Sunday, May 19, 2024

The Boys from Brazil, by Ira Levin

 What a great book!


Ezra Lieberman is a Nazi hunter. Barry Kohler thinks he is too, and follows suspected Nazis to a restaurant in Sao Paolo. Unfortunately for Barry, Dr. Mengele (yes, that Mengele) is a killer of Nazi hunters. Barry's life is cut short. But not before he's contacted Lieberman and got his interest. 

Lieberman dismisses Barry's concerns at first, but hears him being killed, then feels hatred on the other end of the line, and is sure it is Mengele. Thus begins his hunt.

Mengele's plan involves the death of 90+ men, all around 65 years old, all civil servants. It slowly is revealed that each of these men has a son, around 14 years old, and a mother around 40. These boys from Brazil, all clones of Hitler (yes, that Hitler), need to experience their father dying, just like the real Hitler did. If the Fourth Reich is to rise, that is. 

The Reich doesn't rise, as Lieberman figures out Mengele's plan. Mengele also figures out Lieberman's plan. They both end up in the same house, home to one of the civil servants scheduled to die, a breeder of Dobermans. Mengele gets there first, cleverly talks the man into locking his dogs into a separate room. He kills the target, then stays to act as the man. Lieberman shows up to warn the man of his pending death and quickly figures out who's sitting in the living room with him. He gets up to let the Dobermans out of the locked room, but gets shot several times. The dogs hold Mengele in his seat and soon the boy, Hitler mini, comes home. He's really into making movies. (In the movie he's a photographer.) The boy sees through Mengele's attempts to place the blame on Lieberman and sics the dogs on the Angel of Death. Then he films the scene. He makes a handshake deal with Lieberman to not mention he (the boy) was there for Mengele's death, or he wouldn't call the ambulance for Lieberman. 

And in a final scene, the author describes another boy from Brazil, this one an artist, drawing excitedly a scene right out of Hitler's Germany. 94 possible Hitlers, perhaps 2 probables? 

Ich bin fertig mit den Spoilern ^^^.

Wife's choice for family book club and what a great pick it was. She and I watched the movie the day after I finished. Very well done with Gregory Peck and Laurence Olivier and Jeremy Black, the boy from Brazil, who played at least four of them IIRC, each with a different accent. This was his only film; I guess that was enough for him as he stuck to stage work after that. Wonderfully well done film.

Tuesday, May 14, 2024

Ill Met by Midnight, by W. Stanley Moss

 This is such a great book. I love War memoirs. Bought this in Boston years ago. Oh, how great Boston is for books. I'm looking at you, Commonwealth Books and Brattle Book Shop! I bought a lot while there, just because they looked good. No idea why I don't read these more often.

Ill Met by Midnight is the true story of a small team of Brits, Greeks and Cretan guerillas in WWII who kidnapped the German divisional commander on Crete. Spoilers coming, but you know you just looked this up: The original general (the Butcher of Crete) they wanted to kidnap was absolutely horrible to the Cretans: exterminations, 10 locals targeted for 1 dead German. Villages razed. Women and children killed. Terrible. Unfortunately for Billy (the author) and Paddy, a new general showed up a few weeks prior. 

The things this generation went through would make the equivalent gen nowadays cower in fear. I didn't realize till the very end, after reading about weeks and months of trying to parachute onto the island, then hiking hours and hours day after day, that the author was only 21 years old! Holy crap. And he was a Captain. Paddy was only 29 and a Major. 

Dear reader(s) know how much I love used books, especially when they come with extras! This one belonged to Mrs. Kathleen Wright, who bought it (or at least claimed it as her own) in March 1951. She also included an October 22, 1950, review of the book from the NYT. Finally, someone named Grace Berdew (Corlew? Burlow?) borrowed the book, and finally returned it to Mrs. Wright on or around April 18. (Which year? Who knows for sure, but Grace recommends another book to Mrs. Wright: Jubilee Trail. She admits it is "not especially good literature," but likes reading about a trail from Santa Fe to California, before they were part of the U.S. 

Saturday, May 4, 2024

A Desolation Called Peace, by Arkady Martine

 Read the second of the Teixcalaanli books by Arkady Martine, nom d' plume of AnnaLinden Weller, a history professor. Her first was A Memory Called Empire, one of my favorite reads last year. I re-read it (chose it for the family book club, on purpose) before reading #2. 


Three Seagrass and Mahit Dzmare are friends. Really good friends! Even though they only have known each other for one week. (First book.) But, that one week was quite eventful. They got blowed up. Mahit was poisoned. Almost stabbed. A lot happened, so of course it would end in a kiss. 

In the second book, their relationship went beyond. In just a few days. After a fight. Sure that happens. Could happen quick. It did happen quick, and frankly I didn't have any issue with it. Martine's sex scene would never be submitted to Bad Sex in Fiction, certainly. It was fine. It wasn't graphic like Fourth Wing. (Thank God.) The scene was done and was great. (I'm a hot-blooded American male; I have no issue with gay sex, lesbian or male. I read The Liar and had no issue, trust me.) But once it was over, it was over. I think it didn't need to be said (several times) how one character was recently inside the other character. A bit overmuch.

But that's really it. My wife wasn't as big a fan of A Memory Called Empire as I was, so she won't be reading this one. But I liked it. What I like about Martine is her world-building. Some could (and have) complain about all the female characters in her books. Most all the main players are. The fleet admiral-equivalent was female. The Minister of War, female. The emperor, female. Both main characters, female. Lots of females. Who cares. The characters were great. 

The story, also. I love Eight Antidote. He'll be a good emperor I think. (Shall we see in Teixcalaan book #3?) The Shard pilot, the Shard trick was intriguing. Especially its communicating faster than jumpgates. 

The fungi angle is interesting. My wife (award-winning author herself) is working a short story now where mushrooms are integral, so I had to tell her all about the fungus among...not us, till the end. 

I could hear the author a bit too much. Was she saying something about Hiroshima? Before I was even half through the first book I wondered: I bet she's married to a woman.* I didn't look into it. After the first book I looked her up enough to see she's a history prof (I really think Teixcalaan is based on Incan or Aztec empires). That's it. And I was right! This book, #2, I heard the author more. Her comment, when Three Seagrass said "...people of my gender and sex" I thought, Oh, here we go. But nothing again for a while. Until she had a they/them character. Le sigh... Thankfully, that character was in for a paragraph or three. And at about 90% on the Kindle. Unlike the fifth The Expanse book which had a they character for way too long. Listen to readers: That pronoun crap is going to become dated very soon. Stop doing it! (*I was right.)

Her writing is good, though. Well worth the read. And the world is believable and well-thought-out. I will read the third one. 

Spoilers done

I'm especially thankful to the author for providing this book (and her first) on Kindle Unlimited. 

Wednesday, May 1, 2024

April 2024

 Another month flew by. I'm kinda peopled-out.

Books read:

  • The Doctor is Sick, by Anthony Burgess. One of his best. What a screwed up doctor.
  • The New World on Mars: What We Can Create on the Red Planet, by Robert Zubrin. Preaching to the choir; I wanted to be on Mars a couple decades ago. I definitely want(ed) my kids to have the opportunity. Go go SpaceX and Blue Origin!
  • A Memory Called Empire, by Arkady Martine. A reread, my choice for family book club. I sped through it so I could get to the second, which I'm reading now. 
  • Casino Royale, by Ian Fleming. Great story. Going to read these in pub order. 
  • The Anglo-Saxons: A History of the Beginnings of England: 400-1066, by Marc Morris. Great history, listened to it. Complimentary to my Old English language study.
Books bought:
  • Troy: The Greek Myths Reimagined, by Stephen Fry. I love him. Read a couple of his novels decade or so ago. Great writer. 
  • War Isn't Wonderful, by Ursula Bloom. Had on my search list at Abebooks for quite some time, finally came in cheap(er). 
Language-wise, as discussed above, still doing Old English. Finishing chapter 4 of Complete Old English. Ready to move to chapter 5 but have and have had family all month, so will move on in a day or two. 

Monday, April 8, 2024

March 2024

 Where'd March go? 

Books read:

  • The Man Who Walked Like a Bear, by Stuart Kaminsky. Porfiry Rostnikov number 6. Love this character. Will read #7 soonest.
  • The Roman Empire: A Very Short Introduction, by Christopher Kelly. Love these editions. 
  • Eaters of the Dead, by Michael Crichton. Found a first ed with dj in a little library! Great book.
  • The Great Santini, by Pat Conroy. Wife's choice for family book club. Lovely book. 
  • Uncle Dynamite, by PG Wodehouse. Great, typical Wodehouse.
  • Dune Messiah, by Frank Herbert. I'd avoided this for years, decades. But after watching Dune 2 at the movies, it was obvious the next movie would be this book. Really, really good. Afraid to read #3.
  • Blindness, by Jose Saramago. Love this author. I think I only have a few of his left to read.
  • The Spire, by William Golding. Hubris, by a great author. 
Books bought:
  • The New Rules of Coffee: A Modern Guide for Everyone, by Jordan Michelman. Bought for the wife. Cute.
  • The New World on Mars: What We Can Create on the Red Planet, by Robert Zubrin. Wonderful book. Finished in April.
  • Informal English, by Jeffrey Kacirk. Love language books, esp. about English.
  • Colony One, by Tarah Benner. Sounded good, only zero dollars.
  • Rosemary's Baby, by Ira Levin. Just because.
  • James Bond Omnibus volumes 1 and 2, by Ian Fleming. Because they've been changing his books. 
  • Casino Royale, From Russia with Love, The Spy Who Loved Me, Diamonds are Forever, Goldfinger, Live and Let Die, For Your Eyes Only, by Ian Fleming. For the same reason I mentioned above. 

Monday, March 25, 2024

So many books...

 ...and even a language!

Good Lord I've read so much since last posting! Will post in less than a week my "March 2024" post so this'll be free verse!

The Spire, oh so much hubris. Tower of Babel much? Haven't read any Golding since 8th grade (or so) and Lord of the Flies. This one, well written and scary. Blindness takes me to three Saramagos. Love this guy's style. Had to watch the movie after, which wasn't half bad. Dune Messiah came about due to watching part II of the new Dune movie and presuming what's next. Half the size and still pretty good. Very political. Uncle Dynamite was a PG Wodehouse Reading Club (on FB) monthly a few months ago and I'm just now getting to it. Guess what? Hijinx! The Great Santini is my BIL's favorite book, which is obvious if you know my BIL (is he the son or Santini? I'll have to ask him). After reading Conroy's The Lords of Discipline I wonder if this one is also (semi)autobiographical. Eaters of the Dead I avoided decades ago. Not my kind of Crichton. But the movie is so damn good! Then I found this book in a little library where I was placing my wife's excellent book (Children of Cain. How do you not know this, dear readers?). And it was a first edition hardback with dj! Score! Great, fast read. Well done. The Roman Empire: A Very Short Introduction came next, Audible and quite good. I learn from every book on the classical world I read because the authors always concentrate on different aspects. Finally, I needed to read more Porfiry Rostnikov. This time The Man Who Walked Like a Bear. So very good and only 200-ish pages (finished at 80% on my Kindle which always shocks me even though they always have a long intro to the next book at the end. Why don't I ever remember?).

Currently I'm reading The Doctor is Sick. I needed another Anthony Burgess. So far so great. And I'm listening to The New World on Mars, by Zubrin. Been following him (and reading him) for years now. This is his latest. Preaching to the choir, but great ideas in here. You listening, Elon?

And yes! I'm studying a language again (besides constantly reading in Esperanto). I'm going through Complete Old English with a buddy of mine who a) only studies dead languages and 2) is already quite good at OE. I figure with someone else going through it with me I'll be forced to keep it up (as opposed to my latest attempt at Middle Egyptian).

Wednesday, March 6, 2024

February 2024

 Books read in February.

  • Zero History, by William Gibson. Finishing Blue Ant. Love this author.
  • Uneasy Money, by P.G. Wodehouse. Still good. The Plum will always be classic.
  • The Enemy in the Blanket, by Anthony Burgess. A continuation of the Malaysian trilogy. So good. 
  • Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue: The Untold History of English, by John McWhorter. Great book. Read it when it came out, but great reread for language lovers.
  • The Odyssey, by Homer. Been meaning to read this for years. Finally have. 
  • Project Hail Mary, by Andy Weir. SIL choice for family book club. Really good! So much better than Artemis
Books bought in February.
  • The Spire, by William Golding. Hubris. So much hubris. 
  • The Wordhord: Daily Life in Old English, by Hana Videen. 
  • Burma Sahib, by Paul Theroux. About 
  • Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue: The Untold History of English
  • A James Bond Omnibus: Vol 1 & Vol II, by Ian Fleming. We accidentally bought one of the new, expurgated versions, with its vocabulary fixed for modern sensitivities. Managed to get our money back 10 minutes later. Then we searched for old versions with Fleming's actual writing in them. 
  • Yeoman's Hospital, by Helen Ashton. Read about this book a couple years ago. Finally came in for about 10 bucks. 
(Just found this in a separate window on my computer; thought for sure I already published. Doh!)

Monday, February 26, 2024

Project Hail Mary, by Andy Weir

 Much better than Artemis! Almost as good as The Martian! Is that enough? This book was my SIL's choice for the family book club and a great choice. 

Spoilers below

So Dr. Grace, a junior high science teacher (don't ask) is enlisted to help the world (as in the capital-E Earth) find a solution to the sudden dimming of the sun. A microscopic life form is responsible. All stars in our general neighborhood (on lightyear scale) are dimming, except Tau Ceti.

Fast forward 4 years (or 13 if you're sitting here in slowly darkening Earth) and Grace is stuck on a ship, temporarily amnesiac, only remembering that he has to find a solution. Why is Tau Ceti not dimming?

In short order, he finds another ship out there. Turns out this ship is manned by one life form (out of 24) whom he names Rocky. This five-legged spider-like creature is a master engineer. And before long, Dr Grace the junior high teacher figures out how they can both communicate. And they figure out how to defeat the tiny creatures eating each of their suns. 

Problems come up of course, but they work through them. The ending, frankly, was kinda dumb. I would have rather Grace, the coward, continue to type and actually go back to Earth. Alas, the author had to make a point about our angels, school teachers. 

Spoilers done.

Despite the ending, it really was good. Especially after we read the horrible Artemis. 

Monday, February 12, 2024

January 2024

 Books read in January 2024:

  • Hyperion, by Dan Simmons. My choice for the family book club. Great book. Reminiscent of The Canterbury Tales.
  • [Book to be named], by Tim Enright. Author of Proportional Response, I read the draft of his second book. Story good. Looking forward to it coming out.
  • Anglo-Saxon Attitudes, by Angus Wilson. Great book, long overdue.
  • Spook Country, by William Gibson. Second Blue Ant book. Love this author. Need more, sir!
Books bought in January:
  • The Iron Heel, by Jack London. 
  • A Memoir of the Warsaw Uprising, by Miron Bialoszewski. 
Not so bad. And both those bought books were Kindle deals. 

Monday, January 22, 2024

Slow start

 Hello, dear reader(s). Slow start to the year for yours truly. 

Hyperion, by Dan Simmons, was my choice for the family book club. This book is our oldest's favorite book and I can see why. (No spoilers.) Basically, the Canterbury Tales, but hundreds of years in our future. It was great and I loved the ending. Will I read the second? Not sure (I've yet to read anything after Dune, doesn't mean I don't think it's a phenomenal book). I especially loved it since I listened to it, and they used different actors for all the parts. Great read listen.

Anglo-Saxon Attitudes, by Angus Wilson. This book has been on my Campus novels list for a while. Managed to convince some others on Goodreads in the NYRB discussion group to all read it and discuss it, starting in Feb. Great book. You know I love Brit lit and this one hits it. One GR reader suggested the reader would not be able to follow the book if they don't understand British culture. Not sure that's true. I don't understand sh!t about cricket, but I love and can follow every PG Wodehouse novel in which cricket plays a role. Read this, you'll love it. 

I also read my friend's second novel, he asked me to edit it as he knows that is one of my possible post-post-retirement jobs. His first is Proportional Response which was good. This one will be good too, but it's still raw. Looking forward to reading the final product. Good luck Tim!

Tuesday, January 2, 2024

2023 in review

 Managed 83 books in 2023. Good reading year. Possible spoilers below, caveat lector.

Most disturbing:

  • Tender is the Flesh, by Agustina Bazterrica. Yikes.
  • American Psycho, by Bret Easton Ellis.
  • The Unlimited Dream Company, by J.G. Ballard.
OK, can't pick just one. The first above, butchering humans for meat. Yuck. The Psycho one, equally gross murders. Ballard's, ejaculate flying all over the place. Gag.

  • Three Women in a Mirror, by Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt. 
  • The Stars My Destination, by Alfred Bester.  
  • The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, by Robert Heinlein.
The description of Three Women was so awesome, and it is a translation, so hits my challenge to read 10 translations. But oh, it was not good. No idea why Stars is a classic. So bad and didn't age well. Heinlein...not sure why I ever liked him. Will have to try his earlier ones, like maybe Starship Troopers.

Non-fiction best:
  • 99 Novels, by Anthony Burgess.
  • The Comfort Crisis, by Michael Easter. 
Can't decide between these two. Both great. Read 14 non-fictions in 2023.

Best foreign language read:
  • La horo 25, by Constantin Virgil Gheorghiu. 
Read four books in a foreign language this year (3 x Esperanto, 1 x Russian). This one was by far the best. 

Best translation:
  • Cursed Bunny, by Bora Chung.
This woman's stories are so good. Lots of good translations this year (excepting Three Women) but this one was heads over the rest. 

Best speculative fiction:
  • The Sea of Tranquility, by Emily St. John Mandel
  • The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue, by V.E. Schwab. 
Both are so great. Can't decide. Everything St. John Mandel writes is god.

Most of the same author:
  • William Gibson
Five of Gibson. Love his world-building. 

Biggest surprise.
  • Sharks in the Time of Saviors, by Kawai Strong Washburn
Wow. Want to read more from this author.

Best classic.
  • The Naked and the Dead, by Norman Mailer.
The chow hall line scene is worth the entire novel.

Best overall.
  • Earthly Powers, by Anthony Burgess. 
Best words. Best narrative. Best story. My new favorite author (sorry Waugh). 

The Boys from Brazil, by Ira Levin

 What a great book! Spoilers :  Ezra Lieberman is a Nazi hunter. Barry Kohler thinks he is too, and follows suspected Nazis to a restaurant ...