Friday, June 29, 2018

Friday 's Forgotten Books, June 29, 2018

Forgotten Books: Darker Than You Think by Jack Williamson (Ed Gorman from the archives)

Let's begin with a tale of woe. Mine.

Years ago I was asked to contribute a forty thousand word novella to a YA series about shapeshifters. You know, beings humans and otherwise who can transform themselves into other kinds of creatures. I immediately thought of Jack Williamson's The Wolves of Darkness, a grand old pulp novella set in the snowy American West and featuring enough creepy
violence and tangled romance to make it memorable. It even has its moments of sweeping poetry.

Reading Williamson's piece showed me how to write my own. A few days after the young editor received it he called to rave. And I do mean rave. The best of the entire series. Eerie and poetic. Yadda yadda yadda. For the next forty-eight hours I was intolerable to be around. It
was during this time our five cats learned to give me the finger. My swollen head was pricked soon enough. The young editor's older boss hated it. He gave my editor a list of reasons he hated it. I was to rewrite it. I wouldn't do it. I said I'd just write another one, which I did. Old editor seemed to like this one all right but he still wasn't keen on how my "characterizations" occasionally stopped the action. Backstory--verboten.

Shortly after this werewolves began to be popular. I spoke to a small reading group one night and told them about Wolves of Darkness and then about Williamson's novel Darker Than You Think. Everything I love about pulp fantasy is in this book. The werewolf angle quickly becomes just part of a massive struggle for the soul of humanity. As British reviewerTom Matic points out:

"According to its backstory, homo sapiens emerged as the dominant species after a long and bitter struggle with another species, homo lycanthropus, whose ability to manipulate probability gave it the power to change its shape and practice magic. These concepts, fascinating as
they are, might make for dry reading were they not mediated via a gripping thriller riddled with startling plot twists, that blends scientific romance with images of stark bloodcurdling horror, such as the kitten throttled with a ribbon and impaled with a pin to induce Mondrick's asthma attack and heart failure, and the pathetic yet fearsome figure of his blind widow, her eyes clawed out by were-leopards. With its scenes of demonic mayhem in an academic setting and the sexual and moral sparring between the two main characters, it almost feels like a prototype of Buffy, The Vampire Slayer in a film noir setting."

Williamson couching his shapeshifters in terms of science fiction lends the story a realistic edge fantasies rarely achieve. The brooding psychology of the characters also have, as Matic points out, a noirish feel. And as always Williams manages to make the natural environment a
strong element in the story. He's as good with city folk as rural. And he's especially good with his version of the femme fatale, though here she turns out to be as complicated and tortured as the protagonist.

This is one whomping great tale. If you're tired of today's werewolves, try this classic and you'll be hooked not only by this book but by Jack Williamson' work in general..

Frank Babics, THE HANDKERCHIEF, John Saul
Brian Busby, MEMORY'S WALL, Flora McCrea Eaton
 CrossExaminingCrime, THE BETEL NUT MYSTERY, Ovidia Yu
Martin Edwards, THE PIT-PROP SYNDICATE, Freeman Wills Crofts
Richard Horton, INVADERS FROM RIGEL, Fletcher Pratt
Jerry House, FELONY FILE, Dell Shannon
George Kelley,  YEAR’S BEST SCIENCE FICTION NOVELS: 1954 Edited By Everett F. Bleiler and T. E. Dikty
Margot Kinberg, A CUT-LIKE WOUND, Anita Nair
Rob Kitchin, THE MAGPIE MURDERS, Anthony Horowitz
Evan Lewis Captain Blood in "The PRIZE", Rafael Sabatini
Steve Lewis, THE FRIGHTENERS, Donald Hamilton
Todd Mason,  THE UNEXPECTED edited by Leo Margulies; THE BEST FROM FANTASY AND SCIENCE FICTION 9th Series edited by Robert P. Mills 
Steven Nester, (THE RAP SHEET)THE BIG KISS-OFF OF 1944, Andrew Bergman
J.F. Norris, DREAMLAND LAKE, Richard Peck
Matt Paust, THE ECHO MAKER, Richard Powers
James Reasoner, TIGRESS OF T'WANBI, John Peter Drummond
Richard Robinson, TETHER'S END, Margery Allingham
Gerard Saylor, THE CYCLIST, Anthony Neil Smith
Kevin Tipple, LUCKY YOU, Carl Hiassen

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Forgotten Movies: HARVARD BEATS YALE 29-29


Every once in a while there's a documentary about sports that really seems to sum up the sport, or the times, or both. The legendary game of the title took place in 1968, at the height of the Vietnam War. Although the movie talks about the war a little, how some of the players were against the war and others strong supporters, the emphasis is on that game.

With less than a minute to go in the game, Yale was ahead by 16 points. You have to see the movie to find out what happened. (Or maybe the score in the title will tell you). Every man interviewed for this remembers that game more vividly than yesterday's dinner.

I guess there will never be a better sports documentary than Hoop Dreams, which I watched alone in Manchester England in 1995. And when I say alone, I mean I was the only one in the theater on a weekday afternoon. Obviously, basketball isn't big there. Second place, "When We Were Kings" (Ali). I have yet to see TYSON, which I hear is excellent.

But this movie was exciting and it is always strange to hear about how games played in youth can become the defining moment in person's life. Any favorite sports movies, docs or otherwise out there?

Monday, June 25, 2018

Things That Are Making Me Happy

My brother, Jeff. 
The novel THE IMMORTALIST (Chloe Benjamin). 
The essays by Michael Chabon, POPS. Especially the one about taking his 12 year old son to the Paris Fashion Shows.And the one about baseball.
Kevin's team won their League Championship. Yay, Kevin. 
BAILEY AND SMITH, which is getting us through a difficult time. And FRASIER, which we are rewatching with delight. 

How about you?

Sunday, June 24, 2018

Friday, June 22, 2018

Friday's Forgotten Books, June 22, 2018

THE WALKAWAY by Scott Phillips (recommended by Jay Stringer)

THE WALKAWAY was literally a forgotten book for me. At least, it was until recently. I had it on my bookshelf, right next to THE ICE HARVEST which I’m a big fan of.
But something about the follow up stopped me from cracking it open. Maybe it was because it was about Gunther. Really? Of all the characters to follow up with?
He didn’t seem to have any pull for me, not compared to all the other characters that had been drawn so vividly in the first book. More fool me.
One of the strengths of Scott’s writing is that he can take that and make you feel foolish. He invests character into every part that he writes, no matter how small, so that there is something there to return to and draw you in. At this point, I couldn’t imagine the book without Gunther.
It’s a complex book to describe, but a very simple one to read. It spans two time periods, one in the 1950’s and one in the 1980’s. The former is a deliciously messed up slice of noir; it has pimps, addicts, sleaze and violence. It has a sex lottery, and a sociopathic soldier who wants apiece of the action. In the middle of this, Gunther Fahnstiel fins himself trying his best to stop everything going to hell.
The 1980’s builds on this story, but is a separate narrative. Gunther got very lucky at the end of THE ICE HARVEST, but that luck didn’t solve all his problems. The end of the decade finds him living in a care home, fighting a losing battle to keep his memory. Through all of that, though, he is still trying to put things right. He knows that he has something out there somewhere that will bring back his wife and help his friends. He just can’t remember what it is or where he left it.
I can’t think of many, if any, books that manage to combine so many dark noir elements with a real heart and tenderness. This has some real heart of darkness stuff, make no mistake, but it boils down to a very simple and moving love story.
It tends to get billed as both the sequel and the prequel to THE ICE HARVEST. And sure, it is both of those. But that doesn’t really do the book justice, it stands alone as one of the best crime novels of this decade or any other.

Frank Babics, KEEPING HOUSE, Michael Blumlein
Mark Baker, K IS FOR KILLER, Sue Grafton
Les Blatt, KEEP IT QUIET, Richard Hull
Elgin Bleecker, HORNS FOR THE DEVIL, Louis Malley
Brian Busby, DEEPER IN THE FOREST, Roy Daniels
Martin Edwards, GO LOVELY ROSE, Robert Barnard
Curt Evans, The Crime Novels of Sara Elizabeth Mason
CrossExamingCrime, A MURDER IS ANNOUNCED, Agatha Christie
Richard Horton, The Nemesis from Terra, by Leigh Brackett/Collision Course, by Robert Silverberg
Jerry House, WEEPING MAY TARRY, Raymond Jones and Lester DelRey
George Kelley, YEAR'S BEST SCIENCE FICTION NOVELS 1953, Bleiler and Dikty
Margot Kinberg, PLUGGED, Eoin Colger
Rob Kitchin, BONE ISLAND MAMBO, Tom Corcoran
Kate Laity, TWO FACES OF JANUARY, Patricia Highsmith
B.V. Lawson, NINE COACHES WAITING, Mary Stewart
Steve Lewis, BORROWER OF THE NIGHT, Elizabeth Peters
Todd Mason, ESQUIRE'S WORLD OF HUMOR edited by Lewis W. Gillenson ; TRUMP: THE COMPLETE COLLECTION (ESSENTIAL KURTZMAN, V. 2) edited by Denis Kitchen; THE BEST AMERICAN COMICS 2015 edited by Jonathan Lethem and Bill Kartalopoulos (
J.F. Norris, THE ANGEL OF DEATH, Philip Lorraine
James Reasoner, THE MELTING DEATH, Curtis Steele
Richard Robinson, What I Read, Part 9 
Gerard Saylor, THE LIKENESS, Tana French
Kerrie Smith, THE LIAR IN THE LIBRARY, Simon Brett
Kevin Tipple, THORNS ON ROSES, Randy Rawls
TracyK, THE BECKETT FACTOR, Michael David Anthony

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

My First Best Friend

 My movie today was going to be WINTER'S LIGHT but Film Struck struck out. So....



My first best friend  (originally posted in 2013) 

was Sally Walton (left, on Easter, 1956 at 7613 Gilbert St. Philadelphia).

When I was five, a girl finally moved onto our street in Philadelphia. She had brown hair and gray eyes and was beautiful. She liked all the things I liked. People used to call us the Bobbsey Twins. Although if you looked carefully, you would see her fingernails were always clean, her socks never drooped.

I bossed her around mercilessly. (She was tolerant of bossy friends)

Her mother served us pretzels and pepsi on a tray, which I found amazing. We made tents that went on for miles. Her mother had trunks full of costumes we liked to dress up in. We did all the things girly girls did in the fifties. She was good at the hula hoop and skating. I was good at hopscotch and jacks. We each had a Ginny doll. Hers was pristine. Mine was so messy it had to be replaced. We had sleepovers. We were Brownies together. She was a Methodist. I was a Lutheran.

In sixth grade, we finally landed in the same classroom, our dream come true. Oddly, this was the beginning of the end because she had built up a group of classroom friends and so had I. It was hard to separate home from school. Doris got her attention at recess. Ruth had mine.

When we went off to junior high school, I found more new friends and so did she. I should have kept in touch with Sally Walton. I wonder where she is now. Happy and healthy I hope. I am betting her fingernails are cleaner than mine. But maybe she doesn't garden.

Who was your first friend?

Such glamor inside our teensy row house. We are six.

The boy is my brother, Jeff. We are at the zoo and I remember this day. It was the only time I remember being there until Phil and I went there years later.

Monday, June 18, 2018

Things That Are Making Me Happy

The Dakota Inn Rathskeller was opened on August 1, 1933 by Karl Kurz, the Grandfather of Karl E. Kurz, the present owner. EIGHTY FOUR years later, Detroit’s only authentic German bar is still going strong! We celebrated my daughter-in-law's mother's birthday there on Saturday night.

Thursday night we attended a performance of the Great Lakes Chamber Series with our friends the Boyles, which takes place every June at many venues over several weeks. The concert we saw was at the gorgeous Kirk in the Hills Church.

                                      My son and family came over for Father's Day. A nice time.Kevin is now a middle-schooler. Where did the years go?

Very much enjoying Bailey and Scott on Amazon Prime.

What about you?

Friday, June 15, 2018

Friday's Forgotten Books, Friday , June 15, 2018

GUN WITH OCCASIONAL MUSIC, Jonathan Lethem from Deborah (Debby) Atkinson,

Years ago, I was browsing a San Francisco bookstore when someone recommended a book that looked pretty quirky to my unfamiliar eye. It was Gun, with Occasional Music, published in 1994, and I'd never heard of Jonathan Lethem. After I read Gun, I started paying attention.
I write crime fiction, so about 75% of what I read is in that genre, and I use that term inclusively: mystery, thriller, suspense, and so on. Every now and then, I read sci-fi, which if it's good, is beyond good—it's fantastic. These finds seem rarer than the fantastic mystery/suspense novel, though maybe I'm just inexperienced, and someone here can point me in the right direction.
With Gun, with Occasional Music, Lethem did it all. He captured Raymond Chandler's noir setting and injected the futuristic pessimism of Philip K. Dick, with a dash here and there of Frank Herbert's Dune (mind altering, government-issued drugs), and compelling animal protagonists à la Eric Garcia. Gun has sheep, apes, rabbits, and other species, all "evolved" to speak English and make protagonist Conrad Metcalf's life more difficult. Wait until you meet Joey Castle, the enforcer kangaroo.
Best of all, though, are characters that are original, appealing, and sympathetic. The dialogue crackles, the scenes are intense, and you'll love Metcalf despite his foibles.
I also loved Lethem's Motherless Brooklyn (1999), but this one made more of a splash in the mystery community, so I probably don't have to sing its praises quite as loudly. Lionel Essrog, the protagonist of Motherless, has Tourette's syndrome. Yet Essrog's outbursts ring with not only profanity, but brilliance, heart, and desperation. The dialogue and characters are outstanding. The writing is inspirational, poetic at times. And the mystery ain't bad, either.
I hope you enjoy Lethem's work as much as I do. 

Mark Baker, MURDER ON MULBERRY BEND, Victoria Thompson
Les Blatt, DEATH ON THE AISLE, Richard and Frances Lockridge
Brian Busby, ARCTIC RENDEVOUS,Keith Edgar
CrossExaminingCrime, VANISH IN AN INSTANT, Margaret Millar
Martin Edwards, THE CRACK IN THE TEACUP, Michael Gilbert
Richard Horton, INVITATION TO LIVE, Lloyd C.Douglas
Jerry House, PHANTOM, Thomas Tessier
George Kelley,  THE BEST SCIENCE FICTION STORIES: 1953 Edited by Everett F. Bleiler & T. E. Dikty
Margot Kinberg, THE LOST, Claire McGowan
Steve Lewis/Walker Martin, The Non-Maigret Novels of Georges Simenon 
Todd Mason, ADVENTURES IN THE SPACE TRADE: A Memoir by Richard Wilson  FANTASTIC WORLDS Nos. 3, 4 & 5, edited by Sam Sackett; COLD SNAP by Thom Jones: Limited Promotional Sampler The Very Small Press, and a Brief Form of a Little, Brown Book
Juri Nummelin, BARBARY SLAVE, Kevin Matthews

Richard Robinson, What I Read, Part 8
Matt Paust, THE OVERSTORY, Richard Powers
James Reasoner, THE WIDOW, Orrie Hitt
TomCat, THE CASE OF THE TUDOR QUEEN, Christopher Bush
TracyK, CUTTER AND BONE, Newton Thornburg
Zybahn,KEEPING HOUSE, Michael Blumlein

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Forgotten Movies: Young Man with a Horn

Taking advantage of our new Criterion/Filmstruck Channel, we ended up watching this last week. I don't think I had ever seen it and it reminded me how Kirk Douglas had some acting chops back in the day. He was very convincing as a musician. Doris Day plays the good girl/Lauren Bacall, the bad and Hoagy Carmichael is his long time pal. The film gets a little murky about 2/3 through. Not sure what exactly brought him back from the brink. Maybe just the love of some good friends. Lots of great music, and lots of well-filmed scenes. I have the novel somewhere. Maybe that will spell it out a bit better. Hollywood did impose strictures on movies in the forties and fifties.

What are some of the great films about musicians? Or novels? 

Monday, June 11, 2018

Things that are Making Me Happy

Lucky to see a concert version of TURANDOT, which utilized the entire DSO and several huge choirs. It was three hours of gorgeous music. It was sad that Leonard Slatkin had to miss his last few performances due to heart surgery. He has been a real blessing to the DSO and Detroit.

Also saw the best movie I have seen so far this year FIRST REFORMED. Ethan Hawkes gets better with each film and this film is Paul Schrader's masterpiece at age 72. Hope it comes your way. Certainly it is not a happy film but it is a redemptive one.

Reading MRS. FLETCHER by Tom Perotta and essays by Sloane Crossley and short stories by Curtis Sittenfeld.

Finishing up the final three episodes of THE STAIRCASE on Netflix. Seems like I have been watching this saga all my adult life.

And this..

Friday, June 08, 2018

Friday's Forgotten Books, June 8, 2018

Pick-Up by Charles Willeford (from the archives)

When was the last time you read a book so compelling you couldn't put it down? What was it?
For me, it was this novel. It takes a long time in Pick-Up for the reader to understand the protagonist and what he's all about. Why he's in the fix he's in. Maybe you won't understand the full story until the last line. And yet, Willeford is able to tell his story lucidly, making even the most mundane details riveting.
This is basically a story about two drunks. Why does it work so well? Better for me even than Kennedy's drunks in Albany. Because the characters are interesting, the narrative pull inescapable, the writing excellent.
Even when the plot turns a bit unlikely in the last third--the characters remain true to themselves, so you go along with it.

Yvette Banek, THE BOX OFFICE MURDERS, Freeman Wills Crofts
Elgin Bleecker, THE SAINT, MILLION POUND DAY, Leslie Charteris
Brian Busby, FORD NATION, Rob and Doug Ford
CrossExaminingCrime,  NOW I LAY ME DOWN TO DIE, ELizabeth Tebberts-Taylor
Martin Edwards, THE MAN WHO LOVED LIONS, Ethel Lina White
Curt Evans, GRAVE MATTERS, Margaret Yorke
Charles Gramlich, THE SNAKE MAN'S BAN, Howie K. Bentley; STEPSONS OF TERRA, Robert Silverberg
Richard Horton,  The Duplicated Man, by James Blish and Robert Lowndes
Jerry House, EASY GO, Michael Crichton
Geroge Kelley,  YEAR’S BEST SCIENCE FICTION NOVELS: 1952 Edited By Everett F. Bleiler & T. E. Dikty
Margot Kinberg, TENANT FOR DEATH, Cyril Hare
Rob Kitchin, WITHOUT THE MOON, Cathi Unsworth
B.V. Lawson, I'LL SING YOU TWO O, Anthea Frasier
Evan Lewis, THE LEGION OF THE LIVING DEAD, Carroll John Daly
Steve Lewis/Barry Gardner, MURDER ON HIGH, Stephanie Mattison
Todd Mason, 1951 Newstand Photos and Magazines on Display
J.F. Norris, AND TO MY BELOVED HUSBAND, Philip Loraine
Matt Paust, SHUTTER ISLAND, Dennis Lehane
James Reasoner, RICHARD BOLITHO, MIDSHIPMAN, Alexander Kent
Richard Robinson, WHAT I READ, Part 7
Gerard Saylor, EXIT STRATEGY, Steve Hamilton
Kevin Tipple. JADE'S PHOTOS, Randy Rawls
TomCat, THE BACK BAY MURDERS, Roger Scarlett
TracyK, TRAITOR'S PURSE, Margery Allingham

Wednesday, June 06, 2018

First Wednesday Book Review Club; THAT KIND OF MOTHER. Rumaan Alam

In 1985 Rebecca Stone is ill-prepared for motherhood. Breastfeeding turns out to nearly undo her so the idea of hiring the helpful woman from the hospital seems like a great idea. And it is. The two women bond instantly and life for the would-be poet smooths out.

Priscilla, an older black woman, dies unexpectedly in childbirth early on and because the bond between the two women was so strong, it extends to how Rebecca feels about Priscilla's orphan son. There is a sister who could take him in, but she is a new mother too. So Rebecca ends up raising her own son and Priscilla's.

This was an easy book to read and perhaps the problems it raises are solved a bit too handily. No one really makes too much of a fuss about a white family with a black son. Problems you expect to surface do so with not much more than a ripple.

Alam is a gentle writer and you get the idea he is saying that kindness goes a long way. And I agree. Lovely writing from who I know must be a lovely man.

For more reviews, see Barrie Summy. 

Monday, June 04, 2018

Monday Music

Things That Are Making Me Happy

Enjoyed THAT KIND OF MOTHER, Rumaan Alam. Also THE TALE, on HBO with Laura Dern. Also somewhat, ON CHESIL BEACH, which follows the novel closely. Saoirse Ronan has a great body of work under her belt already.
Our flowers are in, a bit more difficult than usual this year. Our beauty bushes are in full bloom.
Our cleaner and her husband are redoing our screened porch in a few weeks, which should be a big improvement because it sits in plain view. Enjoying the interviews on the Criterion Channel. Fun hearing what movies various people were drawn to.
How about you? What's going on there?


Friday, June 01, 2018


(Something of a spoiler alert) (from the archives)

Nemesis by Philip Roth.

Nemesis is the story of a polio epidemic in Newark in 1944 and especially about its impact on a Mr. Canter, who runs a playground program and is about to become engaged.

Roth does an excellent job of showing the effects of polio on this small neighborhood, in relaying the horrible progression of the epidemic, which cruelly was most often contracted by kids.

But at Nemesis' end and despite my interest in this polio epidemic plot, I realized it wasn't really about polio. What it was about was the way in which individuals deal with the onslaught of horror in their lives. How some people can go on fairly effectively, not let things like disease or war or economic disasters corrupt their lives. But others cannot get past their terrible luck, and the idea that this turn of events was unjust. They didn't deserve it so it completely derails them. The bitterness poisons everything.

I have read many books by Roth but apparently his last four books have dealt with this theme and I am most interested in seeing how his other characters deal with the fall of the sword. Highly recommended.

Mark Baker, WATCHMAN, Robert Crais
Yvette Banek. ALIAS BASIL WILLING, Helen McCloy
Les Blatt, BATS IN THE BELFRY, E.C. R. Lorac
Brian Busby, ARCTIC RENDEVOUS, Keith Edgar
Martin Edwards, THE AFFAIR AT LITTLE WOKEHAM, Freeman Will Crofts
CrossExaminingCrime, THE STICKLEPATH STRANGLER, Michael Jecks
Curt Evans, THE CASE OF THE PLATINUM BLONDE, Christopher Bush
Richard Horton, COLD IRON, Melissa Michaels
Jerry House, THE OUTLAW OF TORN, Edgar Rice Burroughs
George Kelley, THE YEAR'S BEST SCIENCE FICTION, 4, Gardner Dozois
Rob Kitchin, NIGHT LIFE, David C. Taylor
B.V. Lawson, THE HANGING DOLL MURDER, Roger Ormerod
Steve Lewis, THE BROKEN ANGEL, Floyd Mahannah
Todd Mason, REEL TERROR, ed. Sebastian Wolfe, and Peter Haining
J.F. Norris, THE WEIRD WORLD OF WES BEATTIE, John Norman Harris
Margot Kinberg, INTO THE SHADOWS, Shirley Wells
James Reasoner, PORTRAIT IN SMOKE, Bill S. Ballinger
Richard Robinson, WHAT I READ, Part 6
Gerard Saylor, SHOTGUN LOVESONGS, Nickolas Butler
Kerrie Smith, ROGUE LAWYER, John Grisham
Kevin Tipple, SHOTS FIRED, C.J.Box
TomCat, WOBBLE TO DEATH, Peter Lovesey
TracyK, A MURDER IS ANNOUNCED, Agatha Christie