Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Point of Impact - Book Review

Point of Impact is where it all started, the first book in Stephen Hunter's Bob Lee Swagger series. Don't let the uninspired title keep you away. Sure, the plot-line is worn out - an innocent man is set up to take the fall by the government and he takes awesome revenge. (Hunter himself talks about how so well-used the plot is that he used it again in Dead Zero. As he points out, when you've got a good plot, you stick with it.) But this is not only an origin story, it's a good tale well-told with Hunter's trademark delirious prose. All of the highlights you've come to expect from this series is here: gun lore, exciting shoot outs, plot twists, Swagger outsmarting and outgunning his enemies. A great start to what's turned out to be a great series.

Since this was written in the early '90s, it's interesting to see who the bad guys are.  Remember when things were heating up in Central America?  There was a time when that part of the world seemed so very important to the United States.  My how the world has turned.

(The movie version is Shooter, which I didn't see, which was directed by Antoine Fuqua, a more-than-able thriller movie director starring Mark Wahlberg, the more than adequate action movie star. I understand it wasn't very good. Oh, well.)

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Stephen Hunter Obsession

I'm not alone in my Stephen Hunter obsession. Here's part of Zachary Leeman's review of Hunter's latest, Soft Target:

Any novel that opens with crazy jihadists killing jolly old Saint Nick on the first page can’t be too bad.

“Soft Target”. . . manages to be more than just not bad; it’s a modern Western on amphetamines; it’s Tom Clancy if Clancy were a better weaver of the old fashioned good vs. evil yarn; it’s… well, it’s Stephen Hunter all the way. Semper fi and all that. . .

. . .Hunter is famous for going where no other writer will go. He enters the grey. He tells the densely complicated stories other thriller writers shy away from. He throws his noble yet heroic characters into the world of grey and forces them to deem what is black and white, good and evil, and we sit back and enjoy.

Hunter’s novels also appeal because of their visual style, and this one is no different. He manages to keep the pace fast and the narrative swift without sacrificing clarity, because he knows exactly what we want. He feeds us the exact images and verbs our inner beasts need to gobble up in order to be completely consumed by the story. Hunter has perfected the craft of the thriller by keeping his prose simple a la Hemingway and giving us the details other writers shy away from, all while providing these in the context of a visually striking world only a man who reviewed films for decades could give us.

Ten Reasons Why I Should Be Preparing Your Tax Return and Not Turbo-Tax

Tax season looms. Time to bump this list to the top of the blog. I wrote it almost two years ago; it's not perfect but I don't have anything to add. Interested? Look to the sidebar for my contact information. Let's talk.

1.) There are no free lunches. I've had a chance to look further into Turbo Tax's free edition of their software and it's not, you know, free if you have to file a state tax return or you call them with a question. Their other packages? Sure, somewhat cheaper than what I'll charge you but my price includes the state return and, of course, e-filing's free. So while TurboTax can beat my price, they can't beat it by too terribly much.

2.) Price isn't everything is it? Cost is. What will it cost you to use TurboTax to do your tax return rather than me? Let's see, there's the cost of the software, the computer to run the software, the time you spent learning the software and inputting the information, and the potential cost you'll have if the IRS has a question about your return. And make no mistake, the IRS is questioning more and more returns. You'll have to take time to respond to any IRS inquiries and should the IRS take a hard line - something they seem to be doing more and more nowadays - you'll have to take time to research and respond to that. That's all included with my fee. I call that a pretty low cost for a some peace of mind.

3.) Customer support. I'll grant TurboTax has pretty good customer support. Not as good as you'll get from me - I'm a phone call or e-mail away. And depending on the circumstances, I'll even come to you. I don't think anyone from TurboTax will do that, do you?

4.) Coffee. Drop your information off and stay for a chat, get coffee. It's Colombian. It's free.

5.) Change is the tax code throughout the year? Changes in your personal status? You won't call TurboTax will you? Didn't think so.

6.) Record keeping. I maintain files of all the tax returns I prepare for you. Think of all the attic space you'll save. And I'm ready to provide copies to whomever you authorize me.

7.) A reliable referral source. Anyone you send to me, I guarantee will get the same great service you got.

8.) Networking. I have an incredible span of clients. Chances are, if you have a professional need, I can refer you to someone I know who'll take care of it. We're all in this together, you know.

9.) Tax organizers. At the beginning of each year, you get an organizer from me to help you get your records in order for tax preparation. That and a client letter with the latest tax information that might affect you.

10.) If you have a business, I can do more than just your tax returns. I can do your accounting, payroll, consult about QuickBooks, your business, perform financial statement reviews and audits. Name it. I'll help you find a solution for your business.

Interested? I've added my contact information on the sidebar. Give me a shout. Let's see what I can do for you.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Time to Hunt - Book Review

I'm continuing with my out-of-order reading of Stephen Hunter's Bob Lee Swagger series - I read 'em when I can get 'em - and the next one I had on hand was Time to Hunt . It's the third in the series and Hunter would break off for three books to explore the goings on of Bob Lee's father Earl, who I've already written about.

This time around, Bob Lee's family is in jeopardy. His wife and daughter are out in the wilderness riding horses and thanks to a narrative trick we believe that Bob Lee is mortally wounded within the first few pages. Then Hunter takes us on a long flashback, back-filling Swagger's Vietnam experience as well as Swagger's spotter, Donny. All of this sidetracking is vitally important to the present day story so that when Hunter brings us back, we know exactly who the players are and what's at stake. Picking up the narrative, Hunter takes us headlong into the thriller territory we've come to know and the twists and payoffs and very satisfying. Oh, and then there's all that gun lore that's so important to the series.

No, this one doesn't disappoint at all. One of his best. And the book that's probably the key to the whole Bob Lee Swagger character.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Good morning #teamcoffee from The Villages, Florida, America's friendliest hometown. I'm considered a whippersnapper here which delights me.

Monday, December 5, 2011

The 47th Samurai - Book Review

Back to Stephen Hunter's Bob Lee Swagger series. Next up: The 47th Samurai. (It follows Havana in publishing chronology but it's a return to the series after a three-book hiatus. I'll get the story chronology straight when I'm through with the series in about three books or so.)

Hunter's plans for Bob Lee seem similar to his plans for Earl - place his character in a new setting and turn 'im loose. In this case, Hunter plunks Bob Lee in the middle of Japan and the traditions of the samurai. (D'uh.) He ties the Earl Swagger series to the Bob Lee series with a prologue involving Earl and the plot drives from those scenes. Hunter spins his magic with the new setting and old characters and makes the implausible plot and events and climax seem doable in its own world. Just try not to think too much about it after you close the book. He seems to know as much stuff about swords as he does guns and that's quite a bit and I always find that part of his books to be the most interesting.  There's the usual trouble you'll find in series fiction - events shape and grow the characters yet essentially they remain unchanged at their core.  Minor characters age and their actions must be explained and tracked and at the end there's a new character to wonder about.  (Which is no wonder if you've read the subsequent books like I have.)

A solid installment in the series.

Now, to backfill the remaining three prior books.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Nothing Secret About Victoria's Secret

The latest commercial of Victoria's Secret, that lacy underthang company, tries to tell me that the perfect gift I could give this Christmas season is one their of lacy underthangs.  Or so I think that's what they're telling me.   I'm a little distracted by all the ladies the commercial has caught lounging in their undies. They don't seem to be bothered at all to be caught short, clothing-wise.  I guess I shouldn't be either.  But I get the message:   nothing recalls the gift of Christ like giving a gift of super-sexy underwear to the one you love.

And Victoria's secret use of a religious iconography seems a little odd, too - you know, their models wearing angel wings as they glide down the runway in their recent fashion show.  Certainly the Bible has its share of eroticism but I can't imagine the angels going about their glorious tasks in their skimpy frockery and high-heeled shoes.  That would have been a sight for those poor shepherds to see that Christmas night so long ago.

Well, at least this gives me an opportunity to give you another poem by my favorite poet, Billy Collins.  As he says, this is already too much, this fuss about things that used to be unmentionable:

Victoria's Secret

The one in the upper left-hand corner
is giving me a look
that says I know you are here
and I have nothing better to do
for the remainder of human time
than return your persistent but engaging stare.
She is wearing a deeply scalloped
flame-stitch halter top
with padded push-up styling
and easy side-zip tap pants.

The one on the facing page, however,
who looks at me over her bare shoulder,
cannot hide the shadow of annoyance in her brow.
You have interrupted me,
she seems to be saying,
with your coughing and your loud music.
Now please leave me alone;
let me finish whatever it was I was doing
in my organza-trimmed
whisperweight camisole with
keyhole closure and a point d'esprit mesh back.

I wet my thumb and flip the page.
Here, the one who

happens to be reclining
in a satin and lace merry widow
with an inset lace-up front,
decorated underwire cups and bodice
with lace ruffles along the bottom
and hook-and-eye closure in the back,
is wearing a slightly contorted expression,
her head thrust back, mouth partially open,
a confusing mixture of pain and surprise
as if she had stepped on a tack
just as I was breaking down
her bedroom door with my shoulder.

Nor does the one directly beneath her
look particularly happy to see me.
She is arching one eyebrow slightly
as if to say, so what if I am wearing nothing
but this stretch panne velvet bodysuit
with a low sweetheart neckline
featuring molded cups and adjustable straps.
Do you have a problem with that?

The one on the far right is easier to take,
her eyes half-closed
as if she were listening to a medley
of lullabies playing faintly on a music box.
Soon she will drop off to sleep,
her head nestled in the soft crook of her arm,
and later she will wake up in her
Spandex slip dress with the high side slit,
deep scoop neckline, elastic shirring,
and concealed back zip and vent.

But opposite her,
stretched out catlike on a couch
in the warm glow of a paneled library,
is one who wears a distinctly challenging expression,
her face tipped up, exposing
her long neck, her perfectly flared nostrils.
Go ahead, her expression tells me,
take off my satin charmeuse gown
with a sheer, jacquard bodice
decorated with a touch of shimmering Lurex.
Go ahead, fling it into the fireplace.
What do I care, her eyes say, we're all going to hell anyway.

I have other mail to open,
but I cannot help noticing her neighbor
whose eyes are downcast,
her head ever so demurely bowed to the side
as if she were the model who sat for Coreggio
when he painted "The Madonna of St. Jerome,"
only, it became so ungodly hot in Parma
that afternoon, she had to remove
the traditional blue robe
and pose there in his studio
in a beautifully shaped satin teddy
with an embossed V-front,
princess seaming to mold the bodice,
and puckered knit detail.

And occupying the whole facing page
is one who displays that expression
we have come to associate with photographic beauty.
Yes, she is pouting about something,
all lower lip and cheekbone.
Perhaps her ice cream has tumbled
out of its cone onto the parquet floor.
Perhaps she has been waiting all day
for a new sofa to be delivered,
waiting all day in a stretch lace hipster
with lattice edging, satin frog closures,
velvet scrollwork, cuffed ankles,
flare silhouette, and knotted shoulder straps
available in black, champagne, almond,
cinnabar, plum, bronze, mocha,
peach, ivory, caramel, blush, butter, rose, and periwinkle.
It is, of course, impossible to say,
impossible to know what she is thinking,
why her mouth is the shape of petulance.

But this is already too much.
Who has the time to linger on these delicate
lures, these once unmentionable things?
Life is rushing by like a mad, swollen river.
One minute roses are opening in the garden
and the next, snow is flying past my window.
Plus the phone is ringing.
The dog is whining at the door.
Rain is beating on the roof.
And as always there is a list of things I have to do
before the night descends, black and silky,
and the dark hours begin to hurtle by,
before the little doors of the body swing shut
and I ride to sleep, my closed eyes
still burning from all the glossy lights of day.