The Black – Eyed Blonde by Benjamin Black

The Black-Eyed Blonde: A Philip Marlowe NovelThe Black-Eyed Blonde: A Philip Marlowe Novel by Benjamin Black
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

One day a few weeks ago I walked passed the boob tube, and the guy that was talking caught my attention. He said his name is John Banville, and he was talking about a book he claimed he has written. Titled “The Black – Eyed Blonde”. He said he had written the book using his pen name, Benjamin Black. I was suspicious the moment that name rolled off his tongue. My first question was “why did this Banville fellow need an alias?”. He must be trying to pull a fast one. My second question was “why did he go with the name Benjamin Black?”. It didn’t take me long to conclude that finding the answers to those questions wasn’t worth my time, I had a drink to finish.

This Benjamin Black went on to say how he’s written a Philip Marlowe novel. Now I’ve never read a Philip Marlowe Novel before but I do recall watching a few movies where a man by the name of Humphrey Bogart played the part of Marlowe. I liked those movies, so my interest was piqued. Now I’ll have to do some investigating to see if Bogart is an alias. Maybe after a few more drinks I’ll Google it.

I was placed on a waiting list at the local library to get the book, seems I’m not the only one looking into this Benjamin Black character. After waiting a few weeks and checking my library account every couple of days the book finally showed up and was waiting for me, good thing I’m a patient man. When I got the book home and I cracked it open my head was suddenly filled with the voice of Mr. Bogart’s Philip Marlowe, it felt as though he was next to me telling me the story, the story of “The Black – Eyed Blonde”. Yeah the book was good. This John Banville A.K.A Benjamin Black bloke is A-OK in my book.

Before I laid my hands on the book I was hoping it would be a modern story, a story with a Marlowe of today. As I read my brain and my heart knew that Philip Marlowe didn’t belong in todays world and is best left in his own time.

So if you’re looking for a fast and fun read get your hands on “The Black-eyed Blonde”

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Should You Be Laughing At This? By Hugleikur Dagsson

Should You Be Laughing at This?Should You Be Laughing at This? by Hugleikur Dagsson
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

After reading that this book has reached cult status and that the writer is Icelandic, (where the national drink is called black death, the national dish is putrefied shark, the national literacy rate is 99.9% and the author graduated from an art academy), I was expecting this book to be filled with wickedly dark, intelligent, and well drawn cartoons.

What I got was a book with 172 pages, each page contained one “stick figure” cartoon (so much for graduating from an art academy). The humor was dark but as far as intelligent goes, I found it a bit lacking, though I did get the underlying commentary being made on everything from politics, bad parenting, love and a few other subjects.

So to answers the title question, Should You Be Laughing At This? Well, I can’t answer for you but for me, out of the 172 pages, I think I cracked a smile a handful of times but a laugh was not to be found.

I wouldn’t recommend this book but I couldn’t say it was a waste of time either. It took less than 20 minutes to read the entire thing. Five smiles in 20 minutes may not be the best use of your time but it’s not the worst use either.

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You Killed My Brother by Keith Rommel

You Killed My BrotherYou Killed My Brother by Keith Rommel
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Keith Rommel is a master at taking a story in unexpected directions, keeping his readers on their toes. He also has the ability to introduce a character and and within a paragraph or two you feel as if you know and understand them.

I have previously read “The Cursed Man” and “The Lurking Man” by Keith Rommel and found both to be excellent reads. I was thrilled when I sat down to read his newest book “You Killed My Brother”. I avoided reading any descriptions or reviews of the book, the less I know the more I tend to enjoy (or dislike) a book. I naively thought that knowing the title I had a good idea what the heart of the story would be (silly me).

The story felt a little repetitive. As a reader and reading what happened then having (to read as) a character tell another character what happened, you end up rereading a few things. I felt that the thing that really hurt the story for me was the fact that a key piece of evidence felt out of place to me. However, the thing that should have bothered me most, but didn’t bother me at all, was the fact that the story revolves around what I want to call “fate” or “chance” but what should probably be called coincidence of astronomical proportions.

You Killed My Brother is a fun and fast read with enough unexpected twists and turns to keep you turning the pages. Those unexpected directions and the “perfect” ending (I really liked the ending) almost earned this a fourth star but there were enough things that missed the mark for me to keep it at three stars.

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Growing Gills: A Fly Fisherman’s Journey by David Joy

Growing Gills: A Fly Fisherman's JourneyGrowing Gills: A Fly Fisherman’s Journey by David Joy
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

David Joy’s journey is a journey that began with his ancestors and passed through the generations. His story begins with him getting hooked on fishing at a young age and his evolution to the fisherman he is today. His story runs the gambit from his connection with his family through fishing and his love of nature to his love of the fish he catches.

Growing Gills is beautifully written with poetically descriptive language that will let any reader visualize the beauty the author is experiencing. This book could easily be named “The Zen of Fishing” or “ The Tao of Fishing”. Even the title Growing Gills expresses a oneness with the fish (and nature) that David feels while fishing.

Even though I have never been quite as obsessed with fishing as the author I was still able to relate to several of the stories and experiences. I would recommend this book to anyone who has ever enjoyed fishing. The more obsessive with fishing you are the more you will enjoy reading this book.

Growing Gills gets a solid three stars, I don’t believe that there is a book of one man’s fishing stories that could get more than three stars out of me.

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Hagakure by Yamamoto Tsunetomo

Hagakure: The Book of the SamuraiHagakure: The Book of the Samurai by Yamamoto Tsunetomo
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Hagakure: Book of the Samurai was written by Yamamoto Tsunetomo, a samurai who lived from 1659-1719. The version that I read was translated by William Scott Wilson.

The book was written in short thoughts and anecdotes, this combination gives the reader a look into not only the mind of the samurai but it also helps the reader understand the times and the culture of the samurai.

As one would expect there are many thoughts and stories about what death and honor meant to the samurai. But it also covers some less expected subjects, such as education, religion, compassion, politeness, and even thoughts on homosexuality (seemed that sexuality wasn’t nearly as important as duty).

There are many things in the book for the reader to think about and several may be a bit difficult for people of modern times to understand, like the fact that by the age of 15 a samurai was expected to go to where the condemned prisoners are kept and practice decapitation. Or committing ritual suicide to follow their retainer into the afterlife. One of the things that really made me stop and think; loyalty equals sincerity.

Even though there are things that might be difficult for people of today to relate to there are several thoughts that people of today would be all the better if they incorporated into their lives.

Yamamoto Tsunetomo tells his thoughts on the younger samurais of his day compared to the older samurai of just 50 yrs before and the story reminded me that the more things change the more they stay the same. I can’t remember his exact words, so I’ll paraphrase: “Damn kids today have no respect or idea of how things should be done” (and yes I even pictured him shaking his fist in the air as he said it).

Overall I enjoyed the book and it did give me a lot to think about and a better understanding of a people. Highly recommend Hagakure to anyone interested in samurai, the people or the philosophy.

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Franklin: The Autobiography by Benjamin Franklin

Franklin: The AutobiographyFranklin: The Autobiography by Benjamin Franklin
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I am no scholar on Franklin but I knew enough about him to know that I wanted to learn more. Naturally, I thought I would learn the most by reading a book about Mr. Franklin that was written by the man himself. Franklin: The Autobiography is full of interesting facts about most aspects of his life. His autobiography covers things about his family, friends, jobs, travels, and of course it covers some of his inventions and experiments. Benjamin Franklin was a genius that constantly worked at making himself a better person and the world around him a better place.

As I started to read the book I found I had to force myself to keep reading. Though there were several parts that I found very interesting, there were even more parts in the book that I felt would be better suited to putting insomniacs to sleep.

For some reason I was expecting beautiful writing using words rarely used today, which I would have loved, but there was very little use of uncommon words (felicity being about the only exception) and there were no flowery passages at all. I usually go into a book with little or no expectations. So part of the problem I had with this book could have been of my own making.

If this book were a food I would say there is a lot of substance but not much flavor. So, I would only recommend it for someone starving for knowledge on Benjamin Franklin (or insomniacs).

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The Shining by Stephen King

The ShiningThe Shining by Stephen King

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

After I read Stephen King’s book, On Writing, I found myself wanting to read one of his novels. The list of books he has written is impressive and picking which one to read first was going to be a tough decision. I have seen many movies based on his books and found most of the movies enjoyable and entertaining. Though, thinking back there was one movie that was head and shoulders above the rest, The Shining. I saw The Shining in the early eighties with a couple of friends and we all were captivated and through the years parts of that movie has stuck with all of us. Using the logic that the book is always better than the movie, my choice was made.

The Shining is about a remote hotel (The Overlook) and a man who was hired to be the caretaker for the winter, and his family. The family consists of the father, Jack, the mother Wendy, and their son Danny. Danny is only five but he shines, meaning he has an ESP ability. The Overlook Hotel wants the power that Danny has and will stop at nothing to get it.

The Overlook Hotel is as much of a character in the story as anyone else. The three main human characters all have an internal conflict raging inside them. The father, Jack, is a recovering alcoholic and really needs this job, the mother Wendy has issues with her own mother and Danny knows that the Overlook is a bad place but thinks it will help his daddy. The Overlook knows that once the snow falls they will trapped and there will be no escaping.

There are more than a few places in this book that will have you turning on the lights, sitting on the edge of your seat, and holding your breathe. I am not much of a horror fan, in books or movies, except during the holidays season (Thanksgiving through New Year’s). However, Stephen Kings use of language and his ability to create both emotional and physical intensity has made me a fan. Though, I think it will be necessary to read more of his books before claiming to be a true “hardcore” King fan.

Highly recommend, one of the scariest, most intense books I have read.

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