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Mr. Joe (Lacey, WA USA)

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White Star
White Star
Price: £3.26

5.0 out of 5 stars Not a mano a mano face-off for sissies. Definitely not., 2 April 2017
This review is from: White Star (Kindle Edition)
WHITE STAR by James Thayer is a wilderness survival tale not conceptualized to be experienced by couch potatoes.

Owen Gray, a New York City prosecutor, finds himself ripped back to his past as a Marine sniper in Vietnam – a tortured past he’s struggled to forget – when he’s called out, so to speak, by a deranged ex-Red Army sniper who, aware of Owen’s reputation as being perhaps the best shooter in Marine history, wants to prove himself the better by a duel to the death.

When it quickly becomes apparent the confrontation won’t be resolved anywhere inside the Big Apple, Gray leads his tormentor to his boyhood home in the rugged Sawtooth Mountains in Idaho. Owen knows every inch of the surrounding land and hopes this will give him an advantage in the life or death struggle to come.

Both Gray and his challenger have learned the lesson of hardship endurance over their respective military careers. It’s their relative stamina and durability that will allow one to win out in a brutal contest that will perhaps cause the reader to cringe and wince more than any previous thriller. It certainly did me.

As the plot of WHITE STAR unfolds, it becomes apparent, at least within the context of the story, that a sniper’s aptitudes must not only include shooting prowess but also tracking skills. Author Thayer describes the nuances of both to an extent that the reader realizes he did considerable research to pen the tale.

WHITE STAR is a page-turner to which you won’t regret dedicating time.


My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She's Sorry: A Novel Hardcover June 16, 2015
My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She's Sorry: A Novel Hardcover June 16, 2015

5.0 out of 5 stars A beguiling story of a fairy tale merging with reality, 28 Mar. 2017
“You can’t kill a nightmare, but you can scare it. And there’s nothing so feared by nightmares as milk and cookies.” ‒ from MY GRANDMOTHER ASKED ME TO TELL YOU SHE’S SORRY

“… you hardly ever disappoint anybody if you just stay quiet.” ‒ from GRANDMOTHER

“You’d quickly run out of people if you had to disqualify all those who at some point have been sh-ts.” ‒ from GRANDMOTHER

“… you can be upset while you’re eating chocolate Santas. But it’s much, much, much more difficult.” ‒ from GRANDMOTHER

MY GRANDMOTHER ASKED ME TO TELL YOU SHE’S SORRY – let’s just refer to it as GRANDMOTHER from now forward, shall we– by Fredrik Backman, also the author of A Man Called Ove, is set in Sweden, something not apparent until well into the book.

Almost 8-years old Elsa, the daughter of divorced parents and persecuted by the other children in school, lives in the fairy tale worlds of Harry Potter books and the Land-of-Almost-Awake, the mythical world created for her via the bedtime stories told by her beloved grandmother. This magical place, composed of six kingdoms, is inhabited by a princess, princes, knights and dragons. The chief kingdom, Miamas, is the source of all fairy tales because it’s built on Imagination.

Grandmother, a physician who spent her career saving children, has become more eccentric with age. But she loves Elsa intensely and is the girl’s protector and teacher.

But then Grandmother dies, but not before exacting from Elsa the promises that she will protect her friends and the castle. And deliver a letter.

The letter’s delivery is the first step in a knightly quest, or treasure hunt if you will, that ultimately reveals to Elsa that fairy tales can actually overlap with real life. In that sense, GRANDMOTHER is a coming of age story.

GRANDMOTHER is a beguiling tale populated with a wealth of finely conceptualized and crafted, unique characters with a storyline that evolves cleverly. The reader may well cry for Elsa while admiring her pluck. This is perhaps the best single, original book I’ve read so far in the past several months (though, with an interstate move of residence during that time, my output has been necessarily reduced).

The sequel to this story is, apparently, Britt-Marie Was Here. I’m in!


Last of the Great Stations
Last of the Great Stations
by B. Bradley
Edition: Perfect Paperback

5.0 out of 5 stars Before LAX, there was LAUPT, 14 Mar. 2017
(This review is of the 2000 reprint edition by Pentrex Media Group to commemorate the first 50 years of the station’s existence)

How many Angelinos alive today remember when the Los Angeles Union Passenger Terminal - LAUPT, or simply Union Station - was the city’s glamorous gateway to travel adventure, not LAX -Los Angeles International Airport? (Of course, LAX has never been considered “glamorous”; indeed, it’s been rated as one of the nation’s worst airports.)

Originally published in 1979 to mark LAUPT’s 40th anniversary, THE LAST OF THE GREAT STATIONS is author Bill Bradley’s loving tribute to the final, great rail passenger terminal built in the United States; it opened for scheduled passenger service on May 7, 1939.

The volume includes five chapters. “Union Station Opens” remembers the festivities and ceremonies surrounding the grand opening on May 3-5, 1939. “Twenty Years of Tumult” is perhaps misleading; using the timetable for February 29, 1948 as background, the author describes the sometimes frantic (yet thrilling) train activity for that day during which 33 arrivals and 33 departures were recorded. It is, perhaps, the best narrative section of the book. “Creating the New Gateway” summarizes the controversy-laden conception and planning and ultimate construction of the edifice. “Triumph in Stucco and Style” depicts the finished product. Finally, “Under Amtrak” concludes the story with (what some might argue as) the decline – at least in terms of long-distance train activity – of the grand structure; it mentions plans for its continuing (d)evolution forward into the mid-1990s. (The book is thus somewhat outdated for 2017.)

THE LAST OF THE GREAT STATIONS is fully loaded with relevant black and white photos.

In 1961, when Union Station’s daily activity was reduced to 22 arrivals and 22 departures, I (at age 12) was introduced to the place when my grandmother took me on the overnight sleeper to the Grand Canyon. (I vividly remember looking out the window in the dark of the morning’s wee hours as the yardman in Williams uncoupled the Pullman from the mainline train and it was bumped into attachment to a local for the final miles to the park. But, I digress.) My memories of the terminal include activities within and aspects of it that no longer exist, e.g. ticketing in the magnificent main hall to the left of the station entrance. I’m saddened, yet grateful to have experienced LAUPT’s former glory even as it faded.

Currently, one can take a 3-hour guided walking tour of the LAUPT complex that’s rich in its history and physical splendors. I recommend it.


The Almost Nearly Perfect People: Behind the Myth of the Scandinavian Utopia
The Almost Nearly Perfect People: Behind the Myth of the Scandinavian Utopia
by Michael Booth
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.99

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Brit’s infatuation with Scandinavia ignores other national evolutions, 13 Mar. 2017
“While walking naked in public I feel immediately, cripplingly self-conscious.” – from THE ALMOST NEARLY PERFECT PEOPLE, as the author visits a sauna

“Of course, we cannot entirely discount the idea that it was me, personally, from whom an entire nation (-Sweden-) was recoiling, but I was trying my utmost not to be creepy.” – from THE ALMOST NEARLY PERFECT PEOPLE, as the author experiments with “Swede taunting”

“… I probably am a snotty Brit.” – author Michael Booth

“‘Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” – novelist and philosopher George Santayana

Michael Booth, a Brit married to a Dane and living in Denmark, begins THE ALMOST NEARLY PERFECT PEOPLE acknowledging the fact that Scandinavia, as a whole, is reputedly the happiest place on Earth according to multiple surveys. Taking that as a starting point, then, he embarks on his own personal exploration of Iceland, Denmark, Norway, Sweden and Finland in an attempt to discover why that may be so and which of the five countries may/should top the list. To provide answers, he surveys each nation’s genetic roots, history, mentality and economic system.

It would be unfair of me to reveal which of the five floats to the top of the author’s Happy List after his interesting, informative and entertaining assessment. His conclusion seemed tepid to me, but I guess it’s the best he could do in that respect.

What Booth did espouse was that the five Scandinavian countries form a single union, dump the Norwegian and Danish monarchies, and continue to accept the influx of large numbers of immigrants. Didn’t the United States do that? Let’s see. The original thirteen colony states were uniformly English and subject to a king. Then, they discarded the monarchy – check. Formed a single union – yup, been there. And accepted huge immigrant populations, legal or otherwise – done that. My admittedly poor knowledge of German history compels me to suggest that it did the same. Yet, Booth has little good to say about either the U.S. or Germany, and indeed his comments about the former are uniformly unflattering. So, Michael, what is to become of your hypothetical Scandinavian Federation, hmm? He doesn’t say anything about the Unintended Consequences of such a move.

The author’s narrative strong point is his very British ability for wry humor and self-deprecation. I like that in a writer and so award THE ALMOST NEARLY PERFECT PEOPLE four stars as a reading experience.


The Complete Young Trailers Series (Halcyon Classics)
The Complete Young Trailers Series (Halcyon Classics)
Price: £1.46

5.0 out of 5 stars Stories that connect generations, 4 Mar. 2017
My father, born in 1916, read THE YOUNG TRAILERS SERIES when he was a lad growing up in Milwaukee. Years later, he introduced this collection of books by Joseph Altsheler to me when I was the same age to appreciate them as much as he had.

The trailers – Henry Ware, Paul Cotter, “Silent” Tom Ross, “Shiftless” Sol Hyde, and “Long” Jim Hart – are woodsmen living in Kentucky at the beginning of the American Revolution. Great fighters adept at wilderness survival, they spend their time foiling the attempts of the native Shawnee and Miami tribesmen and their British allies from destroying the nascent American frontier settlements.

When I first read the series, I was devastated when I reached the end of the last volume and there was no more to be had. These eight books did more than any others to instill in me a lifelong love affair with reading. Thanks, Dad!

The author’s intended audience for THE YOUNG TRAILERS is strictly composed of pre-teenage and young teenage boys. Girls need not crack the books’ covers. Indeed, when around innumerable forest campfires, our five heroes never ever discuss wives, ex-wives, sweethearts, or any otherwise attractive female. They have no romantic or sexual interests, period, that might detract from the lessons the author was apparently trying to teach his audience that would inspire its members to mature into honorable, hard-working adult men of unimpeachable characters unsullied by prurient interests. Henry and Paul begin the series as youths, and Altsheler continues to refer to them as such throughout. The two never seem to chronologically mature while remaining in the company of the other, older three men, though Henry becomes the unquestioned leader of all five. I mean, the two (or any of the band) are never even described shaving!

Reading the series again as an old adult, I can now discern the numerous plot holes and improbabilities that are ignored and unexplained. That said, however, I could not but recommend THE YOUNG TRAILERS to any young boy as a vehicle for fomenting an interest in books.


Takedown
Takedown
Price: £4.99

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Leather brings a hitherto supporting Tough Guy out of the ranks to front and center, 15 Jan. 2017
This review is from: Takedown (Kindle Edition)
Note: This review was of an advance manuscript provided by the author some time ago. The story may have been revised/edited since.

“The description they give matches you, my friend. Especially the bit about the attacker being cruel, sadistic and probably psychopathic.” ‒ from TAKEDOWN, Thai Police Colonel Wattanakolwit to his friend, Lex Harper

At the time of this review (July 2015), the latest Dan “Spider” Shepherd adventure by Stephen Leather, Black Ops: The 12th Spider Shepherd Thriller (Dan Shepherd series), has his hero sharing text space with Lex Harper, Spider’s spotter when the latter was an SAS sniper in Afghanistan. Since being demobbed, Lex has taken up drug trafficking and lives in Thailand, though he does the occasional black ops wet job for Charlie Button, Shepherd’s boss at MI5. Harper isn’t constrained by the rules of fair play that generally govern Dan’s actions and which make Spider less useful than Charlie would perhaps like. We previously saw Harper’s ruthless effectiveness as a sidebar in White Lies: The 11th Spider Shepherd Thriller (Dan Shepherd series).

By the end of BLACK OPS, Button has been drummed out of MI5 for carrying out a personal vendetta - assassinating her husband’s killers – on company time while using the services of a group of free-lance assassins called The Pool. However, since she knows where MI5’s and the Cabinet’s bodies are buried, she’s allowed to continue privately directing the activities of The Pool to take down those enemies of the U.K. and the West that Her Majesty’s Government feels it necessary to eliminate with plausible deniability.

Thus, the stage is set for TAKEDOWN, which features Lex Harper in the starring role, with Charlie pulling the strings, as the pair endeavor to thwart and eliminate from the board one Caleb McGovan, an ex-SAS trooper who’s gone over to ISIS to commit an outrage in England.

In this day and age when ISIS burns a captured Jordanian pilot alive in a cage and saws off the heads of bound Western prisoners, one wonders when the world will react in concert with suitable outrage. (What would the Romans have done?) In any case, if the reader believes that fighting back effectively means discarding the rules of “civilized” engagement, then Lex Harper will be your kind of hero. And those wanting more text exposure for Charlie will be gratified.

To be honest, I think Harper could wipe up the floor with Shepherd. While the latter has perhaps more physical combat ability, the former is more cleverly devious. Both have a soft spot for Button; if she ever finds herself captured by the opposition and in a bad place (like Spider was in WHITE LIES), it might be interesting to see Spider and Lex fight over the best way to save her before combining talents to get on with the job. (Stephen, does this suggest a future storyline?)

For fans of Stephen Leather thrillers, I suspect – no, believe – that a Lex Harper series will eclipse Spider’s in contemporary popularity. He’s the new Man of the Hour to take care of much needed business.


Yellow Hair
Yellow Hair
Price: £2.32

4.0 out of 5 stars Yankee teenager goes native in time to experience government sanctioned genocide, 4 Nov. 2016
This review is from: Yellow Hair (Kindle Edition)
The three previous published offerings by Andrew Joyce - Redemption: The Further Adventures of Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer, https://www.amazon.co.uk/d/Molly-Lee-Andrew-Joyce-ebook/B00VEEJ97G/ref=sr_1_5?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1478231669&sr=1-5, and Resolution: Huck Finn's Greatest Adventure– are sequel expansions of Mark Twain’s Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer epics and read like the late-19th and early-20th century short dime novels.

YELLOW HAIR represents the next stage in writing for the author. Another reviewer has compared this novel to the historical fiction of Jane Auel (her The Earth's Children Series 6-Book Bundle: The Clan of the Cave Bear, The Valley of Horses, The Mammoth Hunters, The Plains of Passage, The Shelters of Stone, The Land of Painted Caves), which is perhaps not an unjustified comparison.

YELLOW HAIR is basically Andrew’s desire to put into print an accounting of the U.S. government’s policy of sequestration onto reservations the Dakota Indian tribes of the country’s northern Great Plains. For those who resisted such interdiction of their traditional life style, it meant genocide.

This historical novel is composed of three interlocking pieces: a factual and somewhat dry account of the Dakota’s relations with the encroaching white Americans from 1805 to 1890, a purely fictional story of white characters existing in the time frame based on composites of individuals who actually lived, and a melding of the two to flesh out and humanize the narrative.

YELLOW HAIR begins in 1850 with a wagon train of pilgrims embarking on the Oregon Trail to America's Pacific Coast territories. The train’s guide and those on the wagons who are named are (according to the author in a private communication to me) composites of those who actually made such a journey. And the hardships experienced by the train are also based on an aggregate reality. It’s in this first part of the novel that we’re introduced to the story’s hero, Jacob Ariesen of Concord Massachusetts, the eldest of three children and only son of his parents. The circumstances of the journey west have him ultimately adopted by a Dakota tribe, at which point he enters the main theme of the narrative.

It might be interesting to learn Joyce’s reason why he chose the oppression of the Dakota tribes as opposed to that of, say, the Seminoles or Apaches. All three are famous examples of the U.S. government’s deplorable treatment of the indigenous inhabitants.

My only minor quibble is that YELLOW HAIR once again furthers the concept of the “noble savage,” i.e. noble compared to the larger white tribe that conquered him. Please. In the history of Mankind that is but a succession of tribal conquests and displacements, one over another, victors and vanquished are all of the same species and share common traits, noble and ignoble, expressed as circumstances dictate.

I also regretted that Andrew’s treatment of George Custer’s defeat at the Little Bighorn was so superficial. However, anything more substantial was admittedly and quite rightly beyond the scope of this novel. Here, I must recommend the masterful A Terrible Glory: Custer and the Little Bighorn - the Last Great Battle of the American West 1st by Donovan, James (2008) Hardcover.

YELLOW HAIR is both absorbing and instructive.


p53: The Gene that Cracked the Cancer Code
p53: The Gene that Cracked the Cancer Code
Price: £6.99

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Much ado about quite a lot, 18 Oct. 2016
“… a gene that goes by the prosaic name of p53 - bestowed on it simply because it makes a protein with a molecular weight of 53 kilodaltons.” – from p53: THE GENE THAT CRACKED THE CANCER CODE

p53: THE GENE THAT CRACKED THE CANCER CODE by Sue Armstrong seems to be a reasonably comprehensive overview of the topic that even those with but a modicum knowledge level of genetics and biochemistry should find readable and comprehensible.

The author jumps back and forth in time to show how the aggregate work of a multitude of researchers accumulated and built on itself to arrive at the understanding we have today about p53. This lends the narrative a choppiness which might have been ameliorated at the conclusion if Armstrong had provided a concise summary of the scientific findings to date. This she failed to do and the book suffers somewhat for its absence.

p53: THE GENE THAT CRACKED THE CANCER CODE is, however, a commendable contribution to the popular science genre.


The Decline and Fall of California: From Decadence to Destruction (Victor Davis Hanson Collection Book 2)
The Decline and Fall of California: From Decadence to Destruction (Victor Davis Hanson Collection Book 2)
Price: £4.90

4.0 out of 5 stars Paradise Lost, 5 Oct. 2016
“No one is more upset than I about the direction of California – valued citizens exiting the state, high taxes, poor services, terrible public education, substandard infrastructure, contempt for the law, liberal sermonizing coupled with boutique apartheid, shameless ethnic identity politics, and public union bullying.” - Victor David Hanson in THE DECLINE AND FALL OF CALIFORNIA

“California is run from a sort of Pacific Versailles, an isolated coastal compound of elite rulers physically cut off from its interior peasantry.” - Victor David Hanson in THE DECLINE AND FALL OF CALIFORNIA

“Gov. Jerry Brown has signed legislation that regulates emissions from dairy cows and landfills for the first time as California broadens its efforts to fight climate change beyond carbon-based greenhouse gases.” – SB1383 signed into law 9-19-16 (No joke!)

My parents moved to California in 1951 from Wisconsin. My wife’s parents (and their daughter) moved to California in the late 50s from Poland via post-war England and Argentina. Both couples saw California as a land of opportunity, if not Paradise. Now, my wife and I, pillars of the middle class, seek to sell our home and move out of state. Paradise has been lost.

THE DECLINE AND FALL OF CALIFORNIA by Victor David Hanson is his series of essays on the subject that first appeared during the past several years on a conservative media website. They fall into three subtopics: the current state drought, the massive influx of illegal aliens, and the morphing of California culture in general into something untenable.

Hanson’s opinions are lucidly and eloquently presented. And I agree with him. That said, each subtopic comprises multiple essays setting forth views that are, to a greater or lesser degree, repetitively stated. Had he opined on each subtopic in one longer but non-redundant chapter, the book would’ve been shorter but more effective. Perhaps the publisher insisted on a certain number of words to the whole.

When my wife and I can evacuate from this state, God willing and the creeks don’t rise – and they surely won’t in this drought, and we cross the state line for the last time, I’ll be sorely tempted to face my backside to Sacramento and moon Gov. Brown, the ill-conceived high-speed rail project he stubbornly peddles, and the nanny, money-grasping legislature. Good riddance!

P.S. The creeks rose with heavy rains this winter, but we escaped anyway. At 1:25 PM on 2/10/17, I passed over the state line out of California for what will likely and hopefully be for the last time, and took my middle-class tax dollars with me. Being winter, it was too cold at the border's elevation to stop and moon Gov. Brown. I wonder if he could see my middle finger salute through my car's rear window.


Dispatches from Pluto: Lost and Found in the Mississippi Delta
Dispatches from Pluto: Lost and Found in the Mississippi Delta
Price: £6.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Learnin’ to say “Y’all”, 29 Sept. 2016
“If I wanted to, I was free to (urinate) naked off my porch, shoot guns, take drugs, drive drunk, and make all the noise I wanted. I had a river on one side, a lake on the other, plenty of woods to roam, and the freedom to go wherever I pleased without worrying about rules, restrictions, fences, or laws.” - author Richard Grant, in DISPATCHES FROM PLUTO

“People needed tools to cope with all the poverty, tragedy, and dysfunction in the Delta, and the most popular ones were denial, religion, gallows humor, drugs, and alcohol.” - author Richard Grant, in DISPATCHES FROM PLUTO

Back in 1988-89, I lived 15 months in Tupelo, MS. I never picked up much of an accent, though my wife is still slightly annoyed when I say “hey” instead of “hi” as a greeting. But Tupelo, while certainly part of the Magnolia State, isn’t the Delta.

Author Richard Grant, born British, and his significant other Mariah abandon New York City to buy an old plantation house deep in the Mississippi Delta.

One of the narrative’s challenges, using hints provided by the author, is to locate the house on the satellite view of a popular map app. I’ll make it easier for you; it’s roughly 3.3 miles to the west of Pluto on Bee Lake Road on an isolated strip of land. The river forms the property’s western boundary. There are two ponds in the front yard. Bee Lake is 1.5 kilometers to the east. Knock yourself out; Pluto itself is awkward to locate being not much more than a wide spot on a rural road.

What distinguishes DISPATCHES FROM PLUTO from other travel essays about the Deep South is that Grant and girlfriend become embedded in the landscape, accepted by their neighbors both White and Black. While other travel writers may pass through and fire off drive-by commentary, Richard and Mariah not only talk the talk but also walk the walk. This intimacy with their surroundings and neighbors gives credence to Grant’s expressed views on local race relations stemming from his fascination with the subject and about which he never preaches ways for improvement but always tries to explain to the reader the intricacies of such as it exists in the impoverished Delta region.

The author’s description of his visit to the notorious Mississippi State Penitentiary at Parchman and his conversations with fellow Delta resident, actor Morgan Freeman, provide much added value to the whole.

I found DISPATCHES FROM PLUTO to be immensely enjoyable and informative. My only disappointment was that the book was too short.


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