As a long time reader, I find (as time allows) that I can & will enjoy any number of things–from pure escapist fiction (for example, W2GD turned me on to John Sanford’s work recently), to history or otherwise non-fiction works. Recently, two titles caught my attention, & I’ll provide some background here.
First is Thomas Kessner’s The Flight of the Century, which is a look at Charles Lindbergh & the rise of American aviation. With plenty of background material, he presents a unique look at what happened to a young, unknown & unassuming airmail pilot after he successfully flew alone from New York to Paris. To call the reaction (on both sides of the ocean) euphoric barely begins to encompass the scope & scale of what happened. Kessner details the flight itself, as well, in complete detail. Of more interest is what happened not only to Lindbergh after his trip, but to aviation itself. It was, indeed, a transforming moment in world history.
Following this theme is Elgen M. Long’s Amelia Earhart: The Mystery Solved. Having read it, I’m 99% convinced he has indeed done exactly that–solved the riddle of what happened when & why. The primary reason for her failure stems (as you may know) from her incompetence with radio, along with some serious mis-communications between the US Navy & Earhart about those abilities. There’s so much detailed & clever examination & explication about radio that I searched on QRZ.com & sure enough, that name belongs to W7FT. No email address is provided, & there have only been a few searches for the call, so he’s probably not very active. But once you finish this book, I’m sure you’ll find yourself agreeing with the author’s conclusions about not only where the out-of-gas Electra could be found (a very pricey proposition, but still…), but why that “area of uncertainty” (a navigational term, which is the perfect metaphor for that failure to find Howland Island) is the only logical choice.
May 2011 In the months following these posts, I’ve read any number of things, often simply “escapist” fiction–thrillers and police procedures and mysteries, and so forth. But yesterday, I finished Mitchell Zuckoff’s LOST IN SHANGRI-LA. In a word, wow! What a story, all of it true. Simply amazing stuff. I’ll be surprised if Hollywood doesn’t snap this up. If your taste runs to military history, aviation themes, cross-cultural investigations, and stories about how people deal with crisis, you’ll find this book a real page-turner I believe. It’s that good.
Wow…the last update was back in September, 2011. Herewith, some things I’ve read, which deserve mention.
Lee Childs latest Jack Reacher novel, THE AFFAIR. Michael Connelly’s THE DROP, one of the better Harry Bosch books. Erik Larson’s IN THE GARDEN OF BEASTS. All of Michael Prescott’s novels–yes, ALL of them. Amazon had these for 99-cents & I must say, they were a tremendous bargain, great fun! The new ARRL Antenna Handbook–the very first hard-cover ARRL publication I’ve ever owned. Nicely done by Ward Silver, although having K7LXC write the section on Towers was a disappointment to find, but understandable, considering their history.
Awaiting delivery of the latest from Elmore Leonard, his Raylan Givens book, obviously following closely on the heels of the success of the JUSTIFIED TV-series success, which turned out to be a terrific show, very nicely done, with great acting by several of the characters, along with swell production values.
Yes, I’m addicted to the KINDLE at this point!
29 January 2012
In no particular order, some recent titles: THE GARNER FILES, a surprisingly good autobiographical collection of stories, memories, and history of James Garner’s life before, during and after Hollywood. The old cliche, you can actually “hear” Garner saying some of these lines certainly applies.
TAKEN, the latest Elvis Cole/Joe Pike novel from Robert Crais. Dealing with immigration (both legal and not), it’s carefully plotted and nicely done. One of these best in the series.
RAYLAN: A NOVEL, referenced above as something I was looking forward to, it’s a departure for Elmore Leonard, all right. Clearly driven by the TV-series, it has less of the Leonard event-driven plot, more of the dialogue we’ve grown accustomed to, and a lot more of the “coming attractions” feel to things. But still…it’s Elmore Leonard…
TITLE SEARCH and DOUBLE by Richard Givan. I stumbled across the second one first on Amazon for 99-cents. It was good enough for me to buy the first one afterward. Boy are very, very good. Clearly, Gavan has some chops. The hero is the closest thing yet to the successor to Travis McGee–John D. MacDonald’s knight errant, et cetera. That’s high praise, indeed!
SHIVER, NEXT VICTIM, IN DARK PLACES, RIPTIDE, DANGEROUS GAMES, LAST BREATH, & MORTAL FAULTS, STEALING FACES, BLIND PURSUIT, & MORTAL PURSUIT, all by Michael Prescott. Again, Amazon bargains that will keep you turning pages. I enjoyed each and every one. They made those motel nights while working on the road way more interesting than TV, that’s for sure.
THE DEAD ROOM & THE LOST WITNESS by Robert Ellis. I knew Bob when he was an undergrad at Ohio University (when I was working there, running the OU Film Production Laboratory). He was a student of Walter Tevis’s at the time. But who knew he’d end up writing these winning mystery novels? Swell stuff…
ANGLE OF INVESTIGATION by Michael Connelly, a simple collection of three Harry Bosch stories. It’s simple: any Harry Bosch story gets my attention. Now and forever. And then there is THE DROP, which is the latest Harry Bosch novel. Certainly one of the best in the series, which implies Connelly continues to grow or improve as a writer, and to understand and appreciate the complexities of his creation. Again, swell stuff.
The latest thriller from Thomas Perry, POISON FLOWER, arrived yesterday. It’s another in the Jane Whitefield series, and it is, in a word, terrific. Jane is quite simply, one of the most believable and likeable “heroic” characters out there. She has foibles, fears, and is not afraid to question herself, mostly in terms of her Native-American ancestory.
I’ve been on a Steve McQueen kick of late. I just finished his first wife’s (Neile McQueen) memoir, MY HUSBAND, MY FREIND, which is, quite simply, a wonderful account of their married life together, leading to their divorce and ultimately, his death in 1980 from cancer. Well written, with pain and pathos popping through on nearly every page!
JULY 2012 update
Here’s a random gathering of thoughts on some of the recently-read titles on the Kindle. Losing the hard drive on my trusty ThinkPad eliminates postings while on the road recently, so you’ll simply have to accept this lumped-together collection. In no particular order:
Larry Brown’s final novel–A Miracle of Catfish. I’ve said before no one gets into white trash mindsets & language like Brown. And this book represents a simply superb collection of the stories of a scattered family & some local town residents. The little gems scattered throughout the book are just that–hard, fast shiny glittering set pieces.
James Lee Burke’s Creole Belle, which is the lastest Dave Robicheux novel. As usual, there is some fine, fine writing in the crime novel. Hardly anyone can describe a setting or a sunset or something similarly simple, as Burke, & then connect that to his character’s feelings or reactions to an incident. You can literally almost feel Dave’s experience yourself. Good stuff, indeed.
Karin Slaughter’s latest, Criminal. While long, with sometimes tediuous passages, it’s yet further advancement of the characters she’s been developing in her past few works. Lots of dots get connected here. And whole new avenues stretch out before them at the conclusion. You can sense some directions, while others remain a mystery.
Robert Parker’s Lullaby, by Ace Atkins. In a word, wow! The Parker estate chose to allow Atkins to write a Spencer novel. It’s more Parker than Parker! It’s so LIKE Parker, you may think his death was a clever ruse or fake; he MUST still be writing. Best wishes for further adventures with the Boston PI.
Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. I’ve been an Alexie fan since way back when. He writes with honesty, sadness, & with humor. If you have ever wondered, thought, considered, remarked, even with only the vaguest of notions, of what being an American Indian might be like, you need to read Alexie. And ponder the consequences.
October 2012 updates, in no particular order–merely listed as I recall them while typing:
John Sandford’s new Virgil Flowers novel, MAD RIVER. He just keeps getting better; his dialogue here is ever more Leonard-like, flowing & advancing the narrative, while seemingly super realistic. And packed with the usual Minnesota, rock & roll & police procedural tidbits.
Lee Child’s new Jack Reacher novel, A WANTED MAN. The first Child story I can recall receiving bad reviews. I’m sure some of them are prompted by the decision to have Tom Cruise portray Jack Reacher in a movie, but the book is not up to Child’s usual level in many ways. While some criticize the storyline’s scene (Reacher is hitch-hiking; for extended periods he’s simply in a car with three other occupants), I personally found that to be not only original, but a challenge not only to provide some interest in advancing the plot, but developing the characters, since all three are lying, and not who or what they seem. The ending, however, is another story, if you’ll pardon the pun. It’s contrived, it’s dull, it’s full of holes–with no explanation or concrete analysis of who of what the threat really was, let alone any motivation, etc.
Somehow I got on a kick to learn something about Monica Lewinsky, so I bought the book, MY STORY, which turned out to be devilishly hard to find. I remain probably one of the few who wonders what all the fuss was about. I keep coming back to that time, when the budget had a surplus, unemployment was down, no wars were going on…jeez, what’s the big deal with a little oral sex, in the big scheme of things, anyway?
Reading all about Errol Morris’s new book on the Jeffrey MacDonald case, I noticed that while I intended to buy & read his book on photography, I never did. So…I did buy it & truly got lost wading in & around & through his analysis of pictures. I have long liked his documentary work; it’s truly unique & original. So this book. If you’re anything of a fan or “looking at pictures,” you’ll enjoy BELIEVING IS SEEING. I like just following along as Morris investigates or simply thinks about things, & the implications therein.
Wrapping the year up is always hard–leaving things out, or forgetting something, or otherwise giving scant attention to something, is always a problem. So I’ll send the year with just one title: A Higher Call: An Incredible True Story of Combat and Chivalry in the War-Torn Skies of World War II.
This true story will have you turning the pages, sometimes bleary-eyed, trying to focus through the tears. It’s that good a story, and that emotionally exciting. The story of two men, basically, an American B-17 bomber pilot and a German fighter ace, who encountered each other under extraordinary circumstances a few days before Christmas, 1943. You’ll learn some history, you’ll gain a little better understanding of what was going on in Germany at the time, and you’ll appreciate human courage and integrity a little more when you put it down. An absolutely first-rate piece of historical reporting, and certainly a story worth telling. Highly recommended!
April 2013 update
Spending as much time on the road as I do, I have grown extremely fond of SIRIUS’s Channel 80–the audible book selections. And while there recently, I stumbled across this simply wonderful-sounding female voice. The narrator is only identified at the beginning of each reading, so although I’d heard half a dozen episodes, I had no idea to whom I was actually listening, and admittedly, increasing growing to admire. Another odd fact was the choice of material itself–what can only be described as a “romance novel,” to wit, Susan Elizabeth Phillips’s FIRST LADY. Normally, I’d be switching channels in seconds. But…this reader…this reader had me captivated with her vocal skills. Deeper than usual (for a woman), with a seemingly acute focus on pronunciation and pacing. And most amazing of all, this book has a cast of characters within scenes ranging from two to half a dozen at a time. And this reader could switch gears so smoothly, so seemingly effortlessly, back and forth between different vocal characterizations, that I was simply hooked on listening to her do it! From a babe in arms, to the main character, to her love interest, to her stern Father, and so on and so on. I was, quite simply, mesmerized by her skills. Made somewhat more fascinating because I had no idea who she was. Finally after about five or six episodes, I was there at the beginning, where she merely said, “Read by Anna Fields.”
I was working in NY, so you can bet I wrote that down, for when I had some spare time to Google her. Imagine my shock, surprise, and absolute dismay and disappointment to discover she was Kate Fleming in real life, and she had died in a freak floodstorm in her Seattle-based studio in 2006! Of course, it was no surprise to learn she’d recorded over 200 titles, and was an award-winner in the professional audiobook world. Her voice is simply THAT distinctive, THAT remarkable, THAT wonderful to listen to. There are lots of titles to choose from, but I’ve found audiobooks to be relatively expensive, all things considered. Still, hers is a voice I’ll long remember, and a voice whose rhythms and cadences will echo within me for the rest of my days. She obviously was very talented, and someone whose take on reading would have been worth learning. A voice silenced way, way too early….
May 2013Turns out, finding affordable AudioBooks read by Anna Fields is somewhat difficult. Prices seem, well, outrageous, as far as my experience goes. So it was with a small amount of glee that I stumbled across a New-In-The-Box edition of WEST WITH THE NIGHT, by Beryl Markham, with Anna reading, on eBay, for a paltry $12. I snapped it up. And it got me through a little over eight hours of my 12-hour trip to NY last week. Once again, I am simply captivated by this woman’s ability to instill seemingly every human emotion, every nuance possible with her voice, to characters as remote as an English girl growing up in East Africa. Place names, Swahili words, animal sounds…there’s literally nothing too imposing for this woman to breathe life into through her reading. The search continues for affordable copies of her work. I certainly wish I could speak with her about her work; I remain, quite simply, fascinated by her abilities.
Despite there being no entries within this category for so long (six years!), I’m still an active reader. And have recently discovered another simply fascinating piece of work. The biography (chock full of history, anecdotes, and pure enthusiasm for radio communications) of Elizebeth Friedman. I’m speaking of Jason Fagone’s The Woman Who Smashed Codes.
The writing is crisp, clean, and quite moving. Elisebeth was a true American original. Indeed, she and her husband, William Friedman, were involved with code-breaking their entire lives, including the foundation of the NSA, and yet, their story has not only been kept secret, but largely ignored. I found the work to be a true page-turner–it’s that good.