Monday, August 6, 2012

The Art of Fielding. .. Life

Amazing! Brilliant! are just two of the words I would use if I were writing this review for the NY Times or Chicago Tribune so why not use them here?  I think I will. . .The Art of Fielding was a completely amazing story told by a brilliant writer - there I've used those words, that felt really good! Now, do not let the title scare you (ladies) that this is a book about baseball. . .

The Art of Fielding is as much a book about baseball as Moby Dick is a book about whaling, it is and it isn't.  While sports is a definite theme in the book, the story offers so much more than just a take on the old ball game.  I would describe this as a book about fielding life more than a ball as Chad Harbach puts into words the impact people and relationships have on lives, using baseball as the books anchor.  Whether you are realizing your dreams or figuring out who you are, he captures the thoughts that are in your own heart and mind that can make or break you.  Chad writes "Whatever was simple and useful remained.  You improved little by little till the day it all became perfect and stayed that way. Forever."  Which we all know is an impossibility; first nothing lasts forever and second perfection only survives in the mind of the perfectionist.  And so in that simple sentence lies your story, the imperfections of life.

Imperfections that in this book touch on every emotion of the heart and mind, the conscious and sub-conscious; unraveling dreams and friendships, crossing the lines of commitment.  Commitments made to a team and to yourself leaving you empty except to exist for nothing more than the act of breathing.  Betrayal of your own accord, of who you are as a man, a leader, a father, a dreamer and a lover.  Each character is so powerful in how they influence and learn from one another about themselves and as their lives evolve each moment of everyday, together, like a team getting ready to take the field.

Chad starts off with a lead into one of the main characters who is a naive, socially inept boy with an extreme talent for playing shortstop, Henry Skrimshander.  When he is recruited to the shores of Lake Michigan to play baseball for the Harpooners at Westish College, the small town boy is out of his element in the quad but very much at home on the field.  His recruiter and best friend, Mike Schwartz (Harpooner catcher and team captain) takes it upon himself to get the boy recruited and then develop him and his talent.  A talent that ultimately leads to a major league recruitment for Henry and the college's first championship victory.  But perfection or more aptly stated, Henry's own perception of perfection, gets in the way of his small town boy - big league dreams.

Throughout the book you encounter strong influences on Henry's life, his roommate for one, Owen Dunne who, like everyone else, takes a shine to Henry in spite of his own awkwardness.  The college president Guert Affenlight a middle aged scholar that takes a shine to Owen, who up to this point in his life had thought of himself as a heterosexual.  And Guert's once estranged daughter Pella who finds herself in the comforting surrounds of the Westish grounds and the arms of Schwartz and for a brief moment Skrimshander's if for nothing more than therapy, his and hers.  There is a small circle of team mates who quickly become part of Henry's brigade as he coaches, cheers and comforts the team with his game time rally rants on and off the field.  Forever at his side Schwartz, the almighty leader who plays with his heart and soul - he wears his Westish pride like a badge of honor.

But Mike has his own problems.  A down on his luck kind of guy from a broken home who is deep down broken hearted because he knows the scouts aren't out to watch him play.  So his own strife is a put upon perfection created by himself to be accepted to an Ivy league law school, none of which are accepting of his application, all of which makes him selfishly hate Henry and his dream come true fairy tale life.  The life he would have never had (maybe) if it hadn't been for Mike.  The friendship is strained and compounded by Pella,  Pella a confused manic depressive who finds herself caught between them at one point.  But doesn't fairy tale in some way imply perfection?  And didn't I start out saying that perfection only lives in the mind of the perfectionist. . .so regardless of its ending, the question of how perfect it may be is yours to answer.

In Chad Harbach's read the end is a realization, a path forward - one that is reasonable, responsible and attainable for all of them.  And together they set out to field whatever comes next.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Gone Girl: Go Away Already

The title some what gives it away.  You could either think that it is about a woman saying good-bye to the girl she once was or simply that a girl from some where is now gone.  It is the latter.  Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn sparsely known for her 'thrillers' falls short of thrilling me.  I say sparsely because she hasn't written that many, not to the tune of say a Mary Higgins Clark for example, but it is not meant to be a dig at Flynn.  If I was going to throw a dig it would be the non-thrill of the so called 'thriller'.  The only murder is of a character so insignificant I almost forget his name (Desi) but the key is the whodunit bit which you figure out so easily it takes away from any thrill you could possibly have imagined.  It is twisty and I'll get to that but first let's give Flynn her due because she is in fact a very good writer.

I will tell you what I feel is worth huge accolades from another writers perspective and that is that Flynn writes in two voices, two styles.  A male and female voice with completely different perspectives - thumbs way up here Flynn for pulling this off so well.  Actually when you think about the psycho bitch voice of Amy you have three voices or characters because the real Amy chick is white jacket, padded room, clinically insane.  Flynn (Amy) creates an alter ego for the crazy bitch that Amy is, through a fabricated diary.  The perfect wife persona looking for a perfect life and not finding one, not with (Nick) Dunne anyway.  Yet somehow Amy maintains, muddles through each and every painstakingly boring day of mid-west minutia that hometown folks call living, according to her 'diary'.  Big city girl adapting to a lazy husband in a new town with no friends and nothing to do makes for very needy sounding journal entries that leave you feeling a little down on Nick (Dunne) her husband for being a douche-bag and not to mention for murdering her, or so you think.

<Spoiler Alert>  And there's the twist, book two (part two of one book) starts out with the revealed Amy, crazy psycho bitch Amy, on the run.  She has just faked her own murder and framed her husband for it.  It gets interesting - there's a police team that fumbles through evidence, small town detectives who have never encountered a crime like this one and who all really like Nick even though it's likely, because the 'evidence' says so, that he is a killer.

Then comes the big high price attorney, the mistress, dumb Nick and his strange twin love with sister 'Go' (Margo).  Just when you think the jig is up for this dude in walks his murdered wife, alive and well (a little worse for wear by her own doing to make for a convincing kid-napping and rape scenario story).  Overall, Nick is a dumb ass, who may or may not be that great of a lover married to Amy who is a conniving, calculated psycho that presumably will end up dead should Flynn decide to take this story to a sequel (let's hope). But I started to lose interest when the drifters in the Ozarks didn't kill her.  Although it would have been a lame ending I suppose.  Or a dragged out story about an innocent man put on death row to find out minutes before he takes his dead man walk that the body of his murdered wife has been discovered and he is not a killer after all.  But I am not the writer here, Flynn is and she took it to where she wanted it to go.  

In terms of character portrayal, I feel like because Flynn had to pay such close attention to the voices of Amy, Amy and Nick that the rest of the cast falls short.  Kind of like 'man on corner' that you read in movie credits to describe an extra in a scene.  Not discrediting the effort, I've already commended her on a job well done in being able to pull off a story written by three distinct voices.  There's just not much more beyond that is all I'm saying.

In case you're wondering, of course it will be a movie. . .

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Reviews in Queue

Just about every woman in the world has been 'turned on' to the Shades collection.  I am planning to break these down book by book as I have read them all and while I found them 'entertaining' <ahem> I also found distinct writing flaws.  More to come shortly on that.

I've also just downloaded 'Girl Gone' by Gillian Flynn and 'The Art of Fielding' by Chad Harbach, both recommendations by other avid readers who I respect immensely but don't always agree with.  We'll see.  

In the mean time if you have a recommendation or have read something you would like to voice your opinion on, you are welcome to share here.  

While you wait for the next review, let's get a discussion going . . .what was your best book turned movie adaptation and why?

I have several, The Help is definitely a top 10.  I rarely go to the movies, usually wait for the DVD and sometimes even at that I don't bother because the book is always so much better.  Plus I hate movie theaters, I find them dirty and disgusting - I have issues.  However, in the case of The Help I actually saw the movie and had not read the book.  I know, backwards - it's just how things worked out.  I immediately read the book after seeing the movie and it read like stereo to me.  Who can forget the famous line "Eat my shit"?  As I read it I can see Octavia Spencer on the big screen saying it in her way that she does - it's no wonder she won the Oscar.  Kudos to Denis Villeneuve!  Do you agree?

Another fantastic example, in my opinion, was Shutter Island by Dennis Lehane.  Completely drawn into the movie and the book!  Absolutely one of my all time favorites.  But what else would you expect from Martin Scorsese the man is genius.  If you didn't read the book it is highly recommended and if you haven't seen the movie then get to it - both worth the time.

So blog people, tell me your favorites. . .if you don't know how this works, having a discussion, just leave a comment below - it's that easy, unless of course you have nothing to say because you don't read or see movies in which case I would say, you're reading this so. . . .

Monday, July 9, 2012

Hunger Games: Eat the Rich

I've always had a connection with my now 22 year old step daughter, be it movies, books, just general disdain for certain things, we are (or used to be) very compatible.  
So the Hunger Games. . .She has read them three times now and out of all the people I have had the conversation with, about how I didn't like them, she was the one person who gave me a great argument.  Stephanie, this is for you!

While I still find it extremely difficult to get passed the fact that the book depicts children being slaughtered for sport, I failed to mention in my last review/blog the government control and how, while being 74 years into the future, could be something that has already begun. . .

Today versus Hunger Games

 Hunger Games: food control: Residents are given an allotment of food, even if you have to kill it to eat it, if it's more than what you're given you will pay, perhaps with your life.

  • Today: Shop Rite can can sale, limit 1 per customer (it's already begun!)
•Hunger Games: land control: Each district is fenced off with electric fencing, and known for something that it provides to the government - coal, rice, grain, cotton, cattle. . .

  • Today: Anyone ever hear of property tax?  So in the Hunger Games the government is taking their payoff out in trade.  How is this different today?

• Hunger Games: media control: All media is a staged theatrical event, completely fabricated by the government to serve the interests of the government itself.

  • Today: All media is a staged theatrical event, completely fabricated by the government to serve the interests of the government itself.  On this we are equal, however clearly the writer of the Hunger Games is a non-profit and has done nothing to sensationalize the main stream success of these books through any type of media. <cough>   Dirty Laundry: Kick 'em when they're up, kick 'em when they're down! 
• Hunger Games: technology control: It's 74 years into the future, we can't compete with hover crafts, 3D weapons. . .

  • Today: Seriously?  74 years from now could be our tomorrow when it comes to technology (writer may not be that savvy in this regard, consider this a fail)

• Hunger Games: control of DNA?: Residents of the districts are identified through the taking of DNA blood samples. The government stores their DNA in a database in order to track and identify individuals.

  • Today: Yes.
• Hunger Games: Control over life: The government seems to be amused by expressing heartless power over the masses.

  • Today: Watergate, Wall Street crash (pick one), government bail out, occupy wall street, abortion rights, war, war, war. . .

How long before we see even more of 'the games' in our own day to day?

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Is she for Real? Jenny Lawson: Misfit Blogger/Author

Everyone thinks they have a story to tell, that their life has been so mangled they must write it all down and share the tragedies with others.  If this rings true with you then read this and rethink it because this chick is straight up bat shit crazy (no I am not talking about myself).  I am referring to Jenny Lawson and her memoirs 'Let's Pretend This Never Happened'.  Jenny admittedly describes her crazy as 'generalized anxiety disorder' however (and no I'm not certified so it's just my opinion) I would diagnose her as a bi-polar, manic depressive with severe social & generalized anxiety disorder and a side of ADD.  Yup, that about sums this chick up.  You really need to pay attention or you will be completely lost in all her ramblings as she tries to tell her story. 

There is more than a little that never happened going on as you read through chapters of cow vagina, hairless rats and stabbed by chicken, these are just the titles but trust me they are named appropriately!  And seriously this shit has got to be made up.  First of all no one is that crazy and gets paid to write about it.  Secondly, Texas is not a third world country like she (Jenny) may lead you to believe with it's AG barn for a school, tractors, wild animals and snakes, boiled skulls, wild quail (turkeys) and a pug named Barnaby Jones Pickles that tries to kill her with chicken.  The story (aka memoir) does not take place in the 1880's either.  No, this can not be real.

Her husband is also not real or he would have likely been jailed by now for trying to murder her.  But apparently he is sympathetic because he knows how crazy she is and maybe he's even a little scared that if he did try to stab her in the face she would end up killing him, plea insanity and he would be dead and she would live on to write about her psychopathic life.  

The stories are insanely crazy just like the author who wrote them and you can totally relate to the conversations in her head (or maybe that's just me) because everyone does that but no one is brave enough to write about it.  As I mentioned, she keeps you on your game with the rambling and sometimes I seriously forgot what the hell she was even talking about and had to check where I was.  Nonetheless it took me less than a day to get through it.

Jenny is an avid blogger and Twitter maniac (@JennyLynnLawson), she has been featured on and you can read about her in the NY Times article (link below).  So technically she must be real along with all the insane shit that has happened to her because everything you read on the internet is real and true.  Right?

Jenny Lawson NY Times Article

Friday, June 29, 2012

Top 20 Beach Reads!

I am not endorsing any of the books below, but according to sources these are the top 20 beach reads this summer - what do you think??  Post a comment below. . .

Jennifer Weiner's selections:
'Silver Sparrow' By Tayari Jones
Dishy, twisty, secrets about two daughters: one from her father’s public family, the other from the family on the side.
'Faith' By Jennifer Haigh
Combines the best descriptive writing of literary fiction with the plot twists of a thriller. A priest in Boston is accused of molesting a young boy. The truth –as revealed by his sister, his brother, his accuser and the father’s own father – is a lot more complicated than that.
'The Magician King' By Lev Grossman
Lev Grossman’s "The Magicians" was billed as Harry Potter for grown-ups – call it ‘Dirty Harry,’ or Hogwarts with hook-ups. In the sequel, published in August, teenage magician Quentin Coldwater – now a king in the Narnia-esque land of Fillory – goes on a hero’s quest, with wondrous, and tragic, results.
 Video: Jennifer Weiner and Harlan Coben reveal their picks (on this page)
'The Story of Beautiful Girl' By Rachel Simon
(Grand Central)
On the proverbial dark and rainy night in 1968, two strangers show up at a widow’s doorstep. They’ve got a secret – they’ve escaped from an institution for the incurable and “feeble-minded” – and a baby. Their story, by the author of "Riding The Bus With My Sister," is a compelling and heartbreaking read, in part because this country’s treatment of the disabled and the different, not so very long ago, was so tragic.
And six more…
'Best Kept Secret' By Amy Hatvany
(Washington Square Press)
Moms who drink are usually a punch line. This novel tells a much more serious story about what happens to a single mom when her take-the-edge-off glass of wine at the end of the night turns into addiction.
'Maine' By J. Courtney Sullivan
Three generations of an Irish Catholic family reunite, as they do each summer, in the family’s cottage in Maine, in Sullivan’s second novel, which has a compelling title and a godawful cover. Secrets are kept (will Maggie tell her slacker Brooklyn boyfriend about her pregnancy?), booze is consumed (will eldest daughter Kathleen fall off the wagon?), and judgments are rendered (a mother comments acidly to her daughter that “it looks like you’ve lost a few). In a book crammed with memorable women, it’s Alice, the family’s prickly, proud, haunted matriarch, who will stay with you the longest.
'The Red Thread' By Ann Hood
(W.W. Norton & Company)
In Rhode Island, infertile couples start down the path that will lead them toward the babies that were meant to be theirs. First-world stories of infidelity and unhappiness can’t compete with the heartbreaking tales of how the girls who will come to America came to be orphaned in the first place.
'Before You Suffocate Your Own Fool Self' By Danielle Evans
Short stories can be the perfect choice for summer – each tale the perfect length for an afternoon at the beach. Evans’ stories deal with the Questions of Race, parsed by characters who are smart, sarcastic, occasionally bitter and always funny.
'Exposure' By Therese Fowler
(Ballantine Books)
Boy meets girl. Boy loves girl. Boy, at girl’s urging, texts nude pictures of himself to her phone. Girl’s father finds phone…and all hell breaks lose, with the arrest of both parties as just the first in a series of things that go wrong and get worse. Compulsively readable and a timely, cautionary tale in our age of TMI.
'The Nobodies Album' By Carolyn Parkhurst
Is it a murder-mystery? Is it the tale of a woman learning – reluctantly and belatedly – to be a mother? Or a character study of how novelists manipulate truth to suit their purposes? Parkhurst’s third novel is all of the above…and it’s accompanied by a sly, tongue-in-cheek promotional effort (seriously. Look her up on YouTube).
Here are Harlan Coben's suggestions.
'A Faithful Place' By Tana French
French is my favorite discovery over the past year.  Beautifully written and to use movie-speak, it's "Angela's Ashes" meets a haunting thriller.  Lyrical and moving.
'Adrenaline' By Jeff Abbott
(Grand Central)
Are you looking for the heir apparent to Jason Bourne?  Jeff Abbott's aptly titled book is the most gripping spy story I've read in years.
'Swim Back to Me' By Ann Packer
It starts with coming of age novella, then there are some poignant short stories — and finally we have another novella with the same character three decades later.  Wise and heartbreaking and beautifully written.  
'Misery Bay' By Steve Hamilton
(Minotaur Books)
I'm often asked to recommend a detective series readers might have missed.  This is it. Hamilton has been flying under the radar with his Alex McKnight series for too long. "Misery Bay" will change that, I hope.
'Maine' By J. Courtney Sullivan
A poignant, heartbreaking story about three generations of women and the beachfront Maine home, won in a barroom bet, that unites them all. "Maine" is that summer novel you’ll want to share with a friend – and, like summer itself, you’ll wish it would never end.
'Long Gone' By Alafair Burke
One day, Alice Humphrey goes to her job to find the gallery is gone, stripped bare… and oh there’s a dead body on the floor. A page turner from a major talent.
'Save Me' By Lisa Scottoline
(St. Martin's Press)
A great thriller and a wonderful rumination on motherhood, bullying and the decisions we make. Scottoline has never been better – and that’s saying something.
'Sixkill' By Robert B. Parker
(Putnam Adult)
Parker died last year. This is the last Spenser mystery – the greatest detective series of all time — written by the master himself. If you haven’t discovered Spencer or Parker, here is your chance. RIP, Bob.
'In The Garden of Beasts' By Erik Larson
I don’t read much nonfiction, but Larson’s portrait of Berlin during the early years of Hitler’s reign, told from the viewpoint of the US Ambassador and his impetuous daughter, is both gripping and educational.
  1. More in books
    1. Sizzling summer reads with Charlaine Harris and Janet Evanovich
    2. ‘The Letter’: Pat Tillman's wife opens up about loss
    3. Dingo victim's father shares details in memoir
    4. Rielle Hunter: I wasn't Edwards’ first mistress
    5.  Prom: An American rite of passage
'Between Shades of Gray' By Ruta Sepetys
Sepetys has penned a harrowing and heartbreaking novel about Lina, a 16 year old Lithuanian girl, who is sent to a forced-labor camp during the Russian invasion of 1939. Beautifully written and important, this Young Adult novel is for Grades 7 to 12.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

iBookonBooks!: I Holler for Mickey Haller!

iBookonBooks!: I Holler for Mickey Haller!: My third book in the Mickey Haller series (Lincoln Lawyer, Brass Verdict, 5th Witness), I've jumped around a bit, but still a fan even thoug...