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Saturday, February 27, 2016

Review: Adultery by Paulo Coelho


Paulo Coelho comes to me well-recommended.  I'm told The Alchemist is a life-changing book and Aleph is captivating.  Maybe I should have started with one of those.

I can't say I loved Adultery.  It wasn't terrible, and this is a virtue of Paulo Coelho being everything as a writer I was told he would be.  His style is accessible and conversational.  You can blow through large chunks of text while sipping a coffee or a beer and you're never left grasping at what happened.  However this story, while well told, wasn't terribly compelling.

Adultery is the running inner monologue of a woman in her 30's who has everything she can ask for -- perfect children, a husband who adores her, a fulfilling career, the ability to flit about the world at a whim -- and yet is terribly unhappy, largely because she chooses to be.  She inexplicably one day blows a politician (who happens to be the ex-boyfriend from high school that she was so into that she fantasized about him constantly through her adolescence), and that kick-starts a vicious cycle self-hatred and bad decision-making, all while her doting husband tries desperately to help her find her way of whatever depression and melancholy she happens to be in.

I find characters who do the  super-entitled pity party ("woe is me, I have everything) to be grating, especially when they narrate the story, as in Adultery and  Douglas Brunt's Ghosts of Manhattan. It's hard to empathize with them as a reader because for me at least, it's impossible to understand them, especially when at the end, they haven't changed very much because their lives are so insular, so perfect, they're not required to.  Adultery's narrator, Linda, almost ruins two marriages -- her own and her lover's -- and never has to face the consequences. She's spared the humbling embarrassment of having to say she cheated, while putting her lover in a position to lie to his wife's face.  At the end of the day, her relationship with her husband somehow ends up stronger because she realizes that she has it all and decides it's not a prison.  I mean... come on.  Reading this calls up some advice my dad once gave me: the worst thing you can give a woman is everything she wants.

I will say this: Paulo Coelho's style is everything it's cracked up to be.

Pros: Easy Read, crackling style
Cons: Whiny narrator, no significant character change at the end.

2 out of 5 stars.

Friday, February 19, 2016

It's The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year...

That's right, pitchers and catchers have reported to Spring Training!  That means Opening Day is around the corner, and summer very shortly after.  Aren't you excited?

I make no secret about my Yankee fandom.  I like to think it's one of my most endearing qualities.  But this isn't a post about being a Yankee fan.  Spring Training also means that softball season is about to start out here, but this isn't a post about that either.

No, this is a post about connection.

Every year, millions of fans of the 30 MLB teams prepare themselves for a summer of various levels of commitment to the idea that their team can win a title.  Some fans will watch every game, most won't.  Some fans will attend every home game, most won't.  But on some level, everyone will have at least some interest in their hometown team.  On some level people care.  And on some level, people hope for the kind of unity victory brings.

I know this is true of all sports, but for some reason, it feels more true about baseball.  And I think I know why.

Football, the players wear masks.  Their careers tend to be short.  And in most of those careers, teams that don't win out don't stay together very long.  Basketball, the average length of time one player stays with one team is about five years.  Baseball, however, teams are kept together for years, decades in some cases, and even the teams that don't stay completely together, there's never a wholesale turnover.  There's continuity.  And while the Yankees win most of the time, most teams spend at least some time being competitive.  And you can always trace a link from one team's great player to its next through less than three degrees of separation.  And it's something you can link directly back to your childhood.  It's something I appreciate more now as I'm now so much closer to 40 than I am to 20.

For instance, one of my favorite players retired a couple of years ago, Derek Jeter.  He came up to the majors in 1996, when I was turning 18 and going to college and drooling over college girls.  1996 was also the first Yankee championship of my lifetime.  The year before Jeter came up, Don Mattingly -- longtime Yankee first baseman and the player I grew up idolizing -- played his final season in a career that started when I was three.  He played most of his career on a team that had all-time base stealing champion Rickey Henderson and fellow Hall-of-Famer Dave Winfield.  Winfield was brought to the Yankees in 1981 to anchor an outfield that featured Reggie Jackson, who was a member of the 1978 World Series Championship team that won when I was about two weeks old.  And right there, I've just charted my entire life through one team.  That is not a terribly rare occurrence.

It's a shame that the appreciation for baseball seems to be declining because that connection is declining.  Connection with a home, with a city, with something that's not only bigger than you, but something that you can agree upon with your neighbor at a ballpark regardless of your station in life, your religious beliefs or even your attitudes about race.  Two guys at Yankee Stadium wearing Yankee jerseys are both Yankee fans, and together for the three hours at the ballpark.  They share a drink, they share triumph and defeat, they share opinions on which players suck.  At the end it's over, and they go back to their respective lives, homes and differences of various levels, but in those few hours they were family of a sort.

They say baseball is something that's inherited, that fathers pass on to sons (or mothers to sons, or fathers to daughters, mothers to daughters, whatever).  If I ever have kids and I can pass on an appreciation for baseball and all the commonalities fans have with one another, all the things we share at the ballpark, and how we directly connect one player to the next, and one moment to the next, I will have honestly done my part to make the world a better place.

Unless the little crumb snatcher turns out to be a Red Sox fan.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Reviews: Ex-Heroes, Ex-Patriots

Hey all!

Still doing the GoodReads reading challenge, and now to review books 3 and 4 on my list, both from the Ex-Heroes series by Peter Clines. 


One part Avengers, one part Dawn of the Dead, sprinkle a little of The Warriors in there and you have Ex-Heroes, an entertaining novel that clips along at a rapid pace.

Two years after civilization fell, Los Angeles became split into two communities: The Mount, a converted movie studio lot watched over by a mismatched team of super heroes-- The Mighty Dragon (glides, invulnerable, breathes fire), Cerberus (scientist in a giant armored suit), Gorgon (vampire stare), Zzzap (living electric dynamo) Regeneration (heals himself and others) and Stealth (genius billionaire fashion model turned ninja)-- and the Seventeen, an LA gang that seeks to expand its turf in this new world order. Between the two groups lies the rest of LA's 5 million residents, all dead, all walking. But things get a little more weird when the zombies -- the ex-humans-- start talking. And making demands.

I like superheroes and I like some zombie stuff, so of course I liked this book. It screams of an idea that's too good to pass up, a "why didn't I think of this?" sensibility. There are some small issues to be sure regarding an improperly reflected diversity in the city of Angels, but overall this was a very enjoyable read.

4 stars (out of 5)


I gotta say, this has been plenty of fun!

Ex-Patriots, the second book in the Ex-Heroes series, continues a couple of months after where Ex-Heroes left off. The super powered heroes of The Mount -- a community of zombie apocalypse survivors in L.A. -- are recovering from their war with the Seventeens, a street gang in the city who had their own survivor community and were led by Peasy, a man with the ability to control the zombies. They are contacted by the remnants of the US military, an enhanced soldier project called Krypton, led by Captain Freedom (actually his name) and Agent John Smith of DHS and DARPA. After agreeing to visit their base outside of Yuma, Arizona, the heroes find that there is more going on than they were led to believe, complete with a mad scientist and a small army of zombie soldiers.

Yes, it was predictable, but it was an extremely fun read, if for no other reason than the fact that I'm a big comic-book nerd. The action clips along at a frenetic pace and there aren't any lulls. And two books in, Zombies vs. Superheroes still holds up as a concept.

3.5 stars (out of 5)

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Review: Assassin's Code

It's time I started reviewing the stuff I consume again, be it books, music, movies, or whatever.  I'm not a critic by trade, just someone who likes stuff.  I'm involved in Goodreads' reading challenge.  12 books, 1 year.  I think I'm going to beat that.

I skipped my review of the first book I read this year, Telegraph Avenue by Michael Chabon.  We'll get to that later this week.  For now though, I give you my review of Jonathan Maberry's Assassin's Code, the fourth book in his series featuring Department of Military Sciences agent Joe Ledger.

I've become a big fan of the Joe Ledger series. I look at it as the popcorn movie in my TBR list. Are we getting deep, life changing events? No. Are we getting radical philosophical shifts? Of course not. But what we are getting is fast-paced, highly entertaining action. And I'll take it.

The fourth novel chronicling the adventures of Joe Ledger and Echo Team is set primarily in the Middle East, where the covert rescue of American political prisoners in Iran put Joe directly in the middle of two longtime warring factions: Arklight, a group of highly trained (and long-lived) female warriors, and the Red Order, The Catholic Church's secret group of vampire assassins. Yes, you read that right. Feeding this powder keg are eight nuclear weapons, stolen and hidden all over the world, set to blow at a moment's notice.

This is, like I said, the fourth in a series. Jonathan Maberry isn't breaking new ground. The series has a very James Bond-esque thrill ride, and I'm okay with that. Yes, it got a little hokey, especially toward the end, but it was hugely entertaining! And considering what I read right before I picked this up, that was enough.

4 stars.

Pros: Fun to read, intense action
Cons: A little hokey, hard to catch up if you haven't read the series.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Movies I Need to See, Part I

A friend of mine, Thom Carnell,  is doing a "366 movies in 366 days" challenge this year.  It's ambitious.  It means watching great cinema and crappy popcorn flicks, it means watching things that aren't quite in your taste spectrum, and it means flat out watching things you just hate.  He's even reviewing them all. To that I say, good for him.

He and I differ in tastes.  He's a lot more into things that are elevate movies to an artwork.  He's into stylistic choices with shots and scenes, he's into obscure films by obscure film makers (and believe me, he knows his shit.  Check out The Bonus Material Podcast, where he and two co-conspirators talk about film and filmmaking.  Eye-opening stuff), whereas I'm admittedly much more simple than that.   Do I love a great story? Absolutely.  Do I enjoy cool cinematography? Sure.  I don't necessarily require them to have a good time at the movies (however, a bad story will almost 100% of the time result in a bad movie and a terrible time at the movies.  I'm looking at you, A Most Violent Year).

Anyway, I throw up this story as a prologue for the movies I'm most excited about this year.  Keep in mind that I'm going to update this list frequently as more stuff comes out.  And yes, trailers.

Kung Fu Panda 3.  I'm into animated movies. So sue me.  DreamWorks has a wonderful thing going here with KFP and How to Train Your Dragon.  I grew up in the 80s in New York, where you could watch kung-Fu flicks every Saturday afternoon.  I loved that.  The Kung-Fu Panda series is a great homage/spoof of all that nonsensical and fun pseudo-mystical stuff from that era.  And who doesn't love that?

Deadpool.  Another attempt at recreating this character onscreen.  (His first time in X-Men Origins: Wolverine was just... no.). It's amazing what a madcap trailer from a guano-psychotic will do these days.  It seems like this time they managed to capture the essence of the character, a dangerously unstable, fourth-wall breaking, regenerating, cancer-stricken mercenary.  It'll either be really good, or really bad.  I've gotta see it.

Zoolander 2.  If I'm being totally honest, there is no burning desire to see this for me. I thought the first one was funny, but it was also 15 years ago.  My girlfriend wants to see it, so if I want to drag her to see something I want to see, this sacrifice must be made.  You feel me, right guys?

Race. A bit on-the-nose with its title, this follows Jesse Owens and his winning 4 gold medals in the 1936 Olympics... in a very Nazi Berlin with Adolf Hitler watching. Maybe they'll touch on the issues he dealt with at home, being a Black Man from Jim Crow's South.  Worth watching, I think.

London Has Fallen.  Olympus Has Fallen was a fun action movie, no reason to think the next one won't be as well.

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot.  Tina Fey as a female war correspondent in Iraq.  The trailer's decently funny, and this could be pretty good.  Why not?

10 Cloverfield Lane.  Some years back, JJ Abrams put together a trailer for a found-footage monster movie set in New York City that featured the head of the Statue of Liberty being torn off.  That trailer became Cloverfield, and despite all its promise, it was one of the most disappointing movie experiences of my life.  Since then, JJ has done two Star Trek movies and a Star Wars movie, and I can't help to think he's learned something in the experience.  So I'm going to double down and see this one, which will either be really good or reeeeeallly bad

And that takes me to the end of the winter.  Next time I do this, it will be Summer Blockbuster Season.  Which means, comic book movies.  And there will be reviews.