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Monday, July 28, 2008
"Holidays on Ice" by David Sedaris (pub. 1997)
Every so often you have to treat yourself to a David Sedaris book. If you haven't read David Sedaris, let me introduce him to you. First of all he's extremely funny, his wit is a bit on the cynical and sarcastic side of humor. He's actually been referred to as Garrison Keillor's evil twin. My first introduction to him was the book, "Me Talk Pretty One Day," and I have enjoyed his books ever since.
Sedaris got his start in radio after This American Life producer Ira Glass saw him perform at Club Lower Links in Chicago. In addition to his NPR commentaries, Sedaris now writes regularly for Esquire. Some of his other books include: Barrel Fever (1994), Naked (1997), Me Talk Pretty One Day (2000), Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim (2004), and the latest, When You Are Engulfed in Flames (2008).
Sedaris's younger sister Amy is also a writer and performer; the two have collaborated on plays under the moniker "The Talent Family." Amy Sedaris has appeared onstage as a member of the Second City improv troupe and on Comedy Central in the series Strangers with Candy.
Okay really that's a decent introduction, let's talk about this book.
Like his other books, this one is a collection of stories, the theme of this book of course are the Christmas holidays. In all this book is one you'll find yourself laughing out loud several times so if you get embarassed by such things you may want to read this one privately. Or if you listen to the audiobook be prepared to look funny laughing when others aren't. Speaking of the audio book, it is read by David and he gets a little help from Ann Magnuson and his sister Amy Sedaris. I'll break the rest of this review down to the separate stories.
First you have SantaLand Diaries, this is the tale of David's stint working as an elf during the holiday's at Macy's Santaland. This story has several moments of hilarity but true to David Sedaris's style he throws in a few poignant moments. What are the holidays without a little poingnancy here and there? This story is filled with many adventures in the separate sections of Santaland including the collecting money from the shoppers for photos with Santa. One of the Santas, there are several hired for different shifts, takes his role a bit too seriously and David hates working with him. This "Santa Santa" often asks the kids to tell their favorite Christmas Carol and asks them to sing, if the child is shy Santa asks the elf to sing. David doesn't want to but when Santa coaxes him he sings "Away in a Manger" in the style of Billie Holiday. Santa doesn't ask him to sing anymore.
Season's Greetings to Our Friends and Family!!! is the next section. This story is one that seems like a harmles annual Christmas letter but soon goes to the trials and tribulations of a family that gets an unexpected gift of the husband's illegitmate Vietnamese 22 year old daughter and adopt their natural daughter's "crack-baby."
Dinah, the Christmas Whore, seems to be one of those true stories that David is good at that seem completely unlikely but at the same time could dwell in the realm of possibility. Dinah is a friend of David's older sister who happens to be a prostitute and comes to spend some time with the family around Christmas.
Front Row Center with Thaddeus Bristolm, has got to be one of the funniest yet harshest essays I've ever read. You know all those Christmas plays and pagents you have to sit through if you have grade school kids? Well finally a critic tells it like it is and reviews all the area grade schools plays.
Based Upon a True Story, is the story of a TV producer trying to convince a rural, "redneck/hillbilly" community to have a woman sell her story of how she cut out her own kidney and placed into her young son to save his life, to the TV network.
And finally Christmas Means Giving, is the ultimate battle of one upmanship between two extremely wealthy families.
So when the holidays come around and you get tired of the fuss, pick up this book. Or if you are simply looking for some fun stuff to read anytime pick up this book.
"No Country for Old Men" by Cormac McCarthy (pub. 2005)
Let me start this review by first saying, "I never saw this movie." I think I will see it but I know I'll be let down because the books are always better than the movie. But using that formula ( Book > Movie) the movie can't be too bad (I know famous last words). But for now let's talk about the book.
Cormac McCarthy writes the book in two voices. The bulk of which is presented in third person, but this is interspersed with first person reminiscences from Sheriff Bell. The reliance on dialogue and the sketchbook revelation of plot details lend a mystical air to the work. The plot revolves around 3 main characters and as a little bit of a spoiler here, there is no "real" happy ending.
The 3 characters are; Anton Chigurh, the main antagonist, a sociopathic hitman, Llewelyn Moss, the main protagonist, a welder and Vietnam War veteran, Sheriff Ed Tom Bell, a laconic World War II veteran who oversees the investigation and the trail of the murders even as he struggles to face the sheer enormity of the crimes he is attempting to solve. His reminiscences serve as part of the book's narration.
The book takes place sometime around the late 70's along the Texas/Mexico border. Moss is out hunting when he comes across a drug deal gone really wrong. Several dead bodies and trucks are found along with a living Mexican drug dealer who is on his last breath. The drug dealer asks Moss for "Agua" in his dying breath. Moss takes the dealers weapons and leaves. Following a trail of blood and a thought of "there has to be one that got away," Moss finds a dead man grasping a leather satchel. In the satchel is over two million dollars. Moss takes the money and the weapons back home and hides them. That night a guilty feeling comes over him and he returns to the scene to bring the Mexican a jug of water. Upon returning, he finds a truck with 2 men investigating and soon comes under fire and becomes the hunted. Moss heads toward Mexico and sends his wife of so she won't get caught in the crossfire.
Meanwhile after killing a few police officers Anton Chigurh is tracking down the money to return to its "rightful" owner. Chigurh is a ruthless killer, who at one point uses a coin toss to determine wheter a store owner will live or die. Chigurh's weapon of choice is a "cattle-gun" which leaves police puzzled as to what he's using. The "cattle-gun" shoots out a rod at a high power, the same used in a slaughter house to kill the beef cattle for slaughter.
Sheriff Bell begins the task of putting the pieces together and begins tracking down Moss in order to find Chigurh.
This book is at times a great thriller, a great philosophical insight to humanity and a dark murder crime novel. A great read that you won't be able to put it down.
"The Audacity of Hope" by Barack Obama (pub. 2006)
Anytime a politician writes a book and they haven't run for president yet, you know they will be. Well that's just what happened with Senator Barack Obama. This book was published in 2006 and can serve as a great tool to get to know the 2008 Presidential candidate.
The book talks about his run for Senator in Illinois and the people he met and the beliefs he stands for. In other words this book Is a good insight into what platform this candidate will stand on once elected. In the book he talks about “sensitive” topics like religion, racism, U.S. foreign policy and family.
I found it a great get to know the candidate book, in fact, so much so that I think all candidates should write such a book before running. That way when elected we can say, "well right here in black and white you said you stood for this...do you plan on making yourself a liar or can we believe you?"
The book is written in first person narrative. At times it feels as though you are sitting down and reading a letter from a friend with some very humble statments, such as while he's helping to propose Iran get rid of nuclear weapon capabilities he calls his wife to discuss the positive steps and his wife tells him to bring home ant traps, she's found ants coming into the kitchen and bathroom. While other times the passages feel as though you are reading a campaign speech. The good part about it is, that the moments of "speech" are heartfelt and do not use "political rhetoric" but in terms any American can grasp and, whether on the same side of the issue or not, can empathize with the Senator.
Empathy, that's a major issue in this book. Senator Obama mentions that many of todays youth and even many adults lack that same skill when it comes to everyday life. He mentions this throughout the book and in retrospect I can see his empathic skills are much needed in America's leadership, and has been lacking for about, oh, say maybe 8 years or so. Okay personal jokes/jabs aside. I will say this today's culture has a serious Empathy Deficit Disorder. Really look around you, the rudeness in today's society can be directly attributed to lack of Empathy. For example, that guy/gal walking down the street or sitting next to you in the restaurant or theater yelling into his cell phone, do you think he/she cares that it is rude to others around? If he/she could empathize with others, they would probably be less rude. And that is just a minor example. Well I think the Senator from Illinois has hit this nail on the head.
Can our country use a little leadership with Empathy?
With topics like Faith, Race, Family, and of course Politics discussed in this book, I think that any person, Republican or Democrat would benefit in reading this book. If nothing else at least knowing what a certain candidate stands for.
A side note here; I don't care what email you received but nowhere in this book does Senator Obama claim to be a Muslim, so please stop sending that d**n spam email telling me that he is.
I don't know what it is about nonlinear storytelling, but I seem to have a weak spot for it. Give me a good book or movie that is nonlinear and well you've got me hooked. Non-linear, for those who have yet to experience it, is when the story pretty much jumps around from past to present and back with no particular order. Chuck Palahniuk is one author that can pull this off and does so with his books, remember "Fight Club"? Either the book or movie "Fight Club" was a great example of nonlinear storytelling. Other Examples include; the movie "Pulp Fiction," Joseph Heller's Catch-22 (1961), Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse-Five, and, Takashi Shimizu's Japanese horror series, Ju-on, brought to America as The Grudge, is also nonlinear in its storytelling.
This book, "Choke," by Chuck Palahniuk, is yet another nonlinear story. Told in first person (as was "Fight Club") the story captures the life of Victor Mancini and his friend Denny through a few months of their lives with frequent flashbacks to the days when Victor was a child. Victor grew up while going from one foster home to another. Victor's mother was found to be unfit to raise Victor. Several times throughout his childhood his mother would kidnap him from his various foster parents. They would eventually be caught and he would again be remanded over to the government child welfare agency. This part is all told/revealed as we go through Victor's modern life where, to say the least, he's a little screwed up in the head.
Victor's mother is dying in a retirement home and before she goes he wants to know more of who he is. With the help of Dr. Paige Marshall, Victor can help his mom live by creating a baby and harvest the cells to cure his mom. When Victor visits his mom he has to pretend to be various attorneys that represented her in the past because when he says he's himself she ignores him. Through the "attorney's" Victor discovers his mom kept a diary and it is revealed who victor is, but the catch, she wrote the diary in Italian. Paige Marshall says she can read Italian and proceeds to tell Victor that he is the son of Jesus. (Very interesting story in that one...but you'll have to read it to find out how.)
Also Victor is a recovering Sexaholic and attends meetings but can never get past step 4, which is where he needs to write in a journal all his past "exploits." The problem here is twofold, one that he is still writing and has numerous events to keep track of and two that his meetings are also great places to hook up with chicks.
Victor is out to save the world by creating heroes, also a good way to make extra cash. The heroes are folks that save Victor's life. Every night Victor forces himself to choke in a restaurant and the heroes that save his life are forever heroes with a story to tell their grandchildren. Yes, he intentionally chokes on food.
Throughout the book there are many hilarious moments between Victor and his many friends and foes, so with a strange mystery to solve, although the reader doesn't realize there's a mystery until the very end of the book, and the strange flashbacks, this book is a great read.
If you're interested the book was recently made into a movie and debuted at the Sundance Film Festival (2008) with rave reviews. The movie stars Sam Rockwell as Victor. Sam Rockwell is the one that portrayed Zaphod Beeblebrox in the 2005 film "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy." You can check out the trailer below.
"Small Favor" The Dresden Files Book 10 by Jim Butcher (pub. 2008)
No one's tried to kill Harry Dresden for almost an entire year, and his life finally seems to be calming down. For once, the future looks fairly bright. But the past casts one hell of a long shadow.
An old bargain has placed Harry in debt to Mab, monarch of the Winter Court of the Sidhe, the Queen of Air and Darkness-and she's calling in her marker. It's a small favor he can't refuse...one that will trap Harry Dresden between a nightmarish foe and an equally deadly ally, and one that will strain his skills-and loyalties-to their very limits.
It figures. Everything was going too well to last...
That's what lures the reader into this tenth installment of the Dresden Files and the exploits of the better Wizard named Harry...Harry Dresden that is. I decided to give this latest book by Jim Butcher a go before reading books 6-9 for one main reason. As you know from reading my past reviews, I like to read book series in order but sometimes you just have to jump around. The reason for this jump is that I wanted to listen to the audiobook. The audiobooks in this series are all narrated by James Marsters. He's the actor that played "Spike" in the "Buffy the Vampire" and "Angel" TV series. His narration really brings these books to life...maybe if they would have cast him in the TV series it wouldn't have been cancelled ...naw...Paul Blackthorne did an excellent job on the TV series, the Sci-Fi channel just didn't know what they had.
Okay let's talk about this book. The title should give this one away, basically Harry owes Mab 3 favors, he's delivered one, now she's come to collect the second. Gentleman Johnny Marcone, the Chicago crime boss has been captured by the Denarians and Mab wants him back. The Denarians are also known as the Fallen, as in Fallen angels. There are 30 of them and they each have a silver coin which houses the demon that takes over their souls. (30 pieces of silver sound familiar?) They are the sworn enemies of "The Knights of the Cross." Harry's friend Michael is one such knight and he carries a sword in which a nail from THE CROSS is embedded. The problem is the knights cannot go after the fallen, they have to try to turn them back to god first, then as a last resort kill them with the holy swords and take the coin and put into safekeeping with the church.
In order to negotiate with the Denarians, Harry must have a council of the White Court of Wizards, kind of like in order for the President to go to war he must get congress to agree. In doing so Harry must get the Archive (Knowledge of all time in the body of a young girl) to be his emissary. When the Archive arrives in Chicago she is captured by the Denarians. Now Harry must rescue her and Gentleman Johnny Marcone.
Oh yeah and while all this is happening, the summer court has decided to kill Harry. In doing so the court sends goat like creatures to hunt Harry down. The creatures are called Gruffs and as he defeats each one (remember he's battling the Gruffs while fighting Denarians and trying to rescue Marcone and the Archive) their elder brother comes later and each elder brother is bigger and badder. (3 billy goats gruff...heh heh).
In this series Jim Butcher not only has really great characters but the creatures he comes up with are always interesting. So if you like wizards, vampires, Holy Knights, fallen angels, mythical creatures, faerie and fae, check out Jim Butcher's Dresden Files series of books.
"Isaac Asimov's Robot City Book 5: Refuge" by Rob Chilson (pub 1988)
I have just finished reading book 5 of this "Robot City" series and I will have to say out of the the 5 so far this one seems the closest to the universe created by Isaac Asimov that gave us the 3 laws of robotics and even laws of humanics later used in the Foundation series. Before I go too far let me recap what this series is about.
In science fiction, the Three Laws of Robotics are a set of three rules written by Isaac Asimov, which almost all positronic robots (designated by their Asimov created positronic brains) appearing in his fiction must obey. Introduced in his 1942 short story "Runaround", although foreshadowed in a few earlier stories, the Laws state the following:
A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
A robot must obey orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.
Isaac Asimov created these laws as more or less a challenge to himself for writing his novels. Later, Asimov added the Zeroth Law: "A robot may not harm humanity, or, by inaction, allow humanity to come to harm;" the rest of the laws are modified sequentially to acknowledge this. He created murder mysteries in space using the 3 laws and the Detective Elijah Bailey. Bailey would receive help from R. Daneel Olivaw, a human appearing robot. Many science fiction writers have used the ideas of Asimov's robots, but no other author could directly state 3 three laws. Even the positronic brain was copied in the series "Star Trek: The Next Generation." Commander Data had a positronic brain. Asimov was honored to have many sci-fi writers copy the ideas but the laws were his and he did not allow this. Not until the Robot City series of books. This series of 5 books was a challenge to 4 different Sci-Fi writers to write stories based solely on the laws and Asimov's universe.
Isaac Asimov's Robot City is a series of novels written by various authors and loosely connected to Isaac Asimov's Robot Series. It takes place between The Robots of Dawn and Robots and Empire. The novels were written in response to a writing challenge issued by Asimov to write a series involving the Three Laws of Robotics, which brought about a collaboration of several talented authors.
The books in this series are:
1. Odyssey by Michael P. Kube-McDowell (1987) 2. Suspicion by Mike McQuay (1987) 3. Cyborg by William F. Wu (1987) 4. Prodigy by Arthur Byron Cover (1988) 5. Refuge by Rob Chilson (1988) 6. Perihelion by William F. Wu (1988)
One thing this series introduces is the concept of aliens. In Asimov's universe there were no other intelligent lifeforms other than human and robot. In the later books by Asimov he explained that this could be because the robots were sent ahead of humanity to terraform planets and thus destroying alien life forms. So maybe some aliens could have "survived." In my humble opinion I think Asimov simply wanted to explore humanity through robots and their interaction with humans and just left out the aliens.
In Book 5 of Robot City "Refuge" Rob Chilson takes Derec and Katherine/Ariel back to planet Earth via a "Key to Perihelion." The Key takes them back to an apartment in St. Louis on earth. (side note, Rob Chilson is a comic book writer from Kansas City, Missouri, and has some really neat insight into the St. Louis of the future.) Katherine/Ariel is still suffering from the mysterious illness and it seems to be getting worse. All the "spacer" doctors told her there was no cure, thus the reason she was wandering the universe and found Derec. The illness is not incurable on Earth. The Earth doctors are only able to treat her after her memory loss has started so Derec records what memories they have shared so they can be fed back to her and hopefully restoring them after the illness is cured. Derec at that time learns the reason for his amnesia is this same illness but he was intentionally given the virus...but why??? So another mystery pops up.
Another thing found in Derec are a type of robot infection in his bloodstream taking over his body. He now must get back to Robot City. If you read book 4 or read my review of that book you may know they had only just recently escaped Robot City...now they have to return and confront Dr. Avery and find the reason for his intentional infection of both the disease and the robot virus.
As they leave Earth and are headed back to Robot City, the Alien, Aranimas, finds them and attacks them. Aranimas is looking for a Key to find Robot City so he can have robots of his own. The aliens don't possess the ability to create robots.
I'll leave the space fight up to you to read and find the outcome...or wait until my review of the final book in the series. But I want to leave you with one final comment. This book is the closest in the series in capturing the entire universe created by Asimov with the steel and concrete caves that have become the cities on Earth. While the others work great on capturing the essence of the robots and the laws of robotics, this book captures the entire Asimov universe.
Conducting a top secret investigation into the death of a fellow police officer has Lieutenant Eve Dallas treading on dangerous ground. She must put professional ethics before personal loyalties. But when a dead body is placed outside her home, Eve takes the warning personally. With her husband, Roarke, watching her every move, Eve is drawn into the most dangerous case of her career. Every step she takes makes her question her own sense of right and wrong - and brings her closer to a confrontation with humanity's most seductive form of evil...
That is how the book's cover lures you in, but let me tell you that, there is oh so much more in this book. Before I talk about the book I've got to get this off my chest. I've mentioned before that the "...in Death" series of books by JD Robb would make a great series, especially on the Sci-Fi channel. The book has great characters in which an ensemble cast could easily bring to life. (most of the work is already written into the books.) There is great action and mystery and some great sci-fi touches that make the stories more fun. On top of all that the books feature holiday linked themes that work really well on tv series. There are a couple of the books that take place around the holidays (Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years). Then there is this book which would make a great Halloween episode. The setting is Halloween 2058 and the police officer's death is pointing ot a witch's spell or possible from the Church of Satan.
The fellow police officer whose death begins all this died of a heart condition. However he never had a heart condition on record. His former partner and best friend happens to be the best Electronics Division cop, Feeny. Yes the same Feeney that taught Dallas the ropes and is mentor/ father figure to her as well. Commander Whitney puts Dallas on the case to prove that Feeney or his former partner were doing anything wrong. To do this Dallas has to work behind Feeney's back. Feeney gets word of this and is hurt because he wasn't in and takes it out on Dallas.
The investigation leads to a circle of witchcraft both black and white and a battle between the two. Oh yeah and it just so happens to be Halloween. Dallas now has to not only prove 2 cops innocence ( one dead and one her mentor) she also has to investigat 3 more homicides. One is nailed to an inverted pentagram outside her home. Being the practical cop Dallas works with only logic and is not distracted by con artists or "witches".
So if you are looking for some Halloween fare this fall try this book for fun.