Thursday, July 30, 2009

Decision 2009

Boy. Looking at that title makes me think we’re having another political election. You know, the day when we replace the old thieves, liars, and philanderers with brand-spanking-new thieves, liars, and philanderers.

VOTE Sarah Palin for Court Jester in 2012!

Okay, enough of politics and on to real business.

As many of you know, my health is not good. I know I’ve been saying it for a long time, but the decline has been slower than many others with emphysema because of my relative youth, stronger heart, and no respiratory infections (or hospitalizations) since April 2008. The keyword is “slower,” not stopped: breathing is harder even with an increase in oxygen, and I have a lot of pain in the muscles around my ribs. There are other complications as well, but I won't go into those. The overall result is I spend more time in bed conserving energy and less time on the computer.

With less computer time—a couple hours here, an hour or two there—I did a scientific time/use study with the technical equipment I pulled out of my rectal area. The results are back from the lab, and I have decided to concentrate on this, my blog. I am giving up the social aspect of LibraryThing, but I will continue to use it to catalog my books.

Books. I spend a lot of time with them, and I try to review those that made a strong impression on me or that I think will be of interest to the general reader. This is not a book-specific blog, however, so there are a few snoots out there who shun me. Those of you who know me know my reaction to shunning: fuck ‘em.

No, I don’t want any kind of specific or dedicated blog, so I am going to continue with the general crap too. I have five little movies that flew under the radar to review, an author to roast, and of course, life with Martha and the hounds. If I’m reading the lab results correctly, I’m going to do what I damn well please. I figure if you don't like a certain post, you're smart enough to move on to another blog.

That brings up a final point. I get behind on reading your blogs, but I get there eventually. I don’t always comment if I don’t have anything worthwhile to say—not to mention that I have always hated those itty-bitty-shitty comment boxes that make you do your own HTML.

Blogging is my first love and I am going to continue just as long as I am able. In other words, you're stuck with me.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Review: The Angel's Game

The Angel's Game, Carlos Ruiz Zafón; translated by Lucia Graves

Doubleday Hardcover, 2009
ISBN 978-0385528702
544 pages

You know, I sometimes wonder about people. Unless a book's denouement is beautifully gift wrapped with a neatly tied bow and a cherry on top, readers complain about it. At least that is the case on, where many reviewers are confused, disappointed, and frustrated by The Angel’s Game ending.

Never mind that on the same product page Zafón says,
"The Angel’s Game has many games inside, one of them with the reader. It is a book designed to make you step into the storytelling process and become a part of it."
For me, I loved this entire book, including its ambiguous ending. The Angel’s Game is simply marvelous, a throwback to the “true” classics that require a reader to think. Zafón refers to one game with the reader; I believe the game is the book as a whole.

That said, attempting to recap the story in a paragraph or two is difficult.

Barcelona, the 1920s. David Martín, a talented writer, is the protagonist. Or is he? While writing a successful series of penny dreadfuls at breakneck speed for two penny-pinching men who publish them, Martín finds out he has a fatal brain tumor. Or is it? Enter Andreas Corelli, a publisher from Paris and an admirer of David’s writing. Corelli makes David an offer that is difficult to refuse: 100,000 francs, a fortune, in return for writing a book that will change the hearts and minds of its readers. When David refuses on the grounds of his short life span and his publishing contract, Corelli tells him not to worry. Martín stays the night at Corelli's, dreams of an operation, and when he wakes the tumor is gone. Or is it? Shortly thereafter, his publishers die when their office is set afire, thus voiding the contract. It is obvious (is it?) that Corelli is responsible for the cure and the fire—he must be some sort of supernatural creature and our antagonist. Or is he?

I must ask these questions because everything that occurs in this book is set in quicksand. David Martín is a man obsessed. Obsessed with the previous owner of his stone fortress home. With unrequited and tragic love. With freshly murdered bodies and he the suspect. With Corelli and Corelli's book. David is a man teetering on the edge of sanity and I, as part of the storytelling process, am standing right beside him.

I can prove it. From page 404 of The Angel's Game:
"I recalled how the old bookseller had always told me that books have a soul, the soul of the person who wrote them and of those who read them and dream about them."

Saturday, July 25, 2009

The Straight Shooter Award

When you like a book, you say why.
When you don’t like a book, you don’t mince words or sugarcoat it.
That’s why you get the Straight Shooter award.

This book award, designed and bestowed by Michael at A Few Minutes With Michael, really means a lot to me. Writing meaningful and interesting book reviews isn't always an easy task, especially when the book is complex or a very emotional one. I worry about writing too little or worse, writing too much and inadvertently revealing the dreaded spoiler.

So thank you, Michael, for the award: the words direct and honest are a "shot" in the arm.

In the spirit in which it was given, I'm passing this award on to two bloggers whom I feel are Straight Shooters: Cathy at Kittling: Books and Wandering Coyote.

* * * * *

Next up: A review of The Angel's Game by Carlos Ruiz Zafón

Thursday, July 23, 2009

A King Blockbuster?

Since Stephen King retired from writing after he finished the Dark Tower series, his writing has met with a modicum of success. Cell was okay, and I liked Blaze (written as Richard Bachman), but he’s still looking for a breakout bestseller.

Perhaps, and hopefully, that will change on November 10 when Scribner releases the 1,088-page Under the Dome. This is’s product description:
On an entirely normal, beautiful fall day in Chester's Mill, Maine, the town is inexplicably and suddenly sealed off from the rest of the world by an invisible force field. Planes crash into it and fall from the sky in flaming wreckage, a gardener's hand is severed as "the dome" comes down on it, people running errands in the neighboring town are divided from their families, and cars explode on impact. No one can fathom what this barrier is, where it came from, and when—or if—it will go away.

Dale Barbara, Iraq vet and now a short-order cook, finds himself teamed with a few intrepid citizens—town newspaper owner Julia Shumway, a physician's assistant at the hospital, a select-woman, and three brave kids. Against them stands Big Jim Rennie, a politician who will stop at nothing—even murder—to hold the reins of power, and his son, who is keeping a horrible secret in a dark pantry. But their main adversary is the Dome itself. Because time isn't just short. It's running out.

Has Steve found his old form ala The Stand, or will it be another long, drawn-out gab fest?

Product Description ©

Monday, July 20, 2009

The Man I Never Knew

I occasionally post essays from my never-to-be-published book, Soul Songs, and I believe this is one of the best I have written. I was thinking about him yesterday and, when I shed a tear, either for him or for me, I thought it apropos to post it.


I called him Dad, and when I was little, Daddy. But those were names mandated by tradition rather than by love or affection. The Dickensian “Sir” would have been more suitable, an address that denotes respect without familiarity. My father, you see, was a total stranger to me, the man I never knew.

In 2004, he died in a warehouse for old World War II veterans. He died alone and angry and soul-sick, which was only fitting for a man who, for eighty-three years, lived alone and angry and soul-sick. The only comfort he ever found in life was not from people, not from his wife or his daughter or me, but from alcohol. Alcohol relieved the pain, but the reason for the pain is something no one will ever know.

His physical death was a blessing because, sometime back in his life, he died inside. He lived on the planet for nearly a century, but he was rarely present on it; he existed, but his participation was minimal. He was a taker but rarely a giver. He subsisted on secrets that both fed and haunted him, and only death could finally, and thankfully, exorcise them.

So I have not grieved for my father The Invisible Man, The Shadow, the man who never was, because he is much better off now. I have grieved for me, though, for the things he could have, and should have, given me as a Dad. Like encouragement when I had doubts. Comfort when I was scared and when I had physical and emotional pain. Companionship when I was lonely. Answers when I had questions. Direction, boundaries, and a swift kick when I needed direction, boundaries, and a swift kick. Most of all, he should have given me a role model and a hero, someone his little boy could emulate and worship.

If grieving for me seems selfish, it isn’t. My father is gone now, and I can neither bring him back nor change the past. Grieving is a process for the living, of forgiving the hurt and the disappointment and the regret, of going forward with the remainder of my time on earth.

The Commandment tells me I must honor my father and I believe I did that. For the past thirty-five years I was my father’s keeper, his caretaker and his worrier, although I was often derelict in my duties. But as angry and as frustrated as I often was, especially during the years of dementia and contrariness, I never abandoned him. Or dishonored him. Or forgot him.

And maybe, someday, I will be able to shed a tear for him, for the man I never knew.

Charles Joseph Callahan
1921 — 2004
May you finally rest in peace

Friday, July 17, 2009

Review: Collected Short Stories of William Faulkner

Collected Short Stories of William Faulkner, William Faulkner

Vintage Trade Paper, 1995
912 pages

The score on LibraryThing is 1,124 reviews for Stephenie Meyer's Twilight to 3 reviews for William Faulkner’s Collected Stories. To add insult to injury, the latter hasn’t had a review since 2007. What a shame—a Nobel Prize winner whom hardly anyone reads. And shame on me for not reading him until my 61st year; I too bought into the myths that "He is too hard to read," "I don't understand him," and "He doesn't make any sense" before I ever tried to read one word.

When I expressed a desire to read something by Faulkner but had no idea where to start, a wonderful woman on LibraryThing readily agreed to mentor me through the labyrinth. After five of his lesser (but hardly forgettable) novels, I turned to these short stories.

I admit that he is difficult at times and I don't understand every line he writes, but reading Faulkner is a moving experience for me, both mentally and emotionally. His stories are to be savored like a pot set to "simmer" on the stove—as opposed to Meyer's read-it-and-forget-it microwavable pop.

This collection includes 42 stories spread over 900 pages, many of them forerunners to future novels. Every one of them sucked me in from the first sentence, and I wasn't able to close the book until I had finished the story. Some stories had neatly tied-up endings, but many did not—a frequent Faulkner device that requires the reader to create or imagine the ending. I suspect it is the latter that frustrates people: unwilling to use their imaginations, they ask, “What the hell was that all about?”

Many of these stories take place in fictional Yoknapatawpha County, Mississippi. But Faulkner was a master of the war story too, and the effect war has on an individual—both soldier and civilian. I liked these best. My favorite is "Two Soldiers," a poignant tale (and title) of an eight-year-old boy who tries to join the Army and ship out to Pearl Harbor with his beloved older brother. On the flip side is "Victory," a WWI horror story (and title) of a Scotsman who shoots and machine guns his own troops in France—receiving in turn medals for valor because, in war, events happen with lightning speed and few remember exactly what happened.

A complaint I have about the Viking edition is the stories have no dates, so obviously there is no way to tell the order in which Faulkner wrote them.

I recommend this book highly with reservation; if you are brand-new to Faulkner, start with his short novel The Unvanquished. My mentor in northeast Pennsylvania will probably agree.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Looking for Mrs. Goldfish

One would think that after nearly thirty-five years of marriage (August 23) I would have learned something about my wife.

Well, I did. Finally. She has very sharp fangs, even sharper claws, and a vocabulary of expletives that would make a sailor on shore leave from the South Seas blush like a Jane Austen maiden.

All because I made a comment similar to Jim Unger’s Herman© cartoon. I didn’t say shopping “cart” because our drugstore doesn’t have them. What I did say was shopping “basket,” which to her thinking was no different than suggesting an empty 55-gallon drum.

Boy, you should have seen her reaction to my little faux pas. Her transformation was swift and dramatic: fangs, claws, the whole thing. Vampire? I thought, especially since they’re so in vogue. The store had all its lights on, though, so I was safe. Except from her caustic tongue.

I’ll be spending a lot more time now bonding with the hounds, and I might just as well throw my crotchless Peter Pan outfit in the trash. Oh, Martha talks to me, but in brief, clipped sentences like “Yes,” “No,” and “Not in this lifetime, buster.” Maybe I'll get a goldfish to keep me company.

I do have a legitimate question, however, if any of my female blogger buddies are still commenting to me. Martha loves nail polish and has a shitload of little bottles, but every one of them is a shade of red. Whimsical names maybe, but red is red, and I think one is called “Just Plain Red.”

The question is, why does she need so many bottles of the same color?

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Review: The Lovers

The Lovers, John Connolly

Atria Books, 2009, 352 pages

John Connolly (not to be confused with Michael Connelly) is a very funny Irishman who, among other things, writes a series of very dark thrillers featuring Maine P.I. Charlie Parker. The Lovers is the eighth in the series and is Connolly's darkest one yet.

In the first installment, Every Dead Thing, we learned that Parker's wife Susan and tiny daughter Jennifer were murdered and horribly mutilated by someone who could hardly be called human. Parker, who was drinking with his cop friends at the time, resigned from the NYPD, both to grieve and to keep from falling over the mental edge. Haunted by the gruesome death of his family, Charlie set out to find the murderer called the Travelling Man.

The darkness? As the series has progressed, the antagonists have become increasingly more hideous. There is something cold and otherworldly about these people . . . something supernatural. They are connected somehow, by something not alive, something somehow connected to Charlie . . .

And in The Lovers, he is determined to find out what the connection is.

Switching between the present and the past, Connolly gives us backstory, a prequel to the series that has Parker retracing his life looking for clues. When he was fifteen, his policeman father shot to death two unarmed teenagers and then came home and committed suicide. “Why?” Charlie asks his father’s aged partner, but no answer is forthcoming. And why, he wonders, are there two strangers following him in the present, leaving hideous and horrific bodies in their wake? There are answers, but I can't reveal them because that would be spoilage.

I have met Connolly twice at book signings and he is very accessible to his fans. The critics dislike him, he said after the publication of Black Angel, because they feel the element of the supernatural has no place in the crime genre. "Those same critics don't have a problem with cats solving crimes [Lilian Jackson Braun], or even writing them [Rita Mae Brown]," he added, laughing but not truly amused.

Judging by The Lovers, John has embraced the supernatural anyway: his lovers are of the undying—not the dead—but the undying. We see a glimpse of evil in the raw, unspeakable evil, evil that the human mind cannot comprehend.

The fact that Connolly is different is the reason why I like him so much; he is at the top of my favorite thriller mystery list, and I give him 5 out of 5 stars for his latest book.

* * * * *

Here is the Charlie Parker series in order from my Listmania! page on

And hot off the email from John's website is The Gates, to be published in October by Atria Books (he dabbles in horror stories, too). This is the U.K. cover, so the U.S. and Canada cover will be suckage.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Kids as Homicide Bombers

FROM CNN.COM, July 7, 2009:
Pakistan: Taliban buying children for suicide attacks

A top Taliban leader in Pakistan is buying and selling children for suicide bombings, Pakistani and U.S. officials said.

Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud has been increasingly using the children in attacks, the officials said. A video released by Pakistan's military shows the children training for the task.

In the video of a training camp, children can be seen killing and going through exercises.

Mehsud has been selling the children, once trained, to other Taliban officials for $6,000 to $12,000, Pakistani military officials said.

Some of the children are as young as 11, the officials said.

The young suicide bombers may be able to reach targets unnoticed, the military said.

Meanwhile, in Afganistan, 11 NATO troops have been killed in the last two days—8 Americans, 2 Canadians, and 1 Briton—while fighting the Taliban.

I realize that also today, July 7, 2009, the memorial service for Michael is being held in Los Angeles. He was a huge star, and he deserves a huge sendoff. As a peformer, he was one of a kind: I've loved his music from the days of the Jackson 5 until the day (whenever that was) he quit writing, singing, dancing, and fell off the face of reality.

The problem I have is with priorities. Michael and his parents have dominated the news since his death, and all the dirty-laundry-details of child custody and his tangled estate are yet to unfold.

So, while we mourn Michael with almost maniacal passion, the Taliban maniacs are not only using children in an unspeakable manner, but are also killing our collective troops—eleven in two days (and another one kidnapped).

Which makes me wonder: what will it take, or what will have to happen, for people to protest our years-old wars with the same passion they're showing Michael Jackson today?

Saturday, July 04, 2009

I Saw Trees!

Martha, my beloved diehard desert dweller, was in Pennsylvania this week—Nazareth, Bethlehem, Easton—on business. As a high-powered accountant for the company where she works, she had the high-powered task of observing the counting of inventory at the Nazareth storage yard: thousands of pieces-parts that make up forms for pouring cement. Can you say high-powered glamorousness?

While the job part was a bummer, she told me all about some really nifty things she saw:

1. Hills! You know, the kind where you start at the bottom, climb a grade, reach the apex, and then descend on the other side. On the way back you do the same exact thing, only backward.

2. Trees! BIG old trees (oaks? maples? chestnuts?) that make beautiful canopies over two-lane byways. A lot of HUGE evergreens too.

3. Green! See number 2, plus add lawns, parks, ivy and other climbers, bushes, hedges, and weeds. Green doesn’t apply to desert dirt, which is pretty close to Crayola color #2,356, "dirt."

4. Rain! She woke up around two a.m. to a pounding rainstorm, something that occurs in the desert about twice a year and for three minutes or less in duration. She laid there listening and loving it until the rhythm lulled her back to sleep.

5. Fog! What fun, driving through thick mist while looking for street signs and landmarks that no longer existed which would lead her to the work site she’d never been to.

6. Wal-Mart! An emergency stop between the Allentown airport and the hotel in Easton upon her arrival. The temperature was somewhat below 95°, so she was frozen to the bone and needed a jacket with a hood. She never took it off until she arrived back in Phoenix where she could finally warm up.

Geographic shock: noticing things that the residents of northeast PA take for granted because they see them every day. Like established neighborhoods. Houses with covered porches for sitting and rocking. Houses that have more than one story. No cheap-ass stucco. Streetlights. The little things.

Martha doesn’t want to live there—one winterish day would do her in—but because she was told New Jersey was just six miles to the east of Easton.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Playing for Change

Playing for Change is a multimedia movement created to inspire, connect, and bring peace to the world through music.

Music. It may not show up in our DNA, and there probably isn’t a gene for it, but music is inside every single one of us—way down deep inside, in what many call our soul. Or our spirit. Music transcends race, and nationality, and culture because it speaks to the soul, to the spirit, to our shared humanness. It speaks to our unremembered memories of the womb, to our heartbeat beating along with our mother's.

Our shared humanness.

Can a group of people, then, bring us all together through videos and concerts of street musicians who play for change? Probably not, but it feels good to hope, and to dream, and to spread the music around on this blog.

Please take 10½ minutes and watch both of these incredible videos. And make sure that you turn the volume to LOUD.

Back in January, I posted this next video because it blew me away; it affected me in a way that brought a tear to my eye. And it still does, every time I watch it. The footage of Grandpa Elliott, the loveable fellow with the fluffy white beard from New Orleans, was shot after Katrina.