The Summer Reads of 2022- The Big House

Summer, 2022…the beer is cold and cigars are fine. I decided to jump back into reading some of the books that I had laying around before the summer heat had really begun settling in. In my old youth these days, I have taken an interest in biography-style life stories alongside old classics and Indie-Authors. It had been a while since I managed to find the time to read anything, but the boom of audiobooks has made life on the road a lot more tolerable. As a field mechanic, these audiobooks are a God send. There is only so much music you can play to rage the day away. Oh, and by the way. I listed another story in The Vaults. If you care to, give it a read if you have the time. We can never read enough. I plan on doing a list of book reviews twice a year. One for Summer and the other at the end of the year. I hope to have more Indie Authors on the next list.

Bare-Faced Messiah-Russell Miller

The subject of Scientology has always been a mysterious ‘religion’ but the life of its founder, L. Ron Hubbard, is just plain bizarre and ludicrous. I always have had an interest in the study of Scientology or Dianetics, along with the vast other kingdoms of cults that are rampant within the world’s societies. To be fair, I believe Hubbard started out with an interest in the study of the mind but also saw the potential to make big dollars from his flawed ‘research’.

Russell Miller has conducted extensive research into this fascinating, and seriously flawed, prolific author, of the pulp era of the twentieth century. All the info within Bare-Faced Messiah has been well-researched and documented. He researched Hubbard so well, that the Church of Scientology even tried to prevent the publication of this brilliant work through legal means and the use of veiled threats and smear campaigns.

Let’s face facts. Proven facts. Well-documented facts. Hubbard was a master manipulator, predator, and habitual liar. Some of Hubbard’s bold claims, like his grandfather owning a ranch that spread across half of Montana, his so-called ‘expeditions’ into China, India, and South America, or, his ‘incredible’ World War Two service record are just a few of the topics Miller is able to discredit easily. Speaking on Hubbard’s Naval service record, I had to laugh when he wrote about Hubbard’s account of engaging imaginary Japanese submarines off the coast of Washington State or the shelling of the coast-line of Mexico.

Then there were many shocking revelations. Imagine Hubbard being a part of some weird satanic sex cult in the late forties. It is possible he used his experience from that cult to lay the foundations of Dianetics as a religion with an end-game to make a mountain of money and keep hold of said money and manipulate members. It is a well-known fact that the US Government was keeping a close eye on Hubbard including the fact he was evading taxes. Or the fact Hubbard and his elite followers bought a couple of derelict cruise ships and sailed the world to spread the ‘gospel’. It was a ruse to evade taxes and former members have said the cruise was hell on earth.

If you have a curious mind about Dianetics or Hubbard, give Russell Miller’s book a read. The prose was fast-flowing, fact-filled, and well researched. I believe that even Hubbard himself, even if he would never admit it, would agree deep down inside, that Miller had him figured out.

Ballad of the Green Beret – Marc Leepson

I’ve always had an interest in Barry Sadler. A Green Beret, singer, songwriter, and accomplished author, Sadler had a colorful life that few people ever achieve. He is often referred to as the Hemingway of men’s adventure pulp books. He was a Green Beret medic who served in Vietnam only to be sidelined from the action when he stepped into a punji stick while on jungle patrol. While recovering in a hospital, he wrote the song ‘Ballad of the Green Berets‘. That song became a massive hit in 1966, which made Sadler a rich man, but by the early seventies, he was financially broke. He turned away from songwriting and singing and turned to writing men’s pulp fiction, one title of which became a massive seller. Casca the Eternal Mercenary series sold millions of copies, and one would think Sadler would have been satisfied with life, but in the early eighties, he moved to Guatemala to be close to the mercenary movement that was prevalent in the region during that time.

Some say he was selling guns to Contras, others say he was writing his novels and applying his old trade of medicine to the local natives. Either way, Sadler ended up the way he wrote about men of war, wine, and women. In November of 1988, Sadler was comatose and near death from a single gunshot wound to the head resulting in an ongoing mystery that persists today.

Marc Leepson, also a Vietnam veteran, paints a vividly beautiful and yet terrifying picture of this national icon. You would have hoped that at some point in the book, Sadler would have pulled out of this nose-dive of self-destruction resulting from alcohol, guns, and womanizing, but everyone knows the inevitable end. This isn’t a work of fiction. Which makes Ballad of the Green Beret such a fascinating read. Leepson dives deep into Sadler’s life from his humble beginnings in Carlsbad, New Mexico, his military service, the shooting incident where Sadler shot a man over a woman in a Nashville parking lot, his stint in Guatemala, and the last year of Sadler’s life which involved a kidnapping, court battle over his custody, and eventual death. Leepson hits a home run with this book. He gives no quarter in presenting fact-based, hard-hitting truth that pulls back the curtain of mystery into Sadler’s tumultuous life. His writing is fast-paced, detailed, and knowledgeable. I believe Sadler himself would have been proud of the results from this book.

Road To Perdition – Max Allan Collins & Richard Piers Rayner (Graphic Novel)

I found this gem of a story sometime around 2017 while working the Bakkan oilfields in Montana/North Dakota. I was bored on the single day off I had and regretted not bringing reading material when I left New Mexico. I lamented not seeing my book collection. For some reason, books were hard to find in the region, at least decent books. I managed to find a few in an old thrift store including a battered copy of the graphic novel Road to Perdition.

I read and reread this classic over the last few years and reread it this year when I was working on my own graphic novel. I studied the storyline and artwork and was amazed at the amount of story packed within. It is easy to see why it was made into a film.

The story is set in Depression-era Chicago. Michael O’Sullivan known as the “Angel of Death” is a chief enforcer for the John Looney clan. When O’Sullivan’s young son is witness to a murder at the hand of Looney’s son, it sets the stage for the execution of O’Sullivan’s family, and the father-son duo is forced to go on the run and plan a trail of vengeance. With a storyline like this, you can’t go wrong in grabbing a copy. From my understanding, there was a re-release of an updated much more in-depth version of this graphic novel sometime around 2016. I have not checked out this later version as yet.

Backwards – Cindy Rosmus

Okay…for the sake of conversation, I’ve had a few stories and graphic art published on Cindy Rosmus’ e-zine Yellow Mama. Rosmus was gracious enough to even allow me to publish her other collection of short stories Hail, Tiger, with Dead Guns Press back in 2014. Her natural Jersey tone saturates her stories with a stark realism that few Indie-authors ever achieve, but then again, Rosmus is an old hand in the publishing world. Her stories never disappoint and are full of women who can do really bad things.

When Backwards hit the shelves, I grabbed a copy and read it in a single afternoon. One can never go wrong with a Cindy Rosmus book on a lazy afternoon. True to form, Rosmus presented a collection of stories that raised my eyebrows.

The stories seem to follow along with one girl growing years in Jersey. The theme that is prevalent within these stories is the Catholic school ways of life intermingled with sex, adultery, drugs, and alcohol. It seemed to read like a personal biography that was so well written that I wondered if these stories were based on Rosmus’ personal life growing up. You got stories about classroom bullies, pedo priests, maybe the German neighbor next door was a Nazi, adulterous women and men, drug-addicted women who are scorned by society and family, and the quick macabre endings are superb to watch unfold.

In the end, this is one that is destined for classic status in my humble view. This is one for the records, and should not be missed. I guarantee it will not disappoint.

Crossed Bones- S.W. Lauden

Here is an interesting story that fits the theme of summer to a T. I’ll admit here I had published an S.W. Lauden story in Dead Guns Magazine # 1 back in 2016. I always love to catch up on my old contributors to see them rise to new literary heights. Lauden’s story Crossed Bones came across my radar sometime in 2017, but I didn’t have a chance to read it until now.

I read this book without realizing it was a follow-up book to Lauden’s Crosswise. Either way, I was able to catch on early that the main characters Shayna and Tommy have a history behind them. Shayna is a strong-willed woman with a strong appetite for sex and money. She would crawl over a pile of corpses to get to the latter. Tommy has had his heart and love for Shayna tossed in the proverbial blender, but for some weird reason, he is willing to give her another chance. Will this chance screw him out of money and the last pieces of his heart? Or will it get him killed?

There are a host of characters that really stand out. I mean who doesn’t love a band of pirates searching for a lost treasure chest? Or an evil town mayor with his own biker gang army? All of them looking for a fortune in cash and coke. A modern-day classic novella that I feel will be read far into the future. A definite stand-out in most of the titles I’ve read so far this year.

In His Footsteps – Ben Steinlage

With more than 35 titles under his belt, New Mexico author Ben Steinlage continues to pound out amazingly simple novels packed with intrigue and the innocent quality of human life. In a day and age where literary violence and sex are used as pointless page-fillers, Steinlage takes to the innocent life.

Interestingly enough, Steinlage wrote this novel with this country’s veterans in mind and to address those family survivors who have lost a loved one in combat.

We follow along with Jeff O’Connor who lost his father in the Vietnam War. Life has not been what he has expected even though he is a successful businessman and a father of two. His failed marriage is perhaps a catalyst to his journey in discovering, or at the least, having closure about his father’s service in Vietnam.

Having been raised by his grandmother, who has never spoken about her son’s death in service, O’Conner sets out to find that closure but along the way, his actions also touch many others, some profound, others it is best the subject never arose. A touching story that gives one time to pause and reflect on those families affected by the loss of loved ones in military service in times of conflict.

Mother Night – Kurt Vonnegut Jr.

Who can go wrong with reading a classic Vonnegut story? You can’t if you need an answer. Vonnegut was a master at writing weird off-topic stories that made the reader look at themselves and humanity with a critical eye.

In this story, we follow along with American author/playwright Howard W. Campbell, an alleged Nazi war criminal who pumped out hate-filled radio propaganda over Germany’s airwaves during World War Two. The catch? He was also a spy working for the Americans but they can never admit he was.

After the war, he is placed in New York living under an assumed name. Years have passed and he soon finds he doesn’t care about life as much as he used to, while even going back to using his real name. This eventually leads to problems.

Vonnegut introduces and injects powerful characters into this story. Even the minor characters have powerful backgrounds.

One character to note that always had stuck with me is the character Black Fuhrer of Harlem or the jail-keeper who watches over Campbell as he writes his memoirs within a prison cell. The story is dark and full of gallows humor, but very powerful and poignant in its telling. It is easy to see why it was made into a film in 1996 starring Nick Nolte and John Goodman.

Killer, Come Back to Me – Ray Bradbury

Bradbury was a phenomenal writer in many genres. It may surprise some that he wrote crime stories. Although to be honest, I would classify these stories in the mystery/horror category rather than crime fiction.

The most notable story in this collection and they are all good, is the story titled ‘The Screaming Woman’. This tale was written in 1951 and is about a little girl who hears a woman screaming in a dirt lot in the neighborhood. She tries to tell the adults what she is hearing but everyone just brushes it off as an overactive imagination. The story found a home in Suspense Magazine in 1952, was made into an ABC Movie of the Week in 1972 and was also made into a television episode on Ray Bradbury Theater in 1986.

Besides this story, there are a collection of others that are just as memorable in their telling. Some fall short in endings, others a bit hard to follow, but it is still an eclectic collection that is well-worth reading.

Domino Theory – Richard Marcinko & Jim DeFelice

When Richard Marcinko passed away in December of 2021, I felt the world lost a true warrior both in real life and in literature. His command of the written word and stories of adventure were captivating. I dug around in my library and found this gem I hadn’t read before, and decided to jump back on board the Rogue Warrior train.

In this tale of military fiction, Marcinko and his band of happy pirates, travel to the far-lands of India as security ‘consultants’ to help supervise security for the commonwealth games. A group of terrorists from Pakistan though have other ideas. The plot is to steal a bunch of nukes from India’s arsenals.

The interesting thing to mention is that most of Marcinko’s books seem to revolve around theoretical situations that he has faced or has presented to most of the world’s governments or corporations while providing security intelligence for them to improve their security systems.

Although not PC correct these days, the story is true to form in keeping with the other Marcinko titles.

The action scenes are swift and brutal but sprinkled with a dash of humor that makes the story so much fun to read. You wonder how is ‘Demo’ Dick going to get out of this one alive and for an aging warrior, this is not a light-hearted feat. And true to form, he uncovers the culprits by stacking bodies and thumping skulls. A fast-action read that should not be missed along with Marcinko’s other titles. I plan on doing a bit of re-reading the rest of the ones in my collection.

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