A Tale Out of Luck by Willie Nelson and Mike Blakely

Willie Nelson is, in my opinion, one of the greatest songwriters of our time. But call me a negative Nellie, I don't think Willie Nelson actually wrote the fully fleshed out novel here. Most likely, because it also has a secondary author, Mike Blakely wrote the story out, using a skeleton story line that Wille gave him.

That shouldn't take anything away from the novel in any way. The story is intriguing and kept me page-turning for a day and a half. And except for a nagging little deus ex machina that appears towards the end of the book, it was highly entertaining.

The story begins with the murder of a rustler by an unknown assailant who uses Comanche arrows to kill him. The story shifts to Jay Blue, son of the ex-Texas Ranger, and ranch owner Capt. Hank Tomlinson, who is trying to spark a barmaid at the local saloon, while his friend and adopted brother "Skeeter" Rodriquez is supposed to be covering his duty as night guard at the ranch. Meanwhile, back at the ranch (I've always wanted to write that...), Capt. Hank's newly aquired thouroughbred mare is stolen after "skeeter" sneaks off to catch some sleep.

The story follows several characters, including a state authorized police detective Max Kenyon, investigating the death of the rustler, and an Indian brave known only as "the Wolf". This story has as many twists and turns in it as a mystery novel, and you will be kept guessing right up to the very end as to hat is coming next.

I rate this one 7½ stars. Very good.


The Purpose of Christmas by Rick Warren

If you think Christmas is all about Santa Claus and reindeer and trees and presents, then this book, an introductory book into the birth of Jesus Christ, savior to millions of the Christian faith worldwide, will educate and might appeal to you. If, however, you are already a believer in the faith, there is nothing here you didn't already know.

Not that Warren is by any means a boring author, or that he hasn't the ability to inspire people with his writing, but the style and direction of this little piece is more purposefully used to evangelize the non-Christian than it is to enlighten the Christian.

Taken at its basic sense, this is a great tool for those of the faith to use to break the ice with their friends who are not. And it is well written enough and earnest enough to serve that purpose.

I give it 7 stars.


The Cat's Pajamas by Ray Bradbury

Ever since I was a youngster, I wanted to write. By all accounts, ever since he was a youngster, Ray Bradbury wanted to write, too. The difference is he followed through with his dream and mine is still that. A dream. Not that anything I ever wrote would even stand up next to Bradbury. Case in point:

It was like the cracking of moon-colored ice on a midnight pond.

That line, from The Island, is the perfect example, to me, of how much of a genius Bradbury is with words.

I grew up reading Bradbury's science fiction, books like R is for Rocket and S is for Space. Those volumes only touched upon the superior ability of Bradbury to captivate his audience. Little did I know at the time, but he was more than just a science fiction writer. One only has to read Dandelion Wine to find that he should be ranked with Dickens and Twain, two of his own professed heroes.

Only a small portion of these stories are even remotely science fiction in nature. Many of them are mainstream without even a hint of science. Surprisingly, these are some of the better sories in the book, despite the fact that I have come to expect science fiction from Bradbury.

The best story in the book by my opinion is Chrysalis. If you are not familiar with Bradbury, you will not know, but it is the same title he used on a completely different story. This particular story involves the friendship between a black boy and a white boy who meet on the beach. The main character, the black boy, has been trying unsuccessfully for years to bleach the black out of his skin, while the white boy wants to get tan. The contrast is memorable as well as the reaction of certain subcharacters in the story.

There are stories that will haunt you as well as stories to amuse you here. One of the latter in particular, Hail to the Chief, involves a bunch of drunken senators who have gambled away the entire United States at an Indian gambling casino, and the President has to save their asses, not to mention reputations.

Not every story was entertaining, but in a book of short stories, I imagine most people will not like every story in it. The one titled Ole, Orozco! Sisqueros, Si! falls into this category for me. A story about a graffitti artist who gains recognition after his death.

I give this one an overall 7 stars.


Iconic America by Tommy Hilfiger with George Lois

My first impression when I saw this book was "it's a coffee table book from Hell." The thing is a monster in size and bulk. But it has to be. The book is filled with all kinds of Americana, from Burma-Shave signs, to Andy Warhol, to the Nike Swoosh, and Buddy Holly and just about anything you can think of that is purely American. Mom, apple pie and Santa Claus. ...and Playboy. (Yes, Virginia, there is a centerfold. Hide your eyes.)

Depending on your age, some of this may bring back nostalgic memories, or they may be a peek into the life your parents (or even grandparents) talk about with fond memories. Although the pictures are of icons and memorabilia that span the entire history of the American experience, most of them are from the last 100 years or so. A visually stunning book, to say the least. (Quit looking at that centerfold, Virginia!)

It's a fun book, and, although Hilfiger's writing is nothing to write home about, it's still informative and often entertaining. But you may find it more interesting just to look at the pictures. (I told you, Virginia, stop looking at that centerfold...)

I give this one 8 stars.


Mr. Monk is Miserable by Lee Goldberg

I must confess, I love it when Adrian Monk is out of his milieu, but let's face it, Monk is out of his milieu five steps outside the front door of his apartment. That's what makes the ones where he goes to Hawaii, or Mexico, or New York City that much more enjoyable. Some day, I hope one of the writer's puts him in New Orleans smack dab in the middle of Mardi Gras. (That one's a freebie on me, if any of you are reading this.)

Continuing on from where the last entry in the Monk series ended, (see Mr. Monk Goes to Germany) we find our heroes Adrian Monk and Natalie Teeger on vacation in Paris (well vacation for Natalie, anyway), which doesn't get off to a very auspicious start. One of the passengers on the plane dies, and of course, it's murder.

Natalie figures she's home free because the inevitable murder that seems to drop into Monk's lap everywhere they go has occured early in the trip. Au contraire. Nothing is that easy when it comes to Monk.

Figuring Monk would enjoy seeing the famous catacombs of Paris, she arranges a tour. Leave it to Monk to find the victim of a murder, and not one of the many people who have been buried there for centuries, but one of a recent victim. It turns out that the victim was a former resident of San Francisco, which brings Capt. Stottlemeyer and Lt. Disher on the scene.

Into this mix is a subculture of people who have forsaken life in the richness and luxury of working and spending money, for one of living in the sewers and digging through trash for sustenance.

While not quite up to Mr. Monk Goes to Germany, this is still one fun read. I rank it 8½ stars.


Roller Derby: The History and All-Girl Revival of the Greatest Sport on Wheels by Catherine Mabe

I must admit I know nothing of the roller derby sport. I didn't even know it was experiencing a revival. Prior to picking up this book, I only had vague recollections of seeing roller derbies in my youth on our family's old black-and-white TV. And I didn't understand the sport any more than I did wrestling, both of which I assumed were fixed because of the inherent drama that was a part of each.

I still am convinced that wrestling is fixed, but Mabe has dissuaded me of that notion as far as roller derby is concerned. This book is the perfect introduction into a behind-the scenes look at a sport which is almost the equivalent of hockey, at least as far as the physicalness of it is concerned.

Known on the circuit by the name "Jayne Manslaughter", Mabe as a derby girl is better suited to writing a history of the sport of roller derby than any aficionado might be. And her passion for the sport exudes on every page. Filled with colorful anecdotes as well as plenty of pictures from past and present incarnations of the sport, this is a quick and mostly entertaining read.

There is even a primer on the intricacies of play and how the points are scored, so if you have never been to a game, you will be prepared if someone takes you to the next match.

I'm rating this one 6½ stars.


The Shootist by Glendon Swarthout

While not my favorite John Wayne movie, The Shootist has always ranked in the top 5. Needless to say I had seen it numerous times on T.V. But only when I recently acquired a DVD of the movie and saw the feature regarding the making of the movie, did I realize that it was based on a novel. Yes it does say that in the credits at the beginning, but I never have been one to pay attention to those past the naming of the actors.

Fortunately for me, I found a copy of the original novel. It is hard to write a review of a novel that has been made into a movie, even harder when that movie is more well known than the original novel. Comparisons between the novel and the more well-known movie, which will have incoporated and adapted the original text to suit its own purposes, is inevitable.

What jumped out at me more than anything else was the character of Gillom Rogers, the character than Ron Howard played in the movie. The text character is much more pugnacious and harder-edged than what appears on the screen in the performance of Howard. I imagine a lot of this had to do with Howard's image, coming from his Opie Taylor and Richie Cunningham background than anything having to do with wanting to tone down the character for the purposes of the movie itself.

Other than that, there's not much entirely different here. Most of the action takes place in exactly the same form as was presented as a movie. And it was entertaining to break from my usual fare to read something more classic in the western genre, something I don't do as much these days.

I give this one 8 stars.