Monthly Archives: November 2013

Reviews: Marathon Training – Winning Strategies, Preparation and Nutrition for Running 5k, Half, Long Distance Marathons

Click the image to go vote my review helpful!

As usual I received this book for free through a a giveaway. In this case it was via a LibraryThing member giveaway. Despite this kindness my candid opinions follow.

On the positive side, this book has a very upbeat and encouraging attitude. It attempts to work as much on the mental aspects of running as it does the physical and nutritional ones.

To the negative side, the book is the most poorly edited one I’ve read in years. Each page contains an average of 2-3 spelling or grammatical errors. Further, the author is upbeat and positive but does so to the point of becoming totally unrealistic about the process. The most horrifying thing is the author’s loose play with facts and failure to cite her sources. Doctor’s and physicians are quoted anonymously as recommending this or that but at no time is the reader advised that they should consult a doctor about their own situation. Despite the author’s view to the contrary, everyone can’t run a marathon just by “trying hard enough!”

In summary, I’m concerned that the author could easily be sued because of this book. I reserve one and two star reviews for books that are just unreadable because of language or because they may harm other people. This book is, unfortunately, both. I recommend it for no one and advise those who wish to begin a health regimen to seek out a more legitimate and professional source for information. The book is clearly well-intentioned but falls far short.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Short Stories: Weep for Day – Indrapramit Das

Perpetual Sunset

This very brief tale is set on a planet that’s gravitationally locked so that the same side faces the light all the time. This is an intriguing thought since it means that the sun is stationary in the sky as long as you don’t travel and some portion of the planet is bathed in perpetual darkness and hasn’t seen the light of day in millions of years. All the really prime real estate, of course, is on the edges where it’s neither too hot nor too cold and the sun is perpetually in the act of setting (or rising, depending on how you chose to look at it).

The author makes delightful use of this when assigning names to geographical locales. The City-of-Long-Shadows, unsurprisingly, rests on the edge of night and day while the dark, mysterious and eponymous Weep-For-Day resides in an area so devoid of sunlight that no amount of lachrymosity will bring back the sun. These murky depths are the home of the shadowy, ebony creatures known simply as: Nightmares.

Risking spoilers, I’d say the real point of the author’s story is an old one in science fiction. The Nightmare creatures represent a fearful unknown. They reside, risking a cliche, in The Undiscovered Country and as humanity is wont to do, we fill in the mysterious with the most dreadful reality that we can imagine. As the story’s 13 pages wear on, we find that the Nightmare beasts aren’t nearly so unknown and therefore aren’t nearly so scary. In fact from some viewpoints it might just be those who sun themselves in the unending light of day that are more to be feared than the murksome denizens of the black pit of night.

You can read the teaser for this on the Asimov website or do as I did and just go buy the 30th Anniversary collection of the year’s best SciFi.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

My What a Beautiful Eye you Have!

Here’s lookin’ at you…

In a book I was reading over the weekend one of the secondary characters, an 8-year-old girl, meets another girl at a pool laying on a raft. The first words are, “I like your raft!” The other girl doesn’t say anything and so the interaction ends awkwardly but it did make me think about the use of compliments as a mode of introduction and in general conversation.

As an adult I’ve always found it awkward to compliment people on anything. When conversing with a woman I always fear that anything positive I say will be taken as flirting and if it’s a guy then… well, that could very well be taken as flirting too. Yet the few cases in which I’ve been brave enough to take the chance, the reactions have always been exceptionally positive. People love to get compliments but I think that as a society (or maybe it’s just me) we’re afraid to give them out for fear of some misunderstanding.

So what say you? Is a compliment really just a compliment or do you always suspect that it carries some ulterior motive? What do you think when a guy comments on your beautiful, bloodshot eye? Personally, from this point forward I resolve to just throw caution to the wind and try to compliment the hell out of people whenever possible. What’s the worst that could happen? Worst case scenario they think I’m some creepy dude that talks too much. This probably isn’t too far off the opinion they’d have if I said nothing and just stared back at them, so what have I to lose? Not a single thing, I say.

3 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

On Keeping a Journal

Over the past few years I’ve heard the refrain that great people of history kept a journal.  Henry Ford wrote down his every idea no matter how nonsensical.  Marie Curie wrote down everything she did for decades (and her journals are still radioactive to this day).  Samuel Pepys is famous for nothing at all except that he kept a diary through such trivial events as the Great Fire of London and the Black Death.  The great people of history wrote and today they are remembered.  I’ll be the first to admit that I’m no great person.  History will not remember me.  Yet part of me really wants to write.  I think with great romanticism about the idea of going to my bookshelf and picking up a book that I wrote with my own hand years before.  At the moment I can go to my blog and look back a decade yet that doesn’t satisfy the tactile experience of holding a book in your hands and knowing that that physical object was important in years long gone.

So this weekend I went to Barnes and Nobles and I looked for journals.  Unsurprisingly they have a wonderful selection and you can spend as much as you want.  If you are desirous of such you can spend $40 for a stack of blank pages.  Looking at those, the thought that came predominantly to my mind was, “What could I possibly write in here that would be worth $40?!?!”  As I sit here today I’m rather insulted by my previous thinking.  I’m no genius.  I’m not going to save the world.  But for the love of all that is worth writing down, recording the day-to-day crap that I give a damn about is worth $40.  Hell, to be frank, it’s worth $100.  Maybe $1000.  I look back on my life and I realize that most of it has vanished into the ether.  Thanks to an upbringing that made it very beneficial to forget almost everything, I don’t store a whole lot in ye olde long term memory.  I’d pay a pretty significant sum to look back on my own thoughts from decades ago.  I remember blowing through most of college playing video games and I have a few memories but what was I really thinking?  I’m far, far too keen to just throw away my past.  The sooner that stops the better.  That’s worth a lot.

 

So today I wrote in the $18 journal that I bought on Saturday.  It’s leather-ish on the outside and has a button clasp and despite the fact that it really is “too nice to write in” I did it anyway.  The journal opens thusly:

“- What can I possibly write in this journal to justify spending $18 on it?  Are my thoughts worth such a sum?”

To that question I say, they bloody well are worth that.  They’re worth every bit of cash you can summon and every ounce of effort.  Are they worth that to the world at large?  Will I become the next Samuel Pepys?  Fuck no.  But at some point I’ll look back.  At some point I will have forgotten and the me of the future will be glad that I bothered.  To the current me this is a bitter sum of money to swallow, a wasted $20 bill that makes me curl my fists and screw up my face in annoyance.  To the future me who looks back at the age of 51… to that person it’ll be the best $20 I ever spent.  When I’m on my deathbed I’ll be glad that I bothered.  I’ll also be astounded at my atrocious spelling but I’ll be glad I took the time to sit down and write an open letter to the me that is yet to be…

2 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

This Dark Road to Mercy – Wiley Cash

This Dark Road to Mercy by Wiley Cash

As usual I received this book via the grand courtesy of the publisher through a Shelf Awareness giveaway. Despite that great kindness my candid opinions follow.

The summary of this one is a bit tough because it’s so many things at once. It is, in equal parts, the story of children forced to grow up before their time, dark criminal suspense and sad story of parenthood failed. As if that’s not enough, there’s also a thread of baseball history and doping thrown in for good measure. The narrative is done in a panoramic style as we hear in first person from the oldest child, the hero and the villain in approximately equal parts.

On the positive side, the circumspect narrative style really gives the reader a detailed look at the situation from all sides. The story has a lot to say about fatherhood and whether that title is given by right or must be earned and delves into the complex situations of parenting in an intriguing way that’s not often seen in such an otherwise gritty novel. The author’s female characters are charming and evoke a great deal of pity from the reader and one inwardly roots for them as they make their way through the short span of time portrayed in the book. This one touches a lot of genres at once and never fails to keep the reader guessing.

To the negative, the narrative switches can sometimes be rather jarring and confusing. The first transition comes 35 pages in and I completely missed it and had to go back and reread a few pages to figure out why the eldest daughter was suddenly sitting in a bar. Once primed to expect it things settled down but this wasn’t the best executed thing about the book. Also, the female characters were very lifelike but the villain seemed rather flat and we missed his back story. He and his heroic counterpart lacked “pop” and didn’t quite pull the reader along behind them as the girls did. Lastly, on the topic of language, it’s worth noting that the narrators tell the story in their own distinct southern vernacular and this is not limited to actual dialog. So those who are appalled by “ain’t got no” and “ain’t hardly no” should be steeled for the fact that these characters have uniquely southern voices.

In summary, a very diverse and well executed book with something for everyone. Fans of gritty crime suspense will find a bit of something to tantalize them; those looking for child-welfare drama will be well served and baseball fans can relive a bit of the late-90s doping drama.

This title will be released January 28, 2014 by Harper Collins. They have my infinite gratitude for the advance copy.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Peanuts Every Sunday: 1952-1955 (Peanuts Every Sunday)

Click the cover to view the review on Amazon and vote it helpful if you find it so!

If you’re here then I don’t need to tell you about the content of this particular book because you’re probably already a fan. This is some of the very earliest work in the series and for more casual readers these may not seem like the Peanuts they grew up with in later decades. Despite that difference these are true classics that belong in any collection.

Since I don’t need to tell you about the content, I will go on at some length instead about the quality of the publication itself. Firstly, be careful reading other reviews on this title as they refer to much older editions. If you buy the book from Amazon today you’ll get a huge coffee-table book with startlingly crisp printing and vibrant graphics. This book is what I had hoped for from the ‘Complete Peanuts’ series and is just about everything you could ask for in a reprint series.

The only negative I’ll bring up is that it’s almost too nice to actually read. The paper is thick stock; the dust jacket is pristine; it’s a durable hardcover. It’s like having a new car that you park far from the front of the lot so nobody parks near you. I feel guilty sitting down to actually read it for fear that I’ll get something on it or some simple mischance will mar its perfection. If you have no such compunctions then you’ll be fine.

In summary, this is the book you want and makes a breathtaking gift for any fan of the comic. I live in fear that the binding may give out after years of reading but if a few pages make their way lose then they’d all be suitable for framing. It’s just THAT high quality.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

These Week(s) in Review…

There’s no denying that I’ve been massively remiss in posting as of late.  Perhaps it’s better if I post things as they come up rather than trying to wait for the end of the week which will inevitably become several weeks.  Anyway, click on the book covers to view the full review.

 

Firstly, and as usual, it must be noted that I didn’t buy this book. Instead, it came to me for free as the result of a Shelf Awareness giveaway. Despite that kind consideration, I give my candid opinions in this review. Also, it should be noted that I’m not a Christian so it may seem a bit odd for me to be reviewing Christian literature. Nonetheless, I’ll review this book based on its literary merits and ignore any philosophical differences I may have with the genre.

On the positive side, the book is very competently executed and it’s set in a period of history that’s always amusing and vastly underutilized in literature. Pittman gives us a colorful and alluring rendering of the era and some fairly interesting characters.

To the negative, the Christian aspects of the novel seem to be an affectation and are poorly integrated. It’s almost as if the author recognized that no mention of religion has been made in X number of pages and therefore has the characters suddenly decide to pray. I have great respect for literature in which the characters make Christian choices and live Christian lives but Pittman’s novel seems to include prayerful interludes just for the sake of staying in the Christian genre. Lastly, the cover art appears to be a fairly horrifying photoshop job. Others in my family saw the cover sitting on the shelf and stated rather quizzically, “Doesn’t really look like your sort of book…?” without even cracking the cover.

In summary, this would make an interesting novel if it would only make up its mind what it wanted to be.

 

On the positive side, the author has chosen a great theme. He takes on childhood illness from the viewpoint of the patient and this always makes for a powerful and evocative story. We all too often fail to realize the weight of such circumstances on the afflicted especially when they’re so young.

Sadly, the negative side of this book far overshadows anything positive I could possibly say about it. The editing is atrocious; the text is filled with typographical and grammatical errors. The dialog is stiff and robotic and the vivid descriptions of the sick child are interlaced with this bizarre science fiction sub-plot akin to “Osmosis Jones” or “Fantastic Voyage”. I’m agog that the author would take the book in such a direction. What could have been a heart-rending portrayal of a dire situation is turned into a literary laughing-stock.

In summary, this book is just not worth the time. Generally, I never give out less than three stars unless the book is unreadable or socially irresponsible. This book is as close to unreadable as I’ve seen in quite a while. I hung on to it tenaciously for a long time in hopes it would have great soul but it turned out to be a train wreck. I like the idea but the execution was completely lacking.

 

Firstly, it should be noted that I religiously avoid reading the back jackets of books, so going into this one I had only the cover and the subtitle “A ghost story” to go on. Because of that I spent a fair amount of time looking for the literal ghost only to find that the ghosts that haunt William Bellman are of a completely different sort than one generally expects from children’s literature.

On the positive side of things, this book is a deliciously subtle story of one man’s haunted life. Setterfield weaves her story and her characters together with a sagacious and haunting assiduousness that pulls the reader gently along from one short chapter to the next. This is an acutely wrought novel with a tenacious grip on realism while still washing the entire scene in an afterglow of the supernatural. I’ve not read anything this well written in quite some time. Our author brings us a tale as unhurried and as natural as life itself.

The only real negative I can put forth is really more of a warning to potential readers. This is a great book but it’s likely not for everyone. For those accustomed to the pablum of easy modern literature, I suggest humbly that you look elsewhere. For those reading by the pool in the joyous light of day, perhaps your time is better spent between other pages. But if you find yourself in a darkened room listening to the rumble of far-away thunder, then this may be the book for just that setting. It is not a gripping thrill ride, but it does take you gently by the hand and pull you quietly into another world where the sky harbors a thousand watching eyes and time does not undo all wrongs nor heal all wrongs.

 

Since this is a children’s book it should be noted that I approach the review from a different viewpoint, focusing on appropriateness for young readers and general coherence and execution.

On the question of appropriateness for young readers, this book has done marvelously. In general I scowl at any children’s book that contains sexual or drug content and this novel contains neither problem. It does have some light violence but nothing that kids won’t have picked up from any mainstream cartoon. In the vein of profanity I don’t tend to judge harshly but this novel even avoids that problem and does so in a clever and entertaining way that’s consistent with the general story line. Dukes’ novel is as pure as the driven snow and somehow still remains very real and entertaining. It doesn’t SEEM sanitized but through some miracle of authorship it really is.

Stepping back and speaking more generally about the novel, the author has provided a brilliant and witty take on what is, I’m am sure, a standard daydream of every young person. Our protagonist has ultimate and unlimited freedom but what happens when suddenly he doesn’t? What tangled complications await in a world with no responsibility and limitless possibilities? In addition to its tendency to provoke deep contemplation, the writing style is witty and made even me, a perennial curmudgeon, laugh aloud in spots. The writer has found that intangible balance between teaching the reader something and entertaining them at the same time. Any teen will stumble upon a hoard of new words begging to be looked up in the dictionary and probably spare at least a few cycles for the complexities of causality and consequences of seemingly simple actions. That lesson is worth the price of admission.

In summary, this one was a rare treat. After a long recent string of losers, ‘Caught in a Moment’ is just the sort of book I’d want my own kids to read. Clean, erudite and with a moral or two hidden in spots for those who will only seek.

 

I’d put this book in the genre of concentric psychological horror. The main character is a published novelist and short-story writer and his stories appear as brief vignettes within the main body of the work. I assume that these stories are examples of Conlon’s own short story work. So this is a novel that is several stories embedded in a larger encapsulating (though mostly unrelated) narrative.

To the positive side, Conlon has an immaculate grasp of how to say just enough about a situation to get the reader’s attention and erect an air of tension in a situation. His imagery is vivid and surreal yet still retains an element of plausibility that is rare in any novel dealing primarily with the metaphysical. Conlon’s work reminds me strongly of Lovecraft in its deep yet inexplicable feeling of terror. The reader is on edge but can’t quite explain why that is so. One factor in which he deviates strongly from turn of the century horror though is his raw and unapologetic portrayals of sexuality. While I would not go so far as to call the results erotic, he is certainly not afraid to deal candidly and skillfully with the topic.

To the negative side, the novel as a whole did seem to lack the incisiveness of the individual sub-stories. As a reader I’m tempted to go back and re-read the stories within the story and ignore the more protracted narrative. In the vein of the larger narrative, it seemed to stumble a bit as it tried to explain the metaphysical aspects of a particular event in the story. I was severely jolted out of my reverie of enjoyment at the first mention of the words “soul catcher” and subsequent explanation. I will say no more for fear of spoilers but know simply there are a few rough spots that are easily enough ignored.

In summary, the novel demonstrates a great deal of artistry. The book is very much worth while though at times skimmable to cut down a bit on bulk. The stories-within-a-story are pure gems and if you read nothing else then take the time to read those. They are easily picked out as they are printed in a different font than the rest of the novel.

 

In a nutshell, this is the retelling of the King Author myth spanning from Author’s birth through his rise to the kingship. As Authurian legends go, this one tends towards the strictly realistic and pulls no punches about the state of the world at the time.

On the positive side, Hume’s writing is beyond reproach. I found myself constantly entertained at her use of appropriate and timely language which pulled me to my dictionary repeatedly and with unbridled glee. This is a book that educates while it entertains. Anything she chooses to write in the future will have my utmost attention. Here is a tale that is woven with intricacy and detail that is unrivaled.

On the negative side, and this is a negative side that is rather implied by my perceptions of the tastes of other readers, this is not a book that speeds along with any great rapidity. The book goes on for almost 500 pages and while I was entranced by the intricacies, I can imagine other readers finding themselves in the arms of a rather intransigent ennui. The book does move slowly but the arc that it traces is an epic one.

In summary, this is a book to approach in an unhurried and open-minded manner. It has much to teach you, not the least of which is vocabulary. It’s not a book for a single solitary rainy afternoon but instead one to be taken a few chapters at a time over the course of a week. It is a book to be pondered over and digested slowly. As epic tales go, this is a fresh and delightful retelling but don’t expect to swallow it in one go. Take the time to savor and learn from what it has to tell you. I look forward to the subsequent volumes. This is a book for the thinkers among us.

 

I’m exceptionally late to the party on this book so I won’t attempt the usual Positives/Negatives bit as I usually do. This book was a real perplexity for me. I spent the majority of the text trying to figure out if the central figure of “Life” (as described in the back-cover description) was an actual physical person or a metaphor for human existence. Unfortunately, even after 486 pages I still don’t really know for sure.

This book has a property that I’ve not found in a title for quite some time. I consider myself a fairly attentive and avid reader but it’s seldom that a book makes me late to work and then late to bed and generally takes over my life. For the few days it took to finish it I did little else but read this book and find ways to compress my other daily duties to accommodate more time for it. I learned during this period just the perfect way to balance a bowl of morning cereal while reading. The only problem with all this is that I’m not actually entirely sure why it was such a fascinating book.

At least in part the ambiguity of one of the main characters has a role to play in this miniature obsession. I love nothing more than a good mystery to be unraveled and even now I’m left rather unsatisfied and confused on this topic. It’s also, perhaps, because I can relate to the main character. She shuts herself off from others with lies and keeps the world at a distance. This resonates with me personally but my weapon of choice is humor and deflection. Books are often very personal and in many ways this one was a mirror. At times a terrifying mirror, but a mirror nonetheless.

In summary, I was utterly enthralled by this book. At least to some extent probably irrationally because I’ve failed to understand the concept of “Life Audits” that may be commonplace in Ireland, but still the fact remains that this book really roped me in. It’s probably a good thing I’m not trying to come up with positive/negative analysis because I’d be hard pressed to criticize a book that consumed my entire life rather joyfully for two solid days.

 

In a nutshell, this is one of the most powerful books I’ve read in half a century on the planet. Walls’ story of her childhood is not only easy for me to relate to but it also makes me just downright angry. Her parents reeked of an abominable failure to be responsible and look out for their own children that just shakes me to my very core. While this is 300 pages of small type this is just the sort of book you could inhale at one passionate gulp sitting outside on a summers say. If you start reading you’ll be lucky to escape before the last page.

Generally, I try to balance my reviews by describing both the positive and the negative of a novel but in this case I’m hard pressed. “The Glass Castle” could easily be described as a modern classic as it sums up with great vividness an all too common situation in the half-century. The free-thinking hippies cum parents who completely failed to give a damn about their own children are all too prolific and Walls describes her own beautifully. My only realistic negative results from the ending which seems clipped and far too succinct. I suppose in this format there’s little choice in the matter but I could have anticipated another 300 pages or complete omission of the end.

In summary, this is by far the best memoir I have read in recent recollection. The author’s view is candid and heartfelt but does not commit the sin of meandering into self-pity like many would in this situation. This title is a best seller with a heart and soul and a pointed comment to any parent who fails to recognize the needs of their own child. I cannot recommend this one enough.

And so ends the weeks that were. As always, click any of the book covers to visit the reviews in question and feel free to vote them ‘helpful’ if you find them so once you get there.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized