West Of Honor – book review
Today’s review is for “West Of Honor” (1978©), written by Jerry Pournelle.  Pournelle is a famous Science Fiction writer who not only wrote great individual novels, he also wrote story lines which spanned several books – much like Robert Heinlein’s “Lazarus Long” story / timeline.  In Pournelle’s case, the premise is that the United States and the Soviet Union come together to form a “CoDominium” to 1) control the Earth and the exploration of space; and, 2) maintain their relative positions in the “new” age of space exploration.  The “future” is strangely both dystopian and optimistic.  Dystopian in that surplus population is forced into space (as cheap labor) and optimistic as some of the planets manage to build workable civilizations.  The faster than light Alderson stardrives used in the book / series “was” invented in 2004 and first used to go beyond the solar system in 2008.  LOL!!  So far, not even close…
The main character in the time-line is a “Napoleonic” figure named John Christian Falkenberg.  This book is the story of Falkenberg’s pacification of a planet.  The story is told as a first person narrative by one of Falkenberg’s junior officers – Hal Slater.  This really is a “good, old-fashioned” modern war story which just happens to take place on another planet.  You read about planetary politics, military (and medical) technology and all that, but in the end war comes down to men bleeding and dying.  To the extent Pournelle is able to convince you to believe the technology, you buy the SciFi.  To the extent he convinces you to believe in the battles and the drama, you buy the war story.  I “bought into” both and enjoyed the book tremendously.  Interestingly, victory does not necessarily lead to a “happy” ending.
Full disclosure: I first read this book back in the early 1980’s.  I also read a number of other books in the series, but I no longer have those.  I’m not sure how or when I lost them, but I suppose it was when we moved to Liverpool (or back).  In any case, I’m probably going to end up re-buying them and re-reading them.  Final recommendation: highly recommended!!  Particularly if you like SciFi Military Lit.
On This Day In:
2014 Sources
2013 Three Essentials
2012 Just Looking
2011 Religious Lessons
2010 View From Under The Bus… (A mid-term report card on the Obama Administration. Long, but still worth reading for historical perspective.)

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Today’s post is kind of a tape delay.  The first book (“The Great Gatsby“) was finished a couple of weeks ago.  No real reason for the delay, except that I’ve been watching a fair amount of baseball and just haven’t made the time.  The second book (“The Prince“) was finished today.  The first movie (“The Caine Mutiny“) was watched on Saturday afternoon last, while the second (“Iron Man 3“) was watched yesterday. 
The Great Gatsby was written by F. Scott Fitzgerald (1925©) and is about a young man trying to find himself in New York in the 1920’s.  The man (Nick Carraway) is from the mid-west and goes east to seek his fortune in the big city.  It should be noted that he is already from a well-off family.  His job is in the city, but his residence is in a wealthy suburb where he meets the title character, a wealthy “business” man named Jay Gatsby.  Anyway, blah, blah, blah, life of extravagance / lost love / more blah, blah, / accident / death, end of story.

Widely considered a classic and “the great American novel”, the book is mostly read in high school and is now the basis for a soon to be released motion picture.  Actually, this is a remake.  There are four other versions, but one is “lost” (1926) and another is a made for TV (2000), so I’m not sure it really counts.  The most recent is from 1974 and starred Robert Redford as Gatsby.  I’ve never seen that version, so if I’m lucky, it’ll appear on TV soon as a promo for the new release which is due out this coming Friday.  The new version stars Leonardo DiCaprio as Gatsby and Tobey Maguire as Carraway.

I originally read this novel back in the Army when I hoped to get better educated in some of the “great” pieces of literature.  I escaped it while I was in high school.

Is it great?  No, at least I didn’t think so.  Is it a “classic”?  Yes.  When I first read it, I remember finishing it and thinking “Wow! That was a great book, but I have no idea what it will mean in my life because there was no basis for common experience.”  Okay, maybe a twenty year old sergeant in the Army didn’t think in those exact words, but that was the gist of my reaction.  Thirty plus years later, if you asked me what it was about, I’d have told you, “rich guys in the ’20’s”.  And that’s it…   So, was it worth reading again?  Only to the extent that it prepares me for watching the new movie.  Would I recommend reading it?  Yes, but with qualifications.  If you are interested in one of the great works of fiction by one of the bohemian writers from the early 20th century – definitely.  If you want to see a “crafted” novel (I’m not sure what that means, but I keep seeing the description in reader reviews) – definitely.   If you’re trying to better understand the American rich of the 1920’s – definitely.  If you’re trying to find a novel which will change your life?  Well, it didn’t do it for me back in the ’70’s and even less so with a second go.  Final recommendation – moderate recommend; but I’d wait and just go see the movie.  It will cause you less time from your life.  (I hope to review the movie next week, so you may want to hold off.)


The Prince” was written by Niccolò Machiavelli (1513).  Any book on politics which survives 400 years is bound to be considered a “classic” and this is (both considered and IS).  There are a multitude of observations about gaining and keeping power in the city/state of the Renaissance Era Italy.  I think, with a bit of careful consideration and some adaptation, many of Machiavelli’s ideas are still valid.  I rather doubt gathering one’s enemies in a room and strangling them, would be considered appropriate in this day and age – even in Italy.  Anyway, I found the book to be extremely interesting and I highly recommend it for its historical value even if not for its application in today’s world.

One negative for this version (Wordsworth Reference [1993©]) is the translation seems to be quite literal from Italian and therefore the language is extremely flowery which makes for difficult reading, but otherwise, it’s a fast read and well worth reading and consideration among the other classics in politics.  And, of course, this means you will now see Machiavellian quotes from time to time.


As mentioned above, I watched “The Caine Mutiny” on Saturday.  I must admit, I’ve seen the movie several times in my lifetime, but I never remember much about it except the roles played by Humphrey Bogart and José Ferrer.  Everyone else is good, too, but these two are great.  If you liked the military courtroom drama of “A Few Good Men” or “The Court-Martial of Billy Mitchell“, then I think you’ll like this movie too.  This is a CLASSIC Bogart role and you can’t honestly say you are a Bogart fan unless you’ve watched this movie.  Of course, Bogart’s testimony at the trial is what makes the movie.  This is a must-see movie!!


The second movie I’m reviewing is the recently released “Iron Man 3“.  In full disclosure mode, I must admit that I spent many hours of my childhood reading (and collecting) Marvel Comics, so of course I have a natural bias for ALL Marvel Comic movie adaptations.  Having said that, this is a VERY good movie!  It’s entertaining with a plot, comedy (slap-stick and quips), action (fights and explosions), excellent special effects and once again, Robert Downey, Jr. ROCKS as Tony Stark (the man inside the suit), particularly when he’s NOT inside the suit.

Was the movie accurate to the comics? No.  Particularly as it relates to the Mandarin (who is Chinese in the comics but British in the movie).  Does it matter?  Nah.  What did (slightly) miff me was that there were no power-rings.  Instead there was a weak terrorist group called “The Ten Rings”.  Really?  Really?  Nah, it didn’t work for me.  Other than that, I thought this was a sound effort, particularly after the “relative” let down (well, I was very let down) of “Iron Man 2“.  Again, is it great cinema: No.  Is it an entertaining movie: heck YEAH!  Final recommendation: Highly recommended!

I can’t wait for the DVD so I can have a marathon viewing!

Oh yeah, in the Disney “Small World” vein: José Ferrer was in “The Caine Mutiny” and his son (who is a virtual ringer), Miguel José Ferrer, is in “Iron Man 3“.  Daddy was terrific.  Son, less so.

On This Day In:
2012 God’s Requirements
2011 Greater Purity

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My son, James, collects comic books.  Not comic books like I used to collect – monthly issues for $.10, $.12, $.15 and then a quarter.  He collects the actual books which are consolidated versions of the single monthly issues which I used to buy.  (Back in my day, they didn’t have consolidated versions…)  Anyway, he’s been passing them on to me by the foot-load –  I have about two and a half foot worth stacked in various places around the house. 

I’ve started to read them, so I’ve decided to start passing along my comments here.  I’ve read a few of the books but not included them because I generally felt they were too trivial to bother noting, but I’ve changed my mind.  I’m not sure of why.  I’m still considering the reasons in my own head.

Hawkman – Omnibus Volume 1 (2011©)
This book is almost 700 pages long!  Obviously, this is not a “comic” from my day.  It is, in fact, a work of literature.  I’m not sure how many pages a comic book needs to move into the “literature” category, but this one definitely drops into the category with the “whomp” of a decent dictionary.  My background knowledge of the main character is very limited as he (Hawkman) was very much a third (or fourth) tier character back in my day.  He was in the Justice League of America and I remember checking out some individual issues, but he was never someone I followed.

Anyway, the character seems to have been recreated in the “Highlander” mode of living forever – slightly different in that he is reincarnated, not simply immortal, but basically, he and his wife are immortal.  The book covers a couple of their lifetimes and there are promises of lives to come.  All in all, I found it a surprisingly good “book”.  It is definitely something I’d continue to follow when the second omnibus is issued, but it is extremely pricey (by my standards), so unless my son is passing it on to me, I’ll not be spending $50-plus dollars to read further adventures.

For anyone not familiar with the character, Hawkman has wings to help him fly and he is reasonably “super” strong.  The flight and strength come from a harness made of a non-Earthly metal which affects gravity.  Please, no comments about weight vs mass in the area of being super strong – it’s just a comic book…  Bottom line: a surprisingly interesting character and I highly recommend it if you can borrow it or find it second hand.

The Spectre – Infinite Crisis Aftermath (2007©)
This is a much shorter book (142 pages), but it seems about the standard size for these compilations (as opposed to the doorstop of “Hawkman”).  This is another third tier character I barely remember from my youth.  The Spectre is a ghostly character who goes around “harvesting” the souls of folks who have committed major sins (mostly murder).  There seems to be some requirement to be connected to a recently deceased person (this is not fully explained in this volume).  So, Spectre has to first convince the recently dead to merge with him, and then he has to get on with his real business. 

The individual stories are all graphically violent (excessive not visual) in nature and this is not a series suitable for pre-teens (probably not teens either).  Also, the artist seems to change from modern detailed drawing to old fashioned smooth drawing, sometime in adjoining frames, which I found visually annoying.  All in all, I might follow the character for one or two more collections, but there would have to be some real story-line development / change as revenge for murder simply doesn’t hold my attention as an over-arch for the story.  The stories are simply too dark for my tastes.  Bottom line: I would consider following this character only if there were some major changes in the story basis.

Green Lantern Legacy: The Last Will & Testament Of Hal Jordan (2002©)
Green Lantern was a character I followed in my youth.  He was no where near as fleshed out as he is now – some 45-50 years later.  He’s gone through multiple personas and I guess that’s a good thing.  It’s certainly better than pretending the character doesn’t age, but history is changing around him.  In this volume, the Green Lantern I knew (Hal Jordan) is dead and is passing on the ring to another person.  I got “it”, but I didn’t.  The artwork is very good and consistent with a nice variation between simple and extremely complex images.  By that I mean, some are of just the character and some are of the millions of things around in a Green Lantern universe.

Bottom line: while this book itself doesn’t sell me on Green Lantern, I would definitely read follow on’s and it seems likely I’d get hooked on the character arch.

Superboy And The Legion Of Super-Heroes – The Early Years (2011©)
This volume is the “origin” story for the Legion Of Super-Heroes.  This was a teen version of the Justice League Of America, but spread out across the planets instead of just being American super-heroes.  As a “Marvel” comics follower (as opposed to a “DC” follower), the Legion always seemed to me to be a reaction to the X-men.  In fact, it’s the other way around, but the X-men (historically) have been better received (more popular) than the Legion.

What did I like – Saturn Girl.  She is the only interesting character in this volume.  None of the characters, except Superboy, seem to have their powers well developed and that may be the main issue for me, but even though Saturn Girl’s only power is her ability to read minds, she still came across as the best character.  “Best” meaning developed and interesting.  I enjoyed seeing a female character not only play a predominant role in the comic, but also assume leadership in the Legion. 

What did I dislike – developing powers is hard to understand when one minute you can barely hold your own and the next you’re lifting ships full of civilians and then you’re back to being “weak” again.  Also, the individual powers (and heroes) don’t seem that great either.  At first I wondered why this bothered me and then I realized it’s because they are not unique in their powers on their home world.  They are only heroes because they are on Earth where not everyone has their ability.  In theory, the same argument could be made about Superman/boy, but it is less valid because his planet is destroyed and there are few other Kryptonians (but of course there are more all the time).

Outside of the character development, what was wrong?   My main complaint would be the art work.  In this case there is a full issue of suddenly “stringy” super-heroes, who then flip back to being drawn normally in the next issue (chapter) of the book.  Needless to say, stringy super-heroes are not my cup of tea.  I would still buy the comic if the story line is good, but I would not enjoy the artwork as much.  Finally, there is the issue of intoxicated promiscuity.  Because the book focuses on a young lady, she ultimately ends up intoxicated and waking up in bed with another hero.  Admittedly, I’m old fashioned, but I would ask: does a young female have to be intoxicated to consent to sex and if she does have sex, is it too much to ask for some mention of protection (disease and birth control).  Granted there may not be any such things as sexually transmitted diseases or unwanted pregnancies in the future, but while the story is centuries in the future, it’s still being read by people today.  Now, having asked my questions, I’ll answer: it’s ridiculous to imply anyone HAS to get intoxicated to desire and/or enjoy sex AND I would have wanted the issue of protection dealt with regardless of whether the interesting character were male or female.  But that’s just me…

Group comics are only interesting if the individual characters are interesting and if there is some issue of group dynamics being dealt with.  In this case, Saturn Girl, Brainiac and Superboy are all interesting characters to me, (with the others being far less interesting so far) so it will come down to their interaction as a group.  Bottom line: I would definitely follow this series for several more volumes to see what happens to the group. 

Justice League – Volume 1: Origin (2012)
What does a comic book publisher do when they feel they are running out of story lines after 50+ years of stories?  You create a new universe with mostly the same people!  This allows you to re-boot all of your story lines and re-tell your old stories in different ways or with different endings.  Now, how do you get from here to there?  Well, traditionally to have one of your “super-super” characters (good or bad) do something which alters the the time-space continuum and blah, blah, blah, everything different.  Hence, DC Comics now has the new 52!!  In a way, this is even better than the old way of doing things because DC now has 52 ways of telling and re-telling the same stories with a host of ways to end up with alterations.  This book is the origin for the new Justice League.

Now the JLofA is one of the DC comic series I did follow as a child.  Having said that, I don’t remember any of their specific issues or arch-enemies.  I do remember the individual heroes and I did like them in their individual series too (some of which I bought).  The classic characters are Superman, Batman, the Flash, Green Lantern, Wonder Woman and Aquaman.  I’m not sure when the additional character (Cyborg) was added, but he is appearing in this so he’s now an “original” member of the League.

So, where to start – the artwork.  It’s great but a bit dark for my taste.  This seems to be a big carry-over from the famous “Dark Knight” days of Batman and made more famous by all of the movies.  It seems the darker the movie, the more it’s popularity, so the comics have trended the same track.  Does it work?  Well, most of the time, yes.  In this volume, most of the characters don’t know each other, so it’s an introduction for them as much as one to them (for us).  Does this work?  Yes, but it’s not particularly believable.  The problem with this book, like most other “super groups” is finding a villain powerful enough to believe there is a real conflict.  In this case, it’s not difficult to believe the villain is worthy, it’s just difficult to believe some of the “lesser” heroes having any chance of surviving.  When you’re a child, you can put aside this problem, but the older I get the harder it seems to be.  Anyone Superman would have a hard time with would destroy Batman or the Flash; anyone they could handle would be insignificant for Superman.

Anyway, setting aside this issue, what’s good?  Batman and Wonder Woman!!  Batman has no powers and so must get by on brains and leadership.  Wonder Woman is just a bad-ass female warrior!  Without going too much farther into the story, that’s it…  an average guy and a dynamite female – that’s enough to get me to sign-up for future issues/volumes.  Interestingly enough, Batman and the Flash were my two original favorites in the JLofA.  Bottom line: I’d buy this series for a while just to see the story lines for these two characters.  I’ve never been big on Aquaman and never heard of Cyborg, so I’d have to see how these fleshed out.  The Flash could be a big attraction for me if he is developed better.  Superman will always be a problem character and I don’t like the psych-case they are trying to make out of Green Lantern, but I’d still give the League a good long follow before deciding against them.

So, that’s about five inches of comic book reading over the last few days.  If you used to read comics in your youth, I highly recommend you go back and take a look at both the DC and Marvel universes.  If nothing else, you’ll know what the action movies will be like in the next decade…

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