Wednesday, August 20, 2014


IN A ROCKET MADE OF ICE by Gail Gutradt is non-fiction about the HIV children of Wat Opot, in rural Cambodia. It’s a community started by a former Vietnam medic that is discovered by the author, whose life was transformed by the encounter with stigmatized children who deserve to grow up in a place like this, without judgment, (and instead with love.) This is the kind of book the world needs to hear now, instead of war chronicles detailing battles (often, as in Africa, with children bearing the automatic weapons.) While nations wave their flags and rattle their sabers, it’s the children who can remind us that we are all universally innocent before we start playing our violent ego games. Narrator Lorna Raver (interviewed at this site) told me, “While the author protests that she is not primarily a writer or a journalist, I thought she did a lovely, obviously heartfelt, job telling the story of Wat Opot. My admiration goes out to Wayne Matthysse and Gail Gutradt!”

Also check out THE MILL RIVER REDEMPTION by Darcie Chan, about a widow who starts over in a small town in Vermont with her young daughters. who later become estranged and move away. After their mother’s death, they are then brought back to the town to hunt for a hidden key to a safe deposit box left by their mother with their inheritance inside. (Kinda like various clues to hidden money that made news recently.) Amy Rubinate narrates, and told me this about the novel and the previous The Mill River Recluse: “I thought both books were beautifully written, with a kind of timeless grace. I like to imagine several generations all enjoying them together; they're books my mom and grandmother and I would have shared. Hope you love them as much as I do! This is the kind of series where you might want to read both books. The first book adds a lot of depth and history to the second one.”

Also new is Haruki Murakami’s COLORLESS TSUKURU TAZAKI, read by Bruce Locke. Murakami is Japan’s greatest writer, author of many bestsellers described as “enigmatic and astonishing.” And THE SLEEPWALKER’S GUIDE TO DANCING by Mira Jacob concerns an East Indian woman coming to live in New Mexico and Seattle in order to confront her family’s painful past. Not without humor, it is read with surprising deftness by the author, which is not always the case! And Preston & Child are back with THE LOST ISLAND (once interviewed for this site), a Gideon Crew novel about a page stolen from the mysterious illuminated manuscript “The Book of Kells” which leads a sick Crew to a Caribbean island that promises many answers to cryptic riddles. The novel is more quickly paced (at least chapter-wise) than some of the duo’s previous creations, perhaps taking cues from James Patterson? Reader this time is David W. Collins, a sound designer for games and TV commercials (much like Paul Heitsch.) Also noteworthy for any alpha males reading this, SNIPER’S HONOR by Stephen Hunter inserts his ace rifleman Swagger into a plan to blow a Russian advance a-la the “Dirty Dozen,” with lots of guns and grenades used in a terrorist plot to which Swagger can direct his skills. Nice tie between present day and WW2, if you’re into combat strategy and the technical aspects of ballistics. 


Sunday, August 17, 2014

Should it be called The WHITE HOUSE?

No, I’m not talking race here. After hearing Ronald Kessler’s audiobook FIRST FAMILY DETAIL, I’m wondering if they shouldn’t call it The WHITEWASH House. Kessler updates information previously covered in “In the President’s Secret Service” and “Inside the White House” with new revelations. The information comes from present and former Secret Service agents, some of whom were told not to cooperate with the journalist when it was learned he was writing this book. Was Richard Nixon a sociopath? All the traits were there: charming, ruthless, opportunistic, and dismissive of critics and dying soldiers. Johnson was even more of a klutz than Ford (who was cheap and a bad tipper, while pocketing mini bottles from parties.) Clinton was (and still is?) a horn dog, with multiple mistresses, and always on the prowl. Hillary? She always knew, didn’t care, and didn’t want to hear more and have to face questions. Bill’s presidency was called by agents as “one long pizza party,” in which anyone would show up at any time to throw ideas around, regardless of how it inconvenienced agent planning. Reagan, Bush 41 and George W, (and their wives) were loved by agents for being on time and respectful, while the Clintons were never on time and dismissive. Jenna Bush (codenamed “Twinkle”), though, despised being watched by agents, and snuck out whenever she wanted with her sister. (Remember the movie First Daughter starring Katie Holmes?) Vice presidents and their relationships with agents is even more interesting. Joe Biden is described as wasting taxpayer funds by taking over 200 costly trips on jets like Air Force 2 mainly to play golf while “putting America at risk” by not giving the Service sufficient notice of his plans (or being out of contact with nuclear codes.) Al Gore disliked agents too, and he “farted in the limo, and didn’t care.” Agnew was a moral majority icon without morals or ethics himself, willing to take bribes and denigrate those opposing Vietnam as “unAmerican.” Dick Cheney was more of an enigma, but was liked by agents since he was professional and “businesslike.” (Perhaps like at Halliburton?) Regarding Romney’s clash with agents over his protection, and Obama himself, there’s not much until the last hour. And you’ll have to hear that for yourself. All in all, another interesting book by an author interviewed at this site, with lots of information about how the Secret Service operates. Bear in mind that this book mostly takes various agent’s views of who they guard, and doesn’t go much into their policies or the effects of their policies on history and on the future. The Secret Service itself comes into the crosshairs too, in places, as its failures and inefficiency are noted in passing.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

WHAT DREAMS MAY COME movie based on this BOOK

Richard Matheson penned the novel on which the movie WHAT DREAMS MAY COME starring Robin Williams is based. It is an award winning audiobook deftly performed by Robertson Dean. Matheson died last year at age 87, and is also the author of I AM LEGEND, BID TIME RETURN (filmed as "Somewhere in Time,") A STIR OF ECHOES, HELL HOUSE, and THE SHRINKING MAN, among others. Other movies based on his work include THE BOX, REAL STEEL, LOOSE CANNONS, DUEL (Stephen Spielberg's first film), and the "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet" episode of Twilight Zone. He was also a prolific short story writer.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Charles Willeford and Lawrence Block

Mystery writer Charles Willeford died in 1988 in Miami, and was a great writer largely unknown to readers who clamor for the latest serial killer bestseller set up on display as soon as you enter the bookstore. This guy knew how to create mood and setting, with interesting characters delivering original dialogue. His south Florida tales include COCKFIGHTER, THE WOMAN CHASER, NEW HOPE FOR THE DEAD, THE BURNT ORANGE HERESY, THE SHARK INFESTED CUSTARD, DELIVER ME FROM DALLAS, THE WAY WE DIE NOW, SIDESWIPE, WILD WIVES, PICK-UP, THE BLACK MASS OF BROTHER SPRINGER, HIGH PRIEST OF CALIFORNIA, THE MACHINE IN WARD ELEVEN, and the one made into a funny offbeat detective movie starring Alec Baldwin as a sociopathic convict who hooks up with a naive and sympathic hooker deftly played by Jennifer Jason Leigh, titled MIAMI BLUES. Stephen Bowlby narrates three new productions of Willeford's novels for Blackstone, which are reminiscent of Travis McGee novels by John D. MacDonald. Even the titles sound like MacDonald! More of his books are coming to audio. A real treat. And if you haven't heard Lawrence Block on audio, you're missing out. Alan Sklar (interviewed at this site) is one of his narrators, (along with Richard Ferrone and Tom Stechschulte) while my interview of Block is here. Another is Joe Barrett, also a favorite, who reads a new production of A TICKET TO THE BONEYARD, among other early Matt Scudder novels. Block isn't overlooked, being still alive and least not by those who haven't time to read vampire and zombie books. If you're not a fan, it may mean you've been listening to the wrong stuff.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

DRIVING HONDA by Jeffrey Rothfeder

DRIVING HONDA by Jeffrey Rothfeder may, at first hearing, seem to be a long winded advertisement for Honda Motors. After all, there is a long list of accomplishments made, including how Honda has become the most profitable car company, making the most number of engines in the world…which in turn last longer on the road than any other manufacturer, while meeting stringent air quality and gas mileage standards. But then comes the philosophy of Soichiro Honda himself, an enigmatic but perceptive man who embraced paradox, hands-on knowledge, and individualism. How did he achieve what he did? The managerial style of Honda is the answer. The audiobook, narrated by Mel Foster, lays out a unique path taken by Honda from the beginning. Unlike American car companies, and even other Japanese companies like Toyota, Honda sought to decentralize their operations, using localization strategy. They chose a tiny town in Alabama for their first factory here, shunning MBAs and media types for their leaders, and focusing on engineers. They encourage debate and experimentation. And they spend more on research and development than any other car company. Hence, the subtitle of this audiobook: “Inside the World’s Most innovative Car Company.” Rothfeder has done his research in investigating the histories and work ethics of those behind “The Honda Way,” and concludes with an examination of free trade, tariffs, and globalization. Business leaders would be well advised to listen to this, as it shows how and why finding the cheapest workers for one’s company by going overseas doesn’t always work (as many who did so in China are now leaving as China’s wages rise), and that Honda’s strategy of becoming integrated within the culture of whatever they are, while not imposing control from an ivory tower halfway around the world, is the most innovative and flexible of survival techniques. “Success can be achieved only through repeated failure and introspection. In fact, success represents one percent of your work, which results only from the ninety-nine percent that is called failure.” Sounds like something Michael Jordan might have said, but this is Soichiro Honda speaking, the Michael Jordan of the manufacturing world…an area far more important to world economies and standards of living than is sports. AUDIOBOOK OF THE MONTH.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

SHADOWS IN THE VINEYARD by Maximillian Potter

There are wine snobs, and then there are rare growers who have become legends—men and women who love the land, know the seasons, understand nature, appreciate their employees, and pray to a God other than money. Such was Aubert de Villaine, the proprietor of what was the most revered plot of grapes in the world…a man who fell victim to possible ruination after a million Euro ransom threatened his vineyard with poison. Journalist Maximillian Potter expands his Vanity Fair article about the 2010 debacle into a full book titled SHADOWS IN THE VINEYARD, which tells the entire story of grape growing in Burgundy, and uncovers the plot against La RomanĂ©e-Conti, home to one of the finest wines in the world. Explored here are not just this crime and its investigation, but the politics of wine in France, the effect of French wine on the world, (and California wine on France.) The audiobook version, as rendered by Donald Corren, is like a poetic and aged red wine, steeped in exquisite undertones, savored by the ear due to its mystery and intrigue. Subtitle: “The True Story of the Plot to Poison the World’s Greatest Wine.”