Tuesday, February 28, 2012

New Direction for this Blog

So far this blog has simply been a log of my reading schedule this year. This has been fun, but a little directionless. I am now changing the focus of this blog. I will now focus on indie books. I will still review new releases by certain mainstream authors that I enjoy, but I will focus primarily on books published independently or through a small publishing house.

I want to explain my decision. With the rise of digital technology the nature of publishing is changing. It is now possible to create and distribute books without using a publisher. This means that many books by talented people who do not have publishing deals can now be read. On the other hand it also means that there is a lot more stuff that you have to wade through to find the good stuff. So I am looking forward to this new direction.

I will still continue my Elmore Leonard in a Year project, but there is lots of time for other books.

Friday, February 24, 2012


Since Elmore Leonard's Facebook page linked to one of my reviews I wanted to say thanks and share a painting my wife did to celebrate the start of the new season of Justified.

Some updates

Had a major rush earlier. Elmore Leonard's Facebook page linked to my review of Escape From Five Shadows. Now that is cool. If you are here because of that link welcome. Among my other reading projects I am reading through all of Elmore's books this year and posting some quick reviews.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Escape From Five Shadows by Elmore Leonard

Corey Bowen is 1 year in to a seven year prison sentence for rustling. He maintains his own innocence. He is assigned to a construction project headed by a corrupt government contractor building a road to nowhere. All he wants to do is escape. After his first attempt he learns that it is not easy to evade the Apache scouts hired to track prisoners. Next time, he plans on making it work.

Escape From Five Shadows is another great western novel from Elmore Leonard's early days. It deals with the themes of corruption and deceit as well as hope and redemption. The characters are as tough as the land that they inhabit. When I was thirteen I started reading westerns. It has been years since I stopped reading them. Books like Escape From Five Shadows remind me why I should read more.

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Monday, February 20, 2012

A Coyote's In The House

When Elmore Leonard, the master of crime fiction, the man who wrote such novels as Get Shorty, decides to write a children's book he goes all in. This is a fun story of Antwan, a cool coyote who decides that it might be fun to pose as a dog. With the help of Buddy the movie star German Shepherd and the show dog poodle Miss Betty he tries to assimilate into the lifestyle of a Hollywood pet.

This is a cute story and a lot of fun. I listened to the audiobook version read by Neil Patrick Harris. Harris did an excellent job as a reader. This book is recommended for grades 5-8. You can still enjoy it if you are much older.

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Up In Honey's Room by Elmore Leonard

Honey Deal is a fun loving girl trying to make her way in Detroit during the Second World War. Her ex-husband is a proud Nazi and a lookalike of Heinrich Himmler. That has attracted the attention of the FBI. The famous Hot Kid of the Marshals, Carl Webster, comes to Detroit to find two escaped German POWs. One of the POWs is a childhood friend of Honey’s ex.

What follows is a delightful romp with some wonderful character. Leonard is known for his memorable characters, a he just keeps them coming here. There is Honey Deal, a feisty young woman from Harlan County, Kentucky. Walter, Honey’s ex, is a Nazi sympathizer who believes that he is the twin brother of Heinrich Himmler, separated at birth. Walter’s circle includes a KKK leader from Georgia and a rich Anti-Semitic gynecologist. Add to that group a fake Polish Countess who is really a German spy and her cross-dressing lover. Let’s not forget the two POWs. There is Jurgen, Walter’s childhood friend, who just wants the war to end so he can become a cowboy, and Otto, an SS officer who loves Hemingway and other American fiction.

If it sounds crazy, it is. Up In Honey’s Room is one of those delightful Leonard books that you can read over and over again.
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Saturday, February 18, 2012

The Broken Gun by Louis L'Amour

Dan Sheridan buys an old broken gun in a pawn shop and finds part of a ninety year old journal wrapped up and stuck inside the barrel. He is a writer and decides to look into the story of the Toomey brothers. The only trouble is that the people who own the land now have a secret, and it is a secret that they are prepared to kill for. Soon Dan finds himself on the run, hunted through what once once Apache country. Only his pursuers don't realize that he is no city boy. He was born and raised on a ranch and served in Korea and Vietnam. Now as the deadly cat and mouse game plays out there is a large ranch and the life of a beautiful woman at stake.

When I was 13 years old I discovered Louis L'Amour. I read every book I could get my hands on. It has been a long time since I read one of his books. The Broken Gun reminded me why I loved him so much. You have the classic tough guy. The women in L'Amour are no shrinking violets. They are tough as the land that they come from. Of course you couldn't really have a L'Amour book without one good knock-down drag-out fist fight. This is a lot of fun

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Locked On by Tom Clancy

Before we get started let me warn my liberal friends to look away. This is not a sight you will enjoy.

Locked On is the newest book in the "Ryanverse." For over 25 years Clancy has shared the history of Jack Ryan and company with us. In some ways this world is a parallel universe. Ryan experiences much of the same history, but he is there in ways that no true historical figure can be.

The book starts off a short time after Dead or Alive and continues the story from there. Jack Ryan, Jr. is now the lead character. Along with his cousin Dominick Caruso, and Ryan stalwarts John Clark and Ding Chavez he continues to track down terrorists as part of the clandestine "Campus." Jack Senior is running for President again against a leftist president more concerned with social engineering than truly defending the nation. Behind this president is a wealthy businessman from Eastern Europe who wants to bring socialism to full fruition in the USA. Of course none of these characters resemble any actual people living or dead!

In order to embarrass Ryan the president goes after John Clark, a man with a past. While Clark is on the run the rest of the Campus must track down a master terrorist and stop him before he carries out the most devastating terror plot ever launched.

If my liberal friends are still here I warned you, you will not like this. This book is full of the useful idiots, left wing politicians, left wing lawyers, left wing billionaires, et. al. who make up our society. It is just painful for some folks to look in the mirror.

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The Murder Room by Michael Capuzzo

This is one of the most engaging books I have read on crime in a long time. Capuzzo tells the origins and history of the Vidocq Society, a group of forensic experts who gather together once a month in Philadelphia to hear cold cases. These men and women work pro bono and have solved numerous crimes. The book focuses on the three founding members of the society: US Customs Agent William Fleisher, pre-eminent psychologist and profiler Richard Walter, and the brilliant forensic artist Frank Bender. These men have solved some of the most heinous crimes of the last 50 years.

The topic of the book is fascinating and the true life characters are very intriguing. Perhaps at times too intriguing. Capuzzo, an excellent writer, tends to rabbit trail a little too much and inserts a lot of material that makes the flow of the story choppy and hard to follow at times. Don't let that dissuade you from reading this book. I will give you one warning: this is not for the faint of hear. You have to understand that these men track down psychopaths. Some of the material is brutal. Capuzzo never revels in the horror, but he does describe it. If you want to believe that there are no bad people out there then avoid this book. You will encounter evil.

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The Hot Kid By Elmore Leonard

Carl Webster does not waste words with criminals. "If I have to pull my gun I'll shoot to kill" is his famous line. Those criminals who call his bluff learn the hard way that he is not kidding. This book follows the early career of Deputy US Marshal Carl Webster as he tracks down some of the toughest outlaws in Oklahoma during the Great Depression. He shoots it out with bank robbers, gangsters, thugs, and an ex-FBI agent with the KKK. Not bad for a man in the Marshal service for only a short time. Along the way he meets the pretty, young Louly who steals his heart. Parallel with Carl's story is the story of Jack Belmont, the son of privilege who turns to a life of crime. As there paths intertwine there can only be one ending. A showdown between lawman and criminal.

The Hot Kid is one of the most enjoyable books I have read yet by Elmore Leonard. The characters leap off of the page. This is one of those books screaming to be made into a film.

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Friday, February 17, 2012

Glitz by Elmore Leonard

Vincent Mora, an off duty Miami detective, is wounded in a shootout with a mugger. He goes to Puerto Rico to recover from his wounds. While there he meets a young prostitute, Iris, who wants to rise in the world and Teddy, a man that he helped put away for rape seven years earlier. The ex-con is following Vincent with the desire to get even. Vincent just wants to recover in peace, but that isn't going to happen. Iris leaves to serve as a hostess in Atlantic City. When she is found dead with Vincent's name on her he goes to Atlantic City to track down the killer.
Glitz, written in 1985, has the feel of so many crime movies from that period. You can almost hear the soundtrack while reading it. Like most Leonard stories it is an enjoyable read. The story flows smoothly and the characters always feel spot on. There are several times where the plot makes less sense. One wonders why the characters do certain things. All in all it is a fun book.
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Complete Western Stories by Elmore Leonard

This is a collection of Elmore Leonard's thirty Western short stories. These stories were written at the beginning of his career. Several of these classic stories were turned into movies. The most famous story in the collection is "3:10 to Yuma" which was turned into a classic western film starting Glenn Ford and then horribly butchered and mangled into a remake starring Russell Crowe.

There are a number of other excellent stories here. Leonard does not use the normal stereotypes seen in so many western television shows and movies. "Tonto Woman" tells the story of a woman who has been rescued from captivity only to be exiled by society. "Hurrah for Captain Early" gives us a story rarely heard. How black soldiers saved Teddy Roosevelt and the Rough Riders at San Juan hill.

These are all good stories. This was my first Leonard book and I enjoyed re-reading it as much as
I enjoyed reading it the first time.

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Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Thoughts on Reading

Reading has always been my greatest pleasure. I can't remember a time when I didn't read. College took a lot of the joy out of reading, but I got it back.

I read recently that the average American spends 35 hours per week watching television. That is a full time job. That is an average of five hours per day! What would happen I people shaved that down to two hours a day and read a book instead?

The average American adult can read 300 words per minute. If we average 400 words per page,that means about forty-five page per hour. That's 135 pages in three hours.

That means that the average person could read a 500 page novel in less than 4 nights. Let's say you read slower than the average person. You could read 100 pages per night. That comes out to 36,500 pages in a year. That would be equivalent of 73 books that are 500 pages in length. That's right 73 books in a single year, just by spending three hours reading.

That is something to consider. When you read you build your mind. So next time you say that you just don't have enough time to read, just turn off the television.

Maximum Bob by Elmore Leonard

Maximum Bob is the nickname given to Judge Bob Gibbs. Judge Gibbs is known for handing out hard sentences from the bench. Dale Crowe Junior has the misfortune to draw Maximum Bob. Dale gets five years and threatens the judge. His probation officer Kathy Baker has her hands full. She is trying to fend off the advances of Judge Gibbs, keep Dale in line, and deal with Dale's uncle Elvin. Things get complicated when an attempt is made on the Judge's life. Now the list of suspects long, and Kathy seems to have a number of them among her parolees.

Maximum Bob is a fun book in that great Leonard style. There are the usual lowlifes populating the pages of the book. Readers of the Raylan Givens stories fans of the FX series Justified will recognize the relatives of Dewey Crowe, everyone's favorite redneck moron. Something I have grown to love about Leonard's novels and stories is how they are often linked with each other. Dale Junior is mentioned in "Fire In The Hole," Judge Gibbs is the judge who sentenced Jack Foley to prison in Road Dogs. There is even a scene in the book where one of the characters is recalling a western novel that he read in prison. The unnamed novel is Leonard's Bounty Hunters. These little Easter Eggs are quite fun for the loyal Leonard readers.

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Sunday, February 12, 2012

The Godwulf Manuscript by Robert Parker

The Godwulf Manuscript is the first book in Robert Parker's Spenser Series. The hero of the story, Spenser, a private detective, is hired by a university to recover a stolen medieval manuscript that is being held ransom. Spenser's investigation uncovers murder, scandal, drugs, and mobsters. All of that on the first day of the investigation. The book takes place in the era of radical students and radical faculty.

Parker was himself an English professor during this time. For people like myself who work on a college campus it is fun to see the completely accurate stereotypes jump off of the page. Spenser is a hard-edged detective. He likes bourbon and women and fights hard for his clients. There are forty novels in the Spenser series. I can't wait to read the other thirty-nine.

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Raylan - by Star Williams

I know that this has nothing to do with book reviews. I just wanted to share a watercolor that my wife made for me to celebrate Justified Season 3. You can see her art at http://starwilliams.deviantart.com

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Saturday, February 11, 2012

Tishomingo Blues by Elmore Leonard

A high dive performer is on the top of his 80 foot dive platform preparing for his opening act. As he looks down he sees two men kill another man. This is the opening action for this tale of murder, crime, and Civil War reenactment in Tunica, Mississippi.

Leonard once again brings memorable characters to the page. High dive daredevil Dennis Lenahan just wants to perform. He gets dragged into a murder involving the Dixie Mafia. As if that isn't bad enough a blues-loving con-man from Detroit who is in Tunica to extend his drug trade befriends him.

This novel has the usual flawed, yet fascinating characters that Leonard is known for. The plot line is far more convoluted to explain that it is to experience in the book. This is standard fare for Leonard.

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Friday, February 10, 2012

Raylan by Elmore Leonard

The television series Justified has propelled Elmore Leonard's character Raylan Givens into millions of homes. This is the third Raylan novel and is a lot of fun. The book began when Leonard decided that he needed to be part of the writing process. He wrote several story ideas and then condensed them into a single novel. This explains some of the structure. If it seems that the first story just ends early on and then another picks up, that is why.

The stories that make up the novel were intended to give the writers of Justified material to mine. They did so. Viewers of the television show will recognize several plots and themes from season 2 of the series. From interviews it seems clear that we may see more of them this season.

In Raylan we run into some relatives of Dewey Crow who decide to diversify their pot business by adding stolen body parts. Leonard takes the classic urban legend of the man with the stolen kidneys and gives it life. We also have a group of pot addled strippers turned into bank robbers, a college girl putting herself through school playing poker, a violent mine company woman, Boyd Crowder, and the usual assortment of strange and wonderful characters. If you are a fan of Justified, do yourself a favor and get this book. If you are just looking for a good book, do yourself a favor and get this book.

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The Law at Randado by Elmore Leonard

Another classic Elmore Leonard western. Two men are arrested for rustling and town leaders, urged on by the son of the wealthy rancher, form a kangaroo court. They decide to hang the men and do so. When the deputy sheriff in charge of the town returns he confronts the men responsible. He is run out of town, but returns with the sheriff and deals with those responsible.

There are a lot of standard Western themes in this story; the young deputy, the entitled son of the wealthy rancher, the tough older mentor. All great themes. While some of the plot is predictable, there are some really great twists and turns on these themes. I would say more about them, but then that would ruin the story.

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Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Stolen Away by Max Allan Collins

Stolen Away is the fifth novel in the Nathan Heller series. In the opening pages of the story Detective Heller of the Chicago Police foils a kidnapping. He is then handpicked by Elliot Ness to go to New Jersey and help on the Lindbergh Kidnapping case. There is the belief that there may be a connection to the Chicago mob and Al Capone. Heller leaves for New Jersey and is pulled into the drama surrounding the most infamous kidnapping case of all time.
Collins is a great storyteller and he skillfully weaves his fictional character into the historical events. Before it is over Heller has dealt with psychics, including Edgar Cayce, mobsters, wealthy women, the New Jersey state police, IRS agents, and many others. I am unfamiliar with the details surrounding the Lindbergh case so I can't say how accurately he recreates the events. He certainly captures the period very well.
This is my first Nathan Heller book and also my first book by Max Allan Collins. After reading this book I noticed that there were several Kindle editions for less than $5. I bought them right away.
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Mugger by Ed McBain

Amazon has recently started reprinting the 87th Precinct series in both paperback and Kindle editions. In their promotional material I was intrigued by the statements from authors I admire, Stephen King foremost among them. You may or may night like Mr. King's novels, but he is a master of prose and understands good writing. When King says that McBain "taught a whole generation of baby boomers how to write stories that were not only entertaining, but that truthfully reflected the times and the culture" you should take notice.

There are many who say that, with the 87th Precinct Series, McBain brought the police procedure story into it's full potential. Shows like Law and Order, NCIS, and many others would not exist without McBain's influence.

In Mugger, the city is in fear of a strange mugger who attacks women, takes their purses, hits them and then thanks them before running away. The detectives of the 87th Precinct are trying to find any lead that will lead them to this man.
In the meantime Patrolman Bert Kling is recovering from a gunshot wound. An friend from his old neighborhood with a teenage sister-in-law asks Kling to talk to to the young woman who seems to be in some trouble. When the young lady is killed the mugger is suspected and Kling begins to investigate on his own.

The story is enjoyable and well written. The characters seem real as they populate the story. Of course the police methods used in the early sixties would be rather frowned upon today, they do reflect the times in which the book was written This is my first McBain novel, so I am not sure how the entire series unfolds. I don't know if the series is character driven or simply driven by the Precinct. I intend to find out.

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Sunday, February 5, 2012

Mr. Paradise

Anthony Paradiso, also known as "Mr. Paradise," is a retired lawyer with a young girlfriend. His girlfriend, Chloe, arranges an evenings entertainment with her roommate Kelly, a fashion model. They play cheerleaders while he watches University of Michigan football on TV. The evening ends in murder. Mr. Paradise and Chloe are murdered by hit men hired by Montez, Mr. Paradise's assistant. Kelly sees it all.

The police know what happened, but how to prove it. This story has all the elements of a great crime story. You have crooked lawyers, contract killers, gang bangers, beautiful women, and no nonsense cops. The one thing the cops have going for them is the sheer stupidity of the criminals involved. As these less than brilliant criminals come up with ever more complex schemes, it all begins to fall apart.

Written with the sparse, straight-forward prose that Leonard is known for it is a lot of fun.

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Saturday, February 4, 2012

The Bounty Hunters

The Bounty Hunters was Elmore Leonard’s first novel. He had published a number of short stories in Western magazines before this. As a writer of westerns he was brilliant. The love of character is evident from this first novel.
The Bounty Hunters follows Dave Flynn, former cavalry officer turned scout as he leads a young lieutenant into Mexico on the trail of an Apache war chief. Along the way they encounter American scalp hunters who work for the local Mexican commander. Trouble with these scalp hunters is that they aren’t particular with whose scalps they take. A young woman, the daughter of a friend, is taken by the scalp hunters and Flynn goes after them.
All the classic western themes are here. The rugged individual, the dangerous situations. We have good guys, we have bad guys, and in the end both the good guys and bad guys get their reward. Bounty Hunters delivers all that could be expected from a western written by Elmore Leonard.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Road Dogs

Elmore Leonard is known for his characters. When talking about his writing style he always explains that he focuses on an interesting character and then tells a story about them. In Road Dogs Leonard brings three of his characters from earlier novels together for a fun and interesting story. Jack Foley is the Gentleman Bank Robber from Out of Sight, Cundo Rey was a character from LaBrava, and Dawn Navarro was last seen in Riding the Rap.

In Road Dogs we see Foley in the aftermath of Out of Sight. He is now friends with Cundo Rey, a recent arrival at the prison. Ray hooks Foley up with an attorney and gets him an early release. After his release Foley goes to LA and waits for Cundo with Dawn Navarro, Cundo’s common-law wife. Dawn is scheming to get Cundo’s fortune, she is running a grift on a rich Hollywood widow, and she want Foley’s help.

The book is written in that great Leonard style, it contains lots of fun twists and turns. It is a lot of fun.I listened to this as an audiobook. Peter Francis James was the reader for this book. He captured the nuances and style of each character. I can recommend this as both a book and an audiobook.