Bob’s Book Reviews

    A nonprofit website designed to bring readers to reviews/recommendations highlighting older books that Bob believes deserve a good dusting off.  Positive book reviews by Bob would range from Bill Bryson’s The Lost Continent “Travels In Small-Town America” (1989); “Eyewitness to PowerEssence of Leadership Nixon to Clinton, by David Gergen (2000); Last Days of Summer, the novel by Steve Kluger; A Confederacy of Dunces, the novel by John Kennedy Toole (1980); Wait Till Next Year—A Memoir, Doris Kearns Goodwin; to Cavett, a 1974 autobiography of Dick Cavett.

    Looking for recommendations from notable readers — everyone from bestselling authors Bill Bryson and Nelson DeMille to eight-time Emmy-award winning writer and producer Jonathan Hock? Just click on Notables’ Notes at the top of the page.

    The WRAL.COM icon on the home page links readers to WRAL Channel 5’s excellent website, a site millions visit weekly. Page Turners from the Past will be excerpted monthly on the WRAL.COM Entertainment page.

    As to the V Foundation for Cancer Research icon,  Jim Valvano, the famous NC State basketball coach, was an English major and a voracious reader. Here, with a single click readers of Page Turners from the Past can go to the V Foundation, an entity that has—to date—raised more than $150 million to fight this dreaded disease.  Contributions to this most worthy charity are greatly encouraged.

    One never knows what books Bob might find fascinating. Again, although he is a fan of many of the blockbusters from the past, his review list, this being a niche gathering, will feature winners that his followers/readers may have missed. Read More »

    Larry McMurtry trilogy

    This is a Page Turners from the Past Three-Fer! The reading of Larry McMurtry’s The Last Picture Show led to his Texasville and then to the last of what the literati call a trilogy—Duane’s Depressed!

    The Last Picture Show book cover

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    The Last Picture Show
    Simon & Schuster (1966)

    If you like coming of age novels and haven’t read the novel or seen the film, then start right at the beginning and read The Last Picture Show. It’s set in the 1950s in Thalia, a butt ugly little Texas oil town where frankly there isn’t much going on. Oil rigs work the dusty prairie, young high schoolers—co-protagonists Duane and Sonny, best friends—shoot pool, drink beer and play on the football team. They sleep in class and stir long enough for both of them to fall in love with Jacy Farrow, the prom queen. And all of this plays around Thalia’s “cultural centers,” an old movie hall where the population watches classics from the 50’s—kids make out in the balcony, the elders enjoy Ronald Reagan and Grace Kelly. And then there’s the pool hall.  Owned by a solid citizen named The Lion, it is where Thalia’s male population gathers to chew, spit, drink, talk sex, shoot a lotta bull and a little pool.

    The novel is funny sad, and sexy. In Thalia, sex trumps football as the town’s favorite sport with the citizens playing out their “attractions” with little or no feelings. Read More »

    Double Play

    Double Play by Robert Parker book cover

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    by Robert B. Parker
    G.P. Putnam’s Sons (2004)

    My favorite drink is a big ice cold glass of water, one you can chug down in a single gulp. Almost all of Robert B. Parker’s novels read just like that—a refreshing ice cold drink on a hot summer’s day.

    And then there’s Double Play, which isn’t what you’d call heavy, but a read that goes down more like a couple of shots of gin over ice. It’s one you’ll want to read a bit slower and certainly one to sip and savor.

    As much as I enjoy Parker’s Spencer, Jesse Stone and Sunny Randall novels, this one comes at us out of right-field (or at least the right side of the infield) and with a wonderful premise.

    One doesn’t have to be a baseball wonk to know that Jackie Robinson came to the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947, broke the color barrier and in doing so helped not only integrate major league baseball but also stole the first base for America’s integration.

    You didn’t have to see him play (which I did in Ebbets Field in ’56) or have interviewed the man who threw him the very first pitch (Johnny Sain) which I have, to know the back story.

    Robinson played for years with not only his dignity but his life on the line. There were death threats in almost every ballpark he played in during those early years.

    So here comes Parker with Double Play. Read More »

    Neither Here Nor There

    bill bryson neither here nor there

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    by Bill Bryson
    Avon Books (1992)

    Years and years ago when I managed my first steps at the early age of ten months (thank you very kindly) I had no idea where they would take me. Here’s how it’s played out over seven decades—from toddle, to walk, to jog, to run, back to jog, to walk, to two hip replacements that whipsawed me back to a limp-like toddle.

    That’s the physical history of my perambulation and I miss the walking years more than yes, even Bill Bryson, knows.  I’m not motoring around in the four wheeled Rascal of cable infomercial fame yet but I’m kicking the tires and so it’s my habit today to perch on my sun deck reading Bryson’s walkabout/travel books with an addiction that would make any cocktail psychologist worth their fourth drink slur the word vicarious.

    For those who loved Bryson’s A WALK IN THE WOODS, well think of me as his stationary beer sipping, page turning Katz. The man takes me on walks that are so incredibly satisfying, entertaining, educational, and downright laugh-out-loud funny that frankly these jaunts have eased the pain of this once-upon-a-time perambulator.

    In that walk in the woods we climbed along the Appalachian Trail. The two of us have ambled across Britain (Notes From A Small Island and The Road To Little Dribbling), sauntered around Europe (Neither Here Nor There), hiked the outback of Australia (In A Sunburned Country) and strode manfully through Africa (Bill Bryson’s African Diary).

    The man’s a marvel—curious, witty, insightful, educational and observant with a walking stick in hand that never misses an opportunity to poke deserving targets that we can relate to— regardless in what far off land he hits these bulls’ eyes. Bryson misses nothing—people, politics, weather, history, culture, architecture, art, museums, maps, language, transit, tourists, restaurants, food, waiters, weather (it rains a lot in Europe), pickpockets, prostitutes, pubs, pigeons, and hotels. Oh, all the while painting poetic word pictures of the landscape he’s crossing that make me want to climb off that deck of mine and well, take a hike!

    Read More »

    Primary Colors: A Novel of Politics

    Primary Colors book cover

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    by Anonymous (later revealed as Joe Klein, a NY Times columnist)
    Random House (1996)

    Just when we think we can’t stand to watch another insulting political debate, listen to one more second of biased talk radio, watch the TV networks TRUMP HUMP, “enjoy” the clown show that has become the run for the U.S. Presidency in 2016, Page Turners from the Past has to dig up Primary Colors. The incredible and credible “faction” not only gives us remarkable insights into the inter working of one of America’s favorite sports – a Presidential political campaign – it presents us with a look into the complexity of the characters who run for the highest offices of the land and the people who steer them along the way.

    The novel, commonly referred to by the more literary as a roman a clef, is in fact that: a work of fiction that thinly describes real characters (Bill Clinton) and events (his first run for the Presidency), and has been compared to political classics like All the King’s Men and O: A Presidential Novel.

    This beautifully crafted insightful novel takes us on a merry ride (loaded with laughs) along with a governor from an unheard of southern state through the perils of the primaries, and all the backroom and upfront politicking—glad-handing, debates, fund-raising, negative TV ads, dirt digging, deal making, touching and feeling – right to the door steps of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Read More »

    Every Little Crook and Nanny: A Novel

    Every Little Crook and Nanny book cover

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    by Evan Hunter
    Doubleday and Company (1972)

    Were Salvatore Albert Lombino, who wrote so prolifically under Ed McBain, as well as his legally adopted name Evan Hunter and numerous other pseudonyms—John Abbott, Curt Cannon, Hunt Collins, Eras Hannon, Dean Hudson, and Marsten—still alive and asked to name the novel that he enjoyed writing the most, he might just say EVERY LITTLE CROOK and NANNY.

    Not his best and certainly not his bestseller. This, after all, was the man who wrote The Blackboard Jungle, Strangers When We Meet, Mothers and Daughters, Buddwing, Last Summer, Sons, and Nobody Knew They Were There.

    As Ed McBain he penned world class crime fiction, more than fifty titles in his 87th Precinct novels. During his prolific life he cranked out award winning short stories and wrote, among other film scripts Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds.

    And here we are suggesting a title that, weight-wise, barely tips the Hunter-McBain scales. The reason is simple. There’s a sense of fun here that not only jumps right off the pages but makes the reader just know that the writer, as he penned this one, was laughing all the way. Read More »

    Dave Barry Turns 40

    Dave Barry Turns 40 book cover

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    by Dave Barry
    Crown Publishers, Inc. (1990)

    Those of us who miss chuckling our way through his weekly newspaper columns should know that we’ve been blessed with an archival library of Dave Barry’s greatest wit.

    Barry Books—somewhere in the neighborhood of fifty to date—fiction and non-fiction!

    And were this a food buffet, when we made our selections from this hilarious smorgasbord, we’d find DAVE BARRY TURNS 40 in a prime location, down there at the far end where the chef in the big white cap is carving the roast beef. Read More »

    Summer of ‘42: A Novel

    Summer of 42 book cover

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    by Herman Raucher
    P. Putnam’s Sons (1971)

    Okay, one of the all-time great beach reads for a beautiful summer’s day.  That’s a given. But as winter comes whistling around your windows if you’re looking for something to cuddle up with—try Summer of ’42—it will make you laugh, make you cry, take you back to a day when the world wasn’t as complicated.

    ’42 will warm your heart.

    Simple story—three adolescent boys in 1942 are stuck with their families on a New England beach for the summer. They’re too young to fight in the war and yet waging a horrible battle of their own against the Number 1 enemy of youth—-puberty! Read More »

    The Kid: The Immortal Life of Ted Williams

    The Kid by Ben Bradlee book cover

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    by Ben Bradlee, Jr.
    Little Brown (2013)

    Everything we wanted to know about Ted Williams and more?

    At first blush yes, hell yes! After all this is the umpteenth book written about Williams, a 775 page tome that if dropped on the scales would outweigh one of The Kid’s Louisville Sluggers, the lumber that the Splendid Splinter spent a career baking, boning, primping, until they—in the hands of that incredible swing of his—made him the greatest left-handed power hitter to ever play the game.

    But thanks to this Ben Bradlee, Jr. biography, what we have is: EVERYTHING we wanted to know about Ted Williams.

    Ted Williams was half Mexican. Ted Williams made a career of not only knocking down American league fences he carried a lifelong chip on his broad shoulders the size of one of those satin Pedro’s South of the Border pillows. And, says Bradlee, this can be traced back to the kid’s shame of his Mexican background and his upbringing by a single mother who spent more time on the streets of San Diego banging a tambourine for the Salvation Army than she did at home raising Ted and his younger brother.

    Once we’ve learned that his mother was Mexican and how it impacted Williams’ personality, did Bradlee need to shake the kid’s family tree until reprobate uncles and alcoholic aunts came tumbling out?  Perhaps not.  Are there a few too many graphic details about the cryptogenics and where the man’s head hangs today? For this reader, yes. Read More »

    The Great Santini

    The Great Santini

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    by Pat Conroy
    Houghton Mifflin (1976)

    There are characters we love and there are characters we love to hate.

    The Great Santini, i.e., Bull Meecham, a Marine Fighter pilot, may be the perfect hardnosed, brave, single-minded man to have in the air over an enemy country, shooting down rival planes, dropping bombs on evil empires. But there’s a problem. World War II and Korea are behind him now, the fighting’s over and when he lands the plane he has to come home.

    Home to a family he rules with an iron fist. Lillian, his beautiful Atlanta bred wife loves him, but lives to protect their kids from the oft violent, crude, rude, racist and socially unacceptable bull of a father.

    When Lieutenant Colonel Meecham returns from that one-year tour in Europe the family—having lived comfortably with Lillian’s mother in Atlanta—is relocated to yet another marine base (they’ve lived in so many) and find themselves in Ravenel, South Carolina, where many adjustments must be made. Read More »

    Monday Night Mayhem

    Monday Night Mayhem book cover

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    by Marc Gunther and Bill Carter
    Beech Tree Books, William Morrow (1988)

    A note to those of us who back in the early seventies got such a kick out of Monday Night Football.

    Turns out it wasn’t just the viewing audience having all the fun.

    Roone Arledge, the founding father of MNF, became the God of TV sports.

    The unique broadcasts—the NFL on Monday night, the talented crew, the multiple cameras, the Honey Shots from the crowd—helped ABC Sports turn a profit for the first-time ever.

    Sponsors like Miller Lite and Ford who bought the package tonned it.

    The boys in the booth, Howard “The Coach” Cosell, “Dandy” Don Meredith and “Faultless” Frank Gifford, all suddenly household words, took celebrity to new and breath taking heights.

    And perhaps more importantly, the televising of sports would never again be the same.

    Hell, even Don Ohlmeyer and Chet Forte, those talented techno geeks who called the shots from the production truck, not only parlayed the telecasts into gigantic careers, but into their own personal chick magnet!

    See a lovely lady in the crowd; send a gofer out to ask if she’d like to sit in the production truck and watch the “masters” (and Johnson) produce Monday Night Football.

    If there’s a downside to Monday Night Mayhem for some it might be best described by the old saw regarding sausage, “Great to eat but you wouldn’t want to see how it’s made!” Read More »