Willie Nelson is, in my opinion, one of the greatest songwriters of our time. But call me a negative Nellie, I don't think Willie Nelson actually wrote the fully fleshed out novel here. Most likely, because it also has a secondary author, Mike Blakely wrote the story out, using a skeleton story line that Wille gave him.
That shouldn't take anything away from the novel in any way. The story is intriguing and kept me page-turning for a day and a half. And except for a nagging little deus ex machina that appears towards the end of the book, it was highly entertaining.
The story begins with the murder of a rustler by an unknown assailant who uses Comanche arrows to kill him. The story shifts to Jay Blue, son of the ex-Texas Ranger, and ranch owner Capt. Hank Tomlinson, who is trying to spark a barmaid at the local saloon, while his friend and adopted brother "Skeeter" Rodriquez is supposed to be covering his duty as night guard at the ranch. Meanwhile, back at the ranch (I've always wanted to write that...), Capt. Hank's newly aquired thouroughbred mare is stolen after "skeeter" sneaks off to catch some sleep.
The story follows several characters, including a state authorized police detective Max Kenyon, investigating the death of the rustler, and an Indian brave known only as "the Wolf". This story has as many twists and turns in it as a mystery novel, and you will be kept guessing right up to the very end as to hat is coming next.
I rate this one 7½ stars. Very good.
If you think Christmas is all about Santa Claus and reindeer and trees and presents, then this book, an introductory book into the birth of Jesus Christ, savior to millions of the Christian faith worldwide, will educate and might appeal to you. If, however, you are already a believer in the faith, there is nothing here you didn't already know.
Not that Warren is by any means a boring author, or that he hasn't the ability to inspire people with his writing, but the style and direction of this little piece is more purposefully used to evangelize the non-Christian than it is to enlighten the Christian.
Taken at its basic sense, this is a great tool for those of the faith to use to break the ice with their friends who are not. And it is well written enough and earnest enough to serve that purpose.
I give it 7 stars.
Ever since I was a youngster, I wanted to write. By all accounts, ever since he was a youngster, Ray Bradbury wanted to write, too. The difference is he followed through with his dream and mine is still that. A dream. Not that anything I ever wrote would even stand up next to Bradbury. Case in point:
It was like the cracking of moon-colored ice on a midnight pond.
That line, from The Island, is the perfect example, to me, of how much of a genius Bradbury is with words.
I grew up reading Bradbury's science fiction, books like R is for Rocket and S is for Space. Those volumes only touched upon the superior ability of Bradbury to captivate his audience. Little did I know at the time, but he was more than just a science fiction writer. One only has to read Dandelion Wine to find that he should be ranked with Dickens and Twain, two of his own professed heroes.
Only a small portion of these stories are even remotely science fiction in nature. Many of them are mainstream without even a hint of science. Surprisingly, these are some of the better sories in the book, despite the fact that I have come to expect science fiction from Bradbury.
The best story in the book by my opinion is Chrysalis. If you are not familiar with Bradbury, you will not know, but it is the same title he used on a completely different story. This particular story involves the friendship between a black boy and a white boy who meet on the beach. The main character, the black boy, has been trying unsuccessfully for years to bleach the black out of his skin, while the white boy wants to get tan. The contrast is memorable as well as the reaction of certain subcharacters in the story.
There are stories that will haunt you as well as stories to amuse you here. One of the latter in particular, Hail to the Chief, involves a bunch of drunken senators who have gambled away the entire United States at an Indian gambling casino, and the President has to save their asses, not to mention reputations.
Not every story was entertaining, but in a book of short stories, I imagine most people will not like every story in it. The one titled Ole, Orozco! Sisqueros, Si! falls into this category for me. A story about a graffitti artist who gains recognition after his death.
I give this one an overall 7 stars.
My first impression when I saw this book was "it's a coffee table book from Hell." The thing is a monster in size and bulk. But it has to be. The book is filled with all kinds of Americana, from Burma-Shave signs, to Andy Warhol, to the Nike Swoosh, and Buddy Holly and just about anything you can think of that is purely American. Mom, apple pie and Santa Claus. ...and Playboy. (Yes, Virginia, there is a centerfold. Hide your eyes.)
Depending on your age, some of this may bring back nostalgic memories, or they may be a peek into the life your parents (or even grandparents) talk about with fond memories. Although the pictures are of icons and memorabilia that span the entire history of the American experience, most of them are from the last 100 years or so. A visually stunning book, to say the least. (Quit looking at that centerfold, Virginia!)
It's a fun book, and, although Hilfiger's writing is nothing to write home about, it's still informative and often entertaining. But you may find it more interesting just to look at the pictures. (I told you, Virginia, stop looking at that centerfold...)
I give this one 8 stars.
I must confess, I love it when Adrian Monk is out of his milieu, but let's face it, Monk is out of his milieu five steps outside the front door of his apartment. That's what makes the ones where he goes to Hawaii, or Mexico, or New York City that much more enjoyable. Some day, I hope one of the writer's puts him in New Orleans smack dab in the middle of Mardi Gras. (That one's a freebie on me, if any of you are reading this.)
Continuing on from where the last entry in the Monk series ended, (see Mr. Monk Goes to Germany) we find our heroes Adrian Monk and Natalie Teeger on vacation in Paris (well vacation for Natalie, anyway), which doesn't get off to a very auspicious start. One of the passengers on the plane dies, and of course, it's murder.
Natalie figures she's home free because the inevitable murder that seems to drop into Monk's lap everywhere they go has occured early in the trip. Au contraire. Nothing is that easy when it comes to Monk.
Figuring Monk would enjoy seeing the famous catacombs of Paris, she arranges a tour. Leave it to Monk to find the victim of a murder, and not one of the many people who have been buried there for centuries, but one of a recent victim. It turns out that the victim was a former resident of San Francisco, which brings Capt. Stottlemeyer and Lt. Disher on the scene.
Into this mix is a subculture of people who have forsaken life in the richness and luxury of working and spending money, for one of living in the sewers and digging through trash for sustenance.
While not quite up to Mr. Monk Goes to Germany, this is still one fun read. I rank it 8½ stars.
I must admit I know nothing of the roller derby sport. I didn't even know it was experiencing a revival. Prior to picking up this book, I only had vague recollections of seeing roller derbies in my youth on our family's old black-and-white TV. And I didn't understand the sport any more than I did wrestling, both of which I assumed were fixed because of the inherent drama that was a part of each.
I still am convinced that wrestling is fixed, but Mabe has dissuaded me of that notion as far as roller derby is concerned. This book is the perfect introduction into a behind-the scenes look at a sport which is almost the equivalent of hockey, at least as far as the physicalness of it is concerned.
Known on the circuit by the name "Jayne Manslaughter", Mabe as a derby girl is better suited to writing a history of the sport of roller derby than any aficionado might be. And her passion for the sport exudes on every page. Filled with colorful anecdotes as well as plenty of pictures from past and present incarnations of the sport, this is a quick and mostly entertaining read.
There is even a primer on the intricacies of play and how the points are scored, so if you have never been to a game, you will be prepared if someone takes you to the next match.
I'm rating this one 6½ stars.
While not my favorite John Wayne movie, The Shootist has always ranked in the top 5. Needless to say I had seen it numerous times on T.V. But only when I recently acquired a DVD of the movie and saw the feature regarding the making of the movie, did I realize that it was based on a novel. Yes it does say that in the credits at the beginning, but I never have been one to pay attention to those past the naming of the actors.
Fortunately for me, I found a copy of the original novel. It is hard to write a review of a novel that has been made into a movie, even harder when that movie is more well known than the original novel. Comparisons between the novel and the more well-known movie, which will have incoporated and adapted the original text to suit its own purposes, is inevitable.
What jumped out at me more than anything else was the character of Gillom Rogers, the character than Ron Howard played in the movie. The text character is much more pugnacious and harder-edged than what appears on the screen in the performance of Howard. I imagine a lot of this had to do with Howard's image, coming from his Opie Taylor and Richie Cunningham background than anything having to do with wanting to tone down the character for the purposes of the movie itself.
Other than that, there's not much entirely different here. Most of the action takes place in exactly the same form as was presented as a movie. And it was entertaining to break from my usual fare to read something more classic in the western genre, something I don't do as much these days.
I give this one 8 stars.
I think Ted Nugent is, like, the illegitimate love child of Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity, with a little bit of Glenn Beck's genes spliced into the mix. Or maybe more like Michael Savage on steroids, (except Nugent piously proclaims he never did drugs or booze of any kind). Given that, liberals should cower in their Birkenstocks that the Nuge might ever decide to run for office. Given that his home state is Texas, and Texas is pretty much solidly "red", he'd be a pain in their posteriors for years to come.
Nugent can write, and pretty convincingly, I might add. Even on issues which I am in opposition with him, he was close to convincing me to switch sides. But even on topics with which I agree, Nugent can come off rather pushy and sometimes self-aggrandizing for the purposes of his political agenda. Needless to say, it would behoove liberals not to pick up the book unless you want to be frothing at the mouth before the end.
The best parts of the book, for me, were the sections on global "warming" and immigration. Yes, Nuge, I agree with you 110% on the issues of illegal aliens and the fact that English should be mandated as the official language of this country. And I'm pretty sure global warming is a crock of s***. The least liked part, aside from the kissy suck-up intro from Bob Coburn, was the section where Nugent tries to convince everyone that we should nuke every one who disagrees with us back to the Stone Age. ("War is the Answer")
Read this book with an open mind, if you can. That's a tough call, if the standard reviews on the book sales sites are to be taken into the mix, as usual they run the gamut from the overly fawning (conservatives) to the virulently vituperative (liberals). My own personal rating is less biased, since I am neither. An entertaining read overall, whether I agreed with his viewpoints or not.
I give it 7 stars.
I have never been, nor have I ever had the desire to be, a waiter. My personality is strongly in direct conflict with the self-righteous, self-centered attitude that I percieve sometimes from my surrounding patrons on the occasions that I do go out to eat. How people are able to deal with that on a daily basis has always been a mystery to me. And that is even despite having a good rapport with a couple of wait personnel at a couple of establishments.
This is an eye opening book into that world, not only as the waiter deals directly with customers, but also a view into the back room world between waiters and the support staff in the kitchen. You may dive into this one not giving a damn about the author himself, but by the end, you may find that you too, have become a compadre to the cares and woes of him.
This is a book that is at times amusing, and again at other times makes you want to strangle someone. Included at the back, for those who are clueless as to how to act in a public restaurant (as opposed to a place where there is a kid at the counter asking you if "you want fries with that"). Most of these, you may already know and abide by, if you are among the 80% of customers the author says are normal good customers. But it is good to give them a glance, just in case.
I rate this one 9 stars
The Snatch (1971).
The Vanished (1972).
These are the ones I like to refer to as the pre-Kerry era novels (see next section for more on Kerry Wade). Sadly, I think most of them are out of print. I managed to find Undercurrent at a library book sale, and I got Twospot from an e-Bay seller. But I have never seen or read the rest of them. These are the early in-developement novels, and I liked the two I read. I'm sure the others are just as good.
Double (With Marcia Muller) (1984).
The Kerry Wade era. My first encounter with "Nameless" was in Hoodwink. I fondly remember this adventure, not just because it is where he meets the future love of his life, Kerry Wade, but the mystery is set at a pulp magazine convention, something that is a passion for the detective. The series in this particular era also include the fall from grace of his friend, the police lieutenant, Eberhardt. These are the ones I turn to on those cold winter nights when I can't sleep.
Beginning with Shackles, "Nameless" takes on a darker feel. This is primarily due to the fact that "Nameless" is kidnapped and held prisoner in the Shackles entry. Most of these are good reads, although I do admit to not being able to reconcile the changes that resulted from his kidnapping, at first. Note: Boobytap, which won the Private Eye writers Shamus Award, is definitely worthy of the accolades.
In the newest incarnation, "Nameless" hasn't really changed, but I dilineate from the others because this is where the author has, for reasons that don't really set well with me, but I can understand, has chosen to divide the time between the first person narrative of "Nameless" and third person narratives of his partners at the detective agency, Tamara Corbin and Jake Runyon. According to what I've read, it seems that Pronzini was going to retire the series and the character after Bleeders, but was convinced to bring him back. In this part of the series, he is supposed to be semi-retired, but he appears to be just as active as ever.
I reccomend that you start out with the first novel and read them consecutively, but you do not necessarily need to do so. "Nameless" does age over the span of the series, but not as rapidly as the span of the novels. if that were true, our hero would be a doddering octogenarian, competing on the level of say Buddy Ebsen's Barnaby Jones.
I can believe it, given my work ethic on this blog, but it still came as a surprise that I have not reviewed any of Bill Pronzini's "Nameless Detective" series of mysteries. I'll have to rectify that more closely next post, but I want to cover the newest one right now.
Fever is the 33rd entry in the series revolving around the so-called "Nameless Detective", (although that has become something of a misnomer in recent years, since, although the author never gave his first person narrator a name, some characters in the story have addressed him or referred to him as "Bill"). The character is an ex-cop who has been running his own private detective agency.
In this particular entry, the seedy side of online gambling is brought into the open. The main plot revolves around a rich, sometimes doting and sometimes callous, husband trying to find his wife. In a very intriguing subplot, one of "Nameless'" associates is investigating the beating of a devoted mother's son. As is often the case, the two stories seem to dovetail into each other around an online gambling addiction and some very shady dealings.
All in all, I think this is only a mediocre piece from what is still my favorite book detective. I rate it 6½ stars. Next post I will rank the entire output in the series.
Most (I say most, not necessarily all) Van Halen fans fall into one of two categories. Either they loved the David Lee Roth era VH, and either hated or were at least ambivalent about the "Van Hagar" recreation of the late 80's - 90's, with Sammy Hagar taking the reins as the frontman, or they thought the addition of the red Rocker was a vast improvement. ( I sincerely doubt there were very many who thought that Gary Cherone as the third incarnation leader was the best, or there would have been more than one album from that stage.)
I state at the outset that I fall into that first category. Needless to say, I enjoyed the first third of the book better than the other two. But that's not saying much. To a person who wants to delve into the behind-the scenes story, this is not really the book you want. I don't know for sure if Christe ever wrote for Circus or Hit Parader (two heavy metal magazines that were around in the 80's) but if he did, those slapdash magazine articles are probably where he developed his style, and it hasn't grown up since.
It's not that the author doesn't have anything to say, its just that he has nothing to say that is of any interest, even to a die hard Van Halen (Roth-era, but still...) fan. I found myself struggling to just slog through this piece of junk.
If you really care about rehashing how the tracks were laid for a Van halen album, you couldn't go wrong here. If you want to read about the band in a boring and attention-losing style, step right up. But if you want to be entertained, I suggest you try a different book.
I'll be nice and not give it 1 star, how about 1½ for the effort?
A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the White House: Humor, Blunders, and Other Oddities from the Presidential Campaign Trail by Charles Osgood
There is very litle commentary in this little book. The title says it all. Beginning with the campaign of 1948, Osgood has collected quuotes from both sides and independent observers during the Presidential election years. (Up to 2004; none from the current campaign, but this book almost had to have gone to press before the selection of this year's candidates)
Some of them are kind of flat, but some are downright hilarious. All of them are entertaining, no matter which side of the aisle you are usually seated. And it can be read in a couple of hours, always a good thing in today's attention span deficit society.
I give this one 8 stars.
I first picked up this book because I thought it centered on the championship season of the 2005 University Of Texas Longhorns. That is, after all, the championship team in the foreground, and the Rose Bowl was where it all came to fruition. If I had read the dust cover blurb, i would have dissauded of this notion, but I didn't.
The book, rather, is about the trials and travails of one man and his family, with attention given to the ups and downs of the Texas Longhorns over a period of about 20 years as sort of a side note. it is in essence an autobiography, not that that is a bad thing in and of itself, but since before picking up the book I had never ecen heard of the author, I didn't really care about him or his family.
That said, I did find the book intriguing enough to read all the way through and found it entertaining to a point. Getting to the last two chapters (which actually deal with two games played during that season, the last one recording his feelings during that Rose Bowl) was at times a rough row to hoe. If you are looking for a sports history look elsewhere, but if you are the kind of fan who can commisserate with a fellow fan through your own lives, you might check it out.
My personal rating for this one is 6 stars.
One of the more fascinating genres of science fiction is post-end-of-the-world stories. These can range from classics like Walter M. Miller, Jr's A Canticle for Liebowitz to more offbeat stuff like this little jewel. The story begins with our "hero", Mortimer, living in isolation in the mountains of Tennessee, where he took up residence prior to the "apocalypse".
He has been out of touch with what he world has become for some time, but it comes crashing in on him due to the accidental killing of three intruders into his fortress of solitude. He makes a decision to go into town to track down his estranged wife, whom he has not seen in 10 years.
The world has changed completely in his absence. A mercenary group called the "Red Stripes" runs roughshod over the existing enclaves of villages that still try to exist. The villages, formerly such big cities like Atlanta, are primarily formed around a chain establishment of strip clubs called Joey Armageddon's Sassy-a-Go-Gos. The height of rich life is having a few Armageddon dollars to spend in these bars.
But Mortimer is not interested in lap dancers, he wants to find his wife. So he teams up with a cocky cowboy named "Buffalo" Bill and a feisty girl named shiela to make the trek from Tennessee to Atlanta where she was last seen. Along the way he has to deal with cannibals, the Red Stripes and renegade gangs on speed. Will he make it? I will say, this its a real page-turner.
I rate it 8 stars
Vincent Bugliosi is no slouch when it comes to the courtroom. He was the prosecutor of Charles Manson and several others in the 1969 trial for the Tate-LaBianca murders. He has since published several books outlining his viewpoint from a prosecutorial stance on such things as how the prosecutors screwed up in prosecuting O. J. Simpson, and a fairly well written piece on the assasination of John F. Kennedy.
Here he makes what seems to be an excellent case for prosecuting the current president, George W. Bush, for murder. The case hinges on evidence that Bush committed troops to a war in Iraq that had no basis on facts that were purported at the outset of that war. Assuming that all of his facts are true, then I agree wholeheartedly with his summation.
Here is the problem, though. There are no footnotes or references given from which these facts are derived. You are left entirely up to yourself to delve into the mountain of archives to find out if the information is factual. From a political point of view, left-wingers can take it all as proof positive, while right-wingers can disparage the facts, saying that he got them wrong,both of them without any proof on their side to back them up. Unless they want to go through the effort to do all his research for themselves.
Based on this fact, even though Bugliosi does make a sound case on the face of it, due to his omission of references, as a rater I can only give this 5 stars.
Fittingly, I finished reading this book the day before George Carlin died. I had a lot of respect for Carlin as an innovater in the world of comedy, and it was a pleasure to read about his beginnings on the comedy circuit in the '70's here.
Although I do not agree that the subtitle "How Stand-Up in the 1970's Changed America" is a suitable one. Simply because I don't think the way the author lays out the text that he sufficiently makes a case for America to have changed as a result of the genre of stand-up played out its role. With one exception, the acceptance of harsher language that got predecessors such as Lenny Bruce in trouble became more accepted with the rise of George Carlin and Richard Pryor.
I do like the fact that the author centers on one particular person in each chapter (Carlin in chapter 1, Pryor in chapter 2) rather than just ramble over a particular subject and play it out through several comedians. Not every chapter is devoted to a comedian, however. One or two are devoted to behind-the-scenes people, including the comedy theater owners of the day.
If you are an afficianado of comedy from the time, you will enjoy some of the reminiscing that will be elicited from this work.
I rate this one 7½ stars.
I do believe our boy, Lee Goldberg, is finally getting his chops at writing novels, at least the ones based on the Monk TV series. Of all the books in the series that I have read so far, this one had the least feel of a "movie novelization" style of writing. I didn't realize until I started reading this new one that that was one of the things that was really bothering me about the series.
Not only is Mr. Goldberg getting better at writing, he has picked a real winner here for a story. The plot involves Monk going bananas after his personal psychiatrist, Dr. Kroger, has taken off for the uncharted territory (for Monk) of Europe, specifically Germany. Since he is unable to function without Dr. Kroger, he manages to get to Germany where, after surprising his doctor, he also gets involved in another murder.
Also thrown into the mix is a six-fingered man which, if you watch the TV show, know was the disfigurement of the man who hired the bomber that killed Trudy Monk, Monk's wife. Why is he in Germany? Well. you'll have to read it to find out.
I'm giving this particular novel 9 stars.
The Time Wars series, beginning with this, the first book, is an intricate series involving time travel, psychotic villains, and intricate plots to disrupt the timestream, thus creating an alternate universe.
The basic premise is this. Sometime in the 25th century time travel was discovered. The powers that be decided to use this science for their own purposes, and created a division of the armed services, specifically with the goal of sending trained soldiers back in time to fight in armies of the past. The result of their performance was then used to determine the outcome of disagreements between countries of the present, rather than having them fight and destroy property and planet in said present.
The interesting thing is that in each of the series, the story centers around a "fictional" tale, only in the terms of the novel, the "fictional" characters were actually real persons in the past. Take for instance this one. The story centers around an nefarious plot by one person from the future, an Observer (a high-ranking official in the Time Forces), to take over as Richard III, king of England in the late 12th century, and live out his life. By doing this though, he would create the ever looming time split, because the real Richard died in battle.
Enter the Time Commandos. They go back in time and infiltrate the time line posing as Ivanhoe and Robin Hood and Little John, all of whom we take for granted as fiction, but who in terms of the series, were actually real people.
The main characters from the start are Lucas Priest and Finn Delaney, respectively "Sir Wilfred Ivanhoe" and "Little John" of Robin Hood's clan. These two and two fellow soldiers must somehow find and stop the renegade Observer. Along the way, they encounter a woman posing as a male knight, Andre de la Croix, who also becomes somewhat of an ally.
I rate the first book 8 stars.
If you don't believe in a Hell or some sort of eternal damnation in the afterlife, I doubt you will even take this book at face value. It is a preposterous idea, after all, that one could even experience Hell without having to die first. And the author didn't experience a typical life after death experience of the tye you hear about on the fringe radio shows like George Noory and Art Bell.
Rather, he was just asleep, on a normal night, when he found himself transferred from the present life to a cell with huge monsters. From the pain and terror he experiences there, to his brief passage by the lake of fire, what he later estimates to be the 23 minutes he spent there is an experience that is very disturbing.
Due to the fact that he was in bed prior to this gives creedence to the idea that he dreamed it all, although he on more than one occasion in the testimony portion claims it was not a dream. I personally can't say whether or not he dreamed it or not. Ron Mays, an expert on the subject makes a clear case for it being false in a review I read on Barnes and Noble. True or not, it is as scary a description as anything Stephen King could dream up.
If you are going to read it, bear in mind that only the first ¼ of the book is about his experience. The rest is devoted to his adventures in trying to get the story out. This part is fairly boring, unless you are interested in that kind of thing.
Overall I'd say the book rates about 5 stars.
The most recent book, at least until a little later this month, is by far the best one I've read in this series. No, our hero does not actually go into outer space here. Instead he finds himself in the baffling world of what are best described as Trekkies, although in this case, it is a fictional TV series, and not actually Star Trek fans.
Taken as a whole, the mystery and its solution are extremely satisfying, although at the outset, if one were a Trekkie, they might be offended at the cavalier way the author denigrates them. Given the fact that logic is the guiding factor of Monk, it is understandable, though, that he would find the behavior of the obsessive fans peculiar.
I still don't that the author is as good a novel writer as he is a scriptwriter (I mentioned he does scripts for the TV show, didn't I?), but then I'm not reading these books for a good well-written prose, I'm reading them because I like the TV show.
Rate this one 6½ stars.
Somewhere Will Rogers must be rolling on the floor laughing. Somehow I think the authors must have tapped into his spirit because this is without a doubt the funniest political satire in recent years.
What you get here, in the guise of a test to see if you have the makings of a politician, is some of the funniest jabs at both sides of the political aisle, that are not only dead-on, but sometimes even insighful. Especially to a person who refuses to be coerced into joining the throng on either side.
Give this one 7 stars.
The sage of many years for the post-WWII era, Vonnegut, who passed away last year was in his writings very anti-war, and in this group of stories it is very evident where he stands. The first piece, a letter presumably written by him shortly after his release from a German POW camp in Dresden is one of the most powerful pieces. To hear him describe the savagery of his own country's troops is jarring to say the least.
One of my favorite pieces is a story about the coming of Americans to a European city after years of that city's occupation by the Nazis and the Russians. Told from the point of view of one of the residents, a furniture maker, the commanding officer appears not much different than any of the previous occupiers to the narrator.
In all of these stories, there is a seething sense of hatred towards the military. His socialist tendencies come out well in these stories, and right-wingers in the political spectrum will probably hate the book. Tough ****. I think its a wonderful posthumous book.
Rate this one 8 stars.
I have never read Homer's Odyssey, although I know most of the story by way of either movies, or in discussions in grade school/high school, or vicariously through other writings in which author's have referred to it. Some of the story, thus, is news to me because I don't know the whole story.
Huler seems to have had the same story that I have, although, as he states early on, he always thought it was true when he claimed he had read the story. The initiation of the tale here is that, after finding out that he had indeed never read it, upon reading the story, he got the wild hair to actually try to retrace the journey that Ulysses did in The Odyssey.
At the outset he is hampered by the fact that he wants to spend time planning it out, but recieves word from his wife that she is pregnant. Of couse, if he scrapped plans entirely, we wouldn't have a book. Instead, he decides to try the epic journey on the fly. Using a variety of resources, and sometimes just sheer intuition, Huler makes the journey to the Mediterranean, and tries retracing the trip.
Notwithstanding that approxiamately ¾ of the book takes place in obviously mythological places, Huler nonetheless tries to approxiamate the places with real places. He often does this on the fly, and succeeds for the most part. You get a sense of the frustration that he has in trying to complete the journey, though, and it parralels quite well with how one might imagine Odysseus' frustration with trying to get home to Ithaca.
Overall, this journey/travelogue reads quite well. I rate it 7½ stars. Perhaps I ought to make reading The Odyssey a future project now.
Two For the Price of One: The Official Razzie Movie Guide by John Wilson and Bad Movies We Love by Edward Marguiles et. al.
There's just something fun about watching a bad movie, especially if you make fun of it. Witness the popularity (at least for the period it was on TV) of Mystery Science Theater 300o, also known as MST3K. I know this from a personal P.O.V., because I've seen many of the movies in these two books on a first run basis.
John Wilson, the founder of the now famous Razzie Awards is well suited to the task as bad movie maven. And he does a very excellent job in telling us about 100 or so movies here in The Official Razzie Movie Guide. Although his coverage is only about half of what the authors of Bad Movies We Love. Not to worry though, because that gives him plenty of space to delve deep into his selections.
Given that, of course, you have to have a higher standard of the level of bad if you are going to fine tune it like that. I don't agree with a couple of the selections, and due to the fact that the Razzies have only been around since 1980, and some of these selections are pre-1980, therefore not officially Razzies. But I found Wilson's book the better of the two.
Not that Bad Movies we Love was a sub-par effort. But the wit that kept me turning the pages in The Official Razzie Movie Guide was not in evidence in the second selection. Still, if you are looking for suggestions for the next movie to get for movie night at the Comedy Cafe, you can't go wrong here.
Give The Official...Guide 8 stars.
Give Bad Movies 6½ stars.
I am a vociferous advocate for free speech, and therefore was almost obligated to read this book. I fully expected to be enlightened by the actions of our forefathers, most specifically James madison , the noted author of the amendment.
I was not disappointed, there, and did find some interesting tidbits concerning the differences between how freedom of speech was looked upon in the early years of our country, and how they evolved over time.
Unfortunately, I found the author very dry, and had a hard time keeping all my attention upon the subject. Despite my interest in the subject, I found myself distracted, and going to other books during the time. Sometimes, even a Pulitzer caliber author can be a little off.
I gave this book 5½ stars.
The essence of this book is that it is supposed to be the most influential fictional characters from a variety of sources including the movies, television, mythology and fiction (both novels and short stories). It's hard not to dispute the ranking system, although there was supposedly a system by which the three decided on the final ranking. (They devote a chapter to explain, but I can't make heads or tails of it.
For one thing, ranking Santa Claus below Big Brother and the Marlboro Man is questionable. For that matter, ranking The Marlboro Man as number one is up to debate. That and the fact that they get a little preachy about it. I don't care if the three are virulent anti-smokers or not, the book is not the place for a diatribe against smoking. Save it for a book that is devoted to that.
The cast of characters presernted here are convincingly presented as to the impact on our culture, but what is telling is the short appendx at the end listinf the "also-rans" who didn't make it, notably among them Bugs Bunny, Mother Goose, Uncle Remus and Homer Simpson. Are there some included in the list who might be less deserving thanthese? The answer will depend on the individual reader. For me, I thought tha having 4 (or 5 if you count Romeo and Juliet separately) Shakespearean characters was a bit excessive. And there is at least one on the list that only people over the age of 40 will probably have even heard of; Elmer Gantry. And one that doesn't even make the also-ran list which I would have thought would have rated even being included was "The Fonz".
Outside of disputes over the choices to be included, though, I found the book fairly entertaining. Included among the artcles are occasionally references to other books you might go read to garner more information. Not all, though as some of the resources are fairly obvious.
Because of issues of the numerical listing choices, I rate the book 6 stars, but easily can be increased to 7 just for its entertainment value.
A thought I had concerning this series was how it translated if the current series was supposed to be from the first person view of Natalie, then who was telling the story when Monk's assistant was still his nurse, Sharona. In this story, Sharona, who had left to remarry her ex-husband, makes a comeback on the scene.
It seems her ex-husband is now the prime suspect of a murder. How Sharona comes onto the scene is primarily coincidental, however. She does not seek Monk out to exonerate her husband. On the contrary, she is at the outset convinced that he is guilty. It is only because of Natalie's fears of being replaced by the former assistant that the case even gets noticed.
Of all the series I have read so far, this one was the most disappointing. Not only for the fairly ridiculous outcome and resolution of the murder, but for many of the confrontations that occur over the span of the book between the main characters. I can only hope that the next book instills a new hope in me for a good series. That will have to wait however, since this is the last of those available to me.
Rate this one 5 stars
This is by far the most entertaining of the series so far. The premise here is that the entire upper echelon of the police force has effectively gone on strike (meaning they all called in sick; aka "the Blue Flu"). As a result, the mayor reinstates former police detective Adrian Monk into the staus as captain of the detective force. Also brought back from forced retirement are several other defective types. One a Dirty Harry type, one is a senile old man on the verge of Alzheimer's, and the third is a paranoid case straight out of Detective Fox Mulder's worst nightmares.
This is just as funny as it sounds. Its kind of like Sherlock Holmes meets the Keystone Kops. As previously mentioned in a prior review, of all the series I've read at this point, this is the one I'd most like to see turned into an episode of the TV show. Implausible as it is, it would still make for an entertaining show.
In addition to the crew of defective detectives is the entertaining notion that each of them has their own assistant/nurse, much like Monk had his Sharona, and now has his Natalie. In the guise of the first person narrative, the author as Natalie suggests that maybe there should be a union for assistants. Think about that for a minute.
I rate this one 8 stars.
Its not often that the character of Adrian Monk cn be dragged out of his safety zone of San Francisco, but given that he is totally dependent on his assistant, he takes a drug that was given him by his psychiatrist that enables him to overcome his fears long enough to tag along on a flight to Hawaii. This sets up the plot for one of the more intriguing murder mysteries I have ever read.
The resort where the two stay seems to be a hotbed of murder, but then again, no one would ever read a murder mystery that had no murder. Still having some trouble with the first person narrative, here, but I am getting used to it. And I love the interaction between Monk, a skeptic and a realist after my own heart, and the character of Dylan Swift, who purports himself to be a psychic able to communicate with the dead.
There was also much more light humor this time around, in keeping with the usual style of the TV series. As I mentioned in an earlier view, that novel was turned into an episode for the TV show. If it keeps up, some of these novels are sure to be turned into episodes, too. I wouldn't mind seeing this one done so.
I rate this one 7½ stars.
"Monk" is my favorite TV show. I watch it regularly, and have all the past seasons on DVD in case I get the urge and need a quick fix. So when I discovered that someone had begun to write a series of novels based on the character, I eagerly jumped in with gusto.
Being a connoisseur of the TV show makes me that much more judgemental on anything that follows. For instance, I don't know as of this writing how the TV writers will address the issue of the actor who portrayed Monk's psychiatrist having passed away earlier this month, but it's a situation that deserves a lot of attention, and just hiring another actor to play the same character will not be an acceptable solution, in my opinion. But I am here to discuss a book, not the show.
First book in the series, "Mr. Monk Goes to the Firehouse" was an interesting story, but disturbed me because it was basically a rewriting of an episode in the TV series, "Mr. Monk Can't See A Thing" and although it has everyone doing different things, the similarity took away from some of the enjoyment I could have otherwise derived from the book. I later found out that the book came first and the episode was a reworking of the novel, but this still did not change my first opinion. Probably because I rate the TV show on a higher scale.
I have to say, also, that I'm not entirely comfortable with the author's decision to tell the stories in this series from a first person point of view of the character of Natalie Teeger. For one thing, Natalie, on the TV show, always calls Monk "Mr. Monk", even when she is talking about him to another person. But the author chooses at various points in the book to have her refer to him as just "Monk" when describing the story. This is an author's privelege of course. There aren't many books out there, none that I've read anyway, that don't shorten a person's name for the sake of brevity, but in this case it was distracting.
All-in-all, though, it was a great alternative to a TV show, although not one I'd be interested in seeing turned into an episode. (More on that in a later book review, by the way.)
I give this one 6½ stars.
If you've ever been to a carnival, you've seen the denizens of the midway. You've ridden the rides. Maybe even been taken in by the seemingly easy games of chance. Even if you've been living under a rock and never even heard of a carnival though, you can find something in this book interesting.
Whether its a discussion of the history of roller coasters, or ranking them by various ratings such as the highest or fastest, or if it's a thumbnail sketch of the freak show in history, Witter makes it all appealing.
Plus, there is section detailing how you can increase the odds of you're getting that giant-sized stuffed giraffe for your significant other, while impressing her/him with your skill. All the while frustrating the carny whose original goal was to get you to waste your money on the game.
And, included in this book is a section on how you can make your favorite carnival treats in your own home, thus saving you the cash to waste on those games of chance, in case you skipped over that section. A treat in more ways than one.
Rate this one 7 stars.
This book is a combination of two different texts. On the one hand are the seemingly innocent questions that kids ask, and on the other hand is an insight into the life of the author, both as a child himself, and as a father to a young son. The questions are ones that his son, as well as he as a child, asked. Included are questions that other kids have asked that he culled from his own journalistic files.
The insights into his life, apropos of seemingly nothing sometimes, gets a little tiresome. I'm sure there is a correlation in the author's mind, but sometimes I failed to see it. And this being someone whom I had never even heard of prior to picking up the book, it hardly intrigued me.
Ignoring that, the questions are fun and insightful. The author goes to great lenghths sometimes to find the correct answers to these kids' questions. As a self-styled trivia maven, I found this to be an extremely helpful as well as entertaining book.
Rate the biographical portion 5 stars, but give the question and answer section 8 stars.
Originally I picked up this book because I am a movie freak. And, of course, I live in the state that is the subject of the book. It's surprising just how many movies were made in Texas, some of which weren't even set in Texas, but used the state's varying topography as a substitute for other locations. (Courage Under Fire and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade to name a couple.)
The book works as an overview of movies as well as a travelogue if one cares to take a tour of the state to see the sites displayed in the movies mentioned. Although entertaining in its trivia and the information given to direct you on your tour, the writing is a bit stilted and kind of boring at times. Still, if you love movies and/or love Texas, it will serve as an insight for the nation's second biggest state, and arguably the best site for filming movies.
I rate this one 5½ stars.
True to it's subtitle this book contains many tasteless lists that are sure to satisfy the trivia lover's most prurient interests. Going into detail on such things as the top ten graverobbing events, or the most notorious drunks of history, the book is highly entertaining.
It is not a book for the squeamish, though, so be forewarned. The author goes into some intricate detail on some pretty disgusting events, such as the fact that one queen on her deathbed, evacuated her bowels in an extremely explosive manner.
Rate this one 7 stars.
Don't let the subtitle "Why Christians Should Resist..." divert you from reading this book. It is not a diatribe designed to save your soul from eternal damnation, but a serious look at the dangers that could derive from the implementation of RFID technology. The few mentions directed toward the Christian community are just that, so you need not worry about any hellfire and brimstone sermons here.
The authors do an outstanding job here, and Stephen King has nothing that will scare you near as much as the reality posed here. If you believe in privacy and the right to live your life ithout any intervention from either marketers or government, then this book is a call to arms.
RFID (radio frequency identification) is the technology of using small implants that have the capability of radioing information to a reciever about how and where the spychipped item is being used. But this is only the beginning. The authors will introduce you to a nightmare future possibility, in which everyone is tracked via GPS through implants under the skin. Think Big Brother from he classic George Orwell novel 1984 come to real fruition.
Of course, if you are of the Chritian faith, this book is very important, given that the authors occasionally relate how significant these developments are in relationship to end times prophecy. Don't miss out on this one.
I give this one 9 stars.
As far as political agenda, I can safely say this book is probably well on the mark. I wouldn't know for sure, though, because the author's style leaves much to be desired. The only chapter I managed to get through, before giving up, was the first chapter. The author jumps around so much in his telling of the history, that it left me breathless.
I can't justify rating this book since I didn't complete reading it. Suffice to say, it probably would have been a low one. Not on subject matter, but on style.
"The sky is falling ! The sky is falling!"
Chicken Little couldn't have it anymore correct, if this author is to be believed. Everything from mass extinction from an asteriod striking the planet, to sunburn from Hell due to global warming and declining, eroding protection from the sun's harmful rays are the subject of this book. Taking it possibility by possibility, ranging from the Mayan prediction of upheaval, to the deteriorating magnetic field, and a few other things, all of them verging on the apocalptic year of 2012, in essence, the Earth is pretty much toast.
If a supervolcano in Yellowstone, pretty much overdue for erupting again in it's umpteen million year cycle, doesn't send you running for the bomb shelter, perhaps various groups of religious zealots bent on forcing the coming of the predicted Armageddon, or end of this age war in their respective religions will cause you to finally build that rocketship to take you off the planet. Either way, you'll have plenty of opportunities to get a new pair of pants after you soil the ones you're wearing when you read this book.
I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book, even if the author failed to convince me there is any more reason to panic this year, than say, oh, about 4 years in the future.
Rating for this one. 6 stars.
Inspirational literature can be tedious if you are the sort of pessimist that fits into the same mold as I do. Ordinarilly I would turn and run from that kind of sentimental pap. Fulghum, on the other hand, is interesting, not because he takes a different tack on the medium, but because he is so funny when he writes it. And humor is the way to get me to read your stuff.
Giving insight to how he approaches life and those around him in three different locales he calls home is the subject here (Seattle, rural Utah, and the island of Crete in Europe) The funniest entries are when he tells of how he made a fool of himself upon his first time in the village where he lives while on Crete, and the one about how he tests the waters of conversation by making seemingly offbeat comments, looking for players in the game.
Maybe I'm more sentimental than I want to admit. I rate this one 7½ stars.
Sean Hannity is an obnoxious blowhard. Rush Limbaugh, as Al Franken so aptly put it, is A Big, Fat, Stupid Idiot. Glenn Beck, on the other hand, is a very funny guy. Although, I don't agree with everything he has ever said, anymore than I agree with Hannity or Limbaugh, or even Al Franken, for that matter, I can appreciate Beck as a comedian.
Of course, this book isn't about comedy, it's about political statements, all of which exposes his own predominately right-wing stance on issues. The book starts out with a disparaging dig at those who believe in "global warming", and ends with some very insightful comments on illegal immigration. In between is much of what is the usual diatribe against the left from the typical right-winger, but it is much easier to read coming from Beck, interspersed as it is with some self-deprecating commentary, and a dead-on viewpoint of how political correctness is a bunch of hogwash.
Some of it is somewhat naive, but hardly misunderstandable, given his avowed faith in the inherent honesty and forthrightness of human nature. I think the view he takes on minimum wage is particularly naive, given that those same kinds of entrepreneurs who are hurt by the existence of a mandatory minimum wage are the ones who also hire illegal immigrants at wages that are even substandard to that minimum wage.
Of course, in the end, it's all about money. You can pay $26 for this book or pay $35 for Al Franken's most recent book. Both are entertainingly funny, but both are also filled with as much indoctrination as possible to convince you not only are they right, but other side is just full of so much crap. Personally, I can't side with either one of them on all the issues, but that doesn't prevent me from objectively reading their books.
I give this one 7 stars.
This little gem is alternatingly entertaining and sometimes a little boring. Being the kind of person that adores trivia, I picked it up to browse and was sucked in by the subject matter. But unless you want to know every aspect and every recipe for any traditional treats of the season, you might just want to keep it at the browsing level.
There isn't anything inherently wrong with the author's style, but a really good author, I've always said, can make you want to read, even if the subject matter is uninteresting. (David Halberstam, an historian of whom I've read much of his work, comes to mind.) But taken at its basest form, the book is still entertaining.
I give it 5 stars.
Everybody does it. Paul Harvey often points out idiot criminals in his daily commentary. Any book compiled book of lists usually has a collection of some dumb crooks. When I was younger, there was a columnist in one of my father's NRA magazines who ended his column each month with a list of the stupidest of the month.
There seems to be an entire series of this particular book, but so far this is the only one I've found. And it is well worth the $2 I paid for it at the used book store. Daniel Butler, et. al., don't even need to clarify to make these stories laugh out loud hilarious. Some people are deserving of the Darwin Awards, if you've ever read any of those. I think there ought to be a special award for the dumbest crooks of the year, too.
Just by committing some of the acts contained herein should get them a special room at the jailhouse. One where the hardened criminals get to come by and point and laugh. Cruel? Probably. Unusual? Definitely. But it would be therapeutic, that's for sure.
Give this one 7 stars.
Being a lover of history in general, it was quite natural for me to find the science fiction subgenre of alternate history so appealing. One of the reasons was the number of good writers out there who write on the subject so well. Harry Turtledove was not my first foray into the genre (that honor goes to Philip K. Dick, author of The Man in the High Castle), but it was his work that kept me coming back to him. The first was The Guns of the South, a story totally unrelated to this one, in which the South was able to win the Civil War due to the intervention of mercenaries from the future bringing them AK47s.
Here, circumstances which had led to the North's victory in the real world did not happen the same way, and the South was ultimately successful in separating themselves and becoming an independent nation. That is the previous history, before the novel starts. At the beginning, Mexico has sold portions of its country to the Confederate States, giving the CSA a border that extends from Texas all the way to the Pacific.
People in the USA are not pleased with this and are chomping at the bit to go to war over th situation. What is really interesting is that most, if not all the characters are real people from the time period, including a Lincoln who was not assassinated, but had been unceremoniously voted out of office after the loss of the first Civil War. Many of these characters are entertaining to say the least. How Turtledove depicts Theodore Roosevelt is the most entertaing part of the book for me.
It is a disservice to give away the ending, I suppose, but in this case, I don't see how it could be a big surprise, since about 10 follow up sequels have been published. Over the course of the next couple of years, I hope to get around to reading and reviewing them too.
I rate this one 8 stars
"Why," you may ask, "are you reveiwing a glorified coffee table book?" To which I would respond, "well, why not?" The writing is not on par with that of Friedrich Nietzsche, but then you will notice (if you backtrack the whole blog) my reading has not including Nietzsche. Nor for that matter anything even remotely resembling Nietzsche.
On the surface, the writing is not even comparable to, say, Stephen King. Of couse, if it were, the damn thing would be too big to put on something so fragile as a coffee table. But then, one doesn't pick up a coffee table book to read. One picks up a coffee table book to look at the pictures. In that respect, this is one of the best.
The scope here is limited to the southwest portion of America. The furthest east the photographs seem to go is western New Mexico, and they are predominently Californian in content. I have no idea how Paiva accomplished the lighting in most of his pictures, but they leave one with a feeling of haunted places, and somehow nostalgic for a bygone era. His eye must be keen, because I can visualize the places without his peculiar lighting andimagine them to be just run-of-the-mill deserted places.
As for the writing, it is not very well done, as I said, but that should not deter you from checking the book out simply for its splendid photography.
Give this one 6½ stars.
The Worst of Sports is an entertaining ride into the lows of professional and college sports. The blunders from quotes of supposedly educated men. The weaselly tricks that some people will go to to eke out a win. The flubs when well thought out plays go awry. All of this is here and more.
There is a section on what are truly the worst trades in the business. There is a great section on the best come from behind wins, although here it is a derisive lambasting of the team who suffered defeat from those worst comeback losses. And at the end of the book is a list of many ignoble records that were not addressed in detail in the book. (My favorite: The Dallas Cowboys have the record for most consecutive losses. Take that, Cowboy fans!)
All of it is in digest form, we're not talking extremely long in depth analysis of each subject. It would make a great book to read while you are in the bathroom. Or if you choose to read it all in one sitting, because the style is so reader-friendly, it could probably be accomplished in a few hours.
I give this one 8 stars.
However, the follow-up question is Does the world need yet another book about the life of Shakespeare if it's by Bill Bryson? Here I would have to give a resounding "Yes". .
I make no excuses that Bill Bryson is one of my favorite authors. His style of writing captivated me from the firstbook I ever read by him, "Made in America". Anyone that can make the history and origins of words as readable as he did there is well worth reading. .
Here, as Bryson puts it, is the history of Shakespeare, his life and his inspirations, but only the parts that can be well documented. Much of what is written about the bard is pure speculation based on what fragmentary knowledge can be found. Bryson distills the fluff from what is fact and then writes in his usually engaging style to make what essentially could be dry and boring, into the interesting. .
I must admit I did find one part a little tedious, that on Shakespeare's sonnets, but this can probably be tied up in the fact that I don't care for Shakespeare's sonnets in the first place. I can't put the full blame on the author in this regard. Overall, though it was a good read..
Rate this one 8 stars.
Over the years, I have read quite a few autobiographies by comedians. Unlike some dry, historical biography written by someone else who may or may not have even met the subject of the biography in person, the autobiography usually has the advantage of letting the style and wit of the comedian shine through. Take, for instance, an earlier review of mine of one by Don Rickles.
Not the case here. Steve Martin is without a doubt one of the most offbeat and funniest writers I have ever read. But here, in his autobiography, if you take out every quote from his stage act, is one of those dry historical biographies I previously mentioned. Sure, you get some insight into Martin's childhood, and how the need to perform became a drive in his life. But in 200+ pages, not one discernably funny comment that hasn't become familiar to anyone who has his albums or has seen his stage performance.
And that's another thing. Aside from finding the style so-so, he ends the book way too soon in his career. Virtually nothing of behind-the-scenes after his last stand-up tour. Of course, the title might have been a dead giveaway, but I would have been interested in the early part of his film career, even some background over the ensuing years, but aside from a mention of future projects that were inspired by the events Martin is describing at the time, there is nothing.
Overall I give this one a moderately disappointed 5½ stars.