The Kings of Cool by Don Winslow

My Don Winslow obsession continues with Kings of Cool. This is a prequel to Savages which I previewed at an earlier date. I wish I had read this one first because I think my opinion would have been more favorable towards Savages.

This time, the story goes back in time to the early 1970’s and follows the exploits of Chon’s father, Ben’s mother and father and O’s mother, all who were the first Association to set up the importation and dealing of drugs in Orange County.

I loved the time period, the story made a lot more sense to me and it certainly explained how Ben, Chon and O came to be and the influences they had on them growing up. It made me more empathetic to all three of the younger characters.

The early days cover the time from about 1970 up into the 80’s and currently. Ben, Chon and O are just getting their enterprises and their reputations established and unbeknownst to them, are in direct competition with their parents Association.

The parents have no idea who the new players in the game are but want them taken out. As the story goes back and forth, Ben, Chon, O and their parents make and break alliances, get involved with corrupt cops and unfold the secrets of the past that inform the younger players about how and why it was done.

I actually enjoyed this book and read it very quickly. As I said, had I read this first, I would have had a much better outlook on Savages. Damn you Don Winslow!


Trouble Is My Business by Raymond Chandler

Sometimes you just need to get back to basics. Broads, bourbon, gats and gams. And so, in quick need of a good read to keep the roll going, I jumped into this series of short stories with Chandler’s favorite private eye, Phillip Marlowe.

As usual, he has a series of cunning and crazy clients; run ins with the local cops who all like to slap him around and drink his booze and bad guys who want to know what he knows but also want him dead.

Marlowe always survives. The book is divided into for novellas. In the first, he is hired to protect a young wealthy heir from a potential gold digger. This job takes Marlowe into the world of Los Angeles gaming dens. As usual, Marlowe is completely irreverent with his employer but ultimately successful-ish.

The second novella is all about the world of crooked politics. As usual, Marlowe finds himself in a mess of trouble and running afoul of the wrong people while trying to put together the pieces so he can explain what is happening.

The third story is a great chase looking for two incredibly valuable pearls and Marlowe’s attempts to get them and make a profit on the insurance money. In this story, he travels north to Seattle, Olympia and Westport. It was nice to see Marlowe out of his element.

Finally, there is a story about a man murdered in front of Marlowe in a bar who may be an extortionist. As usual, a dame, and Marlowe’s knight complex in saving dames, comes into play and gets him overly involved in something he should have left well enough alone.

With Chandler, you know what you’re getting and it doesn’t matter how many times you read him, it just keeps getting better. This was a very good book for a compendium of novellas. Each one as good as the last. Pour me a rye and bring me a gat.

The Story of a Sociopath by Julia Navarro

This is a difficult book to review. It is particularly lengthy and it is told from the viewpoint of the sociopath in the title. By nature, sociopaths are a turn off. This one, Thomas Spencer, is no exception.

Thomas grows up in an upper middle class household. His father is an attorney in a second generation New York law firm. His mother is a nurse who is half Mexican and half American. His younger brother is a lovely person with a personality that all love and a golden future. Thomas is a difficult person from childhood all the way to death.

As the story opens, Thomas and his brother Jaime are both children. Thomas is adored by his father, despised by the nanny/maid and distant with his mother. He is cruel to his younger brother as well as animals. He is unpleasant in every way but he is the heart of the story and there is little or no reprieve from Thomas.

What is great about this story is that sociopaths are most often shown to be criminals. In this story, the sociopathic tendencies of Thomas, translate into a certain amount of success in his chosen profession – advertising. His methods though, leave a lot of collateral damage in his wake.

As Thomas narrates the story, there are a number of places where he explains how an event played out. But he also gives an alternative narrative, in italics, about what he could have done instead. Thomas never chooses the correct or pleasing or socially appropriate response however.

As the book proceeds from childhood, to young adulthood, to adulthood, to old age, Thomas becomes increasingly less pleasant and more sadistic. Sadly, he is also the most successful character in the book and as life often imitates art, many of us can see how it works the same in the big wide world.

Thomas destroys lives, including many of those closest to him. He is unable to love although it is something that he desperately seeks and is unable to receive much less understand.

The story takes place in both New York and London with a segue to Madrid that felt incomplete. Strangely, it is the one time in the story that one feels Thomas has found what amounts to him, happiness and peace. It is also the one place in the world where as much as he is able, he abstains from damage.

It is one of those books I can’t stop thinking about so therefore, it must have resonated more than I thought. It is long – almost 900 pages, so it is one with length and depth and requires a commitment of time. If psychological manipulation and gaslighting interest you, and you want to better understand the mind of a sociopath, then this one is for you.

Police by Jo Nesbo

As my blog followers know, I was recently introduced to Jo Nesbo and his character of Harry Hole, a deeply flawed police officer from Oslo, Norway. It was love at first word and now, I am on a mission to read the whole series. I was trying to read these in order but readers know there is a ghost who lives in all houses with books.

Periodically, the ghost of books, will misplace or hide the next book in the series, forcing the reader to rip the house apart looking for that book. Unable to find it, you read the one at hand but drive yourself crazy trying to find the other book.

I also have a critic. Her name is Cotton and she is a cat. She is critical of all books. They all have to be shelved or she uses them for potential scratching posts. The more you value a book, the greater the risk that Cotton will scratch the cover for you.

So between ghost and Cotton, I was forced out of order in the series. This novel was a real nail biter too. Police in Oslo are returning to the scenes of unsolved crimes on the one year anniversary and are being systematically slaughtered.

A team is assembled of officers and profilers who have worked with or been associated with or mentored by Harry Hole. Unlike in previous novels, Harry comes into the story a little later and has had a series of events unfold that have changed his life and lifestyle.

It is a real cat and mouse game that the police are playing with the killer. They are also in the game of politics and the higher ups want solutions and results while at the same time, working against the very interests they are working to serve.

Oslo is the backdrop this time. In the other stories I have read so far, Harry has been on the road, solving cases around the world. This time, he is working as a professor at the police training college and advising the force on methods to solve these cases – which he was at first reluctant to become involved in.

Nesbo’s writing is excellent. I haven’t enjoyed a series like this and been so engrossed in some time. I keep coming back for more and I will continue in my quest to find the misplaced book so we I can share another Harry Hole story with you next time. The ghost and the cat, willing.

Lincoln In The Bardo by George Saunders

This is one of those books that sits with you and that you find yourself mulling over and discussing with other people. Your first instinct is to either love it or hate it, but as you keep talking about it, you realize that this is a really good book. And it would have made one hell of a Twilight Zone episode.

The story is set in Washington DC. President Lincoln had a son, Willie, who died of Scarlet Fever when he was in office. It is during the Civil War. There are a series of people who congregate in the cemetery and are there to see Willie laid to rest.

What the reader is aware of is that these people are all dead. They have all died in a variety of different time periods and their language reflects the era in which they died. There are quite a number and they are all involved in some seemingly supernatural fight for their lives.

The Bardo is a Buddhist term. It is the period after death and before rebirth when the soul is disconnected from the physical body and has a series of experiences. Willie and the rest of the individuals are in the Bardo.

The other inhabitants operate as a kind of chorus who keep the story moving and offer explanatory and expository information for the reader. A further interesting aspect the author uses is that he has researched contemporary commentary on how writers viewed many of the events depicted and has used those writings to show that any one event can be viewed and interpreted in a variety of ways.

And, since this is Twilight Zone material…..that is all I will say. Because, as in all good TZ episodes, the twist is always the best part of the story. Book clubs that really want to discuss allegory, theme, exposition and the meat and potatoes of writing will really enjoy discussing this book.

If your book club just wants to drink wine and touch on a book, I challenge you to give this one a go. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised. Five stars.

The Lawgiver by Herman Wouk

This was a very fun, very easy read with a lot of humor. The story is basically the effort being put forth by a group of people, with various motives, who want to get a movie about Moses made in Hollywood.

The main character is Margo Solovei, a writer who grew up in an Orthodox Jewish household, who attended an orthodox Jewish school and whose rabbi father, is less than thrilled with her life choice to become a Hollywood player.

Like a fascinating web that spins out and out, the story is told through Margo’s correspondence, emails, faxes, meeting notes etc. with different people who have a vested interest in the film or a vested interest in Margo.

The project is being financed by a Yiddish Australian tycoon whose reasons are never entirely clear for making the film. Herman Wouk and his wife are major characters and at the end of the book is a very touching tribute by Wouk to his wife, with her picture. One could almost say she was his muse.
Other characters are Margo’s childhood sweetheart, a friend of a friend who becomes a good friend, producers, directors, charlatans and a reluctant low profile Aussie sheep station owner and reluctant but very good actor.

There was one very entertaining sub-story involving a friend from Jewish School and her orthodox husband and their marital highs and lows. Shirley and Avram were thoroughly entertaining and a much needed break in the wheeling and dealing part of the story that centered on Hollywood.
This is a quick read and an easy one. I actually read it in between other books when I needed a quick break from something heavier. This is a pretty fun read. Three and a half stars.

Return to Summerville by H.L. Sudler

For those that follow my book blog (, you will know that I RAVED about the first book in this series, Summerville. Great news!! Book two lives up to the high bar established by the first book and has all the subtext of the first plus a whole lot more.

When last we left Summerville, a man had been raped on one of the beaches at Rehoboth by a group of men. A woman had also been raped by one of these men. Obviously, there is a whole lot more to what seems like a conventional, boilerplate legal thriller. Go read my review then return. For the rest of you…..

Sudler explains that these books are a compendium of a series of articles he writes for a small newspaper. For those that love Dickens and Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City, then Summerville is a must read! What I love about Summerville is what I love about Dickens. There are a host of social justice themes and issues that reflect society in the same way Dicken’s wrote about the London of his day.

What I also love is the fodder for book clubs. Some of the themes in Return to Summerville include but are not limited to: relationships with age differences; the issues that arise when someone dates a close friend’s child; unrequited love; losing one’s employment due to sexual orientation; male and female relationships; long held secrets and intergenerational lies; the choices we make in life and the reasons; survival; witness protection; the mob; gangs; relocation; memory… many great issues to explore and discuss.

Sudler expands on his inspiration for this type of story. This includes the great old soap Dark Shadows and the book, movie and tv show Peyton Place. That was actually wonderful to read in his own words as there were several points in the novel where I thought “Wow! This is like Peyton Place!”.

Now for the good news/bad news. Great books suck you in and just like the first one, I cleared my schedule, read the whole things in a day finishing at 4:30am! Yep, it’s one of THOSE books. I should also mention that like all 5 star books (and this is 5 stars, make no mistake) there is some confronting and sexually explicit material suitable for mature readers. Keep an open mind and you will be rewarded.

The bad news? Sudler left us on a genuine cliff hanger!!!! I almost died when I got to the last page and realized I now have to wait for the next installment in what will be a triology. I can hardly wait!!! There is so much here to love and I can’t recommend this author and these books enough. I reiterate, if book stores had this book on the front display, it would be a sell out of major proportions. If Peyton Place could do it, Summerville could easily outsell it several times over. Grab your summer novel but be prepared for a sleepy day after you stay up all night reading it!