Saturday, October 30, 2010


Radigan is the 66th Louis L'Amour book I've read, my number one author if you count by number of books read but only number 6 if you count by the number of pages read. This is another fairly average length L'Amour paperback novel, coming in at 154 pages. Obviously, you can tell I like this author and I read his novels periodically but this time I chose to read one because they serve as great "comfort" reads for me. I received some bad news yesterday and was feeling pretty low. I didn't want to do any of my normal hobbies and I didn't even want to read. That's certainly a rare occurrence for me. But I had to do something to fill the hours so I gave reading a try and L'Amour was just the ticket.

I've remarked before about how I read these novels for the fun of them. Not for any great literary accomplishments or for what anybody else may think of them. There's a certain honesty about them and it sure beats listening to the radio which is constantly playing campaign ads right now.

Tom Radigan is a former ranger and now owns a small cattle ranch in northern New Mexico territory. Along comes Angelina Foley with an outfit of gunfighters, 3000 head of cattle and what she claims is a deed to Radigan's land. Radigan knows the deed is phony but despite his attempts to tell her so, a full-on range war begins. Now you might expect some sort of boiler-plate western plot to take over with Radigan falling for the girl and living happily ever after but that is just not the case. I won't spoil it for you but this is a fine western story with gunfights, fist fights, wilderness survival (in deep winter snows), and more. The ending came abruptly and I would have liked to have a little more filled out with the final moments of the plot but overall, this was a great one.

And yes, I do feel better now, thanks for asking.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Night Chills

Night Chills by Dean Koontz, was one of the books given to me by a co-worker who knew I "liked to read". As I've mentioned before on this blog, Dean Koontz is mostly a hit-or-miss author for me but I tend to like his earlier works better, probably because they are usually more of a straight forward horror story than his later work.

This novel is a bit dated, having been written in the 1970s and concerns the phenomenon of subliminal advertising, taken to the extreme where it can actually be used for mind control. Three people of varying backgrounds and motivations get together to coordinate an experiment on an isolated "company town" where the small, controlled population is subjected to the experimental technique. If the experiment works, the three stand to become all powerful (and all rich). The title of the book comes from the side effect that the experimentees get: night chills similar to flu-like symptoms.

The book was a quick read, and a page-turner. The bad guys, particularly the main inventor of the mind control technique, were far more developed than the good guys who fight back, making it a bit difficult to root for them. And, I must say, there is some pretty extreme graphic sexual scenes in this novel, mostly having to do with the main inventor abusing his new found power to get back at women for all of the grief he suffered in his youth.

In summary, not a bad Koontz novel, but not ranking at the top either.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

England, The Autobiography

This is a book that my wife picked up for me several years ago during her first visit to England. I was still active duty Air Force and stationed in Germany and was unable to get away for that trip although was fortunate enough to be able to go the next year.

This book, England, The Autobiography, edited by John Lewis-Stemple, is a collection of first-hand accounts of English history written by English men and women from all walks of life, some famous and some not. As such, most of the accounts are quite interesting, while others are less so. They are presented chronologically, beginning at 55 BC with an account written by Julius Caesar of his invasion and traversing history all the way to its publication date in 2005 with an account of "England Wins Ashes, the Oval, London." In between there are a hundred or so sketches summarizing 2000 years of English history, from those that were there.

I found most of these sketches to be very interesting, whether it's from the point of view of a Saxon warrior at the Battle of Maldon in 991, or about the Peasants' Revolt in 1381, or a piece by Winston Churchill during WWII, or The Beatles in Performance at the Cavern Club in Liverpool in 1961 by none other than Brian Epstein. Taken all together, these sketches provide a nice overview of English history for somebody who is already at least partially familiar with that history. If this is the first book ever picked up on the subject I don't think it would go very far in educating somebody about's just too little detail about too many events, and each event is only addressed once, often by somebody who has a strong bias one way or the other. But as a companion book to a library of history, this is a fascinating read and makes me want to search out other such books for other countries/cultures.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

The Eternal Savage

No, this is not about my son, who has come home from college for the weekend. Rather it is the name of a stand-alone book by Edgar Rice Burroughs, most famous for his pulp-era science fiction series such as John Carter of Mars, Pelucidar, the Venus series, and, of course Tarzan. My database reveals that this is the 32nd book I've read by this author, making him my 5th most read author. Of course, most of those books (all of them?) are fairly thin paperbacks at around 175-225 pages each. I read most of these books when I was a teenager, helping to launch my interest in Science Fiction, even though there really is very little "science" in them.

I acquired this book recently, spotting it at the used book store in the library where I frequently find older novels from "my" authors. It's been years since I've read an ERB and I was hoping it would stand the test of time, as in my own maturity. I've been afraid to re-read any of these books for fear they would fail that test. I'm sorry to report that The Eternal Savage didn't exactly relieve those fears for me. It had a hokey plot, in my opinion, about a caveman-era fellow named Nu, Son of Nu. He is in love and trying his darndest to win the hand of Nat-Ul as his mate. While hunting the most ferocious beast of the age, an earthquake strikes, causing a cave-in, trapping Nu inside. Cut to "present" day where an American girl, Victoria Custer, has gone to Africa to visit the Greystoke ranch (Tarzan, for the uninformed). It turns out that Nu has awoken in these modern times and spies Victoria, and thinking her to be his very own love, Nat-Ul. Another earthquake sends those two back to the Stone Age where Victoria turns out to be that same Nat-Ul. All of that just serves to set the stage for most of the book that follows. Much perilous adventure insues finally culminating in one final unexplained time-travel scene.

Of course, I don't expect great literature from these books but rather I expect pulp fiction which is what I got. It did remind me of lots of what I read in those teenage years but it didn't serve to keep me turning page after page. Rather it felt like a chore to plow through the predictable action sequences and jaw-dropping incredulity at the time-travel plot machinations. But still...there's enough nostalgia-related story telling here to make me plunk down my 75 cents if I see another ERB at the library book store.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Speaks the Nightbird

I am new to the author, Robert McCammon, but he came highly recommended from another blog I follow so I thought it worthwhile to give him a shot.  The results?  Speaks the Nightbird will be a very strong competitor for my best-of-the-year list and now that I think about it, will probably make my best-of-all time reading list.

Yes, it's that good.

This is an historical novel set in the Carolina territory in 1699.  Mathew Corbett is a clerk to a magistrate (judge) based in Charles Town and together they travel to the village of Fount Royal where the magistrate must have a trial for a reputed witch.  Of course, the townspeople all firmly believe the witch is guilty and there is no need for a trial, and indeed, the evidence is damning.  In fact there are even eye witnesses to her devilish acts.  What follows is a rather complicated and intriguing mystery in which we watch our protagonist uncover the truth of the matter, using his keen powers of observation and deductive reasoning much like Sherlock Holmes would do.  But there is far more to this novel than the mystery for this author has mastered the arts of setting, pacing, characterization, and plot.  The book is a rather large one, coming in at 792 over-sized paperback pages, and yet it did not seem like a "long" book.  I kept wanting to read and then read some more, cutting short some of my other well-loved hobbies (and sleep) just to get more reading time in.  And thankfully, there are two more novels featuring Mathew Corbett following this one.  Delightful!

Sunday, October 17, 2010

"I Really Didn't Say Everything I Said"

I'm not really sure which is the title and which is the subtitle of The Yogi Book by Yogi Berra. But that really doesn't matter in the big scheme of things. This is a little book that takes about 10 minutes to read, one of those you might find near the checkout counter of a large book store chain. But it is filled with the delightful sayings of Yogi Berra, Hall of Fame catcher with the NY Yankees, Manager, and coach. Yogi goes through each one of his famous one-liners and cites the origin and the circumstances in which it "just came out." The sayings and explanations are accompanied by photographs of Yogi with some of the best know baseball players of his era, as well as friends, family members, childhood playmates, etc., many of them from his family's personal collection.

Who could forget great lines like these: "It ain't over 'till it's over"; "I wish I had an answer to that because I'm tired of answering that question"; "If I didn't wake up I'd still be sleeping"; "90% of the game is half mental"; or my favorite, when asked for directions, "When you come to a fork in the road, take it." Contrary to the subtitle, "I really didn't say everything I said," these are all legitimate quotes by Mr. Berra himself. Every one has an origin although a couple of them he doesn't remember saying but admits that he probably did.

A fun book for all, but as Yogi would say (and did) "If you can't imitate him, don't copy him."

Tuesday, October 12, 2010


I chose to read Elfshadow, the second in a long "open-universe" series about the secret organization for good known as "The Harpers" in the "Forgotten Realms" fantasy setting, because I was looking for a good old fashioned, easy-to-read, but not dumbed down fantasy novel. This one really fit the bill and I'm pleased to say it's been one of my favorite reads of the year so far.  It is also noteworthy that this book is not just a part of the Harpers series but is also the first book in a stand-alone trilogy called, "Songs and Swords."  Methinks the three books' popularity as Harper's books spawned a re-publish as the trilogy.

These books were published almost 20 years ago, back in the big TSR days of tie-in novels to the D&D game system. These sorts of books launched the careers of several well-known fantasy authors today, including RA Salvatore, Troy Denning, and Elaine Cunningham, the author of this book. The story surrounds Arilyn Moonblade, a half-elf "assassin" who works as a Harper agent. She is suspected of assassinating several members of the Harper association, mostly because of her proximity to all of their murders. She is accompanied by a fledgling-wizard and bard named Danilo Thann who plays the part of a dandy but in reality is an accomplished mage and is trying to determine Arilyn's guilt or innocence. What follows is largely a mystery story interspersed with dangerous moments and good action sequences. There are lots of characters introduced as the pair makes their journey in and around Waterdeep, but you don't have to be a "Forgotten Realms" aficionado to understand what's going on. And if you’ve ever played the computer game, “Baldur’s Gate”, you’ll really appreciate the area. The plot is pretty well thought out and definitely kept my attention. It's really hard to believe that this is the author's first novel. She has acknowledged mistakes with it but I can't point to any myself and she has gone on to write a couple of sequels. I will definitely read them because I really like these characters.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Gallow's Thief

Gallows Thief is the 13th book I've read by Bernard Cornwell and, surprisingly, I've never read one from the Sharpe series for which he is most well known. I rank his "Winter King" trilogy among the best of Arthurian literature and I am rarely disappointed with his work.

This book was a bit of a genre mix. I picked it up thinking historical novel and indeed it is, taking place in 1817, shortly after the events of Waterloo. In fact, the protagonist, Rider Sandman, was an officer in that battle but now finds himself in London, unemployed and in need of some coin. He is contracted by the Home Secretary and former Prime Minister, Henry Addington to investigate the accuracy of a guilty murder verdict for one Charles Corday, an apprentice painter now locked up in Newgate prison awaiting the hangman's noose. It seems the Queen herself is interested in the matter and has doubts that Mr. Corday is the actual murderer. So yes, the novel is set in 1817 London but it is largely a detective/mystery novel. And a fine one it is. Sandman's investigation is conducted over a seven day stretch and, as the book cover says, "takes him from the bowels of Newgate to the scented drawing rooms of the ruthless and powerful, and into the darkest shadows of the filthy, bustling city." A very nice read.

Someday, I'm going to have to get around to those Sharpe novels...

Monday, October 4, 2010

Peter and the Secret of Rundoon

I just love going back to this Peter Pan series by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson. Peter and the Secret of Rundoon is the third book in what I think is a 4-book series that is a prequel to the events in the classic Peter Pan story by J.M. Barrie. As popular as these books are, however, I can see there being more of them still to come.

Essentially, this series describes Peter's back story. Things like how he is able to fly, how he meets the people who will become Wendy's parents, how he develops relationships with the Indians of Mollusk Island, and the mermaids there, etc. We also learn about the back stories of other major characters such as Captain Hook, as well as how shadows work, and most importantly, what is the origin of "Starstuff", that strange substance that makes things fly.

But what's really great about these books, is that they are clearly in the YA market but they certainly do not simplify or otherwise dumb down the plot. This is fast paced, exciting adventure story telling with lots of edge-of-your-seat thrills but also with a good dose of characterization. The language style is pleasant to read and the plot is full of imagination. Just what a good book needs!

Top 10 Books in no particular order (Well Known Authors)

  • "The Stand" by Stephen King
  • "Kane and Able" by Jeffrey Archer
  • "The Killer Angels" by Michael Shaara
  • "The Dark Elf Trilogy" by RA Salvatore
  • "Name of the Wind" by Patrick Rothfuss
  • "River God" by Wilbur Smith
  • "Mortalis" by RA Salvatore
  • "Ender's Game" by Orson Scott Card
  • "Centennial" by James A Michener
  • "The Repairman Jack" series by F. Paul Wilson

Top Books/ Series in no particular order (Lesser Known Authors)

  • "The Sculpter" by Gregory Funaro
  • "Power Down" by Ben Coes
  • "Revolution at Sea Saga" by James L. Nelson
  • "Black Rain" by Graham Brown
  • "Top Producer" by Norb Vonnegut
  • "Prairie" by Anna Lee Waldo
  • "The Wild Blue" by W. Boyne & S Thompson
  • "Unsolicited" series by Julie Kaewert
  • "Freedom" by William Safire