November 4th, 2012


Books 66-70

66. Whiskey Island, by Les Roberts. The latest in the Milan Jacovich series. This was a fun read. One, the storyline is taken straight from the local headlines. One of those situations where the names have been changed, but you'll still recognize where the influences came from, especially with Bert Loftus. Loftus, a longtime Cleveland Councilman, approaches Jacovich and his new assistant Kevin O'Bannion about providing protection for him. Loftus is in trouble with the federal government for a lot of bad behavior while holding office - and now Loftus is convinced someone is trying to kill him. Jacovich very reluctantly agrees to take the case, but doesn't take the councilman seriously until a call girl connected with Loftus is found dead near the zoo. I couldn't figure out whodunit until the end. What I really liked though was the rapport between the old-school and veteran Jacovich and O'Bannion, and the chemistry between Jacovich and Cincinnati transplant Tobe Blain, a detective who now works for the Cleveland police in homicide. I'm very curious to see how things pan out with both O'Bannion and Blain. I'm not sure whether Jacovich are going to become strong allies, rivals or even adversaries. I noticed one prominent character missing from this story who has been in most (if not all) of Roberts' other books, and I wonder if that character might be a factor. Time will tell. Blain is a great addition to the series, a fun character who Jacovich can banter with - and possibly be happy with. It was nice seeing things end on a more or less positive note for Jacovich; he was rather dumped on in the previous two books (although to be fair, a lot of the dumping in The Cleveland Creep was his own darn fault.) All in all, I think fans will really enjoy this latest installment.

67. The Buzzard: Inside the Glory Days of Cleveland Rock Radio, by John Gorman and Tom Feran. I admit, I don't recall a lot about this era other than the ubiquity of the Buzzard logo (I was too young) so this was a nice local history lesson. Gorman relates the days of WMMS, from when he joined - in the days when FM was new and, to the more jaded in the industry, stood for Find Me - to his departure. WMMS went from the neglected company stepchild into a nationally-known station. An amusing story was when the management was looking over the radio ratings numbers, and lamenting how the flagship station in Cleveland wasn't doing well, then saw a station that was doing incredibly well- then realizing the station doing so well was one of theirs. There are some great stories - one of my favorites involves a tray of doctored brownies. I also enjoyed Gorman's tales of how he and the other staff one-upped the other radio stations. The ending is rather sad, where Gorman details how things began to splinter (basically due to bad corporate management).

68. Politician Extraordinaire: The Tempestuous Life and Times of Martin L. Davey, by Frank P. Vazzano. This was an interesting look at two people, actually: Martin L. Davey, who was Kent mayor, served in the U.S. House of Representatives and was Ohio governor; and his father John Davey, who pioneered the concept and techniques of tree surgery and arboreal studies, and founded the Davey Tree Company in Kent. John Davey was seen as the town eccentric for his passion for tree preservation, and his family was often poor. Martin Davey, from these roots, became a driven person and learned how to become a competent, even gifted salesman, to help his family, starting with selling family produce as a young teen. That salesman gift and talent for reading people, along with his love of a challenge, led to his career in politics. He served well as mayor, taking the city from a backwater to a modern town and did well in Congress, but the governor role I think may have ruined him. Davey, as described by Vazzano, was a staunch Democrat but was known to be a maverick who even exasperated and worried Franklin D. Roosevelt, who also was regarded as a bit unconventional himself. Vazzano gives the reader a detailed look at all the wheelings and dealings in politics, as well as a good background of the eras covered. One thing about the books is the organization, especially with the chapters: it jumps around too much with the years. It starts off, for example, saying how tough it was for Kent and the Daveys during the Great Depression, then a few paragraphs later jumps unexpectedly back a few years, then comes back to the current topic, then goes back, etc. That made a lot of the middle part of the book hard to follow. It should have been more linear. Also, I think I caught a mistake, a small one but I'm surprised it wasn't caught in editing. There's a passing mention about Summit County Council; Summit County did not form its charter form of government, with a council, until the 1980s; before then I'm pretty sure Summit County would have still been governed by the county commissioner system. Martin Davey died in 1946, long before a Summit County Council was formed. Other than that, though, this was a nice read, and a pretty thorough look at not only this area but that time in general.

69. Above and Beyond: Tim Mack, The Pole Vault and the Quest for Olympic Gold, by Bill Livingston. This was a very inspiring book. Tim Mack, the 2004 gold medalist in the pole vault at the Athens Olympics, got there through a lot of blood, sweat and tears. Mack, who grew up in the Cleveland area, learned pole vaulting in high school, where he showed some competency but never any signs of super talent at the sport. He was never seen as a "natural." His talent lay more in his determination, his doggedness and his methodical nature- and this not only gets him the gold, but sets an Olympic record. Mack made a lot of sacrifices to get to that point, including working several low-paying jobs to keep training. Livingston also goes into other well-known pole vaulters, the history of the sport and some of the controversies (such as the safety requirements). There are a lot of interviews from key people in the sport, including Sergey Bubka, the Ukrainian pole vaulter who continues to hold the all-time world record for highest vault. It helps to know something about track and field; there is a glossary towards the back but I found a could of the terms and the numbers a bit confusing. But for anyone looking for a good inspirational read, looking for a book that shows the power of dedication, this is the best thing I've read.

70. There Was A Country: A Personal History of Biafra, by Chinua Achebe. I admit I never heard of Achebe until I came across this book; I think it was one that was sent to the office. Also, save for a short fictional story I had read in Gods and Soldiers, I was unfamiliar with the Biafra and Nigerian war. Achebe relates his own account of his time growing up under British-controlled Nigeria, to the British leaving and, essentially, chaos slowly taking hold. The new government, says Achebe, started to discriminate heavily against the Igbo people, of which Achebe is a part of. As a result, they attempted to split off from Nigeria and formed their own short-lived country Biafra. This started what in essence was a civil war, the repercussions of which are still felt. It's very sad, and it just makes me thankful that, when the colonies here rebelled against the British we had the leadership we did. So many revolutions fail because, alas, there are more Idi Amins and Mugabes then Nelson Mandelas. Achebe laments the lost potential, the lost resources, the lost human capital, and the brutal blockades that resulted in the deaths of millions, mostly children and mostly from starvation. He includes several of his poems, a copy of the most moving one, Mother in a Refugee Camp, can be found here: That one really got to me. Wow. It is hardly an unbiased account, but then it is not meant to be. It is a thoughtful, nuanced and researched account. All in all, an excellent read. I might have to check out his other writings.

Books #41 & 42

Book #41 was "Talk Dirty to Me: An Intimate Philosophy of Sex" by Sallie Tisdale. This was given to me as a gift by a friend, and I devoured it in less than a week, even though non-fiction usually takes me longer to read. It's a series of essays on sex and desire and sexual politics, roughly arranged into four sections: Desire, Arousal, Climax and Resolution. She talks about everything from fetishes to bisexuality, from transgender issues to consciousness raising. She's kind of all over the place with anything and everything related to sexuality and gender roles, but a lot of the things she says are things that I've thought before, only she articulates them better. I really liked this book and recommend it highly to anyone who enjoys intellectual discussions of sexuality.

Book #42 was "Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking" by Malcolm Gladwell. I'd been hearing things about this book forever, but I'd heard summaries along the lines of "Sometimes our snap judgements are better than long deliberation on a choice,' and it made me skeptical because I know that often our snap judgments are biased by cultural baggage. But, actually, Gladwell does a great job of explaining when snap judgments are useful and how to combat just those sorts of prejudices. Basically, the message is more subtle: When you *feed and train* your intution, and when you learn how to disregard misleading input, then your snap judgments often can give you better insight into an issue that a longer, more logical analysis would not. I'd like to read some critical analysis of his ideas next to see what the objections might be, but overall, I found this a fascinating read.

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  • cat63

Book 55 for 2012

The Ruby in the Smoke by Philip Pullman. 209 pages.

When Sally Lockhart's father dies in a shipwreck, she's sent to live with an unpleasant aunt. But Sally is no Jane Eyre - she has been brought up to be bold and self-sufficient and carries a pistol in her handbag. And she isn't convinced by the account of her father's death she's been handed, so she sets out to find out the truth, unaware that she may get a great deal more than she bargained for….

I saw the tv adaptation of this with Billie Piper and was curious to see how much they'd changed from the book - and the answer seems to be "not very much at all". I've rarely seen a book and its televised version so close together. I very much enjoyed both and will be looking for a copy of the second book.


It's been nearly three months since I last posted to the Fifty Book Challenge.  There is a stack of books awaiting the filing of a report, although it's unlikely we'll see the fifty this year.

Book Review No. 28 is the recent No Easy Day: The Firsthand Account of the Mission That Killed Osama bin Laden.  It is that account, subject to the vetting done by the author and assorted civilian and military authorities.  It's also an instructive look at the inter-service rivalries that persist, and at the intra-service rivalries (would you believe the Pacific Coast and Atlantic Coast SEAL Teams do some things differently)?

The title of the post refers to a maxim among railroaders that Osama never heard.  If you build a hideout close to a Pakistani military facility, the Pakistani military flies helicopters nearby.  The sound of an approaching helicopter, particularly a stealthy one that sounds like it's farther away, is just more background noise.  Oops.

(Cross-posted to Cold Spring Shops.)

  • maribou

first blood; wizzywig sharps; scott can't; wild farscape

Sharps, by K. J. Parker (e-ARC)
God, this was brilliant. Only Parker could entangle me so deeply in the story of an exhibition fencing team traveling through the cities of a former enemy of war.
(177, A9)

First Lord's Fury, by Jim Butcher
Satisfying, but it's honestly been so long the details have started to fade. Everything came together in ways that made sense, and then my forgettery started kicking in (it wants to make sure series are rereadable, see...).

Wizzywig, by Ed Piskor (e-ARC)
Odd but captivating graphic novel about a computer hacker. Made me miss the 80s. I didn't really like any of the characters, but I found them likable anyway.
(179, A10)

Blood Relations, by Jes Battis
Fun. Geeky academic writing about Buffy and Angel. Family (chosen and otherwise) is really important to me, so organizing the whole book around that theme resonated well with my own thoughts.

Scott Pilgrim, vol. 1: Scott Pilgrim's Precious Little Life, by Brian Lee O'Malley (e-ARC)
Even though I enjoyed the movie, I was still somehow surprised by how much I liked this. It ought to have felt sophomoric, but it totally didn't. Will be reading the rest, eventually.
(181, A11)

Investigating Farscape, by Jes Battis
More pop culture / academia mashup. I loved this one - loved being reminded of so many great moments in the series, sensitively connected and reflected upon.

Cats Can't Shoot, by Clea Simon
Awkward but very entertaining. The juxtaposition of "noir" tropes with "cozy cat psychic" tropes still feels a bit weird, even in this 2nd volume of the series, but Simon makes it work.

Wild Cards II: Aces High, by George R. R. Martin
Dug this a lot. Felt like the stories were more well-developed and flowed together better than in the first volume... I suppose people had had more time to really ponder how things fitted into the universe by then. My comic book guy (and friend) Mike tells me not to read ALL of these, but that I will know when they jump the shark, and that I have at least another half-dozen volumes before that happens :)
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