Thursday, July 27, 2023

Larry delivers the big hit

 It can now be told, the best book I've ever read is Buffalo Girls by Larry McMurtry.

I t's a bit surprising to me in a number of ways, but I also feel sometimes "when" you read a book goes a long way towards your reaction to it. And this one hit me at the right time. I've ranked some books high and looked back later and had second thoughts. Maybe that will be the case down the road with this one, but for now, it's numero uno.

Larry McMurtry returns to the territory of his Pulitzer Prize–winning masterwork, Lonesome Dove, to sing the song of Calamity Jane's last ride. In a letter to her daughter back East, Martha Jane is not shy about her own importance. Martha Jane—better known as Calamity—is just one of the handful of aging legends who travel to London as part of Buffalo Bill Cody's Wild West Show in Buffalo Girls. As he describes the insatiable curiosity of Calamity's Indian friend No Ears, Annie Oakley's shooting match with Lord Windhouveren, and other highlights of the tour, McMurtry turns the story of a band of hardy, irrepressible survivors into an unforgettable portrait of love, fellowship, dreams, and heartbreak.

I like murder mysteries; this is not one.

I like crime noir; this is not.

I like a little sexual tension; this has none.

I'm not much for history books either. While this is more historical fiction, it does gravitate around real historical characters, with a couple others thrown in for flavor.

The characters were deep. I felt like I could feel what they were feeling. The loneliness. They loss of a way of life and friends and animals. The changes they were encountering. The choices they were forced to make. It all just jived.

One of the unique writing techniques McMurtry used is every few chapters he inserts letter from Jane to her daughter, who is being raised "civily" back East. They get you thinking about where this is going. Where it goes I can't really say without spoiling it, so I won't. But it's good.

And the last line of the book made me laugh and close the book with a smile on my face. I leaned back in the recliner and thought about the experience. If I smoked, I would've lit a cigarette.

Amazonians give it a 4.3 out of 5; stupid Goodreaders a 3.7. I forsook the plus and minus rating and went with a 9.8 out of 10 -- not a Nadia Comaneci or Bo Derek (Google them you young pups) but definitely in the Angelina Jolie category.

Read it and tell me I'm wrong. I dare ya.

Friday, July 21, 2023

Dean Koontz

 The Washington Post has a great feature on the great Dean Koontz.

In 2009, Koontz published “A Big Little Life,” about Trixie. Like many dog memoirs, it is also a memoir of its author, a vessel for his life story.

Koontz shares plenty in that book. That he irons his underwear. That he isn’t particularly fond of most other writers; “I found this community as a whole to be solipsistic and narcissistic and irrational.” That the experiences of getting his books adapted to the screen have been mostly unrewarding, “because they’re all blithering idiots in Hollywood.”

Saturday, July 15, 2023

Almost found the Bo Derek of novels

 I'm impulsive by nature but have learned to control the impulses pretty well as my hair has grayed. But, occasionally, it slips like: "Hey, look at that cool yellow Mustang for sale!" A day later it's in my driveway.

I almost had another slip after reading a recent novel. I thoroughly enjoyed it. Loved it. I was jazzed. Maybe the best book I'd ever read. I was ready to give it the perfect rating.

Usually after I finish a book, I immediately retreat to my library/greenhouse/aquarium/conservatory/spare bedroom  and fill out my index card reviewing the book and stock the book on its proper shelf. But this time, I waited a couple days ... to think. I was about to enter uncharted territory. 

Before I gave the first-ever 10 rating on the 10-point Haugenometer, I wanted to make sure I didn't make a rash decision. So I pondered. What makes a book perfect? I've given 9s before, but never gone beyond.

In my ponderings I didn't have any great breakthroughs, but figured I wanted a book that did the following:

- A page-turner.

- An occasional chuckle.

- An emotion that touched me: Fear, anger, sadness, etc.

- A good twist.

- An ending that knocks my socks off.

- Makes me want to read it again.

- Causes me to annoy my coworkers by talking about it so much.

- Has a little sexiness to it.

Thankfully, I waited. Because upon further review, this book hit only seven of the eight notes -- one note shy of a full octave. Not quite worthy of being the Bo Derek of books (Millenials, Google her). More like the Farrah Fawcett of books - a 9.8.

The only thing it lacked and kept it from a perfect 10 was it needed a little sexy. It needed to, as Justin Timberlake sang, bring sexy back. Nothing hardcore, just a little brief nudity or some oohs and aahs. I'm surprised there wasn't something there considering much of the book took place in a whorehouse (your only hint). While it's just a minor quibble, it's a quibble none-the-less.

While I write up the review and make you wait on pins and needles for the unveiling of what I think is the best book I've ever read, but not the perfect book, what do you think constitutes the perfect book? And have you encountered it yet?

Wednesday, July 12, 2023

Finished: 'Five Decembers' by James Kestrel

 This novel was 2022 Edgar Award winner, which is the highest award for mysteries, and deservedly so. It was awesome.

It's considered a historical noir murder mystery, but it doesn't get bogged down in boring history. It's set just before, during and after the attack on Pearl Harbor. That just serves as the backdrop. It doesn't delve into military or political stuff. It's just there and offers some explanation for various things that take place in the long-running murder investigation. There's romance, suspense, twists, the whole shebang.

December 1941. America teeters on the brink of war, and in Honolulu, Hawaii, police detective Joe McGrady is assigned to investigate a homicide that will change his life forever. Because the trail of murder he uncovers will lead him across the Pacific, far from home and the woman he loves; and though the U.S. doesn't know it yet, a Japanese fleet is already steaming toward Pearl Harbor. 

This extraordinary novel is so much more than just a gripping crime story—it's a story of survival against all odds, of love and loss and the human cost of war. Spanning the entirety of World War II, FIVE DECEMBERS is a beautiful, masterful, powerful novel that will live in your memory forever.

I gave it an 9 on the 10-point Haugenometer. Amazonians were even higher on it with a 4.6 of 5; Goodreaders a 4.5.

It's just a brilliant, engaging novel. Highly recommend it.