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Finding Summertime Love Between The Covers

Photo: Don Morgan/KTSA

That’s a clickbait headline if ever there was one.

Given that this is a book blog, you will have guessed (I hope) that I mean between the covers of a book.

I found myself remembering the other day how I associated certain summers with certain memories: a trip, a family visit, getting my first car. And how, during some summers, I got wrapped up in a book or books. One teenage summer stands out because I read Frank Herbert’s sci-fi trilogy “The Dune Chronicles” (which is now more than a trilogy and has been a made into movies and tv.) Another summer, I discovered Dean Koontz, through a couple of his classic early novels, “Watchers” and “Strangers”. Or, being a political junkie, reading Allen Drury’s “Advise and Consent”. Mr. Drury was still alive and responded personally and graciously to a letter I pecked out on a typewriter (this would have been 1980).

Anyway, there’s still plenty of summer (at least on the calendar) for you to find some obsession of your own. Here’s what I’ve been reading the last 5 weeks or so:

“The Ghost Army of WW2” by Rick Beyer and Elizabeth Sayles (2015) Manned by men who’d been artists, illustrators, clothiers and designers (a then-unknown Bill Blass, for example) the 23rd Tactical Unit’s mission was to simulate a much larger but non-existent army for the purpose of deceiving and decoying the Germans. From inflatable fake tanks to scripted radio broadcasts—meant to be overheard and decoded—it was an audacious deception. This book is coffee-table sized and illustrated, but makes for great reading too.

“The Suspect” by John Lescroart (2007) Defense attorney Gina Roake (a Lescroart regular) defends a vain, difficult author from the charge of murdering his wife. Lescroart’s novels, set in and around San Francisco, are to that town what Michael Connelly is to LA.

“Gates of Fire” by Steven Pressfield (1998) It too me this long—too long—to finally read this modern classic about the Battle of Thermopylae, about which so much has been written and filmed (remember the movie “The 300”?). Pressfield’s writing and research are appealing and accessible to any reader.

“The Great Jazz and Pop Vocal Albums” by Will Friedwald (2017) This author writes with authority and confidence about everyone from Sinatra to Chet Baker to Billie Holliday, but when you single out a handful of albums like this, you are begging people to debate and disagree. It’s a fun, anecdote-filled read. Just the chapter about how a pregnantly-nauseous Rosemary Clooney came to work with Count Basie is worth the admission price.

“Why Me?” by Donald Westlake (1983) Only Westlake’s fictional thief John Dortmunder could steal the most valuble gem in the world without meaning to, and then not know what to do with it. But he (and you) will figure out how to solve the problem. Every Westlake book, and especially the Dortmunder series, is a joy of plotting and dialog.

“Mrs. Pollifax On Safari” by Dorothy Gilman (1976) It sounds like a corny concept, and it is, but Gilman sold millions of Mrs. P novels—the heroine being a grandmother from NJ who is sent on dangerous spy missions because she will blend in and never be suspected. Yet, of course, she always has to resort to 007-level heroics to succeed, and survive. Try one and you’ll want to read them all.

“The Black Widow” by Daniel Silva (2016)When a terrorist called Saladin destroys a Paris neighborhood, only Israeli superspy Gabriel Allon can stop him from striking again. In turn, Allon knows he must have an agent penetrate the Saladin network. Painstakingly, Allon’s team finds, persuades, prepares and deploys a young woman who will be the “black widow” ISIS recruit.

“Night Passage” by Robert Parker (1997) Best known for the long-running Spenser novels, Parker later launched this series with Jesse Stone as the police chief of a small Massachusetts town. The new chief has personal demons and runs afoul of the town’s secrets, finding out that he’s actually been hired for his weaknesses, not his strengths. Like the Spenser books, great dialog and action.

The Second Founding: How Civil War and Reconstruction Remade the Constitution” by Eric Foner (2019) With respect to the author’s scholarship and the book’s many accolades, I disagree with many conclusions here. But, as a concise retelling of what brought about the post-Civil War amendments (13th, 14th, 15th), this book is thought-provoking and valuable.

“Kingdom of the Seven” by Jon Land (1994) I love Land’s books, but some of them are kind of pulpy, and this is one of them. His protagonists, Blaine McCracken and Johnny War Eagle, are always a blast. Here they break up a plot to bring down the country with a virus—and the San Antonio Riverwalk is the key to the whole thing. You will grind your teeth on the liberties he takes with streets and locales, but how many novels revolve around Boerne and the Arneson River Theatre? Go ahead, light reading, it’s summer after all!

“A Question of Blood” by Ian Rankin (2003) I never get tired of Rankin’s very world-weary Inspector John Rebus. He’s Scottish, un-P.C., and hard as nails (except as it comes to the women he loves). Every one of these is a treat.

“A Clean Kill in Tokyo” by Barry Eisler (2003) This author is brand-new to me. He published years ago, then recently regained business-control over his works, re-titling and repackaging them in a new publishing deal with Amazon. So I tried this first one, about a half-American, half Japanese hired assassin named John Rain. So far, I like the character, and the local color. While you’re in these pages, you are completely in Japan, politically, culturally, etc., etc. Rain carries out a hit, then finds himself unexpectedly involved with the jazz piano-playing daughter of the victim.

“When In Rome” by Ngaio Marsh (1970) Her long-running Inspector Alleyn series has the peripatetic cop undercover in Rome, working a drug case, when a murder drops in.

“The Conscience of a Conservative” by Barry Goldwater (1960) It’s a long-standing political tradition that you make your debut as a presidential contender with a “here’s how I see things” book, often ghost-written and usually soon forgotten. The Arizona Republican senator and 1964 GOP nominee may or may not have known what a lasting treatise he was creating with this 120-page book. Even sixty years later, and long after his death, how he defines the challenge of American constitutional conservatism in an era of exploding federal government size and spending is right on-point. I’ll been keeping this book close at hand from now on—can’t believe I hadn’t read it sooner.

As always, I enjoy hearing what you read. Or hearing what you think if you try any of the above.

 


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