Books

Book report: The French Connection

Book report: The French Connection

Books
The nice thing about reading a book prior to seeing a subsequent cinematic adaption is that you can go in fresh, with no notions or expectations.  So when I picked up a copy of Robin Moore's The French Connection, published in 1969 and later adapted into a hit movie starring Gene Hackman, I only had a vague idea of what to expect.  Actually, that's not entirely true.  I had a vague idea that it would be an action-packed story with lots of chases and maybe shootouts.  Also, I was pretty sure it took place in France. Turns out I was wrong on a few counts. For one - and I trust I'm not spoiling this for anyone - the book actually takes place in New York City.  It details the investigation of and subsequent arrests of a group of shady characters involved in the heroin trade.  The thing i
Book report: The Worst Hard Time

Book report: The Worst Hard Time

Books
You ever talk to one of those annoying people who always feels compelled to one-up your tales of woe?  You try to get a little sympathy for spraining your ankle, and all they can do is go on about the time they broke their leg twenty years ago.  Then there's the other variation, where you try to talk about a difficult situation with an older relative and they bust out the "back in my day..." line to trump you.  It's like, enough already old timer. Well here's the thing about the folks who lived through the Dust Bowl of the 1930s - their stories really are worse than your stories.  Every time.  And they don't have to embellish or exaggerate.  The trick is to make those stories readable and engaging, which isn't as easy as it may seem.  Fortunately we have Timothy Egan's 2005 work, The Wo
Book report: From Russia, With Love

Book report: From Russia, With Love

Books
I've been a James Bond fan since I was a kid, when I rented just about every Bond film available (actually my mom rented them, but whatever) and spent countless hours absorbing them.  But for some reason I never got around to tackling any of the source material - Ian Fleming's Bond short stories and novels.  I guess I never figured there was a reason to dig that deeply into 007, even though I've developed a taste for spy novels in my adulthood. But during a recent trip to a used book store I spotted some older editions of a few Bond novels and decided to take the plunge.  So I've finally finished my first Bond book, 1957's From Russia, With Love.  It's Fleming's fifth Bond novel and became, in 1963, the second in the film series.  I think I picked a good one to start with. (more&hel
Book report: The Witching Hour

Book report: The Witching Hour

Books
Having only read one other Anne Rice novel (you guessed it, Interview With the Vampire), I learned some interesting things about her from reading her beefy 1990 tome, The Witching Hour.  I learned that she can make a book interesting even if there are actually no vampires in it.  I learned that New Orleans, in addition to being a magical place indeed, has some really beautiful flowers.  And I learned that Anne Rice sure knows a lot of different ways to describe human genitalia. So yes, the book is interesting and even engrossing in parts and starts off with real promise. In the bar of a New York hotel a doctor remembers a most disturbing assignment - administering tranquilizing drugs to a young, catatonic woman named Deirdre.  But rather than living as a patient in a mental hospital, De
Book report: Single & Single

Book report: Single & Single

Books
Don't let the title fool you - Single & Single is in fact not the new name for Jon & Kate Plus 8.  It's actually a 1999 novel by John le Carré, who made a name for himself in 1963 with The Spy Who Came in From the Cold.  I picked it up a few years ago solely because le Carré is the author, which should tell you how much I liked The Spy Who Came in From the Cold. I don't know if I was aware that Single & Single isn't a spy novel when I bought it, but it doesn't really matter because it might as well be. All the familiar elements are here, but in the post-Cold War world we have to make do with cutthroat Russian mobsters rather than crafty KGB agents, and put-upon British bureaucrats who lack the zip of the agents of yesteryear.  Fighting crime just isn't as interesting as figh
Book report: Time Out of Joint

Book report: Time Out of Joint

Books
There are some names in literature that for some reason intimidate me before I even read a word of their work.  Since I'm not a voracious reader I think I have a tendency to put some authors on a pedastal.  When I do get around to reading something by one of the "greats", I feel silly for having avoided them for so long. So it was with science fiction legend Philip K. Dick, whose canon I have finally entered by reading his 1959 novel Time Out of Joint.  Why this one, and not one of his more famous works such as Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? or A Scanner Darkly you might ask?  My wife owns a copy so that's the one I decided to start with, that's why. As I made my way though the story of Ragle Gumm and his struggle to break through what he at first only vaguely feels to be the f
Book report: The Once and Future Spy

Book report: The Once and Future Spy

Books
Having recently read the magnificent spy epic The Company for the third or fourth time, I decided it was finally time to explore some of Robert Littell's other works.  So for no particular reason I picked his 1990 novel, The Once and Future Spy (which Mrs. Suit informs me is a King Arthur reference). While TO&FS is not nearly as engrossing or rewarding as The Company, it was fun and engaging nonetheless.  Without giving too much of the plot away, the basic story goes like this: A CIA operative named Wanamaker is running an operation (code name Stufftingle) that may or may not be officially sanctioned by the agency, but is confounded by a leak.  To find and stop the leak he brings in a retired and somewhat disgraced former Naval Intelligence officer, one Admiral J. Pepper Toothacher
Book report: The ODESSA File

Book report: The ODESSA File

Books
Having only ever read one other Frederick Forsyth book (his 1971 debut, The Day of the Jackal), I had high hopes for The ODESSA File.  And while it isn't quite the classic that his first novel is, it's a damn fine yarn just the same.  It did prove, without a doubt, that the greatness of Jackal was not a fluke.  Of course, his long and successful career proves that too, but I digress. The story takes place in 1963-64 and centers on a young freelance German reporter, Peter Miller.  Miller drives a flashy car, makes a lot of money, and sleeps with a stripper.  He knows little of the Nazi atrocities committed during World War II and, like many Germans of his generation, really doesn't want to know much. That all changes when, totally by chance, he comes into possession of a diary wri
Book report: Ray Bradbury — Fahrenheit 451

Book report: Ray Bradbury — Fahrenheit 451

Books
There are countless so-called classics of literature that simply can't live up to their reputation, and yet they find their way into the curricula of high school and college literature courses year after year. I've read many of them since graduating and found some to be pretty good (Adventures of Huckleberry Finn) and others pretty bad (The Catcher in the Rye). Ray Bradbury's Farenheit 451, however, is deserving of all the praise it receives. What struck me most about the book, aside from Bradbury's top-notch writing and storytelling skill, was that the oft-cited theme of censorship was almost secondary in the plot. I was prepared to read a novel warning about the insidiousness of censoring books, but instead was treated to an eerily prescient look at a slothful and intellectually stunt...