Friday, January 31, 2014

Maximum Ride - Saving the World and Other Extreme Sports

This series is marketed at young adults but I happen to enjoy them very much. This, the third in the series follows the adventures of an interesting group of kids. How interesting you ask? if I told you they can fly, would that peak your interest a bit more?

The classic Patterson easy to read short chapters, interesting characters that you will care about and a modern day take on science fiction thriller make the three books in this series worth the short investment in time it will take to read them (I started reading this book yesterday morning and finished this evening).

This title had a number of "oh, shit!" moments. The story and the book really move along, it's very well written...I'm impressed how Patterson so easily adapts to a younger audience without alienating adults.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Teacher Man

Unlike the millions of folks who read Frank McCourt's first two books, Angela's Ashes and 'Tis, I found a copy of his third offering in a closet in my basement. I recalled this copy being part of a swag bag from an "Employee Recognition Event" at the college where I work.

Teacher man in a memoir that tells of McCourt's 30 year teaching career in the public high schools (mostly) of New York City. My favorite thing about this book is how honest it is. I think anyone can read this book, especially a teacher, and know it was honest - I really loved that a lot; I don't recall a single moment where I felt a story was even a tiny bit embellished.

I was reading today while having soup at Panera. I don't recommend reading anything that would make you laugh while eating soup. I wish there was a warning label somewhere on this book; "NS: Do not read while eating soup". I make have done a spit take as a result of not having this warning in advance!

I am pretty sure anyone that has taught and even aspiring teachers will enjoy this book. I night even go so far as to recommend it as required reading for those demographics and in that lies my one critique. I don't see this book as having broad appeal.

Regardless, I really enjoyed the book - and I hope if you are considering it, that you will too.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Lean Mean Thirteen

A few days ago I finished the 13th installment of the Stephanie Plum series by Janet Evanovich. These books are not works of fancy literature, but, if like me, you've grown to enjoy the characters in these books, you'll enjoy this one for the same reasons. I laughed out loud a number of times reading this and found myself entertained enough to not regret reading the book and to continue with the series. I think the book does what it is supposed to do and every now and again, you want an fairly easy, mindless read (I don't mean this to be insulting in any way) - these books will give that to you and if you are a regular read of the series, all the more fun because you get to hang with Stephanie, Lula, Ranger, Morelli, and others. If I had one criticism, I'd ask Evanovich to stop re-introducing each of the characters with every book. I suppose the reason is to make each independent of the others so that one may pick any one up as their first time with this series and not be lost. For those of us that had read all of them along the way, I think it's a drag. Perhaps start each with an appendix, or a reference guide to the characters within so that us "regulars" can skip past and get to the story.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Darkly Dreaming Dexter

Having seen the entire TV series without ever reading the books, I decided to take a stab (pun intended) at this series to see the genesis of the Dexter character, learn how they adapted the story line, and of course, hopefully read a good book.

Up until about half way through this first book, the TV series not only adapted the story as written, but lifted it almost exactly as it happened. The latter half, especially the ending, was a far less literal adaptation but it was clear to me (and will be to you if you watched the series as to how they adapted the story).

I think one of the greatest challenges for me after having seen what was a terrific series (except for the finale which almost blew the entire series (for me, from a story telling perspective) was whether or not the writing could hold my attention feeling like I might be able to predict what might happen. In the end, especially the very end of the book, I have to say that I enjoyed reading this and will at least check out the next one.

I think where Lindsay succeeds most is his ability to weave the dark side of the Dexter Morgan character through what Melissa Niksic of the Vine voice states, "a blend of dark humor, intense drama, mystery and suspense, and good old-fashioned blood and gore." I think this particular balance helps the book flow quite easily, keeps the reader at a high level of engagement and keeps the story fresh.

I look forward to the next book, "Dearly Devoted Dexter" sometime up the road.

Friday, January 17, 2014

The Night Circus

Back in January of 2013, Sicilian Mama reviewed this book on this  blog as part of her favorite books of 2012. Her review was part of what made me want to read this book and I thought I would include what she wrote here:

"The Night Circus - Have you ever read a book that you were afraid to put down because you were afraid you were going to miss something? That's how Erin Morgenstern's debut novel was for me. It has mixed review on Goodreads, but I absolutely loved it. I recommended it to pretty much everyone I know who loves to read and I even bought it as gifts for my besties for their birthdays. In fact, I just went out and bought a copy for myself so I could reread it again. That's how amazing it was - I'll reread it less than a year after reading it for the first time! Seriously, though, it was magical. Truly magical."

I must agree with the "truly magical" statement, on several different levels but for me, the most important one being the writing/storytelling. This was a rare book where not only did the imagery provide a visual backdrop, but it somehow provided a feel, at times haunting, at times exciting and always, magical.

As I recently mentioned to all of you, I personally don't like the writing device that takes the reader back and forth to and from different periods in time, Morgenstern does that in this book but at least the time periods are relatively close together - which for me, made it easier to follow and more tolerable. I don't know that the general public has nearly as hard a time as I do with this technique but for me, it takes a little bit away from the overall reading experience. That said, the things that were really great about this book were really great. I don't think it's a stretch to call it a period piece but it didn't feel dated, I felt pulled right in and a part of it all.

I can't say the story itself was flawless, but I guess if you pick carefully enough, you can find flaws in anything. The good news here, they don't affect how I feel about this book. If you love to read and have your imagination challenged while still providing s story that makes sense, and has you feeling something, I highly recommend this; I still have chills from some of this!

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Step On a Crack

Patterson cranks out so many books using what I assume is something of an outsourcing model, that I am constantly amazed at how the quality control piece of the puzzle works so efficiently.

I had been lax for the last couple of years and fell behind in my quest to make it through all of his works and found myself in an offering from 2007, and the 46th of his books that I've now read.

Step on a Crack introduces a new series of books featuring the character Michael Bennett, a detective and father of 10 adopted children of various cultural backgrounds.

While at it's core, the Patterson formula is at work here, there are some wonderful components involving Bennett's family, an Au Pair that I suspect will continue to appear in future Bennett books, and a short but elegant introduction to the story featuring a beloved first lady and President.

the typical emotions one might feel in a detective/thriller were significantly amplified my triggers that come from relatable, real-life situations that had me so deeply ensconced in the story that I completed this novel the day after I began reading it.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Moxie and the Art of Rule Breaking

Disclaimer:  The author of this book, Erin Dionne, is a personal friend of mine, that affects this review in exactly two ways: 1. It's extremely unlikely I would have read a "Young Adult" novel had it not been written by a friend. 2. Had I not liked this book, I'd not have published a review.

I'll start this with the one line I wrote on Facebook to the "Books I've Read" section: "While this book is marketed as "Young Adult", if you like to read, appreciate good writing and a good story, this is really a wonderful book."

Moxie was just an ordinary middle school kid preparing to have that one last fun summer with her best friend Ollie before they left for different high schools and as the author put it, "social gravity" did what it always does. An unexpected visit from an impractically dressed red headed woman changed the landscape of the next two weeks (and probably the rest of) her life by landing her, and my default, her pal Ollie, in the middle of one of the great mysteries of the 20th century, the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum Art Heist.

Through one of the best Boston based band soundtracks, a simple set of creative and well crafted characters and a backdrop that features one of the most historic cities and it's great landmarks, the author brings us along with Moxie and Ollie on an adventure that made me curious, taught me something, got me to really care about the characters and try to guess what would happen next, it made me tap my feet to the sound of the music and sing along as I imagined them in the scenes as they played through my mind, it made me laugh, several times and it even brought some tears.

This is a well imagined story that I had a very hard time putting down, a real page turner that I truly loved. There are a number of other reviews out there on Amazon and other book sites but I suggest reading the book before the reviews, many of them reveal more than they need to about the wonderful cast and while they don't ruin it in any way, I think it's more fun to just jump in...the water is warm and it will feel great, I promise!
I will take the liberty of lifting something from the author's blog regarding the music I refer to:

"I've made a playlist of some of Moxie's favorite songs. They were songs that I listened to a lot while I was writing the book, songs that Moxie listens to in the novel, and there's even one that Moxie doesn't like. You figure out which one that is. You can find the playlist on Spotify if you're into that (you can follow me there--bostonerin). If you're not, here's the track list:"

Aerosmith – Sweet Emotion
Aerosmith – Seasons of Wither (Live)
Dropkick Murphys – I'm Shipping Up To Boston
Mighty Mighty Bosstones – Where'd You Go
Dropkick Murphys – Memorial Day
The Del Fuegos – Don't Run Wild
The Cars – You Might Think
The Standells – Dirty Water
Letters To Cleo – Cruel To Be Kind
The Mighty Mighty Bosstones – The Impression That I Get - Album Version (Edited)
The Mighty Mighty Bosstones – Someday I Suppose
J. Geils Band – Freeze-Frame - 2006 - Remaster
The J. Geils Band – Musta Got Lost - Live
The Cars – Good Times Roll
The Mighty Mighty Bosstones – I Want My City Back
Dropkick Murphys – The Boys Are Back
Aerosmith – Come Together
Dropkick Murphys – Sunshine Highway
Dann Russo – Ruby Red Hair
Letters To Cleo – I Want You To Want Me

" If you're not familiar with these tunes, I hope you check them out. I'd love to know if you find a new favorite."

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Up All Night: My Life and Times in Rock Radio

It’s hard for me to be overly critical about this book because of the author. Carol Miller, a long time host rock radio personality in New York, was someone I listened to from the mid-seventies through most of the nineties when I left NYC to move to MA. Not only was I a big fan but I had a huge crush on her, what dude in their right mind didn’t? And, I had the great privilege of meeting her when I was at a party for the band Europe when they received their gold record for their album “The Final Countdown”. At that event, I actually had the chance to sit and speak with Carol Miller for a few minutes, she was super cool and I did my best to not be a complete buffoon.

I enjoyed reading this book very much because Carol Miller means something to me. So when she talks about things like her personal life, battles with illness and cancer, it was like reading about a dear friend who went through all of this deep stuff and you wished you could have been there to help them through, it was emotional.

When she talked about the challenges of being a woman in a male dominated field, about the disgusting abusive situations she was put in by management, I wanted to go beat the crap out these assholes for messing with one of my peeps. More important, it put a real perspective on a very real situation that still lingers in society today where woman are simply not treated as equals on so many levels.
From the title of the book, “Up All Night: My Life and Times in Rock Radio”, I was expecting some great larger than life stories about the larger than life rock and roll stars that I listened to Carol Miller play on the radio for so many years. The stories that were included did not disappoint, there were a few doozies for certain. I just felt that the title led me to believe that is what would dominate the book and perhaps its part my fault for the assumption, but I also must blame the publishers and editors who moved forward the final manuscript under this title.

As someone who grew up in the area where carol Miller gained her popularity and radio persona, I think the book works overall. As I’ve implied above, if you were a listener, you have a relationship and care about the personal stuff enough that it all works just fine; like I said, I enjoyed reading this book and in fact, finished it in three days. I question the overall appeal to someone that might not know who Carol Miller is or only knows of her peripherally. I question if the balance of the material in the book is enough to appeal to that broader audience.
For certain, the personal stuff will touch all people, it’s all very real and it’s quite likely that most readers will be able to associate with the stories of Miller’s life and perhaps that will be enough; I hope so only because I would like to see this book sell well for two reasons: I am a lifelong fan of Carol Miller and she deserves for it to be successful and, 5% of the proceeds are being donated to breast cancer research.

I would love to have read a book that was all about the radio stuff and the music and radio business interactions. I think it would even have worked if the personal stuff stayed put but there were a hundred or so pages more of the music stuff, it wouldn't have made the book too long - though I guess from the publisher end, it would have cost more to produce, but then again, if it sold enough more units to offset the additional cost...who knows? Not me, I can only say that in the end, if I invest the time to read a book, I need to get a return and when all was said and done, I got my money's worth.
Here's a brief interview she did while promoting the book:

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Everything Is Illuminated

I recently heard of this book listening to Pop Culture Happy Hour on NPR; Linda Holmes was talking about it and I was intrigued and requested it from the library. Only once I received it did I realize it was over a decade old - but I hadn't read it so it was new to me!

Probably makes more sense to talk about what I didn't like about because there was only one thing about it that I didn't love - and that's the way the story is written. I've never liked the kind of novels that go back and forth from one point in time to a completely different point in time (ore more than one other period) and go back and forth. I know this is not an uncommon technique and in some cases it works better than others but as a general rule, I am not a fan - I have a hard time keeping track of it all!

That said, I found this book entertaining and while dubbed a work of fiction, if one were to reveal some time later that it was actually biographical (or autobiographical), it wouldn't surprise me.

I liked the story and the characters seemed very familiar, which I attribute to growing up in Brooklyn and before I left in 1997,  had been immersed in Eastern European culture simply because it was where I was. I suspect the fact that Foer was in his mid-twenties when he wrote this accounts for some of the tone (especially the comic relief) and while I would be curious what this book would have been had he been 10-20 years older when he wrote it, I don't have a problem with the end product.

For me, the most clever effect of the writing was being able to read about the Holocaust and still be able to laugh and not feel like a complete heal or disrespectful jerk. I attribute this mostly to the development of the characters who give voice to the story.

In the end, I found this book hard to put down and one of those reads that found myself slowing down as I was winding down only for the purpose of stretching it out so it didn't have to end. If you haven't yet read this one, I highly recommend it.