Dark Lady of Hollywood
Dark Lady of Hollywood is hard to categorize, but one soon gathers that it is a satire of a place the author knows very well. As an arts and entertainment journalist, LA Times staffer and Southern California journalism professor, Haithman shows her love and hate of the town which now has an unknowing international film loving community. The book follows Ken Harrison, a sitcom TV executive who is dying of cancer, but would like to find his dark lady like Shakespeare did so he can go out with love and a bang. Early in the book, he meets actress Ophelia Lommond from Sadilla who performs in Shakespeare plays in the City of Angels, and is smitten.
There are two voices in the book to follow. The book has elements of comedy as well as Noir. One might call it a dramedy. There are plenty of silicone jokes and funny comments about the town in this sometimes funny ironic tale. Ophelia and Ken both turn out not to be who one would think they are after a first impression, but they connect for a tragic-comedic tale not only about revenge.
Harvard Square Editions
Jockey on a Crocodile
This man has led a fascinating life. As a young boy, he visited Berlin in the 1930s. Later, his teenage antics led to him joining the army. From there, he stole secrets in Korea, went undercover in Argentina, tapped wires in Berlin, and uncovered an assassination plot in Paris. At some point in there, he moved from the army to the CIA. This is all before he turned thirty.
In his almost-memoir, L.H. Knickerbocker tells of these adventures in a very humble, nonchalant way, presenting all of his success as purely accidental. The most interesting parts of his life, according to Knickerbocker, are the ladies. A lot of the book focuses on his encounters with various women, including his affairs and desires.
Though entertaining, the story doesn’t really seem to have a narrative arc. Rather than a standard tale, this book is more a collection of snippets, brief episodes in an exciting life. These episodes are alternately funny, sad, historically interesting, and always engaging. The writing style is very readable and friendly. Knickerbocker would be a wonderful person to have a drink with; however, I wish his memoir focused just a little more on what he was doing and a little less on who he wished he was doing it with. Also, as Knickerbocker himself admits, the story just suddenly ends. Luckily, he hints at writing more.
Pianist in a Bordello
Richard Milhous Nixon Youngblood—better known as Dickie, is running for Congress in California. A Democrat, Dickie is certain that his “first completely honest political autobiography” will be the winning ticket to get him elected. His personal account is an interesting one, to say the least, especially growing up with a dad who is an enigmatic radical hippie and wanted by the FBI, a mom who is a New Age yoga instructor with a right-wing leaning, and his staunchly Republican grandfather who is a well-known congressman. But as his story unfolds and election time draws near, problems pop up along the way—especially with his obsessed “girlfriend.”
Steeped in political satire, Mike C. Erickson’s debut novel offers a hilarious look into the issue of transparency. Erickson’s first-person narrative, set in 2010, opens with a chaotic prologue of campaign staffers urging the ever-optimistic Dick not to go through with his autobiography before Dick delves into his life story. Erickson has created a character whom is contrary to that of the near-pristine Forrest Gump from the epic movie that bears the same name. Aside from Dick’s unfortunate name, the acorn doesn’t fall far from the tree, as his radical ideas reflect that of his consistently elusive, yet iconic, father. As a result, Dick finds himself in various precarious circumstances, especially with his antagonists. And, again, contrary to the unexpected, yet heroic, feats of Forrest, it’s not Dick who gets himself out of sticky situations, but Dick’s father, who has an uncanny ability of showing up out of nowhere. It also helps to have a friend like Sacathy, a computer wizard of sorts.
True to Dick’s salacious moniker, his list of female companions goes on and on. Erickson’s character doesn’t delve into erotic scenes. Yet, at the same time, Dick feels compelled to “tell it as it is”—transparency—to his future reading audience. While interweaving Dick’s love life into the sketch of his autobiography, Erickson sates Dick’s account with familial and personal background that highlights historical markers (much like in Forrest Gump) from the 1960s on. Markers include Students of a Democratic Society, the Black Panthers, the Kent State shooting, Watergate, Grenada, the Iran-Contra Affair, South African apartheid, Tiananmen Square protest, the Dot-Com Crash, and 9/11—just to name a few. But Erickson does not stop there. He also includes a slew of issues that are still pertinent today, such as animal rights, pro-life, and LGBT rights.
With an interesting combination of literary tools to keep Erickson’s plot constantly moving—opening chapters with sarcastic quotes, alternating between the above mentioned scenes, various plot twists, and closing on a humorous, yet thought-provoking note, Pianist in a Bordello is definitely a fun read for all.
Kenneth Taber did a great job of writing about the events and lives of the people in the fictitious town of El Avispero. The name of the town, located in Altanero County, also happens to be the title of Taber’s novel.
El Avispero opens with the beginnings of a city council meeting. It doesn’t take long for the reader to catch onto the humor of the names of some of the characters. If you look closely at the spelling of some of the names, you can quickly get a glimpse into their personalities. After the first chapter, or part one of the very last chapter, you begin to read about the background of the citizens of El Avispero. The timeframe of the chapters is one year before the city council meetings. The lives of the characters unfold and develop in continuous chapters. As new, very minor characters are introduced, the play on names and personalities is present again.
It was interesting reading who all of the characters in the novels were, as well as their roles in the town. The one difficulty I had related to the characters was that I couldn’t seem to figure out who that one main character was. In addition to the names of the characters in El Avispero, another humorous aspect relates to the acronyms that are formed when titles of the committees are given throughout the book.
The main dilemma in the book–the reason for the city council meeting–is whether a section of land in El Avispero should be developed for affordable housing. As you can probably guess, different members of the town were on different sides. Being on different sides led to the plot being developed.
As I was reading El Avispero, I found the occasional Spanish sentences distracting. While the English translation is given, my eyes were jumping past the Spanish sentences to the English ones. It is obvious that the native language of some of the characters would have been Spanish. By the way, the title of this novel translates to wasp nest, which could be a good way to describe events in a small town when there are opposing sides centered on a huge issue. I enjoyed reading this novel because the storyline held my interest. I couldn’t wait to read what was going to happen next for the cast of characters. The author was also creative with his use of humor, which made me laugh. My reason for giving El Avispero 4 stars and not 5 was because, for me, I needed a central main character to focus on. In addition, on the pages, where there was Spanish dialogue; my eyes were jumping around quickly to the English translation.
Overall, I liked El Avispero. If you enjoy reading stories about towns, and getting to know the people who reside in such places, pick up this book. Even if you don’t regularly read such books, this novel is an enjoyable one. You will laugh while reading Taber’s book.
Call Me Pomeroy
There is more than meets the eye in the seemingly bold, boorish and narcissistic Pomeroy.
Fifty-five-year-old Eddie Beasley – a.k.a. “Pomeroy” is a homeless musician, who believes he is a stud – a “star” – and it’s just a matter of time before he’s going to be famous. Pomeroy lives his life on the street (when not in various prisons and shelters), singing from and adding to Ants In My Pants – the song that will get him discovered. Soon after his release from Quentin, Pomeroy finds himself in the middle of an Occupy Oakland demonstration, and is mistaken for kidnapping policewoman, Nora, when he is in fact saving her from a mob of angry anarchists. Despite the best efforts of Jessica Jiminez, his sexy Latina parole officer, Pomeroy lands himself in one spot of trouble after the next, as his adventures take him across the globe. While Pomeroy appears to be nothing more than a foul-mouthed, self-centered, womanizing misfit, he is an entertaining study in paradoxes. Despite his lifestyle, never-ending use of expletives, crude, misogynistic references to women’s body parts, and narcissism, he states: “Pomeroy ain’t no illiterate, crack-smokin’ bum”. He is right. Pomeroy is well-read, and can bring up literary analogies to his observations of life (not to mention his repartée of euphemisms to describe his belief that all women want to have sex with him); has the ability to learn from his downfalls (“When a woman puts Pomeroy in jail, Pomeroy cuts her off”); even reveals a sense of chivalry that prompts him to save Nora (“Can’t let no women get beat up, even if she is a cop”). He even has respect for those he cares about (“Jessica’s always been good to Pomeroy and Pomeroy takes care of his own.”). And through all his shocking language, no holds barred views, Pomeroy shines as a funny and curiously endearing anti-hero. While his talk about women is offensive, and so condescending on one hand, it humorously sheds light on Pomeroy’s own flawed nature as he, at times, takes on the persona of the hapless victim of every woman’s sexual desire, that lead him, for example, to quickly disembark a boat “before the women have a chance to tear [his] pants off”.
Pomeroy defies all things sacred – relieving himself on Ireland historical Blarney Castle. His views attack the hypocrisy in society, as he questions the morality of the men whose faces are on our money, the ethics of our presidents (“If a man wants my vote, he can damn well keep his pecker in his pants”) and comments on the state-of-the-art housing units in the Santa Rita lockup. Pomeroy’s rudimentary appearance and behavior invite judgment against him, but it becomes clear very quickly that his appearance and behavior belie a sense of values and decency that is missing from many who appear to be far more dignified and well-spoken.
Tight writing makes for a brisk-flowing narrative, while strong characterization captures the ironies that make Pomeroy thoroughly tawdry, yet peculiarly appealing and ridiculously funny.
Call Me Pomeroy brings us a protagonist who is a bold anti-hero that challenges the boundaries of superficiality in today’s society.
Kate’s Escape from the Billable Hour
Kate Billings leads a fast-paced, busy life as a second-year attorney in a big law firm. With a huge salary and a nice home, Kate’s life should be unbelievably good; she’s even managed to lose the excess weight that made her childhood and young adulthood miserable. After spending most of the last year logging lots and lots of billable hours (and neglecting herself in every possible way), she is devastated when her annual performance review focuses instead on the amount of time spent on a charity case (too much) and her “childish” freckles; her bonus, which she was counting on to help pay down her law school debt, instead turns out to be only a smoked ham and a container of cheap concealer. After a mental breakdown, Kate ditches her job and flies to Barcelona, where she is determined to reunite with her childhood crush. It’s time to stop waiting for happiness to find her!
I don’t know what I was expecting from Kate’s Escape from the Billable Hour, but what I found was a fun, well-written read about what happens when lawyers go wild. Kate embodies the successful career woman who has it all – except happiness, that is. Her wild night after the performance review is all kinds of fun to read (especially since she faces no repercussions from most of her actions; who doesn’t dream of that?!), and her endearing and slightly creepy obsession with the foreign exchange student who once lived with her family makes for a surprisingly great story. Along the way to finding out the truth about Diego, Kate’s experiences with modeling and dating rich celebrities make for a movie-worthy adventure. This novel is a page turner for sure, and readers are certain to enjoy every minute of Kate’s “sanity break.”