Freedom for the Thought That We Hate by Anthony Lewis

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.


101 Most Influential People Who Never Lived by Allan Lazar, et. al.

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.


Mr. Monk and the Two Assistants by Lee Goldberg

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


Mr. Monk and the Blue Flu by Lee Goldberg

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.


Mr. Monk Goes to Hawaii by Lee Goldberg

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.


Mr. Monk Goes to the Firehouse by Lee Goldberg

"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.


Mr. Monk Invades My Blog

I am a huge fan of the TV series "Monk" (starring Tony Shalhoub. See it on USA Network, and at the time of this writing on NBC). Over the next week I will be reading the new series of novels written by Lee Goldberg based on this series, so expect a review every couple of days until I finished what's available.

Carnival Undercover by Bret Witter

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.


Father Knows Less by Wendell Jamieson

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.