Satori by Don Winslow

Here I continue my new interest in all things Don Winslow. I was not disappointed by Satori. The main character is an interesting blend of contradictions. His name is Nicholas Hel, although he is western by appearance, he was raised in Japan and considers himself Asian by character and temperament.

He has all the usual spy skills – martial arts training and the ability to kill silently with his bare hands, speaks multiple languages and has the James Bond effect on women. But the most interesting thing he really has going for himself is that he is a master strategist who has gained this ability by playing the game of Go.

He is tasked with killing a high level Soviet in China and although his minders think they are sending him on a suicide mission, his ability to look ahead and strategize, means that he has a better than average chance of surviving his mission.

He spends time perfecting his cover as a French arms dealer and proceeds to travel through China, Cambodia and Vietnam as he moves across the live Go board and pits himself against players who are equally canny at strategizing themselves.

Winslow does a great job of researching his subjects and this means that the writing is highly detailed and believable. I am a huge James Bond fan, have read all of Ian Fleming’s books and several of the authors who picked up the Bond franchise.

I have also read the Bourne books and Satori stacks up well against both franchises. In fact, I will happily seek out more books with Nicholas Hel. I will happily read the rest of what Don Winslow has written.

For those interested, this novel is based on Trevanian’s Shibumi. Trevanian was also responsible for The Eiger Sanction, another favorite of mine. So in some sense, you get a two-fer – two good authors, one great character! Check them both out. 5 stars!

Bad Monkey by Carl Hiassen

So my Hiassen hook up (thank you Randi!!!!) said I could borrow her new book and even read it before her. Now that is what I call a good friend! I returned to the lovable rogue, Andrew Yancy who is soon to be kicked out of the Monroe County Sheriff’s office for shoving a car vacuum …..well, you’ll have to read about that.

A very suspicious boating accident has resulted in a lone arm, middle finger extended, washing up in Key West. The sheriff wants Miami to handle it and dispatches Yancy, arm in tow, to take it to the ME up there.

Meanwhile, Yancy is trying to deal with development gone crazy in his quiet little corner of the world. All he wants is his miniature deer to graze peacefully and watch the sunset. But Andrew Yancy is a creative man and he does his best to foil said development.

His love life is complicated. He has a fugitive sex offender from Oklahoma with her hot pants and his burgeoning interest in the medical examiner from Miami. He is also investigating the arm on his own (off the clock) and getting mixed up in a complex plot that has a lot of moving pieces.

Over the course of the book, he will work with corrupt cops, the Russian mafia and Bahamian crims to get this mystery solved. He will survive a hurricane, dog bites, fires, bees and voodoo.

The best character so far though is the bad monkey aka Driggs. He pops up repeatedly in the book and has his own complicated relationships with his Bahamian brethren as well as visitors to his home in the Caribbean. Driggs’ was famous for acting with Johnny Depp in Pirates of the Caribbean but he was also famous for getting kicked off the movie for bad behavior.

This book is hilarious and another great beach read. I have found these Hiassen books are just the ticket to cleanse my palate after reading heavy books or books I just wasn’t that into. These are so well written that I get involved, finish them smiling and am ready to delve back into weightier tomes.

Bad Monkey is fun and funny. Highly recommend. You’ll love it!

Skink No Surrender by Carl Hiassen

This book is a young adult novel by the same author who writes witty, humorous mysteries set in Florida starring former police officer Andrew Yancy. Hiassen’s novels are just fun, good time reads. This YA novel holds up to the adult novels without sacrificing the humor or the edge that make the adult novels good reads.

Richard and his cousin Malley like to get to get up to mischief, and like most teenagers, Malley likes to sneak off and not tell her parents what’s going on. She does however make sure that her cousin Richard has at least some idea of what she is doing.

Richard is fortunate to meet an old beachcomber named Skink. He is a former governor of Florida with a lot of idiosyncrasies and great contacts in law enforcement and with people all over the state.
Malley runs off with a guy she met on the internet and it isn’t long before Richard figures out that Malley is in real trouble. He and Skink set off on a crazy pursuit with the blessing of Richard’s parents and the help of Skink’s contacts to find Malley.

From there, it’s just a wild ride through Florida. Up and down highways and beaches, in and out of rivers, Skink and Richard pursue Malley and the man she left with. Along the way, Skink provides Richard with a few life lessons and shows both Malley and Richard what a wild survivor looks like.

The story is not long, being a YA novel and it’s very entertaining. This is one that is ok for adult readers and one which younger readers will really enjoy and can be an introduction to Hiassen’s more adult work depending on the maturity level and reading abilities of a young reader.

A fun entertaining beach read for young and old alike.

Heels Over Head by Clay G. Small

I wasn’t sure about this book. It took me a long time to get into this book. It was slow going. I restarted it three separate times before finally committing all the way and diving in. It took me a few days to finish it and in the end? This one just wasn’t for me.

Henry Lindon is a businessman who has recently completed a large scale business transaction and through his brother, ended up getting a position at a university in the Dallas area where they live. Having grown up on a Kansas wheat farm, he still co-owns his parents farm with his brother and has on site management.

He, his brother and another friend from their small town have an arch enemy – a local boy from a wealthy family who the three embarrassed and harassed in high school and who still holds a grudge against them because of it.

And that is where it jumped the shark for me. For grown men to still hold high school grudges despite being wealthy and successful and be willing to put it all at risk was not believable for me. Not only is the grudge holder wealthy and successful, he is also a sexual sadist and I found that part of the story distasteful.

In fact, most of the men who seemed to be in the fifty year old range, were all very juvenile. Holding onto high school hurts; trying to one up each other through pranks; multiple marriages and playboy behavior by a few; alcoholic antics – it made it very hard to care what happened to any of the males in the story.

Henry, for all his critical thinking, slow decision making and deliberate and careful consideration of everything, was a reactive whiny milquetoast. He suspected his wife of an affair despite having very little indication she was in any way unfaithful but it definitely fit with the low treatment of women in the story.

Women are depicted as either ho’s, frigid ice queens; eye candy, victims or gold diggers. It was all quite unbelievable and the most of the women were either sexualized or victimized.

The final turn off for me was the fact that there was no resolve to the story. The ending was intended to be a cliff hanger, I think, and to encourage you to purchase the next book. In all honesty, I was kind of ticked off the story ended this way and because I didn’t care about the characters, I don’t plan on reading the next book or finding out how it turns out.

This may be a story that appeals more to male fans than female, I’m not sure. It left me cold. As I always say though, what one person doesn’t care for may be gold for another. If a cliff hanger appeals to you, then you might pick this one up and hang on for the next one too. It just wasn’t for me.

Some Rise by Sin by Philip Caputo

Let’s start with a summary of the story: Father Tim is a priest who has been posted to San Patricio, Mexico in the heart of cartel country. He is having a difficult time reconciling his religious principles with life on the ground, dictated as it is by the violence of the cartel.

Lisette Moreno is from a working class background and has spent her adult life pursuing and education and becoming a doctor. She got her education in Mexico and therefore has an obligation to put in part of the year working at a location determined by the Mexican government.

Lisette and Father Tim both feel responsibilities to the community they serve but they also both walk a fine line because they are forced to deal with the cartel, the politicians, the military and the police. Tim is also answerable to the church while Lisette has encouraged her lover, an art professor with mental health issues to join her in remote San Patricio.

It is said that the book is based on actual events. I enjoyed the book but as my regular readers know, I read Year of the Dog and The Cartel by Don Winslow recently (both 5+ star reads) and I had a very difficult time appreciating this book in the same way.

There were some striking similarities in the stories suggesting that both authors based their novels on the same events. I just felt Winslow did a better job of bringing the reader into the story and making the reader care about the people and events depicted.

Some Rise By Sin definitely spoke from the inner voice of Father Tim (and to a lesser extent Dr. Lisette) more than Winslow’s book, but I still felt the characters in the other book were deeper. This is the downside of reading two books based on the same subject matter so close together in time.
I can’t tell if my opinion about this book is entirely accurate or colored by how much I loved the other books. I wanted to love this book as much as the others but I just didn’t have the same feeling.

I know one of the things I did not like was the relationship between Lisette and her bi-polar art professor lover. It just didn’t feel genuine compared to Lisette’s devotion to her work and her down to earth attitude. I know people hook up with opposites but this went beyond that….it was simply unrealistic.

Please don’t be put off by my review. If the subject matter interests you, I encourage you to read all three books and make up your own mind. For me, this is a solid three star read. I just happened to love the other books about the same subject that much more.

Encyclopedia of Kiss by Brett Weiss

I spent two years between ages 12 and 14 listening to KISS virtually every day. Alive II was on a constant cycle among me and my friends – so much so that we could speak and sing every word that was uttered on that album. It wasn’t the only one, but it was definitely part of the soundtrack of our lives.

It took some time for me to receive this book and it was worth the wait. So much so that I read it in one sitting! This is not your average encyclopedia. This is a very detailed; very cross referenced volume of information that is perfect for super fans and average fans alike.

Organized alphabetically, each entry covers any aspect of KISS that you can think of: personnel, events, music, songs, individual projects, related bands, former bands, venues, producers, merchandising etc.

Not only are these areas covered, they are cross referenced. Some entries are substantial. This is true in particular about the members of the group – original and replacements. Each is covered in equal depth.

What I loved the most about this book is that it is not filtered through the Gene Simmons/Paul Stanley prism. Equal weight is given to Peter Criss and Ace Frehely as there is to Eric Carr, Tommy Thayer and others. Too many times in “official” KISStory, the story cuts out the original members who we grew up loving.

This is such a fun read. I literally could not put it down and stayed up way too late absorbed in all the details. After I finished, I dug out Alive II and flashed back to my teen years – black light posters, incense and KISS! It rocked!

Anatomy of a Song: The Oral History of 45 Iconic Hits That Changed Rock, R&B and Pop by Marc Myers

I ended up getting this book as an Audiobook which is a really great way to “read” a book about music. The reason it took so long to review this book was that we decided to listen to it at night before bed.

Each night we would listen to the story behind one of the 45 rock, pop, R&B, blues, country etc. songs. Then we would go and find a copy of the song and listen to it. Occasionally, we would then go back and listen to the story behind the song again.

I don’t think I am very good at Audiobooks. I got distracted sometimes which meant I was replaying it. I started listening to the song discussed then started listening to a bunch of other songs.

This is not the first Audiobook I have listened to – the others have been stories though, not biographical information that I have been trying to absorb. I might have focused better on this book had I been in the car and focused only on driving, not trying to multi-task on a whole bunch of other things.

All of that being said, I enjoyed the book. I love music and I love the detailed stories behind the writing and recording of music. This did not disappoint in those repsects. It is a detailed discussion of all the factors that went into creating these 45 iconic songs.

One might be surprised that it is not always the most popular tune by an individual or group that is chosen. That came as a surprise and again, prompted us to turn off the book and start talking about certain songs which again pulled us away from listening to the book.

I guess I can focus on a book for hours but don’t let me start multi-tasking and listening to a book because I get pulled wildly off course. I know I will end up listening to this again. In fact, I have a road trip coming up and I will be sure to let you know if the experience is different when I am anchored to the car, the road and driving.

The book is great even with all that. I recommend this one for music buffs everywhere. Just not sure I would recommend getting an audiobook unless you are a seasoned audiobook listener who someone who is not easily distracted!