Monthly Archives: September 2013

September 30, 2013 – Rick Steves and Tony Hawks

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Rick Steves’ Postcards From Europe: 25 Years of Travel Tales from America’s Favorite Guidebook Writer, copyright 1999, published by Avalon Travel

Rick Steves is an American author and television personality focusing on European travel. He is the host of the American Public Television series Rick Steves’ Europe, has a public radio travel show, Travel with Rick Steves, and has authored various location-specific travel guides. (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rick_Steves)

Okay this book was my bad.  I should have read the title with more care.  I assumed it read America’s Favorite Travel Writer.  Nope.  Guidebook Writer.  This explains a lot.  He may write a mean guidebook but he’s shit for travel.  Self aggrandizement and nonsensical thinking abound.

Mr. Steves advocates independent travel and encourages Americans to visit not just major cities but also cozy villages away from popular tourist routes. Then while visiting these sites himself while writing this book he bitches about how the tourists are taking over these cozy villages and ruining them.  Well shit Rick, who told them to go there?

Finally, if you’re going to have photos in a travel book, have good photos.  Mr. Steves’ photos are black and white and 1 inch by 1 inch.  I realize that the photos in my posts are probably the same size or less, but I’m showing you book covers not the French Riviera.  Here is a tiny black and white photo of the French Riviera:

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I’m disinclined to travel to the land of unidentifiable.  If you are so inclined try http://www.ricksteves.com/

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Round Ireland With a Fridge by Tony Hawks, copyright 1998, published by Thomas Dunne Books
Antony Gordon Hawksworth (aka Tony Hawks), is a British comedian and author.  (See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tony_Hawks)
To win a wager for the sum of 100 pounds Mr. Hawks agrees to hitchhike the circumference of Ireland with a 2 square foot fridge, excluding Northern Ireland “since there was a distinct possibility the fridge might be mistaken for a bomb.” Amount that Mr. Hawks paid for fridge?  130 pounds, 30 pounds more than wager.
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According to Mr. Hawks he is not, “by nature, a drinking man.  However, the making of the bet which led to this book does not bear testimony to that.  Because I made it when I was pissed.  Everything you read from this moment on is a tribute to what can be achieved as a result of a shabby night of booze.”
And apparently numerous more nights of booze in pubs round the circumference of Ireland.  For a man who is not, by nature, a drinker, he drinks a lot.  Thankfully this does not preclude him from writing a good, enjoyable book.  For a little light reading I give this book two paws up.
cheeringcat
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September 23, 2013 – Luis Alberto Urrea, James Patterson and James Patterson

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The Devil’s Highway A True Story by Luis Alberto Urrea, copyright 2004, published by Back Bay Books

The journey of 26 Mexicans who decide to cross the border in the Sonoran Desert, during which 14 of the 26 die.

I’m going to take the middle ground and not give my opinion on illegals crossing the border as this is a very touchy subject, especially here in Arizona where I live.  Suffice to say that Mr. Urrea writes so well that it seems his talents are wasted on a book that few might read due to the subject matter.  G. suggests The Hummingbird’s Daughter (fiction) as being a good Luis Urrea book to read.  I doubt I will, but feel free to take her advice.  However be aware of the fact that G. believes China Melville to also be a good author.

patterson<—– Not my best work

I’m going to cover two James Patterson books because A) I read them; and B) Two of shit is still shit.  Granted Mr. Patterson is my new Nancy Drew but I had hoped for better.

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Hide and Seek by James Patterson, copyright 1996, published by Warner Books

The trial of a woman who shot her first husband and is possibly guilty of killing her second husband as well.

My first reactions upon finishing this book were as follows:

1.  Vas is das?

2.  What in tarnation?

3.  What in the name of Sam Hill?  (For possible origins of Sam Hill:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sam_Hill_%28euphemism%29)

4.  DON’T QUIT YOUR DAY JOB!

You know what this is?  This is a romance loosely disguised as a mystery.  Romance!  If I wanted to read romance I would check myself in to the nearest psychiatric facility to have my head examined.

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Jack & Jill by James Patterson, copyright 1996, published by Warner Books

In the middle of the night a controversial U.S. senator is found murdered in bed.  The police turn up only one clue: a mysterious rhyme signed “Jack and Jill”.

The third of the Alex Cross series, Jack & Jill is better than Hide and Seek but not by much.  You know why?  Here’s why:

“She slithered up and down his long, powerful pole, his strength, his exquisite maleness.”

I’m sorry, I thought I was reading a mystery not a bodice buster!  Slithered?  Da fug?  I’m pretty sure that Nancy Drew has never slithered.  Ever.  On anything.

horrifiedcat

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September 20, 2013 – Michael Connelly, Firoozeh Dumas and Craig Roberts

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The Reversal by Michael Connelly, copyright 2010, published by Little, Brown and Company

Longtime defense attorney Mickey Haller is recruited to prosecute the retrial of a brutal child murderer exonerated by new DNA evidence.  Haller is convinced the killer is guilty, and he takes the case on the condition that he gets to choose his investigator, LAPD Detective Harry Bosch.

I still can’t figure out why Mr. Connelly is so popular.  I have certainly read my fill and would not have read The Reversal had it not been chosen by the mystery book club as the September book.  This is however partially my fault.  Had I not missed so many previous meetings, I could have voted to oust this pick.

This is the sequel to The Lincoln Lawyer, a book I never read.  I never saw the movie either.  Perhaps if I had I might have appreciated The Reversal better.  I doubt it.  In my opinion, Mr. Connelly commits a cardinal sin by skipping back and forth between first and third person.  I hate that.

This is why it is so important to vote!

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Funny In Farsi: A Memoir of Growing up Iranian in America by Firoozeh Dumas, copyright 2003, published by Random House

In 1972 when she was seven, Firoozeh Dumas and her family moved from Iran to Southern California, arriving with no firsthand knowledge of this country beyond her father’s glowing memories of his graduate school years here.

And the gut-busting laughter supposedly soon follows.  NOT.  I checked briefly to see if I could find out how to say not in Farsi but nothing came up quickly enough and I couldn’t be bothered for serious research for one word.  This is another book I’m happy I borrowed through the library.

I get recommendations from Goodreads and Amazon and then read other customer reviews.  Apparently I am not in the majority when it comes humor.  Funny in Farsi is Funny-ish.  Customer reviews promised me “Hilarious”, “Laugh out loud” and “Funny”.

Dave Barry can have me laughing out loud the day after my cat dies.  Laurie Notaro makes me laugh until I cry.  Firoozeh Dumas had me coming up with adjectives such as cute and nice.  But not like puppy or kitten cute, not an Awww kind of cute.  These words may not really go together but I’m going to call this a monotonous cute.  No real ups or downs.  A consistently nice book.  Nice.

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Crosshairs in the Kill Zone: American Combat Snipers, Vietnam through Operation Iraqi Freedom by Craig Roberts and Charles Sasser, copyright 2004, published by Pocket Books

Okay, now we’re getting on to my kind of book!  Yet sadly even this book as enjoyable as it was, especially for military combat buffs, had its shortcomings.  Every second or third chapter, instead of covering the story of a sniper, covered the history of snipers schools.  Yawn.

My husband patiently (snottily really) pointed out that snipers have to learn their craft before being sent out in the field.  And as I often say, that’s fine but I don’t want to read about it.  I had to learn to read and write before I could start this blog but I’m not going to bore you with the details.

Skip the chapters on sniper school and you’ve got a good book.  To prove it, I’m going to end with a few paragraphs from a sniper in Vietnam that made my day.

A Bird Dog, a Cessna spotter plane, who happened to be cruising the skies in the vicinity overheard the radio chatter.  He banked, dropped lower to the south of us, and flew back.  He came up on the channel.

“I see enemy elements across the river,” he reported.  “I’ll mark them with red smoke.”

We watched him through field glasses.  That Air Force pilot was one ballsy dude.  He nosed the tiny plane down, came in hard and swept on through the tracers blasting out of the forest at him.  A red puff of smoke marked one end of the enemy’s flank.

He then marked the other flank.  Through binoculars, I saw him extend his arm out the window of the Cessna as he made his pass, a .38 pistol in hand.  Green tracers webbed the sky all around the little plane as the gooks unleashed everything they had at him – and he returns fire with a pistol.  A guy with courage like that, I would have kissed his ass in Macy’s window.

And I would have watched.

guncat

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September 15, 2013 – Michael Anthony, James Patterson & Peter Mayle

As you no doubt noticed, I’m going to try a new title system and give the names of the authors I’m covering for the current post.  I hope this will make it easier (for me at least) to look up previous authors and books I’ve covered.

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Mass Casualties: A Young Medic’s True Story of Death, Deception, and Dishonor in Iraq by SPC Michael Anthony, copyright 2009, published by Adams Media

The way this book is titled, it sounds like Mr. Anthony went to Iraq to save lives, kick ass and chew bubblegum.  Ha!  The truth?  He apparently signed up thinking he was going to to have the private room, fancy clothes and sauna bath that Goldie Hawn in Private Benjamin was offered.  This book should be titled Mass Whining by SPC Whiny.

He whines, his friends whine and  his superiors whine.  Illicit drugs and affairs run rampant.  Okay, as a realist I have to accept that these things will happen everywhere, including the military.  But after reading War by Sebastian Junger, I found myself disappointed and appalled by the behavior of “America’s finest” shown in Mass Casualties.

This is a book that should never have been published and should you find yourself with a copy in hand, drop it and back away immediately.  You’d be better off reading James Patterson.  Speaking of which. . .

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Kiss The Girls by James Patterson, copyright 1995, published by Warner Books

This second book of the Alex Cross series is somewhat shorter and way better than the first.  First off, and this is the major criteria, higher body count.  Murder and dismemberment abound or at least show up at fairly regular intervals.  My complaint for this book is the same complaint I have for most books of the mystery genre.  All the lead detectives (whether male or female) are stunningly good looking and never at a loss for extremely attractive people practically throwing themselves in their path for gratuitous sex.  Really?  REALLY?

Far be it for Mr. Patterson to break from the mold.  And so who is Alex Cross’ sexual partner for Kiss The Girls?  Why a victim of course!  Makes sense.  Alex Cross is such a wonderful, sensitive, total babe that a woman who was kidnapped, violently beaten and repeatedly raped would just jump at his penis within a month or so of her travails.  My eyes hurt from rolling.

I confess that I enjoy reading Mr. Patterson much in the same way I enjoy reading the older Nancy Drew series.  Simplistic, fun and often unknowingly humorous.  This having been said, I would still recommend Mr. Patterson any day before SPC Michael Anthony.

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A Year In Provence by Peter Mayle, coypright 1989, published by Vintage Books

Autobiography of Mr. Mayle’s first year of living in a 200-year-old farmhouse in Luberon, France.

I chose this book because I’m on an armchair traveling spree and this was recommended to me by Amazon.  I agree with the Washington Post review in calling this a delightful book.  It is.  Light, enjoyable reading.  However, the paroxysms of piss-yourself laughter that was promised by multiple Amazon customer reviews was not forthcoming.

I am, by nature, a rather morose and pessimistic person and perhaps this might explain my lack thereof.  I did smile a number of times though and would wholeheartedly recommend this book.  Off all the books covered today, this provided the best reading.

happycat

P.S. This is my 50th post!

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September 12, 2013

Remember back on my August 24, 2013 post after covering Riding The Iron Rooster I promised to find out if the Chinese still spit as profusely now as they did then.  Well, we’re back with the end of the China saga and the results are not good.

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Oracle Bones: A Journey Between China’s Past and Present by Peter Hessler, copyright 2006, published by Harper Collins

Mr. Hessler lived in China but never seemed to travel around China.  This is more of a history of the country, linguistics, archeology and frank greed.  The government may still control their lives but by god they have a chance of getting a color TV and that makes life worthwhile.  So here I picked the wrong book to compare to Riding The Iron Rooster.

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Lost on Planet China: The Strange and True Story of One Man’s Attempt to Understand the World’s Most Mystifying Nation by J. Maarten Troost, copyright 2008, published by Broadway Books

Ok.  Mr. Troost traveled through China by bus, train and plane and 20 years after the publication of Riding the Iron Rooster by Paul Theroux, he assured me (the reader) that upon stepping out of his hotel in Beijing:

“I stepped out and watched the doorman do his morning ritual, which consisted of purging an immense, glutinous loogie from somewhere deep within his innards, followed by the expulsion of a dribble of snot from first one nostril and then the other, and then, apparently satisfied with this ousting of liquids, lighting up a cigarette….It soon became apparent that somehow I’d have to come to terms with the interesting methods the Chinese use for expelling the contents of their noses and lungs.  The Chinese have invented many things, but the handkerchief is not among them.  I walked on and watched the residents of Beijing, young and old, greet the new day with an immense hawk and a resonant splatter, and then, just as I thought the streets of Beijing could not be further befouled, I came across a man who squatted beside the curb.  He was holding a toddler in split pants over the gutter so that the boy could take a shit here in downtown Beijing.”

It does not sound as if anything has improved since Mr. Theroux’s travels through China in the 80s and I for one see no reason to visit.

gross cat

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September 8, 2013

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Where The Mountain Casts Its Shadow: The Dark Side of Extreme Adventure by Maria Coffey, copyright 2003, published by St. Martin’s Press

Where the Mountain Casts Its Shadow is a powerful, affecting and important book that exposes the far reaching personal costs of extreme adventure.

It wasn’t so much that I loved Explorers of the Infinite:  The Secret Spiritual Lives of Extreme Athletes by Maria Coffey but this sounded like it might be a more interesting book so I thought I’d try it.  It was.  Which is kind of a shame as I bought Explorers of the Infinite and got Where The Mountain Casts Its Shadow from the library.  Wish it had been the other way around.

I don’t think this book had a higher body count but it seemed like it did.  Probably because no one was running around finding God.  Actually no, that’s not right.  There is a higher body count in this book.  After all, the focus of this book is the toll that the life and deaths of extreme adventurists takes on their families. 

Of Maria Coffey’s three books on mountaineering, I would recommend this one.  Explorers of the Infinite was too heavy on the Spiritualism and Fragile Edge only covers the death of her then boyfriend Joe Tasker.  Go for the gusto I say.

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The Devil’s Cup: A History of the World According to Coffee by Stewart Lee Allen, copyright 1999, published by Ballantine Books

A history of coffee.  Ho-hum.  I only read this because it was the September pick from our non-fiction book group. 

On the front cover is a review written by Anthony Bourdain:

Absolutely riveting…Essential reading for foodies, java-junkies, anthropologists, and anyone else interested in funny, sardonically told adventure stories

I have watched and enjoyed Mr. Bourdain’s television program No Reservations, especially the parts where he is totally wasted drunk (which is most of the show).  To write such a glowing review as this, I can only assume Mr. Bourdain was sucking up or drunk.  Yet again.

There is nothing intentionally funny anywhere in this book.  The author seems like nothing more than a cocktail party boor who laughs at his own bad jokes.  It is possible that there is a remote chance that the history of coffee might be partially interesting, but not as written by Mr. Allen.  Perhaps as written by Bill Bryson or Paul Theroux, but not Stewart Allen.

Finally, Mark Pendergrast (author of another history of coffee book) says “Stewart Allen is the Hunter S. Thompson of coffee.”  In that Mr. Thompson was yet another self-absorbed idiot, Mr. Pendergrast may have a point.  After all, Mr. Thompson seemed to think (Fear and Loathing) that driving along the freeway completely wasted on drugs with an illegal weapon in the car was a really good idea.  Please note that you have to say a really good idea in a snarky tone of voice, much like Rick from The Young Ones.  If you’ve never watched The Young Ones, then it’s time you started – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Young_Ones_%28TV_series%29

Some Hunter S. Thompson moments by Mr. Allen were, when asked to become involved in art smuggling writes that, “The idea of being an international art smuggler was terrifically romantic.”  You can soon see Mr. Allen in Locked Up Abroad on TV.  Later on while sailing to Morocco, Mr. Allen laments that, “We did not have the luck to be raided by pirates.”  Which, now that I think about it, was a shame.  The thought of Mr. Allen getting an AK47 to the head now seems a particularly lovely thought. 

In parting, death over coffee.  At least when reading.

 

 

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September 6, 2013

I admit I’m watching Panic 9-1-1 on A&E and procrastinating on my post.  I also keep trying to adjust the volume on the TV with my mouse.  Things are not going well.  Speaking of not going well:

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Along Came A Spider by James Patterson, copyright 1992, published by Warner Books

Plot:  The daughter of a famous Hollywood actress and the son of the secretary of the Treasury are kidnapped and Alex Cross must solve the kidnapping as well as a series of murders.

It’s not often I will say a movie is better than the book, but THE MOVIE IS BETTER THAN THE BOOK!  My friend T. told me that if I was going to read the Alex Cross series, I should read this book first.  I’m glad I didn’t.  Had I read this book first I would have never read James Patterson again.

At least the movie had a beginning, a middle and an end.  The book had a beginning, a middle, a middle, a middle, more middle and an end.  By page 301 with no sign of ending, I felt I was reading James Michener not James Patterson.  Fortunately Mr. Patterson soon got the brilliant idea of writing very short chapters and more concise books.

Start later in the series, you’ll be doing yourself a favor.

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Danger! True Stories of Trouble and Survival edited by James O’Reilly, copyright 1999 by Traveler’s Tales Inc.

“28 tales of trouble and survival guaranteed to give you the thrill without the suffering.”

This, my friends, is a great f-ing book!  I loved this book.  Quick.  Never boring.  Often when you buy books with a series of tales by different authors only a few are worth reading.  Not so with this gem.  Definitely some stories are better than others but I enjoyed reading them all.  I particularly enjoyed Josie Dew, Eric Hansen, Peter Potterfield, Graham Mackintosh and Kevin Kertscher.

Read this not James Patterson.

This post would have been typed quicker had my cats not kept walking across my keyboard.

admincat

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