January 2018 Books …

Over on Instagram, where I hang out the most, I’ve been posting a book a week with the hashtag #garysbookofthe week. You can see what I’m reading on a weekly basis, plus my almost-daily photos by following me there. Click here to go to Instagram!

But I’d thought I’d do a monthly recap of all my books (no guarantees, though … I get lazy) here on the blog, so here’s what I read in January (sort of, kind of … I may still be reading a couple of these).


I’m trying to read a book each week in 2018, and you can follow along at home! Expect a mix of fiction, historical non-fiction, comics and graphic novels, and movies-related books over the next 52 weeks!

Week of January 1

This week’s book is The Impossible Fortress by Jason Rekulak. One review says “Stranger Things meets Halt and Catch Fire,” but that sells this little gem short. It’s a warm, funny tale of three 14-year-olds in the spring of 1987, who are on a quest to get a copy of the issue of Playboy that features Vanna White. Will, the protagonist, is also a budding computer programmer and he teams with Mary to enter a games contest. The two of them bond over Will’s game, The Impossible Fortress. As with all young teenagers, nothing comes easy. A romantic, twisty, heist novel is the gooey center of this coming-of-age story, no TV show analogies needed! The author also had a retro game created … read the book to find it online!

 Week of January 8

This week’s book is The Crown, The Official Companion, Volume 1: Elizabeth II, Winston Churchill, and the Making of A Young Queen by Robert Lacey. A companion to season 1 of the Netflix series starring Claire Foy and Matt Smith, this book delves into the reality behind the TV story, written by Peter Morgan. And yes, it does differ quite a bit, its a drama series, not a documentary. It’s fascinating for an Anglophile like me and I hope they do a volume for each of the proposed six seasons of the series. Filled with both historical photos and behind-the-scenes of the series pics, my only regret is that this book is primarily in black and white.

 Week of January 15

Indulge me for a short fanboy moment … because I am, in fact, a short fanboy. The Fantastic Four is my favorite comic book series of all time. Growing up in the 1960s and seeing Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s dual imaginations run wild each month was an amazing thing. It’s sad that Marvel has put these characters on the back-burner (and that Fox keeps making crappy FF movies). This week’s book, The Little Book of Fantastic Four, is just all images and captions (by Roy Thomas) and “outtakes” from a larger Taschen book, The Marvel Age of Comics, 1961-1978 (also by Thomas). This tiny version is 192 pages long and the first 160 pages or so are all Kirby (and Lee), summoning up fond memories for me of twice a week trips to the newsstand and stacks of Marvel Comics at only 12 cents each. And oh, those yearly Anuals! Summers were so much better with Marvel Annuals (or King-Size Specials, as they called them). We all love a girl and her name is Nostalgia.

 Week of January 22

This week’s book is In Such Good Company: Eleven Years of Laughter, Mayhem, and Fun in the Sandbox by Carol Burnett. I grew up watching Carol Burnett and I have fond memories of her show, especially when she was on Saturday night (yeah … I didn’t get out much). She was a particular favorite of my mom, and along with Vicki Lawrence, Harvey Korman, Lyle Waggoner, and the amazing Tim Conway, she carved out her own niche in variety shows for 11 seasons. My all-time favorite skit from her show doesn’t include her, though. It’s called “The Interrogator,” and stars Conway, Korman, and Waggoner. And I know nothing is funny about Nazis, then or now, but this sketch is hilarious. Click here to see the sketch. Fast forward to 5:30 and wait for Hitler. I’m pretty sure that nobody but Conway knew that was coming.

I miss variety shows. I can’t understand why somebody can’t come up with a variety format that would work these days for someone like Amy Poehler, but I digress. This wonderful book chronicles Carol Burnett’s great show. It’s warm, funny, and personal, and it takes me back to those cozy Saturday nights at home watching All In The Family, Mary Tyler Moore, and of course, Carol.

Week of January 29

This week’s book is Black Dahlia, Red Rose: The Crime, Corruption, and Cover-Up of America’s Greatest Unsolved Murder by Piu Eatwell. Over 70 years ago, the mutilated body of Elizabeth Short was discovered in a vacant lot in Los Angeles. The press dubbed her the “Black Dahlia,” due to her penchant for black, lacy clothing and her dark beauty. To this day, her murder remains unsolved. Except maybe now … author Piu Eatwell may have actually solved the case in her amazingly-researched book.

That’s the good news. The bad news is this book is a bit of a difficult read, or it was for me, at least. It’s brought to a screeching halt by the sheer amount of footnotes, a good number of which just tell you to read more about this particular person or thing on another page of the book, most of the time a page you’ve already read. There’s also an incredibly bad error (again, for me, at least) when she talks about James Ellroy’s LA Quartet series and “the movie, Hollywood Confidential.” Well, it’s LA Confidential, and evidently the editor went to lunch without reading that page. Ellroy is where I discovered The Black Dahlia (it’s the title of the first book in the LA Quartet), and also where I became fascinated with this era of Los Angeles history, one marked by a high level of corruption in the police force and general population (and a lot of collusion between the two). Bottom line: The LAPD had the Black Dahlia killer in custody and let him go, because he had too much knowledge of how bad the cops were. Years later he had a daughter and named her Elizabeth. Still, beyond the footnote problem (an admittedly important part of a historical non-fiction book), Eatwell puts to rest all the other half-baked theories of who killed Elizabeth Short. Maybe this troubled young woman can finally rest in peace.


Friday Flashback #004 …

I lived in downtown San Diego for more than 18 years, and through that time I saw the city rise and then fall. One of the bright spots was the complete restoration of the Balboa Theatre, a classic old venue that sat empty and abandoned for many years. It took a number of those years to make it happen, of course, but now it’s a gem in a downtown where very few gems exist. I don’t know what causes a downtown to fail, how an important place of local history falls to disrepair. Maybe it’s the greed associated with astronomical rents or the ignorance of elected officials to see the true problems confronting residents today. I love San Diego, and I loved living downtown for almost two decades. But I don’t miss living there, not for one second.

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Friday Flashback #003 …

There’s a stretch of Lexington Avenue in New York City that makes you feel time travel is a reality not limited to Doctor Who. Coffee shops and Luncheonettes are words quickly disappearing from the modern lexicon, warm, homey food and beverage places that are sadly being replaced by Starbucks and trendy and expensive restaurants serving kale, kale, and more kale. If you want a good grilled cheese sandwich or an egg cream or some old fashioned comfort food (not to mention candy), I reckon these two places on Lexington can accommodate you, no problem.

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Friday Flashback #002 …

If you’ve never flown into San Diego before, it can be a rather chilling experience. The planes fly in over the city from the east (except when the weather is foggy, windy, or rainy, when they sometimes fly in from the west, over the ocean), and keep getting lower and lower on the approach to the airport. Eventually it seems like you’re going to land directly on Interstate 5 (in the lower right corner, above) before the plane flies over the highway and lands on the runway. It can be a bit disconcerting, but daytime or night, it’s always an amazing view. It’s also home, for me at least, and it’s always good to come home.

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Friday Flashback #001 …

Introducing “Friday Flashback!” Oh, I know … many of you are fond of that “ThrowbackThursday” hashtag, but I did it first … Friday Flashback was a regular feature on my old blog (click here to visit). And while I’ve been doing “Flashback Foto” here on my new blog (no need to click, you’re already here), I’ve decided to change it to a weekly–and much more manageable–feature starting right now, on the first Friday of January. Hopefully, each photo will include a little bit of explanatory behind-the-scenes info, too!

Remember, you can follow me on Instagram to see all my photos, including the most recent. I have over 3,200 photos on there from my many trips. And in 2018 I hope to take one giant 3-week trip … stay tuned for that!

If you like my photos, please follow me on Instagram. You’ll get to see my latest photos first!

And now, without any further ado, here’s the very first Friday Flashback!

I love London. You’ll be seeing a lot of London on here if you come back each week throughout 2018. And through this Anglophile tendency of mine, I’ve grown also to love British history. This is, of course, the statue of Winston Churchill standing opposite Parliament and Big Ben (taken in 2016 by me). If you haven’t seen it, Darkest Hour, starring Gary Oldman, is an amazing film about Churchill’s first month as prime minister in 1940, when England had to decide whether to negotiate with Nazi Germany or fight for the country’s life. Churchill made the decision to fight, thus sealing his destiny as one of the greatest leaders in history.