A Long Strange Trip

The Lost Years of Billy Battles (Finding Billy Battles Trilogy #3)The Lost Years of Billy Battles by Ronald E. Yates

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

As Europe plunges toward war, German agents manipulate competing political factions in Mexico to draw Washington’s attention to its southern border. Kansas sand cutter, William Fitzroy Raglan Battles, who spent the first half century of his life fighting outlaws in the American west, rebels in the Philippines and in Vietnam, settled into a life of peace and harmony in Chicago with his second wife, Katharina. However, in Billy Battles’ life, adversity always arises. A phone call from his old friend and commanding officer, General Funston, lured him and Katharina to Veracruz on a mission to mingle with the German community in the hope of gaining intelligence regarding Germany’s meddling. The pair, being both German speakers, soon had knowledge of the Kaiser’s plan to arm the Mexican rebels in the north under Carranza, Villa, Zapata, and Obregón. They also unwittingly thwarted the delivery of a submarine load of gold and silver bars.

Villa’s incursions into the United States drew Billy back to the border, and he even joined Pershing’s expedition into Mexico in search of the rebel general. In the meantime, war erupted in Europe, and the neutral U.S. was unable to return the interdicted gold and silver to its rightful owner. General Funston entrusted Billy with the task of stashing it in a secret bunker on a nascent military base in New Mexico. Only Funston and Billy had a key.

Billy’s gallivanting around Mexico did not sit well with Katharina. To placate her, the pair made some trips around the country, since Europe was off limits. They renewed acquaintances with the likes of Bat Masterson and Wyatt Earp. Remember that I said adversity always arises? On a short idyll to Michigan, Billy’s lifelong nemesis, the notorious Bledsoe clan, made a play for vengeance that had a life-shattering impact on Billy. His retaliation forced him to flee to Southeast Asia once again where he spent many years putting his life back together.

Ron Yates did me the great honor of allowing me to do a pre-release read of this final chapter in the incredible life of Billy Battles. Mr. Yates does extensive research, has a keen grasp of history, and is a world-class storyteller. He is also a professor of Kansas-speak. The colloquialisms and Kansas jargon Ron Yates puts into the mouths of his characters will amaze and delight. The Lost Years is a stand-alone book. There is plenty of backstory to keep the first-time reader current on how we got to where we are; however, I would urge readers approaching this book to go back and buy volumes one and two as well. This trilogy is a long strange trip, and you don’t want to miss any of it.

Amazon https://amzn.to/2Jt8pYt

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“Gravity Waves” by Scott Skipper: Another Hilarious Addition to the “Alien Affairs” Series

Marcha Foxe is a great writer and blogger. She is also a rocket scientist who used to work for NASA. Thanks, Marcha, for the great review.

Marcha's Two-Cents Worth

gravitywaves

This is one of my very favorite series, ever, and this episode further confirmed that whatever science fiction sub-genre this happens to be, it’s what I’d choose if I had to, over just about anything else. I guess it could be called something like “snarky, politically incorrect, hard sci-fi” and I love it. It has technology and theoretical physics speculations to feed my nerdy, physicist brain; sarcasm that makes me wish I could be as witty; and snarky undertones to evoke hysterical laughter, such that my cat glares at me for disturbing her sleep when I’m reading in bed.

It was so much fun to get a glimpse of half-breed, Terrie Dreshler, now fully grown not only to adulthood, but middle age, to say nothing of her mother, Carrie Player, now an old lady, at least chronologically, and stepping into that role where she admonishes those around her for their…

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A Devious Woman

Blood and BlackmailBlood and Blackmail by Robert Trainor

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Justine’s estranged husband raped and tortured her daughter by a previous marriage. Jesse was drawn into the matter through a chance encounter. Trent, the rapist, also took obscene photographs of his victim after the violation. Justine is adamant about recovering the pictures and convinces Jesse to help her break into and search the house. Before beginning the search for the obscene prints, Justine sneaks upstairs to verify that Trent is out of town as he said he would be. She discovers his body.

Blood and Blackmail is a well-crafted and clever mystery. The courtroom scene is especially well done with convincing legal procedures and norms. The characters are the best part of this book. They are superbly developed with unique voices. You are going to love Vanessa, she demonstrates the author’s brilliance. I will qualify that by saying that the characters tend to speak in lengthy monologues rather than the fragments most people use. There are a few other events that stretch credulity, but what is credulity for, if not to be stretched? Mr. Trianor’s prose is strong, smooth flowing, and grammatically accurate. The format of Blood and Blackmail is slightly unorthodox, however. It shifts from first to third person, and the police interview scenes are written like a court report or a script where the speaker is labeled before the dialogue begins. I cannot say that my enjoyment of the book was very much, if at all, diminished by this. I have high praise for Robert Trainor, and I look forward to reading more of his plentiful works.

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A Cautionary Tale

The Handmaid's TaleThe Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Environmental contamination has decreased fertility. The fallout from this has spawned a strangely violent cult of morality. Viable ovaries are in high demand; therefore, men with influence are given exclusive access to breeding females who are not wives but handmaids. The handmaids are forced to wear chaste red dresses and white headpieces with modesty wings. They live sheltered lives in the homes of the Commanders with no access to entertainment or diversion except the monthly ritual of being held fast by the Commander’s wife while he attempts to impregnate her. Any violation of the strict code of conduct is dealt with in brutal and often lethal ways.

A Handmaid’s Tale was published in 1986. I read it then and recently reread it as required reading for the La Verne Writers’ Group. I have to say that I enjoyed it more in 1986. Not that it isn’t a great book, but this time through it, I found some parts going on a little excessively. Some scenes seemed repetitious. An element of the plot is a backlash against feminism, which was a more current theme in the eighties. Curiously, during this second reading, I was struck by how much Attwood’s apocalyptic world looked like a sharia zone. I had completely missed it before. Apparently, it wasn’t lost on Ms. Attwood, because she said: “They blamed it on Islamic fanatics, at the time.” Another element that lessened my enjoyment is that as I’ve aged as a reader, and perhaps a writer, I view metaphors with an increasingly jaundiced eye, and Margaret Attwood is nothing if not the queen of metaphors. The edition that I most recently read had an amusing sort of epilogue. It was a scholarly analysis of A Handmaid’s Tale from the viewpoint of academics in the distant future after having discovered it hidden on audio cassettes.

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Revisiting a Classic

Capture

From the deck of a yacht anchored on the Thames, while waiting for the tide to turn, Marlow relates a tale from his varied past. After hiring on as the skipper of a steamer bound for the interior of darkest Africa, ostensibly in pursuit of the ivory trade, Marlow finds that he is enmeshed in the drama surrounding an enigmatic officer of the Company, Kurtz. Everyone on the river is in awe of Kurtz who has created a sort of fiefdom among the indigenous tribes. In addition to the profit motive, the Company’s subtext is dragging the savage into the bosom of civilization at any cost to the poor brute. The crew, which is comprised solely of cannibals, vastly outnumbers the white men who are in charge of the dilapidated vessel, and they are, inexplicably, left to find their own food while the masters dine on tinned European delicacies. Word then spreads that Kurtz has fallen victim to the ubiquitous fever, and Marlow is forced to race against the treacherous current to reach him before it is too late.

The Heart of Darkness is, of course, a classic. It is brief, barely more than a novella, and it is told in the voice of Marlow whose narration gives the story a personal feel. Scenes that on their surface appear mundane resonate with subtle mystery. The role of Europeans in Africa is probed and prodded from many angles. It may have been required reading for many of you at an early date in your academic career, and many of you might have slogged through it under protest. The suggestion of this somewhat seasoned reader is: revisit it. It’s a journey worth repeating.

Teenage Angst

Family Forever: Young LoversFamily Forever: Young Lovers by Tamara Miller

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Teenaged twin sisters, Emma and Jani, have after-school jobs and boyfriends who do not merit the approval of the twin’s parents. What could be more normal? There was a little ripple on the calm surface when Emma took a call from her ex-boyfriend informing her that Brad, for whom Emma dumped Frankie, happened to be engaged. That is eventually resolved to Emma’s satisfaction, and she soon accepts an engagement ring from Brad. The next crisis comes when Jani finds Nate passed out from smoking dope and learns that he deals pot on the side. Nate regains her affection, and they decide to elope to Las Vegas, but he has no money. Parents, Harry and Franny, disapprove of both young men but are savvy enough to know that they are no match for two strong-willed young women. So for the sake of economy, they agree, reluctantly, to a double wedding, which has to be accelerated due to the little matter of a pregnancy. Marital bliss does not last long.

Tamara Miller writes with a conversational style about the places where she has spent her whole life. She breathes honesty into her characters through the familiarity of having known them. These family dramas have a delightful truthfulness. They are stories everyone will recognize. The pace holds the reader’s attention, and the prose is genuine. Young Lovers is a candid glimpse into the lives of ordinary people and how life was in the transition from the nineteen fifties to the sixties. It is a solid, stand-alone sequel; however, readers will benefit from reading Tamara Miller’s first book in the Family Forever series, In the Beginning. Young Lovers has this reader’s wholehearted endorsement. It stirred many memories.

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Remembering Burt Boyar

Capture

New York Times #1 Best Selling Author, Burt Boyar, passed earlier this month. He was ninety years old.

I am lucky to have considered Burt a friend. We corresponded regularly, mostly about politics. When his emails stopped arriving, I became concerned and checked his Facebook page to learn the worst.

Two years ago, I interviewed Burt. This might be a good time to revisit that chat.

Burt Boyar Interview

Meet Burt Boyar, syndicated columnist, biographer and novelist.  Burt’s first book, Yes, I Can, the life of Sammy Davis, Jr., written in collaboration with Sammy Davis and wife, Jane Boyar, rocketed to the number one spot on the New York Times Bestseller List.  Burt has a knack for discovering, or perhaps uncovering, outstanding primary source material, which has propelled him to write several more pieces of remarkable literature, including a follow-up to Yes, I Can, Why Me?  An association with tennis pros, Rod Laver and Ken Rosewell yielded World Class.  Research for the sports novel drew Burt and Jane to Spain where they fell into a rental property belonging to the daughter of dictator, Francisco Franco, which resulted in the historical novel, Hitler Stopped by Franco.  Until her sudden death in 1997 Burt always worked with Jane, also producing Invisible Scars and H.L. and Lydia.  Blessed is Burt’s intimate memoir documenting his amazing life, and Low Society reveals the high life in New York of the 50’s and 60’s.  Finally, Photo By Sammy Davis, Jr. is a coffee table book assembled from a treasure trove of photographs taken by Sammy Davis that Burt discovered after the entertainer’s death.  Burt’s reminiscences embellish the photos of Hollywood’s elite.

 

It has been my pleasure to review several, in fact most, of Burt’s books.  You can read those reviews elsewhere on this blog, or on the book pages of most of the retailers.  Now, let’s hear from the great man himself.

 

Tell us how you met Sammy Davis.

 

Answer: I was a Broadway columnist in New York when Sammy arrived on Broadway starring in MR. WONDERFUL. I called him, as I called all celebrities, to get something for my column. He knew my column and suggested we have dinner. We did, that night, at Danny’s Hideaway. We had instant chemistry. The kind when you know this is someone you’re going to be friends with all of your life. Sammy stood up to go do his show and suggested, “Whattya say we have dinner…..say….5 nights a week?”  He was definitely an original. As it happens we were together seven nights a week for the entire year he was on Broadway, for dinner and then after his show until the wee hours of the morning.

 

Do you recall how long Yes, I Can held the number one spot on the New York Time’s list?

 

Answer: I remember that it was on the list for 28 consecutive weeks, most of them up at the top against Truman Capote’s IN COLD BLOOD and the two big Kennedy books by Schlessinger and Sorenson. The List is really a horse race, depending on who you’re up against. I do recall that the paperback by Pocket Books came out at Number One, but can’t recall for how long. That was 1966, 50 years ago.

 

Whose idea was it for you to write Sammy Davis’ autobiography?

 

Answer: We took Sammy to the “chic” nightclub El Morocco, and though the customers were thrilled to see him and applauded as he walked in and the dance band began playing all the music from Mr. Wonderful , the owner, John Perona was unthrilled at the presence of a black man in his club, despite his elegant  attire and celebrity, so we weren’t treated well. We had one drink and left and when we got back to Sammy’s apartment he sighed, “They don’t understand. We’ve got to let them know.” So Jane and I took a one year leave of absence from my column and began writing a book which became Yes I Can. The one year became six.

 

You have struggled for years, probably decades, to see Yes, I Can made into a movie, which it rightly deserves.  What is the problem?

 

Answer: Sammy had three children with May Britt (2 adopted) and one adopted during his marriage to Altovise. After Sammy’s death the kids could never agree on who owns what of his estate. No movie studio will invest 50 million dollars and then be sued by some family member who claims  they didn’t give permission. Even if they own 1% of the coyright. I own 50%.  But until everyone signs off nothing can happen. Happily, Lionel Richie got    involved and convinced the kids that 100% of nothing is nothing and we are now going forward. There will be an announcement of an A-List film producer and writer and director very soon.

 

Racism is major theme in Yes, I Can.  What are your thoughts on race relations today?

 

Answer: It still exists in many ways and places. Our country is deeply divided. Hopefully our film and Sammy’s experiences will help a bit to change that.

 

You devoted hundreds of thousands of words to telling the world what Sammy Davis was like.  Can you give the readers the short form here?

 

Answer: The only short explanation of Sammy Davis, Jr. is that he was a genius off stage as well as on.  A five-foot two-inch giant of a man. He did not have one day of formal education in a school but he read everything he could and could hold his own on any major topic of the day with people like Henry Kissinger.

 

When did you discover, and how did you feel about renting a house at Marbella from Francisco Franco’s daughter?

 

Answer: When we rented the house from the administrator I asked for a mailing address to give to my parents and was told Casa de la Marquesa de Villaverde, Los Monteros, Marbella, (Malaga) Spain. The only titles I knew of at that time were Best Seller, Oscar Winner, etc. Only when we were living in the house did we learn that our landlady was the daughter of the Chief of State.

 

I know that you and Jane became friends with Carmen Franco.  Did you interview her for Hitler Stopped by Franco, or did you absorb the facts over time?

 

Answer: Both. As friends we spent many weekends with Carmen and her husband Cristòbal, in their country home outside of Madrid, and they in our (their) house. We were there for 28 years. Around the 15th year of seeing how peaceful and well organized Franco’s Spain was we thought it would make a good book. We spent many hour interviewing Carmen, her mother (Franco had died) numerous former Ministers to whom they opened the doors for us. All on tape.

 

You always collaborated with Jane.  After her death did you find it difficult to write alone?

 

Answer: Everything was difficult after Jane died. And it still is 19 years later

 

You lived in Spain for twenty-eight years.  What do you miss about it?

 

Answer: It is a beautiful country and the Spaniards are warm and welcoming people, but I only miss the life we had there together. Those were truly our Golden Years.

 

 

Your social media footprint makes your political views abundantly clear.  If the 2016 election were to move the United States even farther from your liking, would you consider living abroad again?

 

Answer: No. I love my country, and no matter what they do to it, The U.S.A. is still the most wonderful, most generous country in the history of the world.

 

What is your opinion of the advent of self-publishing?

 

Answer: Self-publishing is wonderful for many people but very difficult compared to being published by a mainstream publisher who has a sales force for distribution and clout with the literary media.

 

Who are your favorite authors, and what do like to read?

 

Answer: Frankly, I have read all the great American, Russian, French and English writers, but I now find myself most entertained by erotica. Naively I did not know of it until a few years ago. But I’m making  up for lost time. It’s a lot more fun than the “classics”.

 

 

Invisible Scars is the story of a woman dealing with loss.  Is it pure fiction or is there some factual basis?

 

Answer: Half and half. The story is largely fiction but the characters are all based on real people we have known well.

 

Are you working on something new?

 

Answer: Yes. A book that will be called Conversations with Sammy. Jane and I taped 150 hours of old-friends-chatting with Sammy as part of the research for our second book with him, Why Me? He talks about his relationship with Frank Sinatra, Martin Luther King and his urging Bobby Kennedy to run for president, among many other fascinating things. He speaks of his relationship with his audiences, preparation for his shows and how he stumbled onto his two most successful songs, “Mr. Bojangles” and “The Candy Man” both of which he hated and didn’t want to do, commenting, “You think you’ve got all the show business smarts, but it’s the people who decide.” The transcript of those conversations runs two thousand pages, so it is a painful editing job to bring it down to a workable 4 or 5 hundred. There is enough great material for two volumes.