Blog Posts by Uncle Will

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by Steven Van Zandt

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04/07/14
Lillyhammer is not just another fish-outta-water-story. It is more like a whale-outta-puddle-tale. 
 
Steven Van Zandt stars in this comedy series about a New York mobster-turned-informant who enters the Witness Protection Program and requests the title town of Lillehammer, Norway as his future home. What transpires is a hard man's adjustment to the simple, cold life of an idyllic Norwegian town (population 27,000) and the townsfolk's adjustment to his self-entitled American ways.
 
American gangster, Frank Tagliano, only knows one way of living his life. He fell in love with a remote village while watching the 1994 Olympics, which were hosted in Norway. Frank knows that his only hope for survival, after ratting out his new boss, is selecting the last place on earth that his enemies would guess that he is hiding. What he doesn't realize is that the climate is mostly frigid; the people are cordial, but like sheep; and the customs and norms are alien to his past experience. The by-product is a clever situation comedy where the plot outcomes are usually foreseen, but the process is worth the time expended in watching.
 
"Little Steven" Van Zandt, if you are not a TV fan of The Sopranos, is also the lead guitarist with Bruce Springsteen's E Street Band. This multitalented man even provides several soundtrack songs to his show. After checking out the first season, look for Season 2 to be in our catalog soon.
 
 
 
Tags:  Sit Com
by Philip Kerr

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02/24/14
Winnie the Pooh is not the only character that got his nose caught in the honey jar. Take the background story of Bernie Gunther - before the war started, he was a highly respected homicide investigator in Berlin. Once the Nazis took control, Bernie had to swallow his pride and political beliefs in order to survive. His comfort level went from a possible 10 to well below zero.
 
Gunther's goal became to stay below the radar of the maniacal regime that was slowly destroying his world. He was forced to wear a uniform and become part of the military machine. He went from being the Berlin Bull to the Wehrmacht Wimp.
 
In March of 1943, the Wehrmacht High Command sends their prized criminal investigator to Smolensk to verify if thousands of Polish officers were executed and buried in a frozen field. Dr. Joseph Goebbels, the Minister of Propaganda, smells a possible public relations coup. If Goebbels can get proof that the Russians mass-murdered thousands of defenseless enemy officers, the world's spotlight, fixed on the Nazi nation's atrocities, will dim drastically.
 
The last thing that Gunther wants is to be anywhere near the spotlight.  He has positioned himself well offstage and only wants his world back - as it once was. When he lands in Smolensk, no one is happy to see him...not the Germans in command of the invasion force, nor the Russians aiding them. Even the Gestapo resents an "outsider" being assigned to investigate a matter that appears to have no major consequence in the Fatherland conquering Mother Russia.
 
Resentment leads to murder and cover-up. Gunther is forced to make some difficult decisions to remain breathing; however, he finds time to fall hopelessly in love with one of the forensic team sent to aid his investigation. . .but even that small prize has its steep price tag.    
 
Philip Kerr has written several books in this series. It is not important to read them in order, since the outcome of WWII is well documented. The writing is rich and the characters are complex. If historical fiction is what you are looking for and you haven't tried Kerr yet, it is well worth the experience.
 
 
 
by Dan Smith

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01/21/14
Who's excited? I'm excited! Found a new suspense/mystery/thriller author. His name's Dan Smith and all four of his published books will soon be available for checkout in our catalog: Dry Season; Dark Horizons; Red Winter; and The Child Thief (which is the subject of this review). 
 
The setting is a remote valley, in the Ukraine, post WWII. The narrator is Luka, a darkened veteran of many Russian armies and many more bloody battles. What made him a survivor was the dream of returning to his hidden home, his enduring wife and the three children he's not seen in years. 
 
It's hard times indeed in his small rural community. The elements are brutal and the food scarce. Firearms were banned by the new ruling class; however, Luka was able to smuggle home his beloved rifle, which is the main tool he uses to put food in the stomachs of his loved ones. Everyone in his community lives in daily fear that they will be discovered by the Stalinists and placed in forced labor camps. 
 
While out hunting with his twin sons, Luka discovers a man, near-death, pulling a sled carrying two dead children. Common sense says why buy trouble...leave the man and the children to the wolves. But Luka is a humanitarian and brings the dying stranger into his home to heal him. When the community leaders learn that the dead-sled-children were abused, tortured, and likely used for feeding, they go on a killing frenzy themselves. Shortly thereafter, Luka's niece is kidnapped. It becomes clear to Luka that there's a stalking demon nearby and this steely soldier swears to track and rescue the child...but at what cost?
 
This book has a real feel to it.  The narrative is strong and the characters believable. It transported me to the frozen tundra where I did not want to leave until scores were settled.
 
 
 
 
 
 
by Various

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12/23/13
The following are the top 5 books I read this year:
 
#5 - Bad Monkey by Carl Hiaasen
Hopefully, the start of a new Florida series book by one of the masters of the witty mystery.
 
#4 - Wisp of a Thing by Alex Bledsoe
Sequel to The Hum and the Shiver does not disappoint.
 
#3 - NOS4A2 by Joe Hill
Stephen King's son's imagination and writing style pick up where his old man's left off.
 
#2 - The Fire Witness by Lars Kepler
Third book in series by Scandinavian couple featuring Sweden's modern day version of Sherlock Holmes - Investigator Joona Linna.
 
#1 - Ordinary Grace by William Kent Krueger
New York Times best selling mystery author's first stand-alone novel about loss and redemption.
 
Tags:  
by Geoffrey Fletcher

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11/29/13
Enjoying dark comedy or gallows humor (as it was originally referred to) is an acquired taste. It is said that when the condemned man climbed to the top of the gallows, where the noose was placed around his neck, he was asked if he had any last words--he quickly responded:  "...Look at all this rotted wood. I don't think it's safe up here..."
 
Violet & Daisy is a dark comedy. It has been placed in the "Action" genre in the stacks, but this is misleading. Sure, there are a couple of shoot-'em-up scenes; however, they play mostly for comic effect. The gunplay just enhances the absurd world that our two heroines exist in.  
 
Violet is played by Alexis Bledel, who grew up starring in "Gilmore Girls" for seven years on TV. She is the brains and brawn of a pair of professional hit-men. Daisy is the younger, less experienced partner, who is played by Academy Award-nominated actress, Saoirse Ronan. Together, the two are hired by Danny Trejo to take out sad sack Michael, who has such a strong death wish that he double-downs on his likelihood to die.
 
Michael is played by James Gandolfini, the actor who died last June at the age of 51. Michael is trying desperately to atone for his bad behavior as a widowed father, and ameliorate his teenage daughter's resentment. His wife, (her mother), passed away years back and Michael failed in his fatherly responsibilities...or at least failed in his daughter's eyes.   
 
Violet & Daisy are motivated by high fashion and a lack of conscience. The contracts they fulfill buy them pretty clothes. The secret to their success seems to be that they never have to have any contact with their victims. Who knows what would happen if they ever had to make eye contact or worse yet, speak to their victims before "poppin'em."  Maybe a movie might be made about that!       
by Bob Thompson

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10/24/13
In 1955 my hero was Davy Crockett. Back then I even thought I knew the words to the Disney TV theme "The Ballad Of Davy Crockett" by Bill Hayes. My version went something like this:  "...Born on a mountain top in Tennessee, greatest state in the land of the free. Killed him a 'bar' when he was only three. Ran around the woods in his coonskin BVDs!..."  Hey, I was only five years old. The days of the coonskin craze have long passed.  So, imagine my delight when I found  Bob Thompson's new biography Born On A Mountaintop: On The Road With Davy Crockett And The Ghosts Of The Wild Frontier in our Marketplace.
 
Bob Thompson, former feature writer for the Washington Post, has an easy-going writing style. Thompson explores the many myths and magic of the Davy Crockett lore. Reading this book is like watching a bloodhound tracking a scent...no stone is left unturned.
 
One chapter outlines why Walt Disney chose Fess Parker to star in his TV studio's project after viewing a scene from the 1954 film Them. There is discussion about why it took so long for John Wayne to complete his 1960 film The Alamo. And of course there is the comparison between Wayne's interpretation of Davy Crockett and Billy Bob Thornton's, as viewed in his 2004 release of The Alamo.
 
In a lot of ways Davy Crockett helped perpetrate many of the popular myths about his life. One notion that is still controversial today is how he died at the Alamo. If he was alive today, he most likely could add "spin doctor" to his resume.
by Scott Kenemore

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09/27/13
The recent film World War Z brought zombies to the big screen.  But, the novel Zombie, Illinois shows that zombies have hit locally.  Author  Scott Kenemore is carving out a small niche for himself in the ever-growing zombie genre. His two previous books were: Zombie, Ohio:  A Tale of the Undead and Zombies Vs. Nazis: A Lost History of the Walking Dead.  Although this book is entitled Zombie, Illinois, it could have easily instead be called Zombie, Chicago.
 
The story takes places entirely in Chicago, on the night that zombies literally hit the beach.  It is told in alternating first-person narratives from the perspective of the three main characters: Ben Bennington, Pastor Leopold Mack and Maria Ramirez. Ben is a reporter for "Brain's Chicago Business." He's a lonely, out of shape, middle-age hack that is always on the hunt for that one big scoop that will launch his stagnant career.  Pastor Mack heads the congregation of "The Church of Heaven's God in Christ Lord Jesus." Though the church's name is more than a mouthful, Mack has the undying respect of his flock and some deep-hidden skeletons stashed in his closet. Maria's closet also contains some dark secrets, but what you see is mostly what you get.  She is the drummer for a female Chicago-based rock band that is moderately popular.  Can she help it that her old man is a former wife-beater and child-abuser who has transformed himself into a prominent city alderman?
 
The plot is simplistic: Zombies arrive and begin to eat their way through the city while the graveyards expel tons of reinforcements. The corrupt city leaders choose sides and try to use this apocalyptic catastrophe to position themselves into power. Our three reluctant heroes join forces and for selfish reasons try to save themselves and their city.
 

From chapter to chapter it becomes obvious that Kenemore cannot be a Chicago native. His jaded view of our city seems to rise at times to comic proportions. Poetic license forces one to give him credit where credit may or may not be due, although the many references to Chicago landmarks and neighborhoods, on the most part, remain accurate. The narrative style makes it refreshingly different for a zombie novel.  I will not spoil the story by disclosing whether the zombies are fast-moving or operate in slow-motion.  Sorry, you'll have to read the book.

 
by Lars Kepler

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08/26/13
This is not only the 3rd installment in the "Joona Linna Mystery" series by the married, Swedish, literary couple, Lars Kepler -- it just might be the best.
 
Joona Linna is Sweden's version of Sherlock Holmes. He's fiercely independent, caring, headstrong, "never wrong" and always gets his man (or woman). This was evident in their premier novel, The Hypnotist. These characteristics were further supported in the sequel, The Nightmare. Joona is not only a brilliant investigator, he is a formidable martial artist who's trim, tenacious, and tragic. 
 
Almost 20 years ago, Joona sent his wife and young daughter away to protect them from evil-doers that were seeking revenge.  Joona has had no contact with either and longs for his lost loves. He has a soft spot when children are involved in his investigations. 
 
The Fire Witness is loaded with soft spots. A double-murder is committed at a home for wayward girls. The prime suspect, Vicki, only a child herself, flees the crime scene and while on the run, is suspected of kidnapping another younger child...a boy who is briefly left unattended in a parked car. It is not Joona's case, since he is on suspension for previous traitorous conduct. Joona is able to position himself as an "observer" where he proceeds to get emotionally involved in the hunt for Vicky.
 
Joona also proceeds to get into more trouble with his superiors by not following the conditions of his suspension. He enrolls the aid of a local "medium" who thinks she has seen the true killer. Her visions are discounted immediately by the unimaginative police investigators assigned to the homicide/kidnapping, but not by Joona, who never discounts anything.  
 
There are a load of suspects that are not discounted by Joona. In between his continuing search for his wife and daughter and that of Vicky and the boy hostage, Joona juggles his schedule for his suspension hearing and his ongoing romance with a fellow policewoman.
 
Lars Kepler in reality is Alexander Ahndoril and his wife Alexandra Coelho Ahndoril. They create magic together and have a long, successful career in their future, and one doesn't have to be a seer to know that...just an avid mystery reader. 
 
 
   
by Carl Hiaasen

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08/01/13
Many think that Spencer Tracy, who starred in "Boy's Town," was the first to coin the phrase: "...There's no such thing as a bad boy..."
Then there's some that credit Tarzan with saying: "...There's no such thing as a bad monkey..."
According to a Bahamian voodoo witch known as the Dragon Queen in Carl Hiaasen's new novel Bad Monkey, who is convinced that the Capuchin monkey she craves to acquire is really a human boy -- there's no such thing as either.
 
One of the most delightful things about Carl Hiaasen's books is that you almost don't have to read further than the cast of kooky characters on the book jacket to be thoroughly entertained. In this latest book, Andrew Yancy is a suspended Miami police detective whose suspension was for molesting his former girlfriend's surgeon husband, in public, with a vacuum cleaner. Yes, there was "Film at 11." Yancy has been forced to accept the position of "Chief of the Monroe County Roach Patrol" -- which is better known as the county's restaurant health inspector. His ex-girlfriend, now the ex-wife of a prominent surgeon, has recaptured the magic she once had over 10 years ago with one of her former AP English high school students. This is the very same student that she was arrested, among other things, for contributing to his delinquency.
 
Yancy just wants to be a cop again. He also wants his backyard view returned; an illegally tall housing unit has been constructed right next door to his home by an over-zealous housing developer. To complicate matters, Yancy is asked to store evidence in his deep-freezer. This evidence is a human arm. It's found floating, hooked to a deep-sea fishing rod that's reeled in by an unsuspecting tourist. This arm might or might not have been detached in a boating accident or by malicious behavior. Yancy's police chief refuses to acknowledge either hypothesis. He just wants the arm to disappear.  He has higher political visions that do not include a grisly murder or freak accident in his county.
 
As bodies start to pile up, Yancy and his kinky new girlfriend, a Miami coroner, travel to the Bahamas where clues are likely to be found in the case of the missing arm. Once in the Bahamas, we find a poor islander, Neville, who has been foreclosed by another overly zealous condo developer (this one being a serial killer). Neville is the not-so-proud owner of the monkey, Tom, who starred in the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie with Johnny Depp. Tom comes from a long-line of famous show-biz monkeys. Unfortunately, Tom does not perform well in front of an audience. The belief is that Tom has never grown out of his adolescence stage. He likes to bite and fling feces when in public. The Dragon Queen seems to overlook Tom's bounty of bad behaviors in her quest to possess this "baby boy."   
 
Will Neville ever reclaim his modest beach home and his pet monkey who is now addicted to pipe smoking? 
Will Yancy solve this case and retain his gold shield -- along with his desire to eat again in a public restaurant?
Will true love, between the convicted child-molester/former-teacher and her once sexy-star-student (who has since gone to seed), overcome all boundaries, restrictions, and federal warrants?
Will Yancy ever again be able to sit in his backyard and watch the sun set slowly on the sea?
Will Tom and Johnny Depp, together again, ever get to skip rocks off the water?

To get the answers to these questions and more, one will have to read this book.

I'll never tell.
It's a case of monkey-see/monkey-no-speak!
by Stephen King

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06/27/13
It is no surprise that Stephen King is a master at writing short stories and novellas. His latest work, Joyland, is a coming-of-age suspense story about a college student, Devin Jones, who is hired at a privately owned, seasonal amusement park in North Carolina for the summer.
 
Devin Jones is naive, unexperienced (in most worldly matters), and hopelessly in love with a girl who does not share his same feelings. Devin has to make some hard decisions and chooses to be apart from his beloved Wendy Keegan for their summer break.
 
Devin is hired at Joyland as a general go-fer. His big claim to fame is how well he wears the "fur" which is the hound costume that all the greenies must take turns donning to delight the younger amusement park crowd. Devin rents a room from a local lady who helps him make the adjustment to the carny life. Joyland has a cast of characters that only Stephen King can create.  
Devin quickly makes fast friends with two other college students and the three become inseparable. They learn that there was a young girl murdered at Joyland years ago and that the park is supposedly haunted by her ghost. Devin also befriends a dying boy, his beautiful mother and their cute Facebook-worthy dog, Milo, the Jack Russell terrier. 
 
Needless to say, Devin grows up big-time that summer and even has a hand in solving a murder mystery that predates this 1973 storyline. At less than 300 pages and soft-covered, this book should be atop one's list for a beach read this summer.