Month: June 2021 (Page 1 of 2)

Reader’s Notebook, 6/29/21

We have a house full of guests this week. My brother-in-law and his family from Boston are staying with us. So far that has meant lots of pool and play time as we’ve dodged the daily thunderstorms.

It’s also C’s first real week of summer after wrapping summer school up last week.

In a few hours I’m going to go do the final walk-through at my in-law’s new home, which they will move into in about a week.

With visitors around that likely means a quiet week here on the blog. For now, here are some more books I’ve read recently.


The Janes – Louisa Luna
Luna’s second Alice Vega novel was a fine sequel to her first. This time Vega and her partner Max Caplan have been brought in by the San Diego police to investigate the deaths of two young immigrant girls. They discover a sex trafficking ring that is getting protection from high levels of both local and federal law enforcement. Unravelling exactly who is responsible and why is a violent and satisfying process.


Solo: A James Bond Novel – William Boyd
I found this on a list of good espionage reads, identified as the rare modern Bond story that is worth reading.

That reviewer’s expectations must be very low because I found this to be rather boring, lacking any of the glamour and coolness that Ian Fleming’s original stories were built on.

This story takes Bond back to his heyday, in the late ‘60s. He is sent to a fictional African nation that is splitting into civil war with the task of taking out the breakaway republic’s leader to end the war and stabilize western access to the country’s oil. Good premise, and still feels relevant today.

The story never lives up to that potential. Nothing that was cool about Fleming’s original Bond novels is present here. It’s as if when stripping out some of the problematic elements of those original stories Boyd also removed the charm, elegance, mystery, and fun that made those stories compelling.

There is never much intrigue about where the story is headed. It lacks either a realistic espionage or goofy-fantasy base, instead getting stuck somewhere in the middle, and suffers greatly for it.

At least it was a quick read.


Glory Days: The Summer of 1984 and the 90 Days That Changed Sports and Culture Forever – L. Jon Wertheim
This was my birthday present to myself, something that was right down the center of my interests. Built around Michael Jordan and the 1984 US men’s Olympic basketball team, Wertheim explores how a series of events and developments in the summer of ’84 dramatically changed the sports and entertainment world in ways we are still feeling.

Jordan creating the model for how NBA superstars were marketed, especially through his relationship with Nike. Michael Jackson and the Jacksons’ Victory tour setting both a new standard for live music spectacle and sending waves out into the wider world that, eventually, helped to create the New England Patriots dynasty. Martina Navratilova and John McEnroe changing what it meant to be a tennis star, and Martina completely upending what was expected of female athletes. The first Celtics-Lakers NBA Finals matchup of the ‘80s being a key moment in the NBA’s recovery from the disastrous 1970s. Wayne Gretzky winning his first Stanley Cup and changing how the American sports public viewed hockey.

It’s full of great stuff – some stories I knew, other details were new to me – about my favorite pop culture year. It should be no surprise that I raced through in in less that two days.

Friday Playlist

“Nashville Girls” – Janet Simpson
This was about to drop off my current music playlist when I realized I had not shared it with you. Which is a huge error on my part, because it is a hell of a song, filled with swagger.

“Inside My Head” – Lost Ships
I love songs like this that have a variety of influences that are both readily apparent and blend together to make something that isn’t quite like anything you’ve heard before.

“In the Stone” – The Goon Sax
I heard some buzz about this band, with a few other of their songs suggested as entry points. And then I came across this dark, growly, post-punk jam and realized this was the damn song everyone should be pimping. This band is from Brisbane, which was just awarded the 2032 summer Olympics. Maybe they’ll play the opening ceremonies!

“The Way I Feel” – Alien Boy
I don’t usually go for emo, but this band hides it behind enough jangly guitars that I can get down with what they’re laying down.

“Drive That Fast” – Kitchens of Distinction
I discovered the Indie 1.0 station on SiriusXM a couple weeks ago and have been loving it. It is right in my damn wheelhouse. The other night I was taking C to Target to buy a gift for her friend and they spun this while we were on our way. I had to shush her and crank it up; it had been awhile since I had heard it. I went back to the first time I heard it, on a UK music podcast in the spring of 2005. It was one of the most striking musical experiences I have ever had. I felt like I was dizzy in the song’s closing section. Hell, maybe the roots of my vertigo are there!

“Peaches” – The Presidents of the United States of America
Fuck you, Biebs.

“Magic” – The Cars
Summer, it turns me upside down. Or at least it does when the forecast shows rain every day for the next week.

Reaching for the Stars, Vol. 58

Chart Week: June 12, 1982
Song: “Fantasy” – Aldo Nova
Chart Position: #32, 12th week on the chart. Peaked at #23 for two weeks in May/June.

I only caught a few songs of this countdown, but I tuned in at the perfect time. I’m guessing I had not heard this jam in a long, long time. Which is a damn shame because kicks all kinds of ass. I guarantee it was on a [Johnny Lawrence](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Johnny_Lawrence_(character)) mix tape.

I’m of two minds about this track.

On one hand, it is a pretty cutting assessment of what Aldo Nova saw on his first visit to New York. He had led a relatively sheltered life in Montreal and was shocked by the early ‘80s debauchery of NYC. Drugs and prostitutes everywhere. People losing themselves in lifestyles filled with fiction and sin to maintain some sanity in a city that would gladly chew them up and spit them out. If you strip away all of the general 80’s-ness about the song, it’s a solid critique of that world by an outsider.

On the other hand, that is overthinking things. This is just a straight rock song that is is completely cheesy yet absolutely awesome.

It begins with the artist. Aldo Nova is an amazing name. It was even cooler to a 10/11 year old kid who heard older kids on the bus say it. Aldo Nova sounded futuristic and exotic, like a sleek, rare, Italian sports car you catch rumors of but will never actually see. I doubt his parents, who were Italian immigrants, had any idea what they were unleashing on the world when they named their son Aldo Caporuscio in 1956. Dropping his family name and replacing it with Nova was a brilliant moment of self-promotion, guaranteeing every little degenerate kid in North America would think it was awesome.

Then there is the song and video. The long intro, with the helicopter and sounds of lasers firing was straight cornball. And incredible! Those sounds were perfect for a generation of kids that was blowing its allowance in arcades and had the sounds of techno-war imprinted in our minds. It also reminded me of a movie like *[Megaforce](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Megaforce)*, generally considered one of the worst films ever made. I was nuts about that stupid-ass flick, and the [Atari Force comics](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Atari_Force), in the summer of ‘82.

In the video, for some reason Nova has to chopper into an area secured by men with weapons. Then he uses his laser guitar to bust open the door to a building, where his band and an adoring crowd are waiting for him.

Why did he have to be choppered in? Why did the guys guarding the landing area have guns? Why did he have to use a laser to cut his way into a building where he was expected? This, my friends, is the beauty of early ‘80s videos! It didn’t have to make sense, because the prime audience was dickheads like me who would watch and scream, “AWESOME!”

Nova is also wearing an absolutely spectacular animal print bodysuit. It might be the coolest thing I’ve ever seen.

The song begins with that big, crunchy rhythm guitar riff, which is quickly covered up by Nova’s soaring, iconic lead riff that carries the track. From there it goes through fairly standard ‘80s rock progressions. It’s worth noting that not all of this was typical yet in 1982. One article I came across suggested that Nova, in this song, created the genre of Hair Metal. That may be giving him too much credit, but you can certainly hear the roots of what would soon dominate the rock charts here.

The rest of the video is loaded with straight cheese. To my eyes, it’s an absolute work of art.

Nova had an interesting career. His debut album went double platinum in the US. He released a couple more albums, but they weren’t nearly as successful and he never had another single that charted in America. He grew disenchanted with the music industry and asked out of his contract. Eventually Nova worked with other artists. Notably he wrote the main, 1000% awesome, riff for Jon Bon Jovi’s “[Blaze of Glory](https://youtu.be/MfmYCM4CS8o).” He produced albums for Celine fucking Dion, winning a Grammy for his work. He even wrote some music for Clay Aiken.

Wacky, wild stuff.

I thank the Music Gods for allowing me to rediscover this completely kick ass song and video, which I’ve listened to/watched at least 15 times over the past week.

On Packed Weekends and Golf

Decent weekend in our house.

I watched a lot of golf, thanks to the US Open being played on the West Coast. Which is always the best. The girls were even moderately interested since we stayed right off the course during our visit to San Diego two years ago.

I watched some Euro championship soccer. I watched some F1. L and I watched almost all of the crazy ass game seven between Brooklyn and Milwaukee (she bailed to go to bed late in the fourth quarter). We watched the closing minutes of the Atlanta-Philly game seven and laughed at Ben Simmons. “HOW IS HE SO BAD?” she yelled at the screen. Poor Joel…

I bought a book that is right up my alley and knocked out a big chunk of it while sitting by the pool Sunday.

I’ve also still been fighting this damn cold I’ve now had for almost four weeks. In fact Friday I felt worse than I had felt for a week. It seems like time and the Z-pack and lots of vitamins finally kicked in and I may have the cold on the ropes. Thanks to the cold I’ve been squeezing a lot of naps in, too.

Oh, and I turned 50.

No big deal.

Maybe one of you mathematicians out there can tell me what the odds are of me being born on Father’s Day and also turning 50 on Father’s Day? Seems kind of wacky to me but it seems to check out.

Ever since the calendar flipped to 2021 I’ve been contemplating this birthday, what it meant, and that kind of stuff.

I was excited to turn 30, because it meant I was an adult and people would take me seriously. And then my 30s were about maturing and creating. I got married. We had three kids. It was a busy time.

I was not super pumped about turning 40 because it was the first milestone that felt old-ish to me. Turns out my 40s were a decent run, and I wish I had entered them with a better perspective. Yeah, I’m a little creakier than I was a decade ago. I’ve got a few, thankfully minor, health issues to worry about. Looking back my 40s were all about raising my girls, helping them navigate the first years of their lives and reach the points where they developed their own personalities and interests and are either beginning or poised to begin making big choices for themselves.

Fifty, though? Man, it seems old. I can’t help but think of a line from a song by Buffalo Tom that struck me when they released it three years ago:

Now my time behind is greater than my time ahead

As much as I try not to dwell on it, I can’t help but consider that math often. I hope I have many years left, but it is very sobering to know that I’ve most likely lived somewhere around two-thirds of my life.

All those songs aging Baby Boomers put out in the ‘90s are starting to make sense to me.

I kid, I kid. All those songs still suck.

Thanks to all who sent birthday wishes to me over the weekend.

The ladies took me out for dinner Saturday to Harry & Izzy’s, where we enjoyed shrimp cocktail and I had a fine filet. My Old Fashioned was a little too sweet, but perhaps that was three weeks of various meds throwing off my taste buds. Sunday morning we got a variety of fancy French Toasts from a local breakfast place before I saw in or by the pool most of the afternoon.

All in all, not a bad weekend.


Golf

The US Open went from a snooze-fest to an absolute delight Sunday afternoon. I’m one of those who isn’t a huge fan of Torrey Pines. It’s too long, doesn’t ask enough questions of golfers, and doesn’t take advantage of the glorious property it occupies. For about 62 holes it produced a tournament that had a ton of players in the mix, but prevented anyone from doing much to create separation. I was 100% sure Bryson DeChambeau was going to get hot on the back nine, birdie and/or eagle a couple holes that everyone else was parring, and win by two. He had the lead on 10 and that looked like a pretty wise prediction.

And then all hell gloriously broke loose. Bryson shot a 44 on the back nine, and played a couple holes the way I might play them. I’m not a Bryson fan so this was thoroughly enjoyable. I literally cackled like a fool when he cold shanked a wedge and nearly took out some fans on the opposite side of the fairway. Could not have happened to a better guy.

I would have been fine with just about anyone but Bryson winning, but was rooting hardest for, in no particular order, Louis Oosthuizen, Rory McIlroy, and Jon Rahm. Rory faded, as he has been doing for a long time. Louis cracked under the pressure, as he seemingly always does. And it was Rahm who dropped in two absolutely clutch-ass putts on 17 and 18 to claim his first major. It was a well earned and deserved championship.

Rahm might have played the best round of his life two weeks ago, taking a six-shot lead after three rounds of the Memorial, only to learn he had tested positive for Covid and would not be able to play Sunday. This sparked just the kind of meaningful, reasoned, and nuanced dialogue you would expect on Twitter, talk radio, etc. Rahm handled it all wonderfully. He admitted he should have been vaccinated sooner – I believe he said he had only gotten his first shot a few days earlier after he was exposed to someone who was positive – said he understood the rules and protocols that the PGA had instituted, said he totally understood they were in place to protect others, and went along with them. He didn’t bitch or whine or blame others. He accepted responsibility AND advocated for others to get vaccinated. Unlike a lot of dickhead athletes who have taken a different line over the past couple weeks.

After he won the Open, Rahm said he’s a big believer in karma. He knew that something good would come from his bout with Covid. I like to think it was forcing him and others in golf like Phil Mickleson to advocate for vaccinations so we can move society forward. But if winning the US Open was part of that karmic payoff, I’m down.

I do feel gutted for poor Louis. Dude has the purest swing you could ever hope for and, by all accounts, cares a lot more about his family and his farm than golf. The knock has been that he doesn’t care enough about winning and, thus, has only won a single major while fading on Sundays time and again. You could see the pain in his eyes when he holed out on 18, realizing he had a chance to tie or even beat Rahm in regulation before his normally fluid swing betrayed him. He may not burn to win above all else like a lot of golfers, but make no mistake, Louis wants to win. He’s played very well this year. I hope he nabs another major before his skills begin to diminish.

Friday Playlist

“Solar Power” – Lorde
Oh good Lord(e)! Our New Zealand queen has returned in a major way. An almost instant Song of the Summer, one that arrives with a rather controversial album cover. Her album art makes me feel uncomfortable, so I’m just avoiding it as much as possible. YMMV.

“the angel of 8th ave.” – Gang of Youths
Hopping across the Tasman Sea for another long-awaited track. Gang of Youths seem poised to become the standard bearers for big, anthemic, emotional rock. Not that many bands make that kind of music anymore. This is a very welcome first peek at their new album.

“Better” – Michgander
This track is niiiiiice. It sounds like Ryan Adams mixed up with Wild Pink. Hopefully they don’t have the baggage of Adams so I can continue to enjoy their music.

“Basement Tapes” – Semisonic
I had no idea Semisonic was still putting out new music. They released an EP last year that included this enjoyable track recalling their early days as a band. Bonus points for the Kansas City reference.

“Fifty” – Franklin Embry and Jason Hust
I had never heard this song before this morning. It popped up in a quick search for songs that seemed appropriate for the next couple days of my life.

“Pool Hopping” – Illuminati Hotties
It wasn’t quite as warm here in Indy this week as some of my friends to the west experienced, but this is still a perfect song for the season.

Early Summer Catch Up

Mid-to-late June is my favorite time of summer. It’s usually not too hot yet, or if it roasts for a day or two the heat will eventually break and you’ll have a stretch of pleasant days mixed in. The rhythms of the summer are still developing and the season holds seeming endless promise.

At least that’s what it felt like to me as a kid, and I’ve never really lost that sensation. It sure helps that my life has revolved around my daughters’ schedules for nearly 17 years, so summer still feels like it did to me 40 years ago. I’m guessing those of you who spend your lives in offices and meetings and traveling (when allowed) have developed more mature feelings for the warmest months of the year.


Last week the girls watched two of their cousins. Daycare was shut down for a week because of vacations and M and L were recruited to watch a five-year-old and a 18-month-old. Which meant I ended up helping out a lot. When there was complaining about diaper changes, I reminded them that they were getting paid to do it and I wasn’t, so they needed to stop whining and get their poor nephew out of his soiled Pampers.

They did a pretty good job. They mostly had the mornings on their own. When I got back from dropping C at summer school, I would get the kitchen cleaned up or run a few errands before I had to return to CHS to grab C again. In the afternoons I was a little more involved. A couple days the rain held off and we were able to open the pool. I took over getting the younger one down for a nap, which meant I often got to close my eyes for a little while. It’s nice to have a doctor’s excuse that napping is ok for my minor medical issues if anyone gives me side eye about drifting off for a bit in the afternoon.

It was a fun week. The boys were good and the girls enjoyed taking care of them. We are especially happy that the younger nephew has finally warmed up to us. Because of Covid, he wasn’t around us nearly as much as his older brother during the first year of his life. So it has taken young K a long, long time to realize we are family and he should relax around us. In the last couple months he’s finally started proactively interacting with us instead of sitting and watching us with a look of mistrust on his face.

He’s also super affectionate and loves giving hugs. We laughed every afternoon when, after his nap and a snack and time to fully wake up, he would go through a stretch where he would walk around and give everyone hugs. After we got basic hugs, he would start smothering his big brother. It would start with a hug and some pats on the back. Then the hugs would get bigger. Eventually he would crawl right up on his brother’s lap, snuggle into him, wrap his arms around and give squeezes. His brother would calmly pat him back while he kept his focus on the TV. Little K would do this for 5–10 minutes at a time, and it always made us all laugh like crazy.


C is over two-thirds of the way through summer school. She’s taking gym so it’s been pretty easy. The biggest struggle, other than the heat last week, has been the cicadas. The CHS campus was absolutely overwhelmed with Brood X bugs. They would swarm around the kids while they were running on the track. They pelted anyone who walked near a tree. One kid in C’s class would throw his water bottle at trees and stir the thousands of them that were resting on its branches. Twice last week C got in the car with one stuck to her clothes.

We lucked out around our house, at least so far, and have only heard a few of the Brood X cicadas. That whole area over by school was just overrun by them. You can hear them with your car windows up and music cranked. As you drive they dive-bomb your windshield, leaving nasty messes when they splatted. On the interstate in that part of the city, the road looks like we had just had a brief hail storm because of all the cicada carcasses that were bouncing around on the tarmac.

I love annual cicadas, but I’m not sad that our neighborhood seems to be somewhat immune to Brood X. It seems like they might be tapering off this week, so we could be on the backside of their brief visit before their children set their clocks to return in 17 years.


We had encouraged C to run cross country as a freshman, partially for a fall activity and partially as a way to get to know more people before fall classes begin. But C wasn’t interested and said she would wait for spring to run track.

A few of her best friends decided to start running XC, though, and that changed her mind. We got all her paperwork in order Monday and this morning we both set alarms for 5:40 so she could get up and get ready in time to make 6:30 practice. She said it went well, but it had to have helped that it was only in the low 60s and breezy when she ran. She was smart to avoid last week. I’m sure the heat will catch up with her if she keeps running through July.

Friday Playlist

It’s been a few weeks since we’ve had a proper playlist. The new music has dried up just a hair and I haven’t had much time to devote to what is available over the past couple weeks. I’ve hacked together something to keep you occupied for a half hour or so, including two amazing videos.

“Evergreen” – Bendigo Fletcher
There is a lot going on in this song, veering through several different sources of inspiration. I have no idea how to categorize it. So I will just file it under Awesome and leave it at that.

“Personality Girlfriend” – Desperate Journalist
Another song with a variety of influences. This London band takes on some of the double standards and unfair expectations woman have to face daily.

“If It Happens” – We Were Promised Jetpacks
WWPJ came along at a glorious moment in the late ’00s when there was a glut of outstanding indie rock bands from Scotland. Over the years they’ve mellowed and smoothed out some edges. This song shows that you can age gracefully in the indie rock world.

“Quiet Little Voices” – We Were Promised Jetpacks
Why not go back to the first WWPJ song I ever fell in love with?

“Summertime” – The Sundays
Mother Nature keeps fucking around, but we are about to hit several days of hot, humid, and mostly dry weather. It finally feels like summertime.


“So This Is Love” – Van Halen
This is apparently a long-lost video VH recorded for an Italian TV show in 1982 that has finally found the light of day. It is insanely amazing. Everyone I shared it with made a similar comment about how much cocaine had to have been ingested when this was filmed. And what the hell is Dave trying to do to those dinosaurs? He may have been the rockstar who would literally fuck anything. Nice of him to show off his junk to all of Italy, too. Perhaps that’s why this performance disappeared for nearly 40 years. The world is a better place now that we can all enjoy this.


“Wolf Like Me” – TV on the Radio
Man, I had never seen this performance before. It is 1000% fantastic.

Reaching for the Stars, Vol. 57

Chart Week: May 12, 1979
Song: “In the Navy” – The Village People
Chart Position: #5, 9th week on the chart. Peaked at #3 for two weeks.

I wasn’t old enough to “get” the Village People when they were at the height of their powers. I was 6–7 years old during their brief moment at the top of the pop culture pyramid. All I knew was that they were goofy and funny and sang catchy disco songs.

I had no clue about all the subtext that was a part of the band, though. I didn’t know about the coding in songs like “Y.M.C.A.” and “Macho Man.” I didn’t get the meaning behind their name. I had no idea that their costumes and personas were all carefully selected to present a certain perspective of gay male fantasy.

All that makes me laugh because, when you look back on The Village People and their music, how more obvious could it have been what they were all about? Again, I was six and seven. What could I have known?

This countdown had one of my favorite AT40 trivia tidbits, a little note about how The Village People came to be.

The producers who assembled the group had a very specific concept for how they wanted the band to appear. They placed an ad in a trade paper looking for performers who fit this look. According to Casey, the ad sought “Singers and dancers, very good looking, with mustaches.” Wikipedia says the ad read, “Macho Types Wanted: Must Dance And Have A Mustache.”

The mustache line makes me laugh every time I hear it. Was that code in the late ‘70s for gay, particularly in the theater community the producers were searching in? I mean, a lot of dudes had mustaches in the ‘70s. Was the ability to dance while also having a mustache something that clearly identified a man as gay at the time?

That does not explain Victor Willis, the main vocalist and lyricist for the band. While he was leading The Village People, he was married to actress Phylicia Ayers-Allen, who a few years later became famous for playing Claire Huxtable on The Cosby Show. Willis has been married at least one more time, also to a woman. Doing some research, it seems that Willis was the only straight member in the classic lineup of the Village People.

Over the years so many gay entertainers had to present themselves to the public as straight, married, family men. But Willis, perhaps the most famous “gay” man in the world in the late ’70s, was actually straight. Pop culture doesn’t always make sense.

For some reason I can’t embed the video, so go here to watch it

A Disturbance in the Force

Before I get to our next Reaching for the Stars entry, I realized that I first need to share some disturbing news in the AT40 world that has radically changed my life.

The local station that played American Top 40 on Sundays for at least 12 years has stopped airing the show.

A week after we returned from spring break I turned on the radio and heard some random song from the ‘90s. This was not AT40! I listened longer and heard a regular DJ who mentioned the weather and went into another song.

Hmmm.

Sometimes the station screws up its Sunday schedule, so I was hoping this was a one-time thing.

However, the next Sunday I tuned in and heard the same thing.

This was very disturbing.

I checked the station’s website and couldn’t find any news saying that they had either dumped AT40 or moved it to another time slot. So I fired an email off to the program director, asking for a status update.

The next day he confirmed they had, indeed, stopped airing AT40. He said by dropping the show, that freed up four more hours of locally-produced programming, giving them the most local radio in the city!

It was difficult for me not to send a snarky response back, saying that was exactly what listeners in Indianapolis had been pining for: four more hours of hand-selected songs “from the ‘80s, ‘90s, and more.” Or whatever their dumb tagline is. I’m sure there are like five of us who faithfully listened to Casey each Sunday, so I get it. In the razor-thin margins of radio ratings, can he afford to lose those listeners?

Don’t answer that.

I am very much a creature of habit, and after 12–13 years of tuning a radio to a local station, say 45 out of 52 Sundays, and hearing Casey countdown the hits from the ‘80s, it kind of rocked my world to lose that little anchor to my weekends. Which is a little silly since I listen to the iHeart Radio Classic American Top 40 station several hours each week while cooking, cleaning, etc in the kitchen. I wanted that Sunday countdown that was always connected to the calendar, knowing I would be sitting on an April morning hearing exactly what I had been listening to on an April morning when I was 12. That symmetry pleased my strange brain.

Of course, there was an easy way around this. There are dozens of stations around the country that play the old AT40s on Sunday mornings. A lot of them are streaming online. In fact, I knew KCMO-FM in Kansas City was one of those stations. Why not listen to the exact same broadcast a few of my KC brothers-in-music check out?

So, now, on Sundays I fire up the KCMO stream and listen to Casey. It has become less automatic that my old routine, though, which is one reason the frequency of these posts has slowed down a bit. I have several queued up for the summer months so hopefully that means we get back into a more regular flow here soon.

Reader’s Notebook, 6/7/21

My reading pace slacked off significantly over the past month. I only finished three books in May, and none of them should have taken more than a couple of days. Because of that, the first two books in this entry don’t get very good recaps as it has been too long since I finished them to write anything terribly coherent about them.

I also had my first abandoned book of the year.

The good news is I’ve already finished two books in June.


Sarah Jane – James Sallis
Sallis is supposed to be a master of modern noir. And this book certainly fit into that realm. Here he writes of a small-town sheriff, a female veteran of our Middle Eastern wars, with a complex and complicated background. She settles into the job well, but can never completely escape those demons and doubts leftover from her past. I enjoyed this, primarily because we so often think that the gritty, tough, multi-layered protagonists in noir novels must be men. Sallis does an excellent job flipping all of that seamlessly, showing how all that can apply to a woman just fine.


Girl Gone Missing – Marcie R. Rendon
I wish I could remember where I discovered this book. I know it was in a blurb for another book I enjoyed, in which the person writing the blurb compared the two books.

I was expecting a lot based on that blurb. This book let me down.

It begins with a ton of promise. Cash Blackbear is a young college student in Minnesota in the late ‘60s/early ‘70s. Raised by foster parents after she survived a car accident, she was often abused and neglected because of her Native American heritage. But she learned to persevere and survive on her own, with some help from a kindly sheriff.

When two small town girls disappear after trips to the Minneapolis area, the sheriff asks Cash for assistance in looking through the case. She thinks about the case a lot, does some research in the library, but never really gets directly involved in the case.

Until she is suddenly very personally involved in the case. Which leads to a pretty wild 10–15 pages near the end.

So much of the book was just repetitive details of Cash’s life. Her boredom in class. Her alienation on a campus full of white people. Her time in pool halls. The many cigarettes she smokes each day. And then – WHAM – suddenly she’s in the midst of this case.

I loved the guts of the novel, and all the potential in those guts. But this felt more like a fleshing out of those ideas, an early draft that should have been turned into something much more compelling.


The Killer Inside Me – Jim Thompson
I’m not sure that I had ever heard of this, first published in 1952, until I read this essay by Dan O’Sullivan comparing Republican lawmakers in Texas to Lou Ford, the psychopath at the center of this completely insane novel. Stephen King wrote an effusive forward for the edition I read, so I’m guessing he was heavily influenced by Thompson’s violent work.

Ford is a deputy sheriff in West Texas, and the book serves as a first-person confession of his sadistic behavior. Appearing to all around him as just a normal, everyday, trust-worthy guy, Ford is in fact a complete psychopath. He was sexually abused by his housekeeper as a child, and in turn molested a girl when he was a teenager. Rather than face punishment for his behavior, Ford’s foster brother took the blame and jail time for it. Ford’s involved in a dark relationship with a local prostitute. His sex life with his long-time girlfriend skewers toward the deviant. And, soon, Ford starts murdering people. By the end of the book at least five people are dead at his hands, and a sixth dead because of the shock of Ford’s actions. Ford left little direct evidence of his crimes, so he is placed in a mental hospital until he finally trips up enough to force an end game with the police.

This book is dark and twisted and strange today. It must have blown people’s minds back in 1952.


Midnight Sun – Jo Nesbø
Crap. I hate it when I read a book not knowing that it is a sequel or part of a series that had other books before it. I’m not sure I missed much not having read Nesbø’s Blood on the Snow, which was part of a mini-series with this book.

This is a very quick tale of a fixer for an Oslo drug dealer who skips out on a hit he was ordered to perform with a stash of drugs and money his target offered to save his life. “Ulf,” the name the fixer takes as he flees Oslo, lands in the farthest reaches of Norway and drops into a drama that has hit a small community. He runs afoul of local customs, falls in love with an unattainable woman, and has to dodge the hitmen who have come to take back what he left Oslo with. And it all works out in the end.

The core of the story was fine, and I enjoy Nesbø’s writing. But this story seemed a little half-assed, and ripped through complex moments without much effort. It’s almost as if he became bored with the story and tried to get it over as quickly as he could.

That said, I’m going to dig into some of his other works this summer, as I really enjoyed his The Snowman which I read years ago.


Abandoned Book: Black Wave – Kim Ghattas
I read raves about this book, which is an accounting of the roughly 40-year battle between Iran and Saudi Arabia for supremacy in the Muslim world. The idea fascinated me, as that’s a conflict that doesn’t get much attention in the US despite the many very direct effects it has had on our life.

I just couldn’t get through the book’s early section, which was so dense in history of a part of the world I know little about that I felt overwhelmed. Perhaps I’ll give it another shot some other time when my mind is more open to wading through its detail.

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