Tag Archives: book review

Review: Saul Bellow: There is Simply Too Much to Think About

bellow

There is Simply Too Much to Think About

by Saul Bellow (Edited by Benjamin Taylor)

Viking (2015), Hardcover, 544 Pages

Many readers of iconic American authors will tell you that they have read Herzog and The Adventures of Augie March by Saul Bellow. They are classics, and Bellow has written many exquisite novels-Dangling Man (My favorite) and Seize the Day readily come to mind.

The Pulitzer Prize winner and Nobel Laureate has left behind a large amount of non-fiction works as well. Editor Benjamin Taylor has compiled an excellent collection of Saul Bellows’ Interviews, Speeches, criticism and other non-fiction, which when read front to back, turns out to be somewhat of a grand tour of the mind of Bellows, as the writing spans five decades.

If this is not enough enticement, There is Simply Too Much to Think About also contains a good amount of uncollected writings. I cannot recommend this book more, whether you are a devourer of Bellows’ canon of work, or a college student who has just read Augie March for the first time.

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October 14, 2015 · 10:19 pm

Review: Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro (Knopf, 2015)

Kazuo Ishiguro

The Buried Giant

by Kazuo Ishiguro

Knopf (2015), Hardcover, 317 pages

As with past Kazuo Ishiguro novels, nothing is as it seems. Buried Giant is equal parts fantasy, historical fiction, action/adventure, and psychological investigation. The premise revolves around a disparate group of travellers on a quest- an older couple named Axl and Beatrice, both Britons, the Knight Sir Gawain of King Arthur fame, and a Saxon warrior named Wistan, along with his new charge, also a Saxon named Edwin, who sports a magical Dragon bite which connects him to the feared She-dragon Querig. This She-Dragon is responsible for spreading a mist throughout the country that leaves it’s citizens forgetful of the brutal past, when Britons and Saxon battled to a bloody result. This ability of the Dragon’s is a direct result of a spell cast on her by the wizard Merlin, as a way to attain a lasting peace by enabling the country to heal through the forgetting of  past barbarisms.

It would seem that all of these travellers are on the same quest, but as the plot thickens, it becomes evident that all have diametrically opposed tasks. The prose is beautiful-many times throughout the story, the images Ishiguro described were vivid in my mind. The characters on the other hand are less defined, but the mystery attached to each character is integral to the storyline, as each is unsure of their past, owing to the mist of forgetfulness that has spread across the land.

The title Buried Giant most assuredly refers to the buried giant that is memory, and how we can forget, with the flip side being the question of whether we are better off forgetting, which would also negate any sense of justice or reckoning. There are many lessons embedded deep within the story for readers to discover, and I am sure that each reader will find many different interpretations.

The end is not what is expected, and while many questions remain unanswered, I found this an extremely satisfying and entertaining read. Recommended  for readers of Historical fiction, Fantasy, action/adventure and Psychological mystery

 (4 out of 5)

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September 7, 2015 · 1:28 pm

Review: Soil by Jamie Kornegay

soil

Soil

by Jamie Kornegay

Simon & Schuster (2015), 368 pages

Sigh…It is always exciting to read a debut from a new writer before the public does. And I always give a debut author plenty of room to find their voice, usually giving a fair review based on the very best attributes of the story. And believe me, there are more than a few areas where Soil shines, from the highly detailed description of the land and surroundings of a Mississippi flood basin, to the dark,  Southern gothic  miasma that leaves a film over each chapter.

As debuts go, Jamie Kornegay has displayed a refined talent for writing, and I look forward to watching this author grow.  His writing at times reminded of Faulkner, but where Faulkner would leave spaces that challenged the reader’s capacity to understand the meaning, Jamie Kornegay left me with more questions than answers.

The story revolves around a series of characters, each grappling with various forms of mental illness, and while this is not the main plot, it is a subject that is investigated through each character’s actions.

Soil is “A darkly comic debut novel …about an idealistic young farmer who moves his family to a Mississippi flood basin, suffers financial ruin and becomes increasingly paranoid he’s being framed for murder.” ~ (Jonathan Miles, award-winning author of Want Not and Dear American Airlines)

Jay and Sandy Mize don’t find farming to be all it’s cracked up to be. Sandy leaves Jay, Jay goes mad, finds a body on his property, and becomes embroiled in a feud with the Sheriff’s deputy, a greasy man who has a peeper issue, and also has his eyes on Jay’s wife.

The sometimes comical, but always “backwoods”weird plot comes to a boil at the very last, where I feel like I was left with a cliffhanger. I am not sure if there is a sequel planned, but I feel as if the author either thought it was funny to leave it as it is, or perhaps he was trying to be artsy. There were many loose ends I think, and I wish I had some answers. That said, I enjoyed the book, there are signs of genius at times, and while the ending kind of pissed me off, I still found this to be a satisfying read, as well as an introduction to a writer that I think will grow immensely.

****

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July 27, 2015 · 10:44 am

Review: The Darkening Sky by Hugh Greene

mystery bookThe Darkening Sky by Hugh Greene

Createspace (2014), Paperback, 204 pages
I love British Mysteries, and The Darkening Sky is no exception. Well written, with great development of characters; I felt that I knew Power & Lynch personally. I enjoyed the suspense of not knowing what was coming next; sudden twists and turns, along with unique characters kept me stuck to each page. In my view, Greene is bringing an updated, and fresh voice to the mystery game, and I look forward to further volumes in this highly entertaining and somewhat edgy series. Hugh Greene is a writer to start paying attention to in my opinion. Highly recommended.

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Review: Shots on the Bridge: Police Violence and Cover-Up in the Wake of Katrina

shots on the bridge

Shots on the Bridge: Police Violence and Cover-Up in the Wake of Katrina

by Ronnie Greene
Beacon Press (Published 08/08/2015), Hardcover, 256 pages

Nearly 10 years after Hurricane Katrina pummelled the Gulf Coast, all but destroying the city of New Orleans, Shots on the Bridge by Ronnie Greene revisits the Danziger Bridge shooting, the outcome of a police action gone terribly wrong days after Hurricane Katrina battered the city into submission. The result left 2 innocent people dead riddled with bullets, and 4 critically injured, including one woman having her arm literally blown off by NOPD  officers, who were answering an erroneous emergency call claiming that an officer was under fire.

Utilizing thousands of pages of court documents, including transcripts of the hours of testimony, and interviews with key subjects, Ronnie Greene is able to vividly describe the incident, the cover-up, and the trial, as well as the intricate political climate of past decades- a political climate that some claim  contributed to the events of Sept. 4th 2005.  The author offers the reader a biography of each of the participants- from the NOPD officers accused of gunning down unarmed hurricane victims, to the lawyers, judges and politicians, as well as the victims and witnesses (real and manufactured).

Greene’s storytelling ability combined with his scholarship meld effortlessly, leaving us an exciting read, as well as a complete report of this heinous crime committed against desperate, disaster victims who were in the wrong place at the wrong time. The crime itself, the killing of two and wounding of four, as explained by the defence team, can be attributed to the conditions the police were left in during the aftermath of the storm. No equipment, no supplies, no vehicles or communication, and most importantly- no leadership. Mayor Ray Nagin, and Police Commissioner Eddie Compass dropped the ball during Katrina and it’s aftermath- they had no viable plan for this eventuality.

This is troublesome on many levels, especially when the history of major hurricanes in the region goes back many decades. You would assume that a well thought out plan would be in place. We know now that this was not the case. Having said this, the segment of people who claim that the Mayor, and the Commissioner are just as responsible as those who pulled the trigger may have a valid point.

The fear and isolation experienced by the police, some of whom had lost everything in the storm, paired with the many false claims of rape and murder throughout the city, put forth by none other than Mayor Nagin and Eddie Compass, may have indeed contributed to the atmosphere that brought about this incident. That argument is not that far fetched when you examine all of the elements involved.

It is the second crime committed by the NOPD that should damn them. That crime was the attempt (a poor attempt to be sure) to cover up their terrible mistake. This is what this is all about-the fact that the officers involved conspired to hide the truth, while branding the victims as criminals who fired first,which was an outright fabrication. If it can be believed, this case is still ambling on to this day, even though some officers have come forth to tell the truth. If this erases your faith in Karma, consider the fact that former Mayor Ray Nagin is currently in jail serving 10 years for bribery and conspiracy, among other crimes. Small consolation for those impacted by this unfortunate experience.

With the 10 year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina on the horizon, Shots on the Bridge is a timely reminder of how leadership in our cities can disintegrate rapidly during  major disasters. It is also another example of police violence against the people they are sworn to protect.  Greene presents a well written account of the events, as well as the issues responsible for the outcome on the Danziger Bridge in East New Orleans, and the effects that are still being felt by many today. Highly recommended to all readers.

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July 9, 2015 · 8:08 am

Review- Infamy: The Shocking Story of the Japanese-American Internment in World War II

 

infamy

 

Infamy: The Shocking Story of the Japanese American Internment in Worl War II

by Richard Reeves

Henry Holt and Co. (2015), Hardcover, 368 pages

With Independence Day fast approaching, Americans across the country are gearing up to celebrate our great nation and it’s accomplishments. Our country was built on the idea of freedom, and justice-unfortunately the prize that our forefathers sacrificed so much to gain, would also be denied fellow Americans during WWII, based simply on their Japanese heritage.

Infamy, by Richard Reeves is more than an overview of  the internment of 120,000 Japanese Americans; Reeves puts names to the victims,  emphasizing that many of these people were Americans, born and bred.

On December 7th, 1941, The Japanese attacked the United States Naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii , and almost immediately, the Roosevelt administration ordered the removal of 120,000 people of Japanese descent from their homes, to be placed in squalid detention centers across middle America. The majority were American citizens, either by naturalization or birth, but that didn’t matter. Our hatred of the Japanese did not discern between the Japanese enemy, or the Japanese-American citizen-“A Jap’s a Jap”, as Lt. Gen. John DeWitt put it, and that unkind slogan would set the tone of the next several years.

The internment of America’s Japanese population  was prompted by the fear that a percentage of Japanese-Americans would  engage in espionage or sabotage. That theory was proven wrong of course, as over 2000  fought  in the War, many were called heroes for their Bravery in the Italian theater, even while their families were being held in camps at home. Reeves underscores the hysteria that swept the country, and goes beyond the war time years by pointing out just how long it took for our nation to come to terms with these actions.

Infamy is written in a matter of fact style, purely written, I believe, as a reminder to us all of what we are capable of when we feel threatened.  Those who are interested in History, as well as History experts will find this book fascinating; by connecting the victims with their names, professions, backgrounds and most of all, their rights as American citizens, I believe that Mr. Reeves has added a level of humanity that enables us all to put ourselves in the place of the victims.  That said, there is no guarantee that this couldn’t happen again in our lifetime. Highly recommended.

****

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Book Review: The Marauders by Tom Cooper

Show your all-American face. Smile your all-American smile. Commiserate. Apologize, promise, lie. Anything. As long as they take the money and sign on the dotted line.

marauders

The Maruaders

by Tom Cooper

Crown (2015) Hardcover, 320 pages

Set in the Bayous of Louisiana during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and the BP oil spill, Tom Cooper offers up a gritty, realistic, yet surreal portrait of the people involved in the shrimping business, as well as the oil company sharks intent on getting away with the ruination of a centuries old way of life. The battle for compensation is the backdrop behind the many smaller, yet equally important stories that weave across each other throughout the book.

Cooper has developed characters that are complex and believable, – from the one-armed shrimper who has wasted half his life in a search for fabled pirate treasure in the Barataria, the two hapless pot-head day laborers who think it a great idea to pilfer the harvest of the murderous twin Tchoup brothers, to the oil company executive who comes back home in order to rob his former neighbors and family out of their rightful compensation. All of these characters will eventually cross paths with varying results.

The story is reminiscent of Elmore Leonard, with a touch of Faulkner-chock full of violence, as well as pathos. The climax leaves many broken and ruined, with a bright spot that even Norman Rockwell would enjoy. The Marauders is one of my favorite reads of 2015 thus far, and I look forward to reading more by Tom Cooper in the future. Highly recommended.

*****

Thugbrarian Set-List: Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds- The First Born is Dead

Nick cave

I can’t think of a more appropriate album to listen to during my time reading the Marauder by Tom Cooper. the Southern Gothic vibe, the reverb drenched guitars, and the dark subject matter make for a fitting soundtrack to the story. This is a recent repress of the original on 180gm vinyl. A truly amazing album.

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April 12, 2015 · 3:39 pm

Review: The Strange Library by Haruki Murakami

Something quick, yet intense from Haruki Murakami. Art and literature combined, making for one enjoyable reading experience.

strange_library

 

The Strange Library

by Haruki Murakami
Bond Street Books (2014), Paperback, 96 pages

If you are an avid reader of Murakami’s books, you will agree that on the one hand, this is not what one expects from Haruki Murakami, but on the other, it makes perfect sense that he would write a twisted, yet artistic little book such as the Strange Library. It is a short read, lasting about 40 minutes, as many of the pages are filled with these very cool illustrations.

The story is basically about a teenaged boy who encounters an evil old librarian who tricks him into a reading room (cell) in the basement, which is at the far end of a labyrinthine web of corridors. There is a girl who comes and goes as if by magic, and a sheep man who receives as well as gives pain, and of course, the old librarian. If I said any more, I would be spoiling the fun.

That said, this is a whimsical piece of horror-fiction that will appeal to all ages. The illustrations are quite beautiful, and the short story is well written and intelligent. It’s as if a piece of art, and a creepy fairy tale met in a dark hall and fell in love. Highly recommended.
*****

 

Thugbrarian Set-List: OFF! First Four EPs.

Recently, I put together a vintage stereo system, using 1980s Technics components. The component that has been getting the most use is the Turntable. On it this week has been OFF!- First Four eps. This is the only real Hardcore Punk band around anymore. This is a great collection of 4 7″ records in a cool box. OFF! Everyone should hear it at least once.

Off Punk Rock

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March 19, 2015 · 7:28 pm

Book Review: Countdown to Zero Day: Stuxnet and the Launch of the World’s First Digital Weapon by Kim Zetter

Countdown to Zero Day is one of those books that sort of gives you the willies. The story of Stuxnet, the major computer virus that set-back the Iranian uranium enrichment program, will force you to rethink the internet’s benign nature- the internet can be a weapon, and this may just be the beginning (cue spooky music now). Scroll down at the end of the review, and listen to some Iggy Pop, from the album Soldier, this week’s Thugbrarian Set-List.

Stuxnet

 

Countdown to Zero: Stuxnet and the Launch of the World’s First Digital Weapon

by Kim Zetter

Crown (2014) Hardcover, 406 pages
 A mere five years ago, an internet virus all but shut down Iran’s Uranium enrichment program. An internet virus. Think about that for a minute. Author Kim Zetter airs out the dirty laundry in Countdown to Zero Day– the story behind the most powerful and destructive computer virus to date, Stuxnet, and how it was not only able to damage the Iranian’s nuclear aspirations, but also infecting millions of PCs across the globe.

Countdown to Zero Day reads like a good spy novel-the writing is fast-paced, and not over burdened by an abundance of tech-speak. There are more than enough citations to references, offering the reader the opportunity to further investigate on their own.  Zetter has done a good job of collecting all of the disparate pieces, and weaving them together to form a cohesive explanation of how Stuxnet came about, and what implications we will be dealing with moving forward.

 Highly recommended for anyone interested in technology, politics, espionage and most importantly, those who study the changing nature of modern warfare. Four stars

 

****

 

Thugbrarian Set-List: Iggy Pop- Soldier (1980)

 

Iggy Pop-SoldierThis has been one of my favorite Iggy albums since it came out. Nothing like the Stooges, but drenched in rock and roll swagger, and just a bit more “artsy” in my opinion.  Have a look and listen to this excellent live video version of the song Dog Food HERE

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February 2, 2015 · 7:23 am

Book Review: Beijing Bastard: Into the Wilds of a Changing China by Val Wang.

This is my first book review of 2015. I started this book in 2014, but with all the frivolity of the holidays, and being involved with the opening of the new main Library here in Norfolk, Va., I just couldn’t get much reading done. Make sure to check out the link to the Deadbolt-Hobo Babylon album on youtube, Embrace the Voodoobilly. Enjoy.

beijing

 

Beijing Bastard: Into the Wilds of a Changing China

by Val Wang
Gotham (2014), Hardcover, 352 pg

This is a memoir by a young American woman of Chinese descent; Val Wang takes us through her journey to her Parent’s China, complete with excellent descriptions of her family, the architecture, her friends and co-workers, as well as some vivid illustrations of the political climate. Val basically decides that the best way for her to escape her immediate family’s iron grip on her life would be to move to China, the country her family fought so hard to escape decades earlier, relocating to America to give their kids a better life.

Val wants to make a documentary film, and lucks out by becoming friends with directors, film makers, and various artistic types, who are totally bizarre in some instances. Between the black teeth due to pollution, the brushes with police that she encounters all too frequently, and the shady landlords, she paints a picture of Mainland China that may be quite different from what you might have envisioned it to be. The author introduces us to the Chinese underground art scene, as well as the nightlife, aspects of China that I was not aware of. The years long interview process of a prominent Peking Opera family is the heart of the story-  Wang’s description of each member of this quirky family left a photographic image in my head that afforded me the illusion of actually being in the same room. She comes away with something much different than what she was looking for, but learning some valuable lessons about life, and the creative process.

The gist of the memoir however, speaks more about Val’s relationship with her family, and her finally understanding her parents point of view. This is at heart, a coming of age story- one that also offers the reader an inside look at the similarities between people, families and the distinct life-force of a major city, in this case Beijing. The title of the book references a Chinese Movie that Val was enamored with titled Beijing Bastard. Ironically, once she watched it again, after many years, she realizes that it was actually a crappy film, and that perhaps she should rethink her motivations. In my opinion, this was an entertaining read, I learned much about modern Chinese city life, and just how alike we all are. This last point is also a large part of the story- she realizes that she left a life of being the outcast in America, surrounded by freaks and goofballs, to pretty much be an outcast in China, surrounded by freaks and goofballs.

Beijing Bastard was an easy to follow read, peppered with all manner of weird and wonderful characters. Val Wang puts together an entertaining story, a story of her escape from home, to make her own way in a faraway place. It took guts to do what she did, and to get a book out of it is one way to make it a worthwhile voyage. It had some adult situations that were actually quite awkward, which only added to the appeal in my view. It is not a novel, so the few issues with style and rhetoric should be ignored, as this is a true story, and should be accepted as it is offered. In addition to the entertainment factor, it is also an excellent education on how  people in Beijing live, work and play, something that really appealed to me.  Highly recommended.

****  (out of 5)

Deadbolt- Hobo Babylon

DEADBOLT

I have been listening to Deadbolt for many years. I never understood why so many supposedly cool music listening people never heard of them. Guess that makes me super cool. Anyway, these guys throw down some sweet Voodoo-billy, with funny stories and slick guitar lines. Hobo Babylon is my favorite album, basically because my favorite Deadbolt song is on this album, titled One Day I Will Kill You. Check out the Youtube Vid, and buy the album if you like them.

 

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January 12, 2015 · 6:18 pm