50 Books – 50 States

I am working on reading a book set in each state.  Just a fun little challenge I set for myself. So, for those interested – here is the list so far!

California – The Garden on Sunset by Marcus Turnbull

Delaware – Summerville by H.L. Sudler

Florida – Live by Night by Dennis Lehane

Illinois – Crossing California by Adam Langer

Indiana – Trespassers – by Todd Wynn

Kentucky – Raylan by Elmore Leonard

Louisiana – Judas the Apostle by Van R Mayhall Jr

Massachusetts – Animal by Casey Sherman

Missouri – Gone, Girl by Gillian Flynn

Montana – Canada by Richard Ford

Nevada – The Long Way Down by Craig Schaefer

New York – Hocus Pocus by Kurt Vonnegut

North Dakota – Peace Like A River by Leif Enger

Pennsylvania – The Wonder boys by Michael Chabon

Texas – The Trial by Clifford Irving

You would be shocked how many books are set in Florida, California, New York and Texas!! While this is by no means all the books I have read, I have not included stories set in other countries or duplicate states. This is harder than iIthought it would be!

Luke Jensen Bounty Hunter by William W. Johnstone

I hadn’t had a western in my book queue for a while so when the opportunity to snap a few up came my way, I grabbed them.  I think like many people, I had some preconceived notions about westerns that were misguided.  Simplistic cowboy stories that set the stage for the lone American hero.  The HBO series, Deadwood changed that idea to some extent. I started to examine the subtext of what these stories were really about.

Luke Jensen tells the first part of the story in a flashback after he is injured during getting a bounty. It details his time as a confederate soldier and how he and seven other men were tasked with transporting the last of the Confederate gold to a new location in Georgia as Richmond was under attack and before its fall.

During the course of transporting the gold, the commanding officer is killed during an ambush from Union soldiers. Four of the men, including Luke, decide to remain true to the confederate cause and ensure the gold reaches its destination. The other four, sensing the fall of the confederacy, decide to steal the gold. In the course of the theft, Luke’s companions are killed and Luke is severely injured.

He is then rescued by a farmer and his granddaughter. During the course of recovering on their farm, they all find out that the south has fallen and the war is over. In short order however, northerners move to the south and begin the process of reconstruction which for certain of them, means buying up property or forcing out southern owners through political and violent means.
Luke takes matters into his own hands in order to protect his hosts. This forces him to move on ultimately and he then proceeds to become a professional bounty hunter. This brings us to the second part of the story.

His exploits as a bounty hunter are examined. His travels from city to city, the people he meets along the way and bits of information he collects along the way. Some of this information will become important in part three of the book. It also shows us where Luke’s vulnerabilities are and his thoughts and reasons for not returning to his own home in the Ozarks after he left the military.
Finally, Luke ends up rescued from another injury. This time, the rescuer happens to be his younger brother who he hasn’t seen in years and who does not recognize him. There is an eventual reunion and although Luke continues as a bounty hunter, he finally establishes a home.

What got me thinking in this book was about soldiers who returned after war and s pent time searching to find their way. From the civil war when this book is set to today’s vets returning from Afghanistan and Iraq, young men (and now women) return to the civilian world displaced.
For many, entry to the war as a soldier was a career opportunity and once that ends, we expect them to return to “regular” life but they are not built for much except killing. After the civil war, the cowboy myth developed and after World War II, Korea and Vietnam, cowboys were replaced with bikers.  So the cowboy myth is really the disaffected soldier reality.

The second thing that sprang to mind was “to the victor, belong the spoils.” Many manufacturers from the north found opportunity in the south and were willing to exploit it. To do that, they were willing to displace and mistreat those southerners who had already suffered extensive damage to their homes and livelihood.

Likewise, after every war we have seen the vanquished displaced from their homes while the victors have exploited the economic downturns suffered by the losers to create cheap manufacturing opportunities.  Of course, now we are seeing that as energy issue – oil.

In the cowboy myth, the bounty hunt is an economic opportunity. But after every conflict, we also see an upturn in the hiring of police. More police means we need to have more villains to go around. After the civil war, we saw the westward movement which required states and territories to be formed and legislation to be enacted and enforced.

The cowboy myth is really a dark tale of identity crisis and economic displacement and opportunity. I encourage readers to re-examine the western genre and look at the subtexts. It will be like watching Breaking Bad or Mad Men  while reading a both a myth and a history of the post-civil war era.

The Long Way Down (Daniel Faust #1) by Craig Schaefer

I absolutely loved this book! This is a fun, exciting, different take on a supernatural thriller and it is a page turner. I found it almost impossible to put down. I read it in two days but that is only because I forced myself to shut out the lights and get some sleep. This is one of those books when I finished, that I was already missing the characters.

Daniel Faust is a magician in the occult sense of that word. He is also a sometime private eye with his base being Las Vegas Nevada. He has a group of occult friends with differing powers and they meet at the Tigers Garden – a destination that only appears to the initiated.

Las Vegas also happens to have many resident denizens of the underworld. They are always involved in the sins and vices of those who find themselves in their debt.  Beyond that, I will say that the story involves murder, soul theft and an ancient box that can only be unlocked with the right psychic combination.

A number of interesting side stories occur and this is the first book in what is called the Daniel Faust series. I am excited about that because I intend to grab the next book in this series to find out what happens next. Without hesitation.

I can’t say much more about this book because that would spoil the story but I will tell you that this is the best example of a supernatural thriller with a light touch that I have ever read. This is like an Elmore Leonard with occult overtones.  I can’t say enough about Craig Schaefer’s characters except that I am so glad I found this book.

Grab it from your favorite independent  book seller or e-book supplier and I guarantee you will find it as hard to put down as I did.

Jackal: Finally the Complete Story of the Legendary Terrorist, Carlos the Jackal By John Follain

I had seen documentaries on Carlos and read some other books about Carlos but I don’t think I ever had read what the eventual outcome was for Carlos. This book provides that information. I hesitate to call it an ending because although Carlos is currently incarcerated in France, he will be eligible for parole in 2020.

Ilich Ramirez Sanchez a.k.a Carlos the Jackal, is a Venezuelan national who inspired by all of the student uprisings and nationalists movements in the 1970’s, joined Palestinian terrorist training organizations in order to foment what he called an International Socialist Revolution.

What was most surprising was how little success he actually had – he caused a lot of injury, death and havoc without achieving much in the way of personal or political change. I guess given the legend, I expected so much more. It seems like a life wasted since he spent almost all of it on the run.

In the end, much of the book shows how political machinations and considerations behind the scenes play such an important role in how terrorists are handled. For example, while Carlos was in Khartoum, France wanted to extradite him or grab him but due to considerations and relationships with the Sudanese government, it took quite some time to happen.

Carlos also was sheltered by East Germany, Syria and Libya during the Cold War years but as the Iron Curtain fell and relations thawed between East and West, he found it increasingly more difficult to find places to hide. It is amazing that he managed to evade capture while at the same time living a jet setting lifestyle.

A good, easy to digest book that provides insights into terrorism and the reasons why individuals choose to involve themselves in it.  It also gives succinct answers to why releases of hostages and political negotiations take so long and are so complicated.  What really hit home for me is how little value is placed on victims and how difficult it is for victims to get any justice. The book outlined how utterly devastated victims ended up: economically, physically, mentally and emotionally.

For those interested in this topic and this individual, this book is a great, easy, succinct biography. I enjoyed it and it did provide me with some new insights and the story….so far.

From Turnberry to Tasmania: Adventures of a Traveling Golfer

I confess to being an ultra-light amateur golfer. I first picked up clubs while living in outback Australia. In the town where I lived (and most Australian towns and cities are like this) the golf club is popular. It provides something to do, competition and drinks. I found out why golf could be addicting on the fourth hole. I hit a shot from the tee to the green and the feeling and sound were indescribable. I went under par and was hooked.

I don’t play often but I was curious about this book because when I travel, most often off the beaten path, there are some really crazy golf courses out there. This book does not discuss those but for anyone interested in golf, the author covers what he considers the top courses in various locations around the world.

The book is fascinating – even for non-golfers.  The book is very accessible. Each chapter is about the length of a longer magazine article. Well written with enough detail to transport the reader to each location and sense the sights and smells as well as very descriptive paragraphs on each course. I read the book in one day.

What makes the book for great for non-golfers is that the author also discusses things to do beyond the links that are seminal for each area. For example, in Dublin, Steinbreder outlines the literary pub crawl and in New Zealand, he goes on a kiwi bird watching expedition.  He also discusses the historical interests in each club which can be of equal interest to non-golfers or companion travelers of golfers.

I also loved the culinary journey that accompanied each section. Which clubs have good restaurants, wine cellars, whiskey or rum flights was just as interesting as the golf stories. The descriptions of the eateries and bars adds to the course ambience.

But ultimately, this book is about golf and is divided into sections: Old World (Europe). New World (United States) and Outposts (everywhere else). Each chapter under those headings covers a country or sometimes two countries – and what constitutes some of the best golf in each.

Courses, tracks and links are described in detail. Which holes are the most challenging or interesting, the best views, the designer of the course, what kind of championships or amateurs have been played there, the landscape designs that make the course unique, club houses, bars, locker rooms, pro shops. Every area of interest to the serious golfer is covered.

This is a strong book for serious golfers, duffers, companions of golfers and travelers alike. A sweet little treat at the end is the author’s lists of Top 5’s related to golf courses around the world. Some were written about in the book and some are teasers inviting the reader to go exploring further.  I feel like grabbing a flight and hitting the links!

The Confession by John Grisham

I thoroughly enjoyed this Grisham novel. Know going in that this book has a bias against the death penalty. I noticed in other reviews that many people were perturbed by this and also felt that this was a soap box novel. I wasn’t bothered by any of these aspects. This was one of the better Grisham novel for several reasons.

Usually, his novels run 300+ pages and at times have ended abruptly. Grisham did not limit himself this time and the story unfolded over 515 pages. The size was necessary to the story and had he tried to edit it to less pages and words, I think the telling of the story would have suffered.

In this book, unlike others, there were a few more twists and I would say, more of a realistic reflection on what happens in the system. The day was not saved. An innocent man was put to death despite the race against time in the first third of the book. There were also some story lines that were set up and got you thinking that something might happen that did not play out. A little bit of mystery.

There were a lot of characters – more than  average for one of his novels. Paths converged but there were enough characters that left you with some to like and to some to hate and some not to feel anything about. Like many books, there were a few things that happened that were either unbelievable or unlikely but these did not detract from the bigger story.

Having worked for many years in the legal business I enjoyed the truth of justice not being black and white. I also enjoyed the truth that there are a lot of corrupt people in this business. Many cops, many attorneys and many judges. Don’t be fooled into thinking idealistically about those who are supposed to uphold the law. More often than not, they are driven by self interest and politics, egotistical narcissism and in some cases, corruption. The bigger the legal issue, the more likely to find these qualities and they were all on display in The Confession.

Grisham is my little escape between other reads because I know it will be a fast read and I will be fully engaged. 48 hours well spent. If you can enjoy a biased opinion on the death penalty, you will probably really enjoy this book. If an opinion that doesn’t jive with yours drives you crazy – give this one a miss and read The Firm. It’s my other favorite Grisham.

A Tale Dark and Grimm (A Tale Dark and Grimm #1) by Adam Gidwitz

Finally, a telling of stories originating from the brothers Grimm that takes the reader all the way back to the wonderfully bloody origins. And a highly appropriate read for the Halloween month it is! The author uses Hansel and Gretel as the thread to connect together a wonderful telling of dark fairy tales.

Throughout the book, the author offers clever asides and warnings of the scary bits to come, advising small children to leave the room, get a babysitter or hide under the bed. This will result in one of two things: children (and children at heart) will be compelled to read on or will scare themselves witless and spend the night with bloody visions of dragons eating people, handsome men pulling guts out of girls that turn into doves and envisioning Hansel and Gretel trudging through forests dark and dreary as they go all the way to the Gates of Hell and beyond to find out if there are any good adults.

Spoiler: there are no good adults. I love a book that brings back to life a better reflection of reality. I also love the fact that the children, rather than being eternally helpless and rescued by charming adults, instead mature and become self-reliant as they learn the lessons on their journey from light to dark and back to light.

The author is a second grade teacher and some reviews from the helicopter parent set have been scandalized at the darkness within the book and reflected the fact their child was too scared to finish it – this is a book that might help parents to toughen up their kids a little and focus on the courage, tenacity, intelligence and wisdom that children have and that are shown in the book rather than books that teach gentle lessons that the children can learn while wrapped up in little cotton balls.

As for adults – they will love the telling of the story, the re-boot of Hansel and Gretel as it was probably meant to be told and the humour and horror in the telling. It’s not Stephen King but it’s absolutely no Mother Goose. Poe perhaps? Anyway, a quick Halloween treat.

Peace Like A River by Leif Enger

I had this book sitting in my pile for a long time. Several times I looked at it contemplating the reading of it and then set it aside for something else. I should have grabbed it a long time ago. It was a wonderful story and different from most “modern” literature books.

Although set in 1963, it reads more like a book from the late 1800’s or early 1900’s. Not in the sense of story or setting but more in the sense of the use of language and phrasing. The prose is sometimes poetic (bot literally and figuratively) but in a way that paints a very crisp picture. In addition, if you like words, there is a strong, sassy young female character who plays with language and writing.

All of the characters are interesting. My one disappointment, if you could call it that, was the character of Davy. He starts out strong and is a prominent force throughout the novel but is never as clearly defined as Rueben, Swede, Jeremiah or even Roxanna. There are also some threads left dangling in the story that leave you vaguely unsettled at the end. That leads me to rate this with 4 stars rather than 5.

The other weakness for me is that one important component of the story revolves around faith. There is always ambiguity in any discussion of faith which is realistic but I felt that there were a lot of unanswered, as well as unasked, questions by the characters and about the characters with regard to where they stood on the issue of faith. I suppose the author was asking you at times to read between the lines but for those of us who are spiritual without necessarily being religious, it was disquieting.

There were Bible references but from a particular rendition and tradition and without that religious instruction or understanding of the historical meanings and teachings underpinning  the denomination, it was indecipherable to me. I also had no interest in following up by delving more deeply into that whole arena at this time. That would have requited not only finding a Bible that matched the denomination but investigating the background to grasp the basics. For those who are religious, or have some religious instruction, they might get more out of that part of the book than I.

This is a thought provoking satisfying read. It kept me interested and I was able to enter the world of the story quickly. The end of the story is a little rushed and neat but it doesn’t detract from the beautiful writing which is what I enjoyed the most. A very meditative piece of writing.

The Decline and Fall of Practically Everybody: Great Figures of History Hilariously Humbled by Will Cuppy

This book is hilarious and also historically accurate and very carefully researched. It was published posthumously and one can only imagine the wonderful updates that would have occurred to subsequent additions if he had lived.

The footnotes are witty and sharp and in no way detract from the rest of the work. This is the way history should be written and taught. The historical characters are brought back to earth and are written as real humans with all of their foibles exposed for laughs.

For those that love history, this is a must read. For those who love humour, you will get plenty of laughs while also getting educated. Don’t forget to read the afterword. It discusses Will Cuppy in depth. I can only imagine that my place will look like his by the time I am dead. He was a misanthrope after my own heart.

Crossing California by Adam Langer

I rate this book a solid three stars or a weak four stars. I had very high expectations going into this book. One, because my partner grew up in Rogers Park in the 70’s and I have heard numerous stories about it and two, because I lived in Chicago in a neighborhood just south of Rogers Park and have been there many times and know the neighborhood myself.

There is a lot of detail about the area. It really brings the neighborhood to life and in many ways, Rogers Park is the star character of the book rather than the human characters. The first 2/3 of the book were excellent. I was getting into the characters and their lives and I felt like the story was going somewhere interesting. Something happened to the last 1/3 of the book and I cannot put my finger on what  exactly happened.

Some characters introduced early in the book went nowhere or were given very incomplete story lines: like Muley’s dad, the parents of Lana and Larry and even the Charlie/Gail relationship. They just kind of hit dead ends without real explanations or conclusions. Muley, who was so important in the first part of the book merely drifted away into an editing room and emerged briefly at the end. This was very disconcerting since Muley had been extremely integral to the story for most of the book. Larry, the Jewish rocker disappeared completely after dominating much of the story. Another strange choice.  The list goes on which leads me to believe that there was poor editing choices being made or that the writer really had no idea how to wrap up these story lines.

I read the last pages and ended up in a Rogers Park dictionary. I was baffled…what had just happened? Where was the rest of the story? I am truly hoping it is in the follow up The Washington Story. I am not jumping straight in though. I am going to digest this one a little more and see if I can like this book more than the 3 stars I am giving it. I want to love it, but I only fell in like with it.