It’s December with temps in the 30s; I guess autumn really is over. I had fun extending my triathlon season into October, but all good things must end, including the only book I really sat down with over the past few months, Color Stories by Benjamin Moore (covered below). I relied on my minions to review the seven other books, all of them damn good. If you don’t like those reviews, you can always read my foil boats blog (I’ve been writing that since, like, 2008).
Keep in mind that we’re here for you, gentle LJ dudebook readers, as dedicated staffers scouting dude-worthy titles. We’re not bloggers, we’re not columnists, and we care not for punditry. What we are, and strive to be, are builders of this … this thing, the Gene Shalit of book reviewing. Stand up if you don’t want to be more like Gene Shalit! Can I see a show of hands of who doesn’t need more Gene Shalit? I thought so.And I believe that beautiful, semi-detached pre-Motörhead of a ‘stache has a blog of its own.
Cahalan, Susannah. Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness. Free Press. ISBN 9781451621372. 288p. $25. HEALTH
Migraines, nausea, numbness, panic attacks, vertigo, depression, ennui. Yes, that’s me before my first cup of coffee, but for Cahalan these symptoms started her descent into a very real hell on earth. Before her eventual hospital stint, a 25 day ordeal finally broken with a confirmed diagnosis, people just thought she was going batshit. As the symptoms worsened, it became like a very personal, wrenching, destructive, awful episode of House. Diagnoses varied; Capgras syndrome, Bipolar disorder, Postictal fury, multiple personality disorder, psychosis. Using lots and lots (and lots) of medicine, doctors rule out Lyme disease, Toxoplasmosis, Cryptococcus, TB, lupus, MS, and lymphoreticulosis. Nothing helped for the long-term; seizures, hallucinations, and episodic madness soon derailed the lives of Cahalan and her family. “No one wants to think of herself as a monster,” she writes, but guess what? Harrowingly, Cahalan loses all “glimmers of the reliable ‘I,’ the Susannah I had been for the previous twenty-four years,” and is soon operating with “no rational consciousness….” Turns out she was “only the 217th person worldwide to be diagnosed since 2007,” with anti-NMDA-receptor autoimmune encephalitis, a.k.a. Dalmau’s disease. IMHO, it’s pretty amazing that the doctors even got that far—this is the type of behavior that made folks execute witches. Cahalan is a gifted journalist and provides immense reading satisfaction by keeping the narrative moving and answering questions as they arise. She’s also unafraid to paint herself in a weird, piteous light. And FYI, Ms. C., your new haircut looks really good. [LJ 11/1/12.—Ed.]
Jensen, Liz. The Uninvited. Bloomsbury Circus. Jan. 2013. 320p. ISBN 9781608199921. $24. F
Both the hero and the mystery of this superb and engrossing novel will captivate readers. Hesketh Lock has Asperger’s Syndrome, making his narration a bit…different. Time is very precise—to the second. He has “no radar for lies” and “If I am on to something,” he writes, “my blood feels it before my brain and I get very hungry.” He’s puzzled by Stephanie Mulligan, “generally considered to be extremely attractive despite her bra size being probably no more than 34A.” He does origami to relax and has an inordinate love for his ex-gf’s son—the same ex-gf who called him “a ‘robot made of meat’.” He’s completely logical: “I have a respect for facts, and the logic systems that connect them,” then completely fucked up: “I like to be in countries where everyone has black hair.” Because he sees relationships where others don’t, Hesketh is able to harness his skills and to reduce risk for multinational corporations. Where others see patricide and corporate espionage, Hesketh sees “overlapping circles with irrational violence at the intersection.” Hesketh’s investigations reveal incidents as unhinged as he is buttoned down. People—including many children—enter ‘destructive dissociative states’ and later describe the experience as if something were possessing them: Swedish trolls, Chinese ancestors, Emirati djinn, tapeworms, fairies. Well-written, sometimes bleakly evocative, “the moon is a thin, luminous scrape and the stars throb weakly above the sea,” Jensen provides just enough artsy in the fartsy to keep it horrifying and interesting all in one sweet package—perfect for a winter’s eve under the covers. [LJ 10/15/12.—Ed.]
*Moore, Benjamin. Color Stories. Benjamin Moore. $32.
Absolutely compelling—this was literally like painting the interior of a house, like riffling through a compendium of a bazillion color swatches bound together with a metal ring. If you’re the kind of reader who does triathlons and who has spent all summer and half of fall outside, and who now needs to catch up on household chores—especially painting. The plot is a bit loose—it even feels brushed on. But the language is imaginative and the chapters blend harmoniously together. Some crude references (e.g., ‘Sweet cream’ with ‘Sundress’) make this questionable for children, and the last time I combined a ‘Nile Blue’ with ‘Indi Go Go’ I wound up hung over and married. Next month I review Allen Wrench’s Collection and Stanley’s Toolbox. [*Note: Color Stories is currently unavailable for purchase. Visit your local Benjamin Moore Paint Store for the latest edition.—Ed.]
Moore, Steve. Special Agent Man: My Life in the FBI as a Terrorist Hunter, Helicopter Pilot, and Certified Sniper. Chicago Review Pr., dist. by IPG. 2012. 326p. ISBN 9780914090700. pap. $16.95. TRUE CRIME
Not everybody’s life can be transcribed into a book successfully; consider the postman, the lunch lady, the chicken farmer. Moore, an ex-FBI dude, has a conversational tone and a sense of humor that adds warmth to his stories which read like talking over a beer, or a long bike ride. Once readers get past his Wonder Boy early life, the book becomes a manly read that chronicles his training. “From day one the FBI was magic for me,” he writes, even at his first post in Salt Lake City in 1984, when he drove a ’78 Volare station wagon. As Moore takes readers through his career, he shares that the FBI should be considered as “multiple careers using the same retirement system” and goes from coffee-making rookie to investigator of gruesome, eeeewwwwww cases to SWAT team stuff. He’s investigating the Aryan nation! He’s apprehending bad dudes! He’s busting anthrax hoaxes! He’s a pilot, a sniper, an antiterrorism investigator—a good guy! He survived a cancer scare (at age 39 ouch!) and a rocky place in his marriage and is now a technical advisor and TV talking head. But like any experienced dude, he’s also comfortable with his scars. If you ever wondered ‘what it would be like to be FBI,’ this is your book.
Pryor, Mark.The Bookseller. 2012. Seventh Street Bks. 303p. ISBN 9781616147082. pap. $15.95. F
Books, secrecy, and intrigue are good, but setting this book in Paris propels a male version of a Harlequin romance, a James Bond-ian fantasy with all the secret embellishments that we dudes harbor deep in our absurd little psyches. Exhibit 1: Skills: Hugo Marston is former FBI and now chief of U.S. consular security in Paris. Exhibit 2: Looks: He’s impossibly handsome, comparing favorably to Cary Grant. Exhibit 3: Sympathy/pity: a widower just shafted by his second wife, Hugo has nothing to lose and is ready to take some risks. Exhibit 4: Ka-ching: he pays a thousand Euros for a couple of books from a street vendor. Case closed. Also—there’s book porn: “It was bound in full maroon Morocco leather, banded, and lettered in gilt with marbled endpapers, and …the original cloth backstrip”. When Hugo witnesses the very weird, probable kidnapping of his bookseller friend, and when he can’t get the French authorities interested, he’s driven to crack the case and win the day. Though realistic, the dialog can feel forced. The level of detail paints a vivid picture. [LJ 9/12/12.—Ed.]
Shepherd, Lynn. The Solitary House. 2012. Delacorte. c.340p. ISBN 9780345532428. $26. F
Carefully, even fussily-written, Solitary House is a fat Victorian-era pleasure read, starring “[b]right, but not dangerously so” newbie private detective Charles Maddox. Charlie backs his way into a mystery that connects a handful of truly ghastly murders with a subplot involving a kind of halfway house for women. Maddox has to wade through a lot of murk, do a lot of brooding, and nibble around the edges of the case before he sinks his teeth into things. While this can make for an at-times S-L-O-W pace, that’s part of the appeal—it’s an old-timey story with plenty of those Dickensian ‘Now dear reader…’ old-timey asides and copious euphemisms. One doesn’t speak, one ‘confers.’ One isn’t lucky, one is ‘blessed.’ One is ‘at one’s ease’ instead of relaxed, and one visits ‘sodomitical clubs,’ not gay bars. Shepherd is a massively imaginative storyteller, in particular her convincing details of 1850s London. Consistently horrid, there’s all manner of foulness amid the washerwomen, whores, tanners, street sweepers, and aristocrats (not unlike what goes on in any library on a daily basis). There’s even period food, e.g., ‘bloaters’ (a.k.a. warmed herring) and marrow pudding (cue the retching noises).
Vogel, Sean. Celtic Run. MB Publishing. 2012. 159p. ISBN 9780962416699. pap. $9.95. F
There are a few things I regret in life. One is that I turned down the offer to sub for Cedric Maxwell during game four of the pivotal 1984 NBA final when the Celtics beat the Lakers 129-125. Another is that I didn’t get to review this book until after the summer of 2012, because it’s a superb, tween-friendly summer read with young love, treasure, rivals, teamwork, and Ireland. With a palpable taste of adventure, this fast paced story stars seventh-grader Jake on a summer school trip to the west coast of Ireland. Like all seventh graders, he has fallen hard for his crush, Julie (who was yours? Mine was Maureen O’Kinnell). Unfortunately, Julie’s boyfriend Zack, a real turd, is also along. When Jake finds an artifact bearing the Spanish inscription, “A hundred steps in the clouds of God,” he’s certain that the end of the rainbow features a chest of treasure. Though Zack is jamming him up, Jake is making points with Julie—and also with an attractive local colleen named Maggie. Torn between the two, he does what any red-blooded American boy would do: he chooses both the girls and the treasure! Jake leads the group on a hunt across the countryside following clue after clue. Trouble is, they aren’t the only ones searching for a payoff—bad Irish dudes are afoot. This is a likeable, throwback story with charming, adventurous kids on bicycles—somewhere between James Bond and Scoobie Doo. There are much worse ways to kill an afternoon, especially if you’re like me—perpetually stuck in seventh grade.
From The Bottom of the Heap
Every month Library Journal gets hundreds of galleys for review. Maybe even thousands! From these hundreds of thousands only a fraction get reviewed. For the discards, it’s usually just ‘Tough’ and good luck with that critique from the The Daily Oklahoman.
But now, we at BFD HQ have a remedy, our feature From the Bottom of the Heap, a sort of Last Chance Saloon where a dedicated BFD staffer will review a book formerly destined for the Dumpster of Books that Will Remain Forever Unreviewed and instead present it to you, our dearest friends and constituents.
Grumeza, Ion. The Gentleman Boxer: The Story of a Fighter in the Roaring Twenties. AuthorHouse. 2012. 260p. ISBN 9781477257906. pap. $19.95. SPORTS
Most everybody thinks of the 1920s as ‘way the hell back.’ But Grumeza (Dacia: Land of Transylvania, Cornerstone of Ancient Eastern Europe) considers it the ‘Golden Age of Bantams’ and this is his tribute to one of the “countless little warriors…not found in the records of the gloved sport,” Joe Grimm from Fall River, Massachusetts. A hard worker of Lebanese descent, Grimm was an accomplished boxer who once racked up 24 straight knockouts (even today, KOs are unusual for bantams because, at 115-118 pounds, there is just not enough force behind the blow). A real labor of love, this story weaves the fighter’s own journal and old news clippings into an enjoyable, readable narrative; “Joe walked punch-drunk to his corner. He dropped on the stool and closed his eyes, while Coach Nick again opened the green bottle of smelling salts…” The places Joe fought, like the famous Casino of Fall River, are pretty much gone. Grumeza manages to compose a love letter to old timey boxers and Grimm in particular which is a testament to his determination.
 I know you want to hear about any deckled edges but I promised Mr. Pryor I wouldn’t spoil the surprise.
 You might wonder what drives Hugo Marston. Well, see, it’s “… adventure, the curiosity to explore a place or thing in person, to lay hands on it, and see it with his own eyes rather than just read about it, that was what drove Hugo Marston”
 Where do I get these figures? I made them up in my head just now.