Gone Fishin’ by Walter Mosley

September 22, 2014

Gone Fishin'Walter Mosley is perhaps best known for his Easy Rawlins mysteries (Devil in a Blue Dress, et al), but the man has written a lot and tackled many different genres. Therefore, it would be unfair to say that Gone Fishin’ is an unusual Walter Mosley book. But it is not a mystery. Instead, it is a Bildungsroman that contains some faces familiar to readers of the Easy Rawlins series.
The main characters are said Ezekiel “Easy” Rawlins and his friend Raymond “Mouse” Alexander, and the year is 1939 – nine years before the events of Devil in a Blue Dress; the novel that launched the Rawlins’ series.

Late one night, a racket breaks out on Easy’s apartment door: “I knew it couldn’t be the police,” Rawlins says, “they just broke down the door in that neighborhood”. Instead, Mouse is the one who interrupts his rest. Mouse is about to marry EttaMae, a hugely popular woman, and thus he needs some money. To overcome his shortage of currency Mouse wants Easy to drive him from their home in Houston’s Fifth Ward to a Texas town called Pariah (!), where Mouse hopes to access to his “Momma’s dowry.” The problem is that his stepfather Reese Corn stands between Mouse and the dowry, and Mouse – who isn’t easily scared – is afraid of Reese.

Easy is offered 15 dollars and agrees, although he is mad because he is about to lose his friend. He’d help Mouse out without the “threats and the IOU,” but to make sure that Mouse doesn’t realize this, Easy says, “I want my fifteen dollars, man. You know I ain’t doin’ this fo’my health.”

And in a three year old car that Mouse has “borrowed,” they leave Houston for Pariah.

As they reach the bayou, Mouse suggests that they should visit his friend, Momma Jo. On a ledge over her fireplace, Easy sees thirteen skulls, one of them clearly human.

“’Domaque,’ Momma Jo said, and I turned to see her looking at me.

‘What?’

‘My husband.’”

Yes. They have entered the land of voodoo, and soon enough, sex, revenge, and death keep them company, too.
It has been pointed out elsewhere that Mosley’s books have strong existentialist traits. This is true for Gone Fishin’ which portraits a morally ambiguous world. And it is a novel filled with all kinds of tensions and questions: “Who knows?” Easy says, “Maybe I would’ve died out there in Pariah if Mouse hadn’t held me to his black heart.”

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The Owl Who Liked Sitting on Caesar: Living with a Tawny Owl by Martin Windrow

September 19, 2014

Owls have always fascinated me. On the rare occasions when I have seen one, I was mesmerized. My husband, a wetland biologist who roams the woods for both work and pleasure, once brought me an owl feather. It was incredibly soft, an adaptation that helps owls to fly silently, catching their prey unawares without any flapping sounds that might warn their prey.

Martin Windrow’s pet owl, Mumble, was reared for him from a hatchling, and they met when she was one month old. She appeared to be “wearing a one-piece knitted jumpsuit of pale grey fluff with brown stitching.” She jumped up onto his shoulder and nestled against his cheek “like a big, warm dandelion head” and said “Kweep!” very softly. Martin fell head over heels in love.

Over the fifteen years they lived together, Martin kept detailed journal entries about Mumble’s growth, appearance and behavior. The drawings and photographs in the book demonstrate Mumble’s favorite poses—fluffed up after her bath (Mumble adored to splash in the sink full of soapy water while Martin washed dishes), lying on her stomach with wings spread while sunbathing, pouncing on imaginary mice between the sofa cushions, and sitting contentedly on her various perches, including the bust of Germanicus Caesar.

Windrow lets us in on all the secrets of owl life—from the “disgusting bits” like bringing up pellets to a detailed description of Mumble’s preening sessions, which can take as long as an hour. Because of their long, flexible necks (which are usually hidden in their downy feathers), owls can turn their heads around 270 degrees. This makes their preening look rather like a contortionist’s act! The grooming ended with a fluff-out and a shake, followed by “a last prim, Victorian little shrug to settle the edges of her furled wings” and a final shuffle of her feet.

Windrow’s dry, witty style is perfectly suited to describing his dignified little friend. She was fascinated with his beard and loved to preen it, combing her beak through it. One night while Martin was stretched out on the sofa reading, she landed suddenly between his book and his face, half smothering him in feathers and provoking him to cry out in surprise. As Martin says, “She apparently construed the resultant burst of warm air up her petticoats as a physical liberty, because she bent forward and carefully bit me on the bridge of my nose.”

Reading Windrow’s delightful book is the next best thing to cuddling with a real, live owl of your own.

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The Closer by Mariano Rivera and Wayne Coffey

September 18, 2014

First of all, a couple admissions from me. I love baseball, and I have been a New York Yankees fan for almost 70 years!

Now on to a delightful story of a future Hall of Famer, humble Mariano Rivera – the greatest relief pitcher in baseball history.

This is the story of a tall skinny kid from Panama, who was embedded in the family fishing business. Sardines were their specialty and it appeared that fishing would be Mariano’s future. But somewhere along the line, a baseball scout discovered that this kid could throw a baseball with unbelievable accuracy.

Mariano tells the story of his life in the poorest section of Panama and his relationship with a young woman named Clara whom he hoped to marry one day, and details how Rivera, with the guidance of some friends and a strong religious belief, became one of the greatest baseball players of all times.

Being a closer is in some ways one of baseball’s most difficult achievements. You are brought into a game at the very end and asked to get the final few outs to preserve a victory for your team. Maybe it is a one run game, maybe the score is tied, maybe you pitch one inning , maybe two, maybe even three innings. All the pressure is on you and Mariano Rivera did it better than anyone else in the history of baseball.

Enjoy the warm tale of one of baseball’s super heroes and truly one of it’s nicest ambassadors.

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Influx by Daniel Suarez

September 17, 2014

Influx, published this year, is Daniel Suarez’s fourth novel. It deals with a shadowy and overlooked federal government organization: the Bureau of Technology Control. The Bureau was long ago tasked to suppress disruptive technologies, for the sake of the status quo. Lax oversight has allowed the Bureau not only to suppress, but also to further develop and utilize these technologies for its own sinister purposes.

An unconventional physicist comes up with a way to alter gravity. As you can imagine, this might disrupt both the air travel and shipping industries. On the eve of the invention’s debut, there is a disastrous explosion right after the inventor is abducted by the Bureau.

The physicist finds himself in a matrix like prison, subjected to various tortures undertaken to gain his cooperation. Slowly he makes contact with other prisoners who have invented many of the hoped for scientific breakthroughs society has yet to see. Working together, these inventors are able to help the physicist escape so he can expose the Bureau and rescue them.

Suarez is a former technology consultant to big business and government. He knows his science. Suarez has developed into a writer that not only can present technological issues through his storytelling but also turns out a crackling page-turner that readers won’t want to put down.

I’ve since read Suarez’s three other novels in their published order. Out of the blocks, Suarez proved himself a capable writer. His first book, Daemon is about a computer game let loose in the real world that slowly begins to change how the world works. In Daemon’s sequel, Freedom, the Daemon is overcome. His third book, Kill Decision is about militarized autonomous drones that have the ability to kill people without a decision being made by a human.

Ultimately, two things made me decide to read Daniel Suarez’s books. The first was a cover blurb by my trusted guide Stewart Brand, a Merry Prankster and creator of the Whole Earth Catalog. The blurb reads, “Daemon is better than early Tom Clancy…The tech is invoked with inside knowledge, the writing is better, and deeper issues are explored with greater imagination.” The second is that Suarez’s blogroll includes Homestar Runner.

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The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams

September 16, 2014

“Time is an illusion. Lunchtime doubly so.”

I first experienced The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy in high school, and I think I have not gone more than a week without thinking about that one particular line since then. I chose the word “experienced” rather than read because H2G2, as Neil Gaiman dubbed it, comes in many forms. It was initially a radio play for the BBC, then became a five volume trilogy of books (don’t try to make sense of this), a legendarily difficult computer game, a BBC miniseries and a feature film, among other incarnations. I first encountered the story as an audiobook read by the author, and among the many lines and ideas that have been swimming around in my brain like a Babel Fish ever since, this notion of the illusory nature of time is at the forefront.

It’s illustrative of the real genius of Douglas Adams, which is often found in the footnotes and at the margins, in his gift for amazing throwaway lines and casual asides that are simultaneously make the reader laugh and reconsider everything that they know about the nature of the universe. The story of H2G2 begins with ordinary Englishman Arthur Dent attempting to prevent his house from being demolished, continues with the destruction of the Earth, joining up with the two-headed galactic president as he absconds with a new spaceship and then arriving at an ancient planet where they discover the answer to life, the universe and everything. This is only the first book, mind you.

It’s an engaging and entertaining story, and the characters are instantly memorable and iconic. Besides the lovable everyman Arthur the reader gets to know and adore Ford Prefect, an alien who had been working undercover on Earth to compile the entry about earth for the titular intergalactic guidebook and encyclopedia, the aforementioned two headed president Zaphod Beeblebrox, Marvin, the depressed, paranoid android and the Vogons, a vile race of aliens known for their love of truly abysmal poetry, and that only scratches the surface of this staggering, multimedia comedic achievement. If you’ve never experienced H2G2, hang on to your towel and don’t panic. It’s mostly harmless.

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Money Can’t Buy Love by Connie Briscoe

September 15, 2014

Money Can't Buy Love by Connie BriscoeLife is not so grand for thirty-something Lenora Stone, she’s struggling to pay her bills, despises her boss and her long time beau just won’t pop the question. Lenora is a photographer for the Baltimore Scene, a magazine that features Baltimore’s elite. Lenora could only wish for the life that her clients live. Lenora faithfully plays the lottery and one day she actually hits the jackpot, her life is definitely about to change.

Lenora is in a state of shock that she is millionaire. She holes up in her home and refuses to go to work until she can come to terms with her new found wealth. Lenora’s adjustment period is short lived; she quits her job and purchases a luxury vehicle, and a mini mansion in an exclusive neighborhood and Gerald is finally ready to propose. Everything seems to be going well for her.

After quitting her job, Lenora decides to go into business for herself and purchases a space for a studio. Ray Shearer, a handsome landscaper, is Lenora’s first client. She met Ray on a previous assignment and sparks fly immediately. This is obviously a problem since she is engaged. Lenora’s romantic relationships may be heating up but her friendship with longtime friends, Monica and Alise are on shaky ground. Lenora claims they are treating her differently because she won the lottery and thinks she has changed for the worse. Lenora has a lot going on in her life and is not quite sure how to handle it. Will Lenora make the right decisions, or will everything fall apart?

This is a great read for the beach or a lazy afternoon. Connie Briscoe does a great job of reminding us that money does not ensure happiness. You will enjoy following Lenora through her journey of ups and downs.

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Orleans by Sherri L. Smith

September 12, 2014

OrleansIn 2005 Hurricane Katrina ripped thru New Orleans and the surrounding areas with devastating results.  In her new novel, Sherri L. Smith has imagined a different world in which Hurricane Katrina was only a mild storm and subsequent other hurricanes were far more destructive with a greater loss of life.  After the destruction from these subsequent hurricanes, came Delta Fever.  Delta Fever sounds like something easily cured with antibiotics, but for those suffering from it there was no cure.  The United States is not quite sure what to do,  so it quickly quarantines the entire city of New Orleans, and then completely abandons it. The United States has more pressing internal problems.

While there is no cure for Delta Fever, those afflicted quickly learn that segregation among blood types prevents the symptoms of the fever.  Now fast forward to the year 2056 where lawlessness and an uneasy truce between the blood types make life difficult for the residents of Orleans.  Most people in the Outer States think that there are no more people living in New Orleans.  When Daniel, a scientist from the Outer States, sneaks thru the quarantine zone, he is surprised to find a tribal society.

Daniel meets up with Fen, who up until a recent ambush had been living with her O-positive tribe.  The ambush left her tribe in splinters, with the most vulnerable member of her tribe in her care– her chieftain’s newborn child.  Fen’s goal is to keep Baby Girl uninfected so she can smuggle her out of the city into the Outer States.  Can Daniel and Fen make it or will their luck run out?

This book is one of my favorite recent post-apocalyptic books.  It is very fast paced and has an interesting premise.  Recommended for most sci-fi fans.

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The Wave by Todd Strasser

September 11, 2014

Ben Ross was an enthusiastic young teacher, always leading his high-school history students toward deeper understanding, rather than just memorizing battle dates and lists of kings. The older teachers tolerated his style, figuring that it would wear off soon enough. When Ben showed his students a film about the Nazi concentration camps, some of his kids woke up from their bored lethargy, but they raised questions about how this could have happened. A few of them openly stated that they did not believe that ordinary people would stand by and let their neighbors be treated this way. Ben needed a strategy to convince them that the Holocaust really did happen— and could happen again.

The next day, class was conducted differently. Ben wrote on the board: “Strength Through Discipline.” He made the kids stand beside their desks and start all of their answers with, “Mr. Ross!” There was no discussion, just questions and rapid-fire answers. To Ben’s surprise, the students ate it up! The class showed a cohesion that he had never seen before, and later they opined that they all felt equal for the first time. As the days went by, they created a salute and a motto, and the movement spread beyond Ben’s class. Even the football team began to incorporate the disciplined group mentality that began as Ben’s experiment. Students who had always been shunned as outsiders were some of the most enthusiastic adherents, as they fit into a group for the first time. Chillingly, however, Ben’s students began to persecute those who were not part of the group, and at least one young man landed in the hospital. How could Ben bring this experiment to an end?

Although The Wave is a novel, it is based on the true story of a classroom experiment in Palo Alto, California, in 1969, and is often assigned in high schools. The writing is simple and straightforward, but the message is frightening. Pair this with the spectacular novel The Book Thief (also based on a true story) or the movie based on this title, which I highly recommend. Sometimes it feels as if we are awash in Holocaust stories, but their importance goes far beyond the history of what happened in Germany seventy years ago. It is the revelation of the evil that lies within each of our souls that needs to be kept out in the open, warning us that this was not just a German phenomenon; it is a human phenomenon. Even at our best, we rush to self-preservation against the slightest danger, but at our worst, we can perpetrate terrible cruelties toward our very own neighbors if the opportunity presents itself—and opportunities are always presenting themselves. If you are looking for ways to discuss these issues with your teens, or even among an adult book group, this story is a great springboard. Weighing in at 138 small pages, everyone should be able to get in on the conversation.

This review was adapted from the original on EatReadSleep.

 

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The Astronaut Wives Club: A True Story by Lily Koppel

September 10, 2014

Astronaut Wives ClubThe Astronaut Wives Club provides readers with first-hand accounts of what it was like to be a wife to some of America’s first men in space. The wives went from ordinary housewives of pilots to Astronaut Wives overnight. The wives describe what it felt like to experience the glitz and glam of appearing on the cover of Life Magazine. Women around the country admired them and followed what they wore and what they cooked for their astronaut families. This fame had its downsides too. The wives had to deal with absent and or cheating husbands, “cookies” (astronaut groupies), cameras tuned on them constantly during the dangerous space missions, and their husbands’ moods when they came down to Earth.

The Astronaut Wives Club was formed by the wives as a way to provide support and friendship to each other during times of intense excitement and stress. Through this club they formed life-long friendships and a kind of sisterhood. The wives would go to each other’s houses to keep them company during the space missions to offer comfort, food, and empathy as only they knew what it felt like to have a husband in this rare occupation. Lily Koppel provides a unique perspective of some of America’s thrilling historical events. Astronaut Wives Club is a fascinating and fun read and would be a great non-fiction book club selection. This is one of the new book club kit titles available through Wake County Public Libraries.

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Still Foolin’ ‘Em : Where I’ve Been, Where I’m Going, and Where the Hell Are My Keys? by Billy Crystal

September 9, 2014

Still Foolin' 'EmI am a child of the 80’s, so my first memories of Billy Crystal are of him as Miracle Max in one of my all-time favorite movies, “The Princess Bride”. So when I saw he had a new book out, Still Foolin’ em, I had to read it.

Billy Crystal has just turned 65 and is looking back on his life with grace and humor. He’s been responsible for many iconic moments of comedic history in the last several decades. The book is part memoir about his accomplished career and part musings on random, relatable topics. It is funny, charming and at times emotional.

Billy Crystal has been in the business for decades and has had a remarkably unscandalous life and career, which is rare for a celebrity these days. As he writes of his young life, “Growing up Crystal was great” and he enjoyed his loving and supportive family as a young child. Billy tells of his rise to celebrity as well as tales of being a dad and more recently the joys of grand-kids. Billy has been happily married to his wife for over 35 years and they are still going strong.

Along the way, Billy Crystal has made some lasting relationships in his showbiz career. He has a particularly touching relationship with Muhammad Ali, who lovingly calls Billy, “little brother”. Another friendship that he mentions that is more significant of late, is that with Robin Williams who he worked with on their successful Comic Relief charity fundraiser. Just a few days ago, after the sudden and tragic passing of Williams, I watched a clip of Robin Williams winning an academy award for “Good Will Hunting” at one of the Oscars that Crystal hosted. The two shared a joyous and intimate hug after Williams’s acceptance speech. I looked at that Oscars a little differently having just read Billy’s book.

I read this book but wanted to mention that the audio is narrated by Billy Crystal and that he won an “Audie” for it, which is an award that honors achievement in audiobooks. Wake County Public libraries has the downloadable audio version and I’m sure it’s “Marvelous”!

This book is a treat, filled with anecdotes that only Billy Crystal could tell, so if you are looking for a light and entertaining read (or listen), this book is for you!

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