Tuesday, February 28, 2017

A Right to Be Hostile

A Right to Be Hostile by Aaron McGruder  Book: 255 pages

A Right to Be HostileTwo young black boys and their grandfather move from the South side of Chicago to the suburbs and hilarity ensues. This book had me laughing and really the only reason it's so funny is that all the leftist diatribe is coming from a school-aged boy. If these lines were spoken by a grown man this would just be a political comic, but coming from a boy of maybe 10 it is hilarious. I'm not sure why it's funny when children talk like adults, but it's a formula that works. Huey (named after Huey P. Newton of course) is a revolutionary whose goal it is to take down the capitalist, racist regime known as the American government. His views on society, entertainment and especially politics are unwavering. This comic is controversial and it's easy to see why, but it is also easy to see why it's so popular. Huey's younger brother Riley wants to be "gangsta" complete with cars, money, girls (even though he doesn't want them to touch him!), and the fear of the people around him. Grandad adds his own special quality to the picture, being a traditionalist and thinking Huey really needs to calm himself down and act like other kids his age and Riley needs to do better in school and be less disrespectful. Along the way they meet some interesting characters that also add to the humor. Caesar is my favorite, he is basically the straight-man to Huey's insanity, agreeing with him on some things but calling him insane on others. I would recommend this book for those who are not easily offended because it does have some views with which certain people would strongly disagree.  

Morgan Kingsley series books 1-5

Morgan Kingsley series books 1 -5 (Devil Inside, Devil You Know, Devil’s Due, Speak of the Devil, and Devil’s Playground) by Jenna Black, 1699 pages

In a world where people can host demons, legally and illegally, there is always a need for exorcists. They serve the public as paranormal executioners, casting out illegal demons, and those that have broken the law. Exorcists like demons come in different strengths, and Morgan Kingsley is one of the strongest exorcists around. But after an abnormally strong demon exorcism goes wrong, she is haunted by weird dreams, bouts of sleepwalking, and fears she may have a demon inside her.

I wasn’t sure which direction this science fiction series was going to take. Was I going to get a detective series, where Morgan has to research various demons, learn their names or history and then cast them out type series, which would get rather dull and repetitive. Or would Morgan discover something weird with the demons/herself and have to figure it out to save the world? It is definitely this. Frankly I think the “save the world” motif is a little overused in science fiction, but it is hard to come up with a better compelling threat. Luckily Black was able to keep this world ending threat both interesting and unique enough to make this series quite the read. I will also give her credit for staying away from the standard holy items kill demon motif. I enjoyed reading this series, and blew through it in under a week. I would recommend this to people looking for a twist on demon science fiction.

Note: I read these online, as the library only owns Speak of the Devil

Monday, February 27, 2017

The Fifth Letter

The Fifth Letter by Nicola Moriarty.  288 pages

Joni, Eden, Trina and Deb have been best friends since high school, sharing a bond that has taken them into adulthood.  However, time and circumstances have started to pull them away from each other and as she plans their yearly vacation, Joni wonders if she can find a way to draw them all back together again. After they meet up for their vacation, Joni comes up with an idea one evening: each woman will write an anonymous letter, spilling their darkest secrets, and then each letter will be read aloud during dinner a following night. This game quickly turns from fun to something more devastating, exposing cracks in their previously strong friendships, including a dark secret one of them harbors about harming one of the other women.

I read this book in an afternoon, skimming along and enjoying the story.  I knew that at the end, the mystery of the fifth letter would be solved, and at least most (if not all) of the issues between the women would be resolved.  However, I was still kept guessing about some of the elements of the story and was a bit surprised by part of the ending.  This was a great escapist book for a weekend read.

The Next Best Thing

The Next Best Thing by Jennifer Weiner         Audio Book: 12 hours, 9 minutes     Book: 416 pages    

An interesting look at how to get your idea for a t.v. show on the air.   It’s a fictional account, but, a well written overview of some of the processes on how to make it in Hollywood as a writer.   While there is a love story involved, too, I was more taken with the process of getting an idea from one’s own head to being cast as a prime time show on a major television network.     The romance seemed just an aside, really.    I have to say, this is another case of my getting mad at one of Jennifer Weiner’s written characters.   Brief glimpse of the story:  a girl whose parents were killed in a car wreck is raised by her grandmother.    When the girl is 23 years old she and her seventy year old grandmother decide to move from their home in Massachusetts to start over in Los Angeles, California.   The young woman, Ruth, wants to make it as a screenwriter.    She works at various positions over the next few years until she finally lucks into an interview a couple of successful writers who have a number of hits under their belts.   They become mentors and friends as time goes by and eventually Ruth goes for it and writes a script about her life with her grandmother which she feels would make a great comedy series.    After going through the channels and politics in Hollywood her dream comes to fruition but with the dream comes the old adage, “Be careful what you wish for because you might just get it.”   With the joy of realizing her dream as a writer, Ruth now has to deal with the network executives changing her scripts, ignoring her input on how her characters should be presented and even going over her head and hiring actors of their own choices for the roles even when she has given her recommendations on which actors auditioning for the roles she feels fit best.     Ruth acquiesces to every change the network executives make with little more than feeble attempts to keep some resemblance to her original intent.    It’s a tightrope walk between integrity and wanting to have her dream fulfilled even if it isn’t exactly on her terms.    All this time her grandmother is going out on calls for extras and is showing up on t.v. shows and films.    When Ruth lets her grandmother know the network has picked up her idea and they are going to film a pilot  they are both deliriously excited.   Ruth neglects to tell her grandmother there have been a few changes to the character that is based on her grandmother.   Of course, her grandmother is just so proud and when the pilot airs on t.v. grandma has bragged to all her new friends she has made in Cali about the pilot and how the characters Ruth wrote are based on her and Ruth.   Grandma invites a houseful of her new friends to come over and watch the pilot with them.   Which they do.    Now, I know this is fiction, I know this is just a story but, here is my beef with Ruth – she didn’t tell her grandmother, the woman who raised her, the woman who has supported her in all her endeavors all of her life and been right there for her cheering Ruth on and helping her to pursue her dream – Ruth doesn’t tell this poor woman that the network has rewritten her as a wanton boozy floozy who has little good to say about anyone and uses men to make her way in the world.    Ruth knows this.   To get her show on the air, she went along with it with very little to say against their changing the whole persona of how her grandmother should be represented.    But the biggest thing – she let her grandmother be humiliated in front of all those people without so much as a hint as to the total remake the executives did to her representation.    For that, this is another of Jennifer’s characters that I don’t like.    So again, that is the sign of a good writer when they can get you so invested in a story that you react to the things the people in the story say or do but I get that Ruth is a sell-out because that is what she feels she has to do to get the carrot at the end, but, why burn her grandmother in the process?   Family loyalty?   Whaaaat?    In the end the sacrifices the woman made to care for her mean nothing when it comes to Ruth getting her 15 minutes of fame?    It makes for good storytelling, but, I feel sorry for grandma who got thrown under the bus and not only that but the bus was full of people!   All the people looking at the character on t.v. then looking back at the woman sitting in the room.   I can feel her cheeks burning.    Again, a good story that would-be screenwriters could learn a thing or two from, like how NOT to burn the folks who helped you get where you are.   Lots more happens and while a good story, I’m still mad at the main character.  You don’t burn Grandma!


CounterknowledgeCounterknowledge: How We Surrendered to Conspiracy Theories, Quack Medicine, Bogus Science, and Fake History by Damian Thompson, 139 pages

"Counterknowledge" is journalist Damian Thompson's term for the opposite of knowledge - not ignorance, not mistakes, but claims made in direct contradiction of the facts.  It is, he demonstrates, a booming industry.  Old standards have fallen as mainstream television programs have endorsed 9/11 conspiracy theories and The Secret, while books purporting to give the "real story" behind The Da Vinci Code have found their way into the history sections of bookstores and libraries, and major universities have dabbled in alternative medicine.  Most dramatically, of course, the Internet has proven to be a uniquely successful vector for counterknowledge, not only disseminating untruths more broadly, but allowing the cross-fertilization of ideas between groups that would not normally interact, such as Christian and Muslim creationists or white and black racists.

Thompson is not primarily interested in either cataloging or systematically debunking different forms of counterknowledge, rather, the book is an analysis of what makes counterknowledge so widespread in such an allegedly rational, skeptical age.  According to the author, a decline in standards, increased specialization, and a general failure of education all play important parts.  More significantly, the dual triumphs of postmodernism and identity politics have established a relativist ideology which refuses to judge between competing truth claims and which is particularly strong among the very elites who might otherwise act as responsible gatekeepers.  Meanwhile, consumerism promotes the attitude that objective truth matters less than how a "truth" makes the consumer feel while simultaneously encouraging a profits-first mentality among producers.  Most important, however, has been the dissolution of public trust - in a culture that habitually confuses consensus with conspiracy, fact and fantasy are indistinguishable.  Unfortunately, Thompson's preferred tactic against counterknowledge - merciless mockery - will not solve that problem.

Blue Plate Special

Blue Plate Special: An Autobiography of my Appetites by Kate Christensen.     368 pages.

Reading this book was an interesting experience. Admittedly, I picked up the book thinking it was going to be a chef's autobiography (and didn't read the inside flap) and then it turns out that Kate Christensen is an author.  So, it took until about halfway through the book for the light to click on for me.  However, I still enjoyed reading the book, even though I wasn't familiar with the author at all.

So now, after reading what I just wrote, it becomes very obvious that I picked this book up without looking up anything about it --- because per Goodreads:
"That the greatly admired novelist Kate Christensen has turned to the memoir form after six novels makes this book an event. Readers of memoirs of high literary quality, particularly those with food themes—most conspicuously Ruth Reichl's Comfort Me with Apples and Gabrielle Hamilton's Blood, Bones, and Butter—as well as admirers of M. F. K. Fisher and Laurie Colwin will be a large and eager audience."

Well, apparently I need to become more aware of novelists, because I didn't know who Kate Christensen is.  The funny thing is, I have read all of Ruth Reichl's books, have read Gabrielle Hamilton's books, and everything by Laurie Colwin.

I did find this to be an interesting book, maybe for the main reason that I didn't know anything about the author.  Reading the book was a complete introduction to her, and her life has definitely been interesting so far.  I am intrigued enough to pick up one of her novels now, and realize that this is an exercise that is usually reversed (usually, you read a novel, and then might read the author's autobiography).

Mop Men: Inside the World of Crime Scene Cleaners

Mop Men: Inside the World of Crime Scene Cleaners by Alan Emmins        306 pages              

Excellent book!   I literally couldn’t put it down once I started reading it.   Fascinating!    I had never really thought about crime scene cleaning as an occupation until once on the t.v. show, “Insomniac,” with Dave Atell as host, he rode along with a crime scene cleaner one night.     Interesting, I thought.   I never really considered that there was a business that actually did that.    I guess I thought outside crime scenes just got washed with fire hoses and people cleaned up their own in homes and hotel staff cleaned up in hotels.   It didn’t cross my mind particularly how blood and such got cleaned up.  Watching the staff work on cleaning up various scenes while kind of gross, yet, like one of those things you can’t seem to avert your eyes from I kept watching.    Hmmm.    Then when the independent film, “Sunshine Cleaning,” (Amy Adams, Emily Blunt, Alan Arkin), came out in 2008 it’s topic was about a lady and her younger sister who need money and find out there is income to be made from cleaning up crime scenes they begin doing so and go from novices, tossing bloody mattresses in dumpsters while not wearing any protective gear to top level professionals complete with all the proper gear, chemicals, appropriate training and licenses.   A fun film choice by the way.   But the topic peaked my interest.   I even watched the film over a couple of times in the years since it came out.    However, when I was browsing through the library holdings online for another title I came across, “MopMen…” and had to stop and eyeball it.   When I saw what it was about well, I definetly wanted to see what was in those pages!   I was not disappointed.   Alan Emmins relates verbatim conversations with the owner of the Crime Scene Cleaners Co.,  Neal Smithers.   He lets Neal tell the story of how he decided to open such a business, what he had to learn in order to be the success he is and how he fended off naysayers in his family and friends who told him it would never work he would go bankrupt, etc.     But Neal had the fortitude to persevere and to this day is still doing everything he can to get his company’s name out there, he meets with people all the time pressing the flesh like a politician stumping for votes.   You really get a sense of what this guy is like and what his staff is like.    They are so thorough in their quest to clean every spot of any body fluid or crud that may be lurking at the job they are on.   They even remove floor boards to clean any possible seepage that may have taken place, then replace the floorboards and put sealant on the floor then once dry they sanitize it all again.   They go anywhere, attics, crawl spaces, homes, hotel rooms, wherever the job request takes them and clean not only crime scenes but also homes of hoarders, animal hoarders, animal infestations where there is urine and feces damage, they clean out hazardous material sites – whatever – Neal likes money and he will go wherever he and his team need to and clean up, clean out or clean off any thing folks can come up with.   He first goes out as owner to the client that has contacted him and as any contractor gives the client a price estimate and explains what all his staff will need to do to clean up and sanitize the area requiring his services.   He works for the famous, the infamous and anyone with a need.    He likens himself to “the Wolf,” played by Harvey Keitel in the film, “Pulp Fiction.”    Since he has been in business, some of the people who originally worked for him have either franchised their own branch of his business or have gone on their own and opened their own cleaning service and compete for the business in the state of California and in the other states he has franchises in.    Neal is a good talker though and does what he can to constantly promote his business.   Neal has a wicked sense of  humor and there are times when you will laugh out loud at things he says, sings or does.    An eye-opening read and a visit to a sector of society not much talked about but with all the CSI fans out there I don’t think I am the only one with morbid curiosity that will marvel at the things not thought of but that will be revealed to you in this read.   Excellent!   Made me go online to see if St. Louis has their own Crime Scene Cleaners.   We do, and more than one.   One of them is affiliated with Cory Chalmers, who is a regular on the A&E cable channel on “Hoarders.”     Maybe one of them is a franchise of Neal’s?   He was branching out and franchising to several states in the northwest and southwest (Neal lives in Los Angeles, CA).    His goal was to be in every state so it is quite possible.     I invited Alan Emmins to come do a sequel in St. Louis.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

The Travelers

The Travelers by Chris Pavone 464  pages

One of the things that drew me to The Travelers is right there on the cover: “Hitchcockian.” This was the first Chris Pavone novel that I tried to read. However, instead of the master of suspense director, I say that the story is more William Faulknerish. With its long, convoluted sentences that meander through from subject to subject, I found this novel less than enthralling.  

The other thing that enticed me to this book where the different locales in which the action (or lack thereof, depending on your point of view) takes places: Argentina, Dublin, New York City, Paris, Barcelona, the North Atlantic Ocean, and other exotic areas. It jumped around a lot, switching characters constantly until I had to re-read sections to figure out what was going happening.

I like books that make me think, but not books that cause me to struggle trying to figure out what was happening. When I think spy novel, I think edge-of-my-seat read. Unfortunately, this was a slow, tedious read for me.  The Travelers receives 1 out of 5 stars in Julie’s world.

I received this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for this review.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Humans of New York: Stories

Humans of New YorkHumans of New York: Stories by Brandon Stanton 428 pages

This is a combination of several photographs and interviews done by Stanton on the streets of New York. It is mixed with happy and sad stories, funny quotes and strange ramblings. There's love, hate, grief, excitement, something for everyone.

This was an enjoyable and easy read. (1 day!) There were compelling stories combined with equally compelling photographs. Anyone who reads this book will find someone they identify with and/or someone they think is way off base and I think that is the beauty of it. It's just humans in New York. They come from all backgrounds and geographical locations. I'm glad the author chose all different kinds of people with all different kinds of views or else this would have been a one-dimensional book. It lets you know he probably encountered people with which he himself did not agree, however he put them in anyway (example atheist and Christian views). The adorable smiles of the children, the love in the eyes of the couples, the loneliness of the grieving, and the sadness of the lonely (to name a few) make for a pictorial I definitely recommend.